The second half of 2022 was active on the writing front. I was a special guest on the faculty of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and attended the Monson Arts Residency in Maine to work on my next books.
On the book coverage front, my work made three appearances in the San Francisco Chronicle. I interviewed Catherine Ceniza Choy about her book about Asian American histories. Then I reviewed Ryan Lee Wong’s debut novel, two books about North Korea, and selected my best book of 2022.
For NPR, I reviewed two novels I loved at the midyear mark, Paradais, by Fernanda Melchor, and The Stars Are Not Yet Bells, by Hannah Lilith Assadi. I also reviewed Ghost Town, a novel by Kevin Chen, published by one of my favorite indies Europa Editions.
For my friends at Heavy Feather Review, I rounded up my top five reads of 2022 with an emphasis on small and independent presses.
Happy new year to all!
Novelist YiShun Lai and I discuss our debut novels, dysfunctional families, and writing the Asian American antihero
Novelist YiShun Lai and I met online when the Tahoma Literary Review, which she helps edit, accepted one of my short stories. My debut novel, The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong, was published in November 2015, and I soon discovered that YiShun’s own debut, entitled Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu, was coming out in May 2016. I noticed the coincidental titular resemblance. Both our novels feature dysfunctional Asian American families and heroes who are gifted—at unintentionally setting fire to their lives and the lives of people who care for them.
Why misadventuring Asian Americans? Were we subconsciously pushing against the model minority myth? Were we just writing stories we wanted to read? Why did we both try to portray Asian Americans as self-destructive, morally challenged, even anti-heroic?
YiShun lives near Los Angeles, and I live in Brooklyn, so we conducted an e-mail conversation and discussed our fictional misadventures, difficult mothers, and our shared concerns about the state of Asian American literature.
Read the rest of our interview and excerpts from our novels over at Asian-American Writers Workshop’s literary journal The Margins.
The Bordirtoun Pongs have long been known for being artists of denial. To be such an artist, one must be nearly developmentally disabled at heeding the advice and/or warnings of others. When Millmore’s co-workers repeatedly told him that bridge construction was in no way safer than building railroad tunnels, my great-great-granduncle simply nodded and went on his merry way. Probably because, by most accounts, he didn’t understand much English and was partially deaf thanks to his repeated exposure to dynamite blasts. When Parris Pong was told by his most loyal customers that he needed to stop bruising his prized prostitutes, he agreed and slapped them face-side instead. Before Francisco Pong was interned, members of his congregation had warned him that his own congregants were questioning his ethnicity. But he persisted, insisting that God saw no color, and all His children would be able to distinguish between Japanese-Americans and Chinese-Americans. Of course, Saul was warned numerous times by Nolan Bushnell himself to stay away from his wife, a warning left unheeded.
Since I’ve started writing these pages, I have found myself becoming attuned to the patterns of denial in my fellow inmates. There’s a wing of sex offenders at Bordirtoun Correctional who have pled not guilty, who spend group therapy sessions maintaining that they did not go over to that teen’s house with sexual intentions, never mind that they had condoms in their pockets.
What about my patterns of denial, you ask? Well, you will soon read that once I found myself in repose, in Bordirtoun, for an extended period, certain truths about my character began to assert themselves. Truths I had long ignored, and soon, I would find myself deeper, embedded. You will find that I am similarly skilled at this Pong-ian art of denial. After all, I was the one who came halfway around the world, assuming that my father was telling the truth, knowing full well that he was a world-class liar and cheat.
Read more at Fiction Advocate.