I had great fun visiting with the students at an English class at Jefferson State Community College in Alabama recently. No, I didn’t actually get to go to Alabama, alas, but we all were able to talk using whiteboard’s “chat” app, thanks to Prof. Sharon DeVaney-Lovinguth, who set it all up.
The class is reading my short story “Saving Sourdi” and had a lot of questions about the characters, the plot, writing process, etc.
Because I get emails from a lot of students who read this story for school, I’m going to give you some of the questions and my responses (as best I can remember). I know that if one person had that question, somebody else out there probably did, too.
One question was “Is the baby in the picture supposed to be Duke’s? When Duke says ‘It looks just like–‘ and trails off, is that because he thinks it looks like him?”
Me: Wow! I was really surprised by this question because I never imagined in a million years that people would think the baby in the picture was fathered by Duke. My answer is therefore, No. Too much time has passed for the baby to have possibly been Duke’s (and everyone would have figured it out if the baby were born just a few months after Sourdi got married). Also if the baby looked mixed-race, that would have been something the family would have remarked upon. When I wrote that line, I imagined that Duke was thinking to himself that the baby looks just like Sourdi and that he misses Sourdi.
Another question came from Prof. Lovinguth. She asked about the scene where Duke takes Sourdi and Nea to the field with the hollow in the ground where the rest of the world seems to disappear because they can no longer see it.
Me: The scene shows how our point of view affects how we see the world. To Duke, the field is normal and beautiful, but to Sourdi, the field reminds her of war when she had to walk over barren fields filled with dead bodies and bones. So what is beautiful to Duke is terrifying to Sourdi (in this instance) because of their different perspectives and experiences. As for the hollow in the ground, I wanted that to represent our individual perspective and point of view. The rest of the world–the town, the trees, the road–become invisible when you’re standing in the hollow. Seeing from the point of each individual character is like standing in that hollow. We all only see the world from our own point of view, which means other things are blocked out.
Some other questions were about my new novel Dragon Chica, which continues the story of the characters from “Saving Sourdi.”
Me: Dragon Chica gives you the full story of Nea, Ma, Sourdi, Nea’s younger siblings (whom you don’t get to meet in the short story) as well as Nea’s Auntie and Uncle. The novel begins before the events of “Saving Sourdi” when the family has been living in America only a few years then continues onward until Nea is 18. There are also flashbacks to the family’s life in Cambodia before the war as well as during the Khmer Rouge-era. There are a few changes in the timeline and locations, but overall you will recognize the same characters (including Duke!).
There were many other questions (as well as comments about the World Series, of course), but I’ll end here so I can get this post up today.
And I want to give a big thanks to Prof. Lovinguth and her students for showing me some genuine Southern hospitality! Thank you all for inviting me into your class!
(And this lovely picture is of Prof. Sharon DeVaney-Lovinguth with her son.)