By Richard Guzman,
POSTED: 12/12/14, 12:44 PM
(Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze)
Long Beach writer Nancy Young in Long Beach, CA on Monday, December 8, 2014. Young's new book "Strum" has already received numerous literary awards since its publication in June. It's the story of Bernard, a deaf young woodworker, who makes two guitars worthy from a fallen tree.
At the time, the Taiwan-born writer was in Australia checking out instruments at a music expo when she spotted a handmade guitar by Seagull Guitars of Quebec.
Young, who plays the instrument, was fascinated to find out that the company makes guitars out of roughly 800-year-old trees that fall naturally in the forest.
As she held the guitar, she thought of the ancient fallen trees and the generations they had lived through. Those thoughts sparked a story about family, history, culture and music that the 51-year-old penned in her debut novel, “Strum” (Inkwater Press, 2013).
“The story came out of this idea of what stories can come out of an 800-year-old tree and how do you release these stories or spirits out of this tree, or out of a piece of wood, and it’s through music,” said Young, who will sign copies of her award-winning book on Dec. 14 at Gatsby Books in Long Beach.
The 367-page novel begins with a young deaf woodworker named Bernard who finds himself drawn to an old forest by a compelling melody. He’s been called there by the spirits of his great-grandparents, who are of Iroquois and European descent.
Once in the forest, he sees one of the 800-year-old trees fall in front of him. Bernard then proceeds to build two classic guitars out of the fallen tree imbued with the spirits of his ancestors.
His creation sets up a story that follows the guitars and spans two centuries, through generations of the family and four continents, as each instrument travels to opposite ends of the world. The book hops from places like the Canadian forest to Southeast Asia, Paris, Mount Everest and the Sydney Opera House. It also jumps in time from the 1800s to modern day.
“It follows individual characters that actually have the guitars in their possessions. It also follows the historical happenings, the political events and several wars,” said Young, as she sat inside the Long Beach Main Library, where she works as director of development for the Long Beach Public Library Foundation.
The novel is also following a path of critical success and has earned six national and international book awards. It was recently named a finalist in literary fiction at the USA Best Book Awards, it won the silver medal for best regional fiction at the Independent Publishers Book Awards and earned honorable mentions at the Hollywood, New York, San Francisco and Great Northwest book festivals for general fiction.
“I submitted for these awards at this time last year and I thought maybe I would be lucky to win one,” Young said. “I’ve been so blown away.”
While some respected reviewers found a few faults with her debut novel, they have been generally impressed with her work. Kirkus Reviews said her novel was a “beautifully written, engrossing family epic that’s a bit slow and tangled with its own literary devices,” while Publishers Weekly said Young’s “intense focus on the natural world provides imagery of glistening beauty, even as the narrative pace drags.”
Music from the handmade guitars and how it connects the generations of this family is at the core of the story, but also central to the book is the author’s multicultural experience as a world traveler. Young, who has studied English, French and Chinese literature as well as international affairs and filmmaking at universities like UC Berkeley, Columbia, Hawaii and Melbourne, has traveled to more than 30 countries.
She counts climbing Mount Everest as one of her many adventures, which is reflected in the book with one of the characters traveling through the Himalayas.
“The writing kind of allowed me to pull everything together that I knew about and that I really love and enjoy in particular about cultures and human interactions,” she said.
Pasadena Novelist Travels the World in “Strum”
By CAMERON TURNER
Published: Monday, October 21, 2013 | 11:05 AM
Pasadena-bred novelist Nancy Young was running an arts development program in Australia when she decided to resume her teenage quest to master the classical guitar. She selected an instrument handcrafted by Seagull Guitars of Quebec, in part because of a line in the workshop’s brochure. Young recalls: “It said, ‘We only make guitars from trees that have fallen in the forest, and most of them are made from 800 year-old cedars.” That statement quickened Young’s environmentalist’s heart and piqued her lifelong fascination with history, art and culture.
“An 800-year-old tree can tell you things that happened 20 generations ago,” says Young excitedly. “So, these guitars have imbued in them all of the stories carried by people, and even the wind blowing in from another continent, that came in contact with the tree.”
Pondering those possible stories led Young on a five-year writing journey that culminated in Strum, Young’s sweeping debut of enduring but tragic love, the conflicts of race, the terrors of war and the overwhelming, relentless passion ignited by two exquisite guitars that follow multiple generations of characters across two centuries and four continents.
“I purposely did two guitars traveling in opposite directions around the world. So, we explore he whole European Western tradition and then there’s the whole Eastern tradition. And I loved the idea of them coming together,” explains Young.
Strum carries readers from 18th century Canada when Native Americans traded and clashed with French trappers, to the unparalleled glamour of pre-Revolution Paris, through the Golden Triangle of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, to contemporary China, Mt. Everest and the Sydney Opera House. Young immerses readers into these environments through vivid and evocative language. “I’m a visual person. I’ve been a painter my whole life and this book actually started as a screenplay. But it very quickly became about words and not just image,” she states.
The novel’s global sweep reflects the author’s citizen-of-the-world perspective. Born in Taipei and educated in Pasadena’s racially integrated public schools of the 1970s, Nancy Young has always delighted in absorbing the world’s diverse richness. Her passport bears stamps from over 30 countries in Europe and Asia. She studied English, French and Chinese literature, international affairs, filmmaking and business at places like UC Berkeley, Columbia and the University of Hawaii. When she was 26, she climbed Mount Everest.
“I was branded an existentialist in my 20s and I really relished that role!” Young declares with a giggle. “I would just go where ever the train stopped. I met people in cafes. I fell into huge festivals. But I never told my mom I was going — I just went!”
Young’s unabashed joie de vivre may account for the thread of elegant, intense sensuality that runs throughout Strum. Unleashing a hearty laugh, Young announces, “(My novel) is about love and about generations and families and, I hate to admit it but there is sex involved!”
Then, in a more serious (yet still joyful) tone, Young explains, “I wanted to talk about the personalities of artists and musicians. Without that passion, you cannot be an artist. You have to be able to feel that need, that desire that drives you to do whatever it is that you do. You really have to be driven by it.”