Meet 2017 Golden Heart Finalist A.Y. Chao!

Today we’re welcoming another Rebelle, A.Y.Chao, who’s a 2017 Golden Heart Finalist for Best Paranormal Romance with her manuscript SOUL AFFINITY.

A.Y. Chao is a recovering lawyer and expat Canadian. After a somewhat nomadic path from Calgary to Paris, Stockholm, Beijing, London, and Hong Kong, she’s settled (for now) in London, England with her husband, chatterbox daughter, sweet Hong Kong rescue hound, and snuffling piggy pug. She writes urban fantasy and drinks far too much coffee.

You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter@ay_chao and on FB

Here’s a blurb for SOUL AFFINITY, which is not only nominated for a Golden Heart, but won the 2016 Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest for best Paranormal romance!

Aziza Lee believes making partner at her law firm will finally free her from the shame of a threadbare past. When all that stands between her and partnership is a week archiving documents called “Tor” in the firm’s mysterious Repository, not even Marcus Vandenberg, the arrogant stranger assigned to supervise her, can unnerve her.

Until she touches a Tor, and all hell reveals itself: The Tor embody souls waiting to cross the Veil. And Marcus is no ordinary pain-in-the-arse, but a netherworld guardian. Complete with attitude and wings. 

When Aziza uncovers a pattern of Tor disappearing prematurely, she agrees to help Marcus find the missing souls. Neither of them bank on Aziza accidentally binding their souls together, nor discovering Aziza’s half-human half-guardian bloodline, a bloodline prohibited by the guardians on pain of death. With the killer targeting half-breeds, Aziza & Marcus’s grudging attraction complicates further the lies they must tell to stay alive.

Wow! What a great story concept! And I love the hint of irreverent humor—this must be a fun read! I hope we’ll see it out soon!

A.Y. Chao is here with us today to tell us a little more about herself. I think maybe we don’t want to make ourselves too comfy in the Repository just at the moment (eep!!), but since it’s still Fourth of July week (apologies to those in Britain!! J), maybe we can lounge around on some lawn chairs on the beach and eat popsicles while we chat.


Welcome, A.Y.! It’s delightful to have you with us. Tell us a little more about your Golden Heart book and the process of writing it. Have you been writing a long time?

This is my first manuscript! I’m a total newb!!

But this was an idea I had almost twenty years ago. It percolated at the back of my mind until I got pregnant with my daughter. Something clicked, and I started to really tease out the story, writing it with the help (aka regular kicks in the butt) of my mentor Jill Dawson from Gold Dust, a fabulous mentoring program in the UK.

That program must be fabulous if it’s helped you get this far this fast! What about literary inspirations? Favorite authors?

I love J.K. Rowling, truly. Love her way with words, and her sensibilities. And Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. So excited about the new one coming out. 

Oh, yes!! They’re two of my favorites as well!! I’m very excited for the Pullman graphic novel—His Dark Materials pulled me in to its universe so deeply, I’m eager to see what he does with this new world. He’s a great role model (as, of course, is Rowling)! So, writing is a new(ish) path for you. What were you doing before this story clicked?

My first real job was as a pusher of forged iron and steel rolls. Then I was a lawyer. Then I became a yarn pusher (imported artisan handpainted yarn), then a handknit sock pattern designer and knitting conference organizer, and now writer. 

Wow! Okay, I think you may win the prize for most interesting and varied pre-writing career path. And it sounds like the rest of your geographic path has been amazing as well. That’s quite the “places I’ve lived” resume—so many of the world’s great cities, and such different ones. How has moving so widely affected your viewpoint on the world?

I’m Canadian, my ethnic background is Chinese via Taiwan, and I have for more than half my life been an expat—some kind of outsider but still able to find my own community. It’s given me an interesting perspective on diversity, belonging, marginalisation, being the minority, and being the majority and the subtle ways people are always able to find ways to include others, and of course, to exclude others. 

Those experiences must add incredible richness to your characters and stories. I’m guessing Aziza Lee’s status as someone with a “half-human half-guardian bloodline, a bloodline prohibited by the guardians” must on some level be a reflection, at least emotionally, of some of your experiences, or insights you’ve gained moving across cultural boundaries? And the fact that she finds herself abruptly plunged into such a strange new world?

Absolutely! I find the disconnect between how we see ourselves and how others see us fascinating. For example, on the outside, I’m always considered to be Chinese first and foremost. Because those are the most obvious visual cues. Eyes, hair, skin tone. Yet, when I lived in China, I was definitely an outsider there. Locals only needed to see me and they knew I wasn’t from there. I walked differently, laughed differently, dressed differently. But more importantly, my social mores weren’t the same. Hardware was the same, but totally different operating system. It only enforced what I’ve always known—that for me, identity is who I am inside– a mishmash of this and that–Canadian sensibilities, Chinese sensitivities, a fair sprinkling of American pop culture—and not so much what I look like outside. 

Aziza’s story is very much about learning to embrace who she is on the inside, to accept and to be proud of her differences, and learning to find her community. 

The same way that I’ve found connection never just boils down to external qualities, Aziza has to not only get comfortable with who she is inside but also be brave enough to share that inner self externally. Being plunged into a strange new world is definitely a form of culture shock. She feels she doesn’t truly belong to either the human world or the guardian’s world, yet she has to find a way to straddle both and come to terms with her identity if she wants to have any chance of finding her place in the world.

“Hardware was the same, but totally different operating system.” Fabulous metaphor! And fabulous story material! You’ve clearly got great life resources for depth in your stories. But what about the challenges you face as a writer? What makes it hard to get the work done?

Mom guilt is a tough one. I often feel guilty about devoting time to writing when the family to do list is sitting on my shoulders like a backpack stuffed with a year’s worth of trekking gear.

Oy! Yes! I think many of our readers are nodding their heads vigorously right now. Probably worse in summertime when the school-age munchkins are out of school. But you’ve clearly got momentum going. What’s your dream for where you’ll be in five years?

Oh boy, it would be awesome to be finished my trilogy (SOUL AFFINITY is the first in the planned trilogy). And I’d love to have some work in an anthology. Oh and yes, so long as I’m wishing on a star, would love to have a publisher for the trilogy and at least the first two out!

Good luck! You can do it! Hmmm…I’ve got lots more questions I’d like to ask, but everybody’s popsicles are melting quickly. So it’s time for a lightning round!! You’re in London. Tell us two things about your life there right now.

We just moved to a new (well, quite old —late Victorian) house. Currently unpacking boxes, painting walls, and slowly pulling a home together. 

One of my favourite places in the world is Borough Market in London—a fabulous food market. I love to eat good food.

Oh, MAN!! A late Victorian house AND fab food!!! Jealous meter off the charts here. (Dang, I should have had everybody gather at Borough Market today instead of the beach. *popsicle drips sadly*) Next question: are you going to Nationals this year?

This is my first ever time to a writing conference and first ever Nationals! SOOOO excited!

Newbie, right. Don’t worry—you’re going to love it! Okay, what’s one crazy fact about you that most people who meet you probably wouldn’t guess was true?

I didn’t learn to speak English until I was 5 when I went to kindergarten. I used to play with my next door neighbour Cale and never understood why I often had to mime things. It wasn’t until my mom told me that I only spoke Chinese back then, that my interactions with Cale made more sense! 

Biggest celebrity crush?

Totally love Jason Bateman in Arrested Development and This is Where I Leave You. I think it’s the puppy dog eyes. 

He’s totally underrated as an actor. Love him, too! (Though I confess Adam Driver kept dominating my attention in that movie.) Thanks so much for being with us today! Now, what question would you like to ask our readers to get the conversation going today?

Given all the different directions we are often pulled, day job, family, personal health, etc, what’s your single best strategy for maximizing writing efficiency?


50 responses to “Meet 2017 Golden Heart Finalist A.Y. Chao!”

  1. C.R. Grissom says:

    A.Y., great post! You’ve had such interesting experiences along your life’s journey. I cannot wait to read Soul Affinity! Wow. Seriously great stuff there.

    My advice is to make daily writing goals and stick to them as much as possible. Since I’m a full-time employee, full-time mom, wife, friend, sister, and writer—I try to make my goals realistic and attainable.

    This week I had other writerly commitments, familial obligations, my CP’s debut book signing and…Hamilton. OMG. Hamilton. The SF show. So I had to stop reading emails this weekend, and make a solemn vow not to go to Google Hangouts. By doing so, I met my goals, had a blast living vicariously through my CP and enjoyed the show.

    I find myself less stressed if I set realistic expectations for myself. I have to stick to those goals on the lead up to RWA. A tall order indeed, but hope springs and all that… 🙂

    As of this post, we are eighteen days, seventeen and a quarter hours away from meeting one another. That my friend is note worthy! Congrats on the win and your GH final!

    • Elisa Beatty says:


      I’ve been entering the SF lottery daily, and no luck so far. I hear people are paying $1000 for scalped tickets at this point. Was it great????

      Also, yes, setting out REALISTIC and ATTAINABLE goals (as opposed to the apparently-unattainable goal “I will get Hamilton tickets by entering the lottery”) is key for busy writers. I know some people do the “100 words” challenge, where they try to go 100 days in a row writing at least 100 words a day. It seems like a tiny amount, but if you stick with it, it really does build up to something.

      • C.R. Grissom says:

        I was lucky enough to buy the tickets on a pre-sale back in December. I chose July because we could still choose good seats. We could not afford scalped ticket prices. We could barely afford the regular ticket prices. Selling blood has never felt so good… 🙂 Just kidding.

        I use my lunch hour to write, but mostly these days it’s all about revision, revisit, revise, revile, regurgitate and repeat. LOL.

      • Seana Kelly says:

        Elisa, I was 40,005 in line the day Hamilton tickets went on sale. 6+ hours later, my number came up 🙂 The show was awesome!! <3

    • A.Y. Chao says:

      Oh my I am dying to see Hamilton!! Tix are sold out over here but I need to renew efforts! Lol
      @Elise and Chris– love the realistic and attainable goals! And the goal not to break the chain. 👍👍👍

  2. Elisa Beatty says:

    Welcome, A.Y.!! Glad to have you with us!

    I’m not sure I’m ever “efficient” with writing (I’m a teacher, which is a crazy crazy all-consuming day job, and I’ve got kids with special needs, and a long commute, and aging relatives who need care, and just WAY TOO MUCH ON MY PLATE.)

    But I find committing to even one hour per day when I tell everyone else to LEAVE ME ALONE can make all the difference between vaguely hoping I’ll get books done and actually getting books done.

  3. A.Y. Chao says:

    Thanks Elisa, it’s such an honour to be invited to post on the Ruby’s blog. <3

    Yes! I need to make a huge sign–
    Please don't ask me where your *[toothbrush/tv remote/iphone cord/ironed shirt/that post-it note you waved under my nose ten days ago and I've not seen since/keys/iphone/library book] might be. Look where you last used it; that's what I'd do.

    *delete as appropriate

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I DO need a sign, but don’t know exactly where I’d hang it. I live in a teeny tiny California bungalow, and don’t have a separate writing room or even space.

      I’m out in the main room of the house, ten feet from the TV. I can’t tell you how many love scenes I’ve written with Gumball or Adventure Time blaring beside me.

  4. Great interview. I love your story idea. Totally awesome and I hope I get to read it soon.

    Advice: Do not compare yourself to others. We all think and write at our on pace. I started to seriously pursue a writing career after becoming a single mother of four. I worked full time and had three part time jobs and all the house and yard work to do. I nicked out little bits of time to study the craft and write. At times I was so depressed because I didn’t have the perfect writer life. HA! It doesn’t exist. We all have obligations and support systems, so please do not compare your writing process and progress to anyone else. It’s a soul suck.

    Congrats on your final and good luck. As each day passes I wish I was going to Fl.

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      So important to remember that each writer’s life situation is different!!

      And I’ve often heard writers who DO manage to “quit the day job” that writing productivity doesn’t necessarily go up when they’re free of other obligations. Each of us has our own psyche, our own circumstances, our own challenges. What’s important is that we find some way to get some words on paper.

      And on the jealousy topic, everyone (who can tolerate frequent use of the F word) should check out Amanda Palmer’s recent essay on “F***ing Joan” (her phrase for “keeping up with the Joneses, but in reference to envying other women artists.) Hilarious and spot-on.

    • A.Y. Chao says:

      LOL don’t worry! I’ve got no illusions about a ‘perfect writer life’. I’m thrilled when I manage to brush my teeth in the morning and not wear my clothes inside out. 😀

  5. jbrayweber says:

    Hi, A.Y.! So nice to “meet” you. Wonderful interview.

    Maximizing writing efficiency? Geez…I’m a hot mess. Always grenades being lobbed my way. But I rely heavily on writing accountability partners. Having someone to write with or report is the difference of maybe getting some writing done and making sure writing is done.

    Good luck with Soul Affinity. It sounds amazing!


    • A.Y. Chao says:

      Hi! Nice to meet you too, Jenn! Deadlines definitely work for me. I’m a bit of a firefighter type personality–lob me some juggling balls that will explode if I drop them and I’m in my element! LOL of course the stress tends to make me a bit crazy so not a long term solution. I can def relate to being a hot mess! 😉

  6. Congratulations, A.Y., on your final! (And greetings from a fellow traveler!) Your book sounds so fabulously rich. I can’t wait until we’ll be able to read it. It sounds like exactly my kind of addiction.

    On maximizing writing efficiency… what works for me is goal setting, like C.R. said above. I try to make sure my goals are achievable and reasonable, but still give me that sense of accomplishment to know that I’m making steady progress. And when I finish them, I am often found dancing around the room – because you’ve gotta celebrate every chance you get. 🙂

    Good luck in Orlando!!!

  7. Alexis Daria says:

    Alice, I can’t wait to meet you later this month! Your book sounds fabulous, and as someone who has also had quite a winding job path, I’m so curious to hear more. The experience of being biracial shows up in my writing in unexpected ways, so it’s fascinating to hear how identity played a role in writing Aziza’s story.

    To answer your question, I maximize writing efficiency by knowing what I’m going to write before I sit down. By having an outline, I don’t have to waste time thinking about it when I should be writing. Airplane mode is another handy trick. 😉

    • A.Y. Chao says:

      I loved your tip on the 2k-10k method. It’s brilliant and definitely has helped. Ha! And airplane mode/do not disturb too. Otherwise i lose so many hours down the rabbit hole.

      I’m totally excited to meet you in person too! Orlando here we come! woooohoooo!

  8. Welcome, A.Y., and much Ruby love and light! I’m a journalist by trade, and in my world, deadlines are the key to maximizing writing efficiency. Set realistic deadlines and treat them as if they are paying gigs. Good thoughts on the writing journey!

  9. Rita Henuber says:

    Welcome and congratulations Alice. Love your story. So glad you get to go to nationals. Have a wonderful time and best of luck.

  10. Tracy Brody says:

    Congrats on your GGolden Heart final amd thanks for sharing your enthusiasm with the Rebelles. Looking forward to meeting you in a few weeks.

    My tip for maximizing your writing time is to skimp on housework, cook simple meals, (Captain Crunch is good for 2 meals a day) and go on lots of writing retreats.

  11. Seana Kelly says:

    A.Y., I love your book (SOOOOO my flavor of catnip) and your journey as a human being and writer! Congratulations on your final! I’m an early morning writer. I try to get up before anyone else is awake so I can have quiet time to work. My girls aren’t so little, so I can go out to my converted garage on the weekends to steal some writing time then, too. I’m looking forward to see you at RWA! 🙂

    • A.Y. Chao says:

      Mornings are my favourite time too! All quiet, nice and cool, and a rich cup of coffee. mmmmm. Drat the morning run! My husband is terrible at ponytails so I’m on hair duty in the mornings, lol.

      Can’t wait to meet you. not long to go!!!

  12. Melonie says:

    Hello Rebelle sister! To say I can’t wait to hang out with you is an understatement – I CAN’T WAIT! We’ll have to dish on paranormal, as my paranormal series deals some similar themes!

    I find I’ve been most successful putting in the writing time when I make a list for the day and schedule blocks of time for errands, chores, other to-dos, and WRITING. The trick is sticking to the plan, but making sure I’ve set aside room in my day for words is a great start. The other half of the equation is staying off the internet during that scheduled writing time – I need to treat it with more reverence, as if it were a “real job” and playing on social media is not allowed.

    • A.Y. Chao says:

      Hello Rebelle sister! *waves* Ha me too! Totally, let’s dish, and let’s have plenty of fruity cocktails while we do it. 😀

      Oooh love your list idea and blocks of time. Reminds me of Hugh Grant’s character in About a Boy lol. I need to pull out my TN journal and start blocking out my writing time. Ha I def must stay away from social media. Total time suck!

  13. AY you are the most interesting person! Cannot wait to meet you in the flesh for a big hug or to read your book!

  14. Heather Leonard says:

    What a fun post!

    In terms of maximizing writing efficiency, I am still struggling to find something that works. So far, what has been the best fit is getting up early and writing first thing in the morning. That lets me knock out my words first thing and allow time to hit those words later in the day if I can’t make my goal.

    • A.Y. Chao says:

      Thanks Heather! Looking forward to meeting you at Orlando! I want a photo of us together with some bubbly!!

      Great tips. My major takeaway from all you learned ladies–be ruthless in scheduling and keeping to goals! *dons my writing warrior armour* 😉

  15. I’m so looking forward to meeting you in Orlando!

    The only efficiency trick that has ever worked for me is writing sprints. I have a group of writer friends who get together and sprint for 45-60 minutes, then we report our progress at the end. The sprints are planned in advance so we can warn husbands/children/colleagues we will be otherwise occupied, and the competitive side of me wants to report a healthy number of words. Otherwise, I can be an Olympic-level procrastinator who is easily distrac–

    –Wait, did you say Borough Market? One of my favorite places in the world! No trip to London is complete without going to Cinnamon Tree Bakery and stocking up on Tweet Tweet cookies. And Monmouth Coffee. Excuse me, I must go raid the kitchen now…

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Sprints are awesome!

      Some Rebelles may not know about the Ruby Winter Writing Festival, which runs for 50 days each winter from mid-January to the last day of February (watch this space this fall for specifics!!). One of the highlights of the Festival is our open chat room with scheduled (and unscheduled) writing sprints. It’s a writing-life-changer for many!

      I hope many of you will join us!

    • A.Y. Chao says:

      Ahhhh monmouth! and I love the Cinnamon Tree Bakery! My daughter has a soft spot for the Konditoor & Cook gingerbread women. 🙂

      And sprints! YES! I love them. So fun! Must do more.

      @Elise–I didn’t know about the festival. what a great idea!!!

  16. suzanne turner says:

    Alice–I love your nomadic, adventuring,expat life! Your insight about being in China and not being Chinese was fascinating and I love how you connected it to your writing. I can’t wait for Orlando. Coffee every day. Every hour. Yeah!

    • A.Y. Chao says:

      Wooohooo flat whites and we’ll slide into espresso martinis from 11am. lol!

      Yeah it was really trippy being an expat in China. I was on the one hand part of the majority ethnic group, yet on the other hand part of the minority expat group. And yet again within the expat group further separated because I spoke the language and had family ties to East Asia. Lots of circles (imagine a three dimensional Venn diagram!) of inclusion and exclusions.

  17. Elisa Beatty says:

    Thanks so much for being with us today, A.Y.!!

    And thanks to everybody who offered up useful tips for how to keep the productivity churning while the rest of life calls!

  18. Kari Cole says:

    Ugh, Mommy guilt. That’s something I think we all suffer. As my kids have gotten older, I’ve learned that it’s important for them to have a mom who is not only there for them, but happy with herself. Writing and developing my career is important to me and focusing on my own goals makes me a better mom. We have to be kinder to ourselves.

    • A.Y. Chao says:

      It’s funny, I don’t know any men who suffer from Daddy guilt.

      I’m with you 100% on needing to be true to ourselves in order to be a strong role model for our kids. I like listening to the Bad Mom’s soundtrack on full blast. Helps drown out that dratted guilt! 😉

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      YES, Kari!! It’s a huge disservice to our children, especially our daughters, to self-sacrifice to the point that we don’t have distinct identities and fulfilling personal goals / work (however we choose to define those terms). Our children need us to be role models as whole human beings.

  19. JO ANNE says:

    Such a fun post, Alice. So proud to be a Rebelle sister, and can’t wait to get to know each other better in Orlando! Soon!!

  20. Hey Alice, this is a great post. I love reading about all the places you’ve lived all over the world and all the amazingly varied jobs you’ve had. You are clearly a lady who does not care to be stagnant! I imagine this adventurous spirit shines through in your writing.


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