About Helen

A little about me: I was born in California and raised in Virginia. I’m a graduate of Amherst College and the University of Virginia School of Law. Before becoming a writer, I practiced law in New York City for a lot of years.

People ask whether my book is autobiographical. Well, like Ingrid (protagonist of THE PARTNER TRACK), I’m an Asian American woman, and I’m a lawyer. After law school I landed at a big firm in Manhattan, whose corporate culture felt utterly unknown and unknowable to me. I might as well have landed on the moon. What struck me most were the patterns I observed as to who was sinking and who was swimming, who sat where (and with whom) in the cafeteria, and why all of this seemed to be playing out this way.

Unlike Ingrid, who (this is not a spoiler!) battles it out for BigLaw partnership, I left BigLaw to join a media and entertainment firm, and later became Associate General Counsel at a large media and entertainment company.

So while my book is decidedly fiction, it was very important to me to write as realistic, authentic, and unvarnished a portrayal of corporate life as possible — as experienced by a young woman of color trying to figure it all out.

Often, people ask how I found time to write a novel. Obviously, juggling any full-time job while trying to write, revise, and land an agent and ultimately a publisher for a first novel is daunting. (It only took me twelve years! Ha.) I wrote THE PARTNER TRACK in fits and starts: in stolen time, at odd hours, on the bus or subway. I hoarded my precious weeks of vacation and spent them holed up, phone OFF, churning out raw chapters. I wrote in big, infrequent bursts of late-night or early-morning activity, unshowered, hair in a messy ponytail, random notes scattered everywhere. It was not pretty.

So with my day job, family responsibilities, and all the Life Stuff that gets in the way, a lot of time went by when I wasn’t really writing at all. Then one night, I attended an event (hosted by my old law firm) where the wonderful journalist/novelist Anna Quindlen was speaking. She pointed out the distinction between people who want to write, and those who merely want to have written.

I froze in the back of the room. She was speaking DIRECTLY TO ME. In order to be someone who had written, I needed to actually write! Enough excuses about having a stressful job, family duties, being too tired after a long day’s work, being scared to embark on a novel, being scared to fail, etc.

I signed myself up for an “Intro to Fiction Writing” class. Like many busy people juggling a lot of balls in the air, I work best under deadline. If I owed 12 random strangers 20 pages on a Tuesday night, you can bet I’d write ’em! The pages didn’t need to be perfect; they needed to be done. The homework pages I wrote for that class became the seed for THE PARTNER TRACK.

I’m thrilled that my novel’s out in the world now, hopefully doing good work. I’m truly grateful that I get to do the things I love for a living. I don’t take a single moment for granted. Times are what you make of them.

Truly, writing’s a labor of love

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