The year I started querying agents with my first novel, I also started a volunteer “career” as a board member: president of the board for the neighbourhood preschool where my youngest was starting. So, really, it had absolutely nothing to do with a career as an author. Except that having my child in preschool gave me a small number of hours every week to research agents for those queries. (And to wrack myself with anxiety over my query letter while hoping for replies from agents. Great fun. Maybe marginally better than a kick in the pants. …Maybe not.)
I did not find an agent that year. But I discovered that I enjoyed the feeling of contributing to my community. Having grown up in a household that didn’t value volunteerism, trust me when I say I was surprised. I’d never really done anything other than the mandated 100 hours of community service for an IB diploma in high school. I’d helped plenty of friends, sure, but this volunteering gig was about benefitting strangers and that just felt weird. (Though good.) Coming from an immigrant family with parents who had only one day off a week, I’d thought volunteering was only something wealthy white people could afford to do.
After the preschool board, I eventually volunteered for a local writing conference. From there, I sat on the board of a local writing society, then co-chaired the organizing committee of another writing conference. In 2017, I found my way to the board of a Canadian chapter of a US-based crime writing organization. In 2019, I became VP for the national board of that same international, US-based org. Sprinkled in amongst those “official” positions, I also organized a number of small local writing events with other author friends. It was a lot of work and loads of fun (in between the tears. Just kidding. …Maybe not).
Interestingly, I was often the only POC on those boards and committees, though they were often majority women. We were all cis-het, too. As a baby board member and a baby writer, I didn’t speak up a lot, to be honest. I didn’t feel like I had much standing in those early volunteer roles. I was learning how to be a good board member and a good community member. I didn’t know how to consider the questions of inclusion related to racialized and underrepresented people. We weren’t talking about it at all and I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know how to be better.
But as I’m overly fond of saying: Once you know, you can’t un-know.
Which brings me to now. As of October 1 2020, I’m honoured to be National President of Sisters in Crime (SinC), a non-profit originally founded in 1987 to advocate for women mystery writers and which now continues the work of advocating for equity for all crime writers, of all genders and representations.
I’m the second Canadian and the first woman of Asian descent to be SinC President. In our history, we’ve only ever had 1 Black president (the inimitable Frankie Y. Bailey). Out of the 14 current board members, 3 are Black. Counting me, that means 28.6% of the board is BIPOC, which is better than it’s ever been, and still not good enough. Not to mention, rep from the LGBTQIA+ community is even lower.
I’m not interested in tokenism, in just recruiting warm bodies because of their marginalized identities so we can burnish our image with statistics. We BIPOC members, like all of the people on this extraordinary board, are talented, intelligent, committed, and passionate about equity in the crime writing community. We are committed to doing better for as many people as we can. The workload is daunting. I hope it can also be fun.
I know I’m going to make mistakes. It’s inevitable when you strive for something that’s never happened before. I know I’m going to get frightened at times by the enormity of our aspirations. To wit: How much larger have our goals become when SinC now advocates for equity and inclusion in the crime writing community for multiple genders, multiple identities, and their myriad intersections as well?
As the saying goes: It’s a lot.
But I want to believe that SinC can lead our community in creating welcoming and safe spaces for all. This is the conversation I’m interested in having. This is the community I’m interested in designing.
I don’t like putting this out into the universe, but I also don’t like being wholly untethered from reality. It’s likely I won’t get done everything I want to accomplish in my single year as president. (See above aspirations for equity and inclusion.) At the same time, an integral part of my character is that I will do my best.
I may no longer be considering how far to stretch funds to cover preschool field trips and craft supplies (so. much. glue), but creating joy and fun and friendship, building community and camaraderie—those remain the same.