Behind the Scenes: Year of the Jackal
I almost didn't go through with writing Year of the Jackal.
Self-publishing is like jumping off a cliff without knowing where you'll land, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to spend so much time writing another book when I had no idea how it would perform. So I simply stopped writing for several months. But I ended up finishing Max and Aaron's story anyway.
Two reasons that pushed me to finish it:
I wanted to introduce a character who spoke Hokkien—like me
I really wanted to create my own satire of Silicon Valley (because it truly is that ridiculous)
Why is Max So Random
Max Trellis-Tan is a great big mix: ethnically Chinese, Filipino background, and a blend of Italian, Finnish, and perhaps some other ancestry that wasn’t mentioned in the story. All of this is reflected in his expansive personality.
He is inquisitive, impulsive, prone to daydreaming, but also quick-witted, hardcore, and persistent when it comes to chasing his dreams.
I specifically made him Chinese-Filipino because it’s a part of the diaspora that often gets overlooked. There are many books featuring Chinese characters from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong—but I’ve never read about one from the Philippines.
Did you know: the Philippines is home to the world’s first and oldest Chinatown, established in the sixteenth century. It’s where my grandparents settled when they first moved to Manila during WWII, and where several of my relatives still live.
I've had the opportunity to visit Manila a few times over the years and always go for the pork broth noodles in Binondo (Chinatown)—if you ever find yourself in that part of the world, go for it!
Chinese-Filipinos speak Hokkien, which is what Max and his grandfather speak. It’s a dialect that originated in the Minnan region of China. My own grandparents never spoke Mandarin, only Hokkien; and it’s what I grew up speaking with my parents.
So the reason for Max’s character: ultimately, I wanted to introduce a little bit of my own heritage into the story in an entertaining and interesting way—and I hope it was as fun to read as it was for me to write.
And if you are interested in learning your Chinese zodiac or kua number (the number that Max picks for the lottery), I recommend this website.
The Silicon Valley Bros
If you have seen the HBO show Silicon Valley, then you know why I wrote the Billionaire Bros the way I did. Because the tech industry really is very easy to make fun of: the “disruption” and “game-changing ideas" are all ripe for satire. (Also, read David Graeber's book Bullshit Jobs for further enlightenment).
A lot of the humor surrounding the Billionaire Bros was inspired by two of Dan Lyons’s nonfiction books (which I highly recommend if you are interested in reading about the absurd side of Silicon Valley): Disrupted and Lab Rats. In those books, Lyons gives an "outsider's" perspective of what it's really like to work at a startup or in the tech industry at large. You deal with cult-like personalities, kooky company cultures, and are tacitly compelled to keep "optimizing" and "growing" in the name of the company no matter how ridiculous the work seems.
As a complement to Lyons's books, I also recommend Silicon Valley the show, which is straight-up satire and done very well (probably the best comedy about the tech industry that I've seen) (also: my Jared and Monica from the book are not named after Jared and Monica from the show; that was pure coincidence).
The Billionaire Bros are over-the-top because certain aspects and companies in tech really are OTT. The startup world, in particular, has become a Wild Wild West of (in some cases) undeliverable hype and the idolizing of founders. But most of these startups have no real value beyond the hype generated and are not even profitable despite outward appearances (e.g., Uber, Twitter, Airbnb).
In the end, nothing happens to the Billionaire Bros, because that's how it is in real life. The elite do what they want, get a slap on the wrist, and then go on with their lives.
I started writing Year of the Jackal before all of the recent drama surrounding Twitter, FTX, and the others, and I think my book came out at just the right time to add its own layer of criticism. The tech industry may seem glamorous to a lot of young people and those outside of its circle, but it is just like any other industry with its own problems and hypocrisies and craziness.
Choose your career and your industry wisely.
What's Up With the Lack of Steamy Scenes
This book is more of a rom-com, more so than the first one, so I did not want to have wholesome, humorous dialogue up against explicit sex scenes. It was a gamble I decided to take, and I sided with wholesome.
Also: you may be wondering or outraged or kerfuffled as to why I made Max uninterested in anal sex.
The fact is, there is a significant percentage of gay and queer men who prefer not to engage in it. According to Joe Kort, a certified sex therapist and clinical social worker, these men are called 'sides.' They may enjoy all other forms of sex, but not anal. It doesn't mean they have internalized homophobia or that they're not fully embracing their sexuality—they are simply not interested in penetrative sex. And that is perfectly fine and normal.
I made Max that way because I wanted to show that being intimate with someone doesn't have to mean "going all the way." It's more about the emotional connection and fully trusting your partner. Max and Aaron eventually prosper towards a caring, respectful relationship that is not based on nor defined by sex. And they live happily ever after.
As the Billionaire Bros would say: Peace out!