Special thanks to Carol Lueck for hosting the event. She makes every occasion warm and wonderful just like her store–the best place to buy one-of-a-kind gifts, mostly locally made, and easy to ship from the onsite USPS service station.
It’s been a long and glorious trip, full of adventures I’ll cherish forever. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Not even the crying babies on the two-and-a-half hour flight from Washington DC to Chicago. It’s all been good.
I had a wonderful time in San Francisco reading from Red Eggs and Good Luck and discussing growing up biracial during the Great American Melting Pot and autographing books for readers. I especially enjoyed the lively discussion with readers who shared the same upbringing that I did. They have inspired me to continue to tell my stories.
Special thanks to my publicist, Eva Zimmerman, for arranging the event and the entire staff of Green Apple Books for making my visit memorable.
Only one more stop on my nationwide book tour…stay tuned.
This week I’ll be traveling from city to city to speak about Red Eggs and Good Luck. I’ll be posting blogs when I can and updating Twitter or Facebook when I can’t. I’m looking forward to meeting some fans and making new friends and exploring new cities. Special thanks to my publicist Eva, my longtime fan Sydney, and my fellow writer Amanda for helping make this trip possible.
In celebration of the release of Red Eggs and Good Luck: A Memoir, here’s a Q&A with Angela Lam, the author:
1. One of the first scenes in your memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck, describes your experience, at eleven years old, being taken to get a makeover–a face makeup application and your hair cut and permed–by your father, “to look American, like [your mother].” How did that experience shape your self-esteem and sense of identity, as a young girl?
(AL) That experience made me feel inadequate and ugly. It wasn’t enough to be who I was. I had to enhance what I was given in order to attract attention, affection, and love. Later in life, I broke up with men who wanted me to wear more makeup than I was comfortable wearing. I ended up marrying a man who doesn’t care that I don’t wear any makeup at all.
2. As the daughter of a Chinese immigrant father and an American (caucasian) mother, it feels as if you are born into distant worlds. Did you ever feel conflicted about your Chinese heritage and your American heritage, and whether to be proud or ashamed of your multicultural background?
(AL) I always felt ashamed and misunderstood about being both Chinese and Caucasian. I never felt like I fit into either world. I was half of this and half of that, never a whole person. It’s easier now to accept both sides of my upbringing, but the world is a more accepting place than it was in the 1970’s.
3. Your father constantly strives for perfection–for his family to be “American,” and for you all to “keep up with the Jones.'” What do you think pushed him down that unattainable path as you were growing up?
(AL) American movies inspired my father to be “American” and to “keep up with the Jones.” All movies end with everyone living happily-ever-after. American movies showed him that if he just fit in, then he would be happy.
4. You are the oldest of three girls in your family. In Chinese culture, girls are frowned upon and boys are held up on pedestals. When did you first recognize that the lack of boys in your family was causing issues for your father and your father’s family? How did it make you feel?
(AL) I realized the lack of boys in my family was causing problems when my grandmother, Mah-Mah, stayed with us. She constantly bickered with my father in Cantonese. When my youngest sister was born, Mah-Mah removed the diaper to verify the baby’s gender. She was highly disappointed that my father never gave her a grandson. Their relationship affected me indirectly. Because my father didn’t feel complete love and acceptance from his mother, it was hard for him to give it to my sisters and me.
5. Your mother struggled with weight and self-esteem issues. As a girl, did you recognize signs that she may have been suffering? How did her self-esteem and weight issues impact you?
(AL) I just remember my mother being the most beautiful sad woman in the world. Her self-esteem and weight issues led me down a rocky road toward anorexia, bulimia, and overeating. I still struggle with my weight and self-esteem and never feel quite as beautiful as I am told I am.
6. Talk about the roles that art, writing, and faith, played in your life? How did each help you through hardships, as you were growing up?
(AL) Art, writing, and faith sustained me as I grew up. Through art, I was able to express my feelings. Through writing, I was able to rewrite my life into the way I always imagined it should be. And faith gave me hope that I would one day have the power to transcend my circumstances and create the life I wanted for me.
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.
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.
The other day, my husband asked, “What more do I have to sacrifice for your success?”
I had just announced I would be missing another family function in order to audition for a radio spot that would air in October to promote my memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck. Since January, I had been pitching articles, essays, videos, appearances, and speaking engagements in anticipation of snagging prime spots to showcase the book in the hopes of increasing the number of pre-orders and garnering more sales.
Of course, my husband didn’t understand. I hadn’t publicized my other books outside of social media and local appearances. But after discussing my goals with my publisher, I decided to hire a publicist and expand my marketing efforts beyond anything I had ever anticipated doing. My family cringed when I announced how much time and money I planned to devote to this book. My husband said, “We need a new car!” My daughter asked, “How am I going to afford college?” My son, who can’t talk, didn’t say anything. But if he could, I’m sure he would have protested too.
No one knows the magic formula that causes one book to rise to the best seller list and another book to remain unknown. Publishing experts offer advice, but the truth remains a mystery. Otherwise, the formula would be replicated without fail.
My family knew I was gambling, placing a bet on something that may or may not pay off. But a lot of the risks we take in life are gambles, including the biggest risk of all: falling in love. Exposing yourself to another human being with the chance of being hurt and disappointed doesn’t stop most people from taking the first step to connect.
So when my husband asked, “What more do I have to sacrifice for your success?” I responded, “Whatever it takes for however long it takes.”
Success doesn’t have a deadline. Neither does love. Or anything else that’s worth the sacrifice.