More than Maidens and Temple Bells (or “why I want to be an author”)

No one wants to be buried in something they don't enjoy...
No one wants to be buried in something they don’t enjoy…

Can you name five authors of speculative fiction within English literature? Given this broad genre encompasses fantasy, sci-fi and horror, I’m sure a large list of names come to mind. Fantasy authors that immediately pop into my head include Tolkien, Raymond E. Feist and David Eddings. For sci-fi, it’s Isaac Asimov and Stephen Donaldson (who also writes fantasy). There’s five authors right there and I haven’t even touched horror legends like Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

“What are you getting at Joel?” I hear you ask. “Make it a challenge at least.”

Okay, name five Asian authors of speculative fiction within English literature? Any luck? I’ll be honest, none come readily to my mind, which may be indicative that I need to read more or perhaps something a little more thought provoking.

Before I continue, let me say that the fantasy genre is alive and well in Asia. In China alone authors such as Jiang Nan, Mo Yan (2012 Nobel Prize in Literature winner) and Zheng Yuanjie have dominated China’s book sales with their non-English fantasy stories. So I’m not saying that Asian authors of speculative fiction aren’t out there. I just find it interesting that Asian authors of English speculative fiction are harder to come by. Given I enjoy writing in this genre and I am of Taiwanese descent born in Australia, I thought I’d investigate this a little further.

Anecdotal evidence (and that’s all I can go by, I’m not a researcher or statistician) from searching the internet produces results that you have to dig a little deeper to find anything of substance. I found a rather loose Wikipedia entry titled “Speculative fiction by writers of color” that lists only nine Asian-American speculative fiction writers of note. Digging deeper still, I managed to stumble upon a 2013 blog entry by Carrie Cuinn who lists 130+ Asian Speculative Fiction Authors (with links). It was an impressive list that I have no doubt required a lot of research to develop.

Just for the fun of it, I typed in “Asian Australian speculative fiction authors” into the search engine and received the Carrie Cuinn list as one of the top hits. Searching on her list, I found only one Asian Australian speculative fiction author by the name of Stephanie Lai. You can read more about this amazing author and her quirky outlook on life here.

Further hours spent clicking on links and hitting the back button on my browser, I found an admittedly old but interesting article by Jane Sullivan titled “Asian authors offer a new perspective of Australia”. Below is an excerpt taken from this article, which I believe sums up why I’m blogging about this topic:

“Another Chinese-Australian writer has a confrontingly bleak view of his place in Aussie culture. Writing in Overland magazine, Ouyang Yu, author of 28 books in Chinese and English, says that most Chinese-Australian intellectuals he knows have given up trying to express themselves as artists or writers. They tell him the only thing that is valuable in this country is money.

In his provocative essay, Ouyang Yu sees Australian-Asian writing as something still buried in the margins. He complains that the dominant culture virtually ignores its resident Asian writers, except for some women who are conveniently exotic and unthreatening; that most Asian books aren’t reviewed in key media; and that his own books have been rejected by ‘white mainstream publishers’…”

The article ends with the following:

“Part of the problem Ouyang Yu identifies stems from the fact that we still don’t buy Australasian books on the sort of scale we buy, say, Amy Tan or Vikram Seth novels, or memoirs such as Wild Swans. Australasian writing is seen as a curious little footnote to the main game. Next time you see a book by an Asian-Australian in the shops, make a point of picking it up, and discover some new perspectives that aren’t just about frangipani, maidens and temple bells.”

Faced with all this anecdotal evidence (I stress the word “anecdotal”), I wonder what I’m doing seeking to become a speculative fiction author of Taiwanese descent living in Australia. In a typical Asian upbringing, I was raised to get a degree and get a “real” job. So I did that. I got a degree in computer systems engineering and have a full-time job in this area. But I have discovered (for quite some time now) that I find it unfulfilling. I have always loved fantasy and I find the creative process of writing speculative fiction to be most rewarding.

I write because I want to create a world that will capture one’s imagination and also so I can give something to my three kids and say, “Here’s something I wrote. It’s come from me, I’m proud of it and I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.”

This is why I write.

And to those following me, I appreciate you coming on this journey. Regardless of whether I ever get published, all I can do is try. What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll be another Asian-Australian speculative fiction writer who never made it (wherever ‘it’ is). At least, I’ll have discovered more about myself than if I never tried and more importantly, I’ll have no regrets.

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