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Former Kansas woman pens ‘apocalyptic office novel’

August 17, 2018

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Ling Ma said she hopes her new book will prompt readers to re-evaluate their everyday routines and “reconsider their own personal bigger picture of their own life.”

The author spent her teenage years in Topeka and went to Washburn Rural High School. After graduating in 2001, Ma attended the University of Chicago.

Her debut novel “Severance” debuted on Tuesday in book stores and online, The Topeka Capital-Journal .

Ma began writing the story in 2012 as the media company where she worked was downsizing. Writing was a way to channel anger toward “being with larger companies, as far as being at their mercy,” she said.

Though it started as a short story, it developed into an “apocalyptic office novel.”

Following a layoff, Ma continued working on the book during an MFA program at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

“One character’s voice kept popping out of it and that was Candace Chen’s voice,” Ma said. “So that’s how it became all about Candace Chen — she just kind of took it over.”

The book follows Chen, a Bible production coordinator living in New York City, as a mysterious fever breaks out. It touches on themes ranging from capitalism to the meaning of work and the power of falling into a routine.

“I wanted to show what globalism might feel like on the ground floor, in a very individual way,” Ma said. “Candace Chen knows she’s wasting her life at her job, she can already see that her job enables a larger system that’s maybe not sustainable. But yet she still remains and still does the job, so the question is why? What keeps her there?”

The book weaves in pre- and post-apocalyptic narrative threads, and has been recognized by the likes of The New Yorker, Buzzfeed and Elle.

Ma will embark on a book tour in the fall, stopping in New York City; Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and Oslo, Norway.

Ma, who now lives in Chicago, said she looks back at her years in Topeka fondly, including her friendship with this reporter. While growing up, Ma was eager to venture beyond Kansas. Since living on both coasts, she said she sees the perks of Topeka differently, namely its affordability and pace of life.

“But I didn’t know that as a teenager,” she said.


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com

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