rediscovering joy in solitude + current reads

I feel like the world entered 2021 with cautious (if a little beleaguered) hope. With more vaccines being developed and distributed around the world, a certain orange man on his way out, and businesses starting to rehire again, it seemed like things might be starting to pick up.

Then the 7 Jan Capitol Hill insurgence happened (seriously, what the actual fuck – the audacity and lawlessness and injustice is unbelievable) and we’re seeing a couple of Covid-19 cases in the local community again (after months of zero community cases) and it feels like 2021 is just 2020 part two. I had to take a break from the news for a bit and find my inner peace again.

And really, that’s the goal these days. Just inner peace. Trying not to let external things, events and people upset the balance. Keeping the optimism alive.

On a personal note, it’s been a good first week of the year for me. Projects lined up that I’m genuinely excited about, daily progress being made, new plans and collaborations with people, spending time with friends and family. I feel like I’m coming home to myself again, slowly but surely sliding back into equilibrium. Silence doesn’t feel daunting or empty; it just feels peaceful now, and my head is no longer preoccupied with anxious thoughts. There’s a quiet power that comes with being comfortable and happy in your own company, when you don’t feel like you’re lacking anything and you’ve got everything you need to keep you fulfilled, busy, and happy. I’m learning to enjoy that again.

Most notably, I’ve been getting a lot more reading and writing done. I’m currently working on four books (three novels and one book of poetry and prose. I know some of you want me to disclose more about my current works-in-progress, but I generally prefer not to divulge too much or make it public before I’m at least done with the first draft. I like my projects to belong completely to me until I at least have a semblance of a thing to show. So this is all I’ll share for now), and I’m reading three books concurrently (more on that in a bit), on top of juggling assignments, painting, working out, and dreaming up new scenes for my novels and new tales to tell.

So when people ask me what I’ve been up to and I say “keeping busy”, that’s the long answer.

Currently Reading:

  1. Magic for Liars, by Sarah Gailey
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There’s murder, a school for teenage mages (think Hogwarts as an American high school), and a private investigator struggling to take on a task too big for her to handle. I do enjoy the voice and the premise, but I also wish the pace would pick up a bit. There’s a lot to uncover here, and so far (133 pages in), the protagonist has just been wrestling with her insecurity issues, rekindling her relationship with her estranged sister, and wandering around the school observing people. I’ll keep going, though, just to see if things build up.

2. By All the Saints and Stars, by my incredible friend and critique partner Meredith Crosbie

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When Meredith first told Nicole (another fantastic writer and fellow Tolkien lover) and I that she was writing a book set in ancient Venice, I was immediately stoked. And it did not disappoint. I practically flew through the first four chapters in one sitting, and am consistently impressed by the world-building and characterisation. You guys, this book will definitely be on the shelves one day, and I’m so honoured to be one of the first few people to read it.

3. Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

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I knowww. I started reading this book in 2019 and I’m still not done with it. Similarly, I took more than a year to finish King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo, so the fact that I take ages to finish a book is in no way a testament to the quality of the book. Laini and Leigh are stellar writers – I just have terrible a attention span these days (again, I blame social media). But Strange the Dreamer is a hefty book, and there’s a lot of world-building involved so it takes a while to fully immerse in the book.

4. I’ve also been seeking out more poetry.

It’s funny – I never used to be into poetry very much, but maybe that was because I’d never really found poems that resonated with me. My last (cringe-inducing) attempt at poetry was when I was 17: I went everywhere with a black notebook and pen, and sat in dark corners scribbling away in it. I don’t dare to promise that the poems I’m attempting to write now are cringe-free, but I like to think they’re marginally less awful than the ones I wrote as a teenager.

Anyway, here are some much, much better poems others have written that I absolutely adore:

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I met Marla back in 2016, when we sat on the same panel at a writers conference, and discovered what an amazing poet she is. Been trying to get my hands on her poetry anthologies but they seem to be out of stock everywhere 😩

Hope you’re having a good start to 2021 (and if not, that you hold faith that things WILL get better)!

So much new Asian-lit in my TBR, I’m loving it

I am SO behind on my reading list.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m the most easily distracted gnat you can find. Gone are the days when I could write 3k words a day without fail (seriously, how did I do that?). These days, I pat myself on the back just for reading an entire chapter without going on Instagram or Tumblr.

Still, that doesn’t mean I have to stop adding books to my To-Be-Read pile. It currently stands at 567 books, but you know, I’ll get through them all … some day. (I can read from my grave, right?)

And seeing so many new Asian literature – particularly in YA – makes me very happy indeed. (Book recs below!)

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Confession: When I was a teenage writer still trying to find my voice, I tried to mimic the way Western – mostly American – authors wrote. I adopted their voice, their narrative style and characters’ mannerisms and speech.

But those didn’t sit right. The stories I wrote weren’t rooted in my reality, my country or my neighbourhood. They didn’t feature the people I interacted with daily. They were textbook characters created in the likeness of those from my favourite authors’ books. They even had Western last names. They went to high school (not secondary school, as we call it here), and they talked like the American teenagers I saw in movies.

Why?

Because I thought that if I wrote a story from my perspective, no one would be able to relate to it, much less want to read it. I thought that if I created a world based on my reality, my narrow slice of life in this little corner of the world, I would isolate readers from the rest of the world. I thought the Western reality was the only relevant one. 

Obviously, I no longer subscribe to that notion. It’s kind of sad and embarrassing, in fact, to admit this. To admit that I thought my culture was not relevant or significant enough to be written about in books. That I had to alter my reality to fit what I saw in mainstream culture, be it in movies or books.

And this is exactly why we need more diverse representation in literature, and why I’m excited about the increase in diverse lit in recent years. It shows young, impressionable readers (like myself back then) that there can be more than one culture other than the one typically seen in Hollywood movies or books. That other cultures are not in any way lesser than the one seen in mainstream media and pop culture. That everyone can have a voice, and those voices deserve to be heard. That all cultures and communities have a place in pop culture, and we don’t have to all subscribe to one “correct” or “common” culture.

I also used to think that fantasy could only feature boys, or Caucasian characters because the sort of fantasy books I could find involved Medieval settings, swords and stallions, taverns and corsets. But the surge of diverse YA fantasy in recent years (shoutout to Sabaa Tahir, Renee Ahdieh, Marie Lu, Julie C. Dao, Tomi Adeyemi, Roshani Chokshi, Alwyn Hamilton and more!) has made me see that diversity is – and should be – celebrated now more than ever before. And rightly so. Be it African, Middle Eastern, Russian, Indian, Japanese, Korean or Chinese, literature becomes much richer when many more cultures join the party, bringing to the table different stories, perspectives, values, folklore, beliefs.

Leigh Bardugo says it best here (timestamp 6:00 – 7:40):

(I recommend watching ALL her interviews, by the way. She is so eloquent and is never shy about putting things into stark perspective, calling out the bullshit in the system – misrepresentation, whitewashing, misogyny, etc., yet she’s always humble and jovial and relatable. If you read her books, you’ll also find that her characters are a diverse mix – in terms of race and sexual orientation – and she takes great pains to ensure they all properly represent the marginalised communities. She’s just THE BEST OKAY I LOVE HER.)

Anyway, Asian-lit reading list:

Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane, by Joan He: a Chinese-inspired fantasy involving magic, a brave princess, vengeance and deception. DROOL. Also, that cover. DOUBLE DROOL.

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Spin the Dawn, (The Blood of Stars #1), by Elizabeth Lim: Billed as Project Runway meets Mulan, it’s about a girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on a journey to sew three magic dresses. Yup, I’m on board.

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I Love You So Mochi, by Sarah Kuhn: Coming-of-age story about an art student rediscovering her roots in Kyoto. Reminds me of The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan.

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Wicked Fox, (Gumiho #1), by Kat Cho: a fantasy-romance set in modern-day Seoul about a girl who’s a gumiho (the legendary nine-tailed fox from Korean folklore) who falls for a human boy. IT FEELS LIKE A KOREAN DRAMA. BUT IN BOOK FORM. I’ve always wondered what Korean dramas would read like as novels, and now I shall find out.

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Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, by Roselle Lim: a contemporary tale of a girl who goes home and reconnects with her estranged family after her mother’s death. Love me some family drama and low-key sobriety. Also, how cute is this cover? It’s giving me Love Fortunes and Other Disasters vibe, and it has a similar small-town charm.

tl;dr Yay for #ownvoices and diverse books!

If you’re a reader or writer of colour, what has your experience been like seeking diversity in fiction? How has that influenced your worldview or you as a writer? What are your thoughts on the rise of diverse literature? I’d love to hear from you!

FLIGHT AND FURY (RIPTIDES #1)

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In a world where shape-shifters are divided into kingdoms, the sea children and sky children are at war over stolen magic.

Amber is a sea daughter, the last surviving royal who has been hidden on a remote island ever since she was eight. Training as an apprentice in a black market for dark magic, she has no recollection of the traumatic siege that killed her family … until a mysterious winged stranger shows up one day at her window, wounded and bloody.

As Amber plunges into her watery memories, she discovers an entire race of sea children adrift, waiting for her to piece back her fractured kingdom. To do so, Amber has to battle an unruly ancient magic, enemies out for blood, and the stirrings of her own heart.

FLIGHT AND FURY is the first installment of the Riptides Trilogy, a YA fantasy series.

BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU

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17-year-old Isabel is running from her memories, the ones that remind her of her hand in the death of her best friend’s sister.

When she finds out that her friend Wes has been visiting a memory killer, an illegal witch-doctor who erases memories, she decides to have her own painful memories erased too. Soon, Isabel and Wes are spiralling down the rabbit-hole of selective amnesia together.

But memory erasure comes with its set of side effects, including long-term memory loss. It doesn’t help that the memory killer suddenly vanishes. Now, they have to race against time to find the memory killer before they lose their memories for good, and ultimately decide if a life forgotten is a life worth living.

THE DREAMCATCHERS

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Contrary to popular belief, Becca isn’t crazy.

Sure, she can communicate with spirits through her dreams, and sometimes they make her do things while she’s asleep. But she’s learnt to keep her mouth shut when it comes to her dreams. So no one knows about the recent one she’s been having, where a woman keeps asking her to stop a boy from jumping off a Ferris wheel at the Midnight Carnival.

When her vision comes true and father goes missing after the chaos at the Carnival, Becca struggles to make sense of her dreams in order to clear his name. She doesn’t believe the two brothers she meets at the carnival when they tell her she’s a dream-walker who can traverse the different worlds of existence. But when they are all trapped in dream-state thanks to her, Becca has to embrace her dormant abilities to help them escape, as well as find her father back.

THE DREAMCATCHERS is the first of a YA fantasy series that stands at 61,000 words.

BACKSTAGE

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17-year-old Chloe Song is forced to put school on hold and get a full-time job when her parents’ business venture fails.

Meanwhile, Ethan “Prince” Wane has fallen from grace after his hiatus from the entertainment scene. His lacklustre comeback is proof that he is being dethroned. On top of that, he’s lost his private suite and his assistant.

So when Prince decides to hire Chloe as his new assistant, it seems like a win-win situation. But fame is an entirely different ball game, and as the media gets wind of Prince and Chloe’s relationship, the latter finds herself the target of vitriolic fans, one of whom will stop at nothing to eliminate her from Prince’s life.

BACKSTAGE is a 73,000 word contemporary  YA romance.

BLOOD PROMISE

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Frosty Island has a secret. And, if the spate of deaths and freak accidents is anything to go by, that secret is about to blow up.

17-year-old April Renn is a reformed changeling who survives on blood fruits found on the island instead of human souls. But as the supply of blood fruits dwindles, April finds herself struggling to curb her hunger.

After her brother is captured for stealing fruits from the mercenary Traders who serve the fairies, April allies with a long-lost fairy prince and sets out to rescue him 
 only to find herself caught in a brewing fairy civil war where humans and changelings alike serve as pawns in the game.

BLOOD PROMISE, the first installment in a YA fantasy trilogy, stands at 78,000 words.

UNTIL MORNING

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18-year-old Lexi Keen has found her soul-mate. The problem is, she has never met Night, the elusive street artist who leaves his paintings in the nooks and crannies of the city.

Still, that doesn’t stop her from penning letters to him and dreaming about living in his paintings – until she finds herself in his painting, after a car accident that sees her ending up in a coma. But in her mind she is wandering through Night’s paintings and her childhood memories. Her only companion: Sam, a straight-laced boy who is the total opposite of Night.

As Lexi and Sam escape into their dreams, they find themselves unwilling to leave and question what they are really awake for.

UNTIL MORNING is a 74,000 word YA magical realism romance.

NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND

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17-year-old Gemma, whose patchy memories of her childhood consist of regular visits to the idyllic, imaginary Neverland before her mother fell sick.

When Gemma meets Cole, a disenchanted boy who stirs up more than just memories of her adventures in Neverland, she begins to piece together the tragedy of her half-forgotten childhood: her mother sick with longing for Neverland, the accident that ripped her family apart, and her father who abandoned her when she was a child.

But as she inches closer to the truth, Gemma begins to spiral deeper into Neverland just like her mother had.

NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND is a 76,000 word contemporary YA novel.