What are you going to write about?

  
This is is the million dollar question, the one I get asked most frequently: “What are you going to write about?”

My usual response is that I have a general idea of what the story might be about, but  rarely know in full until it’s finished and published. It’s the people I encounter and research I do that transform the story and give it its final form. 

I’m constantly on the lookout for “nuggets,” these little sound bytes, inconsistencies, or funny details that either throw my initial hunch for a loop or make me go, “Huh! This is way more interesting than what I originally had in mind.” 

Nuggets point to something richer than what I’ve initially scratched up on the surface, show me places to dig deeper that will lead to the truest, most interesting story. 

Sometimes these nuggets add a layer of texture to the story that’s already been mined. At other times they alter the story to be completely different from the one I set out to tell. 

Glynn Washington, the storyteller behind radio show Snap Judgment, articulates this beautifully. Interviewed by journalist Daniel Alarcón in the Winter 2015 issue of California magazine, Washington had this to say about circling back on interviews to revisit stories:

“When we start an interview, we have an idea of where the interview is going to go. There’s a reason we’re talking to this person. We think we might know something of the story, and we’re looking for that person to tell it to us,” Washington said. “But then there’s the surprise, where he or she just took us somewhere the interviewer was not expecting…And we’re trying to tell stories that are really true to the person’s experience…And sometimes this great storyline we had thought out, that’s just not gonna work. That’s just not what happened. But maybe something else will.”
Sara Hayden

Aliens in America by Sandra Tsing Loh

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Delivered in three outrageously funny monologues, Sandra Tsing Loh’s “Aliens in America” makes the alien feel familiar. Image courtesy: Amazon

One audio story told in three monologues, Sandra Tsing Loh’s “Aliens in America” pulls into focus a childhood with her Chinese father and German mother in Southern California.

“I guess a man looks better in a Buick than he ought,” Loh recalls of the fateful day when her parents first met. “Especially when it’s surrounded by Southern California in the ’50s, a palm-fringed, swimming pool-dotted utopia lit by a sun so bright you actually start to hallucinate.”

Thus starts a relationship between a German woman who survived WWII bombings and a Chinese man who’d been orphaned in Shanghai. Having survived tough circumstances and given them up for cheerier ones in the U.S. is where their similarities end. Their odd union eventually leads to two daughters, including Loh and her sister Kaitlin, and innumerable family clashes. Continue reading “Aliens in America by Sandra Tsing Loh”

The Joy Luck Club: A Novel by Amy Tan

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“The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan elegantly weaves together the stories of Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters. | Image courtesy: Novelr

As a child, I’d curl up next to Mom on the couch and she’d read to me aloud. There was a constant stream of stories and picture books. One rested on a high shelf next to the fire place out of reach. Gorgeous swoops of color swirled over its cover sleeve. With its hardback, I knew it was special. It turned out to be “The Moon Lady,” and that’s how I came to know Amy Tan and my first Asian American writer.

Now more than two decades later, I turn to her first novel.

My copy of the The Joy Luck Club is dogeared and battered. Whoever had it before me, likely my parents, loved and read it well. As did I when I read it before Christmas. Continue reading “The Joy Luck Club: A Novel by Amy Tan”

My friend wrote a book!

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Who’s that? Student Barney Scollan taking on Bruce Lee in San Francisco. Image courtesy: University of Nebraska Press

Brag moment: I’ve had the great fortune to help my rockstar friend with his rockstar book and it’s featured in the latest issue of the University of Nebraska Press catalog (see page 5).

Charlie and I met working at the Half Moon Bay Review. A talented photographer, he provided pictures as I provided words and together we made hundreds of stories.

Since then he’s been writing one of his own. A big one — a biography on one of the most influential players in media and martial arts, not to mention Asian America. If you haven’t met him already, meet him now. It’s Bruce Lee!

Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America” is Charles Russo’s first book. Yes, I’m biased because I’m so very proud of him, but even if I weren’t I’d still be swept up in it because it tells a colorful, ambitiously researched tale that touches on so many fascinating topics. If you’re interested in…

– Martial arts
– Bruce Lee
– The San Francisco Bay Area
– American history
– The Asian American experience
– Really cool pop culture

… Give it a gander!

Sara Hayden

 

 

Re Jane by Patricia Park

re_janePatricia Park’s debut novel “Re Jane” recounts the post-grad life of its title heroine as she balances her Korean and American identities. | Image courtesy: Navdheep Singh Dhillon, who happens to have a really great list of recent novels by people of color.

For Jane Re, it ain’t easy being 20-something. Fresh out of college, the job market sucks and she’s peppered with criticism at home by the uncle who’s raised her in Queens. What’s a girl to do?

Get the heck out of Flushing, for starters, then find a job as a nanny, inappropriately fall for her employer, recognize the inappropriateness of it all, run far, far away, and work through something of an identity crisis.

Patricia Park’s debut novel “Re Jane” takes the reader on a relatable journey, and not just because it takes inspiration from “Jane Eyre.” While the arc of her coming of age feels familiar, Jane is different. Continue reading “Re Jane by Patricia Park”

About the Silk Knots project

Silk Knots is brought to you by mixed-race journalist Sara Hayden. The project’s mission is to document and preserve the lived experiences and histories of people — especially Asian Americans — whose stories have been previously under represented, misrepresented, and/or under acknowledged across the American West.

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I love the power of stories as a way to create and connect community. My favorites are those that zero in on humanity and culture, appearing in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Half Moon Bay Review, Peninsula Press, Resonate, and more. Below are stories about the Asian American experience. If you’re interested in being featured or have a story tip, contact me here.

Unpacking 26 Seconds with Decades of History
Half Moon Bay Review

This is a story told in five parts. The first is about hate speech that fired off at a stoplight. The next is an attempt to understand what could be happening on a deeper level. The next is a historic timeline that shows why what happened could have happened. Then there’s an explanation for what the law has to say about such encounters. The last piece is my personal response.

Regular Blend
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What is it like to grow up in a pressure cooker environment? How does it feel to immigrate and start life anew? Why do people shoot for the American Dream? Find out from people who have centered their lives in Silicon Valley and created a culture all their own. A multimedia experience.

Film Review: I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead – Steve Aoki
Resonate

A desire to carry the weight of the family name drives Steve Aoki to stand out in the Netflix documentary ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead’.

Shaved Snow in Mountain View
Peninsula Press, SF Gate

Food is a portal to the world and a connection to culture as demonstrated by Snozen, a cafe in Mountain View. Video and radio feature.

Learning the ABCs of Being ABC
Half Moon Bay Review

How do you celebrate Chinese New Year when you’re mixed? Write your own rules. A personal essay in which Sara Hayden reflects on her experiences with the Lunar New Year.

A Healing Kind of Needlework
Half Moon Bay Review

Mark Takata started work as an athletic trainer for the San Francisco 49ers in 1987 and discovered the value of acupuncture shortly after.

Noble Silence
Half Moon Bay Review

Buddhist classes on California’s Coastside uphold Burmese tradition.

‘Love, InshAllah’
SF Gate, San Francisco Chronicle

Friends Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi decided that they needed a space for American Muslim women to honestly voice their romantic experiences. The result? Sassy, sexy and humorous stories contributed by 25 women document anything from arranged marriage to first lesbian love and much, much more.

Language of Love
The Daily Californian

Inspired by a true story, Sumi, a Japanese woman, and James, an African American man, fall in love. They don’t speak each other’s native language, but find universal connection through communication and conflict. A podcast and written review of an experimental reading of the play “Yohen” written by Philip Kan Gotanda at the Durham Studio Theater in Berkeley, Calif.

Remembering Racism that Changed the Coast
Half Moon Bay Review

Naomi Patridge, who was the first Asian American woman elected to serve in San Mateo County and spent seven terms as mayor of Half Moon Bay, Calif., remembers her time spent at the Tanforan Race Track temporary “internment camp” as a child. Following an executive order issued by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Patridge her Japanese American family, along with 122,000 other innocent people, were removed from their homes and incarcerated in WWII.

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In addition to producing original pieces on the Asian American experience, Sara is committed to helping others share stories that have diverse perspectives. To that end she’s helped authors with the following books:

Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America
By Charles Russo
University of Nebraska Press

The Little Book of Skincare
By Charlotte Cho
HarperCollins

Luv Ya Bunches
By Lauren Myracle
Abrams Books