Welcome to Writer’s Block Party, author spotlight edition! We are so excited to have Gloria Chao with us, talking about her upcoming debut, AMERICAN PANDA, out in the world on February 6. Thanks for joining us, Gloria!
First, could you give us a quick pitch of AMERICAN PANDA?
AMERICAN PANDA follows a seventeen-year-old MIT freshman whose traditional Taiwanese parents want her to become a doctor and marry a preapproved Ivy Leaguer. Problem is, she hates germs and is falling for her Japanese classmate.
So Gloria, your bio tagline is “MIT grad dentist turned writer.” First, awesome tagline. Second, that jumps out at me, since Mei also happens to be an MIT student questioning the life path she’s been set on. Can you talk to us a bit about your own life transitions, and how you ended up a writer, coming from being a feared torture-bringer dentist? (Jokes, I actually love my dentist. But the question stands.)
My path to writing was windy, but I try to tell myself I wouldn’t be the person and writer I am today without the stops I’ve made (and I hope that isn’t cognitive dissonance talking). I always loved reading and writing as a kid, but I was raised with the understanding that math and science were the ideal fields to pursue, and I went to MIT, then dental school. Dentistry was such a terrible fit for me, and young adult literature became my escape. When we relocated to Chicago for my husband’s job and I was waiting for my Illinois dental license to process, I took the leap forward to see if I could make my passion for writing into a career. I’m still technically a licensed dentist, but I hope my path continues down the writing track.
I’d love to hear more about the parallels between Mei’s journey and your own. Who inspired who, and where does your story end and Mei’s begin?
It is very difficult to say where my story ends and Mei’s begins. This book is based in so much truth that even though I feel like the characters are their own people, it’s difficult to tease apart and say definitively who inspired who. My experiences inspired Mei’s story, but I also learned so much by writing her, and she even helped me improve my relationship with my parents.
Art is a reflection of self, fiction always somewhat truth, or so they say. But, at the end of the day, I write fantasy and can plead that degree of separation if any well-meaning family or friends start trying to take too much meaning out of my books—that’s harder to do with a contemporary, especially one so inspired by personal experience. Has/will your family read your book? Is that experience uncomfortable, a new way to communicate, or something else to you?
My father and one of my brothers just read the first chapter after it was revealed on Bustle, and in true YA fashion, I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding 😉 when they told me they laughed. I hope my family will enjoy the book because it has so many of our experiences and inside jokes (e.g., being complimented on our big noses, the don’t take your pants off to fart saying, the cow’s hoof comb, etc), and just as a side note, I tried to write in a way where all the readers would feel like they’re in on the jokes by the end of the book.
I’m most looking forward to my mother reading it (with an English to Chinese dictionary beside her) since in many ways, this book is a love song to our relationship and the journey we’ve taken.
Almost everyone who’s read your book (reviewers included!) have commented on how hilarious it is—and I’d 1000% agree. Did you set out to make the book funny, to lighten any drama occurring, or did it just sort of happen that way?
Thank you so much! That means a lot. Honestly, it still blows my mind when people tell me the book made them laugh. I didn’t exactly set out to make the book funny, but I knew I wanted to capture a lot of the unique (and hilarious) things from my experiences. The more I wrote, the more I envisioned the book as an Asian version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. And I’ve learned that I basically don’t know how to write without including some humor because laughter makes life so much more fun! In all seriousness, learning to find the humor in my situation helped me cope, and I wanted to share that with readers.
Serious question—aside from everyone, which it should, who do you really want this book to reach? And at what point in your life would you most have wanted to have read a book like AMERICAN PANDA?
I hope this book can reach anyone who’s struggling with where they fit in, which is an experience that isn’t specific to age, race, gender, etc. I also hope AMERICAN PANDA can reach the people who feel alone in their struggle with parental expectations and cultural gaps—I certainly felt alone growing up, and that was one reason I wrote this book. I wish I had a book like this when I was a teen, in dental school, and when I was changing careers.
Last question. I share a deep love of hot chocolate with Mei, to the point of not caring how much like a 5-year-old it makes me look. Do you personally have a favorite hot chocolate recipe to share with us? Asking for a friend.
I don’t have a personal hot chocolate recipe to share, but I received a hot chocolate mix from a dear friend when my second book sold, and it is the BEST hot chocolate I’ve ever had. It’s Vosges’ Parisian hot chocolate mix, and it is just so decadent and perfect. Annnd now I’m really craving some so I’m going to go and make a cup 😊
Thank you so much for joining us Gloria! We can’t wait to see AMERICAN PANDA out in the wild! Pre-order it here:
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.
Visit her tea-and-book-filled world at gloriachao.wordpress.com (link) and find her on Twitter (link) and Instagram (link) @gloriacchao.
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