True Life: I am an author

January 28, 2010 — by Sabrina Cismas

“Time is like the waves on the shore, slipping away quickly, only leaving the memory of sound and shadow in our hearts. They used to make our life colorful, but now they’re only forever remembered.”

And so ends the English translation of the first story in the Chinese anthology, The Story of Walking. Filled with wise messages and meaningful life stories, The Story of Walking seems to be a book from ancient China, written by a notable philosopher. Actually, it was written by a teenager.

Sophomore Mei Gao, a 21st century 16-year-old who recently moved to the United States from Beijing, China, has loved writing autobiographical short stories since she was a child.

“I write when I have special feelings; when I see something happening, I just write [those feelings] all down in a literary way,” Gao said.

Gao’s book, which is available in China and on select Chinese websites, is a collection of her personal short stories that she wrote between the ages of 12 and 14. The book was published in 2008 by the Chinese Sanxia Publishing Company in China when Gao was 15.

“The book is a story of my walking, growing up and getting mature,” she said. “It actually does not have a specific theme. It’s just all about my life, my experiences.”

The Story of Walking was officially published after three months of revising and binding the whole book under a controversial cover. Gao said that the publishers came up with several covers for the book until she decided to make one herself.

“The publishers thought I was a kid. Their cover was really childish, with many shades of pink and a cute tree.” Gao said. “When I saw it I, told them, ‘this is not a fairytale book!’”

Gao ended up drawing and Photoshopping stepping stones for the cover as a symbol of the book’s title.

To her surprise, Gao was greeted with much enthusiasm from her friends and family in China when they first read her book.

“I gave copies of my book to all of my friends, and they actually asked me for my autograph!” she said.

Family friends had equally positive responses. She said that they thought the writing was very mature and heavy for a teenager. They reflected that [Gao] was thinking about things in an adult aspect, and they felt really inspired by her stories.

“I was surprised how positively friends and family reacted to my book because I never expected people to like my writing or appreciate it that much,” Gao said. “I’m happy, though, that they all enjoyed the book.”

Besides her mom, who has always been there for her, Gao says that her elementary and middle school Chinese teachers have been an undeniable help in the whole process.

When she was in elementary school, Gao found herself writing a random passage about a flower she saw.

“At the time, I wasn’t really sure if my writing was good or not, so I showed the passage to my Chinese teacher,” Gao said.

Her teacher’s response flattered Gao, as the teacher said, “You know, Mei, you are really gifted, this is great. Keep on working.”

Gao was inspired by her teacher, and began writing profusely. Gao recalled that she didn’t learn many writing techniques from this teacher, but never-the-less, the teacher was a big encouragement.
“She sent me on this road,” Gao said.

In middle school, Gao met another mentor for her writing. Her middle school Chinese teacher taught her a lot about the Chinese language.

“She also taught me lessons about life.” Gao said, “That really helped my writing too.”

In fact, Gao’s middle school Chinese teacher was so proud of her student’s book, that she showed it to her future classes after Gao moved to America. One day, when Gao was visiting her teacher during a trip back to China, one of the teacher’s current students entered the classroom and stared wide-eyed at Gao.

“He [the student] was stunned and asked me, ‘You are not that person, are you?’” Gao said. “I caught on to what he was saying and answered that I was. He looked as if he was seeing a celebrity.”
As for her writing style, Gao says that there isn’t really a specific one in her book, as it is basically a snapshot during a period of her life.

“There aren’t a lot of fancy words in it, but the result turns out really fancy because the stories are so down-to-earth and touching,” she said.

Gao has never read her whole book diligently, as she says she knows all the stories in it by heart. However, just out of curiosity, she sat down one night in Dec. this year and cracked open the book. To her surprise, she noticed how light and soft her words and feelings were.

“There are melancholy elements in there,” she said. “I figured out that when I was writing all those things, I was trying to catch my childhood.”

When she was writing the book, Gao says that she felt that she was maturing, and seeing the world in its true form.

“I was actually really touched while I read it,” Gao said. “My writing right now is so heavy and realistic, not even close to how innocent and pure it was when I was younger. I was almost brought to tears that night while reading.”