Sex and Taipei City
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About the Author
Born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, Yu-Han (Eugenia) Chao received her BA in Foreign Languages and Literatures from National Taiwan University and her MFA in fiction from Penn State University. The Backwaters Press published her poetry book, We Grow Old: Fifty-Three Love Poems, and Another Calligraphy Press, Dancing Girls Press, and Boaat Press published her chapbooks. Her website is www.yuhanchao.com and she maintains a blog about nursing and writing at yuhanchao.blogspot.com. She currently lives in California, where she works as a registered nurse and educator.
From the fascinating quirks of food obsessions to the odd-but-seemingly-ordinary erotic moments of Taiwanese citizens, Yu-Han Chao's Sex and Taipei City's stories unfold a world of both the exotic and the familiar, captured in squirmy, disarming details. Teen pregnancies and forced marriages are accepted almost as a matter of course, as is the groping of a food stand/sex-worker, but Chao evokes the dignity and power of quiet tragedies, the lingering stigma of shame and what happens once a desire is given into, how it creates a desire-shadow. Funny, bold, and in moments, heartbreaking, these nineteen stories make up a stunning debut.
--William J. Cobb, author of The Bird Saviors
The effect of Yu-Han Chao's prose is like that of a razor cut: straightforward, barely noticeable at first. Then the air hits, the sting begins, and then--oh, then!--comes the blood. She knows exactly when to begin and end a story, leaving the reader to absorb the impact of what has happened long after the final sentence. Her characters often leave others scarred by their actions, sometimes out of cruelty, but more often out of the casual egotism that comes with the city's territory. These are stories that will stay with you for a long, long time.
--Charlotte Holmes, author of The Grass Labyrinth
One book I just read that is perfect for summer is Sex & Taipei City by Yu-Han Chao. It's a collection of very short stories, mostly centered on the lives of Taiwanese women. The stories are fun and slightly scandalous, featuring daring school girls, betel-nut beauties, and husbands for sale. But there are surprisingly poignant moments, too--small tragedies and a touch of dark humor that balance out the saucier, gossipy bits. I've been to Taipei City, and this book felt like an interesting way to revisit--especially with the descriptions of all that delicious food!
--Sharon Gill, Senior Graphic Designer at The Humanist
Contemporary Taiwan's contradictions come to life in Yu-Han Chao's wonderful and gossipy collection Sex and Taipei City. The urban denizens that populate Chao's words are modern only in appearance and they helplessly careen toward their strange destinies, conveyed by age-old superstition and the failures of intimacy. These are the stories shared between rounds of karaoke that are so juicy and awful, you don't realize it when your song comes on.
--Ed Lin, author of Ghost Month
Yu-Han's fiction amazes me: brave, witty, and provocative. She transports her readers not only to the mysteries of Taipei but also into her surrealist universe, constantly surprising and thrilling. One of the most intelligent and exciting writers at work today.
--Josip Novakovich, author of The Heritage of Smoke
Everybody says story collections don't sell. "Editors don't want story collections. Not unless you're Stephen King." Agents say, "I like your stories, but call me when you have a novel (translation: and not until you have a novel)."
I grew up in Asia, where the short story (and the super-short story--one that ends at the point of maximal impact) is a form that's popular, alive and well. I studied literature at National Taiwan University, and was a huge fan of Aimee Bender (The Girl in the Flammable Skirt), Angela Carter (The Bloody Chamber), James Joyce (Dubliners), Edgar Allan Poe (The Fall of the House of Usher), and Pai Hsien-yung (Taipei People). I came to America for an MFA in creative writing, where I learned to write short stories and workshopped them with my peers for three years.
Somewhere along the way I started hearing the whispers, murmurs. Sure, short stories were great for sending out to journals (back in the day, we had to snail mail them out in big manila envelopes, with a self-addressed-stamped-envelopes enclosed for those teeny-tiny rejection slips). One could get publication credits from stories pretty easily, but story collections were supposedly nearly impossible to publish in book form. Pretty much you have to win a contest (which is almost as hard as winning a lottery), be famous, or maybe it's a two book deal and your other book is a novel.
Very few of us got this memo, it seemed, because almost every fiction writer in my program submitted a short story collection for their MFA thesis. Now, I do wish I had learned more about novel writing, but I've since had over a decade to work on that, and the rest of my life to rewrite and polish up any number of my novel manuscripts (there are a couple, ranging from mystery to chick lit to martial arts novels).
By the time I graduated from Penn State with my MFA, I had a thesis collection of stories that I was determined to "sell". Angela Carter, my all-time favorite author, had her first book published by age 25. I wanted that, too, I naively told myself. Filled with hopes and dreams, I started submitting to contests and open reading periods.
Within a year of graduating I did win a contest (that came with a publishing contract) hosted by a small press, but after five or so years of waiting, things didn't work out in the end. I was back on submission. When I looked at the pieces again, a lot had to be changed. I had newer, better stories to replace weaker ones, and some lines, paragraphs, or pages simply had to go.
At this point I had also found publishers for a poetry collection and chapbooks, so I had a better idea of the nebulous publishing black hole I was tossing my work into. If I went through a round of submissions (a year's worth of reasonably-priced, relevant contests and open submission periods) with a manuscript, and didn't get so much as a semifinalist or encouraging email, the manuscript needed work. Maybe overall revision, alternate arrangement, different stories, tighter thematic link, better dialogue, rounder characters, etc. If I started getting finalists, honorary mentions, that kind of thing, I knew I was close(r).
This manuscript ended up close to finding a home several times as I sent it out in different, sometimes desperate rearrangements and combinations of stories. At one point I had a ghost-themed, chapbook-length story collection that was a Gold Line Press finalist. At another point the manuscript contained only female main characters. Eventually, gender and sexuality (and the inequality and violence inherent in these designations/roles) emerged as a connecting theme, with Taipei, Taiwan (my hometown) as the main setting, and I had the manuscript, "Sex & Taipei City."
I submitted to a few more contests and open reading periods, and of the two presses that eventually expressed interest, I went with Red Hen Press, for the excellent/random reason that my Taiwanese father once told me that the very first English book he read in his life was The Little Red Hen. In addition, my mother had just passed away, and I had a feeling that the contract was a "gift" from her, from beyond.
After so many years of revision and paring down, the nineteen stories in Sex & Taipei City were all very short. This may have been the result of extreme editing during periods of self-loathing, but I am a believer in the ideal of "no unnecessary words". The short story form is designed to be such a perfect little self-enclosed universe that everything in it must be tight. I loved the form, loved reading it, and had spent decades working on craft and revision.
So what does all this mean?
In short, if short stories are your genre and passion, keep writing, keep revising, and keep submitting. Try different things--revision, themes, threads, varied arrangements, shared worlds. Publishing can be like dating (with lots of blind dates and ghosting), but one match is all you need-that one publisher will see something special in your manuscript and want to take a chance on you.
Keep working at it, and the day will come.
Former faculty member of UC Merced, Yu-han Chao, reads from her new book Sex & Taipei City.
Interview with the Author, Yu-han Chao
Merced County Times article about Sex & Taipei City