On Romantic Comedy, Big Publishers, and ‘Chloe and the Kaishao Boys’ — An Interview with Mae Coyiuto

Launched by Your Tita Kate in the first year of the global pandemic, WIKATHON is a month-long reading challenge set in August committed to celebrating and uplifting Filipino-authored literature.

As one of the WIKATHON hosts for 2022, it is my honor to help shine the spotlight on our homegrown talents — this week on Mae Coyiuto and her forthcoming international debut Chloe and the Kaishao Boys.


ABOUT THE BOOK

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Loveboat, Taipei in this hilarious YA romcom about a Chinese Filipino girl in Manila whose father sets her up on a marathon of arranged dates in hopes of convincing her to stay close to home for college.

Chloe is officially off the waitlist at USC, and thus one step closer to realizing her dream of becoming an animator in the United States. But before she leaves home, her auntie insists on planning a traditional debut for Chloe’s eighteenth birthday (think sweet sixteen meets debutante ball). To make matters worse, her father, intent on finding Chloe the perfect escort for the party, keeps setting her up on one awkward kaishao — or arranged date — after another. But... why does her dad suddenly care so much about her love life? And what happens when she actually starts to fall for one of the guys, only to have to leave at the end of the summer?

The book does not come out until early next year, so it was an incredible honor to be one of the first non-publishing people to lay eyes on Mae’s work. As a pure Filipino who had once been on the path of marrying into a pure Chinese family, I could not stop smiling at the familiar glimpse into Chinese Filipino life.

And what a reading experience I had! Mae’s words made me giggle and tear up in equal measures. Her writing style lends flavor to an experience that is sure to resonate not only with anyone who has ever been on the cusp of Young Adulthood — but also with anyone who has ever had to make a life-altering decision.

Chloe and the Kaishao Boys comes out March 7, 2023 from G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House.


Earlier this month, author Mae Coyiuto and I got to have a chat about her publication journey for Chloe and the Kaishao Boys. This is the second in a three-part WIKATHON interview series with Filipino creators — so watch out for the finale next, next week!

The interview that follows has been edited for length and clarity.

Hello, Mae! Kumusta ka? Read anything nice lately?

Hi, Ena! I’m doing great, and so excited for everything your team has planned for WIKATHON. Ooh, I read two really excellent YA novels recently: All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir and Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie.

August is Buwan ng Mga Wika, as nearly every child who has studied in the Philippines knows. Do you have any favorite or memorable experiences of this month when you were younger?

Our high school always organized contests for Buwan ng Mga Wika every year. From what I remember, we had to do things like Sabayang Pagbigkas [Speech Choir], Tulawit, and Sayawit. I’m personally competitive but musically challenged, so I remember staying late after school many days practicing dancing to Kabataang Pinoy in my senior year.

Chloe and the Kaishao Boys won’t be out for several months, but it wouldn’t hurt to do a little teaser. If you could describe the book in six hashtags — in the style of Hemingway’s six-word stories — what hashtags would those be?

I love this question since there’s a running joke in the book related to this. I might be cheating since these aren’t technically single words, but here are some of my favorite hashtags from the story: #AnimationDomination #FromWaitlistToYesList #CantGoLowyWithChloe #Americanized #TooBadAtGoodbyes #KayaMoYan.

I finished the book in less than 12 hours — and it was, to use a Filipino expression, swak na swak sa panlasa. What made you want to tell this particular story in the first place?

Aww, thank you — this really means the world to me! I’ve always wanted to write a YA romcom, and kaishao felt like such a great concept to run with. From what I’ve noticed, most people start getting kaishao-ed around their 20s or 30s. I thought it’d be fun to write a story where this character suddenly gets set up in these dates when she’s still barely out of high school.

I guess when I set out to write a story set in the Philippines, I wanted to write one that centered around joy and love. I hope that’s what people get out of it when they read it!

How was writing this book any different from any of the writing you’ve done and published before?

This is actually the first story I wrote that stars a Chinese Filipino character. As someone born in the Philippines with Chinese heritage, I always had a hard time feeling “Filipino enough” and shied away from writing characters that were Chinese Filipino too. I’m extremely grateful for the representation we’ve seen in YA literature in recent years, especially for Filipino authors who’ve pushed the envelope, that inspired me to feel brave enough to write within this identity.

As my first romcom, it was also so fun to write a story and ask questions like, “Wait, does this scene have enough kilig?”

I can confirm: All of the kilig scenes have enough kilig. Can you walk me through how your manuscript ended up getting picked up by Penguin Random House?

My agent and I actually first went on submission with an earlier version of Chloe and the Kaishao Boys back in October 2018. Some editors were interested, but they eventually passed up and sent feedback to my agent. When the last editor on the list passed up in April 2019, my agent asked me whether I wanted to revise the manuscript according to the feedback we received, or move on with a different project. Something in my gut told me that there was still something in Chloe, so I decided to work on the revisions. Really big shout-out to my agent Thao Le who was so patient with me while I worked on revising for the next almost-two years!

On October 2020, Thao and I agreed that we had a draft that was ready for submissions again. A month later, she emailed me that an editor from Putnam wanted to call about the manuscript. It was around 2AM here when I saw the message, and I immediately ran to my sister’s room freaking out. Even though it was a process getting here, I’m really happy with how the manuscript turned out.

What’s one thing that surprised you about working with an international publisher?

I really appreciate how they involved me in so many parts of the publication process. Aside from the manuscript edits, the publishing team really valued my opinion on things like the cover design, the logistics of the cover reveal, even how to go about proofreading the Tagalog and Hokkien used in the story. I also love how PRH has Southeast Asia reps, so it’s so exciting that I get to work with people here for the book’s promotion.

From your vantage point, what does the Filipino literary scene look like right now? And what would you say is your place in it?

There are so many exciting things happening for Filipino creators both here and abroad. For the local scene, I think that #RomanceClass has been continuously putting out great stories by Filipino romance authors. There are also authors based locally who are releasing with international publishers: I’m so excited for Caris Avendaño Cruz’s upcoming middle grade debut, Marikit and the Ocean of Stars, and Kara Bodegón’s graphic novel, Squalo & Mage.

To write a YA novel starring a Chinese Filipino character set in Manila — and have it picked up by a US publisher — wouldn’t have been remotely possible without the work of Filipino creators who have come before me. Even though it does feature characters from the Chinese Filipino community, this story still depicts a very specific experience that’s reflective of how I see the world.

There are so many talented creatives from the Filipino literary community that have yet to share their stories too. I think my biggest hope for this book is that it can also help other stories about Chinese Filipinos, Filipinos, and other underrepresented identities have their spotlight.

WIKATHON this year is movie-themed, and the characters of your upcoming book are into local films themselves. One last question: What’s your favorite Filipino film?

Oh no, the answer for my favorite movie changes depending when I’m asked. One movie that I always love rewatching, though, is That Thing Called Tadhana. And as I’m a big fan of high school romcoms, The Boy Foretold by the Stars is one of my recent faves.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mae Coyiuto is a Chinese Filipino writer, born and raised in the Philippines. Mae earned her BA in Psychology from Pomona College and her Master’s Degree in Writing for Young Adults/Children from The New School. If she’s not writing, she’s usually fangirling over Beyoncé, tennis, Gilmore Girls, or all of the above. She currently lives in Manila.

BOOKS MENTIONED BY MAE
All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir, Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie, Marikit and the Ocean of Stars by Caris Avendaño Cruz, Squalo & Mage by Kara Bodegón

MORE INFORMATION

IMAGE CREDITS
Book cover art by Alex Cabal. Book cover design by Jessica Jenkins. Author photo provided by Mae Coyiuto.

Let’s talk!

☞ Are you joining WIKATHON this year? How is your reading coming along? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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