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!

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