So he urged her to write a nonfiction book about her creative process — a collection of essays, perhaps, or a compilation of emails she’d written to him. The disjointed chapters feel fragmentary and experimental, more like a collage or a scrapbook than a standard chronological excavation of the past. Tan tossed in entries from her journals — she labels shorter ones “quirks” and longer ones “interludes” — where she muses on nature, fate, aging and mortality. His notes appear as interjections in the introduction.
I must say thanks, not to blind luck but to my ghosts. Her face was ten times larger than life, in the form of a moving, pulsing hologram of sparkling lights. She drew closer and when she reached me, I felt as if I had been physically punched in the chest.
Ten years ago, I clearly saw a ghost and she talked to me. It took my breath away and filled me with something absolute: love, but also joy and peace—and with that, understanding that love and joy and peace are all the same thing.
Then her father, an electrical engineer and Baptist minister, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and died not long after Peter. The disease spread to her brain, causing seizures that sparked bizarre but benign hallucinations, like a Renoir painting or a spinning odometer. She found letters to her parents from immigration officials, warning that their student visas had expired and they were at risk of deportation. She’s accustomed to having her fiction critiqued, but this feels much scarier, and more personal. And it very likely wouldn’t exist, she admits, had it not been for the gentle and insistent prodding from her editor.
When she started taking medication to control the seizures, it made her giddy, and she worried it would make her write maudlin fiction.
Amy Tan really, truly did not want to write a memoir. The accelerated pace unlocked something, and soon, she was sending journal entries, deeply personal reflections on her traumatic childhood and harrowing family history, and candid passages about her creative struggles and self-doubt.“I wrote this in a fugue state, not realizing what I was writing,” Ms. “It wasn’t until I was done that I became a little distressed and thought, wait a minute, this is going to be published? Tan realized she’d unintentionally written a memoir.
Her editor, Daniel Halpern, really wanted her to write one, but knew she would never agree to it. The resulting book, “Where the Past Begins,” isn’t a conventional narrative autobiography.
My mother reminded me many times that I had the gift. The way my mother remembered it, I refused to get ready for bed one night, claiming there was a ghost in the bathroom. Thereafter, she questioned anything unusual—a sudden gust of wind, a vase that fell and shattered, she would ask me, “She here? When I was a child, my mother told me that my grandmother died in great agony after she accidentally ate too much opium.
My mother was nine years old when she watched this happen.
She exhumes two fictional outtakes from discarded novels, including one about a linguistics scholar that she wrote more than 20 years ago. Tan, who has published seven novels, also reflects on her writing life, and describes how she cried the day her debut novel, “The Joy Luck Club,” was published — not out of happiness, but out of dread and fear of criticism. Tan oscillates between earnest reflection on her work and crushing self-doubt. They got together two months ago in Manhattan, where Ms.
Mary Karr, the poet and memoirist, said “Where the Past Begins” gave her new insight into Ms. But he’s never been so visible in one of his writer’s books. “I keep asking myself how the hell I wrote such a long and bloated book,” she writes about her last novel in one message to him. Halpern’s opinion on a scene, she writes: “Never mind. Tan and her husband of 43 years, Louis De Mattei, a retired tax attorney, have a loft in So Ho.