Riches to Rags Wang Family Faces New Life in America
An exclusive Authorlink interview
By Diane Slocum
The Wangs vs the World, Jade Chang, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – When Charles Wang emigrated to America from Taiwan he hit on a lucky break. He started a cosmetic empire from his family’s urea business. It seemed he could do no wrong. He married, fathered three children and lived in luxury. When his first wife died, he soon remarried. Then the economy crashed and so did his world. With everything gone, he pulled his two younger children out of their schools and with their step-mother took a road trip across the U.S. to the home of this eldest daughter, each bend in the road bringing a new obstacle for the family. Through it all, Charles is determined that he will somehow reclaim his ancestral land in China.
|“The first pages of the book are the first pages that I wrote, all the way back in 2009!”
AUTHORLINK: What was the first thing about your story that came to you?
CHANG: I started the book with Charles Wang’s voice—it was brash and unapologetic and angry and yet full of joy and excitement and a desire to embrace life in every way. The first pages of the book are the first pages that I wrote, all the way back in 2009!
AUTHORLINK: Where did you go from there?
CHANG: Charles’s voice and the world of the book probably developed simultaneously. It’s interesting that we talk about worldbuilding so much with fantasy and sci-fi books, but almost not at all otherwise, because I think that every novel requires the construction of a universe for its characters and for the reader.
|“I really enjoy doing character work—it’s like a very constructive form of gossip!”
AUTHORLINK: How did the personalities and interest of each of the family members develop?
CHANG: I really enjoy doing character work—it’s like a very constructive form of gossip! I knew that I wanted to write a family of three siblings, a father, and a stepmother, and I already had Charles very firmly in place in my mind. Barbra, the stepmother, developed largely in contrast to him. I wanted to write someone who could be an effective foil, but not in an obvious way. The siblings were sort of like wish fulfillment for me. Saina, the oldest, is a conceptual artist and Andrew, the middle child, is an aspiring stand-up comic—those are both things that I secretly want to do, and it was so fun to write those scenes!
AUTHORLINK: What were some of the things you had to research to write this story and how did you do it?
CHANG: Oh, what didn’t I research? I researched so much that I thanked Google in my acknowledgments! Here’s one fun thing: I’d been to most of the places on the road trip, but I’d never driven that entire route. I wanted to know what the different highways looked like and I ended up finding a community of long-haul truckers who record their routes via dashboard cam and put sped-up versions of the videos online. That was fascinating. I also took improv classes (which is really not the same thing as standup, but I couldn’t find any standup classes when I needed them) so that I could have a firsthand experience of trying to make an audience laugh—and, maybe, failing like Andrew!
AUTHORLINK: Do the Wangs have any resemblances to your family?
CHANG: Yes and no. Their family background is the same as mine. My parents both come from families who were landowners in mainland China for generations and had to abandon that land and flee the country because of the rise of Communism. Charles’ desire to return to China and reclaim his ancestral lands from the Communists is definitely something that I’ve heard from relatives. But my parents and sister are really nothing like the Wangs. (Maybe, though, they’re all me!)
|“Being a journalist is excellent training for writing fiction.”
AUTHORLINK: How did your experience as a journalist help you with your novel?
CHANG: Being a journalist is excellent training for writing fiction. You learn to edit your work, you learn to not be precious with your words—both very important lessons. Also, you record interviews and transcribe them, which is a great way to really get used to the rhythm of actual human speech!
AUTHORLINK: What ideas or message did you hope your readers would understand better from your story?
CHANG: I think that every novel is about expanding our view of humanity, understanding that each person can be so many things at once.
AUTHORLINK: Your characters cross the country once. It looks as if you spent all fall crisscrossing the country promoting your book. What was all that like for you?
CHANG: I did! It was really amazing. I got to meet so many readers, which was really fun, and I got to do events and interviews in so many different settings—everything from a podcast in a bedroom (one of my faves!) to Late Night with Seth Meyers (another fave!). The actual travel, on the other hand, was a little more exhausting than I expected. But so very worth it.
|About the Author:
Jade Chang has been a journalist covering art and culture. She was an editor at Metropolis Magazine. This is her first novel. She is the recipient of a Sundance Fellowship, AIGA/Winterhouse Award and the James D. Houston Memorial scholarship. She lives in Los Angeles.
About Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.