I was enjoying a hot spring in Utah when a red-haired lady came to join me. Small talks ensued. I told her I was a creative writing student and I wanted to become a writer. She seemed confused.
“Do they teach Vietnamese writing here?”
“No, I’m studying English writing.”
“You want to write in English?”
Now she was really confused. I had an accent, I still do, and she was probably wondering how a person who didn’t even speak English could even dream of making a living out of it.
My neighbor in college asked to read my writing, so I gave him one of my short stories. To his surprise, he said, he enjoyed it. He also noted that my prose was distinct. I’ve heard that many times before. A creative writing professor at Stanford once told me that he could recognize my writing from just a few sentences.
“Oh I know why,” my neighbor said cheerfully. “It’s because you’re not a native speaker. You don’t use English the same way we do.”
I’m trying find a publisher for the book I’ve been working on for the last three years. The author of a book I really enjoyed agreed to have a chat with me. He said he thought my book had potential, but there was something he had to tell me.
“It will be harder for you to find a publisher. They will assume that because you’re not a native speaker, they’d have to spend a lot of money editing your book.”
“Don’t lose hope. You can always self-publish.”
Getting published is fighting an uphill battle. Getting published in a language that isn’t your mother tongue is fighting an uphill battle while on stilts.
It doesn’t matter that I’ve read hundreds of English books. It doesn’t matter that I’ve written extensively in English. It doesn’t matter that my English professors have told me that my writing made them experience deep, conflicting emotions. It doesn’t matter that my books have been called a “publishing phenomenon” in Vietnam. To many people, I’m still just a foreigner trying to write in their language.
But let me tell you this: I won’t give up. I love writing and I have this stubborn belief that it’s one of the few things that I’m pretty damn good at. Do you know what else I’m good at? Being on stilts.