Interview with Christina Chiu, Author of BEAUTY

Tell us the story behind the story. How did BEAUTY come to be?

Beauty” is a short story from my first book Troublemaker and Other Saints. When I finished the collection of stories, I started writing a novel, but Amy kept insisting her story be written. It was like she was sitting on my shoulder. Anything I wrote, she’d say, “That sucks because the story’s over here with me.” Finally, I set that novel aside and started writing Beauty. 

What was the most challenging aspect of writing BEAUTY?

There were different kinds of challenges. Motherhood interrupted my work; I never realized I needed so much emotional space and energy in order to write. I found out after my first child was born. In terms of the craft, I had a very difficult time figuring out the structure. It wasn’t until I realized how important karma was to the story that I understood what to do.

What is the message you want readers to take away from your book?

Don’t ever give up. It’s easy to see life rolling past and think you missed the life you wanted. But you haven’t. Always hold onto what you want. Work toward it. You may get there or you may not, but if you don’t try, you definitely won’t. Often it’s the process of moving toward what you want that is so rewarding. 

Describe your background. Did your background play a part in your book?

As a Chinese American woman, I find that my background is inseparable from my work. I like to examine stereotypes—really delve into them—to realize the complex people beneath. The systemic natures of racism and sexism are important to identify, explore, and understand. Only by confronting them can we change them. Beauty is an intersectional literary work, one that is American with American characters rooted in the U.S. I can’t tell you how many people ask me where I’m from, and when I say, New York, I get back: “No, where are you really from?” 

Describe your writing schedule. Do you outline? Any habits? 

I don’t have a schedule, but I’ve noticed that I write best under two conditions: when I have a lot going on and if I have real deadlines that need to be made. Often, the night before my chapter or story is due, I’m up all through the night writing. Sometimes my children wake for breakfast and I’m still at the computer.

What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading? 

I’m currently reading a lot because I’d like to help review books for authors who are either launching now like I am during Covid, or review novels from the past that I feel people should be reading now. I just finished reading a memoir called The In-Betweens by Davon Loeb. I’m about to re-read the novel Pym, by Mat Johnson (the first time didn’t count because I was a new mom and delirious from fatigue) and a memoir called Uncomfortably Numb, by Meredith O’Brien. I’m also about to start The Resisters by Gish Jen, which I’ve wanted to read since it came out.

Which authors do you admire? 

Gish Jen, Elissa Schappell, Michael Cunningham, Mat Johnson, Toni Morrison, Sherman Alexie, Helen Schulman, Marie Lee, Junot Diaz, Sergio Troncoso, Lan Samantha Chang, Helen Benedict, Maxine Hong Kingston, Denis Johnson

What have you learned from this experience?

I’ve learned to have fun and love life. I started shoemaking because of this book. It was research. But somewhere along the line, I fell in love with the process. The more fun I had, the more flowed out of me onto the page. I also learned what a beautiful and courageous person I am and that my work deserve to be appreciated.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? What is one piece of advice you would give your younger self?

The best piece of advice I ever heard was from Sherman Alexie. It was more than 20 years ago, back when we had to snail mail submissions to journals. I had gone to one of his readings. When someone asked this question about best advice, he said, “postage.” Just keep sending out your work. Every time you get a rejection for a story or book, just send it back out.

I would tell myself there’s a lot I don’t know, but there’s also a lot that others don’t know, too. So it’s okay to be in your power, even if it makes others uncomfortable or angry. You have so many things in your heart that need to be said. Say them. Not just for your sake, but everyone’s, especially for the children you will be having.

What are you working on now?

I’ve been working on a memoir and I just started another novel. The memoir is about 75% done. I’m hoping to finish a full draft soon. It’s pretty exciting. The novel I just started is really fun, so I’ll be working on that a lot this summer.

To learn more about Christina Chiu, visit her website.

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