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#112 Lucy Tan

112 Lucy Tan Headshot.jpg

How I love speaking to writers who also teach writing!

Lucy Tan is that delightful hybrid: a novelist who also knows how to speak about the process of writing so clearly you can follow along in her footsteps. She is so smart, both in her writing and her advice about how to get it done. 

Lucy began her novel, What We Were Promised, inside the safety of her MFA program, and was relieved to be protected from thinking about agents, publishing, and the outside world as she spent time on what was most important: learning how to finish the book and get it how she wanted it to be. 

In this episode, we get to follow along on the path that she took to find the story that is the novel today. Learn how a personal experience formed a kernel for one of the main characters of her book, why she chose to use multiple points of view, and which parts of her novel were the most challenging to write. It's a thought-provoking episode that dives into culture, memory, and where stories come from. I know you will love it as much as we loved creating it for you. Enjoy!

Discussed in Episode 112 with Lucy Tan:

  • Novel started as a short story written for a workshop during her MFA program. 

  • Lucy lived in China for two years after graduating. 

  • It was always clear that the book would be set in 2010, during the time she was living there. 

  • "I kind of understand why it takes so long.“
    On the long publishing calendar.

  • "It takes a long time for a first book particularly.“
    On the timeline of building hype for a new author.

  • "It was definitely the highlight of my life.“
    On selling her manuscript to Little Brown.

  • "I don‘t think I want anything else more than I wanted that.“
    On the dream of publishing a novel. 

  • "I don‘t think if I were to become a best-selling author that would make me happier.“
    On how great it was to sell her first novel. 

  • Novels and short stories are two very different forms and authors generally are more inclined to write one over the other. 

  • "I got too caught up in the details.“
    Why novels feel like a better fit.

  • "That first draft you can kind of just let your intuition take you where it will.“
    On the permission a novel‘s length grants the writer. 

  • "In a way it requires a greater act of faith.“
    On the time it takes to write a novel.

  • "So much of it is solitary work.“
    On writing a novel.

  • "Your teachers can only help you so much.“
    On the reality of working on a novel inside an MFA program.

  • "The novel is going to be smarter than I am, at every given moment.“
    On the strength of the novel.

  • "In the course of writing it I‘m going to make so many mistakes.“
    On the opportunities given in long-form writing. 

  • "I write like I read.“
    On discovering a character‘s secrets in the writing. 

  • "If I know what‘s going to happen I feel almost as though I‘m playing a trick on the reader.“
    On discovering secrets on the page. 

  • "I want to be empathizing with the characters at every moment.“
    On writing characters, not an outline. 

  • "I don‘t think I could write a book where everyone believed the same thing because then there wouldn’t be any conflict.”
    On writing characters both like and unlike yourself. 

  • “You write around the hard scenes.”
    On letting a first draft sprawl.

  • Going on book tour can be difficult for a writer, who is used to being the observer in the room - now they are the observed. 

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