Some sticking to belief in a manuscript that had a few near misses led to Stephanie Han seeing her Swimming in Hong Kong published January 2017 by Willow Springs Books/Eastern Washington University Press. Here she takes a bit of time to answer some EWN questions.
EWN: Your short story collection, Swimming in Hong Kong, was published in 2017. What story within the collection had the earliest publication history outside of being in the collection, and what was that history?
Stephanie: The very first story to be published was ‘Languages’ in 2002 by Nimrod International Literary Journal—it won the Katherine Anne Porter prize for fiction judged by Ron Carlson. It was a life-changing moment for me because it was a public acknowledgement of my work by a well-respected writer. I am grateful to this day to Nimrod for giving me that platform. It changed my life – really how I felt about my own writing and at the time, I really needed that validation. You can talk about oh, validation comes from within blah blah blah, feel good and ignore everyone, blah blah blah, oh validate yourself blah blah blah…and that’s all true. But the fact is that unless someone reads your story and it gets out there, it can feel you like you’re shouting into a big black hole. So it’s nice when you get a response!
EWN: How did the publication of this particular collection come about? Were you solicited by the publisher, win a contest, agent submission, etc.?
Stephanie: I submitted to Willow Springs Books (Eastern Washington University) during their Spokane prize book competition period and they agreed to publish it though it didn’t win the award, but was a finalist. I was thrilled. It was the sole finalist for the Grace Paley Prize (AWP) and individual stories won awards, but I couldn’t get the collection published, though there was some interest from a small press after the collection got the finalist nod. Previously I had been signed and dropped by an agent for this very collection, and in various forms it was rejected by a lot of people. I know that it was a blind faith and masochistic sensibility that kept me going…
EWN: Where do short stories fit within your life as an author? Primary form to work with, or something you write when an idea hits, or …?
Stephanie: I started writing these stories when I was learning the craft of writing. I write across the genres. I have a poetry manuscript now ‘Passing in the Middle Kingdom’ (should anyone be keen!) that was a semi-finalist for the Wilder prize. I have a manuscript on Asian American literary aesthetics in the 21st century novel ‘The Art of Asian America’, and I’m now writing a fiction project that may end up in the YA category, though I am not sure—longer. I like short fiction. The genre really works for me and an instructor I always find it the perfect length for teaching.
EWN: Where do short stories fit within your life as a reader?
Stephanie: I read short stories, but not exclusively so. I tend to gravitate more towards novels, but lately, my reading habits have shifted a bit. I find myself reading more graphic novels and non-fiction. I go through phases. I’m not a reader who keeps up with every new book or trend and am often rather random in my reading habits. Wait! There’s a book in the dentist office! Yes, I’ll read THAT!
EWN: How will you be celebrating National Short Story Month this May?
Stephanie: Gee, hmmm. I think it may be a good way of thinking of my own picaresque novel project which is essentially short stories…and I like the idea of reading one per day! And I intend on re-reading Renee Simms’ book Meet Behind Mars which is beautifully written and funny—a fantastic collection!
EWN: Thank you very much for your time!
Stephanie: Thank you! Mahalo for including me!
Stephanie Han is a writer, editor, and educator. Her debut short story collection Swimming in Hong Kong (Willow Springs Books/distributed by University of Washington Press) won the Paterson Fiction prize, and was the sole finalist for both the AWP Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction and the Spokane Prize. Individual stories won recognition from Nimrod International Literary Journal, Santa Fe Writer’s Project, and the South China Morning Post.
Han is City University of Hong Kong’s first English literature PhD. She resides in Honolulu, Hawaii and Mui Wo, Hong Kong.