Vol. 4: Author Val Wang on the "Relate-able" Narrative

Recently, the New York Times published an article called “What It’s Really Like to Work in Hollywood (If you’re not a straight white man),” a collection of stories from actors, directors, producers, and other film professionals who are consistently marginalized and underrepresented in a white male-dominated industry. To draw attention to similar issues in publishing, an industry with a dramatic disparity in racial demographics, we're collecting stories from writers, agents, and editors of color about what it's like to work and publish in an industry historically dominated by white people.

In advance of the Writers of Color Roundtable event at GrubStreet's Muse and the Marketplace conference on Friday, April 29, we’re kicking off the conversation with #Muse16 presenters. In this installment is author Val Wang, who will be leading a Muse session on Setting as Character


...while I like the fact that she has a distinct voice, it wasn't exactly my taste… 


...I just didn't fall in love with the narrative... 


...the overall feel of the text felt a bit disjointed to me...

You worry that the reason your manuscript about your years in China has been rejected by a dozen New York publishers is because you've made faulty aesthetic decisions.

...I’m afraid, though, that her story felt a bit specific to me, and I’m concerned that there aren’t enough broad touchstones here to draw in a wide audience...


...I have another author, [Chinese woman's name] who, after reading this, I realize covers so much of the same territory — albeit through Chinese eyes...


...It's certainly solid but I didn't find it relate-able enough, if that makes sense...

You worry that the reason your manuscript about your years in China has been rejected by dozens of New York publishers is because they will only publish certain kinds of stories about China and you are neither authoritative nor authentic enough. 

You know what "relate-able" is a code word for, but you grew up here and you're just as Amer... 


You realize with shock that you are not a white man. 

You realize that you can never tell your story the way you want to because the world doesn't see you as you see yourself.

You worry that the only way you will get your manuscript about China published is to make it into more of a memoir, adding a chapter that includes you taking karate lessons growing up. 

You laugh like crazy when people think you've only gotten where you are because of your race or gender or both, because in reality you're doing it backwards and in heels and with a giant bowl of fruit on your head.

You worry that the reason your memoir about your years in China has been rejected by dozens upon dozens of New York publishers is because it's objectively terrible.

It is such a unique story, and one that we think will resonate with all kinds of readers — young Chinese-Americans, anyone interested in China, and more broadly, anyone who loves sharply observed, beautifully told (and funny!) memoirs.

You get published by a New York publisher and, despite your worry that you've appealed to the publishing industry because you're peddling the worst stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans (the black belt actually fit the story, you swear!), the wolf slinks from your door. His bristling and his snarling fade from earshot.

Then you go to your first book event, a group reading of first-time authors in a library basement. You are slated to read first but before you begin, the organizer, a white man, announces sadly that the author slated to read last, also a white man, is down with the flu. He had been the headliner, you realize. The organizer's tone turns happy, however, as he introduces you, saying that in inviting you he’s checked all of the diversity boxes.


About the Author

GrubWrites is a space for the writing and reading community to share ideas and seek advice, a place where writers at the very beginning of their careers publish alongside established authors. Book lovers, we bring you reviews, recommendations, and conversations with exciting new authors to keep you up to speed on all things lit. Writers, this is your one stop shop for expert craft talk, opinions on how we learn and teach writing, and essential advice about the publishing industry.

Plus, we want to hear from you! Our ongoing call for submissions is open to literary community members of all types and persuasions. We want to hear from students, teachers, authors, readers, editors, agents, publicists, and any devotee of the written word. If you have something to say about writing, reading, the publishing industry, or anything related to the literary world, this is the place to voice it. We’re particularly committed to advocating for a diverse range of voices in the literary marketplace and raising the visibility of writers from under-represented communities.

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