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.

Phase IV? I’m IN

A Breathe In, Breathe Out Post

Coming February 12, 2021.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) just announced it’s Phase IV lineup. I wouldn’t normally talk about it, but I’m really excited for one of their projects (okay, I like most of the movie ones – but this one, I’m really excited for): Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

I’ll admit that I was never all that excited about martial arts movies or comics as a kid and I pretty well stayed away from them. I didn’t get the appeal of Bruce Lee, didn’t start watching Jackie Chan until I was well into my 20s, and the likes of Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu just didn’t interest me.

So why now? Well, first, it’s the MCU. They’ve earned my money and respect. They’ve put my childhood on the big screen and I like almost everything they put up on it. So I have a lot of confidence that this movie will be done right. And the casting is off to a great start. Simu Liu will star as Shang Chi and the movie co-stars Awkwafina and Tony freakin’ Leung as the Mandarin. The REAL Mandarin. Not that fake one from Iron Man 3.

And second, it’s another movie with Asian actors on screen in leading roles. And that’s my jam. Stories set in Asia with Asian characters. Of course I’m excited. I write this stuff.

Can’t wait. I’ll keep you posted. February 12, 2021 can’t get here soon enough.

Personal Update

The writing never ends. This past few weeks, I’ve been mentoring several writers online. It’s something I never thought I would do, but joining a few Facebook groups dedicated to writing and helping other writers has opened up the opportunity.

I am starting my outline for a novel. It is still in the planning stages and I’ll have more for you when I get something more solid. Right now, all I can say is that it involves Yokai. And steampunk.

Ghost from a lamp by Kunisada | by timtak

Speaking of Yokai, I got yet another idea for a story. I don’t know if it is a short story or a longer piece, but I cannot see it becoming a novel. It has been on my mind lately, so I thought I’d share it with you. My main character exorcises apartments and other places haunted by Yūrei, Japanese ghosts. Doesn’t sound too original, does it? The twist is that he is a real estate agent who specializes in cleaning and then flipping “stigmatized” properties – properties that have have dead bodies found in them. How the people died is irrelevant. It could be murder, suicide, or natural causes. Whatever the cause, he cleans them out. Sound gruesome? Yeah, I thought so too. Yet I can’t get it out of my head. I’ll let you know when I finish it.

Schedule for When Words Collide

When Words Collide is only a few weeks away and oh, man do I have a busy schedule. If you wish to find me, here is a list of panels I’ll be on during the festival:

The Stories We Hide (Friday 5 PM – Fireside )
Join the editors and authors of this year’s Enigma Front anthology. I am one of the authors in this year’s anthology. My story is entitled “I Travelled the World Between.”

How to Write for Roleplay Game Companies (Friday 9 PM – Canmore )
Which are the A-list RPG companies you want to write for? What makes one better than the others? What are they looking for? How familiar do you need to be with their worlds and rules? Must you stick to their Bible, or can you bring in your own creative ideas?

Living in a Multi-Cultural World (Saturday 11 AM – Bonavista )
We live in a world made up of peoples of diverse races, ethnicities, and cultures. Yet, as readers and writers, we often forget that we live in such a world. Panellists will discuss their experiences living as an ethnic minority in North America. Panellists may also have suggestions on further reading, favourite authors, and tips on writing characters who are persons of colour. Come with your questions and an open mind.

East and West: How Our Mindset Changes the Way We Tell Stories
(Sunday 10 AM – Parkland )
If you’ve read manga, watched K-drama, or enjoyed a Kurosawa film, you may have noticed eastern storytelling often differs from western. Why aren’t the protagonists protag-ing? Why aren’t characters standing up for themselves? Why are there more than three acts? Join us to explore Asian storytelling, an ancient structure with millions of fans, as we discuss style differences, cultural shaping of art, and how you can use these tools to make your own work stronger.

#ownvoices: How Diversity is Taking the Writing World by Storm
(Sunday 2 PM – Canmore )
#ownvoices is a movement that encourages diverse writers to include the lived experiences of their community in their stories. Why has this trend taken off, and why is it good for the literary world?

Hope to see you all at the festival.

I am Canadian. Really.

Canada is a mosaic.

Where do I come from? As a Canadian of Chinese and Japanese ancestry I get that question a lot. I do not think it a rude or ignorant question. People are usually genuinely curious. They are usually shocked to find out that I was born in Montreal, Quebec (and was fluently bi-lingual until the age of six).

I am a third generation Chinese – Japanese Canadian. My parents (who were both born in Canada) married at a time when it was very “bad form” for Chinese and Japanese to date, let alone marry. Even now, their union raises eyebrows in the Asian community.

I have grown up in Canada and throughout my school years was (usually) the only non-white in my class. Others pegged me as “different” and I stood out no matter where I went. I felt very alienated and often wished that I was white. How could someone feel that they were wholly Canadian, when they were made to feel that they didn’t truly belong? Claims that not only was I born here, but my parents were born here fell on deaf ears. I looked different, so I must be different and come from somewhere else. Not here. Not Canada.

This sense of alienation followed me even into High School. At an early age I had shown promise in the fine arts such as acting, but was told by well meaning teachers that even though I could be an accomplished actor, it was unfortunate that I was Asian and there would be little or no place for me in Canada. They were not racist or trying to be mean, they were only telling me the current reality – that there was no place for me. Needless to say, I gave up on that dream.

Slowly things changed and far from being resentful about my heritage, I began to embrace it. I found strength in my cultural heritage and a sense of belonging and identity that I did not experience in my earlier life. I began actively seeking out books and literature about my heritage and found very little. I began watching movies and interacting with others in my own cultural community. This process of discovery allowed me to grow, change and mature.

But even here, I did not feel that I completely belonged. I did not understand the language. I only had a minimal understanding of the culture and customs. I had never been to China or Japan. I had no shared history. And since I was both of Chinese and Japanese heritage, I looked “off” to many of them. They would smile and reassure me, but behind the smile was the knowledge that I would never truly understand or be a part of that heritage.

So I felt like a person in-between. Not really part of one world because of the way I looked, and not really part of another world because I had grown up westernized. My entire adult life has been spent reconciling these feelings of alienation that I have experienced on both sides of the cultural wall. My response has been to embrace all those things that made me unique (including those parts of me that have nothing to do with my culture). I continue to embrace my ancestry and to be proud of it. To do anything less would be to deny what I see in the mirror every day. At the same time, I realize that I do not live in Asia, that I was born and raised in Canada. I do not simply “feel” that I am Canadian, I am Canadian. And being Canadian is to celebrate all those cultural identities and take strength in them.

Today, I am happily married to a woman of Chinese ancestry (she was born in Asia but raised in Canada) and we have two sons whom I will raise to be proud Canadians with all the rights and privileges that entails. I will also raise them to know where their great-grandparents came from and why it is important to retain that part of their culture – to be proud, not arrogant about that background. And all my hopes go with them that they will find a place in their lives long before I found a place in mine.

(Originally published on Sept 11, 2007)

Broken

Kintsugi, translated as “golden joinery” is a Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with special lacquer dusted with powdered gold. It gives a piece of broken pottery a unique appearance and emphasizes the fractures and breaks instead of hiding them, making the once broken pottery more beautiful than when it was whole.
This art is heavily influenced by the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi which sees beauty in the flawed or imperfect. It is born of a feeling of regret when something is wasted, but with an acceptance of change.
I am broken.
On June 8th, 2019, my latest blog was due. I had ideas for the subject. What I didn’t have was time. The past month has been the heaviest writing month of my writing career. There was a short story that I had to finish that was already in its third draft. There was another short story in need of revisions for an editor. There were two short story contests that I was helping to judge. There was a presentation I had to make at my local writers’ group that I did not wish to postpone. And of course, there were family obligations, recitals to attend, and a day job to do. Needless to say, I was swamped, but not burnt out. All of this got done. All except the blog post. And for that, I regret it.
I considered rushing my post for June out a few days late, but continued deadlines prevented even that. So here I am, during my personal blog letting you know my situation.
Will it happen again? I hope not. I can’t guarantee it won’t. It depends on my writing. My goal is to finish my last story revision by the end of the month and then take a short break after which I will begin one of two novel ideas I have. That will likely take to the end of the year to finish a first draft. Revisions could take a couple of months after that and then I intend to start shopping it around. By WWC in 2020 I hope to have it sold or agented at the very least. I’ll keep you all apprised of my progress.
I am broken like the Japanese pottery of old.
Repairing it won’t come with gold, or silver, or platinum. But it will come with work: blog posts that post on time, writing goals that are met.
In time, maybe the flaws and imperfections of my writing will look as beautiful as the one pictured above.

Short Story Announcement

I want to take this time to announce that one of the short stories announced above, “I Travelled the World Between,” has been accepted into the anthology Enigma Front: the Stories We Hide. This is the latest in the Enigma Front Anthology Series and it will launch this August at the When Words Collide Festival. I want to thank Chris Carolan and his crew of tireless editors and designers for launching this anthology. Congratulations on another job well done.

Ayy carumba! What a month I’m having!

A Breathe In, Breathe Out Post

Comic Expo is over. The IFWA Booth was a success and my thanks go to Sandy Fitzpatrick and Gary Renshaw for organizing and manning the booth for most of the weekend. I don’t think they left the booth together at any time during the Expo (which reminds me, I have to get my last copies of Shanghai Steam back from Sandy at the next IFWA meeting). It was great meeting people who passed our booth and I got to hand out my latest promo: bookmarks. I also got to meet some artists there who might be able to help me with book covers should I ever get any of my novels self-published. I didn’t expect many sales since all of my stories are in anthologies, but I did manage to get one. I think there will be an IFWA booth next year, so stay tuned. I may show up there again.

But this year, like the other years I’ve gone, was more about family than book sales. My sons came with me on the weekend days and we had fun wandering up and down the aisles and avoiding the horrific winter weather out there (and yes, Comic Expo is in April). Because of the weather, we didn’t get outside for the outdoor events (I always like watching the martial arts demos and quidditch).

This month has been productive but frustrating at the same time. I started the month with one story to revise for editors (now it’s two). I am helping judge a short story contest at work (it is for a short story contest for junior high students) as well as with my writers’ group. Plus, I have a presentation to finish up (and one that is overdue). My novel work has taken a nosedive as a result of all these other responsibilities. I didn’t plan it this way. I thought I spaced things out well, but here we are. So, two steps forward, and a couple steps back. I figure I can get back to working on that novel once July comes along.

Part of the writing life, at least until you’ve made it as a full-time author, is trying to eke out time to write while juggling employment, family, and other activities. Every writer at the beginning of their writing life has to do this. I can’t complain. I have an embarrassment of riches. I have a supportive family who let me get away and write when I can.

My problem seems to be my “muse.” My muse doesn’t seem to want to come out and play during those times I am able to get away. I have an hour here and an hour there to get things done, but I’m usually so tired by that time, I just want to sleep. Needless to say, productivity goes to a crawl.

So that’s the question I have for all you readers out there. What do you do to ensure you are productive during your writing time? Let me know your thoughts down below.

A Chill in the Air

In January, 2019, Amalie Wen Zhao author of Blood Heir, her debut YA novel, asked her publisher, Delecorte Press, not publish her novel. This was after the internet exploded when a beta reader posted a review accusing Zhao of racism and insensitivity towards black people.

She apologized for putting out a book that was “unintentionally racist” in the fact that she included the death of a black man in one scene in a book dealing with slavery in China (her place of birth).
Much has been said about this controversy and how we should respond. Some of those responses include:
a) authors should be encouraged to be sensitive, but there are no gatekeepers
b) let the market decide
c) let her fight back with the facts. She should publish and damn whatever people say.

Now this book will undoubtedly sell well when it is finally published with all the controversy it has generated. But it does pose a good question: what responsibility do we have as writers and artists to write something that is “sensitive”? Do we need sensitivity readers? Should a sensitivity reader who doesn’t like language or a specific scene be allowed to derail a book that, according to the publisher, is ready to be released? At that point in the publishing cycle, when ARCs are distributed to various reviewers, there should only be minor typos and revisions to be made.

Also, art is supposed to challenge us, to make us feel uncomfortable at times. So maybe you should be encouraged to write that book that has controversial topics in it.

As for letting the market decide, well, the market ultimately decides whether your book stays on shelves. But I don’t like the idea of the market telling me what to write. That is a form of censorship. Write what you want. And self-publish if you have to.

Be brave. If you have a book that has been well-researched, well-written and is crafted in a sensitive manner, stand your ground. But not everyone is up for fighting twitter battles every day, or monitoring trollish comments on their website.

So there is a chill in the air that this will happen again (and it has) with implications far beyond the world of YA publishing. It hits every sector of the publishing world. As long as the cancel culture exists as a hammer in the shadows waiting to clobber anyone they deem unworthy, authors will self-eliminate themselves from ever sending in a manuscript to a perspective agent or publisher. And that makes me sad.

So what can we do? What is our takeaway here?

Find sensitivity readers early. Get them to point anything that might be culturally insensitive. You don’t have to agree with them. But at least you know where your book may have problems that you need to deal with before or after publication.

Be a friendly voice on the internet. Don’t feed the trolls and speak up in defence of authors whose voices are being squashed unfairly. Many of Zhao’s earliest critics hadn’t even cracked page one of her book.

Encourage and support your favourite author, published or not. We need voices, as many as you can find. Write.

As of April 29, 2019, in an article in the New York Post, Amilie Wen Zhao has changed her mind and will publish Blood Heir later this year. I applaud this decision and her bravery and I am sure it will be successful. I think I might have to buy one on launch day.