Everville, New York—it’s the town where Tiffany Cheung grew up, and the last place she wants to be. But after losing her job in Manhattan, that’s exactly where she finds herself.
Superromance author Vicki Essex is not a typical romance novelist. She’s not afraid to turn unusual pairings into compelling stories. Her debut novel Her Son’s Hero was about a woman falling for an MMA–Mixed Martial Arts–fighter, despite her aversion to violence.
In Back to the Good Fortune Diner, Vicki tells the story of an interracial couple. I asked her about the novel, her family history, Jeremy Renner and scotch.
You set your book in a family-owned diner. Your own family runs a hardware store in Toronto’s historic Kensington Market. Tools and chicken balls aren’t the same thing, but running a family business must have influenced your story. Any wacky relatives (or quirks from your own family) make it into BTTGFD?
There were a few details I managed to insert into the book. My Cantonese language skills are subpar, unfortunately, so I incorporated the way the heroine, Tiffany, would hear her parents, and understand about 75 percent of what they were saying. The translations are vague, not word-for-word. And the escalating volume of conversations was something I picked up from my family’s interactions with customers and each other. It frequently sounds like they’re arguing when really, they’re just talking VERY LOUDLY.
As for the family members themselves, I cobbled them together from bits of friends and their relatives, stories I’ve heard, neighbors and acquaintances. The process wasn’t much different from the way I construct other characters.
You and your husband are open about the differences in your family backgrounds. I remember a post that he contributed to the Ethnic Aisle about dating a Chinese woman that opened my eyes to the kind of stereotypes and assumptions that exist over interracial marriage and dating. Was it difficult to weave this into the story?
It was challenging. I was mindful of ensuring that the hero, Chris, did not fall for Tiffany based solely on her looks or ethnic attributes. It’s easy to fall into patterns of describing multicultural characters as “exotic-looking” with “almond-shaped eyes,” and “delicate skin the color of…” etc. I didn’t want that for my book. This was a pure romance, and it had to play out the same way any romance would, no matter what the characters’ cultural backgrounds were.
That idea really hit home when I talked to one young lady, who was Asian, at the Word on the Street book fair in Toronto where I was promoting BTTGFD. She asked me why I had to pair an Asian woman with a white guy, and proceeded to tell me how she was sick of guys with “yellow fever.”
I don’t think any woman wants to be fetishized for their skin color or some physical attribute. They want to be loved for who they are.
As my husband pointed out, this is an issue especially among Asian women dating men outside their race. I don’t think any woman wants to be fetishized for their skin color or some physical attribute. They want to be loved for who they are. That’s why it was important to ground the romantic conflict in the personal self-identities of the hero and heroine, and make the cultural aspect secondary. It meant I had to incorporate a kind of color blindness in Chris, which was tricky because not recognizing cultural differences can be almost as detrimental as over-awareness to an interracial relationship. It’s a fine balancing act. That’s what made the secondary plot interesting for me to write—it’s almost the opposite of what Tiffany and Chris are going through.
Silly question time: You love Scotch. Scotchy-Scotchy-Scotch. What’s your favourite kind?
I haven’t tried enough brands to say at this point! I’ve enjoyed Macallan’s 18. At home, I usually have Jamieson’s Irish Whiskey and Maker’s Mark bourbon. I’m also a fan of Knob Creek bourbon. When I’m at a nice bar, though, I’ll usually try what they’ve got on the top shelf. I’d like to go to a real Scotch and whiskey tasting at some point in my life. (I can write that off on my tax forms as research, right?)
One more silly question: #rennererection is a thing (I think) you’ve coined on Twitter. Has Jeremy Renner noticed and, if not, why not? Has anyone else started to use it? And do you have a favourite GIF to exemplify the hashtag?
To be fair, the hash tag was coined by a friend of my husband’s, but I think I’m the one who put it into (un)common use. Rennerection was rejected by UrbanDictionary.com as an entry (though you’ll note that Fassboner was accepted), so I’m trying to spread it around for wider use.
As for the venerable Mr. Renner, he’s not officially on Twitter, from what I understand, so I doubt he’s aware. And if he has noticed it, I’m sure he’s alternatively embarrassed, befuddled, ecstatic, titillated and perhaps a little miffed at being fetishized himself. But he strikes me as the kind of guy who doesn’t have time for internet memes.
If he ever did write me and say, “You’re hilarious,” I’d probably do this:
Then stare at his email like this:
Final question: What’s next for you? Do you wait in between books to start something new or have plot bunnies begun building new warrens in your brain yet?
I’m currently working on my third book, which will go back to the world of mixed martial arts. The story features a female MMA fighter training to go pro with wrestling coach Kyle Peters, who appeared in Her Son’s Hero. I suspect that might be released in 2014. I hope to go back to Everville soon, though—it’s a town that’s seeing a lot of changes, and I know there are stories there to be told. And because I like to stay busy, I’m also having a YA Western fantasy novel critiqued right now, and hope to shop it around to agents this year.