Peter H.Z. Hsu - Outreach Essay

A writer sometimes feels alone. This is because you write alone. This is the way it works. It’s not a terrible way for things to work. It can even be wonderful. It’s like this: when you’re alone, a strange magic unfolds like out of thin air. A place unfolds. A place that, for example, includes a wide road with a dirt shoulder in a small coastal Virginia town where skinny grey trees layer the spaces in between houses. Then a person unfolds. A person that, for example, is a Chinese American boy who is nervous and observant and full of conflicting longings to be both perfectly normal and especially unique. This is a story. A story unfolds when you’re alone. But still, a writer sometimes feels lonely.

A writer sometimes feels lonely because a writer writes alone. This is the way it works. But sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes your writing gets lost. Sometimes you can’t figure out what’s being written. You can’t figure out if it makes sense. You don’t know if the characters are believable or different enough. You can’t figure out if a plot makes sense, or even if there is a plot. You can’t figure out if the writing is boring, or badly paced, or full of adjectives, or repetitive.

Sometimes a writer feels lonely because a writer is still alone even when a writer is not writing. Sometimes you don’t have anyone to talk to about writing, or about books, or about things you never thought about, like agents, editors, publishers, journal submissions, readings, workshops, grants, fellowships, retreats, and Masters of Fine Arts. Sometimes you hear about these kinds of things in passing and hearing about these things feels like the weight of a stranger’s universe is pressing down on your will to continue to write.

And then a writer goes to a special event like, for example, the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship Meet and Greet at Skylight Books. You go and stand outside, looking in through the front doors. You stand outside for a very long time and then go home without having gone in. Another time, you walk past those front doors, walking at a brisk pace, craning your neck to get a peek inside, but not stopping. And another time, you stop at the front doors and pretend to be looking at your cellphone, checking messages, and not going in. You get a call while standing there, and then you take the call and go back to your car and drive away. You feel relieved, having missed out on something that you really wanted but it was scary and anyway who did you think you were fooling?

But sometimes a writer goes in through the front doors. And someone shakes your hand and offers to read your work. And someone likes your work and introduces you to other writers that, for example, turn out to be the talented and dear cohort of 2017 Emerging Voices Fellows, people who will make you laugh so hard you’ll cry and cry so hard you’ll laugh. Someone else likes your work and offers to mentor you. Someone like, for example, the award winning, New York Times best-selling author, and the unofficial mayor of the L.A. literary scene, J. Ryan Stradal.

And then someone arranges for you to go to school, to take classes at UCLA Writers’ Extension Program. Another someone brings you onto a stage, and there’s a room full of people waiting to hear you read. Someone explains to you about all of those things you never thought about, from agents to publishers to MFA programs. And you smile and feel a sense of belonging and understand better what your vision is both for your work and for a writer’s life. And then a writer doesn’t feel so alone. But also, you start to miss that feeling of being alone. And so then, this is how it works. A writer writes alone.

Peter H.Z. Hsu was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and raised in the San Gabriel Valley. He attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English literature, and California State University, Los Angeles, where he earned a master’s degree in psychology. His fiction debuted in March 2016 in The Margins and is included in the Fall 2016 issue of Pinball. Peter is currently working on a short story collection.