BWS 08.09.21: Fonda Lee

Fonda Lee is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of the Green Bone Saga, beginning with Jade City and continuing in Jade War and the forthcoming Jade Legacy, as well as the acclaimed science fiction novels ZeroboxerExo and Cross Fire. Fonda is a three-time Aurora Award winner and a multiple finalist for the Nebula and Locus Awards. Find her online at www.fondalee.com.

Ahead of her appearance on September 8, Fonda Lee shares her Guest of Honour Speech that she delivered at When Words Collide. Read more to find out why she loves being a novelist!

Ten Reasons I Love Being A Novelist

I initially thought that for this speech, I would talk about the challenges of being a creative professional during the pandemic. The importance of being resilient, adaptable, and so on. But then, it occurred to me that it’s so rare to be unabashedly happy these days. It’s almost as if every time we talk about things going well, we must add the caveat, “given the circumstances.”

I’m launching Jade Legacy, the final book in the Green Bone Saga on November 30, and what I truly want is to be unreservedly happy about it. Writing this trilogy has been a passion project that’s consumed more than six years of my life, and it’s been wonderful to see fans getting excited for the conclusion to the series. So decided instead that I want to take this opportunity to talk about why I love my job. Writing is not my first career. Ten years ago, I decided to transition out of my corporate job in order to pursue a dream of writing science fiction and fantasy novels. There have been plenty of challenges along the way, but I have no regrets.

Here’s why.

1. I Get to Be A Control Freak.

So much in the world feels entirely out of control right now. But in my job, I get to be in complete control. I create entire worlds, populate them with people, and determine what happens. I’m the god of my story. My vision is paramount and my authority is absolute.

Other types of media require a collaborative creative effort. I’ve written for comics. I’ve seen the Hollywood scriptwriting process up close. It can be a lot of fun to work with a team in someone else’s fictional world. But for me, nothing beats being a novelist when it comes to the gratification of knowing that what you’re putting on the page is as purely yourself as can be.

2. I Get to Build Worlds.

I’m a worldbuilding junkie! It’s why I love being a science fiction and fantasy writer.

What I enjoy most about worldbuilding isn’t the setting, but the society and culture. Characters and the decisions they make are a product of the societies they inhabit. Creating the complicated interplay between character, world, and plot is one hundred percent my jam.

Many people have asked me if the Green Bone Saga is based on a place in the real world—whether that be Japan, China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan. The answer is that it’s based on all and none of those places. I built the fictional island of Kekon and its capital city of Janloon from the ground up, striving to create a place that was both recognizable and entirely different. For me, that’s where the fun lies. My goal with worldbuilding is always to create a sense of versimilitude. I want the reader to feel like this place exists, that they could get on a plane to visit it. It’s why I love coming up with the specific details: the names for streets, restaurants, even luxury cars.

3. I’ll Always Have the Perfect Book On Hand.

I wanted to read a story that blended inspirations of epic fantasy, kung fu flicks, and gangster movies. I wanted a family saga featuring Asians who weren’t funny and wholesome model minorities, but sexy, dangerous alpha Asians. I couldn’t find that book. So I wrote it.

Most people who have to search for a book. I can simply spend years writing it. Ha!

4. I Already Work From Home.

Even before the pandemic and its lockdowns, I was already accustomed to working on the sofa in pajama pants. Way ahead of you all!

(Unfortunately, I didn’t account for having the whole family in my office…)

5. Anything I Learn Might Be Story Material.

My day job as a corporate strategist at Nike wound up inspiring me to write Zeroboxer, my debut science fiction novel about an athlete competing in zero gravity. My decades training in martial arts have gone into the fight scenes of the Green Bone Saga. Hawk walks I took in Ireland while on vacation went into the novella I just turned in to my publisher.

My advice to teen writers has always been to go out and live life as much as as possible. Everything you experience is fodder for storytelling.  

6. I Can Justify All My Entertainment Choices as Research.

I watched so much UFC while writing Zeroboxer. All these yakuza movies were definitely Green Bone Saga research. Reading books—in fact, consuming stories in any form—is a necessary part of my job, because I need to stay well informed about the industry. I’ve watched a lot of anime during this pandemic and I see it as 100% tax deductible professional development.

7. No One Can Fire Me.

Bad things could happen. My books could sell poorly, my publisher could drop me, I could fail to sell my next novel. All of those things have happened to authors I know. But at the end of the day, the only person who can stop me from writing is myself.

This job is filled with disappointments, but very few of them are fatal if you refuse to let them be. You can come back after a dry spell. You can self publish. You can write in a new genre or in a new category with a new name. If you’re a writer, you’re the only one who can fire you.

8. I Have Really Cool Colleagues.

When I left my office job to be a writer, I worried I might be lonely. I haven’t missed a single day in the office.

That’s because I’ve found the community of writers to be a lot more fun and interesting than any other workplace. Writers come from all walks of life—ages, places, backgrounds—but we all share a passion for storytelling. I have good friends, whom I’ve known for years, and I still don’t know what they do in their day job or even their real name.

Word of advice to up and coming authors: Find your community. With fellow writers to lean on, cheer you, and lift each other up, this isn’t a lonely profession at all.

9. I Put A Morally Good Product Into the Universe.

My former corporate jobs were enjoyable enough at the time and paid well, but I essentially helped billion-dollar companies sell more stuff. You’ve got to wonder sometimes: How many sneakers do people really need?

I have zero guilt about putting more books into the world.  Especially with so much of the market now in ebooks and audio, books are non-polluting, low carbon footprint products that bring only happiness and greater knowledge. How could we have gotten through this pandemic without the entertainment and solace of stories?

Books aren’t a one-size-fits-all widget. Your book doesn’t need to sell a ton of copies to be meaningful. It may be the perfect book for a few readers who don’t even know they need it yet.

10. My Book Could Be Someone’s Favorite Book.

Books are small potatoes compared to blockbuster movies and other more popular forms of media. Science fiction and fantasy is only one genre within the marketplace of books. And my books are just a tiny piece of that pie. And yet, I know my work is nevertheless meaningful because every once in a while, a reader will contact me to say, “You wrote my favorite book.”

Their favorite book. There are a lot of books in the world, but I wrote that person’s favorite.

In this industry, there are many external markers of success: big book deals, sales, awards, and so on. It’s easy to become fixated on them, and to forget that there’s always another human being on the other end of the relationship between writer and reader. I tell aspiring writers: Never try to write a book that will please everyone. That is impossible. Write the book that’s perfect for you. Then go out and find the readers for whom your book might be their favorite.

One of the hardest things about the pandemic for me has been missing events, book signings, and cons. Those are my opportunities to see my readers, to be reminded of the fact that when a book I wrote reaches someone, a special bond is formed between strangers. I may never meet or speak to that person. They might never contact me. But I gave something precious to someone else, and that is really, really cool.

It’s why I love being a novelist.

Fonda Lee visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, September 8, 2021 starting at 6:30pm alongside Jónína Kirton, Antonio Michael Downingand C. L. Polk . Our guest speaker Tamara Faith Berger will talk us through, “Messing with the Pipes: Writing Sex with Substance”.

Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:30.

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