Debut author Kathy Wang shares with us her personal experience writing Family Trust, an exciting new novel coming out this fall. I fell in love with this novel for its feisty characters and compelling family drama. Kathy works and lives in Silicon Valley, where the novel is set, and she deftly satirizes the competitive, ambitious environment.
Family Trust is a poignant and funny family drama. The Huang’s are a modern Chinese immigrant family, struggling over the patriarch’s, Stanley, recent diagnosis with pancreatic cancer. His two children, their mother, and his newer, significantly younger wife grapple over the family fortune. As Stanley’s death approaches, they are all faced with challenges that will ultimately drive them to consider their own relationships and values. Kathy’s writing is sharp and smart – a perfect balance between humor and heart. What follows is her personal experience writing Family Trust, as well as some “insider information” as to what from her own life inspired the novel.
I started writing Family Trust on January 1st, 2017. It was one of my New Year’s resolutions to try and finish a manuscript, publishable or not (hopefully the former), and my goal was to have it completed before my baby’s due date which was in mid-July. To meet this deadline, I aimed to write 1,000 words each day, without exception. At the end of each evening I would write down the day’s date and the word count of my manuscript next to it, and keep track as it crept up.
At the time, the book was called A Man of Means, and it was based on a general obsession I've had with the idea of men needing to envision themselves as “significant men, men of means” even if they aren't, even if it's just on the surface with nothing underneath. What happens when a man approaches the end of his life and hasn’t achieved all that he thought he should or believes himself to be entitled to? Is he able to face this disappointment? Or does he construct a fantasy? And how does that contrast with how a woman might approach her own life?
I began with the character of Fred, who had started to appear in my head in various iterations. As a 2011 graduate of Harvard Business School, I had come to the point in my career where I was starting to see disappointment creep in, for both myself and my classmates. We had enjoyed a few heady years in school where everyone from professors to recruiters had told us we were going to graduate and progress happily up the chain of command and eventually get rewarded with tons of money; we believed this wholeheartedly (some more than others). And then we started our jobs after graduation, and after a few months realized the work wasn’t exactly what we thought it would be, but hey, there was ample time. Except now, by this point six years later, there wasn’t. There was a general malaise setting in, a realization that it wasn't going to be such easy sailing to instant fame and fortune after all. Making things more maddening was the fact that there were a few classmates who had achieved astounding success (a phenomenon which repeats itself without fail each year). And again, I felt that there was a difference between how the men versus the women were managing this struggle and disappointment.
I decided to explore these themes in the setting of an Asian American family facing the terminal illness of its patriarch. My own father had passed away from pancreatic cancer shortly after being diagnosed, and I recalled how the months leading up to the event just seemed to accelerate and place acute pressure on so many underlying personal and family dynamics. As I wrote, I realized there were many aspects of the Asian American experience which kept surfacing - issues and themes I had thought about but hadn’t necessarily seen in popular media and the storylines multiplied and grew.
I have no writing education or background, have never had anything formally published, and unfortunately count no authors in my own network of “real life” friends and acquaintances. Embarrassingly enough, both of my degrees (undergraduate and masters) are in business administration, and thus everyone I know works in technology, finance, or some associated offshoot. I wrote Family Trust during my toddler’s naps during the day which meant that I had limited time as it was, and wasn’t able to seek out any local critique groups. So the manuscript was truly written in a vacuum with no outside feedback, just me and the laptop and an often vain hope that my son would sleep for the full length of his nap. Because of this, I was constantly paranoid that what I was creating was not “publishable”. What made something a real story, a compelling plot, and how did that all get turned into a book? I had no idea, just a general sense of what I myself liked and didn’t like. I had loved books and reading ever since I was young and still read every chance I got, working through the stacks on my shelves and nightstand, but didn’t know if that was enough. So whenever I was engaged in a task like cooking, or taking a shower, or driving to an appointment, I would go through bits of plot in my head. Did it make sense? Was it something that I felt was true to the characters? How would the character act in X, Y, Z situation?
I had originally aimed to finish my manuscript by mid June so I could have it done and ready to contact agents with before the July 4th holiday, but of course I ran over this deadline. So I ended up querying agents just a few days before my due date in mid July. I was contacting agents completely cold and expected to spend many months in the slush pile. My first offer of representation came about a week later, one day after my baby was born. It still seems like a dream.
On a final note - my own mother, who does share some personality traits with the character of Linda, had no idea I was writing a manuscript. My mom is not the kind of person who you inform of your faraway hopes and dreams. She’s much more the sort that you hope will be pleased when you inform her of an actual result. So I only told her about Family Trust after the contract had been signed with William Morrow, and her genuine happiness and joy over the news was perhaps the best moment in this entire process to date. The book is dedicated to her (though she doesn’t know that yet as well...she’ll learn it when she sees the final product!).
A small update a few months later, now that the book is out: I gave my mom the very first copy I received, from my editor. I flipped it open to show her the dedication, and she was happy (I think) but overt displays of emotion aren't her thing, so she just said, "Oh!" and took the copy.
A week later, she stopped by my house and said that she had finished it. What did you think, I asked? As beads of sweat began to form on my neck. "It was fine," she said. I wish I could say that she said more, but then she wouldn't be my mom, and everything would be different. Besides, "fine", as coming from my mother? Is definitely fine. WHEW!