Name of Artist:
When the Massachusetts Cultural Council announced the winners of its 2006 artist’s grants, 3 Franklin County women were honored with a $5,000 prize; Fiction writer Francie Lin of Greenfield received the 2006 Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Award. Lin, originally from Salt Lake City, is the daughter of naturalized Taiwanese parents, who came to the U.S. to attend graduate school and stayed to teach at the University of Utah. She entered college at Stanford enrolled as a chemistry major, then left for Boston to be closer to her sister and attend Harvard. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English and American Literature, and headed west again, this time moving to San Francisco to work as an editor at the Threepenny Review. While there, she continued writing her own nonfiction and was looking for a way to focus on her work. With the encouragement of her boss, Lin applied for a Fulbright Fellowship, intending to spend a year in Taiwan, the birthplace of her parents, delve into the culture and write about the unusual experience of exploring a place that was part of her heritage. She got the Fellowship, but found that Taipei was no longer the place her parent’s considered home. Lin said that Taipei has changed so dramatically that when her parents, who grew up there, came to visit, the only place they recognized was the train station. Francie Lin had to lead her parents around a city she had just come to know. Lin was not interested in repeating what she considers the standard story of an immigrant coming to America and assimilating. Instead of finding her roots, albeit one generation removed, she found Taiwan a "funny place" where the novel she had hoped to write did not materialize. Lin found Taiwan a hard place to shuttle both "seriousness and humor" and the main character she started with, a female more like her, became a man tied to his mother’s apron strings. When the mother dies suddenly, the man is lost and he searches for and recaptures his relationship with his brother, and the story evolved into the novel Huang. When Lin returned to the United States she had three chapters of Huang completed and decided to see if there was interest in the book. Having been involved in the publishing world, she knew who to contact and selected four potential agents. Says Lin, "To get around the no unsolicited manuscripts problem, I sent each letters with a little clip of the book. Two were very excited and got back to me quickly. I was getting married and was moving. It was a busy time." The book sold in under two months and catapulted Lin from editor to published author. Moving to this area to marry a fellow Fulbright scholar she met in Taiwan, Stephen Platt professor at UMass in Asian History, Lin accepted an adjunct position teaching creative writing and a fiction course at Smith College in Northampton. Lin spent hours in one of the library carrels working to complete the already sold novel. "When writing it helps me to be disciplined," said Lin. "Some writers work hourly, but writers not on a roll need to spend time with their work. If you work by the hour, you can literally sit there and look at a wall for the entire time. I decided to work by a quota of words. I stayed in a quiet cell, and with revision and rewriting, couldn't leave until I completed 500 words at a stretch. I prefer to work in the mornings. By mid-afternoon I get fuzzy, so I go out and garden or do something physical." Grateful for her good fortune, she says that success to her is not being written up in the New York Times, but rather, having the ability to write, and having the freedom to pursue work without worrying about making an income and not searching for other jobs. "Luckily for me, I am young, ethnic, and marketable. I feel fortunate that a handful of people in the literary world care about fiction, good writing, and print work that will last. It must be exhausting, because the bottom line is influencing you. In America, there are only a few magazines that will pay you for short stories. Some literary magazines will pay only $100 per story. Harpers and the New Yorker will pay, other magazines don’t," said Lin. For those who feel their work is ready, Lin recommends finding an agent who can address the legal issues and if the goal is to get published and get paid well, budding novelists should find an agent who is established. She suggests; "Just keep on doing it, don't worry about getting it published. Write if you love it, if not, then don't or it won’t be worth it to you. Writing is a precarious road to take. It can be very rewarding, but find a (day) job that enables you to spend your time doing what you love. As an editor, I found it hard to read other's work all day. It was hard on me to get trapped in words. I would devote so much energy to editing that I would have little left for my own work. My advice is to learn the business of how to get published. It is best for some to take a long view, if you have another interest, pursue that wholeheartedly, it will inform your writing." Lin has a book of poems in the wings for children called The Book of Breakfast, but her next novel is about Mormonism, and is an opportunity to address the culture she grew up surrounded by, but was not a part of. She sees Mormon missionaries wherever she goes, even while visiting Malaysia in July. Lin finds it an odd process and notes, "Every religion suggests spreading their faith, but Mormonism strongly promotes missionaries. High school graduates have to give 2 years to being a missionary, during which time they are allowed no contact with their family except for Christmas. They must go door to door. If you have a breach of faith, then you are out of luck. My book would be like a Power and the Glory kind of thing." We look forward to the publication of Huang, and her upcoming works.