Today, I’m pleased to be joined by Electric Eighteen Debut Author, Gloria Chao, whose book, American Panda, came out yesterday, February 6, 2018 from Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster
Jr: Hi, Gloria and thanks for joining us today!
GC: Thank you so much for having me! I’m so excited to be here!
JR: Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about American Panda and the impetus behind writing it?
GC: American Panda is a young adult contemporary novel about a seventeen-year-old MIT freshman whose traditional Taiwanese parents want her to become a doctor and marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer. Unfortunately, she’s squeamish with germs, falls asleep in biology classes, and is falling for her Japanese classmate.
This is the book I wish I had in high school, and I wrote it hoping that it would help at least one reader feel less alone about not belonging or wanting something different for their life than their loved ones. I also wanted to write an Asian version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding because my parents do a lot of funny things that should be documented somewhere.
JR: I read that you used to be a competitive dancer. I find that really cool. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
GC: I started dancing when I was two and continued until dental school. I loved a variety of styles—hip hop, contemporary jazz, Chinese dance—and started a non-profit Chinese dance group in high school that is still around today. It’s funny how something can be such a huge part of your life for a long time, only to fade away and feel like another lifetime. I keep hoping to find my way back to it, but so far, it’s only resurfaced in my writing.
In American Panda, my main character hides her love of dance from her unapproving parents, and it’s the one place she can express herself. She mixes styles and music, a reflection of her struggle with her identity, which is something I used to do as well.
JR: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point?
GC: I wrote for three years before landing my agent and book deal. I signed with my agent through the slush pile. It was a long, tedious process, but I’m grateful that anyone (regardless of connections or formal training) can pursue their passion and eventually break into the industry.
JR: What’s your writing process like?
GC: So far, it’s different per book, but there are a few constants. I always have a cup of tea nearby, I write in my office with two screens (one for the manuscript and one for research), with music playing in the background. I do a combination of plotting and pantsing, with my brief outline printed out in front of me. I also have notebooks all around the apartment for when an idea strikes, and the one next to my bed is almost filled. I have a hard time falling asleep and usually end up thinking about my book for hours. For some reason, this is when I have my best ideas.
JR: What was your favorite childhood book and who’s your favorite author?
GC: When I was younger, I read and re-read The Babysitters Club so much that they became covered in food and wrinkled (which I would never let happen now).
It’s so difficult to pick one favorite author. If I had to, I’ll go with Nicola Yoon, though there are so many I love: Angie Thomas, Kerri Maniscalco, David Arnold, Marie Lu, Jodi Picoult . . . I could go on for a while.
JR: What’s your favorite movie?
GC: If I had to pick just one, I’d have to say While You Were Sleeping because my husband and I watch it every winter, and it helped to make Chicago feel like home after we moved here four years ago.
JR: Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
GC: I used to be a black belt in kung-fu. I stopped in dental school and haven’t picked it back up, but it’s made its way into my second book, Misaligned, forthcoming fall 2019!
JR: Do you do a lot of research when you write?
GC: I worked hard to make American Panda based on all real places and incidents. Most of it was written from past experiences, but there were still things I had to verify. The hardest parts to research were related to Chinese culture. Often, the details I was looking for were hard to find online (at least in English), and many customs and sayings differ between regions. I ended up spending a lot of time on the phone with my mother, who helped me immensely with verifying facts and telling me about her past. I’m so grateful for how much this book has made me learn about my own family and how close I’ve become with my mother.
JR: Here at the Tuesdays, a big part of our success and the purpose of this site, has been being involved in a critique group. Are you involved in one and if so, how has it helped you?
GC: I’m not involved in a critique group, but I have writer friends with whom I swap chapters and manuscripts. My main critique partner is my husband, who will discuss a plot point, chapter, or even sentence or word with me in depth because he’s stuck with me 😉
JR: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?
GC: The best advice I’ve gotten is “Eyes on your own paper” and related to that, the best advice I can give is to write the story that only you can write. While getting feedback is important, no one knows your story like you do, so listen to your gut. It took me some time before I stopped writing for others and just wrote what I felt was honest and true. That was a pivotal moment in my ongoing writing journey.
JR: What are you working on next?
GC: My second book, Misaligned, will be coming out with Simon Pulse in fall 2019. The book follows a teen outcast who is swept up in a forbidden romance and down a rabbit hole of dark family secrets when another Asian family moves to her small, predominantly-white Midwestern town.
JR: Is there anything that else you want to share with our readers or perhaps tell them how they can follow you on social media?
GC: You can find me on Twitter and Instagram under the handle @gloriacchao (don’t forget the extra c!). You can also find me on my website at gloriachao.wordpress.com (and I have lots of writing resources there if you’re looking for tips!).
JR: Before we go, I always like to ask, who’s your favorite member of The Tuesdays? And really, I don’t care who you choose. I mean, I hope you pick me, but if you avoid the question, I’ll think it’s probably Faran, and I don’t know if I can deal with that. So, who is it?
GC: I plead the fifth 😉
JR: Sigh . . . okay. Anyway, thanks again to Gloria Chao, and race to your local bookstores now to buy American Panda!
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.
Jonathan Rosen is a freelance writer who lives in sunny, South Florida with his family of five and rescue dog, Parker. Jonathan was born in New York and is of Mexican descent, though neither place has been really willing to accept responsibility. Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies is his debut novel.