Get to Know our "In the Lead" Panelists

Sheena Kamal, Rob Shapiro and Lindsay Wong join us for the panel discussion "In the Lead" on August 6. Register for the event here.

Fight Like a Girl
By Sheena Kamal

What’s the working title of your future memoir?
Excuse you.  

What book did you read as a child that you remember fondly?
The Hobbit!

What is something you’ve always wanted to write about?

What is something you’d never write about?

Which fictional character would you like to be friends with?
Donkey from Shrek. Does that count? I'm a really big fan of parfaits, also. I think we'd get along. 

Best advice you’ve ever been given? (can be about writing or otherwise)
Don't be afraid to try. Don't be afraid to fail. 

Worst advice you’ve ever been given? (can be about writing or otherwise)
I generally don't listen to bad advice, so I don't remember!

What’s next on your reading list?
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. 

What sparked the idea for Fight Like a Girl?
My love for the sport of Muay Thai, and this teenaged girl whose voice just wouldn't get out of my head. So I had to write her story. 

The Book of Sam
Rob Shapiro

What’s next on your reading list?
A Burning by Megha Majumdar
Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man by Mary Trump
Bloom by Kenneth Oppel
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

What do you struggle most with as a writer?
Embracing simplicity. My favourite stories aren't overly fancy or clever and I often have to remind myself of this. Luckily, I've become a master at simplifying my writing a little more with every draft. I get there eventually.

What do you have the most fun with as a writer?
Whether it's characters or a world or a just scene, the act of creation is a happy process for me. I also have a lot of fun revising and adding details in later drafts. I loved detailing my version of Hell in The Book of Sam. I sometimes miss those days.

Do you write with music in the background, or in silence?
Rarely do I listen to music while I work. I often have a sitcom playing in a minimized browser or a podcast or sometimes an audiobook. I enjoy working around noise that I can tune out.

Does anyone keep you company while you write?
I have a toddler who often bangs on the door and yells gibberish at the top of her, yes.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Let people without an emotional connection to you, preferably others writers, read early drafts of your work. Too often, writers rely on feedback from friends and family, and let's be honest...Aunt Shirley will never tell you that your plot is broken and your sweet nana will not recognize your second act problem. Graciously ask other writers to give you notes and seriously consider their feedback even if you don't end up using it.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Your instincts are usually right so trust them, and all your hours spent alone devouring books, comic books, TV shows and movies were worth it.

How many hours a day do you write?
2-5 hours a day. Sometimes this includes going on a walk or zoning out while staring at a lake as I work on a story in my head.

Do you believe in writer’s block? What do you do if you get stuck?
I don't really get writer's block. I'm never short on ideas so when I get stuck on one project, I move on to another. I can't think of a single time in the last few years where my brain wasn't cooking up something. Keep in mind, most of these ideas don't work but, hey, each gets me a little closer to one that does.

What sparked the idea for The Book of Sam?
It was something of a perfect storm. I'm an avid YA reader and grew tired of reading stories where a teenage "chosen one" topples a government or fulfills a prophecy. I started to wonder if teenagers could see themselves in these characters. It made me think there was room to tell the story of the unchosen one, someone like my protagonist, Sam Sullinger.

At the same time, I was reading a story that featured Hell and realized it was being described in the same way it always has: fire, brimstone, anguished moans, etc.. I’ve always found it interesting that people created a fantasy world to deal with their own mortality, so why not combine these beliefs with a fantasy world to create something new, unique and more colourful.

It’s not the most romantic origin story but sometimes things just come together.

My Summer of Love and Misfortune
Lindsay Wong

What’s next on your reading list?
So many books! I’m starting the audiobook of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. For YA, I want to read Lyla Lee’s I’ll Be The One and Kelly Yang’s Parachutes.

For adult fiction, I'm most excited for Roselle Lim’s Vanessa Yu’s Magical Tea Shop in Paris, which comes out in August, and Crosshairs by Catherine Hernandez, which has a pub date of Sept 1. For nonfiction, Eternity Martis’ They Said This Would Be Fun looks amazing.

What do you struggle most with as a writer?
Getting my butt in the chair and starting to write. Maybe it’s the pandemic, maybe it’s so much screen time on Zoom, but I have been feeling fatigued looking at the screen lately. Craft-wise, I would have to say, I tend to struggle a lot with creating plot and structure. Coming from a nonfiction background where events are already established for you, I have found that fiction requires a ton of work to build original characters and settings from the ground up. It’s been interesting to experiment with various genres, and I’m sort of enjoying learning new skills.

What do you have the most fun with as a writer?
Is writing fun? Hahaha. I dislike the act of writing very much, but I don’t see myself doing anything else. I’m horrible at real life. But I do have an enormous rush of satisfaction when I finish a draft and I can send the manuscript to my agent/editor. Then I celebrate with a tub of salted caramel ice cream. 🙂

Do you write with music in the background, or in silence?
I’m a weird one. I honestly don’t connect or listen to music. In general, I find it really distracting. I could not name a recent singer or a band to save my life, haha. If I’m on the treadmill or doing chores, I prefer listening to audiobooks. Whenever I’m writing, I definitely require a ton of silence and immense solitude, otherwise I can’t focus and get really grumpy and no one wants to be around me. Noise stresses me out. Loud roommates/neighbors are my absolute worst fear, after public speaking.

Does anyone keep you company while you write?
Oh I need to be completely alone to get writing done. Before COVID-19, I was a huge fan of writing residencies where you hide out in a cabin and don’t talk to anyone. In 2017, I spent six weeks alone in the countryside of Norwich, UK, working on my first book. I had almost zero human interaction, and I only conversed with a few cows and a donkey called Button. I attended his 30th birthday celebration. It was bizarre but wonderful.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I would say pushing oneself to get published and not taking proper care of yourself along the way. During my BFA, I pulled all-nighters for weeks and sometimes forgot to eat, and then I rushed headlong into my MFA and got really, really sick with Migraine-Associated-Vestibulopathy (MAV). I missed out on being a 20-something in New York City. I forced myself to finish my MFA, and became even more ill, developed 200+ allergies, and I couldn’t work for a few years. When my debut came out in 2018, I tried to balance three jobs while going on tour, and I became very ill again. My MAV came back for a while; my lymph glands swelled up; my skin fell off, and I would cry after events because I was so exhausted. Aspiring writers: enjoy the process of publication, and don’t overwork yourself. Making yourself sick isn’t worth it.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don’t worry so much! Take really, really good care of yourself (sleep 9 hours + eat well) because your physical health is something that you can never get back. If something won’t matter in five years, don’t stress about it. Also, don’t listen to older writers/professors who tell you that you have zero talent. Your future writing self believes in you! 8.

How many hours a day do you write?
0-14 hours. Getting started for me is the hardest part. I don’t write everyday, but once I start, I can pull some really long and intense hours. I don’t have a writing schedule even though I’ve been told that it’s really helpful to have one. I’ve just never been someone who can easily multitask or follow a daily schedule. I’m pretty disorganized/chaotic when it comes to writing.

Do you believe in writer’s block? What do you do if you get stuck?
I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do believe that sometimes certain scenes take more tries/revisions than others. If I do get stuck, I move onto the next scene or a different part of the story. Then I come back to the hard part later. Sometimes reworking the “stuck” part of the manuscript after a really long nap or snack helps, haha. I have never written a book or essay chronologically; my process is sort of like making a quilt. I reassemble everything in random order, and then I start trying to stitch it together. If I’m really stuck and nothing seems to work, I email a writing friend and ask them for troubleshooting tips. I’m a messy writer.

What sparked the idea for My Summer of Love and Misfortune?
Editor Jennifer Ung at Simon Pulse reached out to my agent, asking if I would be interested in writing a YA novel, and I immediately said YES! I was so sick of doing memoir at this point, and My Summer of Love and Misfortune is a result of that collaboration. The novel follows the misadventures of 17 year-old Iris Wang who fails out of high school and doesn’t get into any colleges so her parents send her to Beijing to learn about hard work and responsibility.

At the time of the novel’s conception, I was a private education consultant for wealthy international students so I drew a lot of inspiration for my protagonist from some of my Asian students who were more interested in partying and getting into trouble than actually studying for the SATs. It was pretty stressful. Not recommended if you can get a better, higher-paying job.

I was also really inspired by a 2019 trip to Hong Kong with my parents, where we ate six meals a day and I got to meet family that I didn’t know existed. When I asked my dad why he had never bothered to introduce me to his uncles and cousins until our trip, he shrugged and said, “they are not important,” and I thought about whether we really know our own families and if there is anyone actually missing from our family trees. That would be amazing, I think, to find out that you had a new set of siblings. Like imagine if you were a kid and you hated the ones you currently had...then you could swap them out for the new siblings, haha.