An interview . . .
Big and Wonderful
An interview with Teresa LeYung
Ryan by B. Lynn Goodwin of WRITER ADVICE www.writeradvice.com
Publishing Corp., NY, ISBN 0-7582-0216-4 hardcover, Oct. 2002;
ISBN 0-7582-0217-2 trade paperback, Oct. 2003)
In Teresa LeYung Ryan's LOVE MADE OF HEART,
Ruby's mother is fleeing from an
abusive husband. She holes up in her daughter's
apartment until Ruby calls in
professional assistance. When the social worker takes
her mother away, it
unleashes guilt and triggers memories of a
Ruby is a successful Chinese-American career woman
caught between familial
expectations and hope for a full, independent, adult
life. Her skill with
relationships is built on a rocky foundation, but
strengthened by Mrs.
Nussbaum, a wise, elderly neighbor.
In LOVE MADE OF HEART Ryan deals with the
specifics of the Chinese-American
culture and the far-reaching impact of dysfunctional
families. Her probing
style touches the heartstrings. The story starts sadly
but actively, builds
believably, and is enriched by insights as Ruby faces
Here Ryan shares her experiences creating, nurturing,
and marketing her first
LG: Tell us about yourself. When did you
know you were an author? How did
you pursue your dream of
TLR: I found my
voice in 1990 while reading Maxine Hong Kingston's memoir THE
WARRIOR. That weekend, I set out on a new writer's
I thought I would have my book written in a year. .
. Five years later I
sent the entire manuscript to an agent. (Was I green! I
didn't know anything
about query letters.) When the "no thank
letter arrived, I thought there must be a
I didn't know I wasn't supposed to call the agent, so I
did. "Linda, can
you tell me why you didn't like my manuscript? I'm the
author of the book of
short stories, umm, with a common thread . . ." After
what seemed like a
whole minute of silence, Linda said, "Teresa, I didn't
see any common thread
in your stories." I swallowed hard, said "thank
you," and let depression
Six months later, a member of my critique group said,
"Why don't you write
Maxine Hong Kingston a letter?" Maxine
wrote back! She gave me the name
of her agent! I fantasized away . . . I'll
send out the manuscript this
week, the agent will call next week, fame and fortune
the following week.
(Are you laughing?) That "no thank you" letter came
many weeks later. I let
sorrow overtake me.
Did I stop writing? No. I
continued my search and after listening to
James Frey talk about the power of myth at the Jack
Conference, I joined the California Writers'
LG: How much of your story is true and how
much is fictionalized?
TLR: Prior to late 1997 I thought I was
writing the "whole truth" but
because the stories were so personal, I was really
censoring myself (afraid
to be judged). Then a new character-purely fictional-
gave me permission to
tell the truth. Some writers would call this character
the muse; I call her
Mrs. Nussbaum. (She is the "heart" of the
After Mrs. Nussbaum came along, protagonist Ruby Lin
had someone to tell her
story to. What started out as a memoir
evolved into a novel. The
protagonist that I had created took on her own
identity. I began to see "her"
as my firstborn. My only concern was to let
"her" tell her story.
LG: Do you have any tips about writing an
autobiographical novel? about
writing a first novel?
TLR: Behind each face is a compelling
story. Find your inspiration/voice or
let it find you. Know the answer to this question:
"What's my point?" Give
yourself permission to write-to create-to give
LG: What is the value of writing groups?
How did they help you revise, edit
TLR: If not for the critique group, I might have given
up long ago. The
members were tireless, even when I brought in the same
chapter, meeting after
meeting, crafting and polishing.
LG: From conception
to publication, how long did it take you to write LOVE
HEART? What is your writing process?
TLR: I was a full-time secretary while
writing LOVE MADE OF HEART. Remember
it was 1990 when I started? Eight years
later, just when I thought I would
give birth to the novel, a new writer-friend, Martha
Alderson, read part of
my manuscript, and said, "Teresa, where's
"What's that? I asked. Martha explained: "A
plotline. You don't have one."
She told me about Christopher Vogler's book,
THE WRITER'S JOURNEY, where he
uses Joseph Campbell's ideas of the hero's
I must have cried that day. I must have
gotten angry too. But the dreamer
in me kept going. I learned how to
plot. Thank you, Martha. Then from
Luisa Adams I learned how to "dig deeper."
From Susan Canale, I learned not
to bury poignancy "between the lines." Keeping the
integrity of my narrator's
voice came naturally.
LG: Wonderful answer. How did you find your agent and
TLR: In the summer of 1999 I sent out 60 query letters
to agents. By
October, four agents wanted to read the entire
manuscript. I gave one agent a
3-week exclusive reading time. She didn't care for the
story, so, on to the
The agent who became "my agent" was the "godmother for
my child.â€ Just last
year, Stacey told me how she had found me . . .
"Teresa, I was looking
through the 'slush pile' when I saw your query letter
and your first two
There was yet another cliffhanger when Stacey pitched
my novel to 22
publishers and they all said "no thank you." That story
will be on my
website. The message here: Never give up on
yourself. And surround yourself
with people who won't give up on you.
LG: How are you helping Kensington market the
TLR: I believe in the magic of networking and
synchronicity. I was already
committed to work a booth for the Women's National Book
Association at the
Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
tradeshow when my
publisher asked me to appear at that event. Timing was
perfect. My book came
out October 1, 2002; the tradeshow was Oct. 5-6. There
I met the sales
director at my publisher's; she's an ally now. So are
two independent sales
representatives. I've been very lucky. But then, I've
been working very hard.
Also, prior to October, through the help of friends and
mentors, I had
already landed gigs at bookstores. "How to get gigs and
when to get them"
will be on my website as well.
LG: Where can people find copies of your book? What are
you working on now?
TLR: LOVE MADE OF HEART made her way into the
big chains and also many
independent bookstores. Your favorite
bookstore or library can order any
title that's in print. Please support them; thus
helping "my little girl"
Have I started on a second novel? Yes, three years ago.
Let's say "she" is
expected to be born this summer 2003. It'll be another
two years before "she"
is in print.
To fellow writers and readers: I wish you big and
wonderful dreams. May you
materialize all your dearest dreams.
LG: Thank you for sharing your ideas and
Teresa LeYung Ryan's website is www.lovemadeofheart.com
and plotting teacher
Martha Alderson's website is
Her novel continues to earn acclaim. It is on the
"Required Reading" list of
a Sociology class, and she recently spoke to a class at
UC Berkeley about one
of the underlying themes of the book--domestic
violence. Think of Ryan as a
woman who uses story-telling to advocate YES! to
compassion for mental
illness and NO! to domestic violence/child
If her novel is not in stock, ask your local bookstore
or library to order
it. Though she writes about specific people, the
message in LOVE MADE OF HEART
is universal and everyone who has ever been
part of a family should read it.