Diversity Is For The Next Generation

Lately I’ve been asked a lot about why I do what I do by other writers and random people I deliver talks to.

Recently I participated in a panel about The Ghost In The Shell Controversy at Anime North and had originally written initial thoughts here – comparing the movie to a sub-par hamburger. Before the panel started, a fellow panelist whispered, “I’m glad that we have a token Asian on this panel!” Yup, I was the only non-white person on a panel which was about diversity.

Originally I wasn’t sure if we had enough material to fill an hour criticizing this Japanese manga based movie, but the audience filled the air with questions. The audience was very respectful and really wanted to understand why there was a controversy. A few panelists believed that nothing should change and things were fine. It was a bit disappointing, but I thought it was good that they had a forum to voice their opinions.

I was impressed that another panelist said that their issue was that the movie was about an Asian girl who grew up to become a white female robot and they found this horrifying as well as sad. That being Asian was not perfect and the worst! After they said this, black girls in the audience started snapping their fingers in the air!

We were asked again and again why there was a diversity problem in this movie. Finally I blurted out, “The issue is that the Asians in Asia don’t care about the Asians in North America!” An Asian girl approached me at the end and thanked me for that.

The Asian culture has been well established in Asia. But Asians in North America that don’t consider themselves Asians from Asia. This is a new phenomenon. Well, not that new, given the railroads were built in the 1800s and all. The new generations of Asians or “bananas/coconuts” (white on inside, yellow/brown on outside) grew up in a different culture and are outsiders in North America and in Asia. We are discriminated by our ancestors’ culture and in the culture we live in. We aren’t good enough for either sides.

The diversity issue is important to us because we know we don’t want to go back to Asia and want to contribute to the society we live in currently, outside of Asia. We want to share our insights and add to the arts. However, when you are told over and over again that you are not good enough to contribute anything; while being told that yes, you are an equal in society (since you pay taxes), you become angry at the hypocrisy.

“You’ll never be seen as a Canadian,” my father told me once. “People think you are from China.” He was telling me to stop believing that I fit into Canadian society and to accept that there was no equality here. He always thought that I was a naive optimist who dreamed too much. If there is no change, he is correct, we will never be able to fit into society we live in.

The other day I met with some famous Asian Canadian writers to invite them as guests to speak at a future Asian literature conference in Toronto. I had to bring my toddler with me because my husband couldn’t babysit last minute. Anyhow, these two men (both had no kids) were asking me why I was planning a conference when I had a child to take care of. What was my motive? 

I do what I do for the next generation, was my answer, as I held my wiggly toddler who was kicking me in the shin the whole time. He’s half Asian and half Caucasian – he’s not going to fit in anywhere as a halfie (or hybrid as some people tell me). Sometimes I feel guilty because I think life would have been easier for him if he was fully Caucasian. That somehow my Asian blood contaminated his future. I know this stems from an inferiority complex, of being told everyday that you aren’t good enough…Fighting for equality is draining and there are days when I just want to give up.

But, I can’t give up, I don’t have a choice. By bringing more Asian literature and diversity debates into the world, the next generation will not have to fight as much to have their voices heard and perhaps live in a better world we envisioned for ourselves when we were younger.

Heck, to be honest, I don’t want to waste my time debating about being Asian or what not either. Until everyone is on equal footing, these conversations will continue. As I mentioned in one of my talks at Anime North, there are more robots and aliens on book covers than Asian people! Somehow, that doesn’t sit well with me, which is why I speak up as much as I can.

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The Truth About Submissions And Why Editors Reject Your Story

The following is a response to a writer who submitted to the Trump: Utopia or Dystopia Anthology and had questions about what to expect when submitting stories, what it means when they receive comments and why they need to rewrite:

Hi XX,

I am glad that you wrote in with questions, don’t be afraid to always ask – I don’t believe that anyone is a true expert, everyone is always learning.

Generally when you submit anything, you will never hear anything other than, “sorry your piece didn’t make it into the book/magazine.”

As a small publisher for the Trump Anthology we got over 100 submissions (deadline isn’t over yet). An agent typically gets 10,000 submissions/year. Big publishers even more. It is a tough, tough business to select and chose stories. Then it’s another tough road to sell it to readers. 9/10 books don’t sell to recoup costs of editing/formatting/publishing. It’s the one superstar that pays for everything for the publisher during that year.

When a story is selected, it’s because:

1) it connected with the editor (super subjective and editors read a lot, so the story has to be super special),

2) it was well polished, which means that the publisher buying doesn’t need to invest more time/money into the piece,

3) it was an ok story which the editor knows will be an easy sell to the readers.

To be honest, yours is perhaps the 95th story in which the story focuses on a violent incident. After getting so many of them, they all start to blend together unless there was something different about it.

For example, there is a lot of death and violence in one story we bought – “Trump Vs The Zombies” by E. Reyes. His story was the best one selected in which Trump built a wall to keep out zombies (there were about 5 of them) and because he is Mexican American, some of his cultural background also made it into the story. There were many creative twists in the story that made the editors want to  keep reading.

Most likely we will pass on your story, I have another editor I work with on making such decisions. We held back on rejection letters as we wanted to get everything in the pool first before we started tossing out stuff. We are going to send a note out to people to let them know that we will be sending out rejections soon. Already one writer wrote back to let us know that he sold his story to another publisher which is great. That’s why we allow simultaneous submissions; we don’t want writers to miss out on another publisher buying even if we don’t!

When you submit a story and get feedback, that is the most valuable part of submitting. If people don’t give a shit, they won’t give you any feedback.

Think about why we sent you such questions or comments and yes, it means a rewrite.

The next version could be sold to another publisher or you can self-publish yourself. On other projects, I’ve worked with editing teams in which we presented such questions to writers and they refused to rewrite. This means we could not recommend the publisher to buy because it means the writer isn’t willing to meet a higher standard.

There was another story in which we had numerous comments/questions, however, the main theme in the short story connected with us. This means another 4-6 months of editing back and forth (between editors & writer) to get the words and ideas in the story to flow properly to make the story better. If we didn’t like the story, we wouldn’t bother spending so much time cleaning up their writing. Another story was so well polished; we finalized it in 3 weeks.

No matter how good of a writer you are, you will always need an editor. I see writing as an art form and it takes time to discover your voice and to perfect a piece, like a painting (I used to be a painter). Anyhow, expect a rewrite every time you receive comments. It will get to a point in which the editor is satisfied and then it will be published. Then sometimes post publishing readers will point out stuff and then another rewrite. It really never ends sometimes…

I hope that you have a day job as many full time writers struggle to eat. It’s hard to become a writer superstar. I don’t think it was every easy – we just never hear about the struggles as much. Self-publishing does fill the gap for those who want to publish, but even for self-publishing, higher standards are being brought in or else readers will not trust this new group of publishers. The landscape continuously changes and I don’t think anyone knows what the secret is to becoming a writer superstar.

Anyhow, hope this helps and let me know if you have any more questions.

JF

If You Care, Delete The Email!

The other day I didn’t sleep and managed to finish the first Dark Helix Press newsletter which contained pictures of the Anime North 2017 conference and some news about book projects.

During the conference I had collected about 100 emails and wanted to start an email list because I will lose momentum (perhaps even misplace the signup sheets) and my book promo dates were running out. Along with con goers, I also looked through my personal email and built a second list of friends and family who I thought would be interested in receiving news about my projects.

Whenever a small business person you know (such as real estate or financial adviser, etc) adds you to their list of newsletters or mass emails, you probably think it’s spam. Why are they sending me stuff? My name isn’t on it!

Well, they are sending you information about their services because they think that you are a kind, wonderful person who will support them in their goals. Running a business is hard work and back breaking. If they thought about you enough to add you to their email list, it means you are important to them. They think that you are a person who will ask them about their business next time you meet them and that you will pass on the information to anyone who is interested.

This is why I was so hurt when I received an email from someone who told me to piss off because I was wasting their time. This person was the most quiet, gentlest, nicest being. I thought for a while about why I was feeling this way. Obviously CBT is working here, normally I would just spiral into depression!

It’s a small thing for someone to ask you to remove them from a mailing list. I thought about it for a long time and concluded that they: 1) do not support what I’m doing and 2) they are very busy and I shouldn’t bother them because I am not worth any of their time.

They could be struggling with something and lashing out, I don’t know. I emailed them a confirmation that they were off the list. I still felt really bad, so I tried calling them to apologize and to see what was going on, but they hung up on my “hello, how are you?” Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow, but perhaps I should focus on my more positive friends with my limited time on Earth. As all business people know, we don’t like burning bridges.

Friends and family knew I had been really hurting last year from my dad’s death and had fallen into a deep, deep depression. The fact that I pulled up the straps of my boots, managed to even attend a conference (it was such a struggle to “turn on” my game face) and make a newsletter meant I was feeling better.

Usually newsletters and mass emails are not personal to makes it easier to pass onto the next person. Also, the small business person does not have time to write messages on thousands of emails. They barely have time to eat dinner…

Newsletters and mass emails are not sent out forever and ever. One day the business or the author will die and no more will be created. Receiving some news is better than silence if you care about the person.  Delete if you don’t want to read but know they are well and alive. You are a good person if you receive any!

I hope I put newsletters and other emails you get from your small business owner friends in a new light!