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Family ghosts

Auntie May

Auntie May was born in 1919 to the eldest son of a pearl merchant. The family home was close to Tai Lake in Zhejiang Province. Auntie May’s life was molded by an extraordinary period in Chinese history: the final death throes of the Qing dynasty, the rise of Shanghai as the Paris of the East […]

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Craft

Before and After

Every writer needs a good editor. Finding a good editor is easier said than done. You might get lucky, as I have, in finding serious feedback in a creative writing class, a critique group or a writing conference. But feedback and editing are two different animals. You need the former while you’re still writing. Feedback […]

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Food Garden

In the Chinese Garden

At this particular juncture of the stars, I am in the process of putting to bed both my garden and my novel manuscript. My garden doesn’t deserve this treatment. There are at least 3 more months of growing season here in Amsterdam. According to my gardening app, I should be sowing lettuce, marigolds, red beets, […]

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Blogging

I love blogging

I started blogging because my publisher told me to. All authors have to blog these days, she said, just as all authors need a social media presence. Readers want to feel a personal connection to an author. But I know plenty of authors who refuse to blog. They warned me. It’s too much work. It […]

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Craft Creative writing workshops The Shanghai Quartet

Rewriting History

Last month, I gave a master class on novel writing at the International Writers’ Collective. Because my debut novel is set in Shanghai 1937, we spent a little time talking about the historical research that went into The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. Out of fear of disappearing into the research rabbit hole, I decided […]

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Author event Craft Creative writing workshops

Violent Femmes

Last weekend, I gave a master class in novel writing for the International Writers’ Collective. Or, rather, I squirmed in the hot seat while director Sarah Carriger peppered me with a series of home questions about writing and eventually publishing my novel The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. I did my best to answer her […]

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Craft Shanghai noir

Who Am I?

Identity politics are all the rage, even within the world of books. This is odd since most of us are chameleons. We shape our identity to match our current circumstances as easily as we change clothes or the color of our hair. Child, spouse, parent. Angeleno, American, Dutch. An author identity is a choice, too, […]

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About Karen Kao Amsterdam Author event Book tour California Creative writing workshops

2017 in Words & Pictures

This so-called Chinese proverb is actually the brainchild of American adman Fred Barnard, who dreamed it up in 1921. He wanted folks to take him seriously, hence the fake Chinese source. Madeleine Thien is no huckster though she is a novelist. In Do Not Say We Have Nothing, she says the Chinese ancients believed that […]

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Craft Shanghai The Shanghai Quartet

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 […]

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Book tour Historical fiction

Day of the Dead

Every culture has a tradition of honoring the dead. It may be grave sweeping in China or the Obon festival in Japan. On All Souls’s Day here in Amsterdam, families set candle-lit boots loose onto the lake in Vondelpark to send messages to departed loved ones. History is another way to remember the dead. It’s […]