The Sweetest Debut: Jade Chang on ‘The Wangs vs The World’

"I wanted to try to illuminate a new take on belonging in America, with immigrants who don't yearn for acceptance or struggle to fit in."

Welcome to The Sweetest Debut, a new and regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies.

us-photo-credit-teresa-flowersJade Chang’s The Wangs vs The World is a hilarious, heartbreaking novel about a family in crisis — but don’t cry for them. The family members are strong, ambitious, spoiled and thoroughly delightful. She spoke to us about how writing a draft is like fording a river, and the long process of bringing her novel into the world.

What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book? 

The Wangs vs. the World is an immigrant novel that is a rebellion against the traditional immigrant novel. I wanted to try to illuminate a new take on belonging in America, with immigrants who don’t yearn for acceptance or struggle to fit in. Instead, they’re here to knock shit down and rebuild the country in their own image.

What do you tell your relatives it’s about?

I just tell them it’s not about our family!

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

I started thinking about this book at the start of the financial crash of 2008, really started writing it in mid-2009, finished in late 2014 and sold it April of 2015.

What’s a book you’ve read more than two times?

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Is there a book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project?

White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

What’s your favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?

So many! I recently loved Bojack Horseman and Master of None, right now Odd Mom Out is making me laugh, I can’t get enough of reality shows about things like surviving in the wilds of Alaska, and I can’t wait to watch Atlanta and the half-hour version of High Maintenance, because the web series was the absolute best. Also, who knew that Bachelor in Paradise was so funny?

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

The last two movies I saw in theaters were excellent documentaries (The Cave of the Yellow Dog and Monsieur le President), which is very unlike me!

Do you prefer a buzzing coffee shop or silent library?

Buzzing coffee shop, for sure! I do better when I have to actively work to concentrate.

Do you like writing at a desk, bed or couch?

Bed then desk then couch then back to bed again!

Are you more productive during morning writing or late-night writing?

Late night.

Writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

Messy splash of ideas, then some disciplined outlining, and then after that it’s like fording a series of rivers. You know that you have to get to the opposite bank, but you don’t know if you’re going to swim in whitewater or skip across a bridge!

How do you pay the bills, if not solely by your pen and your wit?

It took me a little over five years to write The Wangs vs. the World. At the start of it, I was an editor at a magazine, then I got laid off and was on a government-funded artist grant (aka unemployment), worked at a friend’s bakery (the amazing Proof Bakery in LA!), did a lot of freelance journalism and copywriting, and then worked at Goodreads, where I was employed when I sold the book.

What is your trick to finding time to write your book while also doing the above?

There is no trick! You just have to decide that the book is the priority. I got really lucky in that a good friend (Margaret Wappler, author of the beautiful Neon Green) was also working on a novel, so we would meet up a couple of times a week and work together. For the last year and a half, as I got closer to the end, I’d finish work and then take myself to a coffeeshop or diner and write until around midnight. It was not a very social time!