Happy Thursday, friends!
As some of you may have seen on Twitter last week, I made three big announcements about FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS:
(1) The series title will be Rise of the Empress! This encompasses both books in the duology and I am thrilled with how epic and lovely it sounds.
(2) The official release date is October 10, 2017!
(3) The pre-order link is up on the Penguin Random House website! If you click on the orange pre-order button, it’ll give you a bunch of selections on where to buy, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Many of you have asked me about my cover reveal. I’m not sure when or where it will be, but rest assured, there is a lot going on behind the scenes and I hope we can share something with you very soon!
Okay… I’m going to make this as brief as I can, because I want to return to happiness, positivity, and joy about my accomplishment in achieving a book deal after so many years of working endlessly toward my dream. But for the sake of transparency, I want to talk a little bit about what happened to me last week on Twitter.
I have been vacillating between longing to write an entire furious post complete with screenshots (oh yes, I took screenshots of our ENTIRE conversation), and being upset and anxious and not wanting to say anything. But I think that does everyone a disservice, because this is an important topic to discuss.
The basic gist of the drama is: a young agented writer followed me on Twitter and I auto-followed them back, wanting to support up-and-comers (this was my first mistake). They began interacting with me, and we talked in quite a friendly way. Their messages steadily became more and more intense, and it was soon apparent that this person (who was born in China, lived there for 10 years, and spoke Mandarin as their first language) thought it their God-given duty to educate me on all things Chinese, under the guise of caring about me and not wanting FOTL to get called out like “all those other books.”
They felt that because I was Vietnamese (and, to add insult to injury, born American), I would definitely screw up what they saw as their culture, their property. They accused me of not choosing a meaning for Xifeng, the name of my beloved main character; they were irritated by my tweeting about “dim sum,” which they considered offensive (I checked this with numerous Chinese friends, all of whom let me know they use the term themselves or, if not, do not consider it the least bit racist since it originated in China); and were upset about the fact that I used the Romanized spelling of qilin, a mythical creature, in a tweet (that would be ki lin, which showed up in all of my research).
There was also a very long lecture/tirade about me using the term “Asian fantasy” to describe FOTL. “Grouping the whole of Asia as a single thing is terribly offensive. China is not the same as Korea not the same as Japan not the same as Thailand not the same as Phillipines not the same as Vietnam not the same as Egypt… Just because you’re Asian does not entitle you to write other cultures.” (Taken verbatim from a screenshot of the last DM before I blocked them.)
I unfollowed them, which made this individual even angrier. They expostulated at length on Twitter about what a horrible person I was, how the fact that I claimed to care about young Asian readers was just a “publicity stunt,” and how I cruelly dismissed their concerns (just ignore the fact that I spent an entire day DMing back and forth, reassuring them I had done extensive research and hired multiple sensitivity readers, apologizing if I hurt them at all, listening politely). They also went on a fierce smear campaign to relentlessly DM/email every Asian author and friend they believed to be close to me, lying that I had hired them as a sensitivity reader and had ignored/attacked them, and trying to convince everyone I was appropriating Asian culture.
All this, without having read a single word of my book.
All they needed to know was (1) I had a big book deal for a Chinese-inspired fantasy that I was getting a lot of attention for, and (2) I was not Chinese or, indeed, Asian-born. For all intents and purposes, I had taken a space on the shelf they saw as rightfully theirs.
That’s all it took for the lies and slander and accusation to begin.
Why this expectation of absolute perfection? Of ownership over a person and her writing? I hear all the time about harsh, mean, hyper-critical reviews for Asian-American stories from (very often Asian-born) readers who expected a “purer” voice, someone more connected to the ancestral homeland and therefore more “valid” and “deserving” to tell the story. There simply isn’t enough representation out there, so when an Asian person makes it into the spotlight, they are claimed and held responsible for every single thing these particular readers don’t agree with or haven’t experienced.
I have never claimed to have written a perfect book. I have never claimed to be anything other than what I am: an Asian-American person, with an Asian-American lens, trying to introduce more Asian stories and culture into my books. These tales, too, are ones I grew up hearing from my parents and dearly love and respect, and I have every right to reclaim them for myself. I have done everything I possibly can to portray these characters and this culture in a careful, respectful light, and I am ready to listen and learn if mistakes are made. But I cannot represent an entire group of people comprising billions of individuals across the planet. All I can do is write my book, my way, with my experiences and knowledge. And if you are looking for a “pure, absolutely perfect” viewpoint, I’m sorry to say you won’t find it in my work. I cannot be anything other than what I am.
– Ijeoma Umebinyuo, “diaspora blues”
By the way, I will never, ever be sharing this person’s name or various Twitter handles publicly. My agent and editor are both aware of the whole situation, and I’m not interested in instigating a massive public pile-on. I have also been told that this person is a teenager. They have a great agent and I sincerely wish them well in their writing… I know that may be hard to believe, but I really do. We need more Asian books out there from ALL viewpoints. However, this is a small industry with a long memory, and should they need assistance or a blurb in the future for their Chinese fantasy, these will be coming from some other Asian author, not from me.
This is hopefully the last time I will need to talk about this situation. I consider it to be over, and a good learning experience and something to be aware of and look out for in the future.
There was an outpouring of support afterward that made me feel so fortunate to be a part of this community. I can’t tell you how many wonderful messages I got from other young Asian writers, readers, and bloggers in the wake of this mess, telling me how excited they are for FOTL. If my book is lucky enough to do well, I hope with all my heart that this opens the door wider for their books. Representation is about having a spectrum of voices, and I am beyond honored and excited and overjoyed to be adding my own voice to the mix this year!
Onward we go!