I recently completed the first draft of a book proposal for Su Beng's memoir. For those of you who don't know, a book proposal is basically an author's business plan for his/her book. Who knew that you could do this? I certainly didn't. I thought that I'd have to write the entire book before finding a publisher. That's what has to be done for works of fiction, but nonfiction is different. I had no idea how these things worked when I started this project. I simply did not know how the publishing industry works. But I've learned, and I'm still learning.
Writing this book proposal has of course required me to work on the basic nuts and bolts of the book, such as its table of contents and chapter titles. But it's more than just that. How do I tell the story of this man's life in an engaging way?
Rather than writing a straight chronology of Su Beng's life, I've decided to start off with something compelling in the first chapter which leads back to the beginning.
On Sunday I spoke to Su Beng via Skype about the first chapter. There were some details that I needed for the chapter. I also asked for his feedback, and thoughts on it.
I'm still uncovering things about his man's life. Su Beng has been writing his autobiography in Chinese. He's shared these writings with me but since I can't really read Chinese characters, I've been working with someone to read and translate them for me. In the process, I've discovered a few surprising things.
For instance, Su Beng has told me that he left for Japan during what would have been his fifth year in middle school, the year he was to graduate. Also, his choice to study politics and economics at Waseda University in Tokyo, was against the expectations of his family, who had expected him to study something more practical.
But there's more to the story. Su Beng had actually planned to secretly run away from home to Japan. He was all packed and prepared; he had bought a large luggage trunk for the trip, and as he waited at the boat terminal in Keelung, he was spotted by a relative who also happened to be there. Seeing Su Beng there alone with this huge piece of luggage, it was obvious that he was running off without the consent of his family, so the relative intervened and called Su Beng's family. Su Beng's mother insisted that he come home, but it was his grandmother who said that they should let him go; she realized that Su Beng had made up his mind to go and that there was nothing that she or anyone else could do to stop him. And so she gave him her blessing to go and it was her, Su Beng's grandmother, that paid for his tuition and monthly allowance while he was at Waseda.