Design consultant Kevin Kwan was not yet 40 when he started writing Crazy Rich Asians (2013), the runaway bestseller that changed his life entirely and was followed by further adventures of the Singapore-based clan in China Rich Girlfriend (2015) and Rich People Problems (2017). By the time the Crazy Rich Asians movie hit theaters in 2018, his second trilogy was underway, each book, as he explains, exploring the lives of Asian characters outside of Asia and inspired by a classic novel. Sex and Vanity (2020) was an homage to E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, and now Lies and Weddings (Doubleday, May 21) takes on Anthony Trollope’s Doctor Thorne, offering, as our reviewer puts it, “still more brilliant escapism among Kwan’s 1 percenters. Too much is never enough.”

We caught up with him over Zoom from his home in West Hollywood, California, to talk about his career and the new book and even got a glimpse of what lies beyond. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start with what I see as one of the great mysteries of your oeuvre. How do you make wealth porn so entertaining?

Actually, I don’t believe in status symbols. Even in high school, when kids were wearing Ralph Lauren shirts, I thought there was something absurd about it. My influences were my dad and my grandfather—such unassuming people. They believed in character and integrity, judging people not on success or achievement, or what they had, but on who you were as a person. I hope that comes through in all my books; that is the ultimate message.

Where I geek out with regard to material objects is from the perspective of aesthetics and design—the power of a beautiful jewel or an amazingly designed sofa.

So it’s not about status, it’s about beauty?

Well, for some of the characters it’s definitely status, and I love to satirize that. Like Lady Arabella in the new book, how concerned she is at all times with her appearance and her house. There’s so much comedy in snobbery.

Right—she’s a former Hong Kong supermodel, now married to the Earl of Greshamsbury, living in his ancestral manor, trying to restore the family fortune by marrying off her kids to major generational wealth. What made you decide to set a book in rural England?

As an immigrant myself, I’m fascinated by global international culture. I moved to Texas from Singapore when I was a kid; many of my cousins moved to England and to Australia. We all had different intersections and collisions with the West, and the experience of not really belonging anywhere. I wanted to examine that.

This trilogy is like what you see on a Chanel bottle: New York, London, Paris. Sex and Vanity was about a Chinese American girl in WASPy New York. In Lies and Weddings the Asian girl is in England, among the snootiest of the aristocracy.

So, wait…are we going to Paris in the next one? Via the reimagined plot of a Victorian novel?

You certainly might guess that. Born in a former British colony myself, I’ve been steeped in that literature my whole life. My grandfather had a library full of the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, all the volumes of Churchill’s autobiography, Evelyn Waugh—growing up, this was so much a part of my life. It’s embedded in everything I write. In this trilogy, I take a Victorian novel and turn it on its head. I take all the classic tropes about the most privileged British Caucasian people, drop an Asian family in the middle of it, and see what happens. Which is actually really happening all over the world.

So here we have Eden Tong, who has been in the village of Greshamsbury since she was 5. For all intents and purposes, she’s a native of this place. As we follow her journey, we see that most of the racism she encounters is from the only other Asian in that entire darn village.

Lady Arabella!

Right. I saw this myself growing up. When I arrived in Houston at the age of 11, the kids who were meanest to me were the Asian American kids. Well, here they’ve been trying to assimilate since birth and I show up and put a spotlight on their difference. They don’t want anything to do with this nerdy, strange little Asian with a quasi-British accent who comes to school with his hair sticking up. For Lady Arabella, it’s similar. Here is this girl who is a daily reminder that she is the Chinese Hong Kong lady in the middle of an English village.

I wonder who will play them all in the movie. Are there more movies in the works?

Sex and Vanity starts filming this summer!We have the most unbelievable cast, two Oscar winners so far, and some amazing hot young actor discoveries.

Always plenty of hot people in your books. Speaking of which, is the character of Lady Arabella’s son Rufus, who takes the world by storm when he’s photographed at prep school ironing a shirt, based on a real person?

Me, of course. Just kidding. So, so, not. Actually Rufus, like many of my characters, is an amalgamation of several people. And there really was a photograph like that.

Of a hot boy ironing?

Well, you might guess that. Whenever you spot an Asian or a half Asian in a British magazine that’s full of Prince William and Plum Sykes, you’re like, Who is that?

What other research did you do for the book?

I went to Hawaii over Christmas and New Year’s of 2021. All through the fall I’d been sketching away at my novel, trying to write it, getting nowhere. Then I landed in Hawaii and suddenly began to see my characters. There are so many different types of Asians there—the Japanese descendant immigrants, the Chinese immigrants, the intermarried Hawaiian Japanese. All these beautiful Asian Pacific Islander people, people who so beautifully integrate East and West.

And being on the Big Island with an active volcano, well, there’s something very activating about that. If you believe that kind of stuff. Suddenly I started writing a chapter a day. Oh, my God, I thought. I have an intro! This is happening! I ended up staying six weeks.

While I was there, as the book was coming alive to me, I went to Volcanoes National Park, I went whale watching, I visited all these different hotels. I met with a top wedding planner, who told me the craziest stories of what people want and expect, and what actually happens, at a destination wedding. When you bring family and friends together to a spot that’s out of their comfort zone and it doesn’t feel like anything is really real—it becomes an option for people to go absolutely bonkers. As they do in my books.

Do you have a plan for after this trilogy?

I have the next trilogy sort of mapped out already. It’s another sprawling family saga like Crazy Rich Asians, but they might not be crazy rich anymore. We might be delving into a whole new territory. Because, at a certain point, how much wealth porn can you bring into the world?

Marion Winik hosts the NPR podcast The Weekly Reader.