Q&A With Jean Kwok

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Q&A With Jean Kwok

Tonight I have the pleasure of doing a Q&A with New York Times Bestselling author, Jean Kwok. Jean has written “Girl In Translation,” “Mambo in Chinatown,” and “Searching for Sylvie Lee,” which was a book club pick for Jenna Bush Hager’s Read With Jenna Book Club on the Today Show. 

Q: Jean at what point in your life did you realize that writing was your calling?

A: I didn’t realize I wanted to be a writer until I was in college, although I’d always loved reading. I was a working-class first-generation immigrant and it didn’t occur to me to become a writer. I was mainly focused on getting a real job so I didn’t have to return to work at the clothing factory in Chinatown.

I was a Physics major at Harvard when I unexpectedly wrote a poem late one night. I was so surprised. But ever since, writing is the only thing I’ve wanted to do. 

Q: What advice do you give to anyone who wants to be a writer? What advice do you give to anyone who suffers with writers block?

A: I think that writer’s block is extremely common and I struggle with it a great deal in my own process. I think it hits when you’re unsure of where you’re going, for any reason. It can be deeper and more psychological or it can just be that you don’t know enough craft to sustain the project you’re working on. I find it very useful to read books on writing and process like Anne Lamott’s classic Bird by Bird, John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story and Roseanne Bane’s Around the Writer’s Block. It’s also helpful to find a community of kind, supportive fellow writers who understand what you’re going through and can let you know that you’re not alone. 

Q: If you had to choose out of all the books you wrote so far, which one was your favorite one to write?

A: I had so much fun writing Searching for Sylvie Lee, my most recent novel about what happens to a Chinese immigrant family when the dazzling older sister disappears while on a trip to the Netherlands and her stuttering, shy younger sister needs to follow in her footsteps to figure out what happened to her. 

Although it was inspired by the real-life disappearance of my beloved older brother, the act of writing was cathartic and meaningful. I also really enjoyed developing the twisty story structure and I hope it’s as much fun to read as well. 

Q: What were your favorite books you read this year so far?

A: There are so many good books out there right now! I really loved Julie Otsuka’s The Swimmers, Lan Samantha Chang’s The Family Chao, and Jackie Mitchell’s The Good Son. For fun reading, a fantasy series I loved is Naomi Novik’s The Scholomance, which includes A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate

Q: Are you writing a new novel now? If so can you spoil a little bit about it? 

A: I’m just about done with my new novel! It’s called The Leftover Woman and it’s about a young Chinese woman mourns the daughter who supposedly died at birth, but when she learns her husband actually gave the baby for adoption to a wealthy American couple, she follows them to New York City, ready to do whatever she must.  

Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to any of your novels?

A: Two of my three novels have been optioned and there are ongoing talks about the third one. No one has read my newest novel, my fourth, yet. So fingers crossed! I can’t disclose any other details at this time but I love the people involved. They’re very passionate about my work and I hope that we’ll see my books on the screen someday soon. 

Q: What was it like meeting Jenna Bush Hager since your book was her book club pick? Shelby Van Pelt an author I recently did a Q&A with, said Jenna and Hoda were such sweethearts. 

A: It was a tremendous honor and thrill to meet Jenna in real life. I was interviewed by her and Maria Schriver for the Today Show. I’ve appeared on the Today Show a few times since then and Jenna is so warm and genuine. She cares deeply about books and their authors. She’s an absolute delight and does so much good for the literary community.