How do writers find the courage to pull from emotional experiences in their lives? How about finding the right balance of enlightening and entertaining your readers? How do you, as a writer, change people’s lives by writing with honesty? We discuss all this and much more with Jean Kwok.
Jean is the New York Times and international bestselling author of the award-winning novels Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown, and her newest novel Searching for Sylvie Lee. Her work has been published in 17 countries and taught in universities, colleges and high schools across the world. She has been selected for many honors including the American Library Association Alex Award, the Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award, and Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers. Jean’s writing has been featured in Time, The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, People, Real Simple and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others.
In our conversation, we discuss why writing about something connects with you deeply allows you to create your best work, and how that’s directly attribute to Jean’s success as an author. She walks us through preventing writer’s block, and how she places herself into a physical and emotional space that’s conducive to writing. Further into the conversation, Jean shares how to handle rejection as an author and why writers must persevere.
Jean’s Recommended Books and Resources:
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Around the Writer’s Block by Rosanne Bane
Write Away by Elizabeth George
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What You’ll Learn From This Episode:
- Why writing about something that connects with you deeply allows you to create your best work, and how it attributed to Jean’s success as an author
- How to find the courage to write a book about emotional experiences in your life
- The importance of finding your balance of enlightening and entertaining your readers and how Jean goes about finding her balance
- How being an honest writer will allow you to create stories that will touch and change people’s lives
- How Jean prevents writer’s block
- How Jean withdraws from her daily life and places herself into a physical and emotional space to write
- The hardships Jean faced when deciding to speak up about her past and how it can inspire you as an author to not be ashamed of where you come from
- Jean’s advice on rejection and why you should never give up because there is someone out there who will believe in your writing
“Fix it on the page, don’t fix it in your head.”
“I hope to give voice to stories that are not often told.”
“We are not competing with each other; we are all trying to speak some kind of fundamental human truth.”
Please say “Hi” to Jean:
Learn more about Searching for Sylvie Lee
A poignant and suspenseful drama that untangles the complicated ties binding three women—two sisters and their mother—in one Chinese immigrant family and explores what happens when the eldest daughter disappears, and a series of family secrets emerge, from the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Translation
It begins with a mystery. Sylvie, the beautiful, brilliant, successful older daughter of the Lee family, flies to the Netherlands for one final visit with her dying grandmother—and then vanishes.
Amy, the sheltered baby of the Lee family, is too young to remember a time when her parents were newly immigrated and too poor to keep Sylvie. Seven years older, Sylvie was raised by a distant relative in a faraway, foreign place, and didn’t rejoin her family in America until age nine. Timid and shy, Amy has always looked up to her sister, the fierce and fearless protector who showered her with unconditional love.
But what happened to Sylvie? Amy and her parents are distraught and desperate for answers. Sylvie has always looked out for them. Now, it’s Amy’s turn to help. Terrified yet determined, Amy retraces her sister’s movements, flying to the last place Sylvie was seen. But instead of simple answers, she discovers something much more valuable: the truth. Sylvie, the golden girl, kept painful secrets . . . secrets that will reveal more about Amy’s complicated family—and herself—than she ever could have imagined.
A deeply moving story of family, secrets, identity, and longing, Searching for Sylvie Lee is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive portrait of an immigrant family. It is a profound exploration of the many ways culture and language can divide us and the impossibility of ever truly knowing someone—especially those we love.
Learn More About Jean Kwok
Jean Kwok is the New York Times and international bestselling author of the award-winning novels Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown. Her work has been published in 17 countries and taught in universities, colleges and high schools across the world. She has been selected for many honors including the American Library Association Alex Award, the Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award, and Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers. Jean’s writing has been featured in Time, The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, People, Real Simple and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others.
Jean immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood while living in an unheated, roach-infested apartment. In between her undergraduate degree at Harvard and MFA in fiction at Columbia, she worked for three years as a professional ballroom dancer. Jean lives in the Netherlands with her husband, two boys and three cats, and is working on her next novel. A Dutch television documentary with English subtitles was filmed about Jean and her work.
Photo credit: Chris Macke