Tag: process

Can haz first draft


Temp title is “The Angel at the Heart of the Rain” (might just keep it, it’s not that bad). Very much shorter than expected at 1.5k words, will have to ask the market that asked for this if they’re OK with this.

At first, you believe it is only a matter of time until your aunt joins you. You huddle in a small flat with your younger sister Huong and two other refugees, washing rice that smells only faintly of jasmine, cutting ginger that has grown hard and tasteless in the cupboards where it was hoarded like treasures–and you think of a home so far out of your reach it might be on another planet.

On the phone, your aunt’s voice is breezy, telling you not to worry–that she’ll find a visa and a plane ticket, that she knows someone who knows someone who can give her a hand with the formalities of the High Commissioner for Refugees. Behind her, you hear the dull thud of bombs falling like rain in the streets–the same sound that swells and roars within your dreams until you wake up in a room that feels deathly silent.

Which just leaves me with another story to write before the end of October (a month that includes Bristolcon and World Fantasy Con). Also, planning a novel with Mindships in my spare time.

Onwards, I guess…

Current mood: determined 😀 😀

Brief midweek update (including free ebook thing)


Not much, sorry–mainly have the impression I’ve been repeatedly hit with a hammer between the eyes–again. Got feedback on a short story I’ve been struggling with, and I think I have a better idea of where it’s going (also got very stern injunctions from the H to stop mopping and getting depressed). Also think I can reduce it from its 10k words to something more manageable, just have to think on it for a while.

Also realised Bristolcon is in 3 weeks, and WFC is about 4-5? *panic mode on*

Vietnamese tip of the day: do not attempt to address a teenager as anh (“elder brother”) lest you provoke hilarity. Yup, you’d think I know by now…

Reminder of the day: you can get my sampler Scattered Among Strange Worlds among other wonderful books from the Codex Writers’ Group. See here for details (also would be quite grateful if you happen to download it and read it and post amazon reviews…)

How (not) to plot an SF story


Snippet from our holiday in Brittany:
Me: “So, I want this story to be about child refugees and their experience. It kind of needs something else to be SF, though…”
The H: “Space stations? Spaceships? AIs? Nanomachines?”
Me: “Ooh. I like nanomachines. Sold, now I have to think of a plot to go with those. Mmm…”

Yup, this is how my SF gets plotted, which kind of explains a lot of things…
(I usually get the setting from combining one societal thing with one science/SF thing; however, at this stage I’ll throw in a random element to provide the actual plot that goes with the setting. Lately, it’s been a fairytale motif, go figure)

Can haz story


Was originally shooting for 6k words on this one, and I ought to have remembered that a two-strand narration with six main characters was a bad idea for length… Very fortunately, I checked the guidelines for the market I’m supposed to submit this to, and realised I’d misremembered and that it was going up to 10k (I doubt they’re going to be very happy about the 9k, but there’s clearly no way I can cut text out of this. If anything, it’s too short).

Don’t have a title yet: it’s called The Turtle’s Citadel after one of the main characters, but it’s a really bad title and I need to change it as soon as my magical title generator (aka the H) has read it and offered opinions. Also waiting for bunch of readers to read it and see how much is unclear. Lots of space scenes, which is unusual for me (I find space boring. Fortunately, a squad of homicidal attack drones generally makes things very interesting for everyone concerned). Also, lots of reflections on postcolonialism, imperialism and cultural clashes, as par for the course.

The derelict ward was in an isolated section of outsider space, one of the numerous spots left blank on interstellar maps, no more or no less tantalising than its neighbouring quadrants. To most people, it would be just that: a boring part of a long journey to be avoided–skipped over by Mind-ships as they cut through deep spaces, passed around at low speeds by outsider ships while their passengers slept in their hibernation cradles.

Only if anyone got closer would they see the hulking masses of ships: the glint of starlight on metal, the sharp, pristine beauty of their hulls, even though they all lay quiescent and crippled, forever unable to move–living corpses kept as a reminder of how far they had fallen; the outsiders’ brash statement of their military might, a reminder that their weapons held the means to fell any Mind-ships they chose to hound.

On the sensors of The Cinnabar Mansions, the ships all appeared small and diminished, like toy models or avatars–things Lan Nhen could have held in the palm of her hand and just as easily crushed. As the sensors’ line of sight moved–catching ship after ship in their field of view, wreck after wreck, indistinct masses of burnt and twisted metal, of ripped-out engines, of shattered life pods and crushed shuttles–Lan Nhen felt as if an icy fist were squeezing her heart into shards. To think of the Minds within–dead or crippled, forever unable to move…

Your hemi-semi-weekly Vietnamese proverb


“Chở củi về rừng”: “carrying wood into the forest/jungle”. Doing useless things (like “carrying coal to Newcastle”, an English proverb I learnt at the same time as the Vietnamese one). Hahaha, that one is hilarious.

In other news, I have 3k words on the novel. One of my fave characters just showed up (great cook, good sense of humour, major temper. What’s not to love). Just one more scene, and I’ll be done with chapter 1!

More linky linky


-International Science Fiction reprints my Xuya novelette “Butterfly, Falling at Dawn”. Check out the rest of their fiction, too: they focus on non-Western-Anglophone authors, and they’ve got pretty cool stuff up already, including nice non-fiction articles.

@requireshate, Joyce Chng, Rachel Swirsky, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Ekaterina Sedia and I engage in a discussion on non-Western SF. We tackle writing other cultures, exoticism, non-Western narratives: part 1, and part 2. Many thanks to Fabio Fernandes, Lavie Tidhar and Charles Tan for making this possible.

requireshate: I want to respond to a few things Joyce brought up–the expectations for people like us to be exotic. I’m often questioned as to the authenticity of my identity, because to westerners I appear to be writing “just like them,” steeped in “North American culture” (when in truth I know almost nothing about North America!). This assumption comes about because the hegemony is so huge and pervasive that it becomes, itself, an invisible mass and the default assumption. Mostly, if you write in English and aren’t breaking into malapropisms or broken syntax constantly, you’re immediately assumed to be “one of them,” part of the western paradigm.

(also, because I know this is going to come up at some point, and it’d be hypocritical of me not to mention it: I’m well aware that I’m committing outsider narrative in Obsidian and Blood. I’m doing it for what I believe are good motives–out of interest for the Mexica, to rehabilitate a culture that got the really short end of the stick, and show a mindset that is radically different without descending into Barbaric cliché; I’m doing it in reasonably good conscience of the issues involved in cultural appropriation [1] [2]; but it doesn’t change the fact that my books are not insider depictions of 15th-Century Tenochtitlan. It doesn’t make them worthless or bad; but yes, you can totally argue that, as an outsider writing about that culture, in both time and space, I’m to some extent perpetuating an exoticism problem, and I won’t disagree! I did try my best, but I most probably stumbled in places.
Also, I most certainly do not advocate people should stop writing about other cultures. Just pointing out it’s a fraught subject)

[1] Complicated by the fact that this is a historical culture and not a present-day one–makes some issues simpler, makes other issues harder…
[2] To be fair, my conscience of those issues kind of improved over the trilogy, so I can see the cringy bits in Servant of the Underworld that I tried to smooth out by Master of the House of Darts

Ok, it’s your fault…


Remember that snippet I posted earlier? I now have a 4000-word story to go with it–temporary title “The Two Sisters in Exile”. Put it up on OWW for crits, and waiting for the inevitable complaints about density. (to be fair, it’s very very dense, and I didn’t even get to cram enough food in it [1]).
I shall now go back to my novel and browbeat it into submission. So far, it hasn’t exactly been cooperative…

[1] All stories should have food. It improves the plot immeasurably. Also, it compensates for those times when I’m typing on my computer and can’t have more than a mug of tea and a raisin because it’s not dinnertime yet.



A snippet from my files:

In spite of her name (an elegant, whimsical female name which meant Perfumed Winter, and a reference to a long-dead poet), Dong Huong was a warrior, first and foremost. She’d spent her entire life in skirmishes against the pale men, the feathered clans and the dream-skinners: her first ship, The Tiger Lashes With His Tail, had died at the battle of Bach Nhan, when the smoke-children had blown up Harmony Station and its satellites; her second had not lasted more than a year. The Tortoise in the Lake was her sixth ship, and they’d been together for five years, though neither of them expected to live that time again. Though men survived easier than ships–because they had armours, because the ships had been tasked to take care of them. Dong Huong remembered arguing with Lady Meng’s Brewer–begging the ship to spare itself instead of her–and running against a wall of obstinacy, a fundamental incomprehension that ships could be more important than humans.

Among the Northerners, however, everything was different.

(I have no idea what I’m going to do with this, and it looks like the kind of background worldbuilding I’ll throw away in a final draft, but I rather like it).

We’re all the same deep down, or “it’s all a matter of degree”


(with thanks to Brian Dolton, for sparking this one off)

The above is something that I’ve often heard quoted when speaking of “writing the Other” [1]. And I’ve been struggling with it ever since I heard it; because it rings fishy to me. And yet there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it; and indeed, much that is right. Of course we’re all human beings. We’re born and we live and we age and we die. We love and we care and we hate and we fear. We have parents and grandparents and some sort of family; and a non-insignificant bunch of us will have friends and children and partners. There’s a whole spectrum of experiences and emotions that we share on what, for want of a better word, I think of as the human continuum. And, given that a few centuries ago people of a different colour or gender or creed were thought of as no better than beasts, I’m certainly not going to complain at the impulse to declare us all part of the same species.

At the same time… I think the main problem I have with the above sentences is that they’re too reductive: they go straight to what they see as “the essential”, and forget that our lives are often made up of many large and small details, of a mosaic of beliefs and cultural mores which comes from the environment we’ve been raised in, the society we’ve moving in, the subcultures we’re members of, the people we frequent… Yeah, we’re all the same deep down, but, broadly speaking, life in Hồ Chí Minh City follows very different rhythms from life in Paris; and the social structure and attitudes can also be very different [2]. Similarly, of course French politics are like US politics, but for a matter of degree; but that doesn’t get across the way that those two are fundamentally un-alike, and the myriad differences that make French politics characteristics of France.

Of course there’s nothing like “French-ness”, or “Black-ness”, or “Asian-ness”–and of course you don’t want characters who are walking stereotypes (personally, if I see one more Eastern mystical master, or one more Asian family obsessed with school grades and arranged marriages, I’ll hit someone). But the reverse approach, the one that advocates that “we’re all the same deep down”, is a bit like globalisation to me: instead of being a vibrant celebration of what makes us different, globalisation tends to smooth everything into an over-arching culture (which is a mix of European/US cultural mores, to oversimplify). Or like “universal stories”, which so often tend to be the Hollywood variety (rather than, say, the Bollywood or Nollywood one, to take just two examples).

This approach assumes that everyone in every country wants the same things: which might the case if you go deep enough, but is intensely problematic if you stop, say, at tastes in food, or beauty standards, or cultural values. And, like globalisation, the “we’re all the same” approach tends to lead to characters who might feel powerfully individual, but who basically remain 21st-Century US/European people in costume with a few “exotic” [3] words thrown in: it makes a mockery of all that makes us different.

In other words, saying “everyone is the same deep down” carries the risk of being boiled down to “everyone is like me”, and that in turn can lead to thinking everyone has the same beliefs and culture as you do, aka imposing your own thought processes on others at the expense of their own.

So, yeah. We’re all the same deep down. Except for a matter of degree. But degree is a huge thing.

This isn’t my most articulate post. I’m fully aware that I’m struggling to pinpoint why I disagree with the above assumptions; and I’m not entirely sure I succeeded in putting my thoughts down on, er, blog electrons. I guess it broadly boils to a matter of balance between two ends of the same problem: characters as walking stereotypes, and characters as entirely similar to the writer or the assumed majority audience (both stemming from an incomprehension of difference, and to some extent for me, a tolerance fail). Am I making sense to you? What do you think?

[1]I also have issues with this expression, but I’m going to stick to one problematic assertion per blog post…
[2]They can also be eerily similar in some respects; and yes, they’re going to hugely depend on who you are and where you live in both cities. But my point is that they don’t coincide 100%, or even 90%. There’s overlap, but no equivalence (yes, I’m a maths geek 🙂 )
[3]”exotic” is another of those words that makes me want to hit something, just in case you have a doubt. Especially when it’s applied to food I happen to have eaten and enjoyed since childhood.

(picture credits: nanarmitvn on stock.xchng)