Overnight success brought fear, depression
Q: When “Crazy Rich Asians” came out, many reviews said there’s never been anything like this culturally since “The Joy Luck Club.” What was your reaction to that at the time?
A: I thought, “Yes, at least, finally.” I was so glad to see that movie. In fact, I saw it about five times. … And I think that it had to achieve commercial success before we could see more films like this happen in the future. I think that “Crazy Rich Asians” did that. I think “Joy Luck Club,” the film, made it apparent that that could be possible. You could take all Chinese characters, a story that involved places different from the U.S., and have a broad audience, a mainstream audience, find resonance in that.
Q: What was it like to have worked a long time on something and then all the sudden have it be an instant hit the way “Joy Luck Club” was?
A: I thought it was actually frightening because this is not anything I’d ever dreamt of. I was a very practical person, and I think because of the way that I was raised, you know, I could never be an artist or an author, because who would make money doing that? I know I had to do something practical. So I thought it was impossible I even had a short story published. And when this book came out and suddenly it started gaining momentum thanks to independent book sellers, by the way — I thought somebody else was in control of my life. … I was scared. This was out of control. And I actually became depressed, because I had a life in childhood that was so out of control. …
One thing that I did, I wrote down things that were important and I said, “Do not lose yourself. You can get sucked into this kind of success, and you might believe you’re better than you are … because that’s what you’ll hear from people. And you just have to stay solid and … know the reasons why you write and what’s important.” And that has served me really, really well.