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From Newspaper Columnist to Novelist: Where Vanessa Hua Finds Inspiration

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Being a journalist has taken Vanessa Hua all around the globe, writing stories on everything from the Asian diaspora to the dot-com boom.

“Having this chance to enter people’s lives is so amazing—to be able to just ask them and to spend time with them,” Hua says of her job as a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. This storytelling has led her to her debut book, Deceit and Other Possibilities, a collection of short stories about immigrant families in contemporary America that are partly inspired by real events and her own experiences.

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Art by Josh Korwin of Three Steps Ahead Studio

The book, which was published on September 30, explores themes related to the Asian American experience, to family, and to secrets. Hua wrote some of the stories as recently as 2014, while some ideas hail from a fiction-writing workshop that she took in 2000.

Though reporting has allowed Hua to uncover interesting stories and enact real change, she says there are limitations in journalism that she doesn’t face as a fiction writer. Writing fiction, she says, allows her to fill in extra details that escape the press and extend the story in her own imagination. She has two other novels, A River of Stars and The Sea Places, in the works.

“Some things will never be determined by a journalist or a historian—it’s just lost to history or people aren’t talking or they’re dead,” Hua says. “Fiction is a way of exploring these really interesting circumstances and characters in a fuller way.” She continues: “In a way, what happened in reality seems over-the-top already, and so it does seem really ripe for exploring in fiction.”

She does exactly that in Deceit and Other Possibilities. For instance, correlations can be seen in the story of the imposter Stanford student and Hong Kong movie star who escapes after a sex scandal, and in the real case involving actor Edison Chen that inspired the story.

Other stories came from experiences in Hua’s own life, like when she got locked out of her parents’ house and had to call a locksmith. When the locksmith arrived, she was surprised to see that he brought his son along—which prompted her to write a story about a Mexican boy learning his father’s trade in San Francisco.

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PC: Marc Puich

Her stories focus so heavily on immigration and families of multiple cultures because Hua herself is a child of immigrants who came to the United States in the 1960s. She says she relates to the idea of having “a foot in two worlds.”

“Sometimes your immigrant parents aren’t necessarily going to be able to explain American culture to you. You have to figure it out yourself,” Hua says. “And, likewise, there are things about American culture you have to explain to your parents. I think it’s great training for being a writer, trying to understand the worlds in this way from an early age.”

Hua says she comes from a community of Asian American writers from all backgrounds, including Celeste Ng and Jenny Zhang, who are also making names for themselves. Together, these writers are creating an increasingly significant presence of Asian Americans in the contemporary literary world. Through her book, Hua says she hopes to further inspire other young Asian writers to realize that their voices are valuable and worth sharing as well.

“It’s the world around us. Even when I was a journalist, I’ve always pushed for diversity in hiring and in stories,” Hua says. “Not only because it’s supposed to be some feel-good goal, but also because if you want to accurately portray and understand the world, it needs to include diverse voices—and Asian Americans are among them.”

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