Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Decolonizing Myself

The very first book I ever wrote was a space adventure. I was 12, going on 13. I'd recently discovered the delights of sci-fi (thanks to the Wishbone book Unleashed in Space, an adaptation of Jack Williamson's classic Legion of Space, which led me down a rabbit hole of old school sci-fi). I wanted nothing more than to partake in the intrepid journeys across the stars, so I did what any creatively minded tween would do: I wrote self-insert fanfic. Except in my head, it was original because, of course, my ship had a different name, and my crew was unique. The main character was, of course, a brave renegade of a commander. And the second most important character? His clever tween daughter, along for the ride. Hence the self-insert.

Except something funny happened on the way to sci-fi-land: I whitewashed the character who was supposed to me... I whitewashed myself. The commander, of course, had to be a chisel-jawed white guy who bore a strong resemblance to Kevin Sorbo (I'd also recently discovered Hercules on TV). And his daughter? A dead ringer for a tween Natalie Portman. I cast a white girl as myself (yes, I know that Natalie Portman is Jewish... at the time I thought she was white-white, and that's part of the point of this post). Heroes were white. Protagonists were white. So if I wanted to come along for the space ride, the fictional version of me had to be white. I thought nothing of it... This was just the way things were. Girls who actually looked like me? They had no place on starships, and I accepted it. I didn't even realize I was accepting it... it just was.

Fast forward a decade or so. I'd just graduated college and wanted to try the whole writing thing again. And once again, I wanted to write a space adventure (because space adventures are AWESOME). I got into the whole thing because a good friend of mine, who'd studied creative writing in college, wanted to dive into a new book project, but missed the community (and motivation) that her classes had provided her. So I volunteered to be her one-woman critique group. She thought it'd be more fun to swap writing, and I thought, "what the heck." Since I was doing this whole writing thing purely for fun, I was gonna compose yet another out-of-this-world adventure across the stars... except I'd work a bit harder to be original and, you know, write an actual book instead of another thinly veiled self-insert fanfic.

And once again, something funny happened on the way to sci-fi land: every primary character ended up white. Not because I was consciously deciding to make them white, but because that's just the way things were. Sci-fi characters were white. Maybe black now and then. Definitely not Asian. Never Asian. (I'd only watched Star Trek: The Next Generation at this point, so no Sulu or Kim in my memories to show me otherwise). There wasn't any blatant self-insert this time, but my main character was loosely inspired by people I knew, almost all of whom were Asian, and had a background as a musician that drew upon my own experiences.

So naturally, she wound up a dead ringer for Anne Hathaway.

My friend, meanwhile, was writing a dystopia starring an Asian teen girl. I remember thinking, "Well, that's kind of weird, but okay, it's her book." And when I read her manuscript, it felt... almost unnatural... to be reading a pretty general YA dystopia (not one set in post-apocalyptic Beijing or anything) with an Asian girl as the lead. Somewhere in my subconscious, tucked so deep it never even occurred to me to consider, I believed that you could only have Asian protagonists if you were writing an Asian book... something specifically about the Asian experience (like Joy Luck Club).

My friend joked that her main character physically resembled me. So I thought I'd get her back by having one of my characters physically resemble her. Not the main character of course--that would involve making her Asian, and Asian girls don't go to space!--but a secondary character who'd originally been written as a blond bombshell. The character was an interstellar pop star, and her attractiveness was often remarked upon.

So how did I describe her? "Exotic." Of course. Didn't you know that's how you describe Asian beauties? Especially when you're writing a space book with no recognizable geographies, and you need some way to signal "Asian" to your audience?

I had no idea that by using that word, I was perpetuating a colonialist stereotype that fetishized Asian women. Just like I had no idea that mentally casting Anne Hathaway as my main character was a way of erasing my own Asian-ness. It just was. You breathe air, you drink water, you cast white people as sci-fi protagonists, and you describe attractive Asian women as "exotic." That's how the world works.

Except it's not. And on some level, I knew that. It started bugging me more and more... why was I using the word "exotic"? And if my friend, who was East Asian like me, could write a sci-fi book with an East Asian lead, why couldn't I?

I ended up taking out the word "exotic" and replacing it with more descriptive adjectives (what the hell does "exotic" look like anyway? Everything is exotic from someone's point of view). As for the main character... It still felt weird, almost unnatural, for her to be Asian. Especially since there was nothing explicitly Asian about the book. It was a space adventure with evil robots and faraway planets and dogfights between the stars, inspired by a hundred other space adventures, written mostly by white dudes. In other words, it "reads white."

Except... I wrote it. 

So I compromised with myself... I'd make her biracial. Half me and half white, because she has to have some grounding in what's acceptable. I realize now that this line of thinking is super insulting to actual biracial people, and for that, I apologize. I honestly didn't know any better. 

Now, this was back before #WeNeedDiverseBooks trended. This was before I was even really on Twitter. Diversity wasn't a topic that ever crossed my mind.

Having my main character's celebrity lookalike be Chloe Bennet instead of Anne Hathaway changed nothing about her personality. Or the way she was described, really. The only signifier of her ethnicity was her mother's Chinese last name. Meanwhile, her name twin is an Englishwoman.

By the way, I'm talking about Jane Colt, protagonist of my first published novel, Artificial Absolutes. The stock photo model on the cover is a white girl with dark hair--a photo I approved because I figured, "close enough." It's not like stock photo libraries are teeming with Eurasian models. I suppose we could have gone with a model-less cover, but I have a thing about faces on books... I've always loved them, and I wanted one badly... for all I knew, this would be the only book I'd ever publish (HAH!), and I wanted a face (to me, it speaks to the character-driven nature of the story). So I compromised. Again. Also, the pop star character is Sarah DeHaven, described as East Asian but still bears her blond-bombshell name.

What a mess.

The next book I wrote was a YA dark fantasy. My sister and I were joking around one night, and we decided that I should write the main girl character to look like her so she could be cast in a movie version. The main girl character wasn't the main main character (who was an "All American" white boy)--she was the Hermione to his Harry--so I was like, "haha, fine." It felt weirdly subversive, writing a central character who resembled my own sister.

I took it to the next level with the thing I wrote after that. The protagonist and narrator would be East Asian. I was really being subversive this time! How sad is it that writing a character who shared my ethnicity felt revolutionary? And yet, it still felt weird, almost unnatural. The book was just a regular ole teen sci-fi novel, after all. It was set in Future United States, not Future China or anything. There were no tiger moms or concubines or anything. 


That book eventually became Starswept, which one reader implied wasn't Asian enough to count as
"diverse." I beg your goddamn pardon. And what's sad is, I'm sure this person wasn't alone in thinking that. They were just the only one boneheaded enough to put it in writing.

All these things I just talked about were written before diversity became "a thing" in publishing (especially YA publishing). Just using the name my mother gave me instead of a pen name felt like a risk. I still wonder if I should have gone with initials and an English-sounding surname.

Looking back just a few years later, I realize just how much colonialism's history affected my writing. Colonialism depended on the idea that white was superior, and that if you wanted to be worthy but weren't lucky enough to be white, at the very least, you should act white. And in my case, that meant writing white. Or feeling like not writing white was some freakish thing to do.

The writing, of course, was just a manifestation of a mentality that speaks of the world I grew up in. My parents were Chinese immigrants, but I was born here. And as a kid, I wanted to fit in--like every other kid. I was the only Asian person in my class. I was the weird, exotic one. I quickly learned to hide the Chinese snacks my parents packed me so no one could wrinkle their noses at them. I didn't want to take Chinese lessons because I didn't see the point... I was American. And if that meant whitewashing myself, so be it.

It wasn't until my mid-twenties that I realized how screwed up that way of thinking was. De-colonizing myself and my own way of thinking has been an ongoing process. Just the other week, my mom brought me a large box of green tea and lychee pastries from China. I protested, saying I couldn't possibly finish them, and she said, "Bring them to your coworkers!" I immediately balked. They'll think those snacks are disgusting, I thought. Just like my classmates did. They'll think I'm disgusting. But she'd met me during my lunch break, and I had no choice but to go back to the office with all these snacks in tow. And since I couldn't exactly hide them, I reminded myself that I wasn't a little kid anymore and shouldn't fear sharing my weird Chinese snacks. So I put them out on my desk. And they were a total hit--my coworkers thought they were awesome and delicious.

Of course they did. Our office is in NYC, where new and different foods are celebrated.

Yet I couldn't shake that lingering fear of being seen as weird and gross. Just like I still can't shake that lingering fear of being seen only as an Asian author, not as, well, just an author. Who sometimes writes Asian characters, and sometimes doesn't. Who sometimes draws upon Asian experiences, and sometimes just wants to write a Western-style space adventure, because she grew up with the same Star Wars movies as her white peers.

Now, with every new project, I always question myself at the planning phases. What am I writing because I made a conscious decision, and what am I writing because that's just the way things are? Because nothing's absolute; despite how it feels, nothing just is. And if it feels that way, that's because it's the dominant narrative--the narrative put in place by colonists generations ago. A fish doesn't feel water, but that doesn't mean water's absolute.

I'm doing my best to see the water. It's an ongoing challenge; it's not one with a set endpoint. I'm doing my best to reflect that awareness in my life and in my writing. Of course, I'm far from perfect. I still make mistakes, most of them because I don't know what I don't know. But I hope, that by continuing to try, try, try, I can keep chipping away at the colonialist attitudes that once had me erasing and whitewashing myself.

It still feels odd to read a sci-fi book with a non-white lead. Odd in a good way, but still. I'd rather it be mundane. I'd rather there be so many sci-fi stories with non-white leads that it just isn't a thing anymore. It becomes natural; it becomes part of the water you don't see. But we still have a long, long, long, long way to go until we reach that day.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

COVER REVEAL: Phoenix Descending / Dorothy Dreyer

Today I'm helping reveal the gorgeous cover for Dorothy Dreyer's upcoming NA fantasy, Phoenix Descending! The cover was designed by Deranged Doctor Design. You can learn more about the book, which releases on November 28 from Snowy Wings Publishing, below. But first, check out the cover!

   

Title: Phoenix Descending (Book One of The Curse of the Phoenix Duology)
Author: Dorothy Dreyer
Release Date: November 28, 2017
Publisher: Snowy Wings Publishing
Since the outbreak of the phoenix fever in Drothidia, Tori Kagari has already lost one family member to the fatal disease. Now, with the fever threatening to wipe out her entire family, she must go against everything she believes in order to save them—even if that means making a deal with the enemy. When Tori agrees to join forces with the unscrupulous Khadulians, she must take on a false identity in order to infiltrate the queendom of Avarell and fulfill her part of the bargain, all while under the watchful eye of the unforgiving Queen’s Guard. But time is running out, and every lie, theft, and abduction she is forced to carry out may not be enough to free her family from death.
Add Phoenix Descending on Goodreads!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

STARSWEPT RELEASE DAY!!!!

Hi everyone! I'm thrilled to announce that STARSWEPT is officially out today! I really can't believe it... mostly because I've been working on it so long. I wrote the first draft way back in 2013... Which wasn't that long ago in the grand scheme of things, but feels like a different life (that was two apartments and two jobs ago!) The poor thing has been through a LOT, from hopeful highs to so-depressed-I-might-never-write-again lows, but now, its journey has finally ended. And whatever happens next, I'm proud of the little book I made.

Since going indie with it, I've done literally EVERYTHING in terms of production. No stock photos or templates or print-on-demand this time around... not that there's anything wrong with those (and I'll likely be returning to those for future projects... doing all the things was fun, but draining both mentally and financially). That meant coordinating a photo shoot, designing the interior (and picking out and editing every single one of those 39 chapter spreads), looking up printers, coordinating between the cover designer and the printer, packing 'em into boxes to ship to Amazon's warehouse or running to the post office every other day to fulfill orders myself... when I say I made this book, I mean, I feel like I made this book.

Anyway, the making part is done now. And here comes the hard part: selling the damn thing. Chances are, it's never going to make a lick of money (especially since I put prices as low as I could afford to... as much as possible, I wanted to remove price as a barrier to readers). But I don't care. Some will love it, some will hate it, and some will just go "meh"... it's out of my hands. Maybe it'll sink to the bottom of the rankings sea. Maybe I'll land a BookBub for it and get it into the hands of hundreds. Honestly, I really don't care. Of course I'll market like heck (mostly to get these goddamn boxes out of my apartment), but I'm not looking at sales figures as a measure of success.

In my mind, it's already a success. My book is AWESOME. And totally gorgeous (What? I worked hard on it, so I'm allowed to preen :-P). And most reviewers agree! Like Kirkus. And Foreword Clarion. And Blue Ink. (*preen preen preen*)

And now, to do it all again for the sequel...

ABOUT THE BOOK

Some melodies reach across the stars.

In 2157, the Adryil—an advanced race of telepathic humanoids—contacted Earth. A century later, 15-year-old violist Iris Lei considers herself lucky to attend Papilio, a prestigious performing arts school powered by their technology. Born penniless, Iris’s one shot at a better life is to attract an Adryil patron. But only the best get hired, and competition is fierce.

A sudden encounter with an Adryil boy upends her world. Iris longs to learn about him and his faraway realm, but after the authorities arrest him for trespassing, the only evidence she has of his existence is the mysterious alien device he slipped to her.

When she starts hearing his voice in her head, she wonders if her world of backstabbing artists and pressure for perfection is driving her insane. Then, she discovers that her visions of him are real—by way of telepathy—and soon finds herself lost in the kind of impossible love she depicts in her music.

But even as their bond deepens, Iris realizes that he’s hiding something from her—and it’s dangerous. Her quest for answers leads her past her sheltered world to a strange planet lightyears away, where she uncovers secrets about Earth’s alien allies that shatter everything she knows.

Now available from Snowy Wings Publishing! Find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and more.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

COVER REVEAL: Locked / K.M. Robinson



Book Description

When the girl with the golden hair is betrayed, no one has hope of surviving.

The stories say that Goldilocks ran away, but being forced over the wall and separated from the man she cares for was hardly her choice.

Now, uncertain if any of her friends survived the brutal attack, Auluria must work with her former handler, Shadoe, and raise a new army to invade the Society and take back that which is hers: Dov Baer, his family, their friends, and their freedom.

She’s willing to do whatever it takes, but this time, it’s not herdeception that will cause everyone in her world to burn.

Allegiances are changing, and at any moment, anyone in her world could destroy her.

Coming soon from Snowy Wings Publishing!

Author Bio

K.M. Robinson is a storyteller who creates new worlds both in her writing and in her fine arts conceptual photography. She is a marketing, branding and social media strategy educator who is recognized at first sight by her very long hair. She is a creative who focuses on photography, videography, couture dress making, and writing to express the stories she needs to tell. She almost always has a camera within reach.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Packing for Gen Con!

Damn, Gen Con starts on Thursday, and I'm driving out tomorrow night! It's an 11 hour trip by car for me, so I'm driving halfway tomorrow night (stopping somewhere in God-Knows-Where, Pennsylvania) and the other half Wednesday, then setting up. This is my third year, so I know the drill!

I'll be selling FOUR new titles at Gen Con this year. FOUR. Namely, Brave New Girls: Stories of Girls Who Science and Scheme (woohoo! new antho!), The Adventure of the Silicon Beeches (this one's a tiny novella, so it's easy to slip into other boxes), Love, Murder & Mayhem (grabbed a stack from Crazy 8 Press at Shore Leave!), and Starswept (making an early, soft-launch appearance).

Of course, this makes packing my car a headache. Last year, I was bringing the same few titles as the previous year, so I just looked at 2015's sales numbers and brought comparable numbers. This year, though... I'm at a loss. Instinct tells me to bring the same number of Artificial Absolutes that I sold last year, but I'll also have Starswept this time. I'm probably gonna push the latter more since it's new... does that mean I shouldn't bring as many of AA, since people who would have bough AA will probably grab Starswept instead? But what if Gen Con is more of a Firefly-style space adventure crowd than a teen sci-fi romance crowd, and they go for AA? HALP!

Fortunately, Paige Daniels has tons of copies of both Brave New Girls anthologies, leaving room in my car for me to bring both lots of AAs (in case I sell as many as last year) AND plenty of Starswepts (in case it turns out to be the big seller with its shiny foil letters). But next year, I'm going to have yet ANOTHER title... possibly two depending on how quickly I can write. I can't keep packing more books in my car under the philosophy of "I'd rather over-bring than run out"... I have a little sedan.

How do bookstores do this for a living?? Talk about writer problems!!

Monday, August 7, 2017

SPOTLIGHT: You Only Get One Shot / Kevin J. Kennedy & J.C. Michael




BOOK DESCRIPTION

What would you do if someone demanded you write the best story of your life, to be judged online? That your life depended on it.

Four well-known authors receive an email telling them they are responsible for a suicide. Their antagonist makes it clear she is out for revenge and they have no option but to comply. Their task is to post the best story they can imagine online and await judgement. Filled with guilt, anxiety, and even a few murderous tendencies, each writer weaves their tale and hopes for the best. It’ll be the competition of their lives. Who’s story will win? Will anyone survive?

If you enjoy tense, fast-paced horror, then you will love Kevin J. Kennedy and J.C. Michael’s You Only Get One Shot! Your shot is now. Read You Only Get One Shot today.

PRAISE FOR THE BOOK

"Kennedy & Michael's _You Only Get One Shot_ is quite a clever noir narrative, blending several gritty tales together into one unforgettable "escape by your wits" premise that will keep you turning the pages in terror till the twisty end is brilliantly unveiled. Gleefully disturbing and darkly terrifying to writers like me, this is such a clever and diffuse story, with the same puzzling torment of the SAW movies, but all the grit of a pulp crime novel. If you have this book in your hands or on the screen right now, you better buy it right away, because you only get one shot..."

Michael A. Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award winning author of Play Dead


"You Only Get One Shot gives all new meaning to a publishing deadline! Quite entertaining!" 

Weston Kincade, author of the 'A Life of Death' series.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin J Kennedy is the co-author of You Only Get One Shot, and the man behind the best-selling Collected Christmas Horror Shorts & Collected Easter Horror Shorts anthologies. His short stories have featured in many other notable anthologies in the horror genre.

Kevin lives in a small town in Scotland with his wife, step daughter and two strange little cats. 

Keep up to date with new releases or contact Kevin through his website: www.kevinjkennedy.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008339824069
Website: www.kevinjkennedy.co.uk
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5452895.Kevin_J_Kennedy
Twitter: @KevinJKennedy01