I have been a writer all my life. I started writing (very bad) poetry when I was six or seven and wrote my first short story (along with really bad crayon illustrations) for elementary school. It was a murder mystery set in a school in which the unpopular girl is murdered. I don’t remember by whom, by probably the popular girl. Or maybe it was the other way around. It was probably the other way around, actually, knowing me.
I spent most of my free time reading and writing. It was in part because that’s what I enjoy doing and in part because I had no friends. I was a weirdo with many home issues–and I was (and am) Asian before it was trendy. There were people who were friendly enough to me, but no real friends. I think it’s also because I was so downtrodden by the time I was seven (when I first thought about killing myself) that I wouldn’t have accepted any overtures of friendship even if they were offered.
So I retreated into the fantasy worlds of the books I read and the ones I created. I always had a storyline going in my mind–at least one, but usually several. I found the real world lacking so I was grateful to escape into my mind. And the books I read when I was younger ranged from Trixie Belden to The Scarlet Letter. I read the latter when I was in fifth or sixth grade just because it was in the library, I’m betting. I hated it. Even at that age, I thought Hester got a raw deal. Also, why was she shielding the priest? It turned me off Hawthorne. I also tried to read War and Peace around the same time because it was the biggest book I knew of. I gave up on it halfway through because the names were confusing me. I didn’t realize connect that everyone had a half dozen nicknames so I thought they were all new characters. I never bothered to pick it up again, which has not bothered me one whit.
In college, I made the conscious decision not to read dead white men any more than I had to. I had one white dude tell me it was just as discriminatory for me not to read white men as it was for the entire educational system to only have people read dead white men. Putting aside the fact that I am just one person and it’s a false equation, I retorted that I bet I had still read more dead white men than he had writers of color. He had nothing to say to that. I would still say the same to anyone who questioned me about it now. I’m also not saying I wouldn’t read white men–just that I would need an awfully good reason to do so.
I started writing fiction because there was no one like me in the books I read. Back in the aughts, Asian women became hot. But, it had to be first generation Asian women who were SUFFERING. They had to be married to asshole men and be downtrodden in their lives. They had to have abusive mothers as well and they were absolutely not allowed to have any joy in their lives. Basically, The Joy Luck Club writ large. I remembered I was in Modern Times bookstore (RIP) is San Francisco with a friend, leafing through the new Asian books, when I was pushed to exclaim, “If I never see another book about three generations of miserable Asian women, it’ll be too soon!” My friend was embarrassed, but I was pushed to my limits with the notion that Asian women could only star in books if they were miserable the whole time.