01 Sep 2018
Ink: Q&A with Kathy Wang (MBA 2011)
Power Napby Jen McFarland FlintTopics:
Kathy Wang (MBA 2011) can pinpoint the very moment she started drafting her first novel, Family Trust. It was January 1, 2017, as soon as her son went down for his nap. Wang was on hiatus from her career as a product manager at Seagate while at home with her first child and expecting a second. Realizing that this window of opportunity might never occur again, she made a New Year’s resolution to hammer out 1,000 words a day until a novel emerged.
Wang then accomplished the rare feat of landing a major book deal with her first effort. Family Trust, which will be released next month, is the story of a Chinese American family whose unpredictable father, Stanley, learns he has pancreatic cancer. As his health declines, the family contends with the messy questions of inheritance, cultural expectations, and career ambition.
You set out with a very specific daily goal. What did that look like in practice—and what kind of magic did you use to get your son to nap reliably?
When he was awake I would do everything administrative I could, like washing the dishes, so I could be fully productive when he napped. I’d write in a little office in my house with a can of Pringles and some tea. My son would sleep for two hours, so I would aim to work for an hour to an hour and a half each day. If it didn’t happen, I’d make up for it at night.
There was a period of about two weeks when he was waking up every half hour. I sat by his crib, and whenever he moved I would pat him back to sleep. One of my friends recommended a book called Moms on Call: Basic Baby Care. It’s essentially an instruction manual for infants, but I followed everything the book said, and it really worked.
Did your business background come into play in your writing process?
There’s a certain level of discipline that you have to apply to it. It’s like when you’re in an office job, and there’s something you don’t want to do, but it’s necessary to get to an end result. Writing takes a lot of diligence and showing up every day to do the work. That’s something I learned from the HBS side that really helped on the writing side.
What was your inspiration for the story?
I started with this idea that many men have about needing to envision themselves as men of means. When you graduate from HBS, for instance, you feel like you have unlimited potential. A few years pass and maybe you haven’t landed where you thought you would. Then at the sevenor eight-year mark, you start to think maybe it’s not going to happen. I was obsessed with the way men were dealing with that, and the character of the son, Fred, grew out of that idea. I also wanted to talk about the Asian American experience, which I thought wasn’t very well represented in popular culture.
You landed a two-book deal, so now you’re working on a second. How’s that going?
Now that I have two kids, I definitely write fewer words a day. The major difference with a second book is that you go into it knowing it will be published, which is actually difficult. With your first book, you don’t think there’s any way it’s going to be published, so you can write whatever you feel. I’ll sometimes write 20 pages and discard them all. From a business perspective, I’m wasting so many resources! But there’s no other way to get there.
Class of MBA 2011, Section C