I received the Tiptree Fellowship in late 2017, which coincided perfectly with my search for a literary agent to represent the novel that was the basis of my fellowship application: She Who Became the Sun, a queer, feminist alternate history based on the 14th century rise of the rebel leader who would end Mongol rule in China and become the founding Emperor of the Ming Dynasty.
I had started writing She Who Became the Sun a few years earlier on the principle of “write the book you want to read, but that doesn’t exist.” During a stint living and working in Asia, I had become obsessed with Chinese historical TV dramas. As a Western-raised member of the Chinese diaspora, to me these dramas were revolutionary: it was the first time I had ever encountered mainstream media that took my own cultural values as its default. My family had left China for Malaysia prior to the Cultural Revolution, with our culture since diverging from that of contemporary PRC, but the romanticised, mythologised vision of imperial China shown in these dramas provided an escapist fantasy based on cultural touchstones still retained to some degree by my own diaspora community.
When I looked for an English-language book version of these melodramatic female-gaze historicals and found they didn’t exist, I decided to write one of my own. It would be commercial, fun, use both Eastern and Western genre tropes, and—unlike nearly all Chinese-made TV dramas—be very, very queer. Since I had zero writing credentials at the time I finished the book and started looking for an agent, the Tiptree Fellowship was a piece of industry recognition that contributed hugely to the strength of my pitch. It did turn out to be a difficult book to pitch, since its real-world setting and lack of magic made it not quite a fantasy (according to the US)—but the gender-swap of a historical figure and its fantasy register meant it wasn’t a historical, either. I received more than one agent rejection that said, verbatim: “I love it, but I have no idea how to sell it.”
Luckily, I received a number of offers and chose my amazing agent, Laura Rennert, who wholeheartedly believed that She Who Became the Sun could sell to a mainstream publisher. During 2018 I worked extensively with Laura to polish the book, and have since submitted the manuscript to publishers. Perhaps it’s true that She Who Became the Sun wouldn’t have been a commercial proposition ten years ago due to its explicit queerness and unfamiliar (to Western readers) historical setting. Its chances have been helped immeasurably by the diverse voices movement, and genre publishers in particular are doing amazing work bringing previously unheard perspectives into mainstream SFF. The Tiptree Motherboard has actively contributed to this diversification through its Fellowships, the receipt of which allowed me to break into the mainstream—and which will hopefully pave the way for even more queer Asian historical melodramas in the future!