A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen is out now. Order it here!
By Karis Rogerson
When I first read about A Taste for Love, I was absolutely hooked by the premise. It sounded like a teenage Bachelorette with baking! And then there’s the Jane Austen retelling, which is just the icing on the cake (pun intended).
I absolutely jumped at the chance to interview the author, Jennifer Yen, who said she pitched the book to her agent as Pride & Prejudice and the Great British Baking Show with an all-Asian main cast.
She expanded a little on those inspirations, saying she’s always been a fan of Jane Austen, who as we all know writes incredible romances that have stood the test of time.
In addition to her romance-writing prowess, Yen appreciated how Austen “cleverly provides commentary on the social challenges of the day with wit and humor,” she said. “Her focus on the families of her main characters also resonated a lot with me growing up because it’s such an important part of Asian culture. As for the Great British Baking Show, it’s a show I enjoy watching or have in the background after a long day. Having a stressful day job means the only kind of reality TV I want to watch is a group of polite British bakers attempting recipes and techniques no one has ever heard of.”
Yen said of the many food references in her book, “I think it’s also the way Asian parents express love. Saying I love you and physical affection aren’t very common, but my friends and I all have stories about how we come home to a meal of our favorite foods after a big achievement (or sometimes, after a big fight).”
The book is a romance, but it’s also the story of an Asian American family, and Yen said she keenly felt the need to represent the diaspora experience well.
“The relationships between parents and their children are complicated enough, but adding the diaspora experience only makes things even more challenging,” she said.
The interactions between her main character Liza and Liza’s mother were especially important to write carefully, she said. “I really enjoyed writing the scenes where Liza bakes with her mother. I think most people are familiar with the whole strict parenting idea when it comes to Asian parents. What I don’t see represented as often is the warmth and affection many have for their children.” Yen was able to represent that side in scenes where Liza bakes with her mother.
Though she said she gravitates more toward novel-length fiction, Yen was also a contributor to Together, Apart and Every Body Shines, both short story anthologies. She expressed that they presented challenges to her because she is a plotter, someone who spends a lot of time working on character development and delving into character arcs.
What helped her was her background writing fan fiction, actually. She said both fan fiction and short stories require the author to grab an audience’s attention almost immediately and hook them swiftly.
“The one thing I did have to keep in mind was that unlike fan fiction, my readers would not be familiar with the characters or their backstories,” she said. “I needed to give just enough information to give them a good sense of the characters and connect with the story. I feel that [both anthologies] were great experiences and taught me a lot about storytelling with a limited number of words.”
When it comes to writing, Yen has been doing so all her life. She recalled a fourth-grade teacher who went to the trouble of printing up a version of a detective story Yen wrote and gifted to her.
“I still have it today!” she said. “That is probably one of my fondest writing memories.”
As for why she writes, Yen described herself as a “dreamer” and said she loves to spend time daydreaming.
“It allows me to decompress after a stressful day, cope with tough times, and even helps me fall asleep,” she said. “I can’t remember when I started writing everything down, but I do know it’s something the women in my family have always done. My maternal grandmother journaled nearly every day of her life, and my mom wrote essays for our church newsletter when I was growing up. I guess you can say it’s our family legacy.”
But as for the act of writing itself as a vessel for storytelling, Yen appreciates that there’s so much left to the reader’s imagination in a written story, as compared to mediums.
“Each person who reads it colors it with their own perspective and unique experiences, essentially helping to create a story all their own,” she said.
“I wrote A Taste for Love with the hope I’ll reach people who are struggling or feel alone—particularly those who are diaspora,” Yen said. “If you saw yourself in Liza and the other characters in the book, let me know! I’d love to hear from you on Twitter or Instagram @jenyenwrites!”