Life’s changed quite a bit for author Kevin Kwan since his internationally bestselling book Crazy Rich Asians took the big screen by storm two years ago. How much? TMZ’s now ambushing him in random parking lots, and fans are asking for selfies when he’s taking a stroll near his West Los Angeles home.
Even dark sunglasses and a face mask can’t disguise him. “It’s kind of alarming, to be frank,” laughs Kwan, who will headline Inprint's first reading of the season during a Aug 31 livestream. “As a writer, you don’t expect it. Book people are very restrained, but when you get movie fans, it’s a whole new thing.” But that’s what happens when the movie adaptation of your book takes the throne as Hollywood’s highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade.
Now Kwan’s back with Sex and Vanity, his first novel since wrapping up the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy. Envisioned as a “fun, summer romp,” the new novel is a 2020 homage to E.M. E.M. Forster A Room with a View, a classic he first read as a 15-year-old attending Clear Lake High School in Houston. And, of course, it’s another three-parter. “It's a trilogy that's really devoted to different cities,” says Kwan, who spent his formative and college years in the Bayou City. “The cities become characters almost unto themselves. In this new book, it’s Capri and New York.”
Already a New York Times’ bestseller (Kwan’s fourth) since its release in June, Sex and Vanity follows Lucie Tang Churchill, the biracial Chinese American daughter of a "WASP-y" Big Apple family, caught between her dual identities—and two possible love interests. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of juicy gossip, family feuds, and a ridiculously lavish destination wedding, neatly bundled in Kwan’s patented, zinging satire.
Before his Inprint livestream, Kwan talked with us about growing up in Clear Lake, getting inspired by songs of heartbreak, and leaving the trilogy that made him a household name behind.
How did growing up in Clear Lake shape you into the writer you are today?
In every way possible. I discovered creative writing and my love for it in high school. Actually, in my senior year going to Clear Lake High School, there was an amazing teacher, who was really the first teacher to allow us to write creatively. Before that it was all just book reports and essays—really boring stuff that when you don’t have the passion to write about Walt Whitman, you’re just trying to make the grade. But she introduced us to the concept of ‘just write something fun and creative.’ I did, and I discovered I had a talent for it. My years in college really fed my love for literature and writing, and for a few years I was very active on the Houston writing season.
Is it true you, the king of modern romance, play love songs when you write the really romantic scenes.
I like to play heartbreaking love songs. I play a lot of Jeff Buckley, and Jake Bug, José González. I play them as I write the heartbreaking scenes (laughs). The scenes where I’m really trying to ring out the drama and the heartbreak and the pain. Anything to help get me in the mood to really try to make it as devastating as possible. And the music that’s actually mentioned in my books is very specifically chosen. So, for example, in Sex and Vanity, the new novel, there’s a wedding in Capri, Italy. I had a lot of fun curating the actual music that the guests heard at the wedding.
Speaking of the new book, it’s your first novel outside the world of Crazy Rich Asians. What was it like saying goodbye after all this time?
It was kind of a welcome change, really. I felt like I’d put in so much time with this family, these characters, I really wanted to spread my wings and introduce new characters to my readers, new worlds. I didn't want to always just write about Asia.
You have this wonderful ability to poke fun at your characters, which we see again in this book. What makes you gravitate toward social satire?
From a very, very early age, I was put into these positions where I was always the fly on the wall. I distinctly remember even growing up in Singapore, parents would take me to parties, these very adult parties. There was always a group of kids doing things, but I preferred to sit around and see what the adults were doing. I was really soaking in all the intrigue—and believe me there was a lot of intrigue. Even in Houston. Looking at social structures and different tribes of people, how they all fit together, it’s fascinating to me, for some reason. It's always been something I've noticed since I was a little kid.
So, the new trilogy is a love letter to different cities. When will we see that love letter Houston?
Maybe sooner than you think. (Laughs) Dot. Dot. Dot.
Aug 31. Free. Online. More info and tickets at inprinthouston.org.