Archive for the ‘Young Adult’ Category

As promised, I’m now posting some short videos from the Tiger Girl launch party at Books Inc., including a short reading and excerpt from the Q&A, a song by the amazing Cambodian American singer Laura Mam, and a 30-second video that gives you a feel for the event!



Much thanks to everyone who came to the launch at Books Inc./Opera Plaza in San Francisco! And I hope these videos can give a feel of the event to those who could not come in person.

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Here’s an sneak peek at TIGER GIRL, my new novel coming out in stores and online this October 7, 2013.

Check out this four-minute excerpt:

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I just received an advance copy of Tiger Girl, my novel that’s officially coming out this October!


My publisher, GemmaMedia, sent me a few copies in advance of publication so that I could see the cover and layout. I’m so excited!

It’s gorgeous! Much thanks to Howard Wong of Grace Image Photography in San Francisco for the cover design.


The story follows Nea Chhim, the protagonist of Dragon Chica, on a journey to find her biological father. They were separated because of war and the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. In Tiger Girl, Nea directly confronts her past and tries to reunite the multiple missing branches of her family. However, as is so often the case with good intentions, Nea’s quest does not turn out as she anticipated. To find out what happens, look for Tiger Girl in bookstores (or online) this October!

Mark your calendars: The book launch party will be held at Books Inc./Opera Plaza in San Francisco on October 26, 2013, beginning at 5 p.m. Cambodian American singer Laura Mam will be performing an acoustic set in Khmer and English!

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Here is an essay I wrote for the diversity series at  ForeverYoungAdult.com.
(You can check out their website and follow them on Twitter @4everYA for more YA news, tips, and interviews!)

Heck YA, Diversity!: Are ‘Ethnic’ Heroines a Tough Sell?

Author May-lee Chai stops by to discuss the trubs she had with publishing her “ethnic” heroine book, Hapa Girl — and how her following books (Dragon Chica and Tiger Girl) found a home with the YA crowd.

Heck YA, Diversity!: Are ‘Ethnic’ Heroines a Tough Sell?

For this week in Heck YA, Diversity!, we’re pleased to be joined by May-lee Chai, author of Hapa GirlDragon Chica, and the upcoming Tiger Girl, who shares her personal experiences in getting books with “ethnic” heroines published.

Are “Ethnic” Heroines a Tough Sell?
by May-lee Chai

A number of years ago, I was working on a memoir about the violence my family encountered when I was growing up. When I was twelve, we moved from the New York City metropolitan area to rural South Dakota where people used to stop their cars and pickups to stare at us as we walked together on the sidewalk. We were the first mixed-race family with a Chinese father and a white mother that people in that community had ever seen. It was a town of five thousand residents, ten bars, and a university. My parents had assumed because there was a university there, people would be more tolerant. But that wasn’t the case.

My parents had bought a small farm, and men took to driving by our house on the weekends to shout racial slurs at us. As this was the 1980s and the time of Japan-bashing in the media, many of those slurs were “Jap!” or “Japs!” Later men took to shouting at our property and over the years five of our dogs were shot dead in our driveway.

Adults as well as some of my classmates told me to my face that the Good Lord had not intended for the races to mix and that’s why he’d put them on separate continents. (This notion, by the way, was one of the reasons a judge in 1965 ruled that interracial marriage should be illegal.) I was seen as a sign of the End Times, of a coming Apocalypse when Satan would reign on Earth. Mixed-race people like me simply should not exist.

Well, that was a tough environment to grow up in, as you might imagine! But I thought it was very good material for a memoir. I’ve got inherent drama, conflict, and a survival story. Hey!

I’d been working on the manuscript for a while when a literary agent with a list of very famous clients said she wanted to represent the book. I was naturally thrilled. However, I soon discovered her idea of the book was very different from mine. She told me she wanted me to focus on my father and mother’s marriage and to eliminate my brother and me from the book. (I just got removed from my own memoir! I thought. How the hell do I write that? Who’s going to narrate?) Then she said she wanted me to focus on “the good people of South Dakota” (rather than the racists who shot and stared) and write about my parents’ “cultural” differences and how they overcame them.

Well, how exotic, I thought. And I told the agent that I couldn’t re-write the book in that way. It just wasn’t my conception of the story.

The agent’s reaction was so alarming and upsetting to me that I didn’t try to contact another agent. Instead I ended up selling the book myself to an academic press (Temple University Press) who published books about Asian American history. Academic presses and small presses don’t need agents to send manuscripts to their editors; they will work directly with authors. The decision worked out well for me. My memoir, Hapa Girl,  received a great full-page review in the international edition of Time magazine and received a number of literary accolades. It continues to be taught in colleges and universities across America. Eventually, I also found a wonderful agent who understands what I’m writing about and knows how to represent my work.

But part of me wonders how many other writers out there get discouraged from writing the stories they wanted to tell by the same kind of sh*tty “advice” that had been given to me. And how many of these writers don’t persist and find another agent or don’t know how to approach a press on their own? What if they just take the rejection to heart and give up? Or worse, try to write the kind of bland story that they’re told to write?

I think part of the problem is that there are people in the publishing industry who underestimate readers. One of the great things about the YA field is that editors assume readers want a grittier kind of story. Adolescence sucks. It really does. Growing up is hard. School can be brutal. Families and community can let us down. And young adult readers know this. They’re not looking for a pretty, bland story that’s been watered down for mass consumption.

For this reason, I thought my novel Dragon Chica would work for a young adult audience. It’s the story of a young Cambodian girl, Nea Chhim, facing down adversity from poverty to gangsters to family fights as she grows up in the Midwest. I tried to tell the story in a way that the character and her family and their problems felt real to me, and so that the reader could get to know them. Dragon Chica (GemmaMedia) ended up doing very well with YA readers. The YA genre attracts so many people, young and mature, because readers have discovered this is where the gritty books get published.

My next novel Tiger Girl, which continues the story of Nea Chhim in America, is also going to be marketed as YA. In some ways, I think it can be easier to have an “ethnic” heroine in a YA novel than in a book marketed only for the adult literary crowd.

The problem is not readers. I know there are a lot of readers—of all ethnicities!—who want to read interesting stories with interesting characters and strong heroines. Perhaps because of what has historically been sold, perhaps because of what Hollywood continues to mass produce, some people in the industry are indeed afraid of “ethnic” heroines. They worry that they won’t appeal to a mass market. They don’t know how to market them. Then they worry when the heroine doesn’t seem exotic enough.

And bringing in a person of color means we’re also bringing up history and race in America. Those are tough subjects. They are not bland.

Sometimes when we talk about race and racism, (I know because I’m a teacher), people think the r-word means “I hate white people!” and they’re afraid to listen. White people don’t want to get beat up, figuratively or literally, any more than anyone else does. But acknowledging a character’s ethnicity allows us to talk about history and community and how power is constructed and how we have to fight against this power divide if we’re going to survive as individuals and as a nation. We shouldn’t be afraid because we really need to have this talk.

Besides, that’s what the best novels allow us to do: Enter scary terrain and emerge all the stronger for it.

Thanks for stopping by, May-lee! Check out her website or find her on Twitter (@mayleechai).

(originally posted on the Forever Young Adult website: Published June 28, 2013 by )

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I’m excited to be joining the writing community’s “blog hop.” This month authors are playing tag–tagging authors’ blogs then having them answer questions about their latest work. The awesome best-selling author Claire LaZebnik tagged me, so here I go.  You’ll see which authors I’m choosing to tag at the bottom of this post. I promise you’ll like their work!
(Note: I first met Claire at the rather interesting Southern California Independent Booksellers’ Association  event a few years ago. You can read about my experience here: SCIBA. While doing publicity for books can feel awkward if you’re shy, I was most fortunate to meet Claire at the authors’ dinner before the big publicity event took place. She was so witty and brilliant and fun to talk to, my anxieties fell away. Since then I’ve been able to catch up on her amazing backlist of both literary novels and Young Adult titles as well as her nonfiction writing about autism. Claire’s books are wise and witty, just like their author! I highly recommend following her fanpage on Facebook to get a taste of her writing advice: Claire LaZebnik Writes.)

Now on to the business at hand: The Next Big Thing Blog Hop. I’m not supposed to talk about the books I’ve already published but the ones I’m working on. So that would be TIGER GIRL, my new novel that’s coming out this October 2013.

1: What is the working title of your work in progress?
Tiger Girl

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s a sequel to my novel, Dragon Chica, so it follows the main character, Nea Chhim, on a new adventure. In Tiger Girl, Nea is 19 and decides she must find her biological father where he’s working in Southern California. She doesn’t tell Ma, but hops on a cross-country bus and goes to confront him and find out why he hasn’t acknowledged her. Little does she know, she’s going to uncover many more family secrets than she ever imagined!

3: What genre does your book come under?

It’s cross-listed as Young Adult but also literary fiction for people who like multicultural stories. Nea is a survivor of the Cambodian Killing Fields and there is a lot of history and traditional folklore in Tiger Girl.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

There aren’t that many Cambodian American actors in Hollywood, so I think Cambodian American singer Laura Tevary Mam would be awesome as Nea. I know Laura and she totally understands the character; plus she’s multi-talented. I think the actor François Chau (who played the mysterious Dharma Collective scientist Dr. Pierre Chang on “Lost”) would be perfect for the father. François was born in Phnom Penh, in fact!

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Nineteen-year-old Nea Chhim, a survivor of the Cambodian Killing Fields, embarks on journey across America to find her biological father.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
My agent represented the book. It’s being published by GemmaMedia of Boston.
7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I had two years to work on the manuscript, but the research began a long time ago when I was working on the novel that became Dragon Chica.
8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I wrote this novel to focus on the American side of the story because most other books about Cambodian Americans focus on how they survived the Khmer Rouge. I wanted to bear witness to the kind of stories that I witnessed with the Cambodian Americans that I met in the U.S.
For books that provide background on the Killing Fields, I recommend the following: To Destroy You Is No Loss: The Odyssey of a Cambodian Family (The Story of Teeda Butt Mam) by Joan D. Criddle, Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields by Dith Pran and Kim Depaul, Golden Bones by Sichan Siv, First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung, and When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I met a very kind Cambodian woman when I was fifteen and living on a farm in South Dakota. She’d survived the Killing Fields, but her children had not. I interviewed her and she told me how her children had died under the Communist regime known as the Khmer Rouge. I promised her that I’d write about what happened to her children, and in many ways, that’s what inspired both Dragon Chica and now the sequel Tiger Girl.


10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a family story, but it’s also very suspenseful, and readers will learn a lot about Cambodian culture!


Now on to the two authors I’m tagging. Walter Mason and Frances Kai-Hwa Wang are not just great writers, but they’re two of my favorite people.
              Walter Mason is the author of a lovely book called Destination: Saigon, which is both travelogue and spiritual journey. Walter not only speaks Vietnamese but has also studied at a university in Vietnam and is a practicing Buddhist. In his book, you’ll meet Vietnamese movie stars, monks, and gangsters among other interesting characters, and go on a journey like no other. His blog can be found here:  Walter Mason
            While many readers may know Frances Kai-Hwa Wang for her journalism, her activism in the Asian American community, and her columns on multicultural parenting, Frances is also an acclaimed poet. Her first book of poetry, Imaginary Affairs: Postcards from an Imagined Life, explores erotic longing in a way that is sophisticated and deeply moving. I’ll let her tell you more about her new collection…set in the Hawai’i that the tourists never get to see. You can read her blog here: Frances Kai-Hwa Wang.
With Frances in San Francisco's Chinatown

With Frances in San Francisco’s Chinatown

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