We invited Lindsay Tam Holland, author of The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong, (July 2013 publication, Simon & Schuster)to share what inspired her first novel. Please also check out her website, www.lindsaytamholland.com.
“I grew up in Hawaii, a white kid in a predominantly Asian community. Most of my friends through high school were of mixed race. When I moved to California for college, I instinctively gravitated toward the group of Asian girls who lived in my dorm. It took me weeks to realize that they didn’t want to be friends with me. At all. They looked at me and saw a tall blonde girl, with loud water polo teammates, and assumed I had nothing in common with them. They were simultaneously intimidated by me – since they expected me to be loud and aggressive – and dismissive of me. Though the snub hurt, it also fascinated me. I realized that there was this huge gap between how I saw myself and how others expected me to be. My protagonist, Vee, who is half-Chinese, half-Caucasian, is going through a similar crisis, though I think high school nowadays is tougher than anything I ever experienced. Walk through any cafeteria at lunchtime, and it’s obvious that ethnicity – or at least allegiance to a certain ethnicity – matters. It made sense to me to explore a character who’s searching for who he is by looking for what others expect him to be. He doesn’t know whether he belongs in the honors classes with his Chinese friend Madison, or if he could date one of the blonde basketball girls, and his un-communicativeness with his parents further complicates his problems.
I wanted Vee’s relationship with his parents to be at the heart of his journey. Vee’s dad is similar to my own relationship with my father, who’s a supremely patient, gentle, and funny guy. As I got older, however, I realized it was sometimes hard to cut through the jokes to get to heartfelt matters. This desire to balance lightheartedness with genuine communication certainly influenced my development of Vee’s voice. Ironically, since I’ve started writing fiction, I’ve preferred a male voice. Women talk more (my husband will attest to this), and I like the tension that comes from what’s unsaid. Combine this gendered preference for emotional and verbal restraint with heaps of teen angst, and there’s a protagonist just waiting to combust, whatever his external triggers.
People like to ask, “Is Vee modeled on one of your students?” Absolutely not! And yet, I hope my students, and all teenagers (and anyone who’s ever been a teenager), can see a bit of themselves in Vee. I am inspired by teenagers – by their creativity and their quirkiness, and more than anything, by their unapologetic, energetic search for who they are. Remaining in this demographic in my career as a writer and a teacher keeps me humble and happy.”
–L. Tam Holland