I caught up with Susie Yang author of White Ivy, Yang’s stunning debut novel. Yang studied to be a pharmacist, then tried tech in Silicon Valley before she took a year off to see if she could make it as a writer. It was a productive year. White Ivy is an immigrant story with a twist or two or three. Ivy Lin is a Chinese American immigrant who turns the stereotype on its head.
Ambitious and determined to get her man, Ivy is a modern day Scarlett O’Hara, an Asian-American social climber. Fans of Gone Girl and The Talented Mr Ripley will feel right at home in this coming of age tale that explores class, race and identity.
My main interview with Yang is here in 26’s March newsletter. Below are some fun questions, like how important is a name. I personally think names are crucial, and love this one about Marilyn Monroe…
or Prick, a new book I spotted at my local nursery
Names matter. Imagine if my pug Josephine was named Betty. She’d be a different dog.
I digress. Back to Yang and White Ivy, an alluring title and book cover
I understand that you have a name fetish, and that you find movie film credits a wonderful resource. How easy was it to choose the names for your main characters – Ivy, Gideon and Roux? And what about your title, White Ivy? How did you land on that and what does it signify?
I cannot even start a story until I have all the names chosen. A wrong name feels so wrong to me in ways I can’t even explain. As for the title, it had a different working title, but it didn’t have the right feel so my team and I brainstormed dozens of titles until I thought of White Ivy. It comes from the Chinese proverb in the beginning of the book–The snow goose need not bathe to make itself white–and speaks to the idea of race and legitimacy. Ivy wants to be a snow goose, someone natural with inherent virtue, yet she rejects her own inherent virtues and aspires to the cultivated ones.
I listened to an interview where you credited a book called “Art and Fear’ with helping you to finish your book. As a writer myself, I loved your answer. It’s so freeing. Can you explain what you meant in the interview by ‘Make as many pots as you can”?
Essentially, this story is about a ceramics class where the teacher divides the students into two groups. The first group is graded upon the quality of one “perfect” pot, and the second group is graded upon the quantity of pots they make, so the more pots they make, the higher their grade. But at the end of the semester, the teacher found that all the pots the second group was making at the end were better than the single “perfect” pot the first group had been laboring over. It’s a parable that encouraged me to stop trying so hard to write the Great American Novel, and just write a novel I might enjoy reading. Before then, the pressure I was giving myself was enormous, which was probably why I could never finish anything.
Please tell us something surprising about yourself
I am a complete night owl and wrote most of White Ivy between the hours of 10pm and 6am.