Today I’m bringing you the amazing author interviews for #AsianWeek! These are some of my favorite authors and it was a pure joy to have hosted them! Hopefully it excites you about their books and convinces you to support them however you can. Remember to also check out Noura’s author interviews! And Krisha’s panelist interviews!
Please introduce yourselves and briefly explain what your books are about!
Mae Respicio: Hi everyone! My name is Mae Respicio and I write heartfelt middle grade fiction. My upcoming book, ANY DAY WITH YOU, is all about a 12-year-old Filipina American girl named Kaia who enters a movie in a film contest hoping that if she wins, she’ll stop her great-grandpa from moving back to his homeland permanently. It’s a bright and tender story around family, friendship, and navigating change.
Roselle Lim: I write adult books containing a foodie core combined with elements of magical realism/fabulism. After finishing one of my books, I want readers to come away hopeful and hungry for more. Both novels feature women early in their careers who are adrift. For Natalie, in “Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune”, she discovers her roots and future as a chef through relationships with her mother and grandmother. In “Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop”, Vanessa struggles to control her fortunetelling gift and shape her destiny in the world’s most romantic city—Paris.
Elizabeth Lim: Hi, I’m Elizabeth Lim, author of The Blood of Stars duology (Spin the Dawn and Unravel the Dusk), which is about a tailor who must sew three legendary dresses of the sun, moon, and stars to save her kingdom. It’s pitched as Mulan meets Project Runway. I’m also the author of two of Disney’s Twisted Tales: Reflection (Mulan) and So This is Love (Cinderella).
Traci Chee: My name is Traci Chee, and I’m the author of THE READER TRILOGY and WE ARE NOT FREE. The first is a YA fantasy set in a world where reading is literally power, and the second is a YA historical novel-in-stories centering fourteen Japanese-American teens whose lives are turned upside down when they’re sent to the US incarceration camps of World War II.
Kelly Yang: I’m Kelly Yang and I’m the author of PARACHUTES! PARACHUTES is about two girls who find themselves living under the same room – Claire, who’s from Shanghai, China, and Dani, a Filipina-American debate star and Claire’s host sister. Each is hiding a secret the other needs to know about the sexual misconduct at their school!
What inspired you to become a writer?
Mae Respicio: I come from a large Filipino American family where storytelling was always part of our gatherings, and I’m sure that’s where my love of stories come from. I grew up listening to tales of my family’s history, ghost stories set in the Philippines, and memories of their lives in “the old country.” I have two kids and it fills me with such joy that they’re a part of that now, too. Words have always been a part of my life—I’m one of those people who’s always wanted to be a writer.
Roselle Lim: Growing up in the Philippines, my amah (grandmother) read to me and told me stories all the time. When we immigrated to Canada, she stayed behind. I turned to books at the library to feed my cravings for stories. My love of books inspired me to write for my grade school friends. However, I had many teachers tell me that my writing wasn’t good—that, as an immigrant, I could never excel in a foreign language. Discouraged, I put away my aspirations.
During my last year at university, while majoring in humanities, I decided, on a whim, to fill a free spot in my calendar with a course in creative writing. I had tried to forget my need to tell my stories for far too long. Before I could join, however, I had to submit a portfolio of my writing. For five years, I had only written essays—I penned my last story a decade earlier.
I was nervous, but I had nothing to lose.
We received no feedback on the initial portfolio, but I was accepted. No one cared that English was my third language. Only the work mattered. I learned to give feedback, and how to take it. I learned my stories had value and could move people.
I could affect others like my amah had once affected me.
I write to recreate those moments with her.
Elizabeth Lim: I’ve always loved to write, ever since I was in elementary school, but I actually never thought I’d become a writer! When I was a kid, my dream was to become a composer, and I spent most of my life pursuing that goal. It wasn’t until a few years ago, while I was still in grad school and had completed writing a novel (for fun!) that I even considered getting it published.
Kelly Yang: Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved telling stories. It gives me a feeling of being in control, when the world around me seems like it’s swirling out of control.
Who’s your favorite Asian author?
Mae Respicio: That’s hard because there are so many Filipino American authors who inspire me, but most recently Elaine Castillo. Her debut novel, America Is Not The Heart, is a powerful story about three generations of women in one family as they navigate the American dream.
Roselle Lim: Helen Hoang! I absolutely adored “The Kiss Quotient” and “The Bride Test”. I know that the next book will be spectacular.
Elizabeth Lim: I don’t have a favorite author per se, but some East Asian authors whose works I’ve loved recently have included June Hur’s The Silence of Bones and Julie Abe’s Eva Evergreen
Kelly Yang: Jenny Han – love her!
What drink, for ex. coffee order, tea, etc, would go best with your book?
Mae Respicio: Halo-halo! Technically a dessert but it’s drink-like and pairs perfectly with ANY DAY WITH YOU. Halo-halo means “mix-mix” and has ingredients like evaporated milk, ube (Filipino purple yam), sweetened beans, coconut, fruit, and crushed ice. Mix it up and yum!
Roselle Lim: Both drinks are featured in the novels! For “Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop”, it’s a taro slush boba tea, while “Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune” is best enjoyed with a steaming cup of tikyuanyin tea.
Elizabeth Lim: Wintermelon tea would be delicious with Spin the Dawn
Kelly Yang: Chinese rosebud tea
What are your favorite books?
Mae Respicio: This links back to your earlier question… Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn—I was lucky to workshop once with Jessica and her rich, nuanced books have always influenced me. Letters to Montgomery Clift by Noel Alumit, American Son by Brian Ascalon Roley, and the middle grade novels Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz and Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly are books that have all stayed with me.
Roselle Lim: Madeline Miller’s “Circe” inspires me with beautiful prose you can walk around in. Plus, the subject matter is one close to my heart as I love Greek mythology.
Laura Esquivel’s “Like Water for Chocolate” is decadent in food, imagery, and drama. The atmosphere and characters she creates are tangible. You can see them before your eyes.
Elizabeth Lim: Ahh too many to list so I’ll name a couple from childhood that I always loved, and those would be Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery.
Traci Chee’s favorite historical fiction author: Stacey Lee. Hands down. I first became enamored with her work when I read UNDER A PAINTED SKY, set in 1849, about a Chinese-American girl fleeing west on the Oregon Trail after she thinks she’s killed a man. I grew up in California, which is steeped in the history of the Gold Rush and the movement west, but for the most part, the way I’ve learned that history has been through a white lens, centering white experiences. So to see a Chinese-American author exposing our part in this hugely formative time in American history was eye-opening, inspiring, and legitimizing, because it shows that we have been here a very long time, and our stories are not separate but inextricable from the American story.
Lee’s work only gets better and better from there. After reading UNDER A PAINTED SKY, I was convinced that Sammy, her runaway violinist of a main character, was going to remain my favorite Asian-American historical protagonist for a long time. I was so wrong! As soon as I read Lee’s sophomore novel, OUTRUN THE MOON, I fell in love with Mercy Wong, a Chinese-American girl who shrewdly navigates both the early 20th century racism of San Francisco and the turmoil of the 1906 earthquake. Now, however, my absolute favorite of her characters is Jo Kuan from THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL, who works as a lady’s maid by day but moonlights as “Miss Sweetie,” 1890 Atlanta’s new favorite agony aunt, whose cutting wit is hilarious and insightful and a total to read. Honestly, I am so excited to read Lee’s next historical, because I can’t wait to find out who my favorite will be next.
Kelly Yang: My favorite YA books include: I’ll Give You The Sun, The Hate U Give, Emergency Contact, Allegedly.
What made you want to write in your current genre?
Mae Respicio: The thing I love most about writing middle grade fiction is it can dig deep and explore so many different issues, but the key is that it leaves readers on a hopeful note. For my books, I want readers to experience some sense of joy or inspiration as they journey with my main characters.
Roselle Lim: I am drawn to magic in the ordinary. It stems from living with Chinese superstitions. I heard all the classics: jump up and down to get taller, don’t make an ugly face or a bad wind will freeze it in place, don’t sleep with your feet facing a window or bad spirits will pull you out by your toes and abduct you.
Despite a rich cultural history of magic, there aren’t many Asian authors writing magical realism as women’s fiction. Although often associated with Latin American literature, I feel it’s valuable to express the magic Asians experience within their families and lives. While it may be the road less travelled, I’ve never been afraid of taking the harder path to get where I need to go.
Elizabeth Lim: Young Adult wasn’t really an official genre when I was growing up, but I loved and identified most with coming of age stories about young people finding themselves, so when I started writing, it just felt natural to write for teens.
Traci Chee: Ever since I can remember, I’ve been much more enamored with fantasy than with real life. I grew up reading THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, HARRY POTTER, and HIS DARK MATERIALS. Everything I wrote had a touch of the magical to it, including and especially THE READER TRILOGY, which features, among other things, outlaws, assassins, treasure hunts, cage fighters, a very big war, and a mysterious book that may contain everything that has ever happened or ever will happen…
But for years, I knew I wanted to write a story about the Japanese American incarceration, because that history is my family’s history. In 1942, after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the US government evicted more than 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry from their homes on the west coast and imprisoned them behind barbed wire. My grandparents and their families were among them. They were incarcerated in the Central Utah Relocation Center, a one-mile square camp in the high desert, for three years, before they were finally allowed to return to their homes in San Francisco.
Since I am a speculative writer at heart, I thought for a while that I might write a historical fantasy about the incarceration. But the more I researched, the more I learned, the more I realized that the actual history—the real things that happened to these real people—is so much more magical than anything I could ever hope to conjure up. When they were evicted from San Francisco, my grandparents were forced to live in horse stables—one stinking stall per family—at Tanforan, a racetrack-turned-detention-center fifteen miles south of the city. Months later, they were shipped off to a more permanent camp in the American interior: a square mile of high desert enclosed by barbed wire and guard towers. It was there in these extreme conditions, with the world at war, that they met, and after my grandfather was drafted into the Army, they started writing letters to each other and ultimately fell in love. Talk about magic, right? That’s real magic.
Kelly Yang: I wanted to capture the excitement, intensity, drama, pain, and euphoria of growing up.
If your main character had a Twitter account, what would be a tweet of theirs that would go viral?
Mae Respicio: I don’t think any of my main characters would have Twitter accounts yet because they’re so young, but I would love for any tweet of mine to go viral. Haha. 🙂
Roselle Lim: Vanessa would be a sporadic tweeter, preferring to cross-link from her Instagram where she posts food and travel pics. The viral tweet would have to be a short video of Marc building a croquembouche without a shirt on.
Elizabeth Lim: Haha, this is tough! I think Maia is more of an artist than a wordsmith so her posts would most likely go “viral” on Instagram, but I could imagine her posting a pictures of walnuts filled with the sun, moon, and stars and have that gain a lot of attention.
Kelly Yang: Our voice is our armor. #MeToo #MyTeacherToo
Do you feel like your book is the kind you wanted to read when you were younger?
Mae Respicio: Oh, definitely. My main characters are smart, creative, #stronggirls—and I wish I’d had more of their confidence and self-assurance when I was twelve!
Roselle Lim: Yes! Foodie elements and magic would have been the perfect trap for me!
Elizabeth Lim: Definitely! I set out to write the book(s) I wanted to read but couldn’t find.
Kelly Yang: Absolutely! I wrote it for my younger self. If this book had been around when I was a teen, my life might have turned out differently!
What do you hope readers, especially from your community, take away from your book or your experiences as an author?
Mae Respicio: Writing about my culture allows me to share one lens of a Filipino American experience—and by no means is it the only lens! For people within my community I hope it inspires them to dig into books about their own culture or to try writing their own stories. We need all of your voices out there.
Roselle Lim: I want readers to find themselves in my books. Maybe it’s the Asian representation. Maybe they’ve experienced mental illness. Or, maybe, they see their own families and relationships in a new way.
If you’re an aspiring writer, but not a native English speaker, write anyway! Marginalized voices need to be heard. It adds to the richness of literature. It’s important to see ourselves mirrored in books. Diaspora Asian representation is still uncommon and so are #ownvoices authors.
As an author, support fellow marginalized writers. Boost if you can. Always send the elevator up. This industry is tough and helping out pay dividends to the community as a whole.
Elizabeth Lim: I can’t think of many Asian fantasies that were available to me when I was growing up, especially ones that incorporate the fairytales and folktales I loved so much as a kid. I hope my Asian readers will see a bit of themselves in Maia — in her beliefs and the stories she tells.
Traci Chee: I like to think about the audience for WE ARE NOT FREE in ever-expanding circles. Closest to me, it’s for my family. I’ve been so honored and grateful to be entrusted with their stories, and it’s my deepest hope that I can honor their experiences in return. But it’s also for my Japanese American community, because the incarceration touched so many of our lives in so many ways, and for the larger Asian American community as well, because what happened to us in WWII had such a huge effect on how Asian Americans are treated in this country. Finally, it’s for all of us. There is a long history of injustice in this country, and that history still isn’t over. I hope that this book reminds us of what we have endured and fought (and fought for), and I hope it reminds us that the fight isn’t over. History is alive. And now is the time to act.
Kelly Yang: I hope to shed light on rape culture and the roles played by many in our society that allow it to continue. It is my greatest wish that after reading PARACHUTES, teens will be better prepared to deal with the world—and to change it.
Do you have any advice for any aspiring authors out there?
Mae Respicio: Read widely in the genre you want to write in. I read a ton of middle grade fiction and it gets me in the voice and mindset of my characters and readers—that launches me in a good direction whenever I’m starting a new draft. The more you read in your genre, the more you can spot on the page what’s working, what doesn’t, and what resonates with you. Whenever I read a middle grade novel I love, I’m grateful to the author for bringing that story into the world and it motivates me to push forward with my own work, no matter how hard it is to face the blank page.
Roselle Lim: Rejection will happen. Find friends who understand and with whom you can vent when you’re frustrated.
Practice self-care: it’s the only way to cope and survive the ups and downs of publishing.
Have friends who are not in the industry to maintain perspective.
Elizabeth Lim: The best thing I did for my writing career was learn the value of persistence. I would urge aspiring authors not to cling to the idea that your work-in-progress is the book of your heart, and is the best book you’ll ever write. Your heart is big enough to hold many
books, so keep writing and improving your craft, and don’t be afraid to take some time away to reflect and rejuvenate.
Kelly Yang: Keep writing and don’t give up! The world is waiting to hear your voice!