January 23, 2012KR Conversations

Fan Li

Fan Li

A micro-interview with Fan Li by KR Associate Michael Hayes.

Fan Li was born in China, raised in Vancouver, and is now traveling in the U.S. His work has been published in Hart House Review (2008), Fractured West (2010), and the Globe and Mail (2011).  His story “Chiasmus” was chosen by Ron Carlson as winner of the 2011 KR Short Fiction Contest, and included in the Winter 2012 issue of KR.  You can read the full text of his story here.

KR: Is there a story behind your KR piece? What was the hardest part about writing it?

FL: ‘Chiasmus’ was written while I was in Xi’an, China. I was visiting my hometown after thirteen years. That’s a little over half of my life. I stayed with my grandparents in their apartment for a while and they had this storage room full of my parents’ books from their college days. There was literally a foot and half of space for me to stand and I wrote standing up with my netbook on the second shelf inside a cupboard. Being surrounded by all those books — most of which I couldn’t even read — reminded me how distant I am from my parents’ past, how a culture can divide and subdivide and how identities can meet, clash, splinter and ricochet off one another. What was fascinating but also heartbreaking in a way was that all those things can happen within one family, creating barriers and obstacles, twisting filial bonds. I suppose all that stuff came out as a story of some sort.

The hardest part: I don’t know.

KR: What internal or external factors have the biggest influence on your creative process?

FL: Well, I’m 24, so I’m not sure if I have any definable process. Just trying to keep within myself and pace my thoughts. Discipline is something I’m working on.

KR: Nicole Krauss said in a recent Guardian column that “We’re programmed to do the ‘easier’ thing… People no longer have the concentration to finish things; we skim along the surface, and it’s miserable.” Do you see this absence of ambition in the literary audiences of today? How do modern attention spans affect your writing?

FL: I used to live with a linguistics major who told me that the written language is always secondary to oral language. The way we speak evolves first and then the way we write follows. The interesting thing is that nowadays we often “speak” via texts, messengers, Google Chats, etc. This is different from letter-writing or even email-writing, and most people are becoming more accustomed to reading this form of script than the traditional form. Perhaps today’s readers have less patience with beautiful yet challenging lines of literature, but I don’t think it means that today’s readers don’t want literature. They may simply want to see a different kind of it. The writing style Ring Lardner used, which trickled down to Hemingway who popularized it, probably reflected a loss of “literary ambition” at its time for its simplicity, but it created a different kind of art. In the same way, perhaps today’s writers need to evolve with their audience’s language and attention span.

KR: What have you learned about the writing process in the last five years?

FL: That it’s interesting but not helpful to read about others’ writing processes.

KR: When we publish, whether in print or online, we hope we’re making a sustained art–something that endures and continues to be significant. What role will sustained art have in a future that’s sure to be full of iPads/Pods/Phones and Kindles, hyper fast computers, and a reality where we can always be online, all of the time?

FL: The same role it has now: keeping us human.