In this “New Creatives” interview with Alice Lin, an up-and-coming Taiwanese American author, we dig into the cultural roots and swoon-worthy characters of her recently released young adult (YA) romance novel, Fireworks. The story revolves around Lulu Li, a 17 year-old girl who is reunited with her childhood friend, Kite Xu, now a rising K-pop star in the boy group Karnival. Upon his return home, Lulu finds herself falling in love with her childhood friend. When fame turns out to be a hindrance to their budding relationship, Lulu and Kite find that they must face the challenges of fandom culture and the search for personal identity in order to reach their happy ending.
Alice was a teen librarian for six years before changing professions. Outside of her nine-to-five, she maintains her love for stories by reading and writing young adult fiction. She enjoys consuming works by other authors to inspire her own writing. Alice also “daydreams and stews in [her] thoughts a lot—drafting and discarding story ideas—before ever starting the first chapter of a new book.” She is also a self-proclaimed “planster” (someone who plans ahead and writes as she goes). Alice hopes to inspire a new generation of AAPI young adults by depicting and writing stories about AAPI characters in her books, in addition to normalizing LGBTQ+ identities among ethnic/racial minority communities.
It is with great pleasure that I present my interview with Alice, edited lightly for clarity and length.
Alyssa: Hi Alice! It’s so great to finally meet you. To start off, I’d love to dive deep into the origins of your interest and career in writing. After doing some digging on your website, I saw you describe your experience reading Sailor Moon growing up and having your fifth-grade teacher tell you to “stop picking Sailor Moon chapter books for [your] reading assignments.” How do you believe your interest in Asian popular media as a child has carried over to your career writing YA novels?
Alice: It’s great to meet you as well! In terms of Asian media, anime fueled my imagination as a child, but I was also deeply influenced by TV dramas. My paternal grandmother loved watching Chinese/Chinese-dubbed dramas, and throughout my elementary school years, I’d join her. It was how we bonded and one of the ways I came to grow an appreciation for my culture as a child.
In that way, although I loved my American cartoons and English-dubbed anime like Sailor Moon, I also grew up watching TV shows with all Asian casts—which you don’t see often in American TV or film. When I wrote Fireworks, I deliberately set out to make the main cast all Asian. I also sprinkled in various references to Asian popular media throughout the book to normalize my experience consuming what would be considered by some to be “foreign” media.
Alyssa: It’s incredible that you’re working to increase Asian representation in popular media! On a similar note, in light of the surge in popularity of Asian pop culture worldwide, it’s no surprise that many fans dream of being in a situation similar to that of Lulu Li in Fireworks, where she reunites with her childhood friend turned K-pop star, Kite Xu. What inspired you to write about this particular scenario, and what themes are you exploring throughout your book?
Alice: Isn’t the answer obvious? I wish I were dating a K-pop idol! In all seriousness, however, Fireworks is a love story that explores distance and (re)connection, family and friendship, and the importance of communication and being true to oneself.
I initially started Fireworks because I wanted to write a feel-good rom-com. And what’s not to like about childhood friends reuniting and falling in love? I needed that positivity in my life, and writing and crafting the character of Lulu was like getting to know her as a friend.
Having said that, when it comes to celebrity romances, there are certain realities that do need to be addressed. As a fairly private person myself, I wanted to emphasize the importance of privacy by illustrating both the good and bad of fandom culture and the price we pay for fame. While K-pop idols are public performers, they are first and foremost humans and shouldn’t have to live up to or meet our ideals. K-pop idols and celebrities in general also have a private life they wish to maintain, and people need to respect that.
I wish I were dating a K-pop idol!
Alyssa: It’s definitely an important topic to broach, particularly having seen many of my own friends immersed in idol culture. Turning to a different topic, with June being Pride Month, it was a pleasant surprise to see your protagonist identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, especially with its cast being predominantly Asian. How does this theme manifest in Fireworks in Lulu’s character and why do you believe it important to include as a facet of your book?
Alice: Lulu identifies as bisexual, and while her primary love interest is Kite, her interest in girls/women is referenced here and there. I wanted to keep the LGBTQ+ representation casual or more subtle in the same way that I drop a ton of references to Asian popular media in the book— because being bisexual and being Asian American is normal. You like what you like. You are who you are.
With Asian LGBTQ+ representation still having a long way to go, I thought it was important to write a character who is not only confident in her bisexuality but also has friends and family who are supportive of her identity. By doing so, I hope that those who might identify with Lulu feel seen and supported as well.
Alyssa: What has been the most difficult part of your writing/publishing process? How do you overcome these roadblocks/obstacles?
Alice: To be honest, every part of the writing and publishing process was difficult. If I had to focus on a particular challenge, it would be overcoming rejection. For most writers, the road to getting published is filled with countless rejections and often leads to even more dead ends.
Fireworks is the third book I’ve written, the second book I’ve queried to literary agents, and the first book I’ve traditionally published. Before Fireworks, I had another contemporary young adult novel that I shelved after I failed to acquire literary representation. It was a bitter—albeit not unique—experience that led to a lot of self-doubt. I found myself asking: “Do I have what it takes to be a writer? Can I keep doing this? Is writing really for me?”
It’s tempting to fall victim to comparison and to become your own worst enemy. I managed to push through my slump and write Fireworks by reminding myself that I can only do what I can—which is to write. At the end of the day, I want to tell stories, and if people can find comfort and joy in the books I write—even better. It sounds so simple, but that message often gets lost amidst all the rejection and negativity.
Alyssa: It seems like you’ve experiencing abundant growth throughout your career. Have you written anything before releasing Fireworks? In what way have you seen your writing mature/develop over time?
Alice: As I mentioned before, I’d written two other books before Fireworks. The first book I ever wrote and finished was a young adult fantasy. The world-building was lacking, the main character was boring, and… I can’t bring myself to say more! Years later, I wrote a contemporary young adult novel that tackled mental health, emotional abuse, sibling rivalry, and family trauma. In hindsight, the themes weren’t well fleshed out, and the plot needed tightening. Now that I’ve written three books, I’d like to say I’m better at characterization and knowing when to show, not tell and when to tell, not show. But I still have a lot to learn.
Alyssa: Although FIREWORKS focuses on the relationship between Lulu and Kite, it also prominently features the themes of identity, family, and connection. How do you believe that your Taiwanese/Taiwanese-American identity factors into not only your novel but also your career in general?
Alice: People often write what they know. I incorporate a lot of my own experiences into my writing, and as someone with Taiwanese immigrant parents, my upbringing naturally finds its way into my stories.
I grew up eating congee and dim sum, and it was in Taiwan where I first had bubble tea and shaved ice. Unsurprisingly, my characters also eat those things. Additionally, despite my parent’s efforts to enable me to become fluent in Mandarin, my understanding of the language remains at an elementary level. In Fireworks, I briefly touch on this by including a scene where Lulu goes on a blind date, and her date asks why she isn’t fluent in Chinese if her parents are from Taiwan. I think that episodes like this are very relatable among second-generation immigrants, and for that reason I wanted to include small vignettes in my book that prod at shared experiences.
In terms of my career, I will continue to craft stories that speak to my experiences and interests in the hope that these stories will resonate with others. It is also my hope that my stories will join hundreds and thousands of other AAPI voices—both in young adult literature and popular media in general.
People often write what they know. I incorporate a lot of my own experiences into my writing, and as someone with Taiwanese immigrant parents, my upbringing naturally finds its way into my stories.
Alyssa: What scene in Fireworks do you think resonates most with your intended audience? Are there any scenes that you found particularly fun or difficult to write?
Alice: While most of us don’t have childhood friends who became K-pop idols, I think many people can relate to Lulu when she agonizes over Kite’s return—wondering how she should act, how he’ll react, and where they stand with each other after four years apart. We all get that fluttery feeling in our chests when our crush comes around; we all get starstruck when someone we admire stands before us, and we can all appreciate how marvelous it must feel to reunite with an old friend.
As for what scenes I found particularly fun to write? Any scene where Lulu and her friends hang out and goof off. Writing their dialogue was enjoyable and easy. Writing the lovey-dovey moments between Kite and Lulu, however, was challenging. I’m not a romantic person, so I had some trouble writing flirtatious scenes, especially since I knew my family and friends would be reading the book.
Alyssa: Lastly, with the exciting success of your first novel, is there anything on the horizon for you in terms of future books or other projects?
Alice: My next project is another contemporary romance. This time, it will be featuring two female leads on the asexual spectrum. The book is a departure from Fireworks in terms of tone, especially since the protagonist is quite unlikeable (though hopefully relatable). Instead of K-pop, there will be lots of art and otome games, or relationship-centric games targeted towards women.
Alyssa: That sounds so exciting! I know that I, for one, am definitely going to be picking up a copy when it’s released. Thanks so much for speaking to me today, and I’m looking forward to reading more from you in the near future.
Alice: It was great talking to you as well. Thanks, Alyssa!
If you enjoyed reading this article and are interested in learning more about Alice’s work, feel free to explore her social media and website linked below: