Welcome to my fourth interview for my [belated] Taiwanese American Heritage Week series!
About the Book
- Title: The Balance Tips
- Author: Ren Iris
- Cover Artist: CB Messer
- Publisher: Interlude Press
- Release Date: October 5th, 2021
- Genre: Adult Fiction
Fay Wu Goodson is a 25-year-old queer, multiracial woman who documents the identity journeys of other New Yorkers. She finds her videography work meaningful, but more importantly, it distracts her from investigating the challenges of her own life and keeps relationships at a distance. When the family’s Taiwanese patriarch dies, Fay’s Asian grandmother moves to America; and Fay, her mother, and her aunt learn unsettling truths about their family and each other. They must decide to finally confront themselves, or let their pasts destroy everything each woman has dreamed of and worked for.
An unconventional story of an Asian-American matriarchy, The Balance Tips is a literary exploration of Taiwanese-American female roles in family, sexual identity, racism, and the internal struggles fostered by Confucian patriarchy that would appeal to fans of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You.
Interview with Ren Iris
Q: The Balance Tips plays around with narrative form quite a bit, employing letters, transcripts of orally conducted interviews, screenwriting scripts, etc. How did you decide which form to use for which scenes/chapters?
A: I’m a lover of documentaries, scripts and correspondence in their many forms, and oral histories/traditions. I knew I wanted to write a documentarian character into being, so before, during, and after my first draft, I consumed a lot of content in these various forms. When deciding which form to use for a given scene/chapter, I put myself into the persona of the character of focus. What are they thinking about? What do they want to avoid thinking about? What makes them feel defensive, powerful, and/or confused? How do they vacillate between celebrating/facing their vulnerabilities and repressing/avoiding said vulnerabilities? I used these questions to drive my selection for each form.
Q: The Balance Tips jumps between multiple narrative viewpoints as well as timelines. How did you create order out of chaos when drafting and revising?
A: I used to conform to a restrictive outlining structure (for my first book, I outlined each chapter in detail). But for The Balance Tips, I knew I wanted to write in a manner that felt natural to me, based on how I think—and I think heuristically. So, I embrace chaos, iteration, and revision. I revise as I go; when I make a decision that will potentially have a ripple effect, I note whatever I’ll need later to conduct a helpful control + find search. I revise each draft with the critical eye of a developmental/copy editor. I aim for intentional chaos, for writing that captures how unmoored a character feels.
Q: Language can be used to hurt or to heal, to divide or to connect, among many other things. What would you say is the role of language in mediating the relationships between the women of the Wu family?
A: There are points where the Wu women try to soothe each other and repair their intrafamilial relationships with shared language. The language they use with each other is rooted in memory, in nativity, and Fay is usually the hinge person. They use Mandarin and/or Taiwanese to remind one another to return home—often metaphorically, but sometimes literally. For the Wu women, English is the colder language, one that can be the language of legality, of alienation, of negotiation from a distance.
Q: Do you have a particular literary or rhetorical device that you favor in your writing? If so, what about it appeals to you?
A: Subtext, subtext, subtext. Idiom. Metaphor. Conceit. Synecdoche. Metonym. What I find appealing about all of these devices is the inherent homage to symbolism and implication. We as humans make and take so much meaning from the unsaid, the half-said, the communication intent that exists between and behind the lines.
Q: I think most writers would agree that they learn something with every work they write. What has writing and publishing The Balance Tips taught you, about writing, about the world, and/or about yourself?
A: When I began my first draft of The Balance Tips in 2015, I wasn’t out, not even to myself. I was continually brushing off what I’ve known in one capacity or another since at least the third grade—I’ve always been queer and genderqueer, even if I didn’t know how to phrase or claim it. I think there was a subconscious element to my writing about queerness in this novel. With each draft, I created clearer characters, a clearer fictional world, and as I was changing my fiction, it was inevitably changing me. There’s so much pain in the world—pain we create for ourselves, pain we experience from others, pain we give others, and/or pain we exchange. While that pain is true, it’s not the only truth, and it’s not the lead truth, either. Yes, we hold great power to hurt ourselves and each other, but so too, do we hold great power to help ourselves and each other. There is always a mix. Always many nuances. And, too, there is always possibility, capacity for self-led change. There is no need for shame or shaming. We can learn from kind, revitalizing teachers. We can, as activist and professor Loretta J. Ross has urged, hold ourselves accountable and call each other in instead of out. When we learn to love and accept ourselves, we can at least learn to mutually accept and support one another; we can lead with the Confucian value of ren—with humaneness.
Q: Do you view The Balance Tips as in conversation with any particular works of fiction (of any medium)? If so, what are they, and what aspects of those works does it speak to?
A: Definitely. I have many more than reasonable to list, so I’ll just list 10.
Porcelain and a Language of Their Own: Two Plays by Chay Yew; Água Viva by Clarice Lispector; Edinburgh by Alexander Chee; The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston; Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson; Aliens in America by Sandra Tsing Loh; Rolling the R’s by R. Zamora Linmark; The Red Letter Plays by Suzan-Lori Parks; The America Play, and Other Works by Suzan-Lori Parks; Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven and Other Plays by Young Jean Lee
All of these works queer concepts, form, and content. By queer here, I sometimes mean the queer in LGBTQIA+, but also, I’m referring to an expanded application of Merriam-Webster’s verb definition, use 1a: “to consider or interpret (something) from a perspective that rejects traditional categories of gender and sexuality: to apply ideas from queer theory to (something).” As I aimed to do in The Balance Tips, these works reject assumed, traditional notions of a variety of foundational topics and societal constructs. They offer alternative, expansive styles of being, and encourage a self-exploration that imagines identity as a continuous, fluid journey. They underscore the existence of at least a pocket of hope. And they celebrate our capacity for connection and resilience.
Purchase The Balance Tips from other booksellers:
- Amazon – https://amzn.to/3xqVWg1
- Barnes & Noble – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-balance-tips-joy-huang-clark/1138576073?ean=9781951954017
- Books-A-Million – https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Balance-Tips/Joy-Huang-Iris/9781951954017?id=8526517511656
- Bookshop.org – https://bookshop.org/books/the-balance-tips/9781951954017
- IndieBound – https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781951954017?aff=InterludePress
- Indigo – https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-balance-tips/9781951954017-item.html
- Kinokuniya USA – https://united-states.kinokuniya.com/bw/9781951954017
About the Author
Ren Iris* (pronouns they/them; 鳶仁 Yuān Rén) was raised in New Jersey by a Taiwanese mother and a white father. They hold a BA in English from Rutgers University and an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University in England. Whasian (Harken Media, 2015) was their debut novel. Iris’s second novel, The Balance Tips, was released in October 2021 (Interlude Press). Their writing has been featured in The Shanghai Literary Review, The Black Scholar, and Side B Magazine.
*The Balance Tips, was published under the author’s deadname. They have since legally and professionally changed their names. They are solely Ren Iris and solely use they/them/their pronouns—including in historical references.
- Author Website – https://www.reniriswrites.com/
- Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55520318-the-balance-tips
- Twitter – https://twitter.com/ren88iris
- Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/renwanese/
- Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/ren.iris.writes
Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts, please consider donating to the victims fund for the Taiwanese American church community in Orange County that was attacked this weekend on May 15th by a gunman, or donating to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese person who needs help with student loan debt and medical bills. Thanks!