The following is an interview with Harrison Cheung (Christian Bale: The Inside Story of the Darkest Batman), author of the upcoming YA contemporary book, West of Weird. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Cheung about the inspiration behind the book, how his work with foster youth greatly impacted his writing of the story, the book’s listing as one of Ridley Scott / Launch Pad’s Top 50 Best Manuscripts of 2016, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: After the success of your previous book, Christian Bale: The Inside Story of the Darkest Batman, you will soon be releasing your latest work, West of Weird. How would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Harrison Cheung: West of Weird is my first novel. It’s a Young Adult Contemporary story about a teenager who gets adopted by an Asian American father. The genesis of the book came about from my work with troubled teens in foster care. I’ve been mentoring foster youth for many years – and in fact, I could say that I mentored a number of troubled young actors back in the day!
I noticed that all teenagers have this increasing anxiety level. There’s this uncertainty about their futures. They worry about armed intruders shooting up their school. They half-joke about the zombie apocalypse thanks to The Walking Dead. Teens I know in California have this added worry about the Big One! And with foster kids, they worry about having a home.
When a kid hits 18 and “ages out” of foster care, they’re out on their own. A high percentage of these kids end up in jail, dropping out of school, addicted to drugs – generally because they don’t have a support network which the rest of us would call, family.
So, you have foster kids desperate to be adopted, but you have an adoption system that is very slow and old-fashioned in many ways, trying to match these kids with “ideal” families. And the family group that gets bottom priority? Single dads. Caseworkers have told me that the priority order for adoptive parents is: Traditional mom/dad, single mom, gay parents, then…. all the way at the bottom are single dads.
Then, you compound this by ethnicity. I’ve had a number of adoption agencies tell me that they try to match ethnicity for the sake of the child. They don’t want a child to signal to their classmates that they are adopted, for example, if parents of a different ethnicity show up and pick them up from school.
That’s the background to West of Weird. I wrote a black comedy about this unique father/son relationship – strangers in a strange land – as they try to become family and as they get relocated from California to Texas. I had one editor tell me the father/son relationship in West of Weird reminded her of The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
BD: West of Weird is described as a YA Contemporary book; however, the story takes on mature topics, including sexual abuse and trans-racial adoption. How would you describe your process in discussing or educating your readers about these topics while doing so in an age-appropriate manner?
HC: The Young Adult genre has definitely broadened in the past 10 years. The best lessons I’ve had from agents is to write the best book you can write, and then figure out the genre. When I first saw the TV show, The Fosters, on ABC Family, I was thrilled to see a trans-racial lesbian couple adopting children of different backgrounds. That’s a growing reality. Teens have sex. Teens do drugs. A “contemporary” YA book isn’t going to pretend that doesn’t happen. And with West of Weird, I hope that the sexual abuse history of the protagonist, which is yet another anxiety level of shaming, makes perfect sense. The “incident” is ripped from the headlines of any newspaper today unfortunately.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
HC: I hope there are some tears and smiles when they hit the last paragraph. It’s quite a journey for a kid desperate for a home. I also experienced that novelist’s cliché that I became very protective of my characters. I also hope the cross-cultural humor is taken as it should be – a laugh at stereotypes. I experienced quite a lot of weirdness myself when I moved from LA to Austin!
BD: West of Weird has already been gaining steam, in that it has been included in Ridley Scott / Launch Pad’s Top 50 Best Manuscripts of 2016. What do you envision as the next steps for the property, once the book has been released?
HC: Well, the ideal scenario (Fingers crossed!) is to win the competition which would allow Ridley Scott’s Scott Free productions to option the book as a film. There are a couple other prizes, as well. The book is also being submitted for a slow rollout of reviews, and I’d hope that people can see that I can write fiction. The Bale biography sort of pigeonholed me in non-fiction for a while, but I really want to be a novelist.
BD: The book is also currently listed within Inkshare’s crowd-publishing program. How does this program work, and what would you encourage our readers to do to support the crowd-publishing?
HC: So, associated with the Ridley Scott/Launchpad competition, Inkshares is a publisher that has readers – not agents or editors – decide what should be published. If they see you’ve sold a minimum of 750 pre-orders, Inkshares will provide the services of a publishing house (cover design, editing, printing, distribution). It’s a unique approach to on-demand publishing with the full professional publisher services you’re not going to get self-publishing. And it also exams the interest level in a genre with a much lower-risk exposure. You’re not going to get too many publishers willing to publish a book that sells only 750 copies, but when you flip the script and have a property that has 750 readers paid and waiting, that’s a different reader model. Inkshares is best known for sci-fi and fantasy genre books.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
HC: My next novel is a YA sci-fi about a kid who suspects his new neighbor is an alien. I’ve also been invited to contribute to a collection of short stories about Texas!
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about West of Weird and your other work?
HC: You can read a sample chapter of West of Weird and pre-order the book right here.
There are some pre-order deals! Just $10 for the e-book (no country restriction). $20 for a signed paperback (with free shipping in the US). And for every 50 pre-orders, I’m going to randomly pick someone to receive a copy of the Christian Bale biography.
Read West of Weird’s first book review here!
And you can read more about Amy Schumer’s favorite Christian Bale biography here.