We are so excited to welcome SG Wong, author of the Lola Starke mysteries and current president of Sisters in Crime!
The Lola Starke series is set in 1930s-era Crescent City, a fictionalized “Chinese Los Angeles” in an alternate history in which China established a city-state colony at the start of the Gold Rush. This alternate history also contains ghosts and magic, historically-accurate fashion, and plenty of attitude.
When Cynthia generously invited me to write a guest post here, I immediately wondered if this was really the right place for me. My Lola Starke novel series isn’t cozy or even traditional mystery. They’re noir-tinged hard-boiled PI stories, set in a 1930s-era world that includes ghosts and magic. And while I personally love a good laugh, the themes in my Lola Starke novels and Crescent City short stories are usually dark, and often heavy. Bad things happen on the page and justice isn’t necessarily served in palatable ways.
And yet… I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing times when I stood out from those around me. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling out of place sometimes—or even, most of the time.
My first public appearance as a published author, I participated in a panel at a 3-day genre convention. The moderator had top-notch announcer’s tones, deep and resonant. (He really did enjoy the sound of his own voice, too…) Other panelists included a whip-smart writer who’d done her masters degree in detective fiction, and a talented writer competing against me for a debut novel award. Even without the intimidating co-panelists, because I’d done a bit of public speaking before that, I knew I’d have the jitters. I knew I’d have to force myself to slow down and breathe while I spoke. What I hadn’t prepared for was the war inside of me.
I wanted so badly to distinguish myself on that panel, to make a strong impression right out the gate. I wanted people to be interested in what I had to say, and by extension, in my work. I wanted to make people laugh, but also to think about the topic from a fresh perspective. (No pressure!)
I’m also an introvert, as I think many writers are. To be more specific, I’m an ambivert, or an extroverted introvert. I do, actually, sometimes, enjoy being around other people. But I always prefer to recharge with solo downtime.
My introvert side was in veritable paroxysms at the mere idea of standing out during that panel discussion. The very nerve! Who was I to want people to notice me? What did I think would come of such utter…brashness? And ohmygod did I plan on doing this more than once? In the same weekend?!?
Close to seven years have passed since then, and I swear I have some version of this same internal struggle every time I prep for a public appearance. Here’s the thing, though: being a public speaker is a choice. I want to connect with readers and fans. I want to talk shop with other authors. I want to contribute to intelligent, nuanced discourse. I choose to battle my introvert tendencies sometimes because I think it’s worth it. And I work hard to earn the opportunities to do it.
I’m also easily identifiable as a person from a marginalized group. For many of us, there is no choice but to stand out. Our physical appearance, our names can immediately dictate how others treat us—as unfamiliar, as different, as other. For sure, recent widespread violence and harassment has intensified fresh media attention on this…being-set-apart-ness, but none of this is new. It’s a normal part of our daily lives, a part we don’t choose, but a part we strive to live with, as healthily (yes, that is a word) as we can.
I mentioned before that I love to laugh. I guess you could say that’s also a choice. If I can help it, I’d rather laugh than cry. I don’t do it to make others around me more comfortable, but because there’s often too much to cry about. It can get so overwhelming.
Not that I’m 100% successful at it, and I never force myself to ignore the hard things, but I do my best to feel the dark feelings and then…let them go. It can help to find something to laugh about. Sometimes, it’s a little petty. (*waves from Twitter*) Sometimes, it’s NSFW. (This is my guaranteed pick-me-up.) Other times, it’s wholesome and sunshine-y and bright. (Otters, amirite?) Hey, I contain multitudes.
At a minimum, there are a gajillion and one things I absolutely cannot control. That includes the way other people consider me—or don’t consider me at all. It’s likely there will always be people who mark me as different for their own reasons. I don’t have a problem with being different. The problems come when people make different synonymous with wrong. That’s definitely on them. Even when the repercussions so often fall on me. Like I said, though, I can’t control that stuff.
I’d rather put my efforts into making and doing the best I can, and hopefully, uplifting others, too. If that means feeling out of place sometimes, of being >gasp< noticed, of struggling against some anxieties…okay. I may be introverted, but that doesn’t mean I’m not ambitious. Because, I gotta say, it is incredibly, deeply satisfying to transform “standing out” into outstanding.
Please comment below today for a chance to win 1 signed print edition of 1 Lola Starke novel (winner’s choice). Open to Canada and the U.S. Winner will be drawn randomly.
Sandra S.G. Wong writes fiction across genres, speaks on writing and publishing topics, and volunteers for important community causes. She has been a finalist in the Arthur Ellis Awards for Excellence in Canadian Crime Writing (Best First Novel and Best Short Story) and longlisted for the Whistler Independent Book Awards (Best Crime Fiction). Her next book is a standalone suspense novel coming from HarperCollins Canada in 2022. sgwong.com