Category Archives: Personal

Being an itemised list of disagreements

This is a post inspired by Likhain‘s Letter to Apex Editors Re: The Intersectional SFF Roundtable.1

CONTENTS
Introduction: Why I am making this post
The facts as I saw them: An account of various encounters, direct and indirect, with RH/BS and her associates
Commentary: Speaking of opinions …
Conclusion
Footnotes

INTRODUCTION: Why I am making this post

I have asked myself why I am making this post, given that the actions of Requires Hate/Benjanun Sriduangkaew have been extensively recorded.2 I don’t mean to kick the Apex editors when they’re down. I don’t even think it’s right to kick RH/BS when she’s down. It’s always seemed to me that the best contribution I could make was by supporting the people RH/BS targeted. Saying anything seemed like it would be kepoh lagi boliao.

So who and what is this post for?

I am writing this for two sets of people. One set is the people who were targeted by RH/BS and friends or were otherwise made to feel that fandom was a hostile place because of her conduct and that of her friends and supporters.

The second set is the people of colour/non-white people who continue to interact with RH/BS. Those who participate in roundtables with her, include her stories in their anthologies, and boost her work and opinions as though she is a totally normal, OK person who has never indulged in public, worryingly detailed fantasies of violence against other human beings in her life.

To this second audience: you can talk to and work with anyone you want. We need to talk to people we disagree with, and hanging out with a person online doesn’t of itself mean you condone their behaviour. However, I want you to make sure you have thought carefully about what you are doing, for two reasons:

(1) The main reason RH/BS was able to bully people with impunity for such a long time was because it looked, from the outside, as though the SFF community condoned her behaviour. You’d see a Known Cool Person chatting with her on Twitter as though it was OK for RH to chase people around on the Internet having a go at them, and you’d think, gosh, maybe it IS OK. Maybe that IS how to support the cause of diversity in genre fiction!

I believe this made things more difficult for the people RH/BS targeted. They didn’t feel they could speak up because not only would RH/BS harass them if they did, they thought everyone would be on RH/BS’s side.

(2) I knew what sort of person RH was before Benjanun Sriduangkaew had ever published a story. When BS started befriending people in my social circles, I thought, well, live and let live. Everyone has the right to have that one jerk friend. And everyone deserves a second chance. I didn’t say anything.

It subsequently became apparent that I should’ve said something. So I’m telling you now. Be careful.

But you’ll have heard this before. What can I add to what’s already been said?

It might make a difference who I am. I’m a writer of Chinese extraction from Southeast Asia. I do what I can to serve the community and I believe in diversity. I only watched Racefail ’09 from afar, so I feel no need to re-fight that battle. And I have no personal reason for resenting RH/BS, since until she figured out I thought she was a troll, she was always friendly to me, and as far as I know, to the extent she ever reviewed my work, she was positive about it.

In an ideal world this post would be concise, accurate and comprehensive; unfortunately, in our workaday world, you can’t do all three. It is neither comprehensive nor concise. I have tried to avoid reciting things that have already been posted about in detail, but it’s still bloody long. It is as accurate as I have been able to make it, given that the events span a long period and many comments have been deleted or are contained in ancient chat logs or emails. Among other things, I’ve tried to use the right pronouns for everyone I talk about, but please let me know if I have got any of them wrong.

I name names, because there are probably enough vagueposts in SFF. Some of the named people have reviewed this post and confirmed that they have no objection to its being published.

THE FACTS AS I SAW THEM: An account of various encounters, direct and indirect, with RH/BS and her associates

Winterfox

When you’re around in a community for a while, you get a sense of the people in it, and you become aware of certain people it’s wisest to avoid. I had been in media and anime/manga fanfic fandom since I was a teenager, and after Racefail ’09 I got to know lots of people, especially fans of colour, who had overlapping interests in geeky shit, books and diversity.

Around this time, among these circles, I became aware of RH/BS as winterfox (her LiveJournal handle). I was not acquainted with her, but I saw comments from her that I fundamentally disagreed with. Two stick out in my mind (both appeared in the comments of LiveJournal posts):

(1) Winterfox relied on the fact that she was “Asian-Asian” to dismiss the opinion of a commenter of Asian heritage who liked Asian American YA author Cindy Pon’s writing. I saw this sort of power-grabbing, identity-policing move all the time growing up, and it has nothing to do with social justice. There is plenty of space in the world for every kind of Asian. It’s particularly cruel to throw authenticity in the face of people from the diaspora, who will often have struggled with their connection to their own culture.

(2) She challenged an Asian American commenter who disagreed with her, not by addressing any of the commenter’s arguments, but saying “are you white”. The commenter said, rightly, that this had nothing to say to anything. The thread is here, though winterfox’s comments have been deleted.

I’m not saying these were the worst things she ever said — they are not. I suppose they stuck in my head because I am “Asian-Asian” (ptui) myself and they seemed really obviously wrong to me.

This was around the time that RH/BS started harassing my friend Rachel Manija Brown, who has posted about her experiences here: Not a fun post to write. I was not aware of this and only discovered it had been going on three years later in 2014. I understand that RH is still doing what Rachel describes in her post, at least as of around six months ago — for details, see Rachel’s recent post, A More Specific Grievance.

Requires Hate

Winterfox subsequently set up a blog on which she reviewed books as Requires Hate. I did not have much, if anything, to do with her, though I was starting to get published in a small way and was aware that she’d reviewed some of my fiction favourably.

It must have been some time in 2012 that I was added by a friend to a private chat group of non-white/non-Western SFF writers. These groups are common and are often a nice source of conversation and support. Though I appreciated that friend’s intentions, however, I didn’t know most of the people in the group and one of the few people I was familiar with, RH/BS, was someone I didn’t want to have anything to do with.

Awkwardly, RH/BS seemed always to be online whenever I popped into the chat group to have a look. We ended up having a couple of exchanges, during one of which she mentioned that she was going to have a story out in Giganotosaurus. She was wary of sharing the pseudonym under which it would be published, however — in the group we knew her only as RH. (If you’re wondering if it’s awkward chatting to someone called Requires Hate, yes, it is. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out if people started shortening her handle to “Hatey” or something.)

I logged out of that particular chat early, because I didn’t feel like shooting the breeze with a known troll. Our mutual friend subsequently emailed me to say that RH was very anxious that her fiction-writing pseudonym should not be linked to her RH persona, because of trolls (!!), and would I please be sure not to reveal the connection.

I said yes. I kept my word. I left the chat group.

I think the Giganotosaurus story might have been this one: Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. Anyway, that’s how I knew.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew

From 2012 onwards, I continued to have nothing to do with BS, though I think it’s fair to say that she was cordial to me and if I had wanted to be friends, we could’ve been. I tried to be civil but distant, though I believed (incorrectly) that the RH identity and blog was effectively defunct and that BS was engaged in nothing more objectionable than writing fiction and being nice to people she considered important.

I think I linked to a short story of hers in a guest blog post I did once. I wish I had stuck to my guns and not done that. I felt at the time like I was just being ungenerous about a rising genre star from Southeast Asia, since even people who knew BS was RH seemed to think that her behaviour was OK. People talked about her “performative rage”. It looked like standard toolery to me, but what did I know?

What happened in late 2014, when editor Nick Mamatas revealed to SFF at large that BS was RH, has been better chronicled elsewhere. I’ll stick to telling you what I experienced, just before the online blow-up happened.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s friends

I met writer Rochita Loenen-Ruiz at the Nine Worlds convention in 2013, when we were on a panel together.

In 2014, I attended Nine Worlds again and then WorldCon, which took place in London on two successive weekends. So did Rochita. I didn’t know Rochita well then, but I liked what I knew of her. She seemed interesting and kind.

WorldCon was stressful for me: I was on about 8 separate programme items over 3 days and this was the weekend right after Nine Worlds, where I had helped organise the first Race & Culture programming track. (This was really only a half-track: it shared a room and schedule with the LGBTQAI Fandom track.)

One evening at WorldCon, I was with Alex Dally MacFarlane and their partner Tori Truslow, writers/editors whom I’d met at Nine Worlds the previous year, and I mentioned that Rochita was doing a reading. I wasn’t sure where.

Alex said, “I can’t talk to Rochita right now.”

I must have looked taken aback. I probably said, “Oh!”

Alex continued, “I know, it’s sad. Maybe it will change in the future.”

We then went on to have drinks with a friend of Alex.

This exchange made me feel anxious and unhappy, at what was already a stressful con. It was, like nearly all WorldCons, overwhelmingly white. At this stage I had only published short fiction; Alex Dally MacFarlane was a short story editor; and their friend we had drinks with was a Tor.com editor. None of this was consciously on my mind, but I wonder whether I would’ve been more willing to go “fuck all of this shit” if it happened now, instead of hanging around for drinks, feeling miserable and uncomfortable.

The next time I was able to speak to Rochita, I asked her what was up between her and Alex. She told me the details she later recounted here: Standing Up and Speaking Truth. In summary, RH and Alex had put pressure on Rochita to publicly denounce her friend Tricia Sullivan for racism. RH didn’t want to do it herself because she didn’t want to taint the BS identity. Rochita had refused and Alex and RH had cut ties with Rochita.

Rochita was very upset; she cried telling me about it, and I bought her a baked potato. At this time I did not know either Rochita or Alex especially well, but I believed Rochita. What she told me was consistent with what Alex had told me and with the little I knew of all parties involved.

Among other things, Rochita explained that at Nine Worlds the previous weekend, she had tried to speak to Alex and Tori and they had blanked her. This had made her feel, as she has said, anxious and fearful — not unlike how I had felt when Alex told me that Rochita was persona non grata for unexplained reasons. Funny, it’s almost like random ostracism of people from underrepresented backgrounds makes fandom a hostile place for them!

I was shocked, especially because Tori ran the LGBTQAI programming track at Nine Worlds in 2013 and 2014. I valued the Queer/LGBTQAI Fandom programming at Nine Worlds very much, and Tori had been hugely helpful with the new Race & Culture half-track. In particular, she had shared the budget allocated to her track to help fund the attendance costs of certain Race & Culture guests, and she spoke to the Nine Worlds organisers with the result that they donated 10 free memberships to Con or Bust. I had even said to Tori, among others, that I wanted Rochita to be on Race & Culture programming; she had said nothing for or against the idea.

It was really upsetting to me to know that a white organiser of a con that prided itself on its inclusivity — again, a very white con in terms of attendance — should have treated a non-white guest in this way. Let me be clear: I believe that what Alex and Tori did to Rochita was bullying, and given the circumstances and their respective positions, it was racist bullying.

What was particularly painful for Rochita was the fear that RH/BS — who was by now embedded in Rochita’s online and meatspace SFF circles — would turn her friends against her. RH/BS did in fact email Rochita’s friends to demand that they denounce Rochita publicly. Rochita said she was relieved when I greeted her warmly at Nine Worlds. (Author Tade Thompson, who’d also been on the Nine Worlds 2013 panel Rochita and I were on, has confirmed that Rochita was hesitant about approaching him in 2014 and wasn’t sure if he’d talk to her either.) As I recall the story, Tori was not involved in the RH and Alex vs. Rochita disagreement online, but her behaviour when Rochita saw her at the cons seemed to bear out Rochita’s fears.

The actions of RH/BS and her friends broke trust. The conduct of those who supported her when her activities began to be revealed also damaged trust.

COMMENTARY: Speaking of opinions …

I made some friends and I lost some friends in the course of this blow-up. I know it hurt a lot of people in different ways. I’m sorry if this post adds to that hurt, or causes new and exciting kinds of hurt.

But I want to say some things.

What RH/BS and her mates did and at times continue doing to Rochita and others was and is racist bullying. It was not “punching sideways”.3 As far as I know, RH/BS is a person of Chinese ethnicity and Thai nationality who at the time lived in Hong Kong. Rochita is a Filipina who lives in the Netherlands. Chinese racism against darker-skinned people is almost cartoonish — here’s a true story about an Indian Malaysian lawyer who suffered what was likely an unnecessary death in a Hong Kong hospital. As for the position of Filipinos in Chinese-dominated Hong Kong: they are the largest ethnic minority in Hong Kong; the majority work as domestic helpers; and exploitation is rife. I do not believe you can consider RH/BS’s behaving as though she was entitled to get Rochita to do her dirty work in isolation from this context.

I know people like RH/BS in real life – well, I don’t, because nobody I know in real life has her particular combination of free time and ill intent. But I know well-off Chinese people in the diaspora. At the lower end of the high-income scale, they form a large part of my social networks. For all that anti-Asian and specifically anti-Chinese racism exists, such people are not particularly victimised on a day to day basis, and they/we can be terrible in all kinds of ways. All people of all backgrounds can be awful. Things are simultaneously complicated and very simple. Don’t just put people in the “good box” and the “bad box” based on their background/identity and turn your brain off.

It is not OK to bully people. It does not advance the cause of social justice or diversity. This is not the tone argument. There is a difference between making emphatic statements to which the privileged object because these hurt their feelings or they (consciously or unconsciously) wish to preserve the advantages of their privileged status, vs. chasing people around on the Internet having a go at them.

I believe RH/BS targeted women and specifically women of colour disproportionately. However, it’s not like I kept watch on her activities — rather the reverse — so I don’t know for sure. But it is not even OK to bully straight cis white men. I KNOW, WHAT A WILD IDEA.

That said, I noticed the white people who sought to take advantage of the blow-up to get on their hobbyhorses about SJWs or how unjustly they, a White Progressive, were treated in Racefail ’09. Not that you care for my opinion, but I’m not impressed by you either.

Finally, this really is boliao but I have to say it, tolong lah stop saying RH/BS is a master manipulator. Here are merely two things she did which were unnecessary and stupid:

(1) She disclosed her identity, unasked, to me, a person who had no reason to keep her identity secret. I did it anyway, but she lucked out if you ask me.

(2) She got people to go around saying the rumour that BS was the same person as RH was hateful, racist, etc. To this day I don’t understand what she thought she would achieve by this. It wasn’t like she was especially careful about keeping the different identities separate (see (1) above), so it was bound to come out, resulting in the people in question feeling embarrassed and betrayed.

Acting like RH/BS was some sort of mastermind excuses those who continue to support her and condone her behaviour. I don’t blame the people who didn’t cotton on straight away. RH/BS exploited people’s best instincts — their desire to be kind, to welcome creators from underrepresented backgrounds, to give others the benefit of the doubt.

But the information about her conduct is public now. And I do blame the people who, once it all came out, identified more with RH/BS than the people she targeted. I know where that feeling comes from and it’s not a feeling to be proud of. Work on yourselves and become doper people, please. And I will do the same.

CONCLUSION

I considered the risks of making this post given that (a) I haven’t attempted to shroud my identity across the different worlds I inhabit in layers of mystery, used six different pseudonyms, etc. and (b) I have connections based in Southeast Asia. I think, hopefully, the risks are relatively low. If my assessment proves to be wrong, I will take appropriate steps, including making reports to the authorities as necessary.

Please do not send or link me to any response from RH/BS or people who think her conduct is acceptable, unless they suggest a real risk of harm to me or my friends and relations, which I should be aware of. (Twitter disgruntlement does not constitute harm worthy of informing me of it, unless it includes threats or fantasies of violence directed at real people.) I am not interested. I will delete all such communications and report any that are abusive.

I am hoping that my reputation will be safe with those who know me – who have worked with me, talked with me, met me in person, chatted with me online, etc. If you are disappointed by this post, or no longer feel safe with me, I’m sorry. If I actually like you, I hope you’ll give me the chance in future to rehabilitate myself.

Since I’ve said my piece, I may not respond to any communications about this post in a timely fashion or at all.

Thanks for reading.

FOOTNOTES

1 Apex editor Jason Sizemore has taken down the roundtable and posted a response: Intersectional SFF – Response.

2 I have linked to Laura J. Mixon’s post about RH/BS’s activities: A Report on Damage Done By One Individual Under Several Names. There are valid complaints to be made of the post and particularly about some of the comments. That said, I believe it is broadly accurate and I nominated and voted for it in the Hugos. A primary complaint I’ve seen about the post is that it was made by a privileged white woman with connections in SFF fandom that shield her from negative consequences. My view is that these are the very reasons she was able to make the post, and speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves, or won’t be believed when they do, is one of the things privilege is for.

3 The whole “punching up” metaphor was for JOKES, people. It was supposed to help comedians understand whether they’d gone too far or not, not whether it was OK to bully some groups of people because they have more privilege than you according to a checklist you found on the Internet.

Never enough for both

I was thinking this morning about what it must be like to be my husband: a white English person who has never had his right to be in the country of his birth questioned. Within living memory, his family has probably never asked themselves: what happens if this country becomes no longer safe for us? How much notice will we have? How quickly could we get out? What would we do about grandma?

As a middle/upper middle class Chinese Malaysian, I have a lot of privilege. One thing I’ve never had, though, is certainty of a welcome where I am. My dad told me something about China once that really stuck in my head:

“Living in Malaysia is like renting a house,” he said. “In China you would own your house. But you get used to renting.”

His grandparents died in Malaysia; his grandchildren were born there. He’s still renting.

I can’t have a “healthy debate” about immigration. This is impossible for me. My personal history is too full of migration, flux, movement. Getting out while the going is good. Carving out a home on hostile terrain. But I know where I’m from and I know where I’m going, and I know where my loyalties lie: with the dispossessed, the roving, the eternally hopeful, their eyes fixed on a distant ever-moving point.

International
Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)
International Rescue Committee

Europe
Migrant Offshore Aid Station

UK
Safe Passage
British Red Cross Refugee Support
Women for Refugee Women
Detention Action

Malaysia
Asylum Access Malaysia
UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Malaysia
Malaysia Pro Bono Directory (lists organisations which offer legal and other support to refugees in Malaysia)

USA
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

The title of this post is from Ijeoma Umebinyou’s Diaspora Blues.

Writing My Culture for Fun and Profit

Question

Here’s how the question goes, more or less:

Do you think you would be as successful if you didn’t write about Asian/Malaysian characters/myths/folklore/beliefs/spirits?

I don’t blame people for asking. It’s a natural question, in a way. It’s one of those questions white Westerners don’t get asked, though. (“You’re American, do you think you would be as successful if you weren’t writing about American characters?”) And to be totally honest, it is annoying, because the lurking question it implies is:

Are you writing about your culture because it sells?

Here’s what I ask back:

What’s the alternative? What else would I be writing?

But I know what they mean. They’re asking about the fact that I’ve strayed outside the unmarked default. In English-language fiction, this is writing about white Westerners — if you’re a fantasy writer, drawing on their ideas and images of vampires, fairies and ghosts. If you do that you’re just writing fantasy. Throw in a bunian or pontianak and suddenly it’s Cultural Heritage Day.

I always struggle to answer, partly because I want to flip the question over and examine its insides, but also because the answer is complicated. Here’s an attempt.

An answer

Yes. I think I’m quite a good writer. If I was persevering and worked hard, I think I could have written exclusively about non-Malaysian characters in non-Malaysian settings and eventually been published and slowly built up a readership, as I am doing now. (Sorcerer to the Crown is set in Britain and primarily about non-Malaysian characters, of course, but I suppose it’s outside that unmarked default and so doesn’t count for the purposes of the people who ask this question.)

There are plenty of examples of non-white people who write (or wrote) successfully about white people. To take just a few:

Here’s a post by bestselling thriller writer Tess Gerritsen about why she spent much of her career not writing about Asians: “Your English is so good!”

Sherry Thomas writes hugely popular historical romances set in England in English, her second language.

The majority of successful romance author Courtney Milan‘s backlist features white people on the covers. She’s talked on Twitter about realising she could write about people of colour like herself, but I haven’t found a blog post to link to on the subject.

One advantage of doing it this way is that people would probably ask me about things other than diversity once in a while. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s something I think about a lot and am genuinely interested in, but it’s not my ONLY THING.)

Another advantage is that it might be, well, easier to sell stuff. Consider, for example, YA author Natalie Whipple‘s experiences trying to sell books with PoC main characters: Diversity As Trend? Please. Or Cindy Pon’s Guide to Writing Non-Commercial YA Fantasy (tip #1: put in too many Asians).

But here’s another answer

No. For two reasons:

1) Writing, for me, is not about selling books or being popular. (Both of those things are great. I wouldn’t say no. But they’re not really what it’s about.) It’s about doing something that feels important with the limited time I have on this earth. It’s about articulating a worldview. It’s about cheering, soothing, uplifting, enlightening — all those great things art can do. If I wrote only or mostly about white people, Western settings, Western mythologies, etc. I would feel that I was not really doing the best I could do.

I’m not nearly as successful in this regard as I’d like to be, and of course my writing will never be as good as I would like, but I am trying.

2) I think readers recognise truth when they see it. For me, to write using local myths and beliefs is a form of accessing a deep truth. Something like the Regency voice is pure performance — I am doing something sort of serious with it, but it’s mostly play. Writing in Manglish is something else.

I think a book that captures truth is going to be better than one that doesn’t. And I believe that better books have a better chance of being read, of being loved, of helping people, of lasting.

People always talk about wanting universal stories. I don’t think universal means mainstream (meaning white or Western). I think the universal lies in the specific, and we each have our own specific truth. It’s the best resource we’ve got as writers — so we should use it.

Thanks to Tade Thompson for the post title. Check out his awardwinning tropical noir thriller Making Wolf!

Rambling about writing at Kinokuniya KL: a report

As I mentioned in my previous post about my event at Kinokuniya KL last Saturday, Kino is the bookshop of my teenage years, because it was so huge and had what was at the time an unmatchable selection — not only of SFF, but YA/MG, manga, Asian literature, etc. etc. etc.

Then later a giant Borders or two opened closer to home in PJ, rendering the long trek to KLCC unnecessary, so my memories of Kino are really crystallised in time. It was nice to go back, especially as I got to admire the World SF table they’d kindly let me curate in person. (I didn’t put my own books on the list lah obviously. They added those themselves.)

Photo 13-02-2016, 08 54 42

To my left (your right) there used to be an excellent Japanese stationery section. I didn’t go there that often because I’d’ve spent all my money on books by the time I got there.

A closer look at the selection, from Nigerians in space through Paris in the wake of a magical war to Hitler as a PI!

Photo 13-02-2016, 05 10 13

As for the event itself, it was really fun! I’d planned to fill up one hour but ended up taking around two. It was nice of Kino not to chase us out!

Photo 13-02-2016, 08 55 03

Here’s me holding forth

I was really worried that people would do that Malaysian thing of being too shy to raise their hands, and then only creeping round to ask questions afterwards one-on-one. (I mean, I can raise my hand as one of the people who does this. Except I wouldn’t raise my hand, of course.) I even prepped a friend to keep the chat going if no one volunteered questions: “Ask me about law! I can tell them about EU directives!”

But fortunately everyone was awesome and there were lots of questions! Thanks to everyone who asked — you are my hero and I am eternally grateful.

The only specific thing I remember saying was my explanation of the importance of plot. It goes like this: I used to think I didn’t really care about plot as a reader, but I’ve since learnt a bit more about how stories are made, and I now think that plot is to story like bones are to a person you fancy. You might say, “I’m not attracted to people based on their bones, I’m really more interested in their personality or whether they have a full head of lush hair.” But if you met someone who had no bones, at all, whatsoever, you might rapidly reconsider how important bones are to their attractiveness.

Anyway, so I’m still trying to figure out the bones of story.

Photo 13-02-2016, 08 54 52

My Stormtrooper ring is so photogenic! Nowadays I pretend John Boyega is secretly inside it.

The highlight of the event for me was meeting readers, obvs, but a close runner-up is the fact that illustrator Charis Loke gave me what, as far as I know, is the first piece of fanart for Sorcerer to the Crown!

Photo 13-02-2016, 08 42 42

I love it. I am so happy.

A close-up:

Photo 13-02-2016, 09 51 35

There really is nothing like seeing the figments of your imagination being brought to life by another so sympathetically. I’m going to sleep with it under my pillow eat it so it becomes a part of me frame it and put it on my wall and admire it forever.

I also signed some stock for Kino, so if you missed the event you can still pick up an autographed copy there! If you’re not that fussed about autographed copies or a 20% discount on your second item (also available in-store), you can buy the books online: they stock the US hardcover and the trade paperback with the UK cover, both RM75.

Photos are by me, Daphne Lee, Aaron Lim and my BFF Maxine Lim, who combines with all other ideal qualities of a best friend that of taking only flattering pictures of me.

My publishing journey: Love and resource

I know I said I was winding up my Publishing Journey posts for now, but I had another thought: about love and resource, and the debts we owe. It’s quite a big thought, so bear with me.

IMG_0670A few years ago I got a daruma and was told how you draw in one eye when there’s something you want, and you draw in the other eye when you have got it. I drew in one eye and then I waited. The thing I wanted was the same wish I always made, when visiting temples and blowing out birthday candles.

Like many writers, I have wanted to be a published novelist since I was very small. Of course when you are small you don’t really know what that means. You don’t think about the New York Big Five or global distribution or advances or royalties or awards or reviews. What you want is very simple: to be on the shelf next to the books you love. It’s to be as important, as interesting, as true, as a story.

Publication does not give you that. But it comes to stand for that. I grew up devouring Penguin books and now I am a Penguin author. It might not last, but it happened. Imagine that.

Even though publication is no longer what it was — even though I know that’s not what it means — it still feels enormously satisfying. It still feels like a gift I have given six-year-old me.

But that’s not true, is it? It’s been a very busy, though happy, few months for me, and I have been thinking about resource. What an enormous amount of love and time and resource has been poured into me.

Though I do work hard, I’m always conscious at the back of my mind of how little I have to do with anything I achieve. A while ago I realised with embarrassment that I did not mention in my post about revisions how much work my agent Caitlin Blasdell and editor Diana Gill did on the book. Hannah Bowman, who is not even my agent, read the manuscript twice before it went on submission. The post makes it sound like I was the only one working, but of course that is not true. And we have not even got to the people who typeset the book, who proofread it (and had to put up with my nerdy responses: “I think you’ll find the OED says that word has been in use since the 16th century … “), who have been sorting out publicity and marketing and sending advance copies all over the place, etc. etc. etc.

But much as I appreciate all that work, these are, after all, people for whom it is their job. They hope to see some concrete benefit from their work — and I certainly hope they do. Who I really think about when I think about love and resource is my maternal grandmother, my Ah Ma, who passed away earlier this year.

Continue reading

Roundup: fanfic, shrimps, hipste Kelate and more

Podcasts

On Thursday I went to Broadcasting House (!) to take part in the first episode of Late Night Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4, which was on women in fandom. It was super fun — like a convention panel, only you had to keep remembering you were talking to a mainstream audience and stopping to define terms like “fanfic”. If you’re interested in listening to a lively discussion of women in SFF, the geek culture wars and fanfic tropes, you can download the podcast here:

Reclaiming the Nerdiverse

(And yes, we did discuss A/B/O on national radio with all our relatives listening. /o\ I confess I’m one of those old fandom grumps for whom A/B/O does nothing. In my day we had “we are spies who have to pretend to be married for implausible reasons and we fall in love as a result” and we were happy with that!!)

I also did a podcast with the fabulous Fran Wilde (Updraft out super soon!) and Aliette de Bodard (House of Shattered Wings out even sooner!), talking about food in our books:

An Intimidation of Shrimp: A Cooking The Books Roundtable

At the link I also reveal ~all my writing secrets~ and share my Big List o’ Regency Foods. I said this on the podcast, but I felt a bit like Sherlock Holmes explaining my methods and Watson going, “Oh, you’re nothing to call home about really, that’s easy!” Sigh. Anyway, if you’d like to know what “ruffs and reeves” are, go check it out!

Ghost words

I’ve been posting quietly to Where Ghost Words Dwell, the discarded writing collage project I do with a bunch of cool writers. Here are two of my most recent contributions:

The Green family goes to the mountains

Magical relatives berbalas pantun. This is from a story I was bouncing around with a friend a few years ago, inspired by our trip to Ladakh. The photo is of the glorious mountains, taken at Leh airport. It’s not at all a habitat that suits me — I spent the next seven days or so in the most wretched altitude sickness — but I’ve never seen anything like it.

On the outskirts of Kota Bharu, in a rental Perodua

Again, a snippet inspired by a holiday — this time a rather more prosaic one, a road trip in Kelantan with my BFF. We went to lots of wats and failed to eat any roti hamlet, laksam or nasi kerabu. (I know, I know … what were we even doing.) Eventually this inspired a short story called Everything Under One Roof, which Rose Lemberg accepted for her anthology Alphabet of Embers. The word count for Alphabet of Embers was 1,400 words so I had to cut everything non-essential, including the snippet at the link!

The drawing of a hipste Kelate is by my phenomenally talented cousin Alina Choong and is posted with her permission. It’s based on the boss of Kopitiam Kita, which you should definitely visit if you’re ever in KB. Siti Nurhaliza went also k.

Sorcerer to the Crown

Ala, you knew it was coming.

If you’re in the UK, first edition bookshop Goldsboro Books is running a competition for people who pre-order Sorcerer to the Crown! Order Goldsboro’s special limited edition (SPRAYED EDGES!) before 10 September, i.e. the UK release date, and you’ll have a chance to win an invitation to the book launch. Come and talk to meee! You can pre-order the limited edition here.

The Book Smugglers also ran a giveaway for the book. Closed liao, sorry, but you can still read my post on the Inspirations and Influences Behind Sorcerer to the Crown.

I also did a guest post for Pornokitsch on Five Fictional Girls and Women I Will Love Forever. Features Anne of Green Gables, Rukia, Lucy Snowe, Elizabeth Bennet and Eowyn. No surprises, but lots of *___*-ing … you will point out that this doesn’t have anything to do with Sorcerer to the Crown, because it’s part of The Apex Book of World SF 4 promo push, but little do you know! One of those five characters inspired Prunella Gentleman. You should tell me which you think it is!

And JUST TODAY Publishers Weekly gave Sorcerer a starred review:

Cho’s tale knits together a dizzying array of taut story lines populated by complex characters with interesting backstories. Zacharias brings to mind another orphaned young wizard whose combination of grit and melancholy captured readers’ hearts, and ingenious, gutsy Prunella simply shines.

How totally amazing. You couldn’t ask for better.

Social mediaz

As always, if you’re interested in receiving updates on my stuff in real-time, Twitter or Facebook is probably your best bet. My Facebook page is public and I don’t add back automatically, but will if you drop me a message saying hi. I’ve also started using Instagram! Not a lot there at the moment, but what I’m going to do is post pictures there instead of Twitter. I crosspost Instagram posts to Twitter and Facebook, though, so better not follow me on all three — after lemas only.

Aliens vs. cyborgs

The days have been such a blur* since I arrived in Malaysia that I forgot to post about this article I wrote for Poskod.MY sempena Cooler Lumpur:

What being an alien taught me about stories

I am eight years old, a new pupil at SRJK (C) Kwang Hwa.

“This is my new friend from England,” chirps my classmate when she introduces me. I have never been to England in my life, but why should she know the difference between USA and England? Here in Penang both countries seem equally distant and unreal.

My family moved from Malaysia to the US for a couple of years when I was a kid, so by that age I already knew what it was to be an alien.

Basically it’s me wondering aloud “what is the proper subject of the Asian/Malaysian writer?”

Don’t forget I’m running two giveaways for my anthology CYBERPUNK: MALAYSIA. Enter for free, win a book that is both shiny and chrome!

 

* I haven’t really been busy, unless you count “sleeping only three hours a night” and “obsessing over the Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell BBC series” as being busy. I do, but I admit there may be legitimate differences upon the point …