Redwall, Orthodox Christianity, and The Lord of the Rings: an appreciation + analysis post on the books that changed my life

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There’s always a special place in my heart for those stories, written by a sailor in Liverpool, of warrior mice and berserker badger lords. Reading the Redwall series as a middle school kid transported me to a world where the heroes and villains were talking animals, and the heroes regularly embarked on grand adventures and triumphed over evil. This was the first time that I was blown away by the power of words, the power to completely suck you in and make you care for characters and a world entirely thought up in someone else’s head. In a time when I, the weirdo and the nerd, had trouble fitting in with my peers, reading Redwall was my solace and escape. Later, I thought, “I want to write stories like this.” I credit the start of my journey into writing my own fiction entirely to Redwall, and many times I wish I had the chance to tell Brian Jacques how much his books meant to me as a reader and a writer.

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Lessons To Learn From Roman Holiday

The COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping through the world. Everyone is urged to stay home in order to contain the viral spread. Staying at home with classes suspended motivated me to get back into blogging. Enter a list of good movies to watch, think about, and take my mind off the stress, anxiety, and worry. To kick off my extended spring break, I watched Roman Holiday.

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Nothing quite like pulling along friends you just met to take a ride on the wild side.

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Meeting Jeremy Renner/Hawkeye and Anthony Mackie/Falcon at Celebrity Fan Fest

Imagine my surprise when I found out around May that a bunch of MCU stars would show up in San Antonio for Celebrity Fan Fest on June 14-16. As Okoye from the Black Panther movie had wisely said: “It’s too good of an opportunity to pass!” I had to take it. I can’t miss a local con!

The drive to San Antonio took 3 hours. I had some time to kill, so before being dropped off at the Expo Hall, I had lunch at Guenther House with my mom and we checked out the historic houses in Kingsville. Because I came on a Saturday afternoon, I hardly had to wait to grab my badge. And what a badge! It could eat the Ace one whole.

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My initial schedule went like this:
2:15 Jeremy Renner photo
3:15 Jeremy Renner autograph
5:30 Anthony Mackie photo

I had done photo ops before with Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen. Still, I was nervous. I hoped that Jeremy would go along with my Pokemon prop idea. The night before, I used some foam board and tape to stick an arrow on my Decidueye plush. As I was expecting, photos went lightning quick as people had only seconds to get a pic snapped. While waiting in line, I chatted with a couple from the Navajo Nation. I wish I had asked them of their opinion on Wind River, which starred Jeremy Renner and involved issues at a Native American reservation. When it was my turn for the photo, I presented Decidueye to Jeremy and said, “If Hawkeye had a Pokemon, it would be this.” I’m 99% sure he doesn’t know what the heck a Decidueye is, but I think he got the idea when he saw a bird with an arrow. He smiled and laughed and said, “That’s neat.” He held that while I held my Gengar (one of my favorite Pokemon).

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In all honesty, it didn’t quite go the way I had planned. Because Decidueye is pointing to the left, I was hoping that Jeremy would stand at the right side while I would stand at the left, like a pair of opponents in a Pokemon battle. I also forgot to tilt my head down a bit to avoid the glare in my glasses aaargh. I’m mostly happy with how it turned out, though. The best part was after the photo. Jeremy handed back my Decidueye plush, thanked me for coming, and gave a good-natured pat/rub on my back as I left. What a nice guy!

Next up was the autograph with Jeremy. I thought I had time to kill by looking at the vendors and artist alley, but time flew by. Before I knew it, I had to line up for the autograph, and I lined up too late! The line capped off a few people before me. We were told by a volunteer that things are delayed and we have to come back at 5:15. More time to kill, then. I hunted down the pin guy my sister was talking about, and bought a pair of Stitch pins for her. For myself, I bought a Black Panther keychain that isn’t available online. A good find in my book. I grew more and more anxious about the delayed autograph, because close to that time is the photo with Anthony Mackie. I made extra sure to be the first to line up for 5:15. A volunteer directed me (and subsequently the rest of the line) to wait at another guest’s booth before we were moved to the line for Jeremy. I befriended a guy named Ricky, who works at a movie theater, and we chatted about everything from movies to video games to kill time. We stood around and waited for another hour or so before Jeremy showed up at the autograph table.

Behind the partition, he sat at the right end of a long table. I got nervous again, hoping I would say everything I meant to say in the small amount of time each of us in line had. I had decided to draw an “Avengers dragon series,” starting with the red dragon Scarlet Witch drawing that was seen and signed by Elizabeth Olsen. While being shuffled down the line, I opened up my sketchbook for Jeremy to sign this:

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I don’t remember the exact words in our conversation, because it went by so quickly, but I’ll do my best to remember. So I started by telling him that I drew an Asian dragon for the Ronin aesthetic. He said something like “Yeah I can see that!” Then he asked dryly, “What, don’t you have anything better to do with your life?” I knew he was just being sarcastic, so I didn’t get offended. I said something like “Actually, I barely have time to do this kind of stuff! The con gave me an excuse to make free time for this.” Then I asked for a leftie high five, because he and I are left-handed. I high-fived his right hand, and he said in that dry tone again, “That’s how it goes, doing it with our right hand.” Omg this guy. He’s killing me. I was like “hey, I don’t wanna mess up my hand with that sharpie,” which he was holding with his left. Then he signed the drawing, became serious and genuine and said “This is great, thank you very much for making this.” He bowed as he handed my sketchbook back to me. I guess he thought I was Japanese? His gesture took me by surprise and made me really happy, though. I returned the bow and thanks. Again, what a nice guy for showing his gratitude. I bet he’s like that with all the fans, in one way or another. I came away learning this: if you’re going to meet Jeremy Renner, be prepared for playful banter and jibes. Don’t take any of it personally. That’s just how he jokes around. He has a very dry sense of humor, but he can switch quickly to genuine sincerity that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Of course, there were things I forgot and felt like I didn’t have enough time to tell him, like expressing hope that he and other MCU stars would come to Houston (especially Elizabeth Olsen, because he and her are practically neighbors, apparently). I also forgot to tell him that I really liked his performance in Wind River. Oh well, what can you do?

Next up was the photo with Anthony Mackie. Unlike the long wait in line for Jeremy Renner’s autograph, this went by quickly. I paid for general photo, not VIP, and I was running late from the autograph, so think I was the last in line for Anthony’s photo. Though the line was quick, I had some time to chat with some guys from Dallas. One of them is a combat medic, so I asked him of his informed opinion on The Hurt Locker.

When it was my turn for the photo, I approached Anthony holding up the props and said, “We’re going to reenact a certain scene.” He and the volunteers cracked up at the sight of my props. I told Anthony to look petty. (He was like “Petty!?”) Here’s the result:

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Don’t let the look on his face fool you. He was more than happy to play along with my silly photo idea. That photo was his first event of the day, and I had to go home that evening, so I didn’t have time for an autograph with him later. I know from his interviews, and from all the ruckus, hollering, and laughter coming from the photo booth as I waited, that he’s a goofball and a hoot. Both Jeremy and Anthony are great guys to fans in their own way.

As a prior attendant at Ace Comic Con Midwest, I couldn’t help making comparisons throughout this con. I was a bit disappointed that the VIP combo this time didn’t come with a nifty tote bag and some goodies, like with Ace. I would’ve liked a notebook to write down my experiences, and contacts with any new friends I made. And as a newer con that just started last year, Celebrity Fan Fest was somewhat disorganized this year. I didn’t expect the hiccup with the delay plus long wait for Jeremy Renner’s autograph. At Ace, I waited maybe five minutes tops for an autograph with Elizabeth Olsen. Despite the delays, the volunteers did their best to work their way around the chaos. I appreciate them for making sure that I get my money’s worth.

Overall, I had an enjoyable experience. I’d love to see more of the MCU stars in the near future.

On Death and Coping

It has been a week since my friend and honors college roommate Melissa passed away. She loved books and wanted to be a librarian; it was on her way to visit the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station that she got killed in a car accident. When I woke up to the news, it hit me like a brick wall. Since then I’d been constantly thinking of mortality, how time flies and how our days are numbered. It’s easy to take for granted, especially when things aren’t going well, but we have to do our best to appreciate every day we’re given on Earth. We never know when our time will come, or when we will lose people we care about.

I won’t forget the many things Melissa and I have done together, all those times we shared our thoughts and big dreams, how we studied abroad in Oxford together, and how she had been the 1st beta reader to critique the 1st sci-fi short story I’d ever written, which went on to get Silver Honorable Mention in Writers of the Future. She will be missed, and I’ll keep her in my thoughts and prayers always.

Viable Paradise 2017/VP21

On the afternoon of July 6, when I woke up from my nap I’d take before my 6 PM-4 AM night owl shift at the ER, I got a notice that I’ve been accepted to Viable Paradise/VP21:

“On behalf of the staff and instructors, we’d like to welcome you as a student to Viable Paradise, and say congratulations!”

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Short Story Acceptance #8

“Tucked In the Folds of Our Eyes,” the first flash story I’ve attempted and finished, got a surprise acceptance at Remixt Magazine: an experimental project in which multiple guest editors curate the same submission pool to gauge their tastes and test for possibilities of publication overlap. 3 editors were interested in publishing my story. According to Julia Rios, the overall manager of Remixt, that’s a record number of editors liking a story. In the past, up to 2 editors were interested in a piece. Most of the time it’s just 1 editor. Overlap was rare. Contributors get paid a fixed amount for each editor who likes a story. Honestly (with a twinge of shame), considering that I rushed to finish the story in time for the deadline, I didn’t expect to make it in, let alone have multiple editors pick it.

“Tucked In the Folds of Our Eyes” combines the diaspora narrative, Vietnam’s creation myth (dragon+fairy=Vietnamese people), and jabs at the perpetuation of Eurocentric standards of beauty. It’s a very personal piece close to my heart, almost biographical if I removed the fantasy elements. Despite minor edits needed to tweak it, I suppose this is what helped: write from the bottom of your heart; tell a story honestly and sincerely. I’m delighted to have my first flash piece included in Remixt.

Writefest 2017 and The Fellowship of the Pen (or Laptop, or Whatever You Write With)

Here it is: my attempt at articulating the tumult of emotions and thoughts following my first Writefest.

Where can I begin? How? Well, the whole weekend I was there, I just felt this overwhelming joy and peace, the same mix of feelings I get when I’m sitting in an empty cathedral appreciating its architecture and soaking in the sacred atmosphere (one of my favorite pastimes, I must admit). This time the sense of content and belonging came from being among other writers. Living in Houston, growing up, raised, and surrounded by Vietnamese Catholics, I never lacked in being part of the community on an ethnic and spiritual level. My parents saw to it that I got my fair share of cultural association events, Christian retreats, etc. But never before have I been part of a community on a creative level (well, since graduating from High School for Performing and Visual Arts, and I didn’t get into that school for writing, anyway). I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, recently making the transition to original fiction after flexing my creative muscles in fanfiction for a decade. This creative endeavor, while emotionally rewarding, felt quite lonely at times, and I longed for that satisfying feeling that I wasn’t alone.

I found that through Writefest.

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You Know You’re Vietnamese When…

  • Your last name is Nguyen, or you know someone whose last name is Nguyen. (This one’s pretty unavoidable, considering that over half of Vietnam’s population carries this name.)
  • Other common last names you might have include Pham, Le, Vu, Ho, Duong, or Vo.
  • Someone in your family works at the nail/hair salon, or you know someone who works at one.
  • You get your nails done or hair cut at said nail/hair salon.
  • Your family owns a collection of ASIA or Paris By Night DVDs.

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