Interview with Chiu Yin Wong Hempel: WOW 2022 Winter Flash Fiction Contest Third Place Winner

Tuesday, June 21, 2022
Chiu Yin’s Bio:
Chiu Yin has held senior management positions at Pearson Education and The Economist Group. She is the author of an award-winning trilogy of illustrated books on the architecture, founders and landscape of Tuxedo Park, a historical community in the Hudson Valley, New York. The flash fiction Shanghai Tango is extracted from her debut novel about the struggle for love and survival of the fifteen-year-old, illegitimate daughter of a powerful general and a former prostitute. The story takes place in war-torn Shanghai in 1948, on the eve of the Communists’ final victory in the bloody civil war against the Kuomintang, forcing the latter to retreat to the island of Taiwan and setting the stage for the geopolitical tensions today. The narrative draws upon extensive historical research as well as stories Chiu Yin’s grandmother told her about China during the war years. 

If you haven't done so already, check out Chiu Yin's award-winning story "Shanghai Tango" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Winter 2022 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story? 

Chiu Yin: The challenge of visualizing a brutal, life-changing moment. 

WOW: What did you learn about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece? 

Chiu Yin: I have a wonderful family who will praise and support me regardless of what I do. I discovered that I need to be my own harshest judge. Being perpetually dissatisfied with my work is a powerful motivator. 

WOW: Your bio says that this story is an excerpt from your debut novel, which draws on extensive historical research and stories from your grandmother. That sounds fascinating! Could you tell us more about your writing process and you how incorporate research and narrative? 

Chiu Yin: Before I began writing the novel, I read a ton of books on Japan’s war against China and the civil war between the Communists and Kuomintang afterwards. This gave me the historical context. I had visited Shanghai on a number of occasions in the 1990s. But what made that distant time of 1948 come alive in my mind were my grandmother’s vivid stories of atrocities, suffering and bravery she witnessed firsthand during the war years, and the videos and photos available online of Shanghai in the 30s and 40s. I was thus able to transport myself to that city in that time and I put my characters in that milieu and tried my best to describe in words what they – and we – saw, heard, touched and smelled as the drama of their lives unfolded. 

WOW: It’s always fascinating to hear how writers approach their projects, so thank you for sharing that insight into your research and writing processes. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it? 

Chiu Yin: I read mostly non-fiction. There is so much to learn about the past and the world around us. But when I read fiction, I choose writers who are masters with the craft of words: Amy Hempel, who luckily for me is my sister-in-law and inspiration, Julian Barnes, Evelyn Waugh… I also look for page-turning tales (Lee Child who is a superb thriller writer, for instance) and I love historical fiction. 

WOW: If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why? 

Chiu Yin: I had many false starts in writing the story… so, my advice to my younger self would be to plot the arc of the story and the psychological/emotional profiles of the key characters before attempting the first word. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing that advice, and thank you for you other thoughtful responses! Happy writing! 


Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, founder and editor-in-chief of Sport Stories Press, which publishes sports books by, for, and about sportswomen and amateur athletes and offers developmental editing and ghostwriting services to partially fund the press. Connect with Anne on Twitter @dr_greenawalt.

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