A wordy welcome, bad novels I’ve written, musings on all of the above, & then some.
MY WEBSITE LIVES. Whew, all right, yay, good job at completing this writerly adult task, high fives all around! If you’re reading this, likelihood is high that you’re here because I pestered you into clicking your way over, or because our mutual friends did, or because you Googled something bizarre. In all cases – though in the latter, I’m sorry about your Googling misadventures, and hope you do eventually find your way over to the black hole of TV Tropes, or the obscure Wikipedia page you were pretending to read for work – welcome! By hook or by crook, you’ve stumbled upon what will, for the foreseeable future, serve as a dumping ground for my published short fiction, as well as other storytelling projects, such as collaborative comics, a potential podcast musical/radio play or two, and eventually, lord willing, better novels than the ones I wrote in high school and college.
Also, a blog, apparently, as I’m told this is a thing writers do, and enabling busybodies who read my ridiculous Facebook anecdotes inform me that I ought to. Inshallah!
While at the moment this space is mostly populated with short fiction, that’s not always where I was at as a writer. Like most bookworms, I grew up devouring novels, which in turn grew in me a desire to write them. My first crack at short fiction – titled This Is a Love Story, a fairly quintessential case of Sad Kid Story written at age eighteen in a fit of pique – wound up selling to a kind-hearted editor at Underground Voices a couple years later, in my junior year of college, while I was hustling for ways to earn pocket money by pen. Aha! went the greedy, mercenary part of my undergraduate brain, the one responsible for ordering pizza and Indian food delivery way more often than my budget should have responsibly allowed. Maybe there’s something to this whole short story thing! (Look, fifty bucks for like an hour’s worth of writing feels like a lot at that age, okay.)
Still, my inner fantasy and science fiction nerd – nestled soul-deep in me since early childhood – inherently craves the long, slow burn and arc-driven, world-building potential of a novel, so long-form stories continued to occupy most of my brain space. As a result, I – no doubt fancying myself young, scrappy, and hungry – dedicated my teens and early twenties to penning a bunch of novellas and novels, most of them spectacularly bad. For a short timeline regarding my Resume of Failed Long Form Fiction, I’ve pulled this account from an old Facebook post of mine:
- AGE 17 – magical realism set in New Orleans, novella, 30,000 words. SO BAD.
- AGE 19 – magical realism bordering on fantasy set in Shanghai, novella, 45,000 words. ALMOST AS BAD.
- AGES 21-22 – weirdly politicized space opera, my first legitimately full-length novel, 74,000 words. Less terrible! You can totally tell that I wrote this between writing senior theses about postcolonialism and Chinese wuxia fiction. This one is noteworthy mostly because a few literary agents actually take an interest in the manuscript, including a really cool lady from a fancy New York lit agency that eventually agrees to sign me – albeit for a completely different novel.
- ALSO AGE 22 (A Productively Insane Year, Apparently) – immigrant narrative thinly disguised as deliberately campy action-adventure spy-fi YA set in Hong Kong, 85,000 words. This one gets frantically drafted in a three-week fugue state near the end of my time on a Fulbright grant in South Korea. This is also, incidentally, the book that Really Cool Agent who liked my space opera actually signs me for, and nets all kinds of fancy exciting meetings in New York once I've returned Stateside! My agents love it! I love it! All my dearest childhood dreams are coming true!
... Alas, the above book goes through a year and a half of revisions, receives some positive buzz from a few editors, but not enough. The book does not sell to publishers. It gets shelved in the archives of my portfolio, the latest and greatest of hard and lengthy learning experiences. What's to be done, except to write something new? Back to my notebook and pen I go.
- AGES 24-25 – half-assed cyberpunk mystery/thriller YA, 57,000 words. I'm fresh out of a graduate program at Oxford and returned to the States, learning to balance a Grown-Up Big City Job with Doing Art Stuff for the first time, and unsurprisingly, spectacularly bad at it. This is the book I wrote after hating literally every word I put to paper for two whole years, and I grimly, stubbornly hate-write it for a solid 4-6 months, mostly to prove I'm still capable of producing creative work at all. Still, I hate it SO MUCH, oh my god?? I can tell it's bad even as I'm writing it, but I grit my teeth and finish the damn thing. My agent is remarkably kind about the flaming disaster of a garbage-plot, all things considered, but we both know this book should probably never actually see the light of day, lest we bring eternal dishonor upon ourselves.
- AGES 25-26 – noir-style murder mystery meets postcolonial fantasy setting, 68,000 words. I write this one over the long, hot summer of 2016 in DC, during a transition between day jobs, and while it’s ultimately destined to be another trunk novel, it’s the first thing I write in a while that sparks the actual joy of storytelling inside me again. For that, I’ll always be grateful to this particular entry in an inevitably, ever-growing Resume of Failed Long Form Fiction.
Speaking of my Resume of Failing At Stuff (But Arguably Productively!), my commentary on the heels of last summer’s trunk novel – and I’ll stand by this now – was this:
Talking about what constitutes success is hard, and probably especially hard in the arts. I've been modestly lucky as a writer, I think – I've signed with real literary agents! Once in a blue moon, a small press magazine might buy a short story from me! Sometimes, my composer friends willingly set music to my lyrics and libretto! And that's not even getting into how lucky I am to currently be in a day job where I'm paid generally to think creatively about the world around me, and paid more specifically to write loads and loads of words about it. I double-majored in English literature and East Asian studies back in undergrad because I was a writer-person who got bitten early on by the international affairs bug, and stubbornly believed I could make that work for my professional life – and I'd cautiously say that by some measure, I have.
That said, I've also demonstrably fallen on my face a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. Dear god, so much face falling! My creative writing resume here in my mid-twenties, if we can call it that, is definitely as much a Resume of Fails (if not more so!) as one of success. I have had lengthy creative dry spells while freaking out over other stressors in my life (wading through the odd international fraud investigation for my day job, going on bad dates, forgetting to call my parents, to name a few eclectic examples). I have also produced metric fucktons of Really Bad Writing in desperate attempts to compensate. I have yet to actually debut a single novel I've written on the professional market. And like, given the above saga of face falling, I'm hardly a respectable authority on the matter, but still, I'd hazard to propose: having a Resume of (Art) Fails is not necessarily a bad or shameful thing.
While I think novels will probably always be my first creative love, one side-effect of falling on my face so many times with them is that a cocktail of boredom & creative frustration prompted me to start stretching my artistic muscles in new directions. This meant – in part – a return to playing with short-form fiction. And let me tell you, writing short stories, when they seize you just so, are bite-sized little pockets of fun. What began as absent-minded scribblings in the margins of my notebooks – somewhat shamefully destined for a sub-folder in my writing portfolio titled “Stuff I Wrote While Pretending to Take Notes During Completely Pointless Meetings” – started producing worlds and characters and narratives in their own right. And yes, at least a couple of the stories eventually purchased by small magazine editors began life in a notebook margin, during one of those endless, endless meetings. Mea culpa. What a funny, fateful place our world can be.
I grew up finding stories in the strangest places. And cross my heart, I hope I never stop.