Happy New Year: 11 Things I Learned And/Or Relearned About Life, Love & Writing in 2011

Usually on Saturdays, I post an “Expat Sat” post…you know, “Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.”

BUT…since today is New Year’s Eve (whoop! whoop!), I’m stepping away from tradition to share a few things I learned (or in many cases, relearned) in 2011. Ready?

  1. The seeking and finding of oneself happens again and again in life. Stay open.
  2. I AM here to live out loud.
  3. Writing is not a solitary endeavor. (Relearn, relearn, relearn…)
  4. Paul Simon & I are alike when it comes to rhythm and symmetry and the breaking of symmetry.
  5. Despite the fact that as I get older, my eyesight gets worse and worse, I see things much more clearly.
  6. Just when I believe I see things clearly, they shift out of focus.
  7. Missing Shanghai is an ongoing feeling, as is my longing for each place in my life with which I’ve connected deeply.
  8. Journal, journal, journal. (& when in doubt, journal!)
  9. I love teaching writing to freshmen. I love how damn fresh they are.
  10. Steve Jobs
  11. Writerhead rocks! And it’s beautifully different for each writer. It can be like:


How about you? What did you learn (or relearn) this year?

Happy New Year, all! See you in 2012!


Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Ann Mah

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.

So excited to feature Ann Mah, author of the novel Kitchen Chinese, on Writerhead. After all, her debut novel features all my favorites: China, expats, hot-pot, cultural confusion. Feels like home…

Now, readers, please proceed quietly. As you’ll see, writerhead doesn’t come easily to Ann…so if she’s in it, we do not want to disturb her.

Let’s go…

The Scoop About Kitchen Chinese

After a career-ending catastrophe, Isabelle Lee leaves the magazine world of New York for the magazine world of Beijing, one that’s considerably more limited, given her rudimentary knowledge of Chinese. Despite being Chinese-American, Isabelle only knows the kind of Chinese that is spoken in the kitchen.

Fortunately, this includes the language of food, and soon Isabelle immerses herself in Peking duck and Mongolian hot pot, when she’s not engulfed in pea-soup pollution and culture shock. There’s also the challenge of reacquainting herself with her older sister, Claire, now a high-powered lawyer living the expat lifestyle. But, as she learns more about Claire, Isabelle begins to suspect she’s not the only one who’s run away to China.

After many moments of cultural confusion, Isabelle can’t help but wonder if moving to Beijing was a mistake. Or is this frenetic, vibrant city of the future the perfect place to figure out who she really is?

The Buzzzzzzzzzzz

“The vibrant depiction of Beijing, lush descriptions of sumptuous Chinese meals, and Isabelle’s struggle with how others perceive her distinguish Mah’s first novel.” ~ Booklist

“Ann Mah’s sizzling portrait of life in Beijing serves up more than just scrumptious banquets, identity crises and fraught, intercultural romances. It’s a story of how people find and nourish ourselves in unexpected ways and places, so delicious that I took breaks from reading only to dash to the phone and order Chinese.” ~ Rachel DeWoskin, author of Foreign Babes in Beijing

“Ann Mah’s richly detailed Kitchen Chinese is humorous enough to make you laugh out loud, and so delicious you are sure to begin craving Peking duck and dim sum. A true tale of reinventing oneself in a new and foreign world.” ~ Patricia Wells, author of Vegetable Harvest and We’ll Always Have Paris…And Provence

First Sentence

“My first meal in Beijing is roasted duck, or kaoya as it’s called in Chinese.”


And now, Ann’s writerhead

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

I have to admit that I don’t achieve writerhead as often as I would like. Like exercise, I don’t love writing, but I love having written. On rare occasions, however, I have pictured a scene so vividly that I had to sketch it before it disappeared. I write down a tumble of words, a bare outline, the words of dialogue that are reverberating in my mind, and then I go back and fill in the rest. This usually occurs somewhere near the end of the day, when I’m panicking that I haven’t gotten enough done, and my husband is due home from work in the next twenty minutes.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

Honestly, writerhead happens so rarely for me, I’m not sure how I would react. Instead of writerhead, I’m usually squeezing out words one by one, using the Pomodoro technique (set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on one task for the entire time—no internet!). That being said, I do believe there are two types of people in the world: those who call you in the middle of a sentence, and those who call at the end of a paragraph.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

For me, writerhead is like finding a baby panda in a bamboo forest. It is that rare—but when it happens, it’s enchanting.


Ann Mah is a food and travel writer and author of the novel, Kitchen Chinese (HarperCollins, 2010). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, the International Herald Tribune, Fodor’s travel guides, Washingtonian magazine, the South China Morning Post, and other publications.

She’s been interested in food since the age of five, when she climbed on the counter to watch her father chop garlic. After graduating from UCLA, she moved to New York to pursue her other love—books—eventually becoming an assistant editor at Viking Penguin. In 2003, she moved to Beijing, China, where she worked as a staff writer and dining editor for That’s Beijing, an English-language entertainment magazine. She’s lived in Paris since 2008, where she’s currently writing a nonfiction book about French regional cuisine.

If you’re interested in learning more about Ann and her work, skip on over to her web site. She’s just launched a monthly newsletter so be sure to sign up for all the scoop from Paris. You can also say hello on Twitter (@AnnMahNet) or Facebook.