I’m so happy to welcome Vanessa Hua to the Debutante Ball this week! Vanessa is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and the author of the short story collection, Deceit and Other Possibilities, and the national bestseller, A River of Stars, which O, The Oprah Magazine calls “a marvel” and The Economist says is “delightful.” For two decades, she has been writing, in journalism and in fiction, about Asia and the Asian diaspora. She has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award, and a Steinbeck Fellowship in Creative Writing, as well as honors from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.
Vanessa and I are both members of the SFGrotto, and I am so delighted to be able to host her on the Debutante Ball! You can contact her through Instagram: @mononoke97, FB: https://www.facebook.com/vanessa.hua and her website: http://www.vanessahua.com/.
A River of Stars: Holed up with other mothers-to-be in a secret maternity home in Los Angeles, Scarlett Chen is far from her native China, where she worked in a factory and fell in love with the owner, Boss Yeung. Now she’s carrying his baby. Already married with three daughters, Boss Yeung is overjoyed because the doctors have confirmed that he will finally have the son he has always wanted. To ensure that his child has every advantage, Boss Yeung has shipped Scarlett off to give birth on American soil. U.S. citizenship will open doors for their little prince.
As Scarlett awaits the baby’s arrival, she chokes down bitter medicinal stews and spars with her imperious housemates. The only one who fits in even less is Daisy, a spirited teenager and fellow unwed mother who is being kept apart from her American boyfriend.
Then a new sonogram of Scarlett’s baby reveals the unexpected. Panicked, she escapes by hijacking a van—only to discover that she has a stowaway: Daisy, who intends to track down the father of her child. The two flee to San Francisco’s bustling Chinatown, where Scarlett will join countless immigrants desperately trying to seize their piece of the American dream. What Scarlett doesn’t know is that her baby’s father is not far behind her.
Vanessa is giving away a signed copy of A RIVER OF STARS to one reader who shares this interview on FB or Twitter (details at the end of the post)! Thank you so much for being here, Vanessa!
Devi: Talk about one book that made an impact on you
: From childhood through high school, I read Little Women
at least twice a year–inspired by Jo March, who wrote her own fate by selling her
stories. In her, I found a mirror, even though we didn’t share the same ethnicity or geography or era. We were both strivers: my striving that of an immigrant family’s, and Jo’s born out of fallen fortunes. We were outsiders, too: my family was among a handful of Chinese Americans in my suburban hometown, and Jo was a whistling tomboy. Upon reading Little Women
more recently, I found it more old-fashioned than I remembered—at times sanctimonious. That doesn’t change the impact the book had upon my development, how it made me feel more at home because I recognized a character who shared my dreams. What I remembered, what I held onto, is what I needed then to make my way in the world.
Devi: The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists.
Vanessa: In a parallel universe, there’s a version of A River of Stars with rotating narrators. Scarlett’s storyline has always appeared most often, but I also explored chapters from Daisy’s perspective, Old Wu and more. I knew I was taking a risk when I approached the novel that way, and for some readers, it resonated. Still, after much reflection and feedback, I decided to rewrite it mostly from Scarlett’s perspective, with a handful of chapters in the perspective of Mama Fang and Boss Yeung. A couple of the standalone chapters ended up in my short story collection, so not all was lost. And I don’t consider those early versions a waste of time; I didn’t know what direction to go in until I tried out different options, as time-consuming as that was.
Devi: What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Vanessa: My mentor in grad school–author and professor Susan Straight–told us to “hook each other up.” To trade work, to share opportunities, to support each other, to go to each other’s readings—in short, to foster literary community. Writing is a solitary act, and I cherish the times when I can commiserate and celebrate with fellow writers. Tips to becoming a literary citizen: Become a reader for a literary magazine. Organize a reading or writer’s group. Help promote your friend’s events and share opportunities.
Devi: What’s your next big thing? (new book, new project, etc.)
Vanessa: I’m working on my next novel, inspired by a black-and-white clip of a jowly Chairman Mao, surrounded by giggling teenage girls. It turns out that he and other top cadre loved to ballroom dance, and I imagined how one of his lovers might have influenced the course of the Cultural Revolution. I’m revising (this book), it’s due early next year.
Devi: What is the best perk of your job?
Vanessa: Taking part in literary community, participating in festivals and attending book launches and more— every book is a miracle, overcoming twists and turns and dead-ends to get published, on shelves, and into readers’ hands. I love being able to celebrate work that illuminates the world we live in, and inspires a change in thinking and a change in action. I’m inspired by the wonderful debuts this year, including Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know, Lucy Tan’s What We Were Promised, Crystal Hana Kim’s If You Leave Me, R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries, Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ Fruit of the Drunken Tree, and Lydia Kiesling’s The Golden State.
GIVEAWAY DETAILS! Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter and SHARE the interview for a chance to win A RIVER OF STARS! For extra entries, comment on this post by Friday, November 2nd. We’ll choose and contact the winner shortly afterwards.
A powerful debut novel about modern-day motherhood, immigration, and identity: a pregnant Chinese woman makes her way to California and stakes a claim to the American dream.
A River of Stars is an entertaining, wildly unpredictable adventure, told with empathy and wit by an author the San Francisco Chronicle says “has a deep understanding of the pressure of submerged emotions and polite, face-saving deceptions.” It’s a vivid examination of home and belonging, and a moving portrayal of a woman determined to build her own future.