Sunday, August 18, 2013

"The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong"

Lindsay Tam Holland was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, and actually convinced someone once that every student there rode dolphins to school. After moving to Northern California and earning an undergraduate degree from Stanford, Holland went on to earn an MFA in creative writing from the University of San Francisco. Along with teaching high school English and creative writing, Holland coaches water polo, avoids tofu, and enjoys writing limericks.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of the novel is not funny – and most of the book is. On the page before, Vee sets up this shift by thinking: “I’d crossed the line from joke to no joke, and it was in the exact place I’d always suspected it would be. Not around race or violence or grades or honesty. The line ran directly through our family.” Page 69 is the beginning of the first scene where Vee gets genuine information about his father’s family in China. Silence is a big theme throughout – what people do or don’t say, and how to express the un-sayable through jokes or stories – and here that stony wall between Vee and his father begins to crack, just a bit.

On this page (as well as elsewhere), I struggled with the father’s voice. In moments of heightened emotion, I wanted his accent to creep in more, his English to be more stilted and awkward – but I didn’t want it to be jarring and pull the reader out of the world of the text and think that I just missed the boat on sounding like an old Chinese guy. What I ended up doing was making his English a little too perfect – giving him complete sentences and few contractions.

Someone just reading page 69 might miss how sarcastic Vee usually is, and would miss out on all the awkward and sexy teenage stuff, but would understand that the heart of the book lies in the father-son relationship and the angst that teenagers often feel in their journeys toward nuanced self-identity.

I’m feeling hugely grateful that page 69 did not turn out to be the scene where Vee beats up a bunch of Gatorade bottles, nor the page where he lists things he doesn’t understanding (beginning with “The Aztec alphabet” and ending with “high school in general”). It’s true, Vee’s quirky and sometimes ridiculous, but hopefully readers will sympathize with him and root for him regardless.
Learn more about the book and author at L. Tam Holland's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue