Yesterday the news of my latest book deal was announced in Publishers Weekly and I'm thrilled to share some more details with you today. Here's the deal:
Andrew Karre at Dutton has acquired Last Night at the Telegraph Club, a YA novel by Malinda Lo. Set in 1950s San Francisco, the novel is a story of love and duty that explores the complicated overlap between the city's Chinese-American and LGBTQ communities. Publication is planned for 2019; Michael Bourret at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret did the deal for North American rights.
This is a book that six months ago I didn't even know I'd be writing, and the speed with which this happened is amazing to me because publishing usually moves at the pace of an extra slow tortoise. Here's how it happened: Last year, author Saundra Mitchell invited me to contribute a short story to an anthology she's editing, All Out, which is a collection of historical fiction about LGBTQ+ teens that will be published in 2018. Of course I said yes immediately!
Right before Saundra asked, I had read Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt, a nonfiction account of the women who worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, starting in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These women were computers — they did the mathematical calculations that were necessary to make rockets fly — just like the women in the movie (and book) Hidden Figures. The JPL women included a Chinese American woman named Helen Ling, who was one of very first Asian American women to work in this field. She went on to hire several other Asian American women, and I found her story to be really inspiring.
I wanted to bring that inspiration to my story for the All Out anthology. The story, which is titled "New Year," is about a Chinese American girl in 1955 San Francisco who dreams of a life outside of Chinatown. Her aunt, who was inspired by Helen Ling and the women who worked at JPL, is one window to a bigger world. The main character finds other windows too, in the form of an underground lesbian community.
In 1950s San Francisco, there were quite a number of gay and lesbian bars, mostly operating in the North Beach area of the city. They often had drag shows, and those drag shows were featured openly in the San Francisco Chronicle's entertainment columns and ads. If you're familiar with San Francisco, you know that North Beach is only a block or two away from Chinatown. It got me wondering: How likely is it that a girl from Chinatown might encounter some of those drag performers? Or walk past those bars? From those questions, an entire world has opened up for me.
Because I'm a recovering academic and seriously addicted to research, I totally over-researched my story. When I described it to Michael Bourret, my agent, he told me he thought there was a novel in it. I hadn't initially thought it was anything more than a story, but the more we talked about it, the more I was taken by the idea. That idea has become the basis for my next novel, Last Night at the Telegraph Club. I'm so excited that Andrew Karre, my editor, saw the potential in the idea, too.
The best part of it for me is that I get to continue researching! Even though I over-researched the story, there are so many gaps for me to fill in for the novel. I'm in the middle of research right now, and later this summer I'm going back to San Francisco for a week to walk through Chinatown, imagine where all the old lesbian bars were, and hopefully talk to some experts on the historical period.
I especially love that I'm getting to tell a story that has rarely if ever been told: the story of a queer Chinese American girl in the 1950s. This girl has been invisible for far too long, but I'm totally certain that she existed, because we always have.