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Friday, October 21, 2016

Interview With Author CieCie Tuyet Nguyen


SHOCK PEACE

1.      What inspired you to write your book? It was triggered by a diagnosis of macular degeneration in July 2011, as described in my prologue. I felt so shocked thinking that one day I might not be able to see as clearly as I can now and that’s how it started.

I began in November 2011 and had written a prologue and about three chapters, then all of my inspiration, as well as my enthusiasm, evaporated quickly. In early 2012, I abandoned the idea thinking what a dreamer I was to write a book in English when it is my second language! And who would read it anyhow! For two years, I did not return to my writing and almost discarded the project. Then after a trip to the United States in 2014, I made a vow on 12th January that I must finish my book. It had dawned on me the importance of writing the forty year journey of my people and their suffering, the Vietnamese in exile since 1975 till 2015. I felt like I must tell their stories to the world. In a sense, it was not about my journey and me anymore— then my determination became much stronger. Perhaps there were readers out there for my stories after all. There was hope at last.

2. What is it about? Shock Peace is a fictional memoir based on my own experiences and historical facts about the Vietnam War, its post-war tragedies, the Vietnamese refugees' suffering and their survival stories. At its core, it is one family’s story of survival. I portrayed myself as Trinh in the book.
           
Read about Saigon’s descent into hell with the North Vietnamese government’s enforced re-education, stripped bank accounts, corruption, starvation, and hopelessness. Hundreds of thousands tried to escape but most were caught, drowned at sea or attacked by pirates.

At the age of 13, Trinh watched in fear as North Vietnamese tanks stormed the streets of Saigon, as retreating Southern soldiers stripped off their uniforms, laid down their weapons, and fled past her front door.

Three of Trinh’s brothers went to war, one was killed, one returned home, and one was forced to fight for the enemy.

With Trinh’s family bank account seized, a Vietcong soldier billeted to their home while communist re-education was forced on citizens, Saigon descended into hell, and its streets were full of desperate people hell-bent on survival. Trinh described the human degradation and corruption as confidence tricksters lure and deceive.

The Vietnam War saw two million civilians perish and millions more suffer, none more so than the ‘Amerasians,’ children born from American/Vietnamese relationships who were now abandoned and treated as outcasts  

With thoughts focused on escape, many fled only to be captured and imprisoned. Those who remained suffered oppression, poverty, and starvation.

Men were assigned savage re-education and enforced communist indoctrination in internment camps. Most were tortured, never to see their families again.

Wives with no means to support themselves were forced into prostitution.

From first-hand accounts, Trinh reveals how internees within re-education camps were forced to adopt Communist principles and suffer appalling conditions on sub-human rations.

The narrator gives intriguing insight into how and where the death from re-education camps were buried in unmarked graves and inhumanely by the authority so that years later their relatives could find their final resting place.

After months of planning, Trinh, her parents, brothers, and sisters finally escaped by boat. Sneaking out to sea under the gaze of the military, they avoided discovery only to be attacked by pirates.

Finally settled in a Malaysian refugee camp, Trinh’s family experienced elation at their new found freedom but extreme sadness for the home left behind. Thoughts turned to the future and which country would accept them.

With not one member of Trinh’s family speaking a word of English, they arrived in Australia only to be billeted at a hostel. Despite language difficulties, fear of the unknown, and the strange cuisine, with the old world behind them, the new world beckoned.

Trinh battled the challenges of school amid often hostile reaction from locals who saw the Asian arrivals as strange and unwelcome. However, she championed high school, passed the Higher School Certificate, and gained a place at Sydney University.

3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book? The underlying courage, resilience and optimism is the foundation of Shock Peace. To have witnessed the oppression, to have risen above the adversity, and to have seized the opportunities presents an extraordinary example of a refugee’s determination to overcome seemingly impossible odds.

4. What advice do you have for writers? Everyone has a story to tell. Inspirations sparkle in front of our eyes every day and it is usually easier to start than to finish. I believe that if writers have discipline and give themselves a deadline then the chance of reaching the end is higher. Moreover, I think writers have to be honest with their writing, to put themselves into their characters’ situations and feelings rather than their own.

To discipline, I made a vow on that January 2014 day to write at least 500 words or one A4 page a day, five days a week—five pages in all. I allowed myself the free weekend to empty my brain. There were times when I could write non-stop and words kept pouring out of my mind like a fountain stream. A page was a piece of cake those days. Then one day I turned my head to see my pharmacy assistant was standing behind me looking over my shoulder in curiosity. She must have thought that I was copying and pasting from somewhere as my hands were clicking away happily and easily. Strangely, I had written the entire manuscript of Shock Peace while working in the pharmacy or after hours of closing. I could just write, then stop and dispense medications, talk to my customers, give them advice, then resume my writing as if there were no interruption. The flow of thoughts was just like a tap, turn it on and off miraculously. Truthfully, I did not know how I had done it! There must have been some help from the spiritual world out there.

However, there were days I could not bring myself to write anything, and every word on the paper was a real effort. I kept looking at the word count and wishing that I could have written nonsense to fill a page! Fifty-nine words, 76 words, 128 words, oh dear! Then, not to waste any time, I used those days to research or reread my writing. As long as I had five pages by the end of that week, I was happy. Then there were days I wondered why I had chosen this ordeal! It came to a stage when I had reached my quota of 500 words or when I had filled up my A4 page, I immediately turned my desktop off quickly and gladly got up away from it and went home. I loved pages with a lot of dialogue as they filled spaces easily. I loved pressing the enter key to start a new paragraph for each dialogue As you can see, my book has dialogue on almost every page!

5. Where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? Back in the 80’s, my mother gave my brother and me each a dollar a week for helping her with her caravan food stall in Sydney Hyde Park. We used that precious dollar to buy a cartoon book and built up our whole collection. Books were highly regarded in print back then and we loved them.

Digital evolution has changed many things. They are brilliant but some have made a strong impact to various industries causing their extinctions and sadly, printed books, magazines, newspapers are now declining in number. They are for authors like me who would like to see my book in print. They are for nostalgias who still prefer flipping their pages. Furthermore, poor eyesight is an added factor that people steer toward digital books as an alternative where they can adjust the word size and back lighting readily. Unfortunately, I am one of those now!

Naturally, evolution brings changes and the book publishing industry might have to adapt to its new environment to survive in the 21st Century.

6. What challenges did you have in writing your book? I remembered writing the period of the Fall of Saigon in April and following that with the proceeding months in real time back in 1975. It had a surrealistic effect on me and there were times I went home crying. Melancholy filled my aching heart. My writing brought me back to those nightmarish times. I had felt exhausted with emotions and I could not bring myself to do anything but lie down in my bed and go to sleep, whether it was late evening or the night was still young.

There were days I wrote and wrote without thinking of the sequence in the book as my thoughts just wandered around in any direction. Scenes came to my mind and words just materialized. I did not want to stop and think or stop and change anything I wrote at that time, as I was afraid that if I stopped and changed what I had written, I might have stopped completely and left my project high and dry.

Another bigger challenge was to write in a second language, rather than my own mother’s tongue.

Chris, my partner, helped me a great deal in re-igniting my writing and gave me valuable advice, when I chose to listen to him! At first, I asked Chris to edit my writing. However, I was not completely comfortable with Chris’ correcting my sentences. They seemed significantly altered and it gave me an imposter feeling rereading my paragraphs. It was like reading someone else’s vocabularies and thoughts. They were too grand! Of course, he is an English man and my expressions or sentences might be strange or different to his English thinking. I must admit, my writing was clunky at times and believe it or not I have learnt a huge amount recently. It is less clunky, I hope! During those times, I felt like giving up. My grandiose idea of writing a book in my second language seemed farfetched. We had many arguments because I refused to change. I was stubborn to keep it my way, clunky or not. He kept repeating, “It is not how I would have expressed it, but if you must insist then of course, it’s your writing!” I said, “Yes, I know it might not be exactly how an English speaking person expresses her feeling but it is my writing and I want it to be authentic, I want it to be mine! It might be strange, but I know for sure it is not subject to plagiarism!” Finally, with the last five chapters of Shock Peace, after all others had been done by another editor and with my stubbornness, Chris agreed to edit my pages but leave my expressions and vocabularies the way they were.

Toward the end of my writing, March 2015, I was lucky to have an editor, a dear friend of my family since we arrived to Sydney back in 1978 and an English teacher, Ms. Suzanne Collins. I gave her my first five chapters to start with. The editing process had begun and Sue was very prompt. A day or two later, she returned the edited chapters which led me to finishing my other chapters quickly to give them to Sue. I was so glad that Sue only changed my grammar and worked around my “English” to leave them very much intact. It gave me a huge relief knowing that at least there was someone who understood my writing. It was funny though, as Sue sent me emails after correcting my five chapters and kept asking, “How many chapters are there in all? How many words are you intending to write?” I told her that it was about 50 chapters and approximately 125,000 words, but it seemed Sue did not believe it and kept asking me to give her the outline of my chapters. I realized that Sue was so worried because I had told her that my book was about the forty-year journey of my people. I was describing each day in those chapters to the smallest detail of what we were having for lunch and hour by hour description of the chaos of Saigon, and its fall, etc. in 1975, Sue must have been horrified to think that with that rate, there might have been thousands and thousands of pages for her to edit, from 1975 till 2015! What a gruesome thought!

7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours? Books are a valuable vehicle to enrich one’s knowledge and to provide empathy to mysterious subjects or ideologies. The fall of Saigon and its aftermath have never been revealed to the outside world. I believe Shock Peace is the first fictional memoir written in English from a survivor’s firsthand account. It describes the smallest details of day to day living of various characters in the society and the despicable treatments from the authority to its own citizens that lead to millions people escaping to the seas. The UNHCR had estimated that approximately 400,000 to 500,000 boat people drowned, disappearing during the exodus. The figures are daunting to me. Then one has to ponder ‘why?’

CieCie Tuyet Nguyen was born in Saigon and witnessed its fall in 1975 when she was 13-years-old. After continuing to live there for three years under the communist regime, she escaped with her family by boat to Malaysia in 1978. After staying in a Pulau Besar Refugee camp for three months, she resettled in Sydney, Australia, where she has remained ever since. She graduated with a bachelor of pharmacy in 1985 from Sydney University and has operated her own pharmacy since 1989. Nguyen has self- published two short stories and memoirs in Vietnamese, one in 2011 and one in 2016. Shock Peace: The Search for Freedom is her first novel.

For more information about Shock Peace: The Search for Freedom, please visit Nguyen's website or Facebook page.

Shock Peace: The Search for Freedom is available for purchase on on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©.
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