Allison Hong Merrill.
interview by Marcia Peterson
WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Q2 2020 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What inspired you to write your essay, “Where? 哪裡?”
Allison: Thank you so much! I’m truly honored and humbled that my essay is listed among other winning stories in the Wow! Women on Writing Q2 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Competition.
The inspiration for my essay, Where?, came from an experience I had one night when I woke up from a dream. I had just dreamed about my family cramming on my father’s motorcycle and riding together to my grandparents’ village in Hualien, Taiwan––something we did when I was little. In that half-asleep-half-awake state, I heard my cousins’ lingering, fading, singing voices. It took me a few seconds to realize it was only a dream and that I was in the U.S. That realization brought me a sense of loss. I was lost. For a brief moment I didn’t know where I was, metaphorically, without my family around me.
WOW: What is your writing process like, particularly as a busy mom to three kids?
Allison: When my three children were little, I chose to spend as much time with them as possible, so I didn’t write anything during the day when they were awake. Now that they’re all adults, busy with work and school and friends, I don’t need to be with them all the time anymore, I write as much as I can.
I’m a huge believer of self-care; it’s important that I pay attention to my mental, physical, and spiritual health. Which is why I stick to a daily schedule like this:
Immediately after getting up in the morning I spend an hour studying the scriptures (Book of Mormon) and saying my prayers, then I work out in my home gym, then I read books/magazines/newspapers before working on my writing projects
I’m a coach in a writing coach program. My husband is extremely supportive of my career. He goes grocery shopping, does yardwork, and cooks dinner (almost) every night so I can attend various coaching meetings. I’m extremely grateful for everything he does.
WOW: Your memoir, Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops, is coming out next year. Can you tell us about your book, and what your memoir writing journey has been like?
Allison: Thanks so much for asking. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my memoir.
This might sound weird, but I want to be immortal. I want my children and my children’s children to not only remember me, but also to know who I am That’s why I write memoir.
In 2006 I started blogging––in Chinese––about my experience as an immigrant mother raising my children in a culture different than the one I grew up in. One of my blog posts went viral and a professor in Taiwan contacted me for permission to include my article in their university curriculum. That’s when I truly understood the power of written words.
A year later I entered a writing contest in Taiwan and, among thousands of entrants, won the title of National Championship, the equivalent of Grand Prize Winner here in the U.S. Shortly after, my Chinese memoir was published.
One day in 2008, I received an email from a Taiwanese lady. She told me she shared my book with everyone her knew and they were all touched and inspired by my story It dawned on me that I hadn’t been able to share my writing with the people I love the most––my husband and my children were the main characters in my story but they had never read it! They didn’t read Chinese. That was when I decided to write in English.
It took me almost ten years to finish writing my first coming-of-age memoir in English. In 2015, a literary agent from Trident Media Group offered me representation after reading my manuscript at a writer’s conference. Unfortunately it didn’t sell. I received a personalized rejection letter from the editor-in-chief of Penguin Press. She praised the story but didn’t love my writing. So I decided to go back to school to learn how to write. During the first year of my MFA program I finished drafting Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops, a story about how choices can free people from difficult circumstances and empower us to create our own destiny.
After my graduation I spent a year modeling and acting. When I returned to writing in 2019, I started to get placed in various contests. It elevated my confidence so much that I sent out the first query letter for Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops on May 13, 2019. Four months later I signed with a small press in New York. But only three weeks later I backed out of the contract, because the editor’s health and personal life interfered with the publication process of the book. I was back to the querying agents again. In February 2020, the editor-in-chief of She Writes Press offered me a book contract, which I signed in March.
You might be interested to know that I received a total of 150 rejection letters for my memoir from May 13, 2019 to March 9, 2020. But that’s a small price to pay to be immortal, in print. ;)
WOW: A powerful message about perseverance! Is there a particular memoir you think everyone needs to read?
Allison: I really enjoy Dani Shapiro’s Inheritance and have been recommending it to everyone.
WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Allison. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice with our readers?
Allison: Thank you very much for having me. I would like to invite everyone to choose to be kind. Kindness is a choice. It’s a gift. It doesn’t cost anything to offer that gift to the world, and, yet, the power of kindness is immeasurable. We can all smile at others, open the door for someone, return an empty shopping cart to a stall in a parking lot, wipe down the counter in a public restroom after washing our hands.
You might ask, “How’s that a writing tip?”
Well, kindness is a gift you can give to yourself too. Choose to take care of yourself. Choose not to compare yourself with other writers. Comparison is poison. Choose not to criticize or attack other writers out of envy. Beware of poison envy. It begets hatred and destroys creativity.
Instead, try giving loving support and encouraging praises to fellow writers. Celebrate their successes and victories with them. In short, choose to be kind. It brings peace. And I find it much better to write from a place of peace and kindness.
For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.