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p.s. publishing remains broken
I have a new novel coming out next year in May. Here’s the cover and synopsis:
Authors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars: same year at Yale, same debut year in publishing. But Athena’s a cross-genre literary darling, and June didn’t even get a paperback release. Nobody wants stories about basic white girls, June thinks.
So when June witnesses Athena’s death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse: she steals Athena’s just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers to the British and French war efforts during World War I.
So what if June edits Athena’s novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song—complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn’t this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller? That’s what June claims, and the New York Times bestseller list seems to agree.
But June can’t get away from Athena’s shadow, and emerging evidence threatens to bring June’s (stolen) success down around her. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.
If that sounds fun, you can now preorder it as a holiday gift to yourself wherever books are sold. Though I would prefer if you ordered it through the HarperCollins Union Bookshop link!
I love this cover. The art team has been so clever – I’m obsessed with the sheer wash of yellow signifying racial identity as a fixed, essentialized quality blanketing every other feature. It figures racialization as a cudgel, a commodity, as the only thing we see. There’s no nuance, no individuality, no subjectivity on this page. All we see is yellow, and a pair of eyes – frightened, panicked, angry, suspicious? I should unpack this in essays to come but my theory brain immediately fired off to arguments in Anne Cheng’s Ornamentalism (the yellow woman embodied as thing more than person, decorative, artificial) and Kandice Chuh’s articulation of Asian American studies as a “subjectless discourse.”
Yellowface could not be more different from my previous work. Since wrapping up the Poppy War trilogy I’ve enjoyed playing around with vastly different genres and writing styles. Babel was my big ponderous Dickensian bildungsroman; Yellowface, on the other hand, is a zippy, ridiculous, thriller meant to imitate the roiling schadenfreude of watching a Twitter meltdown. Babel is a slow read; Yellowface is meant to be devoured in a single sitting. I’ve tried to imitate the breathless, gossipy voice of tabloids and viral threads (you know, the ones with flagrant disregard for truth). You’re supposed to feel sick to your stomach, and sick of everyone involved, and unsure of what to believe except that you still can’t look away. If reading it feels a bit like watching a train crash in slow motion, then I’ll have done my job.
What is Yellowface about? Aside from the obvious questions of whiteness in publishing and the persistent erasure of Asian voices in Western literature, I am interested in the specific horrors of being writers, readers, and critics on the internet in 2022; in a literary field that is so intensely connected, fragmented, and artificial. I am interested in how every social media interaction is a performance, how we build parasocial relationships with constructed personalities, how easily snippets of misinformation can turn into a wildfire, and how we all go to pieces when it’s revealed (as is always the case) that things are not as they seem. I am interested in the social capital that comes with (and sometimes motivates) the hit piece and the call-out, in who gets to determine what is authentic and what counts as good representation, in who recovers from public pile-ons and who doesn’t, in how we constantly flatten complicated questions of creative identity into hot takes and soundbites, in what this environment of constant competition and comparison against people you’ve never met is doing to this generation of writers, and in who really stands to benefit when communities tear each other apart. Anyways I’m a Bourdieu girl and it shows. (See: “The Field of Cultural Production, Or: The Economic World Reversed”).
Coincidentally, I wrote Yellowface before HarperCollins employees went on strike. Months before the strike began, my team told me so many horror stories about their time in publishing that my first draft looked tame in comparison. And since the strike began, I’ve had beloved team members leave for other jobs because they couldn’t live any longer on what HC was giving them. This past Friday on the picket line, I spoke with so many publishing employees both at HC and elsewhere who came into this industry hoping to uplift untold stories, and who just can’t keep going because passion doesn’t pay the bills. The folks who could make publishing more diverse and equitable face enormous barriers to entry, and even if they get through the door, they still face mistreatment and discrimination on the other side. I’ve occasionally gotten some flack for exaggerating the villainy of my antagonists (certainly with Babel!) and it gives me some small pathetic validation to be reminded that no matter how bad I made it out to be, reality is worse. This industry is full of people like June and the folks who enable her. And publishing will never change until the publishing professionals who want to champion marginalized voices can get in the room and stay there.
All this to say, it would once again be fantastic if you chose to put your preorder through the union’s Bookshop page. From the union:
We are fueled by the solidarity the book community has shown thus far, especially the authors and illustrators whose books we have featured here. When you purchase a book from our shop, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to our union hardship fund, which is used exclusively to help our members, who are all forgoing pay while on strike, cover essential expenses like rent and groceries.
Stay warm, happy holidays, and happy reading.
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