Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Declaration of Independents

The holidays are approaching, there's no better gift than a book, and there's no better place to buy a book than an independent bookstore. In tribute to the many wonderful indie bookshops I have worked at and frequented over the years, I offer the following ...

As my debut novel, The Map of Lost Memories, entered the production phase at Random House, I was assigned the task of helping to find writers to blurb it. Blurbs are those lovely, self-contained snippets on the backs of novels, in which known authors assure readers that a book is “evocative” or a “tour de force.” Desperately wanting my own novel to be declared “compelling” and “unputdownable,” I contacted everyone I knew who knew someone who had published a novel.

I also made some big leaps, writing to überfamous authors such as Michael Ondaatje and Ann Patchett. The latter was easy since I could send my request to her newly opened Parnassus Books in Nashville. Of course, I didn’t expect blurbs from such heavy hitters. But if you’re going to dream, dream big, kid! Right?

I also didn’t expect to open my mailbox one day and find a postcard depicting a vintage Penguin paperback cover of D.H. Lawrence’s The Lost Girl. On the back of it was something I hadn’t seen come out of my mailbox in years, other than briefly in thank you cards—handwriting! The postcard contained a thoughtful note declining to read my novel for a blurb and ending with, “I will look forward to selling your book when it comes out this summer. Good luck and all good wishes. Ann Patchett.”

Perhaps it seems that this rejection would have disappointed me. But I can only imagine how busy Ms. Patchett must be, writing exceptional novels, tending her bookshop and deflecting pleas from people like me. And to say that I was touched is an understatement. I was moved, not just emotionally, but in my thoughts back to another place and time: the five years that I worked as an independent bookseller at the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle.

At this store (before the arrival of the Internet), I discovered how a brick-and-mortar shop can serve as an anchor for a community. It can be a gathering place as well as a place where ideas are discussed and explored. I spent many an evening with customers, sharing my passion for Graham Greene or being introduced to the gustatory pleasures of MFK Fisher … exchanges that dipped and soared with the revelations and educations those books contained. My fellow booksellers and I loved authors, those magical creatures who took words—simple words—and molded them into conversations that could be passed around the world. What an honor it was to be able to play such a crucial role in keeping those conversations alive.

Later, after four years in Vietnam, I moved to L.A. I was making my living as a writer by this point, but I missed being in a bookshop, so I took a Saturday job at Traveler’s Bookcase, a wonderful little travel bookshop that is still a home away from home for me. Next door was a companion store called Cook’s Library, and one morning I wandered over there to research a Vietnamese food book I was working on. While I was sitting on the floor with books spread out in front of me, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I looked up to see a young Vietnamese woman studying my selections. It turned out that she had just finished writing a cookbook based on recipes from her childhood in Little Saigon, an hour south of Los Angeles, and when I told her what I was doing, she offered advice on which books I should buy for my research. Two hours later, we were still in Cook’s Library, talking away. Two weeks later, my sister took the photographs for her cookbook. This summer she came to my wedding, and last month I attended hers.

In the years since she and I met, Cook’s Library has gone out of business. I often wonder how many potential best friendships went away with it. Perhaps this is why Ms. Patchett’s note meant so much to me, for it embodies something that is alive and well for any reader who takes the time to look for it: the personal experience to be had in an independent bookshop. It is an experience that cannot be found anywhere else, an experience that is essential to the future of the planet if we are to remain sane, humane beings.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Blessed Be the Bloggers

I enjoy blogs. It's such a pleasure to read the insights of my friends around the world. I regularly follow Tone Deaf in Thailand, Garlic Never Sleeps and Andy's Cambodia. And I think blogs can be fun especially if you have a special interest. I remember when blogs started gaining legitimacy and I came across Chocolate & Zucchini and Orangette. Charming stories of life, love and kitchens paired with recipes—what more could a fan of MFK Fisher and Laurie Colwin want?

That said, I would by no means call myself a blog aficionado. This is why I’ve had such a wonderful time since the publication of my debut novel last month. I’ve discovered a whole blog genre: the book blog. In this world, people read books, they write about books and they share their love of books. And they do so not just as individuals. They are a connected community. And they are gracious. Oh so gracious!

So here at my own little blog, I want to give my thanks to the many bloggers who have offered such wonderful support for The Map of Lost Memories in so many varied ways, from reviews to interviews to invitations to write guest posts. Following are descriptions and excerpts, as well as links (just click the title) if you'd like to read more.


I had a fun time writing this article about Shanghai locales featured in my novel that still exist today.

Seattle Public Library's Shelf Talk
Asked to share some of my favorite books, I was inspired to write about my education in literature while working at the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle.

Meg graciously invited me to write a post for her First Books column, about how my book came to be published.

Shelf Awareness: Inklings
This piece describes my experience with the editing process once my book was accepted for publication.

For this guest post I was asked to write a Books of a Lifetime column. The result: a tribute to Gone with the Wind.

Historical Tapestry
In this post I had a great time why I enjoy using setting as a character in my fiction.

For this fun blog, I was asked to look at page 69 of my novel and write about whether or not it represents the book and would entice readers.

My Book, The Movie
Another fun idea – casting my book. Although I was stumped when I realized my original casting choices had aged while my characters had not during the fourteen years it took me to write the novel!

This blogging trip down memory lane took me back to my teen years as a romance reader and reflections on how those books shaped me as a novelist.


Along with a lovely review, Reading the Past’s Sarah Johnson gave me the opportunity to answer some terrific interview questions.

Jo Barton was equally generous in reviewing my book and inviting me to answer these thoughtful interview questions.

I spent almost two hours on the phone with Krisen Hannum for this interview, and it was such a good time! I’m flattered by the thoroughness of her article.


From the review: The plot twists alone would make this an intriguing novel but Kim Fay has skillfully added well-researched history, intertwining the story of a vanished empire with the lives of her characters without making one false or stilted move.

From the review: Kim Fay’s extraordinary first novel has everything great historical adventure fiction should—a strikingly original setting, exhilarating plot twists, and a near-impossible quest. It stands out even more with its one-of-a-kind characters and sensitivity to colonialism’s harsh effects on the local populace, although its gutsy protagonist doesn’t initially share this concern.

From the review: Kim Fay is not only an engaging storyteller, but a beautiful writer who made me feel like I was in 1925 Shanghai (minus the cocaine), Saigon, and Cambodia. The smells, the clothes, the food–she covers it all. She also makes the reader think about ethical issues of art acquisitions, especially when it comes to art from occupied countries.

Crab & Nectar
From the review: Throughout the gilded brocade of her tale, [Fay] has embroidered an astonishing filigree of detail and dialogue. And her gift for getting inside each moment to reveal the complexities of its components yields a rare gestalt of storytelling at its best. Kim Fay's The Map of Lost Memories is a challenge for the intellect, a feast for the senses, and a literary valentine for the heart and soul of Cambodia. 

Garlic Never Sleeps
From the review: From the back alleys of Shanghai and Saigon, to humid jungles and magnificent temple ruins in Cambodia, Fay's vivid, atmospheric prose enables the reader to see and smell and feel the surroundings.

Book Babe
From the review: This is a story that is a blend of historical fiction, greed, determination, women making waves, anger, finger-pointing, and tied with an ending that just left me sitting there with my mouth hanging open.

From the review: This is an exciting historical thriller that brings to life China and Cambodia at a time when the West was still raiding national treasures. 

From the review: This is a marvelous book. The author describes Indochina so well you actually breathe in the heavily scented air and feel the slippery sweat on your skin … I highly recommend this book. The tension will keep you reading. The plot is fascinating and not unraveled until the very end, although the clues are provided throughout. I didn't want it to end. In fact, the ending made me wonder whether there will be a sequel.

From the review: The book is marvelous, escapist reading, layered with relationships, mysteries, and danger. The only thing that is certain is that there is no certainty- either of the success of their quest or of anyone’s motives. 

From the review: Set in 1925, this is a sophisticated adventure that takes place in Shanghai and Cambodia. The author draws the reader into an exotic universe as the search for lost treasure in Cambodia becomes an exciting tale of a female curator venturing into a man's world. 

For Winter Nights
From the review: The Map of Lost Memories is not your typical adventure story. It may feature the search for lost copper scrolls deep in the jungle of Cambodia and it may be steeped in the mysteries of a lost history but all of this serves as the grand and evocative backdrop for the tale of two young women back in the 1920s who are searching for the clues to an even greater puzzle - their own heritage and their purpose in this difficult and masculine environment ... The pace is leisurely and the novel is very much about the journey rather than the destination ... This is a fine novel, a literary adventure, that lingers in the mind, thanks to the wonderful portraits of Irene and Simone, and the atmosphere that seeps through the novel, evoking so strongly another place and time. If you can't appreciate the passion and courage of Irene or feel the heat and damp of the jungle, so beautifully described by Kim Fay, I'll be very surprised.

From the review: While the big draw for me was the setting, Shanghai and the Cambodian jungle in 1925, it was the characters that surprised me. Everyone has secrets so deeply ingrained it drug them all down and each and every character fought out of desperation; each not wanting to admit being wrong or to give in. The setting amplified every single flaw these characters carried.

From the review: Imagine if F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby) had written Indiana Jones, with a female protagonist. There would be adventure, but there would also be lush, rich prose. There would be a treasure hunt (with snakes!), but there would also be seething emotional undercurrents, an exploration of twisted personalities and questionable motives. This is that book, the Map of Lost Memories, a debut historical fiction from Kim Fay. 

From the review: Part adventure (think Indiana Jones, but with a female lead), part quest, part mystery, The Map of Lost Memories is passionate, fast-paced, absorbing, and full of plot twists.  The lush, green vegetation of Cambodia and the rhythms, habits, and culture of the country come to life. 

From the review: This book was interesting, at times enthralling and had such depth of character that I had a hard time putting it down occasionally. It isn’t a blow everything up and edge of my seat adventure as the back may make it sound but instead a fascinating character novel with a touch of adventure and mystery. 

From the review: More than being about the adventure, I felt that this novel is about people, relationships and culture. This book is a realistic and methodical story outlining the difficulties in traveling halfway around the world to try and uncover a long-hidden secret while trying to stay beneath the radar and red tape of governments, museums and other treasure hunters. 

From the review: Have you ever wished for a female heroine that was a mash-up of Indiana Jones and a female Fitzgerald character? Have you ever been to Southeast Asia and wished some writer could bring you back there with vivid writing of places that you remember fondly? Have you ever wanted with a flip of a page to be transported back in time to a world between the wars? If you answered yes to any of these questions, immediately pick up Kim Fay’s terrific new book The Map of Lost Memories.

From the review: One of the things I was fearful of when I started reading – because I knew the story was mostly set in Shanghai and Cambodia – was the glorification or romanticism of colonialism. As I read, I was satisfied that wasn't going to happen. It showed a pretty honest view of how western cultures were forced on people on the east, and how this changed the natives of these countries, both for good and for worse.

From the review: Amazingly evocative of a time long past; the descriptions of the people and places Irene travels are mouth watering. Highly recommended.

From the review: Kim Fay's The Map of Lost Memories combines the 1925 exploits of a female Indiana Jones (her heroine Irene Blum who has always had a 'passion for Khmer studies') with a thought provoking subtext on the ethics of taking historical artefacts from the lands in which they are rooted for display in Western museums … The Map of Lost Memories is a wonderful read, thought provoking, rich in history, and filled with adventure and hints of romance - highly recommended.

From the review: An abundance of rich and varied characters combine to make this a really satisfying read. I read it over the space of several evenings, and found myself drawn into the story so much I didn’t notice the passage of time. I am sure that reading groups will enjoy discussing this book, as there’s enough factual history combined with an intrepid adventure story to occupy the most erudite of book clubbers!

The Reading Cafe
From the review: Kim Fay knocked it out of the park with this one ... The characters are so well written that you can't wait to see what happens next ... You can tell this [this] was definitely a labor of love for Fay. I can only hope that she doesn't stop here. I look forward to her next adventure. And hope that she doesn't make me wait too long. Very well done Ms. Fay, very well done.

Curled Up with a Good Book
From the review: Fay's novel is a fascinating study of humans at odds, a quest bringing four strangers together in an adventure of a lifetime.

I will continue adding to this list as more posts appear. Again, my boundless thanks to every one of these bloggers for taking the time to read The Map of Lost Memories and offering such gracious reviews.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

You're Invited: Book Launch Party on September 9

When: September 9, 4pm - 7pm
Where: Curve Line Space gallery in Los Angeles (Eagle Rock), California

For more details about this event, see below:
For information about upcoming events for The Map of Lost Memories, click here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Map of Lost Memories Debuts Today!

This is it … the day … the BIG day! Today my novel, The Map of Lost Memories, is officially published by Random House. Wow, it feels amazing to write that!! I’m so thrilled to share this news!

This post is a shout of joy at my dream of being a published novelist (finally!) coming true, as well as a thank you to everyone who has supported and encouraged me for so long (decades, in many cases!!). It's also to share that The Map of Lost Memories (the old-fashioned hardcover version, the e-book and the audiobook) can be purchased at your local indie bookshop, online and numerous other places. You can also pick up copies at events I’ll be doing up and down the West Coast this year. More information about all of this and more (such as reviews, upcoming interviews including one with Bob Edwards!! and a sample chapter) can be found at:

My website: www.kimfay.net

My Facebook author page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kim-Fay-Author/308331422584716

My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/kimkfay

My Goodreads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12341021-the-map-of-lost-memories

Thank you so much for your support, and happy reading!

By Kim Fay

“Fay’s extraordinary first novel has everything great historical adventure fiction should—strikingly original setting, exhilarating plot twists, and a near-impossible quest . . . Every word of this evocative literary expedition feels deliberately chosen, each phrase full of meaning.” 
Booklist, (starred review) 

“Thrilling and ambitious, this is a book to get lost in, a book that homes in on the human drama of the quest and never lets go. The Map of Lost Memories is a rich debut.”

“[The Map of Lost Memories] is a thrilling mix of adventure and personal discovery set in Southeast Asia in the 1920s . . . Fay crafts an intricate page-turner that will keep readers breathless and guessing.”
Publishers Weekly

 “In The Map of Lost Memories, Fay updates the archaeological adventure tale with an ambitious heroine and a cast of morally ambiguous characters in a race to discover an ancient temple in the jungles of colonial Cambodia. Fay's assured, absorbing prose will compel readers with its lush detail, multiple plot twists and keen insight into this politically combustible period of history.”
Aimee Phan, author of The Reeducation of Cherry Truong
“In The Map of Lost Memories, Kim Fay draws us into a universe as exotic, intense and historically-detailed as the ancient artifacts her unforgettable heroine seeks. It's a deliciously unexpected journey: Indiana Jones meets Somerset Maugham meets Marguerite Duras; all culminating in a glorious traipse through a forgotten Asian world. This novel will stay with me for a long, long time.”
Jennifer Cody Epstein, author of The Painter from Shanghai

“Kim Fay's engaging debut novel, The Map of Lost Memories, not only weaves together a smart, compelling story of a quest for scrolls believed to contain the lost history of Cambodia's ancient Khmer empire, but also gives us a glimpse into 1920's China and Indochina during the time of transition from colonialism to the beginnings of communism.  With deftness and clarity, Fay brings her world to life and gives us a captivating read.”        
Gail Tsukiyama, author of A Hundred Flowers

“Kim Fay breathes new and original life into the Westerner-in-Asia novel with The Map of Lost Memories, going beyond the intrigues of 1925 Shanghai to the remote reaches of the Cambodian jungle. An enchanting, absorbing first novel, all the more remarkable for its effortless portrayal of a bygone world, now nearly forgotten.”
Nicole Mones, author of Lost in Translation and The Last Chinese Chef

The Map of Lost Memories is the best book I have read this year. Exotic, thrilling, and brimming with fascinating historic detail, it had me hooked from page one and sent me to a world I knew existed, but never really understood, never really felt, until now. Kim Fay is a wonderful storyteller who truly masters the art of crafting a riveting story with heart and elegance. The result is utterly mesmerizing.”
Anne Fortier, New York Times-bestselling author of Juliet

“Kim Fay writes with such mesmerizing authority that it's hard to believe The Map of Lost Memories is her first novel. Rarely do we find a book that combines gripping adventure with exquisitely crafted prose, but Fay's novel does just that, bringing together the beauty and complexity of Marguerite Duras' The Lover with the thrilling breathlessness of Indiana Jones. The result is breathtaking.”
Dana Sachs, author of If You Lived Here

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Obsessions of a Soon-to-be-Published Debut Novelist

I went from being a writer obsessed about getting an agent to being a writer obsessed about whether or not my agent would sell my book. Turns out, though, once the book is sold, that’s when the real obsession begins. Who knew that after all of the editing is done and the book goes into production, there could still be so much to fixate on, especially in the few weeks leading up to the publication date?

1.      My New Life
My publisher offered pre-publication copies of my novel on social networking book review websites. So I sit at my desk, with its view toward the hazy Hollywood sign in the distance, and click from site to site four million times an hour to see if anyone has reviewed my novel. They have. And while I calculate the average of the stars I’m accruing, what starts driving me crazy is the reader who offers a comprehensive and very positive review while calling my main character Lillian – her name is Irene! I drink some coffee and email my marketing person at my publishing house and ask what I can do about this. Her answer leaves no wiggle room: do not correct anything or challenge anyone. And welcome to your new life!

2.      The Gray Lady
Dawn breaks and I leap out of bed, hoping to keep one step ahead of a panic attack. I turn on my computer to check if there’s anything new on the review sites and instantly realize my mistake. I should have changed my home page. It’s The New York Times book review. As I stare at it, my mind races. Will they? Won’t they? And if they don’t, why not? What do the others have that I don’t have? Which leads to …

3.      The Others
Still at my computer on another overheated L.A. day, I reread the terrific magazine article that includes my book in a series of reviews about debut novels. Before I can stop myself, I’m Googling every one of the books and investigating where each is being reviewed and what lists it’s showing up on. Shaky, I switch from coffee to tea and ponder any and all reasons why the others might or might not be getting better coverage than mine. Walking my Chihuahua, I ignore my neighbors and try to figure out how to compete with the descendant of Melville or a Khmer Rouge survivor. Returning to my desk, I Google all of the names one more time, and the fixation takes on a life of its own, developing its own sub-fixation.

4.      Her
I trade the black tea for decaffeinated tea, and feel not only childish but guilty. Among the others there is a specific other, one who is burdened with carrying the weight of all my attentions. In this case, she and I have the same agent and the same publication date. I like this woman, I’m sure I’m going to like her book, and I want her to succeed. But I agonize over why her forthcoming book brings up 72,100 Google results while mine only brings up 42,300. Then I open one of the pages and gasp in pain. She has been chosen as an Indie Next pick and I have not … me, a former independent bookseller!

5.      OMG, Another One?
Between Googling and fixating on fellow debut novelists, I Facebook and I Tweet. And just when I think I’m about to explode, the message comes through from my cousin: I must now Pin! Pinning is the only way to sell anything these days! Not only that (I can feel the muscles tensing in my neck as I read on) I must connect my Facebook and Twitter to my Pinterest and vice versa. And while I’m at it, I should perhaps post on my literary blog more than twice a year, and make sure to connect that to … well, you get the idea. As I reply to my cousin, I try to figure out how I am supposed to find the energy to Pin when I waste most of it clicking the bookmark bar to see if I have any new ratings on the review websites?

6.      Say Cheese
Everyone tells me that my author photo is lovely. But as I attempt to go cold turkey on the Googling, I pull up the photo on my screen. Staring at it, I increase the resolution, just a bit and then some more. To my dismay I find that there is the slightest sneer in my smile, as if I am in my little house back in Vietnam downwind from the dried cuttlefish factory. I shift from decaf tea to chamomile and try not to think about being known as the author with the “she-smells-something-stinky” smile.

7.      The Unmentionables
I have to sleep at some point, but when I do, it is punctuated with things I want to explain, things I want to denounce, things I want to declare. I toss and turn, shouting it all out in my head, because I hate people who need to purge so badly that they’re willing to hurt others’ feelings in the process. So #7 is for all of the things I can’t say. Enough said!

8.      Making Peace
But before I go to bed, there are the evenings to fill, and I climb onto the sofa with my Chihuahua and the cup of calming chamomile, and while I watch Columbo on Netflix, I chastise myself for all of the time that I’m wasting obsessing when I could be productively promoting my novel or writing my new one. Unfortunately, I watch Netflix on my computer, and there it sits above Peter Falk, that darn bookmark bar. One more click, that’s all, I promise myself, just one last look to see if anyone else has reviewed my book. I click and then click again and then again and again, my fingers trying to outrace my thoughts.

And then something shifts inside me.

I’m panicked. I’m anxious. I’m obsessive. And I don’t care. I am about to become the one thing I’ve always dreamed of being: a published novelist! Defiantly, I make myself a strong cup of black coffee and Google to my heart’s content before going to bed, where I spend an hour or so shouting in my head before fidgeting through the night as I anticipate checking the review sites first thing in the morning.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Imagination on the Road

When I was an infant, my mom read novels aloud to me while my dad was at work. And when I was a young girl, I would tuck under the covers with my sister while our dad made up absurd stories about Raggedy Kojak (a pathetic Raggedy Ann doll that had lost its hair) and his faithful sidekick, Mousiestein. On the nights when our dad did not whip up one of his episodic tales, our grandpa sat on the side of our bed telling us exotic stories about his life as a sailor in Shanghai in the 1930s.

I was raised in a family that appreciated the imagination, and it’s no wonder that I wrote my first novel when I was ten, and half a dozen more by the time I finished college. But it wasn’t until I was 29 that I made a delightful discovery – the one thing more fun than diving into the depths of your imagination is taking your imagination out for a stroll in the real world.

I already had two “serious” (unpublished) novels under my belt when I moved to Vietnam in 1995 to teach English. Four years later, I was not only in the midst of my novel that is about to be published … I was living inside it. Inspired by Andre and Clara Malraux, a young French couple who looted a Cambodian temple in the 1920s, I had started The Map of Lost Memories, a novel about Irene Blum, an American woman obsessed with discovering the lost history of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer empire. As she traveled from Shanghai to Saigon to Cambodia in search of an elusive set of scrolls, so did I!

Hundreds of hours were spent at my desk in my little cave of a house in Ho Chi Minh City, tapping away at my laptop. But an equal number were spent out with Irene – traipsing through the back alleys of Shanghai in search of the reasons why Simone Merlin will not join our expedition; standing bewildered in Saigon’s Chinese district of Cholon, wondering how we are possibly going to keep the scrolls a secret now that Louis Lafont has become involved; viewing the Angkor temples for the first time after years of anticipation; and venturing up the Mekong River and into the jungles of Cambodia with the great hope of finally achieving what we had always longed for – she, the scrolls, and me, the publication of The Map of Lost Memories.

It was a strange feeling to return to Vietnam this past spring, since each place I visited was saturated with two sets of memories: those from my own life and those from Irene’s life in the novel. Each is equally real to me. Each has shaped my life just as much as the other. Was there any sadness in knowing that my experience in Asia with Irene could now be nothing more than a memory? A bit. But at the same time, I was already in the beginnings of a new relationship with Lena, an American woman born in Vietnam in 1937, who becomes a culinary anthropologist, studying and preserving Vietnam’s food culture, and feeding homesick soldiers during the war.

As soon as I arrived, I contacted friends in town and said, “I need an idiosyncratic house on the river for the last scene in my new novel.” The next thing I knew, Lena and I (along with my fiancé) had been invited to spend the day in a sprawling Thai villa on the Saigon River, owned by an “Irish aristocrat” and filled with ornate, mildewing European furniture. Then I told friends I needed an old French apartment for Lena’s confrontation with the man who stole her research, and lo and behold, we were taken back through the decades to a loft in the historic Catinat Building.

Each day Lena and I had a new mission, and we were succeeding until one day she informed me that she did not like where she lived. I understood her reasons, and I told my fiancé. The following morning, the three of us set off at dawn, walking the city until finally, behind the Marie Curie High School, we turned the corner into a dead end lane, and there, behind a fence, were three French villas in row. I knew, even before Lena whispered in my ear: “The middle one.” Once again, my imagination had found its way home.

Lena's house in Saigon

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An Ode to My Typewriter (with thanks to Nora Ephron)

My agent sold my novel. My novel will be published in a few weeks. So, what’s a girl to do? (Aside from obsess about: Amazon rankings, Library Thing reviews, GoodReads ratings, will The New York Times book section give me any love?, is it bad form to stalk Carolyn Kellogg?, why does one of my agent’s writers who has a book coming out on the same day as mine have 495,000 Google results while I only have 47,000?, why haven’t the Weinstein brothers already snatched up the film rights?, and, and, and …)

The answer: write another novel!

Actually, I’m already five chapters into my next novel. Five … typed … chapters. Yep, that’s right. TYPED! On a typewriter. A Smith Corona Coronet Electric, to be exact, in that signature mint/olive green of the 1960s.

Why, my writer friends have asked me, are you writing on a typewriter?

You see, I’m 45, and I started writing when I was 10, which means my writing life began on typewriters, the first one being a clunky manual in a big orange-ish case that belonged to my father in college. It was missing an “n,” requiring me to hand-write every single “n” into each of the mystery and/or teen romance novels I wrote until my next second-hand typewriter came along a few years later. I continued to write on typewriters into the early 1990s, when I was 22 and my grandma (who was toying with the idea of a desktop publishing business) gave me a massive, shades-of-HAL PC.

For more than 20 years, I pounded out stories on desktops and laptops around the world. But this January, when my soon-to-be-published novel was finally edited and off to the nebulous world of production at Random House, I found that my new novel – which had been clamoring for my attention for a while – did not want to emerge from my computer. It wanted a typewriter. This new book takes place between 1937 and 1975, and it informed me that a typewriter and only a typewriter could take me back to the pace and mindset of that time period.

So, in a manner not even imaginable during said time period, I hopped online and started shopping around. Google took me to Etsy, which I’d never used but which appealed to me solely for the cuteness of its name and the fact that it’s an outlet for so many individual craftspeople.

There were plenty of typewriters on the site, and I narrowed my selection down to two: one from avantgarage and one from cherryriver. As I corresponded with both – telling them how I intended to use the typewriter and asking their opinions on how well each of their items would meet my needs – I found cherryriver to be far more personable. I really wanted to buy a typewriter from her, but it turned out that the one she was selling was bigger than I wanted, while avantgarage’s was perfect, just as her response indicated:

This typewriter is small for an electric (15x13x6.5 in the case) and very comfortable to type on. Being electric the action is smooth and effortless and all systems seem to work well. You'll wish the keyboard on your laptop felt this nice. It would be a fine choice for your next novel and quite a bargain in the world of vintage typewriters.

It did seem nicely priced at $75. So I sent off my payment and then waited quite impatiently for the week it took my treasure to arrive. When it did, I could hardly contain my excitement, digging wildly through the foam peanuts to pull out a black case in near perfect condition. I opened it and there inside was my past and my future all in one darling little piece of machinery that looked as new today as it must have when it first came into the world in the 1960s.

I tested it. I sounded so … real. It felt so … real. I was a little scared of it. I set it up in my room, but it took a few days for me to get up the courage to actually start writing on it. And when I did, something happened that I’d forgotten all about. I typed three sentences. Then I pulled out that page and retyped those sentences, revising along the way before typing a few more. I then pulled out that page and retyped what I’d just written with a few more revisions and a new paragraph. On this went, until I had a full chapter and dozens of pieces of paper with fits and starts on them scattered on the floor around me.

But that chapter. It was solid. It was fully formed. I felt close to it, because I had felt my hands type every word, heard each letter as it touched down on the page. And still, I wondered: was I wasting my time (not to mention paper) reverting to this old-fashioned, lurching way of writing?

With this in the back of my mind, on I typed: chapters two, three, four and five. Every page continued to be its own reward. Each sentence, each paragraph, with its slightly imperfect letters and hand-written corrections, felt that it could belong only to me.

Then, in the wake of the death of the amazing Nora Ephron, I picked up my old copy of her collected essays and started reading. Yesterday I came to the end of the book, and to my surprise, in the last essay I discovered the following:

I learned to write an article a paragraph at a time … and I arrived at the kind of writing and revising I do, which is basically a kind of typing and retyping. I am a great believer in this technique for the simple reason that I type faster than the wind. What I generally do is to start an article and get as far as I can—sometimes no farther in than a sentence or two—before running out of steam, ripping the piece of paper from the typewriter and starting all over again. I type over and over until I have got the beginning of the piece to the point where I am happy with it. I then am ready to plunge into the body of the article itself. This plunge usually requires something known as a transition. I approach a transition by completely retyping the opening of the article leading up to it in the hope that the ferocious speed of my typing will somehow catapult me into the next section of the piece. This does not work—what in fact catapults me into the next section is a concrete thought about what the next section ought to be about—but until I have the thought the typing keeps me busy, and keeps me from feeling something known as blocked.

She goes on to say that for her 1,500-word essays for Esquire, she sometimes went through 300 to 400 pieces of typing paper, so often did I type and retype and catapult and recatapult myself, sometimes on each retyping moving not even a sentence farther from the spot I had reached the last time through. At the same time, though, I was polishing what I had already written …

And about this she declares: This is a kind of polishing that the word processor all but eliminates, which is why I don’t use one. Word processors make it possible for a writer to change the sentences that clearly need changing without having to retype the rest, but I believe that you can’t always tell whether a sentence needs work until it rises up in revolt against your fingers as you retype it.

Whether using a computer or a typewriter, I have always been a chronic reviser. I love love love the revision process. But as I returned to the typewriter I realized how lazy I had let myself become in regard to revision. Knowing I could just cut and paste my way through changes, I no longer wrote with care from the very start, since it was so easy to go back and fiddle around with the words on the screen at any given time.

On a typewriter, though, there is a different rhythm, a deeper relationship between the body and the machine, and I could feel the way my mind slowed, and more importantly, made choices. Yes, that’s it. When I write on a laptop, I don’t have to make choices. Anything can be erased or cut or pasted at any time. But with a typewriter that’s much more difficult, and so I write carefully, thoughtfully, respecting my abilities, trusting myself, and holding myself accountable to the words as they form on the page.

Over the years I have often been thankful to Nora Ephron for reminding me of something that’s important in life. Today I thank her for this. Nora, you will be greatly missed.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Upcoming events for The Map of Lost Memories

With the August 21 publication date of The Map of Lost Memories nearing, my publicist is setting up lots of great events. Following are the first confirmed readings, appearances, etc. I will post more details as soon as I have them.

September 9, 2012
Book launch at Curve Line Space - details to come
Los Angeles (Eagle Rock), CA

October 7, 2012 - 2 pm
Reading at Elliott Bay Book Company
Seattle, WA

October 13-14, 2012
WordStock - event details to come
Portland, OR 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Map of Lost Memories - Coming Soon!

My novel, The Map of Lost Memories, will be published in August of 2012. To learn more about it, go to my website or the book's page on the Random House website.

Advance praise for
The Map of Lost Memories:

“In The Map of Lost Memories, Kim Fay draws us into a universe as exotic, intense and historically-detailed as the ancient artifacts her unforgettable heroine seeks. It's a deliciously unexpected journey: Indiana Jones meets Somerset Maugham meets Marguerite Duras; all culminating in a glorious traipse through a forgotten Asian world. This novel will stay with me for a long, long time.” – Jennifer Cody Epstein, author of The Painter from Shanghai

"The Map of Lost Memories is the best book I have read this year. Exotic, thrilling, and brimming with fascinating historic detail, it had me hooked from page one and sent me to a world I knew existed, but never really understood, never really felt, until now. Kim Fay is a wonderful storyteller who truly masters the art of crafting a riveting story with heart and elegance. The result is utterly mesmerizing." – Anne Fortier, New York Times-bestselling author of Juliet

“Kim Fay writes with such mesmerizing authority that it's hard to believe The Map of Lost Memories is her first novel. Rarely do we find a book that combines gripping adventure with exquisitely crafted prose, but Fay's novel does just that, bringing together the beauty and complexity of Marguerite Duras' The Lover with the thrilling breathlessness of Indiana Jones. The result is breathtaking.” – Dana Sachs, author of If You Lived Here and The House on Dream Street

"Kim Fay's engaging debut novel, The Map of Lost Memories, not only weaves together a smart, compelling story of a quest for scrolls believed to contain the lost history of Cambodia's ancient Khmer empire, but also gives us a glimpse into 1920's China and Indochina during the time of transition from colonialism to the beginnings of communism. With deftness and clarity, Fay brings her world to life and gives us a captivating read.” – Gail Tsukiyama, author of A Hundred Flowers

“Kim Fay breathes new and original life into the Westerner-in-Asia novel with The Map of Lost Memories, going beyond the intrigues of 1925 Shanghai to the remote reaches of the Cambodian jungle. An enchanting, absorbing first novel, all the more remarkable for its effortless portrayal of a bygone world, now nearly forgotten.” – Nicole Mones, author of Lost in Translation and The Last Chinese Chef