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Watch: US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith at The Bookworm

In case you missed our poetry event last month headlined by the current U.S. poet laureate, Tracy K. Smith, here’s a video from that night’s proceedings. (Excuse us for the camera placement at the start, we got it fixed very quickly!)

Here’s a rundown of the poems that were read, with timestamps corresponding to the above video:

6:10: Simon Shieh – Little Snow
13:00: Kassy Lee – Master of Beijing; 14:50 – Every 28 Hours, A New Name for Bloodred
17:30: Anthony Tao – That Absent Person | WATCH
23:00: Ming Di – Between Here and There (from “River Merchant’s Wife”); 25:40 – Looking for Maya
31:50: Mario Bojorquez, several poems
49:20: Yi Lei – Love’s Dance (情舞)
50:40: Introduction to Tracy K. Smith
53:10: Tracy K. Smith, several poems | WATCH

Event host Anthony Tao wrote about Smith’s visit to Beijing for SupChina, which you can read here.

US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith is Coming to Beijing Bookworm

UPDATE: We’ve posted the full video from the event here.

Attention, poetry lovers: there’s a true can’t-miss event coming up on Monday, October 9 at 7:30 pm, when the current poet laureate of the United States, Tracy K. Smith, comes to The Bookworm in Beijing to give a reading. This will be the first time a sitting US poet laureate has spoken at our humble bookshop.


Smith is the author of three books of poetry. Her 2011 collection, Life on Mars, won the Pulitzer Prize. As The New York Times described it, “As all the best poetry does, ‘Life on Mars’ first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled.”

Smith will be joined by an all-star lineup, including award-winning Mexican poet/translator Mario Bojórquez, prolific Chinese poet/artist Yi Lei, and renowned poet/translator Ming Di. Rounding out the readers are community poets who are active in and have made significant contributions to the local creative arts scene: Matthew Byrne, the creator and managing director of Spittoon [UPDATE: Byrne will not be able to attend]; Simon Shieh, editor-in-chief of Spittoon Literary Magazine and the Beijing Youth Literary Review; and Kassy Lee, co-founder of Transmigrant Flow and Asia coordinator of the Visible Poetry Project.

The event will be hosted by Anthony Tao, a poetry editor and former Bookworm Literary Festival coordinator.

Tickets are on sale now at The Bookworm. The full lineup follows.

Tracy K. Smith is the current U.S. Poet Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her 2011 poetry collection Life on Mars. Her long-awaited fourth book of poetry, Wade in the Water, will be published in April 2018. Smith’s memoir, Ordinary Light, was a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction. She is currently director of the creative writing program at Princeton University.

Mario Bojórquez, Mexican poet and translator, is co-founder and editor of the internationally renowned journal Círculo de Poesía and founder of the Valparaíso Ediciones México publishing house. He directs the Encuentro Internacional de Poesía Ciudad de México. He has published numerous books of poetry and translation and won awards from Spain and Latin America as well as national awards in Mexico.

Yi Lei, Chinese poet and artist, studied creative writing at the Lu Xun Academy and the Writers’ Program at Peking University. She has published eight collections of poems, among them A Single Woman’s Bedroom, The Love Poems of Yi Lei, and Women’s Age. She spent ten years in Russia as an art dealer and currently lives in Songzhuang artist village.

Ming Di is a Chinese poet based in Los Angeles and a literary translator with publications of four books of poetry from English to Chinese. She has also co-translated four books from Chinese to English, including Empty Chairs (Graywolf Press). She organizes poetry projects and is the China editor of Poetry International Rotterdam.

Matthew Byrne is a British poet who completed his MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2009. He is the founder and director of Spittoon, an arts organization and literary magazine based in Beijing with branches in Chengdu and Suzhou. He has overseen Spittoon’s expansion to include a monthly poetry, fiction, and slam poetry night in Beijing, plus a poetry-music collaboration called Spit-Tunes. [UPDATE: Byrne will not be able to attend]

Simon Shieh is an American poet whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in GristKartika ReviewCALAMITYAztec Literary Review, and others. Simon is director of InkBeat Arts, an organization dedicated to empowering young people through artistic expression, and the writer-in-residence at the International School of Beijing. He is also the editor-in-chief of Spittoon Literary Magazine and Beijing Youth Literary Review.

Kassy Lee is an American poet and author of the chapbooks The Period of Warring States (Another New Calligraphy, 2017) and zombia (dancing girl press, 2014). She is the co-founder of Transmigrant Flow, an arts collective that curates experimental events that foster racial inclusivity. She is also the Asia coordinator for the Visible Poetry Project, which brings together poets and filmmakers to produce short films in honor of National Poetry Month.

EVENT HOST Anthony Tao is a writer and editor in Beijing whose poetry has appeared in journals such as Prairie SchoonerKartika ReviewAsian ChaPoetry East West, etc. (see more at He is the founding editor of the news/society/culture website Beijing Cream and previously coordinated the international China Bookworm Literary Festival. He is also co-captain of Beijing’s premier Ultimate Frisbee team.

An Evening with Downton Abbey composer John Lunn

An Evening with Downton Abbey composer John Lunn


John Lunn’s music possesses a wonderfully unique voice that spans a wide spectrum of musical styles. Classically trained, yet contemporary in attitude, he combines a highly intelligent and sensitive approach with a sound that always hits at the emotional heart of a piece. His scores, which match the highest production values with a continual desire to discover new colours and sounds, are continuously in high demand. He is probably best known for scoring the hugely successful flagship ITV/NBC/PBS/Carnival Films drama, Downton Abbey, for which he has received two Primetime Emmy Awards, in 2012 and 2013 and a further nomination in 2014, as well as a BAFTA nomination in 2012.

John’s recent work includes ITV/PBS/Lovely Day’s adaption of The Grantchester Mysteries by author James Runcie, Red Planet’s epic WW1 drama The Passing Bells, the feature film Electricity starring Agyness Deyn, Burton And Taylor (starring Dominic West and Helena Bonham-Carter), Shetland, The White Queen (based on the bestselling novel by Phillipa Gregory), for which he also received a Primetime Emmy nomination in 2014, and the reimagining of Hitchcock’s classic The Lady Vanishes, all for the BBC.

He is currently scoring Jamestown from the producers of Downton, Series 2 of The Last Kingdom, an adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s best selling “The Saxon Stories” for BBC/BBC America and the upcoming STARZ series The White Princess.

He has received critical acclaim for three adaptations of Charles Dickens classics: the BBC/Masterpiece centenary adaptation of The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, for which he was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award (2013), a 14-part re-imagining of Little Dorrit (2008), which garnered both a BAFTA nomination and his first Primetime Emmy nomination, and Bleak House (2006) , for which he received RTS Best Score and Best Title nominations.


John is also a highly accomplished concert pianist and will play some pieces during the event.


About Zhang Lijia

Zhang Lijia is a writer, social commentator and public speaker. She is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Socialism Is Great! about her rocket factory experience, and recently published her debut novel Lotus.


Sunday, Jun 18 at 7:30pm

50RMB (Includes a drink)

Quilling Cards Valentine’s Day Workshop

Come along to a special Valentine’s Day workshop and learn the art of quilling and create beautiful Valentine’s Day cards!

Quilling is the art of rolled, shaped, and glued paper that results in creating a unified, decorative design. The art of quilling has been around for centuries, with a remarkably varied historical background spanning across continents. This art form has persevered through time, most notably making its mark throughout the eastern world. Today, quilling is resurfacing again as a more accessible, affordable hobby for people of every age and background.
Date: 5th February
Time: 11am
Age group: Children 7+
Price:  80RMB
Limited spaces so book your place by emailing:

Meet The Author: Nancy Pellegrini

nanciBW: For those of us who will be meeting you for the first time at this book talk, could you briefly introduce yourself? What first brought you to China and what do you do here?

NP: My name is Nancy Pellegrini; I came to China from New York in 2000. I had done some cultural writing on Korea when I lived there, and I had hoped to do the same in China, to stay four years or so, and then to go somewhere else. But I found China so rich and so complex – in a good way – that I didn’t want to leave. Then in 2005, I became stage editor of Time Out Beijing magazine. Five years later, Time Out Shanghai opened, and I took the same position there, covering theatre, dance, classical music and opera events in both cities. I had been involved the arts my entire life, and now I was getting paid to write about them – I couldn’t believe my luck. The job also gives me a lot of freedom to do other writing and editing work, as well as to travel and to run a classical music salon, so it’s a good setup for me.

BW: The link between Shakespeare and China may not be immediately obvious to the casual observer. Where did the inspiration for your book come from? 

NP: I’ve seen Shakespeare plays here over the years, and I had already written an article on the translator Zhu Shenghao, whose depth of sacrifice is still staggering to me – and to everyone else. It was always at the back of my mind, but really, it was simple curiosity at first; the topic sounded interesting. But when I started researching, and I realised how much effort so many Chinese put into learning, performing or understanding Shakespeare, it was humbling. We always hear that Shakespeare is universal, but I didn’t truly understand that until I learned about Shakespeare in China.

BW: The prospect of gathering information on a writer as prolific as Shakespeare, and his impact on a country as large and diverse as China, seems like a daunting task. How did you go about gathering your research for this book? 

NP: Well, while there are millions of books written on Shakespeare, the field of Shakespeare in China is much narrower, and that’s where my focus lay. I started by reading academic-style books on Shakespeare in Chinaand taking detailed notes, to set up a structure. Then I started doing interviews with professors and theatre practitioners, both foreign and Chinese, so I could build on what I wrote, and so I could use their voices (more interesting than mine) to make the story come alive. I only had about four months to research and write, so it was a lot of work, but fortunately for me, Penguin Specials can’t be more than 25,000 words, so at least I had an achievable goal.

BW: Shakespeare’s works can be hard to understand even for native English speakers! What were some of the biggest challenges facing Chinese translators of his works?

 NP: Translation is incredibly difficult. For starters, the language is completely different;iambic pentameter doesn’t work in Chinese, although some translators tried to recreate the pattern using groups of syllables (yinzu) and pauses (dun), or to work in verse rather than prose. Then there are the cultural references to the Bible and Greek mythology, which are hard to explain, and the fact that even things like the sun and the moon symbolise different things in the East and West. For example, Shakespeare always felt the sun was about strength and consistency, but the changing moon is less dependable – Juliet calls it “the inconstant moon.” Furthermore, scholars here will say that reference materials are not always available, and directors and actors will say that even translations that work on the page don’t always work on the stage – that they’re beautiful to read but difficult to say.

BW: How is the story of Shakespeare in China different from that of other non-English-speaking countries? What makes this relationship particularly interesting?

NP: In terms of Shakespeare interpretations, they vary widely. For example, I heard about an anthropologist in Africa who told the story of Hamlet to some tribal leaders. They were confused – why did Gertrude wait so long to marry her husband’s brother? Why was Hamlet so angry, after his uncle was so kind to him? Another example I read was about Romeo and Juliet in Japan – we see their deaths as the definition of wasted lives and youthful tragedy, but the Japanese felt that ritual suicide was the only option they had. But in terms of a relationship, one reason that Shakespeare spread so far was because of British colonialism(in India and other former British territories), or by love of literature and drama (in Germany and particularly Russia). What I found interesting about Shakespeare in China is that his popularity peaks coincided with drastic political change, particularly in the 1900s to 1920s (the transition from feudalism to modern society), the 1950s (the advent of New China) and the 1980s (reform and opening up). Now, there may be a revival, as China becomes a superpower, and there are serious efforts to link Shakespeare with Tang Xianzu, the Chinese playwright who died the same year. That might give new life to both of them.

BW: You released this book to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. What impact does the Bard continue to have on China today?

NP: I mentioned the linkage with Tang Xianzu already; also, there is also a massive collaborative translation project underway between the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, which will hopefully create more actor-friendly scripts, and in turn increase the number of productions. But what’s really surprising is the depth of feeling. For example, students start drama clubs in universities where they perform Shakespeare for fun – and some don’t even perform, they just sit around on weekends and read the plays together. And at my last book talk in Chengdu, there were fourteen-year-olds in the audience, without parents, without a class assignment, just because they loved Shakespeare. I can’t imagine that happening in the West.And hopefully the combination of more foreign groups bringing Shakespeare in, and new translations leading to more local plays, even at a university level, the Bard will be even bigger.

Meet the Author: Zhang Mei

zhangmeiBW: You’ve had a very varied career so far. What made you decide that it was time to write a book? What was your inspiration?

ZM: The truth is, I have always wanted to write a book, particularly about Yunnan, a region that I am lucky to have known most of my life.  Started in 2005, I was living in the United States then, but wanted to recreate the food I grew up with. So, I went back to Yunnan to learn cooking and record cook books. Those draft recipes got put aside when work with WildChina, the travel business, became more intense when I moved back to China. But, the idea of a book combining culture, people stories, food, and good photography never left me.

This specific book idea came up when we were celebrating WildChina’s 15thbirthday. I didn’t want to have a book showing all the major milestones/achievements of a company. So boring, who’d read it?  Instead, I thought, what if I take people on a journey that I often undertake myself to develop a trip. We are lucky to be able to travel and see beautiful things and people all the time, but not everyone could do it, given possible barriers of language, time, or money. Maybe I could do a book documenting that.

BW: I think everyone can see the attraction of travelling through Dali, but I have to ask – why the leg of ham?

ZM: Ham for me represents a very happy home – good food with family and friends. That’s what I think about when I think about Dali, my childhood home, despite the fact that my childhood was impoverished and never had the chance to have a full leg of ham. But in memory, even hardship has a special attraction to it.
Also to me, Yunnan is not just one of China’s top tourist destinations, the beauty goes deep, in the age-old traditions, in the hardworking spirit of the locals, in the normal pains and troubles of family life. So, I’ve chosen ham as a way to showcase the local life, and hope to show the beauty of Yunnan with the taste, sounds and images of Yunnan.

BW: Yunnan is your home, but you have lived in other places, including overseas, for some time. Did you notice new sides to your hometown when you returned with an “outsider” perspective? How did this influence the book?

ZM: In Chinese, there is a phrase that says “ Traveling 10,000 lis is equivalent to reading 10000 books”, and I think of traveling as a way to broaden one’s perspective. For me, living overseas gave me fresher perspective to appreciate the beauty of what an old home has to offer.
Marcel Proust, a French author, said it best. “the voyage of discovery lies not in seeing new sights, but in looking with new eyes.” I completely agree. That’s what I hope the book does, to look at Dali with new eyes.

BW: You are involved in sustainable tourism through your organisation “WildChina”. Where did your interest in this field come from? How does this all tie in with your book?

ZM: I have never been a fan of travel industry, honestly. I think to be an industry, you need scale, and by scale, the industry means big tour buses and millions of tourists.  Then naturally, scaled travel industry somehow takes away the beauty of discovery.  When I started WildChina, I wanted to simply assist travellers to get a richer experience of China, closer to the Chinese people, away from tour buses and cruise ships and tourist trinket shops. I did and am still doing that WildChina, in fact, with the extension of taking Chinese travellers overseas as well.

The success recipe for WildChina, is that travel extends beyond tourist sites, to the simple encounters with local farmers, artisans. This books tries to explore the stories of all these wonderful local individuals, without pigeon-holing them as a tourist experience provider, but simply as a local person comfortable in his/her own elements. They are proud to be photographed, their stories to be heard. To me, that’s the ultimate authentic and sustainable travel experience one could ask for.

BW: China is undergoing huge transformation at an unbelievable pace. In your experience, what are some of the biggest challenges facing provinces like Yunnan? What suggestions would you make for how best to move forward?

The biggest challenge is that tourism development has been extremely mono-colored.  By this, I mean, there seems to be a common playbook that the travel industry follows, developing cable cars, ethnic shows, large hotels. There is a lack of creative development of travel experiences. The cheap tourist souvenir you find in Yellow Mountain is very similar to the ones you find in Lijiang. Because of a low quality low cost travel product, you attract large amounts of low paying customer. Then the travel industry faces the same dilemma that Chinese manufacturing faces, how to upgrade and innovate for a better product. I think the only way out is to courage creative entrepreneurs/artists to create more sophisticated travel products to meet the market demand. Travellers don’t need another tourist site, but they need another WOW experience.

BW: What advice would you give to anyone who is inspired to visit Dali, or Yunnan Province, after reading your book?

ZM: Dali has so much more to offer beyond the Cangshan Mountain and Erhailake. Give it a week, comb through the small villages one at a time, and simply find opportunities to hang out with locals like the ones featured in the book. That’s when you touch the earthiness of the destination.

By the way, most of the experiences from the book are now featured on a chinese website: You can connect with the characters there to book their time to cook a meal with you, or show you how to make a leg of ham.

Schedule for Mini North Korean Film Festival

mini-north-korean-festivalThe Bookworm and Koryo Tours present a mini North Korean Film Festival. Over two weeks, five movies featuring elements of travel, DPRK propaganda as well as a story with Dennis Rodman will be shown at The Bookworm. After the movies we will have Q-and-A sessions with a representative from Koryo Tours to discuss the subject covered in each film. The Koryo tours just came back from the Pyongyang International Film Festival so they have a lot of knowledge and experiences to share! Check what they do here:

November 30th at 7:30pm: A State of Mind (2004) (93 min)

A State of Mind is a 2004 documentary film directed by Daniel Gordon and produced by Nicholas Bonner, the founder of Koryo Tours. The film follows two North Korean child gymnasts and their families for over eight months during training for the 2003 Pyongyang mass games. The film won two awards at the North Korean Pyongyang International Film Festival in 2004 and was shown at 11 other film festivals worldwide before being released in a theatrical run in 2005. Buy your tickets online here

December 2nd at 7:30pm:  Friends of Kim (2006) (71min)

A Dutch film crew follows a group of Westerners on a 12-day tour of North Korea organized by the western-based Korean Friendship Association. The documentary shows various staged events, partly in honor of the group and partly where the tour participants are being exploited for propaganda purposes. The film features commentary by the group members throughout. It also documents an incident whereby ABC News journalist Andrew Morse has his hotel room broken into and his videotapes stolen by the leader of the KFA, Spanish citizen Alejandro Cao de Benos de Les y Pérez. Buy your tickets online here

December 5th at 7:30pm: Aim High in Creation (2013) (1hour 20min)

Determined to stop a gas mine being built near her inner-city Sydney home, Anna Broinowski, in a world first, goes to North Korea to meet the masters of propaganda film-making, who teach her how to make a revolutionary drama in which “heroic workers” overthrow the “evil gas miners” – all executed in the Dear Leader’s proudly melodramatic style. Back in Sydney, Anna’s brave western cast follow the North Koreans’ instructions, culminating in an uplifting, anti-capitalist drama. Buy your tickets online here

December 9th at 7:30pm: Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang (2015)

Dennis Rodman is on a mission. After forging an unlikely friendship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, he wants to improve relations between North Korea and the US by staging a historic basketball game between the two countries. But the North Korean team isn’t the only opposition he’ll face… Condemned by the NBA and The Whitehouse, and hounded every step of the way by the press, can Dennis keep it together and make the game happen? Or will it go up in a mushroom cloud of smoke? For the first time, discover the true story of what happened when Dennis Rodman took a team of former-NBA players to North Korea and staged the most controversial game of basketball the world has never seen.

December 14th at 7:30pm: Departures (2009) 

Departures (also promoted as departures.) is a travel adventure television series. Featuring Nick Bonner going to North Korea.
Ticket for 5 movies: 200RMB (Includes 5 free drinks)
Buy your ticket for 5 movies here

Tickets also can be ordered via

Meet the author: Bill Porter

We are excited to meet Bill Porter who will speak at The Bookworm on October 28th about his recently published book
“There are very few westerners who could successfully cover so much territory in China, but Porter pulls it off. Finding Them Gone uniquely draws upon his parallel careers as a translator and a travel writer in ways that his previous books have not. A lifetime devoted to understanding Chinese culture and spirituality blossoms within its pages to create something truly rare.”—The Los Angeles Book Review
The Bookworm asked Bill a couple of questions to help our readers better understand his work.
The Bw: Your passion for and understanding of Chinese poetry and its history really comes through in your latest book, Finding Them Gone. What was the research process for writing this book?
BP: First, I had to decide on a route and an itinerary to go with it whereby I could visit the graves and former homes of as many of China’s greatest poets of the past as efficiently as possible – I decided in advance that I would restrict myself to thirty days. That seems to be my travel limit.  The route I came up with was to begin with Confucius and then travel westward up the Yellow River as far as Xian, then cross the mountains to the south, then head eastward down the Yangtze, and end up at the grave of Han-shan, or Cold Mountain.  Once the route was set, I had to locate graves and former homes.  About half of these I already knew.  The internet supplied most of the other half.

The BW: Having dedicated almost a lifetime to the subject of the history of Chinese poetry, was it easy to write Finding Them Gone, or were there any difficulties?

BP: The only difficulty was in the scope.  I bit off an awful lot.  I came up with over 40 poets and didn’t want to shortchange any of them.  So I had to a lot more research than I had expected.  Also, finding the right poems to translate to represent each poet took some work.  But I was happy with the result.  The gods clearly smiled on my endeavor.

The BW : Could you tell us a little bit more about your journey to become a renowned Chinese translator?

BP:It started in a monastery in Taiwan where I lived for three years. One day the abbot gave me a copy of Han-shan’s poems he had published.  Along with the Chinese, he pirated Burton Watson’s English translations of 100 of Han-shan’s 300 poems.  Seeing how a translator worked inspired me to do the same.  Initially, I saw it as a way of improving my Chinese.  As time went on, though, I became enamored of the art of translation.

The BW: What would you consider to be the most challenging part of translating Chinese poetry?

BP: I would say patience.  Translations go through countless versions.  The challenge is being able to be open to redoing what one comes up with.  I never stop making changes until the publisher says it’s time to go to press.

The BW: What would you consider be the most memorable part of your career?

BP: The struggle. There’s no money in translation, especially the translation of poetry.  I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’ve done without help.  I’ve had to put my house on the market twice because I couldn’t pay my bills.  And I couldn’t have survived in America without food stamps.  But money has always somehow appeared.  Not a lot, but enough so I could keep doing what I love to do.

The BW: You spent 22 years living in Asia. Do you see yourself going back to live in Asia again, considering your works are very popular in Mainland China?

BP: I like to travel in China. The history is so palpable.  And transportation now is so easy.  But I have a nice house in a small town and friends who come by often enough and a garden that keeps my wife occupied half the year, and I walk on the beach every day.  It would be hard to give all this up at this stage of my life.  I’m easily content.

The BW: Are you currently working on another book? If not, do you plan to write another book in the future?

BP: I’m thinking of writing a book about another pilgrimage I took last Fall.  I visited all the places where the poet Ezra Pound lived: his house in Philadelphia, the graves of his two best friends: Hilda Doolittle and William Carlos Williams, all the places he lived and hung out in London, Paris, Provence, and Italy, his grave in Venice, and spent a night drinking with his daughter at her castle in Northern Italy (she was 91 and had some really fine rye), and the insane asylum in Washington DC, where Ezra stayed for 12 years avoiding the hangman’s noose for supporting Mussolini.  I think there’s a book there.  But I’m getting increasingly lazy and spending more time with friends.  So who knows?  Twenty books in print, I think, might be enough.


Meet the Author: Sam Ferrer

samlast-gods-full-cover-final2The Bookworm spoke with Sam Ferrer, the author of The Last Gods of Indochine and a professional double bassist, member of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, about his recently published novel and his life as a writer. Sam will speak at The Bookworm on October 27th.

The BW: We know that as a musician, you are used to writing songs, but what first inspired you to write novels?

Sam: I had a long-held dream to write a novel, but never expected it to happen until much later in life. After a trip to Cambodia, I was blindsided by a premise I thought would be fascinating for a story, so one night I made a decision to go for it. That was the beginning of a 12 year journey of writing and editing a novel. Although writing fiction has little in common with writing songs, there are some important mindsets that proved essential: faith in small steps, embracing criticism (which can easily be mistaken for failure), and long-term vision are all disciplines I already had as a musician, so I didn’t buckle when the going got rough.

The BW: The book focuses on Indochina. Where did your interest in this topic come from?

Sam:During that trip I was struck by a photograph of well-dressed promenaders and vintage cars at the footsteps of a full-scale reconstruction of the top level of Angkor Wat at the 1922 Colonial Exposition in Marseille. I was taken by the exploration and imagination of La Belle Époque and how the French fixation on the East captured perhaps the most exotic time during the colonial age. But even more so, I was inspired by the life of explorer Henri Mouhot, who was credited for “discovering” the temples in 1860.

The BW: What aspects of writing the novel did you enjoy? Were there any aspects you found particularly challenging?

Sam: Prose. From the start it was always my priority to write a beautiful novel, and both the most challenging and rewarding part during over one hundred passes of editing was creating fluid, smooth, and hopefully beautiful, prose. If successful, readers will enjoy the writing for its own sake.

The BW:For anyone who is interested in the topic, but may not yet have had time to read/finish your book,  what further insights can we expect from your book talk?

Sam: We can talk about history as a source of inspiration. There is a great deal of historical setting that both enriches and drives the plot. I’ve created a fictitious granddaughter of Mouhot and grafted excerpts from his actual journal into the story (published posthumously in France soon after he died in the jungles of Laos).

The BW:Do you have any plans to bring out new novels in the future?

Sam: I’ve started another work of historical fiction that, in fact, is Chinese in context—with a major twist of setting. However, I’ve had to put it on hold as I’ve recently hosted a very successful crowdfunding campaign to record another CD for my band, Shaolin Fez. As the producer, this will keep me very busy until mid-2017 at which time I hope to dive back into my second novel.

The BW: What is your biggest dream for your writing career?

Sam: My aspirations as a writer are not to churn out one novel after another. I’m far more interested in letting plots, characters, settings, and prose distill for a good while before taking the lid off. By the end of my life, I would be content if I have a few novels published that have the same sweat and patience it took to create The Last Gods of Indochine.

Meet the Author: Jennifer Haigh

heatlight-hc-cjhWe are excited to meet Jennifer Haigh who will speak at The Bookworm on October 24th about her recently published novel Heat and Light.  Heat and Light, the sixth book by American author Jennifer Haigh, looks at a community divided by the controversy over fracking. Bakerton is a dying Pennsylvania coal town that’s offered a surprise third act when the natural gas industry come to town. To drill or not to drill?  The question pits husband against wife, neighbor against neighbor, entrepreneur against environmentalist.  The Bookworm asked Jennifer a couple of questions to help our readers understand her work more.

The BW: What first inspired you to write novels?

Jennifer: I wrote short stories for many years before I attempted a novel. To me, a novel always begins with the moment after which nothing will ever be the same. When I’m writing, I don’t think about the plot so much as causality, how a single event has consequences that lead to more consequences. Working on a larger canvas allows me to play out this chain of causality in many different lives.

The BW:  Heat and Light depicts a community blessed and cursed by its natural resources. Where did your interest in this topic come from?

Jennifer: The novel is set in a place I’ve written about before, a northern Appalachian coal town modeled on the one I grew up in. I wrote one novel,Baker Towers, about the town in its heyday; and a later book, News From Heaven, about what happened to the town when the mines went bust. Heat and Light looks at how the community responds when the gas industry comes to town and offers it a surprise third act.

The BW: What aspects of writing the novel did you enjoy? Were there any aspects you found particularly challenging?

Jennifer: Everything about this novel challenged me. In the five years I spent researching and writing it, it changed shape constantly. As I wrote, I realized the story was much larger than the controversy over gas drilling. It’s really a story about the tension between economic development and protecting the environment, a question that it is particularly relevant here in China.

The BW: For anyone who is interested in the topic, but may not yet have had time to read/finish your book,  what further insights can we expect from your book talk?

Jennifer: I’ll be talking about writing as a process of discovery. More than any other book I’ve written, this one defied my attempts at planning and organization. It’s a big, complicated story, and to write it, I had to surrender to the chaos. It was a formative experience for me as a writer.


The BW: What is your biggest dream for your writing career?

Jennifer: All I want is to keep going, to get up every day and work, to write something true.


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