Spotlight is a regular series where we feature a prominent person in the creative scene.
Kevin McGeary always wanted to be a published author. After spending several years working in Shenzhen and Shunde, he decided to put pen to paper and published The Naked Wedding earlier this year. McGeary had come across dozens of stories about ordinary people in Shenzhen that never really made news outside of the Middle Kingdom. So, he put together a collection of fictional short stories inspired by the real-life experiences of Shenzheners.
Below, McGeary shares with That’s the inspiration behind his book and characters.
What prompted you to write The Naked Wedding?
Around the same time I was starting a new job in Shunde, I was turning 30 and decided I’m at my best when I’m single-mindedly working toward something audacious. I wanted to become a published author, but I had no idea how to be a story writer. When I first jotted down some early drafts, I realized this would be a long haul.
Most of the characters I write about are from stories I translated at The Nanfang and Shenzhen Daily.
I used to travel to Shenzhen most weekends when I lived in Shunde to get a sense of the place and rhythm for how ordinary Shenzhen people talked because most of the protagonists’ characteristics have little in common with me.
What’s the setting of the book?
The stories are set during the time I lived in Shenzhen from 2009 to 2013. In my mind’s eye, the technology they used, the slang words and other aspects fit that era.
What did you learn while writing The Naked Wedding?
The real challenge was getting the individual pieces published. I started working on the book in February 2014, and the first acceptance letter came in August 2017 for The Naked Wedding. My personal favorite [short story in the book] is ‘The Naked Wedding,’ but it’s also the most esoteric, quiet story. From the feedback I’ve gotten so far, people say their favorite was ‘Shuang.’
I got the seed of The Naked Wedding in part from Factory Girls by Leslie Chang. It’s the story of a female friendship that gets torn apart by Shenzhen’s economic miracle.
Before I started writing, I realized Shenzhen is the frontier for which China left the Cold War era and became a more capitalistic country. Whereas Beijing and Shanghai are full of city people, Shenzhen is populated by more country people.
“Day-to-day life is never as glamorous close-up – nothing is as exotic as it seems in reality”
It’s the sort of unsung engine room of the world economy because in those years around the 2008 recession Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta was one of the few parts of the world that was generating any growth.
The final story, ‘The Disposable,’ is another attempt to bring everything together. It’s narrated by an iPhone that was reincarnated from a Foxconn worker because 10 years ago people’s lives in the factory were so miserable that there was an epidemic of people jumping to their deaths. It’s the Foxconn factories that, in many ways, built the high-tech world we live in now by manufacturing those devices.
Everything written about Shenzhen is very macro-level, yet doesn’t tell the stories of ordinary people who live their lives day-to-day. One of my main goals was to demystify China. A lot of very sensational things happen in the stories, like a woman giving birth on the floor of an internet bar – which happened. Day-to-day life is never as glamorous close-up – nothing is as exotic as it seems in reality. The idea behind the story ‘Shuang’ is from the seven most salacious, sensational stories I read when I lived in Shenzhen. For example, one story is about a pregnant mistress who crashes her ex-boyfriend’s wedding while wearing a wedding dress. So, I squeezed in six other stories that I had read or translated in Shenzhen.
Are you working on any new projects?
I’m 50,000 words into a novel that is set in a fictional Asian city. The setting is really Shenzhen, just with a different name. This way, I have more artistic liberty to write about the place, the characters and things that aren’t necessarily present in Shenzhen.
> This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Scan the QR code below to purchase The Naked Wedding on Amazon.
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[Images via Kevin McGeary, Amazon]