Interview with Pingmei Lan 3/1/2021
Pingmei Lan grew up in Beijing China. She holds a MFA in creative writing from Pacific University. Her writing has been featured in The Florida Review, Catapult, Epiphany, Tahoma Literary Review, VCU Blackbird and other publications. She is a winner of the 2019 PEN/DAU Best Debut Short Stories prize, a finalist in the Atlanta Review’s 2019 International Poetry Competition.
Tell us about a project (or projects) you are working on.
One of the projects I’m working on is a long poem based on an ancient myth in which (a family of) ten suns roam the sky and scorch the earth. A master hunter is commissioned to eliminate nine of the suns. The hunter succeeds in his mission but fails in his marriage to a beautiful and bored goddess. Growing up I heard legends like this on the radio or from elders but this one stuck. Unlike the others stories, there’s no clear delineation between heroes villains, love or hate, winning or losing in this one. Its muddled sense of morality haunts and baffles me, pushing me to examine it and retell it.
I’m also teaching some classes at the San Diego Writer’s Inc. A coming class delves into pacing and timelines in fiction. I built this class when I realized this was an important but rarely taught subject. I hope to develop a set of craft essays around similar topics designed to support aspiring or experienced writers alike.
How has this ongoing pandemic affected your work/practice?
The illusion of time gives me anxiety. The expectation is you ought to produce more work. I don’t know where the time went, though I have a few guesses. The converse notion of trying no more than existing is comforting but also unrealistic. We don’t live in a vacuum, especially during this time. There’re loved ones who need you more than ever. There’s all that hand washing and grocery wiping. And the sneaking suspicion and signs for more trouble yet to come–so should you be hunched over your desk bleeding words and if so what would be worthy of a moment like this?
I am also wondering if I’m doing anything, enough, too much to try to better my own life and others but mucking it up somehow. And all that wondering/worrying takes a lot of time.
When did your journey as an art maker/administrator/etc. begin?
My mother. She named me after a certain fairytale (poem) then forbade me from reading books as she believed my health was too delicate and adversely affected by them. (She was right, of course.)
What/who are some of your greatest influences?
In the early days, I loved long, lyrical prose that meanders and stays, and like narcissus, aspires for no more than their own beauty though they do achieve much more. I tended to gravitate toward anyone who writes like that (Faulkner, Woolf, Camus, Duras, Greenwell…). I’ve since become more drawn to modern writers who create brand new styles while still maintain a sense of classical sensibility. Some notables are Hang Kang, Ted Chiang, Ken Liu, Viet Tran Nguyen, Louise Erdrich. Anna Burns achieved the impossible in Milkman by combining gorgeous lyrical prose with a brand new style, and created a world so vivid in its Irishness that it felt familiar and homey to me, a native Beijinger. I also love Ottessa Moshfegh for reasons I cannot discern.
Lastly, is there any advice or wisdom you’d like to provide to rising artists/arts leaders?
(Do the hard work to) Stay connected to a small but active community of writers. Whether this means exchange writing or simply meet to talk about aspects of writing it’s up to you.
You can find Pingmei Lan online via:
Or on social media: @pingmei_writer