Category: Shanghai

  • The Smell of Opium

    Max Lazerich is 16 years old when he runs away from home. He doesn’t want to work in his father’s soda shop. He won’t take school seriously. His dream is to see the world and so he does. The Smell of Opium is my novel-in-progress about a naive Jewish kid from New Jersey coming of…

  • Speaking in Dialects

    Dad is from the north. He thinks southerners are slippery and clannish. Their talk is impossible to follow. He prefers his native Shanghai dialect with its soft lilting sounds. Mom is a southerner. Her mother tongue is Cantonese. To me, it’s a throat-clearing ribald dialect, somewhere between a curse and an off-color joke. I’m an…

  • Jiaozi

    I love jiaozi. It’s what I want to eat when I go home to Los Angeles. It’s the first stop if I’m traveling  in Asia, whether that’s Kyoto (where they’re called gyoza), Taipei or Shanghai. For me, jiaozi is comfort food. But at least one website breathlessly declares jiaozi to be: at the heart and…

  • Mind Map

    This is the map into my interlocking novels, The Shanghai Quartet. It’s a bulletin board my husband made for me, 6 feet wide and 4 feet tall. The backdrop is a map of modern Shanghai, enlarged many times over, onto which I’ve pasted the street names in use when this was Old Shanghai. Onto that…

  • Genesis of a Quartet

    Since the publication of The Dancing Girl and the Turtle, people keep asking me: what’s next? They’re astonished to hear that I’ve got 3 more novels in the works. It’s all part of my master plan to complete The Shanghai Quartet. Was that the idea all along? Far from it. plotters and pantsers In 2011,…

  • Martial Arts

    This is me, age 14, on Judo Award Night. Notice that my brothers have already advanced to a yellow belt. I remain in white: the lowest possible level in judo. It seems to me that I got hurt a lot. I didn’t like throwing myself onto the mat. The award in my hand was probably…

  • Fujianhua

    When I dream about Shanghai, I see the Bund, the Pudong skyline, the plane trees of the old French Concession. People from every nation once strolled under those trees. Japanese, Brits, Russians, Americans, Portuguese, German, French and more. In my dreams, I hear their strange speech. I can taste their odd foodstuffs: pretzels from Germany,…

  • McTyeire School for Girls

    The tricky thing about writing historical fiction is getting the details right. Were there ballpoint pens in Shanghai in 1937? (Yes.) Or plastic chopsticks in 1954? (No.) The average reader might not care but mine would. They already know something about China or they want to delve deeper. My readers want a story that feels…

  • Grandma

    This photo of my paternal grandmother was made long after she and my grandfather had fled China. Her life was long and rich. She had witnessed the fall of the Qing dynasty, the rise of Communist China and the landing of the first man on the moon. 15 children Wong Su-ying was born in 1892…

  • Customs House

    My paternal grandfather worked for the Imperial Maritime Customs Service from 1906 to 1909. It was a curious place to work and an extraordinary creation for its time. On behalf of the Qing court, a British-led Inspectorate of Customs collected import duties owed on foreign goods. Grandpa was probably a low-level clerk, an office boy.…