Two months before getting on a plane to go to Warrenton, Virginia for the Wordsmith Workshop retreat, I stared at my computer contemplating whether or not to cancel the whole damn thing. I mean, what was I doing? I’m not a real author. In rare moments when I’m off my guard, I sometimes unexpectedly think to myself, “You’re a good writer, Pa.” It’s often a whisper followed by an eye roll and an amused chuckle--like I’m telling myself a joke. In that moment in front of my computer, all I could think was: who am I to put myself in the same group of people who go on five-day writing retreats? Who am I to spend that much money on myself? On a hobby?
Sometimes, I wonder if we were better listeners before we came to the United States. When we first arrived in 1990, my untainted ears still longed for the steadiness of a storyteller’s tone. In the evenings when mothers called their kids home for dinner and crickets began their soothing songs, my siblings and I gathered around Dad to hear sweeping tales of monsters and heroes and magic in a tradition that had been practiced long before a book, a TV or a tablet became the norm.
I imagine a bright spark when an idea is born. Miniscule at first, it starts to grow, crackling and fizzing before its jagged branches shoot across the sky like lightning. In the movie Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Cobb says, “An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow.” My idea for A Kiss of Blood—my young adult fantasy novel about a girl who goes into the spirit realm to rescue her mother's soul—was an amalgamation of many little things, and one of those things is a Hmong song called “Cia Ua Ib Zaj Dab Neeg”—“Let It Be a Story”—“it” referring to a relationship. In the song, a boy receives a wedding invitation from the girl he Ioves who is marrying another boy. Although he is devastated by the news, he chooses to accept the situation—hence, his saying, “let it be a story”. I was particularly intrigued with one part of the song and one line—the very last line, which talks about a “letter”.
A couple of years ago, I read a fantasy novel that opened with the main character eating an apple on her way to market, and before that I read a fantasy novel where the main character and her companion packed bread and apples as their meal for their long, horseback trek across a kingdom to participate in a war that was devastating the countryside. Not gonna name any names or titles, but I was like, “Enough with the apples!” C’mon people. Can’t we do something different? Can’t we offer these characters some rice or something? Or maybe a cucumber?