Read “Fighting Demons,” the sequel to “Hunting Monsters,” today at The Book Smugglers!
What is this story about? It’s about parents and children, culture and identity, individuality and family. It’s about the daughter of Beauty and Red Riding Hood meeting the son of Bai Suzhen and Xu Xian from the famous Chinese tale “Legend of the White Snake.”
If you want to read about how awful and hard it was to write about my own cultural heritage for this story, by the way, I wrote about it here:
Doubts plagued me:
How do I write for primarily non-Chinese readers without flattening all of Chinese culture into a shallow, singular narrative?
What if I write something that only reinforces stereotypes, despite my best efforts?
Because I’m mixed, because I’m diaspora, do I even have the right?
Looking back, however… part of what made it so hard is also what makes me most proud of it.
But I’ll let that essay stand on its own. Instead I’ll talk for a minute here about a bit of other background — setting!
“Fighting Demons” takes place primarily near a fairy tale version of Hangzhou, China. Fun fact: I lived in Hangzhou briefly one summer, teaching a computer science class to electrical engineering graduate students at Zhejiang University. The Thunder Peak Pagoda referenced in the story is a real place, and one I have been to! I drew on all my sense memory writing this story: the humidity that fills you up and wraps you close and heavy like a blanket; the vast and scenic West Lake, its shallows forested with lotus; the pagoda spiking up above us as we walked on the lake’s shores.
The real Hangzhou is very different from Fairy Tale Hangzhou, of course. There are no sea serpents, nor magic defenses in the pagoda, nor snake demons fighting battles across the lake. The West Lake retains its beauty while the present-day city is as modern and vibrant as any other. Zhejiang University itself is ranked sixth in all of China. My students were all bilingual and spoke excellent English (well, some of the main characters in “Fighting Demons” do, too), and were sharp, smart, and politically astute about the modern world, most far more than I was. (“Don’t bring up Tiananmen Square, Falun Gong, or Tibet,” they warned us before we went to China. They didn’t tell us what to do if our students asked us our opinions on exactly those topics, seriously and pointedly.)
But even though my fairy tale Hangzhou differs from the real, modern one, I hope I’ve given it the same depth and reality I gave to fairy tale Europe in “Hunting Monsters.” After all, if I’ve only learned one thing from all the places I’ve been, it’s that people are people no matter where they live, and families are families. Even — especially! — families made up of immortal snake demons who fight obsessive monks to rescue each other with magic.
Enjoy the story!