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“The Wangs vs the World,” Jade Chang on how words come alive

The journey of a writer is one full of twists and turns, triumphs and failures. In her debut novel, “The Wangs vs the World,” Jade Chang created a new kind of Asian American immigrant story that laughs in the face of darkness and is not afraid to show its true colors.

In the basement meeting room of Catonsville Public Library, a group of adult book enthusiasts gathered to hear Chang discuss her journey as a writer and offer her five tips on how to write a novel. A lot of writers who are starting out don’t feel confident in themselves, Chang explained, which is something she felt when she began her novel.

But over the five years it took for her to write it, she discovered her confidence and realized the essential skills that she needed. The first was put very bluntly: “you need to read!” Reading across genres allows for writers to gain the skill-set to be able to feel their own individual writing style, rather than memorizing grammar rules, Chang said.

Mixed with some personal anecdotes about certain books that illuminated certain things to her about writing, Chang also explained the influence of her own parents in her character’s journey and the theme of a “lost home” that resounds in her book.

Writers need to have a strong driving force and a desire to write their stories in order to be successful, Chang said. In her own experience, she encountered the “frivolous and serious divide,” one that dictated that an immigrant story could only be dark and painful. She decided to reject these stereotypes and followed her ambition to write a book that would make readers smile through the hard times of her characters instead of weeping in anguish.

The third skill is to express emotional truth in the story by allowing the characters to be human and experience things that might not be elegant and flawless, Chang said. Having characters that don’t measure up to mainstream society allows for emotional truths of life or of human nature to be revealed.

The last two skills come hand in hand: being vulnerable and being stubborn. Writing takes time and energy, Chang explained, and a belief in what you’re expressing and writing about will get you through it. As Chang spoke, the room resounded with a bookclub-like environment, created by the audience of older residents from all over Baltimore County.

Everyone laughed along with Chang, who delivered her lecture with relaxed, light humour and a big smile. The audience was clearly captivated by the glowing personality of this young writer. The event ended with a Q&A where several audience members asked about the publishing process, specific questions about the characters and how Chang had evolved over the five years it took for her to write her novel, which she answered honestly and clearly.

No writer can plan out their entire novel before they begin, nor can they expect to remain static throughout the trials they will certainly face, like finding an agent or wondering if their book is really any good. Chang gave proof through her journey that determination and a passion for stories make the written words of a novel that much more alive to those who read it.