A conversation with Author: Janita Lo, “Rising Son: Reflections of a Chinese Gentleman Warrior”

Where were you born?

I was born in Jianjing, Sichuan province during the China/Japan war. My father, a general, fought against the Japanese under Chiang Kai-Sek’s army. My mother, Che Yu, single-handedly took charge of the evacuation for her large family of four children between the ages of 10 months and six years old, along with aunts, uncles, and servants to avoid the Japanese attacks. I am not sure if I was born in a village or a small hospital; all I know is that my 10-month-old baby sister died during the bitter war, and I was the baby my mother carried wherever she went so she could breast-feed me.

What is your educational background?

I went to kindergarten through third grade in Shanghai, China. Our family then moved to Hong Kong before the Communists took over China in 1949. After high school, I attended the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. At first, I studied fashion because of my love of sketching and design. After only a few weeks and many painful needle pricks, I decided that sewing was not my forte. I switched my major to architecture instead. I came to the United States in 1963 and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Interior Design from University of Houston in 1965.

Where do you live? Do you have a family?

I live in Houston, Texas. I was married for twelve years and have been divorced for a long time. As a single mother, I worked long hours to make ends meet and was determined to raise my children in a nurturing environment. My daughter, Yvonne, lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband Mitch. They have two boys, Connor and Andrew. My son, James, lives in Austin with my daughter-in-law, Brenda. They have two children, Jennifer and Jonathon. My greatest joy is to spend time with my family and my dear grandchildren, who make me feel young again.

What was your profession and career like?

After working for several prominent architectural firms, I founded my own design firm ”JKL International, Inc.” in Houston in 1986. I was blessed with interior design projects such as:

George R. Brown Convention Center Houston, TX
Minute-Maid Astros Ballpark Houston, TX
Walt Disney World Co. Several Resorts Orlando, FL
Westin Hotel-O’Hare Chicago, IL
Warwick Tower (condominium) Houston, TX
The Methodist Hospital Houston, TX
More than six high-rise condominiums Houston and Austin, TX
Corporate Offices and High-Profile Residences Hong Kong, Malaysia, London, and USA

Have you received any awards or recognitions of your design work and writing?

Whether it’s interior design, architecture, or creating custom textiles, lighting and furniture, my passion is to meet my client’s objectives with distinctive creative solutions.

My design projects have won more than a dozen interior design awards from AIA (American Institute of Architects), ASID (American Society of Interior Designers), Houston Chronicle /ASID Design Competition, and Golden Key Hospitality Design Awards. My work has also been featured on the Discovery Channel numerous times.

In regards to writing, I entered one of the chapters of “Rising Son” to the Rice University Glasscock School of Continuing Studies for their Writer’s Gallery. Among “many outstanding entries” the judges selected my work and one other writer’s work to be published in the Writer’s Gallery non–fiction category late 2009.

What prompted you to start writing?

My father was a great storyteller. Of his four children, I was the only daughter who would sit by him and listen to the stories he told about his life. Because of this, it was his last wish that I write about his life journey.

I began by taking writing classes at the Rice University Glasscock School of Continuing Studies. It took me more than three years to finish the second draft of the manuscript. I engaged a collaborator writer, Randy Schultz from Los Angeles, to help me complete the book.

I must say that writing my father’s memoirs is a bittersweet experience. There is excitement in writing the story told to me as a young girl, and even though my father has left this life, his spirit remains with me as I began writing his story. Words poured from my memories as if he was writing the memoir himself. I knew my father so well, which is why I speak through his voice as the first person in his story.

What other interests do you have besides interior design and writing?

I have so many other interests and I am passionate about anything creative. I love painting, drawing, sculpture, and fashion design. My most recent watercolor artwork focuses on portraits of people. I won an award for my first entry, “The Greek Man in Santorini” in the exhibit at the Houston Watercolor Art Society. Judges described my work as “classical portraiture done beautifully.” I won many other watercolor awards at the Houston Watercolor Art Society exhibit since then. My watercolor eye series is now part of the art collection of the Eye Institute of University of Houston.

In the early 1990s, I attended the School of Fashion Design in Paris for four weeks just for fun. I love classic, timeless fashion design. At this point of my life, though, I know my priority is to continue to pursue writing.

Do you ever wonder if the stories your father told you were true?

Yes, especially since my siblings always fled from my father as he began telling his story. I often wondered if some of the stories had been exaggerated or whether it was true. Because of this, I did tireless research on Chinese historical events and political facts. All the research and time spent were necessary to verify the timing and events that took place according to what my father had told me. In June of 2011, I took a trip to China to visit the temple where he was born that further verified these stories. The Linngu Temple was still standing after 500 years.

As a first time author, could you share some of your experiences in the beginning of the writing process?

In 2008, it became clear to me that I need to make good on my promise to my father. I closed down my design office and I began to work from home. I declined any new projects to commit 100% to this writing challenge. I did not have any previous writing training outside of correspondence with clients.

I decided to sit in front of the computer and just start writing anything that I could remember about my father’s story. It was like creating quilt patches, not knowing where what was going to fit into the overall finished product. I enrolled in a writing course at the Rice University Glasscock School of Continuing Studies. There were writers who had already published their books and a few journalists in the class. I was very intimidated, as I then knew nothing about writing a novel.

The first day, my instructor Jackie asked the students, “who is writing a short stories and who is writing a novel?” I raised my hand twice because I felt like my story could fit into both categories. She told me that I would have to make up my mind to write one or the other. I asked my instructor if she would allow me to email my writing to her and let her decide which way the story should go. I received her response the next day.

She said, “Your story is excellent.”

Janita, I just finished reading your story, which I much enjoyed. It could stand alone as a story complete to itself, or, if you wished, you could include it as one of your father’s stories in a memoir about him. Either way, it is a delightful story, one which would please many readers.

What you have demonstrated in your ghost story is a grasp of elements far harder to master: vivid details, authenticity of setting, and a plot that zips right along–not to mention a sympathetic heroine and a little boy who encounters her in a most unusual way. Yes, I really like this story!

I think you might bring 21 copies to class, precisely as it is.  I would like to use it as a good example of a story.  Congratulations on having produced a story definitely worth reading.  I am happy to have you in the class.


If that was not an encouragement, what is?

How did you know what comes next to get your book published?

When I started writing I made it a priority to spend time reading, everything from the classics such as Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth” and J.D. Salinger to modern best-selling authors like Dan Brown, Lisa See, Janice Lee, Danielle Steel, J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer. I also read many self-teaching books about writing. I tried to improve my writing skills whenever I could find inspiration and guidance.

The literary world to me is like an ocean: the sea is vast and deep, and I could not find an island or dry land with-in sight. I had no idea where to find an agent or publisher. I must have sent over 100 queries to agents and publishers around the nation. As I expected, it was the river of no return. Disappointing? Yes, but I was not going to let it discourage me.

Being a Christian, I knew that I have done everything I could possibly do and that the final step would come from God. So I waited for His timing to open doors. In 2011, on New Year’s Day, I had the revelation that God is going to help me to launch my book through a different venue. I hired a graphic consultant, Helen Harrison, a brilliant designer from Colorado, to design my book cover and website. Create Space, a subsidiary of Amazon.com, began to work with me on the self-publishing journey. After six months of hard work, my book is now available at Amazon.com and Kindle E Book.

As for now, my book has at least five 5-star reviews at Amazon.com, and I am very pleased how well it is being received. There is no limit to my dream, as I hope one day this book would become a film, viewed by a much wider audience.

Do you have a plan for a next book?

I have been working on a sequel of Rising Son. Most of my readers want to know about the life of Khan Ling after WWII. Where did he go? What did he do? Was he fighting against the Communists? What happened to his family, his children and his gracious wife Chow Che Yu?

I am also working on a children’s book about short tales from the Orient that will incorporate my watercolor illustrations. This will be comprised of many short stories, including some old tales passed on from many generations in China. When we were young children in Hong Kong, my father would hire a storyteller to entertain us on the weekends. With a little wine, he could stretch his stories and he transported us to places we never dreamed of. Taking his lead, I would make up stories to entertain my family members. Today, I am going to relive my childhood as I began writing these tales.

Leave a Comment