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Author Spotlight: Gloria Chao talks American Panda

I'm thrilled to be hosting the lovely and inspiring Gloria Chao on the blog today. Gloria's debut novel, American Panda, released yesterday and it's already racked up so many well-deserved accolades. In addition to being awarded ☆☆☆☆ four separate starred reviews (!!!!), American Panda has also been chosen as:

A Junior Library Guild Selection B&N Teen Blog Most Anticipated Debuts 2018 Justine Magazine’s Most Anticipated Books 2018 Bustle’s 27 Most Anticipated YA Contemporary Books New York Public Library’s Most Anticipated YA Books of 2018 Hypable’s Most Anticipated Diverse YA Books of 2018 Read Brightly’s 18 Most Exciting YA Books of 2018 Book Riot’s Must Read February Books

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.


Hi, Gloria! Welcome and congrats on American Panda. Can you tell us a little about the story and what inspired it?

Thank you so much, Megan! I’m so thrilled to be here!

American Panda follows a seventeen-year-old MIT freshman whose traditional Taiwanese parents want her to be a doctor and marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer . . . even though she hates germs and is falling for her Japanese classmate.

This book is largely based on my experiences, and I tried to write the book that I needed as a teen and as I switched careers from dentist to writer.

I love that Mei’s journey isn’t just about finding herself, but that it focuses on the even bigger question of: ‘How do I become who I’m meant to be?’. Was this theme something you started with, or did it evolve as you wrote Mei?

I think I subconsciously knew I was writing toward that question, but because I was struggling with some of the same issues as Mei, it took some time and experimental writing for me to face my demons (or something less dramatic) and find the heart of the story.

One thing that really sparked my interest in American Panda is the fact that it’s set in college. While Mei is only 17, she attends MIT, but YA is usually set in high school. Did you ever worry about or experience push back on the collegiate setting?

Oh, so much to say about this question. There was push back at all stages on the collegiate setting, but it was something I was prepared for and wanted to pursue regardless, mostly because this book really needed to be set in college. Mei had to be out of her parents’ home experiencing the next stage of her life, and college made the most sense in jump starting Mei’s story. This novel has gone through many changes and I ended up aging her down, but I’m glad I stuck with the MIT setting because it’s one of my favorite parts of the book. I’m hoping there will be more room in YA for college stories, but there’s still a long way to go.

*For more on college YA, check out this fabulous guest post Gloria did for The Book Bratz.

In a starred review, Booklist called American Panda: “Vibrant, complex, and refreshing . . . a soulful and hilarious debut.” What makes humor authentic for you, and do you have any tips for writers looking to incorporate comedy in their writing?

Humor is so subjective and to be honest, it scares me a little. I’m still blown away when someone tells me they thought my book was funny. My best tip is to own your weirdness. I don’t think of myself as a funny person and I’m usually the quiet one in group settings, but I let my weirdness come out in my writing and I think that’s what readers have been responding to. I don’t set out to write jokes—I mostly just try to make the book as entertaining as possible for myself, and writing things I find funny is one of my favorite parts of the process. I’m just thankful there are other readers who have also found it humorous!

What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?

I’m drafting book 2 right now (which will be released fall 2019, also with Simon Pulse!) and one thing I’m realizing is that each book is a completely different process. With American Panda, I had a hard time with the beginning, and now with Misaligned, I’m struggling with the ending. For the first drafts, the mother in American Panda wrote herself and I had a hard time with the romance, and with Misaligned, it’s the complete opposite. I do my best to enjoy the process and push through the hard parts, and my husband and hot chocolate both help a lot!

What has been your most rewarding experience as an author?

The most rewarding experience thus far has been hearing from the readers. I’m so humbled and thrilled that readers of many backgrounds and ages have connected with Mei and her story, and there have been tweets, reviews, and fan art that have brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, everyone, for your support! I have no words to express what it means to me!

What are you reading, or otherwise currently infatuated with?

I’m currently reading David Arnold’s THE STRANGE FASCINATIONS OF NOAH HYPNOTIK, which I’m loving. David’s writing is so beautiful, his characters so complex, fresh, and real, and I feel lucky to be getting an early look at this gorgeous book that I already know is going to be so special to so many readers.

And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your publishing career?

You can only control so much so find the next project as soon as you can and focus on what you love to do—write! Also, take breaks when you feel you need it—sometimes your gut knows best!

I want to thank Gloria for being kind enough to take the time to discuss American Panda, as well as sharing a bit of her experience and insight on college YA. To learn even more about Gloria and her fabulous debut, don't miss her recent interview on the 88 Cups of Tea podcast with Yin Chang! Click on the corresponding graphic to listen now.

Don't forget to add American Panda to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy RIGHT NOW from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Book Depository, or through your local independent bookstore.

And, as always,


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