Nearing the End of #AsianLitBingo

#AsianLitBingo officially ends on May 31st!

Here’s what happened so far this month:

  • Shenwei created the hashtag and campaign. The other co-hosts and I all listed our TBRs and tried to get more involvement.
  • Some co-hosts generously offered prizes.
  • Lots of you joined in the challenge!
  • The other co-hosts have been posting insightful blog posts, reviews, and author interviews.
  • There were two Twitter chats hosted using #AsianLitChat on the 14th and 20th. Check out the recaps courtesy of Glaiza.
  • And people continue to read and love books.

Still to come: There will be the final #AsianLitChat for the Americas on Saturday the 27th.

And of course, winners will be announced! So get those reviews up!


On my end, things have been hectic. This has been one crazy month! I haven’t been the best host because of my inability to juggle things.

I said goodbye to my seniors on Monday at graduation. Today was officially the last day of school, and I need to get grades in tomorrow. Ending your first year of teaching is like constantly chasing your own tail; it’s exhausting.

But, on the plus side, my juniors were at 80% mastery of their standards, and my seniors were at 90% mastery, so I met (and exceeded) the goal I set out at the beginning of the year. Yay!

However, all of that work made me push aside my responsibilities as a co-host for #AsianLitBingo. I only read the one book, reviewed it, and wrote one post.

So for me, this is my tentative plan:

I’m going to try and cram in the other 4 books in the next few days because I like completing things, and I know I’m going to feel even more guilty if I don’t at least accomplish that.

I’m also going to try and post more, and if I don’t get all my posts up by May 31st, I’m going to just post them in June. I have a few draft posts just waiting in the wings for some final touches and research. But, you know, life just gets in the way sometimes.

I’m also going to try and make it to the final chat, but no guarantees because I start my summer job then… #TeachersArePoor

Over all though, I’m so thankful for this challenge and the opportunity to read books by people like me.

I want to thank Shenwei, Isabella, Glaiza, Janani, Wendy, CW, Sophia, Mish, Hazel, Sue, Cassidy, Stephanie, Anisha, Sinead, Aila, and Aentee for being amazing hosts and bringing this idea to life.

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Let’s Talk: Free Speech

//So I’ve decided to have longer discussion/opinion based posts again. I know I shied away from politics and removed all of the political posts from my blog a few years ago, but I’m a political junkie so it’s hard to stay away for long. I’m going to try and relate these issues to books somehow.//


There has been so much going on on book twitter about diversity, problematic books, and free speech. Beyond the bookish community, there are also issues of when dissent is protected or not, especially for this White House administration. This debate keeps rearing its head over and over again…

…So, let’s talk.


What is Free Speech?

Contrary to popular belief: free speech does not give you the right to say anything you want carte blanche. It never has.

Free speech has always been an issue of limits on the state. Having free speech means that no government will persecute you for expressing your thoughts or ideas.

That is the obvious side of the issue. Ideally, all of your speech is protected from retaliation by the government.

The subtle side is where things get a little murky, because, from that initial ideal, the umbrella of free speech has been expanded and thinned at various points in history.

One area where it expanded is in the case of violence. Free speech laws also protect you from any kind of physical retaliation from private citizens. It protects against mob justice.  So, for example, if a group of people don’t like your speech and they burn down your house: the hammer of the law should come down. The government is obligated to come to your aid in ways such as investigating and prosecuting perpetrators. This is, of course, the ideal (it is not always enforced).

Now under the umbrella of free speech, there is also hate speech. Hate speech is limited up to a point. In terms of hate speech, the question isn’t about what is being said but whether it incites violence. That is why it is perfectly legal for the KKK to have public marches, or for the Westboro Baptist Church to be their disgusting selves. They are legally protected under the free speech umbrella (again, from the government) so long as they don’t incite immediate violence.

The key word there is “immediate,” but we’ll just side-eye that for now.

This is what distinguishes a hate crime from hate speech. In a hate crime, some physical act was made to harm and/or terrorize someone. The issue being prosecuted is the physical violence. Any hate speech associated with that is just evidence for a motive which can, in some states, create harsher sentencing.

There are also times when certain speech is litigated and prohibited by the government. The most famous example comes from the case Schenck v. United States; the phrase “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater” should sound familiar. Schenck’s legacy is the “clear and present danger” litmus test for when speech should be limited (for more see Brandenburg v. Ohio and Abrams v. United States).

Now this subtle area is where I think most people get confused.

The clear and present test is supposed to, again, control how a government reacts to speech it does not like. Social and personal repercussions are not part of free speech.

Yes, you can lose your job for saying the wrong thing, especially if it is plastered around social media. That is completely legal under free speech laws (at least in the US). If I decided to trash my boss on social media, I could (and probably would) get fired and have no grounds to take legal action.

In terms of politics in the workplace: if you are in the private sector you can still be fired for your political views. Often private sector employees have less protection than public sector employees. It also depends on the state you live in and what anti-retaliation laws exist there.

Again, unless there is specific anti-retaliation or anti-discrimination laws in your state, you can have private/personal repercussions for your speech so long as it’s not from the government.


So where does censorship come in?

Simple enough: it’s a no-no for the government.

The end.

…Oh, wait… maybe I should go on?

Here’s the thing, like policing “free speech,” censorship is limited to groups of authority, namely a government (although other types of organizations and the media can fall into this category as well).

And like free speech, there are many loopholes for the government to use.

For example, take porn. Pornography often falls under “soft censorship” meaning you do have access to it (especially if you have internet) but technically you need to be at least 18 years old (in the US) to legally view it. That is a law mandated by governmental bodies that is perfectly legal. (Fun side note: my completely adorable law professor in college was an expert on obscenity law… you’d never know it from the look of him!)

Of course, there are many other types of censorship, both hard and soft, that fall below government-level actions.

If you write for a newspaper the editors reserve the right to alter what you’ve written (unless you’ve negotiated that ahead of time). Whether they are changing your words for length or for content they do have that right. A library (especially a private one) can refuse to carry a book they don’t like. Schools can ban books. This is all perfectly legal.

I’m not going to belabor the point, I think it is pretty apparent, but I do want to hit one more thing while we’re on the subject:

Not every instance of speech being denied is a case of censorship.

Let’s just look at the publishing world. From my brief stint in it, I can tell you publishers get tons and tons of submissions and pitches all. the. time.

And the truth is, most of those books (even really good ones) are not acquired.

A publisher deciding not to publish your work is not censorship because you are not entitled to be published.

On that note: A reader deciding not to read your book is not censorship, because you are not entitled to be read.

Free speech means you have the right to talk to a wall, not that you deserve an audience. #MyTwitterAccount


Let’s move this a little closer to Book Twitter.

The main issue here is problematic books. I’m just going to use the biggest example (since people are still harassing the original poster about it): The Black Witch by Laurie Forest.

Now, I’m going to be transparent here and just say I’ve never even heard of this author before this controversy, and probably would have never picked up her book before the review in question came out. Tbh, the jacket copy just sounded like it wasn’t the type of fantasy I enjoy.

I will also say that I think the original review did a good job of using evidence to prove the point. A lot of people are criticizing the use of quotes to make the book seem bad: as a high school English teacher that just sounds like using textual evidence to prove your point.

And, trust me, I know how quotes can be cherrypicked to make things seem a certain way… but I digress.

In any case, the review described why the book was super racist. The original poster asked others to spread the word that this was a problematic book and urged people to not read it.

This is when the shitstorm hit.

All of a sudden this became an issue of free speech for the “I like to read problematic books”/”I hate SJWs” crowd.

(Side note: That’s cool, hate SJWs for fighting for the rights you now currently enjoy… *Side eye*)

Here’s the thing, if you’ve read up till now you’ll know what I’m about to say: this is not censorship, nor does it infringe upon free speech.

While Laurie Forest may lose sales and therefore money, this is not an infringement on her rights or others. For those who do want to read the book, no one can actually stop you. If someone grabbed your copy of the book out of your hand and hit you on the head with it, then you could sue (and, in that case, it would be for assault and not censorship).

Essentially what you’re looking at is an informal boycott, which is not a form of physical violence between private citizens, nor is it being organized by a government. Therefore, it is legal.

Leaving one-star reviews on Goodreads (even if you haven’t read the book) is also not a form of censorship. Hell, it’s not even against Goodread’s own policies. It does not prevent people from picking up the book if they choose to do so.

While we’re on the subject, people saying you’re shit at writing outside of your own experience, or saying you should stay in your lane is *also* not censorship. You are still not being physically prevented from writing those kinds of stories.

Nothing is physically stopping anyone from accessing TBW nor expressing their like for it. There is no censorship or infringement of free speech going on here. You are still free to disagree with anyone who dislikes TBW or finds it problematic.


This brings me to my final point on this so-called issue of free speech: just because someone does something you don’t like, it doesn’t mean they are censoring you.

It is fair to not like the strategies in place or to criticize them, but throwing around labels that don’t actually fit is not a form of criticism: it is a form of dismissal. It’s a way for one side to sit on the proverbial pedestal and proudly claim they are fighting against the inevitable creation of a real Fahrenheit 451 by “SJWs”.

Here’s the thing: I’ve not seen anyone actually go through and refute the original review point-by-point. Instead, there are a lot of blanket statements or, again, outright dismissals without any substance behind them.

Because the reality is: you’re not fighting for anything. You can’t convince someone that their experience reading a book is invalid, so you need another target.

And what is the easiest way to get people who love books up in arms? Convince them that someone is trying to take away their books.


Well that’s the end of the first #LetsTalk post.

What do you think? Is there a case to be made that bad reviews and personal boycotts are a type of censorship?

Share your thoughts!

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#AsianLitBingo Update!

 

Just finished my first read for #AsianLitBingo! You can find my review for Mirror in the Sky on Goodreads.

Now to patiently wait for my other library holds…

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#AsianLitBingo TBR

I’m so excited to announce that I will be participating in the Asian Lit Bingo Reading Challenge! (I even get to be a host–what, what??)

The Asian Lit Bingo Reading Challenge (#AsianLitBingo) was created by Shenwei  @ Reading (As)(I)AN (AM)ERICA to promote reading lit from the Asian diaspora. You can see the rules here.

Basically, pick a row from the fancy graphic (made by co-host Aentee) and read books that fill each box. There are prizes and other awesome things going on throughout the month too, so be sure to check out the official rules on Shenwei’s blog!

I’ll be reading and blogging throughout the month! Part of the challenge for me is being able to do this while still teaching full time. (Of course summer vacation starts as soon as this is over, lol!)

Looking at this bingo sheet, I’m so torn. There are so many books I want to read in each of these categories. But I’ve decided to go through the horizontal line from “SFF with Asian MC” to “Contemporary with Asian MC” because I want to use that free space and get some poetry on my list, and it seems pretty well-rounded in terms of genres.

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever read any SFF with an Asian MC. I’ve written/am writing one, but I was never exposed to any. I’ll have a post on my personal relationship with being Asian this month and elaborate more then. Until then, though, I’m excited to finally read some!

Here is my tentative TBR for this month:

SFF with Asian MC: “Mirror in the Sky” by Aditi Khorana

“For Tara Krishnan, navigating Brierly, the academically rigorous prep school she attends on scholarship, feels overwhelming and impossible. Her junior year begins in the wake of a startling discovery: A message from an alternate Earth, light years away, is intercepted by NASA. This means that on another planet, there is another version of Tara, a Tara who could be living better, burning brighter, because of tiny differences in her choices.”

Funny story, I actually picked this up at the library weeks ago, so now I have another push to read it!

Historical Fiction with Asian MC: “Climbing the Stairs” by PadmaVenkatraman

“During World War II and the last days of British occupation in India, fifteen-year-old Vidya dreams of attending college. But when her forward-thinking father is beaten senseless by the British police, she is forced to live with her grandfather’s large traditional family, where the women live apart from the men and are meant to be married off as soon as possible.

Vidya’s only refuge becomes her grandfather’s upstairs library, which is forbidden to women. There she meets Raman, a young man also living in the house who relishes her intellectual curiosity. But when Vidya’s brother decides to fight with the hated British against the Nazis, and when Raman proposes marriage too soon, Vidya must question all she has believed in.”

Free Space: “The Cowherd’s Son” by Rajiv Mohabir (poetry; winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize)

“Broadening the scope of his award-winning debut to consider the wider Indo-Caribbean community in migration across the Americas and Europe, Rajiv Mohabir uses his queer and mixed-caste identities as grace notes to charm alienation into silence. Mohabir’s inheritance of myths, folk tales, and multilingual translations make a palimpsest of histories that bleed into one another. A descendant of indentureship survivors, the poet-narrator creates an allegorical chronicle of dislocations and relocations, linking India, Guyana, Trinidad, New York, Orlando, Toronto, and Honolulu, combining the amplitude of mythology with direct witness and sensual reckoning, all the while seeking joy in testimony.

I’ll write a post about the amazing work Kundiman does this month too. Maybe one day I’ll overcome my shyness and actually apply…

Retelling with Asian MC: “The Forbidden Wish” by Jessica Khoury

“When Aladdin discovers Zahra’s jinni lamp, Zahra is thrust back into a world she hasn’t seen in hundreds of years—a world where magic is forbidden and Zahra’s very existence is illegal. She must disguise herself to stay alive, using ancient shape-shifting magic, until her new master has selected his three wishes.

But when the King of the Jinn offers Zahra a chance to be free of her lamp forever, she seizes the opportunity—only to discover she is falling in love with Aladdin. When saving herself means betraying him, Zahra must decide once and for all: is winning her freedom worth losing her heart?”

Contemporary with Asian MC: “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” by Jenny Han

“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

I’ve wanted to start this series for so long but never did. (The third book in the series is out on May 2nd.)

While you wait, create your own TBR list! Also, check out the other co-hosts!
Shenwei  READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA (Created #AsianLitBingo)
Isabella  The Book Pandas
Glaiza  Paper Wanderer
Janani  The Shrinkette
Wendy  Written in Wonder
CW  Read, Think, Ponder
Sophia  Bookwyrming Thoughts
Mish  Chasing Faerytales
Hazel  Stay Bookish
Sue  Hollywood News Source
Cassidy  Quartzfeather
Stephanie  Igniting Pages
Anisha  Sprinkled Pages
Sinead  Huntress of Diverse Books
Aila  One Way Or an Author
Aentee  Read at Midnight (Made the awesome graphics!)

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My Top 10 Reads for 2016

Between starting a whole new career, moving to a new state, and the presidential election, 2016 was a crazy year of ups and downs! I didn’t get to read as many books as I would have liked, but I still enjoyed many of the ones I did.

These are just some of the books I read in 2016 (though they may not have been published in 2016). It’s also a mishmash of genres… Looking back, it was definitely the year of Asimov for me. I set a goal to read all his books, so there will probably be a lot of his books on here.

Anyway, without further ado,  here are my top 10 reads of 2016!

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10. The Past by Tessa Hadley

So I was introduced to this book through a Goodreads group I joined last year. The story centers around 4 siblings coming together to decide what to do with their grandparent’s old house. Hadley writes beautifully, and so many of her characters felt fleshed out and real. The sensuality of every moment was so precisely calibrated, it was just great to read for its craft. In hindsight, I’m going back and forth on one character (one of the only characters of color in the book) but overall, I still enjoyed it.

9. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

This book was recommended to me by a colleague. He was teaching it to his class and wondered if I would want to teach it too, which I did. I will say, in hindsight, it probably is more suitable for middle school aged kids, but I did enjoy reading it just for myself. Conor, the MC, is trying to deal with his mother’s cancer and gets help from an unexpected figure. A movie came out in January and I didn’t get to see it in theaters! So I’m waiting till it’s out on Netflix or something.

8. 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Speaking of books I’ve taught, this is another one. Also a great read! Before I decided to use this in my classroom, I read it as a recommendation from the same colleague mentioned above. I loved this book! I literally couldn’t put it down and read it all in one sitting (staying up on a school night to finish it, lol). The story follows the tapes left by Hannah Baker, a girl who had committed suicide. It fostered a lot of great discussion in my classes, which was amazing to see. Also, my students who hate reading would come into class and ask, “can we just read today?” So that’s always a great sign.

7. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

Oh, this book. I’m still having trouble writing my review for it… It chronicles the expansion out to the American west by settlers and debunks the myths of the frontier. The stories of what happened to different Native tribes at the hands of the U.S. government haunt me. I wanted to know more about this history and picked the book up on a whim (as a Christmas gift for the hubby in 2015) and didn’t realize this was a very famous book. I think Brown does a good job of creating a descriptive, narrative flow of all the historical events. I’m still trying to piece together the words, but it definitely has a place on my Must Reads shelf. You will look at the US differently after reading this if you’re unfamiliar with the history.

6. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Gahh, this book! Not only does this book contain so many important messages and give insight into the power that is systemic racism in the US, it is just beautiful! Rankine has a way with words that is enviable. It is also one of my Must Reads. #BlackLivesMatter

5. The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

I will start this off by saying Asimov’s writing style is not for everyone. I read a lot of the 1950s-60s literature, so their styles and conventions aren’t very jarring for me. Also, the subtle (or sometimes overt) sexism and racism are things to consider when reading any literature from that era. But, bearing that in mind, I freaking love Asimov! The worlds he creates are fantastic, and his characters have stayed with me. The fact that all his books exist in the same universe as a chronological history is amazing! The Caves of Steel should be read after I, Robot, as it follows an Earth detective, Elijah Baley, who must solve a murder with the help of a sophisticated android, R. Daneel Olivaw. Like many of Sci-Fi’s early work, robots or aliens usually take the place of PoC and their plights. Robots are generally discriminated against. So there’s that. But man, could he create a world or what?!

4. Robots and Empire by Isaac Asimov

The last book in the Robot Novels, and one of my favorites, follows Daneel and another robot as they try to solve a case that could seal the fate of Earth. I’m not mentioning the other robot because I don’t want to spoil anything in the series. This takes place long after Baley passed away, and the way Daneel remembers him is so sweet. Also, it’s nice to see the robots doing things on their own for once.

3. The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov

I’m going to start this off by saying this book contains some peak sexism. Baley gets super leery around this one spacer woman… *cringe* Overlooking that, the mystery is great. I love having Elijah and Daneel together again! And that twist at the end is AMAZING! Again, trying not to spoil it, but ahhh, I could talk about it for days.

2. Cinder by Marissa Meyer

This book sucked me in completely. I read the entire series in a short amount of time, but only the first book is making my list. Sci-Fi, YA, Sailor Moon-ish, re-telling of a classic fairytale? Hell yes! I loved the world building, I loved the layering of conflicts, and I loved Cinder and Iko! Also, Prince Kaito was a great love interest, even if it did smack of instalove. As far as the series goes, I wish it was just Cinder, Iko, and Carswell Thorne on the adventure. The other characters and their stories didn’t really hold me. And I really, really, really, wanted–no I needed!–Cress to just die.

1. Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

And finally, my number one read of 2016! This book is number 1 for a lot of reasons. First off, it is a great story that had me in tears, and enraged, and all over the place. Naila’s situation is all too real for many girls and women all over the world. It’s not something I’ve ever gone through, but I know it happens. The second reason I love this book, this is an #ownvoices book with a Pakistani Muslim protagonist. It is also the first American novel I’ve ever read that was both #ownvoices and featured a Pakistani Muslim protagonist. The fact that that detail hit me so hard continually shows me why representation matters. And finally the third reason, this is the book that made me want to get my crap together and actually be more involved in the book community. I got my twitter & blog fixed up and met other awesome book bloggers, as well as the We Need Diverse Books campaign and the #diversebookbloggers crowd all because I wanted to share how much I loved this book.

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There it is, my top 10 reads of 2016! Here’s to 2017 being a year of more reading and more loving books. What were your favorite books of 2016?

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Where Our Worlds Meet—a discussion with producer, writer, & director Sinakhone Keodara

Sinakhone Keodara is an award-winning producer and writer, a 2014 NBC Universal Talent Lab fellow, and studied at the Santa Monica College Film Program. He is also the founder and CEO of Lao Films & Television, Inc. An LGBTQ comedy—“I Love You Both”—, which he was associate producer of in 2015, won the 2016 Cinequest Film Festival New Vision Award.

In 2015, his screenplay, “Where Our Worlds Meet,” was a finalist at the Austin Film Festival’s Teleplay & Screenplay Competition. WOWM tells the story of a gay Asian man coming to terms with his lover’s death. WOWM draws from Lao and Latino culture, telling a story not often shown in Hollywood.

I connected with Keodara to talk about his Indiegogo campaign to take WOWM to the next level—filming a short film—and to get his thoughts on LGBTQ and Asian representation in the media, and his own writing.

Can you share what inspired you to write WOWM?

This story is inspired by a personal tragedy where I wasn’t allowed to visit the love of my life in the ICU when he died from AIDS-related complications in a hospital in Atlanta, GA in 2005. His family shut me out so I never had closure. I didn’t know what to do with the grief. I wrote some feelings down on paper as sort of a goodbye love letter that became the impetus for the screenplay.

q1

In 2007, I sat down to try to write a screenplay because I felt that our story needed to be told but I had to put it away because it was too painful. It wasn’t until 2013 when I took a directing class and I wanted to pitch this story as my thesis film that I completed the script.

I’m sorry for your loss. It’s interesting that this comes from such a personal space for you. A lot of writers struggle with making art out of such personal and painful moments; did you have any reservations or obstacles in sharing this story? How did you overcome them, or did you?

For the rest of my life, I’ll never know what it was like to be by my partner’s side, holding his hand, whispering into his ears telling him I love him during his transition to the next realm. Writing this script has been a gut-wrenching and emotionally exhausting experience. Each draft of the script was brutal. Those wounds hadn’t healed. I still cry one of those deep, ugly, painful cries every time I read through the script.

In 2013, I launched a failed Kickstarter campaign so my hope was crushed and I had to focus on survival and took my first industry job. I put off this project but it kept coming up, so I went back to it. I decided to revamp the story and not make it completely biographical and dramatized a lot of the scenes but kept the essence of what happened, giving myself creative freedom to create a script that is cinematic and dramatic that fosters a lot of Lao culture.

I hear that a lot, when people try to make art out of very personal things, that in order to do it well, sometimes creative license and freedom is necessary. What were some of the things that changed?

In some ways, in rewriting the script, I gave myself a happy ending in my movie that I wasn’t afforded in real life. I had some reservations about the privacy of his family so I changed the race of my partner from white to Latino. I also decided to do a scene that dealt with the violence committed against gay men by straight Latino men because I wanted to shine a light on homophobia within the Latino community. I had some reservations about that because I’m an outsider to the Latino community. However, after some reflection, I decided I am an artist and it’s my job to push the envelope, so it goes.

Well you really are pushing the envelope—an interracial, gay romance is not the norm in media—did you always want to write and direct movies?

I came to Hollywood in 2006 to pursue my dream of becoming an actor and I started doing background work with Central Casting for a couple of years and tried the actor’s life but found that there is a lack of roles for Asian actors and I gave up acting to find a “real” job.

When I took the leap of faith and jumped on that greyhound bus with two suitcases and my dreams, I had no inkling that I wanted to be a writer or director or any position behind the camera. I came to Hollywood to be a star (like everyone else…lol) and wanted to be in front of the camera. While on set I was introduced to Joseph Campbell’s book “The Power of Myth” and one thing lead to another. I decided to pick up a copy of Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist Way,” and took the workshop of the same name with the venerable teacher Kelly Morgan. I discovered my hidden talent of writing.

Writing was the last thing on my mind because I avoided English classes to save my life. English is a hard language to master especially grammar and being that English is my second language I just never imagined I wanted to be a writer because I struggled in High School and College in English and Literature classes.

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You’re a director as well, was that something you discovered along the way too?

I fell into directing almost by accident. Back in 2008—post-Prop8—I was one of many LGBT activists fighting to win back the civil rights that were stripped from us by the voters of California.

A group of us LGBT activists organized an event called “The Revolution at the West Hollywood Auditorium” and I decided to tape a “Take A Vow” video of attendees making a vow of commitment to winning back our rights. I found that I really enjoyed being behind the camera and was moved to tears by these strangers who were pouring their hearts out on camera. I was hooked on being a midwife to the magic that happens between the camera and her subject and I had a little voice in my head telling me that I was good at connecting with people and that I should go to school to become a film a director.

I was reluctant because I didn’t think that I had it in me to be a film director. It just seems like such an overwhelming task. But then a year later, during a Day of Decision rally that LGBT activists put together to send a message to the Supreme Court of California, I heard Cheryl Lee Ralph up on stage singing a song at the rally that imparted the wisdom of the power of the pen. It was my call to adventure.

It was one of those moments when things clicked and I felt my Higher Power was communicating to me. So I resolved that in order for me to have any kind of opportunities in Tinsel Town as an Asian gay actor, I would have to create it for myself. So that’s how my long and winding journey into becoming a filmmaker began. I have Cheryl Lee Ralph to thank for it. She is such a fierce and powerful spirit, and she oozes charisma and inner beauty, besides the fact that she’s physically beautiful.

It’s interesting you bring up opportunity for Asian actors. Lately campaigns like #whitewashedOUT have highlighted the lack of PoC, specifically Asian, representation in media. Clearly there are a lot of stories to tell, why do you think the representation is still so small?

I’m so glad you brought that up. It is deep rooted in systemic racism and a culture of white supremacy.

I give Ming-na Wen and Constance Wu and Margaret Cho a lot of credit for jumpstarting this revolution by starting the conversation on whitewashing that led to the #whitewashedOUT movement. Ming-na Wen and Constance Wu will always go down in my book as the heroines of this movement because they stood up for all of us risking their careers. It is groundbreaking and there has been a shift of consciousness. There is no going back. And to quote British actress Gemma Chan, “the drumbeat is getting louder.” Hollywood will be shamed into changing and the studios will have to take actions to change the status quo.

To be frank, I’d always been frustrated with why for so long popular Asian actors and directors have not used their platform and been more vocal on this issue earlier. But, timing is now ripe so it was music to my ears to see actresses Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh and director Ang Lee and Producer Janet Yang et al take the Academy to task for making fun of Asians at our kids’ expense during the Oscars this year. I believe that led to us having more courage to speak up.

I love seeing my Asian sisters leading this revolution. That is something that is both powerful and ironic because Mother Culture has put them in the servile and subservient category but they’ve proven that they are fierce warriors. We can never thank them enough! I’m a Ming-na Wen and Constance Wu fan for life. I will do anything for those ladies. In fact, a sci-fi script that I’ve written titled Frog Eats Moon has them in mind for the two leads. But first things first. LOL. I’ve got to get this movie made.

To get back to your question, I believe this all goes back to propaganda and a culture where the only images of beauty, of heroes, and of historical figures that are great have been forced fed to us are white people. It’s in the textbooks that we studied, the novels that we read, magazines that we perused, movies that we watched, music that we listened to; and the scientists and geniuses that have been recorded or afforded face time in our educational videos and documentaries have mainly been white people. It’s subconscious.

We’re subliminally taught that white people are superior to everybody else and that is a lie. We are all great in our own right. Greatness exists in every race and creed. We are all divine spiritual beings having a human experience. How I see race is like this, each race is like a flower decorating this beautiful garden called earth. We complement each other. No race is better or worse than the others. Period.

I agree. I also think that when there is a chance for representation, it’s always skewed to one perspective. WOWM is definitely atypical in regards to Asian representation in the media. Do you think there is an additional hurdle for LGBTQ Asians?

There definitely is an additional hurdle for being LGBTQ of Asian descent. It’s both sexual orientation and race. We face sort of a double-whammy of hurdles. We experience discrimination from within our community of origin (for being gay) and within the LGBTQ community for being Asian, so there is this crisis of self-esteem for my Gaysian brothers and sisters.

We don’t feel good about who we are as gay people because we’re being discriminated against by our gay brothers and sisters for being Asian and we can’t feel good about our Asian-ness because our family of origin doesn’t understand what gayness is and there isn’t a lot of support in the beginning of our coming out. But I do see PSAs now coming out where we see Asian parents—specifically East Asians—speaking out proudly about loving and accepting their gay children, so that is progress.

My family has gone from thinking that I am gay because of bad karma from a past life (it’s a Buddhist thing) to now accepting me fully. I bring all my ex-boyfriends home for the Holidays. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and they’ve learned to deal with it. All my nieces and nephews have called my exes uncle. But, when I was newly out—this is about 21 years ago—my family didn’t have any information on gay issues, so when I went home it became uncomfortable around the dinner table.

Would you say there is more information now than when you were first coming out?

There is still a lack of education in SE Asian communities on gay issues, and the major q3LGBT organizations don’t dedicate resources to translate literature into Southeast Asian languages—especially not Lao. Not to my knowledge at least—I called around and couldn’t find any. As recently as last year, I had a dear Lao friend contact me on Facebook frantic about her nephew and his struggles of coming out and how his parents don’t know how to deal with their son being gay. We searched high and low and finally found one PFLAG pamphlet in the Lao language about gay people that was incoherent, and that no one knew about or used. In order words, if you’re gay and SE Asian, or specifically, if you’re gay and Lao, good luck with your coming out process. You’re fucked because you’re left to fend for yourself and deal with your coming out on your own.

I don’t recall ever seeing the gay press cover an Asian gay man or woman coming out. They’ve all been about everybody else, but mainly white gay men. But, I’ve not yet seen one gay media cover an Asian person’s coming out story because to the LGBT press, our stories don’t matter because we don’t matter to them. They don’t see us. We’re even more invisible in the LGBT community as Asians. It’s worse than the straight world.

That’s a pretty large indictment of the LGBT presses, what work do you think needs to be done?

There is a lot of work to be done on that front. The LGBTQ media doesn’t cover LGBTQ of color—especially Asians—unless we’re someone already famous like George Takei, Alec Mapa or BD Wong. So it’s harder for emerging Asian LGBTQ artists to even get press on our creative endeavors let alone representation in the media. Prime example was an HBO show about a group of gay men in SF and how they managed to not cast a gay Asian man in that series. They had one black and one Latino male lead and a stereotypical—if token—straight Asian nerd, but no Gaysians are to be found. There was a big uproar and a boycott from the community because we’re talking about SF, a 3rd of the population is Asian. The show eventually got canceled.

I’ve been trying on several of my projects to get coverage of my project by the gay press but none was given. In my first Award-Winning feature film that I helped produced (I Love You Both, 2016) we got press from Australia, New Zealand, and the UK but none from the US. It was laughable actually. But, I take heart in seeing more gay Asian filmmakers making their art and distributing it online.

In my line of work, what I’m trying to bring attention to is how lonely it is to be an LGBTQ of Asian descent. How we have to deal with our own coming out on our own because our families of origin don’t know how to embrace us for being gay and when we turn to the white LGBTQ community whom we thought would embrace us for being gay, but some—mostly gay men—reject us because we’re Asian.

That’s interesting that you point out gay, white men specifically. Why do you think there is such difficulty for them to accept gay Asians?

Gay white men are taught by the same media, which emasculates Asian men, dehumanizing us by making us the butt of jokes. Apparently we’re made to be freaks that are somehow weirdly socially acceptable to be made fun of even in 2016. We only have to look at the Oscar telecast for confirmation. So to see Asian American members of the Academy stand up and unequivocally demand, “No more! Enough! We’ve had enough,” is empowering.

So while Asian representation is trying to gain more headway, do you think that LGBTQ representation has taken strides recently?

q4Yes, most definitely. Shonda Rhimes (she’s a Goddess) and Lee Daniels have really pushed the envelope in presenting gay leads in their shows in a non-stereotypical and unapologetic way. And I want to continue following in their footsteps in telling Asian gay stories for the big and small screens. Full disclosure, I don’t watch much TV (Empire is the only TV show I watched in the past year and that was because I was briefly Lee Daniel’s assistant) but I do read about it in the trades. I have a suspicion that if I consume too much TV it’ll mess with my own creative output.

I get that, I find social media definitely gets in the way of my writing—mostly because I’m a horrible procrastinator, lolz. But back to the point, of the shows that do feature prominent gay characters, most of them are white. Do those representations help/hurt non-white gay representation (or is it neutral)?

It’s never neutral. Both those identities are an intrinsic part of who we are. We can’t choose our gay identity any easier than our racial/ethnic identity.

But, this is exactly the same issue that we’re dealing with in the overall Hollywood whitewashing of Asian roles. When you have TV shows and movies featuring gay people as being only white, it invalidates us LGBTQ people of color. It’s the same tired white man standing in for all of humanity again, gay or straight being irrelevant.

Last year Roland Emmerich whitewashed his epic gay historical film Stonewall by casting Jeremy Irvine (a straight white actor) to play the lead of that movie about the gay revolution and cast aside transwomen of color. In that film, Roland made Jeremy throw the first brick when in reality it was a Latino transwoman named Silvia Rivera who threw the first heel. Roland’s excuse for rewriting LGBTQ history and giving the credit to white people instigating the Stonewall riot (when it was drag queens and transwomen of color who rose up first that night) was because he believed straight white people in Middle America can relate better to a white gay man than a transwoman of color.  The community was up in arms and we boycotted that movie which tanked.

I remember that! I chose not to go see it too. I do wonder what it would have been like had they stuck to actual history for that movie. What I mean is: a big hot topic is writing the “other,” often meaning white people writing PoC characters. Do you think that non-PoC writers should be doing that? Do you have any advice on how they should go about it?

This is a little tricky. I do think it comes down to perspective. A non-POC writer could never have the experience, cultural context, and perspective of someone who is a POC. But I don’t believe in censoring what people write.

In my script, I researched the Latino characters to death and workshopped what I wrote with my Latino classmates and colleagues just to make sure I got it right. So, my advice for white writers writing PoC characters is to hire cultural consultants, which brings to mind a #whitewashedOUT discussion where several activists suggested that movie studios (and TV studios for that matter) hire POC consultants.

And I do think that Hollywood TV studios need to open up their writer’s room to a more diverse group of writers. My belief is when we erase any group of people from the media and discount their voices the whole world loses out on the contributions and gifts from those people’s experience, strength, and wisdom.

Many argue that there would be more representation and roles for PoC if the white writers with access started writing PoC characters. Do you count those stories (PoC characters written by non-PoC writers) as part of the solution to the representation problem?

No. That’s an easy way out. It’s a way to keep the status quo. That’s like saying white actors can play Asian people better than Asian actors can play ourselves. It’s offensive. PoC writers can write ourselves better than white writers can ever attempt to write us.

The gatekeepers, the movie studios and the producers and directors want to keep it that way because it serves them. Hollywood is run by the (to use the words of Ava DuVernay) “white patriarchy” and they’ve been doing things the usual way for as long as Hollywood has been in business.

There really aren’t any excuses left—not that there were any to begin with—to explain whitewashing of ethnic roles in 2016. I’ve seriously been told in a room full of people at a film festival last year—by literary managers and agents—that they don’t sign PoC writers because our skills are not up to par (presumably to our white counterparts) and because PoC writers only write niche stories. And these lit agents’ and managers’ conventional wisdom inform them that ethnic stories don’t sell.

Wow.

Yep. They said it in a room full of people. I was livid and let them have it. Some of them defended their indefensible position on video. I reminded them that I was a finalist in a screenwriting competition at that film festival.

That’s rough to hear. What advice would you give another PoC filmmaker trying to make their way through the industry?

I haven’t made it yet so I can’t really give any advice on that front. I’m still trying to make it. This is my first film. Ask me after I get this film made and after I get to direct my three features (two written and the feature version of this film to be written) I have waiting in the wings.

With that, thank you for your time. Good luck on the campaign, I hope to see WOWM as a feature soon.

To support “Where Our Worlds Meet” donate today, and spread the word. Any amount is welcome. Additionally, perks for donating range from receiving a free download of WOWM, to being an extra in the film, to even gaining an executive producer credit!

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There and Back Again

dscn1547.jpgSo I just got back from another adventure! This time I visited various places in Idaho.

So I spent three days exploring places, and interviewing for some teaching positions. I’m excited to take my love for literature from the inter-webz to people’s faces by sharing that passion and energy with students!

For now, it’s nice to be back home in Portland and in my pyjamas.

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New Year, New Look!

typewriter

I’m excited to launch the new website to coincide with the first day of National Poetry Month! As you may have noticed, I’ve been MIA since last year, mainly sticking to twitter to reaffirm every now and then that I’m still around and goodreads to share the books I’m reading.

All of that time I’ve been working on this! Hoping to get it done by the new year, and then when that didn’t happen, I wanted to launch it by…today!And here it is!

Some things have stayed the same: I’ll continue to do Monday Poetry Prompts and cover all things literary!

So what’s new?

There’s this gorgeous new look of course!

Additionally, I’ve separated the writing prompts from the articles for easy navigation. I’ve added a section so you can see my first published book and other writing projects! And I’ve got a spiffy new about me section.

By summertime, I’m hopefully going to be offering other things, such as free e-book downloads, giveaways, and more!

Click around and explore!

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Tribute to Jim Harrison

jim-harrison-tributeJim Harrison—writer and poet best known for “Legends of the Fall”—passed away on Saturday, March 26th, at the age of 78.

He has published over 30 books, including novels, novellas, essays, and poetry. His best known work, “Legends of the Fall” was made into a movie in 1994.

I first encountered Harrison’s work when I was still in high school, during my first few years living abroad in the United States. I had come to the U.S. to attend an arts boarding high school so I could become a novelist. I had barely written anything outside of fiction, and never really planned to.

It was after reading Harrison’s “Letters to Yesenin” that my writing life took a sharp turn. That book was a watershed moment for me, and made me yearn to know language more intimately than I had thought possible before then. I started to write poetry.

And not just in general, but specifically, I started to write poems addressed to him. In fact, most of my poems start out as letters to him whether they stay that way or not.

I can’t truly describe what he has done for me. But all I can say is that his words changed me for the better.

Everyone has that book or writer that opened a whole new world for them, and he was, is, mine. I will never thank him enough for that.

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On Charleston.

10-charleston-mourning-blog-postThese past ten days I was able to bury myself in a community of writers at my last residency as an MFA in Writing candidate at Pacific University. For my graduate reading, I took a long time to craft the following statement, which I read at campus chapel.

“At her reading, Dorianne [Laux] asked us to think about Charleston. I’m sure many of us were thinking about it before we got here. Here’s what struck me: the terrorist who went into a historic Black church, killed nine people, and left one alive so she could tell us what he had done, that terrorist is 21 years old.

Think about that number, that age. For a while there was this idea in the ether that when all the old, racist farts died off the world would be better. And as a woman of color, and millennial, I’m telling you that it’s not true.

We live in a time when everyone agrees that racism is bad, but we will not talk about the institutionalization of racism and how it breeds new racists. This is a time when we can easily condemn a White celebrity chef for saying the N-word, but not an economic policy that makes jailing young Black men profitable. We agree racism is bad, but don’t know what it is, and refuse to talk about it. There is a haunting silence we walk through.

I say this, not just because of my heavy sense of political and civic duty, but because my relationship to poetry is directly tied to my experience as a racialized entity, when I moved to the United States. Eight years ago, I went from being a full person, to being a Brown person. Eight years ago, I went from writing fiction, to writing poetry. I don’t believe it was a coincidence, in fact I know it was not.

Now, since we are in a chapel, I thought it would be appropriate to take some influence from the Bible that these nine people had believed in. And I say to you, regardless of any religious, political, cultural, or racial affiliation: if you are a writer, and believe in the Word, and that the word is good, is necessary, is life, then it is your, as well as my duty, to break the silence.

I don’t mean we all need to bang our drums and scream, there are degrees to this—read the names aloud like Tyehimba [Jess], ask for a moment of meditation and remembrance like Lin, read a poem like Vievee [Francis] and Tom, or, like Dorianne did, just ask yourself and others to think about it.

In Islam, the Shaheed, or the martyr, those who died fulfilling a duty to God, is honored with a place in heaven. I would like to again, read aloud the names of the martyrs, and would like to add the names of three Muslim American students who were killed by an Islamophobe in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, this February.

Pastor Clementa Pickney
Tywanza Sanders
Cynthia Hurd
Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Myra Thompson
Ethel Lee Lance
Reverend Daniel Simmons
Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor
Susie Jackson

and from Chapel Hill,
Deah Barakat
Yusor Abu-Salha
Razan Abu-Salha

And, ending this note, I want to ask you to think about Charleston, think about yourselves, think about your place in the world, and who you are, and why you are.”

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