HELEN WAN is Associate General Counsel at the Time Inc. division of Time Warner. Before that, she practiced corporate and media law at firms in New York. Born in California and raised near Washington, D.C., Wan is a graduate of Amherst College and the University of Virginia School of Law. Her essays and reviews of fiction have been published in The Washington Post and elsewhere. She lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, with her husband and son.
WHO? Who are you as a writer, women, just allow my followers an idea of who is the women behind the book?
Hi there. I’m Helen Wan. I’m a writer with a first novel coming out, a new mom to a 10-month-old boy, and I have a full-time career as a media lawyer. In my wildest dreams I never imagined that I’d give birth to a first novel and a first baby in the same year, but if you want to make God laugh, just tell her your plans. I’m also Chinese-American. Both sets of my grandparents fled China during the Communist Revolution and found refuge in Taiwan, and my parents immigrated to the U.S. decades later. I was born in California and grew up near Washington, D.C., and as a child I always had my nose in a book. These days I live in Brooklyn, New York with my husband, who owns an equal number of books, and our young son.
WHAT? What do you enjoy doing other than writing in your spare time?
I love to read. Anything and everything. If there’s nothing else around I’ll read the back of cereal boxes. But mostly I like contemporary fiction. Both my husband and I also love food and travel, but it was a lot easier to pursue these interests before having a baby. So for now, we stay closer to home, exploring new NYC neighborhoods, and scouting out the dizzying array of ethnic eats in Queens, for example. I also love reading to our infant son, and making him giggle. His grin is just like instant therapy.
WHEN? When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. In elementary school, I wrote and illustrated a series of short books about an intrepid crime-fighting family called The Dixon Detectives. Our extremely kind school librarian actually took those handmade books of mine, had them laminated, and put them on the shelves at Ravensworth Elementary School Library. I doubt that anyone ever checked one out, but just seeing my work on those library shelves – well, I was hooked. Writing a book was always my childhood dream. Yet I didn’t trust that I could ever really write and get a book published, much less support myself as a writer. For better or worse, it’s extremely common for first-generation Americans and their children to feel compelled to pursue livelihoods that are much more “practical,” whatever that means. So, like many other risk-averse people who love the written word, I went to law school and embarked on a full-time legal career.
WHERE? Where do you write?
I can’t write at home. Too many distractions. The phone. The fridge. The dishwasher needs emptying. That rug needs vacuuming. Why don’t I just take the laundry out while it’s warm? Instead, on weekends, whenever possible, I pack up my laptop and treat my writing date like a job, just like I’m heading out to my regular midtown law office. I love Cammareri Bakery & Café in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a perfect writing café with friendly people, scrumptious food, music I like, played at the right volume, and the added pedigree of being a cultural reference point in Moonstruck, one of my favorite movies. I also love the gorgeous Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library on Forty-Second Street. I finished a rewrite of my novel there late one Saturday afternoon, and giddily told the security guard so on my way out, who grinned and asked me to come back with an autographed copy one day for him. I fairly skipped down those massive stone steps that day, feeling so light on my feet.
WHY? Why do you write?
I know it’s trite to say so, but I think writers write because we have to. When I’ve finally gotten a description exactly the way I want it, or nailed a line of dialogue that had been eluding me, it makes me feel happy and alive. I once heard the wonderful Anna Quindlen speak (actually, at an event for women lawyers), and she wisely pointed out the distinction between those people who really want to write, and those who just want to have written. I suddenly realized that in order to be one of the people who had written, I needed to actually write! Enough excuses about having a full-time day job, being too tired by the time I got home from work, never having enough time, etc. I finally signed myself up for an “Intro to Writing Fiction” workshop, and the pages I wrote for that class became the seed for this novel. Twelve years later, I am thrilled that my little book is actually, finally, making its way out into the world. It has truly been a labor of love.
Thanks for stopping by A Novel Review, Helen! I am beginning to think if I am ever going to make any real progress on writing my novel I'm going to have to start leaving the house. I found your Q&A very inspiring!
Now that we've had a chance to get to know Helen Wan let's get to know a little about her new book THE PARTNER TRACK.
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The Partner Track: A Novel
by Helen Wan
In the eyes of her corporate law firm, Ingrid Yung is a “two-fer.” As a Chinese-American woman about to be ushered into the elite rank of partner, she’s the face of Parsons Valentine & Hunt LLP’s recruiting brochures--their treasured "Golden Girl." But behind the firm’s welcoming façade lies the scotch-sipping, cigar-smoking old-boy network that shuts out lawyers like Ingrid. To compensate, Ingrid gamely plays in the softball league, schmoozes in the corporate cafeteria, and puts in the billable hours—until a horrifically offensive performance at the law firm’s annual summer outing throws the carefully constructed image way out of equilibrium.Scrambling to do damage control, Parsons Valentine announces a new “Diversity Initiative” and commands a reluctant Ingrid to spearhead the effort, taking her priority away from the enormous deal that was to be the final step in securing partnership. For the first time, Ingrid finds herself at odds with her colleagues—including her handsome, golden-boy boyfriend—in a clash of class, race, and sexual politics.
Sounds like a great read! You can order your copy of THE PARTNER TRACK by Helen Wan at Barnes & Noble or Amazon!