BSFA Interviews: A. Y. Chao
In this series, BSFA member and author, Gareth Worthington interviews other authors to gain insight into their writing and their writing process and find out about their latest work. We begin with the author, A. Y. Chao.
1. So, to start, the one question I ask all authors: we all write for personal reasons, some of these change over time. Why did you start writing, and is it still the reason you write now?
I started writing after my daughter was born because I needed a creative outlet that was time flexible as well as portable. As I become more serious about writing, I also saw more clearly the dearth of diasporic voices in general fiction. There were few if any books featuring diasporic Chinese, or mixed heritage protagonists, not to mention other marginalised identities. This realisation was a stark awakening and once I saw it, I could not unsee the lack. Like taking Morpheus’ red pill, the emotions that came with that realisation were pretty intense and life changing. Grief, for all of us who had to scrabble for second hand shards of mirror to see ourselves in stories. Anger, for the attitudes and structures which enabled marginalised identities to be dismissed and erased. And determination. Because there were outliers--diasporic authors, who despite the odds were writing and publishing their stories. They lit a path for us through the dark.
My writing shifted then, towards a goal of adding my voice to the growing chorus of diverse authors in mainstream fiction. I want diasporic readers to see themselves more fully represented in novels, so I write stories with values and attitudes born of my own lived experiences. Ten years ago I would have struggled to get my arsey, snarky romp of a Chinese mythological fantasy published. I have the authors who came before me to thank for paving the way, for opening doors, for proving there is a market and an appetite for marginalised voices like mine. So I write also to keep that door open, to smooth that path a little more for marginalised voices still to come.
2. Beyond the synopsis of Shanghai Immortal, how would you describe your book to a fan?
Shanghai Immortal is a love letter to diasporic readers, full of Easter eggs for Mandarin speakers and those familiar with hyphenated upbringings. Lady Jing is a rallying cry to all those who have chafed under the weight of family and social expectation, who have been told to be more ladylike, to be quieter, to be more courteous, polite, proper. To not curse, to be less vulgar. It’s a celebration of giving less f*cks and following your salty little heart. Also, it’s about butts, ta-tas, and farts. If you saw or read America Ferrera’s speech in Barbie, Lady Jing is my gleeful chaos gremlin response
3. What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Hopefully about the heartfelt connections between characters and how much fun they had careening around the Shanghais with Lady Jing.
4. Do you find creative writing a freeing, like chaos without boundaries, or is the process a well-structured battle plan?
I choose chaos, always
5. As an author, giving your characters names is always tricky – how do you choose?
I love etymology and playing with words, though with Shanghai Immortal most of the names existed in mythology already so I just took their Chinese equivalents and made them English names. For example, Lady Jing’s full name is Hu Xian Jing, which means roughly fox immortal spirit. So her shortened name is Lady Jing. Niu lang means cowherd in Mandarin. Ah is a common prefix for a nickname, so his name became Ah Lang.
For other stories, if my inner creativ-o-metre gives me a warm fuzzy reaction to a name, I know I got it right.
6. What is next for you? Can you tell us a little about your work in progress?
I’m currently writing book 2 of the Lady Jing trilogy. Book 2 syndrome is real and it’s kicking my butt! I also have the seed of a new book I’m very excited to write, so once book 2 is finished that will be my reward.
7. If you could write another genre what would it be and why?
Contemporary. The themes and conflicts I’m itching to explore are all rather dark (family conflict, generational friction in diasporic families, guilt, shame, obligation, as well as microaggressions growing up hyphenated etc). I would need to be in a more robust frame of mind as exploring those things would be emotionally taxing.
8. Will you be at any events in the coming months?
I’m very excited to be heading out to the US on tour for the US release of Shanghai Immortal. I’ll be at New York Comic Con chatting with Amelie Wen Zhao, Aparna Verma, Deena Mohamed, Elizabeth Lim and Shade Lapite, then to LA, San Francisco, San Diego, Portland, Seattle and Boston for bookshop events. Whirlwind! I’m so fortunate to have some amazing convo partners in Olivie Blake, Fonda Lee, Alexander Darwin and Andrea Stewart. Then once back in London I’ll be MCM Comic Con chatting world mythologies with Alwyn Hamilton, Bea Fitzgerald, Shauna Lawless, Natasha Bowen and Sarah Underwood. Finally to finish up the year, I’ll be at Lucca Comic & Games in November.
9. Where can readers find out more about you?
I’m on Instagram on @ay_chao where I post a lot of stories about food and fun books. All my events can be found at aychao.com/events. And I have a newsletter at http://ciaochao.beehiiv.com.