Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Meet Katie, you fortunate cookies!

HANK PHILLIPI RYAN:  How do you feel about fortune cookies? I am ridiculously attracted to them. I infuse them with some mystical power, cracking open each one with a bit of trepidation because--what if there’s something bad?

I save them, too. The good ones, at least. And put them on the fridge.

So when I heard about Katie Lynch’s new novel—her first, and a TOP PICK, and with an absolutely amazingly (and envy-inducing, I have to admit) premise: 
On leave from college, Jane Morrow has a new job, helping out in her uncle’s fortune cookie factory…

Oh. What a great idea. And now “you will make a fascinating new friend” and  “you will read something wonderful” and “new adventures are on the horizon.” And:

A new setting may change your life…
By Katie Lynch

I didn’t consciously set out to make New York City a character in Confucius Jane, but maybe I should have expected it: New York loves to be the star and has a way of getting what she wants.

I don’t have a clear hometown, and that’s all right with me. 

As a child, I always enjoyed the adventure of moving to a new place and starting over at a new school. But somehow, I’ve never been able to escape New York. The city and I have had a history since the day after I was born—when, five weeks premature and in need of life-saving surgery, an ambulance ferried me from my suburban hospital into the heart of Manhattan.

New York City saved my life.

Thirty years later, I returned at the wheel of a U-Haul, ready to move in with the woman of my dreams. A seasoned New Yorker and second generation Chinese-American, Jane enjoyed showing me her favorite restaurants and neighborhoods—especially Chinatown. She took me to dim sum, where I tried tripe and chicken feet for the first (and only) time. She bought me bubble tea at a nearby bakery and neglected to warn me about the tapioca pearls at the bottom of the cup. We learned about the neighborhood’s history at the Museum of Chinese in America. We took a walking tour and held hands the whole way. I was already in love with her, but she helped me fall in love with Chinatown. 

Many of our experiences there have filtered into Confucius Jane, which features a protagonist who is half Chinese-American.
As the novel took shape, I decided to populate its plot with favorite NYC spots that have since closed down. My most sentimental inclusion was Pommes Frites, a Belgian fry shack on Second Avenue near St. Mark’s. It was the type of place you gravitate toward late at night after over-indulging at a Lower East Side cocktail bar—where piping hot Belgian frites were served in an overflowing paper cone and smothered in the sauce of your choosing (parmesan peppercorn for me!). Sadly, Pommes Frites burned down in a natural gas explosion back in March of 2015. However, the owners are trying to make a comeback, and I must confess to chipping in fifty bucks via Indiegogo to help.

Confucius Jane also features another NYC mainstay that has since left

us. At one point near the end of the novel, my protagonist visits a restaurant in the West Village based on Manatus, a diner on Bleecker Street that opened in the early 1980s and established a foothold by catering to the LGBT community in the neighborhood. It served good, cheap food 24-7 until closing in 2014 due to an increase in rent costs. Manatus is sorely missed, and I wanted its legacy to live on in my book.

To use a spirited analogy (pun intended): 
if Confucius Jane is a cocktail, then its base liquor is New York City’s intrinsic magic, infused with my own love story.

I would love to hear some of your stories about settings that are important to you, whether in New York or elsewhere: your favorite haunts, best memories, and most delicious excursions.

Thanks for inviting me to Jungle Red today, and happy reading!


Katie Lynch is an Assistant Professor of English and the coordinator of the MTS Honors Program at SUNY Rockland Community College. She lives with her wife, son, and dogs in New York City’s West Village.

Confucius Jane by debut author Katie Lynch is a lush and charming novel that vividly depicts New York City's Chinatown while taking the reader on a touching journey of family, community, and love.
On leave from college, Jane Morrow has a new job, helping out in her uncle’s fortune cookie factory, and a new roommateher precocious 11-year-old cousin. Though surrounded by her loving family and their close-knit Chinatown community, Jane feels like a colossal failure. Writing fortunes is a kind of poetry, but Jane is penning words of wisdom for strangers while wondering if she will ever have the guts to move on with her life.
When Jane meets medical student Sutton St. James at her local noodle shop, sparks fly. Sutton stands at a career crossroads: surgical residency or stem cell research overseas? The first is what her father, former Surgeon General and “America's doctor,” has planned for her, but the latter might help find a cure for her mother’s debilitating MS. Neither would make either of them comfortable with their daughter's sexuality. Sutton’s only certainty is that she has no time for a relationshipyet neither she nor Jane can deny the chemistry between them.
Jane opens a whole new view of family to Sutton, a powerful counter to Sutton’s cold, sterile upbringing. Sutton inspires Jane to be more ambitious and to dream againand challenges her to have faith in herself. But can Sutton and Jane overcome a scandalous secret that threatens to keep them apart?


  1. New York is an amazing place, theaters and museums are my favorite haunts.
    I'm looking forward to reading your "Confucius Jane" . . . .

  2. I love the story summary. It's wonderfully written and makes me want to read the book. I wish you lots of luck with it.

    My favorite fortune from a cookie: "You love Chinese food."

  3. Welcome, Katie! It's great to meet a fellow New Yorker! I, too, loved Pomme Frite — as well as knew people who survived that explosion — although they lost their apartment. I'm really looking forward to CONFUCIOUS JANE — I don't spend as much time in Chinatown as I'd like, and this is a great way to visit!

  4. Katie, I've had this book on my TBR pile ever since Hank mentioned it a couple of months ago. Love the premise and can't wait to read it! Also a huge fan of SJ Rozan's Lydia Chin series and Jean Kwok and of course, Amy Tan. So you've hit my sweet spot!

    That's so weird about the explosion--I totally remember Susan's friends losing everything...

    Hank, I love fortune cookies too, but I only pay attention to the good ones:) Hallie took me to dim sum in Milton--very authentic. She knew better than to order chicken feet...

  5. This book sounds like tons of fun. And of course, I love NYC. Probably my favorite haunt from my trips to the city would be Marie's Crisis Cafe. There is nothing like a room full of gay men (and others) singing show tunes to remind you that you are in New York City.

  6. Confucius Jane has all the hallmarks of a great read, and an NYC setting!

    My favorite NYC haunt story harks back to the days when hippies roamed Macdougal Street. A friend decided to run away from home, to the Village, where else. Of course no one ran away from home alone, you need chroniclers, and Blanche took our friend Susan and me along. We ended up at a cafe/coffee house in Macdougal Street and paid the manager to coat part of a cake in green frosting mixed with cake crumbs so it would look a He did, we convinced our friend that everything in the Village was slightly off, and she ended up returning home with us.

    I love fortune cookies, and I eat them. Love the slightly sweet vanilla taste. As a 9 year old, I received an off-color fortune that I kept until I was old enough to understand (my mother was horrified, I had to know why). If you check my wallet, you'll find other good fortunes I've kept.

  7. So Katie, how was the research for this? To ask a really silly question: are there people whose job it is to write fortunes? Do the cookie companies buy stacks of fortunes from the fortune-writing companies? What's the history of fortune cookies, if you know?

  8. Kait, your friend gave up on New York because of BAD CAKE? Yeesh. SHe is lucky to have friends like you.much better off going home. Imagine if she'd gotten into a cab?? xox

  9. How can you write a story set in NYC and NOT have NYC become a character? My girl wants to go for her 16th birthday next summer. I may get my sister-in-law to go and walk her around (something I just can't do).

    I like fortune cookies, but my fortunes are always stupid. More like proverbs than fortunes. Bah.

  10. This book sounds yummy! As many times as I've been to NYC I don't think I've ever been to that Chinatown. There is always something new in that city, though, isn't there?

    Kristopher, a very naive 20-something me wandered into a lively bar with my favorite music spilling out onto the street. It turned out to be a gay bar. Since it was the 70's it wasn't as obvious then as it would come to be later on, but still... the bartender had to break the news to me over my drink. It was the most fun place I'd seen for nightlife, up til then, though.

    Hank, yesterday you mentioned Lisa Catera. There ended up being a character on the hospital drama Chicago Hope called Dr. Lisa Catera, played by Stacy Edwards. In her first scene they made a big deal of answering the question. It was done quite slyly, and I always wondered if Mandy Patinkin had anything to do with that.

  11. Thanks for sharing your stories, all! It's a pleasure to be hanging out with you on Jungle Red today.

    Susan, I'm so sorry for your friends who lost their apartment in the gas explosion. That must have been terrifying and awful, and I'm glad they were physically unharmed. Hopefully they have been able to rebuild?

    Lucy, I'm glad you're looking forward to the book! If you're ever in New York, I'd be happy to offer you a Chinatown dim sum experience, complete *with* chicken feet. They should be tried once. ;)

    Kristopher, Marie's Crisis is a classic! I haven't been there nearly enough for someone who actually lives in the neighborhood. Putting that on the to-do list!

  12. Kait, I'm insanely curious about what that "off-color" fortune said. Do you still have it? Or do you remember what it was?

    Hank, the research for this book was so much fun. My wife Jane and I used the premise as an excuse to eat in Chinatown *a lot*. I also spent quite a bit of time walking around the neighborhood, taking photos and jotting down notes. As to fortune cookies specifically: the truth is not nearly as fun as the fiction (so true, so often!). Check out this article for information about who really writes the fortunes that go into the cookies (hint: they're mass-produced by the millions). And Jennifer 8 Lee's book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is a must if you're curious about the history of Chinese food in general and the fortune cookie in particular.

  13. Mary, I hope your daughter enjoys New York! It can be a magical place, for sure. And have you tried adding "in bed" to the end of any of those proverbial-sounding fortunes? ;)

    Karen, I admit to being biased, but I think gay bars are always the most fun! I hope you're able to enjoy Chinatown during your next visit to NYC. I recommend Joe's Shanghai for the soup dumplings; Peking Duck House for the, well, Peking duck (try the "duck three ways"); Hop Kee for the salt-and-pepper squid; and Golden Unicorn for dim sum.

    Of course, there are so many other places I could name, and if you all have your favorite NYC Chinatown spots, bring on the debate! :)

  14. Digression: Are the fonts weird on your computer? On my desktop they;r fine. On the laptop they're bizarre. Grr.

  15. Yes, and I want to know the off-color fortune, too!

    But how could it get in there?

    Were the other ones equally, um, unfortunate?

  16. Welcome, Katie. We're agency stable mates and Im so glad we're celebrating your first novel.

    And I too love browsing around for interesting little eateries when I go to New York doing research.

  17. I too cannot wait to read this book. I teach at Suny Rockland and am proud and honored to have had Katie as the chairman of the English department. I got to know her and meet her wife Jane. Katie, there were times I wished I could see life through your eyes. When we had the party to celebrate your marriage and you shed some tears. I internally shed some. I cannot imagine the trials and tribulations you have experienced. You are a testament to forging through the hard times. You now have a book of which you can be proud!!!!!!(Enough overuse of exclamation points?)It goes along with all your other accomplishments, both personally and professionally.

  18. This sounds marvelous.
    We lived in the West Village for several years. it was magical and stays with us.

  19. Katie, the book sounds wonderful. New York is and always will be an amazing character in any book. What's wonderful is how many faces it has: it's a fairyland for lovers, a dark and deadly place for detectives, a mysterious underground world in fantasies and the setting for slapstick misadventures in comedies.

    For me and my family, NYC means visiting the agency and the Flatiron, Broadway musicals, The Met and the Museum of Natural History, and as many kinds of ethnic food as we can fit into the time we have there!

  20. Tina, unlimited exclamation marks are allowed in this particular circumstance!

    And yes,MAry, my husband always says: that's not a fortune, it's a proverb! I but I say they are equally valuable. The proverb-fortunes are trying to tell you something. That's all that matters.

    How do you do the "choosing which one to take"?

  21. Hank, the process of getting the fortunes into the cookies is an interesting one. The short answer is that the slips of paper are inserted into the cookie right when they come out of the oven and are still soft. This article by the Huffington Post has an extended explanation, including GIFs. And this video takes all the mysticism right out of everything by showing you the mass-production process! I choose to believe the enchantment is in the eater, regardless of process. But the cookies in Confucius Jane are not mass-produced; my fictional fortune cookie company is owned by Jane's family, and they put a lot of love (and a little magic) into their work. :)

  22. Rhys, thanks for chiming in and for helping me celebrate the launch of CJ. :) I'd love to know some of your favorite NYC eateries!

    Tina, it's a privilege to work with you. Thank you so much for your kind comments, and for ordering the book! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

    Libby, what are your favorite memories of the Village? I can't help but be somewhat nostalgic for its grittier days, though I do appreciate its current safety and prosperity, especially as the parent of an 8-year-old going to public school in the neighborhood.

    Julia, I love your description of New York City's many faces. I think the city tends to reflect the beholder, since to a certain extent, we can "curate" what we see and what we don't. Certainly, though, NYC is more than capable of helping us expand our horizons. That's exactly what happened to me during the research process for Confucius Jane.

    Hank, I grab a cookie at random and trust to the universe. :) How do you decide which one to take? And do you always eat the cookie once you've read the fortune? Someone once told me that you must eat the entire cookie if you want the fortune to come true, but perhaps that's an urban legend?

  23. I tend to read mostly mysteries and thrillers, but I branch out when something else interests me and/or authors and/or friends recommend a book. So I am putting this on my TBR list!!

  24. How fun to see the cookie process. There isn't much to them besides a little (rice?) flour, egg white and something to sweeten them a bit. But I always wondered how they were formed. Thanks, Katie!

  25. Oh, I've heard the "you have to eat the whole cookie first" thing, too. Also that you have to eat the cookie before you read the fortune -- anyone else hear that one?

    Also -- who else now wants Chinese food for dinner?

  26. @Hank - Yep, but only temporarily. She decided not to run away, which at the age of 15 is a good decision :). Susie and I were sure we'd all be sleeping out on the street that night. It was January, we were happy. A cab...OMG. Now that's funny!

    @Katie - yep, after carrying it around all those years, I sure do remember. It read, "Woman who gets laid on hill gets loose screw." Can you imagine. This was the early 1960s. Someone decided to liven up the day in the fortune cookie factory!

  27. Sharon, thanks for giving CJ a try! I hope you enjoy it.

    Karen, you might want to try Misfortune Cookies next! ;)

    Susan, I hadn't heard the one about eating the cookie before reading the fortune, but I'll try that next time!

    Kait, that fortune is HYSTERICAL. I wish I had met you *before* the book came out, because I would have been tempted to include it!

  28. Oh, the eat the cookie thing, definitely. In fact, if I get a "bad" fortune, I don't eat the cookie. I say: oh, this one isn't mine.

    So, Susan, that is the pitfall of not reading first. I always read first. Hmm. Is that wrong? But if you eat the cookie, you accept the fortune. So, eater beware.

    I choose them by which one is pointing to me. Sometimes the point is the middle, sometimes the point is the ends. It depends. I think it's all very complicated.

    And yes, Chinese food. Swan le shao shao. I cannot spell it. But I love it. (how DO you spell that?)

  29. And the winner of Confucius Jane is SHARON FISHER!
    Sharon, mail me at h ryan at whdh dot com

    And thank you so much, Katie! Congratulations!

  30. @Katie, well, if this is a series...have at it!

  31. Sharon, congratulations on winning a copy of the book! I'll look forward to hearing how to get that to you.

    Hank, when I asked my wife about "swan le shao shao," she drew a blank. Can you describe it? She might know it by description!

    And Kait, no plans for a series as yet, but you never know! Perhaps I'd better consult a few fortune cookies with that question in mind. ;)

    Thanks for making yesterday magical, Reds. This was so much fun.