Interview With K-Ming Chang

Interview

Read K-Ming Chang’s piece, “Invasive Species”, here.

Transcript

Hello, world! Here is a transcript of our interview with the spectacular K-Ming Chang! 

[Pre-banter]

RM: (commenting on K-Ming’s bird background on Zoom) That’s really beautiful.

KC: Oh, thank you! Yeah, there was an interview with me and they chose this as their background for the piece and I was like, “Oh, I’m stealing that.” It turned out it was from Wikipedia, so it was totally cool.

RM: Oh, okay cool.

KC: I’m taking it as my background

At 1:03 DC: I’m so glad we got this background discussion on the recording, so with that we have already started recording. Hello, world and welcome to Honey Literary’s new online exclusive feature, Sticky Fingers. 

KM and RM: (wiggle fingers)

It is our pleasure to be speaking to the one and only K-Ming Chang, author of Bestiary and overall amazing, amazing, aspirational writer. So, welcome to our Hive, K-Ming, it’s truly an honor. We’re gonna have lots of fun today, thank you for being with us. 

KC: No, thank you. I’m so excited, I’m so excited to be here and to be talking to you guys!

DC: We’re gonna have a great time, we’re gonna have a crazy time! And with that, we also have our editor, Rita Mookerjee, in the room who’s gonna get us started, Rita asks the most brilliant questions all the time, so let’s do it.

RM: You know, I paid enough for this damn education so that I should be able to do AT LEAST THAT. Right?

DC: At least.

RM: Which like, as I was thinking of things I wanted to talk about today, I was able to revisit one of my favorite things to write about in graduate school that really only my chair (which is probably why she was my chair) loved that I wrote about. And that thing is butts and buttholes. 

KC: (laughing) Yes!

RM: And like, I just think there’s this lacuna in scholarship wherein people were like “Oh yes, the body, embodiment, embodied feminism.” And then nobody really wanted to talk about like, “But what are those parts? Like let’s talk about that a little.” People were into, like, literary interpretation through psychology or they’ll be like, “Oh, this is an allegory” for whatever because of food. Dorothy and I write about food nonstop. So we get the mouth all the time. I’m not interested in that so much. Much more interested in butts and so when I was reading my second read-through of Bestiary, I was thinking a lot about dirt and refuse and I was thinking about how we’re going through this, um. We begin and we’re sort of flinging things, we’re digging. We’re kind of in excavation mode. I was curious if you felt like we could have like, anal storytelling traditions since we have oral ones? I feel like we have to recover material that’s long since been discarded or maybe has been digested and we think we understand it. What do you make of that? Do you think we can kind of go the opposite route in storytelling and enter through the exit?

KC: (laughing) Oh, I love that. Wow! That last line was a poem: “enter through the exit”–title! Yeah, no, I love that. You know, I always felt like mouths and buttholes alike were kind of these…they’re so mutually inclusive. They depend on each other. I remember I was writing a line, I think it was last week, joking about how pooping is like metaphor– 

RM: YES! Exactly!

KC: Because you’re turning something into something else. It’s transformation. I think there’s something really beautiful about pooping, because it is a transformative process.

RM: It’s alchemy. Honestly.

KC: Yeah! And like metabolizing something is just, um, I think a really epic process. And it’s gross but also really beautiful. And that was like the line that I had one of the characters say: “Well, you can turn anything into poop.” Kind of the opposite of turning things into gold. There’s such a beauty to the entire process from like top to bottom, mouth to intestines.

RM: Exactly.

KC: Yeah, and it does feel akin to the things that we can do with language as well that I think are really transformative, interconnected processes. So, I am ready for you to write this dissertation.

RM: Yeah, here we go! Second book! I feel like that resonates a lot and as we’re talking about beauty, vulnerability, right, all these things we aspire to when we’re writing, I feel like when we say the word “sphincter,” people always think you mean the anal sphincter, but the esophagus is a sphincter, too, right? By definition. So I’m really interested in how maybe we have things coming out of every hole in this book and that kind of inscribes its own world. Like we’re not dealing with a world that’s like “gold and wishes and dreams!” It’s like…there’s shit and dirt and decay. Yeah, I love that. 

KC: When I was writing about the holes in Bestiary, it was inspired by the fact that I grew up like really near a landfill, so it always smelled really terrible. (laughing) And like people would make fun of that. The city was like, “We need to, you know, use hundreds of thousands of dollars to like, investigate what the source of this smell is.” And I’m like (gestures in disbelief).

RM: (laughing) Right?

KC: Maybe it’s the giant mountain of garbage? Like, whoa! I was like, “You needed to spend like a hundred thousand dollars on that when I can look out the window and be like, (pointing) “It’s that.” But the presence of those really, I think, fetid smells and the fact that the ground felt like something living, that it was metabolizing. Like a landfill metabolizes garbage, or ideally does that, and that kind of like, sense of the buildup. And the land being this living thing that farts and also speaks and all of those things. I think it was important nd felt really true to my experiences and understanding of what the land is capable of.

RM: Yeah, absolutely. I really feel that. Having spent time in Taiwan which I miss so much, I’m thinking about times, it was probably 2012. I was in Kaohsiung, and I did not want to wear a mask because (parodic accent) I’m Amurrcan, and I didn’t feel like it!

KM and DC: (laughing)

RM: So I was riding around doing errands and stuff all day, and because I had never lived in Asia and I was not used to that kind of air pollution, by the end of the day I was hacking and coughing like I had emphysema and people I was with were like, “Are you gonna start masking up again?” and I was like, “Okay, yes, now I understand.” Obviously, everyone, this is pre-Covid, not talking about Covid masks. But yes, thinking about how it’s so quintessentially American to be like, “What is that smell? We have to investigate, and we have to cover it up.” In the rest of the world, you don’t have that luxury. You’re not unclear on “What is that smell?” and so I think especially as we look at the Global South, anywhere on the Asian continent, we don’t get that luxury of “I’m not sure what that smell is, so I guess I have to go investigate.” The smell is everywhere, it’s with you, you can’t really escape it. I remember constantly having to tell myself, again in Kaohsiung, “Don’t drink the water. Don’t drink the water. You cannot drink the water. It’s not up for debate.” I had to remind myself and check my privilege as an American who is used to just going like this under the sink (makes cupping motion) if I’m tired and it’s the middle of the night. You can’t just really just excuse yourself from rot and decay and pollution and stuff like that, yeah. I definitely appreciate what this story lends us in that regard. Dorothy, did you wanna go back and forth?

DC: Yeah, let’s do a back and forth. Telepathy. Telepathy, you see, that came in telepathy. We taught K-Ming telepathy, now you have it, too. (all laughing) So, I think about the “O.” I think about the mouth. Guess what? This isn’t even the opposite based on this conversation we’re having. Let’s talk about how food and sex make the world go round and round, that’s our specialty here, and let’s talk about hunger. So, as a poet myself, I want to talk a bit about your poetry. But at the same time, you know, fuck genre, I don’t believe in genre, I believe in blurring these lines. I want to go back to one of your poems,  “Etmyology of Butch” from BOAAT Press which is one of my all-time favorites. I think about these lines you have such as, in part E “my grandfather eats even the bones of things” or take the line, “we waste not. No part of the body eaten unused.” So I think a lot about the insatiable, and I think about hunger on the page. I think the way that poets and writers manifest hunger on the page is by simply taking up more space, or taking up the entire page, or pages, or multiply that by infinity. So I was wondering if you could talk a bit about hunger and the insatiable in any process of writing in any genre. 

KC: Yeah, I love this question so much. I feel like anything I ever write can be basically summed up as hunger. I’m like, “the plot is hunger.” There’s nothing else that happens. I remember I did have a teacher who would always ask, “When does desire enter the story?” and that’s when things come alive. Whenever something wasn’t working, it’s because there was an absence of desire on behalf of the character or somewhere in the environment. There’s just no desire. I love thinking about hunger and consumption and desire and the ways that those feel kind of ancestral in a lot of ways, too. Like inherited hunger and what does it mean for people to have deferred their desires for generations. And to inherit that, it’s like this tripling of hunger or like these multiple hungers. And like thinking about queer desire, too, and this very bodily, comsumptive way. But not in that weird, fetishy way where people wanna like, eat Asian women. Not like dehumanization through consumption but a different…I don’t know. A hunger that feels like it binds you to your body and centers you inside your body and also maybe comes out sometimes in rage or all these other forms of hunger and desire. Yeah.

DC: Because I think it’s infinite. I think that hunger and desire just make us keep going. I think inherently that is a poetic and metaphorical concept. Or–I hate to bring a white guy into the conversation, but as Robert Haas would say, desire is filled with endless distances. I think that’s true.

KC: Mmm. (nodding)

RM: Yeah, I really love…Dorothy and I were talking about this earlier. I was saying I love the idea of a base impulse like hunger in this world (holds up Bestiary and taps cover). Because if we’re operating epistemologically in a world where someone has a tiger tail, is hunger my hunger? Is it your hunger? Is it a hunger that we don’t yet know? And I really love when an author has set up a world wherein you’re not sure of the extent to which those base constraints can, you know, bring someone down, lift someone up. I really like the idea of subverting a lot of those impulses, and I agree with you that like, it’s so easy to…well. I was gonna say someone should write a dissertation on this, but I did write a dissertation on this. I get so irritated when people are like, “Oh, women and food? Bad things.” and are like reduction to an edible object, reduction to a fetish. I think that’s a very flat, unimaginative way to see consumption and food and so, I get that a lot (sighs). As I sift through scholarship from people who have used the language of food and eating in their work, I get very tired because a lot of the time, someone will be really excited like, “Oh, you have to read this. It’s about food in blank.” and a lot of the time it’s a well-meaning scholar going through and being like “Look at all the ways that food and eating and consumption are oppressive to women!” I’m not really interested in that. I love viscera which… you got some viscera, K-Ming!

KC: Yeah, yeah!

RM: So that’s kind of a stale tradition that we see. We’re curious if there are any traditions that you find really stale in writing that you specifically like to push back against.

KC: Ohhhh….this is such an interesting question. It’s so funny, I feel like I accidentally break rules all the time. So, you know, I was always told you can’t have flashbacks (RM laughs). You can’t have exposition. You can’t have monologues. There’s this idea that you always have to be progressive. Not like “progress”–

RM: But in a linear way.

KC: Exactly. That somehow everything is about moving forward, and that it should feel like you progress through a story, through a poem, etc. And I wasn’t as interested in that. Like, I think even the book, like I wrote about how I’m interested in accumulation. 

RM: Yes.

KC: So the buildup of images, the buildup of lines until it feels like…yeah, it feels kind of like bursting almost rather than thinking about like “This event happens, that event happens, then this thing.” I just want to, like, see this image come back. Again. And that’s the story. And so I think, yeah, I’m really interested in what accumulation looks like rather than progressing. 

RM: Yeah, I love that.

KC: Then another thing is like, I really, really loved (this is something that I probably deserved a lot of the critique for when I started doing this a lot) but like I loved effaced narrators, so narrators who are not the main character really, but they’re like narrating the story. I mean, I guess The Great Gatsby is kind of like our first introduction into this kind of narrator.

RM: I had to think for a second I was like, “I’ve purged all the white writers from my brain.”

KC: Yeah, I know! I have to use that as a go-to because what I talk about effaced narrators, like all of the references I usually use, I’m like…I’m not sure people have read them. So I always default to The Great Gatsby, but I probably don’t need to. Red Sorghum by Mo Yan or something like that. Yeah, where it’s like this. So he starts out and he’s like, “Yeah, you know, I’m a boy living here. And let me tell you, like what my dad did for like three hundred pages.” (laughing) And you’re like, wait a second…like you’re narrating the story, but you’re not the main character? You can do that? And I realized I did that really naturally. And I love doing that. Like I love the character as witness, rather. Because it’s always like, oh,  you always have to have a really active main character. Like they do something, and we navigate the world through them. And I’m like, I’m really interested in that kid who is like, “Hey, you know what my grandma did?” for like three hundred pages. “I’ll just tell you everything.” You know, “he was nine years old and this and this.”This obsession with premise. An obsession with what came before. I think this is, also, very kind of anti-our American way of storytelling, which is like that we want to kind of be this tabula rasa, blank slate kind of thing. And we don’t want to talk about the premise of anything because we know. We know what it’s about. Yeah, yeah. 

RM: I wonder. Like with—Dorothy, do you mind if I ask that other question? 

DC: No, go ahead. I was just gonna add something quick. I think that some of the best “slice of life” animes especially are exactly that structure. And this anime is probably before your time, I feel like so old now, but The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is like a treasure.

RM: Oooooh.

KC: I’ve heard of it, yeah.

DC: It’s so good because it’s like slice of life, you think. But it’s actually like fantasy and sci-fi, and it is just a blending of genres. And there’s also like robots, you know. Excuse me, mecha, there’s mecha in it I think. And there’s this infinite summer that happens too. So there’s time, well, everything has time. But there’s time. And it’s great because the main character–excuse me, the narrator of that show is Kyon who is a very lazy, yet brilliant guy. Another trope. But he has all these, like really, like fantastical characters around him. And like, yes, he is part of the action, but he doesn’t actually want to be in the action which is the main driving force. So, your points just made me think of that. Let’s write an anime together.

KC: Yeah!

RM: No, I love that. A) I haven’t watched that in a long-ass time, girl, but I miss that. And now I’m also thinking about like, why don’t we have a slice of life in the West? Like nobody does slice of life here. I feel like if you gave on Netflix, if you gave an American audience a drama and it was slice of life, I feel like Americans would lose their shit. They’re like “What do you mean? Like, this show didn’t open with someone’s birth. It didn’t end with anyone’s death. I don’t know what to make of this!” I think that’s why we love slice of life, because it’s not about like–I hate this term and this word, and I will not use it. My students also know not to use it on me, but I hate the Bildungsroman because why do you get a cookie? Because you came of age? Guess who else did that? Literally every person who made it to adulthood.

KC: My thing with the Bildungsroman was like, I want to subvert this, because it’s always about leaving home. It’s always about like “I have to find myself by fleeing,” like that’s the only way to be an individual is to leave where you came from or leave your community or whatever. And that’s how you become a full person. And I’m like oh, but I’m really interested in the domestic space. Like, I’m really interested in what it means to come of age by rooting yourself really deeply and the domestic spheres. Rather than being like, “Oh, I must!” (gestures in anguish)

Not that I don’t appreciate the stories as well. Like, I think there are many, many stories that are structured like that that I think are also really brilliant and necessary. But I think there’s just, yeah. I wanted to see if there’s another way of telling that story.

RM: Yeah, and I think you accomplished that really well, because even if Daughter had, you know, the very white luxury of being like, “I have to go away and find a whole epiphany!” it doesn’t matter. The tail is there. It’s not escapable. So even if you were to exit, I think that’s such a huge part of the queer experience, too. Like it doesn’t really matter where you go or how you choose to present or not present, like it’s with you, and it’s there, and it’s probably going to come up at some point. So, yeah, I really love that. That kind of takes me into another kinda like form/genre question I was thinking about. And what I was thinking about a lot was the space of the myth. And I wanted to ask. So I know from, I think your interview with Franny from AAWW, you were saying you were writing these great big massive poems and they kind of took on a life of their own. And I find this very mythic, like not just in the diction, but in the teleology, in the ontology, in the way the characters interact with one another, like there are a lot of conventions of the myth there. And so I wanted to ask, what do you think you can accomplish in the space of the myth rather than maybe our traditional western linear novel?

KC: Yeah, I love this question because when I was doing, when I was reading a lot of mythology while writing it, like I came across this recurring theme of  circular time being very present in non-western mythological traditions rather than, you know, it’s like we’ll never go back to that golden age. It’s more like creation-destruction-creation-destruction, circular, circular, circular. And I was really fascinated by that and felt that my life was truer to those circular forms of time than to than to the linear forms of time. And there’s something about being in the mythic space that just made it feel like anything was possible. That the characters had the capacity to, like, rearrange the sky…

RM: Yes.

KM: Or to make their worlds. And I wanted that really epic power and like epic knowledge to reside within them. I thought it was incredibly fun. On one hand, I also, you know, I was a huge comic book kid–

RM: Us, too! (laughing)

KC: –who used to live in the moment. I grew up, like reading Wonderwoman comics over and over and over again. And my favorite storylines with her were always about her being in her mythological world and Paradise Island surrounded by women.

RM: Yes!

KC: And her kind of like mythological origins and the way that it was kind of like this homeland that was always with her, too. And I yeah, I just wanted to harness some of that. Yeah. That sense of like there’s an origin story or creation myth that they are actively making on their own terms. And it’s like shifting constantly, but they’re constantly rewriting it. And it’s like revisiting that again and again and again, rather than like we had these origins that were in the past that we can never go back to. It’s like, let’s let’s remake our origin.

RM: Yes, I see that, that recursive tradition. I can definitely see that. It’s very interesting. 

DC: I love that infinite cycle, too, because I think of it like the queerness of all of it. But one of my favorite writers right now and critics is Karen Tongson, and Tongson always talks about this theme of impossible love, but then also like achieving it. And that’s not a new theme necessarily, but I think that like, us talking about that confrontation of that impossible love and actually achieving it infinitely is really key to a lot of the points that we’re talking about today. And so let’s get into magical realism, because we all love magical realism, don’t we? And so Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said that everyone has three lives, a public life, a private life and a secret life. So, again, three lives: public, private, secret, K-Ming. Will you speak on this as a writer? K-Ming, will you speak on this as a writer?

KM: Wow, this is so brilliant. Wow. My mind is kind of blown thinking about that. 

DC: We want to hear everything. 

KC: Well, I feel like the writing is kind of a manifestation of that secret life. It’s almost like, I feel like when I go to the page, it’s always because there’s something lingering in my mind that there’s no way to articulate in public or private. It’s like, I can’t talk to my roommate about this,  and I also can’t like, tweet it. But it’s obsessing me and I can’t get it out of my mind, or I don’t know where to put it. Like I just don’t know where to place this thing. And so it comes out in that secret life that I feel like if it can’t really exist anywhere else. Yeah, I think that happens. That happens really frequently. Like, it’ll be like a story I overheard or like even a place sometimes or a landscape. And I’m just like, I can’t just be like, oh, you know, “How’s your coffee? Hey, by the way, I’m into looking at like the Nevada landscape.” You know what I mean?

(DC and RM laughing)

KC: It’s also like, you know, not publicly acceptable necessarily. Professional settings to kind of slip those obsessions in. So, yeah, I think that’s a really beautiful way of articulating like that other space that we have to make for ourselves. It’s almost like a dream log or something. Yeah. Or like a weird saddlebag that we carry with us.

RM: Yeah. I love that. I love the idea of it being a log, and we just sort of have to like, for posterity for ourselves, for whatever reason, we have to kind of be the custodians of that. But otherwise it’s just sort of like out there. Before I, when did I meet you, Dorothy? When I was twenty-five. Before I was twenty-five and met Dorothy, and then there’s one other person in my life with whom I have this relationship. But other than that there is no one with whom I can transcend the social mores of polite conversation to the effect where like sometimes I will just text Dorothy at a very inappropriate hour. Something will  just be on my mind. I’ll be like, “You know, I saw a pizza and it was on a whole wheat crust, and I wanna call the police.” And she’s like, “Why would they put it on wheat crust?!”

DC: (laughing)

RM: And we’ll have a long, virtually like, infinite conversation about why a whole wheat crust pizza is essentially a crime against humanity. And we’ll talk about this for a really long time, the same way we’ll talk about something very grave in our professional lives, the same way we’ll talk about something that we saw on Netflix that we like. It gets that value. But it did take me twenty-five years to meet a person with whom I could just be–like, like one day I was just sitting, and I told Dorothy that Gwyneth Paltrow, like, made me really, really fucking angry and everything about her made me angry. And Dorothy was like, “Why don’t you write some poems about that?” And then I did. (laughing)

KC: YES.Oh my god, that’s amazing. That’s epic. I love that so much.

DC: “Jade Egg.” Or that time Gwyneth Paltrow was like, here’s a candle that smells like my vagina. 

KC: Didn’t she sell a trash can?

RM: She sold a trash can. I’m an avid Goop reader. Not because I like it, because I hate it.

KC: Yeah, hate-reading. I’m there with you. Hate-reading (laughing).

RM: Like she had a wooden spoon on there that like everybody’s auntie has in their kitchen. It’s just that flat (gesturing) like if you are an Asian woman, you have handled this utensil in your life. And Gwyneth Paltrow was like “This bespoke (stroking imaginary spoon) wooden stirrer” or whatever…

(DC and KM laughing)

RM: and I was like, girl, why is this three hundred dollars? U.S.!! (shaking head). Not okay with that but anyway, going back to the idea of like that private life and having to put that on the page because there really is like no other space for it, that makes me think a lot about accountability. Right now, I think we’re doing two things at once, I think as writers were holding one another accountable in new ways, which is really exciting and I love that. On the other hand, I think that writers of color, queer writers, and I’ll count us too, Dorothy,  even though this doesn’t really count for us anymore, but also young (scare quotes) “YOUNG.”

KC: You are young!

RM: Thank you for that. I feel like when I say that, I just mean, like, not Boomers is what I mean. Yeah. And not sorry. Full offense, boomers. I feel like we are tasked with so much responsibility. We’re expected to represent our culture, our authenticity (scare quotes) whatever that looks like, our sexuality, our gender identity, our hybridity, our home language, forgotten or not spoken or not…I feel like we get so many tasks that white writers just really don’t. So I’m curious, K-Ming, if you feel like we have this kind of responsibility to do this excavation work with writing and with kind of like secrets and myths and stuff like that. First, I want to know if you agree. Do you think we’re tasked differently? And if so, what do you think that looks like for you when you’re writing? What does that kind of recovery process look like?

KM: It’s great that you use the word recovery, because I feel like I do have a bit of workshop trauma where I think that I think that we are tasked with those things, oftentimes involuntarily. And we’re all basically the entire time I was first starting to write prose, somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought I was doing something wrong because of all the feedback I got. They’re all like, “Oh, I learned so much about your culture.”

RM: (rolls eyes)

KC: This interesting cultural–”culture” was the buzzword. Like: “Interesting cultural reference to this,” or, “I learned so much about blank.” And I’m like, “Wow,” I was like, “learned about what?” Like I’m so confused. I was like, “What did you learn, though?” Could you be more specific? I mean, I thought I was doing something wrong. And I was like, am I in some way objectifying my characters? Are they not people? Is the story just like, me explaining some historical context, like, what’s going on? And it was only until I found my writing group, and I started writing with them and I listened to what they had to say about my stories. I was like, “Oh, my god. So, I had it? It wasn’t me? Like you, you get it. Like the things that you were saying. They were like in my heart as I was writing.” And I was like, what?! Why?! Like this whole time, I thought I was just this terrible, terrible writer, who was just like educating people on things that I didn’t even know I was educating them about. So, yeah, I think a lot of it is there’s so much external assigning of what your role is or what you’re supposed to write about. Or people would always default to like “Oh, well, it’s like about these parents who are mean and blah, blah, blah.” I’m like, “No, it’s not.” 

DC: Oh my god…

KC: Like where did you get that? Like, I remember when I was first even querying Bestiary around, I got like comments on how it was like, “Oh, it’s about how your parents are oppressive and you have to, like, you know, find yourself.” And I was like, what?!

RM: No, that’s exhausting. It’s so interesting, because I liked what you said about kinda like defaulting…because I can’t help but notice we’re [Asian Americans] going to workshop and looking a certain way people react to your work a certain way to you’re like, what the hell are you talking about? Like I wrote a poem or I wrote a prose piece about making a drink. And you guys are like, “Thank you for educating me. I learned so much about you.”

KC: I know I’m like, writing about two girls, like going to 7-Eleven and they’re like, what a your culture. But they’re like not like what’s going on

RM: Like, the three of us have names that render our ethnic racial identity on the page so we can’t escape, like some of some of the people in our community may have a name that doesn’t signify racially or ethnically. And I can’t help but notice the way that they move through space and journals is a little bit different than the way maybe one of us would when that editor, that agent, whomever is seeing, “Oh, K-Ming Chang.” 

Hmm. I’m expecting if I’m calling upon this writer for this thing, whatever, and then I’m calling upon Chang for these standards. And that’s really the kind of hypocrisy that makes me want to abandon the profession and run just run far, far away. But I, I hear that. And I think it’s really interesting how much unsolicited feedback we tend to get on our, like, cultural and racial and queer messages that we didn’t ask for. 

DC: And then there’s no notes on our craft like thanks for educating me

KC: There are no edits and I don’t know that people are afraid that those racist like they’re really, really afraid. They’re like “oh god if I say anything like she’s going to be like,” and I’m like, the fact that you’re afraid to touch it is racist like the fact that you’re afraid to say something about it. It’s like silence? And I’m like, oh, cool. 

DC: And I have, like as a professor, I actually scolded entire classes of students for doing that. I’ll be like, Hey everyone, your silence is a massive microaggression right now and it needs to stop. Get into it. And that’s that’s what we want to prevent. And I have this brief nightmare MFA story where the first serious manuscript I did was Chinatown Sonnets in undergrad and I remember this because unfortunately, this happens all the time, you know. Dorothy Chan writing about Hong Kong. You know where it’s going to go. I bring it to workshop during my MFA at Arizona State. A white boy, of course, a white boy in class, his first comment is, “I think that these sonnets are too stereotypically Chinese.” And it’s like, when was the last time you were Chinese? You don’t know if it’s a stereotype or not. And it’s like and it’s like these authentic poems about like my grandma and her pajama stand or my grandfather, like making dinner. And I’m just like, OK, then. 

RM: Yeah, like, don’t you feel like people are always pointing to us for, like, authenticity in this way that like, I don’t know. And I think I know what white people mean when they say that, but I, I don’t, like how could that be a stereotype? It’s just like “my grandma was eating breakfast” and they’re like “stereotypical.”

KC: Yeah they’re like “ooh I’m authentically eating my breakfast!”  

DC: Because I’m a human and I need to eat!

KC: Yeah, apparently that’s what they think is like running through our minds as we’re doing things. “I’m authentically putting on my socks right now,” “I’m authentically brushing my hair” and I’m like what’s going on. Yeah I learned what to listen to and I learned what wasn’t really about me, because I thought it was always about me. I thought when I got these comments it was always some personal failing, and I learned sometimes the readers bring things to the page that are entirely their own and you’re not capable of controlling that. And I think coming to terms with that has helped me a lot in terms of thinking about what I’m tasked with. I kind of now know what to listen to a little bit more. And the people I listen to are the ones who I think were the first people to see that there was love in my writing. Because people were really hyper focused on the trauma in it, and I’m not saying there isn’t trauma, because I do write about trauma it’s just that was so hypervisible to them that it’s easy for them to kind of latch on to that and be like “oh traumatized, trauma.” And I was like yes, but there’s also so much love that I’m trying to write about and it was the people who were attune to that that I tried to listen to because I’m like oh you understand that I’m not trying to write this very objectifying, purely traumatic thing.

RM: Yeah, absolutely. And I think you’d have to be a very naive writer or reader to read Bestiary and see trauma, trauma, trauma, pain, pain, pain. The tenderness in this book is so earnest and maybe because of choices that you made with your pace and choices you made with divisions and sections and I think we really get moments to *snaps* digest.

KC: *laughs*

RM: Not sorry for that pun.

KC: Yeah I love it.

RM: I love it and I think that is something, so now you know Dorothy and I grew up and we have our big girl jobs to pay the bills so we’re teaching, right, constantly. And when I read things I think I might teach, I get very protective and very defensive because my students need to read the thing the way that I’m reading it and understand the properties I’m understanding and I get very, very angry. So like when the first time I taught Woman Warrior, I went through with my Florida State University students and I was like, OK, here are some things we’re not going to talk about when we talk about this book. So I was like, let’s brainstorm all the racist things that we could say and we’re going to get it out of our system. So I was like, let’s not make statements like “in Asian culture.” What the hell is that? So we go through and we do that. And so I feel very protective of this book and I feel very aggressive about misreading and misnaming. But I think part of that is because your narrator and you, by extension, are not afraid to step in and be a little bit prescriptive and kind of turn your reader a bit. I think my favorite instance in this book is on 

page 138. I can’t stop thinking about this. So we’re in the pirate section, right. And just this part: “To be read in Ama’s voice. Suggestions: Read this aloud underwater, or speak perpendicular to a strong wind, or swallow a fork before speaking. Bleed your voice of its language, then learn a sea’s accent.” Like that. I, I am so taken with that didactic moment because, we often teach reading as if it’s something that that you kind of go into an osmosis state and then you’re like, now I am reading, it’s like washing over you.

KC: Yes It’s like stage directions, Don’t pull back the curtains. I’m suspending my disbelief. 

RM: Yes! And in moments in the Western canon, when someone breaks the fourth wall, everyone’s like, *gasp* oh, my God!

KC: it’s postmodernism!

RM: Like they acknowledge this was a book. It’s Meta. I love it. And I’m like. Really? But what I love about your book is that you’re not afraid to be like “this is how you need to render this portion. Hi reader. You hello. If you’re not doing it this way, you’re doing it wrong. Think about what this means before you proceed. And don’t don’t fuck it up.” I love that. That kind of like I’m picturing the allegory I’m using is kind of like a hand on a head so you can turn it. There’s only so many ways you can turn it. But that narrative control is really there. And I love the —I’m going to call it gaul. I love the gaul of stepping in and saying this is exactly how you need to read this portion, that the accent of the sea. Like I’m thinking about my Iowan’s students who like many of whom have never seen the ocean before. And I’m thinking about how much I need them to internalize that and understand what does it mean to sound—right, like the sea. So with that extremely long comma in mind, I’m curious, with moves like that, did you feel like you wanted to make that active decision and have your narrative voice move that way? 

KC: Yes, I actually— I wrote it exactly like that, and I loved it because I wanted to write. I didn’t know I wanted to write this, but I wanted to write a story about storytelling, which, again, is that meta thing. But I was just really fascinated about how storytelling is both like the vehicle of the story, but also the main conflict of the story, which is basically like who do I believe? My grandmother or my mom? Like, they’re both telling me different stories about themselves. Who am I supposed to love? Like, whose side am I supposed to be on? And also like it’s about storytelling and the ways that it’s transmitted, all of these kind-of slanted histories, these histories told slant and these traumas and and how the stories themselves are like the footprints of these experiences. And so I was like, OK, it needs to be very obviously a story about stories, because that’s what I’m interested in at the core of it’s about narrative and what it means to tell a narrative and for it to be fractured or for it to be kind of told second hand what it means to have faith in a narrative. But also there were moments when I was like, oh, maybe, maybe I should just delete all those portions. And so I remember I deleted that. And there was like a portion where the mother, which is still in the book, luckily, where she like lectures to the daughter about light versus dark. 

RM: Yeah, yeah, yeah!

KC:  Yeah. And the binary. And I was like oh this sounds like it should go in an essay or some linguistic magazine maybe its too didactic but then I realized that I love didactic things.

RM: *laughs* me too

KC: I grew up around people who just love to give lectures all the time and love to tell you what to think. Like I just grew up around everyone who was just like, “you know what, you should you know put on socks like this, do this” and I was like its so weird that there’s this taboo in literature that like you cant be prescriptive because I’m like I don’t know who who you all know in your lives, but I’m like surrounded by descriptive language and we’re surrounded by that constantly. And so we were like, oh, it’s not realistic to be so prescriptive. I’m like, actually, it’s like more realistic to be prescriptive probably than not like given what we consume in our daily lives and what we encounter. And so it felt right for me, for the mother to be like, “OK, pause lecture time,” over the granddaughter who is like recounting the story to be like, hey, by the way, like I want to preface this with a preface and then another preface and another little thing. And like, I felt really it felt truer to life in some ways, to to be able to do these things that are, quote unquote artificial what I’m like. But we live with artifice. It’s so it’s like back to that weird authenticity thing. I’m like we live with constant, like, artifice. And I wish that we could, you know, render that and not to have it seem like, well, it’s not like, you know, people are like this. And I remember like the dialog too I was purposefully making it really like grand, almost godly dialog, which I love doing. Sometimes with dialogue  I’m like, what is she saying? I love it because I kind of thought of her as a bit of like a trickster God that he’s like and kind of supernatural. 

[00:47:14] And the way that they spoke was like it was almost in like verse poetry like was almost in poetry the way that the dialog was rendered. And I know that there’s such a— again, it’s like that taboo, oh, you have to, it’s not realistic. And I’m like, well that depends on your definition of reality. 

RM: Right. 

KC: The realism that’s rendered in the books that we are told is realism. I don’t recognize. I’m like, what is this fantasy world that I don’t know. 

RM: No, are you kidding me. When I was growing up and they made me read what’s that goddamn book, “Hatchet”

DC: Oh my god

RM: I was like, you’re telling me there’s a little white boy outside in the snow and then you — no, sorry. That’s not the world I live in. And everybody, everybody went apeshit. All the kids loved it. And I was just thinking about how unrealistic that was and how much like now I’m 31, I probably read that book in like first grade or something, I’m haunted. So many years later by that book because people were like this is the paradigm of children’s literature and I was like this is shit! Adults in my life don’t talk like that. I mean, you’re right especially if you grew up as an Asian and Pacific Islander subject, you’re just used to a lot of people with a lot of strong opinions and they’re going to let you know they’re not interested. It’s like, oh, do you want to hear my thoughts? No,  that’s not how people talk in our world. 

KC: I never heard anyone be like, oh, life is so ambiguous. You know, it’s always just like this is like this and this, and I enjoy, like, rendering that for sure. 

RM: Yeah, yeah. I think that’s particularly important for, like, a quuer poetics of writing or queer craft of writing, I think, like making sure that we are both naming like “I’m going to be didactic as hell right now and I’m not sorry.” And then executing it such that it can be like I could I could teach, you know, “let’s look at the use of didactic prose or the use of instruction in Bestiary.” And that could be like ISU if you want to throw me some coins that could be its own seminar coming to spring 2021. 

KC: Thank you. 

RM: Yeah. That consistency is appreciated. 

KC: Yeah. I mean, I just needed to constantly remind the reader that this was constructed like back to that whole artifice thing. I needed to constantly remind them that this is something being built and that narrative art. Like natural in some way, but there there are I mean, they are natural, like they’re coming from the body, from the ground, but they’re also being really intentionally moved or skewed in this way. And I think that’s one of the things that is probably a flaw  in this country, too, is like pretending things like certain narratives are natural and certain narratives are just like truth. And I’m like, but it’s all built. It’s all constructed. And myths are, they’re invented. And yeah. So it’s like trying to nudge the reader, be like, oh, but also by the way, this is all made up and because the very specific, you know, everyone has this different agenda and they’re, they’re making things up, so just letting you know.

DC: I’m really, really afraid of the terms natural, realistic, relatable, universal

RM: No, that’s a bad word. I hate relatable. 

DC: I feel like those four words, I’m sorry to bring up a bad memory you just made me think of Hatchet and oh my god you provoked my bad childhood memories. 

KC: My class was going to read it but we ended up not but I remember like very specifically. So I know like the very kind of basic outline of it, but I never had to go through it. 

RM: Girl, don’t. It’s a piece of shit. You know, what’s a good book? Holes

DC: I love it because you can’t ever have half a hole. I love it. 

RM: And you know what I love about Holes? It’s about family, it’s about digging in the dirt.

It’s about undergirding power structures that maybe you’re not cognizant of. So, I mean, maybe everyone should probably just read Louis Sachar and K-Ming Chang. I don’t know. It’s a radical idea but.

DC: Hoes and Holes

KC: I subtitle it. I just say like a Holes side quote. A hole’s companion novel. It’s going in paperback now. 

RM: OK, that’s our next magazine, A Prairie Hole Companion. That’ll be our our lesbian erotic journal. 

KC: Yes.

DC: We should do that.

RM: Okay so we have an anime we’re doing now, a slice a life, and we have our Prairie Hole Companion. 

DC: And we’re doing a cookbook. I just decided to throw that in. 

KC: Okay yeah. 

DC: I have paper because we were looking at wallpapers the other day. No,  were looking at fancy paper, but…

RM: Because we want to run a chapbook contest in the spring. 

DC: We were looking at Hollander’s paper, which is really fancy. 

RM: Yeah, my friend is a print maker by trade, so he has a very different understanding of publishing and the materiality of it than like we do, we’re like, we’re like, I don’t know, you send it to Penguin and you get a book back. So yeah, he was showing us like the paper and different materials that we can use. And I was like, well, we’ll keep it low cost, so just pick something plain. And then Dorothy showed me the actual website where the paper is sold and it’s like any just think of any pattern you could want. There is like a sushi one that I really want. There were so there were ones with birds like your background, and there was like so many beautiful elaborate papers. And then I was like, OK, never mind what I said about keeping the costs low. 

KC: That’s amazing. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if you guys would just like for the chapbook contest, were like: We’re going to determine your paper.  Like we we choose your paper and it’s sushi paper, maybe…bird paper..sorry…

DC: A lot of the papers on that website are sold out and so like we are ready… because it’s just so beautiful. But yeah, like the one of the baguettes, you know, I never knew I’d get one. And then I’m like, I get paper. 

KC: Baguette paper? Who did this?! 

DC: Who wins this gets it at Hollander’s. 

RM: That was cute. I like that one. And I saw one that was plain and I thought it was just plain. And then at the bottom there was a single snail. And I was like HER! It’s HER! 

KC: Oh my God, that’s so cute. 

RM: I like lost because I was like, this is plain, what is this? And I clicked on it. And then there was just this, like, audacious snail. And she was like YES. 

KC: Wow. Time to like self-publish a snail story. Gotta make this happen. 

DC: I’ll take a snail story from you any day.. 

RM: Oh yeah, true. I would be really excited to read this snail story.

KC: It would probably get eaten, that’s probably what would happen.

DC: So guess what came K-Ming, you are our Valentine, I know it’s not like Valentine’s Day yet, but you are Valentine! Because also Valentine’s is one of Honey Literary’s special sections that we’ve come up with. And it’s really exciting because our debut issue is also premiering around Valentine’s Day. So here is our next question for you, speaking of Valentine’s Day, if you could send a Valentine to any writer living or deceased, who would it be and why? 

KC: Oh, this is so good. Wow. OK. It can only be one person or can I do like

DC: No! I love all kinds of love, you know? 

KC: OK, I’ll send multiple. So I’ll send one to Marilyn Chin for Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen. 

RM:Oh, yeah

KC: Because that book changed my life, which is so cliche to say

RM: Same

KC: But  I was like oh my God, this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever read in my life. I’m laughing. I’m crying. This is how I- this is amazing. Like you can retell, like all these Buddhist myths. And I’m just like, yes. So Marilyn Chin, I have to send her my heart. 

RM: She has a great cover too, I like that cover. 

EC: It’s amazing. With like the flip text 

RM: Yes!

EC: It’s so great, I love it. And then I will send a Valentine to Chen Mao-ping who is the Taiwanese writer who is deceased. But I would send one to her ghost. I actually, I translated one of her stories for one of my classes once

RM: That’s awesome! 

EC: And I would probably like attach to the Valentine I would be like, did I translate this right? It would be like a query to her ghost of like, “is this OK?” Yeah. So send one to her. I would burn it for her. Oh man. I want to send one to everyone in my writing group too. I think that they are just like my most beloved readers in every way and I love reading their work as well. Like it just it’s a really beautiful little community. Yeah. So those would be my valentines.

RM: That makes me that makes me so happy. That makes me feel very, very pleased and fulfilled. And you know, Dorothy, even as we start to get ready to send out the first issue, like, I just can’t stress enough how much, if people don’t have their writing group, be on the hunt for it, for your writing group. Because I’m sure K-Ming, I’m sure I can speak for both of us when it’s like it’s day and night. Once you have your group and you’re like, “I have my safe people that are my readers and I trust them and they trust me and it’s like all love,” like what it can do for your craft. I feel like *sigh* it was it was a big relief, but it took me a long time to find my core people and I’m glad that you have that core and that group, because I just think that especially after this very beautiful and lovely year that we just had, the value of our our communities, that we are- our found families and stuff. It cannot be stressed enough. We must have those for survival. 

DC:  I’m really glad you found your groove way earlier than I did. 

RM: Me too.

DC: So I’m really happy for you because I think that it’s really, I think that like before I met Rita and our honey hive, I think that it was also just it’s just really hard because you think about how white all these MFA programs are. You think about how white all these PhD programs are. You think about how, you know, like almost every form of education, you get an English literature and creative writing, regardless of the genres you’re focusing on or the time periods are extremely canonical. You think about how it’s OK to say a term such as “universal” or “relatable” as justification for liking something. And I’m I’m just really happy that you found your group really early on, because that’s a very special bond. 

KC: Thank you, yeah, I completely agree. I think it’s been like the most transformative thing in my writing life. 

RM: Love that, I love that. Yeah. And I feel like we need to start singing those songs louder because there’s this really romantic idea that you’re just like in your apartment drinking coffee and like writing your novel all day and night. And it’s it’s very solitary kind of self-flagellating practice. And you should really suffer. And I want more, especially with our students and emergent writers who are just now getting the confidence to send out. I want them to understand, like, you can be a pack animal, you can have your group and commiserate, and that’s where you go to vent and celebrate and everything like that, because it’s not it doesn’t need to be this weird, solitary, secret, shameful practice. Yeah. Like, there’s a lot of times that sometimes I’ll write a poem and I’ll be like, does this work? And I’ll send it to Dorothy and be like, what do you think about this? I can’t stop writing about, like, my childhood love who I’m not in touch with and haven’t spoken to since like 5th grade. Should I send this out? She’s like, “yes,” she’s like “you needed to write that poem.”

KC:It’s also really amazing to have writing be a writing space that’s like away from capitalism and from like production and publication and things like that. Like it’s so it was almost like healing to be having fun again in that way. Yeah. 

RM: Yeah. Like as much as we’re just, you know, that you’re making waves. And I mean, I needed Bestiary as a young person, like I needed that when I was like twelve. 

KC: Thank you. 

RM:But I’m so happy it’s there now. And of course we’re thrilled and we’re jazzed that you’re what, 22 and out here and doing the thing at the same time, like you’re allowed to have livlihood. You’re allowed to be like, “this is my joy, this is my thing that I do.” And like now I feel like it’s a race for all of the younger writers to place that first book. Like go, go, go, place the book, do the things. And as much as like that is thrilling and I love it. On the other hand, I’m like, but it’s also OK to love your writing process and get your wits and your kind of senses about you before you embark on this thing. And it frightens me a little bit because as we see some of our students starting their graduate work, I’m always like “make good choices!” and watching them go off because it’s hard to still have that joy. And that’s fulfillment and that fun when it’s like your day job. And so, like, I think that’s something we really admire about you and that we really love is that it’s just as much about the joy and the art and the craft of it as it is about the “success,” whatever people want to call it, “the clout,”  as the youth say. 

KC: *laughs*

DC: I’m also just really happy that we’re talking so much about craft and particularly your craft K-Ming, because something else that really bothers me about some people who are like in the writing or want to be in the real world is like they’ll ask questions such as, you know, “how does it feel to write a poem or story?” And then they have this, like, huge emphasis on that feeling. But they’re looking for some kind of like life-altering, profound answer for every single line. 

And I just love how you’re just real with it. You’re just real that you know, like, I love this. This is a process and done. There is of course, it’s profound. Of course, anything you write is profound. But I think that a lot of these so-called dangerous mindsets, a lot of writers have nowadays where they’re placing like publications before their craft or placing publication before honing their craft, or reading enough, or even writing enough, or meeting the right people. Or they’re placing publication in that kind of they’re looking for the so-called sublime feeling for every single moment of writing that doesn’t exist because, you know, like I know that like all writers, like we might be students, we might be teachers, we might have other day jobs. But like we all, simply put, successful writers, we just sit down and we write. And after a certain amount of time, maybe a few hours, we’re like, I’m done for the day. I’m not going to look at or maybe we keep going. But at the end of the day, it’s just about the writing. And I know that sounds really bland, but I think that actually we do have to like emphasize that more, especially to young people and to emergent writers who want to like enter the world. If you can actually just sit there and just do it and then take the critique and then find the right feedback, then it’s for you. But if you’re looking for some kind of sublime orgasmic experience at every inch of what you’re doing, that’s not for you, no. 

KC: I wish! We always all wish that.

DC: Yeah we wish that we could write a line and be like “oh my god I’m gonna cum!” But no that’s not going to happen. You know, it might, it might but you just have to go through the process of it all. 

RM: Yeah, I love that. I think that if we can change the narrative so it’s not chasing that sublime, orgasmic like — I mean it’s so obnoxious when people are just like when you read someone’s, I’m saying poems because we’re all I guess like poets a little bit or a lot *laughs* But it’s so annoying when you read someone’s trajectory and you’re like, why are you having an epiphany every single time you write, how do you have so many epiphanies in you? Because if you think about an epiphany, it’s like you might have an epiphany, like once in a lifetime or once in a decade, but you certainly don’t have one every time you put your hands on your computer. So I agree with you. I think we should should reframe that a little bit and have more talks about dirt and buttholes and tigers. Less of this lofty meta. Whenever I talk about meta from now on, I’m going to pretend I’m in a cloud. 

KC: Whoa.! Thank you, thank you for that. Yeah. I mean, I had a writing professor… And he would always say, like the way to quell anxiety about writing is to just write. And I was like, that’s so simple, but that’s completely good. It’s like the page will always- and he would always say that “the page will always be there for you”

RM: Yes

KC: And that like there’s so little you can control. But it’s just like just do the thing, and all of those anxieties you have about it will be gone in that moment. 

DC: Yeah, I just I just love that because it’s like when I tell my students, I’m like, you got to just go on your laptop. You know, look, just write me just a prose block like I don’t care if that’s not the assignment. Just dump all the ideas in first. And I think also- not to go off on too much of a tangent, but I just think that there’s not enough emphasis on revision and using the piece, because, again, earlier on in this talk came in, you were talking about how a lot of people were like some people, before Bestiary came out, were labeling your book as like, “oh, finding oneself.” You know, and were talking about all these like very like clichéd, like westernized ways of looking at things. And I think that so many people who want to be artists and writers, they want to approach the page by like, “oh, I can find myself at every moment, I can find myself.” And it’s also like, no, but again, it’s not about that epiphany and every single line that’s impossible. It’s really about going into the field and doing the work. And in our case, going into the field is just opening up Microsoft Word. But that’s the reality we live in. And it has to be done. It just has to be done. And in our case, going into the field is just opening up Microsoft Word. But that’s the reality we live in. And it has to be done. It just has to be done.

KC:  Yeah. And funny thing about that whole find your voice cliche thing, like I believed in that so much like as a teen especially, I thought I was like, oh my God, I have to find my voice. I have to write like this, like every—  I don’t know where it’s like got Jack Kerouac or something or like everything you write has to sound like it’s coming from the same person and all these things. And that’s another thing my professor told me. He was like It’s not that you have to like find your voice. You have many, many, many voices. And every single time you start something new, it’s just another one of your voices. You can have many. You don’t have to find quote unquote find it. It’s already there. It’s just like you have a voice when you’re writing an essay, like you have a voice when you’re writing a tweet. You have a voice when you’re texting your mom. You can have all of these voices and you just use them all how you want to. And like, it’s not about finding this one thing. It was like I was like, oh, you’re right. Like we we already just have like dozens and dozens and hundreds of voices. Yeah. And I kind of was able to let go that a bit more, but yeah no, I definitely know what you’re saying.

DC: I love that, I think it’s also that’s also the argument where every poem is arguably a persona poem because there’s like multitudes. And I also think back to an earlier point. You were talking about— K-Ming, about truth, you know, and like how multiple workshop participants or multiple writers in a setting and they have different definitions of truth. And I think back to—  she’s on our website, one of my favorite writers, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon and my mentor from Cornell always says, you know, in writing we try to find truth with a capital T, but of course, that capital T varies depending on who you’re talking to.

RM: Yeah. Yeah. And I am curious how many times— K-Ming, as you were a child and then starting to write and experimenting more with art and craft, I wonder how many times the voice was there, but an ear that couldn’t hear you or couldn’t listen was the ear that you were presented with like that seems to me nine times out of ten when people are like, “oh, like I don’t really know where I’m at with this writing” or “I’m not really sure about my style, my voice or what my signature is going to be.” I feel like most of the time all that says to me is, so have your teachers been predominantly white.

DC/KC: *laughs*

RM: Maybe male, maybe middle class, maybee able bodied, maybe straight. That’s usually what I hear. Not so much that you didn’t have The voice or a voice, but that I think the listeners weren’t ready or weren’t trained to find that.

KC: Well it’s really funny because I think it was like really self-imposed, in that. I took my first ever writing class, I was like eighteen. And I was like, “oh my God, I’ve never taken a writing class before!” And I was like, “OK, so there’s literature, and then there’s like my life.” And I thought those two were very, very separate things. I was like, “OK, I have to write like a poet. I have to write like Allen Ginsberg.” And I’m like, Oh, dada” And then I was like, oh, and then there’s my life, which is like, you know, I’m calling my mom about this. I’m talking to my friend about this. I’m like trying to figure out where to buy a bitter melon, like all these things. And that’s life and that’s me. And that can’t be in literature. My writing, my writing is going to be about all of these, like experiences that I’ve seen romanticized in and things that I read and thought was like, oh, this is literature. And I had to slowly kind of convert, like realize that my definition of what I thought literature or by writing was just like always going to be unattainable. And in some ways I was self sabotaging

RM: Yeah

KC:  Because I was constantly reaching for something that I knew was not really mine. But I thought that I had to. And I was like, OK, I need to stop this like weird cycle of self sabotage where I’m like, “I can never be a writer because I’m not a writer.”

DC/RM: *laugh*

KC: And I, I sort of realized that, like what what felt so resonant for me was like, “OK, now I’m writing about the things that I like, genuinely care about and the people that like bring me to tears,” and suddenly I’m not in this like weird zone of like knowing that I can never be something. Instead I felt, yeah. It was, it’s just like a completely transformative thing. And that was when I started bringing out those pieces that I kept thinking I was doing them wrong because there people would always comment on culture or they wouldn’t have any craft comments. And I was like, “oh, so maybe I’m like messing it up.” But I had to kind of I had to basically, like, extract myself a little bit from that space and realize that it’s like I can be grateful for everyone’s comments and grateful that people are reading this, but there’s also some part of me that needs to withdraw and that needs to just protect something and not put it all on the table. There’s some part of me that needs to find something that is away from the space and that was like really important for me. So I read on my own a lot. And I found my own little canon of things that I really, really loved. Yeah. And I was not fully 100% super like my whole body and soul invested into like, oh you know, this one person’s comments about this and that. 

RM: Yeah.Yeah. Especially when I think, in workshop in particular, sometimes there are unspoken or nonverbal clues and cues that someone is winning and someone is not winning. And it’s hard when I feel like maybe that person who’s looked at as very strong or very successful or very advanced, maybe when they’re giving feedback, that’s not resonating. And you’re kind of like, “but I know you’re good at what you do. This isn’t working for me at all, but you’re good. So what gives?”  I feel like learning to decode that is such a process and I agree with that. That notion of kind of ‘the sacred’ like there’s something that it’s not for you, and I’m not going to find what I need from you. So I’m going to keep this to myself. And I think that process of kind of self exploration, like you were saying, going off and reading on your own and exploring on your own is really crucial. And I’m just really stoked that you arrived there and graced us with this novel. 

KC: *laughs* Thank you!

RM: I think it’s fire and we’re just so excited for you and whatever you have up your sleeve for the future. *laughs*

KC: Thank you so much. Yeah, that means a lot to me. It makes me so happy and I’m so excited about Honey Literary. Like I remember, Dorothy when you dropped the tweet about it. And I was like–. But I don’t think it had a name yet when the first tweet came out.

DC: I was mad that night and I did it out of a reaction. And I was like, mad, I’m like, “guess why we’re doing this.”

KC: I know, I saw it and I was so excited. I was like, “bookmark!”

DC:Thank you that means so much because I literally just dropped the tweet, and I didn’t think people were going to listen. But then I looked down at my phone and within a minute, there’s like twenty likes. And I was like, okay this is going to be over in like a minute and then it kept going and it kept going. 

KC: That’s so exciting. Because it’s like, another thing is, I hated looking at mastheadsof literary magazines, and seeing how white the were. And then it’s like, I couldn’t submit to them. I was like, “I have something, but you’re going to like read it and not, you’re going to be like, ‘oh this is like terrible and horrible.’ And I can’t, it made me so uncomfortable. I was like I’m writing something for the community and I don’t want you to read it, and I want to submit but I can’t submit to you.So it made it be so exciting. I was like, “yes, this is what the people need and want!” 

RM: I’m so glad you felt heralded because, well, A. duh, we were heralding you.

KC: *laughs*

RM: But in general, I can’t tell you. So, OK, let’s see where I am. I’m at PANK. I’m at Split Lip and Honey. Right. So at split lip, maybe once in a blue moon we’ll get like a high school senior or something. And when we get that high school senior, everybody goes ballistic. All the editors love it. They’re so excited. Yes! Up and coming, young writer. Let’s do the thing. And and I always say, “why do y’all think that we don’t get more of these emergent writers? Why do you think they’re not sending.” It’s because there’s so much gatekeeping. These mastheads are all like PhD this, MFAthat, whatever whatever. It really agitates me that so many magazines, even ones that might be very supportive of  and very conducive to emergent writers putting work out there. So many of them just are not sending out the vibe or the call that like you are being hailed kind of like this. This is a space for you. And I was floored. I was so excited. How many like under 18 writers I got in my poetry, and for honey That gets me really jazzed because I really want people to stop with ‘too young’ or ‘so young.’ Like compared to what? What  is the point. What are you saying. Oh you don’t have enough degrees. Fuck that. Oh you don’t have enough publications. Fuck that as well. We have so little interest in all of those mechanisms. And I’m like, you know what, let me get like 5 or 6 fifteen year olds in this issue. If it’s good work, it’s good work, and I want more yous and baby K-Mings. I want them to hear the call and I want them to feel emboldened to send out like “You’re good enough right now. You’re ready right now.” You don’t need, I don’t know, blah, blah, blah, Quarterly Review to tell you you’re solid or you’re worth something. Again, going back to like those shitty capitalist models of labor. 

DC: Why are they a “quarterly” and a “review” is my question. Why are they both in your name? 

RM: *laughs* I was trying to think of making up a journal name, but also without like, if I accidentally saying a place that I hate and then being like, “oh no, that was so awkward.”

DC: No there’s quarterly and a  review, we’re Literary. I think that’s good. I’m satisfied. You’re satisfied. I think K-Ming is satisfied. So we’re good. 

RM: Yeah, we’re pretty much ready. We are here to assist with your global takeover. So, you know.

KC: *laughs* 

DC: We’re really here for this like, oh, my God, again, the day we got Invasive Species, you have no idea. 

KC: Oh, that’s so exciting! 

RM: We were all like texting. And I was like “Ahh!” I was like, “it’s a party!” that you submitted to us. 

DC: Like, it’s just like the best feeling as an editor to, see a name that you admire and think, you know, 

KC: Thank you! That was one I was saving to submit to you all because I had it,I had been working on it. I saw all about Honey Literary and the call for submissions. And I was like, I really did not want to submit this to, you know, like an old white bastard. I was like, I really cannot like I can’t imagine anywhere else in any other group of people, although I would be honored to have reading this.

RM: Yay!

KC: I was like this one, you know, I planned it.

DC: I love that. We’re so happy that we got to talk with you today and we’re just really happy that you’re our first Sticky Fingers feature. 

RM: Oh, my God. So excited. So excited. 

DC: We just like created because of you. We’re like “We have to just have a full feature on K-Ming Chang. That’s what we got to do. We got to have on. 

KC: Oh my god, wow!

RM: So, in the future as we expand and stuff, everyone needs to recognize that Sticky Fingers came into being because of you and because of this book.

DC: Yes, so we will put that on the site too. 

KC: Wow! I can’t tell you how honored I am. That makes me so happy. Thank you so much. I’m so excited about the issue. So, so, so, so, so excited. Yeah. Just Wow. Blown away by your generosity. 

RM: No, no, no. We’re, we’re so honored. The honor is all ours. And again, just to echo Dorothy, thank you so much for being flexible and open. We know this year has been just hell for all of us. So we’re just like, really stoked. And this was such an organic fun chat like the three of us. 

KC: It was lovely. Thank you. Your questions were mind blowing to both of you. Amazing questions and insight. I’m like, got to take notes. 

RM: In future stuff, don’t hesitate to hit us up if you need anything promo. I love to fight. So if anyone ever is not very nice to you. You know where to find me. That’s poetry @ Honey Literary be like, listen, Rita, there is somebody on Twitter. 

KC: Please call on me. I’m always ready too. I’m like, I’m there. 

RM:Yeah. Yeah I know. I’m always ready to fight. Dorothy had to like help me because I didn’t have Twitter until like this year because I’m very badly behaved on social media.  So I held off. But she was like, it’s time. She’s like, OK. 

DC: It’s time, Rita. It was like it’s like that moment in the movie where I don’t know where we’re going, but I take Rita somewhere like yes, it’s time. 

KC: You give a literal bird, a Twitter bird.

DC:It’s time for you to hold this bird still on your hands. 

RM: That’s what happened. Yeah. Yeah. But thank you again. We’re so excited and we’ll send you stuff as, because we’ll have like proofs. 

DC: Yeah. We’ll have the proofs and then we’ll also have this video itself. And we’re also going to be posting a transcript on Sticky Fingers. So it’ll be up in a few days. So we’ll be in touch very soon. 

RM: thank you. Take it easy, OK? 

KC: Yeah, you too. Have a good rest of your day.  

DC: You as well. Bye!

About K-ming Chang

K-Ming Chang / 張欣明 is a Kundiman fellow and a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her debut novel BESTIARY is forthcoming from One World / Random House on September 29, 2020. Her poems have been anthologized in Ink Knows No Borders, Best New Poets 2018, Bettering American Poetry Vol. 3, and the 2019 Pushcart Prize Anthology.