Here’s the second excerpt from my memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck, which will hit the bookstores on October 6, 2015:
Two weeks before school starts, Chee decides we need to visit his mother, Mah-Mah, in San Francisco.
Mah-Mah’s apartment is located on the second floor. Chee places a finger over his thick lips, indicating for us to be quiet. “Old people live here,” he says, motioning to the open doors that allow a peek into a foreign world of ancient Chinese people playing Mah Jong or reading newspapers or drinking tea and gossiping in Cantonese.
Chee knocks on an orange door at the end of the hall. A small woman peeks beneath the golden security chain before a smile of recognition stretches across her brown face. She closes the door and releases the chain and then pulls the door open, bowing and smiling. Chee bends down to kiss her cheek. Lammie Pie follows, giving her a hug. I usher Cynthia and Elizabeth ahead of me. They wrap their arms around her and give a squeeze.
Mah-Mah grabs my shoulders and looks me in the eyes and says, “You taller than me.” She glances down at her embroidered silk house slippers and at my leather flats just to make sure neither of us is cheating. When she smiles and pulls me close for a hug, she smells of moth balls and ginger. Her skin is cool and strangely smooth. She wears the same dark blue house coat she has worn for years, a sapphire blue embroidered silk cheongsam. Her knees barely move as she pads down the wide hall and into the kitchen area.
Elizabeth and Cynthia flop on the blue and yellow brocade sofa and try to glance past the bookcase that serves as a barrier between the dining room table and the double bed. Lammie Pie clutches her purse to her chest. Mah-Mah motions to the plastic-coated table, but Lammie Pie just glances at her odd waving gestures and refuses to move. Finally, Mah-Mah grabs the purse and plays tug-of-war until Lammie Pie surrenders it. Triumphantly, Mah-Mah sets the leather purse on the center of the table and says, “Sit there,” pulling out a chair for Lammie Pie, who obediently sits, staring at her purse.
Mah-Mah turns on the stove and boils water for tea. Chee says, “No, Mah-Mah, we go out for dinner.” He nods for us to give Mah-Mah the gift he bought at the bakery. We gape at him with open mouths. Chee plucks the pink plastic bag from the floor and hands it to Mah-Mah. “We bring dessert,” Chee says. “Your favorite. Black bean cake.”
Mah-Mah sets it on the table beside Lammie Pie’s purse. She does not open the bag or peek at its contents, but returns to the stove to tend to the water. Chee purses his lips and rustles through the bag, removing a pink box. With his key, he cuts the string, lifts the cover, and removes a white flaky cake. Carefully, with one hand beneath the cake-carrying hand, he struts to the stove and bends down to offer Mah-Mah a bite. She shakes her head, pursing her lips in the same fashion Chee always does, and says in her halting English, “You feed kids.”
“We have our own box in the van,” Chee explains. “This one for you.”
Mah-Mah pushes Chee’s arm aside like it is a swinging door. She sidles over to my sisters and me who sit shoulder to shoulder and knee to knee on the small couch. “You hungry?” she asks, handing us an odd-shaped yellow and pink and green melon.
“What is it?” I ask, fondling the smooth, hard skin.
“Mango,” Chee says. “It’s a fruit. Like oranges.”
Mah-Mah opens a brown paper bag and places it on the floor. She lifts the mango from my hands and peels the skin with her nails and drops the skin into the brown paper bag. The mango’s yellowish flesh smells sickly sweet. With her fingers, she offers us each a piece. I sniff the strange odor and bite into the stringy fruit. It tastes awful. My lips pucker and my mouth swells. I do not want to chew; I do not want to swallow. Grabbing a tissue from the side table, I pretend to blow my nose. The slick yellow wedge slips out of my mouth and into the tissue. I wrap it up and wait for the opportunity to get rid of the fruit permanently.
Mah-Mah offers me another slice. I shake my head and say, “I’m full.”
“She saving room for dinner, right, Angela?” Chee says, nodding.
I want to tell him I hate mangos, but I just nod and fake a smile.
A special thanks to author Noelle Oxenhandler for the honor of speaking with her memoir writing class this week at Sonoma State University, my alma mater. It was a wonderful experience to return 20 years after I graduated and to share my writing journey with current students. I enjoyed the intimate gathering and appreciated the students who offered valuable feedback on what to read and discuss on my upcoming book tour.
In anticipation of the October 6, 2015 release of my memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck, I will be featuring excerpts, interviews, and giveaways. Here’s the first of what’s to come:
Chee herds us to a table near the front, where the waiters are preparing the red eggs for my uncle. “Red eggs are a symbol of rebirth,” Chee tells us. “When you turn sixty, you are born again. Like a baby. Only this time you are born into wisdom.” He pockets one of the red eggs when the waiters are not looking. Lammie Pie glowers at him, and he shrugs. “Don’t worry,” he says. “Hard-boiled.”
We sit at a round table near the center of the room, and the waiters bring platter after platter of food: won tons, sweet-and-sour pork, lemon chicken, cashew chicken, tomato-beef chow mein, roast duck, steamed rice, shrimp chips, shark soup, and rice pudding. Chee scoops up noodles with his chopsticks and slams them down on our plates. “Good for you,” he says. “Make you strong.”
The more I eat, the tighter the seams of my dress stretch over my stomach. My bladder sloshes from one too many glasses of 7-Up, and I lean back to relieve the pressure.
The speeches start, first in Cantonese, then in English.
I tap my mother’s arm. “Can I go to the restroom?” I ask.
My mother shakes her head and returns her gaze to the podium. I crane my neck, but I can’t see over the bobbing, black-haired heads. Elizabeth tries to stand on her seat to look, but Chee yanks her down and curses at her in English.
I wave to a waiter, who balances empty platters on his long arms. He bends down and asks, “What do you need?”
“Where’s the restroom?” I whisper.
He points to the door beside the kitchen on the other side of the room. I calculate the distance. I will have to pass five tables of people who might recognize me from the school photos Chee has sent them over the years. I don’t want them to stare at me and think, Why she not sit down? Her American mother let her do as she please. What a shame! I imagine my father making excuses for me, to hide his embarrassment, and the bitter, stinging words on the ride home: “Couldn’t you have waited just five minutes? I told you to go to the bathroom before we left. Were you not listening?”
I wonder what I should do. I don’t want to offend my father, which is easy to do. He is a bundle of contradictions. “It’s not my fault,” he once told us. “I’ve lived two lives. In the morning, I went to Chinese school. The teachers called me ‘Lam Chee Ning.’ In the afternoon, I went to American school. The nuns called me ‘Dave Lam’. I tried to follow the Ten Commandments, but I fought a lot. Too many people don’t like us Chinese.” Whenever a situation arises, I don’t know which side of my father will respond: Chee or Dave, the Chinese fighter or the American lover. I decide to stay seated until the speeches are over. I clutch my stomach and feel my swollen bladder. Maybe if I don’t move or breathe, I’ll be all right.
Peering between people’s shoulders, I glimpse a banner someone has presented to Uncle John. Chee turns around and explains, “It’s written in Chinese, in red and gold, for happiness and good luck.”
Chopsticks click against the sides of teacups. Everyone stands and lifts his or her glass for a toast. “Happy birthday, John! Here’s to another sixty years!”
I tug on the waistband of my dress, but it is my skin that is too tight, not the sash. I rock my feet back and forth, trying to take my mind off the uncomfortable fullness of my stomach and bladder.
The party ends. Guests shuffle toward the coat room for their belongings. I search for a path to the restroom, but my father pinches my elbow. “Go hug Uncle John,” he says. “Wish him good luck. If he asks what you need, tell him money for braces and dance lessons for your sister.”
“I have to go to the restroom,” I say.
“Later.” Chee shoves me toward the podium. “Go hug Uncle John first.”
My mother leans down and says, “Your father already tried talking to him, but he wouldn’t listen.”
From my mother’s sorrowful expression, I know the earlier conversation between Uncle John and my father involved money. I imagine what my father must have said: “I work so hard, I almost die of an ulcer.” It’s true, I know, but Uncle John must have glared at him, thinking Chee was playing on his sympathies and the memory of their father, who did die of an ulcer.
Now it is up to me and my sisters to convince Uncle John that we are worthy of any money he might give us.
We met at the Los Angeles airport after our flight was canceled because of a mechanical failure. You asked me, “Will they ship my luggage to my home?” I shrugged, having not traveled much in my lifetime, not much at all, except for business, which was why I was here, waiting for the next flight to Santa Rosa.
I didn’t pay any more attention to you. I was too busy waiting for my boss to return with her bottled water. I wanted to board the plane and head home. It was after ten o’clock, past my bed time, and the veggie sandwich I had eaten an hour ago was not enough to settle my nerves about whether or not I would be home in the morning to help my husband take our children to their respective schools.
After the plane landed in San Francisco, you found me once again waiting for the midnight shuttle to take us home. When you wouldn’t stop talking, I finally reached out, introduced myself, and shook your hand. I noticed your closely clipped hair that made you look almost bald, the tweed Fred Astaire hat in your hand, and the button down shirt and khaki slacks that made you look like you had stepped out of a 1950’s photo. You kept on talking and talking, and your enthusiasm buoyed me. I lost track of how cold the San Franciscan air was and how dark and lonely it felt beneath the awning. You were like a bouncing fluorescent ball of energy illuminating the darkness. Your talk was so absorbing, witty, and entertaining that I forgot about how my husband did not call to say he loved me, how my daughter only cared about how I had yet again missed her birthday, and how my co-worker friend thought my photo text with the abbreviated message, “Wish you were here,” was for my husband, not him.
My boss stood on the sidewalk behind us smoking a cigarette. I pointed to a man standing on the curb holding a sign with someone’s name written in black marker. “That will be me later this year when I go on a cross country book tour,” I said.
You glanced behind us at the man with the sign and nodded. “How many books have you written?”
“Too many to count,” I said, “but this will be the fifth I’ve published.” I bit my lower lip and tears welled up in my eyes as I wondered if my family would miss me or would they dread the day I returned.
You tossed the tweed hat back and forth between your hands and said, “I followed a girlfriend to college and picked whatever major seemed grown up at the time just to be with her, but when I discovered color—how blue or orange can make someone buy something—I discovered the my true calling.” You clasped your hat gently with the fingers of one hand and gazed at me with your hazel eyes. “Sometimes you have to follow a path that will care for your health and spirit.”
I glanced away and shivered. You must have thought I was cold because you offered me your jacket. I shook my head and said, “It’s my soul that’s freezing.”
You frowned and pulled me close. I rested my cheek against your shoulder and noticed my boss across the street staring at us. I shifted, trying to pull away, but you held me closer and whispered, “How can you be with someone who limits your potential? Who doesn’t want you to succeed? It might have been fine when you’re twenty, but it’s not okay when you’re forty. You need respect and recognition. You deserve to be with someone who understands that.”
“All I ever wanted was happiness,” I whispered back.
You released me. “Are you happy?”
I glanced away, afraid to answer.
You waved your hat like a magic wand, cutting through the night, bringing clarity to the situation. “When my wife and I contemplated getting a divorce last year, she said it was because she couldn’t live with a man who was too soft with his children. I told her I would rather be unmarried and alone than to create so much tension with my son that he would never open up to me. If that means I’m not hard on him, then I’m willing to end the marriage. I cannot live with someone who cannot accept me as I am.” Our eyes met. “When are you going to stop hiding that light inside of you?”
“I’m not hiding it,” I said.
You stopped talking. Your fingers splayed to catch the brittle night. “You’re such a liar.”
When the shuttle arrived, we sat next to each other and continued to chat until the bus driver said, “Hush. People are trying to sleep.” You tilted your head close to mine, and our heads touched. “Let’s whisper,” you said.
It was after midnight. “We should be sleeping,” I said. “We both have to be at work by eight.”
You whispered, “But I could talk to you all night.”
I smiled. “And I could listen to you all night.”
You said, “You are a good listener.”
We touched noses and continued talking.
I felt your voice vibrating against my skin. I felt your energy infiltrating me with new life. I felt your words filling me up, making me full.
“I have plenty of friends who say they’re writers,” you said, “but I’ve never seen anything they’ve written.”
“It’s a tough business,” I said.
“That doesn’t matter.” You wrapped your arm around my shoulder, tugging me closer. I placed my head against your shoulder and felt safe and warm and loved and understood. You said, “You’ve published five books.”
“I only sell one book for every five hundred hits on my website,” I said.
“That’s good.” Your voice uplifted me. “The average conversion rate is one to two percent.”
I was too tired to try to calculate the mathematical formula to verify if you were correct. “I won’t feel so bad anymore,” I said, although I knew deep down I would continue to compare myself to my friends, many of whom had books for sale in the Hudson Bookstore at the airport terminal at LAX.
You held me closer and whispered, “You’re a star.”
I smiled against your shirt, too uncomfortable for words.
Later, as the shuttle drifted through San Francisco, our words grew sparser, our breaths grew longer, and our eyelids grew heavier until we parted into dreams.
When the bus driver jolted us awake, we parted like plastic peeling away from skin, reluctantly and hesitatingly, a film of body heat clinging to us like memory. You said, “I enjoyed our conversation.”
We stepped out into the night, and while I waited for my boss to disembark to drive me home, you pulled me into your arms and said, “Even if we never see each other again, I will always look into the heavens and think of you because you are a star.”
I felt my throat tighten and tears well up against the surface of my eyes. “This night reminds me of the movie Before Sunrise,” I said.
You chuckled, stepping back and holding me with your hands on my shoulders. “No, it’s more like Clerks.”
I shook my head. “It was more like destiny.”
You smiled and nodded, donning your hat and walking away to the long term parking lot, leaving me alone.
Weeks have passed since that night. And whenever I am alone after midnight I think of you and wonder if you still think I am a star.
A successful publicity campaign begins months before a book is released. It’s designed to generate interest, stimulate pre-orders, and ensure the buzz behind the book translates into actual sales. It’s a long, arduous process that is supposed to be fun. Yes, fun. Especially if your idea of fun includes hitting a brick wall of resistance no matter whom you contact or what you pitch.
At first, I thought it was just me. I’m new to the whole process of contacting people and publications that might be interested in helping me promote my book. But I later discovered it’s a little more complicated than that. In fact, if I thought writing was hard and finding a publisher even harder and securing an agent completely impossible, then the reward to effort ratio for securing publicity out beat all of them.
1. I am not famous. When you’re famous, your publicist becomes your gatekeeper so that you are not inundated with frivolous requests of your time and talent which could be better spent producing new work, which is what you solely do.
2. I am not rich. Without a monthly budget of $20,000 to hire the top tiered publicist in the nation, I cannot expect to receive $20,000 of endorsements each month no matter how much I wish, hope, and pray.
3. I am ordinary. And not the oh-so-ordinary-girl-next-door-refreshingly-quaint ordinariness that inspires fame and fortune like Jennifer Garner, but the she-would-be-brilliant-if-she-stopped-making-emotional-decisions ordinary.
Therefore, I need to approach publicity from a different angle, focusing on the themes of my book. Although my memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck, deals with a wide range of topics from ambition, childhood, courage, cultural differences, faith, family, forgiveness, identity, marriage, resilience, weight, and womanhood, I’ve been repeatedly asked by interested parties to write new material that addresses the intersection of the Chinese culture and the Catholic faith. I do not understand the public’s fascination with the Chinese Catholic experience anymore than I understand their obsession with the Amish mafia.
But I’ve been asked to become a witness to this unique experience. It’s what the public wants. And if I want any publicity for my memoir, then I must deliver what the public wants. It’s the only way to get past the brick wall of resistance.
Sometimes when we are stuck in our careers or our life, we need help.
Last year, after a frustrating summer, I fell into a slump. I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my life. At this late stage of the game, I had thought I would be a stay-at-home wife and mother who wrote and published books to supplement my husband’s income. My life was very different. I was a full-time professional with a husband who primarily took care of the children while managing his computer business. I had little time to be a wife and a mother. I had even less time for writing and painting. Often I had no time at all.
In October, I sought the help of a local psychic, Jan Kucker. She read my energy and said, “Your guides are turning away from the past and facing the future. Your life is going to dramatically change.”
My life didn’t change instantaneously. Jan had given me homework to do. I was to start believing I was worthy of receiving all the good things I was so willing to give to others. I had to start accepting the gifts the universe wanted to give me. The first step was to believe I deserved to receive!
Believing was something I reserved for others. I believed in God, my husband, my children, even my staff members. But I never stopped to consider whether or not I believed in myself.
I had been in a habit of doing: writing, rewriting, querying, and submitting story after story. Doing is one thing. Believing is another. I had to create a habit of believing.
Like a good student, I started on my homework. Jan was right. Once I started believing, I started achieving. Two weeks later, my manuscript won the 2014 Memoir Discovery Contest!
You can spend your entire life focused on the work you have to do. But if you do not believe you are worth the fruits of your labor, your efforts will be lost.
You have to believe to achieve. Yes, doing the work is half the journey but you won’t finish the journey if you don’t believe you can.
Look in the mirror and say, “I am worthy of receiving,” then go out into the world with your arms wide open and let good things come to you.