Over the course of six years that WRiTE CLUB has been around, I’ve received lots of communications from former contestants. Emails, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, all from winners and the early-eliminated alike. They all wanted to thank me for hosting the contest and tell me how the contest has positively affected their writing and motivation. I cherish each and every one of them.
But this week, I think I received the ultimate compliment.
Gloria Chao (using the pen name Chun-Li) recently wrote to tell me that not only had she landed an agent using the manuscript that the passages she submitted to WRiTE CLUB came from – she landed a book deal as well!
Her debut novel American Panda, is scheduled for a Spring 2018 release. You can read the deal announcement on Publisher's Weekly HERE.
And the icing on top of the cake? I’m so excited to have Gloria here today to talk about her success and how WRiTE CLUB was a small part of it.
Welcome Gloria! Are you comfortable?
Very much so! I’m in my pajamas and I have a cup of green tea—my two prerequisites for writing! Thank you so much for having me, DL! Thank you also for hosting your one-of-a-kind contest which I was honored to be a part of! I’m so happy we connected!
I was so thrilled when you told me about your book deal, but I bet that was nothing compared to how you felt when you found out?
When my agent contacted me with the news that we had an offer, I was in shock for most of the phone call. Then as soon as we hung up, I started crying. It was an unprecedented mix of happiness, relief, and excitement. My husband—who had just happened to walk in the door—wasn’t sure if I was ecstatic or heartbroken.
What do you say we start at the beginning? How did you hear about WRiTE CLUB and what was it about the contest that interested you?
I was lucky to have heard of WRiTE CLUB through the wonderful Sub It Club’s monthly contest roundup. I loved that WRiTE CLUB was an anonymous writing battle, and I immediately thought of my pen name: Chun-Li, after the kick-ass female character from Street Fighter. I loved the idea of getting my passages in front of readers who wouldn’t know anything about me or my background.
The words had to speak for themselves!
Also, in retrospect, I love that WRiTE CLUB had all ages and all genres. The contest was open to everyone and you never knew what kind of passages were coming up next! Better than a box of chocolates (and I love chocolate so much I sometimes eat dessert first).
You made it all the way to the semi-finals, which is not an easy feat. There were 136 entries, of which only 30 were chosen by a panel of judges to step into the ring, and that was followed by seven weeks of matches. Why don’t you tell everyone what it was like going through that?
I was so honored to be among such talented writers, and making it to the semi-finals was the icing on top!
I still vividly remember seeing the first Chun-Li bout. My adrenaline spiked, a mix of joy at having been picked and nervousness about what readers would think.
But the nerves quickly disappeared. I was so touched by the kind, creative, and thoughtful comments. So many readers of different ethnicities, genders, and ages related to my character and the relationship with her mother. My dream was to write a novel with Taiwanese characters that wasn’t just an “Asian book.” And this was the moment I realized that it was possible.
Shortly after that round, I received my first agent offer. Throughout the rest of the contest, I was talking to agents on the phone while enjoying the WRiTE CLUB bouts—it was such an exhilarating, fun time!
Thank you to the WRiTE CLUB community for taking the time to read and comment!
How would you say the experience benefitted you, and ultimately paid off?
I hadn’t shared this manuscript with many readers because it was so close to my heart. The anonymity of WRiTE CLUB removed the difficulty of that and also gave me a chance to see how readers would react to my subject matter without knowing that I was Taiwanese-American like my character. The experience gave me confidence that I wouldn’t have been able to gain otherwise, and for that I will be forever grateful to you, DL, and the WRiTE CLUB readers.
One of the cool things I like about the contest is when I give everyone the opportunity to reveal themselves – after the contest is concluded – and getting to know an expanding group of really talented writers. Why don’t you tell us a little about you?
I write because I love it, and I write from an Asian-American point of view to show underrepresented readers they are not alone. I also hope to show other readers a new perspective of the world while still presenting a relatable story.
I’ve had quite the windy path here: I studied business at MIT, earned a DMD from Tufts Dental School, then practiced as a general dentist. My parents stressed math and science growing up, and though I loved to read starting at an early age, I never entertained the idea of having a career in anything right-brained until several years ago.
My novel is inspired by this unconventional journey as well as my experiences as a second-generation Taiwanese-American.
Now the nitty gritty…please tell everyone about your book?
My debut YA follows seventeen-year-old Mei, whose parents want her to become a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her germophobia and crush on a Japanese classmate. She should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ predetermined track. Now, as a freshman at MIT, she thought the umbilical cord would finally be severed, but her parents drive in from the neighboring town every weekend to remind her of how they’ve sacrificed so much for Mei’s future—just one of many reasons Mei has trouble admitting to them that her enthusiasm for medicine doesn’t begin to match theirs.
When Mei runs into her estranged beloved older brother, she begins to repair her relationship with him in secret, taking the first step in defying her parents. She rejects the sons of her mother’s friends to date Darren, who likes everything about Mei that she has tried to hide for so long: her inquisitive nature, her passion for dance, and her love for all things nerdy. As her relationship with Darren deepens, Mei must navigate the ties of love and loyalty and what they mean for her family, but also for her sense of self.
As strongly as Mei feels about the choices she makes, nothing is black and white. She is coming to the realization that as much as she is willing to give up the life her parents planned for her, she doesn’t want to lose them in the process.
How and why did you select the passages you used in the contest?
I tried to select passages that could stand alone, and I asked new readers to critique them. I also tried to pick excerpts that showcased voice, character, and humor—the 3 pieces that made up the heart of my novel.
If I could go back, I would do things slightly differently. Readers seemed to think my first and third excerpts were too similar, which I had initially done on purpose because the first had been well-received. I didn’t consider timeline or variety, and I have since learned that those are important to the WRiTE CLUB readers.
If you were going to offer some advice to anybody contemplating entering the 2017 version of WRiTE CLUB, what would it be?
Plan out all of your passages from the start but keep in mind that you want to lead with a strong entry that gives you the best shot of getting in the ring.
Things to consider when picking:
- Each week’s passage should be able to stand alone without leaving readers confused. Get fresh eyes to help you with this.
- Each week’s passage should expand upon the previous one and repeat as little as possible. Keep sequence and subject matter in mind—variety week-to-week helps.
- Pick passages based on your strengths, e.g. if your novel’s characters are strong, pick passages that highlight that. Or, if you have a lot of exciting incidents, select action-packed scenes. If you have a creepy novel, pick your scariest section.
If there’s a theme in the feedback, look for the underlying reason why people are saying what they’re saying to find the root of the problem.
Keep in mind that comments are subjective.
Have fun and bask in the anonymity!
I want to thank you for coming out today and sharing your news with us. It truly made my day when I heard. I hope you’ll drop by again when we get closer to the book birthday.
Thank you so much for having me, DL! You are a rare gem—selfless with the sole goal of helping other writers.
Believe it or not, WRiTE CLUB 2017 is just around the corner. The excitement will start ramping up in February.
Gloria Chao earned a bachelor’s degree from MIT and graduated magna cum laude from Tufts Dental School—the perfect Taiwanese-American daughter. Except she wasn’t happy. To recover from endless hours of root canals, she wrote. Then, she decided to focus on the right side of her brain which somehow had survived the childhood purge.
AMERICAN PANDA is her debut novel, coming out spring 2018 from Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She was once a black belt in kung-fu and a dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out. Restoration in progress.
AMERICAN PANDA on Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/book/show/31681276-american-panda