I am so happy I came across an early copy of Fake Dates and Mooncakes (Underlined/Penguin Random House, 2023). It charmed me from the very beginning of the story, the meet cute had me squealing, and then took me on a wonderful ride. I just knew I wanted to celebrate it and was delighted when author Sher Lee agreed to an interview.
From the promotional copy: Heartstopper meets Crazy Rich Asians in this heartfelt, joyful paperback original rom-com that follows an aspiring chef who discovers the recipe for love is more complicated than it seems when he starts fake-dating a handsome new customer. Dylan Tang wants to win a Mid-Autumn Festival mooncake-making competition for teen chefs–in memory of his mom, and to bring much-needed publicity to his aunt’s struggling Chinese takeout in Brooklyn. Enter Theo Somers: charming, wealthy, with a smile that makes Dylan’s stomach do backflips. AKA a distraction. Their worlds are sun-and-moon apart, but Theo keeps showing up. He even convinces Dylan to be his fake date at a family wedding in the Hamptons. In Theo’s glittering world of pomp, privilege, and crazy rich drama, their romance is supposed to be just pretend . . . but Dylan finds himself falling for Theo. For real. Then Theo’s relatives reveal their true colors–but with the mooncake contest looming, Dylan can’t risk being sidetracked by rich-people problems. Can Dylan save his family’s business and follow his heart–or will he fail to do both?
What is the heart of Fake Dates and Mooncakes?
The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, and it’s a cherished part of my childhood. I have fond memories of walking around with lanterns under the full moon as a kid and, when I was older, making snow-skin mooncakes with my favorite aunt. This beloved tradition is the heart of the story—Dylan participates in a mooncake contest in honor of his late mother, who wanted them to join together, and he’s motivated to win the prize to bring much-needed publicity to his aunt’s struggling Chinese takeout in Brooklyn.
The Mid-Autumn Festival celebrates love and families, and the full moon is a symbol of reunion. These are all major themes in the book, along with coping with loss and finding love in unexpected places and against the odds. Opposites attract, and even though the boys’ worlds are sun-and-moon apart, eclipses happen every now and then!
I’m also incredibly proud of the diverse cast. Dylan and his family are Asian, and Theo is biracial Asian-American. Dylan and Theo are surrounded with a strong cast of smart, funny female characters, and the boys could not have succeeded without their love and unwavering support.
What was your initial inspiration for this book?
Back in August 2020, during the pandemic lockdown, I found myself gravitating toward light-hearted, funny stories that provided an escape from the stifling isolation. After months of not writing anything, this idea came to me during the changing of seasons from summer to fall, inspired by the arrival of my favorite celebration: the Mid-Autumn Festival.
One recurring comment from readers has been: don’t read this when you’re hungry! “Clearly the universal love language is food,” Theo’s aunt remarks in the novel, and food is a big part of this story. All the major events invariably take place around food—from the first time Theo and Dylan meet when Dylan delivers a wrong order to Theo’s friend’s apartment, to Dylan’s determination to re-create his grandma’s lost mooncake recipe that has been passed down for generations. His aunt’s takeout, Wok Warriors, also sells all the Singaporean Chinese dishes I love: chye tow kway (fried radish and egg pancake), satay, fried Hokkien prawn mee, stir-fried egg fried rice, and of course, xiao long bao!
In terms of publishing, how did you navigate finding an agent and, with their representation, connecting your manuscript to a publisher?
I wrote this book in August 2020 with the kind of lightning-bolt, once-in-a-blue-moon(cake!) inspiration that fueled a first complete draft in a feverish three-week sprint. I am usually a slow drafter, so this is highly unusual for me! I spent a few months revising and queried in early 2021. I received over thirty full requests that led to five offers of representation, and I eventually signed with Jess Regel from Helm Literary. It was the best decision in my career, as Jess continues to be a wonderful advocate for me.
We went on submission during the summer of 2021, and within just two weeks, received a request from an editor for an exclusive R&R. We were excited about the ideas the editor presented, and I paused submission to revise. Two months later, I completed the R&R, and we sold Dylan and Theo’s romance to Delacorte at Penguin Random House!
We have since sold UK and Commonwealth rights to Macmillan UK, as well as Polish and Spanish translation rights. I’m very excited that my book will be available worldwide, as well as in different languages! I also have a wonderful street team (check out their posts on the #fdamstreetteam tag on Instagram!) who’ve been helping to spread the word on social media.
The theme of persistence in the novel—fighting for what is close to your heart despite setbacks and disappointments—reflects my own journey to achieving my dream of being a published author. After a negative, emotionally draining experience with a toxic ex-agent and a book that did not sell, there was a point where I considered giving up writing with a view to publication. The path to finally seeing my debut on shelves wasn’t easy—but I’m glad I never gave up. In retrospect, the detours and heartaches taught me to be a better writer.
What advice do you have for beginning YA writers?
Don’t chase trends, because they rise and fade fast. Write what you love, what you want to read and can’t find on shelves. The authenticity will shine through.
Social media has become increasingly important for authors, published and unpublished, to get noticed—but don’t push yourself to engage or participate at the expense of your mental health. Online pitch events can be exciting, but don’t forget that the traditional method of cold querying still works (that’s how I got my agent!)
Social media is also a great way to connect with other authors! Writing is solitary, but publishing is not. And don’t limit yourself to other people in the same stage as you—reach out to debut authors ahead of you in their journey and enthusiastically boost their books, because one day these might just be the ones who enthusiastically offer blurbs for your book!
On that note, I’d like to yell about a few other 2023 debut authors and books that I’m really psyched about:
- Love And Resistance by Kara HL Chen (Quill Tree, 2023)
- Something More by Jackie Khalilieh (Tundra, 2023)
- A Tall Dark Trouble by Vanessa Montalban (Zando, 2023)
- West Of The Sea by Stephanie Willing (Viking, 2023)
What is next for you?
I sold my YA fantasy debut at auction to Quill Tree/HarperCollins in a two-book deal! Legend Of The White Snake is a gender-flipped reimagining of one of China’s four famous folktales, in which a teen boy must hide his true identity as a white snake spirit when he falls in love with a prince hunting for a white snake for the antidote to cure his dying mother. It has the xianxia vibes of A Magic Steeped In Poison by Judy I. Lin (Feiwel & Friends, 2022) and the queer romance of Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat (Quill Tree, 2021).
We’ve also sold UK and Commonwealth rights to Macmillan Children’s as well as Italian, Spanish, and Russian translation rights. I’m so thrilled to have the chance to continue bringing stories with authentic aspects of my heritage to readers.
Keep an eye on my social media for updates: Instagram: @sherleeauthor, Twitter: @SherLeeAuthor, Preorder links and my website: https://sherleeauthor.com
Sher Lee writes rom-coms and fantasy novels for teens. Fake Dates and Mooncakes is her debut. Like the main character, she has made mooncakes with her favorite aunt and has an abiding love for local street food (including an incredible weakness for xiao long bao). She lives in Singapore with her husband and their two adorable corgis, Spade and Clover.
AJ Eversole grew up in rural Oklahoma, a place removed from city life and full of opportunities to grow the imagination, which she did through intense games of make believe. She graduated from Oklahoma State University. She is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and hopes to be traditionally published in the near future. She currently resides in Fort Worth, Texas with her husband and son. Visit her on Twitter: @amjoyeversole and Instagram: @ajeversole