Richard Seldin—Below the Line in Beijing
Posted By: Robin Materese
April 10, 2016
by Richard Seldin
In my early 20s, I’d imagined becoming a creative writer. This notion was mainly expressed in a few poorly written, unpublished short stories and poems, a number of rambling notes scribbled on paper napkins, and hitchhiking trips—a la the Beats—between New York and Mexico. I’d also whipped through a host of jobs that might qualify as “valuable” background experience for a writer—nightclub busboy and waiter, caterer’s aide, industrial spy in a sweater factory, taxi driver, hotel night clerk, and even small-town, gambling casino operator.
But as life would have it, my writing career actually began in a much less romantic way several years later at Fordham Law School where I was managing editor of the Fordham Law Review and required to distinguish good legal writing from legalese. Indeed, most of my 30-year career as a federal government lawyer focused on legal writing of one kind or another. While much of my legal work kept me challenged, I also spent considerable time writing fiction and poetry and attempting to become more proficient in Chinese, which I’d begun studying at 19.
Early on, I had several short stories published in American literary magazines. And later, after I returned to the United States from a year’s leave-of-absence in Hong Kong studying Chinese literature, I moonlighted as a freelance Chinese-to-English translator and published translations of several novellas and short stories.
When I left the federal government in 2005, I continued to write, again mainly fiction, both in English and Chinese. Despite publishing several short stories in Chinese, it became clear to me that even if I attained a generous life span of fourscore and ten, I could never express myself as well in Chinese as I could in English. I had just started Chinese too late and hadn’t been consistent enough with it. Thus, I began to write exclusively in English. In November 2013, my sister and I published a collection of poems entitled “Pearls Beneath the Rind,” and in May 2015, International Psychoanalytic Books published the novel, “Below the Line in Beijing,” which I would love to talk to you about at the Gaithersburg Book Festival.