Posts tagged with: sense of belonging

Meet 2019 Golden Heart Finalist A.Y. Chao!!

Today’s Omega guest is A.Y. Chao, a 2019 Golden Heart Finalist for Best Young Adult Romance with her manuscript SONG OF THE SOPHOS.

A.Y. Chao (aka Alice) is a recovering lawyer, expat Canadian, adopted Londoner, lapsed knitter, runner, hobonichiplannerphile, procrasti-online-shopper, foodie, and coffee addict. Her Victorian terraced house in London, UK is chaotic HQ for her family, affectionately known as her “circus of monkeys”—a ginger-haired hubby, Hong Kong rescue mutt, imperious elderly pug, and 7-going-on-16 year old daughter (oh my the sass!)–but she wouldn’t trade her crew of cheeky monkeys for the world. 

She’s a two-time Golden Heart® finalist. In addition to the Golden Heart®, SONG OF THE SOPHOS is a 2019 finalist in the Valley Forge Romance Writers’ Sheila and Kiss of Death’s Daphne du Maurier contests. 

Here’s a blurb for SONG OF THE SOPHOS: YA Fantasy — Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Romeo and Juliet

Set in lush landscapes inspired by East Asia, SONG OF THE SOPHOS explores the effect of colliding cultures and divided loyalties on identity and sense of belonging.

A deathbed prophecy. A dangerous journey.
A daring alliance.

On Erthos where four elemental clans live in centuries’ old enmity, fugitive Fyrclan son Jorkka Draekkeson races north to stop a deadly prophecy. His uncle Roake plans to depose Jorkka’s father and kill all those loyal to the beloved chief. Jorkka must reach his ancestral lands before first snow if he is to save the only family he has left—a father he never knew and a clan he’s never met.

A chance meeting with Denaiya Fen, an orphaned girl fostered by the Waterclan, sets his journey careening off-course. His compelling connection with the girl clashes with his Fyrclan oaths of duty and loyalty. When tragedy strikes, Jorkka extricates Denaiya from forced betrothal by hand-fasting with her himself. 

Instead of reconciling the Fyr and Waterclans, their unorthodox alliance only foments the clans’ mutual mistrust. A mistrust Roake distills into a weapon of fear that cripples his enemies. With first snow looming, Jorkka and Denaiya must unite the hostile clans and reconcile duty with hearts-need if they are to stop Roake from destroying everything and everyone they love.

That sounds fascinating and intense! I love Avatar (the animated TV show, definitely not to be confused with the Avatar movies with the blue cat people), so this sounds right up my alley! I’m getting a bit of Philip Pullman vibe with the names and some Game of Thronesy elements. Yay!! Smart, complex fantasy!!

We’re delighted to have A.Y. Chao with us today. I’ve got some questions to ask her, so grab a seat and a hot toddy to fend off the cold wind from the coming snow! (I know it’s probably boiling where most of you are…a little imagination will help!)


Welcome, Alice! Lovely to have you with us again, after your first visit during your Rebelle year! This sounds like a very different book from your first Golden Heart book, SOUL AFFINITY, in terms of genre, though I’m seeing some deep thematic connections. Tell us a little more about your 2019 Golden Heart book SONG OF THE SOPHOS and the process of writing it.

SONG OF THE SOPHOS is my second manuscript. The first one was adult urban fantasy and took me five years. A lot of that time was spent learning craft, reading books, taking classes, and revising. SONG OF THE SOPHOS took me three weeks to write and then another nine months to polish. I pantsed my first book and deconstructing it for revision was the most painful, time consuming exercise ever. I learned a lot from my first book (and am still learning!).  For my second manuscript, I started with a basic outline—plotted my major turning points and then pantsed from turning point to turning point. Much much better process for me.

Wow! You really made use of that learning curve! I love the idea of deconstructing the first book to learn how to write the second, and how awesome that you found an approach that worked well enough to score another Golden Heart final! What was it like this time when you got the phone call telling you you were a finalist again?

I used to think I was very laid back, but have recently realised I am actually an extremely anxious person. My coping mechanism is a bad memory. I simply forget when big things are supposed to happen so I don’t have all the anxious build-up. The first time I finaled I had of course forgotten about the announcement date, so was blissfully unprepared when Damon Suede called me that first time. I thought it was a phishing call. 

This time, thanks to the Rebelles chat, I knew early on that it was call day. I spent a good few hours feeling extremely antsy and texting my friend Chris trying to stay sane. When the New York area code showed up on my phone, my heart swelled! It was the call! I might have screeched into Damon’s ear (sorry!). I danced around screaming Oh! My! God! for a little while. I was flying so high. Then I was glued to Twitter watching the names and was thrilled when so many I knew were announced, especially Jilly Wood, who is a fellow Londoner and now Omega, and the whole reason I knew about the GH in the first place. I screamed when I saw her name! I did a lot of screaming that day. LOL.

How wonderful that you and Jilly got to final together!! We’ll have a London contingent at Nationals! As I recall from our conversation two years ago, you’ve lived in lots of different places and cultural contexts, and London is not your hometown. Where did you start out, and how has that shaped you as a person and a writer?

I’m what you call a CBC—Canadian-born Chinese. I was lucky and had the best of both worlds—I had Christmases and Thanksgivings just like my friends. Big blinged-up tree, roast turkey, presents wrapped with pretty bows. All the fun stuff. But I also got to celebrate traditional Chinese holidays like Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival and indulge in my favourite Chinese foods—the stuff you could only get home-made back then. My mixed tapes had a slew of Taiwanese pop stars as well as a-ha and Madonna. I read Judy Blume and manga novels (my first introduction to romance!). My lunches were like my mixed tapes—peanut butter and banana sandwiches, dumplings, spaghetti-Os, and meat floss in a bun. Meat floss is basically cooked meat (I used to have fish or pork) which is seasoned, fried, then very finely shredded so the finished product is a bit like crunchy cotton candy. Here’s a link if you’d like pictures ( ).

I had to check that out….and I’m including a picture from that sight. Wow, it really DOES look like meat cotton candy. Yummy!! I want to try it!

I had a teacher who sometimes made what-the-heck-is-that faces when I offered her stuff to try (her reaction to meat floss still makes me giggle), but as I had family who were just as weird about non-Chinese food it never occurred to me to be offended. Food is comfort and not everyone wants to go outside that comfort zone.

Because I went to schools where speaking a different language at home was commonplace–Finnish, Norwegian, Hebrew, Vietnamese, Cantonese, French, Danish, German, Japanese, Hindi, Ukrainian, Tagalog, Punjabi—I was never embarrassed by my Chinese heritage. For the most part, being more than what you saw was a given, and I grew up in a community which embraced that as the norm. 

I learned early on that beneath the surface are many facets which inform our sense of identity—the nurture part of nature—and sometimes the divided loyalties cause conflict. When you think about it, divided loyalties are in the very fabric of being Canadian. We swear allegiance to England—the Queen is our symbolic leader. I even sang “God Save the Queen” at school alongside the Canadian national anthem (in French of course). And yet, the majority of us in grade school had never been to England. The Queen was a far away and irrelevant figure when it came to our day-to-day life. 

I noticed the same with the older generation of Chinese families I knew. The parents were very patriotic to their concept of home… which was a complicated place. Most were born in China, but were part of the diaspora that fled to Taiwan with the Nationalists pre-1949 when Mao’s communists won the civil war. They grew up in Taiwan, and then emigrated to Canada where they set down roots. They had families and built their careers in Canada. And yet their patriotism and nostalgia was for a home that no longer existed, and which they had no desire to return to. When China reopened her doors and family friends went to visit, they felt like, and were treated as, foreigners. In the early days, there was a lot of hostility to Chinese with ties to Taiwan. I remember when I lived in Beijing and my mom visited me, a random guy on the street called her nasty names because he knew by her accent she’d grown up in Taiwan. China was no longer home. The country and its people had changed irrevocably from the China they left all those years ago. 

And when family friends visited Taiwan, they encountered a similar problem—they felt as if they didn’t quite fit. They couldn’t eat the things they used to at the night markets, because their tummies weren’t used to the bacteria anymore, they couldn’t always understand the slang, the crowds were too much. But this time, it wasn’t Taiwan that was different. It was them. They had changed. Their internal identities made into something new by their experiences.

How we deal with that space of colliding beliefs and cultures, and the resulting different iterations of self, fascinates me, and is something I like to explore in my writing. Both my manuscripts have at their core the concept of belonging. And both have characters who are caught between worlds and have to learn to embrace all parts of themselves—the dark and the light—in order to reach their full potential. 

Ah, yes!! There’s the thematic connection I was seeing! You’ve already found your Core Story, and it’s an awesome one that will continue to yield rich stories for a long, long time. What about you a reader? What are you drawn to?

I love reading fantasy, especially urban fantasy. J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Charlaine Harris, Deb Harkness, N.K. Jemisin, Philip Pullman are all favourites.

I knew I sensed Philip Pullman in there! (He’s one of my favorites…and there’s a new HBO production of His Dark Materials coming soon that looks WAY better than the movie version from a few years ago.) What’s your biggest source of inspiration? Where do your story ideas come from?

SONG OF THE SOPHOS was inspired by the Gyptians in Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, and my first manuscript SOUL AFFINITY—where a bunch of immortals set up a law firm as a cover for a kind of afterlife border control–was inspired by my time as a corporate lawyer. 

Amazing connections!! What about the people in your life? Who are your biggest supporters? And what are your biggest challenges?

My Rebelles are the best cheerleaders, and I know the Omegas will be the same. I’m lucky in that my husband and one of my best friends have read everything I’ve written and give invaluable insight. My biggest challenge? Not enough hours in the day!

I hear you on that one! (I’m getting this post up late tonight because my puppy had a UTI and I had to spend three hours at the emergency vet….sigh….but, luckily, she’ll be fine.) But hopefully you’re finding the time to go to Nationals, even though you’ll have to cross the pond!

Yes! This year is my second time going to Nationals. I can’t wait! I’m going to be much more organized about my time. My first time I was in a daze and missed out on a lot of things. This time I have my schedule sorted, with classes highlighted, and socials pre-arranged. I’m so excited. Plus of course NEW YORK! Yeah baby!

Woot!! It’s going to be a blast!! Do you have a new Work-In-Progress? Care to share what it’s about?

I’ve just begun the querying process for Song of the Sophos so am excited about hitting that milestone, because it means I can get writing on my next story! The idea in my head is darker, sadder than my previous stories. Loss, guilt, shame, and hopefully redemption. It will be a challenge but I’m looking forward to it.

And I just have to ask: As a serious fan of fantasy, what’d you think about that Game of Thrones finale?

I have dragons in my story, the oldest and most powerful being the Venerable Dowager who is the dignity’s matriarch. Imagine a cocktail of Michelle Yeoh’s haughty Eleanor from Crazy Rich Asians, the caustic Professor McGonagall, and Dame Judi Dench’s suffer-no-fools Queen Elizabeth, and you’ve got the Dowager. She’d have just one thing to say about the ending: Dracarys!

DRACARYS!! YES! I think we should all start saying that more in real life. Okay, time to give our readers a chance to get in on the fun. What question would you like to ask to get the conversation going today?

If you could live in any TV show… which would it be?



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  • Darynda Jones: Bwahahaha! I was so wondering where that was going! Did NOT see that coming. Great job, Evelyn!
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