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Blog Tour


Excerpt from

Posted July 12, 2011

“This book was written over a decade,” said Chow during the February reading and discussion in the Skyline Room. “During that time, I constantly read other authors and revisited story structures and plots in my book.”


Chow said the book took 11 years to complete and that she wrote 13 drafts. Chow added that after she completed seven drafts, she had reached the “point of no return.”


When asked if she had ever thought about scrapping the project, she said, “The only thing worse than having seven drafts is having seven drafts and quitting. The only way this book would have never happened is if no one wanted to represent or publish it.”



Excerpt from

Posted March 28, 2011

W: In Bitter Melon Frances was put into speech class through a scheduling mistake. I know that you competed in speech during high school, how were you introduced to speech class? What was speech like for you?


CC: I don’t remember how I got introduced to speech class. (I still talk to my speech coach, who is now retired, and we both marvel at how memory deteriorates with age.) As for how speech was for me, it was fun but very stressful, so stressful that is was necessary to wear an extra coat of deodorant as insurance. There are different categories of speech competition. I was good at original oratory because I could take my time writing, rehearsing, and memorizing my speech before reciting it to an audience. But I was horrible at impromptu, in which they gave you a topic, and then you had two minutes to prepare a speech before delivering it. I don’t think fast on my feet, and when I’m under pressure, I freeze up and start sounding like a clip from The King’s Speech. In fact, the one and only time I did impromptu, I stood in front of my competitors and the judge for several seconds, frozen in terror. One of my competitors was this tall blond kid who wore a nice suit and a long black coat. He could see that I was struggling, so he nodded at me and gave me this “you can do it” look. Because of his encouragement, I was able to relax and deliver my speech. Afterwards, he applauded warmly, which was rather charitable, considering my mediocre performance. When it was his turn to speak, my jaw dropped. He delivered his speech like he had been preparing it for weeks! Of course, he won that competition. I was eliminated before the semi-final round. Anyway, that blonde kid became the inspiration for the character of Derek Collins in Bitter Melon.


To read the entire post, please click here.


Excerpt from

Posted March 26, 2011

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing the book to life?


My biggest challenge was getting out of my own way. Bitter Melon was inspired in large part by my own personal experiences, and with that comes both great inspiration and great confusion. It is difficult to learn the mechanics of good story telling while sorting out one’s life. I think the book took so long to write because it came from such a personal place. At the same time, I think that’s why the book is so powerful.


To read the entire post, please click here.


Excerpt from

Posted March 25, 2011

Before becoming a writer, were there any jobs you felt pressured to do?


I’ll rephrase your question: “Were there any jobs you felt pressured to take in order to support your writing habit?”  Most writers, both emerging and published, are writing while holding “day jobs” to make ends meet.  I’ve been unusually lucky because I have a spouse who makes a decent income and provides financial and moral support.  It would have been a hundred times harder to finish Bitter Melon without him.  However, I did put pressure on myself to earn income, so I took on admin jobs to help pay the bills for many years.  I was very good at the admin jobs because I was friendly and organized, and, for the most part, I worked with really nice people in interesting environments.  At the same time, I was often frustrated because those jobs were draining, which made creative writing impossible.  They also required a lot of computer work, which resulted in a bad carpal tunnel condition that kept me from writing for almost a year.  Eventually, I changed careers and became a part-time Pilates teacher with an emphasis on corrective exercise.  This job complemented my writing much better.  It required me to work with people, which balanced out my writing life, which required long stretches of time alone.  It also got me away from my computer, preventing the carpal tunnel issue from returning.  When writers ask me about day jobs, I always recommend that, whenever possible, they find one that complements, rather than competes with, their writing.


Excerpt from

Posted March 23, 2011

5. In your author bio on your website, you mention that you were a PEN Emerging Voices Fellow. Can you tell us what this means? 


As a PEN EV Fellow in 2001, I was assigned a mentor who critiqued my work and gave me professional advice. The program also funded my enrollment in a creative writing class through UCLA Extension. I got to participate in special workshops held exclusively for EV Fellows. I was invited to readings at the LA Central Library. I also participated in two public readings. In addition to all those privileges, I got a $1000 stipend. This program lasted from January through August. I’m sure the program has evolved quite a bit since then, but the basics are the same. It was an excellent program for me, one I would recommend to emerging writers. It is a good alternative to the MFA program because what it offers is very practical and it doesn’t cost money. It is also structured in such a way that you don’t have to quit your job to participate. You do have to apply for it though. You have to be eligible, and it is very competitive to get in.


To read the entire post, please click here.


Excerpt from

Posted March 22, 2011

1.      Bookmarks or dog ears?

Neither.  I use Post It tabs.  They work so much better.


2.      Dust jacket on or off when reading a hard back?


On.  I like pictures, so if I’m not reading a picture book, then the cover art is the only picture I get to look at.  Besides, if I lose my Post It, I can always use the jacket flap as a bookmark.


3.      Favorite author?


I don’t have a favorite author.  I love many authors.  Instead, I’ll list some favorite novels not mentioned elsewhere in this interview: Tenderness and Heroes by Robert Cormier, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.


4.      Favorite genre?


In the fiction category, I tend to like literary fiction, but it has to have a good plot and good pacing.  For non-fiction, my taste is very eclectic: geography, anthropology, neuroscience, sociology, linguistics, history, cookbooks, and gardening books.


Excerpt from

Posted March 21, 2011

Jessica: Who was your favorite character to write?


Cara: I loved writing all of my characters, but perhaps my most fun character is Nellie. I love her loud, friendly voice, her Afro perm, and her hot pink, leopard jogging suit. I love her inability to be subtle and sophisticated, e.g. the way she whistles for Theresa after she delivers her speech, and the way she nods and winks as she hints to Frances—in Gracie’s presence—that she is keeping Frances’s secrets. What makes her so frustrating and embarrassing is also what makes her so lovable.


Excerpt from

Posted March 20, 2011

How does it feel being a debut author?


Being a debut author is somewhat like being a debut mother. During my pregnancy, the OB medical staff called me “Mrs. Chow.” The moment I went into labor, the OB and pediatric staff started calling me “mom.” Suddenly, I lost my name and became identified, not as an individual but by my role. My sense of purpose expanded, but so did my sense of responsibility. I had to stretch rapidly to accommodate this new role while trying not to tear. The process has been joyful, stressful, and unpredictable.


Excerpt from

Posted March 19, 2011

In Bitter Melon, Frances has great public speaking skills, so what inspired you to give her that talent? Did you enjoying public speaking when you were her age as well?


As a high school speech competitor, I found public speaking to be nerve-wracking and draining but also fun, even exhilarating. It was from this experience that I got the idea to make Frances a champion speaker. I saw speech as a means of empowerment for this person who, figuratively speaking, had no voice. My speech coach was a very influential figure in my life. I embellished this role for Ms. Taylor, Frances’s speech coach, and made her the alternative role model for Frances, in opposition to Gracie, Frances’s mom.I also stole from my own experiences to enhance Frances’s plot. In real life, I competed in the Chinese American Citizens Alliance speech competition, upon which Frances’s Chinese American Association competition was loosely based. David Louie, Wendy Tokuda, and Emerald Yeh, the newscasters that judged Frances’s competition, were real newscasters that judged my competition. I don’t remember being mentioned on Channel 26 as Frances was, but my photo was featured in the Independent, the free San Francisco newspaper. It was easy to embellish and alter these real events for the purposes of the book.


Excerpt from

Posted March 18, 2011

Have you ever lived through an earthquake?


Yes! I actually lived through several minor earthquakes (i.e. under 5.0 on the Richter scale), but I survived two major ones. My first major earthquake was the one mentioned in Bitter Melon, the Loma Prieta earthquake on October 17, 1989, which measured at 6.9. That was the most terrifying 15 seconds of my life. The force of the quake was so strong that it catapulted our dishes from the cabinets halfway across the kitchen. I had to hold onto the bathroom doorframe in order to remain standing. In Bitter Melon, Frances is in the car with Ms. Taylor during the quake. I based their experience of the quake on my sister’s experience because she was in a car when it happened. Just when I thought the Big Quake was behind me, I moved to Los Angeles for college just in time for the 1994 Northridge quake, which measured at 6.7. Because of my location, this quake did not feel quite as scary, but it was serious and there were casualties in that one too. Now I am living near the Inglewood fault line in Southern California. Hmm . . . time to update the will, yes?


Excerpt from

Posted March 17, 2011

Since Bitter Melon's release, what has been your most memorable moment?


I have two most memorable moments: the two readings I did in San Francisco in late February.  The first one was at the Presentation convent, home of the retired sisters who taught at my alma mater, Presentation High School, upon which St. Elizabeth’s (Frances’s school) is loosely based.  Three of my high school teachers attended this event: Ms. Pic, Sr. Pam, and Mr. McGuire.  I hadn’t seen Ms. Pic or Sr. Pam in twenty years.  I was particularly close to Mr. McGuire, my sophomore English teacher.  We wrote the Senior Jinx together during my senior year.  I deeply admired him, so much so that I had a crush on him when he taught me.  After the reading, Mr. McGuire said to me, “I wish that Mrs. Willson were here.  She’d be so proud.”  Later that evening, Ms. Pic and Mr. McGuire joined my family for a late Chinese New Year celebration, during which they met my husband and son.  These were the people who helped mold me when I was young.  It meant so much to me to share with them not only my book but also my family.


Excerpt from

Posted March 15, 2011

As a newly published author, what was your publishing experience like? A nightmare, a dream come true or somewhere in between? And what would you say to aspiring writers or anyone readying a query letter?


Overall, my publishing experience has been phenomenal. I am so fortunate to have an agent and a publisher who are willing to invest so much time and energy in a debut author. Not only have they supported me as a writer, but they have also been supportive of me as a person. Being a newly published author is a great joy, but it can also be a bit stressful at times because the experience is new and brings with it some unexpected challenges. Also, in my case, I am a new parent, so I’m pretty much raising two babies! Everyone has been very understanding, as well as generous with enthusiasm and guidance. I couldn’t ask for a better team.My advice to aspiring writers is to be patient and persistent. It took me eleven years and thirteen drafts get Bitter Melon to where it is today. Initially, I was embarrassed about taking so long, but the feedback I’ve gotten from both my agent and editor is that they respected that I was willing to take the time to get things right. They also respected my willingness to listen to feedback and incorporate it into my revisions. Of course, I’m not implying that it should take everyone that long to finish a book. In fact, if you can accomplish the same goal in less time, then I encourage you to look at me and gloat!


To read the entire post, please click here.


Excerpt from

Posted March 14, 2011

As a big fan of Cara Chow's debut novel Bitter Melon, I am thrilled to welcome her to the Bibliophile Support Group to share a little about herself.


I’m not exactly a Luddite, but I am slow to pick up new technologies. While I embrace innovation on an intellectual level, on a gut level I am a rigid creature of habit who is prone to stress and resistant to change. I’m the type of person who will wear the same tee shirt or jeans for years until they get holes. Then I’ll go to the exact same store to look for the exact same shirt or jeans, only to find that that model has been discontinued.


To read the entire post, please click here.


Excerpt from

Posted March 12, 2011

Today on My Overstuffed Bookshelf, I would like to introduce you to author Cara Chow.  Cara is the author of Bitter Melon and agreed to stop by for a guest post.  So lets give her a warm welcome and say hello!


The writing process for Bitter Melon was series of expansions and contractions.  During the expansion phases, I was generating material.  During the contraction phases, I was editing and cutting, chiseling away at the literary block of marble.   


For example, when I wrote my first draft, the manuscript was in a state of explosive expansion.  I was writing in a stream of consciousness fashion, listening to my characters, spilling whatever I heard onto the page.  My story had too many storylines and no plot, but at the time, that was okay.  Then, the manuscript went through a phase of contraction, when I had to pick one story line to focus on, which meant cutting the other stories.  It was during this time that I was finding my central question in the story, which was, “Can Frances escape her mother’s control?”.


Excerpt from

Posted March 10, 2011

Please join me in welcoming author Cara Chow here today to Dark Faerie Tales.  Cara’s book, Bitter Melon, was released on December 28, 2010.  


Author Bio: I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in the Richmond District of San Francisco, where Bitter Melon is set.  Also, I was a PEN Emerging Voices Fellow and currently live in the Los Angeles area with my husband and son.  


To read the entire post, please click here.


Excerpt from

Posted March 9, 2011

Alaine: Thanks to Cara, the author of Bitter Melon for joining me today. I asked Cara why she chose to write a YA novel.


Cara: To be honest, when I was writing the first several drafts of Bitter Melon, I did not envision it as YA fiction because I did not view my audience as being specifically teen or adult. I just had a good story I wanted to tell, and I wrote with that in mind. By the time I was ready to query agents, I had been told many times that the fiction market was getting tougher but that, within fiction, the two markets that were doing well were romance and YA. I knew I would never be a romance writer, but my book happened to have a teenage protagonist with a story that would appeal to teen readers. My goal was to sell the book and reach as many readers as possible. To improve my chances of success, I decided to query agents that represented YA fiction. I think I made the right decision. I get to work with a fantastic agent and publisher. I get to interact with young readers, teachers, and librarians. I feel so honored to have these opportunities. That said, I still hope that adult readers will find Bitter Melon and enjoy it as much as teen readers do.


Excerpt from

Posted March 8, 2011

Why did you decide to set the story (Bitter Melon) in 1980s?


During the early drafts of Bitter Melon, I didn’t set the story in 1989 intentionally, but I was imagining all the scenes in 1989 because that was when I was Frances’s age and living in her city. During the middle drafts of Bitter Melon, I experimented with incorporating a second time line, in which Frances is an adult and must decide whether or not to forgive and reconcile with her mother. Because the adult story line was set in the present, the scenes from the past, in which Frances was seventeen, had to be set during a specific time, which was 1989. Around the time that I was writing those drafts, I created an important scene that occurred during the Loma Prieta earthquake. I also created Frances’s “Asian American Whiz Kid” speech. Towards the later drafts of the book, I decided that the adult story line did not work well with the teenage story line, so I got rid of those chapters. I had contemplated setting the story in the present, but that would mean having to get rid of the earthquake and the Newsweek article, both based on real events that happened in 1989 and both important to the plot. So instead, I decided to take advantage of the time in which the story was set. 1989 was before the internet and cell phones. Without that technology, Frances is even more trapped at home and must work harder to plot her escape.


To read the entire post, please click here.


Excerpt from 

Posted March 7, 2011

1. You've had quite an interesting writing journey already. What was the biggest lesson you learned from your experience with the picture book and poem you've had published?


Probably the biggest lesson I learned was to be more honest with myself about my true desires and to have more confidence in my ability to succeed.  Though I received some attention and success early on in my writing career, I still didn’t consider myself a writer at the time because I didn’t believe in myself.  Had I not changed my attitude, I wouldn’t be a published novelist today.  I remind myself of this whenever I feel discouraged.  I’ve also mentored others who, like me, had buried aspirations that needed a little coaxing.


Excerpt from 

Posted March 3, 2011

Hi readers and friends, today kicks of Cara Chow's blog tour of her book Bitter Melon. Today Cara stopped by the blog to tell us about authors who have influenced her work. Welcome to the blog Cara and my question today is what authors have inspired you?


As a teen, my favorite YA author was Robert Cormier. The Chocolate War was the first book I had ever read that was so edgy, dark, and honest about the nature of evil and desire. I admire Cormier’s ability to combine a tight, suspenseful plot with beautiful prose and complex characters. I continued to read Cormier’s books long after I stopped being a teenager. From time to time, I still re-read books like Tenderness and Heroes, in part to relive the magic but also to study Cormier’s prose, plot, and characterization.


To read the entire post, please click here.

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