By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Embellishing resumes are nothing new. When someone claims she writes for a news organization for two years, but hasn’t—that’s not an embellishment—it’s a lie.
The news organization is us—the Northwest Asian Weekly. We found out recently what happened—much to our disbelief and surprise. Apparently, it has been on Fanny Aung’s (not her real name) social media account for a while. How did she get caught? She applied for a press pass for an event. The organizer emailed us, asking when an article will be published. We told the organizer that Aung has never written for us. We were shocked. So was the organizer.
If you say Aung is an imposter, I would agree. If you call her “a deceiver, fabricator, cheater, pretender, or faker,” I would not dispute any of those.
I suppose “fake writer” is a more accurate description of Aung. She imagines that she writes and has been published, but she never has been. Writers who work diligently, even though they might not be strong writers, often impress me. I admire the effort and resilience, and those who have improved over time. If she had approached and pitched us her story idea, it might have been a different outcome. Yet, she chose to lie.
“How dare she?” was not my reaction when I found out. I wasn’t angry at all.
Frankly, I was more curious about why she did what she did.
From a photo she posted on social media, she is Asian and young. When I was her age, in my late 20s, I already had a baby and bought our first house. Is the Northwest Asian Weekly so prestigious that someone decided to scheme to get her foot in the door for jobs and juicy assignments? Being a writer is not a glamorous career, unless you have published many bestsellers and readers are dying for your autograph, packing venues for your readings. Writing is hard work, period. It can be a lonely adventure, demanding devotion, focus, and discipline. Does she know that?
I thought about the characteristics of a fake writer. I wanted to meet and talk to Aung. Was she remorseful? Should I give her another chance? I sensed she had more troubles in her life than just falling into a fake writer. So I waited to hear from her…
“Don’t waste time on Aung,” one staff member advised. “Tell our attorney to send her a letter.”
“Call her first, ” I told my editor.
“Did you know that you have committed fraud?” my editor called and confronted Aung. Embarrassed, she was completely caught off guard. My editor also asked her to explain her actions to the publisher, me. The next day, Aung disconnected her phone number.
One staff member drafted a harsh letter, condemning and demanding that she delete her false statements immediately on social media. I never sent that email. Nor did I have my attorney send her a nasty warning.
A week later, Aung emailed me and asked for a meeting. But at 1:58 a.m. on the day of the meeting, she emailed to cancel. I guess it takes courage for someone to face the consequences of her behavior when she was definitely guilty. Would we meet face to face?
Never did I scream or pressure Aung in my emails, even though she canceled our meeting. Patiently, I bid my time. Another week drifted by. Finally, she meandered to our office, and was early for our appointment.
What was her excuse? Personal trauma had driven her over the edge, she told me in tears. And she had proof, court papers revealing that she was a victim of abuse. A conflicted soul, she was trying to explore venues to hide herself, as well as get attention.
She apologized for the trouble she caused. Instantly, I accepted her apology.
When she was comfortable, I invited my staff to join us. Not even once did we threaten or scold her.
Some might think we were too lenient. Perhaps. It was never my intent to ruin her life. Everyone was young once and made stupid choices. I did foolish things when I was her age, but nothing compared to this.
She complained about an organization she volunteered for for a decade, and never received any recognition. This hurt her. For someone who is young and vulnerable like Aung, she desperately needs affirmation from her peers and elderly. I learned a long time ago that most people know how to take, but seldom give. How often do we show appreciation and kindness towards others and acknowledge their contributions? If you have, good. But always, you and I can do more.
My goal is to help her learn and move forward for the future. And my advice for her is to focus on people other than herself. Do good work to serve others, to strengthen her ability and confidence. Remind yourself not to expect credit. It makes us much happier.
Overthinking can get ourselves into trouble. Beware when your thoughts are stuck and confused. When I get stuck, I go for walks, enjoying trees and water to distract myself. Exercise will immediately release my stress and my brain will build endorphins instead of experiencing negative emotions. After a while, I feel so much better not only physically, but emotionally. The worst thing is to dwell on and torture yourself with aimless thoughts of the past: Who did what to you.
But if you write, frustrations, fantasy, agony, and anger can be channeled as motivation. Writing also clarifies your thinking and empowers you. Those emotions become your imagination, cooking up story ideas, inspiration of images dashing across the pages, and words flowing out of your brain—that’s how we write.
Not always lucrative
Does Aung really want to be a writer? I have news for her.
Unless you are established, writers receive little financial reward. Relying solely on freelancing, it can be tough to make a living.
There are success stories though. The Asian Weekly has been a stepping stone for some. Our former writer, Patricia Tanumihardja, landed a contract for a book after the Asian Weekly published her interview with Sasquatch Publishing. We were so proud to see her book, “Farm to Table Asian Secrets,” published. Then, she wrote her second cookbook, “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook,” for the same publisher. Some writers and editors have found jobs as editors and journalists for big mainstream media and tech companies.
Most of our current writers have another full-time job to support their passion for writing for the Asian Weekly. I’ve always wished we can pay them more because they deserve it. Their reward is meeting fascinating people who they otherwise would not be able to in their normal life. Their satisfaction is seeing their work published, or serving the Asian community. The internet has made it possible for their work to exist forever. That lasting legacy is powerful and empowering.
Another piece of motivation for our writers is receiving journalism awards, such as the ones from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association. It is intense competition with hundreds of weeklies and thousands of entries from all over the state, judged by other Publishers Associations in New York and Louisiana. In addition, we give $50 per story to each writer who wins. Besides recognizing them in the Asian Weekly, we pay for their tickets at the awards ceremony banquet.
It’s always a thrill when Asian Weekly’s name and the writers are announced when we win. The most exciting moment is winning first prize with the writer’s name and Asian Weekly’s name flashed on the screen.
The writing award is so appealing that one writer, Stacy Nguyen, has specifically stated that she wants only potentially award-winning assignments. There is good and bad in that rationale. The good thing is, she wants challenging or investigative assignments. And the bad side is, she limits herself in the kind of stories which appear to be routine, but could turn into an exciting assignment in the process.
Interviewing requires skills to probe, a keen mind to detect the truth and what’s not. Frequently, writing a community story is like solving a mystery—finding the cause and effect, obvious and hidden impacts, and who are the actual players in the plot. But the challenge doesn’t end there. The writer’s skills can make or break a story or sometimes, the Asian Weekly.
The craft requires many rewrites. Reworking concepts, messages, words, and lines are often needed to make the whole story click. For me, the rewrite is the most fun and best part of the process. It’s pure joy for me—just me alone with the computer. Every word I change creates magic. Sometimes, those words dance before my eyes easily. Sometimes, it rips me apart just to search for the one right word. When I nail it, no words could describe my bliss.
By now, Aung might grasp a writer’s challenges. Lots of sweat, blood, and tears go into producing great essays, poems, articles, or novels. Enduring countless rejects are part of the process. It can be bittersweet too, when readers share how much they enjoy reading your work after you gave it all to produce your finest.
And I would be delighted someday if Aung can find her voice. This incident is just a small bump on her journey to pursue her writing dream.
In any case, I have forgiven her. May she find her passion whatever it is, and live with dignity, integrity, and conviction.
Assunta may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.