Interview with Gloria Chao – author of Rent a Boyfriend, Our Wayward Fate and American Panda

Last year, I got lucky enough to read an early copy of Rent a Boyfriend. And then immediately fell in love with the story. A fake dating trope that takes the concept of renting boyfriend during holidays to keep nagging parents at bay (that rhymed, lol)? Exciting! And so was the book. So I slid into Gloria’s emails and asked for an interview because, like the curious soul I am, I wanted to know more behind the scenes of writing and the book.

And here is the very fun and AMAZING interview that I had with her. From writing and diverse rep to book and movie recs, I hope you enjoy it!

1. Hello Gloria! How have you been? What have you been reading lately and what are some of your anticipated releases this year?

Hi Kajree! Thank you so much for having me on your wonderful blog! I’ve fallen in love with several books releasing this year! I adored Axie Oh’s upcoming XOXO, which follows a cello prodigy who dates a K-pop star. I shipped the two characters so much and couldn’t put it down! I also loved Emiko Jean’s TOKYO EVER AFTER, which is PRINCESS DIARIES about Japanese Princess Izumi. This one made me laugh out loud and swoon! And a book that released last year that I absolutely loved: Rachel Lynn Solomon’s TODAY TONIGHT TOMORROW. Rachel writes the best banter and I fell in love with Rowan and Neil. All three of these books are some of my favorite romances of all time!

2. If you could describe Rent a Boyfriend in three words, what would they be? What can people expect from the book?

Fake Dating Romance. Readers can expect a story based on the real Asian practice of hiring fake boyfriends to introduce to their families, only the girl ends up falling for the real guy behind the fake boyfriend role. As you can imagine, this makes her life incredibly messy!

3. What inspired you to write this story? Was there any particular incident or event?

When I found out that boyfriend rentals were a common practice in China, my first thought was that I understood. I understood how the pressure from family could grow to the point where hiring an actor sounds appealing. It made me want to explore this idea further—both from the client’s perspective and the fake boyfriend’s—and it seemed like a great premise for a rom com.

4. What are a few things you wish you knew about publishing before venturing into the industry? If given the chance, is there anything you would change about the publishing industry?

I was mostly prepared for how difficult it would be and how fickle the business is. I didn’t know how hard it would be to have my words out in the world, but in many ways, I’m glad I didn’t. I treasure that I was able to write AMERICAN PANDA in a vacuum without thinking about who would be reading it, and I believe it would have been a different book otherwise.The publishing industry is obviously challenging, and there are surely a lot of things I would change if I could. It’s difficult for authors to break in, stay in, and receive support for their books. But I’m also very fortunate to have the opportunity to share my stories with the world.

5. The recent rise of discourse around reading more diverse books have been very enlightening and rightly important. Do you think readers should be more conscious of what they read?

Yes, I think books have a power that is unlike any other media and they have the ability to enlighten and alter perspectives and give depth to experiences. I love that readers are becoming more aware of what they read and I hope this trend continues.

6. How was writing and publishing a book in the midst of a pandemic like? Did this time bring any changes to your writing routine, style or anything else?

Both were difficult during the pandemic. There was so much to adjust to at the start of the pandemic that it took me a while to get the writing juices flowing. Because I am lucky enough to write full time and usually work from home, there wasn’t a significant change to my schedule or routine, though it was harder to create when so much is going on in the world. It was tough releasing a book during a time when bookstores were closed and it was more difficult to reach people, but I am so grateful for the online love, including from wonderful bloggers like you, Kajree!

7. Which of your characters written so far do you relate to the most? And who was the most exciting and fun to write?

This is such a wonderful question. There’s a piece of me in most of the main characters that I write, but the extent does vary. If I had to choose one, I think I relate to Mei from AMERICAN PANDA the most. Second would be Drew from RENT A BOYFRIEND. The most exciting and fun character to write was Ali from OUR WAYWARD FATE because she says the things I’m too scared to, and she’s the badass that I am not.

8. As an Asian myself, I could relate to so many of the issues and views that was highlighted in the book. Did your parents read the book? And if yes, how did they react to it?

The verdict is still out for RENT A BOYFRIEND! My mother is reading it slowly with a dictionary beside her.

9. Rent a Boyfriend was laden with absolutely cute and adorable as well as funny laugh-out-loud moments. Which were some of your favorite scenes to write?

Thank you so much! My favorite scenes to write were the shenanigans that ensue when Chloe and Drew struggle to balance their real relationship and real selves with the lies they’ve created. For example, I love the scene where Drew, the supposed aspiring surgeon, is assisting Chloe’s father the dentist on a procedure. As spit and pus and blood is flying in the air, he’s gagging beneath the mask and dangerously close to blowing his cover! (And I did draw from my dentist background for this scene!) I also really enjoyed writing the scene where Chloe is underwear shopping with her mother, who simultaneously wants her to have sexy whale tails “in case her underwear peeks out” but also insists on “no hanky-panky!”

10. Are you a planner or a panster? How do you go about laying the base for your story?

I’m a combination of both—I plan the larger beats of the story but pants the details. I’ve noticed that with each book I write, I plan more and more, and my synopses are growing longer before I dive into drafting. The most important part for me is figuring out the character arcs and voice before I start. Sometimes this involves some trial-and-error writing, but usually it’s more about figuring out who the best protagonist is for the story I want to tell.

11. Would you like to recommend some of your favorite Asian-American centered movies/books to readers?

I’m of course a fan of the To All the Boys and Crazy Rich Asian books and movies (books over movies though, personally for me!). A movie I watched over the holidays that was really cute is the Lifetime movie A Sugar & Spice Holiday. It has a largely Asian-American cast and a cute baking theme! It has a similar feel to Jennifer Yen’s debut novel, A TASTE FOR LOVE!Some of my favorite Asian-American writers in no particular order: Stacey Lee, Samira Ahmed, Sandhya Menon, Kelly Loy Gilbert, Emily X.R. Pan, Malinda Lo.

12. Finally, are you working on anything new that we can expect soon?

I have two short stories in upcoming anthologies: FOOLS IN LOVE (Dec 2021) offers new takes on classic romance tropes, and I am writing an oblivious-to-lovers story about a star female golfer loosely inspired by Michelle Wie. GAME ON (spring 2022) has stories about all kinds of games, and I am writing a short story about a linguistics-themed college mystery hunt!Finally, I am working on a contemporary romance that I hope to be able to share more about soon! It’s a love letter to my culture and it’s been really fun to write.

About the author | Website

Gloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American Panda, Our Wayward Fate, and Rent a Boyfriend. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her husband on the curling ice or hiking the Indiana Dunes. After a brief detour as a dentist, she is now grateful to spend her days in fictional characters’ heads instead of real people’s mouths.

Her award-winning books have been featured on the “Best of” lists of Seventeen, Bustle, Barnes & Nobles, PopSugar, Paste Magazine, and more. American Panda received four starred trade reviews, was on the Amelia Bloomer list, and was a Junior Library Guild Selection, Indie Next Pick, and YALSA Teens’ Top 10 Pick.

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