At just 24 years old, Singaporean Kyla Zhao is set to publish her first novel at Berkley Publishing, a Penguin Random House brand, the first of two books both of which were bought at six figures each after a bidding war. international.
“I never thought I would be a novelist. However, I have written a lot of non-fiction in the past – in particular, journalism. I have signatures in the Singaporean editions of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Tatler and The Straits Times, and I have also been a communications intern at organizations like the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore and Tencent America, ”says Ms. Zhao.
“However, I never thought I was creative enough to write fiction, let alone hundreds of pages! So I always contented myself with reporting on the world I already knew instead of bothering to create one.
Luckily for avid readers, the onset of the pandemic gave Ms. Zhao the chance to finally try to write fiction.
“The pandemic struck, and I found myself doing an internship and studying on my own in California, interacting with others mostly only through Zoom. It was a very lonely time, so I tried to hold on to whatever comfort I could, and it usually comes from books for me, ”Ms. Zhao explains.
“But the genres I love to read are dominated by white writers and books featuring white protagonists, and that made me feel even more isolated, especially when there was a lot of anti-Asian racism in it. the whole world, and perhaps especially in the United States. At the same time, I was away from my family in Singapore, with no idea of the next time I would see them due to travel restrictions.
“All of this meant that I really wanted to immerse myself in a world with sets that I could recognize and characters that I could relate to, and since I couldn’t find them in the books I had access to, I decided to write mine. All the negativity in the world then prompted me to create a story that was as fun and glamorous as possible, like a beach vacation I could get away from.
Ms. Zhao’s debut novel, The Fraud Squad, is described by Publisher’s Marketplace as a cross between The Devil Wears Prada and Crazy Rich Asians: “… a woman who dreams of having her own signature in a high-end magazine Society enlists the help of friends to infiltrate Singapore’s social scene, but discovering that being in the elite can mean getting lost in the process.
The recent success of the movie Crazy Rich Asians highlighted the global desire for a more diverse representation. As Ms. Zhao focused on the world, people, and culture she was homesick about, the focus on Asian protagonists and contexts morphed into something more.
It was my way of relieving my homesickness while living 9,000 miles from home during the pandemic, but I also think Asian portrayal in the media is something the world could do a lot more about.
“When I was younger, I was rarely exposed to books that focused on people of color, so I found it hard to imagine that someone who looked like me could have ‘the energy of the main character’ (for borrow a TikTok expression). I think it’s so important for kids to grow up with media personalities that they can relate to and identify with. “
“Even though there is more Asian representation in the books now, there are still a lot of people who reduce the entire Asian diaspora to a monolith and judge a very diverse group by one label. Although my book is made up of a group of all-Asian characters, there are significant differences in their experiences, desires, motivations, and fears. “
“I really want to highlight the incredibly diverse and colorful lives that people of color can lead and show that their ethnicity shouldn’t put them in certain scenarios or tropes that Caucasian readers expect.”
Ms. Zhao also drew on her previous experience in the world of high fashion magazines in Singapore.
“It’s so funny because I was only 16 when I was first published in a fashion magazine: I was writing about weddings for Harper’s Bazaar Singapore, and that was even before have my first kiss and certainly far from being married! ” laughed Ms. Zhao.
“I think my experiences with the world of magazine publishing and public relations shaped some parameters of my book and inspired some of the backgrounds of certain characters. My understanding of high fashion and high society events also helped me with all the fun descriptions of what the characters wore and how they socialized with each other!
While Ms. Zhao has written professionally clearly from a young age, she says that initially she was rather shy about showing anyone her first work of fiction.
“When I first wrote it I never intended to show it to anyone except myself and maybe a few close friends. It was great because no one else expected me to do something great, so I was able to write as badly as I wanted and experiment freely, ”she explains.
“However, friends encouraged me to try and get it published after reading it. But because I didn’t think about making my story public, I didn’t stick to high standards when writing. I never bothered to come up with a plan or a plan, so the first draft was (sic) very chaotic, to say the least. “
“I produced a full draft in two months, but it took a lot longer to edit because there were so many plot holes that I had to correct and so many issues to straighten out. It didn’t help either. more than I had already started my last year of college when I started editing my book, which definitely slowed me down.
Still, Ms. Zhao is thrilled to be a published novelist, despite the trials and tribulations of publication.
“Being a novelist has also made me appreciate much more the amount of work involved in producing a book, and I am truly in awe of the immense creativity and passion of my fellow writers,” says Ms. Zhao.
The fraud squad will be released worldwide in January 2023, but there’s also another novel to be expected: Something Completely Unrelated. But I really hope to continue writing about the settings and contexts that I identify with.