Author Q&A: Kara H.L. Chen and “Love & Resistance,” “Asking for a Friend”

We’re so honored to share this interview between two of our literary champions. Tiffany is a Taiwanese American book blogger and co-founder of Subtle Asian Book Club (SABC), an international book club with 15,000+ members dedicated to amplifying Asian storytellers. She is a passionate advocate for the accessibility and readership of Asian American literature and uses her platform to combat anti-AAPI hate and support the flourishing of Asian communities worldwide. We knew she would facilitate an astute and empathetic conversation with Taiwanese American author Kara H.L. Chen, who too turned to literature to combat violence against Asians and Asian Americans, particularly during the pandemic. Her debut novel, LOVE & RESISTANCE, follows the making of a revolutionary girl and how she finds the courage to fight for a survival beyond herself.

SYNOPSIS: Seventeen-year-old Olivia Chang is at her fourth school in seven years. Her self-imposed solitude is lonely, but safe. At Plainstown High, however, Olivia’s usual plan of anonymity fails when the infamous Mitzi Clarke (influencer, queen bee, bully) makes a pointed racist comment in class. Olivia knows what she must do: let it go. But Olivia is tired of ignoring things just so she can survive. This time, she defends herself.

That is the end of her invisible life.

Soon, Olivia discovers, and joins forces with, the Nerd Net: a secret society who has been thwarting Mitzi’s reign of terror for months. Together, they plan to unite the masses and create true change at Plainstown High.

But in order to succeed, Olivia must do something even more terrifying than lead a movement: trust other people. She might even make true friends along the way . . . if Mitzi doesn’t destroy her first.

Tiffany: Welcome Kara! We’re delighted to have you here. To begin, could you provide our readers with a brief introduction about yourself?

Hi! I’m the Taiwanese American author of two YA novels, LOVE & RESISTANCE (Quill Tree/HarperCollins) and ASKING FOR A FRIEND (Quill Tree/HarperCollins, 7/23/24). I live in the Bay Area with my husband and two lovely daughters. I hate driving, but I’ll do it to get a good cup of boba!

T: Your debut novel “Love & Resistance” is an empowering story following 17-year-old Olivia Chang’s transformation from a self-imposed solitude to a leader of change. Can you share the inspiration behind crafting this narrative?

The story originated with the idea of a secret society of nerds, a concept which I thought was inherently fun. At the time I started writing the book, I didn’t know what their purpose was beyond the fact that they were going to engage in some sneaky shenanigans. However, it soon became clear to me that it would be natural for them to fight the oppressive powers in their high school.

T: The voice of Olivia, the narrator, came out almost fully formed, and she is much like she turned out to be in the final version: confident in her abilities, but mistrustful of people and intentionally detached from society. When I thought about how she might interact with the Nerd Net, it made sense to me that they would be the ones who could draw her out of her shell and change her from a passive observer to an active fighter.

How do you hope your readers will be influenced by Olivia’s journey of self-discovery and resilience?

I hope that readers might take away the sense that everyone carries their own struggles, even if it is not necessarily immediately visible to others. And hopefully people will grant that extra moment of grace or patience to someone who may need it.

T: Throughout “Love & Resistance”, the themes of revolution and justice are woven throughout the narrative. Olivia often reflects on her grandfather’s stories, drawing parallels between the Nerd Net’s revolution and historical events. How has your upbringing, perhaps through family history or classroom learnings, influenced the development of these themes in the novel?

My dad was definitely an inspiration for the grandfather, since he is a big lover of history and he often tells my daughters stories about World War I and II. Also, both my parents grew up in Taiwan, so the concepts of who governs and how they govern has always been something that’s been important to them and something that they talked about during my childhood.

Additionally, I have always been interested in the idea of who gets to be in power and why, and how people challenge—or fail challenge—injustice.

T: We’ve discussed the ‘Resistance’ aspect of the book’s title. In terms of the ‘Love’ portion, the story touches on various forms of love–romantic, mother-daughter, friendships, and even love for those who have wronged you in the past. How did you approach portraying these different types of love?

I think the heart of any successful fictional love relationship—whether it is platonic, romantic or familial—is the support that the characters have for one another and the ability to be vulnerable. As a writer, your hope is that each relationship will somehow assist or inform the main character’s internal journey and help them to deepen their understanding about themselves.

T: What challenges or joys did you discover while exploring the multifaceted nature of love in ‘Love & Resistance’?

I think the most difficult part is to make sure that all the relationships have a purpose and fit the main theme of the book and/or the main character’s journey. The challenge is also to make sure that each relationship is developed in such a way that it feels earned and not just there for the convenience of the plot.

As for the joys, I really liked setting up the Nerd Net and the relationships between each character. For me, having a solid friend group made all the difference in high school and I enjoyed giving Livvy her own found family. Part of the thrill of writing these relationships is setting them up and then letting them organically deepen as the book progresses.

T: Your next book “Asking for a Friend” which comes out July 2024 follows Juliana Zhao, an ambitious teen who teams up with her childhood frenemy to start a dating-advice column. What can readers expect out of your next story?

My next book is a frenemies-to-lovers, grumpy versus sunshine YA romcom. But it also explores the friction that comes when the well-intentioned guidance from a Taiwanese parent does not necessarily apply to life in the United States. Juliana is driven and determined and tries to make everyone else happy. And yet—despite doing everything that her mother has told her will lead to a good life—she realizes that she is nowhere close to happy. The story’s tension takes place in the gap between the world as her Taiwanese parent sees it and the American world that Juliana actually lives in.

T: How has the writing process differed from your first novel?

The writing process was really different for the second book! I was on a deadline, so there was less time to go through multiple drafts and to let the manuscript sit and come back to it later with fresh eyes. LOVE & RESISTANCE was already completed and polished at the time that I submitted it to editors, so my editor and I had (relatively!) less work to do on that book before it went out. ASKING FOR A FRIEND was in more of a draft form, so we had to go through a few rounds in a very short time period. Thankfully, my editor was very patient.  It was a much tougher process, but I also learned a lot!

T: As you reflect on your publishing journey, is there anything you wish you would’ve known when you first started?

I would say to celebrate each step. I think it’s really easy to get on one rung of the ladder and then to keep looking at the next thing and the next. My husband and kids are really good at reminding me to take a moment to really savor each milestone and to be present for the joy of things.

T: Can you share some of the highlights and memorable moments that stand out to you?

In my debut year, my absolute favorite thing has been meeting other authors, booksellers, librarians and readers. Speaking to all of the people who love books and stories has been really inspirational. And there have been so many instances of kindness—from the booksellers who celebrated with me (as I ran around the bookstore and hugged my book, lol), to my local library, who made this amazing photo booth and button station for my book talk. Their kindness and enthusiasm was so humbling, and I was so grateful for it.

T: As we wrap up the interview, I’d love to explore how your identity has shaped your professional and writing journey. Was pursuing a career as an author always something you knew you wanted to do?

I have always wanted to be a writer. I was the little kid who made little books out of construction and printer paper. I wrote throughout middle and high school, and majored in English (with a focus on creative writing) in college. I did get a law degree and practiced law for a few years, but I eventually returned to school to get my MFA in fiction. And now, all of these years later, it still seems surreal to me that a book of mine is published!

T: How has your Taiwanese identity and Asian background influenced your creative process?

My Taiwanese identity has been central to the books that I’ve written. I’ve been surprised to discover that writing, in fact, has been the way that I’ve processed some of the aspects of my identity. For example, LOVE & RESISTANCE was originally drafted in the Obama era, which was time of hope and change. But by the time the book got to the editing/publishing stages, it was 2021 and we were in the middle of a wave of hate and violence against the AAPI community.

Racism, to me, had always seemed to be a personal and lonely burden; it was something that happened, but it was seldom openly discussed. But during the pandemic, suddenly I was calling my parents and telling them to be safe at the stores. I worried about my friends and relatives, my husband and my kids. The helplessness and rage and fierce need to give voice to our experiences—and our families’ sacrifices—became the engine for LOVE & RESISTANCE during the revision stage.

For ASKING FOR A FRIEND, I wanted to explore the conflict that happens when your parents have a different worldview and value system than you do. As a Taiwanese American, I feel like this was something that I had personally experienced and thought it would be a good basis for a YA novel. Also, there is brief mention of the main characters, Juliana and Garrett, going to Taiwanese cultural camp one summer. As a TAF (Taiwanese American Foundation) alum, I definitely thought of TAF as I was drafting those scenes (though I took a little creative liberty with the setting!).

T: Thank you so much for joining us today! As our final question, do you have a favorite Taiwanese or Asian food?

I’ve been eating a lot of fan tuan lately! But my favorite food (because I do consider boba food, ha ha), is a nice cup of roasted oolong milk tea with crystal boba.

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Kara H.L. Chen can be found at and @hl_kara on Instagram and Twitter/X.

Tiffany (she/her) (@readbytiffany) is a Taiwanese American bookstagrammer and book blogger. She is the co-founder of Subtle Asian Book Club (SABC), an international book club with 15,000+ members dedicated to amplifying Asian storytellers. She is passionate about uplifting marginalized voices and building connections through literature. Her book club has interviewed notable authors such as R.F. Kuang, Chloe Gong, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, and more. SABC’s annual virtual book conference, Subtle Asian Book Con, has raised over $4,000 for various nonprofits to combat anti-AAPI hate, help public schools and libraries build and maintain robust Asian American literature collections, and make mental health more accessible for Asian communities worldwide. When she isn’t traveling for work or organizing her life for fun, she can be found annotating her favorite books, marathoning webcomics, staying up late reading manga, and brainstorming new ideas.

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