Interview With an Author: Sophie Wan

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Sophie Wan and her debut novel, Women of Good Fortune
Photo of author: Albert Xu

Sophie Wan is a Bay Area native who is now battling the winters in Philadelphia. She graduated from UC Berkeley and spends far too much time drafting emails and drinking tea. Women of Good Fortune is her debut novel, and she recently talked with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Women of Good Fortune?

I was talking to a friend about a Chinese wedding he’d recently been to, and he mentioned that the red envelopes were collected in a glass safe. That got me thinking about why a safe would be necessary and the type of person who might be motivated to steal the money from a wedding. I was also fascinated by the concept of the shèngnǚ in China, and I really wanted to write about women who were redefining that label of “leftover” and taking charge of their own destinies.

Are Lulu, Jane, Rina, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

I like to pull characteristics from people I know and fold them into the characters I write, but nobody’s based on any one specific individual.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

I originally wrote the book with far less emphasis on the heist. I mostly wanted to explore the stories of the three women at its core, but after getting feedback from my agent to add more detail to the heist, I fully threw myself into the task by rewriting that whole section. As for scenes that were lost, there were a lot of Rina and Vic scenes that I sadly had to cut out. I think I could write a whole other book about the two of them alone!

Have you ever visited or lived in Shanghai? If so, do you have any favorite places? A hidden gem that someone visiting should not miss?

I wish I could live in Shanghai, but have unfortunately only been able to visit. I love all of its different neighborhoods, and one of the best parts of exploring Shanghai is going down these small alleyways throughout the city, where you’ll usually discover boutique shops or cafes and see a wide range of architecture. I’d recommend Wu Kang Road for this experience. I also think the Duoyun Books flagship store is not to be missed; they have an airy café with amazing views of the city.

Do you have a favorite real heist that was attempted or pulled off?

I don’t approve of real-life crime in any shape or form, but I think the Antwerp diamond heist is impressive due to how much attention to detail and preparation it required. Also, the crew members had some very cool names (Speedy? The Monster? The King of Keys?). They almost got away with it, too!

Do you have a favorite heist novel, movie, or television show? A least favorite? (I realize that you may not want to address this one and if that is the case, please don’t. But I also realize it might be so bad that it could be fun to answer.)

My favorite heist novel is Six of Crows. My favorite heist movie is Logan Lucky. There’s also that one heist episode in Rick & Mortythat’s especially good because it pokes fun at the heist genre. I don’t think I have any that I actively dislike—I feel like I usually get taken along for the ride if there’s a heist involved and end up enjoying the watch.

Do you have an idea or theory regarding why it is that we find heists so fascinating and compelling?

Heists are formulaic, but there are so many ways to play with them that it results in endless combinations. There’s always a lot of excitement around who the crew’s going to be, how the ringleader goes about recruiting them, and the mess of motivations that will always lead to complications. The “reveal,” when you find out what the narrative hasn’t told you, is always incredibly satisfying. I think it’s compelling because we know what’s going to happen, but we don’t know how, and we’re trying to put the pieces together alongside the crew.

If you were part of a heist and walked away with an amount similar to Lulu/Jane/Rina’s split if they pull it off, what would you do with the money?

The responsible answer is that I would invest it. But if I had to get rid of the evidence by spending it, I would remodel my kitchen and buy a bunch of kitchen appliances that I will probably only use once.

Lulu and Harv’s wedding is extravagant (to put it mildly)! What is your idea of the perfect wedding?

Definitely the opposite of Lulu and Harv’s. My ideal wedding would be in a forest or by a lake, with an intimate guest list and a lit party afterward.

Do you have a crazy/outlandish adventure that you’ve undertaken with your best friend(s) that you can talk about?

There was one time my friend and I went to Nashville in the middle of a freak snowstorm. We were outside late at night, and nothing was open, so I tried to walk the White Castle drive-through. That’s when I discovered you are not allowed to walk through drive-throughs. But the people working there took pity on us and let me submit a pick-up order. It was a successful night.

You define the phrase "leftover women" at the very beginning of Women of Good Fortune, and it is a recurring theme/concern throughout the novel (which is set in contemporary Shanghai). Is this idea of women over the age of 27 being beyond “the appropriate age for marriage” still as prevalent in China as it seems in your book?

It's still very common to get a lot of pressure from parents starting from your 20s to date and get married. I think, because of the negative connotation of shèngnǚ, it’s not a phrase that is used as often. There are also more women who have spoken up about the benefits of being single, but the social expectation is very much to be settled down by your 30s and for that to be your priority above everything else.

As a debut author, what have you learned during the process of getting your novel published that you would like to share with other writers about this experience?

I would like other writers to know that the most important thing is to believe in your story because that’s going to get you through the rejections, negative reviews, and hard times in general. That belief is going to be the thing that pushes you to keep trying.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Some of my favorite authors include: Leigh Bardugo, Jane Austen, Ted Chiang, Oscar Wilde, and R. F. Kuang.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

Definitely the romance novels.

Is there a book you've faked reading?

Although I don’t think I’ve ever pretended to read a book, there are definitely books I’ve read and didn’t really understand, like Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I read the whole thing but somehow have no idea what actually happened.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

I started Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series because the cover for Cinder was so eye-catching. In this case, the story matched the cover!

Is there a book that changed your life?

The answer here would probably be Crazy Rich Asians. When it first came out, I couldn’t believe that a book centering only Asians could be so popular, and I felt so much joy reading it because I saw parts of my upbringing in its pages. I believe that it’s because of the success of Crazy Rich Asians that books like mine can be published.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, TV, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

I recently watched All of Us Strangers and found it incredibly moving, as well as beautifully made.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

The perfect day would be waking up in a lakeside cottage, making my morning tea, then heading out for a hike followed by a swim. Afterward, I’d invite my friends over for lunch, then end the day with hot barley tea and a book in a very comfy armchair.

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

Somebody still hasn’t asked me for my detailed ranking of romance tropes! I’ll spare you and only give you my top 3: enemies-to-lovers, fated soulmates, and forced proximity.

What are you working on now?

Another book! This one will be in a very different setting from Women of Good Fortune but also center women and how they take power back for themselves. It’s also been fun to write because I’m exploring the theme of friendship even more deeply.

Book cover of Women of Good Fortune
Women of Good Fortune
Wan, Sophie