LGBTQ activist and author, Eric C. Wat’s Swim is a raw and autobiographical novel about Carson Chow — a gay, Chinese, high-functioning drug addict who is also a caretaker for his grandmother. Eric opens about mining his experiences for his art, and food as a barometer for relationships.
INDULGE: How did you come up with the idea for your novel, SWIM?
ERIC: When my grandmother died a couple of years later, I thought about this short story I had written a few years back. It was about a guy who found out, after waking up from a drug binge, that his mother had passed away and he had to plan her funeral. It was based on my own anxieties around drug use. I didn’t finish that story. I guess I wasn’t ready to, at the time, as I was still using. I had been close to my grandmother, and I always thought her passing would put me at a crossroads where I had to decide once and for all whether I was going to quit. After she died, that story came back to me, and I thought this time I was ready to write it to the end.
INDULGE: Was it hard, writing such a dark part of yourself?
ERIC: I wrote the first draft in just over six weeks. Granted, I went back to Hong Kong, my birthplace, so I could avoid distractions, and it was a godsend to be in a place that was familiar but yet very few things were tying me down. As I was writing it, I did think about what if my parents read this, or my friends. How would I explain it to them about a part of myself that I had kept hidden for so long? But I put those questions away, by thinking, ironically, that it probably wouldn’t get published. I mean, it is a story about a gay Asian man using drugs. I had no idea how marketable it would be. But when it got picked up by a publisher, I couldn’t avoid the question of self-revelation anymore.
INDULGE: So how do you handle people who ask if it’s autobiographical?
ERIC: If they’re friends and family, they probably want to know if I’m okay. I’d reassure them that I’m not using anymore. With others, I’d tell them that I’ve learned long ago that anything we write, whether it’s fiction or not, whether if you’re writing a biography about someone else, in the end, it’s about the writer. It’s autobiographical in the stories we choose, in how we tell them. So I’d like to say that, yes, SWIM is autobiographical, it’s 100% truth, but maybe about 10% of it is fact, that it actually happened this way. I made up a lot of stuff to fill out the character’s arc, to make it more interesting.
INDULGE: There is a lot of food in SWIM. It must be intentional, right?
ERIC: Absolutely. Not just intentional, but strategic. After all, the novel takes place in San Gabriel Valley, one of the meccas for Asian foods in the U.S. We have a geographical identity as well as a cultural or racial one. On the other hand, food is also used to talk about caregiving in the immigrant community. The main character is supposed to take care of his surviving father and grandmother, a lot of it through cooking for them, which is what the mother did when she was alive. And when he does, or when he orders take-outs, or when he fails miserably in putting a dinner on the table, it reflects his relationships with them at those specific points of the novel. I also want to show that you can be gay and a drug user in the Asian community, at the end of the day, you still have to go home and take care of your family. In the end, the novel’s about caregiving in immigrant families as it is about drug addiction.