Archive for October, 2016

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.


Winner of 2016 Nobel Literature Prize

Bob Dylan is the winner of 2016 Nobel Literature Prize!


With a musical career spanning over six decades, Dylan’s mellifluous voice is familiar to every musical aficionado. However, trough this prestigious award, he is not awarded for his musical talents, but rather for the strong poetic lyrics he has written. According to The Swedish Academy Dylan is awarded for “…having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”


Dylan has written many songs about important issues about war, morale, and betrayal. He has also written many lyrics about heartbreak, death and love. Through these lyrics, we were taught the beauty of life’s greatest tragedies.


Though Dylan is considered by many to be a musician, not a writer, his artistic reach of his lyrics and poetry could not be put in a single box.


Dylan is one of the few legends still alive today, and not to mention still active. Just last week, he performed at the Desert Trip festival in California alongside other living legends such as Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones.


It is not know how Dylan reacted to the prize, since he is very private. Moreover, he is the first American to win the prestigious award since Toni Morrison in 1993. Even though Dylan is not a writer/poet in the traditional sense, his lyrics are considered to be literature. As the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, had said, choosing 2016’s winner “…had not been a difficult decision” and she hoped the academy would not be criticized for its choice. Bob Dylan is truly deserving of this award.

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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