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Drunk on Ink Q & A with Vanessa Hua and ‘A River of Stars’

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of the forthcoming novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan. 

read Issue 12. Fall 2018. 

Vanessa Hua is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and the author of a short story collection, Deceit and Other Possibilities, and a debut novel,  A River of Stars. For two decades, she has been writing, in journalism and 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 publications including The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post. She lives in the Bay Area with her family.

About A River of Stars

In a powerful debut novel about motherhood, immigration, and identity, a pregnant Chinese woman makes her way to California and stakes a claim to the American dream. Holed up with other moms-to-be in a secret maternity home in Los Angeles, Scarlett Chen is far from her native China, where she worked in a factory job and fell in love with the owner, Boss Yeung. Now she’s carrying his baby. Already married with three daughters, he’s overjoyed because the doctors confirmed he will finally have the son he has always wanted. To ensure that his son has every advantage, he 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. They 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.

 

SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

VANESSA HUA: Little Women

 To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Wine

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

I love Yiyun Li’s “Immortality,” about a Mao impersonator, which appeared in the Paris Review in 2003 and later won the magazine’s Plimpton Prize. Her use of the first person plural narrator, as well as the compression of the vast sweep of time, are spell-binding. But I also love the story behind the story: when she began submitting her fiction, she kept getting rejections from literary magazines and then she decided she might as well send it to the most competitive ones. The publication launched her career! It shows the importance of persistence, of believing in yourself and your work, and also that rejection is often subjective. What one editor finds appealing, another may not and it may even vary depending on the day and what else is happening.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

Madame Bovary. I much enjoyed it, later. I still need to read Middlemarchwhich seems to be the favorite of many writers I admire.

A favorite quote from your book

Such a burden, inheritance. When family gathered on holidays, the claims on their children invariably began. Your nose, shaped like your mother’s. Your long earlobes, like your grandfather’s. Traits, features, and habits from legions of ancestors, shuffled in each new generation. The body died, but blood lived on.

Your favorite book to film?

To be honest, since having children, I haven’t had as much time to see movies. When I was a kid, though, I loved the PBS adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. I recorded it on VHS and watched it over and over again. The movie, All the President’s Men, which I watched as a teenager, inspired me to become a journalist—cliché as that sounds.

 Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

So many! Living in the Bay Area, we’re very fortunate. Booksmith, Green Apple Books, Orinda Books, Mrs. Dalloways, Book Passage, Laurel Books, Books Inc, and more. I’m grateful to the many ways that bookstores encourage and support emerging and established writers, and serve as a vital community gathering place.

The one thing you wish you’d known about the writing life?

Writing is a solitary act, but when it’s also important to foster literary community. Commiserate and celebrate together. Attend and organize readings at your favorite local independent bookstore, subscribe to literary magazines, form writing groups, and volunteer at literary festivals. You will find friends with whom you can commiserate and celebrate, and they’ll show up in force for your events, just as you have shown up for theirs.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

Having gone through the writing, publishing and marketing of my short story collection, I’m somewhat familiar with the process. But you’re always starting with an idea and blank page, always learning how to write your way through your manuscript, and the experience of bringing forth your book in the world also varies, depending on the news, the economy, and other factors outside of your control.

Dog, Cat, Or?

Cat

 Favorite book cover?

Recent book covers I loved include R.O. Kwon’The Incendiaries, Crystal Hana Kim’s If You Leave Me, Ingrid Rojas Contreras‘ Fruit of the Drunken Tree, Lydia Kiesling’s The Golden State, Lucy Tan’s What We Were Promised, and Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know.

 Favorite song?

I have different songs for different moods, for different times of my life.  I can’t choose! When I’m writing, I listen to ambient electronic music: Tycho, Ulrich Schnauss, Bonobo, Boards of Canada, Air. Lyrics can be distracting, but sometimes I get into a nostalgic mood and listen to favorites from college, They Might Be Giants, Indigo Girlsor Erasure.

Recommend a Small Press and Literary Journal?

ZYZZYVA magazine always has entertaining and thought-provoking prose, poetry and art by emerging and established writers, and the editors do so much to foster literary community.

Literary Festival Anecdote? 

I chatted with a certain character actor in the Green Room of a festival, who is the partner of a famed writer. We introduced ourselves, even though I already knew who he was and had to restrain myself from uttering his catchphrase. Gazing over the room, he said, “Look at all these big brains in here.” At that same festival, I spotted a photogenic literary superstar in the hotel lobby; I even quickened my pace to catch up with him and confirm the sighting. Later, when I exclaimed I’d seen him, my friends shushed me and pointed out that he was sitting across the room—perhaps within earshot.

Ideal Vacation? 

Before having children, my parents loved to go backpacking, trekking in different countries or in the Sierras, riding all night buses and staying in hostels. Now that we have young children, we end up car camping, taking day hikes, or staying at family friend hotels with pools by the beach, where I can catch up on reading.

Favorite work of art?

I love Alexander Calder’s playful mobiles, Henry Moore’s sensual sculptures, and Magritte’s witty paintings

What is your favorite Austen novel and film adaptation? Why?

I can’t recall seeing any adaption except for Clueless – that’s an adaptation of Emma, isn’t it? Paul Rudd is adorable, and it was a star-making turn for Alicia Silverstone and  Brittany Murphy.

Last impulse book buy and why?

Niubi: The Real Chinese You Were Never Taught in School I love learning new swear words and their origins, which are so revealing of culture and character. For novel research, but a fun read, too.

Soniah Kamal is an award winning essayist and fiction writer. Her novel Unmarriageable: Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan, a parallel retelling of Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan, has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.  NPR calls it ‘thought provoking and deliciously readable’ and People Magazine says “This inventive retelling of Pride and Prejudice charms.” Unmarriageable is an Amazon Best Books pick, a People Magazine’s Pick, a New York Post Best Book pick, a Library Reads pick and more. Soniah’s debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Award for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and is an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s short story ‘Jelly Beans’ was selected for the Best South Asian Short Stories Anthology 2017. Her TEDx talk is about regrets and redemption. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Catapult, The Normal School, Literary Hub, and has been widely anthologized. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University where she was a Paul Bowles Fellow in Fiction. She currently teaches creative writing at Rhineheart University and reviews books for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Soniah will be giving a keynote address at the Jane Austen Summer Program Conference (2019) and she is a Jane Austen Literacy Ambassador. She was born in Pakistan, grew up in England and Saudi Arabia, and currently resides in Georgia.

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

Mike Chen: Here and Now and Then, a novel

Ruth Franklin: Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life, biography

Colleen Oakley: Before I Go, a novel

Emily Midorikawa: A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, biography

Shabnam Samuel: A Fractured Life, memoir

Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott, a novel

Anne Boyd Rioux: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, non fiction

Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction

Kristen Miller ZohnThe Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book

Vanessa HuaA River of Stars, novel

Chaitli SenThe Pathless Sky, novel

Sonya HuberPain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir

Kathy Wilson FlorenceThree of Cups, a novel

Sara Luce LookCharis Books and More, independent book store

S J SinduMarriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel

Rosalie Morales KearnsKingdom of Men, a novel

Saadia FaruqiMeet Yasmin, children’s literature

Rene DenfeldThe Child Finder, a novel

Jamie BrennerThe Husband Hour, a novel

Sara MarchantThe Driveway has Two Sides, memoir

Kirsten Imani KasaiThe House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz BathenaA Girl Like That, YA novel

 

 

Chaitali Sen and ‘The Pathless Sky’

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of the forthcoming novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan. 

Chaitali Sen is the author of the novel, The Pathless Sky (Europa Editions, 2015).  Her short stories, reviews, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Ecotone, New England Review, New Ohio Review, Colorado Review, LitHub, Los Angeles Review of Books, Brooklyn Magazine, and Catapult. She lives with her family in Austin, Texas.

About The Pathless Sky

In The Pathless Sky, Chaitali Sen conjures a world in which a nation’s political turmoil, its secret history, and growing social unrest turn life into a fragile and capricious thing and love into a necessary refuge to be defended at all cost. A world, that is, not unlike the one we live in. John and Mariam are unforgettable characters, troubled lovers who struggle to find a space for the finest human emotions in a place that is determined to abolish them.

 SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

CHAITALI SEN: Carolyn Keene, everything Nancy Drew.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Wine, definitely. I don’t know why water is even on this list.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

Another Country, James Baldwin

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

I struggled through a lot of classics in my teens that were way over my comprehension level, so I think I get a pass on this one.

A favorite quote from your book 

“Can you two goat****ers tell me why these posts are abandoned?”

 Your favorite book to film?

Mary Poppins

Favorite Indie Book Stores?

Malvern Books in Austin, Texas. (check out this piece in LitHub)

Revolution Books in Harlem. (check out this piece in LitHub) 

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

You have to proofread your own work.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

Maybe it helps to have some track record in publishing and marketing, but NO on the writing. Every new piece is hard.

Dog, Cat, Or?

parakeet

A favorite book cover?

Another Country, first Vintage International Edition, 1993

A favorite song?

This is tough one. I have so many. I’ll say “Ain’t No Love,” by David Gray.

Literary Festival Anecdote? 
I did my first panel as a novelist at the 2015 Texas Book Festival. I had a terrible case of Imposter Syndrome, which I blurted out to the panel’s moderator Natalia Sylvester. I don’t remember her exact words, (something I heard as “stop that, you deserve to be here”) but whatever she said gave me the courage to go on that panel and act like I knew what I was talking about.
Ideal Vacation? 
My ideal vacation is sitting on a beach with the sound of the waves lapping the shore and no one talking to me, while I read or take naps.
Favorite work of art?

I worked for a short time at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York when they were having the Over the Line exhibit, a huge retrospective of Jacob Lawrence’s paintings. I could wander the galleries during my lunch hour even when the museum was closed. I used to stare at the painting, Home Chores.

What is your favorite Austen novel and film adaptation?
I go back and forth between Pride and Prejudice and Emma as my favorite Austen novel. My favorite film adaptation is the Pride and Prejudice mini-series with Colin Firth, which I was unaware of until I read Bridget Jones’s Diary.

Last impulse book buy and why?

Lisa Ko, The Leavers. The red cover caught my attention, but I’m glad I bought it because it was wonderful.

Soniah Kamal is an award winning essayist and fiction writer. Her novel Unmarriageable: Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan, a parallel retelling of Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan, has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.  NPR calls it ‘thought provoking and deliciously readable’ and People Magazine says “This inventive retelling of Pride and Prejudice charms.” Unmarriageable is an Amazon Best Books pick, a People Magazine’s Pick, a New York Post Best Book pick, a Library Reads pick and more. Soniah’s debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Award for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and is an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s short story ‘Jelly Beans’ was selected for the Best South Asian Short Stories Anthology 2017. Her TEDx talk is about regrets and redemption. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Catapult, The Normal School, Literary Hub, and has been widely anthologized. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University where she was a Paul Bowles Fellow in Fiction. She currently teaches creative writing at Rhineheart University and reviews books for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Soniah will be giving a keynote address at the Jane Austen Summer Program Conference (2019) and she is a Jane Austen Literacy Ambassador. She was born in Pakistan, grew up in England and Saudi Arabia, and currently resides in Georgia.

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

Mike Chen: Here and Now and Then, a novel

Ruth Franklin: Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life, biography

Colleen Oakley: Before I Go, a novel

Emily Midorikawa: A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, biography

Shabnam Samuel: A Fractured Life, memoir

Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott, a novel

Anne Boyd Rioux: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, non fiction

Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction

Kristen Miller ZohnThe Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book

Vanessa HuaA River of Stars, novel

Chaitli SenThe Pathless Sky, novel

Sonya HuberPain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir

Kathy Wilson FlorenceThree of Cups, a novel

Sara Luce LookCharis Books and More, independent book store

S J SinduMarriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel

Rosalie Morales KearnsKingdom of Men, a novel

Saadia FaruqiMeet Yasmin, children’s literature

Rene DenfeldThe Child Finder, a novel

Jamie BrennerThe Husband Hour, a novel

Sara MarchantThe Driveway has Two Sides, memoir

Kirsten Imani KasaiThe House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz BathenaA Girl Like That, YA novel

 

 

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Anita Felicelli “Love Songs for a Lost Continent”

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of the forthcoming novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan. 

Anita Felicelli is the author of the short story collection “Love Songs for a Lost Continent” (Stillhouse Press) and other books. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the New York Times, Salon, SF Chronicle, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rumpus, Joyland, Kweli Journal, Eckleburg Review, The Normal School, and elsewhere. She was born in South India and raised in the Bay Area, where she lives with her family.

About “Love Songs for a Lost Continent“:

Imbued with magic, Felicelli’s stories center on first- and second-generation Tamil Americans–immigrants, daughters, and lovers exploring what it means to lose and to love, to continually reinvent oneself while honoring the personal histories and lost continents that shape us all.

 

SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with? Why?

ANITA FELICELLI: The first books I fell in love with were the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace and The Wizard of Oz series by L. Frank Baum. The former because I had two best friends in elementary school and saw myself in Betsy who was an aspiring writer and who needed a private place to write stories and poems and plays. The latter because it was so fantastic, so full of strangeness and wizardry and humbug and powerful women.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Wine.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading? Why?

James Baldwin’s long short story Sonny’s Blues should be read by everyone. The ache in the relationship between the narrator and his brother is so potent. I think about that story so often. Other mandatory short stories for me are Denis Johnson’s Car Crash While Hitchhiking, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s The Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, Robert Coover’s Going for a Beer, and Rebecca Lee’s Slatland.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

Oh, I’m still embarrassed I didn’t make it through War and Peace as a teenager. My self-concept was based so wholly on reading, I might as well have been a walking compendium of paper and ink rather than flesh and blood, and I loved Anna Karenina, yet when it came to that giant beast of a book, I just threw up my hands thinking there were too many boring bits (yet somehow I loved even the whale bits in Moby Dick).

Favorite quote from your book 

“Watching flames destroy the land that I love, it is Howl, my familiar, my double, my twin, who starts to sing for the first time. The sound escaping his body is magnificent and otherworldly, telling of ghosts and cities and sirens — an unyielding green scream.”

Favorite book to film? And why?

I loved Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. It didn’t strangle itself trying to hold on to the text, but in translating the story into a visual medium, it also didn’t butcher what made the novel so lovely, the way some adaptations do.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

Honestly, whichever one I’m in. I adore my local indie bookstores, from which I’ve been buying books for decades: Book’s Inc., Bell’s Books, and Kepler’s, but I have a particular soft spot for City Lights Bookstore. I’m partial to City Lights’ narrow little staircase, its door that announces itself as a door, the mural out in the North Beach alley that runs alongside its outer wall, and most of all, its substantive subversive and radical literature section.

The one thing you wish you’d known about the writing life?

I wish I’d understood how much rejection would be involved in the writing life, which I decided to enter when I was five-years-old. I remember finally getting a handwritten rejection letter from Seventeen Magazine when I was 18. It praised my short story and said it was a near miss, but also noted that the ending was “a little hard.” As an intense perfectionist, I thought about that note for years, trying to figure out what it meant and how I could use this feedback to “fix” my stories. In fact, decades later, I have not excised my hardness, but I so wish I had been the kind of person who’d briefly considered how cool it was that I got a note at all and moved on!

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

 No.

Dog, Cat, Or?

Dog! But specifically corgis, which some people think are cat-like.

Ideal vacation?

I’m desperate to visit Antarctica before it melts and disappears.

Favorite book cover?

For a period I wanted to be an art director or design book covers as my day job, and my favorites were the covers of Vladimir Nabokov novels from the 80s or 90s, designed by Susan Mitchell. She was the art director at Vintage International and I basically would buy or borrow books solely on the strength of her covers – judging books by their covers was how I discovered Diane Ackerman and Julian Barnes and many others in my tweens and adolescence before I ever read book reviews.

Favorite song?

The Pixies’ cover of Head On… I’m also terribly vulnerable to Iris Dement’s Our Town and Social Distortion’s Story of My Life, both of which recently made me pull over in my car and sob on the side of the road.

Favorite painting/ work of art?

Too many! I used to be a visual artist. At present, Olafur Eliasson’s One Way Color Tunnel and Louise Bourgeois’s Spiders.

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

I don’t get out much.

What is your favorite Austen novel, and film adaptation? Why?

Emma is my favorite, but the older I get the more I realize Persuasion will eventually overtake it. I love the Greer Garson-Lawrence Olivier “Pride & Prejudice,” the first Austen film I ever watched – what a fluffy, lovely, if defanged, viewing experience.

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

Anyone running a literary journal or small press is a hero, but I especially recommend two literary journals that are close to my heart and are helmed by fearless, outstanding women editors – Kweli Literary Journal and Eckleburg Review. Kweli is a beautiful online journal that consistently publishes some of the most illuminating writing by people of color in America. Eckleburg is a literary journal that’s so sharp, weird, and intelligent, you could cut yourself on its gleaming brilliance.

Last impulse book buy and why?

Lauren Groff’s Florida – I’ve read all her books – I geek out over her gorgeous sentences.

Soniah Kamal’s novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan is forthcoming from Penguin Random House. PRE ORDER . Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s TEDx talk, Redreaming Your Dream, is about regrets, second chances and redemption. Her story Jelly Beans was selected for The Best Asian Stories Series 2017 and her award winning and Pushcart Prize nominated work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Normal School.

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

Kathy Wilson FlorenceThree of Cups, a novel

Sara Luce LookCharis Books and More, independent book store

S J SinduMarriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel

Rosalie Morales KearnsKingdom of Men, a novel

Saadia FaruqiMeet Yasmin, children’s literature

Rene DenfeldThe Child Finder, a novel

Jamie BrennerThe Husband Hour, a novel

Sara MarchantThe Driveway has Two Sides, memoir

Kirsten Imani KasaiThe House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz Bathena, A Girl Like That, YA novel