Jenna Lee Yun
MILK & BONES
When I started taking writing seriously (as a potential career rather than a hobby) I began listening to "writerly" podcasts, in which the interviewee was frequently asked when they started to write or when they knew they wanted to be a writer.
This gave me pause. I knew exactly when I jumped into writing my first novel. I also knew I fell in love with reading as soon as I was able to read. (*short tangent* The first book I ever co-owned with my sister was Dr. Seuss's One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Our father brought it home one day shortly after we immigrated to the US from South Korea when I was five years old. I learned to read English with that book and I still ❤ it.) But strangely enough, I didn't know when I was first compelled to write my own stories.
Like many authors will say, I never thought that writing stories was an actual career option even though I devoured books as a child. The public library was one of my favorite places. In fact, I was such a frequent visitor that the librarian once let me borrow her library card so that I could check out more books than the limit 😊. And yet, I never stopped to think, "Someone wrote these books for their job." It wasn't until I was in my second year of graduate school that the possibility of writing even came to mind. For many years, I would point to this epiphany in my early twenties as the time I began to write. However, I'm beginning to realize that this isn't true.
In fact, I'm pretty sure that it all started with milk and bones. I was in the first grade when I entered a district-wide book contest. Students at all levels could submit their work and the winning books would be made into real, bone-ified (😉), physical books! These books would then be displayed at a showcase event.
The thing is...as an immigrant with parents who didn't speak the language and didn't have the time for extracurricular activities (because they were working as many jobs as possible in order to provide for us), I have no idea HOW I even entered this contest. But I guess I did, because I won! Sadly, I don't know what happened to this book, which was in some ways my debut (ha!). Luckily, I remember the story. It went something like this:
Milk is white. Bones are white. So white milk makes white bones grow.
I know. PURE GENIUS. 🤣 I even illustrated the thing.
I learned I had won and attended the showcase with my parents, where my book was on display. I remember my 6-year-old self thinking it was kind of neat to see my work put into a hard-back book, but that I didn't want to linger because I was embarrassed someone would realize I was the author/illustrator.
It's like that to this day, I guess. I want to create, but I'm afraid that someone will see it and know it is mine. The difference now is that there's a competing motivator in direct opposition to the fear holding me back. It's that I know it is mine, and I want to share it with everyone.