Current routine

In no particular order:

  • Study for the bar exam
  • Severely question my life choices
  • Stalk the hell out of my publisher’s webpage because I DESPERATELY NEED GOOD BOOKS TO READ, DAMMIT
  • Angst about my book until I start editing it. “No one’s going to like it, no one actually likes it, my writing career is already over…”
  • Rinse & repeat.

“But Aeon, you’ve already signed a contract for your novel, AND you know you’ll start editing in only a few months. Why are you still angsty?”

I have this little problem called “zero self esteem.”

Several things happened when I was growing up:

  • I was gaslit. A lot. To the point at which I felt I could no longer trust my own perceptions when it came to many things.
  • I was an undiagnosed autistic who had several experiences of friends suddenly abandoning me for no apparent reason, which has made me paranoid to this day that everyone I know secretly hates me behind my back.
  • I didn’t receive any support for my dream of being a writer. That meant I had to shoulder all of my doubts and anxieties on my own, and I had no one to cheer me on and reassure me that my writing was any good. I’ve had to be my own editor ever since I was 13.

The result: I frequently doubt my own abilities, and I can’t stop until I have some objective way of proving to myself that I am not, in fact, an awful writer whom no one will read. “Objective way” meaning “an actual book, published, that some people like.”

Unfortunately, the cycle of pessimistic thinking still hasn’t stopped right now, because I’m not there yet. It’s possibly gotten even worse because I feel like I have nothing to hold on to other than writing (I have an almost nonexistent social life, no romantic relationship, potentially uncertain employment situation with a low-paying job, and no indication that any of this will change in the near future).

Sigh. Living with anxiety, even low-level not-even-clinical-anxiety, is like walking on knife-point all the time.

 

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On chosen ones and failures

I used to love reading fantasy. I always called it my favorite genre bar none. I read it, I wrote it, and always imagined myself as being a fantasy writer.

So it was odd to me when I realized that I was gravitating much more toward science fiction. Maybe my tastes just naturally shifted, but recently I’ve been thinking about another reason—which is also a possible for reason why I don’t read as many Young Adult books as I used to.

Not all fantasy, but a significant amount of fantasy—and many Young Adult books—involve the idea of a “chosen one.” Someone who has special powers or heritage or skills and thereby becomes the hero who will save the world.

I think I’m at a point in my life where the idea of a “chosen one” just doesn’t feel relevant. I’m not at a low point, but I am at a point where I’d rather read about a protagonist who’s a failure than a protagonist who’s just discovering a shining future ahead of them.

Not everyone can be a genius or a prodigy. Not everyone can be an instant success. Sometimes we have to struggle for a long time to get what we want. Sometimes society imposes a barrier on us when we do so, because we’re a member of a marginalized group. And sometimes, we can’t even be sure that all of the time, effort, and resources we’re investing will even pay off.

That’s why I like reading about protagonists who are on the margins and/or already wrestling with failure. What I need in my life, more than entertainment, is hope—hope that even when you stumble, even when you fall, even when you struggle for so long and still can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel…that light is still there. That you will reach it some day. That you don’t have to be a long-lost royal heir or the only bearer of a unique magical power to have a happy ending; that ordinary people can get there, too.

Identity affects how you write

I’ve been thinking about this recently, especially in relation to an argument I’m having on Facebook (I should’ve known engaging with people on social media was bad…oh well).

When we talk about inequalities in the publishing industry, it’s often extremely difficult to talk about overt discrimination because the publishing industry is so opaque. Agents  and editors often won’t give a reason for rejecting a query other than they “just didn’t feel strongly about it” or “couldn’t connect with it.”

But the problem with saying you “couldn’t connect” or “don’t feel strongly” is that identity politics inherently get buried in there. An abled white person may very well say they “couldn’t connect” with a book about a disabled person of color, no matter how well it’s written.

Identity, and the nuances of lived experience, always affect what you write. That’s why, for example, a white person writing about an Asian character will often write a different portrayal from an Asian person writing about an Asian character. Or why a gay man writing about a gay character is different from a woman writing about a gay character. Etc. And to clarify, this is not meant as an argument for why “writers shouldn’t write outside of their own experiences.” Rather, I’ve been thinking about this topic and wondering whether this is why non-marginalized authors writing about marginalized characters seem more likely to get published than marginalized writers writing about their own identity (with maybe the exception of memoirs or “issue fiction”).

Just to take a personal example:

The way I approach writing mental illness in fiction, as someone who has struggled with depression and as someone who spends a hell of a lot of time thinking about portrayals of mental illness in fiction, is vastly different from how a neurotypical author would do it. And it did cause some conflicts with a publisher (not the one who eventually accepted the manuscript). Over and over again, I see books that feature either “true love cures mental illness” or “if you’re mentally ill, you’ll know when you meet your One True Love because they’ll automatically understand and accept every part of your illness, despite having no psychiatric knowledge or prior personal experience whatsoever.” Those were two tropes that I deliberately went out of my way to avoid—because I thought they were harmful, especially considering my own lived experiences—and I lost a publication opportunity because of it. While that publisher has, in fact, published plenty of romance novels that feature a more stereotypical approach to love and mental illness.

Another anecdote: My story featuring an Asian American love interest—considering the number of Asian American love interests in the queer fiction scene is vanishingly small (and I do keep track)—was rejected by a publisher. I’m an Asian author, as is obvious from my name in the query; I can’t hide it. My story was not about that character being Asian American at all; it comes up subtly, as backstory for the character that’s only explicitly verbalized near the end, yet all of my Asian American critique partners picked up on it. So anyway, I was rejected. (That publisher also asked me to remove a part of the story that included the discussion of the Asian American character’s cultural background.) About a week after that rejection, I saw that the same publisher was releasing a book, written by a white author, with an Asian American love interest that featured all of the clichés—oppressive and conservative parents, “children should be seen and not heard,” parents kick child out because of Shame to the Family Honor(TM), etc.

I know this was obviously not a message directed at me, but boy, did it feel like a slap in the face.

And it made me think about how people from the majority group develop certain stereotypical, inauthentic expectations for what constitutes an “authentic” story about a minority group, and then they perpetuate those stereotypes through what they read, promote, and publish. (Let’s not even get into all of the issues around autism representation, which is enough for a thesis all on its own…)

I guess I don’t have any conclusion other than, it’s not fair. And I suppose it’s why the #ownvoices concept became so important (even though there are things about #ownvoices that I’m ambivalent about).

Happy New Year!

Hello, 2018!

Okay, so I have something I’m not looking forward to this year, which is the bar exam. *gulp*

BUT, I also have some really cool things to look forward to! First and foremost…*drumroll please*…my novel is getting published this year!!

So I guess I can’t really say that’s a “New Year’s resolution,” since…all I have to do is make whatever edits my editor wants from me. And exercise my patience. And then celebrate madly.

So I guess these would be my New Year’s resolutions for 2018:

  • Pass the bar (*sadface*)
  • Ideally, find a new job (but seriously, who knows how long that will take)
  • Finish my queer paranormal romance with an autistic protagonist & pitch it to my editor
  • Draft/write the sequel??
  • Finally write a YA novel??

Updates

I’ve just come back from a one-month trip to Asia, partly for my sister’s wedding. The trip was great; coming home and realizing I had to work and study for the bar exam, not so much.

My day job is…okay. It would actually be pretty cool if not for the fact that we get one or two-day deadlines every day, which means I have so much to do that I’m literally glued in front of my computer screen for nearly 8 consecutive hours. I mean, I’ve been *busy* at my previous jobs, but never so busy that I feel unable to take a break from my screen, which is a problem since my eyesight is already crap (thanks, law school /sarcasm). I hate this kind of lifestyle, and so I’ve already tentatively started looking for a new job…but no luck. Because capitalism sucks, and I suck at networking. My only real hope is to see if I can use this job to get a better job (I am good at writing and editing, and I do so much of it in my free time, but because I had no professional experience I can put on a resume, my job search always tanks).

Also, I got really irritated the other day when my day job editor claimed I had too many run-on sentences. As someone who’s been editing my own and others’ writing for over a decade, I *never* write run-on sentences. It turns out that she just thought my sentences were too long, but long sentences are NOT the same as run-on sentences! (End angry rant)

Also. The bar exam sucks. A lot. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have signed up for it at all, since I don’t even want to work as an attorney, but I was pressured into taking it by my parents. I’ll have to almost kill myself studying for it, and yet after law school, I feel like I can’t do that kind of cram-studying anymore at all.

So…that’s where I’m at right now. I’m also still anxiously waiting for my publisher to move forward with editing my book, but that hasn’t happened yet, so…I dunno.

Self-employment is definitely still the dream, though. Even if, right now, I don’t know how long that will take to happen.

Internet social anxiety

I’ve often seen people (and books) say that for people with (social) anxiety, and/or autistic people, socializing on the internet is easier than socializing with real live people, so the internet is portrayed as this safe haven and alternative to face-to-face communication.

However…whenever I see these kinds of discussions, I wonder: Am I the only one who suffers from internet social anxiety?

On the one hand, yes, communication via writing allows you to take your time and think through what you want to say, and you don’t have to respond instantaneously. And there’s no issue with body language or facial expression (for those of us who struggle with that).

But, on the other hand, the internet also brings up its own social issues.

  1. If you’re chatting on a public forum, or a blog post, or social media, what you say can be immortalized forever. Even if you delete it, your words can still be kept alive, e.g. by reblogs on Tumblr, or by people screenshotting what you said. And I find this to be a scary thing, especially when “social justice purity culture” rears its ugly head and people look for “receipts” so they can declare that X social media figure is Problematic in some way. (This happens too often for my liking on Tumblr and Twitter.)
  2. Tone. Am I the only one who finds that tone in written communication is not necessarily easier to decipher than tone in spoken communication? Written communication can often come off as being quite blunt. And words can also frequently be misunderstood in ways you didn’t intend, and it can be difficult to correct those misunderstandings. (Related to that: on places like Tumblr or Twitter, people will often argue with you for stating an opinion they disagree with because they felt like you were directly insulting them. I really don’t know how to deal with situations like that.)
  3. In real life, people may be too polite to argue with you to your face (at least some of the time), but people on the internet often don’t have such hesitation—possibly because there’s often a disconnection from feeling like the person you’re arguing with is a real live person with feelings if you can’t see their face? I’ve seen awful anonymous hate and even suicide-baiting on the internet, and that’s not something I could ever deal with, I don’t think.

Admittedly, I think my anxious tendencies got a lot worse during law school, and I now struggle even to check my emails sometimes without getting heart palpitations. But I just feel frustrated sometimes because I struggle with socializing both in real life and on the internet, and it just feels like I’m alone in my difficulties.

It’s that time again…

Changes are going to be happening in my life soon, which means I’m anxious and mopey again. Uncertainty? Dealing with people and new situations? Blaaargh.

Things aren’t really helped by the fact that I’ve been slowly studying for the bar exam. Slowly. If I ever needed more proof that law is not my dream career, my reluctance to study for the exam is it (I know it doesn’t sound that weird, but usually I’m very disciplined when it comes to studying for standardized tests, so either law school totally cooked my brain, or I’m just not enthusiastic about law).

Also, my initial excitement about my book contract has waned a bit since my editing process (and therefore the process of actually releasing the book) doesn’t start until December. Cue the return of all the insecurities I’ve been wrestling with over the course of the brutal querying process: no one will like this, someone will find this content offensive, I’ll sell very few copies…etc.

And the fact that I’ve been working on Novel #2 while at the same time studying for the bar has meant that my progress on both has been very slow. When I work on the book, I feel guilty about not studying, but when I study, I keep thinking about how I want to work on my book, and so on. Sigh.

 

My head feels very far away right now, and I need to bring it back.