We’re so pleased to welcome author Cecilia Tan to TNA today on the tour for her newest release, Watch Point, a novel in Riptide Publishing’s 2017 Holiday Charity Bundle. Cecelia is chatting about diversity today, and there’s also a fantastic giveaway, so be sure to check out those details below.
Writing Half-Asian Heroes
I’ve often been given the advice by writing professors and workshop instructors that there are certain things one is supposed to leave up to the imagination of the reader and some that one is not. For example, in traditional writing advice, one is not supposed to leave the reader wondering about the sex or gender of the main character. Likewise one is supposed to be clear as to whether a character lives or dies at the end. (But in every workshop someone tries it, anyway.) Ambiguity in these areas makes the story too difficult for “the reader” to understand.
Part of the problem with “traditional” English-language writing advice, though, is that it assumes that the ideal “reader” is a white, middle-class, educated straight man, and therefore what works is anything that can be assumed to fit that reader. Anything “other” must be marked and labeled. If no gender is specified, the reader assumes the narration must match the gender of the name on the byline. Likewise if no racial or ethnic markers are given, characters are assumed to be white, and if no sexual identity is specified, they are assumed to be straight.
Writing within the genre of gay male romance, fortunately, I don’t worry much that my readers will mistake my main character for anything but a gay man if I don’t come right out and say it, but when it came to Eric’s race/ethnicity I had some choices to make.
Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of criticism about the choice of some authors in many genres (YA, romance, sf/f) to write mixed-race characters, specifically half-white/half-POC, because the critics see it as a cop out. A half-white hero can certainly be a way for authors to claim to be supporting diversity while still insulating themselves against criticism they might face for writing a black/Asian/latinx character that they didn’t “get it right.” Some authors feel it’s “safer” to write a mixed-race character because they’re less likely to alienate the white audience than a protagonist of color. Sometimes these criticisms are valid, sometimes they’re less so. I’m typically not a fan of books where the sole reason a mixed-race character or ethnically diverse cast is included is because the author thinks it’s a fad. (I’m also not a fan of criticism that makes lazy assumptions about author ethnicity.)
Let me tell you, I am a mixed-race person, and being “mixed-race” has been the “hip fad” three or four different times in my life. Like bisexuality, it is a trait that is easily appropriated by authors as an easy “outsider” marker, a metaphorical symbol of their character’s uniqueness. Mr. Spock was half-human, half-Vulcan, and a giant metaphor for the struggle between human history’s tale of war, domination, colonization, and subjugation and the human race’s self-image of kindness and benevolence. (Think about it, the word “humanity” literally means kindness and charitability to us.)
I’ve written mixed-race characters before, but I’ve often left that part of their history in the backstory unless there was a specific reason to bring it up in the story. As a mixed-race person myself, I don’t find the state of being mixed-race “exotic,” nor worthy of long, introspective expositions by my characters about how mixed-race they feel. There are elements of being mixed-race that I would like to explore in my work: what does it mean to be able to pass as white, but not be considered white by some people? How does being seen as “other” by the people around you change your view of yourself? Does growing up with the ability to code-switch from one ethnic group to another change a character’s perspective on life or relationships? Does being mixed race add to this character’s feelings of superiority, inferiority, or does it not affect them at all?
But most of these issues don’t come up for me on a daily basis, and they don’t come up for my characters every day, either. Each one doesn’t have to work through ALL of these issues just as every gay character doesn’t have a compulsory coming out story. I write mixed race characters all the time, but unless they grapple with one of these issues, I think most readers probably miss the fact they are mixed-race entirely.
In the case of Watch Point I decided to try to make Eric’s half-Asian, half-white background harder to miss. I gave him a hyphenated last name (Sakai-Johnson). I slip in his physical description a bit more often than I might otherwise. There’s even a conversation about his parents at one point. There are two reasons I went right at it in Watch Point instead of burying it in the background. For one, I figure the best way to combat exoticized, potentially harmful representations of half-white/half-Asian characters was to write them myself. #OwnVoices applies to people like me, too. Some of Eric’s experiences are my experiences: people I meet are sometimes intensely (uncomfortably) curious about my ethnic background, as if they can’t figure out how to relate to me as a human until they “know.” Eric doesn’t meet many of them in the course of this story (after all, most of the story is just him and Chase on a rocky island in Maine), but he does in his life and there are a few in flashbacks. For the most part Eric plows through life, like me, without his ethnic background mattering to him or the people around him…until he runs smack into someone who makes a big deal about it. That’s my experience, too. Most people don’t care, but the ones that do can really throw you for a loop.
The second reason I gave Eric a mixed background was because I couldn’t write a story about the American military without touching on the fact that the existence of many mixed-race Americans is the result of U.S. military presence in other countries. My father is ethnic Chinese from the Philippines, and he learned his first words of English from American soldiers. The U.S military presence in many places in Asia is significant. I have Eric’s Navy father meet his mother in Japan. The American mythos of the “melting pot” isn’t a fairytale of open borders and ethnic harmony, but the story of waves of immigration forced by war and political allyship.
None of that matters greatly to Eric—but it matters to me. What matters to Eric is the fact that he chose to serve his country, but ultimately his country did not serve him when he was discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Writing a *gay* Navy SEAL adds yet another dimension of complexity to Eric’s story, that is a story for another blog!
About the Book
Eric Sakai-Johnson joined the Navy SEALs to protect his country and the people he loves. After discharge, he finds himself relegated to protecting big pharma billionaire Aiden Milford from assassination attempts and kidnapping. Until Aiden reneges on a promise, fires Eric, and lets Eric’s mother die with millions of dollars in medical debt.
Now Eric is the kidnapper. Snatching Aiden’s twenty-two-year-old son, Chase, for a multi-million-dollar ransom is the only way to get justice. It’s time for Aiden to learn what it’s like when someone you love is at the mercy of forces beyond your control. Eric has it all planned out. The one thing he didn’t plan for is the intense erotic spark between him and Chase.
Chase has been chafing under his father’s autocratic control. A gay hookup app has been his only ticket to rebellion—to clandestine moments of freedom, excitement, and danger. Now it’s his ticket to a deep connection and amazing sex with his “captor.” On the rocky island where they’re sequestered, Chase finds Eric to be everything he wants in a man: quiet, strong, capable, and honorable . . . until he finds out he’s been captured for real.
20% of all proceeds from this title will be donated to the Russian LGBT Network.
Each year, Riptide Publishing releases a holiday collection in support of an LGBTQ charity. Twenty percent of the proceeds from this year’s collection will be donated to the Russian LGBT Network.
The Russian LGBT network was founded in April 2006. It is an interregional, non-governmental human rights organization that promotes equal rights and respect for human dignity, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. They unite and develop regional initiatives, advocacy groups (at both national and international levels), and provide social and legal services.
To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visit their website.
This collection would not be possible without the talent and generosity of its authors, who have brought us the following holiday stories:
- Cecilia Tan, Watch Point
- Roan Parrish, The Remaking of Corbin Wale
- Katie Porter, Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Pre-ordering this collection will allow you to download each story two days prior to its official release date, as well as save 20% off the list price of the individual books.
About the Author
Cecilia Tan is “simply one of the most important writers, editors, and innovators in contemporary American erotic literature,” according to Susie Bright. RT Magazine awarded her Career Achievement in Erotic Romance in 2015 and their prestigious Pioneer Award. Tan’s BDSM romance novel Slow Surrender (2013) also won the RT Reviewers Choice Award in Erotic Romance and the Maggie Award for Excellence from the Georgia Romance Writers chapter of RWA.
Her professional writing career began when she was still a teenager and her father offered to match every dollar she earned from writing while she lived at home. She immediately landed a gig writing a monthly column for Superteen magazine and provided articles to Teen Machine and other teen magazines. Her first professional fiction sale didn’t come until after college, though. While working a day job in book publishing in Boston, she began sending out erotic short stories. On the day she left her job to pursue a master’s degree in writing, her first short story acceptance arrived.
That was in 1992, several months after she’d founded Circlet Press, Inc., then the only book publisher dedicated to erotic science fiction and fantasy. Her first book, Telepaths Don’t Need Safewords, was self-published through Circlet because there was literally nowhere else that would even consider it.
Since then, Tan has authored many books, including the ground-breaking erotic short story collections Black Feathers, White Flames, and Edge Plays, and the erotic romances Slow Surrender, Slow Seduction, and Slow Satisfaction, the Secrets of a Rock Star series, The Prince’s Boy, The Hot Streak, and the Magic University series—as well as various nonfiction books on baseball including The 50 Greatest Yankee Games and The 50 Greatest Red Sox Games.
Her short stories have appeared in Ms. Magazine, Nerve, Best American Erotica, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and tons of other places. She was inducted into the Saints & Sinners Hall of Fame for GLBT writers in 2010, was a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Leather Association in 2004, and won the inaugural Rose & Bay Awards for Best Fiction in 2010 for her crowdfunded web fiction serial Daron’s Guitar Chronicles.
She is the editor of the Baseball Research Journal and is publications director for the Society for American Baseball Research. She is also a part-time taekwondo instructor and is a certified therapist in an Asian bodywork style known as Okazaki restorative therapy. (That’s a fancy way of saying she can break you and then fix you up again.)
Tan has also been a lifelong activist in the BDSM and leather/fetish community. She is the founder of the Fetish Fair Fleamarket, the largest BDSM event in New England, and served for twenty years on the board of directors of the New England Leather Alliance (NELA) before stepping down to concentrate on writing and education.
She lives in the Boston area with her lifelong partner Corwin and three cats. Find out more at www.ceciliatan.com.
To celebrate the release of Watch Point, one lucky winner will receive a swag bag including a copy of Watch Point, The Prince’s Boy, Daron’s Guitar Chronicles Vol 1, a DGC T-shirt, notebook, and stickers! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on November 11, 2017. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!