It’s a chunky book that doesn’t fit into one genre. Historical fiction? Magical realism? Asian literature? Speculative fiction? Family saga? World-fabulist-diverse-immigra
nt-adventure? Yes, a little bit. To all of these.Trixi Pudong and the Greater World is a novel that tells the tale of four generations of a Chinese family, torn between their deepest dreams and loyalties. There is war and revolution in China, a captain and his sons sailing the world on a rusting container ship, a glamorous 1940’s Shanghai socialite who flirts with infidelity, and a tiny fairy frustrated in a northern harbor town. It took me seven years to research, write, and revise this book, which is loosely based on my family’s Chinese history.
I began writing Trixi Pudong as a way to document the stories that my dad told us about his childhood in Shanghai. But why I write at all is a different story..I’ve been a classical cellist all my life. I started playing cello at age seven. I’m also a traveler; my family is spread across three continents and I’ve worked in several different countries. One thing I always wished for was some artistic outlet that just wasn’t so darn heavy. Because the truth is, traveling with a cello is not only inconvenient and expensive (airlines mostly require purchasing an extra seat for the instrument), but stressful, as there are myriad moments when an expensive cello can be stolen, lost, or damaged en route. And to answer all those hardy-har jokes that I’ve heard ever since I was the geeky little kid lugging around a huge cello: No, I never wished that I sang or played the flute..However, I did want to write..As a writer, all my creativity fits in my notebook. On a memory stick, uploaded into cyberspace, tucked into my carry-on. I save myself space, weight, plane tickets. And my writing can be appreciated over a long period of time. Classical music concerts are marvelous and profoundly spiritual events, but after ninety minutes, the musician’s months or even years of preparation literally vanish into the air. As a writer, I savor the time I can take to refine an article, short story, or book; I don’t worry about that one split-second chance I have to hit a high note. As a writer, I can continue reaching new audiences for a book, years after publication. I’ll always be a cellist and I do give an occasional concert, but writing satisfies many of my curiosities and interests, and in a completely different frame of time.
Back in 2006, I moved to Berlin to learn to write poetry. Little did I know that Berlin has the largest and most lively expat English-language poetry scene in the world. That’s where I met the poetry and writing teachers with whom I still work today. Then, in 2009, I got the inspiration to write a novel..How do you go from a four-line poem to a 120,000-word family saga? Well, for me, it involved lots of pain, in the form of brutally honest feedback from my teacher and writing group. (I haven’t grown a thick skin; I still want to curl up and cry like a baby when I get feedback!) I had to learn how to build a setting, a character, a plot, and an arc. I had to learn to be disciplined about the point-of-view and the novel’s inherent “speed.” I learned the hard way how important it is to write with clarity and with respect for my reader. And I discovered that I work best backwards, by first knowing how my story ends, then putting the elements in place that lead there..However, that didn’t mean that I had to unlearn my poetry skills. On the contrary, having written poetry helped immensely in the editing phase when I had to trim off all the fat, asking myself, “What’s the bare minimum I need to get my point across?” It has also been the bridge between my two worlds: Poetry is the music of words, and just as music is merely a configuration of waves in the air, so too is a good story that only needs to crystallize and be written down. We just have to listen very carefully.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the award-winning author of adult contemporary fiction In the Context of Love, a 2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist.
Angelica Schirrick had always suspected there was something deeply disturbing about her family, but the truth was more than she bargained for.