My name is Alexa Kang and I have a passion for writing love stories, especially big, sweeping epic tales.
My stories don’t fall neatly into the “R”omance genre because they often involve story arcs beyond the romance, but the heart of my stories is always about love.
My current and debut series, Rose of Anzio, is a WWII saga that begins in 1940 prewar Chicago, and journeys through the historical but less-known Battle of Anzio in Italy. In this story, Tessa Graham, a teenage girl from London, is sent to America for her safety from the war. She is consequently thrown into a new, unfamiliar world where she must figure out how to live life on her own terms. My other main character, Anthony Ardley, is a student at the University of Chicago. He is faced with the looming prospect of being drafted, and is torn by his conflicting loyalty between his uncle, a staunch isolationist, and his best friend, a leader of the student interventionist movement. The last and final book of this series is coming out on Oct. 28, 2016.
When and why did you start writing?
About two years ago, I became active on an internet forum for a Japanese manga/anime/novel story from the late 1970s. It still has a worldwide following today. The story ended with a very large plot hole, and fans have been trying to answer the one remaining question for decades. The manga/anime have been out of production for a long time. The author published an update to the novel in 2010, adding a few more hints at the ending, but still left the many questions open. After reading her updated version, the answer on how to fill that plot hole hit my mind like a storm, and I wrote a fanfic novella which I shared with the fandom. My novella was very popular, and had been fan-translated into French, Spanish, and Italian.
After that, the characters Tessa and Anthony, who are my own imagined children of the cast of that manga/anime story, began to fill my head. They invaded my mind, and I could not be at peace until their story was told. I don’t feel much like a writer, actually. I feel more like their scribe. Scene after scene unfolded before my eyes, and I wrote their story the way they told me how everything happened. I guess that makes me a pantser.
What inspires your writing?
I cannot explain it other than to say my writing is a gift. I never aspired to be a writer. My inspiration comes when the characters inhabit my mind and I feel a compelling urge to help them tell their stories. If this doesn’t happen, then no amount of outlining or planning will help me.
That said, I do get inspire by music sometimes. For example, many scenes I had written for Jesse Garland, one of the other main characters in the Rose of Anzio, grew out of Sting’s song Every Breath You Take. I had written entire scenes of him based on a single line of the lyrics.
How would you define creativity?
For me, creativity in writing is like painting. As tedious as the revision and editing process may be, I really enjoy it. That’s the part of the process where I can refine and finesse my story. I love playing with words and show certain moods and emotions through the cadence of the sentence or the particular way the sentence is written. I love showing an action — big or small — that reveals the thought, intention, or emotion of a character. Or a detail that illustrates the setting or the atmosphere of a place. Every sentence is a stroke of paint that, when all put together, would give the reader a full picture of what the author wants to convey. You can alter many the message or perspective by using different shades of colors, or degree of heaviness of the stroke.
Do you have any writing rituals to get you in the mood for writing?
I write on my iPad (with a Logitech keyboard). This way I don’t have to be stuck at a desk, which is bad for your body as you have to sit for a long time in one spot in one position. I also carry my iPad with me everywhere so I can keep writing any time. You cannot believe how much writing I got done because people are late to meet me for lunch, dinner, or coffee, or at the doctor’s or dentist’s office.
If you could, what would you go back and tell yourself as a writer starting out?
Since I’m writing historical fiction, I wish I had worked out a better system for organizing the links to websites and information sources when I had done my research.
What do you believe make for great writing?
Compelling characters. If readers identify with your characters, you’ve got them hooked. After all, people communicate in order to share their experience. I think the best stories are those where the readers can empathize with and care about the characters.
Which writers have influenced your writing?
Hemmingway. I like his style of clean, short sentences that are direct and to the point. I do try to write in that style myself.
How do you measure success as a writer?
I think success is very personal, so it is hard to say. Speaking for me only, I just want my story to reach a wider audience and to know that they liked it. For someone starting out, I get quite a bit of fan mail. After I released the first book of Rose of Anzio, a lady emailed me and told me she grew up and worked in Chicago in the early 1940s. She wanted to know when the next book was coming out because she reads on her Kindle, and she also wanted to buy the hardcopy for her friend who worked with her in Chicago back then. My husband and I were flabbergasted. This lady worked in Chicago in the 1940s? Of course, that era was years before my time. To know that I had written a story that resonated with someone who had lived there at that time was truly humbling. To me, that is success above any award, literary recognition, or bestsellers’ list.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
What’s your biggest fear as a writer?
That my books will sink into the Amazon oblivion and never to be found again — no seriously, there’s nothing to fear. Being able to write is a gift. I’ve really enjoyed the ride.
What traits do you feel make a great writer?
I think it is helpful to be open to criticisms. For many writers, their work is their baby. Writing is subjective, so it’s easy to question the validity of those who criticize our work. But we can improve our skills and correct our mistakes only when we can evaluate our own work objectively.
Another important trait, I think, is to be observant. Being observant of people can help a writer create multi-dimensional characters, and create different types of characters. I’m an extrovert. I’ve met all types of people in my life. Creating new characters is easy for me, as I have my own fountain of resources to draw on as to people’s backgrounds, behaviors, and motivations. This can work for an introverted writer too, who may not feel comfortable interacting with a lot of people, but can silently observe others. But it helps to be interested in people.
Being observant of places helps too. I’m not very good at that. When I started writing, one of my biggest challenges was to provide the basic description of what a place looks like. I’m lucky that I work with some great editors though. I had written battle scenes where my editor would flag me and make me tell the readers what my character was seeing. I must admit I didn’t pay much attention to describing places when I did my initial draft, because I don’t pay attention to the details of my surroundings very much. But if he didn’t call me on it, I would have left the readers confused and disoriented as to where I had placed my character.
Describe your latest book to our readers
Well, the last and final volume of Rose of Anzio will be released on Oct. 28. This story was truly a work of passion. I did a lot of research in order to bring my readers back in time into the world created in that story. The first book, Moonlight, is about the coming of age of my main characters Tessa and Anthony, and how they fall in love. A lot of history of Chicago and the state of the world at that time had been weaved into the plot. After that, my characters’ fates would follow the experience of the U.S. Infantry Third Division as they enter WWII in the Italian theater. I incorporated a lot of wartime history into my plots and subplots as well.
Through it all, my characters will have to rise to the challenges and face their own demons in order to survive. Their faith and love would be tested by forces beyond their control. I’ve had readers tell me that this story reads like a movie or TV series, and that is exactly what I intended. It is not a deep, thought-provoking tale like many WW2 novels. It is a love story and an adventurous read. I also hope my readers will learn someone about Chicago’s amazing history, as well as the lesser-known heroic efforts of the Allied troops in the South.
What would you like readers to take away from your writing?
I always hope that in the end, my readers have fallen in love with the heroes in my stories. Beyond that, I hope they can feel they had lived for a moment in the world I created, and to feel connected to my characters.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
YouTube! It is the greatest resource. Nothing beats being able to see for yourself what a place or a thing looks like, or to hear the sounds. I found video clips of Chicago and New York even as far back as the 1920s. You can see how people dressed, walked, and how they behaved. You can see what the streets looked like and how people lived. Anything that’s recorded, whether it’s New Year’s Eve in a particular place, a national holiday, a famous speech, or even instructional videos of how something worked, you can find something on YouTube. There are even more clips if you’re researching something contemporary. Those clips can help to quickly discover information for world-building, or if you need information on something you must write about.
Can you give our audience a writing prompt to help get them writing?
On an ordinary Saturday night, Dylan, a college sophomore, returns to his campus alone from an off-campus house party after his roommate ditched him for the cute freshmen. On his way back to the dorm, a girl with long, jet black hair in a short leather jacket passes Dylan. Under the night light, they exchanged glances. A teardrop falls from her eye. What happens next?
What’s next for you?
I have several spin-off stories from the Rose of Anzio that I want to write. They will be based on some of the side characters in that story. I have a short story that came out on Nov. 1 in a new anthology titled Pearl Harbor and More: Stories of WWII – December 1941. It is a collection of stories by eight authors to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. The stories take place around the world, and the characters are all linked as their lives were impacted by this tragic historical event.
by: Alexa Kang
“Tessa, I don’t know how to swing dance, and I wouldn’t be very good at it if I tried. But if you care, I’d like to do a different kind of dance with you.”
Summer 1940. Fourteen-year-old Tessa Graham finds herself in a new, unfamiliar world. For her safety, she is sent from England to Chicago to live with the prominent Ardley family just before the London Blitz. Stifled by the ways of the rich, she is soon drawn to the city’s infamous South Side. A world where she discovers jitterbug dancing, and the intrigues of the powerful Irish community. But is this the escape she really wants?
On the University of Chicago campus, eighteen-year-old Anthony Ardley has to make a choice. His country stands at the brink of war. Conscription threatens to become reality. As sole heir to the Ardley fortune, should he stand with his beloved uncle, a staunch isolationist, or join his radical classmates clamoring for American intervention?
What will happen when Tessa and Anthony cross paths on the way to discovering themselves?
A coming of age tale that emerges into an epic love story, this book takes you back to Chicago in the pre-war era, when two young people must find their paths in a world that is fast falling out of control.