I write my books in halves.
It’s easy to see now, looking back, how I’ve always lived my life in halves. Like night side versus day side, there’s a clear distinction between these two parts of me that sometimes don’t line up, but are ever shifting, fluid, as routine and certain as sunset and moonrise.
I still check in with my first main character once in a while. I wrote him when I was 15, when I had absolutely no idea how to relate to the world. He was typical fantasy fare: a white guy with an impressive sword and two lady love interests. Although I certainly couldn’t relate to him in most senses, there was still something compelling about him, something specific to me I couldn’t put my finger on.
It was this: he was torn into halves. The gods chose him to be a savior, and the villain chose him to be destroyer. He struggled with these two sides, uncertain how he could live with both.
Now, sitting in front of my computer several years later, I’m laughing and saying “Of course.”
Writing about yourself takes courage. I started with characters like this—white, straight, able-bodied—because it was all I had read. It was prevalent in the fantasy books I devoured, those thick, doorjamb-esque ones with enormous worlds and so many characters they needed dramatis personae in the backs. Those books usually had some sort of POC culture in the background, something to help the hero along on his journey. But they were never the heroes themselves. Similarly, I hardly saw any queer heroes, or even secondary characters who were out and proud.
But I continued to read, and I continued to write books. Each of my main characters had something that divided them: a queen with a missing twin, a thief who was two people in one, a boy who belonged to two opposing magical castes, a healer who held both life and death in his hands.
A clock mechanic who lives between overwhelming anxiety and devastating hope.
They weren’t me. They weren’t mirrors. But like my first, they all tugged on the thread that keeps the two halves of me sewn together.
Leading up to Timekeeper, I slowly discovered what it was I wanted to write. How I wanted to challenge traditional fantasy by bringing overlooked characters to the forefront, making their stories the priority, giving them the tools to destroy or save the world. The cast of Timekeeper is dear to me because it’s a collection of what I know and what I’ve learned, a window into a broader world—the world as I’ve seen it, and lived it, in halves.
There is a girl in Timekeeper who is particularly dear to me, a girl who is both British and Indian. Like me, she is pale. Like me, people look at her and don’t see what she is. Perhaps out of everyone I understand her the most, because her struggle is as fluid and shifting as mine, invisible and dividing and a constant tap on the shoulder.
Like I said, it takes courage to find your truth in your writing. It might take years to find it, to slowly work yourself up to it, one character at a time. And that’s fine. Nothing is purely day or night—things can be twilight and dusk and dawn, mixed and blended to how you see the world, and how it sits within you.
I will likely continue to write my books in halves. To paint these worlds as I see my own, maybe shifting my focus from time to time, but always aware of that tapping on my shoulder.
Don’t forget me, one half of me says to the other. I’m here too.
*This post originally appeared at Diversity in YA, and has been
brought to you thanks to our partner, Cindy Pon!*
Tara Sim is the author of Timekeeper (Sky Pony Press, Nov. 8, 2016) and can typically be found wandering the wilds of the Bay Area, California. When she’s not chasing cats or lurking in bookstores, she writes books about magic, clocks, and explosives. Follow her on Twitter at @EachStarAWorld, and check out her website at tarasim.com.
Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. Her most recent novel, Serpentine (Month9Books, 2015), is a Junior Library Guild Selection and received starred reviews from School Library Journal and VOYA. The sequel, Sacrifice, releases this September. WANT, a near-future thriller set in Taipei, will be published by Simon Pulse in summer 2017. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Learn more about her books and art http://cindypon.com.