By Ryan S. Murphy
At a glance, Lawrence’s history doesn’t have an apparent connection to the long and rich history of China.
But author Lily Wang Hill always feels the weight of Chinese history, and hopes that her new book, Laolao’s DragonGate, will bring closer attention to events that have shaped the whole world.
Laolao’s DragonGate is about a Chinese immigrant, Pearl, who is trying to find her place in a quickly changing world. In the story, the memory of her grandmother, whom she called Laolao, and the story her grandmother told her of a carp trying to jump over a gate to become a dragon, inspires Pearl to work hard for a brighter future. This comes into play when Pearl is faced with the decision of going back to China for a job or staying in the United States.
Wang Hill grew up in Xinyang, a small city near Wuhan in central China, which she describes as being underdeveloped at the time. She said that many Americans do not realize the luxuries afforded to them.
“Childhood there is very different than here,” she said. “I didn’t have toys at all when I grew up, but it’s not like I was unhappy. I didn’t know anything else. We don’t have as many houses in China either. Only very rich people have houses, and most others live in apartments. But we are starting to have a middle class, with products imported from places like the United States.”
After years of wanting to travel abroad and having earned an undergraduate degree at the Tianjin Institute of Commerce, Wang Hill finally moved to the U.S. in 2000, which she credits to the country’s fairly new open door policy with China. She eventually got her master’s degree in human resources from the College of St. Elizabeth and an MBA in finance from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2005.
“The most difficult part was the language,” she said. “I started to learn English in middle school, but we didn’t have the chance to practice how to talk. We learned from the book. So when I came here, I was shocked people couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand them. I just forced myself to learn through practice. And when I graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson, my GPA was above a 3.5, so I was doing very well with the language at that point.”
Wang Hill feels that her life has been considerably shaped by China’s recent history, including the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Wang Hill was an undergraduate student when the tragedy occurred.
She had participated in many protests in Tianjin, about an hour away from Beijing, and had also traveled to Beijing to support the student movement, Wang Hill said.
“Many of my friends knew people who died there. People forget about this, but I don’t want to forget about it,” she said. “Over 100,000 Chinese people got their green cards here because of those people’s innocent blood. Chinese people here should do more and at least donate money to help families in China. They shouldn’t forget people who died for them.”
Wang Hill’s respect for the past extends to her admiration for her grandmother, who she speaks of with great fondness.
“My grandma’s life really affected me, like the story she told me of the carp jumping over the dragon’s gate. It really encouraged me to pursue a better life,” she said. “My grandmother was very strong, and she never asked anyone to help her. She died when she was 90 years old. When I mention my grandmother, I feel pain in my heart. I didn’t do as much for her as I should have done. She suffered so much. She often speaks to me in my dreams, and I wrote this book for her.”
While Wang Hill had always dreamed of being a writer, having already written some poetry and even a screenplay, she was ultimately motivated to write her book after she was laid off from her job in 2011.
“After I got laid off, I had more time to think. I thought it was a perfect time to write this novel,” Wang Hill said. “It took me 18 months to write this book.”
She had help from two editors, one of whom teaches at Princeton University. She then went on to create her own publishing company and publish the book herself.
Wang Hill credited her husband, Bill, with providing support throughout the writing process. The couple first met in 2005 in Morristown, and they settled in Lawrence when they got married a year later.
While Wang Hill pointed out that he read through early drafts of the book and made suggestions, Bill insisted that his role in the process was small.
“I’m a sales engineer, so I don’t know anything about writing books. I didn’t want to really give too much of my opinion,” Bill said. “She did everything herself, from coming up with the cover to publishing it herself.”
The photograph on the cover of the novel is actually a picture of Wang Hill when she was only three years old. Wang Hill explained that she chose it because it carries many memories for her.
Wang Hill plans on learning more about marketing so she can continue to spread the word about her book. She also wants to translate the book into Chinese so that people overseas can read it as well. After that, she plans on one day writing a sequel to Laolao’s DragonGate that will expand upon the story of the novel’s central family.
Laolao’s DragonGate is available online at amazon.com/Laolaos-DragonGate-ebook/dp/B00A7GP2IC.