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.
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.
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.
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!