Ten Questions Archive

Ten Questions for Chin-Sun Lee

What inspired you to tell this story?

About eight years ago, I spent two consecutive summers in a hamlet in the Catskills, where I was able to observe small town life. As someone who’d lived mostly in large urban cities, I found the ecosystem of a rural community pretty fascinating. On one hand, it was predominantly white, so it was a new experience for me to feel how I stood out. On the other hand, I was surprised by how tolerant most people were toward each other, despite varying backgrounds of class, race, occupation, and sexual orientation. I think this had a lot to do with the fact that within a small confine, you had to accommodate, or the society around you would become dysfunctional. This was also just before the Trump era, and the divisiveness it ushered in, so I’m not sure if that tolerance remained or changed in that community since. In any case, I’ve always had a sociological bent, so this dynamic of compression was intriguing to me, and in my novel, I used it to create tensions that weren’t present in my lived reality. I also wanted to write a story told from the perspective of women who were vastly different from each other, to illustrate the subtle connections that can occur between women regardless of those differences—whether through friendship, enmity, or compassion despite enmity.

What did you edit out of this book?

This book went through several iterations, so it’s hard for me to recall exactly. But one significant edit happened early on, when I’d written an 8K-word chapter based on some tertiary characters, landlords of one of the main protagonists. After I wrote it, I realized that, while their story was fine, it didn’t propel the main narrative. It was a tangent. Still, while I might have wasted time and words going down that rabbit hole, it was an important lesson in realizing that, at a certain point in a novel, it does help to have a loose outline, even just breadcrumbs, so you don’t completely spin out of control. It’s especially challenging when you’re dealing with multiple characters. You have to convey the full complexity of your invented world, but stay focused on the predominant themes.

How did you know you were done? What did you discover about yourself upon completion? 

Endings are so hit or miss for me. Sometimes they’re effortless, which is an amazing thing; sometimes I really struggle. I had a loose idea of the ending for this novel, but no concrete way to get there. And then, as I was writing toward what I knew would be the final chapter, an image and snippet of dialogue came to me, and it just felt absolutely right. When that happened, I was so relieved and grateful, because it really did seem like a gift from the universe. Having now written quite a few stories, a first novel, and wrapping up my second, I’ve learned to just have faith in myself, to believe that if I keep at it and stay in the world of my story, sooner or later its conclusion will reveal itself.

What was your agenting process like?

I started querying in late 2018, and while I had several full requests, it took eight months to find my agent. A few months in, I paused in my querying to revise the novel based on some initial feedback. My agent from the beginning was responsive, professional, and enthusiastic about my novel, but her agency moved offices at one point, which delayed and disrupted her reading, and everyone should know that reading queries for agents is extracurricular work; their existing clients are priority. By the time she expressed interest in having a conversation, I had drastically changed one character’s arc. She was on board with that, but had concerns about other aspects of the novel being too dark. But we had a great conversation and really vibed, so when I suggested sending her a revision in a few weeks, she agreed. After she read the revision, she offered representation. Then I did due diligence by allowing two weeks for other agents who had the manuscript to weigh in, and of course, once you have one offer, everyone else perks up. In the end, though, my gut told me to go with her, and I’ve never regretted that decision.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Not sure about the best, lol, but definitely the most money I ever spent as a writer was on tuition for my MFA at The New School—and while I really urge writers to carefully weigh whether that degree warrants the cost, for me it was worthwhile. I was working throughout grad school, and I got a partial scholarship, so it was a manageable expense. I also really needed the validation. Most importantly, I made so many wonderful friends who are still my beta readers and support system to this day.

How many hours a day do you write? Break down your typical writing day. 

Ideally, I take care of emails and other miscellaneous tasks in the morning, then go to a local coffee shop to write for four or five hours. I’m a slow and careful writer, so for me, hitting 500 words is a good day’s work. Sometimes, that’s it for that day; other times, after dinner, I’ll keep on writing until late in the evening. Then there are the days I’m not able to touch the writing at all, due to other work or obligations. I will say for the past several months, toggling pre-publication tasks while trying to finish my second novel, I’ve been going at a relentless pace, working from morning till night, with very little reprieve. I’m pretty exhausted, but also so aware that a debut only happens once, so I want to put my whole heart and soul and energy into this process.

What are your top three tips to help develop your writing muscle?

Write into your obsessions—whatever feels hot or urgent. Try to stay in the world of your story, regardless of what life throws at you; even tinkering with a line or two or thinking about a plot point while brushing your teeth helps to not completely lose the thread. Choose specificity over abstraction.

What does literary success look like to you? 

Having an actual readership, an audience; being able to survive financially, so that I can keep writing; continuing to publish and being an active part of the literary community.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Oh gosh, there are so many! My most valued readers since grad school have been Adam Klein (editor of The Gifts of the State, author of The Medicine Burns and Tiny Ladies), along with Elizabeth Bull, Ryan D. Matthews, and Kate Angus (So Late to the Party). There’s also Laurie Stone (Streaming Now and Everything is Personal), L.J. Sysko (The Daughter of Man), Julie Bloemeke (Slide to Unlock), Brian O’Hare (Surrender), and Eric Sasson (Admissions), to name a few. All of them in their different ways have helped me either through careful critiques, supportive commiseration, loving encouragement, or stimulating conversations—usually a combination of all. I am extremely fortunate to know these people.

Who are you writing for? 

I write for myself first, then for other women—or anyone interested in the lives of women.

Filed under: Ten Questions Archive


Sherisa de Groot (she/her) is a writer, community builder, and founder of Raising Mothers, literary membership community Literary Liberation, and pens A Home Within Myself. With a focus on intersectionality and social justice, de Groot’s writing explores the nuances of motherhood and the experiences of BIPOC mothers and marginalized genders. Through her work, she aims to amplify the voices of those who have been historically silenced and create a more equitable world for all. Her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including Kindred by Parents, Refinery 29, Mutha Magazine, and Oldster Magazine and she was a contributor to the book ‘100 Diverse Voices on Parenthood’ by A Kid’s Company About.