Debut Author Snapshot: Jade Chang

Posted by Goodreads on October 3, 2016

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In Jade Chang's exhilarating, captivating debut, The Wangs vs. the World, we meet wealthy Chinese immigrant family the Wangs just as the 2008 global financial crisis is kicking them to the curb, erasing their colossal fortune—and with it, their identity. Patriarch Charles Wang, a self-made cosmetics magnate, flees their foreclosed Bel-Air mansion in the vintage Mercedes that he sold to the family's live-in housekeeper for $1. At his side, prickly second wife Barbra (named after Streisand) and, soon, youngest daughter Grace, who is pulled from her private school, and son Andrew, a wannabe stand-up comic forced to drop out of college. The family embarks on a fraught cross-country journey to eldest daughter Saina, a disgraced conceptual artist hiding in the Catskills, whose trust fund may just have survived. Charles's plan for recovery: reclaiming his family's lost ancestral lands in China. As his children shakily rediscover life without the wealth that defined them, we learn the multiple paths that brought each to this point of fracture and—via unplanned antics, embarrassments, and disasters—witness their gradual reconnection. Comic, heartwarming, and dazzling in detail, Chang's novel illuminates everything from the mechanics of the crash and makeup production to art world pretentiousness and stand-up comedy. Here the Los Angeles-based author, an award-winning journalist and Goodreads' former YA editor, discusses how her own life informed the book, choosing its cover, and discovering the biggest surprises of her publishing debut.

"This seems like a pretty accurate family portrait. I am, of course, the one with the ridiculous grin in a little sailor dress."
Goodreads: You dedicate the book to "the Changs (all three of them)." Are there any parallels between the Wangs and the Changs?

Jade Chang: Well, the three Changs are my parents (though my mom is not technically a Chang—changing your name after marriage is not a Chinese tradition) and my younger sister, Krystal. There really aren't that many parallels between my family and the Wangs as they are in the book. But on the other hand, it's equally true to say that I must have drawn from my family in order to write a family story. After all, it's the closest experience that I have!

However, there are two things from life that are definitely echoed in the narrative: 1) Charles Wang, present day, is not much like my parents (well, only the good parts!), but his family history is the same as my family history. Both my mother and my father are from families who once owned vast swaths of land in China—but thanks to WWII, the rise of Communism, and the Chinese Civil War, their families had to flee. My parents both grew up in Taiwan and then came to America for graduate school, where they met. It's an aspect of the Chinese diaspora that I haven't really seen in books or movies, and I wanted to root this story in that history. When Charles loses his American-made fortune, he's driven to reclaim his family's lost ancestral lands. 2) The Wang children are both entirely Chinese and entirely American. They are not outsiders. They see themselves as being absolutely central to the story of America. I'd say that my sister and I see ourselves the same way.

GR: The book cover is quite striking. How many iterations did you go through before you landed on the final version, and what drew you to this cover in particular?

JC: Thank you! My publisher first showed me a cover that they loved, but I hated it on sight! I was very lucky that they took my misgivings on board, and I was also lucky that this final cover was one of the alternates that the designer had already come up with. We went through a few different rounds with the lettering—originally it was more of a script, and I really wanted something rougher and bolder, lettering that looked like something that a brash businessman in a hurry (oh, someone like Charles Wang, for example!) might have scrawled on a hotel notepad. I'm so happy with the final iteration!

"The road trip during which the Korman discovery was made! This is my sister, crossing the road at a spot where everyone stops to take pictures because of that iconic scene in Forrest Gump. We made fun of it and then, of course, stopped and took some pictures there, too!"
GR: There are so many great road trip novels. Do you have a favorite? Did any of them inspire The Wangs?

JC: While I was writing the book, I honestly wasn't thinking about any existing road trip novels, even though I've read and loved all of the classics. But just recently—actually, while we were on a road trip in the Southwest!— my sister showed me a great article about middle-grade/YA author Gordon Korman. I read it and realized that in some ways The Wangs was directly influenced by one of my absolute favorite childhood books, No Coins, Please. I got it in elementary school through one of those Scholastic book orders, where you'd buy books right in the classroom. I read it so many times and can still picture the cover with absolute clarity!

The thing is, I LOVE stories about con artists, and this book follows one of the best: 11-year-old Artie Geller, a Canadian kid on a summer camp tour across America. At each stop he runs some kind of incredible scam that is always absurd and inventive. In New York City he sells "attack jelly"; in Denver he turns an abandoned pretzel factory into the hottest club in the country where the centerpiece is a conveyor belt of fresh pretzels. There's a glee to the book that I hope you'll also find in The Wangs!

"Live from the audiobook recording of The Wangs! On the left is the director, Seb, who edits and directs simultaneously. In the booth is the voice-over artist, Nancy, who is surrounded by things to soothe her throat."
GR: At the beginning of the book, Charles Wang wants to leave America to pursue his version of a better life in China. Do you think happiness has a lot to do with one's physical place? Or do you agree more with the mantra "wherever you go, there you are"?

JC: This is an excellent question. For Charles, I think it is the pursuit, and not the place, that leads to happiness. I've always found that phrase in the Declaration of Independence—"…and the pursuit of happiness"—to be so wistful and so beautiful. We can pursue. We can try. And in trying, we find our best selves. That's the version of the American Dream that I find most compelling. Of course, America's not the only place where you can do that, but there is something fascinating about a country that chooses that line as part of its foundation myth.

GR: This is your first book. Did you learn anything unexpected during the writing process? Was anything easier than anticipated? Harder? And how did you celebrate the book's completion?

JC: Honestly, a lot of it was harder than anticipated! Pretty much from the beginning, I knew the scope of what I wanted to write, and early on I thought that maybe it would take me a year or two to knock it out. Instead it took me five years to write this book, and for the last year and a half I did very little besides work (at Goodreads!) and write.

My story may be a little atypical in that I feel like things were much easier than I'd expected once the book was sold and the editing process began. I had a slightly unusual situation because The Wangs is also coming out with completely different houses in Canada (HarperCollins) and the U.K. (Fig Tree/Penguin), so there were three editors invested in the story. Luckily my wonderful American editor, Helen Atsma, took the lead in terms of coordination, and they all agreed with one another on general edits before passing them on to me. I actually really enjoy rewriting, so I found that rewriting with a really smart team of editors as a sounding board was doubly rewarding. There were no drastic changes, but I think that Andrew and Grace's stories in particular got more emotionally accessible.

You know what part was a real surprise? Seeing the recording of the audiobook! Part of me really wanted to do my own audiobook—I mean, Anthony Bourdain does his books, and they're great! Why not me? Well, for one, his are memoirs, which I think makes a big difference. And then I sat in on a recording session and realized that I was very, very glad it wasn't me coming up with voices for all of the characters. I also had no idea how physically grueling the process would be—the voice-over artist and the director pay meticulous attention to each word, continually editing and redoing lines. It's an endurance sport, for sure.

As for celebrating, when I sold the book, I was actually working at Goodreads. The day I found out that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt had won the auction, I was actually on deadline for the YA newsletter, so I rejoiced by coding articles and resizing images for another few hours!

But it hasn't been all drudgery—there's definitely been an ample amount of champagne, too!

GR: Do you think the Wangs have another adventure in them?

JC: Sure! But I don't know if I'll be following them on that adventure!

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message 1: by Martin (last edited Oct 06, 2016 08:04AM) (new)

Martin Marais Jade, I wish you the very best with your debut book. I saw it in the Goodreads newsletter.
I have added it to my Pinterest Board:

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