Interview With Guy Lozier, Entertain Us Magazine, June 5, 2019

https://guylozier.com/2019/06/05/my-interview-with-author-amy-m-le/

Would you please introduce yourself to my readers and share something about your life.

I was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the United States in 1980 with my mom and cousin. We were refugees of the Vietnam War who risked everything to find freedom from communist rule. Life in American was a dream come true but the dreams were achieved through hard work, perseverance and trial and error. Along the way, I met my husband. We’re raising a beautiful son with our two dogs, one cat, and one leopard gecko. We call Seattle, WA and Edmond, OK home.

What is something unique/quirky about you?

Well, I do love my coffee, and you can sometimes find me drinking straight out of a coffee pot with a straw. Twelve cups a day is normal, right?

Tell us something really interesting that’s happened to you!

When I worked for Microsoft, I once met President Bill Clinton. His protection detail was everywhere on high alert and when it was my turn to shake his hand, I almost tripped from my high-heel shoes. I was so afraid security would haul me away thinking I was about to attack him…but I gracefully recovered (I think) and shook his very soft, buttery hands. We even took a photo together.

What are some of your pet peeves?

I’m one of those people who will rearrange a perfectly loaded dishwasher if someone else didn’t load it just right. Toilet paper has to roll out and of course, if you have to ask me if it’s too early to have a glass of wine, we can’t be friends.

What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?

Ooh, that’s a tough one. In no particular order…

  1. Snow in Vietnam

  2. These Is My Words

  3. Year of Wonders

  4. The Second Torpedo

  5. On Writing

  6. Becoming

  7. Black Beauty

  8. Oh, the Places You’ll Go

  9. Living a Charmed Life: Your Guide to Finding Magic in Every Moment of Every Day

  10. Prince: Before the Rain

What inspired you to write this book?  

When my mom passed away in 2017, I quit my corporate job at T-Mobile to write my debut novel, Snow in Vietnam, to honor my mom. It is an historical fiction story about one woman’s extraordinary story of survival after the fall of Saigon. The book is dedicated to the boat people of Vietnam and the hundreds of thousands of refugees who escaped at the end of the Vietnam War.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I am working on a women’s fiction novel titled The Copper Phoenix that is based on a true story of one woman’s heartbreaking story of surviving childhood abuse, breaking the cycle of dysfunction, and overcoming the habitual cycle of shame and self-destruction. The story is dedicated to the men and women who survived sexual abuse, who continue to reconcile what happened to them, and who are working to take control of their life again. I applaud people like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith who are using their power to help abused women and girls.

Where were you born/grew up at?

I was born in Tra Vinh, Vietnam. When I was five, my mother escaped Vietnam by boat and took my cousin and me with her. I grew up in the Seattle area, lived in Orange County, California for a few years, but then returned to Seattle when I was sixteen.

If you knew you’d die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?

I’d throw a big party in which anyone and everyone was invited. There would be copious amounts of wine and scotch, caviar, foie gras, steaks, seafood, and gelato. Fireworks would be a must. I want to be able to hug everyone who made a difference in my life and go out with a bang. My husband and son would be by my side every step of the way.

Who is your hero and why?

My husband, Joe Walls. He is the most patient, giving, and selfless person I know. He sacrifices so that our son and I can pursue our goals.

What book do you think everyone should read?

I’m not going to suggest a specific book but I will say everyone should read at least one book from every genre to get a taste of different writing styles, voice, and to expand their knowledge… Fiction, nonfiction, fantasy, speculative, children’s, middle grade, young adult, manuals, poetry, romance, mystery, etc. There is so much to explore!

Tell us about a favorite character from a book.

I’m going to put a shameless plug for my book, Snow in Vietnam, and say that other than my heroine, my favorite character is Sister Six. She has a big heart but doesn’t know how to be affectionate so she shows it through cooking and criticizing. She means well and she’s an easy target for teasing, but you can’t help adoring her.

Describe your writing style.

I start my process with a brain dump that looks like I’ve vomited words on the page that make no sense. Then I go back and clean it up, polishing it over and over until it’s lyrical, real, and digestible. I want the reader to get immersed and invested into the world I am building and the characters I am developing, so that they cry and laugh like they are there alongside everyone.

What makes a good story?

A good story starts where the balance of life gets disrupted and things get turned upside down…for a while. You have to turn the world right side up again and make things balanced again…otherwise your reader will throw up all over your book and claw to get off the ride before it’s over.

What are you passionate about these days?

I’m passionate about building a new career and brand for myself. I want to be taken seriously as a writer. For over twenty years I partnered with officers and board of directors of big corporations as a senior executive assistant and a board specialist for corporate governance and securities. Now, I am leaving that behind to redefine myself as an author.

What do you do to unwind and relax?

I love my onesies so relaxing involves sitting on the couch with my onesie and a glass of wine. I can binge-watch shows all day long. If it’s nice outside, I love swinging on my hammock with the music playing or a good book to immerse myself in.

How to find time to write as a parent?

Luckily my son is pretty self-sufficient. I spent years teaching him to cook, clean, and problem-solve on his own. He’s ten now so he doesn’t require much, except a chauffeur.

What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?

I’ve always wanted to write. It was my outlet when life was mean and unfair. When I was in college I wanted to be a journalist or the next Connie Chung, but was told I didn’t have the looks or the talent. I buried my dreams of writing but when my mom passed, every emotion burst out, including my desire to write. It was absolutely the right decision as I feel whole now, but having a regular paycheck again would be nice.

Describe a day in your life as an author?

There is a lot of procrastination in my author life. Working for myself at home, alone, in my yoga pants, makes it so easy to push the pen and keyboard aside. I make an effort to do at least one thing a day to propel my book and writing career one step further. Other than that, I do a lot of cleaning and cooking during the day. After my son gets out of school, I become his chauffeur again taking him to his activities.

Advice you would give new authors?

I have several advices. Be realistic, be patient, and be ready to struggle. Don’t write because you want to get rich and famous. Be happy knowing you have a story in you that needs to be told and you’re the one to write it. Start building the anticipation and hype now with your audience. The more people you tell, the more they’ll eagerly wait for it and the more you’re accountable to yourself for getting it done. Finally, don’t tell everyone the whole story because once you tell it, your desire to write it goes away.

What are you currently reading?

The Amazing Adventures of a Marginally Successful Musician by Bill Cinque. I love the candidness of this book and the dry sense of humor.

How long have you been writing?

Since April of 2017. My mom passed in February of that year. I took time off to mourn and then immersed myself into the literary world of fiction. I never looked back.

What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?

Once I know what I want to write about, I start with interviews. I carry my recorder everywhere as well as my journal. Then I dive into research. I try to do most of the work upfront before I even write or type the first sentence. From there it just flows. I’ve tried outlining my chapters first but I always deviate so now I just write by the seat of my onesie. Along the way I have my critique team. We call ourselves the Quixes, short for Quixotics – a clever take on Don Quixote who tilted at windmills, i.e., someone who strives gallantly to do the impossible.

Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?

Some of them come as I write. For example, in Snow in Vietnam, my character Ommo didn’t come to life until I got close to the end of writing my book. As authors, we have to fill in details and develop characters to patch the gaps and tie the loose ends.

What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?

I try to immerse myself in the world my character is in. With my current project, The Copper Phoenix, I am reading The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse and I also recently finished White Elephants, a memoir by Chynna T. Laird. I try to get as many people to talk to me as possible to share their stories so that I can have perspective from different sides.

Describe yourself in 5 words or less!

Ambivert who’s addicted to coffee.

How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book? (Pick one of your books if you have books.)

For my debut novel, Snow in Vietnam, that was easy. I wanted to keep the memory of my mom alive so I wrote a book based on her. I believe this book is unique as it gives perspective of the Vietnam/American War from a Vietnamese civilian’s perspective. There are memoirs and documentaries on the war but I felt the world needed to understand the refugee experience.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

It brought me closer to my mom and the people who were in her life. I found myself crying and laughing while I wrote this book. I got very attached to my characters and thought about them all the time. Sometimes I’d cry knowing what they were about to face and I am apologetic.

Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?

Snow is my protagonist. She is an outlier when it comes to traditional Vietnamese women. Sure, she’s graceful, obedient, and demurring, but only when she wants to be. She values independent thinking and the freedom to love as her heart chooses. Grit and tenacity gets her far in life but it is love and forgiveness that takes her to the finish line. I just love her because she can be feminine, masculine, and non-binary. Ultimately she does not care what society thinks. She’s going to do what she needs to do.

Do you have any advice to give aspiring writers?

Surround yourself with other aspiring writers as well as established writers; immerse yourself in the literary world and attend as many conferences as you can. It is important to do the scary things and put yourself out there. There is so much to learn from writers, editors, publishers, attorneys, screenwriters, producers, etc. Always keep your eyes and ears open and your arms outstretched.

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Query, Query, Query

When I started my journey two years ago as a writer, I never knew what a pitch or a query was. I had no idea that the literary world was a hurry up and wait kind of industry. It can take years to write a complete manuscript and then months to years more in the editing phase. And after you’ve pitched your book to agents and editors, you still have to send query letters for representation and publishing. It can take months to never to get a response back and often times, it’s a rejection of “no thanks - not for me”. I am one of the lucky ones. I pitched to five people at a conference in September 2018 and got four nods. I queried fifteen people and have gotten four responses within six weeks. So what did my query letter look like? See below.

Dear ____,

I am seeking representation for my debut novel, SNOW IN VIETNAM, which was a finalist in the 2018 Pacific Northwest Writers Association literary contest, in the historical fiction genre. The total word count for the book is 96,671 words. The story takes place in southeast Asia in the 1970s. After the fall of Saigon and the Vietnam War ends, a Vietnamese woman named Snow struggles to care for her dying daughter and survive daily life under communist rule. With no husband and no money, she makes alliances with unlikely characters to sell illegal items in the black market until she has enough money to escape her country.

I believe this story will appeal to you because of the international setting (Vietnam and Indonesia) and the high stakes involved. The protagonist is the youngest of seven children who always relied on her family to take care of her. The story begins with Snow getting married to a man she is not in love with and who turns out to be a traitor. After the war ends and the U.S. military withdraws from Vietnam, life under communist rule becomes unbearable. Betrayed by her husband and left with a sick daughter to raise, Snow learns to break free from the confinements of cultural expectations, communist scrutinies, and familial duties, to keep her family one step ahead of starvation. Ultimately, she braves the unknown of the South China Sea with her daughter, nephew and other boat refugees to escape their country for a chance at freedom. Her one motivation is to keep her daughter alive. At every turn, her courage and wit are tested by her family, the government, the Thai pirates and the Indonesian military. 

There are elements of humor, romance and heartache injected throughout these pages of fear and uncertainty. Strength from family and trust in oneself are at the heart of this book. If you take elements of Viet Thanh Nguyen's THE REFUGEES and Oliver Stone's docudrama HEAVEN & EARTH, and throw in sprinkles of Kevin Kwon's CRAZY RICH ASIANS, you'll get SNOW IN VIETNAM.

As an emerging author, I am excited for my debut book that was inspired by my family's escape. I was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the United States in 1980 at the age of five with my mother and cousin.  I lived in the Seattle area most of my life and graduated from Western Washington University with a B.A. degree in Sociology. After working for twenty years in the technology and telecommunications sector for companies like Microsoft Corporation and T-Mobile US Inc., I left my corporate job to write SNOW IN VIETNAM as a tribute to my mother after she passed from cancer. Currently, I live in Edmond, OK with my husband, son, and four pets. In my spare time, I love to experiment with new recipes, read books, and go to the movies. I also love spending time with friends and family wine tasting, traveling, playing mah jong, and watching American football or the Ultimate Fighting Championships. I am a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) and the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. (OWFI). 

Per your submission guidelines, below are the synopsis and first three chapters of the manuscript. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

All the best,

Amy M. Le

Website: http://www.amy-m-le.com 

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The Journey to "Snow in Vietnam"

My last blog was on April 10, 2017…a month after my mom’s funeral and three days before her 78th birthday. I took two years off from the rat race to mourn, heal, and write my debut novel SNOW IN VIETNAM to honor my mom. It has been a therapeutic reprieve immersing myself into the literary world and learning how to write and publish. The biggest challenge has been learning patience. The publishing world is a hurry up and wait kind of industry and if you do not have the self-discipline or the tenacity to market yourself, then it can be a lonely space to be in. On top of that, most writers are introverts and spend their days or nights alone with only their thoughts and imagination to keep them company. If you see any of us writers talking to ourselves, it’s ok…we’re just plotting and having a pow wow with our characters.

Switching careers when you’re in your 40s is daunting. I spent most of my 20s and 30s branding myself and climbing the corporate ladder. I went from a six-figure income working with powerful and influential people to making zero dollars an hour and hanging out with quadrupeds. Oh but by golly I have learned so much these past two years on my journey as a novice writer authoring my debut manuscript. Ever heard of that riddle why writers are always cold? Because they’re always surrounded by drafts? Well, it’s true. I was naive to think it would be a one and done deal and my manuscript would be perfect the first time around. Anyone who knows me knows I’m OCD sometimes and can be a perfectionist…You have to be if you work with board of directors, C-level executives, and famous people. I made so many revisions to my manuscript and even after I sent off those query letters to agents and editors, I still had an itching to tighten the plot, change the ending, fine tune the story, develop the characters, even rework the narrative tense. Ay caramba and dios mio!

I’m happy to say that all those years of thinking outside the box while coloring inside the lines has given me some perspective on life. In short, life is a gamble and you have to take smart risks. Go ahead, throw your socks out the window and dare to go barefoot. Pack your bags and only bring one pair of shoes. Book a trip and forget your spreadsheet of activities, planned down to the minute!

Find your passion. Live your life. Love those who love you. Fight for those who hate you. And be the hero for the ones who need your strength so that they can find their own.

God bless. Peace.

Amy

The Meandering Mind is an Author's Apparatus

It has been five weeks since I left the corporate world, trading in my jeans and a T-Mobile shirt for some sweatpants and a Snuggie! Some things haven't changed. I'm still sitting here with two monitors and the space heater on full blast. I still get up for breaks and the jolt of caffeine needed to keep me going. The past couple months have been surreal for me. My mom passed 6 weeks ago and in three days, it will be her birthday. One of the best ways I can honor her legacy is to continue this path I am heading on. 

Today I completed module 12 of the courses on WriteFictonBooks.com - just two more to go. Every day I have to make sure I do at least one thing that propels me closer to becoming a published author. Last week I reached out to one of my former bosses, Randall, and asked that he introduce me to his mom, Ilene Birkwood, who is a published author of adult mystery fiction. Like me, she is also a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA). The association is having a meeting this Thursday, and with a little luck, Ilene will attend. Randall promised to introduce me to his mom if she goes. Although we are writing within different genres of fiction, I know Ilene can teach me a lot about writing and publishing. If possible, I could really use a mentor and a critic.

Today I received a little inspiration. One of T-Mobile's board of directors gave me a call to check in on me and see how I was doing since leaving the company, since my mom's passing, and since we last spoke. He encouraged me to keep going with my writing and shared some insight as he, too, published a few books. Writing can be a lonely experience. You have only your thoughts and imagination to keep you company. A writer once said, "The Meandering Mind is an Author's Apparatus." Guess who said that? :-) 

I'm excited to finish my writing modules this week. The next step would be for me to start outlining my chapters and start doing historical research. My first project is a tribute to my mom and will revolve around the Vietnamese boat people - refugees of the Vietnam War. Now, I just need to find some people to interview and authenticate my project!!

Understanding Your Villain

It's been 2 1/2 weeks since I quit my corporate job. I used to manage all the logistics for the board and committee meetings, annual shareholder meetings, retreats, and department meetings, team offsites, morale events, etc. Now, I spend my days alone. The biggest event to plan for these days is dinner. There are no meetings to attend, unless I want to grumble to the washer and dryer as I do laundry. There is no paycheck to look forward to so I get excited when I get a nickle in the mail thanking me for my donation to the red cross or vets. There are no perks or benefits to take advantage of either. As a matter of fact, the life that I've known the past 20+ years has been turned upside down and hardly recognizable. I barely look presentable most days. My standard uniform are sweat pants, an old company shirt, no makeup, and a ponytail. It would seem that Time is my villain. Too much of it and I get off course on the goals of the day. Too little of it and I feel I didn't get enough done.

Today I went through module three of the WriteFictionBooks.com series. The topic was "Understanding Your Villain". My first project that I will be working on as an emerging author is about the Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon. I know who my protagonist is...or at least I think I do, as I have yet to interview my main character to determine if she is the right one for the job, but who will be my villain? Will he or she be the schemer, the fanatic, the social reject? Or will my villain not be a human at all but rather, the sea, the war, or the regime? 

A swirl of ideas began to congregate in my mind and the thoughts got louder and louder, each vying for attention and an ounce of respect. I tried to filter out the noise. It was like a swarm of bees buzzing inside, and the only thing that eclipsed the sound, was not a thought, but a vision. It was clear. I needed a big ass whiteboard in the office to outline my thoughts and visually come to a decision!

Now, time for a celebratory beer!

Discovering Genres

Day two as an emerging author and I found myself waking up sore and achy all over. The culprit? Yesterday's reflective three mile hike through the city of Renton, up Mill Avenue and through Beacon Avenue South!  After waving a loving goodbye to my husband and son as they plodded off to work and school, I found myself free. Should I eat and then brush my teeth, or brush my teeth and then eat? Should I make myself coffee and skip breakfast or dive straight into a good workout? These are the lame questions one asks oneself when one has all the freedom in the world and not a clue what to do with it!

I stood at the doorway for a few minutes staring at the door with it's annoying peeling paint and solid wood frame. Thoughts of my neighbor invaded my mind as I cringed at the thought of him playing his drums in the storage shed. Two days in a row I was annoyed with his untimely banging. I allowed myself to get all spun up as thoughts of foul words crept out of my mouth to describe his musically challenged anthem to Crepitus, god of flatulence, for his drumming was the sound of amplified farts. This of course, prompted me to skip the coffee, breakfast and teeth cleaning as I headed straight to the garage to put on my boxing gloves. Every punch was an assault on the drums as I envisioned smashing the shed and it's contents. Take that drummer boy! Forty five minutes later, I almost felt like baking cookies and bringing them over next door!

So I settled in to go through the first module of writing fiction. I discovered there were so many genres and cross genres. There is even a name for a genre of writing that doesn't neatly fit into any genres - speculative fiction! We all know about common genres like thriller, mystery, romance and historical fiction, but what about splatterpunk, steampunk, slipstream, dystopian and lovecraftian? I won't describe them here in my blog. I learned something new today and so should you! Go on now, go Bing or Google it! Whatever search engine or browser you use, I'm sure Wikipedia will help you!

 

Day One as an Emerging Author

Today is my official day of learning what it takes to become an author. I spent the morning taking in the city as I walked three miles from downtown Renton to my home after dropping my car off at the auto body shop. The owner, Tony, an Asian man who seemed very dedicated to customer service and Buddha, as evidenced by the incense burning above his many customer accolades that were pinned to the wall, was shocked that I preferred to stroll home rather than accept his offer for a ride. 

As the tiny raindrops fell down during my meandering trek, they caressed my head and renewed my excitement to write my first book. I felt exhilarated as my mind wandered with ideas about the story line and my heroine. It brought me to thoughts of my beautiful mom and I began to feel some void as my mind began to de-clutter and compartmentalize everything I should do, must do, and never do!

I was eager to get home and start my first writing module, so that I could achieve the following:

→ Define why Adult Fiction is appealing to its readers.
→ Relate your own fears and use them in your writing. 
→ Review titles and understand why they’re successful. 
→ Discover specific adult fiction genres. 
→ Identify different forms of fiction 

Sadly, the website was down so instead, I began reading a book that my friend Lisa gave me yesterday. It's called "The Lotus and the Storm" by Vietnamese author Lan Cao. I'm excited to dive into the world of historical fiction!