Guest Post: On Writing and Activism by Heidi Heilig

Everyone, please welcome Heidi Heilig to Rich in Color! Heidi’s new book, The Ship Beyond Time is out today. We’re so excited to have Heidi to write a guest post for us–we love her Twitter account and all of the activism she does there.

If you love fantasy, science fiction, and time travel, you should definitely check out her book:

The breathtaking sequel to the acclaimed The Girl from Everywhere. Nix has escaped her past, but when the person she loves most is at risk, even the daughter of a time traveler may not be able to outrun her fate—no matter where she goes. Fans of Rae Carson, Alexandra Bracken, and Outlander will fall hard for Heidi Heilig’s sweeping fantasy.

Nix has spent her whole life journeying to places both real and imagined aboard her time-traveling father’s ship. And now it’s finally time for her to take the helm. Her father has given up his obsession to save her mother—and possibly erase Nix’s existence—and Nix’s future lies bright before her. Until she learns that she is destined to lose the one she loves. But her relationship with Kash—best friend, thief, charmer extraordinaire—is only just beginning. How can she bear to lose him? How can she bear to become as adrift and alone as her father?

Desperate to change her fate, Nix takes her crew to a mythical utopia to meet another Navigator who promises to teach her how to manipulate time. But everything in this utopia is constantly changing, and nothing is what it seems—not even her relationship with Kash. Nix must grapple with whether anyone can escape her destiny, her history, her choices. Heidi Heilig weaves fantasy, history, and romance together to tackle questions of free will, fate, and what it means to love another person. But at the center of this adventure are the extraordinary, multifaceted, and multicultural characters that leap off the page, and an intricate, recognizable world that has no bounds. The sequel—and conclusion—to the indie darling The Girl from Everywhere will be devoured by fans of Rachel Hartman and Maggie Stiefvater.

Now on to her post!


With dumpster fires raging across America, many people understandably long to lose themselves in a good book. To be swept up in a fantasy. To forget the world around them.

I wish I were one of those people.

Instead, I feel unable to read or write–at least, when it comes to fiction. But my online rants continue unabated. I’m pretty sure by this point, more people know me for the content of my twitter feed than the content of my books. In a way, it makes sense. I was an activist before I was an author. Writing inclusive historical time travel was just a way to spend free time between shouting matches with libertarians.

Deadline wise, this is pretty unprofessional. I have definitely had to give my editor a shame face when I’ve let a duedate pass because I had to drop kick a bigot back to the 1950’s. (Thankfully my editor is understanding, and has been known to bust a few heads herself.) But during the run up to the publication of THE SHIP BEYOND TIME, I’ve spent far more time protesting than promoting, and when I hit up my friends and colleagues, it’s less “Buy my book!” than “Match my donation!”

But I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you all about it, because I bet a lot of you are doing the same thing.

Since the election gave an enormous platform to an unapologetic bigot, evil has become so very visible. Still, I’m positive that I’m preaching to the choir when I say that it’s always been there. There is always–has always been–something to protest. Something to fight. Some wrong that needs righting–and meanwhile, the novels need writing.

And out there, there are people who fight all day and then, for an hour or two, need to escape into a world where someone else is fighting for a change–and even better, where the battles can be over at the end.

I need to do better to honor my art as a form of activism. If you’re in the same situation, I hope you, too, will remember that writing and reading books–especially inclusive books–is a valid way to fight back. And when I forget–if you have a moment–please remind me.

Upcoming inclusive fantasy recs (aside from my own)
A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi
The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton


Heidi grew up in Hawaii where she rode horses and raised peacocks, and then she moved to New York City and grew up even more, as one tends to do. Her favorite thing, outside of writing, is travel, and she has haggled for rugs in Morocco, hiked the trails of the Ko’olau Valley, and huddled in a tent in Africa while lions roared in the dark.

She holds an MFA from New York University in Musical Theatre Writing, of all things, and she’s written books and lyrics for shows including The Time Travelers Convention, Under Construction, and The Hole. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, her son, and their pet snake. They do not own a cat.

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Do YA novels have a responsibility to educate their audience (my answer is…”Kind of?”)

Everyone, please welcome Rahul Kanakia to Rich in Color! Rahul’s book, Enter Title Here, came out last week. Today Rahul explores his views of what novels are meant to do and what kind of responsibilities authors have to themselves at their readers.


titleWhen we talk about diversity in young adult literature, there’s often a strong strain of, “Teens need to see this” or “Teens should know this.” And to be honest it makes me a little uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s only my background in the academic creative writing world—a place where politics is eschewed—but I was taught that novels shouldn’t strive to instruct. Novels aren’t about teaching lessons; they’re about uncovering and highlighting life’s complexities.

This year, I read a number of queer YA novels (I’m bisexual), and even now, in the year 2016, so many of them fell into the same pattern. Youth knows they’re queer. Youth hides the truth for fear of ostracism. Truth comes out. Youth is ostracized. But youth learns to believe in themselves and accept their difference, and then they are rewarded.

Which, obviously, is not a universal experience. There’s a reason why LGBT homelessness is so high. It’s because when kids come out to their families, they’re not infrequently tossed onto the street.

But I understand why we write these books. It’s because we have so much compassion, not for kids, necessarily, but for our younger selves. We know now, as adults, that you really do need to believe in yourself. And we know that if you open your heart to love and acceptance, then you will find it. And we wish, that as kids, we hadn’t been so afraid.

So when we write, we face a continual temptation to stack the deck and to make things out to be easier than they are.

And I’m the same. My debut is about a high school overachiever, Reshma, who is desperate to get into Stanford. Reshma is efficient and ruthless, and she doesn’t care about friends or boyfriends or, really, any sort of human relationship.

One subplot in the book concerns Reshma’s abuse of Adderall in order to study. This is a drug that a shockingly large number of people, including many of my friends, have used on occasion in order to enhance their academic performance. And most of them suffer few ill consequences. But am I really gonna write a book in which a teen abuses prescription amphetamines without issues? No.

And what I wrote in my book isn’t incorrect. Adderall is highly addictive and very dangerous. I, and several friends of mine, have had some pretty negative experiences with it. And I wouldn’t advise any teen to use it.

But…there’s also a complexity there. It is possible for a person to use it without negative consequences. That’s a complexity that I ignored in writing my novel. And although as a result the book is something I am more comfortable with, I’m not sure it’s actually a better book.

I don’t know the solution here. Because I also don’t believe that novels are simply about telling the truth. They’re not. If they were, nobody could with any seriousness write a story about love triumphing over all or about a lone hero defeating a terrible evil. Novels are about more than physical and social reality. They’re also about creating a fictional landscape that corresponds in some way to an emotional landscape.

Even though they’re meant for consumption by strangers, the writing of novels is a really personal thing. I think in some ways it becomes easier to accept these compromises when we stop thinking about our responsibility to our teen audience and start thinking about our responsibility to ourselves. I don’t want to read a novel where you can cheerfully take study drugs with no problem. Although I know that is the reality for some people, it’s not my reality, and it’s not the reality that I want to create in my fiction.

But it’s still an uneasy balance, and I think writers need to continually ask themselves how truthful they’re being, and, if the answer is “Not 100%”, then they have to think about the ways in which they’re lying, and whether they’re truly comfortable with those lies.


Rahul KanakiaYou can check out my book on Amazon, B&N, Indiebound, and Goodreads. And if you’re interested in me personally, you can visit my Website, Blog, or Twitter.

 

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Craft Crash Course: Creating Organic Diversity in Shiny Broken Pieces by Dhonielle Clayton

Please welcome Dhonielle Clayton to Rich in Color! Today is the release day for Shiny Broken Pieces, Dhonielle and co-author Sona Charaipotra’s sequel to Tiny Pretty Things. We are very excited about this book, and it’s a treat to have Dhonielle with us today. She has some great advice for people looking to “layer” diversity in their works.


Eoriginalveryone hates the word organic. It’s such a buzzword these days – organic vegetables, organic meat. People even want to meet “organically” and fall in love.

But my Tiny Pretty Things and Shiny Broken Pieces co-author Sona Charaipotra and I started writing together, we wanted to create a new recipe for how diversity is presented in YA fiction. We wanted to create and cultivate the concept of “organic diversity.” Translation? Our recipe centers on mining the ways our own cultures interact with our everyday lives. It’s one of the driving forces in every book that comes from CAKE Literary, the decidedly diverse book packaging we company we co-founded.

Shiny Broken Pieces picks up a few months after Tiny Pretty Things ends. The girls are in various states of chaos after what happened the preceding school year. We wanted it to read almost like the second season of a TV show. More backstory, the deepening of complex relationships, new character goals. But we also wanted to make sure the diversity of the book continued to grow.

Here are three ways we continued to layer in diversity into Shiny Broken Pieces – without spoilers:

Layer In Lived Experience:
As a person of color, there are certain truths I hold to be self-evident – but not everyone would recognize them. For example, I cover my hair when it rains because otherwise chaos ensues. And I won’t eat watermelon because the cultural context of it, as a black woman, has been drilled into me from childhood. It’s the principle of thing.

For Sona, it’s little things, too, like starting her day with a cup of homemade chai (and cringing when people call it chai tea). Or correcting people when they call her Sonia with an i.

TIP: These little things stack up to define our daily experience, and build quirks and character in an organic way. Many of them are racially or culturally relevant tidbits, and scattering these type of real life details into text is a natural, organic way to build in diversity – the lived experience of it, and the way it informs the lens through which the character views the world.

Micro-Aggressions Anyone?
The girls in Shiny Broken Pieces have a lot of feelings. They feel all the feels. All the time. And those feelings drive some of their darker impulses. However, for all three of our narrators, we wanted to explore how several of these uncomfortable moments stem from the intersection of class, race, ethnicity, and sexism.

The ballet world is already rife with racism, sexism, ageism, and every other “ism” you could name. However, for each of our narrators – one being Black American, one being White American, and one being Asian American – they navigate this milieu in three different ways. We wanted to compare and contrast how the ballet world treats them as an undercurrent to the plot. To ignore this would be inauthentic. And while there are big truths about race and culture revealed in the text, most come from small, uncomfortable confrontations – frequently moments where the perpetrator may not even realize they are being racist. Moments that all marginalized people have experienced. Often on a weekly basis.

TIP: Place your character in experiences that force them to confront their beliefs and/or interact with something else’s beliefs. Tease out their behavior. How would they respond to being mistreated? How would they react? Psychically, how would they grapple? Drown your character and make it uncomfortable.

We Are Not A Monolith:
One major thing to remember when writing diverse characters: even within a community, there is no one experience. So creating varied representation on the page is important.

In Shiny Broken Pieces, as June delves deeper into a relationship, she’s confronted with her biracial identity in multiple ways. Spoiler alert: she starts dating someone who is also Korean. This budding relationship makes her confront many new realities and feelings, but it also forces her to discover all the different ways to be Korean.

TIP: One culture is not a monolith. Use it to explore how people can have membership to a group and share commonalities yet navigate the world so completely differently.

Love Will Bring Us Together! (Or Not.)
Just like with organic meat and vegetables – and even organic love – it’s better when it comes naturally. The fun balance to writing organic diversity is to mine the real world to populate the fictional. Lived experiences and emotions help to thicken the whatever fictional universe writers create. And in YA, especially, so much of the teen experience is focused on like, lust and love.

Romantic love can be a fascinating space in which to explore interracial relations. Gigi and Alec face many challenges because of who they are and the communities they come from – they’re very different people who have had very different lived experiences. However, there are connections and commonalities that bring – and keep – the pair together. These don’t make the tensions disappear, not by a long shot.

TIP: Given the diversity of the population, interracial and intercultural love connections are organic and fascinating opportunities to explore the tensions between communities. But make sure we get why your characters – especially if they come from starkly different backgrounds – connect in the first place, and work to stay together.


dhonielle-clayton-photoDhonielle Clayton was born in the suburbs of Washington, DC and spent her childhood Saturdays at the comic book store with her father and most evenings hiding beneath her grandmother’s dining room table with a stack of books. She earned a BA in English at Wake Forest University. She was an English teacher for three years and worked with educational curriculum. Being surrounded by children, Dhonielle re-discovered her love of children’s literature and earned a masters in children’s and young adult literature from Hollins University. Currently, she is working on both middle grade and young adult novel projects. She moved to NYC where she earned her MFA at the New School’s MFA Program. She is co-founder of CAKE Literary, a literary development studio committed to bringing diversity to high concept content.

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Guest Post: David Wright

Everyone, please welcome David Wright to Rich in Color! David is the co-author of Away Running with Luc Bouchard, and David was kind enough to talk about his new book from Orca Book Publishers:

Away RunningMatt, a white quarterback from Montreal, Quebec, flies to France (without his parents’ permission) to play football and escape family pressure. Freeman, a black football player from San Antonio, Texas, is in Paris on a school trip when he hears about a team playing American football in a rough, low-income suburb called Villeneuve-La-Grande. Matt and Free join the Diables Rouges and make friends with the other players, who come from many different ethnic groups. Racial tension erupts into riots in Villeneuve when some of their Muslim teammates get in trouble with the police, and Matt and Free have to decide whether to get involved and face the very real risk of arrest and violence.

You can learn more about the 2005 Paris riots that are the basis for Away Running on the book’s website, as well as read an interview with the authors, view a teacher’s guide for the book, and read a sample chapter. We’re giving away a copy of the book to six lucky people from the USA or Canada, so be sure to read David’s wonderful essay before entering at the end of the page!


“How do you teach tolerance in an age of fear?”

That’s what my editor at Orca suggested I consider when I asked her what I might write about for this blog post. And thinking about the question immediately got me thinking about my time playing semi-pro American football during my twenties in La Courneuve, outside Paris.

More than the Keystone Kops antics of American football in Europe in the eighties and nineties, La Courneuve, my team’s home base, was completely unexpected for me. Suburbs in France work the opposite of those in the US. Buildings inside Paris are centuries old and incredibly valuable, so poor immigrants and much of the native lower-class–“les marginaux,” as the French call them–live in American-styled, high-rise projects on the outside of the city.

My former teammates were a hodge-podge of suburban Parisians marginaux–the “beurs” (North Africans, mostly Muslim) and “renois” (blacks) who get followed by security guards in stores, who get hassled by the police during supposedly “random” stops to check ID papers. Our multicultural collective also included a few Serbian refugees who’d fled the war in the Balkans, two Poles who’d escaped Communist Poland–and some bourgeois French guys, too! We mirrored the larger society of which we were a part.

How do you teach tolerance in an age of fear? After the Paris attacks and the Brussels airport bombings? After San Bernadino and just a few weeks ago, Orlando? With the rise of ISIS and the Syrian refugee crisis and Trump’s border wall, on and on? It all seems to run together, it seems of a piece. Since Virginia Tech and Umpqua Community College, students in Texas, where I live, can legally carry concealed handguns in university classrooms.

We are most definitely living in an age of fear.

But it’s the other part of the question that strikes me, the notion of “tolerance.” The word is tossed around as this lofty goal to aspire to. Teaching a person to be tolerant of someone different from them is treated like this demanding thing, but it seems like such a low bar. To “tolerate,” according to Dictionary.com, is “to allow the existence, presence, practice, or act of without prohibition or hindrance,” “to endure without repugnance,” “to put up with…”

Really? Is that the best we can–or should–aim for?

Why not seek out this difference–and not just in the name of “political correctness” or as a gesture of politeness (though that’s plenty important, too), but for our own betterment. The more we know others, and know about them, only makes our own lives bigger, richer, more meaningful.

In Away Running, my co-author and former teammate Luc Bouchard and I weren’t only attempting to chronicle the tragic story of the 2005 Paris riots. To tell those boys’ story is to honor their memory and signal the brutal treatment of young people of color, particularly boys, at the hands of the police–and that’s hugely important. But we also tried to get at something broader. At the heart of Away Running is a story about a community of people. The black and brown boys and girls, and the police officers who fear and are suspicious of them, are all members of one community, of a single society. So, in telling the story of this community, we were exploring the notion of “tolerance.”

But we wanted to turn it on its head a little bit. For instance, the least tolerant character at the beginning of the story is one of the more oppressed ones. Freeman is a working-class black kid from the urban South. (Anyone who has been to Texas knows that it is as much, if not more, Southern than it is Western.) Free thinks that his only way out of the ‘hood is through sports–and he may be right in that.

But he also sees the world through the very narrow lens of his limited experience. All the North Africans he meets in Paris are “Arabs” to him and to be mistrusted. He lumps all white people together in a similar way. He’s more generous in his judgment of them (his friend Matt; his host family), but by virtue of their race, he sees them as being of a single tribe, just as he sees himself as belonging to a particular tribe, one whose name is written in the color of his skin. Freeman gives himself credit for “tolerating” these people, but he can only see their difference.

The other main character, Matt, who is white, is more generous in his worldview (and, significantly, has had more experience in the larger world outside his hometown). More than merely tolerating, he’s actually drawn to the “Other.” But his inability to recognize his own privilege–how the world views and treats him differently because of his whiteness and his financial privilege–keeps him from truly seeing them. In regarding them as Other (even if their Otherness attracts him), he is also shackled to preconceived notions of difference.

These are the guides who lead readers through the world of the novel, through the Paris of projects and poverty, of racial oppression and police brutality. (And that world, on many levels, very much resembles Ferguson, Missouri or Baltimore, resembles any of the many places here in the US where similar tragedies have occurred.)

But Luc and I didn’t want to construct facile “straw men” either. The police aren’t merely uniform, faceless stormtroopers like in Star Wars. We wanted to complicate even minor figures. We didn’t want to merely “tolerate” the villains of the story. We wanted to humanize them. Because when we merely “tolerate” another person, foreign or not, ally or adversary, we are, in essence, distinguishing that person from ourselves. We’re creating an “us” and “them” that, by its very definition, emphasizes divergence and even dissonance.

We, as humans, are so much more alike than we are different. Freeman, in Away Running, has more in common with Moussa, whom he mistrusts and, on some level, fears, than he does with Matt, with whom he bonds because of their shared North American-ness. And Matt, in his fascination with and attraction to Aïda, comes to understand that the fierce curiosity and daring independence that they share unites them. He and the Muslim girl are more of a kind than he is with any of his teammates.

To know others you need to move towards them, you need to be curious. To try to know others is to know yourself better. They are the mirror in which we can find our own reflection.

So maybe in place of an idea like “tolerance,” we should encourage “curiosity.” Maybe when we see unease and mistrust, “experience” should be championed instead. Maybe we should adopt a view like France’s SOS Racisme organization does: “Touches Pas Mon Pote.” Don’t mess with my buddy. The slogan means that I’m not merely going to “put up” with others–to endure them without repugnance. It claims the Other as my friend and declares that I’m going to defend her or him. And not just their presence, their right to be here, but their right to be whomever they are.

“Tolerance” is such a small word. Wouldn’t our lives and our communities be so much bigger if we, ourselves, strove to be bigger, too?


David Wright 1David’s book, Fire on the Beach: Recovering the Lost Story of Richard Etheridge and the Pea Island Lifesavers (Scribner 2001, Oxford U. Press paper 2002), was a New Yorker notable selection and one of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s “Best Books of 2001;” the Memphis Flyer called it “social history at its readable best.” He wrote the screenplay for the documentary, Rescue Men, based on the book. Magic Johnson’s Aspire network aired it on September 15, 2012. His work has been recognized with awards and fellowships from the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation, the Texas Institute of Letters and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among others, and appeared in The Village Voice, The Kenyon Review, Newsday, Callaloo, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and elsewhere. A former Fulbright Fellow to Brazil, he teaches at the University of Illinois.


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Guest Post: Riley Redgate

SevenWaysEveryone, please welcome Riley Redgate to Rich in Color! Riley’s debut contemporary novel, Seven Ways We Lie, is out today:

Paloma High School is ordinary by anyone’s standards. It’s got the same cliques, the same prejudices, the same suspect cafeteria food. And like every high school, every student has something to hide—whether it’s Kat, the thespian who conceals her trust issues onstage; or Valentine, the neurotic genius who’s planted the seed of a school scandal.

When that scandal bubbles over, and rumors of a teacher-student affair surface, everyone starts hunting for someone to blame. For the unlikely allies at the heart of it all, the collision of their seven ordinary-seeming lives results in extraordinary change.

Riley was kind enough to stop by Rich in Color to talk about her experiences growing up biracial while being surrounded by whiteness. We hope you enjoy it! And don’t forget to check out her book!


“But you’re not really Chinese,” a friend told me a couple years ago. “You’re American.” As if the two were mutually exclusive.

I want to label this experience as one of the many perks of being biracial—other fun features include the frequent question “what are you?” and also never feeling like you belong!—but I’m not entirely sure. After all, for a large part of my life, I probably would have agreed: I didn’t feel Chinese enough, so I was American. For a large part of my life, I felt so white that I didn’t even realize I felt white: that is, until I started realizing that other people perceived me as, first and foremost, a nonwhite person, I felt like part of the majority white population.

Frankly, for a healthy majority of my life, until late high school, I was loath to talk about race in any real manner. I had this attitude to my race where its only purpose was to be diminished into humor: in elementary school, I joked along with the white kids who said that any grade below a 95 was an “Asian Fail”; in middle school, I and the other East Asian kids banded together into a group that called ourselves the “DiscriminAsian Squad.” We had business cards.

Growing up, being surrounded by people who never talk about race, specifically white people who never talk about race, is an interesting experience. In some ways, it’s comforting: you’re rarely made to feel like you’re Other, except when racial humor rears its head. I have certainly never felt alienated or othered by my best friends, the vast majority of whom are white. But in a lot of ways, the silence surrounding it feels like being trapped under a lead blanket. If they don’t ask, you will not tell. And this leads to you feeling an implicit need to distance yourself from your heritage, at risk of not belonging. One of the narrators in my debut, Seven Ways We Lie, has much the same attitude toward his biracial heritage as I did in high school: he silently disavows it. He talks about it when pressed, but he doesn’t feel like he has enough of a claim to his race to speak up about it.

Sometimes, when we’re afraid of or nervous around a topic, silence is all we can muster. It doesn’t necessarily mean shame, and it doesn’t necessarily mean cowardice. Sometimes it just means comfort.

Riley Redgate is a senior economics major at Kenyon College. She enjoys puns, heavy rain, and the Atonement soundtrack. Her debut novel, SEVEN WAYS WE LIE, is a YA contemporary releasing 3/8 from Abrams Amulet.

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Starting the service: A glimpse into the creation of “End of Service”

gabriela leeEveryone, please welcome Gabriela Lee, one of the many fantastic authors with a story in Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories. “End of Service” focuses on Aya, whose mother, an overseas Filipino worker, dies while abroad. We are very excited to have Gabriela here at Rich in Color to talk about OFWs, her experiences in Singapore, and writing “End of Service.”

Be sure to enter to win a copy of Kaleidoscope at the end of this post! Giveaway is open to people with U.S. mailing addresses only.


Imagine being told by your mother or your father that you need to grow up with just one parent, or that you need to live with your aunt or uncle, your grandparents, some distant relative. And that it’s not because your parents are splitting up, or because they aren’t getting along. It’s because they have to work. And their job requires them to be overseas: cleaning someone else’s kitchen, driving someone else’s car, sailing someone else’s ship, looking after someone else’s children.

There are about 96 million Filipinos, according to the 2013 census. Roughly 2.2 million of them are overseas Filipino workers, commonly abbreviated to OFWs. Out of these, about 51% of them are women, and most of them are working as laborers or unskilled workers. This means that many of them are working as domestic helpers, caretakers, and other service jobs — the jobs that many people are not interested in doing. And because these are jobs that pretty much scrape the bottom of the barrel, it’s not surprising to know that they’re not treated well.

We hear stories about them all the time: how an OFW was beaten by her employer, earning her bruises that stretch across her back like continents. How they are underfed and overworked, denied a single day off to rest or to socialize. How stricter measures are in place: to deny them entry in a mall because their congregation frightens other shoppers, to bar them from meeting in public places because it sullies the streets. Their services are sold legally (for the most part), but it’s easy enough to commodify them; after all, many agencies reason, there are more desperate men and women willing to do anything to work abroad and give their families a better life. Bodies of OFWs are sent back in boxes, kept in refridgerated storage in Manila, waiting for their families to come and pick them up.

Some of them have been waiting for a long, long time.

Of course, this is just one of the symptoms of a greater problem, one that has to do with Philippine governance and economics and the great postcolonial problem of colonized states — especially since the Philippines was thrice-colonized by Spain, the United States, and Japan. (You can look it up, if you want to: Jose Antonio Vargas’ essay, “My Life As An Undocumented Immigrant” is a great place to start. Other good reads are Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and Vicente L. Rafael’s Contracting Colonialism.) But this was where I wanted to start: talking about why Filipinos thought that it was the highest honor to be able to work Abroad, as in, with a captial A.

They said that everything would be better Abroad; life would be easier Abroad; there would be no more problems like lack of food or shelter or basic health services Abroad.

Of course, it helped that I worked abroad for about four years, during my mid-twenties. I worked in Singapore, which is close enough to the Philippines that I could fly home more than once every year. And unlike many of my kababayans, I had a relatively comfortable job as a content creator for a online gaming platform. I had friends who are Singaporeans, Malaysians, South Asians. I spoke and wrote English well enough to be mistaken as not Filipino.

But I also knew that as soon as I stepped inside the immigration offices for the renewal of my work visa, everything changed. By virtue of carrying a Philippine passport, I was branded as an OFW. Never mind that I wasn’t working for my family, or for a better life, or for the hundred thousand other reasons that most OFWs have. I was seen as a domestic worker, a caretaker, household help.

And I felt humbled, and guilty, and helpless.

When I came back to teach at the University of the Philippines, I was intensely aware that the world had shifted. More and more Filipinos were deployed abroad, legally or illegally, with every passing week. Aya’s story in “End of Service” started out as a reflection of my students, those whose parents or relatives or siblings were working as OFWs. Once they had known that I also worked in Singapore, their stories spilled out — in class discussion, in their own writing. I could feel the mingled pride and pain, the struggles and the sacrifices and yes, even the selfishness that they dealt with every day.

I also wondered how far we would go, as Filipinos, in order to sacrifice ourselves in order to make sure that our loved ones would have a better life; how far the Philippine government might go in encouraging Filipinos to pursue work abroad and contribute to the country’s economy. OFW remittances were the biggest contributor to the Philippines’ GDP in the past few years. Who knows the lengths a country’s government might go in order to encourage this kind of economic growth?

I wrote “End of Service” about two days before the deadline. Two stories influenced me in writing this: the excellent “Woman in a Box” by Jose Dalisay Jr., which became the first chapter of his Man Asia-longlisted novel, Soledad’s Sister, and “Feasting” by Joshua Lim So, from Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2, which is a fantastically horrific tale that spins Filipino mythic tropes into a story about biting the hand that feeds you (quite literally). Both stories talked, directly and indirectly, about the OFW experience and I wanted to continue the discussion and carry it into a more distinctive and urban SF-y vein.

The process of writing was both cathartic and frightening. I wrote the story during the time when my boyfriend’s good friend had just died and we were attending the wake for three evenings straight, going home in the early hours of the morning, and then staggering to school to teach. Aya was an amalgamation of students, both real and imagined: I knew that she had to be aware of her mother’s sacrifice, but she was also selfish in her own way. After all, she was receiving the bulk of her mother’s largesse without any of the labor that went along with it. So this was a chance to see how she would deal with the fact that first, she thought her mother was dead, and second, that her mother would continue to support her — but at a price.

The ending was the real struggle for me. In fact, that part was where I continuously revised, even after Alisa and Julia, the editors of Kaleidoscope, accepted the manuscript, simply because bits and pieces were still falling off from it. I’m actually pretty thankful that they worked intensively with me on it, and I think it’s better now in it’s final form than it was when it started. (Of course, I say that now, but each round of editing left me weeping and gnashing my teeth, wondering how I was going to pull off another minor miracle.)

Ultimately, I wanted to write this story for Filipino readers: for the teenagers and adults who had experienced what Aya experienced, even for just a fraction of it, and perhaps feel that they are not alone in this world. I also wanted to write it for others, for non-Filipinos, who might have encountered an OFW working alongside them, with them, and particularly, for them. Maybe it will remind the reader that they aren’t just a set of hands and feet, but people with thoughts and feelings and history, and treat them as they would any other human being. And not just Filipinos, but workers and laborers who made the godawful decision of having to leave their families and homes behind, not because they wanted to, but because it became a decision between life and death.


Kaleidoscope

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