Young adult novelist Corrie Wang on balancing restaurant and writing life, the benefits of shower-crying, and the upside to fictional apocalypse
Corrie Wang, author of The Takedown (2017) and City of Beasts (2019), at home in Park Circle with her dogs, Olive and Moose
A month from her second novel’s release, author Corrie Wang is spending an afternoon debating wood stains. The decision is one of a hundred daily quandaries she’s had to suss with her husband, chef Shuai Wang, throughout the construction of their much-anticipated Park Circle restaurant, Jackrabbit Filly. The to-do list is seemingly endless: finalizing a three-city book tour while completing an employee handbook, submitting a liquor license application while planning a pre-sale campaign, filing investment documents, responding to publicist e-mails, and prepping for staff training. The nitty-gritty of this real-life plotline is nothing like the one she’s constructed for City of Beasts (Free Form/Disney, September 2019), a young adult thriller set in a dystopian future where gutsy teen Glori must leave her safe island of “fees” (women), venture to the land of “beasts” (men), and rescue her kidnapped brother. Though juggling her writing and restaurant lives has become a familiar routine, how does Corrie manage this pre-launch/pre-opening frenzy? “The benefits of stress crying in the shower cannot be overstated,” Corrie jokes. “In all seriousness, I’m trying to enjoy both rides while I’m on them.”
To arrive at this point in her literary and restaurant careers has required the Buffalo, New York, native to embrace unpredictability. After graduating from Binghamton University, Corrie waited tables for a decade in Brooklyn and Manhattan (where she met Shuai), all the while chipping away at several manuscripts. In 2009, during a part-time literary agency job, she switched genres upon a colleague’s suggestion: “I kept writing fiction about teens,” she elaborates, “but then I realized I should be writing for teens.”
It would take seven more years for Corrie to acquire a book contract. In that time, the Wangs relocated to Charleston for a potential restaurant gig that eventually fell through. Instead, they launched a food truck called Short Grain, serving Japanese-inspired, New Asian American dishes that have since garnered the couple nationwide praise and a loyal, local following. The very same week Short Grain opened, Corrie sold The Takedown (Free Form/Disney, April 2017), a young adult page-turner about a high schooler’s attempt to rectify an Internet scandal amidst a technologically dependent world.
Fearless, adventurous young women are featured throughout Corrie’s work. The inspiration for City of Beasts emerged after she encountered a series of scientific articles that detailed how “we raise girls and boys differently, and how that adversely affects everyone in their adult lives,” she says. “I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if girls didn’t automatically come into this world predisposed as the weaker sex. I thought about how I could realistically shape this idea into a story—nuclear war, obviously—and soon I was off and running.”
But completing City of Beasts required a marathoner’s stamina. “I wrote hundreds of drafts,” says Corrie. “All told, this book took about seven years to write.” Meanwhile, she and Shuai logged countless hours with Short Grain, slinging chirashi bowls through 100-degree scorchers, schlepping their 17-foot trailer across the Holy City. The dual responsibilities “almost broke me,” she says. But encouragement from friends and family sustained her: “They told me, ‘You’ve been here before. You’ll figure it out and get through it again.’”
Now, City of Beasts and Jackrabbit Filly are poised to launch weeks apart. The challenges, like the heroines in her books prove, are rewarding: “It’s easy to feel trapped; but in City of Beasts, people have the ability to recreate their worlds from scratch. You don’t need a nuclear holocaust to make your life what you want it to be—you just need a little bravery.”
Feeling bookish? To celebrate City of Beasts, snag a copy at Blue Bicycle Books on September 17; or join Itinerant Literate’s City of Beasts book club.Find links to the book and jackrabbitfilly at jackrabbitfilly.com.
Photographs by (Wang) Mary Kat Hoeser & (the takedown) Lizzy Smith & courtesy of (city of beasts) Freeform Books