Every writer has a story about how he or she became an author.
Brad Meltzer went to law school, James Rollins was a veterinarian and Andrew Gross spent 20 years in the women's apparel industry before launching best-selling careers.
Lisa See's story is different. She didn't want to be a writer at all.
See comes to Naples on Monday as the fourth and final speaker in the 2012 Nick Linn Lecture Series, presented by the Friends of the Library of Collier County. She follows Meltzer, Rollins and Gross, who all appeared earlier in the series. For information, call 239-262-8135.
See's career has been deeply influenced by her Chinese-American heritage. Her first book was "On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family," a nonfiction book tracing the long life of her great-grandfather, Fong See, who became the godfather of Los Angeles' Chinatown.
While researching that book, she developed the idea for her first novel, "Flower Net." She followed that with two more mystery-thrillers, "The Interior" and "Dragon Bones." Since then, See has written "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," "Peony in Love" and "Shanghai Girls." Her latest novel is "Dreams of Joy."
In addition to her books, See wrote the libretto for the opera based on "On Gold Mountain" and a guidebook to L.A.'s Chinatown.
Married with two sons, See lives in Los Angeles. She answered questions via email ahead of her appearance in Naples.
Q: How do you characterize yourself — writer, historian, community activist or something else?
See: You mean I can't be all three? Dang! OK, then writer first.
Q: I watched an interview in which you said you never wanted to be a writer. Why? What changed?
See: My mom's a writer and my mother's father was a writer. Like so many kids, I didn't want to do what they did. Then, when I was 19, I left college and bummed around Europe back when you could do it on $5 a day. I thought I knew certain things about myself: I didn't want to be a writer, I didn't want to get married, I didn't want to have children and I always wanted to live out of a suitcase. But how would I support myself?
I kept thinking about that last question. I was living in Greece, and one day I woke up and it was like a light bulb went off in my head: Oh, I could be a writer! When I came home, I got my first two magazine assignments within 48 hours, thanks to my mom. Here's the thing: I was young and I obviously didn't know myself very well, because I got married, had children and became a writer. I do spend a lot of time living out of a suitcase, but the bloom is way off the rose by now. Anyway, I've been writing ever since, and I wouldn't be the writer I am if not for my mother's influence and support.
Q: You seem to have come to writing almost "organically" — your mother was a writer — and you started writing with her and then writing about your family history. In light of that, what advice do you give aspiring writers?
See: Write what you love! You're going to be married to the project for the rest of your life, so you'd better love it. You're going to spend time doing research, time writing and editing, and time promoting the book. You may also end up talking about a book for years. You'd better be obsessed and in love. It can't just be a momentary infatuation.
Beyond that, I'd say write 1,000 words a day. That's only four pages. I write from beginning to end without going back over my work. For me — and I know other writers do it differently — I don't want to get bogged down making the first paragraph perfect or the first chapter perfect. When is something perfect? I just keep writing, knowing that I can fix things later, but also trusting that some miraculous and unexpected things are going to happen if I just keep writing.
Q: What/who do you read?
See: I loved "Room," and now I want to go back and read Emma Donoghue's other books. A couple of years ago, I was a huge fan of "Astrid and Veronika," and I recommended that book to everyone. I just finished "The Tiger's Wife." I have to admit that I love the (television) show "Dexter," and I've now read all those books.
When I think back on the writers from the past who've influenced me the most, then I'd have to go with Wallace Stegner, E.M. Forster and my mom, Carolyn See.
Q: You've written history, best-sellers and even a libretto for opera. What projects are you working on now?
See: I'm working on a new novel called "China Dolls," about Chinese-American nightclubs in the 1930s and 1940s. There were performers who were billed as the Chinese Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the Chinese Frank Sinatra, the Chinese Sophie Tucker, the Chinese Sally Rand and the Chinese Houdini. They traveled around the country from club to club on what was called the Chop-suey Circuit. I'm having a lot of fun with it. I'm loving interviewing the performers. Recently, I interviewed the Chinese Ginger Rogers, who's 92 years old and amazing. And not Chinese, by the way.
Q: What will your talk in Naples focus on?
See: I'll talk about my family and how I came to write about Chinese, the Chinese-American experience and women in history. And, of course, I'll also be talking about "Dreams of Joy," my most recent novel.
I love to weave history, relationships and emotions into my talks.