Author Coco Ma ’25 MUS ’21 Talks Representation in YA Literature and Her Upcoming Series

Author Coco Ma ’25 MUS ’21 Talks Representation in YA Literature and Her Upcoming Series
Author Coco Ma ’25 MUS ’21 Talks Representation in YA Literature and Her Upcoming Series

Erita Chen, collaborating photographer

At the age of 15, author, pianist, and Yale student Coco Ma ’25 MUS ’21 had something special to share: a 10th-grade short story project that got longer and longer, culminating eventually to the release of her first young adult fantasy series. , the “Shadow Frost” trilogy.

Ma – whose next project is the upcoming “Nightbreaker” series – participated in a fireside chat with the Asian American Cultural Center on March 3. As part of the AACC’s series of events for Pan-Asian American Heritage Month, the multihyphenate spoke with a mix of undergraduates, graduates and alumni about his writing work , his publishing career and representation in the book industry.

“I think it’s really important to keep writing these books and to diversify the genre – I mean it’s authors like me, many of you in the future, who will contribute to this kind of movement. ‘just having stories where every type of voice and every identity is exemplified and conveyed,’ Ma said at the conference. “And I think one thing that’s maybe important to me is also to keep thinking about it and to keep using my voice.”

Ma’s first and second books – “Shadow Frost” and “God Storm” – were released in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

Ariel Chao, Ph.D. candidate at the Yale School of Public Health, said she was drawn to the event because it was a chance to lift the curtain on the writing techniques and experiences of a published author.

“I major in biostatistics, so it’s interesting for me to hear from people in the creative writing world, since I can’t do it myself,” she said. “Just listen to their character creation process and stream their work.”

AACC graduate and moderator Melodie “Mel” Liu began by asking what brought Ma to literature. Fanfiction played an important role in the beginning, Ma said: A classmate’s popular fanfiction about his peers brought out Ma’s competitive side.

Ma decided to become her classmate’s rival and write a competing fanfiction about the other students. Fanfiction became popular, and Ma “received very good feedback from this community,” which spurred her interest in writing short stories and books, including “Shadow Frost.”

At first, age was a challenge when Ma was looking for agents and publishers.

“Some people were saying ‘you’re too young right now to publish, wait a few years, work on your manuscript (more)’,” she recalls.

But, she persevered, digging through the acknowledgments of some of her favorite books to reach out to literary agents.

She advised the public to submit a manuscript because “you feel you have something special to show readers and share with others,” not just in the name of publishing a book.

Regardless of what others told her, observed Liu, Ma continued to know her own worth and pursue her goal. Defining the AACC as a space for “community building” and “exchanging wisdom,” Liu noted that hearing about Ma’s career challenges and celebrating her accomplishments could serve as inspiration for others in the public.

When guest student Cindy Zeng asked what was “something special to share” about Ma in her books, the conversation shifted to questions of representation and identity in the world of writing.

While cradling her four-month-old Bichon Frize pup, Po, Ma discussed how the publishing landscape had changed over the past few years and what it meant to make her latest protagonist for “Nightbreaker,” Rei Reynolds, a Chinese-American teenage girl.

Almost the entire cast of Ma’s first trilogy, “Shadow Frost,” was white. Ma recalled that in 2010, when she started reading, the YA landscape was dominated by very “Eurocentric” characters in “Europe”-like settings. As such, Ma was “so heavily influenced” that she “didn’t even think of putting an Asian character on the show”, despite being Chinese-Canadian herself. Although Ma reiterated her pride in her early work, she highlighted her journey by navigating ethnicity in her storytelling while remaining authentic to her life experiences.

For her next series, she wanted to reflect her own identity and diversify the cast. She especially made sure to consider how her main character’s voice mirrored her own.

As an example, Ma mentioned that the tropes prevalent in East Asian-inspired children’s books, such as folk tales and settings based on real Chinese cities, were personally a challenge to understand, being born and having grown up in Canada.

“I love these books so much, (but) I also feel like I can’t relate to them as closely as some people can,” Ma recalls. “Sometimes my parents forgot to celebrate the Chinese New Year and stuff like that.”

Ma set out to tell a story where “the character’s ethnicity wasn’t her entire identity — she’s the hero because of her character, not because she’s of a certain ethnicity.”

Ma’s latest book, “Nightbreaker,” will be published on September 19, 2023 by Viking Books for Young Readers.

The article is in French

. Author Coco MUS speaks representation in literature next series

. Author Coco MUS Talks Representation Literature Upcoming Series

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