Alexa Kang is the author of the amazing new book Shanghai Story, and I am so thrilled that she agreed to answer a few questions for me. I hope you enjoy this interview and will check out her book.
A WWII saga in the heart of the world’s most decadent city in 1936. Enter the Paris of the East, where one man and one woman strive to hold on to their dreams as the Communists rise and the shadow of Japan closes in.
His country stood on the verge of a new beginning and the gate of hell. The Kuomintang promises the dawn of democracy, but the Communists threaten civil war while Japan’s unbridled ambitions loom.
All Clark Yuan wants is to see his fellow countrymen’s lives improve. He joins the KMT, hoping to play his part to make China a better place. He vows to Eden, the beautiful Jewish girl he admires from afar, Shanghai would be her forever home.
But power and money are at stake. The line of good and evil shifts. To achieve his ends, he must bargain with the devils. How much of his soul would he sacrifice to reach the greater good?
Fleeing the rise of the Nazis, Eden Levine came with her family to Shanghai, hoping to build a new life.
The dazzling city made her swoon. From the pinnacle of luxury, big band jazz, to a safe haven for Jewish refugees, the country that turns no one away is the beacon of hope. But behind the glitz and glamour, the darkness of human nature lurks.
A heinous crime shocks the international community.
Would she defend an innocent Nazi soldier and risk the ire of her own people? With only her new friend Clark by her side, could she defy the clutch of racial strife to see justice prevail?
1) Tell me a little about yourself and your writing history.
I’m Alexa Kang, WWII historical fiction writer. I started writing fiction three years ago as a hobby. Back then, I wrote fanfiction for an obscure, out-of-print Japanese manga called Candy Candy with a die-hard international following. My fanfic stories were very well-received. A fanfic novella I wrote was translated into French, Italian, and Spanish by fans from different countries who loved the story. After that, I decided to give serious novel writing a try.
I released my debut novel, Rose of Anzio (Book One), in 2016. It’s a WWII epic love story that begins in pre-war Chicago and continues onto the Battle of Anzio in Italy. My fanfic readers were my earliest supporters as I shared my novel with them chapter-by-chapter as I wrote. From their responses, I knew I had a special story to tell. After it was published, I received emails from new readers who had lived through the WWII era asking when my next book would come out. One even worked in Chicago in 1940, which was when Rose of Anzio Book One took place. Those readers are in their nineties!!! It was such a humbling experience to hear from them.
I’ve been an incredible journey ever since. The most satisfying reward for me is knowing that I’m able to give people a few hours of escape from their daily burdens through my stories.
2) How did the book Shanghai Story come about?
I’ve gotten to know many WWII fiction authors since I started publishing, and I keep up to date on new WWII novels being released. WWII is a popular genre, but rarely do I see any WWII book set in Asia. WWII fiction set in China is almost non-existent in English or Chinese. I did find a few English novels set in China during WWII, but they aren’t about WWII. I started thinking maybe I could write one.
Nonetheless, I’m not a writer who can pick a topic and plan a book. I can only write something when a character comes alive in my head. This finally happened when I saw a young Chinese man returning to Shanghai from studying abroad. I saw him disembarking a ship on the Bund with hopes of helping to modernize his country into something like America, where he’d gone to college. This young man was Clark Yuan, the main character in Shanghai Story, and this is his story.
3) What was it like researching this book?
Researching is always one of the toughest parts of writing historical fiction. It’s very work intensive. For Rose of Anzio, I had a lot of great resources to go to because WWII was very well documented by the Allied countries. China is a different story. The Nationalist government back then was very backward in technology and lacking in funds. They didn’t keep very good historical records. Even if there were records, most were lost or destroyed when the Communist Party took over. The CCP has no interest in glorying a war won by the Nationalist Party, and they have their own biased spin on what happened anyway, so research was very challenging.
Fortunately, I can read Chinese, so I was able to research in both Chinese and English. For the macro history side, I tracked down the most objective secondary sources I could find. I also visited the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum to gather information on what life was like for the Jews and how people lived in Shanghai back then. My late grandmother lived through WWII China too, so I was able to draw on my own knowledge of the Chinese culture in the past to write this book.
4) Writing historical fiction can sometimes seem like a daunting task. Did you face any particular challenges while writing this book?
Aside from the difficulties in research, my own biggest challenge was writing an Asian male main character. How do I make him attractive and relatable to a primarily non-Asian readership, and include him in an AMWW (Asian Man/White Woman) romance subplot? For all the recent talks about diverse writing and representations in media, Asian men generally do not get a lot of love in American media (John Cho and Daniel Day Kim notwithstanding). Pairing an Asian man in a romantic role with a white woman (Jewish in my case) is still a rare phenomenon. I wasn’t sure if readers would be interested in reading a book in which the hero is an Asian man.
On the other hand, I’m not a writer who use my books to force messages onto readers, nor do I want to write for the sake of “representation.” I really, really dislike doing that. As a historical fiction writer, my primary goal is to tell a good story and take my readers on an emotional journey. I do my best to present history objectively so readers can see and experience the world in that era for themselves. I want them to have the opportunity to judge history through their own eyes, and not what I tell them.
Anyway, I couldn’t have written a story to make a point even if I tried. My writing process is very organic and I don’t plot before I write. I write because characters invade my mind and won’t let me rest until their stories are told. Clark and Eden happen to be the ones occupying my head at the moment. I only hope that I’ve done their story justice. I hope Clark will come across to the readers as someone they can relate to, and they can feel all his joys and pains.
5) What is your favorite scene from the book?
My favorite scene is when Clark and his sisters took Eden to the Paramount Dance Hall. So much of what the entire story is about was embodied in that scene. The Paramount was the epitome of 1930s Shanghai decadence. The performers that night were Buck Clayton and Zhou Xuan. Through Clayton, I was able to show readers the influence of Black American jazz on Chinese contemporary music, as well as the racial attitudes and segregation during that time. Through Zhou Xuan, I introduced to readers an icon of modern Chinese music. She performed “When Will You Come Again?” This song is very popular even today. What most people don’t know is that this song has a huge cultural, historical, and political significance. It was first banned by Chiang Kai-shek, then by the Japanese, and then by Mao’s Communist Party. I really like sprinkling into my books details like these ones.
In that scene, we saw a glimpse of the Communists’ views on commercialism through Liu Zi-Hong, the boyfriend of Clark’s sister Wen-Li. The Japanese captain Kenji Konoe made an appearance and we got an allusion to the looming Japanese threat. Most important of all, it was a major scene where we could see Clark and Eden’s deepening attraction to each other, and how the constraints of racial and cultural divide prevented them from pursuing a relationship.
I hope your readers will enjoy Shanghai Story. Thank you so much, Amanda, for giving me this chance to share my thoughts with your readers.