After publishing Tiger Tail Soup, my novel about WWII China, I’ve made quite a few online connections with writers with a focus on China. John Kang is one of them.
Born in the US, John had to grow into his identity as an Asian American. In this guest post, he briefly describes his fascinating “journey toward self-discovery.” Along the way, John also became a writer of fantasy novels. Read on to learn what Dungeon and Dragons and three weekends of major snowstorms had to do with it. Here’s John …
While 2016 will go down as one of the most tumultuous years of my life, it marked the beginning of my online acquaintance with Nicki Chen. I was about to release my first Asian Fantasy, and came across her blog article about Weina Dai Randel’s spectacular debut, Moon in the Palace.
What struck me was that despite coming from different generations, Nicki and I shared similar experiences and histories. Her husband hailed from Xiamen, while my father had spent his early high school years there. Her father-in-law was a Nationalist official, while many of my mother’s family also held posts in the government. I suspect he and my maternal grandfather might have been involved in the same operation to secure boats and ships for the last of the Nationalist’s troops to reach Taiwan.
None of this shared history would have made a difference to me as a youth. Born and raised in the then-urban blight of the Confederacy’s capital (now America’s up-and-coming foodie capital!), I grew up in denial of my Asian roots. There were no other Asians in my elementary school; and the very few I knew in middle and high school were all recent immigrants from China or Vietnam. To my insecure teenage eyes, they fit comfortably into the negative stereotypes prevalent in the 1980s. I was an unabashed Twinkie (yellow on the outside, white on the inside, and so fake, it’s hazardous to your health).
My journey toward self-discovery would be incredibly long-winded and even more incredibly irrelevant to this particular blog– but basically spans four years of college living among fellow American-born Asians, four years of acculturating to life in Japan and Taiwan, and four years basking in the generational and ethnic diversity of the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a path where I first shed the baggage of identity denial, then came to appreciate my cultural heritage, and finally replaced my contempt toward the Asian immigrant with a deep sense of respect and admiration. Along the way, I may or may not have been a little militant with Asian Pride.
I have since found a comfortable middle ground in my cultural identity. Living in my Southern hometown, I am still concerned with the portrayal of Asians in American media, and how that might impact my soon-to-be teenage girls. I have long felt we need to tell our own stories, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I thought I would do the telling.
Comfortable in my life as an acupuncturist and kung-fu instructor, I might have never started writing fantasy stories, save for two fluke coincidences: During the Christmas of 2010, while cleaning out childhood junk from my mom’s house, I came across my old Dungeons and Dragons world. Before relegating the binder of maps and notes to the trash where it belonged, I decided to peek back and see what my 13-year-old self had created.
I couldn’t help but laugh at my teenage brain. Rivers flowed uphill. Empires produced money faster than the Fed. However, a few of the premises had potential. For the next six days, I redesigned my world, taking into account things I had learned over the last 25 years. Advanced stuff like gravity, evolution, and supply and demand.
On the seventh day, I rested. Looking at my glorious creation, I was hit by the realization that I would never play D&D again.
A month later, the second event occurred: three weekends of major snowstorms. Stuck indoors for days at a time, I used my skills as a technical writer and pumped out a 120k word novel set in this multicultural world, fusing elements of Chinese Wuxia with the elves, dwarves, and orcs of classic western fantasy, and the scheming and backstabbing of Game of Thrones.
When I submitted my masterpiece to an online critique group, I learned a hard truth: fiction writing and technical writing were two different beasts. My magnum opus read like Ikea furniture instructions, with no pictures.
Not one to give up, and with the help of some awesome crit partners, I ended up writing and revising the prequel to the original story, followed by a sequel, and then a prequel to a prequel. The stories follow an imperial princess as she grows from awkward and naïve to graceful and cunning, while learning how to channel magic through music. The first book, Songs of Insurrection is now available on Amazon.
I hope you enjoyed this guest post by John Kang.