Since debuting his first novel in 2013, Kevin Kwan—author of bestsellers Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend, and Rich People Problems—have taken the literary world by storm with his contemporary narrative centered on modern Asians. His books, equal parts humorous, dramatic, and over-the-top, are celebrated all over the world, so much so that Crazy Rich Asians has already been adapted into a major motion picture that only recently wrapped up filming.
During his visit to the Queen City of the South for the Philippine leg of his Rich People Problems book tour with National Book Store (hosted by none other than the Queen of All Media herself, Kris Aquino!), Chalk was able to sit down with Kwan to talk Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriends, and Rich People Problems!
Since you first wrote Crazy Rich Asians and hatched the idea of the trilogy, was there anything major that changed in your vision until you published Rich People Problems? "Not really. I always knew the whole story I wanted to tell from the start. I had it mapped out in my head, and I've always been focused in implementing that vision so nothing's really changed in that sense."
In making the trilogy, were there any storylines that you had to sacrifice? Can you reveal any? "Yeah, there were quite a few. A big one, from the first book, was a story that involved the character of Eddie [Cheng]. It was really 1/3 of the book that had to be chopped off. At first, I was kind of in shock when my editor suggested it, but she really felt it was important to remove at least 100 pages from Crazy Rich Asians. It was just too long. She said, 'For a first novel, people aren't going to give you a chance if you write a 600-page book.' It was a whole other story that involved Eddie and his family so we really had to condense that, but, I see the wisdom of the decision now because it was one plot too many. It would have taken away from the Nick [Young] and Rachel [Chu] story and the Astrid [Leong] story."
You have so many characters. How did you decide on the ones to focus on per book? "It was a natural evolution. In the first book, I laid down the grand battlefield—full of troops. Along the way, some troops died. (laughs) As you write, the story clarifies more and more. You see what's important. Your characters do really begin to talk to you—and, as they do, you sort of get more of a vision of how you want to focus it because you start running out of pages and time. It had to end at some point, right? You can't tell everyone's story."
What, for you, is the most iconic storyline in the trilogy that best sums up the whole? "The most iconic storyline is still the Nick story—how he brings an outsider into this world, how he reacts to how his family treats her and treats him, how he feels almost lost in this world in the second book, and how he comes back in the third book and sort of makes peace with his family, his past, and all of that."
Which one would you say is your favorite among your three books? "The third one. I just feel like it's much deeper. It deepens your relationship with the characters. We're in the character's lives who, in their own ways, are all becoming enlightened. And it's something I seek to do for myself, I always try to be better, more enlightened. It's nice to be able to create that arc for my characters, to really tell the story and go into the past as well—because I think you have to understand the past in order to live in the present."
Now that you're done working on the Crazy Rich Asians film, did it change the way you look at your characters? "Not really. I think we did such a great job casting the movie that, oftentimes, I'd confuse the characters with the actors when I was on set. The Astrid character [played by] Gemma Chan is just like Astrid, when she's not. You know what I mean? They're just so good at being these characters that, for me, it was a treat; but, also, a complete mindf*ck to see these people come to life."
We all know how representation in Hollywood has become one of the hottest topics in the past few years. How does it feel to be leading the pack by creating a contemporary novel that has been adapted into film in a predominantly whitewashed industry? "I'm still in disbelief. I never considered myself leading the pack, I just feel like it's the luck of timing. It happened at the right time, the stars aligned at the right time. It could've been...well, no, it could not have been another movie. (Laughs) It's just the first [narrative] in a long time that was based on Asians. I'm very, very grateful at how things have happened. It's just tremendous and gratifying."
Who's your favorite Crazy Rich Asian? "In the book, I really developed a soft spot for Kitty [Pong], just because she goes into such an evolution. She's like the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps on going. She's unstoppable. In real life, there are a few people I admire who are doing great things for the planet, who would be appalled if I called out their names or called them 'crazy rich Asians,' even though they are. (Laughs) They're people who don't want to associate themselves and their lives with just their money, they want to think of themselves as what they do with their money."
How would you describe the perfect China Rich Girlfriend? "(Laughs) Kitty Pong. She's the perfect China Rich Girlfriend."
What's your favorite Rich People Problem? "My favorite rich people problem would be...(Pauses) I'm totally stumped, I need to come up with a better answer! (Laughs) I don't have rich people problems so it's kind of hard for me to encapsulate... I think when, you know, when people are presented with too many choices because they have the means to do anything, they get very frustrated, like, "Where do I take the private jet for dinner tonight?" That's a problem. (Laughs)"
For more on Kevin Kwan, log on to blog.nationalbookstore.com.
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Banner photograph by Dave Anderson via National Book Store. Special thanks to Xandra Ramos, Chad Dee, and JB Roperos.