au_co_and_lac_long_quan_by_faramirswag-d4hpx0x
Pencil drawing of Lac Long Quan and Au Co I did years ago in high school

“Tucked In the Folds of Our Eyes” is my attempt at combining the diaspora narrative and Vietnam’s creation myth at under 500 words. It’s a story that went through a very interesting editing process. The first flash story I’ve attempted and finished, it’s now published in Volume 2 of Remixt Magazine: an experimental project in which multiple guest editors curate the same submission pool.

From Remixt’s site: “This is an experiment to show how different editors have different tastes and ideas. Some choices will likely overlap, but some won’t, and the reasoning behind the choices may vary. People often ask how editors think. This is an exploration of the the rich array of ways to answer that!”

Three editors were interested in publishing my story. According to Julia Rios, the overall manager of Remixt, that’s a record number of editors accepting a story to feature in their issues. In the past, up to two editors were interested in an accepted piece. Most of the time it’s just one editor. Overlap turned out to be rare, according to Volume 1 results. With each editor overseeing their own issue, that meant my story would appear in three issues. No, it’s not the exact same story copied and pasted across. Each issue contains a different form of the story! More on that below.

The manager of Remixt, Julia Rios, acted as the liaison between contributors and editors. After the notice of acceptance, she went on to say:

“Two of these editors are happy to take the piece as is (potentially with minor changes to be discussed between you in the line edit stage), but one would like to make some larger changes to the piece. In particular, this editor feels the story would be stronger without the first paragraph and with a stronger focus on the trip.”

Feeling otherwise about this first paragraph, I attempted to start a dialogue letting Editor #3 in on my thoughts:

“With all due respect, I think the 1st paragraph should stay intact. It frames the context of the story, and I envisioned it as a mother-daughter interaction, a little twist on the oral tradition that’s integral to the Vietnamese diaspora experience. It’s kind of a thing among Vietnamese refugee parents to sit their overseas-born kids down for a talk, to share stories that are usually hard to hear, almost always to impart the lesson to appreciate their heritage and privilege. It’s probably easy to see that this story stems from my own experience, although I was the child, not the parent. To present a story from the parent’s point of view was a rewarding challenge I still felt like it came from my heart, as if I experienced the war myself. Also, I was interested in combining ideas of Asian eye shape and the Vietnamese creation myth. We’re past that point where Asians are openly mocked for their eye shape, but the stigma still somewhat remains via perpetuating Eurocentric standards of beauty. That’s why I felt it was important that this is subtly addressed, through the child being a girl/daughter. The issue with beauty supremacy is more likely to be a blow on girls than boys, I think. Furthermore, I wanted to give the epicanthal folds a sort of magical function, and that’s where the creation myth comes in.

Please let the 3rd editor know my thoughts on this. I would like to hear what the editor thinks now knowing my thought process and the context. If the decision to make major changes still stands, then I in turn am interested in why the change needs to be made and I can implement it. I’d like to be sure we’re on the same page. As for the possibility of my piece appearing in different versions, I’d prefer for it to a consistent, sole form of the story.”

Julia then said, on behalf of Editor #3:

“The third editor considered your response carefully, and we had a discussion about the importance of marginalized voices telling their own stories in ways that are important to them. The editor felt that your points about your lived experience were important and valid, but ultimately still felt the story didn’t work for them with the first paragraph, even though they didn’t feel that you should change it once they heard your reasoning. Here’s what they have to say:

I completely understand your reaction and appreciate your commitment to the piece. I would not want to suggest changes that take away from the story that you want to tell. My reasoning: as a flash writer, I have been taught that short pieces do not have the luxury of framing and am naturally drawn to the meat of the story which, for me, is the second paragraph. Unfortunately, I feel that, without the changes, I have to pass on the piece for this issue.”

This was the first time I did not readily/initially agree with editorial suggestions. I certainly did not feel pressured or threatened in any way, but it made me think long and hard on what I wanted to do from there. When I brought up this concern to Julia, she told me:

“When an editor sends a conditional acceptance, they understand that the author very well might not agree to the conditions. Everyone understands that major changes can change the heart o the intended story. I think we all felt that it would be interesting to see different versions only if you felt that they all preserved the heart of your intent.”

By then I had changed my mind about avoiding multiple versions of the same story. I made revisions for all the editors. Interestingly, after that round of revisions, reactions from Editors #1 and #2 differed. While Editor #2 accepted my revisions as they were, Editor #1 in particular suggested further changes that mostly boiled down to stronger word choices. This opened up the possibility from two forms of the story to three. With the tastes and preferences of three editors in consideration, I felt tugged this way and that in many directions. How could this be settled? Which form of the story should I go with? Just one or all three, each of them different? What I knew for certain was at that point, it’d be impossible to have universal agreement over one form of the story. Editors have different tastes, after all. I joked about this on Twitter:

Am Editing
Clutching my head crying “Psy yi yi!” sounds about right.

In making my decisions, I prioritized Remixt’s goals and vision, which works very similar to a science experiment. Coming from a science background, naturally I latched onto this comparison. I thought about my story like a test subject, the editors are the variables/trials and this concludes in a variety of interpretations and results. Rather than narrow and stiffen my focus to one form of the story, I’ve come to accept the varied results and I think it’d be good for Remixt to showcase this whole process, instead of showing only one part of the experiment. Presenting three different versions of the story, each reflecting the editor’s differing perspectives, provides a nice glimpse into how multiple editors interpret the same story. I definitely got a sense of that as I was working through the edits. Keeping the science experiment metaphor in mind, I felt more at peace with the ultimate fate of my story. I decided to work with all three editors, resulting in three different forms of the same story: one at 439 words, one at 440 words, and one at 313 words. I’m glad to have offered up my story as a test subject for Remixt’s literary experiment.

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