Writing Myself Home: GUEST POST by A. Y. Chao (SHANGHAI IMMORTAL)
Half vampire. Half fox-spirit. All trouble.
Pawned by her mother to the King of Hell as a child, Lady Jing is half-vampire, half-hulijing fox-spirit and all sasshole. As the King’s ward, she has spent the past ninety years running errands, dodging the taunts of the spiteful hulijing courtiers, and trying to control her explosive temper – with varying levels of success.
So when Jing overhears the courtiers plotting to steal a priceless dragon pearl from the King, she seizes her chance to expose them, once and for all.
With the help of a gentle mortal tasked with setting up the Central Bank of Hell, Jing embarks on a wild chase for intel, first through Hell and then mortal Shanghai. But when her hijinks put the mortal in danger, she must decide which is more important: avenging her loss of face, or letting go of her half-empty approach to life for a chance to experience tenderness – and maybe even love.
This richly told adult fantasy debut teems with Chinese deities and demons cavorting in jazz age Shanghai.
Writing Myself Home
by A.Y. Chao
1987, Taipei. A dark movie theatre. My arms goose-pimple from the chill of the aircon, a welcome respite from the city’s intense humidity and heat. My heart is in my throat, my mind in the process of being blown sky high. Chinese actors in lead roles? Joey Wang is a beautiful tragic ghost, controlled by an evil spirit into luring lustful mortals to their untimely death. She spends much of the movie flying around looking ethereal, her watersleeves trailing behind her like swathes of silk in the wind. Lifelong girl-crush right there. Leslie Cheung is a handsome cinnamon roll himbo with a heart of gold. The movie is A Chinese Ghost Story, the first I’ve seen with a full Chinese cast. I watch the pair fall in love, and it dawns on me that I’ve never seen characters on-screen who look like me be swoon-worthy. That summer, that movie, is a watershed for my nascent sense of self.
I am fourteen years old.
Two years later, Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan becomes an immediate bestseller. I see my dual heritage portrayed, for the first time, realistically in a mainstream novel. When my friends read the book and love it, my heart swells. Four years later comes the movie. This is a Hollywood blockbuster with an Asian American A-list cast, no Long Duk Dongs here. It’s one thing to see a Chinese cast on a Hong Kong movie, but this… this is home turf. I discover the joy of positive representation.
I am twenty years old.
Fast forward a couple decades. I have a kid. I understand the importance of representation, looking forward to her future, to what she will see reflected back at her in books and movies. I begin to write. Fantasy is my jam. I write characters who straddle cultures, attitudes, mash-ups of Western sensibilities and Chinese values. I fold in inspiration from all the things that speak to me: A Chinese Ghost Story, C-dramas, favourite street snacks, folk tales and mythology, Joy Luck Club, Saturday Night Live, Twilight, K-drama, memes.
I am forty years old.
Over the past ten years my shelves have slowly filled with Chinese inspired fantasy written in a way true to each author: Cindy Pon, Fonda Lee, RF Kuang, Zen Cho, Shelley Parker Chan, Sue Lynn Tan, Xiran Jay Zhao, each of their books forging a new path away from the old stereotypes—the dragon lady, the submissive innocent, the Suzie Wongs—towards a kaleidoscope of representation, a multiplicity of heritage and influences. More voices join them every year, including mine. I write messy, chaotic characters who struggle to find their place in the world. Outsiders looking in. I write them a path back to themselves. Permission to embrace every facet of their identity, carve their own space in the world. I write them a way home.
I am fifty years old.
Shanghai Immortal is A. Y. Chao’s debut novel and is out now. You can pick up your copy from Bookshop.org
Alice is a Chinese Canadian author of fantasy. She’s fascinated by the interplay between self-perceived versus imposed identity and how this intersects with belonging and enjoys exploring these spaces in her stories. A recovering lawyer and xiaolongbao enthusiast, she knits to soothe anxiety and has a deep abiding love for Hobonichi planners and kawaii planner stickers. She is grateful for the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.