|Want to read an awesome gumiho story?|
Go check out thefoxsister.com.
More importantly, the personal element that I'm mining for this book involves ethnic identity, with all of its psychological and cultural complexities. My debut novel isn't devoid of emotional truth or personal meaning (I think, anyway), but the personal issues it focuses on are more about perceptions of self-worth and adapting to new roles. It's been described as "fun" more than anything else. This new novel won't be devoid of fun - that's, um, not what I want - but the emotional truths at its core traffic much more in family history, communication breakdowns between generations, and cultural alienation.
Whoa dude, serious, huh? I don't want to give the impression that I'm attempting to stop being a supposedly humorous and light-hearted author and reinventing myself as a solemn chronicler of identity crises in bloom - at this point in my career I don't know if I'm even capable of doing something that difficult. But I am exploring aspects of my own life that have provoked complicated feelings, including confusion, regret, resentment, loss, and shame.
|I really don't know why I keep using this photo.|
Seems like unrestrained masochism, doesn't it??
One of my favorite articles in the realm of Asian-American identity is this piece about current professional basketball player Jeremy "Linsanity" Lin, written by Jay Caspian Kang during Lin's time at Harvard. I'm not approaching the topic with Kang's journalistic intent or depth of intellectual inquiry, and he writes about it on a broad societal level, while I'm writing the story of one character's experiences within a single, specific context. However, Kang touches on many of the internal conflicts that are informing my book. What does it mean to lose contact with one's ancestral roots? How do we perceive, think about, and react to the "race to whiteness"? How much of our racial identities do we define for ourselves, and how much is defined for us? What is the relationship between external and internal perception? Is it possible, necessary, or defensible to weigh the validity of a person's self-defined ethnic identity?
Which brings us to the question of "Okay Mike, that all sounds good, but with all this heavy-duty stuff about culture, ethnicity, and personal history in the mix, why are you writing it as a fantasy novel?" Good question. It might seem reductive and misleading to say "Well, I just WANT to, because I LIKE fantasy fiction, and thousand-year-old foxes who eat people's livers are AWESOME," but that statement (which is admittedly a bit flip) is very true.
The fact that I'm exploring issues with a great deal of emotional relevance to me doesn't change the fact that I also want to write stories that are fun, fast-paced, and humorous. I believe those lighter, less solemn elements are every bit as personally relevant, emotionally meaningful, and psychologically resonant as the heavier, more serious ones. I love reading and writing fantasy - those stories suffuse my being with undeniable plenitude, and the layers of metaphor and symbolism they create in my heart and mind are nearly fathomless.
|Sometimes you just have to embrace the megalomania.|
It's fascinating, gratifying, and thoroughly engaging to be exploring these questions of culture, ethnicity, and identity within the mingled context of traditional Korean mythology AND contemporary North American society. It also feels like I'm clawing open a bunch of scabbed-over, decades-old wounds and pouring big, chunky handfuls of rock salt in them, which is, um, not entirely pleasant. The whole endeavor feels very, very complicated, but that's okay. It doesn't have to feel easy to feel good or worthwhile. I'm ready to put in the work, and hopefully I'll manage to combine those complicated autobiographical ingredients with those cool, scary, fun fantasy ingredients in a way that results in a strong, cohesive serving of emotional truth. Give me a fist bump, yo. *fist bump*
Mike Jung is the author of GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic 2012). He's also kind of a basket case, but he's able to tap into the basket case thing for the purpose of writing, which may or may not mean anything to you but there it is.