Amy Tan is the kind of writer who shows up at a reading with her two dogs packed into her oversized purse; the kind of writer who waits in a back room to collect her thoughts, then steps to the microphone to declare her thoughts have flown the coop.
She is also the kind of writer - like Anne Tyler and Toni Morrison - who can charm a garden-variety audience with her storytelling talents and - at the same time - impress highbrow critics with her use of language and the depth of her characters.Like Mark Twain and Charles Dickens - two other popular prose stylists - she doesn't just read her work for the public, she performs it.
And last Wednesday at A Woman's Place Book Store in Foothill Village, Tan gave a surprisingly short reading from her work (about 15 minutes) then spent the rest of the evening fielding questions.
Most questions came from budding writers who wanted to pick her brain for the secret of success.
"I sometimes sit all day without going out. I just sit there with my two dogs and write," she said at one point. "Some days I'll write for 24 hours. I don't have a plan in my mind when I begin, I just begin."
For the young writers who were paying attention, the comment holds all the wisdom in the world about what it takes to be an Amy Tan.
As for her "magical" success, Tan is a writer of enormous talent with an original worldview and a lot of ambition who benefited from perfect timing. When her novel "The Joy Luck Club" hit the shelves, American readers were turning toward ethnic stories. When the movie was made from the novel, it featured some incredible actresses and came on the scene when moviegoers were pining for a flick with substance.
Since then, Tan has been able to write her own ticket. Her visit to Salt Lake City was a promotional tour to hype the paperback release of "The Hundred Secret Senses," a novel she describes as "a remembrance of people in my life who are no longer in my life."
The theme of the book is cultural diversity. It shows how a person seen as an outcast in one culture can quickly become a person of honor in another - just by changing addresses.
"It's about a little girl who is considered deranged by some people but is revered for her gifts in other places," Tan said.
The difference between that little girl and Amy Tan is Tan is revered for her gifts pretty much wherever she goes.
And her star will continue to rise - no matter how many dogs she tries to pack into that purse.