Pen Friends ~ The Lovely Debut Author of American Panda is our guest today! Welcome, Gloria Chao! Her first book, American Panda will be out very very soon, and you can get the inside scoop!
SP: Hi Gloria! Thanks for joining us. First, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing?
GC: Thank you so much for having me! I’m so excited to be a part of your wonderful blog! I’m a young adult author based in Chicago, and I’ve been writing for the past five years. I write contemporary stories featuring Taiwanese-American teens struggling with identity, always with humor because life and books are so much more fun with some laughs.
SP: Your debut, American Panda, comes out TOMORROW!!! February 6th!! Aren’t you super excited? We are! So. Where did you get your storyline inspiration?
GC: American Panda first started out as a collection of funny anecdotes in the same vein as My Big Fat Greek Wedding (but for Asians), and the storyline came about when I switched careers from dentist to writer and my parents didn’t approve. Those struggles, as well as our previous history, worked its way into the novel.
Eventually, after a few years, we learned to communicate and come to a better understanding (and in large part because of this book), and the ending is actually based on the arc of our relationship.
American Panda grew into the novel I wish I had as a teen, and one I hope can help others feel less alone in a world where they don’t quite belong.
SP: Do you identify with Mei, your protagonist? If so, in which way?
GC: I identify with Mei so much. As I said before, this story is very much inspired by my life, and Mei’s voice is in many ways an exaggerated version of mine. A lot of the embarrassing situations, her struggle with germs, her love/hate relationship with her culture all comes from my experiences, and I worked hard to write her honestly with as much raw emotion as I could.
SP: Is American Panda the first book you have ever written? How long did it take you?
GC: I wrote another book that I put aside because American Panda kept nudging me. Since I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I decided to do NaNoWriMo in 2015 and wrote the first draft in a month. The book then went through extensive rewrites for different age categories before I finally found the right fit.
SP: How was finding an agent? Long battle or quick victory? What tip can you give us on querying?
GC: From the time I submitted my first American Panda query to my first offer of representation was a little over a year.
I queried a new adult version and a women’s fiction manuscript that racked up rejections at least partly because the book didn’t fit well in either of those categories. When I aged my character down to seventeen and wrote for YA, the revision and querying went quickly.
My advice to aspiring authors is to do your research. Get involved in the community, pay attention to which agents are retaining their clients, and which clients seem happy. I did extensive research by reading interviews, but it’s hard to know some of the important information without being more engaged in the community. I feel so lucky to have signed with an incredibly competent, hard-working, and kind agent who has exceeded all of my expectations. She brings my writing to another level, is always on my side, and after seeing more of the industry, I know I hit the jackpot. Querying can feel desperate at times and at the low points, any agent sounds great, but hold out—it’ll be worth the wait in the end.
Also, my tip for both querying and writing—follow your gut.
SP: What has your publishing journey been like? Can you tell us what it felt like to be on submission to editors?
GC: I was very lucky in that my submission process was short and painless. I’d been following Jennifer Ung’s career since I read her article about her struggle going into the publishing industry because of her traditional parents, and I knew from that moment she was my dream editor. I connected to so many things she’d said in the article, and when I mentioned her to my agent, Kathleen told me, “Jen’s at the top of my list.” I connected with Jen even better than I could have guessed, and I feel extremely lucky to be a part of her incredible list of authors. I admire her so much for championing the books she does, and like my agent, she brings so much out of my writing.
SP: Is there one book that launched you into YA? What are some books that have inspired you along the way/as a child?
I loved The Baby-Sitters Club as a child and carried them around with me everywhere, getting food and other gunk on them (I’m so different now—I keep my books immaculate). I went through a long stretch of time where I didn’t read because I was pushed toward math and science, but dental school was a poor fit for me and my main escape became young adult books. I started with the blockbusters—Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games (although this was before Hunger Games was as huge as it is now)—and was constantly searching for the next book that would make me hug it to my chest. I started in fantasy, loving Marie Lu, Maggie Stiefvater, Cinda Williams Chima and eventually discovered contemporary, which is my main love (though I still love a great fantasy every now and then).
SP: What does “writing community” mean to you? Where did you find your beta readers and Cps?
GC: I feel lucky to have a strong support system online and in person. My husband is my main reader and has read every version of my books, and he’s the one I run ideas by and talk through plot points. Since getting the book deal, I’ve also met wonderful writer friends through debut groups, by having the same agent or editor, and I’m honored to have these talented, funny authors as my friends! I rotate betas and CPs depending on time and what I’m looking for, but I still run chapters by my husband before I send to anyone else.
SP: Writer Preference: First person forever? Or mix it up?
GC: I love first person (both as a writer and a reader) because of how fast you sink into the story. However, I recently read and loved Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You and was completely blown away by how she used the third person to clue the reader in on so many secrets. I’m playing around with a few things, so there’s a chance I might be mixing it up in the future!
SP: Greatest writing tip you’ve heard up until now?
GC: Eyes on your own paper. It’s easy to get swept up in the pressures of sales and comparing with other people’s journey, but I try to remind myself every day that it’s a privilege to write, and that the most important thing is to enjoy the process.
SP: Do you miss being a dentist? Are your parents supportive of the switch now?
GC: I have very rarely missed being a dentist. I did enjoy doing fillings, and every now and then I miss it a tiny bit, but 99.9% of the time, I’m so thankful I switched careers. I do miss being able to help those with dental anxiety, to take them out of pain, and help kids develop a positive attitude toward dental care, but the rest of the job was such a poor fit for me that the negative greatly overshadowed the positive.
My parents are supportive now, but it was a long journey. I understood why they were resistant—they wanted to make sure I would be okay financially—and we finally learned to communicate on both ends. Over the past few years, they went from “why writing?” to “I have a funny story you can put in your next book,” and they’re planning on buying my book for all their friends. Annd I’m a little teary from writing that. I’m grateful for how far we’ve come and for their love and support.
SP: Do you have any silly habit to get ready for an afternoon of writing?
GC: I make a cup of tea, then I used to immediately sit down and write, but now I spent about an hour or two managing social media and emails. I always have tea when I’m writing, and I usually get a small tea-related something for myself to celebrate book news.
SP: What’s next? Are you working on anything new right now?
GC: My second book, Misaligned, will be released fall 2019! I’m so excited to continue working with Jen and Simon Pulse. Here’s the pitch for the book: When another Taiwanese family moves to her small, predominantly-white Midwestern town, a teen outcast is swept up in a forbidden romance and down a rabbit hole of dark family secrets.
SP: Thanks so much for being here, Gloria and we wish you the best on this exciting author journey! Look below for Author bio, American Panda Blurbs, Jacket Flap blurb, Buy links, and social media links!
Nova, signing off.
Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. She currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. She was also once a black belt in kung-fu and a competitive dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out. American Panda is her debut novel, and Misaligned is forthcoming fall 2019.
American Panda Preorder Links:
American Panda Short Blurb:
An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.
American Panda Jacket Flap:
At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?
From debut author Gloria Chao comes a hilarious, heartfelt tale of how unlike the panda, life isn’t always so black and white.
Twitter: @gloriacchao Goodreads: American Panda, Facebook: gloriachaoauthor Instagram: @gloriacchao