I first heard of author Christina Hwang Dudley from Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose. Like so many now favorite historical fiction and historical romance authors she has recommended to me over the years like Lauren Willig, Stephanie Barron, Mimi Matthews, Syrie James, and Candace Hern, I added Christina Dudley to my must-read list and signed up for her newsletter. How surprised was I to learn that not only do we share the same first name and love of all things Jane Austen, but she is also an Asian American author who lives in Washington State! I am thrilled to welcome another Christina to my Tuesday Author Interviews and see if we have any other common interests.
CHRISTINA BOYD: What are you reading now?
CHRISTINA HWANG DUDLEY: I know the standard advice is to read heavily in your genre, but I never, never do because I have sticky fingers. Meaning, I love to lift ideas and plot details from things I read, so I confine my reading to out-of-genre. And as I get older, I enjoy more and more variety. I have a twisted weakness for true adventure/survival stories. If people are getting scurvy, wrecking ships, fighting off sharks, freezing to death, or injuring themselves at high altitudes, I am all over it.
CHRISTINA BOYD: I go through phases of what I like to read. I'll read tons of contemporary romance and, when I have had my fill of friends to lovers or forced marriages, I turn to historical biographical fiction, and then on to paranormal romances, and so on and so on.
What is your current project or latest release?
CHRISTINA HWANG DUDLEY: I’m going back and forth between two projects right now: A Scholarly Pursuit, which is the fourth book in my latest Regency romance series The Ellsworth Assortment, and a contemporary Asian American riff on Pride and Prejudice called Pride and Preston Lin, which will be published by Third State Books in March 2024. The two books might seem like an odd couple, but they actually have a lot in common. Both are romances set within families because I love family stories and sibling interactions. Both feature main characters coming to gradual awareness of their own hearts. And both can trace their inspiration all the way back to Jane Austen, the queen of family stories and Till-this-moment-I-never-knew-myself love stories.
CHRISTINA BOYD: Both sound delicious! But as my dad is from the Philippines, I am super intrigued by the Asian American angle. Seems a fresh spin on my favorite classic.
Which is your favorite of your own novels?
CHRISTINA HWANG DUDLEY: If books are like children to authors, is it bad that I always favor my youngest? I have two Regency romance series, and I’d have to say my favorite Hapgoods of Bramleigh novel is A Fickle Fortune (Book 6), and my favorite Ellsworth Assortment book is Minta in Spite of Herself (Book 3 and the last completed). Part of my favoritism probably stems from spending more and more time in my characters’ company and world—the longer I do, the fonder I get, and the harder it is to say good-bye.
CHRISTINA BOYD: I love that you enjoy spending time with your characters. That's a beautiful extension of you loving your work.
What do you think makes a good story?
CHRISTINA HWANG DUDLEY: As a reader, the way to my heart goes straight past my funny bone. It doesn’t matter the genre—if you can make me giggle, I am gonna love you. Hence my love of Austen and Trollope and Dickens and contemporary writers like Anthony Horowitz and A. J. Jacobs. So of course, as a writer I want to work a laugh out of you, or at least a few smiles. One of the most painful reviews I ever received basically said, “This author is not witty, and I don’t know why anyone says she is.” Ouch. That war wound still aches on cold days.
CHRISTINA BOYD: Yikes. Some reviews are harder to swallow than others. Most authors/artists expose the underbelly sending our work out there for the public to consume. I suppose that's what keeps us grounded, but still... I hope there are more positive reviews that take precedence. The kind that whispers to your writer's soul, "Keep going."
Best advice for new writers?
CHRISTINA HWANG DUDLEY: The very first novel I wrote was contemporary women’s fiction, and when I read it now, I squirm because it has moderate-to-severe first-time-writer-itis. How can I tell? One: the hero and heroine could have used more flaws. Two: there are too many people in love with the heroine. Ugh. When I write romance now, I try to keep it realistic. In my books, yes, if the gal is drop-dead gorgeous, more guys are going to like her, because that’s the way the world works. But gals with ordinary levels of attractiveness will eventually get the hero’s attention, and that’s about it! Three: write your draft and then go through and winnow it down by 5000-10,000 words. Shorter is almost always better. I tend to write books that are around 90,000 words, but I’m down from 110,000 where I first started, so I hope I’m improving.
CHRISTINA BOYD: Yes, cutting words, scenes, and characters either with an ax or a scalpel is often difficult, but reading the final tightened prose is so satisfying. I suppose the more you do it the easier the act becomes.
Have you gone on an author pilgrimage or research trip? Where and what was the most memorable moment?
CHRISTINA HWANG DUDLEY: When my daughters were elementary- and middle-school age, I took them on a Literary Dream Tour to Minnesota because I’m a Betsy-Tacy Maud Hart Lovelace fanatic and successfully indoctrinated my girls in the faith. Betsy’s boyfriend-then-husband Joe was my first serious book crush, and I still super <3 Joe Willard. The entire series is fictionalized from Maud’s own turn-of-the-century growing-up years in Mankato, Minnesota, and you can still visit Betsy’s and Tacy’s childhood homes. Holy ground, people. The local paper was so amazed to have folks from Washington State making the pilgrimage that we made the front page, above the fold!
CHRISTINA BOYD: Brilliant! And that your daughters are indoctrinated, that's quite the success story. I was so excited to find the 2013 Mankato Free Press article online. Reminds me of the time my sister and I took my husband and Boydlings to Forks, Washington under the guise of a family camping trip...
Thank you, Christina. I appreciate you taking time to answer all my nosey questions. I look forward to the release of Pride and Preston Lin. You can bet I'll be queuing up early to get my copy to add to my Austen-adjacent collection.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A lifetime Austen fangirl, Christina Hwang Dudley is the author of award-winning Regency romances, including The Naturalist and Tempted by Folly. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she and husband Scott met once upon a time as graduate students in the English department, but now lives in Bellevue, Washington.