Nastasha Alli was born and raised in the Philippines and came to Canada in 2007. For her writing at the intersection of food and diaspora communities, she won a Food Sustainability Media Award from the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Her work has been featured on CBC Radio and her recipe published in a “top cookbook of 2018” by the San Francisco Chronicle.
She answers the question “Why is research important in your “Exploring Filipino Kitchens” podcast?” on the Artsy Raven podcast, Episode 12. This clip is an excerpt from the episode.
Kirsten McNeill is a writer, editor and business owner of KM Writing Services. She answers the question “How do you deal with a negative review?” on the Artsy Raven podcast, Episode 6. This clip is an excerpt from the episode.
Admittedly I have a little bit of imposter syndrome because I don’t write in just one genre. I’m greedy and as a speculative fiction writer, my stories may involve horror, fantasy and science fiction all mashed together sometimes. For my horror author pic I used the PITU app which I adore to make myself look eerie. My husband says I laugh like a maniac whenever I use this app, but I can’t help it, it’s hilarious to play with!
For this panel I will be reading a pure horror story – My Girl, which I made a YouTube reading of (link here) earlier this month. It was inspired by a time when I had a miscarriage. In this story, a woman has a chance to giver her dead baby life by stealing the life of another baby’s. If this was possible, would women do this? I have no doubt that some would and some wouldn’t. It depends on a person’s values in the end even if they are in a horror story.
I’m also trying something new at this panel, the King Sumo raffle service. We’ll be giving away some Dark Helix books in a digital raffle and one audience member will walk away with a few books.
To get everyone into the holiday spirits for some merriment and laughter despite COVID-19 still lingering about, here is a podcast of me reading a story about mom cancelling Christmas after finding a severed Barbie doll head. I had originally written it for the Renaissance Press Holiday Blog Roll 2017. Text of the story is re-posted below, enjoy!
The Year Christmas Got Cancelled
One year, a fake auntie (not blood related) gave my sister and I a real Barbie doll to share. We never had a real Barbie before because they cost too much. We only got the Bargain Harold’s or Woolco generic dolls. I remember not wanting to play with Barbie anyways because I would rather play with Transformers, which was more interesting.
A few days before Christmas, a blood curdling scream went through the house. My seven year old sister and I were doing extra Kumon math exercises without any joy. We shrugged and continued our grueling work. Mom screamed a lot; she could be either yelling on the phone at someone or mad about something on tv. Our tiny bodies tensed when she appeared in the doorway of the living room, holding a severed Barbie head by its long blonde hair.
“Who did this?” Mom demanded in her loud voice in Cantonese. Her giant afro perm bobbed up and down, as she stormed into the room and flickered a severed Barbie head by it’s long blonde hair in our faces. She was a tiny woman, but had enough power to topple over any mountain or rip apart any savage animal in our eyes.
Being the wiser ten year old, I shook my head and spoke calmly. “I don’t know mommy.”
My sister was frozen with fear, but after a few seconds of silence, parroted me in a squeaky voice, “I don’t know!”
Both of us looked around for our younger brother who was five. He was nowhere to be seen, but it didn’t matter, he was the golden child and could do no wrong.
“Christmas is cancelled! No more presents! You are naughty children and presents should go to good children!” My mother was livid that no one was owning up to destroying an expensive doll. We rarely got any toys from our parents because there was no extra money in an immigrant family home in which chocolate milk was considered a luxury.
I sighed and tried not to roll my eyes. A few years ago my mother had suddenly told me that Santa didn’t exist, but my cynical seven year old self was already aware of this. I was more upset then that my shrine to Jesus had been ignored by everyone and became an atheist soon after. As the first child, I was continuously being experimented on by my parents.about:blankREPORT THIS AD
“But we don’t get presents from you anyways,” my sister smirked.
“I’m talking about all presents! Even from other people! You are all bad children!”
“No, mommy! I want presents from the uncles and aunties and Santa!” My sister started wailing and crying.
Mother looked happy that one child had reacted to her stern lecturing. “There is no Santa! Hahaha! Now who took apart this Barbie?”
“I don’t know,” I said in an exasperated tone.
My mother shot daggers in my direction as she glared at me.
“It wasn’t me!” My sister sobbed, her chubby cheeks becoming red and streaked with tears.
“No one is confessing? No more Christmas!” My mother stormed off to dispose of the doll head.
“What do we do now? What did she mean that there’s no Santa?” My sister asked me.
I shrugged. “It’s ok, she’ll calm down and change her mind. I’m sorry, the whole Santa thing was really mom and dad all along.”
“Oh,” my sister said as she wiped her tears. “No wonder Santa always gave us such crappy presents.”
As with many things, I was wrong about mom changing her mind about un-cancelling Christmas. I also never found out who tore off the doll head. In the following years, any presents given to us were never seen by us. It’s presumed that they were re-gifted to another child who deserved presents.
Although we didn’t get presents at Christmas, we still got red pockets (cash) at Chinese New Year, birthdays and whenever we passed any big tests. Admittedly all the red pockets went into our bank account which we later learned was paying for household expenses.
There is a Chinese idiom about daughters: “Daughters are water poured out of the family after they get married.”
After I started dating a Caucasian Canadian guy in university, my Christmases were spent with his family. We eventually married as well and he was relieved that there were no fights about splitting up the Christmas holidays since my family didn’t celebrate it.
My sister and I have children now and they have great Christmases compared to our childhoods. Maybe we are trying too hard to compensate for the fact that we didn’t celebrate it or have any toys and want our kids to have everything. I hope that the kids don’t end up being spoiled brats! They will sigh as I tell them this story about Christmas being cancelled and probably won’t believe me since grandma always brings them presents!
Last week I had a business meeting with The Artist Blueprint Company‘s President (let’s call him K) and we really like to eat while talking. We went out for Taiwanese hot pot buffet and we cooked a lot of raw food (beef, lamb, chicken, pork, quail eggs, vegetables, noodles, etc) in a boiling cauldron of soup. The Artist Blueprint is another publishing company based in Toronto that specializes in diverse stories. We have done very different things as Dark Helix is broadening its horizons on subject matters (we got a lot of criticism from the Asian community about our Trump book) and exploring magazine publishing while Artist Blueprint is looking to create more merchandise creation beyond their current e-books. We are always looking for opportunities for collaborate and it’s good to brainstorm together.
Alas that night was my husband’s “night out” so I needed to bring my 3 year old son to my meeting. He’s ok once Paw Patrol is on the iPad (I admit I feel guilty for having judged other parents for doing this before I had my son) since he falls into zombie mode and I can talk without interruption. I’ve been asking for permission to bring my son along to informal meetings because it makes my life easier. K is a really cool guy and he has no problems. In another meeting my husband had a work emergency and I had to bring my son because I couldn’t find a last minute babysitter. The person I met with was male and he was questioning me on my motives (meeting was for planning a literary conference). He said I should focus on being a mother and to drop my volunteer work for conference planning. I told him that all my work is to make a better future/world for my son…On the flip side, in a meeting with ladies on creating a seminar series for writers, they said they wanted me to bring my son so they could play with him!
On Twitter today, a business reporter, Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) shared her story about how hard it was to get to a tv station to do reporting on behalf of the New York Times because of child constraints. She talked about how hard it would have been to book a nanny for 7am on the day of before rushing to the tv station and that she gave up many opportunities because of her child. The trolls came out, both males and females. Males told her that she made journalists seem lazy because they couldn’t do their job properly. Females said that sacrifice was inevitable and to stop complaining. Both sexes went on about how their jobs were worse and how they can handle life better.
At a recent conference, someone told me that they were surprised that I had a child. I don’t try to hide this, but I don’t bring it up either unless asked. I am very aware there is stigma from some against people with children because it is deemed to be a weakness. That children are the ultimate excuse when deadlines are missed, the reason why parents can’t do more social events, etc. For those who are balancing trying to keep a social life, work and be a good parent, it would be nice to see more encouragement rather than beat downs on Twitter. For every one nice comment there are thirty comments about how weak the parent is and how stupid they are. Why can’t people just be nice to each other?! We all have our own struggles and in helping each other we can all do a little bit to make the world a better place.
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.
A few weeks ago, I commented to my Viking husband that men are supposed to be able to breastfeed. After all, they have nipples like women and granted, they would need a boost of prolactin hormone, but it is a possibility. A Scientific America article talks about the real possibility of breastfeeding men and how throughout history there have been references of men breastfeeding babies in the absence of a mother.
This youtube video here shows a man pumping his breast and doing feeding his infant son. The reactions are fairly negative from his friends who thinks he is being weird and even his wife gives him an odd look towards the end. If a baby can get nutrients and a range of protective antibodies from the mother, I think it would be beneficial to get a fair share of protection from their father too!
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in my husband’s reaction to a potential experiment. He thought I was being silly, but I was serious about attempting to make him produce milk! Really feeling the shaft here as I have to carry this baby thing for nine months, not sleep due to lots of bladder pressure, rejig my organs, have a painful childbirth, take 1 year off and breast feed (my sister compared breast feeding initially to a shark attack). Also, my productivity in everything is slowed down as well since I am exhausted all the time which makes me feel useless on a daily basis. Of course he says he’ll pay the price in different ways…so we’ll see!
On Goodreads I recently met Cynthia Vespia, the acclaimed author of the fantasy saga Demon Hunter. Her first novel, a medieval fiction entitled The Crescent was published in August 2005. The novel was unanimously praised as “an engaging, descriptive read” which prompted a sell-out at Borders Bookstore in less than one hour during the first official signing.
I’m currently working on the sequel to my acclaimed Demon Hunter series, titled DEMON HUNTRESS. It follows the daughter of my lead character as she follows in her father’s footsteps and takes up the role of hunter.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Every author has a different voice. I have been told I’m a multi-genre writer. I’ve included romance in horror novels, and comedy in thrillers. I write what comes naturally to me to make the best story possible.
Why do I write what I do?
I write what I like to read. I’ve been a fan of fantasy since I was a kid reading Piers Anthony or C.S Lewis. As I grew my tastes grew into more mainstream thrillers. So I still dabble in both genres. I can’t help where I get my story ideas.
How does my writing process work?
I get a spark of an idea and develop it from their with a rough outline. My character profiles will go in depth but I tend not to flush out too much of the actual story because it ruins the spontaneity.
Throughout December 2013 I had been travelling throughout Tokyo, Japan and Seoul, S. Korea since there was a major family wedding in Korea.
To my surprise, people thought that I was whatever they were and would speak to me at length before realizing I didn’t understand. Then I would get the “this girl is a deaf mute” look. This has happened before in China (I speak Cantonese, not Mandarin), but I didn’t expect people to think that I was Japanese or Korean.
My Viking husband labelled me the “generic Asian” as he was quite amused by all this. With his red hair and beard, people didn’t even try to speak to him. I learned how to say “I don’t understand/don’t know” in Mandarin, Japanese and Korean. However, people sometimes interpreted this as I didn’t know the answer to a question. My brother in law suggested that I learn how to say “I have a mental disability” which may work better.
I was so amused by my new nickname that I decided to rename my blog to “Musings of a Generic Asian” from “Musings of JF Garrard”.
Unfortunately, there was some negative stuff as well which was obvious from angry speech and body language – that I am a terrible Asian as I am hanging out with non-Asian people. Usually it would be an older Asian man that would come up to me directly and say a long speech with nasty glares.
I was being made to feel ashamed that I was a bad Japanese/Korean when I was Chinese. I’ve never traveled to China with my husband, so I’m not sure if we would experience the same thing there. Generally, I think this happened so often because the older generation wants to enforce their rules on the younger generation.
Regardless, it was a wonderful trip and I have been inspired to create art again after a visit to the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) and National Musuem of Modern and Contemporary Art in Deoksugung. It was amazing to see the fusion of Eastern and Western art techniques and the powerful messages behind each piece.
I don’t think I’ll see my husband much this year as I want to finish up a few books, travel to a few conventions, start a podcast and create some cultural identity art!
Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll put together my pics and comments, so stay tuned!