Chatting with Christina Tang-Bernas
Discover soap haiku contests, poetry marathons, where the concept of home lies, appearing on Jeopardy with Alex Trebek, and owning an editing business.
Christina Tang-Bernas, when not out exploring the universe, lives in Southern California with her family. Her work has appeared in Strange Constellations, Twist in Time, A Quiet Afternoon 2, and And If That Mockingbird Don't Sing, among others. Find out more at www.christinatangbernas.com.
Christina is also the author of the short story “Old School Sensibilities” from Radon Issue 2.
Your story “Old School Sensibilities” was one of our most sweet and sentimental stories. What inspired you to use science fiction as an avenue for a story about friendship and love?
Science fiction can be a way to envision possible “what if?” futures but in such a way as to highlight the present. I wanted to explore a world that had body-altering technology that could feasibly develop over time from current trends but make it a normal part of everyday life—the way we, especially as teenagers, adopted technology and integrated it seamlessly. All of my own romantic relationships started off as friendship first, and burgeoning new young love is a universal story. So, it seemed natural for me to see how this kind of friendship and love could develop in this future world. How would it be different? What would stay the same? How would two people with different views not only accept and accommodate that about each other but come to appreciate and even love these differences? My characters, Carrie and Shalin, still delight me every time I re-read their story.
You and your husband spent ten months wandering the world across twelve countries. Was the journey eye-opening?
A good test of a relationship is to travel with one’s significant other, especially without cell phones. It’s one thing when everything is going well. It’s another thing to step out of an overnight bus in Cappadocia to realize that our luggage was still waiting in the bus station in Istanbul. We ended up working really well together, and we definitely gained a new appreciation for each other.
The interesting thing that happens after going through so many countries in one continuous trip is that we started seeing connections spanning multiple countries. We’ll see an art piece in one country and then spot another piece in the same series in another country. A Roman emperor’s name will start popping up in random places. Different cuisines will have variations of similar types of foods, and my husband tried the local beer in every country. Plus, people are people no matter where they’re from, both good and not-so-good. It’s a good reminder of the universality underlying the human community.
Your Pushcart-nominated nonfiction piece "Generations" dives into your family history, being a child of immigrants, and not knowing where "home" might be . What has becoming a homeowner been like for your family, and for your own personal sense of "home"?
There’s a part of me that’s still not settled and may never completely settle. I have this strange nagging sense that this home may disappear at any time, even though I know it’s illogical to think so. So, while I love my home, the house itself, I’m not sure the place we live in is “home” yet, in the way many people seem to feel when they talk about their home, that belonging and that longing for it when they’re away from it for any period of time.
I’m not sure how long it takes before a place and community becomes embedded in someone or how old a child has to be before they’re aware that the word “home” extends beyond the house they live in. I would be curious to find out.
Is writing with a five-year-old difficult?
Yes! I need some uninterrupted time to get into the right headspace to write. I also need relative quiet because my brain is weird and can’t focus on multiple streams of words (audio or visual) at once. So, it’s nearly impossible to focus on writing with a five-year-old constantly yelling, “Mama, look!” “Mama, why <insert random off-the-wall question>?” “Mama, can I have more snacks?” “Mama, can you do this?” as I catch sight of her standing on the back of the couch ready to jump. Most of my writing happens late in the evening after she’s in bed.
However, she does provide a lot of inspiration. She’s a thoughtful, funny person, and I love discovering the world anew through her eyes. The pros far outweigh the cons.
Tell us about the journey that led to your appearance on Jeopardy in 2020.
I grew up watching Jeopardy and ended up marrying a fellow fan. We would watch shows together and compete to see who could yell out the answer first. We had the Wii game and had even gone to two tapings together. When the date for the contestant test was announced (this was the last scheduled test before Jeopardy! Anytime started), I really wanted my husband to compete, but he would only take the test if I did as well. Imagine my surprise when I received an email for the group interview, which took place on Zoom due to Covid, and my even greater surprise when I received a call asking me if I would be free on a certain taping day. It was a fantastic experience, though disappointing that my husband couldn’t come cheer for me on the taping day. At the time, no audience was allowed per Covid protocol. The best part was meeting Alex Trebek, who was very kind and funny. He passed away shortly after my show aired on TV.
What categories do you think you'd rock in Jeopardy if given a second shot?
My best categories are science, pop culture, children’s literature, and wordplay types of categories like Before & After. I’m also surprisingly good at the Potent Potables category, which baffles everyone who knows me because I rarely drink alcohol.
In 2020 you won a soap haiku contest and had your haiku printed on soap bars?
I found out about the contest from the Rattle newsletter. It was free to enter, and I thought it was such an interesting prize. I had written haiku only casually before. Because of this contest, I researched the style considerations that go into a haiku poem, the ways of thinking and the types of constructions beyond the typical syllable count. I had recently lost a family friend to a long illness, and their passing was on my mind as I played around with potential ideas. My winning haiku was a reflection on the cycle of life and that longing for those we have lost. I gained a new appreciation for haiku poetry, and I’m more thoughtful when I write haiku now. It was super cool to hold the bars of soap with my poem imprinted on them. It’s so visceral, bringing something that’s relatively ephemeral—a poem—into being, feeling the rectangle shape in my hands, the carved words against my fingertips, smelling the fragrant scent. I still have my bars of soap; I’m not sure I’ll ever use them.
Do you still do poetry marathons?
I love doing poetry marathons. The premise is that you write one poem per hour for 12 hours (half-marathon) or 24 hours (full marathon) straight. There are prompts each hour for inspiration if needed. All the poems are posted on a private website only accessible to marathoners, so afterwards, all the participants can read and comment on everyone else’s poetry. It’s a wonderful, supportive community from all around the world.
I’ve done two half-marathons so far. It’s a great way to be creative and motivate myself to produce work without overthinking it since an hour goes by surprisingly quickly. I’ve written poems ranging from a haiku about taking a nap mid-marathon to pieces that have gone on to be published. In fact, “Generations” originated from a marathon; it was my first attempt to write a Zuihitsu-style poem (one of the prompts) and evolved from there. I highly recommend you join in on the fun if you’re interested (thepoetrymarathon.com).
You've had work published throughout the last decade. How would you say your writing has developed and changed over time? Are there any short story collections or poems that you keep coming back to, that have informed your writing?
I’d like to think that over the past decade, I’ve started refining my own unique writing style and voice. I’ve experimented with many different forms and types of writing over the years. However, there is this core of myself at the center of all my writing.
I’ve been influenced by so many things over the years, such as philosophical fiction, fanfiction, tv shows and short films, manga and graphic novels, integrating various aspects of these media into how I construct stories. However, the writer that I always seem to go back to is Ray Bradbury. He is amazing at making the fantastical mundane and the mundane fantastical in his short stories and novels, and it’s something that I strive to do in my own writing: to find magic in the most ordinary of circumstances and the everyday humanness even in the strangest places.
As a co-owner of Id Est Editing, what have the initial stages of launching your business been like so far? What goals are you shooting for throughout 2023?
As a small business with just two people (my husband and I), we end up doing everything ourselves: figuring out the legal paperwork, setting up an accounting system, building the website from scratch, coming up with marketing ideas, etc. Now that we’ve launched our goal is to further develop long-term partnerships with our clients. Copyediting and proofreading is such a different way of thinking about words as compared to writing, and I love subtly polishing text to showcase it in the intended way. I’m surrounded by words all day: listening, reading, editing, and writing, and I wouldn’t live life any other way.