Monday, May 17, 2010

Voices You Should Hear: Andrew Xia Fukuda

This is one of those wonderful "finds" - a novel that I might never have read if I didn't write a blog. Andrew Xia Fukuda has an unforgettable voice, and CROSSING is a novel that deserves to be found. He graciously answered a few questions for me:

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, CROSSING. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

What if you were the only Asian student in an all-white high school in upstate New York? Worse yet: what if classmates suddenly start to inexplicably disappear . . . and suspicion begins to fall on you? This is the crisis Xing Xu, a teenager from China, faces. As the mystery of the abductions rattles his adopted hometown, Xing’s position on the outskirts of the community actually puts him at an advantage. Local police are baffled by the crimes, but Xing, so easily ignored by those around him, sees and hears the things others do not. The immigrant story that is Xing's – his desperate bid for acceptance in white America, the devastating sting of rejection – not only serves as the backdrop to this psychologically rich tale, but propels the action toward a chilling climax. Xing's struggle to unravel the mystery is a journey of discovery: of himself, of his relationship to his estranged mother, of racism, and, finally, of a murderer.

I worked for a few years with immigrant teens in Manhattan's Chinatown. What really struck me was how acutely they felt isolated from society at-large. Shoved out of the way, really. And they shared a real disenchantment with America. One Sunday, a group of us - we were traveling in upstate New York - decided to attend church. It turned out to be an all-white church and I still remember the cold looks of suspicion and icy stares cast our way throughout the service. Just because we were Chinese, just because we looked different. Those cold stares haunted me for a long time afterward. It got me thinking: what if an immigrant teen had to grow up all alone in this kind of community? And what if something terribly, mysteriously awful started to happen in that community?

The 2007 Virginia Tech massacre at the hands of Seung-Hui Cho added urgency to my writing. I feel that Asian American males have often been dealt an unfair hand by the media, and I was afraid of a backlash, afraid that we might get typecast as raging, hate-filled, gun-toting campus killers. For weeks after, I attacked the manuscript with renewed fervor and purpose, determined to add more dimensionality to Xing's character. Realistic complexity and nuance in characters, after all, kill stereotypes.

What a perceptive analysis, and how sad but how true. How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

This was my first novel and it took a decade to write. Truth is, the novel was more rewritten than "written" - the first draft was a bloated, gargantuan mess of both nothingness and everythingness. It took a long time for the novel and its characters to find direction and for myself to mature as a writer before CROSSING reached a level of artistry.

CROSSING was never meant to be specifically for teens. I knew that my protagonist was a teen, and that much of the setting was in the teen world. But the themes of the book and the style of writing was perhaps a better fit for an older readership. This didn't bother me when I was writing the novel, but it did present some challenges later on when it came to trying to find a home for it with the publishers. It wasn't a neat fit, and many editors blanched at this. Crossover YA has recently become a more accepted niche market, but early on it was a tougher sell for this very reason.

I'm glad you mentioned the revision aspect of publication! Can you describe your path to the publication of CROSSING?

Unlike most budding authors, I never joined a writing group and so lacked the traditional feedback/support system most have. For over a decade, I spent many a lonely night working on the manuscript, driven by a desire to get Xing's story completed. I felt I'd hit upon something worthwhile and that it was a story that needed to be told. But there were many moments of doubt, times when I questioned whether what I had was something or just dreck. And then came the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Out of over six thousand entries, CROSSING continued to make its way through the process until only a few books remained in contention. When Terry Goodman, Senior Acquisitions Editor at AmazonEncore, called with an offer to publish CROSSING, which was immensely validating. Best phone call ever. If I ever get a dog, I'm going to name him Terry.

That is a terrific story, and many congratulations on making such a break-through. Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Writing a novel begins with a vision and ends only after dogged persistence. Talent fills in the rest. Without those three - vision, persistence, talent - you'll never finish a worthy novel.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

At the moment, I have the opposite of writer’s block: two stories have tumbled into my head and heart, and both, apparently, are jostling to be written before the other. They are completely different genres involving drastically different writing styles: one is literary romance (this caught me by surprise) and the other is a YA novel with a neat spin on the dystopian genre. It’s a bizarre experience; if I spend too much time on the one, I feel unfaithful to the other. Both are flowing so well that I dare not put either aside out of fear that that might somehow dry up the creative stream.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about CROSSING?

Yes! It's Thanks for visiting.

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