Meet John Kang, my Online Chinese-American Friend.

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.

About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She's working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early '90s.
books, China, Culture, Xiamen , , , , ,

42 comments


  1. Thank you for sharing your story, John. Glad to meet you! And thank you for hosting, Nicki.

    I’m glad you discovered that binder, John! I played D&D back in the day, but not avidly. However, I also love fantasy books (and write them as well). Love the covers on your books.




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    • Nice to meet you, too! It’s funny to think D&D is no longer considered a social taboo, and that nerdiness is now worn as a badge of honor!

      I absolutely loved the original covers for my books, but unfortunately, I wasn’t connecting with my target audience.




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    • I thought you’d be interested, Linda. John has an interesting and unique approach to fantasy.




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  2. Wow, this looks great! Thanks for sharing his story, Nicki!




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  3. Pingback: Guest Blog on Nicki Chen Writes »

  4. Thanks for hosting John, Nicki, and big congrats to John on his book and doing the hard work to make it better! The best critique groups are brutal, and it sounds like you found a good one.

    Also, well done surviving the stifling south, John. Will you do a YA book and use those experiences next? Or does your heart belong to fantasy?




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    • I confess, I had a thin skin and big ego (OK, still have the big ego. It accounts for the extra ten pounds, I swear), so learning to write correctly took several lurching starts and stops. However, my other endearing quality is stubborness, so I kept at it.

      YA… well, I’m going to recycle the Dragon Scale Lute title and cover for a 1st Person, single POV version of Songs of Insurrection. My experiences end up in my books anyway, though not exactly the same way they happened: Like how my main character fought off three assassins. In my case, it was four. In all seriousness, I do have a story set in a contemporary setting, but it is a romantic comedy.




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    • Your comment, Autumn, about critique groups reminds me of my first experience showing my writing to a group. It was more like an informal class than a critique group. I’d never tried writing a short story before, and when the leader saw it, all she could say was, “It’s boring.” A harsh comment, but she was right, and I knew it as soon as she pointed it out.




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      • I find harsh useful, but a cheerleader is sometimes a nice thing to have.




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        • As a general rule, I would agree that having a cheerleader is much better than having a harsh critic. And I don’t think it’s ever good or kind to simply label someone’s writing as “boring.” But in this case, especially since it was so early in my writing career, her blatant comment has stuck with me, and ever since I’ve tried my best not to be boring. It’s a simple concept; hard to accomplish.




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    • I checked out your blog, and had to chime in on two things:
      1. My mother died right after I was born, and my father remarried a red-head Catholic. To me, she was just mom, and I was clueless as to how taboo that must’ve been in the South.

      2. Fresh Off The Boat… Constance Wu comes from my hometown, and most of my social circle was friends with her older sister. I didn’t get to know the sister until much later, though.

      OK, note 3, have you seen Dr. Ken? OMG, it is belly-splitting hilarious.




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      • Wow, your dad is a complete trailblazer. Andy and I enjoy FOB, and I wish Constance Wu had been nominated for a Golden Globe. I loved Ken Jeong on Community, but Dr. Ken didn’t draw us in. I guess we will have to give it another try.




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        • The episode where Dr. Ken is ashamed of his Korean language skills, is soooo funny.

          As for Community–are you watching Great Indoors, with Joel McHale? Also a hilarious jab at millenials, and a funny Asian-Amercan actress, as well.




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      • Wow, your dad is a complete trailblazer. Like Nicki and Eugene. Andy and I enjoy FOB, and I wish Constance Wu had been nominated for a Golden Globe. I loved Ken Jeong on Community, but Dr. Ken didn’t draw us in. I guess we will have to give it another try.




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  5. Lewis Hayashi

    He does have a wonderful way with words. Reminds me of my childhood even with the generational gap.

    Lew




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    • I agree. He has a very good way with words.

      From what I’ve heard, being a second generation Asian immigrant is a whole different experience from being an Asian immigrant who grew up in Asia. John expressed it well.




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      • Oh gosh, the Asian-American experience is a broad tapestry of different experiences. It varies by ethnic origin time of immigration, and final landing place. There are sixth-generation Californian Chinese, who will have different worldviews than relatively recent Hmong refugees in Minnesota.

        My particular niche: born in the American South, to Chinese who came as students in the 1950s via Taiwan. My parents had a different experience than the people who immigrated after the 1965 Immigration Act. Most of the latter fled to the suburbs, while my family stayed in the city, so I have stronger progressive views than many of my ABC peers.




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  6. Thank you for sharing your journey with us, John. Your covers are amazing. Isn’t it fun to look back on our creative endeavors from childhood? Best of luck with your book.
    Thanks for introducing us to John, Nicki.




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  7. Lovely to meet John, Nicki. Congrats John on all of your books, and very nice to hear you are comfortable with your identity these days. It takes time to get to know oneself, and also more time to accept ourselves.

    I smiled when you mentioned D&D. I played that a bit as a kid and vaguely remember it. As for critiquing, that is probably one of the most nerve-wrecking things for a writer. Whether or not one will like your kind of writing often depends on their tastes and what makes them tick. Good on you for putting your work out there and transcending two very different writing genres.




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    • I followed the link to your page (which would make me a stalker, except I did that for everyone who commented, which makes me a narcissist), and found that you are an Australian Chinese writer.

      One of my crit partners is, too, and she wrote an amazing story about an Australian Chinese high school girl who copes with her parents crushing her dreams of becoming an actor by becoming a cyberbully. If you are interested with connecting, I’ll share your page with her.




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  8. Thank you so much for introducing John Kang! I’m really intrigued by his books — I do enjoy reading fantasy and will have to pick them up sometime.




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    • You’re the queen, Jocelyn, of getting people together and hosting other writers and bloggers on your blog. I haven’t done much of it, but it is a pleasure to be involved in introducing people with similar interests.




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  9. How great that your teen-age hobby turned into a writing hobby/career . . . that’s MAGIC!




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  10. What an interesting story! I started myself writing but never got my ass down to actually finish my work (still a terrible mess). For me the inspiration came through all the fantasy novels I had read and still read and my tabletop years in my childhood 🙂




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  11. Interesting “summary” about how you found the Asian part of your identity.
    “Along the way, I may or may not have been a little militant with Asian Pride,” says a lot with few words.

    Your fantasy novels sound rich.




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  12. I enjoyed this post. For sharing.




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