What inspired you to tell this story?
My mother! Everything I write and create comes back to her. My memoir is a love song for working-class, low-income immigrant women… I really wanted to spotlight her life and what I’ve learned from her. Her story is also my story. I also wanted to write a memoir that played with form – echoing migration itself. It’s non-linear and tonally textured… just like in real life, I wanted there to be moments where I’m laughing so hard to stop myself from crying. I also think we need more stories that refuse a singular voice; yes, this book is about me growing up in a take-out restaurant, but it’s also about my relationships with toxic men, what it means to fall in love with poetry, and the ferocious of matrilineal wisdom and clairvoyance.
What did you edit out of this book?
Writing a memoir is definitely a challenge in terms of what you keep in and what you leave out. I really wanted there to be a balance between in-scene viscerality, familial and historical research, sensory lyricism, and personal reflection. I think the hardest part was actually what to add in! As a poet, it was definitely new to me to sprawl across the page, at length. I had the memoir pretty planned out, but the last chapter “Astonished Enough?” came out of a conversation with my editor who suggested that I write about writing. I’m really proud of how this chapter links to other parts of the book – creating a constellation of how writing was/is a part of every life experience of mine.
How did you know you were done? What did you discover about yourself upon completion?
When I sold the book to Tin House, the book was only about 90 pages; I had never written on a deadline before and I certainly knew it was “done” because it had to be! But that said, the book began in 2017, so I did have about six years of the book on the page/stewing in my head. I knew I wanted to begin and end the book with fruit. Writing the last few pages, with “Mangoes Forever,” it felt right ending with radical sweetness. After I finished writing the book, we went through quite a few rounds of copyediting, proofreading, and fact checking. I learned so much in this entire process, but I think the biggest thing that I discovered was that I wasn’t alone. So many incredible readers came up to me and shared their own moving experiences… it has been so powerful. I was so scared to share this book since it’s vulnerable, but the response has been full of care.
What was your agenting process like?
I sold this book without an agent, which was something that was a bit nerve wracking for sure. I am currently in the process of finding an agent that is the right relationship for me! I’ve learned that this relationship really has to be a mutual fit – to dream up the same vision.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Ah, this is a hard question for me… I think my friends know I have very complicated feelings about money since I didn’t grow up with much. I’m actually learning how to spend money, which feels uneasy. I think the best money I’ve spent is being able to take out my friends and family for meals! Honestly, I’m in awe that I have the funds to have this laptop I’m writing on right now.
How many hours a day do you write? Break down your typical writing day.
I’m laughing because I don’t have a routine at all. I teach full time and I don’t really write during the academic school year. I do write with my students if we are doing in-class writing and I’ll sometimes keep those lines/sentences. And sometimes I will take a bath and dream up some lines and then I let them swirl down the drain. I write as a result of generous artist residencies – only in the summer. In other words, I write during three months of the year. During those days, I usually end up writing in a flurry while eating a lot. I always have like 3-6 snacks near me. During residency, I’m always first when it’s meal time, haha! I don’t know why writing makes me so hungry. I tend to write in bed, regardless of there being a desk there. It’s all a blur, time wise. It’s definitely intense… it’s like I enter a portal. Another world. I will say I always need to take a walk, read, or laugh with a friend during those intense writing times.
What are your top three tips to help develop your writing muscle?
Listen closely. So close, it’s like listening to whale sounds under the ice. Listen to what isn’t being said. Listen to your own desires and fears.
Play with form. If you’re feeling stuck while writing, try a different medium of creation. Go play in the dirt and plant something. Go cook your favorite dish. Go draw the ant that’s crawling across the room. I find that doing something else creative helps me return to writing with more sensory focus and play.
Write the scene twice or three times, but from different perspectives and tones. I’m always intrigued by the shifting angles in a story.
What does literary success look like to you?
Literary success looks like readers making real connections with me and each other… sharing stories, sharing snacks. It means having stories that tend not to be spotlighted heard. It looks like feeling proud of what you’ve written! And my mom read/listened to my book and she liked it! That’s really what matters to me.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Oh my goodness! To answer this might take an eternity. I actually write a lot about literary and artistic friendship in my memoir! There are lots of shout-outs throughout the book. At least here, I’ll point out two of my besties Michelle Peñaloza and Tessa Hulls. They help me become a better person, which I think (I hope) makes me a better writer. They tell me to be kinder to myself when all I want to do is be harsh. They remind me that I’m easy to love and it’s easy to love others. Though we are so different from each other in many ways, we share an earnestness that translates to the page.
Who are you writing for?
Oh, I love this question. Other immigrant babies. Weirdos. Readers who also come from a similar low-income class background. In a way, I’m writing this for my younger self.
Jane Wong (she/her) is the author of the memoir Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City (Tin House, 2023). She also wrote two poetry collections: How to Not Be Afraid of Everything (Alice James, 2021) and Overpour (Action Books, 2016). A Kundiman fellow, she is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships and residencies from the U.S. Fulbright Program, Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room, Artist Trust, Hedgebrook, UCross, Loghaven, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and others. An interdisciplinary artist as well, she has exhibited her poetry installations and performances at the Frye Art Museum, Richmond Art Gallery, and the Asian Art Museum. She grew up in a take-out restaurant on the Jersey shore and is an Associate Professor at Western Washington University.