Amy Tan is headed back to Buffalo, aiming to talk about books, families – and old photographs.
“I’ll be talking about the new book, but also about my family, and how that factors into the new book,” said Tan.
The well-known author – who once wrote that she would rather be called “writer,” as it implies activity – will make a return trip to Western New York on Friday as part of Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Babel series.
Tan’s appearance will begin at 8 p.m. in Kleinhans Music Hall.
Tan, known to many readers for “The Joy Luck Club” – a best-seller that was turned into a movie – spoke to The Buffalo News last week from her home in New York City. She said her new novel, “The Valley of Amazement,” took her eight years to write.
“All along I was doing research,” said Tan, 61, who also has a home in California. “It was an obsession of mine.”
“The Valley of Amazement,” like other novels by Tan, weaves together stories of different generations of women in the same family, stretching from Shanghai to the United States. The book was released this month.
During the writing of the novel, Tan said, she became fascinated by similarities between an old photograph of her grandmother, dating to about 1910, and a vintage photo that she came across of courtesans who lived in Shanghai a century ago.
Tan said those similarities made her ask questions about the life of her grandmother, who died in 1925.
“I checked everything out,” said Tan. “I knew she had had a different life.”
Tan said that she took time out during the writing of the book to work on other projects – including the libretto for an opera based on another one of her books, “The Bonesetter’s Daughter” – and to oversee the construction of a house in California with her husband of nearly 40 years, attorney Lou DeMattei.
“I was sidetracked by doing a libretto for an opera, building a house, all these things I shouldn’t have been doing,” said Tan, with amusement.
But, she said, she loves the house they built.
“It’s exactly the house we wanted,” she said.
Tan, whose debut novel, “The Joy Luck Club,” came out in 1989, said she knows the career of a writer doesn’t last forever.
“I do think about mortality almost every day,” said Tan. “I think about time remaining. It’s almost like a percentage of time remaining.”
But, Tan said, that doesn’t really come into play when she is choosing subjects to write about.
“I can’t plot what my obsessions are going to be,” she said. “I can’t write subjects. I have to write emotionally.”
Tan, who told The Buffalo News she had been diagnosed with Lyme disease in a story in March 2003, shortly before she came to town for a lecture at the University at Buffalo, said she still copes with the condition. She wrote about her experiences with her health in “The Opposite of Fate,” a book of essays and memoir-type pieces that came out that year.
“My health is great, but I’m not cured,” Tan said of her struggle. “It’s managed.”
Tan said she has two books in mind for her next act: a fiction work, and one that is nonfiction.
“The fiction will come first,” she said.
The fictional narrative will be set in China and San Francisco, “but predominantly in San Francisco,” Tan said.
She said the next novel will revolve around themes of love, debt, and inheritance. “I have the outline of it,” she said.
Tan said she also contemplates doing a nonfiction book about writing.
“There are a lot of people who wonder what that editor-writer relationship is like,” she said.
As for her use of an old photograph to help her find her newest narrative, Tan said that the experience can be shared by others – even if they are not writers.
Anyone can take out an old family picture and look at it anew, the author said.
“Take a magnifying glass – that’s what I did,” said Tan. “These photos are so small.”
“I kept enlarging and enlarging, looking at every little bit of that photograph.”
“I see something all the time.”
For more information on Amy Tan’s upcoming appearance in Buffalo, see Just Buffalo Literary Center’s website at www.just buffalo.org.