Interview with Mom’s Choice Award-Winner Dr. Kenny Loui

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Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.

Today we are delighted to have with us again Dr. Kenny Loui, the author of Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher: An Autobiographical Manga, and its spinoff, There is No Shrimp… And Other Lies My Mother Told Me—both of which were awarded a Mom’s Choice Award. His whimsical tales include such profound questions as: Why are shrimp so terrifying? How are babies really made? What is the secret to superhuman flight? The answers to these questions and more can be found in this slice-of-life comedy about alternative facts and little white lies a loving mother told her naïve and gullible son. Speaking of his mother, Mrs. Chintana Loui, we’re fortunate to have her with us today, as well!

MCA: Kenny, it’s so good to have you back with us! And we’re delighted your mother is joining you—I understand she had an important role to play in your second graphic novel, There Is No Shrimp. But first, for new readers, please tell them a bit about yourself.

When not moonlighting as a fledging graphic novelist, I work as a professor of criminal justice at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Although currently residing in Dubuque, like the title of the classic Tony Bennett song, I left my heart in San Francisco, where I was born and raised. I caught the study abroad bug in college and found myself studying in Japan for a year, then in South Korea thereafter. One year in South Korea turned into two, two turned into three, and before I knew it, I spent a little over a decade of my life in the Land of the Morning Calm—living, studying, working, and “UFO catching.”

My debut graphic novel, Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher, is a manga memoir based on my experiences playing crane games—also called “UFO catchers” in Japan—while studying and working in Japan and South Korea.

MCA: Thanks for the recap, Kenny. And Mrs. Loui, would you please introduce yourself?

My name is Chintana. My nickname is Jeannie, like from the show, “I Dream of Jeannie.” I’m Kenny’s mom. All of Kenny’s friends call me
“Mom,” so you can call me “Mom,” too, if you like.

MCA: It’s so nice to make your acquaintance, Chintana. Lovely to meet you. Kenny, tell us: What has changed in your world since your earlier interview?

Since our last interview in July 2023, my two debut graphic novels have been on bookshelves for a little over half a year, I’ve gotten married, and I rescued a few more plush dolls trapped in captivity.

When we last talked, Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher and There is No Shrimp were both fresh off the printing presses. Since then, I was pleasantly surprised to see both books receive positive reviews from readers and professional reviewers alike, including a few accolades from the Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards and Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards, and of course, the Mom’s Choice Awards.

Both books also quickly reached #1 bestseller status on Amazon in the Nonfiction Manga category and fluctuated between #1 and #2 on the list during those first couple of weeks since their release. That was truly a highlight and milestone for both myself and Yamawe, the illustrator of the books, as relatively new creators in the graphic novel space.

In news unrelated to my graphic novels, although my wife and I were married three years ago, we ended up postponing our wedding ceremony countless times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We finally had our long-overdue wedding ceremony in June. Although our low-key City Hall wedding just days before the pandemic began was memorable in its own right, it was nice to finally have a ceremony where our family and friends could join in the festivities.

During our multi-destination honeymoon travels to South Korea, Japan, and Thailand, my wife joined me on my silly lifelong mission of liberating cute plushies trapped inside arcade claw machines. In brief, I have several new “rescues” since we talked in July, including a few Pokémon plushies… each with a lesson-infused story that will likely make its way into a future volume of Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher.

MCA: That’s a lot to happen in little over a half-year. Congratulations on your marriage! Tell us, what was your path to becoming a writer like? What inspired you?

Long story short: Mom. Although there were several inspirations for writing this book, first and foremost is Mom, who once told me: “Your life is weird. You should write a book.” As the old saying goes, mother knows best. So I ended up writing a book… not just one, but two! Whether they’re good books or not, I’ll leave that up to the readers to decide.

MCA: Would you agree, Chintana?

I did not expect him to take my advice. Usually, he never listens to me! (Laughs.)

MCA: Kenny, could you tell us more about your inspiration for writing these two award-winning graphic novels?

My inspiration for writing Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher stemmed from my love of playing arcade crane games, and the simple, and occasionally, complicated life lessons you learn or relearn from the process of liberating plush dolls trapped in those neon-lighted, plexiglass cages. As for There is No Shrimp… And Other Lies My Mother Told Me, the inspiration from those stories came obviously from all the fond childhood memories I had with my mom. In particular, I remember all the little white lies, half-truths, and exaggerations that Mom told me when I was growing up.

So that was the angle I decided to take with There is No Shrimp, and I structured the book as a compilation of the most memorable white lies and “alternative facts” that my mom told me as a kid, while having the book also serve as a prequel and sequel of sorts to Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher. Although a stand-alone book, there are a few story elements in There is No Shrimp that reference my previous graphic novel—while also setting up plot threads for future stories.

MTA: It’s always fascinating to learn how some of the things that affect us so profoundly in childhood can eventually make their way into fascinating and entertaining books. Tell us: What are some of the key lessons found in There Is No Shrimp?

An overarching lesson or message that I see resonating throughout this book is that no matter how old you are, you’ll always be your parent or guardian’s precious little baby. There are a few stories in the book that showcase my mom’s overprotective side, and it’s still a side of her that I see on occasion, even though I am now many, many years older than the Kenny who’s featured in the book.

MCA: I’d love to hear Chintana’s thoughts on this …

Kenny is my only son. And he always goes out looking for trouble. So I will always be overprotective of him. (Laughs.)

MCA: That’s 100 percent your right as a mom, Chintana. Kenny, if you could ensure readers of your book walk away with one main lesson, what would it be?

Listen to your mothers. They know best! (Laughs.)

MCA: Chintana, would you want to add to that?

Yes, absolutely. Listen to your moms. They are always right. Also, eat healthy. I always try to cook healthy meals for my son… that’s why I put shrimp in his food when he was a kid. I still do.

MCA: Clearly you hit the jackpot when it came to getting a great mom, Kenny! Tell us, please, what kind of reception your book has received from readers and reviewers.

Surprisingly, very positive reviews! I’m so delighted that readers have enjoyed these anecdotes of memories from my childhood and silly white lies from my mother; as well as the—to quote one reader—“cutesy bubblegum art” from Yamawe. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that There Is No Shrimp was selected as a Staff Pick at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont. I’m grateful to Northshire Bookstore and other independent booksellers out there for including the book on their shelves—whether physical or digital. Their support really means a lot to me and Yamawe.

All in all, I hope that audiences who pick up the book flash back to their precious childhood memories with their parents, guardians and other loved ones. And to the parents out there who read this, I hope they’ll keep in mind the active imaginations their kids have, and depending on their level of gullibility—mine was 110% when I was a child—the likelihood of them taking everything their parents say at face value, whether it’s the truth or a lie or something in between. Case in point: Although my belief in Santa Claus was shattered pretty early in life, for the longest time I believed in the existence of the Tooth Fairy, that the world was originally black and white before it “evolved” into color, and that tiny people lived in our T.V. sets… all thanks to Mom!

Several of the editorial reviews have shared a common theme:

Literary Titan: “Kenny’s lighthearted adventures are infectious and will leave you grinning from ear to ear even after you’ve finished the book.”

Midwest Book Review: “I found myself on several occasions laughing out loud.”

San Francisco Book Review: “… definitely put a smile on my face.”

Even Mom’s Choice Awards CEO, Dawn Matheson, mentioned that the book “will tickle your funny bone and tug at your heartstrings.”

All in all, I hope that’s what readers get out of reading the book: a good laugh.

MCA: What terrific responses! Here’s a question for both of you: Which is your favorite story in the book?

Kenny: There is No Shrimp… And Other Lies My Mother Told Me showcases how much of a creative thinker and truth stretcher my mom is. Of all the lies or “alternative truths” my mom told me when I was a kid, my favorite story would have to be the one that the title of the book is based on: That there was no shrimp in my food, when in actuality, there was! When I was a kid, I hated shrimp. Not necessarily because they tasted bad, but because they looked like little aliens, like the ones in the Alien movies starring Sigourney Weaver. Those movies terrified me as a kid, and thus shrimp did as well. Mom, wanting me to eat shrimp because it was “good for me,” would always sneak tiny bits of shrimp into my food but tell me that there wasn’t any shrimp in the food. I love shrimp now, and I have Mom to thank for that.

Chintana: I like the first story. When Kenny was a kid, he always looked at my old photo albums from my childhood and school days. Those photographs are black and white since they were taken in the 1950s and 1960s. One time he asked why the pictures were black and white and not in color. I did not want to get into a long explanation about the invention and transition to color film technology, so I just told him that the world evolved into color. I did not expect him to go and tell all his friends at school about that the next day!

Kenny: Looking back, I like a lot of Mom’s fantastical versions of the truth compared to reality. Really goes to show you how much of a creative imagination she had back then, and still does!

MCA: That’s a creative spin on the truth! Mrs. Loui, are there any other stories or anecdotes that didn’t make it into the book — but that you’d like to add?

Kenny is a practical joker… a lot like his dad. I remember the time Kenny faked his death… multiple times! This was when Kenny was in preschool. He would always play dead, like a dog. He would lie down on the ground in school, pretend to be unconscious and never get up, even after his teachers told him to so many times. Kenny’s dad and I always got called to his school and listened to his teachers’ complaints. Nothing would change. Kenny continued to lie still on the floor each day. Kenny then got kicked out of preschool because his teachers couldn’t stand him anymore.

But that wasn’t a lie I told, but one Kenny told—more precisely, dramatically reenacted—for his teachers and classmates. Maybe that is why this story did not make it into the book.

Stories like this are why my husband and I jokingly tell people we only had one child—because if you have a child like Kenny, one is enough!

Kenny: I will neither confirm nor deny the veracity of that story. (Laughs.)

MCA: Mom is the star of this story. I’m curious, Kenny—where’s your father in the story? Does he appear in your earlier book, and do you have any plans to write a book about your father?

Dad does make a cameo appearance in There is No Shrimp, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in the story, “Up, Up, and Away.” Neither my mom nor my dad appears in Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher… at least, not yet!

MCA: You have so much going on in your life—full-time professor, author of two books—I’m wondering what is next for your writing endeavors, especially as regards the UFO Catcher series. Something about your dad, perhaps?

Great questions! And I’m glad you asked! Although Dad doesn’t appear in Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher and shows up only in one panel of There is No Shrimp, he will have a book devoted entirely to him very shortly. Tentatively titled Dad vs. The World, this upcoming graphic novel will focus on my childhood memories with Dad. I’m eyeing a 2025 or 2026 release for Dad vs. The World, along with Volume 2 of Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher.

Since Yamawe and I both work full time and creating graphic novels is very much a “side gig” for us, how quickly we finish and release our next two books will depend on what our work schedules look like this year. But whether it’s one year or two years from now, we look forward to expanding the world of UFO Catcher with new stories, new characters, and new cute and cuddly plushies for our readers to enjoy!

MCA: Kenny, Chintana, we’re so glad you joined us today! Wherever your next efforts take you, Kenny, we wish you the very best and look forward to the next installments!

You can learn more about Dr. Kenny Loui and his award-winning book, Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher: An Autobiographical Manga by visiting his MCA Shop pages.

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2 Comments on “Interview with Mom’s Choice Award-Winner Dr. Kenny Loui”

  1. I agree with Kenny. The study abroad “bug” is awesome! I took a few when I was in college and they were some of the best months of my life.

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