May is Asian Heritage Month

From Dark Helix Press and Ricepaper Magazine comes its latest anthology – Belief.

The theme which binds the collection is ‘belief,’ a notion personal to each individual sharing a piece of themselves in their works,” says an April press release about the launch of the book.

The anthology contains 25 pieces, poetry and stories, fiction and non-fiction, by established and new writers.

“In light of anti-Asian hate, which has been occurring throughout the years and is only newsworthy now; we hope that this book allows people to better understand and feel empathy with the Asian community and to make a connection, since we all want to transform our society to be a better place.”

Editor JF Garrard

Garrard is an award-winning speculative fiction writer, editor and publisher. She is the President of Dark Helix Press, an Indie publisher out of Toronto that’s goal is to increase awareness of diversity issues and to break down cultural stereotypes through inclusive storytelling, and is the deputy editor for Ricepaper Magazine, which started as a newsletter for the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop before becoming a quarterly magazine available throughout the country.

I interview Garrard about Belief and her role in it.

Q. What do you love most about your roles at Dark Helix Press and Ricepaper?
A. I’m a pretty hyper person (I think I have ADHD), so I really like having the ability to switch between different tasks, from editing a book to thinking about creative ideas for marketing. It’s never boring at Dark Helix or Ricepaper because there is so much to do!  The most rewarding experience is getting feedback from writers, especially first-time writers who tell me they are incredibly happy that their stories have been published for the world to read!

Q. Is there something you wish you could change about your roles at either Dark Helix or Ricepaper?
A. At the moment there is nothing I want to change. Things are good and we have good teams at both places. I do wish I could clone myself or have some robots help me with the workload though.

Q. At Ricepaper, you are constantly looking for new voices. How do you find new writers for the magazine?
A. We find new voices whenever we open a submission call and writers send their pieces in for consideration. Sometimes partner organizations may recommend people to us and if there is an opportunity we may ask a writer if they wish to work with us on a particular project. A lot of writers are introverts, which is understandable, but as one of my marketing MBA professors kept telling our class: “You have to toot your own horn, no one will do it for you!” Bottom line is, to be discovered, writers have to send things in for publishers to read.

Q. How do you know a particular writer is right for Dark Helix Press and/or Ricepaper?
A. Generally speaking, we are open to working with all writers, however, it becomes more clear in the editing process which writers are more willing to work with us. As with other publishers, all pieces go through editing and if the writer refuses to edit their work, the relationship pretty much ends there as pieces need to meet a certain standard before publication. The best writers we have worked with understand the editing process and are responsive to messages and deadlines. A few writers in Belief asked if they could rewrite their piece as they felt they had grown as a writer since the original submission, and we were fine with them taking the time to rework. This is highly unusual, but since Dark Helix is a small press, we are more flexible when working with the writers and want to give them their creative freedom.

Q. Belief is the third anthology by Dark Helix Press and Ricepaper and features more than 20 stories, fiction and non-fiction as well as poems from writers of Asian descent from around the world, including Canada. Does Belief consist mostly of work by writers you have worked with in the past or where they sought out specifically for this anthology?
A. As an editor, I worked with only two writers previously – Janika Oza and Kathy Quyen Pham. At one point I created the Dark Helix Ezine (a free online magazine) and wanted more diverse writers, so I republished pieces they had in Ricepaper. Both are a pleasure to work with and have such clear, vivid writing. 

For Belief, pieces were selected from the Ricepaper repertoire over the last few years by Allan Cho (co-editor) and I, with the exception of Joy Kogawa and Jim Wong-Chu. Joy was sought out specifically for her piece and Jim is deceased, so we had to ask for permission from his estate. It was a pleasure to work with all the writers, most being experienced and for some, this is their first writing credit. They are all happy to be part of this collection as it is rare to find publishing opportunities specific to Asian diaspora writings. 

Q. Could you elaborate on the theme of this third collection of writings and its title? How did you decide it was time to publish a new collection, or is it an annual publication?
A. We decided to work on this anthology shortly after COVID-19 hit the world and we wanted to focus on positive stories with strong voices presenting a writer’s “belief” of an idea or outlook in life. Although some of the pieces were written a long time ago by authors who are deceased, similar to more contemporary writers in the book, there is a common theme of hope in all of their stories as they are living life in a land foreign to their ancestors. 

Ricepaper has a target of publishing a collection every two to three years. Originally, Ricepaper was a two-page newsletter that morphed into a print magazine and then became an online magazine. However, it’s too difficult for librarians to archive a website, therefore, Ricepaper pursued to publish books in partnership with Dark Helix Press. Similar to other arts organizations, funding is always a struggle at both Dark Helix and Ricepaper, but we try to do our best with what we have. 

Q. As a publisher of different kinds of books, what do you feel the value of an anthology such as Belief is for readers? 
A. Anthologies in general are wonderful because readers can sample the writings of different authors and then decide to pursue more of one author’s work afterwards. The reader may have picked up the book for one writer and then end up learning and reading more of other writers. As a publisher, admittedly it’s a lot of work to publish an anthology because instead of working with one author, you are pursuing to sign contracts and do the editing work with over 20 writers!

Q. What do you hope people will learn from these stories?
A. For Belief, the publication happened at a time when the media is noticing that more anti-Asian hate is on the rise. We hope that this book will allow people to hear voices of Asian writers and allow the reader to connect with the authors because the shared stories are of human experiences that we can all relate to. To make any change, we need to understand one another and be willing to emphasize with each other, so I hope this book will play a role in bringing some peace to the world.

Q. According to the Dark Helix Press website: “Our mission is to increase awareness of diversity issues and to break down cultural stereotypes through inclusive storytelling. In this global world, people are different, yet we are also the same. There is one human race and we should share our stories without fear. Eventually we hope the day will come in which there is no need for the label ‘multicultural fiction’ as it will be a norm.” How does this anthology help break down those stereotypes and help in attaining your goals?
A. Some of the stories in Belief are by people who describe growing up in North America. For example, there is a stereotype that Asian people are all rich, which is not true – there is a spectrum of economic backgrounds, but it’s always the one per cent that gets the most attention.

One story in Belief is “Eggroll” by Garry Eggkent who describes growing up in a small town and his family struggling to bring the first eggroll to the public. It’s obvious in this story that they are a working class family who is trying to survive. This is an “every man” story which many can relate to and can dispel the myth that all Asians are rich.

Q. May is Asian Heritage Month. Why is Belief an important read for this month? What can people learn about the Asian-Canadian experience (or Asian experience) by reading the stories in Belief?  
A. Belief gives insight into the stories, dreams and ideas of the Asian diaspora, a group of people who have left their motherland to live in another country. Some of the stories are from immigrants and some are from the next generation, who are born in North America and are struggling with their identities. One thing people can learn from the book is the diversity of Asian-Canadian experiences among the writers, since they originate from different countries in Asia: China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and India. The term “Asian” encompasses a broad collection of people and when reading the stories, you can see the distinct differences in terminology used and cultural nuances.

Q. As one of the editors you must have many favourites amongst the excellent selections in Belief, but could you highlight two or three that you think best sum up the appeal of the collection? 
A. It’s difficult to choose, but a few I can highlight which I particularly enjoyed:

-“All of Us” by Kathy Quyen Pham: This story is about a sister ruining her brother’s wedding banquet and there is a huge conflict because of the presence of a father who had abandoned his children, but was invited to attend. This is a great story because it vividly shows the anger in the family between generations and highlights the differences between the Chinese and Vietnamese cultures. 

-“Intent to Forgive” by Joy Kogawa: Joy tells us about things that have happened in her life, both joyful and tragic and also provides a list of lessons learned which I like to use to meditate on when I’m having a hard time with something. 

-“What’s In a Name” by Bianca Weeko Martin: In describing how her Indonesian mother had gotten a Chinese name, Bianca skillfully gives us a history lesson on why this happened and the conflicts she faced with her mother as a child growing up in the West versus the East. Her story makes you question your own name and identity after you finish reading it!

Q. What’s up next for Dark Helix Press? And Ricepaper?
A. At Dark Helix Press, we are working with feminist science fiction scholar Mareen S. Barr on a flash fiction book filled with alien versus Trump stories. Although Trump’s reign is over, he continues to inspire a lot of writers! At Ricepaper Magazine, there is an open call for submissions on the theme of “Collectives and Community.” 

On May 27, I am hosting a Belief book launch in partnership with The Canadian Authors Association virtually and I’ll be baking a three-tiered cake decorated with red roses (inspired by the Belief book cover) along with book covers in mini frames published between Dark Helix and Ricepaper. Lately my brain has been obsessed with food planning since baking is a new hobby of mine and the next day I’ll do curbside pickup so people can grab their goodies of cupcakes, cookies or a piece of cake! (Free event registration link: