Award-winning author Loren Mayshark was kind enough to talk to us about his new book, Inside the Chinese Wine Industry, as well as his future writing plans. Loren has been a friend of Dawnbreaker Press for many years and we are excited to share this interview with everyone.
Inside the Chinese Wine Industry and Loren's other titles are available on Amazon now!
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.
For more information visit his website: lorenmayshark.com
Keep up with him on Twitter: @LorenMayshark
Interview conducted by press editor Chandler in the summer of 2019
Q: Hi Loren, thanks for taking the time to do this Q&A. I’ve been following your work ever since I read Academic Betrayal, so I’m very excited to talk about your new book and your work as an author.
I know you’ve mentioned your inspiration and creative process in other interviews, but since we share a background in academia, I’d like to hear your thoughts on how that background might have influenced or prepared you to undertake writing the book.
A: First off, thank you for the opportunity. I have had the chance to read some titles from Dawnbreaker, and I think it is exciting what you are doing. I especially like the collective approach, the desire to give a platform to fresh voices, and your commitment to keeping important books from going out of print. The fact that some of the proceeds go to charity is some sweet icing on the cake. Well done!
To answer your question, I have to say that my time in academia helped me with this project. Having studied history in undergrad and grad school, research has become almost second-nature. My time at Hunter College, as difficult and frustrating as it was, certainly made me a better researcher. I was forced to delve deeper into the historian’s craft in a number of challenging research projects and [was] held to [a] higher standard than in my undergrad.
There are several abilities that I gained and honed in my time there. If I were to pick one that helped me tremendously, it would be the conversion to Chicago style. Manhattanville College, where I earned my BA, insisted that we use MLA style, which has value in certain situations; however, Hunter College’s history department used only Chicago Style. This made for a difficult transition, which I was resistant to at first. But after working with it for a while I found that Chicago Style is superior in many ways. As a result, all of my books have used Chicago Style and it was particularly helpful for Inside the Chinese Wine Industry.
Q: Your book seems to be the first of its kind to discuss the Chinese wine industry at length; what is it about this topic that is so unique, both as a topic to write about as well as the industry itself?
A: Great question. I think that what makes it unique is that both wine and China are topics with deep variegated histories. However, over and over again people I speak with are surprised that Chinese wine exists. One of the interesting parts has been looking deeply into the compelling history of Chinese wine, which I have painstakingly pieced together from various fragments.
It can be asserted today that China is one of the wine industries’ greatest players, as they are in the top three wine-consuming countries in the world. They are also rapidly becoming one of the world’s biggest producers of wine. This is a relatively recent phenomenon which will continue to impact the global wine industry.
Just as China is a force that cannot be ignored in geopolitics, this is increasingly true in the wine industry. Therefore, this makes a bottle of wine an interesting prism to view China through, especially considering that China’s wine production and consumption is a story [that] is distinctly Chinese and therefore unlike any the wine world has ever seen.
Q: I’d be willing to guess that when most people think of industries China is famous and noteworthy for, wine doesn’t pop up on their list. I certainly never considered it before reading the book. Why is it so interesting to see China through the prism of wine, then?
A: Well, China has perhaps an unprecedented power to marshal resources almost no other nation has ever had. As a result, they can do things that are just not possible in other parts of the world. By looking at wine in China, one gets not only a deep perspective of their meteoric economic growth in the last three or four decades, but also a taste of their unique cultural mores. This is interesting with regards to what these factors say about how China continues to grow and reinvent itself.
However, given its size and complex history, it could take a lifetime to really understand how and why China has developed the way it has. Therefore, by viewing it through a bottle of wine, it can be a fun way to drink deeply from the culture in a single industry. For this reason, I think the story will be fascinating - not only for oenophiles - but for anyone interested in understanding China better.
Q: I read your article about Jay McInerney, an author who made his name in fiction by writing nonfiction books about wine. Could you talk a bit more about McInerney and your thoughts on his genre-crossing success story?
A: I recently read Bright Lights, Big City, a book which is rightly considered one of the most important novels of the 1980s. It was astounding what he was able to do at such a young age and in a relatively slim volume. The book is clever, inventive, and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. The book is renowned for being in the second person, and I was astonished at how well the second person held up for the length of the book. He went on to write Brightness Falls, Story of My Life and several other well-received novels. [It is important to emphasize] that during the production of this work he was always interested in wine. As a matter of fact, he was working in a wine shop when he learned that his debut novel was acquired by Random House.
The love of wine was something that he found inspiring, but [McInerney] did not start writing about wine until later in his career. As a result, his wine writing is fairly unique as he eschews the pretentious and often bloated language used by many wine writers. Instead, he tends to find more light-hearted and creative ways to convey the information so that many of his descriptions [are] as refreshing as a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc on a hot summer day.
One of the most interesting parts of his unique career is how he balances the two pursuits. As he has stated, writing fiction is certainly harder, and the wine writing allows for a more relaxing alternative. But he balances the two well and they do have a connection. As he has stated: “In my case, the greatest hazard of wine writing might be getting distracted from my career as a novelist; but I think the two tasks require different muscles, and I tend to do the wine writing when the fiction isn’t flowing.”
Q: This will be your third book after Academic Betrayal and Death: An Exploration, both of which are also nonfiction titles. I did notice you mentioned in your article on McInerney that you also write fiction, so I was wondering if there was a potential novel in the works and if you could spoil a few details for us if that were the case.
A: As a matter of fact, I am working on something that has elements of fiction but is not a straightforward novel in the traditional sense. The book also has other literary genres, including nonfiction such as personal essays. This is a project that I have been working on even before I conceived of the three books that have already been published. I have been tinkering with it for more than a decade, and it feels good to finally have completed a full draft which now stands at about 230,000 words.
The book is quite hard to describe, but the most concise description would be a story that has a loose narrative which involves love, failure, dreams, and a desire to break away from society and the perceived limits of the human experience. It has a unique story involving the emergence of one consciousness and contemplates the very depths of The Human Experience. The book struggles to answer the question: “What does it mean to be alive and writing in this period of human history?”
Q: My years in education and academia have really helped me develop my skills as a nonfiction writer, but I’ve found that those skills are sometimes difficult to translate to fiction writing. As both a fiction and nonfiction author, could you share some insight on how your writing process differs for those of us trying to branch out to different forms and genres?
A: Well, I can agree with Jay McInerney that it is great to have something quite different to go to if one of the pieces you are working on is not flowing. The ability to jump from project to project is a powerful antidote to writer’s block. Also, I have found that many fiction techniques can be employed in nonfiction. For example, one can use the characterization techniques from fiction to create more compelling descriptions of nonfiction characters. Other aspects of fiction can be used as well, just so long as the writer makes sure to stay true to the facts. Additionally, there are techniques that flow both ways, such as pacing. Pacing is important in both forms, so it is something that one can hone in say, fiction, and then bring that knowledge to their nonfiction work.
The bottom line is that the more one writes and studies the writer’s craft the more one learns. Some of these hard-won lessons in one kind of writing can be applied to others. This is also perhaps why many writers encourage people to read poetry regularly regardless of which genre they work [in], just to hear the music of the words and to find out what is possible by using the English language (or whatever language they might be working in).
Q: Since we first met and started corresponding, we’ve talked about many subjects that are near-and-dear to both of us, including the importance of supporting independent authors/presses and the great books they have to offer. As an indie author yourself, I’d like to get some of your thoughts and perspectives on the industry.
A: The industry has changed so much in the last decade or so. I think those who have been around the industry [for a while] see 2007 as a watershed year because the first iPhone and Kindle were released that year. This had a major impact on how people would acquire and consume books, changing the industry forever. Just as many other artists have had many new opportunities to connect directly with their fans, so have writers. No longer would it be a select few gatekeepers deciding who would have the privilege of reaching their audience. This created opportunities that were never available before for people to get their work out into the world and connect directly with readers. Numerous other technological advances have changed the landscape for writing and publishing, and it continues to transform. The big five publishers still have a huge market share, but they are not right for every book, and I think readers and writers both benefit from the wide array of options available now.
That being said, I do not want to paint a picture that it is now easy to self-publish a book and be well on your way to fame and fortune. The competition is fierce: Bowker estimated that in 2017 - for the first time - over a million books were self-published. It is estimated that the average digital-only self-published book sells 250 copies in the lifetime of the book, while the average traditionally published book sells 250-300 copies in the first year and 3,000 copies in its lifetime on all formats. So, this is an indication of the tremendous odds that every author faces while trying to make it in the industry. It is a healthy thing for all aspiring authors to take some time and understand the industry before starting to climb the long road to publication, because no matter what one chooses, it will be a difficult climb in order to give the book the best chance at success. It is also important for aspiring authors to consider what success means to them and to chart their paths accordingly.
Q: Thanks again for taking the time to talk, Loren. I think we can both agree that it’s more important than ever for independent authors and small presses to support each other, a cause at the center of our own operation here.