BY CARMEN JOHNSON
Daily Sports Writer
Published November 8, 2001
"Lying Awake," Mark Salzman"s fifth book, published in 2000, is the story of a Carmelite nun who learns that her recent visions of God"s radiance may have been caused by temporal-lobe seizures, a removable small tumor. After dedicating almost 30 years to her faith with little happiness, and a lot of doubt to her calling as a nun, her electrifying visions had finally given her much-needed support and encouragement.
More like this
By making the decision to have the tumor removed, and risk losing her visions which had also led to her write inspiring poetry, she learns how to evolve through her own stubbornness in facing the real world outside.
It is unlikely that this slim spiritual novel is written by an agonistic. But author Mark Salzman is often referred to as a renaissance man with broad interests, which have lead him places like Yale and China. After entering Yale University at 16 for his talent playing the cello, he decided on a degree in Chinese Language and Literature. It had been an interest since high school after watching Kung Fu movies. Being small himself, Salzman was impressed by the small but strong fighters and just wanted to get girls to notice him. He became an expert in the martial arts, and in 1985, was invited to participate in the National Martial Arts Competition in Tianjin. He was the only non-Chinese contestant.
Salzman graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from Yale in 1982, and moved to China to teach English at Hunan Medical College.
His first book, based on his experiences in China, "Iron and Silk" was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for a non-fiction work. He even did some acting, in the film version of "Iron and Silk" having written the screenplay himself.
The same year, he published "The Laughing Sutra" a novel about a Chinese orphan traveling to San Francisco. Later he wrote "The Soloist" about two cello prodigies, and in 1995 a memoir, "Lost in Place" about his own yearning as a child to become a wandering Zen monk.
But his next novel would take him longer to complete. "Lying Awake" took him six years to finish during which he had felt discouraged he even tried writing from the passenger seat of his car.
He spent more time researching Catholicism, spending time with Carmelite nuns and learning about their life without television, newspapers, movies and men. But the idea of neurological disorder and mysticism left him no choice but to finish it no matter how long it took.
He eventually went to a writer"s colony, thought about what he was trying to say and finished his novel. But in the process he came to realize the parallels between his faith in writing and his character, Sister John"s faith in God. Both were illusive and irrational.
Mark Salzman now teaches writing classes to incarcerated youths at a Central Juvenile Hall. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Jessica Yu, an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker.
More currently, he"s walking the streets of Ann Arbor. Salzman vists Shaman Drum tonight, reading from "Lying Awake," the book that challenged even this multi-talented writer for six years to produce something that could come from inside a nun"s head.