Talk Tuesday: A Satisfying Sip of Loren Mayshark, Author Interview & Book Review
Melinda T. Falgoust
What do you do when it's not quite Hump Day and you're cramped fingers are looking for a brief respite from NaNoWriMo? Why, you head on over to Inkspired for our "Talk Tuesday" feature where we sit down with established members of the publishing community and talk shop. Today, our featured author is Loren Mayshark, freelance writer and author of Inside the Chinese Wine Industry: The Past, Present and Future of Wine in China as we discuss his book, his process, and his thoughts on writing.
Loren Mayshark studied Chinese art, religion, philosophy, and history while earning a B.A. in history from Manhattanville College in New York. After graduation, he attended The Gotham Writers Workshop and the prestigious New York Writers Workshop. He has written about the Chinese wine industry for The Jovial Journey and Sublime China.
After college, he supported his itinerant lifestyle by working dozens of jobs, including golf caddy, travel writer, construction worker, fireworks salesman, substitute teacher, and vineyard laborer. Predominantly his jobs have been in the restaurant industry. He cut his teeth as a server, maître d’, and bartender at San Francisco’s historic Fisherman’s Grotto #9, the original restaurant on the Fisherman’s Wharf. While working with a colorful crew of primarily Mexican and Chinese co-workers.
He spent much of his young adult life exploring the wine industry from Sonoma Valley to the North Fork of Long Island, immersing himself in vineyards and learning valuable lessons. He has traveled extensively in South America, Europe, and Asia. He presently splits his time between Western New York and Sweden.
His first book, Death: An Exploration, won the 2016 Beverly Hills Book Award in the category of Death and Dying and was a finalist for book of the year in the 2016 Foreword INDIES Awards in the category of Grief/Grieving (Adult Nonfiction). Inside the Chinese Wine Industry is his third book. We sat down with him to discuss his new book and some of his thoughts on writing...
What drew you to the particular topic of your book?
I have worked as a freelance writer for several years. In 2015 I was doing a lot of writing about food, drink, and travel. I stumbled upon this topic and I was fascinated by it. I pursued it while writing for a couple of outlets about travel in China. It turned into an obsession and after about a year of research, I knew that I had to write a book about it. The topic is profoundly fascinating to me because wine has a deep and varied history in China. Exploring China through the prism of wine is both interesting and rewarding.
What is your background in the field?
I have worked in and around the wine industry for years as a bartender, mostly at high-end restaurants with extensive wine, lists and vineyard worker. Also, I have had a deep interest in China since I was a child, visiting Chinatown in New York City for the first time was a seminal moment for me. I studied Chinese history as part of my BA in World History and I continued to be fascinated. While pursuing an MA in history I was steeped in the historical process and how to construct compelling historical narratives and this training served me well while writing this book.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
That’s a great question. When I am doing freelance assignments that I am not too excited about, it certainly exhausts me. However, when having the freedom to write fiction, poetry, or something else that is a purely creative venture, writing is energizing.
What are common traps for aspiring writers, particularly those drawn to non-fiction?
I think that writers often get caught up in writing about what they think they ought to write about rather than what compels them. In a similar vein, many writers play it safe just because they don’t want to offend or take chances. I think that this often stifles creativity and has the result of young writers painting themselves into a corner.
Additionally, I think that so much of the writing people are taught in school is rigidly formulaic. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to study and learn the fundamentals. However, those who never go beyond the formulaic approach that they are taught in school, end up trapped. One symptom of this is being completely tied to the formula and then not seeing the opportunities to be creative in non-fiction. What is then missing in the work is the ability to make it artistic while still remaining true to the facts. I have witnessed this over and over while formally studying history in college and grad school. There are many historians with great stories to tell but they end up writing articles and books that are painfully dense and dry. It is a difficult balance to stay true to the facts while being able to entertain the reader, but it is possible and important to pursue if you want to write non-fiction for a broader audience.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I would tell myself to remain patient because it is going to be a long road. Also, I would tell myself to thicken my skin because the road will be paved with rejection, insecurities, and disappointments.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Years ago a well-meaning friend lent me the book Stick by Elmore Leonard and I just could not get into it. I never picked up another book of his until about five months ago when my uncle gave me Unknown Man #89. After reading a couple of chapters I was hooked. I love his bare-bones approach and his ability to create heart pound pace with page-turning suspense. I am currently reading my third book of his, Cuba Libre, and I doubt it will be my last.
What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?
I got my start writing seriously about a decade ago when I picked up a copy of Writer’s Digest. That single issue got me to sit down and write my first short story. I was soon hooked. Then I would spend hours at the library poring over writing magazines. I came to greatly appreciate The Writer (which is probably my favorite) and I also like to read Poets & Writers. I would say that those three are the best I have found.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel or non-fiction work?
That is a hard one because there are so many good ones. A great contemporary writer who one of my writer friends just recently discovered and was praising is Poe Ballantine. He is highly talented in both the fiction and non-fiction realms (I particularly enjoy his essays) but I don’t think he gets enough recognition.
As far as a single work, a friend and writing mentor recommended American Purgatorio by John Haskell soon after it was released. It is a creative and compelling debut novel with some deft prose but it didn’t sell a ton of copies and I rarely hear people mention it.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have about four unpublished/half-finished books. One is a multi-genre book and the rest are fiction of varying lengths. I long to work on them but freelancing and non-fiction were bringing in the money so I have relegate them to my “free” time. Now that this book is out, I am excited to return to these projects with newfound time and energy.
What is your favorite childhood book?
I have always loved to read and being an only child, I had to spend a great deal of time occupying myself. So, I escaped into books. I loved to read fairy tales and enjoyed children’s books with vivid pictures like East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Some of the formative early books for me were The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. My mother sat with me and we read the entire trilogy together by the time I was ten. I also enjoyed My Side of the Mountain.
The wine business is one of the world’s most fascinating industries and China is considered the rising star. A hidden secret, the Chinese wine industry continues to grow at an amazing pace and is projected to soon enter the top five producing nations, supplanting long established countries such as Australia. Inside the Chinese Wine Industry: The Past, Present, and Future of Wine in China takes you through the growing Chinese wine scene.
Wine has had a meteoric rise in China over the past two decades. The nation is projected to become the second most valuable market for wine in the world by 2020. One recent study concluded that 96% of young Chinese adults consider wine their alcoholic drink of choice. Not only does Inside the Chinese Wine Industry explore current expansion and business models, it journeys back to the past to see where it all began.
There are more than seven hundred wineries in China today. Although it’s bit of an oversimplification, the vast majority of the wineries fit into one of two categories: the larger established producers who churn out mostly plonk to meet the growing demand for inexpensive wine and the newer wineries that try to cater to the tastes of the wealthy Chinese with money to spend on luxury goods like fine wine. In the words of wine guru Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, “The cheap wines from the very large producers have mostly verged on dismal.” However, this should not be considered a blanket statement regarding every wine from large producers. Also, she has positive reflections regarding the level of wine produced by “cutting-edge wineries” which she finds “far better.” How good are they? MacNeil asserts: “Some of these wines are so good they could easily pass for a California or Bordeaux wine in a blind tasting.”
For more information visit his website: lorenmayshark.com.
Keep up with him on Twitter: @LorenMayshark
Author Website Book page: http://bit.ly/LmaysharkWB
Purchase on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2PlLUuF