Being an adopted Korean in the late 1990s and early 2000s in the peak of boy bands and sparkly pop princesses was, for a lack of a better word, hard.
Sometimes, I would cheer for the white brunette just to feel relevant. While all my friends drooled over Justin Timberlake, I fancied Chris Kirkpatrick due to his non-conventional dreadlocked brown hair and shorter stature. What other choice did I have? There were no faces like mine in the sea of popular media. In fact, faces like mine were basically non-existent, if not being mocked.
My friends and I discovered teen movies from the eighties while we were in junior high. Watching in awe, Sixteen Candles played out every preteen’s fantasy of being the girl who pulls the unattainable senior. While all my fair-skinned friends chattered about could-be’s and would-be’s, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed by the character, Long Duk Dong, and how the only Asian student in this suburban Chicago school was only comic relief. It made me wonder: do people see me as some sort of joke? A caricature of some foreign person, and no one to take seriously?
It was easy to paint myself as a background character. I didn’t want to be front and center but rather, a trusty sidekick to my white friends who gave more main character vibes. I was thirteen years old.
For my friend Sarah’s fourteenth birthday, we went and saw Snow Falling on Cedars in the movie theater. It was a bit of a strange movie choice for a dozen young teenagers, and the rest of my friends were distracted and disengaged. They giggled at the slow build of the story and wondered what the point was.
I was the only one who probably remembers that movie. It was the first time I saw a white male lead in love with an Asian woman. While my friends thought Ethan Hawke was status quo handsome, they were dismissive of the rest of the cast amidst the fierce racial and legal conspiracies where a Japanese man was victim in a post-World War II setting. It was the first time I didn’t feel invisible in a long time.
My friends growing up usually forgot I was Asian. The only times I was reminded how different I looked was when I saw how Asians were portrayed in movies. The affected representation or the lack thereof gave very mixed messages. Did people view me as an embarrassment? Or was I enigmatically sexy? How was I supposed to know that a co-existing Asian person could walk amongst Hollywood, when big screen entertainment and literature only showed people who looked like me as being either mysterious or awkward?
The first mainstream Asian woman in a blockbuster movie was Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels. I was fifteen when it came out in 2000. Lucy Liu’s character, Alex, was dating a white man. She did not speak with any sort of accent. To a Korean girl from the suburbs, there was never a movie character that resonated so much. Finally, someone who shared the same hooded eyelids and thick black hair who seemed to fit in, rather than be a wordless shadowy figure or cultural fixture. It was shocking no other characters in Charlie’s Angels even acknowledged Liu’s character was Asian.
Gedde Wantabe, who played Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, later told interviewers he didn’t realize how problematic his portrayal of Asians was. He enjoyed making people laugh. This was the precursor of emasculated and ridiculed Asian men in popular media, especially in the 2000’s. While watching American Pie, I couldn’t help but cringe at the way John Cho said his infamous line:“MILF. Mom I like to fuck.” Maybe it was my own insecurity, but I swore I heard the stunted dialect between each exaggerated word.
In the next decade and well into a different season of womanhood, Jenny Han, author of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and more recently, The Summer I Turned Pretty, seemed to finally bring Asian Americans to the spotlight in a more realistic approach. Like my children, the main character of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean, is half-Korean. She is a full-dimensional girl, bursting with strange quirks and deep emotional hurdles. When this book was made into a Netflix movie, the producers wanted to cast Lara Jean to a white actress. Jenny Han put her foot down and said no. I’m happy they let the main character be a person of color and still had confidence the content would sell.
I personally prefer John Cho as Hikaru Sulu than MILF Guy #2. I loved seeing Simu Liu go head-to-head as a Ken Doll against Ryan Gosling to show the Asian community can still take a joke, as long as we aren’t the only butt in the room. I enjoyed watching Bong Joon-Ho win Director of the Year, when his Korean film Parasite swept the American Oscars.
Back in the early 2000s, even my adopted mom, who is a white school teacher and an avid reader of all New York Times’ bestsellers, didn’t purchase a copy of Memoirs of a Geisha for her book club. But in recent years, my mother is telling me to watch Minari due to the bone-shaking themes and how much she recommends reading Crazy Rich Asians, in-between her regular endorsements of Lessons in Chemistry and Where the Crawdads Sing. It shouldn’t be two separate categories, and it finally feels like it isn’t.
Asian culture is seeping through the cracks of mainstream entertainment. People who share the same facial features as me – features that used to make me uncomfortable – are getting a bigger slice of representation. My children can turn on the TV and see not one, but two K-pop bands perform on the 2023 MTV VMAs. I just bought my daughter Jenny Han’s books to read along with her requested Colleen Hoovers. My son watched Simu Liu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings without thinking it was weird to have an Asian lead.
It makes me wonder if that girl growing up in the 1990s-2000s misunderstood assimilation. To her, it was pretending to be white and fade into the background. But now, in the midst of motherhood, it’s become apparent that all that girl wanted was to be herself and fit in, without having to laugh at other Asians to do so. Better yet, that girl and all girls who look like her, can now start to step away from the wallpaper. As Lara Jean famously says in To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved Before, “I was used to being invisible, but now, people were looking at me.”
Meet the blogger:
RACHEL KRAUS is currently working towards a double major in Creative Writing and Anthropology at Hamline University.
I have very weak hands, and I mean that quite literally. For one, I didn’t learn how to tie my shoes until the ripe age of twelve. Even as a college student, I’m dropping things left and right and frantically trying to cool off my fingers when they swell from holding plates and books. Opening bottles is a whole other adventure in itself. It’s safe to say I am envious of people who have functional, strong fingers. It’s uber-safe to say when I read a book series featuring a character with a paralyzed left hand, I emphasized hard with him. This character was Alex Stowe from the middle-grade series The Unwanteds, written by Lisa McMann, which I was (and still am) very much into. It was so cool to see a character that also struggled with opening doors and buttoning buttons. I was in heaven.
And then he dies.
He dies quite terribly, frantically trying to defend himself from an enemy with his other, non-dominant arm in the second saga of books. The characters mourn him and his role in the story is ultimately given to his abled younger sister. Life goes on.
Disability representation in literature has long been mixed. Rachel Petri, a disabled student contributor of Clearwater Press, once summarized that stories featuring disabled characters should strive to be real and hopeful and honest and encouraging. Petri brought up the differences between the book Wonder and the book Me Before You. Me Before You featured a story where Will, a disabled character, did not aspire to keep living, and as Petri describes, sent a message that living with a disability is not a life worth living. Wonder featured a story in which young Auggie, a boy with a facial deformity, realistically faced ups and downs, finding a support network.
Before Alex Stowe died, he struggled with implied PTSD and depression. He had nightmares for years about the woman who ultimately killed him. He drove himself away from his family and friends, becoming a shell of his former creative personality. One has to consider what message it sends to kill off a disabled character, especially one struggling with mental health.
Ultimately, The Unwanteds still holds an important place in my heart. I love the world, characters, and story and appreciate that the author was willing to take responsibility for potentially causing harm to her disabled readers. Over the past few years, I have gotten the opportunity to know McMann through a Saint Paul signing and a fun Italian dinner in Arizona; I consider her a dear friend of mine. I have begun to see myself in Lada, a disabled character with cerebral palsy from McMann’s newest series, The Forgotten Five. When writing Lada, McMann found a sensitivity reader in Stacy McNeely, a friend of McMann’s who has cerebral palsy. Lada is fun, intelligent, relatable, and showcases how variable disability can be. Sometimes she needs her wheelchair, sometimes she doesn’t.
So, what can we, as readers and writers, learn from characters like Alex Stowe from The Unwanteds and Will from Me Before You? Fay Onyx, a disabled contributor to the publication Mythcreants, has written quite a few articles on the topic of disability representation. In one of Onyx’s articles, the author discusses the ideas of challenging ableist language, researching harmful tropes (such as the villainous disability or inspiration porn tropes), and even suggests hiring a disability consultant. Another disabled contributor of the blog Metaphors and Moonlight shares similar thoughts. The author, identified as Kit, brings up how important it is to consider one’s reasons for bringing a disabled character into the story and to put research into portraying a disability accurately. Kit ends their post stressing how essential it is to go beyond fictional works and listen to disabled people in real life.
When writing a disabled character, remember that whatever you’re writing can greatly influence your audience and readers. Representation doesn’t have to be perfect but should reflect thoughtful research. The world around us is filled with accessibility barriers and harmful stereotypes, which are important to deconstruct when writing a disabled character. When in doubt, ask yourself if the representation you’ve written reflects careful consideration of disability, and how disability impacts the character in the story.
Meet the blogger:
ABBIE SUNDICH is a senior and aspiring author majoring in English and Communications with an Editing, Publishing, and Writing Concentration who will graduate in the spring of 2024 from Hamline University. Abbie enjoys reading, writing, drawing, photography, napping, and watching Netflix. She hopes to find a job with a publishing house or a nonprofit after she graduates, and specifically wants to write a few animal fantasy novels.
If you’re a long-form writer like myself, you know the struggle of reigning in your desire to provide every detail of your character’s life, or else risk your work becoming a massive info dump. You may also suspect that trying to start your career as a novelist with no published work to show off isn’t going to be easy. However, when you go searching for opportunities to get your name out there, you quickly realize that everything you’re finding are journals that only accept—you guessed it—the dreaded short story.
The real question for a novelist isn’t where to submit these stories but rather how to write them in the first place. I have gone out in search of some answers and here is a culmination of advice to keep in mind if you’re struggling.
If you start a short story thinking it won’t be as good as your other writing, it won’t be. You must accept that the reader isn’t going to know every little thing about your main character.
For example, a character in a novel—let’s call her Amy—might spend some time complaining about a horrible coffee date she went on in order to show the reader part of her personality and viewpoint. The short story version of this would sum it up with, “Amy knew that her disdain stemmed from one too many dates gone wrong.”
2. Let the Form Serve You
NY Book Editors suggests “[letting] your short story serve as a character snapshot.” This is a helpful way to view the form if you’re having trouble sticking to one idea or moment.
Try walking through a scene with a character in your novel. Curious how your MC would react to a visit from a long lost uncle? Write a short story about it. Wondering how to hone in on the heartbreak of losing a pet? Write a short story about it. These snapshots work double time by both padding your portfolio and allowing you to explore your character.
3. Get to the Point
The most important thing to remember when writing a short story: stay in the action. You may be tempted in the middle of a tense scene to slow down with a moment of reflection but you have to fight that urge. Keep the character focused, maintain momentum with strong dialogue, and utilize the setting as a tool rather than simply a background.
For example, if there’s a park that has sentimental value for your character, don’t have them tell us about it from their bedroom. Set the scene there and see how the emotions naturally shape the narrative.
Center your short story around this question: What is the one thing that is most important to my character? Now showcase that in one instance. It’s intimidating, but once you identify that core desire and key moment, your plot will stay much more focused.
4. Be Precise and Concise
A skill that all writers must learn is how to create complexity and depth in just a few lines. To help achieve this daunting task, Writer’s Edit suggests “employ[ing] clever dialogue, interactions and reactions, flashbacks, and short sharp imagery to develop [your] characters.”
Find something truly unique about your main character and run with it, always making sure to be picky with your word choice. Instead of telling the reader “Samantha was always a smart student,” try working it into her inner dialogue, something like, “Sure, some people might call Samantha ‘intelligent’ because she has a 4.0, but she didn’t want to be reduced to a number.”
I know from experience that it can be difficult to break free from the comfort of your preferred writing style, but if you allow yourself room to play and make mistakes, I have faith that you will be able to reap the many benefits that exist in the world of short stories.
Meet the blogger:
ANGEL KIDD is a senior creative writing major with a focus in fiction. When she isn’t watching YouTube, she is attempting to write a science fiction novel. After graduation she hopes to find a career in the publishing industry or as a manuscript editor before hopefully becoming a published author.
Batman lost his parents at gunpoint at age nine. At the same age, I lost my mother to breast cancer. Ever since, feeling like half an orphan, I’ve always felt a special kinship with Batman and people that have felt the devastation of losing others. Since 2020, we all might have felt what it was like to lose someone or to be devastated by grief. Like Spider-Man, I’ve felt the spiritual and psychological fracture caused by multiple tragedies. Occasionally in life, I’ve come across comic books that have gotten me through the hard times. These are those books, those times, Batman and Spider-Man saved not my life but my sanity. The hope is they can do the same for you.
As a consolation for the funeral, my aunt bought me volume one of Ultimate Spider-Man, a retelling of the wall-crawler for millennials. People make a big deal out of Spider-Man because of the costume and the colors and the webs. But I had no idea Peter Parker had an interior existence. He was a boy like me who had seen too much for a tender age. An uncle, a first love, and a best friend all dead before his eyes. This was heightened reality for most people. For me, it was my mother, an infant nephew, and the friendliest coworker I’ve ever met. Reading the pages where Peter put his mask on and went back into the fight showed that it was possible to suffer all the slings and arrows and still function in society. Did it lead me into a false sense at times of saying I’m okay with all this death? Yes, it did. But that’s where my next hero showed I was at fault.
Because I needed strength, because I found comfort in his comfortless world, Batman the saint of infinite suffering became my patron. All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder by Frank Miller shows there’s no character better for the grieving than Batman. Let me rephrase that. Batman is so wrong for those looking to *get over* grief because he doesn’t know how. But for raw grief? When the wound is still fresh and bleeding? There’s no one better to whom you can relate.
In the controversial story, Batman tries to save Dick Grayson from grief. Across eight issues, he drags a twelve-year-old boy through warzone after warzone, trying to leave him no time to cry or soften. Batman eventually succeeds in sculpting him into his warrior disciple Robin, thinking he has delivered the boy from victimhood. However, when Robin has a psychotic breakdown and almost takes the life of fellow superhero Green Lantern with his brutal teachings, Batman realizes a grave error about himself. I, too, realized a grave error about Batman, for I had also become one of his disciples.
What he’s been doing his whole life yields no catharsis, no healing, and is certain to drive a person insane. If Batman doesn’t allow Dick (read: me) his humanity, his time to heal, another permanent victim will stumble in agony through life and Batman will have become the victimizer. Batman comes up with one solution that is unorthodox for him: feel the pain. He rushes the boy to the cemetery and throws him before a headstone bearing his name “Grayson.” This scene ends with Robin weeping and Batman cradling him, maybe accepting some loss of his own as he laments both their pain with this final salvo, “We mourn lives lost. Including our own.” Few comics have a more eloquent statement about grief as a chronic condition. It is okay to mourn yourself and the life you lost when a loved one dies.
I’d felt this way my whole life and could never put it to words. But Miller did. Truly, we become ghosts when our loved ones die and not the other way around. The dearly departed don’t linger. We do. We’re the ones who actually have to walk the earth in a state of purgatory, drained of joy and pallor. Eventually, life comes back to us. Most of us. Not Batman. He will remain the ghost. When I visit my mother’s marker on occasion, see my name etched in stone, I sometimes think I will too…
Meet the blogger:
MICHAEL CLAUSEN will finally know sleep again now that he has graduated from Hamline University. Becoming an English major with a concentration in creative writing has been ten years in the making. Pridefully, he has zero debt to show for it. The system can own him when he takes out a mortgage.
“Yes, flowers have their language. Theirs is an oratory that speaks in perfumed silence, and there is tenderness, and passion, and even the light-heartedness of mirth, in the variegated beauty of their vocabulary. To the poetical mind, they are not mute to each other; to the pious, they are not mute to their Creator; and ours shall be the office, in this little volume to translate their pleasing language, and to show that no spoken word can approach to the delicacy of sentiment to be inferred from a flower seasonably offered…” —Kate Greenway, The Language of Flowers, 1884
Curious as to how flowers and metaphors could possibly mend together? Interested in a writing prompt pertaining to the subject? Well, dear reader, you’ve come to the right place. But, first and foremost, I must provide you with a little lesson, or perhaps, a refresher, to those of you who are familiar with the language of flowers and emotional metaphor.
The language of flowers, or floriography, for a more technical term, is the expression of messages and emotions through flowers. Actually quite comparable to this is metaphor, a figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. It may provide clarity or identify hidden similarities between two different ideas.
This idea of identifying hidden similarities between two different ideas is where the language of flowers and metaphor really combine, especially in terms of emotion. How does one label an emotion to a metaphor, and then on top of that, bring flowers into it? Well, dear reader, I think it would be best for us to take a trip.
Don’t worry, we will not be boarding The Magic School Bus and venturing into the human body. Rather, we’re going somewhere that, hopefully, holds much more appeal: a flower shop. Here, I’ll get the door for you, and you’d better grab a coat because the cooler where the flowers are kept is cold.
Upon entering the cooler, you come across a bucket of yellow carnations. Although beautiful, yellow carnations actually hold a darker meaning than one would expect. If you were to open your now accessible copy of Greenway’s, The Language of Flowers, you would find that the real meaning behind a yellow carnation is actually disdain and rejection. How can you use this flower as an emotional metaphor in your writing? Let’s come up with an idea for a song using yellow carnations as an example. Instead of naming your song “Disdain and Rejection,” call it “Yellow Carnation.” Imagine hearing a song of that name over the radio and expecting some lovely song about spring and joy and flowers to come on and instead emerges a fervent, grave song about a rejected lover filled with disdain for another. Emotional metaphors in relation to the language of flowers can work out beautifully in this way, and pique the interest of both readers and listeners. If I heard “Yellow Carnation,” on the radio and then the darker lyrics that followed, I can definitely say I’d be shocked and interested in the meaning behind the title.
Now that you’ve been introduced to and shown an example of how to merge the language of flowers with emotional metaphor, I encourage you to keep walking through the cooler and find more flowers to identify the meanings behind and write about. Or, even better yet, if you’d like to expand your research beyond the language of flowers, bring emotional metaphor with you.
Perhaps you have had an awful relationship with your father (in which case you’re not alone) and he is a huge fan of motorcycles. Are there specific meanings related to certain motorcycle parts from which you could craft a piece of art from? Or, even better yet, create your own “Language of Motorcycles” novel!
With this final note, I extend the language of flowers to you, dear reader, in the hopes that it can help you, too.
Meet the blogger:
TRISTA KNEBEL is currently a junior at Hamline University pursuing her BFA in creative writing and BA in music. She loves murder mysteries and rain and when she’s not in class she is working at a local florist in St. Paul, convincing herself not to bring home a new plant.