Hello everyone! I’m happy to be here with an interview for #AsianLitBingo, which is hosted by Shenwei @ Reading As I Am. They, and the rest of the cohosts, have done amazing work for this reading challenge that celebrate the month of May, which is Asian American Heritage Month. This interview features Riley Redgate, author of Seven Ways We Lie, and recently out Noteworthy.
I actually really adored Noteworthy and you can find my feature for this book over here, as well as my five star review over here. It’s definitely been one of my top 5 contemporaries for the year so far, and I really recommend you guys checking it out!
Haven’t heard of #AsianLitBingo? You can check out Shenwei’s masterpost here and my own TBR post over here. We made this interview on time for the month of May! 😀 My questions will be bolded, and the response will be the paragraph(s) underneath.
- When I first read Noteworthy, I was touched by how much I could connect to Jordan, from the complicated, loving relationship with her parents to the way she sought to be the best that she could be – even defying school rules to do so. What inspired you to write her story?
I’m so glad you could connect to her! Jordan as a character came after the conceptual hook, but I really wanted to write an ambitious Chinese female lead. So much of what we see for Asian girl characters is exploring passivity. I wanted the opposite, especially because aggression and ambition are traits expected of boys and the novel deals so centrally with the irrationality of prematurely prescribing personality traits for different genders.
- In Noteworthy, the Sharpshooters are an incredibly tight-knit friend group with an amalgam of personalities and views. (And I fell in love with each one of them.) How has your own experience in a capella influenced the way you wrote these characters and their interactions?
Hooray, the Sharps! Sharing an a cappella group is this weird, intimate cocktail of talent, passion, disagreement, and self-leadership. Those friendships and tensions grow intense, especially on the cusp of performances. My a cappella groups in high school and college each had different dynamics, even from year to year, and in my experience, these work/performance/friendship dynamics are first and foremost contingent on how well individual personalities gel. In translation, it felt paramount that I explore each of the Sharpshooters’ perspectives. In this book, the most important facets of each were their approach to music, to interpersonal conflict, and to masculinity.
- Jordan discusses the expectations that her school sets up for its students and we see that especially with how each one fights to be at the top. What advice would you give to students and young adults who find themselves struggling to meet these kinds of expectations?
Firstly, cast off the flavorless idea of what a “model student” looks like; those imagined people are often hideously boring. Cast off the need to feel “well-rounded.” The idea of needing to participate in, and succeed at, absolutely everything only ended up being a source of stress to me in high school. This need to juggle an infinite list of activities is ultimately a dilution of passion, and of time. Grades are almost inevitably competitive, but the rest that students are expected to pile onto their plates—sports, extracurricular activities, independent interests—are the real kickers: they shouldn’t feel like a competition in quantity, and certainly not a list ranked by value to some external measure of evaluation. Soccer versus Academic Team? A musical instrument versus marching band? Which is better on The Transcript? This becomes an utterly soulless approach to leading a life.
I did a lot in high school, so much that I can’t remember now how I had sufficient hours in the day. A lot of what I did, I actually loved, but I longed to trim away certain activities and classes, and wouldn’t let myself because of The Transcript, which became something of a pagan god to which I sacrificed my high school life. My advice is, honestly, fuck that. These years of your life shouldn’t be prescribed like a bitter medicine to take with reluctance, especially when college admissions are such an absolute crapshoot past a point. To reiterate the obvious—stay in school, learn to love learning, education is absolutely invaluable and a tremendous privilege. But outside that? If you know your passion, steer into it, not away for the sake of a flavorlessly generalized middle ground. Being the preeminent young lepidopterist in West Virginia or having a love for trainspotting or taking one photograph of a cobweb every day for a year—this stuff, the weird stuff, the stuff done just for you, cannot be measured in value by Admissions Boards. Find what makes your days feel full and full of life. Success is not measured on a single continuum, and the imagined expectation of a single idea of success doesn’t create success. It creates clones.
- The Asian Lit Bingo Reading Challenge is all about promoting and increasing exposure to #ownvoices Asian stories. What has your own experience been like writing an #ownvoices story?
It’s been strange! When you write about your own demographic checkboxes, there’s an automatic inclination from the audience to say, “Ah yes, so this is you, but fictionalized?” This is part of having a political identity, I guess, which tags along with being nonwhite and queer. That said, it’s refreshingly simple to explore a part of my life that’s always been present, and more straightforwardly, to know for sure that I’m writing truth to the character. The act of creating #ownvoices work also feels (maybe predictably) empowering. Not in the sense that my words have more meaning when a character’s identity mirrors mine. The sense of empowerment feels external to the book: I hear from readers who are Chinese or are bisexual and to whom the story inherently means something more for representing these facets, and I feel the community that exists around these identities.
- With the advent of so many #ownvoices books, Asian characters in YA have gone from stereotypes to relatable portrayals. Are there any changes you’d like to see in the future regarding Asian voices and characters in publishing?
Honestly, I think we’re on a great trajectory in publishing. Asian voices are making massive strides within YA and adult alike, and it makes me so happy to see. My goal is always pretty much proportional representation, though, so I’m praying we close the far more dramatic representation gaps in books by and featuring Black and Latinx characters. I’m looking forward to that next, more impenetrable barrier—getting Asian leads in Hollywood blockbusters.
- What are some #ownvoices Asian books that you would recommend to readers?
Where. To. Start. I’m sure folks are acquainted with Jenny Han, Marie Lu, and Roshani Chokshi’s books. I’d also aggressively push Maurene Goo’s I Believe in a Thing Called Love, Stacey Lee’s Outrun the Moon, Heidi Heilig’s The Girl From Everywhere and The Ship Beyond Time, and Traci Chee’s The Reader. I’m also in the middle of Akemi Bowman’s upcoming Starfish and it’s just fantastic so far. Haven’t read, but have heard rapturous things about, Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi, and I’m super excited for F.C. Yee’s The Epic Crush of Genie Lo!
- What’s your favorite Asian dish?
! Char siu bao!!! (Pork buns.)
- Can you tell us a little about your next upcoming work in 2018?
Indeed. It’s about a high school senior named Laila who is a creative writer. When her school hires a new teacher, a sadistically critical, perpetually unimpressed Pulitzer-Prize winner, Laila becomes obsessed with obtaining her approval, but the teacher is one of those writers who believes we must all Suffer For Our Art, so Laila begins overhauling her comfortable life to try and dislodge great art.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview! ❤
Riley Redgate speaks exclusively in third person, so this works nicely. She loves horror films, apocalyptic thunderstorms, and the Atonement soundtrack. When writing author bios, she feels as if she is crafting some weirdly formal Tinder profile.
She plans someday to start a melodramatically epic rock band named Millennial Filth. Until then, she writes acoustic singer-songwriter stuff, also novels.
Get Noteworthy here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.
Jordan finds herself enmeshed in a precarious juggling act: making friends, alienating friends, crushing on a guy, crushing on a girl, and navigating decades-old rivalries. With her secret growing heavier every day, Jordan pushes beyond gender norms to confront what it means to be a girl (and a guy) in a male-dominated society, and—most importantly—what it means to be herself.
Not gonna lie, I kind of teared up a little when I read the answer for question 3. That’s a topic close to my heart, especially after just recently graduating, and I think it’s advice that’ll benefit readers who are currently experiencing the weight of The Transcript and striving to be “well-rounded” like I did so few months ago. I’ll definitely be looking out for Laila’s story next year!