Frequently Asked Questions
How did you land your amazing agent?
Ten years of toil and some strokes of luck!
In 2008, I e-queried the fabulous Jo Volpe with my very first novel, FOXSTONE. She printed it out and actually snail-mailed me a hard copy with her hand-marked editorial notes, saying she really believed there was something there. Although she ultimately turned it down, I was encouraged!
I followed her career over the next ten years as she started her own agency, New Leaf Literary, and rose to meteoric heights, with clients I admired greatly, like Veronica Roth, Leigh Bardugo, Marcus Sedgwick and Holly Black.
(Holy cow, someone pinch me—is she really my agent?)
I was lucky enough to have many incredible agents interested in representing LOVEBOAT, TAIPEI. But when Jo offered and I had the chance to meet her and her team in her beautiful office, it felt like I had come full circle.
How long have you been writing?
All my life.
My brother and sister are twins, three years younger than me. When we were little, we used to sleep in the same room and I would tell them “Group Stories.” We’d start off listing the characters, which were us, our cousins and our friends. Then I’d make up stories of us kids living on our own in a forest and going on adventures.
I’ve also kept a journal since fourth grade, so writing is like breathing to me. Of course, I had to keep my real thoughts and feelings to myself in case someone found it. So when I look back on my writings, a lot of the substance is hidden in codes and the subtext.
I began seriously writing when I was pregnant with my second child—my writing career is as old as he is! But it wasn’t until I attended VCFA that I finally had the courage to call myself a writer.
I see that you got your MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts! Do you recommend it? Am I ready? What if I’m already a published author?
I absolutely recommend VFCA!
It’s an incredible community of talented writers and teachers. For writers just starting out, I recommend taking a few local writing classes, to build skills and get to know an instructor who can write a recommendation that speaks to your writing, willingness to take feedback and abilities to contribute to a classroom.
Since I live in the Bay area, I took a few classes through Stanford’s Continuing Studies and attended SCBWI workshops.
What finally made my decision to attend VCFA was the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel workshop. I got to work with Varian Johnson, who taught me how to arc out a plot. I also hung out with and ask a million questions of Rita Williams Garcia, Coe Booth and Sara Crowe, who were all on the Highlights faculty that week. I was sold. I work full time, so I wrote at night from 9pm-12am after the kids were in bed, and used my vacation to fly to VCFA for the 10-day residencies twice a year. It wasn’t an easy few years, but it was worth it.
Even if you are already a published author, there is no limit to the master mentoring of its world class faculty. I got to work closely with Printz Honor A.M. Jenkins, Alan Cumyn, Newbery Honor and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt, and Martine Leavitt. I workshopped with so many other incredibles, including National Book Award winner, Will Alexander. For Loveboat, I had the chance to talk my ideas over with Shelley Tanaka, and even after graduating, I’ve exchanged emails with her, including pinging her from the airport on my way to Taiwan!
Last and most importantly of all, VCFA is a nurturing and supportive community you will be a part of for the rest of your life.
How did you find your critique partners?
I met I.W. Gregorio (NONE OF THE ABOVE) at an SCBWI conference in 2008. We bonded over our shared dilemma navigating demanding jobs, kids and our desire to write. The talented Sonya Mukherjee (GEMINI) joined us shortly after.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to exchange work with wonderful writers from SCBWI, VCFA and in the Bay area. I feel incredibly blessed to have learned from Sabaa Tahir (EMBER IN THE ASHES Series), Stacey Lee (THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL), Stephanie Garber (CARAVAL trilogy) and Kelly Loy Gilbert (CONVICTED), who unwaveringly supported me through rejections and writing heartbreaks and as I doubted my own abilities.
The key to CPs is to learn from each other! Find ways to be helpful. Even if your skill sets are different, you can help with something you are good at, like editing or supporting on social media.
And be honest. Good CPs serve as sounding boards, and never pull punches when something’s not working. You want CPs who won’t let you go out with your slip showing.
Tell us more about your book. What is Loveboat?
Loveboat is an actual cultural and language program set in Taiwan. My husband and I both attended, though not the same summers. My main character, Ever Wong, thought it sounded like torturous summer school—but as she discovers, it’s so much more fun!
How do you balance work with writing with family? Can I really have it all?
It’s not easy and I still haven’t figured it out. I don’t think we can have it all at once, but I hope we can over a lifetime. For me, life seems to change every six months. I am constantly asking myself what my priorities are. My husband is great about keeping the most important things squarely in front of my eyes whenever I want to chase shiny new things—or, frankly, when my own insecurities make me want to hedge my bets in writing.
When I had kids, I took a step back from my crazy up-to-100-hours a week legal practice by going in-house. It was a hard decision for me to step off the track after going full speed through Harvard, Capitol Hill, Columbia Law School and clerking on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. But even my judge gave me permission. I still remember her telling me, you have your little boy, and to guard the important things in my life.
But I also love the balance of work and writing. My head is full of imaginary characters, and my work full of real ones. At different times, the writing kept me creatively engaged while the work kept me stable. When work got crazy, writing was my home. My boys are older now, and I’m trying to keep up with them, so it feels like the right time to be leaning in again.
Young adult novelist, venture capital, artificial intelligence—how does it all work together?
I like to think it’s all just me. I have a few AI and VC-inspired novels in the works.
Figuring out my social media is probably the best illustration of how I’m navigating these different aspects of my life:
Facebook is mainly friends and family.
LinkedIn is my venture capital, artificial intelligence, law and policy life.
Instagram is my young adult novel writing life. I’m just getting started there.
Twitter is a weird blend of all three, because for some reason, everyone finds me there. Someone suggested I have two Twitter accounts, one for writing and the other for venture capital etc. But I decided against it. I want my life to be integrated. That’s the hope, anyways!
Will your book be made into a movie or TV show?
I hope so! My film agent extraordinaire told me that with Hollywood, we can’t celebrate until we are in the car, driving to the premiere. So please cross all fingers and toes with me!
What has surprised you most about becoming an author?
How busy I’ve gotten! I am revising my manuscript with my publisher, writing my second novel and writing articles, as well as thinking about projects like this website! It’s all so much fun, but I’ve had to become very careful about how I spend my time.
What are your favorite craft books?
I love craft books! They’re like candy.
If You Have Less Time
· Story, Robert McKee
· Anatomy of a Story, John Truby (his wife, Leslie Lehr, is an amazing critiquer and story coach)
· Story Engineering, Larry Brooks
· Save the Cat, Blake Snyder
If You Have More Time
· Plot Whisperer, Martha Alderson
· Hooked, Les Edgerton
· From Where You Dream, Robert Olen Butler
· Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins
· The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diane Wynn Jones
· On Writing, Stephen King
· The Big Picture, the Fight for the Future of Movies, Ben Fritz
· Story, Robert McKee
· Screenplays in general
· Getting Unstuck, Timothy Butler
· Originals, Adam Grant
I am always on the hunt for more good reads so send me recs!
Can you critique my manuscript?
I am planning to offer opportunities to win critiques in the future. Sign up for my mailing list below to receive announcements about this and other book news.
I highly recommend taking local writing classes, joining SCBWI or considering programs like VCFA or Hamline. You can find amazing CPs there.
And when your manuscript is ready for submission, programs like Pitch Wars and Writing in the Margins can connect you with amazing, generous authors who can help get your manuscript into shape. Facebook communities like Binders Full of YA Writers, started by Nova Ren Suma, can also help you connect with other writers.
Hope this is helpful! Write on—or as my advisor Kathi Appelt used to say, “Write like your fingers are on fire!”