Interview with Emery Lee – author of Meet Cute Diary

Today’s post features Co-Host Shenwei’s interview with author Emery Lee. Eir traditional published YA debut, Meet Cute Diary released on May 4th!

About Meet Cute Diary

Felix Ever After meets Becky Albertalli in this swoon-worthy, heartfelt rom-com about how a transgender teen’s first love challenges his ideas about perfect relationships.

Noah Ramirez thinks he’s an expert on romance. He has to be for his popular blog, the Meet Cute Diary, a collection of trans happily ever afters. There’s just one problem—all the stories are fake. What started as the fantasies of a trans boy afraid to step out of the closet has grown into a beacon of hope for trans readers across the globe.

When a troll exposes the blog as fiction, Noah’s world unravels. The only way to save the Diary is to convince everyone that the stories are true, but he doesn’t have any proof. Then Drew walks into Noah’s life, and the pieces fall into place: Drew is willing to fake-date Noah to save the Diary. But when Noah’s feelings grow beyond their staged romance, he realizes that dating in real life isn’t quite the same as finding love on the page.

In this charming novel by Emery Lee, Noah will have to choose between following his own rules for love or discovering that the most romantic endings are the ones that go off script.

About the Author:

Emery Lee is a kidlit author, artist, and You-Tuber hailing from a mixed-racial background. After graduating with a degree in creative writing, e’s gone on to author novels, short stories, and web comics. When away from reading and writing, you’ll most likely find em engaged in art or snuggling cute dogs.
 
Visit Emery at: https://www.emeryleebooks.com/
Follow em on Twitter: www.twitter.com/emeryleewho
Follow em on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/emeryleebooks/

Interview

Q: Meet Cute Diary is a romcom brimming with love and humor whose central focus isn’t on The Coming Out ExperienceTM, but it also doesn’t shy away from portraying some of the tougher experiences of being trans in a world that’s hostile to trans people. How did you strike the balance between keeping the focus on the lighter aspects and acknowledging those struggles on page?

A: I went into the book knowing that I wanted it to be first and foremost “happy”, so it ultimately came down to only including those things that I thought would add to the happiness instead of detract from it. In real life, we’re all a combination of good and bad experiences, and I’ve always thought that bad experiences are what make the good feel that much better. So I definitely still wanted to address that those bad things can and do happen because I think they inform the way we approach life and they impact Noah’s perception of what happiness should look like and why that might be harder for him to achieve as a marginalized person, but I only wanted to really include those things that were largely in the past or had some level of distance so that they would provide context to that happiness without dimming it.

Q: An ice cream shop meet cute was one of the first meet cutes in the story. If you were to describe Noah, Drew, Becca, and Devin as ice cream flavors, which would you choose for each of them?

A: Noah would be coffee, Drew would be mint chocolate chip, Becca would be cinnamon, and Devin would be lavender.

Q: Which of the different meet cute scenes (whether ones that actually happened to Noah or ones he made up for his MCD blog) was your favorite to write, and why?

A: Oddly enough, I think the funniest one to write was the one he actually didn’t include on the blog which was the “coffee shop” meet-cute where he thought he would fall in love with the barista. Just going through the harsh comparisons between what Noah hoped would happen and what actually happened was really fun and I cackled the whole time I wrote it LOL.

Q: If you were to pick a “theme song” for Meet Cute Diary, what would it be?

A: It’s so hard for me to narrow down one song because I tend to use different songs to embody different parts of the story. But I guess if I were making a TV show and needed an opening song, I’d probably go with “Young For The Summer” by Dales because that was a song I used a lot to get me in the mood to write the book.

Q: Boku no Hero Academia/My Hero Academia gets a mention in Meet Cute Diary. I have yet to watch it myself, but it’s on my list. If Noah were a character in BNHA, what would his special ability (or “Quirk,” as I believe they’re called) be?

A: Ah, yes, Noah’s quirk. I feel like it would be something related to storytelling, like where he crafts a story and then can make it real? Or maybe something where he’s just really good at tricking people into thinking it’s real? Something where he can craft things from nothing and people just have to deal with the chaos.

Q: Are there any meet cute scenes that you cut for plot/pacing reasons?

A: There was actually one meet cute scene at the end that we ended up cutting. It was supposed to be one of the blog submissions after the blog actually opened up to submissions, and it was a model UN meet cute where this trans girl accidentally grabbed somebody else’s drink at a café because they had the same order. It was really cute, but ultimately, we decided it ended the story on the wrong note so we cut it.

Interview with Stacey Lee – author of Luck of the Titanic

Today’s post features Co-Host Shenwei’s interview with New York Times Bestselling historical fiction author Stacey Lee. Her fifth and most recent book, Luck of the Titanic released on May 4th!

About Luck of the Titanic

From the critically-acclaimed author of The Downstairs Girl comes the richly imagined story of Valora and Jamie Luck, twin British-Chinese acrobats traveling aboard the Titanic on its ill-fated maiden voyage.

Valora Luck has two things: a ticket for the biggest and most luxurious ocean liner in the world, and a dream of leaving England behind and making a life for herself as a circus performer in New York. Much to her surprise though, she’s turned away at the gangway; apparently, Chinese aren’t allowed into America.

But Val has to get on that ship. Her twin brother Jamie, who has spent two long years at sea, is there, as is an influential circus owner, whom Val hopes to audition for. Thankfully, there’s not much a trained acrobat like Val can’t overcome when she puts her mind to it.

As a stowaway, Val should keep her head down and stay out of sight. But the clock is ticking and she has just seven days as the ship makes its way across the Atlantic to find Jamie, perform for the circus owner, and convince him to help get them both into America.

Then one night the unthinkable happens, and suddenly Val’s dreams of a new life are crushed under the weight of the only thing that matters: survival.

About the Author:

Stacey Lee is a fourth-generation Chinese American. A Southern California native, she graduated from UCLA and got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall. Now she plays classical piano, wrangles children, and writes young adult fiction. Stacey lives outside San Francisco, California. Under a Painted Sky is her first novel.
 
Visit Stacey at: www.staceyhlee.com
Follow her on Twitter: @staceyleeauthor
Follow her on Instagram: @staceyleeauthor

Interview

Q: As a historical fiction writer, research is one of the foundations of the writing process. What kinds of things have had you had to research that you didn’t think of looking up before starting a draft but ran into questions about while drafting?

A: SO MANY things! For LUCK OF THE TITANIC, one thing I had to investigate was where Chinese were buried in England. If there was money, the ashes could be sent home to China. If not, the Chinese were often out of luck, since cemeteries didn’t want them hanging out with the good folk, even dead.

Sometimes, I have to research something, but I don’t want to because I think it’s going to be too hard, and I do everything I can to ‘write around’ it. Inevitably, I spend more time avoiding it than if I had just buckled down and researched it. An example is the engineering behind the Titanic— two four-cylinder, triple expansion, inverted reciprocating steam engines and one low pressure Parsons turbine. Did the information I learned make its way into the story? You may not see it on the page but knowing how it was run did help me write those important collision scenes. For LUCK OF THE TITANIC, I also learned more than I wanted to know about Merry Widow hats, water closets, and coal holes.

Q: Although historical fiction takes place in the past, it’s not necessarily irrelevant to the present day. For example, anti-Chinese racism remains a problem and has undergone a resurgence due to the racist rhetoric about the pandemic. Do current events inform how you approach your storytelling? How do you create historical stories that resonate with a present day audience?

A: I’d go so far to say that historical fiction is about the present because we can’t appreciate the past without putting it into the context of the now. Historical fiction is escapist on one hand, but I think you can’t read it without emerging with questions about who we were then, and who we are now. This is the one of the most important things writers of historical fiction can offer readers, this idea that one can’t change the past, but one can be changed by the past.

Q: Historical fiction requires a balance of fact and imagination to breathe life into a story, and where the lines are drawn as far as suspending disbelief goes is often a question of power and whose narratives are given weight in historical records. In particular, historical fiction stories that center people of color in the United States or Europe or other currently white-dominant settings are often seen as “unrealistic,” making the act of bending the truth more fraught for writers of color in the genre. How do you decide when and how much you’re going to take liberties with the source material/context when you approach your writing?

A: Such a great question. When in doubt, I tend to go for it, and I try not to care so much what people think. For THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL, I got wind of a few disbelieving comments about whether a Chinese girl could win a horse race in Atlanta 1890. I don’t know if any actually did, but I can tell you there were a lot of nobody-girls doing lots of remarkable things throughout history that they weren’t supposed to be doing and the world will never hear about them. Jo Kuan stands for those girls.

Q: I love the names you come up with for your protagonists (Sammy Young, Mercy Wong, Mimosa/Mim, Jo Kuan, Valora Luck). How do you go about picking names for your characters (who aren’t real historical figures)?

A: I try to stick with names that were popular at the time, but also something memorable and unique. I try not to use anything too precious. “Samantha” made a good name for my heroine in UNDER A PAINTED SKY because it could be shortened to Sam or Sammy when she was in disguise as a boy. In OUTRUN THE MOON, mercy was a quality that fit Mercy Wong’s character, and also an Anglicization of her Chinese name, Meh-Si. In THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE, perfumer Mimosa was ‘flowery’ intentionally and means ‘touch me not,’ which aligns with her character’s resistance to physical touch. THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL “Jo” was simple and basic, like her character. And my latest heroine in LUCK OF THE TITANIC, Valora, well, I will let you figure that one out.

Q: I saw the news that you made the NYT Bestseller list for paperbacks with The Downstairs Girl. As someone who’s been following your work since 2016, I’m so happy to see you reach this publishing milestone! What lessons have you learned during your publishing journey from debut to your fifth published book?

A: That is so kind of you! I definitely try not to take myself too seriously even if my books make cool lists like the NYT! Writing is not my life—it’s just one of the things I love to do. And like everything I love, I try to pour my best into it.

Q: Can you tease us with what comes next?

A: I have a new middle grade fantasy coming from Rick Riordan Presents next year unofficially titled WINSTON CHU VS. THE WHIMSIES about a kid who receives the dubious present of a broom and dustpan who begin to wreak havoc in his life. I’m having so much fun writing it. I also am working on more historical fiction, with new heroines that would probably be good friends with my old ones.

So excited for this middle grade title! Thanks a bunch for your thoughtful answers!

Interview with Misa Sugiura – author of Love & Other Natural Disasters

Today’s post features Co-Host Shenwei’s interview with Asian/Pacific American Award-winning fiction author Misa Sugiura. Her third and most recent book, Love & Other Other Disasters just released on June 8th!

About Love & Other Natural Disasters

This delightfully disastrous queer YA rom-com is a perfect read for fans of Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, and Sandhya Menon.

When Nozomi Nagai pictured the ideal summer romance, a fake one wasn’t what she had in mind.

That was before she met the perfect girl. Willow is gorgeous, glamorous, and…heartbroken? And when she enlists Nozomi to pose as her new girlfriend to make her ex jealous, Nozomi is a willing volunteer.

Because Nozomi has a master plan of her own: one to show Willow she’s better than a stand-in, and turn their fauxmance into something real. But as the lies pile up, it’s not long before Nozomi’s schemes take a turn toward disaster…and maybe a chance at love she didn’t plan for.

About the Author:

Misa Sugiura is the Asian/Pacific American Award-winning author of It’s Not Like It’s a Secret and This Time Will Be Different. Misa lives under a giant oak tree in Silicon Valley with her husband, two sons, and a gray-banded king snake.
 
Visit Misa at: www.misasugiura.com
Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/misallaneous1
Follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/misallaneous1

Interview

Q: Congratulations on publishing your third book! What lessons have you learned as a writer since your debut?

Thank you! When my first book sold, I heard a lot about the experience of being an author that I believed wouldn’t apply to me—but of course, it all turned out to be true for me. For example, that thing about how hard it is to be content with what you’ve got: true! How difficult each new book is to write: true! And how valuable a writing community can be: true!

Q: You said in the acknowledgments that writing Love & Other Natural Disasters really challenged you. In what ways was the process difficult, and what helped you get over those bumps in the road?

My first two books focused on family relationships and social issues with the romance on the side, and I had a hard time switching gears and keeping the romantic plotline at the forefront of L&OND. My editor broke down the key elements of the fake dating trope for me, and helped me identify what was missing in my manuscript (I didn’t have enough pining). And I listened to a lot of bubblegum pop songs and Sophie Kinsella audiobooks to try to get that relentlessly optimistic, comic voice in my head.

Q: Love & Other Natural Disasters is a romcom, but it also explores the thornier issue of coming out and the impact that may have on your relationships with family, among other topics. How did you balance the comedic elements with the serious and grounded ones in your work?

For each book that I write, once I have the main storylines fleshed out in the draft, I color-code each chapter by topic and lay the colors out in a line. That way I can see where I’m spending too much time on one thread or another, and shift things accordingly.

Q: I found it refreshing that everyone involved in the love square(?) at the center of the book was a girl of color. Publishing often sets explicit or implicit quotas on how many marginalized characters can exist within a book, especially when it comes to multiply marginalized characters, but the reality is that queer Asians/POC exist as more than just isolated token minorities in a sea of otherwise unqueer and white people. How did you go about creating these four distinct characters, and how do you give them each a voice that feels authentic to their backgrounds, their personalities, and their age as teens?

I put a lot of thought into the race of each character, and made a careful, deliberate decision to put a romance between two Asian girls at the center of the story, and to have all four girls involved be people of color. As you said, queer (and, let’s face it, even straight) BIPOC are often window dressing, or a unicorn in sea of white people, and I wanted to celebrate and normalize queer BIPOC relationships. I had a lot of help from authenticity readers of different races and a wide range of ages to help me hone their voices and add texture and nuance to everything from their appearance to their life philosophies. I owe so much to these readers and their work.

Q: I enjoyed the ways that art was woven into the story. Do you have a background in art at all, and if not, how did you go about integrating that aspect into the story as a layperson?

I don’t have any formal background in art or art history, but I love learning about it. And because all the arts are about expressing emotional truths, the non-literary arts work really well as metaphors for creativity, for emotional connection, and even for life in general. Dela’s art installation is obviously symbolic, but I initially chose Glass Cube (a piece in the museum where Nozomi works—and also a real piece in a real museum) for no other reason than because it was so baffling. But by the time I finished writing the book, I realized that it also had symbolic significance. I feel certain that my subconscious mind understood it and knew that it fit, somehow.

Q: If you were to describe this book as a food, what kind of food would it be?

I hope it’s like those caramel and cheese popcorn mixes: a mix of sweet and salty, and impossible to put down. 🙂

Q: In the book, Nozomi and Dela work together to make paper cranes with wishes on them for an art installation. If you were to make a wish for this project, what would you wish for, and why?

It’s such a cliché, but if I knew it would come true, I’d wish for an end to poverty and world hunger, just like one of the wishers in the book. Or maybe I’d wish for people with power and money to do something real about climate change, once and for all.

Interview with Kelly Loy Gilbert – author of When We Were Infinite

Today, co-hosts Shenwei and Wendy are so excited to be bringing you an interview with YA author Kelly Loy Gilbert! Her latest book, When We Were Infinite, just released today, and you can find out more below.

About When We Were Infinite

From award-winning author Kelly Loy Gilbert comes a powerful, achingly romantic drama about the secrets we keep, from each other and from ourselves, perfect for fans of Permanent Record and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.

All Beth wants is for her tight-knit circle of friends—Grace Nakamura, Brandon Lin, Sunny Chen, and Jason Tsou—to stay together. With her family splintered and her future a question mark, these friends are all she has—even if she sometimes wonders if she truly fits in with them. Besides, she’s certain she’ll never be able to tell Jason how she really feels about him, so friendship will have to be enough.

Then Beth witnesses a private act of violence in Jason’s home, and the whole group is shaken. Beth and her friends make a pact to do whatever it takes to protect Jason, no matter the sacrifice. But when even their fierce loyalty isn’t enough to stop Jason from making a life-altering choice, Beth must decide how far she’s willing to go for him—and how much of herself she’s willing to give up.

About the Author

Kelly Loy Gilbert is the author of Conviction, a William C. Morris Award finalist, and Picture Us in the Light, a Stonewall Honor Book and the winner of the California Book Award. She lives in San Francisco Bay Area.

Interview

Welcome, Kelly! Thank you so much for joining us.

Q: Beth bases so much of her identity on her friendships, fears people drifting away from her, and cares deeply about and wants to be enough for others – all of which I really identified with. Why was it important to you to tell this story of friendship, self-worth and longing? – Wendy

I think friendship is so so central to the high school experience, and I feel like it often goes so unexamined how you spend years building up this whole world, this whole universe, and then four years later it’s just over. Also, when I was a teenager, there were never books that felt like they could have been about me or the people I grew up with, and I always wanted to tell those stories—the quiet ones about the small tragedies and heroics that happen between people, about people doing their best for each other, and those chasms that can exist despite our best intentions.

Q: Despite the progress made in publishing more diverse YA, it’s still unusual to find contemporary books like yours where everyone among the primary characters is a POC. The idea that whiteness needs to be centered or included in order for a book to be marketable or relatable to a white audience can create a pressure for authors of color to “write white.” That is, writing an all-POC cast can be seen by some as a limitation or liability. However, as a writer myself, I don’t find it limiting at all, but rather full of possibilities. How did the all-Asian cast inform your approach to writing the story and developing the themes you wanted to explore? – Shenwei

It’s interesting because I tried to publish this book years ago, and couldn’t—I don’t know how much race played into it, but isn’t that how it goes sometimes, that you have to wonder? I didn’t have these stories growing up and I longed for them, and I feel a deep debt of gratitude to writers like Ellen Oh, Cindy Pon, and Malinda Lo, whose early work I genuinely believe paved a path for a lot of us writing today. I think one thing that’s often critical to the Asian American experience is the centrality of family, and that dimension in stories about young people is always fascinating to me. I think it’s interesting being from the Bay Area, too, because there’s a huge diversity within the Asian American community.

Q: Another part of Beth’s character which is brought up throughout the book is her underlying anger. Similarly, I appreciated how she made messy choices at times in a way that’s seen as less acceptable for POC in fiction, yet portrayed with so much empathy as she looked back on her younger self and her growth. Was there anything you particularly meant to say or were motivated by in developing these aspects of her character? – Wendy

Her anger was dormant in a lot of drafts and finally came through in the end—I think even as a thirty-something I had a lot of internalized blocks against writing angry teen girls, and especially Asian American ones. But how can you not be angry? I felt it was important, too, to get Beth to a place where she stopped feeling like she didn’t have permission for anger on her own behalf. I think claiming your anger is part of claiming what you’re worth.

Q: This book explores sensitive and difficult topics such as abuse and mental illness that are usually considered taboo within various Asian cultures, a stigma aggravated by the conditions of immigration and racism in the U.S. What do you hope this book will contribute to the ongoing dialogues about trauma and mental illness in Asian American families and communities? – Shenwei

I hope it can be in conversation with books like Ilene Wong’s THIS IS MY BRAIN IN LOVE, Emily x. R. Pan’s THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER, Randy Ribay’s PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING, and other works that explore Asian American mental health and generational trauma. 

This is a spoiler alert and also a content warning- I also felt like I’d not read a lot of stories about characters who nearly died from suicide but then survived.
And I really wanted to write about people who truly faced very real despair and then were able to build a life again after that. I wanted to write a story about hope and resilience and community threaded through the grief and trauma the characters were facing.

Q: Beth’s perspective of her Asian friends and community, and how she sometimes feels a “lack of concrete belonging” with them, is shaped by her mixed-race identity — including her alienation from her grandparents and from Chinese languages. Could you speak to this and how much of yourself was in this aspect of her character? – Wendy

So much! Everyone in the story has a very different family background than mine, but as someone who’s mixed race I have always felt a sense of otherness in nearly every space I’m in—the one frequent exception being my brother, the only person in the word who shares my exact background, ha. Beth’s alienation extends deeper than mine ever has because it’s in so many areas of her life, but I do think there’s a way in which I always feel that possibility of that alienation, the shape of it, if not the thing itself. 

Q: What is your process for naming your characters? The names you chose for the characters in this book felt extremely true to life in representing common naming patterns among East Asians in the English-speaking diaspora, so I was wondering if they were borrowed from real people you know, or chosen from pools of common East Asian American names, or curated based on intangible feelings that they’re the “correct” names for their respective characters based on their vibes, or a combination of any of the above. – Shenwei

My process for naming characters is always the same—I imagine the characters’ parents and delve into their lives enough that I could imagine what they would name a child, either as a baby or later picking an American name, etc. I’m so glad you felt they were representational—I sometimes get scornful questions about names from people who are like, “really, Asian kids named Harry and Regina???” and I’m always like … yes??  ???

Q: Classical music is such an important part of When We Were Infinite. Why did you choose violin as Beth’s particular passion, and what was your research like for this aspect of the book? – Wendy

I watched sooo much violin! It was great—research is always one of my favorite parts of writing. I used to play the flute, but not well, so I had a lot to learn. I chose music because I wanted something that Beth could experience both communally and individually, and also because playing in these prestigious youth symphonies is such a thing in the Asian American communities where I’m from. 

Q: Finally, this is your third published YA novel, and you’ve mentioned that you’ve worked on this book through several years and iterations. What are some aspects of writing craft and publishing which you’ve found challenging, and lessons you’ve learnt, along the way?

I’m always challenged by plot. It took, honestly, years for anything to *happen* in this book. One piece of advice I got craft-wise that was super useful is that every action has to lead to another action, rather than a string of interconnected events. As for publishing—it’s honestly such a strange industry with no apparent analogues I’ve found in other industries. I’m still learning a lot. It’s still a challenge for me to navigate the intersection between story and commerce, I guess. 

Thank you so much for your time and insights, Kelly!

You can find When We Were Infinite at the outlets below:

Barnes & Noble

Bookshop

Books-A-Million

Indiebound

Find Kelly on:

Twitter: @KellyLoyGilbert

Instagram: @KellyLoyGilbert

Website: KellyLoyGilbert.com

More about Kelly’s previous YA novels:

Conviction

Picture Us in the Light

Asian Settings in Middle Grade – Guest Post by Saadia Faruqi

“As an Asian American author, I’ve mostly written stories set in the U.S. After all, my children – now 11 and 14 years old – were born here, and this is the only world they know. So without really thinking about it, I’ve always gravitated towards writing for kids like mine. First generation. Muslim American. Asian American. South Asian American. American.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing. My kids – and all kids growing up in the U.S. today – need books that center BIPOC characters. They should be reading books that showcase cultural and religious differences yet take nothing away from the story itself. My Yasmin series for beginning readers is a perfect example of this: Yasmin and her family and proud Pakistani Americans and Muslim, but it’s not really mentioned in the books. You see that from the art (by the fabulous Hatem Aly) and from small clues like the words they use or the foods they eat. Yasmin is an ordinary second grader just like every American kid in elementary school, and that’s her appeal.

Somewhere in the last few years, however, I started thinking about why culture is so important in books for kids. I began to wonder why most children’s books in the U.S. are set in the U.S., even though a significant portion of young readers today are immigrants or first generation. I saw my own kids slowly losing their connection to their heritage, especially since we stopped visiting Pakistan as often as we used to. All of this has had a deep impact on me. More and more, I began to consider setting a middle grade novel somewhere else. Somewhere outside America.

And so, A Thousand Questions was born. I’ve set this novel in my birth place of Karachi, Pakistan. It’s the story of a first generation American girl Mimi who visits her grandparents from the first time, and finds everything awful. The heat, the language, the spicy food… everything is foreign. But slowly, these things grow on her, and she becomes close to her new family. She also meets a new friend, Pakistani native Sakina. The contrast between the two girls, their lifestyles, their hopes and dreams… this is what storytelling is all about.

A Thousand Questions isn’t just a friendship story, but one where setting plays a huge part. I could have set the story anywhere on earth, but I chose to place Mimi and Sakina in a land that may seem foreign to some readers. But hopefully they will see the benefit and enchantment of that land, and discover the similarities with their own home. At the end of the day, place is an important part of ourselves… our culture, heritage, memories, perspectives. The non-American settings of our books may be the most important part of the stories we tell, if we allow ourselves to do so.

I choose to allow myself.”


Saadia Faruqi is the author of the Yasmin series by Capstone, and A Place at the Table (co-written with Laura Shovan) by HMH/Clarion. Her new novel A Thousand Questions released in the U.S. on October 6 and will publish in the U.K. on Nov 12. Follow Saadia on Twitter and Instagram @saadiafaruqi.

#AsianLitChat returns in May 2020!

Announcement: #AsianLitChat is returning in May 2020 with a few updates! Instead of an #AsianLitBingo readathon in May, join us in a book recommendation and book anticipation filled #AsianLitChat inspired by our original #AsianLitBingo prompts.

We recognise that accessing books can be a challenge for some during lockdown, so our focus for the 2020 #AsianLitChat is highlighting books by Asian Authors through a month long chat with weekly prompts.

The Hosts:

Meet the Lit CelebrAsian team at our team page. Some team members are taking a short break to focus on work commitments but our active #AsianLitBingo hosts for 2020 include:

Shenwei @ READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA (#AsianLitBingo Creator)

Glaiza @ Paper Wanderer

Wendy @ Written in Wonder

Janani @ The Shrinkette

Sophia @ Bookwyrming Thoughts

Join us for week 1 of #AsianLitChat kicking off on May 1 on Twitter!

For a sneak peak of each week’s prompts, check them out below:

Week 1 – #AsianLitChat
Week 2 – #AsianLitChat
Week 3 – #AsianLitChat
Week 4 – #AsianLitChat
Week 5 – #AsianLitChat

Optional:

If you’d still like to base your May reading TBR on our #AsianLitBingo prompts below, feel free to view our board below. Originally designed by Aentee of Read at Midnight.

Alternatively here are some readathons for Asian lit in May you can join in: South Asian Reading Challenge, Year of the Asian, Asian Readathon, and more.

Optional: If you’d like to make a book list or share an interview with an Asian author, feel free to tag us @LitCelebrAsian with #AsianLitChat so we can RT or link your blog post in our May roundup below.

May 2020 – Asian Author / Booklist Blog-Post Roundup:

Watch this space for updates!

Note: Due to different lockdown measures around the world, we’re not able to host book prize giveaways in May 2020 but we hope you can still join us for #AsianLitChat.

May 2020 – Spotlight Pasific Islander Books in Solidarity:

#AsianLitChat spotlights books by Asian authors but we’d love it if readers outside of this chat, would also spotlight books by Pacific Islander authors in May. We don’t use the #AAPI / #APAHM label out of respect for Pacific Islander friends but we also encourage readers to support Pasifika voices and spaces via Our Stories – Tala mai le Moana compiled by Lani Wendt YoungPasifika Tales and the updated resources below.

Alec Te Pohe collected these useful Pasifika lit resources:

– Māori and Pasifika Month Reads via Ruru Reads

– Tina Makereti: five Māori and Pasifika favourites

– Māori (and Pasifika) writing in 2017: Thalia Kehoe Rowden recommends 22 picture books that feature Pasifika and Māori children

– Ministry of Education Pasifika and ESOL resources

HUIA Publishers

– Pacific Island Books

#DVPit and Social Media Self-care: Part 2

This piece is the fifth stop (and part 2 of yesterday’s post) of the Spring 2020 #DVpit Blog Hop! #DVpit is a Twitter pitch event for marginalized authors and/or illustrators. The next event is scheduled for April 22-23. For more information, please visit dvpit.com.

Guest Post by Meredith Ireland

Feat. Meredith Ireland

Meredith: Happy… Friday? Is it Friday? Let’s go with Friday. Okay, DVPit is in a few days. Let’s talk about what to do during and after the pitch event for self-care and in general.

Also Meredith: Thanks for having me back. Happy Blursday.

Meredith: Really committing to this format, huh?

Also Meredith: Have to sell it. Okay, so during DVPit you can pitch a project six times. That’s more than enough. You’ll find that one or two pitches gain traction and the rest kind of sit there, but use the six chances to highlight different aspects of your story. Make sure each pitch has the genre/category hashtags because some agents search by them. Tell your followers not to like your pitches if they’re not agents/editors. And definitely pin your favorite/most liked tweet to your profile!

Meredith: How about self-care during the event?

Also Meredith: Drink some water, read a book, go for a walk if you can. It’s both exciting and stressful. If you find yourself unable to breakaway from Twitter, lessen the stress by reading the feed. See what pitches you like. If you think a pitch sounds good reply and let them know. Follow each other. Cheer them on. Quote tweet their pitch without the hashtag for other people to see. I’m now friends with several authors I met during the first DVPit and generally it started with thinking their story sounded cool. You may even find a new critique partner if you both like each other’s concepts. DVPit is NOT just about the number of likes you get.

Meredith: Let’s talk about likes. What do you do if you pitch and don’t get any likes?

Also Meredith: Cry into a bag of chocolate.

Meredith: Other than cry. Be useful, dammit.

Also Meredith: Alright, if you pitch at 8:00am (I recommend not pitching exactly on the hour because people schedule tweets and usually pick the hour itself) and have no agent likes by say 10:30am, try to alter your remaining pitches. Something about them isn’t resonating. There’s an important caveat here, though: some books simply don’t sum up well and some people are better at crafting pitches than others. Querying is always open to you. Twitter pitch events fast track responses, but no matter how good a pitch is, you still have to send materials, so it comes down to what’s in your book, not the number of likes on a tweet.

Meredith: Okay, let’s go to the other extreme: what do you do if you get a ton of likes?

Also Meredith: Absorb the serotonin like it’s the sun’s rays.

Meredith: Are you going to be helpful or…

Also Meredith: I’m serious! Any agent like or editor retweet is a win. These are dark days. CELEBRATE the wins. Enjoy the serotonin. What you did was amazing: you captured the attention of industry professionals (and probably a bunch of randos who don’t understand the pitch contest and give you annoying false hope). Don’t feel like you have to immediately send out your material. You can just enjoy basking in the likes.

Meredith: Okay, after reveling, then what the next day?

Also Meredith: Spreadsheets!

Meredith: Zzzzz

Also Meredith: It’s not (necessarily) sexy, but you need to make a list of every agent who liked your tweet and every editor who retweeted. From there, I recommend creating a spreadsheet with information including the agent, their agency, when you sent the material, when they requested more (fingers crossed), and then when you sent the full. This is self-care. You’ll thank me when you get an offer of rep and you’re not frantically rummaging through your email to see who requested and who you need to notify because maybe you queried them… Mess.

Meredith: Should you send material to every agent who requests?

Also Meredith: Definitely not. Do research first. Querying is the Pit of Despair and takes a toll on your self-esteem as a writer. You don’t want to be in there more than once if you can avoid it. If you have a good fit the first time, there’s a chance you won’t have to query EVER AGAIN. So do your research. Word of mouth is the strongest in this business. Ask around, DM, check AbsoluteWrite for red flag agents. Look at PW sales if it’s an established agent and agency sales if it’s a new agent. See what agencies represent your favorite books in your genre. I’m a fan of making A and B lists of preferred agents and having a mix of those in each query round. That way if you later find out your original query sucked, you didn’t waste your shot with all of your A list agents. If you start getting requests, query the rest of your A list before you send out fulls. But don’t send material to an agent you wouldn’t sign with. That’s not respectful of your time or theirs.

Meredith: That’s good advice.

Also Meredith: I try.

Meredith: So my last question is what do you do if you end up with a ton of likes but ultimately no agent?

Also Meredith: Accept that it’s a let down, because it is. It’s incredibly hard not to compare yourself with others when you start seeing agent signings being announced and even book deals coming quickly out of DVPit. Patience is key, as is the recognition that every road is different for every writer. Some are windier. And even though everyone participating is marginalized, some concepts are still more sellable than others. However, you should look at possible other causes than: this is just a hard sell. The two main culprits are: your query letter needs serious work or, and this one hurts the most, your manuscript needs a lot of work. The silver lining is that all of that agent interest means you have an excellent concept and if you work on your manuscript you’ll likely still have interest. If you interacted with other DVPit participants during the event, hopefully you gained a critique partner.

This is where the community part comes in and why meeting other writers during DVPit is better than likes. You can exchange openings and see if you like each other’s critique styles/materials and then work to better each other’s manuscripts. Take a breath, step away from social media if those announcements after DVPit start getting to you. Then sit and do another revision pass. I’m rooting for you!

Meredith: Thank you for your time. Good luck on revising THE JASMINE PROJECT.

Also Meredith: *sobs into bag of chocolate* I got this.

About the Author

Meredith Ireland is a practicing civil litigation attorney and Young Adult author. Born in Seoul, Korea, she was adopted as a baby by a New York family. Her adoptive father was a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library and no doubt the source of her love of books.

Fate and a variety of questionable choices brought her to Saratoga Springs, New York, where she currently resides with her two children, and two carnival goldfish who will outlive us all. She hopes to one day have a writing treehouse, despite being deathly afraid of birds.

Meredith Ireland is a practicing civil litigation attorney and Young Adult author. Born in Seoul, Korea, she was adopted as a baby by a New York family. Her adoptive father was a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library and no doubt the source of her love of books.

Fate and a variety of questionable choices brought her to Saratoga Springs, New York, where she currently resides with her two children, and two carnival goldfish who will outlive us all. She hopes to one day have a writing treehouse, despite being deathly afraid of birds.

Find Meredith Ireland’s work on her Website and Twitter.

#DVPit and Social Media Self-care: Part 1

This piece is part 1 of the fourth stop in the Spring 2020 #DVpit Blog Hop! #DVpit is a Twitter pitch event for marginalized authors and/or illustrators. The next event is scheduled for April 22-23. For more information, please visit dvpit.com. Find part 2 of the final stop here.

Guest Post by Meredith Ireland

Feat. Meredith Ireland

DVPit holds a special place in my heart. I connected with my agent through DVPit, and, in a roundabout way, the Twitter pitch event led to my first book deal. As one of the early success stories, I hope to provide some insight for writers thinking about pitching their books this month.

For those of you unfamiliar, DVPit is special because it’s only for writers who are marginalized and therefore historically underrepresented in publishing. Writers seeking an agent and/or publisher tweet pitches using #DVPit on the designated day for their category—April 22 and 23 this year. If the pitch sounds intriguing to an agent or small press editor, they like the tweet and invite the writer to submit material (from a query letter all the way to a full manuscript so be READY). If an editor from a Big Five publishing house retweets the pitch, it means they want to see the work once the writer is agented. It’s an incredibly valuable and unique part of the event.

This year’s DVPit comes at a precarious time for mental health across the globe, and particularly for Asians/Asian-Americans who, due to Covid and politics, have become target of online trolls. For everyone, social media self-care is necessary. For those participating in DVPit, it’s paramount and the purpose of this post.

In this time of social distancing, I have decided to interview… myself for self-care tips. So this is going to get weird, but it’s cool. Let’s do this.

Meredith: Thanks for being here.

Also Meredith: You’re welcome, but I’m always home these days.

Meredith: Okay, so… social media tips for this trying time. Let’s start generally and work our way to DVPit specifically. What’s the best self-care tip you have for people using Twitter?

Also Meredith: My general policy for Twitter is that the app is a weird little garden you can cultivate to your liking based on what you tweet about and who you follow. The mute and block buttons are your friends. Don’t be afraid to mute words/phrases you find endanger your mental health. See someone being sexist? Well, racism is usually right around the corner—block them preemptively. There’s a reluctance to mute/block accounts probably because most people are kind and polite, but no one deserves your time and some people are specifically on social media to be pieces of sh*t, so mute or block and move on. I’m a fan of blocking because I’m super petty. You’re going to be rude? No angry introvert bunnies for you, lol.

Meredith: How about for writers during *gestures vaguely* all this?

Also Meredith: I would say go easy on yourself. What make us writers is being sensitive to the world around us. That also makes it super hard to write in times like these. If your writing feels unnecessary right now, remember that people need art to escape into or to show them the way out. That hasn’t changed. But don’t be afraid to take a hiatus or set social media time limits if all of this is too overwhelming for your process. Focus apps like Flora help keep me away from my phone, even if it’s just to read a book.

Meredith: Okay, so DVPit specifically—what’s the most important thing to know going in?

Also Meredith: It’s going to sound like a sorority/cult answer…

Meredith: The BEST kind of answer.

Also Meredith: But best thing I got out of DVPit was the DVSquad—the friends I made and community I gained through this. Writing is so solitary. You can go it alone but the whole business is hard on mental health and it’s so much better with a support network—that’s doubly true for marginalized writers. We face unique hurdles in this business. DVPit is a chance to meet other marginalized writers in your same stage who can commiserate with you and cheer you on.

Meredith: Do you feel like writers need to create a “platform” ahead of DVPit?

Also Meredith: Not at all. It’s nice if your tweets show who you are and what you care about. Even though it feels like shouting into an empty room at first, genuine interest comes across. If politics is your thing, go for it. If it’s not, then don’t. Niche interests are cool, and, as we’ve found with baking, sometimes not that niche. The only hard rule is to make sure you have something as your profile pic—anything other than an egg because a lot of people have egg accounts blocked.

Meredith: So you have a Twitter account and you’re marginalized according to DVPit.com. Are you ready for DVPit?

Also Meredith: It should go without saying, but somehow it doesn’t: it’s crucial to have a novel actually written, rested, preferably swapped with another writer for comments, and revised. DVPit is your chance to shoot your shot. Too many times I’ll see the same pitch used again and again in different contests and chances are that manuscript wasn’t ready to be pitched. Or even worse, the novel didn’t exist yet. This is not a proving ground for your story idea, it’s for finished works. I’ve definitely pitched too early in Pitmad, so I know it’s HARD to have the excitement of DVPit, the likes flying, and not jump in if you have anything written. But don’t throw away your first online impression. Be ready. There’s another DVPit in the fall.

Meredith: Fine fine, you have a Twitter account, are marginalized, and have a written, polished novel, what should you be doing in these last few days before DVPit?

Also Meredith: You should be tweaking your pitches. The best advice I’ve seen is to show your pitches to someone who has already read your work and someone who doesn’t even know you write. The one who has read it will be able to tell you if the pitch highlights the best aspects. The one who hasn’t read will be able to tell you if your pitch makes sense. Sometimes you’re too close to the work and know all the inferences but anyone else reading is lost. There are tons of resources out there for how to craft a good pitch. In its most basic format it goes: [COMP] meets [COMP] When [inciting incident happens] [MC] must [thing they have to do in your story] or [stakes, what happens if they fail]. The biggest mistake I see are list pitches like: post-apoc world, runs on oil, sword-wielding wild dogs, yellow hurricanes #DVPit #SFF #YA. Those are cool story aspects but they tell us nothing about the conflict or stakes.

Meredith: Alright, I’m sure you have a sourdough starter to check on. Let’s break for today and continue tomorrow with what to do during and after DVPit.

Also Meredith: False, but I should go water my seedlings.

Read onto Part 2 of Social media self-care and #DVPit here!

About the Author

Meredith Ireland is a practicing civil litigation attorney and Young Adult author. Born in Seoul, Korea, she was adopted as a baby by a New York family. Her adoptive father was a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library and no doubt the source of her love of books.

Fate and a variety of questionable choices brought her to Saratoga Springs, New York, where she currently resides with her two children, and two carnival goldfish who will outlive us all. She hopes to one day have a writing treehouse, despite being deathly afraid of birds.

Find Meredith Ireland’s work on her Website and Twitter.

All Who Live on Islands by Rose Lu: Book Review

Today, co-host Wendy has a review of All Who Live on Islands, an essay collection by Rose Lu 陆杨怡 to share with you. Thank you to Victoria University Press for the review copy!

About the book:

All Who Live on Islands introduces a bold new voice in New Zealand literature. In these intimate and entertaining essays, Rose Lu takes us through personal history – a shopping trip with her Shanghai-born grandparents, her career in the Wellington tech industry, an epic hike through the Himalayas – to explore friendship, the weight of stories told and not told about diverse cultures, and the reverberations of our parents’ and grandparents’ choices. Frank and compassionate, Rose Lu’s stories illuminate the cultural and linguistic questions that migrants face, as well as what it is to be a young person living in 21st-century Aotearoa New Zealand.

Review

There were many parts of All Who Live on Islands that I found insightful, including what it is like living in Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand), and the specifics of the author’s experiences as a diasporic Chinese writer. Lu’s prose is captivating, weaving in a range of non-linear memories and reflections into conceptually cohesive essays, and with clever experimentation in the structuring of certain chapters. The reflections on her career and studies were a perceptive and thoughtful read.

For this review, I’ve focused on certain aspects of the book that particularly resonated with me:

The experience of a 1.5 generation migrant

There was one aspect of All Who Live On Islands, intrinsically woven throughout the entirety of the book, that I especially appreciated seeing: the author’s experiences as a 1.5 generation migrant. Lu was born in China and her family migrated to Aotearoa when she was five, the exact same age I was when moving permanently to Australia.

Whilst there are no universal features of any kind of migrant experience, there was an interweaving of the author’s relationship with China and New Zealand in the book that really spoke to me in a way that stories about 2nd-generation Chinese migrants haven’t necessarily been able to in the past — the inclusion of different languages to reflect the reality of conversation and thought in the book, the highlighting of Chinese history and how her family came to leave, the ongoing and nuanced comparison between the two cultures in everyday life.

Photo of All Who Live on Islands on bookshelf, next to Under a Painted Sky, Picture Us in the Light, and Secret of a Heart Note

Regarding the interwoven languages, I found the unapologetic use of (simplified) Chinese characters for Mandarin rather than their romanisations, as per the norm for books in English, really refreshing — I loved being able to read it and understand the actual meaning of what was being said, with all its connotations and depth, rather than guessing the character based on pinyin or drawing inferences solely from English translations. Many readers won’t be able to understand it in the same way, and that’s the exact beauty of the author including this — it’s a reflection of the composition of her own identity and experience, of being part of two cultures’ distinct systems, each with their own uniqueness, where translation cannot carry everything over.

Additionally, the author’s grandparents’ Chongming dialect is woven throughout, and I appreciated this being acknowledged, due to my extended family also speaking two lesser known (in comparison to Mandarin and Cantonese) Chinese dialects — ones which are spoken rather than written, and don’t have standardised systems of romanisation.

Discovery & rediscovery of Chinese society and culture

Like the author’s family, mine made very limited visits to our extended family in China when I was in primary school and high school, and at the time I never really had the chance to experience the country at my own initiative. This changed when I picked up a Chinese major almost by accident at university, and ended up going on a one month in-country study program in China. The immersive experience of language learning, my own explorations, and that period of living in China shaped a slow reframing of the way I thought about my culture and identity.

So I enjoyed reading Lu’s account of returning to mainland China as an adult and her own growth there — allowing me to see a somewhat similar experience through someone else’s eyes. There were several passages I found powerful, but I thought this one was especially worth extracting:

I became more assured about being from Aotearoa and from China — something I repeatedly had to explain to my Pākehā friends, who saw my cultural identity as a needle wavering between the two places. At one point I had seen it that way too, but now I view it as a symbiotic relationship, two twinned vines growing in tandem.

Before I spent this time in China, I had never missed it. I hadn’t known what to miss. I focussed only on its deficits — on the perceived wrongness of somewhere that is different.

(Pages 87-88)

This segueways into an exploration of the Asian New Zealand literary scene and history, and into her development as a writer and the challenge of fitting into a white-dominant space, that is entwined with the exploration of identity which preceded it. That particular chapter — All Who Live on Islands — was my favourite and one I’ve now reread multiple times.

Explorations of friendship and family

In the chapter ‘Alphabet Game’, I enjoyed the author’s reflections on her friendships, with the reality of their intensity and intimacy, the challenges that mental illness poses to it, as well as the difficulty of losing friends. It made me think of the memoir/essay collection No Country Woman by Fijian-Indian author from Australia, Zoya Patel, which also had a chapter on friendship that I really liked. Another chapter is dedicated to her brother, and her relationship with her parents and grandparents is discussed throughout the whole book. In much writing, both fiction and non-fiction, platonic relationships are often not given the attention and respect in the narrative that they are due, and this was a refreshing change.

Lu notes a difference between herself and her parents’ generation — the latter, due to the specifics of their experience migrating to Aotearoa, prioritises family much more, and doesn’t quite recognise the importance of having friends with whom she can share experiences and talk about certain things that she can’t discuss with family. I loved how this articulated something I’d implicitly known but hadn’t quite been able to conceptualise before — as the author says so herself in the book, this is why it can be so important for us all to have mirrors in literature.

Overall thoughts

All Who Live on Islands is a book I would recommend to everyone, regardless of nationality or cultural background — the great thing about memoir is how it speaks so truly and specifically to a person’s experience, enabling it to reshape anyone’s understanding of themselves and their worldview. This also means that if you do share certain aspects of the author’s background — if you’re a 1.5 generation migrant, if you’re from Aotearoa, or similarly went through a re-immersion of your family’s country and culture as an adult — you’ll likely enjoy seeing these experiences depicted in the book, ones that are generally under-represented in media. If you don’t generally read nonfiction/essay collections, don’t be turned off either — the writing is accessible and you’ll be immersed in the narrative and insights.

Where to find All Who Live on Islands:

About the author

Photo of author Rose Lu

Rose Lu is a Wellington-based writer. In 2018 she gained her Masters of Arts in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters and was awarded the Modern Letters Creative Nonfiction Prize. Her work has been published in Sport, The Pantograph Punch, Turbine Kapohau and Mimicry. Her undergraduate degree was in mechatronics engineering, and she has worked as a software developer since 2012.

Find Rose on:

Twitter

Instagram

Caster by Elsie Chapman: Lit CelebrAsian Author Interview

CASTER Interview Header

Welcome to our interview with Elsie Chapman to celebrate the release of her new book, Caster! Pitched as a Chinese-inspired Fight Club with magic, it centres on sixteen-year-old Aza Wu, who enters an illegal underground magic casting tournament to save her family legacy and avenge her sister, and is filled with action, magic and twists.

Co-hosts Shenwei and Wendy both loved the book, and below are five reasons they think you should read Caster. For more detail, you can also check out their full reviews — a big thank you to Elsie Chapman and to Scholastic for the ARCs.

Review from Shenwei @ Reading Asian America

Review from Wendy @ Written in Wonder

Reasons to read CASTER:
Read More »