Being a debut author is somewhat like being a debut mother. During my pregnancy, the OB medical staff called me “Mrs. Chow.” The moment I went into labor, the OB and pediatric staff started calling me “mom.” Suddenly, I lost my name and became identified, not as an individual but by my role. My sense of purpose expanded, but so did my sense of responsibility. I had to stretch rapidly to accommodate this new role while trying not to tear. The process has been joyful, stressful, and unpredictable.
As a debut author, I feel a similar sense of heightened joy, stress, purpose, and responsibility. The first time I got a candid email from a teen reader, I felt a strange cocktail of honor and anxiety. I always wanted my book to touch people in a deep place, but when that actually happened, I felt intimidated by my own success. Because my book features Chinese-Americans, people expect me to be a spokesperson for my ethnic group. This especially became the case after the publication of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. That’s a lot of pressure for someone who doesn’t proclaim to be an expert. Because I wrote literary fiction, as opposed to genre fiction, people also expect me to be articulate and profound 24-7. People have approached me during book signings, asking me to write something “profound” on their book. They seemed to expect that I should exhale vapors of insight and sweat pearls of wisdom every moment of the day. The person they saw seemed so much cleverer and wiser than the person I knew myself to be. Before the publication of Bitter Melon, I wanted to succeed for myself. Now that I have an agent, publisher, and publicist on Team Bitter Melon, I push myself even harder because I want them to be successful too because they deserve it.
What's one thing you want readers to take away when they read Bitter Melon?
Frances’s and Gracie’s behaviors may be difficult to understand at first glance, but as readers read further, the economic, cultural, and psychological factors influencing their attitudes and actions become clearer. People’s behaviors are the result of powerful external factors, as well as free will choice, and it is important to keep that in mind as we perceive others.
Do you ever base any of your characters or situations in your novels on people or experiences you've had?Yes, of course! Our own lives are the richest source of information and inspiration we have. Who else can tell our stories better?
I’m not the best person to be consulting for cool music right now. I used to listen to the radio in the car (I live in the LA area, so I spent a lot of time in the car). I had a CD collection at home. I also worked at a physical therapy office that played music all day in the background. Now that I am home with my son, I no longer work at the physical therapy clinic, I spend very little time in the car, and due to our home remodel, most of my CDs are in boxes in the garage. These days the only songs I ever hear are songs for small children.
You're walking down the street - what song is following you?
Twinkle twinkle little star . . . (I sing it with a little more RB flavor.)
You've been given two golden concert tickets to see any band/singer from any decade. The only catch is you have to take a character from Bitter Melon with you. Who are you taking and who are you two going to go see?
I think I’d take Nellie with me to go see Madonna or Lady Gaga. I think she’d have a really good time there, jumping up and down and whistling in her hot pink, jaguar print jogging suit. On the way home, I bet she’d sing all the songs loudly and get the words wrong. Then I’d invite her to the opera or symphony.
Is there any genre you don't see yourself ever writing?
Ironically, several drafts into the writing of Bitter Melon, I was talked into adding a romance to the plot. In fact, one of the ways I entice readers to buy the book is by telling them that there is a forbidden romance in it. At the rate I’m going, my second book could be the Asian-American Jane Eyre!
Have you experienced any 'rock star' writing moments?
Alas, Bitter Melon has no wizards or vampires, so the paparazzi are not waiting outside my front door, and I am able to shop at Target unaccosted. I do get touching fan mail and nice reviews though, so I am quite happy with my thimble of fame!
Wanna know more about Cara Chow? Check out her website here!