Today, I am so excited to share that I have the author of the YA debut romcom novel, A Taste for Love, on the blog!
You can read my review here to know more about the book and what I loved about it.
Without further ado, let’s get comfy in our seats, grab your bubble tea and snacks if you want, and let us get to know Jennifer Yen and her debut YA novel, A Taste for Love!
KARINA: Hi, Jennifer! Welcome to Afire Pages. So glad to have you here. How are you feeling today?
JENNIFER YEN: Super excited…since I just turned in final edits for Love, Decoded – book two!
Would you like to introduce yourself and your book, A Taste for Love, first to our readers?
JENNIFER YEN: A Taste for Love is a young adult romcom that is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice meets the Great British Baking Show…if Mrs. Bennet was a matchmaking Asian momma! It has delicious food, family drama, and of course, a cute romance…all with a side of boba!
When did you realize that you want to write and publish a book someday?
JENNIFER YEN: Writing has been a childhood dream of mine, ever since I discovered books. In high school, I promised myself I would publish a book one day, even if it was just to self-publish one that had my name on the cover. Thankfully, I’ve been very lucky I found people who believe and advocate for me!
JENNIFER YEN: That’s so hard, because I read in a lot of different genres! Tess Gerritsen, Kay Hooper, and Julia Quinn are three writers whose books I’m always picking up. For young adult, I’m still discovering all the wonderful authors out there, so I’ll tell you when I find my favorites!
What do you love most about writing and what do you find challenging about it?
JENNIFER YEN: All my stories comes from characters whose stories latch onto my brain and won’t let go. I’m drawn to their motivations, their growth, and the paths they take. I also love creating worlds, but I admit it is one of my weaknesses, so it’s the most challenging!
When did you first get the idea of A Taste for Love? What inspired or motivated you to pursue writing it?
JENNIFER YEN: A Taste for Love came out of my love of Jane Austen. I secretly wanted to write a retelling, but knew it would be important to put my own spin on it. Then, I went through a period of time when I was binge-watching the Great British Baking Show (formerly Great British Bake-Off). I love baking, and I found the show to be a great way to unwind at the end of the day. That’s when the idea sparked!
A Taste for Love shows different Asian cultures and talks about the experiences of Asian-Americans. How important it is for you to write a story that centers Asian-American characters, especially Taiwanese-Americans?
JENNIFER YEN: It’s really important to me, because there’s so much misinformation and lack of knowledge about Asians and Asian Americans. We’re not homogenous, and each culture has special characteristics that set them apart. I often see books featuring Asians who are Chinese, but not many who are Taiwanese. Being diaspora adds to the complexity, because there’s a big difference between being Asian and being Asian American. There are unique challenges and experiences involved in both!
A major topic in this book is family expectations. Why did you decide to write about it and what is its importance to you?
JENNIFER YEN: As someone who is a 1.5 generation Asian American, I grew up with family expectations. It was not only a major driving force in my life, but one of the reasons I am who I am today. Additionally, the conflict that parental expectations can have on children is such an integral part of the immigrant experience. It would have felt inauthentic not to include it in a book with Asian and Asian American characters.
The main character, Liz, and most of her family loves to cook. Particularly, Mrs. Yang and Liz are into baking. How did you decide to include this aspect of the book? Was it challenging to write about food and baking? Do you also like to cook or bake?
JENNIFER YEN: To be honest, the biggest reason I chose baking is that I don’t cook! I didn’t think I could portray cooking in a way that would feel realistic, whereas I do bake in real life. I’m nowhere as experienced as Liza and her mother, but I really enjoy it, and love learning new techniques!
For the baking contest, many Asian-inspired recipes were featured for different parts of the contest. How did you choose which specific recipes are to be included? And what are your favorites from the pastries the contestants made that you would love to eat right at this moment?
JENNIFER YEN: You caught me! Most of everything I chose are the pastries and dishes I love eating most! Though I love pastries, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so of all the recipes the contestants made I would probably choose either Ben’s fresh fruit sponge cake or James’s mango raspberry mousse one!
Liz is such an interesting character. She loves baking, reading, hanging out while drinking boba with her friend, listening to K-pop, watching C-drama. Some of these small details about her character made me relate to her. What was it like writing Liza Yang? How did the idea come to you? Was there a specific enjoyable and challenging aspect?
JENNIFER YEN: When I first envisioned Liza, she was supposed to resemble the friends I had growing up in North Texas. As I started to tell the story, however, it became clear they were more like Jeannie. That’s when I decided Liza would be the girl I wished I was growing up—someone who was brave enough to try new things, even if they’re scary. That part was both the most enjoyable and the most challenging, because even now, I’m not much of a risk taker!
Speaking of, what is your favorite bubble tea flavor that you would recommend others to try?
JENNIFER YEN: Oh, that’s a tough one! I have one for every mood! I would say if you’ve never tried boba before, but generally enjoy tea, then a classic milk tea (either black or green) would be a good place to start. For my friends who aren’t big tea drinkers, I usually recommend one of the fruit smoothies to ease them in.
Do you also listen to K-Pop and do you have a favorite group? I have not seen many C-drama myself. Do you have any recommendations?
JENNIFER YEN: I am 100% a K-Pop stan. I listen to a lot of groups casually, but I definitely claim being a carat, ahgase, and army (if you know, you know). As for C-dramas, I’m out of the loop at the moment because I’ve been so busy with writing, but Ashes of Love is definitely worth the watch!
Both of Grace and Sarah, Liz’s friends, have different experiences compared to Liz. Grace is also Asian, but her parents are not as strict as Liz’s and Sarah is white and her culture is very different from the two. What was the inspiration behind these characters and why was it important to include them in the story?
JENNIFER YEN: In terms of Grace, I wanted her to showcase how the diaspora experience is different even between immigrant generations. Liza’s family has been in the USA for less time than Grace’s, so they are less acculturated and more rooted in their native culture. Grace’s family is more Americanized, which is reflected in the difference in the parenting styles. As for Sarah, she is very much inspired by people I knew growing up. Just like her, their words and actions were not due to willful ignorance, but a lack of education and exposure to Asian people. The way Liza and Grace handle the situation, and Sarah’s willingness to learn, shows what it takes to have true allyship.
JENNIFER YEN: I don’t have any sisters of my own, and always wished for one growing up. However, I did have friends who were very close to their sisters, and they inspired me to write about Liza and Jeannie. Their relationship is a great foil for Liza and her mom. Even though both come from a place of love, the way that Jeannie and Mrs. Yang expresses their affection is very different.
I really love the chemistry between Liz and James. How was it like writing about their relationship? Was there any specific thing that you found challenging?
JENNIFER YEN: The biggest hurdle for me was to interpret Elizabeth and Darcy into a modern day romance that is fresh but familiar. I wanted to be true to the romance while adding in the complexities of being Asian American and how that plays into Liza’s initial assumptions about James. Of course, it was also fun, because my favorite part about writing them was the banter!
Personally, reading A Taste for Love felt like I was having a mini trip! I felt like you brought me to many places in New York and Houston. I discovered places like Patisserie Chanson and the Waterwall Park. Why did you decide to include these settings?
JENNIFER YEN: I chose those two locations for slightly different reasons. With Patisserie Chanson, it was a location (and experience) that would spark Liza’s imagination. It’s exactly why Jeannie takes her there—to show her what is possible while conveying how much faith she has in Liza’s talent. As for places like Waterwall Park and Chinatown, I wanted non-Houstonians to know there’s more to the city than the rodeo, barbeque, and Tex-Mex. Houston is rich in diversity, with each culture contributing something special.
JENNIFER YEN: The most memorable moment of the journey through ATFL actually wasn’t during the writing process. It was the moment when all the pieces of the plot came together for me! I knew I wanted to do a P&P retelling, and something to do with baking, but it was only after I saw a tweet that popped up on my TL about a meddling Asian mom who was running around a college campus asking male students to date her daughter that Mrs. Yang came to be. The rest, as they say, is history!
If you will join the baking contest organized by the Yin and Yang Bakery & Restaurant, what do you think the scenario will be? Do you think you will win?
JENNIFER YEN: I won’t lie – I’m not the most experienced baker, but I’m also very competitive. I would prepare for the challenges and practice a lot! I don’t know if I would win, but I sure would try!
What do you want your readers to think and feel right after reading A Taste for Love? Any specific lessons or message that you want them to take away?
JENNIFER YEN: What I hope readers take away is that A Taste for Love isn’t a simple romcom. It’s a story about all kinds of love—love for your family, friends, culture, and for yourself. It’s also about the importance of being true to who you are when you feel trapped between two worlds. It’s understanding you don’t have to choose just one. You can take the best from both.
Are you currently working on a new project? Can you tell us a few details or… is that still a secret?
JENNIFER YEN: I do have a few projects in the works, but there’s only one I can tell you about for now…book two! Love, Decoded is a modern day Emma retelling, and follows Gigi Wong (yes, Gigi as in James’s younger sister) as she juggles schoolwork, college applications, a matchmaking apprenticeship, and maybe a little…romance? Needless to say, there will be more delicious food, family drama, and a surprise or two!
Lastly, if you can say something to 16-year-old Jennifer, what would you say?
JENNIFER YEN: Don’t be afraid of holding onto your dreams, no matter how unattainable they seem. The path to realizing them might be winding, but if you keep walking, you’ll reach them eventually.
KARINA: That’s it! I am so excited for more readers to read A Taste for Love. Thank you for giving us your time for this interview, Jennifer!
JENNIFER YEN: Thank you to you Karina, and all the readers, for showing ATFL and me so much love! I really hope we’ll get a chance to meet in person soon!
Jennifer Yen is a Taiwanese American author of young adult and adult fiction. She draws much of her inspiration from her Chinese and Japanese heritage.
Her debut novel, A Taste For Love, will be published by Razorbill (PGH) in Spring 2021, with a second book to follow.
Jennifer lives in Houston, Texas with her adorable rescue dog. She spends her days healing the hearts of others, and her nights writing about love, family, and the power of acceptance. She believes in the magic of one’s imagination, and hopes her stories will bring joy and inspiration to readers.
If you find her wandering around aimlessly, please return her to the nearest milk tea shop.