Interview with Susan Chan, co-author of the romance novel “The Reluctant Brides of Lily Court Lane”

What a dreary week it’s been for me. I caught the flu last Thursday (the worst possible kind, with body aches and zero energy), which kept me holed up bed for three days straight. It also rained nonstop during that time, a downpour of almost Biblical proportions that ended up flooding my favorite trails in the wetlands park nearby. And on Monday, just when I thought I was getting over the flu, I lost my voice completely. That’s right, I can’t talk a single word! That led to a trip to the hospital with a rather unpleasant experience of having a doctor shove a rod with a camera on it into my throat (everything is fine – just need to take some medicine and finish a round of vapor therapy). Oh, and did I mention that the blissful summery temperatures we were enjoying last week have dipped back into wintery territory once again?

Yep, that kind of week.

It’s times like this when I turn to a good story for a little escape – the chance to slip into another world and forget about my troubles for a while. Especially if it’s an easy, breezy love story like The Reluctant Brides of Lily Court Lane, which reads like one of my favorite romantic comedies on the screen.The Reluctant Brides of Lily Court Lane

Susan Chan, along with her co-author Carol Polakoff, have woven together a delightfully relaxing romance novel with many different interwoven love stories set in San Diego, California (almost like the movie “Love, Actually”). Even better, one of those love stories is about a young AMWF couple (I think it’s the best in the novel!). Given that Susan’s husband is Chinese, I’m not surprised she’d want to share a story reflecting her own experiences. The book also draws upon her Jewish heritage with a story about a Holocaust survivor and the mystery of a missing family painting.

This is a perfect book for the beach, travel, or (if you’re like me) a little escape from the ordinary.

I’m honored to introduce you to Susan Chan and The Reluctant Brides of Lily Court Lane through this interview.

Susan Chan
Susan Chan

Susan was born to immigrant parents, grew up in New York City, and attended local public schools. After graduating from the High School of Music and Art as an art major, she earned her Bachelor’s degree from the City College of New York and a Master’s from New York University. She taught high school Social Studies for a number of years and then changed career paths. She obtained her Masters and Professional Diploma in Guidance and Counseling from Fordham University and became a high school guidance counselor.

She has been married to her husband Jay for 44 years and blessed with two children and one grandson (as of now). As an interracial couple they faced many challenges but their marriage has lasted because they have been guided by two principles – don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t go to sleep mad.

Susan has also shared a story on this blog titled My daughter said, “I’m American, I’m Jewish and I’m Chinese.”

You can follow The Reluctant Brides of Lily Court Lane at the Lily Court Lane Books Facebook Page.

I asked Susan about how she came up with the AMWF couple in the story, her motivation for writing about a Jewish Holocaust survivor, and what it was like dating her husband in the 1960s.

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What inspired you and your partner to come up with this idea of a community at Lily Court Lane with all of these interwoven romance stories?

I’m a collector of stories. I seem to have a personality that encourages others to confide in me or at the very least share their stories. My mother had the same quality and she’d laugh when she said I seem to wear a sign across my chest saying tell me your problems. I guess that’s also what caused me to enter my chosen profession as a high school guidance counselor. The reason I mention this is because the stories in the book are based on events which happened to people I know. That’s why they have the ring of truth about them.

As you can imagine, my favorite couple in the story is Ming, a Chinese-American guy who works at the coffee shop in the community, and Cindy, a “wild child” kind of woman with purple-dyed hair and a nose ring who helps at the local bakery. Could you talk about how you came up with these characters and their storyline?

Ming and Cindy are the interracial couple I wish my husband and I could have been. While true that his mother opposes Cindy at first because she’s not Chinese, she comes to accept her and eventually love her like a daughter. I never had that opportunity as my husband’s mother died when he was very young and his family never really reconciled themselves to our marriage. Cindy’s neighbors view her relationship with Ming as “normal” and never interfere. Everyone, including strangers, felt they had the right to express their opposition to my marriage. I was even asked at work if I really wanted to change my last name to my married name. Most people tend to focus on the outward differences in a person such as the shape of an eye, the texture of hair.

There’s also a very fascinating story woven throughout the book about a Jewish woman whose family lost a rather valuable painting during World War II. Could you talk about what motivated you to put this into the story?

My father never really wanted to talk about his family. I guess he experienced survivor’s guilt. He was the only one in his family to survive the Holocaust because he’d immigrated to America. I grew up knowing about the Holocaust, which not everyone today learns about, but millions of deaths cannot be easily grasped. When as a youngster I read “The Diary of Anne Frank,” it became clear how the story of one person can affect a multitude. Usually the Holocaust is reduced to numbers; I wanted to put a human face on it.

What do you hope people come away with from reading this novel?

First and foremost, that they spent a pleasant few hours reading about people they’d like to be friends with. Corny though it sounds, I believe human beings, whatever their differences, have one thing in common – the need for love. I wanted to give my readers an opportunity to escape to a world filled with love and happy endings – as can be found on Lily Court Lane, a fictional street in sunny San Diego CA.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on Book 2 in the series-The Women of Lily Court Lane. The working title of the book is “Lies of Omission.” The reader will learn how Cindy is unexpectedly united with her birth family, Dallas resolves her problems with Simon and Carolee seems to find love with a handsome man she meets on the beach. There’s been such a positive and encouraging response to Cindy’s romance with Ming that I plan to delve more deeply into his cultural background.

Interracial and cross cultural couples were pretty rare when you and your husband were dating or first married. Did you happen to meet any others back then?

No, never. Back in the day (the 1960’s-70’s), interracial couples were usually Asian women with white men who were most often military men bringing home a bride from their deployment. Although it wasn’t favored by the general population, it was more or less accepted. But it was not at all accepted for white women.

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Thanks so much to Susan for this interview about The Reluctant Brides of Lily Court Lane! Don’t forget to check out the Lily Court Lane Books Facebook Page, where you can follow the series.

Guest Post: “And by Interest in Chinese Culture, You Mean Chinese Girls?”

When you see an Asian woman and a white man together, what runs through your mind? Do you see just another happy interracial couple? Or do you wonder, is he another white guy with yellow fever? (Or worse, do you think he’s another Julien Blanc or Chinabounder, a man who comes to Asia with the sole intent of preying upon the women for sexual or personal gain?) 

That’s the idea behind Gerald Zhang-Schmidt’s guest post. He’s a guy who happened to come to China because he loved the culture. But since he has a Chinese wife, some people wonder if “Chinese culture” is really just a coded way of saying “Chinese women.” 

Gerald is no stranger to Speaking of China. He has written about The privilege of stereotypes about cross-cultural couples in China in a guest post last year, and the two of us collaborated on posts about the stereotypes of Chinese-Western couples in China a while back. Gerald is also the only man I’ve ever met who changed his name after marriage (he actually submitted a question about changing your name in China which for a time was one of the 10 most popular posts on this site).

By the way, please visit Gerald’s blog today, where you’ll find a guest post there from me about “How I learned to feel at home at my in-laws’ place in rural China.

Want to follow in Gerald’s footsteps and have your voice heard on Speaking of China? Check out my submit a post page for details.

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(Photo by daniel sandoval via Flickr.com)
(Photo by daniel sandoval via Flickr.com)

I have written before about how privilege can be a double-edged sword. When you are part of the majority that usually goes unquestioned, you have it much easier than those who always have to somehow justify themselves. At the same time, you will be put on the spot much less because everyone assumes they know what you’re about.

Usually, you read about Asian Male – Western Female relationships here on Jocelyn’s “Speaking of China,” and it is a topic of interest by the same token. It is the unusual coupling/pairing that draws attention while the opposite WMAF relationship is a dime a dozen.

Ah, yes, another white guy in China. Who cares?

Speak Chinese in public, even just a few words, and you will be praised. And then you will find yourself compared to Dashan. (Or right now, internationally, perhaps to Mark Zuckerberg.)

Get into a relationship with a Chinese woman, get ready for everyone knowing just perfectly well why and how that would have happened. Oftentimes, it seems everyone will think they know better than you, without ever having so much as done anything more than caught a glance of you.

At risk of sounding like bad Chinese “news” pieces, “everyone knows” of some “rotten apples,” and it’s been killing the atmosphere. I wrote about my relationship to my wife, who is Chinese, and the thoughts it raised before on my blog. One comment that immediately popped up accused me of “yellow fever.” Fittingly, right next to the link to a more recent post talking about how “yellow fever” is a demeaning concept.

So, I spoke to a fellow passenger on a train in China. She asked me what had led me to China and I replied that I’d had an interest in Chinese culture for as long as I could remember. She then asked me if by interest in Chinese culture, I actually meant the girls.

My then-girlfriend and I went down the road, heads turned and stared. Not just in her small-town hometown, where the police hadn’t had any idea about how to handle my residence registration until they checked in with their higher-ups. But even more so in the somewhat bigger cities where people obviously, in disapproving looks and mumbled comments, expressed their dubious opinion of our relationship.

I can’t blame the Chinese, though.

Pretty much every culture around the world tends to “lose” the daughters to husbands, and pretty much everywhere, seeing foreigners “take away” women is seen as an indication of one’s own weakness vis-á-vis the “others.”

Add an awareness, even if just at the level of urban legends and social media hearsay, of (supposedly) rich foreign guys basically buying themselves brides (of course, such stories would turn into morality tales with bad endings), foreigners actually bragging about the ease and number of their Asian conquests, and stories of destroyed virginities (and thus, marriage prospects, as per traditional Chinese notions) and broken hearts. It’s no wonder there is suspicion.

It is just natural.

I find it less natural for foreigners to bring along their cavalier attitudes about dating and sex to China. Okay, one could argue that it’s not a big deal here, given the traditional attitudes towards the wife versus mistresses. But no matter what over-entitled and under-culturally aware people claim, a stranger in a strange land should act with more concern for his host country.

Nowadays, of course, the effects on foreigners aren’t just isolated to places like China. Everywhere, one lives in the shadow of aspersion cast by those who act… well, in this case, under the influence of their penises rather than their brains, it seems.

Argue that you are different, and in a case of “methinks [he] doth protest too much”, you appear defensive, and by association, guilty. But shutting up only gives more room for the worst voices out there. So, at least sometimes – thank you for the invite and the reminder to do so again, Jocelyn – I go on writing about this issue. Most importantly, however, I keep on living it differently, remaining true to the woman I fell in love with and continue to love, whose name I added to my own, and who I want to make happy.

I’d love to add that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, but we humans are social animals to whom other’s opinions do matter a lot. However, it would help a lot, for a start, if you could at least not think the worst of us without knowing anything but our genders and ethnicities.

Gerald Zhang-Schmidt is an ecologist and cultural anthropologist who spent three years living in China, and now resides with his wife in his native Austria where he writes about the ecology of happinesschili peppers and being at home in the world.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.