Random Personal Update

Most of this blog on my website consists of deck reviews, some book reviews, and right now because SKT III is in production, SKT status updates. I haven’t checked in with you with a personal update in a while. So let’s chat. Hi! How’ve you been? Let me share with you what’s been going on in my corner. =)

That Novel I Kinda Started Talking About… and then Didn’t?

In March of 2020, I posted this: “Novel Writing Adventures.” And this: “What Writing and Publishing a Novel Means to Me + Asian American Kid Problems.”

Back in 2013 I started this ambitious novel (I say “ambitious” because the plot and premise is really convoluted and in terms of my own skill level, I was trying to accomplish way more than my technical proficiency or storytelling ability was capable of.) I got up to 37,000 words before I abandoned ship.

I revisited that same manuscript in 2015, discarded about a third of what I had written in 2013, continued on, and got to 59,000 words before, again, abandoning the undertaking because it got too overwhelming.

In 2018, I threw away all 59k words of the previous manuscript, started from 0, wrote furiously for 2 years straight, and by February/March of 2020, exactly when the pandemic hit the U.S., completed the manuscript at 118,000 words.

Deep in my gut I knew it was not ready for submission, but try telling that to a newbie wannabe fiction writer who just finished the last sentence of her very first novel, am I right?

Actually, I got a couple of full manuscript requests from well-known agents– I’m talking the 1% of literary agents– but in every instance of a full manuscript request, I ended up getting a rejection.

And see, I knew I would get rejected, too. I totally knew my manuscript wasn’t ready. I got the initial manuscript requests because I think I have a really good idea, a good premise, a pretty decent first 10 pages, but my execution through the middle  and how I was attempting to weave two totally different timelines together was shoddy.

The rejections deflated me and anyway– squirrel!– I turned my attention to learning and studying art, and took SKT III to completion.

Now that SKT III is done (well, the art part… and James is handling the business part, which is where we are at now with the deck’s production status), I’ve returned to the novel.

I had to fundamentally rethink the structure. And after getting the full manuscript workshopped by several writer friend peers, I decided to do the heartbreaking— kill my darlings. The 118,000+ novel was cut down to 71,000 words. That’s right, I cut out about 40% of it– and a lot of that (dare I say so… I mean, of course I am going to say so, but I’m an unreliable narrator here…) was good writing!

Now, from the 71k, I need to restructure, transform, build in other ways, and try to take it to completion… again. Also, this time around, it’s going to be more evident that it’s a wuxia novel. There was a little bit of that in there before, but not really. In this new attempt at the manuscript, we’re going to go all-in with the wuxia aspect.

Career Transition

I’ve also undertaken a major transition career wise. I went from private sector venture capital to public sector health law. So far I’m loving it. It’s enriching work that feels important. I had also hit a plateau in the previous corporate incarnation of my legal career, wondering where else can I go from here?

This switch has been perfect for me. I’m still in-house counsel doing transactions and regulatory compliance, but in a different way– this time, for a public hospital authority operating several hospitals, medical clinics, and healthcare facilities. Surfing the learning curve in a new area of law has been exhilarating. Merging that with the portfolio of experiences I came in with to create policy change I can see, to be part of significant movements, has been very cool. Feeling emotionally and sociopolitically invested in the work I’m now doing is quite a high.

I share this life update because it does have implications affecting the Benebell Wen platform. Before, in my previous corporate position, I had hit a plateau, was coasting career wise, and so sought out intellectual stimulation elsewhere. That resulted in heightened activity on my Benebell Wen platform. Now I am feeling really fulfilled by the work that I’m doing, and it occupies much more of my time, because I want it to occupy more of my time. That’s likely to mean less activity on this platform, such as making videos, etc.

Morning after our Queen of the Night plant blossoming. Three full blooms this 2021! Wow! Quite the omen…

Life Transition

In March of 2021, James’s mother died of Covid. His father, my father-in-law, is entirely dependent. So we had only one option: the father-in-law moved in with us. James’s father and I get along well, but I’m not the only one who would acknowledge that the reason for that is because I bite my tongue. He is a tough old military cookie set in his ways, conservative in ideology, consumes massive amounts of fake news, really uninterested in anything new or different, and just has no filter. Zero filter. I joke to my Mom that at the rate of mantra recitations I mutter under my breath these days, I’m gonna be a bodhisattva by the time all this is over.

It has been a contrasting experience compared to my own father. My dad is by his nature an academic, philosopher, and scientist, but not only is he a scientist who has invented and patented stuff, who– I kid you not, I’m not just saying this because I’m a daughter who looks up to her dad– he’s good at everything. Like, everything.

He is a scientist, but he’s also an amazingly talented artist and musician. One early childhood memory I have is of him picking up a guitar and effortlessly strumming Moonlight Sonata, and I was like, you play the guitar? Since when? And he shrugged, remarking ever so casually, I don’t really play. Growing up with my dad meant every two years, you’d learn about yet another talent of his. He never seems to run out of talent. Right now he is growing several different varieties of vitis vinifera grapes for wine-making and cultivating ginseng. Like…what?

My dad has a very gentle, pensive nature, and he will sit in stillness to think, reason, rationalize, and process something before he reacts. As a kid, this bothered the heck out of me, because he always seemed so slow to action. However, I confess, once my dad took action, he only ever needed to strike once to hit his target. Boom. Done. Next.

The father-in-law is the opposite of that. Explodes, reacts, splatters emotions everywhere, doesn’t really process or think through anything. He has a hot temper and cusses a lot (whereas I have never– never— heard a single cuss word out of my father’s mouth, ever). And he trusts everything he sees and hears on this short-form video app that is mainland China’s government-sanctioned version of TikTok.

The other day in one of our family video chats I asked my dad what he thought of the father-in-law, what his impression is of him, and tell the truth! Dad took his time, and you could see on his face how he was sincerely kicking the question around in his mind, and then he said, in English, “He is simple.”

What I will say has been a positive experience with the father-in-law is how he seems genuinely impressed with everything and anything I do. He saw some of the SKT Revelation artwork, and the reaction he gave would lead you to think I just cured cancer. In contrast, my own father is not impressed at all. He’ll study the artwork I just sent him, scrutinize it for a prolonged beat, and then critique it in very, very specific terms, telling me how I could’ve used space better, the lighting and shading is unrealistic and I need to go back to study light before I draw anything else, terrible proportions, I need to go study human anatomy, and also, walk me through your reasoning process here and inspiration– because what were you thinking when you drew this?

When James told his dad how many SKT decks we’ve sold so far, his dad beamed ear to ear and exclaimed, “See? It’s not just us! Everybody thinks she’s amazing! Everyone loves her work!” And the father-in-law wasn’t just trying to be polite. His emotions are sincere. When I told my dad how many SKT decks we’ve sold so far, my dad looked quizzical, took a minute to process what I just said, and then replied, “How did you con so many people into buying an overpriced deck of playing cards?”

Maybe you’ve already noticed that this year 2021, in terms of content creation, it’s mainly been writing and posting deck reviews on my blog. I also created a page that will list every deck review posted on this site, which you can check out here.

Deck Reviews

Unfortunately, there are at least a dozen if not more deck reviews on this site that are not listed because at the time the review was posted, I forgot to tag it “deck review.” That means it’s now virtually un-searchable. So at some point I’ll need to sift through everything, find those reviews, tag them, and post them on that master list.

During spring cleaning earlier this year, I stumbled upon a lot of oldies-but-goodies in my collection that, for whatever reason, I never wrote up a deck review on, but want to. So what you may have noticed in terms of reviews posted so far in 2021 is a combination of showcases on older decks and reviews of recent publications.

And that’s about it. Thanks for checking in!

32 thoughts on “Random Personal Update

  1. Brandon Charles

    I love the authenticity of everything you post and do! I am at a point in my life where I am analyzing what success means to me. I used to think that meant finding a job and staying in it in 40 or more years and getting that special plaque or gold watch or whatever you may want to call it. That token that says you’re successful because you stuck with some thing for the majority of your years. Now I think success means to me that I tried and experienced a lot of different things and learned along the way. So what does that mean for the career path that I thought I had set? Maybe it means sticking with that, but doing things on the side. For example I am teaching in a master’s program in my spare time, which is something I never thought I would do, but I rose to the challenge and it’s adding to my fulfillment. Anyway, your career transition struck a chord with me. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jo

    Hey Benenell that was a juicy update!! Its great to know someone else is doing ‘the livein elder care’ thing…I know the tonguebiting Mantra thing so well! Huge congratulations on your new health/legal role – somehow this ‘sits’ far better than being an ‘aquisitions lawyer’. More aligned and congruent with your magical self. I hope you and James are enjoying the Summer- and getting some personal time together. Good luck with your writing..Museum of Literature Ireland( MoLI) is really worth a look. Take care . Jo. New Zealand

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    1. Hey Jo! Haha, re: juicy. It’s funny and also heartening that you sympathize all too much re: tongue-biting mantra-reciting we’re-soon-both-gonna-be-bodhisattvas thing. 😀 That Museum of Literature Ireland sounds amazing!

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  3. hermitsmirror

    I really love this update, and I’m so glad about both the novel and the career shift. It’s so wonderful to be excited about and intellectually stimulated by the work you do, especially when it is also doing so much good for others. Thank you for sharing all that you do. Good luck with the time between now and boddhisatva-hood and your father-in-law. I’m sorry to hear about James’s mother and wish you all well. Much love.

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  4. Sally

    Bell how wonderful to get an update of your life over the last few years. I love that you switched your law practice into the health field–as you remember I spent my adult life first as an RN and then as a Nurse Practitioner. It’s wonderful that you have the discipline and curiosity to try so many different things: writing, visual arts, metaphysical studies, music and so much more! Thank you for letting us have a glimpse of what goes on in your day to day world. I’ve been spending the last four years adjusting to losing a house and a community and now re-establishing one. I’ve also submerged myself into painting non representational (non legible) art. I’m at a different stage of life so my focus is really about resolution and legacy. Would those be the right words? I’m all about wrapping things up: loving my friends and family; trying to be kind to our Mother Earth; voting and rooting for the collective; getting my heart out onto the canvas. XO Hi to James!

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    1. Haha, this update was for just 2021 lol. 😀 Yep, a lot happened in just 7 months. And that is so cool that you’re focused on non-representational art! I’d love to see some! ❤

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  5. stankbeest

    Yow, that’s a lot of sharing! Yet completely fascinating.
    I’d love to comment on everything – and add my own personal experiences to the mix – but it would take up WAY too much space. Not to mention it’d likely be a lot less interesting for others to read…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for catching us up. I am so sorry for James’ and your loss. It is wonderful to know you both are taking great care of your father-in-law(FIL), even if he gets a bit rambunctious in his beliefs. Your FIL reminds me of certain members of my family in that manner. I laughed about your soon to be elevation via mantra.

    This was like enjoying tea with a good friend and just having a great chat to catch up. I’m glad you & James are doing well. Keep safe and my best to you both!

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  7. Congrats on your new job Benebell! Well done for taking that leap, and I’m so excited for your novel. Be sure to keep us updated on that 😁 all the best to you and your family xxx

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  8. Beverly Frable

    This feels to me as though we had a quiet moment to share a cup of tea during an otherwise hectic (in a good way) experience…a catch up moment, my spending time with someone I genuinely care about. I’m relieved that so many things are going so well for you, and that you’re finding more fulfillment in you “day job”. Also, my heart warms knowing that you and yours have taken in someone who obviously needs to be with those who care. I’m saddened by the loss of James’s mom, and also saddened that you both experienced such a significant loss due to COVID. Seems all is going well in your world, as it is in mine. I recently married my long time partner (36+ years!), and feel very blessed. So, now that we’re caught up virtually, it’s my hope that your new “day job” allows you to attend events in person and we can share space in person again someday soon. Until then, thank you for the update. Always love hearing from those I care about. <3.

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  9. Mendy

    I’m so very sorry for your family’s loss. Losing a parent is so hard. I do love the juxtaposition you share between your father and your father-in-law. You are very blessed to have such great relationships, even if they can be challenging at times. Congratulations on the career change!

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  10. Shadowrose

    Hi Bell,
    after I recognized my fatal mistake in a former posting about that Chinese mythology deck idea, I actually decided to stop commenting and keeping a low profile (for I still feel so ashamed).
    However, after reading this post, I want to thank you for that open insight into your life. I feel sorry for your family’s losses. And I wish you strength to keep your inner calmness when dealing with certain family members… I know what you are going through due to my own experiences.
    Your ambitious novel writing project also reminds me of some of my own ambitious projects. Writing, rewriting, restructure and starting all over again… Well, maybe it helps, when you’re listening to your intuition. Write when you’re in flow with it. And take a break when you’re not. You can’t force it anyways.

    Wish you all the best!

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    1. Hi shadowrose! Oh heavens please don’t feel that way! I did not see any mistake at all re: your post on a Chinese mythology deck. What mistake did you think you made? Honestly, I saw no problems. ❤

      And thank you for reaching out. And good luck to you, too, on your ambitious projects! 😀

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  11. I share your father-in-law’s amazement at all you do and think your art is amazing, I offer this perspective: If we choose our parents as souls, you chose a father that would always push you to strive for more, better, stronger, faster. One who would say things to bring you down to earth so that those of us who adore your work don’t give you an overblown ego. When his words feel painful, know that so many of us can help balance you with kudos and accolades. You have only to ask: Do I find joy in this work? If so, then it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. And that is a solid foundation on which to build. Keep sharing your journey. You inspire many, and don’t have to please everyone.

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    1. Aww, I’ve learned to never see Dad’s words as offending, but rather, he’s pushing me toward excellence. How can a daughter be mad at that? 😀 I’m grateful for him, because I would never have become who I’ve become, achieved what I have, without a father like that! ❤

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  12. The mid-life transition of adulthood is so complicated. The lessons of our aging parents, the negotiating of our in-laws while we still work on finding ourselves throughout. Your stories about your FIL remind me of a meme series that was floating around years ago and always started with, “My Asian Parents…” where Asian kids got to offload some tension!

    I’ve been thinking a lot around ancestors, epigenetics, and the things we carry both as what is inherited as well as what is a response to that inheritance. And also the recipient of nostalgia. What is incredible to me is how little the stages of adulthood are actually talked about, but in all honesty, how much growth and evolution drives us forward.

    Cheers to the next stage for you! And, I am so excited to read a Benebell fiction book!!

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    1. Haha, I haven’t seen the “My Asian Parents..” meme series. And very cool that you’ve been thinking about ancestors and epigenetics. So much of the shadows we all carry come from that influence, so I’m glad the collective is talking about it more these days. Nancy Hendrickson wrote a book, Ancestral Tarot, that’s really good!

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  13. Detroit Girl

    Dear Benebell, Id love to read a work of fiction that came out of your head. Sign me up! There are story lines and characters that stay with a reader life-long for their challenges, humor, failings and their consequences. Your incredible knowledge base gives you a solid foundation for storytelling. I self published a 1st novel in 2017. The loss of a dear friend practically exorcised of a story out of me – 3 years of writing at 1 or 2am until dawn, scratching notes on little pieces of paper during dental interludes or before kid’s teacher conferences in a neurotic catharisis. In the 4 years since since publication, I continue to think of many improvements I could’ve made to better honor the story as well as the characters. Writing a decent novel is really hard. Pat yourself on the back for taking the time.

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  14. mc

    wow, Benebell! I just started seriously getting into Tarot in the last few months after playing around with it for decades. Bought several books and then saw yours recommended somewhere, sorry I can’t remember where. Your book is utterly fantastic, a thorough introduction but includes intermediate information, well written, well organized, spiritual w/o woo-woo, etc. etc. etc.! I’m grateful to you for it.… But, meanwhile, I figured you were probably a 70-year-old Chinese lady who learned Tarot at your grandma’s knee, or some thing. So, it’s great to read your update. Hang in there with the daddy in-law and I’m glad you’re liking your new job. big hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Congratulations on the career shift, as it sounds much more in alignment with what you wanted to do with law from what I recall from stories you’ve made public.

    I also need a larger word than “congratulations” — after almost a decade of watching my partner navigate a healthcare system that has alternated between negligence and outright malevolence, and the suffering that has entailed and the strain it’s put on our relationship, the knowledge that someone with your capacity for …benevolence 😉 … is moving towards public health, even tangentially, is encouraging and gratifying. I have no doubt that the warm light of your compassion will shine into some corners in dire need of comfort and illumination.

    (Oh, and writerly commiserations. I think the “garbage” document of things I’ve cut from just one novel project alone is now at like 80,000 words…)

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  16. Marie-Christine

    Reading about how talented is your dad, i wonder how such person would do if he studied and practiced tarot and created a deck, unless you’re already channeling him?

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