Author Interview: Anna Gracia

Welcome to my third interview for my [belated] Taiwanese American Heritage Week series!

About the Book

  • Title: Boys I Know
  • Author: Anna Gracia
  • Cover Artist: Fevik
  • Publisher: Peachtree Teen
  • Release Date: July 5th, 2022
  • Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Synopsis

A high school senior navigates messy boys and messier relationships in this bitingly funny and much-needed look into the overlap of Asian American identity and teen sexuality.  

June Chu is the “just good enough” girl. Good enough to line the shelves with a slew of third-place trophies and steal secret kisses from her AP Bio partner, Rhys. But not good enough to meet literally any of her Taiwanese mother’s unrelenting expectations or to get Rhys to commit to anything beyond a well-timed joke. 

While June’s mother insists she follow in her (perfect) sister’s footsteps and get a (full-ride) violin scholarship to Northwestern (to study pre-med), June doesn’t see the point in trying too hard if she’s destined to fall short anyway. Instead, she focuses her efforts on making her relationship with Rhys “official.” But after her methodically-planned, tipsily-executed scheme explodes on the level of a nuclear disaster, she flings herself into a new relationship with a guy who’s not allergic to the word “girlfriend.” 

But as the line blurs between sex and love, and the pressure to map out her entire future threatens to burst, June will have to decide on whose terms she’s going to live her life—even if it means fraying her relationship with her mother beyond repair. 

Interview with Anna Gracia

Q: Throughout the course of Boys I Know, June Chu makes a lot of mistakes and questionable-to-poor choices before getting someplace better. In my experience, the process of writing a book is pretty similar. What kinds of false starts did you make while writing Boys I Know, and how did you move past them?

A: Boys I Know was the first novel I’d ever written, so naturally I had no idea what I was doing. I wrote it in chunks, over the course of a year, not totally knowing what was going to happen to June or how it would come together as a coherent story. I flailed around for a while, tweaking and making (what I thought were) major changes until I was fortunate enough to sign with an agent who had a much more sweeping idea of how edits should go. In short, I deleted the entire book and started over with a blank page shortly after signing, giving me permission to let go of what wasn’t working and start fresh. In that way, I think it parallels June’s options to either continue on her same path with minor alterations or to simply start over, despite that choice seeming much more daunting.

I feel like there’s so much about publishing that’s like “you don’t know until you know” and being lucky enough to take Boys from hot mess first draft to publication has really helped clarify what I need to do going forward and has made me less afraid of, well, everything, because I know I’m capable of doing it.

Q: I really love the use of chengyu/Chinese idioms in this book because of how well they illustrate the relationship dynamic between June and her mother, encapsulating both the pressures these words often put on her but also the influences she picks up from her mother as a result. How did you go about incorporating these into the text in a way that felt authentic to the story you were trying to tell?

A: I’m so glad you asked this! (Mostly because I spent so much time making sure the Chinese was correct and finding the right phrase to go with each situation.) For me, I grew up hearing these left and right, spouted in Chinese with the English translation immediately after, just like June’s mom does, so it felt natural to have her incorporate them into her speech regularly, especially when she’s trying to make a point to her daughter. I wanted Mrs. Chu to encapsulate that passive-aggressive style of parenting where she is somehow both overbearing but also weirdly hands off about things, expecting that simply dictating wisdom is enough to set her kids on the right path. So when June references a particular proverb or phrase in other contexts, I wanted it to be a subtle reminder of how even her own thoughts had been affected by her mom, her upbringing, and her culture.

I think it’s pretty common for multi-lingual people to think in more than one language and I wanted to show how even someone as “Americanized” as June still has the Taiwanese side of her baked into her identity, inseparable from the very way she exists.

Q: When developing their characters, some authors create elaborate profiles and aesthetic collages and playlists while others stick to what is necessary for the story and don’t spend too much time on the rest. Where would you say you fall in the range between these two approaches? And if you have any fun details about June that didn’t make it into the final story, please share a few!

A: Originally, June was a piano player. But that created logistical concerns I didn’t want to have to deal with (like having privacy while she practiced, for one), so I switched her over to the other Asian parent-approved instrument of choice, the violin.

Other than that, June has remained more or less consistent throughout all the versions and edits of this story, which is surprising considering I don’t create any kind of character profile or aesthetic or anything upfront. My lack of structure and overall vision upfront I’m sure makes the process much longer and more frustrating than it probably needs to be, but I’m pretty adamant that writing the story itself is what lets me better explore my characters and keeps them from remaining too tidy.

Q: Do you have a narrative point of view or tense that you default to when you write, or does it vary depending on the story?

A: I personally default to writing in first person past tense because it makes me feel like I’m telling a story, but I did see someone say they DNFed the book because of it so maybe I need to explore writing in present tense because that seems to be more popular in YA!

Q: A lot of writers I know approach a first draft with the mentality that you’re just getting words down no matter how terrible, and editing is on the backburner. However, I’m the type who makes some edits even as I draft. How do you approach the editing/revision process, and how do you deal with situations where you feel like you are ramming your head against a brick wall trying to figure out how to continue improving on the draft you have?

A: Honestly I probably do not have good advice for this because my process is completely chaotic and inefficient. I draft out of order and refuse to outline or use beat sheets, and instead of tackling edits in several passes I try to do everything all at once.

The only thing I can say is that when it all becomes too overwhelming (and trust me, I do a fair bit of head ramming against brick walls as well), I just focus on one paragraph at a time, like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, reminding myself that if I keep hacking away at it, I’ll eventually finish.

It’s not poignant or strategic in any way–I mostly finish projects because of an innate desire to “win” against the part of myself that wants to give up.

Q: Debut year is both an exciting and stressful experience even without the added stress created by the pandemic. What tools and strategies have you been using to manage your mental health?

A: I just keep repeating to myself that most everything outside of the book content itself is out of my control and spend my time on doing things I do enjoy for it, like making unhinged posts about it on social media. I also spend a lot of time burying myself in other people’s books, which helps me remember that there are a lot of stories out there and that mine is just one of many. It’s easy to get swept into thinking that your book is all that matters but it’s also a very good way to burn out and I would very much like to keep publishing. Also, cake. I strongly recommend cake as a solution to everything.


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About the Author

Anna grew up biracial in the Midwest, spending her formative years repeatedly answering the question “What are you?” Before finding her way as a young adult author, she was a CPA, a public school teacher, a tennis coach, and for one glorious summer, a waitress at a pie shop. She now lives on the West Coast, raising three kids and writing stories about girls navigating a world full of double standards.

Author Links:


Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts, please consider donating to the victims fund for the Taiwanese American church community in Orange County that was attacked this weekend on May 15th by a gunman, or donating to Ren, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese person who needs help with student loan debt and medical bills. Thanks!

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