I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
June 1, 2021: Christina Chiu
At one point in the fourteen-year odyssey that was writing the award-winning novel Beauty, Christina Chiu had over a thousand pages, but once she figured out the structure–jumping forward by way of moments in the life of character Amy Wong–she zipped through to the finish line. Women, sex, power, fashion, a lifetime–and sharp and sensuous writing, Beauty is Christina’s second novel and the winner of the James Alan McPherson Award 2040 Book Award. Kirkus Reviews recently named it one of the Best Books of 2020.
Amy is sixteen when the book opens with the chapter called “Wild Hen.”
“I got a C in math,” I admit.
“I know.” Ma crushes the butt in the ashtray. “You think I don’t know? I know everything. There’s nothing I don’t know.”
I start laughing. But then it hits me she’s talking about Dad. I get a pain like I swallowed a cough drop.
Witness that sharp edge and sufficient detail to engage the reader, as well as the appeal to the senses. We feel the cough drop in our throats. Here are more examples: “an ugly bite in her voice,” “hatred rings in my ears,” “there’s a car wreck inside me.”
In the next chapter, “Bootman,” which was actually the first chapter Christina wrote, there are smells of new leather and shoe polish and the feel of velvet fabric, cool against the skin. Here’s an example of how sensuous the writing can be.
Bootman kneels. Slips the boot on. Then he leans in. One hand cups my calf, clasping the upper sides of the boot together. The other hand zips. The lace mesh makes it feel snug and sturdy while the lining reminds me of a silk slip. I hand him the other boot and he sets me up. He smoothes his hands up and down the backs of the boots, then slides them to the bare insides of my knees. I rock onto the soles, the front of my skirt brushing the spikes of his gelled hair. He squeezes the sides of my foot and presses a thumb at my big toes. He moves so close I feel the warmth of his breath at my thighs. “What a good fit.”
The last lines of the third chapter, “Shadow,” will not spoil anything and again show the power in the concrete detail and in showing the reader what you mean by way of the senses. They speak to the whole novel and are just so beautiful. (And will mean even more after you’ve read the chapter.)
Through the rest of the day, or weeks, or maybe lifetime, it’s that soothing, tactile feeling of suede beneath my fingers, the one tenuous thing, that keeps me from drifting away.
I was captivated by the story and the writing, and I read attentive to the wisps of phrases that situated me as to time, like “with my suitcase in the middle of my apartment,” “I’m getting my masters at FIT,” and “when she sold the house and moved into the city with Georgie.” Readers, this is a book you won’t be able to put down, and writers, this novel is another example of don’t let anyone tell you you can’t.
Because of her research into the fashion industry for Beauty, Christina discovered a love of shoemaking, and she currently designs shoes, including these boots. As of a year ago, she had made about twenty pairs of shoes and boots. On her website, she details the twenty-one steps it took to make the cool boots pictured below.
I discovered Christina and her new novel through the Readings by Writers series hosted by Writing by Writers. You can watch Christina in conversation with Pam Houston here.
Besides writing and shoes and her family, Christina’s other love is the Pen Parentis Literary Salon, which she curates and co-hosts in New York City.
The mission of Pen Parentis is to provide critical resources for working writers to help them stay on creative track after starting a family. The salon reading series is a crucial part of this mission. Not only does it give our authors a platform, but it connects them with a community. Writing can be isolating without a community, and it can be challenging to stay connected when one becomes a parent.
Christina is also the author of Troublemaker and Other Saints, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Troublemaker was the alternate selection for BOMC and QPB, a nominee for a BOMC First Fiction Award, and winner of the Asian American Literary Award.
Come back on JUNE 1st to read how CHRISTINA CHIU spends her days.
Your introduction is such a delightful read, thank you!
Thank you, Letty!