Monthly Archives: May 2023

Taiwanese American Heritage Week 2023 Wrap-Up Post

Thanks for coming along for the ride with my Taiwanese American Heritage Week interviews of 2023. I almost didn’t do it this year because I anticipated being extremely busy with grad school, given that it was my final semester and I had a heavy courseload. However, I was determined to keep the series going for its sixth iteration, so I gritted my teeth and took on the challenge despite the stress it placed on me juggling blogging work with school and freelance commissions. My commencement ceremony happened to coincide with TAHW this year, so I was putting together interview posts while getting ready to graduate.

This is the second year I’ve interviewed this many authors for TAHW, and in fact, there were other authors I could have interviewed. However, due to limited time on my end, I kept it to eight authors and prioritized folks who were debuts or had not been previously interviewed within the past year or two. Some books and authors I found out about when it was too late to include them in the interview series for May, though a few might still make a guest appearance on my blog in the future👀. With that in mind, I’m sharing some more Taiwanese-authored books from 2023 that didn’t get featured in this week’s interviews.

Disclaimer: This list is far from exhaustive; it’s just what is on my radar, which is biased by my immersion in children’s literature spaces. If you know of any more, please feel free to reach out and let me know.

Note: For books that are collaborations wherein not all the co-creators are Taiwanese, I have underlined the names of the creators who are Taiwanese.

Picturebooks

Chloe’s Lunar New Year by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Michelle Lee

It’s almost Lunar New Year, and Chloe can’t wait to celebrate! But first, Chloe and her family must prepare for the new year. They buy new shoes, lay out good-luck oranges in a bowl, decorate the red envelope, and make a crispy turnip cake. Everyone comes together to cook a fantastic feast, saving a plate for A-má, of course. Chloe enjoys the festive celebration and yummy food, but most of all, she loves spending time with her family.

Lily LaMotte and Michelle Lee have created a tender, warm, and uplifting holiday story about tradition and the importance of being with those you love.

The backmatter contains educational facts about the Lunar New Year celebration in Taiwan and a fun recipe for a yummy fortune cake!

Once Upon a Book by Grace Lin and Kate Messner

Once upon a time, there was a girl. She went to a place alive with colors, where even the morning dew was warm.

Alice loves to imagine herself in the magical pages of her favorite book. So when it flaps its pages and invites her in, she is swept away to a world of wonder and adventure, riding camels in the desert, swimming under the sea with colorful fish, floating in outer space, and more! But when her imaginative journey comes to an end, she yearns for the place she loves best of all.

Paired with vibrant illustrations, this lyrical, expressive story invites the reader to savor each page and indulge in the power of imagination.

Night Market Rescue by Charlotte Cheng, illustrated by Amber Ren

A stray dog stumbles upon the gift of friendship — and maybe even the promise of home — while wandering the delight-filled night market in Taipei.

While resting on a stoop, Gogo smells something sweet and spicy on the breeze. It leads him to a place he’s never been—a bustling night market where vendors sell delicious treats. As he wanders, sniffing for scraps, GoGo discovers something else as well: a little girl who has gotten separated from her parents. He knows he can help and guides her through the market . . . to where her worried parents wait for her—with open arms for their daughter and GoGo, their new pet!

Sorry, Snail by Tracy Subisak

This zany, charming story shows that sometimes we get mad and helps teach the importance of a real apology!

“Look at that slimy body. 
That silly shell.
Those tentacle eyes!
I just can’t look at you anymore, snail.”

Ari is feeling angry. When she takes that anger out on an innocent snail, the snail demands an apology! Which Ari gives, half-heartedly. And that’s that. Until Ms. Snail and her friends appear in every corner of Ari’s life, determined to elicit the most genuine apology from an increasingly regretful girl.

Globetrots for Tots: TAIWAN by Maryann Chu and Red Peck

Calling all Globetrotting Tots!

From the tallest skyscraper in Taipei to the sun-kissed beaches of Kenting, join Mei Mei and Black Bear on an adventure to see the best Taiwan has to offer! ❤️

⁠An English rhyming book with Chinese, Zhuyin, and Pinyin for dual language learning!

How This Book Got Red by Margaret Chiu Greanias, illustrated by Melissa Iwai

None of the panda books are ever about red pandas!

Red is going to do something about that.

When Red discovers a new book about pandas, she can’t wait to read it! Except it’s about only one kind of panda, and red pandas are completely left out. Red never gets to read stories about pandas like herself! So she decides to take matters into her own paws and write her own book.

But sometimes Red wonders if the only kind of pandas the world sees are the black and white kind. What if nobody wants to read her book? Red must find the courage to finish her story.

Coming soon from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky on October 1, 2023.

Middle Grade

Land of Broken Promises by Jane Kuo

Taiwanese immigrant Anna and her family make a shocking discovery that puts their American dreams at risk in this searing companion to In the Beautiful Country, which Gene Luen Yang called “vivid and hopeful.”

After a rocky first year, Anna’s family have settled into life in California—their small restaurant is even turning a profit. Then her parents make a shattering discovery: their visas have expired.

Anna’s world is quickly overwhelmed by unfamiliar words like “undocumented” and “inequality.” She longs to share the towering secret that looms over every aspect of her life with a friend, but her parents strictly forbid her from telling anyone.

As Anna grapples with the complexities of being undocumented, the strain that it places on her family, and the loneliness of keeping it all to herself, she has to wonder—if America is the promised land, why does everything she’s hoped for feel like a lie?

Perfect for fans of Kelly Yang, Reem Faruqi, and Jasmine Warga, this middle grade novel in verse, inspired by the author’s own experiences, focuses on themes of legal documentation, identity, and language’s ability to divide and unite.

Cover illustration by Julia S. Kuo.

Releasing June 6, 2023 from Quill Tree Books, an Imprint of HarperCollins.

Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods by Grace Lin

From fried dumplings to fortune cookies, here are the tales behind your favorite foods.

Do you know the stories behind delectable dishes–like the fun connection between scallion pancakes and pizza? Or how dumplings cured a village’s frostbitten ears? Or how wonton soup tells about the creation of the world?

Separated into courses like a Chinese menu, these tales–based in real history and folklore–are filled with squabbling dragons, magical fruits, and hungry monks. This book will bring you to far-off times and marvelous places, all while making your mouth water. And, along the way, you might just discover a deeper understanding of the resilience and triumph behind this food, and what makes it undeniably American.

 With about 40 short stories (288 pages total) and in full color, this book is perfect for all middle grade students to read to themselves, for caregivers to read to young children and for adults to share with each other!

Releasing September 12, 2023 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Young Adult

When You Wish Upon a Lantern by Gloria Chao

Acclaimed author Gloria Chao creates real-world magic in this luminous romance about teens who devote themselves to granting other people’s wishes but are too afraid to let themselves have their own hearts’ desires—each other.

Liya and Kai had been best friends since they were little kids, but all that changed when a humiliating incident sparked The Biggest Misunderstanding of All Time—and they haven’t spoken since.

Then Liya discovers her family’s wishing lantern store is struggling, and she decides to resume a tradition she had with her beloved late grandmother: secretly fulfilling the wishes people write on the lanterns they send into the sky. It may boost sales and save the store, but she can’t do it alone . . . and Kai is the only one who cares enough to help.

While working on their covert missions, Liya and Kai rekindle their friendship—and maybe more. But when their feuding families and changing futures threaten to tear them apart again, can they find a way to make their own wishes come true?

Cover illustration by Kat Tsai.

Love & Resistance by Kara H.L. Chen

Moxie meets Mary H.K. Choi in this funny, whip-smart YA debut about love, resistance, and the enduring friendships that make it all worthwhile. 

Seventeen-year-old Olivia Chang is at her fourth school in seven years. Her self-imposed solitude is lonely but safe. At Plainstown High, however, Olivia’s usual plan of anonymity fails when infamous it-girl Mitzi Clarke makes a pointed racist comment in class. Tired of ignoring things just to survive, Olivia defends herself.  

And that is the end of her invisible life. 

Soon, Olivia joins forces with the Nerd Net: a secret society that’s been thwarting Mitzi’s reign of terror for months. Together, they plan to unite the masses and create true change at school.

But in order to succeed, Olivia must do something even more terrifying than lead a movement: trust other people. She might even make true friends along the way . . . if Mitzi doesn’t destroy her first. 

A cheeky, thought-provoking force of a book, perfect for fans of E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.

Cover illustration by Steffi Walthall.

Releasing July 4, 2023 from Quill Tree Books, and Imprint of HarperCollins.

Clementine and Danny Save the World (and Each Other) by Livia Blackburne

Clementine Chan believes in the power of the written word. Under the pseudonym Hibiscus, she runs a popular blog reviewing tea shops and discussing larger issues within her Chinatown community. She has a loyal, kind following, save for this one sour grape named BobaBoy888.

Danny Mok is allergic to change, and the gentrification seeping into Chinatown breaks his heart. He channels his frustration into his internet alter ego, BobaBoy888, bickering with local blogger Hibiscus over all things Chinatown and tea.

When a major corporation reveals plans that threaten to shut down the Mok’s beloved tea shop, Clementine and Danny find themselves working together in real life to save this community they both love. But as they fall hard for this cause—and each other—they have no clue that their online personas have been fighting for years.

When the truth comes to light, can Danny and Clementine still find their happily-ever-after?

Cover illustration by Peijin Yang.

Releasing July 18, 2023 from Quill Tree Books, an Imprint of HarperCollins.

Adult

The Night Parade by Jami Nakamura Lin

In the groundbreaking tradition of In the Dream House and The Collected Schizophrenias, a gorgeously illustrated speculative memoir that draws upon the Japanese myth of the Hyakki Yagyo—the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons—to shift the cultural narrative around mental illness, grief, and remembrance. 

Are these the only two stories? The one, where you defeat your monster, and the other, where you succumb to it?

Jami Nakamura Lin spent much of her life feeling monstrous for reasons outside of her control. As a young woman with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, much of her adolescence was marked by periods of extreme rage and an array of psychiatric treatments, and her relationships suffered as a result, especially as her father’s cancer grasped hold of their family.

As she grew older and learned to better manage her episodes, Lin became frustrated with the familiar pattern she found in mental illness and grief narratives, and their focus on recovery. She sought comfort in the stories she’d loved as a child—tales of ghostly creatures known to terrify in the night. Through the lens of the yokai and other figures from Japanese, Taiwanese, and Okinawan legend, she set out to interrogate the very notion of recovery and the myriad ways fear of difference shapes who we are as a people.

Featuring stunning illustrations by her sister, Cori Nakamura Lin, and divided into the four acts of a traditional Japanese narrative structure, The Night Parade is a genre-bending and deeply emotional memoir that mirrors the sensation of being caught between realms. Braiding her experience of mental illness, the death of her father, the grieving process, and other haunted topics with storytelling tradition, Jami Nakamura Lin shines a light into dark corners, driven by a question: How do we learn to live with the things that haunt us?

Cover illustration by Cori Nakamura Lin.

Releasing October 24, 2023 from Mariner Books, an Imprint of HarperCollins.

Cookbooks

Win Son Presents a Taiwanese American Cookbook by Josh Ku and Trigg Brown with Cathy Erway

A modern, brashly flavorful guide to cooking Taiwanese-American food, from Brooklyn’s lauded Win Son, Win Son Bakery, and Cathy Erway, celebrated writer and expert on the cuisine

Josh Ku, born in Queens to parents from southern Taiwan, and Trigg Brown, a native Virginian whose mentor was a Taiwanese-American chef, forged a friendship over food—specifically, excellent tsang ying tou, or “flies’ head,” a dish of chopped budding chives kissed with pork fat. Their obsession with Taiwanese food and culture propelled them to open Win Son together in 2016. The East Williamsburg restaurant quickly established itself as a destination and often incurs long waits for their vibrant and flavorful Taiwanese-American cuisine.

Ku and Brown have teamed up with Cathy Erway, Taiwanese food expert and celebrated writer, to create this book which explores and celebrates the cuisine of Taiwan and its ever-simmering pot of creative influences. Told through the eyes, taste buds, travels, and busy lives of Ku, Brown, and Erway, this book brings the cuisine of this misunderstood island nation into the spotlight. With 100 creative, yet accessible recipes, this book will unravel the history of this diaspora cuisine. While featuring classic dishes and well-known favorites, this cookbook also stretches this cuisine’s definition, introducing new dishes with brazen twists that are fun, flavorful, and decidedly American-born in style.

Made in Taiwan: Recipes and Stories from the Island Nation by Clarissa Wei with Ivy Chen

An in-depth exploration of the vibrant food and culture of Taiwan, including never-before-seen exclusive recipes and gorgeous photography.

Taipei-based food journalist Clarissa Wei presents Made in Taiwan, a cookbook that celebrates the island nation’s unique culinary identity—despite a refusal by the Chinese government to recognize its sovereignty. The expansive book contains deeply researched essays and more than 100 recipes inspired by the people who live in Taiwan today.

For generations, Taiwanese cuisine has been miscategorized under the broad umbrella term of Chinese food. Backed with historical evidence and interviews, Wei makes a case for why Taiwanese food should get its own spotlight. Made in Taiwan includes classics like Peddler Noodles, Braised Minced Pork Belly, and Three-Cup Chicken, and features authentic, never-before-seen recipes and techniques like how to make stinky tofu from scratch and broth tips from an award-winning beef noodle soup master.

Made in Taiwan is an earnest reflection of what the food is like in modern-day Taiwan from the perspective of the people who have lived there for generations. It is the story of a proud nation—a self-sufficient collective of people who continue to forge on despite unprecedented ambiguity.


That’s all for now. Thanks again to everyone who has read my posts for this past week! Hope to see y’all again next time.

Author Interview: Hsinju Chen

Welcome to the eighth and final interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.


About the Books

  • Title: A Milky Way Home
  • Author: Hsinju Chen
  • Cover Design: Laura Skye Kilaen and Candace Harper
  • Release Date: March 21st, 2023
  • Genre/Format: Adult Romance Novella

Synopsis:

Yen-Chen Chang is tired of the big corporate world. After quitting his high-paying software engineer job in Seattle, he’s desperate to move back to Taipei to figure out the next stage of his career. When his best friend invites him to visit Clover Hill as the last stop before going home, he gladly welcomes the opportunity to see the town they love.

Florence Hong-Lam Ho is passionate about her shih tzu mix Milk Puff, music composition, and teaching children piano. She is not trusting of strangers, especially those from outside of Clover Hill. When a tourist reaches for the last piece of fènghuáng sū at Wong’s Corner Store at the same time as she does, she hopes to never see this person again, even if her dog loves him already.

But when Yen-Chen and Florence keep running into each other—once, literally—they strike up a reluctant friendship. Is their growing connection written in the stars, or will Yen-Chen still leave Clover Hill for good?

A contemporary asexual romance featuring a transmasc MC.


Interview with Hsinju Chen

Q: What is your favorite Taiwanese food/what food reminds you of home?

A: This first question already leads me miles and miles away from Illinois and back home. I can talk about food for hours.

It’s funny, because while boba has such a big presence in A Milky Way Home, if not across the Clover Hill series because of Kaz’s shop, it’s not something I often get when I’m in Taiwan. But when I’m in the States, I get it every now and then because it reminds me of home. Sometimes, I even make it from scratch, using the same recipe as Yen-Chen’s.

I love the whole spectrum of Taiwanese food, from savory dishes to sweet pastries, but if I must choose, it’s breakfast food—which is not necessarily consumed in the morning—especially steamed muscovado mántóu! Perhaps part of it is the memories attached to such places, the dòujiāng diàn (“soymilk shop”), where my family occasionally gets breakfast from on weekends and where my friends and I frequent for late-night snacks.

Sometimes, when dining out, it isn’t the food that grips me but the ambient sounds of a restaurant or eatery—the whirring of range hoods in the kitchen or the clinking of porcelain from neighboring tables. I find comfort in these places, too.

Q: How did you get into writing fiction?

A: In a way, I’ve always been writing fiction. Before I knew how to spell, my dad transcribed the stories I told orally—basically fanfics of children’s books. I illustrated and bound my own flimsy little books when I was a kid. I wrote wuxia stories in Chinese as a preteen, a fantasy novella in English when I was in middle school, and many flash fiction pieces in Chinese when I was older.

When I started my current engineering doctoral program in 2020, I decided to sign up for a fiction class. Several semesters later, I’ve participated in three semester-long fiction workshops in the creative writing department and drafted multiple short stories. These workshops re-ignited my love for storytelling and made me believe that my stories are worth telling. Even now, when I’m no longer taking fiction workshop classes at my institution, I continue to write regularly.

I’m also a big reader, and I’ve kept a running log of every book I’ve read since 2007. Reading widely has certainly helped me with my writing. I would also credit books as one of the best teachers I’ve had in learning English as a foreign language.

Q: What are some of your creative influences and where do you get inspiration from?

A: Oh wow, this is a tough one to answer! Some of my more recent creative influences are queer diasporic writers, like Zen Cho, whose stories made me realize that fantasy stories in English can also feel so close to home, and Carolina De Robertis, whose prose and queer historical fiction I adore. I’m always on the hunt for more writers whose stories I resonate with, be it queer or Taiwanese or of an identity I do not share.

I get inspirations from my own life experiences, people-watching, and the news. I tell stories that I wish already existed but also use them to answer questions I have about the world. Reading fiction and nonfiction of all lengths keep me inspired, too. When I’m lucky, my dreams also provide me with story ideas.

Q: Are you the type who outlines before they start drafting, or do you let the draft take you wherever it goes?

A: I’m a plotter through and through. When I started writing A Milky Way Home, I already had an outline of bullet list, one item for each scene. It wasn’t extremely detailed or a beat sheet, but it was an outline. Did the final draft stray away from it? Yes, but not by a lot! I’m impressed that some writers can write a full draft without an outline; I don’t think I can ever do that for long works when I’m juggling the main story, side plots, and multiple character arcs all at the same time. Even for shorter works—flash fiction, short story, novelette—I rarely start writing without already knowing the breakdown of each scene and how the story ends.

Q: My understanding is that A Milky Way Home is part of a fictional universe that serves as the setting for a series of queer novellas spanning multiple books written by different authors. How and why did you get into writing for this series? What did you enjoy about the experience?

A: That is correct! A Milky Way Home is the sixth book of the ongoing Clover Hill Romance series, where all novellas are standalones and set in the fictional North American small town Clover Hill.

I’m incredibly lucky to be part of this series, and everyone I’ve gotten to know throughout this journey is wonderful. Since one of the founding members of the Clover Hill series is a friend whose writing I trust, I was immediately intrigued when I learned that they were looking for more authors to join for their 2023 lineup. Queer contemporary romance in a shared universe? The skeletal version of Yen-Chen and Florence’s story came to me within days, and I was committed to the project very soon after.

A Milky Way Home is about 38,000 words, and it is my longest work to date. The most valuable part for me was having the support of fellow Clover Hill authors and my writing friends outside of the series while going through the whole process of pitching, outlining, drafting, multiple rounds of editing, and publishing. As an indie series, we had to handle our own cover design, typesetting, scheduling, etc., and in our team, there are experienced writers willing to spend the extra time to help make the production seamless and we all contribute however we can. It was also a unique experience to work with everyone else on not only publishing logistics but also designing Clover Hill as a town and community.

Q: I love Yen-Chen’s name in Chinese, 延辰. How did you come up with this name, and how do you approach the character naming process in general?

A: I’m glad you loved his name! Naming is something I take very seriously, and I can write a whole essay on all the details. The first thing I often take into consideration is to have their name reflect their age or the period of the story if historical. I also think about the tones of each character. Since certain characters are more common as the first or second character in a two-character given name, I often look at the names of people I know for reference but avoid using the exact same combinations. After settling on a decision, I sometimes run it through a search engine in case I accidentally named them after some famous people I didn’t know of.

Yen-Chen is about my age, so his name is something I can see my school friends having. I had the pronunciation before selecting the characters that made sense to me as a name. The fact that 延辰 could mean “prolonging the morning” was not intentional, though I do love that it has the meaning.

When naming in Chinese characters and romanized names, it’s important to me to love both versions of their names phonetically and visually. This is very subjective. For a Taiwanese person around my age or older, I tend to use the Wade–Giles romanization system for their name in Mandarin. Occasionally, I name my fictional Taiwanese people in Taiwanese, too, and use Tâi-lô for their names.

Q: What are some of the goals and dreams you hope to achieve with your writing? (This can be anything from publishing X number of books to co-writing a novel with someone to getting your writing quoted on a queer lit bot account.)

A: I almost never talk about this publicly, but my short-term goal is to sell my spec fic works to SFF magazines. I’ve only started submitting short stories to SFF magazines and literary journals last year, so I’m still a baby in the submission world. My long-term goal is to continue writing—independent of whether or not I have a completely separate day job—and steadily publish short stories and novels alike.

I enjoy writing both spec fic and stories with no speculative elements. Previously, I’ve published a novelette “Islands Burnt by History” in Awakenings: A Cute Mutants Anthology (ed. SJ Whitby) that is a superhero story about a group of queer graduate students in Taiwan saving their advisor and others from a government-sponsored superhuman experiment. Now, there is A Milky Way Home, a small-town, contemporary, low-heat asexual romance featuring a transmasc Taiwanese main character. I hope that each of my stories reaches the audience that needs it the most.


Book Links

Add A Milky Way Home on Goodreads.

Purchase A Milky Way Home:


About the Author

Hsinju Chen grew up in New Taipei City and currently resides in Illinois, where they are pursuing a PhD in electrical and computer engineering. She writes prose with fragments of Taiwanese experiences and loves languages in all shapes and forms. When they are not dreaming up stories or reading queer literature, they are busy studying the workings of the universe.

Author Links:


Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!

Author Interview: Cindy Lin

Welcome to the seventh interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.


About the Books

  • Title: Creatures of the In Between
  • Author: Cindy Lin
  • Cover Artist: Daniel Chang
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • Release Date: April 11th, 2023
  • Genre/Format: Middle Grade Fantasy

Synopsis:

Princess Mononoke meets How to Train Your Dragon in this magical middle grade adventure from Cindy Lin, author of The Twelve, featuring a blend of East and Southeast Asian folklore and mythical creatures, and starring a boy with a hero’s destiny.

Prince Jin is running out of time.

He must find a monster companion before his thirteenth birthday or lose the throne completely.

And that means traveling to the only place where monsters still live: the legendary, dangerous Whisper Island.

But untold perils await Jin there. The magical creatures he seeks are not so easily swayed, and an even greater threat looms on the horizon—one that could threaten everything Jin hopes to achieve.


Interview with Cindy Lin

Q: Last time I interviewed you, you hadn’t quite released your second book yet, and now you have three novels published. How does it feel to be here? Has anything about your approach to writing changed?

It feels a bit surreal, to be honest, especially since the second one came out in the first year of the pandemic when we were all hunkered down. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I have three books published, especially when imposter syndrome kicks in, or if I start worrying about whether I can pull off another book. It does help to tell myself that I’ve been in this space of uncertainty before, and eventually came out with something deemed publishable. With the third book, I kept telling myself to focus on just getting something down, and work on making each iteration better than the one before — aiming not for perfect, but better than what was on the page before. It sounds simple but it’s amazing how much we can get in our own way sometimes!

Q: Creatures of the In Between takes place in the same universe as The Twelve but in a different region. Did you feel like you had to reinvent the wheel with the worldbuilding, or did having that baseline from The Twelve make it easier to extrapolate?

In some ways having the baseline from The Twelve was helpful — I knew right away I wouldn’t be having smartphones and airplanes in this book, for instance. I could rule out certain things quickly in creating this new world. But in other ways it did feel like having to start from scratch, especially since I had been working in the world of The Twelve for so long, refining and revising over years. I had to create a whole new world much more quickly this time, and sometimes I wasn’t sure I could do it! I asked myself a lot of questions about this new land, sometimes prompted by something that I had taken pains to develop in the first series. Like, if people order their lives around the animal zodiac in these ways, then how would a society that revered monsters order theirs? I also thought about how it would relate to the world of my first two books, but after a while that actually got in the way. I had to put the world of Midaga fully aside and focus on fleshing out the empire of the Three Realms.

Q: The creatures in this story come from East and Southeast Asian cultures and many are common across multiple cultures and have different names across different languages (e.g. qilin vs. kirin). How did you go about picking which of these names to use? Was there any rhyme or reason to it?

There was definitely a guiding principle for me, although it might come off as arbitrary at first glance! Because I’m writing in English for an English-speaking audience, my criteria was based on how things sounded and whether they would be easy to pronounce. I worked under the assumption that most young readers will not know pinyin (Chinese romanization), for instance — it’s not intuitive for English speakers. So the Japanese kirin felt like it would be more straightforward to say than qilin (which is roughly pronounced “chee-leen” in Mandarin). The Korean pronunciation of “girin” was also a possibility but I figured you can find products in the real world using “kirin” (as in Kirin beer, for one), so I went with that. Similarly there is a Korean confectionery company called Haitai and I felt like it was easier to read/pronounce than “haetae,” or “xiezhi” which are other names for the same creature. I also thought piyao was easier to read aloud than “pixiu” (which are both Chinese names for the same creature). Basically if there were multiple names for a certain creature across different languages, I would try to go with one that wouldn’t stop a reader too much (I myself never formally learned pinyin and get tripped up by its use of “c,” “x” and “q” and must sometimes silently pause and correct myself). Occasionally I would go with an English interpretation, like “water ape” for the creature popularly known as “kappa,” an aquatic monster said to resemble a cross between a monkey and a turtle, or warrior crab instead of “heikegani,” because it was a creature minor to the story or it seemed to fit better upon reading. I use a similar approach when I name characters.

Q: I imagine you spent a lot of time researching creature mythology and folklore for this book. What was that research process like?

For me, research is the most fun part! I tend to buy and read books even tangentially related if I think it will help with world-building, and mark them with little post-it flags till they’re bristling like porcupines. I also keep a file on my computer where I save any interesting links, from seafaring and animal husbandry to festival traditions and weapons demonstrations on YouTube. My browser usually has a million tabs open as well. For Creatures of the In Between, I read a bunch of books on imperial courts in Asia, including the Japanese emperor’s court of the Heian era, when court diviners held sway, and accounts about Cixi, the last Chinese empress dowager. The number of mythical creatures and monsters in Asia is staggering. Japanese yokai alone are overwhelming in scope, including monsters that are disguised as umbrellas, lanterns and other common household items. I have so many books on Asian mythological creatures now, but two monster compendiums that I found especially helpful were The Yokai Encyclopedias of Toriyama Sekien and A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways through Mountains and Seas. But they didn’t necessarily narrow things down! I aimed to feature monsters that might be somewhat known or not too esoteric, and if they had counterparts across various cultures, so much the better. The challenge for me is distilling everything I find into something relevant to the story I’m writing, and to not get too sidetracked with going down Wikipedia rabbit holes.

Q: The members of the royal family in Creatures of the In Between are known for commanding a monster companion. If you could pick any creature for your companion, which would you pick and why?

I have to say I rather love the piyao — a winged lion that is a fierce and loyal fighter as well as a guardian and harbinger of treasure. I mean, a furry feline that will protect you, safeguard the great fortune it brings you, fly you around AND doesn’t need a litter box (since piyaos can’t poop)? It’s the perfect companion for me!

Q: What aspect of writing this book did you enjoy the most?

I really enjoyed building a new world, as hard as it was sometimes. It was like going on a great adventure into the unknown. It was also so fun to imagine a world where these mythical creatures we see on so many buildings, artwork and household items in Asia actually existed. I had a list of things I wanted to explore and incorporate into the story, such as going to a festival, visiting a fortune-teller’s tent, sailing on a ship and living in a palace. Checking things off my list was very satisfying.

Q: Did anything about writing this book surprise you?

I’m always surprised when a new character shows up that I hadn’t intended, or if events take a turn I hadn’t planned. This is rather specific, but I had a moment late in revisions where a silly joke struck me out of the blue. For some reason it cracked me up to no end — probably because I didn’t see it coming but it really fit the story. I was sitting at my desk in the wee hours of the night, laughing my head off. The fact that I could be so entertained by something I was writing was ridiculous and delightful. When unexpected moments like that happen, it feels like magic.


Book Links

Purchase Creatures of the In Between:


About the Author

A former journalist with degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, Cindy Lin has worked for Sony Pictures Entertainment and has written and produced many multimedia news features for children, one of which received a Peabody Award. She is the author of The Twelve, its sequel Treasures of the Twelve, and most recently, Creatures of the In Between.

Photo Credit: Joanna DeGeneres

Author Links:


Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!

Author Interview: Christina Matula

Welcome to the sixth interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.


About the Books

  • Title: The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei
  • Author: Christina Matula
  • Cover Artist: Yao Xiao
  • Publisher: Inkyard Press
  • Release Date: April 5th, 2022
  • Genre/Format: Middle Grade Contemporary

Synopsis:

Packed with humor and heart, this debut middle grade series follows a girl finding her place in a brand-new world of private school and frenemies when her family moves to Hong Kong.

Holly-Mei Jones couldn’t be more excited about moving to Hong Kong for her mother’s job. Her new school is right on the beach and her family’s apartment is beyond beautiful. Everything is going to be perfect . . . right?

Maybe not. It feels like everywhere she turns, there are new rules to follow and expectations to meet. On top of that, the most popular girl in her grade is quickly becoming a frenemy. And without the guidance of her loving Ah-ma, who stayed behind in Toronto, Holly-Mei just can’t seem to get it right.

It will take all of Holly-Mei’s determination and sparkle (and maybe even a tiny bit of stubbornness) to get through seventh grade and turn her life in Hong Kong into the ultimate adventure!

  • Title: The Not-So-Perfect Plan
  • Author: Christina Matula
  • Cover Artist: Yao Xiao
  • Publisher: Inkyard Press
  • Release Date: April 4th, 2023
  • Genre/Format: Middle Grade Contemporary

Synopsis:

Return to Hong Kong in the second book of this charming middle grade series starring Holly-Mei, a girl navigating her new city, new school, and new friendships.

It’s the start of a new year, and Holly-Mei Jones is determined to make the most of it. She has amazing friends, a great field hockey team, and Hong Kong at her doorstep. This semester is going to be perfect . . . right?

Maybe not. Despite their closeness last year, Holly-Mei’s friend group seems to be splintering. Desperate to bring everyone together, she ropes her friends into competing as a team in an inter-school tournament across the city.

But as Holly-Mei becomes obsessed with winning, her friends seem less interested in the tournament—and in her new attitude. Will she be able to pull off her perfect plan?


Interview with Christina Matula

Q: What is your favorite Taiwanese food? (Feel free to pick more than one.)

There are so many! I have a bit of a sweet tooth so I love bubble tea and shaved ice. But my very favourite things are mantou, youtiao, and sweet soy milk. They remind me of visits to my Ah-ma where we would go to the vendor down her street early in the morning to pick up breakfast.

Q: What drew you to writing children’s books? What was your journey to publication like?

After moving to Hong Kong, I took the opportunity to learn Mandarin, which was always a personal goal of mine. I learned more about the origins of festivals and associated folktales, including that of Chang’e and Hou Yi at the Mid-Autumn Festival. I tried to find an English-language picture book about this legend to read to my kids, but I couldn’t find one. So, I decided to write my own! I initially self-published The Shadow in the Moon after teaming up with artist Pearl Law in Hong Kong. I soon found an agent (the fabulous Carrie Pestritto) and the book was bought and traditionally published by Charlesbridge in 2018.

Q: Now that you have three books out (one picturebook and two novels), what would you say you have learned about the writing and publishing process for yourself?

The words flow only when I’m writing about something that I’ve experienced myself or touches my life in some way. I did try and write something with a lot of desk research, but I couldn’t make it come alive and sound authentic. I’m in awe of writers who have the imagination and ability to create other worlds. In terms of the publishing process, I’ve learned that even when I think I’ve handed in a perfect draft, my editor will come back with pages of comments, all which make my story stronger.

Q: Did you plan for The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei to be the first in the series from the beginning, or did it turn into one later after you had started drafting? How did you go about developing it into a multi-book work?

I originally wrote the first Holly-Mei as a stand-alone book. It was during the negotiation with the publisher that they offered to acquire it as a three-book series. I was thrilled! But also a bit nervous as now I had to think up two more books. I thought about how Holly-Mei’s arc would develop over the year, as all three books take place during Grade 7 in her first year after moving to Hong Kong. The first book, The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei, is about moving and settling into a new world away from what she knows. The second book, The Not-So-Perfect Plan, is about how she, now settled, deals with bumps in her new friendships and her own need to succeed. The third book will look even more inward and delve into her Taiwanese heritage and what it means to her to be mixed-race.

Q: A lot of novelists talk about “second book syndrome,” where they struggle with their second ever novel or the second book in a series because it has to live up to the previous one. Did you have second book syndrome when writing The Not-So-Perfect Plan? What was the most challenging aspect of writing it?

Actually, I found the second book the easiest to write. I had already built the Tai Tam Prep world so I could immerse myself in it right away. Holly-Mei’s flaws have parallels to mine and it was straightforward to imagine a plot where her competitive nature caused conflict in her new friendship group. It was the third book that I found most difficult. I really wanted to delve into her mixed-race heritage as well as the pressure that kids this age face about their own identity amongst their peers. They are both complex topics and it took a while to find the right balance with the voice of the story while remaining authentic and natural.

Q: You call your Holly-Mei series a “love letter” to Hong Kong, which was your home for 14 years. What are some things and places in Hong Kong that feel like home to you? Did you slip any of these into the books?

I slipped them all in! Before writing the books, I made a list of all the places that I loved to go, foods I loved to eat, and things I loved to do in Hong Kong, and I tried to include all of them over the three books. Holly-Mei lives in Repulse Bay which is not far from where I lived and it was at that beach that I learned to open water swim, and where Holly-Mei does too. She visits the Peak and eats at Din Tai Fung and City Hall for dim sum – two of my favourite restaurants, and hikes for the first time along the Dragon’s Back trail, the most beautiful trail in Hong Kong. And the field hockey pitch in Happy Valley was where I spent many happy weekends, so I had to include that too.

Q: The cast of characters in the Holly-Mei series include various people with really interesting names with a lot of flair, such as Snowy and Rainbow. Where did you get the inspiration and ideas for the different characters’ names?

Most of the names in the book are inspired by people that I know or have met in Hong Kong, including Snowy and Rainbow – these two names in particular were striking and memorable for me so I was excited to include them. Some of the characters were named after people who helped me with my initial research into the book, like Dev, Gemma, Millie, and Mollie (which I turned into Holly-Mei).

Q: Can you share a little about what’s next for Holly-Mei, or for your writing career?

I’m just finishing up the edits for Holly-Mei book 3, which will be called The Not-So-Simple Question and will come out in April 2024. In it, Holly-Mei travels to Taiwan for a school trip! I was so fortunate to be able to visit Taipei and Tainan a couple of months ago and I can’t wait for readers to explore Taiwan with Holly-Mei!


Book Links

Purchase The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei:

Purchase The Not-So-Perfect Plan:


About the Author

Christina Matula is from Ottawa, Canada and is of Taiwanese-Hungarian heritage. Being a child of immigrant parents, she has always been curious about other cultures and far-off places.

Moving to Hong Kong gave Christina the chance to explore her Chinese cultural roots (amazing food, fascinating festivals) and learn some Mandarin (constant uphill climb).  She loves eating dumplings, playing field hockey, and hiking.

She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Hong Kong. She is also a former Board Member of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, which advocates reading aloud with children and provides quality books to local underserved communities.

She now lives in Helsinki, Finland with her husband, two children, and puppy.

Photo Credit: Melanie Adamson

Author Links:


Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!

Author Interview: Victoria Ying

Welcome to the fifth interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.


About the Book

  • Title: Hungry Ghost
  • Author: Victoria Ying
  • Colorist: Lynette Wong
  • Publisher: First Second
  • Release Date: April 25th, 2023
  • Genre/Format: Young Adult Contemporary, Graphic Novel

Synopsis:

Valerie Chu is quiet, studious, and above all, thin. No one, not even her best friend, Jordan, knows that she has been bingeing and purging for years. But when tragedy strikes, Val finds herself reassessing her priorities, her choices, and her body. The path to happiness may lead her away from her hometown and her mother’s toxic projections—but first she will have to find the strength to seek help.

This beautiful and heart-wrenching young adult graphic novel takes a look at eating disorders, family dynamics, and ultimately, a journey to self-love.


Interview with Victoria Ying

Q: Last time I interviewed you, you had just published City of Secrets. Now that you have two more original graphic novels under your belt (City of Illusions and Hungry Ghost), would you say your approach to the creative process has changed? What lessons have you learned that inform your current process?

My first book was a huge learning experience for me. With the next two books, I felt like I had much more solid footing in terms of my artistic process. I knew better how long each step of the process takes and I knew what to expect from working with my editors. With Hungry Ghost, I also found a way to integrate more 3-D models into my process which saved me a ton of time!

For the writing process, I originally wrote City of Secrets as a prose novel and then adapted it into a graphic novel, so I changed the process by going straight to a script instead of prose to script. I think that this really helped me to solidify my storytelling because I could work faster and make changes more easily than I could when writing a prose draft.

Q: Some artists like to use strikingly different styles depending on the project while others maintain a more consistent style across their work. Where in this spectrum do you see yourself fitting into and why?

I try to adapt the art style for each piece to fit the audience. My two books City of Secrets and City of Illusion were both done in a scribbly ink style because I wanted it to feel hand-made, but also edgy. Hungry Ghost on the other hand, uses a tight line that gives a more sophisticated feel. I love experimenting with new styles so I hope that every book of mine feels different automatically because of the art.

Q: Sequential art has its own visual grammar and storytelling techniques that are often taken for granted as being “obvious” or “easy” to read even though they’re not things we’re innately able to decipher. What visual storytelling techniques do you find yourself drawn to as a reader of graphic works, to what extent do those overlap with the ones you like to use as a creator?

I’ve been reading comics since middle school so I feel like the visual language of comics is in the marrow of my bones now. A lot of my decisions in terms of paneling are instinctual, and that usually means that other people can also follow the work pretty easily. However I am very drawn to experimental paneling. I love shojo manga that has more of an indescribable feeling than that of more traditional panel to panel comics. I want to incorporate more of that kind of visual storytelling into my future work.

Q: If you could study under any artist, dead or alive, for an intensive training camp, who would you pick and why?

I would want to work with Rumiko Takhashi. She was my first inspiration for getting into comics and I admire the way that she can work in many different genres. She’s someone who draws in a simple way, but is actually a very clever panelist and manages to do some very sophisticated work with clear drawing and good fundamentals.

Q: Hungry Ghost makes use of a limited color palette. What motivated this decision, and how much of the creative control over the coloring process was yours versus the colorist, Lynette Wong’s?

I did the original sample pages with this color scheme. Lynette is an incredible colorist and was able to take very little direction for me and implement this color scheme throughout the book and even adapt it when the story called for it. I wanted a simple and limited color palette because I always feel like these books read more easily to me than full color. I love manga and what they can do with black and white has always been impressive and something I aim for in my own work.

Q: I really love the cover of Hungry Ghost and the story it evokes and encapsulates in one image. What was the process for creating the cover? Did you have any false starts or discarded drafts before you arrived at this, or did you have the vision for the cover as is from the beginning?

I have SO many boring sketches for the cover! I had no ideas and most of it was just Val staring out of a window looking vaguely sad. I was afraid to get too close to the subject matter fearing that it would scare people away from the book. I was eventually inspired when I googled “Hungry Ghost” and saw Ukiyo-e images of a giant skeleton eating people. The imagery struck me and I had the idea of a ribcage with flowers. The spilling effect and trying to hold it all in felt very right once I started sketching. The book is so much about what it feels like to have an invisible mental health condition and trying to hold it all together.

Q: What was the editing process like for Hungry Ghost? How much did it change from script to final form?

I did a few edits with my agent before we went on submission and then after we had chosen our publisher, I went through a major edit with the editorial team.  I gave them a draft of a script and we worked together on full script approval before I went to any art. This is my own particular process that I like because when I’m working on the art, I turn off my “writing” brain. I need to have the writing in a solid place before I can make the art because I can’t write and draw at the same time. Overall, the story is very similar to the one that was on submission, but the biggest changes were ones that helped solidify and clarify the relationships and conversations between characters.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of creating Hungry Ghost, and what has been the most rewarding aspect?

I never dreamed that I would write a book that was so personal. It’s not a memoir, but it does borrow heavily from things that happened to me in real life. It was challenging to find the right fictional framework to use for a story like this, but in the end, I found that process to be very rewarding. I was in a hard place when I started writing the book but with a fictional ending and resolution, I could find a way to understand what I was going through.


Book Links

Add Hungry Ghost on Goodreads.

Purchase Hungry Ghost:


About the Author

Victoria Ying is an author and artist living in Los Angeles. She started her career in the arts by falling in love with comic books, which eventually turned into a career working in animation and graphic novels. She loves Japanese curry, putting things in her shopping cart online and taking them out again, and hanging out with her dopey dog. Her film credits include Frozen, Moana, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, and Paperman. She is the illustrator of the DC Comics graphic novel Diana: Princess of the Amazons and the author and illustrator of her original graphic novels City of Secrets and Hungry Ghost.

Photo Credit: Patrick Laffoon

Author Links:


Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!

Author Interview: Eugenia Yoh and Vivienne Chang

Welcome to the fourth interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.


About the Book

  • Title: This Is Not My Home
  • Authors: Eugenia Yoh and Vivienne Chang
  • Publisher: Little, Brown
  • Release Date: January 24th, 2023
  • Genre/Format: Contemporary Picturebook

Synopsis:

When Lily’s mom announces their family must move back to Taiwan to take care of their elderly Ah Ma, Lily is devastated to leave behind her favorite foods, friends, and life for a place that is most definitely not her home. But Lily soon realizes through the help of her family and friends, what home means to them. 

And perhaps someday, maybe not today, but someday, it might become her home too.


Interview with Eugenia Yoh and Vivienne Chang

Q: What’s your favorite Taiwanese food? (Feel free to pick more than one.)

Vivienne: My favorite Taiwanese food(S) include 豆花, 青蛙下蛋, and 滷味.

Eugenia: Oh my goodness, I am such a fan of 牛肉麵, 麻辣火鍋, and 雪花冰. My family and I would visit Taiwan during the summers when it was really hot, but even that couldn’t stop us from eating as much 麻辣火鍋 as possible in an air-conditioned restaurant. The spicier the better.

Q: What drew you to the picturebook medium? How did you play to its strengths and work within its limitations?

Vivienne: Believe it or not, I hadn’t read a picture book for over 10 years before I wrote the book. However, inadvertently I realized I followed an abnormally large number of picture book illustrators on Instagram alongside my many other following niche interests such as whale sharks, foodies from Taiwan, and infographics. I just love the colorfulness, whimsical nature, and vibrancy of art from picture books. At the same time, I met Eugenia’s whose dream was to become a picture book author and illustrator so we definitely were able to play on her strengths there, aka the best artist I know.

Eugenia: I loved picture books from the very beginning, and knew it was the one thing I really wanted to do. Everything else I learned along the way, whether it was a year-long graphic design internship or animation residency, were small detours from the greater goal of writing and illustrating picture books. In my head, a picture book is the perfect marriage between pictures and words. There are so many things you can do with pictures that you can’t do with words, and so many things you can do with words that you can’t do with pictures. When they come together harmoniously, it is so magical.

Of course, one can argue that animation can accomplish the same thing as well. But there is something so intimate about picture books: the way the book is held by the reader and the way the audience gets to pick the pace at which they are interacting with the piece. Everyone reads a picture book differently, so it is interesting to hear how other people interpret the story. I think once the medium is released in the world, the narrative becomes somebody else’s experience, and the original creators have to give up control on how the reader sees the story.

I can’t put into words the beauty of reading a well-written and heartfelt picture book. As we get older, adult novels start to reflect the grit of reality, and we become jaded to the troubles of the world. Picture books are a reflection of a time when we believed in hope.

Q: Are there any picturebooks or picturebook artists that strongly influenced the creation of This Is Not My Home or inspired you? If so, what aspects of their craft do you love?

Vivienne: For me, really any Asian American book was inspiring in the creation of This Is Not My Home. It’s not necessarily the content or art style of the books that influenced our work but rather the idea that Asian/Asian American voices are being presented in literature and that we can continue this movement as well. I remember reading books like The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin and Name Jar by Yangsook Choi and thinking “wow, that’s me”. These books really were the catalyst for not only my love of storytelling but my love for reading.

Eugenia: To tell you the truth, I hated reading as a kid. I was a slow reader, and my parents, with their broken English, relied heavily on recorded tapes to do our bedtime stories for us. My brother and I would sit on a long white couch, preparing our fingers to turn the page when we heard a tiny little ding from the CD player audio recording. I think that is why I was always a picture book kid. Even for someone who struggled with reading, as long as I could follow the pictures, I could understand the story.

I am most drawn to books with beautiful pictures. I admire different books for their different strengths: I’ve always been a fan of books by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (I Want My Hat Back, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole). Their books are a masterclass in pacing– their ability to capture dramatic reactions with perfectly calculated page turns is so impressive. In addition, I’ve been a longtime fan of Isabelle Arsenault’s work– the first book I have from her is Jane, the Fox, and Me, which tells a story in a panel structure like no other. And growing up, my favorite books were Kevin Henkes’ mouse stories (Wemberly Worried, Chrysanthemum), as they always manage to capture the perspective of a child in the most genuine, perfect way possible.

Q: Typically in publishing, unless the author is also the illustrator, the words of a picture book come first and are then illustrated after acquisition by a publisher, with no direct communication between the author and the illustrator. Since the two of you worked on it simultaneously prior to submitting for querying, I’m curious about your collaboration and the division of labor. Who contributed what, and how did you resolve any differences of opinion?

Vivienne: We really are an author-illustrator duo, and the lines are quite blurred. I like to joke that I can’t draw or write so I’m not sure why I’m here but I would like to say that I’m more of the business person in our friendship —developing and honing in the messaging of our book, providing art direction advice, and really any business-y tasks that need to be done. Eugenia, on the other hand, is definitely the artist of the two as she illustrated and colored the entire book as well as shaping the words and messaging. It really was a collaborative process, we developed the words at the same time as the images. It’s hard for us to see a separation between the two as both the images and the words help tell the story.

Eugenia: I think Vivienne nailed this answer perfectly. It is hard to tell who did what, in terms of writing the story. While I was the one who put brush to paper, Vivienne is a visual thinker with a strong picture book intuition. Sometimes she would look at a sketch I did, and admit that something doesn’t look quite right. It’s incredibly helpful to have someone who understands the story just as well, (if not better) to give feedback on how it should be told. Our strengths compliment each other very well: I have the illustration experience and expertise, while Vivienne is incredible at sending emails, scheduling events, and keeping our correspondences organized. I personally dislike networking and sending follow-up emails, and Vivienne’s drawings look like stick figures with hair. We both know what we are separately good at, and there is so much to learn from on the other side.

We’ve definitely stumbled upon a lot of problems that I never thought we would encounter during the course of our friendship. Our friendship is a lot different from when it first started. More often than not, we have disagreeing opinions, sometimes on the story, sometimes on the way we do things, like how we talk during an event, and our goal for publishing books. Sometimes we would be sobbing on the phone, a little frustrated with each other. But through these tears, we learn something fundamental about ourselves, our friendship, and what we are willing to sacrifice for the other person.

What I appreciate about Vivienne most is that we have the same goal, but we tend to look at the issue in two different perspectives. Vivienne puts things in a realistic perspective, bringing up sales, timelines, and the logistics of the business. My more naive view focuses on the heart, the quality of the story, and the personal impact on individuals reading the book. Even though our measures for success look different, at the end of the day, we both want to tell good stories, connect the community, and do really cool things together.

Q: There are a lot of neat details and design elements in This Is Not My Home found under the jacket, on the endpapers, and on the copyright page and title page. Were these aspects that you had planned from the beginning, or did you come up with them after the book was acquired?

Vivienne: Aww thank you! We’re so glad you noticed them. I know that Eugenia is super proud of these little details in our book, but for me I had no idea that the reveal (the image under the book jacket) and other book elements were even a thing! I guess as a casual reader you’re just like “oh a book!” but you don’t really pay much attention to the small details. So yeah, these details were definitely thought of later although we really wanted to be intentional and sprinkle some of our book’s messaging in these images. For example, our first endpaper is an image of daytime in America, but our last endpaper is an image of night time in Taiwan. This is to represent Lily’s home changing from one (America) to the other (Taiwan).

Eugenia: That is a fantastic question! I am a bit of a book geek, so when it comes to little special features, I take them very seriously. I would say these ideas came to us after the story was fleshed out. We only started considering these features at a developed stage, the editor would prompt us to consider the endpapers and covers. Along with the endpapers, I am very proud of the way the covers interact with one another. In the front, we have Lily’s face, her wide frown showing the title “This Is Not My Home.” At the back of the book, we have Lily’s head from a backside view, with all these thoughts trailing behind her “These are not my fireflies, this is not my backyard barbeque, this is not Jill.” This is because the only words coming out of Lily’s mouth throughout the book is “This is Not My Home.” The other words are all just thoughts on the back of her head.

Q: What kinds of changes did you make during the editing process?

Vivienne: The most memorable change during our editing process is the wordless runs of pages at the back of the book showing our main character Lily slowly but surely beginning to adopt Taiwan as her home. It was interesting because originally Eugenia and I were going to make Lily grow up and become an old woman—she has kids and her kids have kids—before she adopts Taiwan as her home. We thought however that would be a bit too dramatic, and maybe seeing our 6-year-old main character become a 60-year-old in 3 pages may be a bit too shocking, haha!

Eugenia: Another edit we made was deleting a golden retriever-looking named Taxi the dog. We wanted to have a dog initially because it would be a cute little seek-and-find for kids—something for the reader to look for in each of the pages. Lily jumped over the dog as she chased her mom in their American home, the dog sat with her in the fragile box, and slept under the table while the family was having dinner. But then the editor brought up the complication of dogs traveling internationally. In Taiwan, if you want to transport a pet across the border, the pet has to go through their personal quarantine for two weeks in case they bring a disease abroad. This quarantine law made it really difficult to follow the timeline of events. We were bummed about this, especially Eugenia, who had to go back and erase the dog from the final illustrations.

Q: What was the biggest challenge of the publishing process (from inception of the idea for the book to publication), and how did you overcome that challenge?

Vivienne: If you ask Eugenia this question, we will have different answers, but for me, the hardest part of publishing was actually not writing the book but getting the word out about our book. We’re lucky enough to have media like this one who are championing our story and help spreading the news, but in an environment where people’s attention spans are only 7 seconds long, how do we engage people and get them excited about our book? I have a high school friend who often says she doesn’t read. I would say “fair enough” because I would assume that book to be 200+ pages. Well today, I’m not even sure she wants to read 200 words, which is around the length of our book! I guess it’s just the way the world works these days.

Eugenia: I think Vivienne has a really good point– trying to get the word out is really difficult! Especially since there are so many incredible books being published every year (I’m not sure what the exact number is, but I think it’s 3,000 books a month globally?). How do we stand out from everyone else? Just when we thought we were done (Wrote the story! Got an agent! Sold the book to a publishing house), little did we know that we were just getting started.

I think marketing the book feels like the hardest thing because it is the step we are on right now. When we were writing the book, it was agonizing sometimes, trying to solve how to tell the story. Some things just didn’t click naturally, and some pages had to be redrawn so many times before it felt just right. And if you want to go even before that, getting an agent was difficult too! Vivienne made an entire excel sheet of people to contact, what they were looking for, and how to best way to word our query letters. For a long while, we didn’t hear back from anyone. We were both impatient children, running around our little rooms thinking WHY WON’T ANYONE CHECK THEIR EMAILS? DOES NOBODY LOVE US?

But because we are trying to market the book right now, it seems like the most difficult part at the moment.

Q: What kinds of stories are you hoping to work on next?

Vivienne: Honestly I want to tell a dumb dumb story. Something like Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi where it’s hilarious but has a lot of truth to it. Or maybe something like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett where it just stretches out the reader’s imagination. But we’re actually working on another book right now that is coming out in Summer 2025 that will be another universal concept story that hopefully will touch hearts everywhere. Our mission as an author-illustrator duo is to write books and do projects that will help develop the next generation of emotionally intelligent and good humans, and hopefully we will continue to do just that!

Eugenia: I like Vivienne’s point of making a dumb story. I have a very similar vision, but along with dumb stories, I aim to make grown people cry. I think that was the goal of so many of my projects since the beginning: how can I make people cry? I feel like it is so powerful to be able to make a perfect stranger swell up with emotions from something that you made. Also I guess I am just a big bully.


Book Links

Add This is Not My Home on Goodreads.

Purchase This Is Not My Home:


About the Authors

Vivienne Chang and Eugenia Yoh are two unlikely friends who met at Washington University in St. Louis. Bonded by their love for children’s books and boredom during the early Covid days, they embarked on a collaborative picture book writing journey. Their debut, This is Not My Home, (Little Brown, Hachette January 24, 2023), follows a young girl named Lily moving from America to Taiwan. The story uses emotion and humor to explore how an unfamiliar place becomes a home. In the past, Vivienne has written for taiwaneseamerican.org and helped spearhead the 100 passionate people project, interviewing personal stories from the Taiwanese American community. In school, Eugenia was the art director for a variety of college extracurriculars, including but not limited to Taiwanese Students Organization, China Care Club, and Lunar New Year Festival. In 2021, they were runner-up in the Clairvoyant Children’s international picture book writing competition hosted by Die Siostry, a Polish publishing company.

Vivienne is a student at Washington University studying Economics and Dance. Eugenia has since graduated from the Communication Design program and is currently a junior designer at Chronicle Books in Northern California.

Author Links:


Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!

Author Interview: Lisa Lin

Welcome to the third interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.


About the Book

  • Title: The Rachel Experiment (From Sunset Park, With Love #2)
  • Author: Lisa Lin
  • Cover Artist: Ashley Santoro
  • Publisher: Tule Publishing
  • Release Date: May 16th, 2023
  • Genre/Format: Adult Romance

Synopsis:

Who knew that one night out would change everything?

As a financial analyst, Rachel Bai is more comfortable with numbers than people. When her boss promotes her to head a team in San Francisco, his message is clear—she has one year to build a successful team and become an effective leader. Rachel sets out to discover how to be more comfortable interacting with people, but a drunken night meant for research results in a mechanical bull ride and a one-night stand with a sexy stranger—definitely not part of her plan.

Attorney Luke Trudeau is intrigued by the mysterious woman who’s determined to put their night together firmly in her rearview mirror. So when Luke sees Rachel again, he proposes a deal: he’ll smooth out her rough social edges and teach her to charm clients if she’ll help him devise a financial plan to open his own practice.

It seems like a win-win, but Luke breaks the rules by falling in love. Can he convince Rachel that what they have is real and, when it comes to love, there are no set rules?


Interview with Lisa Lin

Q: What is your favorite Taiwanese food? (You may pick more than one.)

A: I miss the fresh tropical fruits! I love eating my weight in lychees and mangoes in the summer. But honestly it’s impossible for me to pick my favorite Taiwanese food. If I had to pick a top five it would be shu mai, tem pu ra (note from Shenwei: a.k.a. tian bu la, or Taiwanese fried fishcakes; not to be confused with Japanese tempura), Taiwanese sausages, savory rice balls (fan tuan), and fresh bamboo shoots.

Q: Based on your bio, it looks like you had a robust career in the legal field prior to becoming an author. At what point did you get the “aha” moment that you wanted to write romance for publication, and how did it happen?

A: I’ve loved reading and books since I could remember. And been a rabid romance reader ever since I was thirteen. But if there was an “Aha” moment it would be when I met Tessa Dare at the RWA Literacy Signing in 2011 in NYC. I made a beeline to her table and managed to not make a total idiot of myself. I ran into Tessa again as the signing was winding down and she was incredibly kind and supportive. She asked if I was attending the conference and if I was around the rest of the week. I told her no but that I’d always wanted to try writing and have story ideas in my head, and Tessa encouraged me to go for it. I went home and started drafting my first romance! So I have Tessa Dare to thank for all of this.

Q: A lot of authors talk about second book syndrome, where they struggle with having their second book (overall or in a series) live up to the first. Did you experience this at all while writing The Rachel Experiment? What were some challenges you faced with creating this novel, if any?

A: Authors fear and dread the Sophomore Slump for good reason. Their debut book is one they have spent months years drafting, editing, querying and polishing to perfection.  The second book is the first one they’re writing under contract and serious deadline, and it can be a challenging transition. In my case, I was lucky enough to avoid that to some extent. I started writing Rachel’s book while Cecily was out on submission so in a way, I didn’t have the pressure of a compressed deadline breathing down my neck. In addition, my publisher gave me a pretty decent lead time so I felt like I could take my time and hand in a good book, one that I could be proud of. Whether it’s better, worse, or as good as Cecily? That’s for readers to decide!

The biggest challenge I had writing The Rachel Experiment was that I had to chuck my first draft, the one I handed in to my editor, and basically start from scratch. Essentially, she told me I had gotten off track and we needed to pause, reflect, and correct course. Cue me spending a frantic two months drafting a new version while cannibalizing as much as I could from the original draft. It wasn’t fun, but my editor was right. The new version was a better, stronger book and I liked it a whole lot more.

Another challenge I faced was as a relatively newbie author—I was and am still on a learning curve. While I was drafting Rachel’s book, I was juggling copyedits and proofreads for The Year of Cecily, and copyedits and proofreads for Rachel while drafting book 3 and promo for Cecily’s release. Handling multiple books in various stages of the production process has been an education, to say the least.

Q: The Rachel Experiment alternates between Rachel’s and Luke’s respective points of view. How did you balance the two in terms of deciding whose POV to use in which scene across the book, and did you have to rewrite any parts from the other person’s POV?

A: To the best of my memory, I didn’t have to rework any scenes to switch POVs. My books tend to be heroine focused so there was probably more in Rachel’s POV than Luke’s. As for how to balance, sometimes it came down to what the scene was about, what I wanted it to accomplish and that helped dictate which POV to use and sometimes it was as simple as “We’ve been in Rachel’s POV for a while, probably time to switch it up.” For example, the scene where Rachel got the flu, it started with her POV because I wanted her reaction to having him come over to take care of her, and then I switched to Luke’s POV so the reader can see what he was thinking as that was happening.

Q: I know some authors keep entire documents dedicated to notes about their characters, and some make playlists for their characters, and so on. How do you approach the character brainstorming and development process? Are there any “fun facts” about your characters that you came up with that didn’t actually show up in the book? If so, please share.

A: I am very much a “Pantser” and figure out my characters as I go. That is how I learned that Rachel was a killer poker player and a true crime/murder podcast fan. Both Rachel and Luke appeared in The Year of Cecily, so I already had a sense of who they were and I just went with it in The Rachel Experiment. Rachel was honest, blunt, direct, and a bit awkward with people while Luke is a charming people person with a Texas drawl. It’s an opposites attract book so that also helped me with character development. The differences between Luke and Rachel are where the sparks began to fly and the chemistry, and I had so much fun playing with that dynamic.

Fun facts about Luke and Rachel that didn’t make it into the book?

Luke is a big fan of Sinatra, Dean Martin, the Rat Pack.

Rachel celebrates the Ghost Festival!

Q: There’s a bit of writing advice that goes “write what you know,” which feels a bit silly to me because there’s no way to write without drawing on your own knowledge and experiences, and also sometimes the story you want to tell takes you outside of what you know, so it’s more like “write what you know and research what you don’t.” Was there anything you had to research for this book? (Research in this case doesn’t have to be reading a book in a library or searching the Internet, it can also be asking family or visiting a coffee shop to use the décor as reference, etc.)

A: Write what you know is certainly true in my case. Why do you think I have lawyers as protagonists in my first two books? For The Rachel Experiment, I had to reach out to friends and do some research to get a handle on Rachel’s job and learn what exactly a financial analyst does. I also had a lawyer friend read Rachel to make sure the legal stuff was reasonably accurate and aspects of big law/firm culture. I am not a poker player, but I learned from watching a show that was on Bravo ages ago, Celebrity Poker Showdown and borrowed from it heavily. That’s the only reason why I know a flush beats a straight and why the characters played Texas Hold ‘Em—that was the form of poker the show used.

Q: For me as a writer, I found that the earliest protagonists I wrote were much more similar to me in terms of interests and personality, and then as I kept going I started branching out since I can’t write protagonists that are super similar to me forever since that would get a little repetitive. Do you feel like each book you write is taking you further out of your comfort zone? What do you see as growth for yourself as a writer, and what career goals do you have?

A: Every author’s goal is definitely to grow and improve with each book. With The Rachel Experiment, my editor had me dive deeper into the characters and who they were. I was afraid to lean in, but thanks to her, I took the plunge and I thank her for it because I definitely think my writing improved in this book. Or at least I hope it did! One thing that is obvious when you read my book is that I am a dialogue heavy writer. Writing growth for me is to focus on aspects of craft that don’t come as easily to me—grounding the characters more in the reader’s mind with descriptions: for example, making sure I describe the surroundings, etc. as much as I focus on the dialogue and banter. If I had my way, my characters would do nothing but talk, but that’s not the way things work. One thing my editor always reminds me is to make my characters’ goals and motivations clear so their actions match and make sense to the reader. I know what they are, so it makes sense to me, but it may not to the reader.

In terms of career goals, it’s important to keep in mind that publishing is a marathon, not a sprint so you always have to take the long view. One of the keys to longevity is building a backlist and those things take time. My goal is to build that backlist and grow my readership with each book. All of that takes time—like I said, marathon, not sprint! Eventually I would love to be able to write full time as a sustainable career.

Q: The third book in the From Sunset Park, With Love series, Bethany Meets Her Match, is coming out in October this year. Can you tease us a little about the story beyond what’s in the official synopsis? How is it connected to either of the previous two books?

A: The Bethany in Bethany Meets Her Match is the one and only Bethany Lee, the sister of Jeffrey Lee, the hero of The Year of Cecily. I loved Bethany the minute she appeared on the stage and knew at some point I’d have to write a book for her. It’s connected to Cecily in that she appeared in Cecily and Cecily and Jeffrey make cameos in Bethany. As for a teaser—there are dumpling contests, Bethany’s best friend is her next-door neighbor who has an adorable little guy who falls in love with Ethan, and a birthday party for Bethany’s Amah’s 75th birthday.


Book Links

Purchase The Rachel Experiment:


About the Author

Lisa has been an avid romance reader and fan since she read her first Nora Roberts novel at the age of 13 after wandering the aisles of her local bookstore. Lisa loves that romance has the power to inspire, and believes that HEAs are for everyone. 

Lisa writes light contemporary romantic comedies with a liberal dash of snark and banter. She enjoys delving into the complexity of Asian and immigrant family experiences, and celebrates female friendships in her trademark dry, witty style. As an Asian-American author writing own voices Asian American stories, Lisa hopes that her books will show the diversity of the Asian-American experience, and the importance of every reader being able to see themselves represented on the page. 

Having grown up in Pennsylvania and helping out at her parents’ restaurant, Lisa has never bothered to learn to cook. She has two liberal arts undergraduate degrees and a J.D, and in her former life she was an intern, then Legislative Assistant for a PA State Representative. She also worked as a paralegal at a boutique law firm. Lisa is a politics junkie (don’t get her started on the wonder that is The West Wing!), indulges in naps whenever possible, and believes Netflixing in her pajamas and ordering take out qualifies as the perfect weekend. As a self-described Twitter addict, you can tweet her @laforesta1!

Author Links:


Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!

Author Interview: Nicole Chen

Welcome to the second interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.


About the Books

  • Title: How We Say I Love You
  • Author: Nicole Chen
  • Illustrator: Lenny Wen
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (an Imprint of Random House Children’s Books)
  • Release Date: December 2022
  • Genre/Format: Picturebook

Synopsis:

In this heartwarming picture book, a Taiwanese American girl shares how her family expresses their love for one another through actions rather than words.

How do you tell your family that you love them? For Hana, love is all around her: Mom stirs love into a steaming pot of xifan. Dad cheers with love at her soccer game. Hana says good night with love by rubbing her grandma’s feet and pouring her grandpa his sleepy tea. And as the light fades, Hana’s parents tuck her into bed and give her a good night kiss. 

So many families express their love in all they do for one another, every day. Here is a book that wraps you in a hug and invites your family to share their own special ways of showing love.

  • Title: It’s Boba Time for Pearl Li!
  • Author: Nicole Chen
  • Cover Artist: Kat Tsai
  • Publisher: Quill Tree Books (an Imprint of HarperCollins)
  • Release Date: February 28th, 2023
  • Genre/Format: Middle Grade Contemporary

Synopsis

This middle grade contemporary follows a big-hearted Taiwanese American girl as she aims to gain her family’s acceptance and save her favorite boba tea shop by selling her handcrafted amigurumi dolls.

Pearl Li is ready to spend the summer before seventh grade hanging out with her two best friends, crocheting the cutest amigurumi dolls, and visiting her favorite tea shop, Boba Time. Its quirky owner, Auntie Cha, is the only adult Pearl can confide in about her art—if only her tech-obsessed family would understand her love of crafts!

After Pearl learns of Boba Time’s financial troubles, she decides to sell her amigurumi to raise money for the shop. But as she navigates the ups and downs of running a business, Pearl realizes that monetizing her passion is more complicated than she could’ve ever imagined. Can Pearl save Boba Time before it’s too late?


Interview with Nicole Chen

Q: What is your favorite Taiwanese food? (You can choose more than one.)

A: Boba, of course! It’s so easily accessible, fun to eat, an indulgence I can partake in without too much guilt, and holds so many memories for me, as someone who got to see it come to the US many years ago and then flourish as it does now.

My second favorite, however, is fan tuan, the delicious Taiwanese sticky rice rolls filled with crispy youtiao, sour mustard greens, and salty rousung, or pork floss. They are such a comforting mix of chew, crunch, and warmness…just thinking about them makes my mouth water!

Q: Because the audience for picturebooks is young children, there is a tendency for people outside the world of children’s literature to underestimate it as a medium and the craft of creating it. What kinds of activities did you do to study the craft of creating a picturebook, and what resources do you recommend for writers who are interested in picturebooks?

A: To dive into the world of picture books, I did two things that really helped me – I took a lot of classes (in particular with the Storyteller Academy) and I read A LOT of picture books and studied each one meticulously. With the books that I loved, I typed up each one into a Google doc so I could see the text independently from the illustrations. That helped me feel what my goal as an author was, which was words on a page that would invite visual images, but also communicate what the pictures wouldn’t. I have hundreds of write-ups now, and I continue doing this as I write more.

Q: What was your favorite part of writing How We Say I Love You? What was the most challenging part?

A: Coming up with the various scenes of the day was a lot of fun, as each one is so filled with love and tenderness. The hardest part was the last spread of the book, where I wanted to succinctly capture the overall message of the book while also leaving the reader with a satisfying, ahh feeling. Those lines took me many iterations with my agent and my editor.

Q: It’s Boba Time for Pearl Li! Is your second book but your first novel to be published. You mention in your acknowledgements that when you first started writing for children, you were focused on picture books and never imagined that you would write novels. What challenges did you face when tackling the prose novel medium?

A: I actually found writing a novel quite freeing, as now you have 50,000 words you can use to express a lot of ideas, which is a lot compared  to a picture book, where you really have to hone in and focus on one clear idea that can only take 500 words.

So for me, it was fun to now have all this new playing ground! But then, what was challenging was the hard work of sitting down and having to write for hours at a time for days at a time. It was physically exhausting, as I’m in front of a computer for my day job, and then would put in another 2-3 hours in the evening for the book. But once I got through the first draft, the rest was much easier to manage.

Q: It’s Boba Time for Pearl Li! addresses some of the problems and pitfalls that happen when creatives try to monetize their work. This is relevant for you as a writer who writes for publication. How do you balance your personal artistic vision and goals with the demands of publishing as a business and industry?

A: I’m fortunate that I have a fulfilling day job that “pays the bills,” so I have the privilege to truly write the books I want to write, without the urgency or pressure to monetize them. But while I do have that luxury, I also really want my stories to reach a broad audience, because I want young readers, regardless of their cultural background, to be able to relate to my Taiwanese American characters and to experience the wonderful parts of Taiwanese culture. So I pay attention to the topics and themes that are being discussed in mainstream culture and in the publishing industry to inform my stories and make sure they are relevant and relatable to kids, parents, educators, and book sellers.

Q: It’s Boba Time for Pearl Li! has several different subplots and conflicts interwoven into the story as Pearl explores or rethinks her relationships with her art, her family (especially her mom), her best friends Priya and Cindy, Auntie Cha & Boba Time, and her classmate Kendall. How did you make sure they all received the attention they needed while maintaining the overall developmental arc of the story?

A: Before I put pen to paper and start drafting, I spend quite a bit of time fleshing out each character, writing down who they are, their personalities, their physical quirks, their challenges, and their role in helping the main character grow and transform. I think this due diligence helps imprint them into my brain so that when I start to write, it’s like they’re sitting on my shoulder, peeking at the words and reminding me to give them attention on the page. It’s almost like they feel so real that I owe it to them to truly shine in the story.

Q: What kinds of things inspire your creativity, and how do you refill the creative well when you feel stuck?

A: I read a lot, especially in the genres I want to write in! I also reflect a lot on my own life and events that have happened to me as a child and still sit with me today. For me, my stories almost serve as a wistful “do-over,” where I imagine myself as the main character but with the foresight and experience of an adult. What do I wish I could have done or said or experienced if I could go back to my twelve-year-old self and make myself a better person, or make the world a better place? Then I put those ideas into the characters and stories I create.

Q: A debut novel is a big deal, but it’s just the first step in a career. Now that you have this experience under your belt, where do you see yourself and your writing career going moving forward? What kinds of new creative challenges do you want to tackle?

A: I’ve truly fallen in love with writing for middle grade, so I hope to write and publish more in this format. I love how in MG, you can explore themes in a complex, nuanced manner, yet the tone (and ending) is ultimately optimistic and heartwarming because of the genre. But as I grow in confidence as a writer, I can feel myself wanting to tackle bigger, bolder themes, like social activism and micro/macro-aggressions against Asians, even the complexity of Taiwanese history and where we stand in global politics. So I think my future creative challenge will revolve around how to tackle those themes, while maintaining the optimism and joy I hope my stories spark in readers.


Book Links

Purchase How We Say I Love You:

Purchase It’s Boba Time for Pearl Li!:


About the Author

Nicole has been sketching, designing, and writing stories all her life. In her day job as a product researcher, she collects consumer stories, then shares them with the companies she works for so they can design and develop delightful and useful experiences.

Nicole lives in sunny California with her Andorran husband and young daughter. Her experience growing up Taiwanese American in the Bay Area, plus the blend of Catalan, Spanish, Taiwanese and American influences in her home, energize her to tell stories that reflect a diverse and multicultural American identity. 

Nicole’s debut picture book, HOW WE SAY I LOVE YOU, illustrated by Lenny Wen and published by Knopf BFYR, released December 13, 2022, and her debut middle grade novel, IT’S BOBA TIME FOR PEARL LI!, from Quill Tree/Harper Collins, released February 28, 2023. She was chosen as a 2022 mentee for Diverse Voices’ DVdebut program, and was honored with SCBWI’s Out from the Margins Award in October 2022.

Photo Credit: Sarah Deragon

Author Links:


Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!

Author Interview: Mia Tsai

Welcome to the first interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.


About the Book

  • Title: Bitter Medicine
  • Author: Mia Tsai
  • Cover Artist: Jialing Pan
  • Publisher: Tachyon Publications
  • Release Date: March 14th, 2023
  • Genre/format: Adult Fantasy, Romance

Synopsis

As a descendant of the Chinese god of medicine, ignored middle child Elle was destined to be a doctor. Instead, she is underemployed as a mediocre magical calligrapher at the fairy temp agency. Nevertheless, she challenges herself by covertly outfitting Luc, her client and crush, with high-powered glyphs.

Half-elf Luc, the agency’s top security expert, has his own secret: he’s responsible for a curse laid from an old assignment. To heal them, he’ll need to perform his job duties with unrelenting excellence and earn time off from his tyrannical boss.

When Elle saves Luc’s life, they begin a dangerous collaboration, but their chemistry blooms. Happiness, for once, is an option for them both. But Elle is loyal to her family, and Luc is bound by his true name. To win freedom from duty, they must make unexpected sacrifices.


Interview with Mia Tsai

Q: What’s your favorite Taiwanese food? (You can choose more than one.)

A: Bubble tea has to be my first answer, of course, but if that one doesn’t count, then… Taiwanese breakfast. All of it. I claim all of it, the full experience of it. I love getting up and going out to the corner stalls and picking up fresh doujiang with shaobing youtiao and danbing, xiao la, and fantuan and black sugar mantou and—

Q: Your book is described as xianxia-inspired. What aspects of xianxia appeal to you, and what aspects of the genre have made it into your book?

A: I love how just about anything is possible when it comes to xianxia magic, except it often comes in the form of a pill, a curse, an item, or something that’s done with qi. People can be so inventive with magic, and of course, basing a lot of magic on traditional Chinese medicine is specifically appealing to me, who has had a love of medicine since I was little. I also love how xianxia these days is faintly ridiculous—who comes up with the names for these curses, for example?—but we still engage with the work and wait for what feel like disparate storylines to come together.

I specifically love qi magic and how that could be combined with written Chinese to create effects, which gets us Elle’s ability to do anything she wishes as long as she uses a character as a focus. I hadn’t watched The Untamed prior to writing Bitter Medicine—actually, I don’t even think it was out yet when I did the first draft—but I imagine what Elle does is similar to Wei Wuxian’s tag magic. Being a descendant of Shennong, too, let me play around with some xianxia-inspired perks, like pulse diagnoses and traditional Chinese medicine being used to great effect for the fae, allowing Elle to have fire powers as a result of Shennong inventing moxibustion, and the classic wuxia ability to fly.

Q: Your main character, Elle is one of three siblings, with two brothers Tony and William, and I noticed that the three share a generational name where they all have Yì/ in their Chinese names. How did you go about coming up with their Chinese and English names? Do they have special meanings relating to the story?

A: I think creating Chinese names is one of the hardest things to do and has an added level of difficulty when you don’t have access to fortune tellers who will gently humor you when you say you’re writing a book and need names that aren’t going to accidentally sound lascivious, invoke bad luck, or reference something you never intended to reference. I actually consulted with a friend who has a much better knowledge of names and meanings of words than I do. When I say consulted, I mean money changed hands.

We thought very hard about the stories of each of the siblings and how they were all raised away from the world at large, and how both Elle and Tony spend a chunk of their lives trying to escape from what’s chasing them. We eliminated characters that would never work in names or would be too outlandish, then settled on Yi as a generational name for both its sound and meaning. For Tony, as the firstborn, he needed something grand, and so yi takes on a double meaning for him as someone who was so preternaturally gifted that he never had to struggle in addition to someone who clearly flees his destiny and, in so doing, becomes lost to most of his family.

I think Elle’s name actually came first—Yiya, or easy elegance as a quick translation (girls must have virtuous names, naturally). And then we expanded to Tony and Will, who as a third child became sort of an afterthought, and that’s why there was less care taken with his name. He had very few expectations heaped upon him.

As English names go, I went with super common English names that Chinese people take. I’ve used Emily and Jennifer before in a different work, so those were out. I’ve met at least half a dozen Tonys in my life; one of them, who is Chinese, is my student’s father, so that wasn’t awkward at all . . . and same with William. These characters are trying to be unremarkable, so they all need to have names that you can remember easily, but also forget easily. As for Elle’s surname, that’s a little in-joke—Mei or May is so often the default name for Chinese women in English literature that it has become, to me, a cliché. And that became Elle’s surname, which can also be taken to mean “beautiful.” Yet another cliché!

Q: Elle makes spells that can do various things such as grant their users agility, invisibility, or enhanced strength. If you could commission Elle for one handy spell, what would you choose and why?

A: Oh, that’s a tough one. I’d probably commission Elle for a spell that’s repeatable, which means it’ll cost me quite a bit more than her standard ones. But what to ask her for? If I ask her for “whatever,” a sui bian, does that mean it becomes a roulette spell? That’s too open-ended, probably. Okay, I’d ask her for a renewable spell that conjures my specific bubble tea order (Muzha Iron Goddess oolong, half sugar, no ice, bubbles).

Q: The choices we make as writers when writing fantasy, whether it’s in a secondary world or not, have political implications. Bitter Medicine is a contemporary fantasy that involves grafting magical elements onto a fictionalized version of the real world. What aspects of the worldbuilding did you find challenging or engaging in terms of teasing out the implications? In particular, I’m curious about your thoughts on borders and nationalism as they are implicated in your story, given that some of the characters have lived long enough to predate the modern nation-state formations that are often taken for granted.

A: I’m so thrilled you asked this question because it’s such a meaty one and I haven’t really been asked it yet! And as a Taiwanese person, nationalism is such a delicate issue. What does it mean to be Taiwanese when many don’t consider it sovereign, and how do Taiwanese people build a national identity across so many disparate groups of people? Do they truly need a national identity, or is it only necessary because of outside factors? As I ponder this, I think my position trickles down to how my characters view themselves.

Luc’s origin in particular presented multiple issues because he’s French, and the French at the time he was born were busy having revolutions but also colonizing the world. The region he’s from, Alsace, is also a region that’s had its borders shift frequently. I had to think carefully about when he was born and where he’d come from, because there are certain stories that are not mine to tell and I don’t want to take up those spaces.

Borders change quickly on the whims of rulers, but a community’s traditions change slowly. Luc, then, is strongly tied to his region, but not his nationality. Language is a cultural tool, for good or ill, and at the time of Luc’s birth, though Alsace was part of France and French was spoken, many people spoke Alsatian until French was forcibly imposed later on. He didn’t form his national identity until he was taken by someone who wasn’t French and had those cultural and linguistic norms imposed upon him. That’s sort of like how a border doesn’t exist until people start crossing it. Luc is very much someone who lives in a liminal space, who understands the mutability of borders and nationalities. The things he holds dear are regionally specific: the food, the land, the rhythm of life, the values.

Elle presents much more as a xianxia or wuxia heroine, whose original concept of the country is closer to the jianghu. There are benefits and drawbacks to living a sequestered life in the mountains, far away from rebellions and wars, though China has never lacked for conflict with itself. She, too, has a strong cultural identity, though the worldbuilding in her case got to be handwaved a little by setting her origin in a fae space.

Ultimately, I hoped that Bitter Medicine would stress the importance of cultural origin and identity, though nationality is a well-leaned-on shorthand.

Q: I know you work as an editor for other people’s manuscripts, but editing other people’s work is not the same as editing one’s own work. Do you struggle at all with editing your own work, and what strategies do you find helpful for taking a critical eye to one’s own work?

A: It really depends on the project. With Bitter Medicine, the edits were mostly painless. I say mostly because one time, my CP told me she felt I could insert one more chapter, and I was so sick and tired of working with the manuscript and ready to be done that I burst into tears. The current revision I’m in is much more difficult because the roadmap is blurry. With Bitter Medicine, the path was clear, like a trail worn in the tall grass. With the current work, I’m standing in the middle of a meadow and I have no idea what direction to go.

I do think it’s good not to be precious about your work. They’re just words; you can always rewrite them. Distancing yourself, too, is important, whether that’s time or emotional distance. And the strategies change from project to project, so I can’t even answer the question on editing tips! I’m not a reverse outliner or a scene mapper, though I think that kind of rigid structural analysis is useful for some. I do sometimes graph tension and conflict per chapter for clients, but that’s more to give them a visual of my gut instincts. Anything and everything can be a good editing strategy. I’m sorry, that’s not very helpful, is it?

Q: What part of the writing process (e.g. brainstorming, research, drafting, revising, reading notes from CPs/betas/editors, etc.) do you enjoy the most and why?

A: I love editing the most—I hate writing. I love having written. And I love sitting down to work at the line and chapter level. I love working with imagery and the cadence of the language, the implications certain words bring, the inferences I want the readers to make. The broader picture requires more writing, so I try to avoid that by having a good outline or idea of where I’m going before I sit down to draft seriously (I do unserious drafting as well, where I discover write and don’t judge myself).


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About the Author

Mia Tsai is a Taiwanese American author and editor of speculative fiction. Her debut novel is a xianxia-inspired adult contemporary fantasy titled Bitter Medicine, which is published by Tachyon Publications. She lives in Atlanta with her family, pets, and orchids. Her favorite things include music of all kinds and taking long trips with nothing but the open road and a saucy rhythm section.

Photo Credit: Rebekah Chavez Wynne, Wynne Photography

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