#85: A Sneak Peek at the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference: An Interview with Jade Chang, by Liz Mathews
August 29, 2016
Sometimes it happens, when reading a book, that you will be so sure of what the plot and characters will do next, and simultaneously so worried that things will actually happen that way, that you have to hold the book a little further away as the words play out before your eyes. Or maybe you even have to set the book down and take a few sighing, head-shaking moments before continuing with the rest of the story.
This is not a bad thing, when a book does this to you. It’s, in fact, the opposite of bad. Because it means you are so caught up that the only way you can distinguish between the story and the real things happening in your life is by closing the book and setting it down. (And then picking it up again as soon as possible to keep on going.)
So with that as an introduction, meet Jade Chang, author of The Wangs vs. the World. It’s her debut novel, and it’s due out this October. And if you’d like to go beyond the written words in the five questions below, you can also meet Jade at the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference happening in Brooklyn, NY, on September 10 and 11. Jade will be joining us on the 10th, for the A Matter of Character panel.
All of the characters you present in The Wangs vs the World are jump-off-the-page-vibrant (even the ones who get less focus). Which character spoke to you first? As in, was there one that took up residence in your mind and wouldn’t leave until you wrote the novel?
Definitely Charles, the patriarch of the Wang family. The first sentence of the book, “Charles Wang was mad at America,” came to me and I immediately knew who he was—I knew that he was brash and angry and funny, that he was larger-than-life and unapologetic about his desires. I wrote the first chapter, which is essentially a setup of the novel in the form of an internal rant from his POV, pretty much all in one go, and the momentum of his voice carried me through the outlining of the book.
Although the writing world is not new to you, did anything surprise you about the book publishing/debut novel process?
I was very lucky to have worked at Goodreads for a couple of years before I sold The Wangs, so I had a pretty good idea of the process. I’d say that I was pleasantly surprised more than anything else. For example, I was very happy that my publisher really listened to my feedback on the book cover—which I love!—because I’ve definitely heard sad stories about authors who ended up hating their covers.
Though the book isn’t quite out yet, is there anything you wish you’d done differently? Or known beforehand?
It’s a little too early to answer this question, I think. I’m sure that in November or December I’ll realize all the things that I should have done differently! One thing that I’m glad I did is reach out to friends and acquaintances who have recently published books to ask for their advice and to get the occasional reality check. That’s been enormously helpful!
Is writing fiction something you’ve done a lot of, or is The Wangs vs. the World truly a debut experience for you? And is it hard to shift between novel-writing and being a journalist?
I didn’t get an MFA, but I did take several fiction workshops in college and tried to write short stories, but I never truly enjoyed writing fiction until I started writing a novel. The Wangs is my first piece of fiction that will be published. It wasn’t hard to shift from journalism to fiction, but I definitely had to make a choice between the two. I kept supporting myself as a journalist, but I had to make a decision not to pursue serious, long-form journalism and to try fiction instead. There are people out there with much more mental stamina who can do both, but I found it too difficult!
Would you say that any of your characters are … autobiographical? (You don’t have to say specifically which ones. *smile)
Nope! There’s a lot of emotional truth in this book, but none of it is based on events from my own life! But it would be equally as true to say that every single thing that one of my characters sees or thinks or feels is based on something that I’ve experienced or heard about.
If you could choose one (or two?) marketing tchotchkes you’d like to have created in support of your book, what would it be?
A set of Wang family bobbleheads that will sit on your dashboard and accompany you on road trips? A vintage 2008 private label champagne? A line of cosmetics? There are so many possibilities! My top choice, though, would probably be a recreation of the Tyvek jackets that Saina made for her Art Basel Miami stunt—that would be amazing.
Liz Mathews is a former publishing veteran recovering from her years in New York by living in Minnesota and working in content strategy and behavior design.
Author photo by Teresa Flowers