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Writing the Multi-ethnic Romance Novel: Asian American, by Camy Tang

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (and therefore have no idea who she is), you’re bound to be as excited as I am that Camy Tang wrote today’s column. One of the aspects of writing the romance novel I really wanted to highlight in this series is the ever expanding diversity of characters we’re finding. Today, Camy shares with us her experience about breaking into the market with stories focused on Asian-American characters.

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When I first started to seriously write fiction, I originally wrote ethnic-neutral characters. I was also relatively new to writing and didn’t understand good characterization or I would have realized a writer can’t get away with a character with no background. LOL

But after a while, I got the idea that maybe I should write Asian American characters. After all, write what you know, right? The problem was that at the time, there were very few Asian novels and not a huge demand for ethnic romances.

But God is in control. At a writer’s conference, while being prayed for, I received a word from God to “write my heritage.” I hadn’t told anyone I was thinking of writing Asian characters, of doing anything so risky, so this was a profound affirmation of God’s will for me.

I plunged in and started revising my story with a Japanese American character. But at the same time, I did some extensive research of the market.

I would strongly suggest this for any writer, whether you write ethnic fiction or not. Whatever you decide your brand is, do the research on other novels similar to yours in the market. It will help you craft a stronger proposal that will be more likely to catch an editor’s eye.

For example, at the time I wrote my first Asian American novel, I looked at what other novels had been published with Asian characters in both the Christian and mainstream market. In the Christian market, there were very few, and they all fell into either historical fiction or contemporary fiction genres. There were more novels in the mainstream market, but again they almost all fell into one of four genres: historical fiction, contemporary or women’s fiction, suspense, and erotica. There were exactly three Asian chick lit novels in print.

Also, most Asian American novels were about first or second generation Asian Americans. The cultural struggles of a first or second generation is subtly different from those of Asians who are their third, fourth, or fifth generation in the States.

There were almost no romances, nothing light or humorous.

This was good news for me, because I tend to like light, fun, humorous romances. I wrote my first Asian chick lit (which, consequently, was very very bad).

Since there were no Asian American romantic suspense novels in the Christian market, I also wrote a romantic suspense.

I wouldn’t have so specifically targeted light romance and romantic suspense if I hadn’t done my research and known what WASN’T being published in the Christian (and mainstream) markets. If I’d done a contemporary fiction or historical fiction novel, my story wouldn’t have stood out from any of the other Christian contemporary fiction or historical fiction novels with Asian characters that were already in print.

Because my proposal was so unique, it caught the eye of Sue Brower, who at the time was the Marketing Director at Zondervan. My Asian American chick lit hook intrigued her, and she encouraged Karen Ball (at the time, the Senior Editor) to take another look at my proposal. So, it was my proposal hook in addition to my writing that got me that second look.

I had also noticed that many romance and women’s fiction readers don’t like first person tense, and so I deliberately wrote my novels in third person in order to appeal to more readers. This decision paid off because I believe more people are willing to read my novels since they aren’t in first person. My publishing house recognizes that and respects my willingness to adjust to reach a wider reader demographic.

Since my novels have come out, I’ve had mostly good reviews, a few bad ones. They don’t surprise me, because let’s face it—none of us is going to write a book that appeals to EVERYBODY.

But what I love about reader letters is that so many people who are not Asian completely related to the family dynamics of the Sakai cousins. I’ve had people who say, “My German/Norwegian/Italian/you-name-it grandmother is exactly like Grandma Sakai!” It just goes to show that no matter the ethnicity, all families are alike. That was the appeal of stories like The Joy Luck Club, Bend It Like Beckham, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

So I guess you could say that my writing journey was instigated by God’s word to me, and carried through with the market research I did. I think that writers these days need a combination of both trust in God and business savvy.

My next novel, Single Sashimi, comes out in August and I’m very excited about it because it’s my favorite one in the series. After that … who knows? I’m open to God’s leading, but I’m pretty sure it’ll still be in my brand of Asian American romance.

Camy Tang is the loud Asian chick who writes loud Asian chick lit. She used to be a biologist, but now she is a staff worker for her church youth group and leads a worship team for Sunday service. She also runs the Story Sensei fiction critique service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels every Monday and Thursday, and she ponders frivolous things like dumb dogs (namely, hers), coffee-geek husbands (no resemblance to her own…), the writing journey, Asiana, and anything else that comes to mind. Visit her website at http://www.camytang.com/ and sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for monthly giveways!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Leslie S permalink
    Wednesday, May 7, 2008 7:45 am

    I jumped a little when I saw who today’s post was from 🙂 I just reviewed Sushi for One on my blog – LOL!

    I’m glad you had Camy post this. I am always glad to learn more about other cultures – and if no one writes about them – then we aren’t going to learn about them.

    Like

  2. Wednesday, May 7, 2008 8:57 am

    Camy, it’s great to see you in this blog and you offer great advice!

    Like

  3. Wednesday, May 7, 2008 2:21 pm

    Fun thoughts, Camy! There really are many quirks that cross cultural lines.

    Like

  4. Wednesday, May 7, 2008 3:39 pm

    Thanks for having me here, Kaye! Thanks for the comments, guys!
    Camy

    Like

  5. Friday, May 9, 2008 11:43 am

    Fun to read about how your books evolved, Cami! I’m reading Only Uni right now. Love the voice, and the mix of characters is great!

    Like

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