Working part time at a bookstore, I get to meet a lot of interesting people. Best of all is when kids and teens come in to the store. I love to hear about what they’re reading, what they’re interested in, and discovering their talents.
Jing Jing is 16 years old. They come into the bookstore quite often. They have a bubbly personality and is a great conversationalist. They’re also an artist. They say they practice their drawings a lot and I can believe that. When they showed me their portfolio, I was envious. Drawing people is definitely not something I can do. I can draw stick figures. What Jing Jing does is a whole different universe.
I told Jing Jing I’m working on a graphic novel called Hunger. Jing Jing was interested. They asked me what it was about, and really listened as I gave them the long synopsis. Bless that teenager!
Hunger is about a Cassia, who lives in the International District in Seattle. Her parents died in an accident when she was a toddler, so she lives with her Aunt Maggie. Maggie runs a Chinese funeral supply store, and has been hoping to make the Hungry Ghost Festival popular in the Pacific Northwest. Business was never great, but her husband’s fortune telling business kept them afloat in the lean times. Now that Harry is gone, Maggie leans on Cassia to keep the store going. Cassia has the ability to see and communicate with the spirits of the departed, particularly during the Hungry Ghost month (7th month of the Lunar Calendar). All Cassia wants is to find her parents’ ghosts, but for some reason, they’ve never visited her. Her ghost friends have been helping her search for them for years, especially Wing – a twenty-something man who died before Cassia was born.
This year, at last, as Cassia gets ready to enter her junior year in high school, news arrives from Wing that her parents have been found. In exchange for his effort, Wing begs Cassia to reach out to his family. He needs them to make him an offering, so he can be freed of his eternal wandering. Cassia may be good with ghosts, but with the living, she’s a complete introvert. To go to Wing’s family and ask them to make an offering to the husband and dad who abandoned them long before he died? That’s a lot to ask. Especially when Cassia finds out that Wing’s son is the most popular boy in her school!
With a whole cast of ghosts and living, Cassia goes on an adventure she’s never dreamed of having. She finds herself making friends with the most unusual people. She discovers how, in being biracial, she’s caught between two cultures whose beliefs about the afterlife could prevent her from ever reuniting with her parents. Most of all, she finds out that family is more than the biological connection between people.
Jing Jing’s reaction? They were excited! Bless them, again. They asked to see some of my script, and then surprised me a few days later, with sketches of some of the characters. I simply have to share them here. Aren’t they great?
A King County organization called 4Culture very generously gave me a grant to work on HUNGER, to help me hire a graphic novel artist to do the first couple of chapters. With that, I hope to market this graphic novel soon. In return, I’ll be giving free writing workshops to kids who are interested in writing or graphic novels.
Lots of things are happening. But for today, I’m excited to introduce you to this up and coming artist. Great things will come from her someday.
Edited to add:
Jing Jing goes by the pronouns they/them. I apologize for not clarifying that before the original post.