Marie is a former teacher, education evaluator, and engineer. A lifelong student, she has degrees in degrees in chemical engineering, teaching, an MFA in writing, and a doctorate in educational leadership. Her writing focuses on bilingual and English-only children's books that feature mixed families, as well as literary and contemporary fiction focused on Asian and Asian American characters.
Q. What inspired the plot for your novel, Unwell?
I had a moment of panic when I was pregnant with my first child. I wasn’t sure I was ready, I wasn’t sure I was prepared. I wasn’t sure I could go through with it. Options and thoughts that I had never once considered started to float through my head. My moment of panic eventually subsided, and I am now the proud (and long-suffering) mother of two very spirited… toddlers. But the idea of being trapped by motherhood, of being unwilling to give up the part of your identity that does seem to get inevitably subsumed by being a parent, was an idea that stayed with me. Eventually, after marinating for long enough, it became this book.
Q. Would you say that you and the main character are similar or completely opposite?
I think I’m somewhat similar to both Yafeu, and the main protagonist… there’s a little bit of me in all of my characters (and perhaps vice versa, I suppose).
Q. At what age did you realize writing was something you wanted to pursue?
I started writing more than a decade ago when a therapist recommended I keep a journal. My thoughts at the time were far too depressing and monolithic… I found creating fiction far more exhilarating… but it’s only recently that I’ve really committed to this writing thing – self-publishing, marketing, the whole experience.
Q. Describe your writing ritual.
First, I have to take care of every itsy-bitsy chore that might intrude on my consciousness later in the day. It’s frustrating, it often feels counterproductive, but ultimately, it’s the only way I can concentrate. If there are too many chores, then I commit to doing a set of them, and then leaving the rest for tomorrow. I get a couple of super-gulp-sized water/iced tea mixes, a huge serving of made-from-scratch salad, and then I pick 2-3 songs I might be in the mood for, and put them on loop. I edit yesterday’s writing, and then *try* to force myself to write. My rules are this:
1. Any writing is better than no writing.
2. Working on an in-progress project is better than starting a new one.
3. If all else fails, read something, review something, and then try, try, try again.
Ultimately, this means that I often have 5-10 projects I’m “currently” working on, but at least it keeps me writing and practicing.
Q. What are your writing goals for this year?
My writing and publishing goals have become hopelessly entangled… but they seem to be:
1. Get three more children’s books published (2.5 are done in terms of writing, all three are currently being illustrated).
2. Publish a short story collection (2 mini-collections are done, though only one has been published).
3. Finish and second-draft my teaching/memoir project.
4. Make significant first-draft progress on the “supposed” second-novel (I have several I’m technically writing, but there is one that I am most interested in finishing, and thus (of course) most blocked on).
5. Finish first-draft the YA project.
6. Finish one other project, any other project…
Q. What is your favorite thing to munch on while writing?
Sadly… the answer is everything. I try to make myself an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink salad, so that at least I can nominally claim that it’s good for me. Otherwise, whatever is in reach of my desk… gets eaten!
Q. What book(s) are you currently reading?
The Mysterious Benedict Society
The Last Lecture (rereading it)
Looking for Alaska (rounding off my John Green experience)
Everything by Courtney Milan (she writes historical romance)
Oh, and everything that my kids pick out (usually a mixture of dinosaurs, trains and more dinosaurs)
Q. What can your fans expect next?
Eight short stories are done (three in my mini-collection, The Fourth Player, five more will be coming out in the collection Plant Your Feet Firmly). Three kid’s books are getting illustrated (To the Moon! a bilingual Traditional Chinese-English kid’s book, Dear Management, another kid’s book, and A Terrible Day, my first attempt at a rhyming children’s book). I’m also actively trying to finish a series of essays/memoirs/lessons learned about my years as a teacher, as well as the main second novel, which is, I think, ultimately a love story that just happens to be set in 1930s Shanghai during a time of much political turmoil.
Q. What advice can you offer to aspiring writers?
Write more. Read more. Try not to shed too many tears over the bad reviews that will inevitably come (I had a 1-star review from someone who never even read my book, but had, instead, read someone else’s review stating that there was some profanity in my book!). Most of all, if you know that writ’s for you… commit to the process. Treat it like a job and a passion. Remind yourself that, if it’s your dream, any work you’re doing? Is just an example of living the dream.
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