Chapter no 13



with my sister and her husband.

Rory and I aren’t terribly close, but we have the easy intimacy of two sisters who can’t fathom what the other finds attractive about their lifestyle, and have long given up trying to convert them. Rory thinks I’m itinerant, badly prepared for the future, wasting an Ivy League degree, and getting a little too old to keep chasing the publishing pipe dream instead of a stable career with benefits and a retirement plan. And I think Rory, who studied accounting at UT Austin and now does precisely that, has such a boring, cookie-cutter, picket-fence life that I’d rather claw out my eyeballs than live it.

Rory is married to her college sweetheart, Tom, an IT technician who has always struck me as having the appearance and personality of wet dough. Neither of them knows a thing about publishing. They aren’t, as Rory puts it, “bookish people.” They like browsing the airport store for the latest John Grisham paperbacks, and Rory takes out the occasional Jodi Picoult title from their local library over the holidays, but otherwise they haven’t a clue about the vicissitudes of my world, nor are they dying to learn. I don’t think Rory even has a Twitter account.

Tonight, that’s a blessing.

Rory and Tom live far enough out in the suburbs that they can afford a spacious backyard with a deck, where they host family grills the last Saturday of every month. The weather tonight is perfect: humid and hot, but breezy enough that it’s not a bother. Rory is making corn bread, and it smells so good, I think this might be the first meal I stomach this week that doesn’t come roiling back up from anxiety.

They’re bickering on the patio when I arrive. The argument, I gather, is whether it was fair of HR to reprimand Rory’s desk mate for telling a colleague that her hair looked gorgeous that day.

“I just don’t think you should touch people without their permission,” says Tom. “Like, that’s an etiquette thing, not a race thing.”

“Oh, come on, it wasn’t like she was, like, assaulting her,” says Rory. “It was a compliment. And it’s so crazy to call Chelsea a racist—I mean, she’s a Democrat. She voted for Obama—oh, hey, honey.” Rory squeezes me from the side as I walk up. Usually I cringe from Rory’s big-sisterly affectations—it’s always struck me as a bit fake, overcompensating for her distance when we were younger—but tonight I lean into her touch. “Have a beer. I’m going to go check on the oven.”

“How’s tricks?” Tom gestures to the picnic table, and I sit down across from him. He’s been growing his beard out. It’s nearly two inches long now, and it emphasizes his solid, unbothered lumberjack’s aesthetic. Every time I see Tom, I wonder what it would be like to go through life with the easy contentment of a rock.

“Just the usual,” I say, accepting a Corona Light. “Could be better.” “Rory told me you published another book, right? Congrats!”

I wince. I hope they haven’t Googled me recently. “Well, thanks.” “What’s it about?”

“Oh, uh, World War One. Just, like, narratives of laborers on the front.” I always feel awkward explaining the Chinese Labour Corps to people who don’t already know about my book, because the inevitable follow-up is always a nose scrunch and a flat, awkward I didn’t know the Chinese were in World War One or Huh, why the Chinese? “It’s told like a mosaic, kind of like that movie Dunkirk. A broader story told through the amalgamation of a lot of little stories.”

“Very cool.” Tom nods. “Great subject for a novel. It seems like all the books and movies are obsessed with World War Two. You know? Like Captain America, and all those Holocaust movies. We don’t get enough stuff about World War One.”

Wonder Woman is about World War One,” Rory calls from inside the kitchen. “The movie.”

“Well, sure. But that’s just Wonder Woman; that’s not serious literature.” Tom turns to me for backup. “Right?”

Jesus Christ, I think. This is why I don’t talk to family about publishing. “How’s Allie?”

Allie is my eight-year-old niece. I see plastic animals strewn all over the yard, but no bite-size, peanut-breathed hurricane of destruction, so I assume I’m free from auntie duties for the evening. I’m not opposed to children in theory, but I think I would have liked Allie better if she were a shy, bookish type I could have taken on shopping sprees at indie bookstores instead of an iPhone-addicted, TikTok-obsessed basic bitch in training.

“Oh, she’s great. She’s at a sleepover with her friends tonight. They’re reading Charlotte’s Web in class, which means she’s refusing to eat meat this month. Veggie burgers only.”

“I’m sure that’ll last.” “Ha. Tell me about it.”

We both sip our beers, having exhausted our range of routine conversation topics. Often I feel like talking to Rory and Tom is like making conversation with a pollster’s hypothetical Average American, or with a blank Facebook profile. What are your thoughts on movies? On music? I’ve tried asking Tom about work, but it seems there is nothing interesting to say about the duties of an IT technician.

Or is there? A thought occurs to me. “Hey, Tom? Could you trace the IP address of, like, any random Twitter account?”

His brows furrow. “What do you need an IP address for?”

“Um, there’s this account that’s been harassing me.” I pause, wondering how much to explain, or whether I could even explain things in a way that makes sense to people not keyed deeply into publishing. “Like, spreading lies about me and stuff.”

“Couldn’t you report the account to Twitter?”

“I did that.” Brett’s been encouraging people to report and block accounts that are flinging vitriol my way, but Twitter is notoriously bad about enforcing its antiharassment policies, and as far as I can tell it hasn’t made a difference. “I don’t think they’re going to do anything about it, though.”

“I see. Well, I don’t think you’re going to be able to find them using a Twitter handle.”

“Don’t websites store the IP addresses of visitors?”

“Yes, but Twitter’s data is protected. All major social media sites protect their data; they have to by law.”

“You couldn’t, like, break into it? Aren’t you a hacker?”

He chuckles. “Not that kind of hacker. And a data breach like that would make headlines. That’s a huge privacy violation. Not trying to go to prison here, Junie.”

“But if I owned and ran my own website, I could see the IP addresses of anyone who visited?”

Tom considers this, then shrugs. “Well, I guess, yeah. There are plug-ins for that sort of thing. You could even do it on WordPress. But the problem is that an IP address doesn’t tell you all that much. You can find out what city they live in, maybe. Or even what neighborhood. But it’s not like in TV shows, where it magically pinpoints their exact GPS location. And it makes a difference whether they’re accessing a website from their cell phone, or from their home internet router . . .”

“But you could tell me a broad geographical range,” I say. “That is, if I got you the address?”

Tom hesitates. “You’re not doing anything illegal, are you?”

“Of course not. Jesus. I’m not going to like, throw a Molotov cocktail through their window.”

I’m trying to be funny, but the specificity of this scenario puts him off. He fiddles with the rim of his beer bottle. “Then could you tell me a bit more about what you need? Because if they really are harassing you, then maybe it’s not safe—”

“I just want to know who it is,” I say. “Or just generally, where they are, and if they’re nearby—you know, so I can make sure they’re not a physical threat. Like, whether I should be worried about them stalking me, or—”

“Stalking? What’s going on?” Rory pops up, balancing a platter of corn bread in one hand and a bowl of watermelon chunks in the other. She sets the food down, slides onto the bench next to me, and gives me another side hug. “Everything okay, Junie?”

“No, yeah, it’s just this stupid thing. Just asking for Tom’s help finding this person who’s been bullying me on Twitter.”

Rory frowns. “Bullying?”

I know what she’s thinking. I put up with a lot of bullying in middle school, back when our home life was going off the rails. I withdrew into books then. I spent all my waking hours in fantasy worlds, which I guess made me come off as nonverbal and antisocial. I’d show up at school

carrying chunky volumes of Lord of the Rings or The Spiderwick Chronicles, and I’d hunch over them all day, oblivious to everything around me.

The other kids didn’t like that. Some of my classmates made a game of making faces behind me while I was reading to see if I’d notice. Some spread the rumor that I didn’t know how to talk. Loony Junie, they’d call me, as if “loony” weren’t a word we left back in the nineties.

“No, it’s not like that; it’s more like . . . creepy internet people,” I say. I don’t think Rory will understand the concept of trolling. “It’s just, like, they think I’m a famous writer now, so they can say whatever shit they want to me. Death threats and stuff. I was just asking Tom to help me find out who’s doing it, or at least, like, vaguely where they’re located.”

Rory looks to her husband. “You can do that, right? This sounds serious.”

Tom sighs, hapless. “Again, I can’t get IP addresses from Twitter—” “I’ll get you the IP address,” I say. “I just need you to look it up for


Between my pleading face and Rory’s expectant glare, I imagine Tom

doesn’t feel like he has a choice.

“Sure.” He reaches for another beer. “Happy to help out.”

He doesn’t ask any more questions. Tom, bless him, takes everything at face value. So does Rory. I feel a deep pang of affection for them right then. There’s no guile in this family; just open, loving trust, and the best corn bread with kale chili I’ve ever tasted.


some basic web design.

It’s not too difficult. I participated in a four-week HTML boot camp in undergrad, back when I had the half-baked idea that if I couldn’t make it as a writer then at least I’d have a steady income as a programmer, until I realized that the programming market is also quickly becoming too saturated for anyone who isn’t a natural talent. I couldn’t get a job with the skills I retained, but I do know enough to throw together a half-decent website that doesn’t immediately appear like a Russian hacker’s trap.

The design of the site isn’t too important—it’s supposed to look like a janky homegrown blog. I spend about fifteen minutes copying, pasting, and formatting some of the more vicious “proof” of my alleged plagiarism onto

the homepage. I also make sure to keep this website hidden from any SEO searches—I don’t want random users Googling the scandal to stumble on my website.

Finally I make my own fake Twitter account. No profile picture, no header. Just the handle @LazarusAthena—that’ll catch the eye.

When that’s all set up, I send a DM to the @AthenaLiusGhost account:

Hey. I don’t know who you are, but thank you for doing all this work to expose June Hayward.

I have some additional proof documented here, if you’re interested.

Then I paste the link to my honey trap.


for ten minutes or so, constantly refreshing my Twitter app, but it looks like @AthenaLiusGhost isn’t even online. In the meantime, on my real account, I get three new DMs from strangers encouraging me to kill myself, so I stop checking my messages for the time being.

Still, I can’t help but browse my timeline to check on the rest of the conversation. The flurry of accusations has died down, though some prominent bloggers are still calling for my head. (Why hasn’t @EdenPress responded to these allegations yet? demands Adele Sparks-Sato. This is a terrible look for your imprint, @DaniellaWoodhouse. Says a lot about how much you care about marginalized voices.)

The discourse has taken an unpredicted turn, though: rumors have begun swirling about Athena, too. From what I can tell, it started with a long thread by another new, anonymous account with the handle @NoHeroesNoGods. June Song’s actions are indeed sickening, if true, reads their first tweet. But we shouldn’t act as if Athena Liu was the paragon of good Asian American rep. Thread.


We in the Chinese American community have been uncomfortable with the way she’s chosen to write about racialization and Chinese history for years. [2/?]

Her treatment of the Kuomintang, for instance, is a stunning example of Western imperialist brainwashing. She frames the Nationalists as the obvious choice for Chinese democratization, but ignores the atrocities carried out by the KMT after their move to Taiwan. What would Taiwanese aboriginals say to these claims? [3/?]

Moreover, in her short story “My Father’s Escape,” Athena refers to the dissidents from Tiananmen Square as heroes. Many of these same dissidents, however, became fervent Trump

supporters when they escaped to the West. [4/?]

Does Athena Liu’s support of democracy extend only to PRC bashing? What’s more, many of Athena’s statements about her father’s experiences are inconsistent. Her representation of her entire family history is inconsistent, for that matter. [5/?]

And on and on for sixteen tweets, culminating in a linked Google Doc with more evidence of Athena’s crimes. Athena, @NoHeroesNoGods concludes, was out of touch with most radical Asian diaspora movements. Athena was not a real Marxist; she was a champagne socialist at best. Athena lied about her family history to make it seem more tragic than it was

—for convenience, for claims to authenticity, for attention. Athena, like Maxine Hong Kingston, always presented the worst of Chinese history and culture to milk sympathy from her white audience. Athena was a race traitor.

Most people on Twitter have no fucking clue what’s going on, because no one is that deep into Chinese history or politics, nor have they read Athena’s work closely enough to make a smart judgment. But what they see, and what they latch on to, is “Athena Liu = Problematic.”

Then the second wave of the shitstorm starts, this time with Athena at the center. Most of the accounts that participate so clearly do not care about the truth. They’re here for the entertainment. These people love to have a target, and they’ll tear apart anything you put in front of them.

What a piece of shit!!!

I always knew she was fake.

Glad this bitch has finally been exposed. I’ve been iffy on Athena for years.

A TikTok of someone ripping all the pages out of Athena’s books and throwing them on a bonfire goes viral. (This sparks another debate about Nazis and book burning, but I won’t drag you down that corner of the internet.) Kimberly Deng, the YouTuber at UCLA, posts an hour-long video dissecting “problematic” lines in each one of Athena’s books. (Athena once wrote about a love interest’s “almond-shaped eyes,” which buys into Western standards of beauty and the objectification of Asian women.)

There’s something disturbing, almost gleeful, about the way they rip into her. It’s like they’ve been waiting for this opportunity all along, like they’ve been preparing these barbs for years. I’m not surprised, to be

honest. Athena is such a perfect target. She was too pretty, too successful, too suspiciously clean to have nothing on her ledger. She had it coming for her, and I’m sure some blowback like this would have happened sooner or later, even if she hadn’t choked to death on a pandan pancake.

Marnie: Wow, are you guys seeing this stuff about Athena Liu?

Jen: Yeah, wild . . . sorry, what’s a Han supremacist?

Marnie: I think like a white supremacist, but for Chinese ethnic groups. I mean, her lack of inclusion of other Chinese minorities in her work is CONSPICUOUS.

Jen: I didn’t know you liked her books

Marnie: Oh I only read one. Lol. Couldn’t get past the first page. Very try-hard litfic, if you know what I mean.

Marnie: But here are some threads that break it down.

Someone threads a story eerily similar to my memory of Athena at the American History Museum: I went to an event where she interviewed Korean War vets and recorded everything they said in a little dictaphone. Her story “Parasails Over Choson” came out six months later. It’s been praised as one of the more faithful depictions of POWs in Korea, but it’s always sat wrong with me. It felt like she was pulling the words straight from the veterans’ mouths, putting them on paper, and passing them off as her own. There was no credit, no acknowledgment. She made it sound like she’d come up with it all by herself. I’ve kept this to myself for years because I didn’t want to come off as attacking another Asian writer. But if we’re talking about literary legacies, I think this is important to bring up.

I’ll confess, I’m enjoying this a bit. It feels good to know that someone out there also knows as well as I do that Athena was a thief.

Though it doesn’t matter what the truth is. No one spreading these rumors cares about fact-checking or due diligence. They’ll use phrases like “I think it’s important to know” and “I just found out” and “sharing this so my followers are aware,” but deep down they’re all so fucking delighted, gorging themselves on this hot gossip, thrilled at the chance to take Athena Liu down. She was mortal after all, they’re thinking. She was just like us. And in destroying her, we create an audience; we create moral authority for ourselves.

In a perverse way, this is very good for me. The more Athena gets dragged into the mud, the more confusing this whole thing seems, which undercuts the righteous authority of my detractors. Two wrongs don’t make a right, obviously, but the internet is very bad at recognizing this. Now that the story’s been complicated, it’s not so satisfying to lambast me for

stealing from a lovely, innocent victim. Now Athena is a pretentious snob, a maybe-racist (no one can really make up their minds on that one), a definite Han Chinese supremacist, and a thief in her own right for her representations of Korean and Vietnamese characters. Athena is the liar, the hypocrite. Athena Liu Is Posthumously Canceled.

I don’t bring it up with Brett or Daniella. I’m over it; we all know how these things end up. I saw this same cycle happen once with a debut writer in her twenties who accused a much older and established writer of grooming and creeping on her, only for others to accuse her of grooming and creeping on even younger writers in return. Still today no one knows the truth, but she hasn’t gotten another book deal in years. Such is the nature of a Twitter dustup. Allegations get flung left and right, everyone’s reputations are torn down, and when the dust clears, everything remains exactly as it was.


Thanks, says @AthenaLiusGhost. Have linked to most of that stuff already, though. If you come up with any new proof please let me know. Let’s get justice for Athena.

I dash over to my desk and open WordPress on my laptop. Just as I’d

hoped, my website has received its first, and only, visitor. I copy the nine-digit IP address and text it to Tom. Here you go. Any shred of information would be amazing.

I have a few theories on who the account is. Adele Sparks-Sato, maybe. Lily Wu and Kimberly Deng are contenders. Or Diana Qiu, that deranged visual artist. Though I’m not sure what I’d do if they were the culprits—Adele and Diana are based in NYC, and Lily in Boston, and an IP address from either would be circumstantial at best.

Tom texts me back a few hours later.

You’re in luck. Tried a couple of different IP geolocation services, and they all spit out the same city. You don’t know anyone in Fairfax, do you?

Sorry . . . I’m guessing that’s a little close for comfort. Probably you should go to the police if you think they might try anything serious?

Also, sorry I can’t be more specific.

You can usually get within a couple of miles, but you’d need to do some heavy duty hacking to pin down a physical address.

But I don’t need a physical address. I know exactly who this is. There’s only one person Athena and I both know who lives in Fairfax, and I wouldn’t put this past him at all.

Heart hammering, I pull up Twitter and search “Geoffrey Carlino” to see what Athena’s ex-boyfriend has been up to lately.

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