The Legend of the Perpetual Foreigner

Picture from “The Vide Times” review of the movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Well Shang-Chi came out two weeks ago to boffo box office. It appears from the headlines that it is the best-reviewed, most money-making movie of the summer. Kudos to Marvel for finally giving us a modern-day superhero-wuxia movie.
I follow a YouTube channel called “Accented Cinema”. The YouTuber had a few other comments about Shang-Chi here.
What he said really resonated with me. First, I think he liked the film, but articulated some concerns he had with the narrative (please note: I have not seen the film yet. I will see it when it comes to streaming and may have more to say then. Blame the pandemic).
The author said that Shang-Chi did not look at the Asian-American experience of being “perpetual foreigners” but instead looked at how a Chinese man, who immigrated to the US 10 years ago and has now spent half his life here, returns home and finds himself…home. The Asian-American (and if we’re being fair, Asian-Canadian) experience is that of never feeling at home anywhere. We’re exoticized at home as being “Oriental” and “mysterious” and when we travel to Asia, we don’t feel at home either because of language barriers or actual physical differences that make us stand out.
These experiences are not unique. I can definitely relate. To all of it. As a half-Japanese-Canadian (the other half being Chinese), I have always been taught to fit in. It’s hard to fit in when you’re one of only two kids in your class of 30 students, who isn’t White. And sometimes, as the Japanese saying goes, ‘the nail that sticks out, gets hammered.’ And I got hammered enough, thank you. And I’ve had my fair share of being asked “where are you really from?” even as an adult. What I was not aware was that reconnecting with your culture was also a part of the same experience (which, as you can see, is also what I am trying to do through my writing).
So what the author of Accented Cinema wants is a story that represents the Asian-American experience now, not to take stories from an exotic fantasy past. I am not sure how that would have translated into a Marvel movie, but perhaps they can touch upon these ideas in the next movie – allow Shang-Chi to feel like an outsider in America. Given Marvel’s track record, that might be a great movie.
For representation of the Asian-American experience, I point you to another film that Awkwafina was also in (no, not Crazy Rich Asians): The Farewell. I have gone back to Japan and although have very few close relatives there, was still welcomed with open arms for a few days in Kyoto. But the language barrier still made things a bit awkward at times, much like in The Farewell. And whenever I visit my partner’s extended family, I am reminded repeatedly (but not verbally) about how much of a Canadian born and raised, I really am.
I would also point you to a graphic novel: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Not a movie, but such a great graphic novel about identity issues and what it is like being Chinese when all you have ever known is in North America.

Yurei, Stigmatized Properties and Oyashima, Oh My!

Daruma (Personal Writing) Update: This weekend I am participating in a five day long retreat for writing my current work in progress. I can’t say I will get much done because of work and family, but tomorrow looks to be a lot more productive.

Japanese mythology and Yokai have been an interest of mine for many years. I’ve done a lot of research finding out about the myriad creatures that inhabit Japanese folklore. I’ve also written several magazine articles, short stories, and an unpublished novel utilizing Yokai and Japanese mythology.

Yūrei by Sawaki Sūshi (1737)

So now is the time for the next step: another novel with one of my favourite creatures from Japanese mythology: Yurei (Japanese ghosts). Yokai and other creatures have come across at times as cute and cuddly creatures. Not so Yurei. Yurei have never been portrayed as cute. Look at the Ring or the Grudge (Ringu and Ju-On). ‘Kawaii’ is not the term I would use for these vengeful spirits.

But I didn’t want to rehash Ringu or Ju-On. I want to create my own thing. So I decided on a couple things to make the novel stand out amongst the crowd of English language novels set in Japan.

First, it’s not set in Japan. It’s set in Oyashima, an entirely fictional setting. Oyashima is an ancient name for Japan that has no ties to it’s current name. I am trying to figure out the name of the city I plan on using.

Second, one of the main characters will be a Real Estate Agent who sells stigmatized properties (properties in which people have died in them by murder, suicide, or natural causes) and exorcises ghosts as a side gig. He is haunted by everything he has seen.

Finally, it’s set in the future: a future where climate change has ravaged the country forcing the government to build giant sea walls to keep the water out.

If that sounds interesting to you, keep following my website for more. I am already 20,000 words into the novel, but had to go back and re-jig the outline just a bit as the Real Estate Agent character wasn’t jelling and I think I figured out what to do with him. So that 20,000 words probably won’t increase much over the next month as I straighten out the outline and scene list. As soon as that is done, though, it’ll be full steam ahead.

Peace.

Shang-Chi and Growing Up Canadian

Photograph: Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios (from the Guardian)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings began its theatrical run this weekend around the world. Don’t know when I’m going to get a chance to see it, but for all intents and purposes, the film is already a success (98% audience score for 2500 viewers on Rotten Tomatoes). Just the latest in a long line of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, it is yet another character plucked from the obscurity to become a household name (at least in North America).

I have very little memory of Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung Fu. I grew up in the 1970s when the Kung Fu craze started by such movie luminaries as Bruce Lee (Enter the Dragon) and Jackie Chan (him of Cannonball Run fame) was at its peak. And as a young half-Chinese kid, you’d think I’d be thrilled. But I wasn’t. I didn’t even notice. I wanted my super heroes SUPER, and kung fu and martial arts just didn’t seem…well, super. Instead, I read Spider-Man or the X-Men (in their pre-Wolverine days) and other super-heroes with “real” super powers.

But I’ve since discovered martial arts movies and now that Shang-Chi has been released as a superhero movie (and from what I understand, he gets a real power up), I thought I’d give you my Top 5 Martial Arts movies. This is my very subjective list based on what I’ve actually seen.

Number 5 – Enter the Dragon: one of the inspirations for Shang-Chi and one of only two Bruce Lee movies I’ve seen, I really enjoyed the James Bond vibe this movie had. Bruce Lee had such onscreen charisma, I would have loved to see where Bruce Lee’s career would have gone had he not passed away at such a young age.

Number 4 – Police Story 2: Supercop: My mouth dropped the first time I saw this movie in the theatre (yes, I saw this in a small Saskatoon theatre) and the stunts were jaw dropping. It had all of Jackie Chan’s monkey-like martial arts style (his combat with a ladder was a fantastic martial ballet). But stunts like jumping a motorcycle on a moving train sold me as a kung-fu auteur. And of course, this movie introduced me to the legendary Michelle Yeoh. I like this so much better than most of his Hollywood fare.

Number 3 – Kung Fu Panda: There, I said it. Yes, this is a North American cartoon movie series starring Jack Black and it is very much an American idea of what Chinese martial arts are like, but it has a heart that many other North American martial arts movies (animated or not) don’t have. Plus, Kung Fu Panda 2 is the best depiction of wuxia in an animated feature movie bar none. I know a lot of you are now shouting at your screen saying “what about Avatar: The Last Airbender?” Isn’t that the best portrayal of animated martial arts? I would agree…except that is a TV series and not a movie and this list is about movies. But maybe I’ll revisit that sometime soon.

Number 2 – Hero: Tony Leung was part of this Jet Li martial arts film. With Zhang Yimou at the helm, this is one of the most artistic Wuxia movie I have seen. Jet Li plays Nameless, a sword master who apparently kills several assassins who attempted to kill the King of Qin. What follows is a Rashomon-like series of tales told by Nameless. Each one uses a different colour palette and the balletic martial arts wire-work and performances make this film a must see for any martial arts fan.

Number 1 – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: My partner would not rate this as high (she says she had seen better wire work and it didn’t add anything new to the conversation), but for me, this is the most stunning martial arts AND wuxia movie I had ever seen. Ang Lee hit it out of the park with the ballet-like martial arts fights. This movie had Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh and introduced the world to the incredible Zhang Ziyi (who also showed up in my number 2 movie, Hero).

There are so many other great martial arts films made in China, Hong Kong and beyond. More modern films like Ip Man and the Raid have re-defined the martial arts genre. And films like Kung Fu Hustle and Kill Bill pay homage to the martial arts genre of film. But these five films I’ve listed above are my favourites and the ones I go back to if I want to see a masterwork of martial arts. How will Shang Chi compare? No idea. I might get to go and see it in theatres but will likely wait until I can see it at home (COVID is to blame here). Until then, there are always these movies to watch.

An Attitude of Gratitude

Hey all, welcome back. Has it been a week already?

Speaking of a week, the Aurora Awards voting closes on September 4, 2021 (in just over a week at the time this has been posted). For those of you who may not be aware, I have had the honour of once again being nominated for an Aurora Award this time for my short story “Breathe” which was published in Prairie Soul Press’ anthology entitled “Prairie Gothic” (which has also been nominated for an Aurora Award for Best Related Work). There are so many great nominees this year including “Grass Gods,” another short story in Prairie Gothic.

The other times I have been nominated for an Aurora Award was in 2013 for my editing skills as co-editor for that labour of love, Shanghai Steam and in 2018 my short story entitled “Rose’s Arm” published in Laksa Media’s “Where the Stars Rise.”

I am humbled and grateful that my stories are touching people and that my writing peers feel my work is good enough to be nominated and to make the short list as best speculative short fiction in Canada. There are so many other speculative fiction writers writing their hearts out who never get nominated. Even once. The feeling of validation can be overwhelming at times.

Writing is a solitary and sometimes lonely avocation. So when we see an author’s name on the cover of a book, it is easy to make the assumption that the novel was written and came out whole cloth from the writer’s mind and dumped onto the page. A quick perusal through the front pages quickly dispels that idea. Usually there is a dedication page wherein the author thanks all the people who have assisted in the writing of that project.

However, for short stories, there is little or no dedication page in anthologies except for the editors. So short story authors never get to thank anyone unless they win and give an acceptance speech.

So I thought I’d rectify that. I haven’t won the Aurora Award yet and even if I don’t win, the people who helped and supported me should not remain anonymous.

So here are the people I want to thank.

First, I want to thank Jennifer Cheung, my partner in life, for all her love and support all these years. Without her, I could not have the long stretches of time to let my mind wander through imaginary worlds.

I also want to thank my sons, Kiyoshi and Toshiro who keep me grounded and let me know what is really important in life and family.

Thank you to my parents who are my most outspoken critics but my biggest cheerleaders. Thanks for raising me, keeping me on the straight and narrow, and picking me up when I was down.

Thank you to the editors at Prairie Soul and Laksa Media. You have made this author’s ordinary words look fantastic.

Thank you to IFWA, the best writing group on the planet. You have all helped me grow as a writer whether through a critique, skills session, or generally sharing your knowledge. You all deserve recognition.

Thank you to the WWC which has made it possible to allow me to give something back to the writing community.

Thank you to all the editors and publishers who have accepted my work. You are the unsung heroes of the publishing world. You fight for our stories and mold our words from lumps of clay to works of art.

Thank you to the Canadian Science Fiction & Fantasy Association. Your hard work and dedication allows the Aurora Awards to exist.

Thank you to all those who nominated me for this or for previous works. Your validation is so important to an old curmudgeon like me.

And finally, thank you to everyone who has read my whimsical little tales. I am glad I have given some joy and wonder to you all. Without you, there would be no stories. There are so many people to thank for all the time, wisdom, and support I have received over the years. There are too many to count. But this is a good beginning.

So at this point in the blog post, there would normally be a call to action. I could ask that you go to the Prix-Aurora Award page, buy a membership (if you haven’t already), and vote for my story or the anthology it has been published in. You have until September 4, 2021.

Instead, I just want to thank you for reading this far into this post. It means a lot to me. It means that you have already discovered my writing and may be waiting for more.

So, time to get back to the writing so it may be possible that one day I might give this acceptance speech aloud or write that dedication page in that novel.

Thank you.


This Little Doll of Mine…

Hey there. Welcome back. It’s been a while.

My Japanese Daruma Doll. Don’t know what it is? Read on and find out.

The 2021 When Words Collide Writers’ and Readers’ Festival is over for another year, and what a festival it was. It was, because of some pandemic which shall remain nameless, online again this year. The scramble to get Zoom Hosts lined up at the last minute was frantic, but somehow, Randy made it work. And indeed it turned out fantastic. Big shout out to everyone who volunteered as a Zoom Host or otherwise. It was a huge job. Without the volunteers, this festival would never get off the ground.

So, during the WWC, I got to be part of a panel entitled “Moments of Joy.” It was to launch Laksa Media’s newest anthology entitled Seasons Between Us where my story (written under the pseudonym C.J. Cheung) entitled “Clear Water” appeared. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Anyway, as typical for a Laksa Media launch, it was not a typical book launch. Each author who was present gave us their moment of joy. Here’s mine:

“I thought about this a lot, but I couldn’t come up with just one thing, one moment that I could point to and say “that is the moment of Joy” I wish to talk about. I could talk about my wedding day, a truly joyous day tinged with the sadness of my father’s passing less than a month earlier. I could talk about the birth of my sons, now both teenagers, and the feelings I had on that day. But for me, moments are ephemeral. They don’t last. They are fleeting.

Instead I chose to look at the journey: my journey as a writer, as an artist.

Of course, I didn’t start out as an artist.

When I was young, I was told I couldn’t become one. At that time, I wanted to pursue a career in acting, but everyone told me that was not the route I could go. I couldn’t earn a living as an actor. I was good, but there weren’t any roles for Chinese actors. So I chose to take my art underground: I did some theatre at University. I played role playing games. I LARPed. I went to law school (not only to please my parents, but because the thought of becoming a litigator and getting up in Court enthralled me. Of course, reality was much different than the fantasy and I soon realized the passion wasn’t there. I needed to live the life I wanted.

My father’s passing became my opportunity. It meant I had to relocate to Alberta. It meant I had to restart my life. And this time, I was determined to live as an artist. By this time, I had started writing. It wasn’t good, but I thought this was where I could go with my art and to my surprise, I found that people liked what they read.

It is often a truth in life that moments of sadness can lead to moments of joy. And my moment of Joy isn’t really a moment. It’s a life. Make no mistake, writing is hard and there are days it is difficult and I feel unmotivated. But this is where I want to be – what I want to be doing. The journey continues and I’m grateful to share this journey with all of you.”

So, to commemorate my future journey, I presented my Daruma Doll (pictured above) to the audience.

Anyone who knows what a Daruma Doll is, knows why the eye on it has been dotted. You see, in Japanese lore, each Daruma doll has the spirit of a Kami inside it. By dotting one eye, I have asked to make a request. If, over the next year I struggle and endeavour to make that wish come true, the Daruma Doll will grant that request. Well, I publicly announced what that request is at one of the panels entitled “Moments of Joy” (this was the Laksa Media launch of Seasons Between Us wherein my story, Clear Waters appears).

So my request? To finish drafting and revising my third novel (at the very least – there might be more – including a novel with certain Jiangshi in them) by the time the next WWC rolls around. A tall order I know, but if I get it completed, I will complete the Daruma Doll’s ritual and dot the other eye thereby granting the Kami of the Daruma Doll full sight. I can then set the Kami free (how you ask? Well that is a story for another time).

Wish me luck.

The Year of Amabie

Breathe In, Breathe Out

This was supposed to be a banner year for me. I had four short stories written, purchased by publishers and ready to be released upon the world. I had an quick outline for a new novel idea that I was excited about and could turn into a novel series. I was writing for a local Japanese community newspaper about Japanese mythology. Plus, I was about to attain my next level Brown Belt in Shotokan Karate.

Well, the reality was much, much different.

As I previously mentioned in an earlier post, one short story of the four was released. Of the other three, one will be released next week and the others were delayed until next year. The Japanese community newspaper stopped publishing (at least temporarily). And that Brown Belt? Well, for obvious reasons, testing had to be delayed. To be fair, I needed the practice and those months spent at home doing training in my basement actually allowed me to improve.

And writing. Well that took a vacation. One that I didn’t want to take. But did I really have a choice? 

It was a year of a pandemic, a year of lockdowns, a year of working from home. It was also a year of doom scrolling, of fearing the worst and sliding into a depressive funk. Being creative and imagining worlds of fantasy just didn’t seem important. I couldn’t say I was ever at a point that I could be labelled as medically depressed, but there were times I certainly felt that way. But mentally and spiritually, this year has drained me.

That is when Amabie entered my life. A relatively unknown Yokai from Japan started coming into my social media feeds early in the year. It is said it appears in times of hardship and protects those who draw it from disease and sickness. It made its first appearance in a newspaper in the late 1800s and has not made its way into public consciousness since.

At least until now.

Amabie has been my creative companion and inspiration since. A small drawing of her three-legged, mermaid-like form sits at the front of my journal greeting me whenever I open it to write.

And I started clawing my way back up. I started reading again – at first just books on writing to get my thought processes going again, and then novels and self-help books about time and time-wasting habits. Then the search for the perfect writing app started anew (Dabble is my new favourite, but it still hasn’t replaced Ulysses or Scrivener – another story for another time). And now, I’m writing again. I’m healing. 

It’s tentative, and slow and I’m not quite there yet, but it’s happening. 

Winter is here. Vacation is over. Cycling through Banff is in the past and even though the world is still seems to be spiralling out of control, hasn’t it always been that way? 

I am one of the lucky ones too. I have family surrounding me that keep me active and keep me sane and grounded. And keep me from jumping off the deep end. And for them, I am grateful. They have made this year bearable and allowed me the time to heal and get well mentally and spiritually (and physically. Can’t forget the physical – I did, after all, just attain my second level Brown belt).

But thanks to Amabie, I’m writing again too.

And I don’t intend to stop.

Writing Update

My next story is (ironically) entitled “Breathe” and it is set to launch in the anthology Prairie Gothic. This story is near and dear to my heart because it combines two things I absolutely love: Chinese restaurants on the prairies and Jiangshi.

Join me and other creatives at the Prairie Gothic Online Launch Party set for Monday, November 30, 2020. The details are in the above link.

Welcome to My Dystopia

Minutes to Midnight by Liam Wong from the book TO KY OO

Long ago in prehistory (what my kids refer to the 1980s), I purchased on impulse a brand new role-playing game entitled Cyberpunk. I fell in love. A second edition updated the game to the year 2020 and entitled it Cyberpunk 2020 (how appropriate). The RPG presented a dystopic world with monolithic corporations that wielded power and armies larger than most countries, humans with cybernetic implants (“metal is better than meat”), and an Earth ravaged by pollution and greed. 

At least that is what the game designers in the 1980s thought a dystopia would look like in the year 2020.

Welcome to the real 2020 and it feels like we’re living in a dystopia. Just not the one imagined by Cyberpunk game designers. 

Whereas the fears of the 1980s that spawned the imaginings of William Gibson and company, have given away to the realities of a pandemic, authoritarian strongmen stripping away the hard-earned democratic veneer, and the super-rich getting even richer at the expense of everyone else. We even have race riots and protests in America rivalling those of the 1960s. Every day brings more bad news. 

And that has made it hard to write, to be creative. Even with a well-spring of new ideas, getting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) has proven daunting. Instead, I have filled pages of a notebook with research into my latest work in progress. I’ve written down writing and productivity wisdom from books and YouTubers alike. All in an effort to ensure I keep my ideas fresh and my writing muscles strong. And sure, I’ve scratched out a bit, but nothing I would call substantive.

And from what I understand, I’m not alone in trying to come to terms with the pandemic and its lingering after-effects. I am privileged enough to still be working and to have a supportive family, but that sinking feeling that something horrible is around the corner is keeping me from my most creative.

How can I take flights of fancy into worlds of my imagination when the dystopia I only imagined in movies like Blade Runner, was about to pass? Or something worse? Was it even important that I continue?

This past weekend at the When Words Collide (“WWC”) Festival of Readers and Writers (COVID Online Edition) I got my answer: Yes. It is important. I had to continue.

It is an answer that had been on the tip of my tongue for a while, but I could never get out and actually say it. To anyone. Even as a promise to myself.

I always derive inspiration from the WWC. Every year panelists and writers and editors inspire me to do better. This year was no different. But this year, the energy was different. It wasn’t just the festival being held online on Zoom (don’t ask about the Zoom bombers). It was the energy about being creative and the importance of art in times of crisis. It is not a time to shy away and be the silent majority. Nor is it time to abandon art, abandon writing.

So yes, this is my dystopia. It is not the dystopia of my early adulthood. It is more real than that. Is the book on the verge of being finished? Not yet. But it is much, much closer now.

Writing Update

COVID-19 has done a weird thing: it has delayed all the short stories that were slated to be released this year. All but one.

My story, “Midnight in the Winding Bazaar”was released on May 8, 2020 and can be found in the anthology entitled For Hart & Queen published by Nisaba Press (an imprint of Green Ronin Publishing). You can find it on DriveThru RPG as well

Just a quick note about it. It was edited by Jaym Gates. She is a wonderful editor and a passionate human being. I had the privilege of working with her twice before. She was responsible for my first short story sale (you can find it in Rigor Amortis). She is now with Green Ronin Publishing, an RPG publisher in the US that publishes games like the wonderful Blue Rose. In the description of the anthology, she put a note in it that said: “I am really excited to bring you Calvin’s story: I published a story from Cal in one of my earliest magazine roles, and I’ve been wanting to work with him since!”

I was gobsmacked. I have never felt so honoured.

For me, the privilege was all mine. And I would gladly work with her again. 

Thank you so much, Jaym. It is always a pleasure.

The Occupation Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi: A Review

The Occupation Thesaurus is the 7th and latest in the line of writers’ guides. As usual, the thesaurus begins with a series of informative articles geared toward how to use occupation to define a character. It begins with a discussion of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and why a character might be motivated to choose a particular career. Discussions regarding how careers characterize, how jobs can create tension and conflict, and how a character’s occupation can be used for character arcs and theme. The articles are well-researched and allow a writer to brainstorm ideas for story. Some tips on using occupations round out the well-researched articles before we get into the meat of the thesaurus: the list of over 100 occupations.

The occupations run the gamut from the ordinary (Chef, Barista, Lawyer) to the unconventional (Dream Interpreter, Food Critic, Personal Assistant to a Celebrity) to the unusual (Ethical Hacker, Food Stylist, Professional Mourner). It is not an exhaustive list (where is my YouTube/Social Media star? Podcaster is close, I suppose). I know I’ll be looking up the Professional Mourner and Crime Scene Cleaner for my upcoming novel.

Each entry is a two-page spread which includes a brief overview of the occupation, the necessary training, and a list of useful skills and traits someone entering this job might have. If that wasn’t enough, the thesaurus also provides sources of friction, how the occupation would impact a character and how to twist the stereotypes: every- thing necessary to brainstorm ideas about character or plot or provide a jumping-off point to begin research into these professions.

As per usual, the entries are well-researched and detailed. They cover a wide- range of occupations you might find in contemporary North America, but may have to be adjusted if an author is writing outside of those geographic or temporal boundaries.

Is this an essential book? Does it rank up there with the best thesauri Ms. Ackerman and Ms. Puglisi have produced? No. The only one of their thesauri I consider essential is The Emotion Thesaurus. However, as another book about character, it ranks up there with the Positive and Negative Traits books and the Emotional Wound Thesaurus for designing characters. It provides yet another detailed examination of a way to define a character.

And like all the other thesaurus’ in the series, I’ll be purchasing a hard-copy for my writers’ reference bookshelf as soon as it is released.

All in all, this is a worthy addition to the thesauri that Ackerman and Puglisi have written. It is well-researched and covers a wide range of occupations. It is not an essential resource, but I still plan on getting my own hard copy to put on my shelf when I need to brainstorm some ideas.

I received an ARC of The Occupation Thesaurus in exchange for an honest review. 

4.5 Stars out of 5

The Big Announcement

Edit: Since writing this post, I reconsidered. I had some misgivings about changing my name as it took away all the work I had done over the past decade, and I had to start all over again. Plus, as much as a problem as it can often be (even people who have known me for years sometimes make the mistake and call me “Jim”, it is still a unique name and part of my Chinese heritage. So, in the end, I changed my mind. But I still wanted to leave the post up because it shows what I was thinking at that time.

I’m changing my name. Yes, you may have noticed it on the banner, but it is now official. I am writing under the pseudonym C.J. Cheung. So how did I come to that name? And why on earth would I change it in the first place, especially after all these years of writing under a different name. It will be like starting over.

Yes, yes it will. But right off the bat, I’ll have 3 projects coming out this year which will have that name on it. So I hit the ground running at least. And where can you find these projects? The first one, which I am incredibly proud of, is my story entitled “Clear Waters” which will appear in Laksa Media’s newest anthology, Seasons Between Us. This will be published later this year. The second is a story in an anthology for the role-playing game Blue Rose by Green Ronin Games. It is slated for release in the later half of the year and the anthology will be distributed widely in print and ebook. Finally, I just submitted a short story for an as yet unannounced anthology. It has a few scarier elements in it, and it was both a challenge to push myself out of my comfort zone, and a refreshing change of pace. Plus, I might have more stories set in this universe. A universe populated by Chinese vampires.

And you can thank Jonas Saul for the name change. I took his Masterclass at When Words Collide and he talked about pseudonyms – why to use one and how to create one. Using a pseudonym can boost sales if the name is simple enough. After putting a lot of thought into it, and asking a lot of friends and family what name I should use, I came up with C.J. Cheung as a combination of the initials of own name and my partner’s family name. It rings true. As for why I changed it, it’s simple: my actual name is confusing for those who don’t know me (and even confusing for some who do). My actual surname is an Anglicization of my Chinese family name and nobody ever mistook it for Chinese. It even created confusion a long time ago for a writing project in which cultural identity of the authors and editors was an issue. So, to cause less confusion, I took the pseudonym and I’m slowly changing everything to reflect the new name.

What can you expect from C.J. Cheung this year? Well, aside from the short stories (there are a lot of them), I’m also in the middle of a first draft of a new novel (which will likely become a novella or series of novellas). These are Japanese ghost stories set in modern day with a real estate agent protagonist who also exorcises ghosts. Sound interesting? I’m so excited to finally be able to bring these stories to you.

Oh, and I have one last project: my Chinatown Project. Late last year I was commissioned to write a short story as part of a project to raise peoples awareness of Calgary’s Chinatown (now more important because of the coronavirus outbreak – support your local Chinese restaurant). The story will be published on two broadsheets – one in English and the other Chinese. But it won’t make its way online. So that gave me an opportunity. Later this year, you’ll be able to sign up for my newsletter and get the latest news on current releases and appearances, AND I’ll send everyone who signs up for the newsletter a copy of that story for free.

Keep watching this page for more news.

Wuhan Add Fuel!

(Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Hello World! I’m back after a long hiatus. Things on this site are about to change radically. More soon.

As the novel coronavirus spreads across the world, I was reminded about the city at the centre of this pandemic crisis: Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.

I saw a video on YouTube of people all across Wuhan shouting out their windows “Wuhan Jiayou!”. Literally translated, it meant “Wuhan, add fuel.” When I saw that, I didn’t know what it meant to “add fuel?” So I looked it up.

According to Wikipedia (I know, I know. I take this with a grain of salt), the term “add fuel” originated during the Macau Grand Prix in the 1960’s. Spectators would shout “Ga Yau” (Cantonese for “add fuel”) at their favourite car. The phrase implied that the driver should step harder on the gas pedal and accelerate. It was also a metaphor for injecting fuel into a tank. Over time, the phrase morphed in meaning to “don’t give up!”, “do your best!”, or “persist!”. It is now meant as a form of encouragement and often heard at sporting events.

So Wuhan Jiayou! roughly means “Stay strong, Wuhan.” Don’t give up. Without being able to leave their homes and gather, the people of Wuhan have found a way to support each other despite adversity and to show the world the true spirit of their city.

What does this have to do with writing, you ask? The literal translation of Wuhan Jiayou is a colourful metaphor only those who know the culture and language would immediately understand. Plus, it gives me a perspective on the culture I would not get from the rough translation which, although uplifting and heartwarming, does not give me an intimate understanding that the former does.

And although my Chinese and Japanese ancestry gives me some perspective on the culture seen from afar, the lack of language means I miss out on these colourful nuances to the point that when it is pointed out to me, I feel sheepish, as if I should have known better.

And when I am writing stories with characters from those cultures, their voice will get lost within my own, very western voice. The colourful phrases and idioms that are so common to that language would become non-existent. It means I have to be careful.

As Lian Hearn says in her excellent essay Writing About Other Cultures, “all languages construct and describe the world in a slightly different way: you need to know the idioms and every day speech of your characters, what common symbols mean to them, what their belief system is, and use words that are appropriate.” And when you do write in their voice, “better to try to give the flavour of (the language) through the subtle use of sentence construction and idioms.

My own experience is so different from those who live and breathe in Asia. My cultural understanding is filtered through a Canadian lens and what I understand as Asian custom and culture, is in fact, just family quirks passed down as such. “You should never have an empty rice bowl when eating.” Said one aunt. I can’t find anyone who says this is a Chinese custom. “Spring roll parties are a thing,” said no one outside of my wife’s family. Where do they get these ideas? Is that real Asian culture or just something passed down the family tree? I don’t know and any research I do I come up blank.

So for those in Wuhan, I say “Jiayou.” Stay strong. The world is with you and watching as the novel coronavirus wends its way around the globe. In the meantime, I’ll continue to write my stories and continue to watch and learn the idioms of languages of a people who may look like me, but speak very differently.

And I find that fascinating.