BookView Interview with Author Ben Lin

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed author Ben Lin, about his writing and his recently released, A Caregiver’s Love Story and Reference Guide, a remarkable account that captures the power of hard work, perseverance, and resilience. (Read the review here.)

Ben Lin was born in Shanghai in 1933. His father was a banker and mother a teacher. They immigrated to the U.S. in 1950. A Penn graduate, he researched with micro-chemistry at DuPont where he also had a stint as a marketing executive. Dubbed “The Won Ton Wizard” by the Washington Post, he commer-cialized America’s first packaged won ton soup and sweet and sour soup, was owner-chef of the award-winning Jade Palace in Philadelphia and taught cooking at the China Institute in New York. Holding a master’s degree in journalism from Temple, he contributed occasionally to Philadelphia magazine, wrote for South Jersey’s largest daily, the Courier-Post, and published elsewhere including the USA Today. He has been an actor since 1980, having amassed some 80 commercials and acted opposite such luminaries as Robert De Niro, Kathleen Turner and Lou Gossett. Critically acclaimed for his per-formance in the play The Wash, he was Los Angeles Movie Award’s winner as the best supporting actor for the short film Paper Lotus. Ben is married to Serena Wei, a former fashion and graphic arts designer.

From marketing to cooking to research to journalism and beyond, you have held many jobs in your lifetime. What led you to write about your experiences and compile them in My Nine Lives: An Exuberant Adventure?

Having led an unusual life and relished the joy of writing I was motivated to record my salient experiences both as a personal enrichment and my legacy.

Do you find writing therapeutic?

I never thought about therapeutic benefit from writing, at least consciously. Inasmuch as writing is a brain exercise, a stimulus that makes me think and organize my thoughts, the benefits can be more than therapeutic.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?

English is a beautiful language. To probe its rich resources in search of the right words to be original, creative, and compelling is my greatest challenge.

Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?

Rather than naming a favorite chapter, I’d prefer recalling my happiest writing moments: soloing with an orchestra as a pianist; using the unemployment office to solve the problem of labor shortage in producing the won tons; the first time I witnessed the birth of developing an automated production process; fighting the army over an unjust order all the way to the Pentagon and winning; moving the audience in a profound way from the plays The Imposter, The Wash,and The Joy Luck Club

Which scene was most difficult to write? Why?

Because I did not have a well-kept journal, I had to struggle hard to recall events that happened dozens of years earlier. Ideally, writing, like piano playing, is done daily. Otherwise, I’m out of practice and it takes a while to get back in shape.

In My Nine Lives: An Exuberant Adventure, you discuss the mystery of MSG’s problem and usage. Can you tell us more about that research?

I relied strictly on empirical research. The problems of MSG affected me in a personal way, having had years of experience as a Chinese restaurateur-chef, cooking teacher, and restaurant patron. As such, I had a firsthand knowledge of the effects and causes of MSG. Also, having an analytical mind, I was able to decipher the exact reason other MSG researchers failed.

What is your greatest failure? What did you learn from that failure?

I have far too many shortcomings to enumerate.  But failures teach me not to be discouraged but try harder to overcome, and that struggle can be good for the soul and create windows of opportunities. At the same time, I learned to be realistic and accept failure as readily as success as long as I gave my best effort.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

 To be inspired and amused.

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