Interview

Author Spotlight: F. C. Yee

We are super excited for today’s author spotlight: the hilarious F. C. Yee, debut author of THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO. This book came onto our radar last May when it was pitched as Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets American Born Chinese. How cool is that? After reading, we’re thrilled to say the comps are on point and the book is snarky, badass and super fun and relatable. Thank you to Christian for joining us today and answering some of our most pressing questions! And don’t forget to pre-order your copy, out August 8! 

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1. If haven’t already guessed, we over at WBP love THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO! Can you tell us a little bit about your novel and what your influences were in writing it?

THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO is about a Chinese-American girl who’s sidetracked from her all-consuming academic career by a strange boy claiming to be Sun Wukong the Monkey King, a legendary figure from some very old Chinese tales. Together they must prevent a demon invasion from overrunning the San Francisco Bay Area, while trying to get through everyday high school life at the same time.

At the time of writing this book, the only stories officially about the Monkey King I’d ever consumed were translations of the original Journey to the West, and Gene Luen Yang’s AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, which was without a doubt a huge influence on me. But Journey to the West is borrowed from by a lot of media everywhere, so I’d absorbed a lot of the context through proximity- Sun Wukong has certain famous powers and famous enemies, is kind of a jerk, etc.

Comic books, action movies, and anime certainly had a role in shaping the more dynamic scenes.

2. One of our favorite things about GENIE was how the book portrayed a realistic high school experience alongside supernatural elements. Genie is juggling college apps and volleyball practice with demons from Hell! How did you balance the two: the everyday life of a teenager and the supernatural?

I think I balanced everyday life with the more fantastic elements by filtering everything through Genie’s viewpoint as a second-generation teenager who hadn’t grown up with these legends (which mirrors my own experience). She never dreamed of these adventures as a child, so it’s not like she’s eager to abandon her normal life and jump headlong into them. That juxtaposition probably lends the book a lot of its voice.

3. One of the aspects we loved best about GENIE was all the cultural inside jokes you had! They felt like Easter eggs for Asian American readers. Did you think about your audience when putting those in? Do you find that a lot of those jokes can/do cross cultures?

I did think about my audience in the sense that I put in jokes that I thought were funny, and then prayed that someone else out there would too. I tend to find that shared cultural experiences can serve as shorthand for the setup to a humorous situation, but not necessarily as the punchline on their own. There’s still plenty of opportunities to screw up the execution of a bit, no matter how much you have in common with the audience.

I think that when done right, a cultural joke can work across different audiences. For example a reader may not have grown up in an Asian household, but it’s fairly easy to tell early on what kind of relationship Genie has with her mom, so the rest of the humor about the two of them follows from there. However there is something to be said for the immediate, visceral reaction that happens when you can painfully relate to what’s happening on page, and I did squeeze all I could out of that 🙂

4. Can you tell us a little bit about the world building elements in your book? What was your experience in introducing mythology to new audiences?

I had to take a few tries at introducing the source material because some of my readers were going to be extremely familiar with the Monkey King, and some were not. I thought about simply interspersing the relevant parts of Journey to the West without explanation. I got feedback from someone that maybe Genie’s class could be reading it as part of an international literature class.

I ended up solving the problem by going back to my earlier answer and running it through the “Genie-filter.” The way she would most likely learn about these stories is that she’d simply ask her mom, or read a book. So that’s how the stories got introduced. And I hoped that having Genie skeptically paraphrase Sun Wukong’s origin could provide entertainment to anyone who already knew it by heart.

5. How did you get GENIE from an idea to a published novel? What was your publishing journey?

How I got from an idea to a finished manuscript is lost to me at this point; I think I might have simply had the notion that legendary heroes and weapons and fights were cool, and I wanted to write about them. I’m assuming that somewhere along the way I realized that characters and plot were also cool, if not cooler.

After finishing this book I wanted to polish it a lot before querying, so I took it to a rare workshop that did whole-novel reads (The Pacific Coast Children’s Writer’s Workshop which I highly recommend if you want to look it up!) Every year a different agent and editor serves as faculty, and the year that I went with GENIE, I was assigned to the awesome and wonderful Stephen Barr of Writer’s House. He enjoyed the book and I signed with him after we worked on revisions post-conference. So I didn’t even query for agents! Stephen started submitting to publishers after that, and then it wasn’t too long until I signed with Abrams/Amulet.

It was all quite serendipitous, but only if you start counting from GENIE onward and ignore the many years I spent writing, submitting, and getting rejected for the five other books I wrote beforehand.

Now onto some fun questions!

1. In a past incarnation, who were you?

Whatever person or character is mostly concerned with food. Like Zhu Baijie, but not as tough.

2. We heard you love video games! What are some of your favorites? Do you have go-to games to relax after a hard revision?

I like League of Legends! Ironically, I am very bad with Wukong.

3. Honestly, how do you feel about Boba Tea?

For the record, once and for all, I, the author, F.C. Yee, like boba tea very much. Genie the character does not, mostly because I thought it would be funny. I may have overstepped 🙂

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F. C. Yee grew up in New Jersey and went to school in New England, but has called the San Francisco Bay Area home ever since he beat a friend at a board game and shouted “That’s how we do it in NorCal, baby!” Outside of writing, he practices capoeira, a Brazilian form of martial arts, and has a day job mostly involving spreadsheets.

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