Hello everyone, and welcome back to another FWG interview! In honor of Asian American And Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’ve reached out to several Asian furry authors to gain their perspectives on writing, every day life, and more. Today’s interview features Robert Baird.
Robert has been writing and posting stories within the fandom for over seventeen years so there’s no denying their experience. They were born in the United States but are currently residing in Berlin. With the introductions finished, let’s get on to the interview.
FWG: What would you say makes a good story?
Robert: I tend to gravitate towards stories with characters I can relate to, I think. I think a good story should be able to put the reader in someone else’s shoes. Not necessarily just to see new places or have new experiences, but even seeing the familiar through someone else’s eyes. I like that kind of intimacy, I think.
FWG: If you could convince everyone to read a single piece of literature right now, what would it be?
Robert: Okay, talk about being put on the spot. I’ll lead in by saying that I’m not sure there is one single piece of literature that I think will resonate with everyone, or maybe that is important for everyone to read, I find that I come back to A Canticle for Liebowitz often. I find something evocative in the idea of rebuilding, and perhaps also in the idea that we, as readers, might be aware of the cycles of history and I guess perhaps to break them.
FWG: Speaking of history, how would you say your heritage has affected your writing?
Robert: That’s also been cyclical, I guess I would say. Growing up, I never really thought too much about other cultures, and definitely not really my own. My dad was very “American,” I guess—things like Japanese folklore or observations weren’t much of a part of our lives. That fell to my mom to be a bit more interested.
As an adult, though, I’d say I’ve become a bit more aware of the way that other cultures are portrayed in popular culture, and I’ve made the effort to be more conscientious about that myself. It is less, if you follow, so much my heritage makes me want to write about Setsubun as it is that it makes me not want to write about other cultures in a way that is… “flattening,” for lack of a better word?
FWG: Trying to make sure you’re accurately depicting other cultures, making them interesting and engaging so people understand their significance. Something like that?
Robert: Yeah. It sounds funny to even describe dad as “assimilated”—he’s second-generation, we had a very “American” kind of childhood. And so it really wasn’t until fairly recently that I started to realize the kind of subtler ways that representation matters.
Even in furry, I think — maybe because of its crossover with anime and perhaps some of the more exoticizing science fiction — there is a disconnect between, I guess, the reality of a culture and how it’s portrayed. Which from a writing point of view, that also means there’s so much nuance that gets lost. It’s almost like a reduction to the most monolithic common denominator.
FWG: Is there something you’ve learned about Japanese culture through your explorations as an adult you notice people tend to get wrong often?
Robert: I think, bluntly, there can be — or there was when I was in college, maybe; perhaps it’s started to fade — a sort of putting it on a pedestal, or treating Japanese culture as sort of aspirational, in a way that masks some of the maybe less savory aspects? I guess the converse is true as well, though.
Americans in particular tend to view East Asians, I think, as pretty well integrated into the American fabric. I was in my 30s when I realized that my grandparents’ names weren’t actually “Mary” and “Harry,” or that Japanese immigrant weren’t allowed to naturalize until the 1950s. That’s not something my dad talked about. As I said, there’s just a lot of nuance that makes for a great of complexity.
I think the way that cultures get reduced to evocative imagery or interesting stories also masks the extent to which that presentation is a deliberate construct. My dad and his parents were on their way to being interned before a white farmer decided he could use some extra help. But I never really heard about that. I heard more about my relatives who served in the 82nd Airborne at Normandy. That’s part of a deliberate process of constructing one’s own history.
FWG: On another tough issue, a lot of discussions have begun in the United States surrounding the Stop Asian Hate movement. As someone not living in the states, have you been forced to deal with any of the unfortunate bigotry people have been facing since the beginning of the pandemic?
Robert: So. Yes. But—and there’s a significant “but” here—the character of it is a little different in Europe, or at least in Germany. I’ve definitely had people warn me about parts of town it’s best not to go to, but for the most part it’s been subtler. Not overt dislike or even overt racism but more an awkward lack of familiarity.
That said, I know acquaintances here who’ve gotten some slurs or, you know, COVID-related accusations thrown at them on public transit, say. And I have, thankfully, not had to experience any of them.
FWG: Would you have any suggestions on how other authors (or any of our readers) can be allies and support Asian people during this time?
Robert: So I’ll say that in general I’ve been very fortunate, both here and in the United States. Most of it was sort of playground-level nonsense. I’d say that kind of points at my answer to your question.
Two things. One is that, if you’re a kid of the 90s, like I am… y’know, I grew up on the Internet, in this kinda “don’t be so sensitive” environment. I would say do your best to genuinely consider the impact of things that you’d otherwise be inclined to dismiss as harmless or “just joking” or whatever. It adds up, and the thing is, it doesn’t have to. We could be better about that.
The second thing I would say is to remember that cultures are not monolithic. There is no one “Asian-American experience.” I would venture to say there’s not even one “Pacific Northwestern half-Japanese-American experience.” We should always expect to see diversity, and to look for the empathy that lets us understand that there are millions of Asian-American voices and none of us speak for all of us.
So we should strive for the empathy to listen without needing what we hear to be an answer, or a canonical explanation— just another picture of that complex patchwork that is any and maybe especially one that has been in the spotlight so harshly but at the same time gets viewed as “the model minority.
FWG: Any last things you’d like to tell the folks reading?
Robert: No, I would say “thank you” to you for reaching out. And I would say to readers, I hope I’ve said something you can take home as useful or helpful. But also, that not everyone will agree, probably! And you should expect that! I do!
And I think it’s a constant project to, y’know, keep our ears perked to hear why, and listen. I try to do that myself, and to remember that the world is complex, that it is always better to err on the side of compassion, and that I hope we’re all getting better at it.
We would like to thank Robert once again for letting us interview them! You can find their work on their website, Writing.Dog, and follow their adventures in life on Twitter @matrioshkadog. We hope you enjoyed this interview and will tune in next week to see the next author we have to feature. Until next time, may your words flow like water.