7.11.2018

Going On the Heroine’s Journey and Finding Hope in the Dark

Guest Post by Sarah Kuhn



Heroine's Journey, the third book in my series starring Asian American superheroines, came out last week. It's the end of a trilogy -- but also the launch point for a new one because I just signed on to continue the series with three new books and a novella! I could not be more thrilled and I still can't believe I get to write more adventures, romance, and ridiculous battles against things like demonic cupcakes for these girls.

But there was a moment when I definitely, absolutely, one hundred percent thought I would never finish Heroine's Journey. Like, ever.

The issue was, shall we say, multi-fold. First, since becoming a "professional" "author," I have more demands on my time, more deadlines to stay on top of, and more reasons to procrastinate on Twitter. Second, I chose personally difficult subject matter. Heroine's Journey belongs to Bea Tanaka, little sister of Evie Tanaka, the fire-wielding protagonist of the first book. Bea is impulsive, tempestuous, and bad at sharing food. She has a power that's akin to mind control and a moral compass that could easily turn supervillain when things go bananas. She's also still grieving the death of her mother a decade earlier, and her conviction that this loss has messed her up for the rest of her life is a big part of what she has to deal with in the book. I lost my own mother to cancer right after I graduated from college, and all these years later, the topic still feels delicate to write about, talk about, or even bring up. I never thought I'd put it in a book -- but that's where the book, and Bea, wanted to go.

And third, of course, is the general state of the world these days, which feels like an endless stream of trash fires raining down upon us, our basic human rights, and any social and political progress we've made the last few decades. I don't know a single writer who hasn't been affected by this, who hasn't struggled to get words on the page since the current administration took power.

"Of course I forgot about the All Is Lost moment."

I've talked a lot about what I want my books to be about -- Asian Girls Having Fun, women of color leading joyful lives and finding love and happily ever afters. I've fought back hard against the idea that portraying women of color protagonists enjoying themselves and being centered in stories that aren't all about struggle and suffering are "unrealistic." (Yes, someone always has to pop in and say this whenever there's a WOC protagonist who maybe even just smiles a little bit.) And I made Bea Tanaka a character who hopes, who always believes you can fight to make things better, even if everything happening around you seems impossible and hard and like it's never going to get better.

I tried to hold on to Bea's hope and to make the book an escape for myself, a writing safe space that contained all the real life things that still spark joy. I set it mostly in a bookstore that resembles all of the bookstores I love. (Especially this one.) I added evil porcelain unicorns and okonomiyaki and a dog. (Based on this dog.) I thought all of this would help me through the more difficult parts of writing the book, the pieces of Bea's journey that were prickly and dark. The scenes where I had to take myself back to the Mom Death place and admit it wasn't something I could write about with no emotional repercussions. The bits that imagined a world that felt less terrifying than our current world.

For a while, it worked -- I charged through pages and words and scenes involving sexy calculus (yes, this is totally a thing) and reveled in Bea's confidence and enthusiasm and general relishing of life.

Of course I forgot about the All Is Lost moment.

You know, the moment that happens in so many stories, the one where everything seems insurmountable and the protagonist almost calls it quits. I knew Bea had to lose her hope in that moment, had to believe everything really was lost before she regained that hope, fought back, and got her HEA.

So I got to that moment, I shattered her, I took away her hope, and then...

I couldn't figure out how she got it back again.

How could I write this joyful Asian American girl having fun, this woman of color finding hope, when I felt like Ididn't have any? It felt false. It felt like a giant brick wall I kept running into headfirst. And of course, it felt silly and frivolous to even stress about it in the first place, with so many horrors happening in the real world.

It also felt like this book would never be finished. Or it would have a really sad ending, which was totally unacceptable to me.

"Maybe I didn't have hope now,
but surely I'd had it in the past?"

Everything broke down one day when I was slamming up against my deadline, wiped out from putting my head back in the Mom Death place so much, searching desperately for that hope in the dark. I was just so…tired. My friend gave me a Tina Knowles quote to try to encourage me—the one about "going through it." And suddenly, I couldn't stop crying.

My friends who were there rallied around me in that moment. I couldn't see them, because I was pressing my fingertips into my closed, leaking eyeballs, as if that would somehow stop everything. But I heard them -- running over to me, crowding around. Asking if I wanted to hold the dog. (I always want to hold the dog.) I felt their caring deep in my bones.

That night, I sprawled on my bed after eating too much Taco Bell and tried to dig deep into my exhausted brain. Maybe I didn't have hope now, but surely I'd had it in the past? Surely I even had a little bit now, as I try to keep rallying and resisting and effecting change however I can.

Finally, it came to me: my hope has always come from watching people I love push past seemingly insurmountable odds to do the right thing.

I cried some more. I felt so lucky to have all those people in my life -- particularly all my brave, fierce women of color who just keep getting back up and charging forward. And I realized that in digging deeper into the darkness and finally locating my own hope, I'd figured out how to give Bea hers.

I wrote her HEA and it rang true, true, true. In her darkest moment, Bea also finds hope in watching the people she loves so much fight for what's right. I rededicated myself to those joyful stories, those Asian Girls Having Fun -- because I need those stories as a reader right now, because they are important and represent their own kind of resistance and rebellion.

Because if I can imagine a world where hope always glimmers in the dark, it inspires me to keep fighting in the world we have right now.

* * *

Heroine's Journey launches in LA on Saturday, July 14, at 7 pm at The Ripped Bodice (3806 Main Street, Culver City, CA 90232). The launch will feature special appearances by Keiko Agena, Elizabeth Ho, Kosha Patel, and Will Choi of Asian AF, and treats by justJENN.

Sarah Kuhn is the author of the popular Heroine Complex novels -- a series starring Asian American superheroines. The first book is a Locus bestseller, an RT Reviewers' Choice Award nominee, and one of the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog's Best Books of 2016. Her YA debut, the Japan-set romantic comedy I Love You So Mochi, comes out in June 2019. Sarah also wrote "The Ruby Equation" for the Eisner-nominated comics anthology Fresh Romance and the novella One Con Glory, which is in development as a feature film. Other projects include a comic book continuation of the cult classic movie Clueless, a series of Barbie comics, and a story in the recent Jem and the Holograms anthology series Dimensions. Additionally, Sarah is a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her non-fiction has appeared in The Toast, The Mary Sue, Uncanny Magazine, AngryAsianMan.com, IGN.com, The Hollywood Reporter, StarTrek.com, and the Hugo-nominated anthology Chicks Dig Comics. You can visit her at heroinecomplex.com or on Twitter: @sarahkuhn and Instagram: @sarahkuhnbooks.