by Josh Flores
Sher Lee, the debut author of Fake Dates and Mooncakes, is a rom-com enthusiast who writes compelling stories about young adults. Her debut contains compelling characters, delicious food, and swoon-worthy queer love. With two YA fantasies coming soon, Lee proves to be an influential new voice in YA lit. Below, Lee discusses her publishing journey, her inspiration for Fake Dates and Mooncakes, and one of her favorite recipes for readers to try making for themselves.
1. What first inspired you to write Fake Dates and Mooncakes, specifically a queer romance for teens?
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.
2. Since your book deals heavily with mooncakes and Chinese cuisine…do you have a favorite mooncake recipe (or Chinese dish) that you can share with readers?
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!
My publishing team at Macmillan UK asked if I could share the recipe—it’s not a family secret, and my aunt, who’s now 86 years old, was delighted to oblige!
Check out the recipe here.
3. For our queer readers, what are some of your favorite queer books?
I love The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun, an amazing author I admire, who also gave a wonderful blurb for Fake Dates and Mooncakes!
What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera is one of my favorite YA rom-coms, with an adorable accidental meet-cute. It’s also set in New York City. Don’t forget to check out Becky’s latest book, Imogen, Obviously!
I also really enjoyed Spell Bound by FT Lukens, as well as her earlier novels, In Deeper Waters and So This Is Ever After.
4. Fake Dates and Mooncakes is a romance after all, so I have to ask: What are your favorite romance tropes?
Fake dating is one of my favorite tropes, along with mistaken identity, rivals to lovers, and there’s only one bed (or rain shower!)
5. Every author has a unique story about their publishing and writing process. What did the creation of your novel look like from the initial pitch and publishing to the final product?
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, Italian, and Spanish translation rights.
6. Where is your go-to writing spot? Where did you spend the most time writing Fake Dates and Mooncakes?
I wrote Fake Dates and Mooncakes at home during the pandemic! I still write best on my laptop at home.
7. If/when Fake Dates and Mooncakes becomes a movie or TV series, which actors would you
choose to play Dylan and Theo?
I’ve always imagined younger versions of Ryan Potter (from Netflix’s Titans and Big Hero 6) as Theo and Chinese actor Gong Jun as Dylan.
8. Are you currently working on any other writing projects? If so, what details can you share?
I have two YA fantasy novels coming up! The first, Legend of the White Snake, is coming out in 2024 from Quill Tree, an imprint of HarperCollins. It’s 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 and the queer romance of Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat (who’s also published by Quill Tree!)
We’ve 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.
9. Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring young 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 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!