Born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Lauralyn Chow is the author of Paper Teeth, a book of interconnected short stories, following the lives of the Lees, a Canadian-Chinese family and their friends who reside in Edmonton. While playing with time, from the 1960s and 70s up to the present, Paper Teeth creates a world of walking dolls, family car trips, fashion and frosty makeup, home renovations inspired by pop culture, and moving up to big, new houses. Paper Teeth is Lauralyn Chow’s first book, published by NeWest Press.
You were born and raised in Edmonton. How has your experience living and working in Canada translated into your fictional work?
Certainly, I can see the direct influence of some of my work and life experience in my fiction, but I believe significant aspects of a person’s imagination also emerge from those places. I think it’s reasonable to assume that the translation unfolds in multiple overlapping dialects of memory, freedom, inspiration, perception, insight, synthesis, desire, speculation, whimsy and construction.
“Paper Teeth” evokes origami craft projects and dentists when I first saw the title of your book. What is the significance of “Paper Teeth” and its symbolism in this book? Why did you choose this title?
One of the things I love about books is that a book can mean one thing to the author and something completely different to a reader. No two readers are ever going to experience a book in exactly the same way.
I think it’s better to let the reader discover, unfiltered, what significance the title has for them, if any. However, I will leave you with this: there are ten interconnected stories in “Paper Teeth,” and they all have titles inspired by Chinese dishes that you would find either on the table at home or on a menu in a Chinese restaurant. There is food, or a family gathered at the table, in every one of the stories.
It’s often said that behind every good piece of fiction is a thinly disguised autobiography. Paper Teeth, through interconnected short stories, follows the lives of the Lees, a Canadian-Chinese family and their friends who reside in Edmonton. How closely do these characters resemble those in your life?
Like the children in “Paper Teeth”, I never learned to speak Chinese, even though my parents both spoke Chinese. That’s a strand from my life that resembles one of the strands in the lives of the children in some of these stories. However, how that strand unfolds in the lives of the children, that’s fiction, a product of my imagination. I don’t think it’s a rare thing at all for a biographical detail to make its way into fiction writing.
The stories in the book do not resemble my life or the people in it. You can find some pretty interesting memoirs to read, and while I do enjoy a “remember when” conversation as much as the next person, this is not an autobiography, thinly disguised or otherwise.
Do you have any writers that you particularly looked to for inspiration? Whose writing has influenced you most as an author?
I was an avid reader with eclectic taste long before I ever thought about writing. So I can’t really say that I ever looked to any particular writers for inspiration; I looked to writers to satisfy my need to read and my passion for words and stories.
A few of my favourite authors and books include: Rohinton Mistry, “Such a Long Journey”; Thomas King, “Green Grass, Running Water”; Carol Shields, “The Stone Diaries” and “Various Miracles”; Michael Ondaatje, “The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected Poems”; Lawrence Hill, “The Book of Negroes”; Gloria Sawai, “A Song for Nettie Johnson”; Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”; Kim Thúy, “Mãn.” And the book that I’ve carried inside me for the longest time is “The Cat in the Hat.”
How many drafts or versions did it take for this book to be completed? How long did it take to complete this book from start to finish?
Some of the stories started to take shape when I was taking writing classes in the University of Calgary Creative Writing Program, many, many years ago. Other stories took shape more recently. This wasn’t a “start to finish” kind of book, if there is such a book
What is your next book project? Are you working on anything or plan to?
Yes, there’s something on deck. I hope it proves to be fun.
What would you tell a new writer who is interested in writing a novel? What types of advice can you give him or her?
I can hardly presume, “Paper Teeth” is a series of interconnected short stories, but for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learned about writing:
- Keep a notebook with you at all times, so when an idea, a morsel of dialogue, some delicious phrase, an improvement comes to mind, you have one place to record it that doesn’t rely on a battery, a service provider, or a faceless corporation.
- Backup, backup, backup.
- Create appealing little incentives to reinforce good daily writing habits until they are part of your routine, preferably incentives that don’t involve eating.
- Play with words, and marvel at how nouns have become verbs. For example, what the heck is “incentivize” and why does it sound so condescending? And, why does the word, incent, sound like a word that went out in public without getting all its clothes on and combing its hair? Are these even words?
- Writing is a solitary act, be good company for yourself.
- Have some kind of activity that enables you to still “write” when words aren’t flowing, like laundry, or weeding by the back fence.
- When all else fails, go for a walk.