Helen Hoang is that shy person who never talks. Until she does. And the worst things fly out of her mouth. She read her first romance novel in eighth grade and has been addicted ever since.
In 2016, she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in line with what was previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Her journey inspired THE KISS QUOTIENT, which comes out in June 2018 with Berkley.
She currently lives in San Diego, California with her husband, two kids, and pet fish.
Helen is represented by Kim Lionetti of BookEnds Literary Agency.
What is your full name?
When is your birthday?
How old are you?
Dark chocolate something
[I] don’t have one, but I love George Winston.
Favorite place to read and/or write?
Who are you when you’re writing?
When I’m wrapped up in a story, I am an incredibly distracted person and no fun to be around—unless you want to be my sounding board while I talk nonstop about my work. I zone out during discussions with people, and my executive functioning deteriorates. I forget to pay bills, I forget to play with my children, I forget to pick up my children from school, I forget to eat, I don’t sleep, I ignore my husband. All I care about is the story and the characters. So, in a sense, I guess you could say I turn into the worst person ever, but this is when I’m happiest, when I feel like I’m really living.
Who are you when you’re not writing?
In between books, I am a regular, mostly well-adjusted human. At least, I think so.
Which do you prefer more?
I live for those moments when I’m lost in a story.
What drives you to write more?
Love. I just love it.
How often do you experience writer’s block and what do you do to get out of it?
Writer’s block is new to me, and something I’m currently going through. I’m so overwhelmed with all the non-writing stuff that comes with publishing that my mind hasn’t been free to daydream. I hope when things quiet down, the stories will come back.
Are you a perfectionist when it comes to your work?
It doesn’t feel right to say I’m a perfectionist because that implies I think my writing is perfect. I don’t. I know there’s still more to learn. But I do take pains to write to the best of my ability.
Do you like making outlines when you write, or do you prefer to start from scratch and work your way from there?
I write best when I’ve outlined before I start drafting.
If you could do both at the same speed, which would you prefer: Writing on paper or typing your words? Why?
I prefer typing. I hate my handwriting, haha. It took an embarrassing amount of practice to come up with an author signature that I like.
What is the best writing advice that you could share with us?
When you tell a secret, people lean forward to listen. It’s the same with books. I think if the writer is sharing something personal, readers connect. So I say, write personal.
Of all the things that you’ve ever written (poems, essays, short stories, novels, etc.), which one is the most special to you?
The Kiss Quotient came straight from my heart. Other books will come, but I gave these characters so much of myself and my life that it will always be special to me.
ON HER BOOKS
Your first book, The Kiss Quotient, is an #ownvoices title. Can you talk more about the writing process for the book?
I’ve already spoken several times in other interviews about how my own diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder inspired this book. What I haven’t spoken about as much is the actual writing of this book, the obsession of it.
This book has literally left a mark on me. When the inspiration for Stella hit, the story exploded in my head, with images and sounds and scents and feelings, and I was obsessed. I had to translate the story into words, and my time at the keyboard vacillated between pure elation and utter suffering. I loved this story and these characters, but at the same time, I was fumbling to communicate what I saw in my mind. The words weren’t good enough, the pacing was off, it was taking too long. I pushed myself so hard my body broke down. I went to urgent care three times. Once was because I was daydreaming while walking and fell into a pipe. I think I’ll have that scar forever, but I have no regrets. Not a single one.
What message would you like your readers to learn from that book?
As someone who was diagnosed later in life, one of my biggest struggles has always been self-acceptance. I used to put a lot of effort into changing myself to please people, and that worked—I was able to develop relationships of a sort. But they exhausted me, and as a result, they frequently ended in failure. In order to have real relationships, I needed to feel safe being who I am. In other words, I had to learn trust and self-acceptance.
I think those two things go hand-in-hand. As much as I wish I’d learned self-acceptance on my own, I realize that I needed someone to accept me the way I am before I could do it, too. Love makes you stronger, and it can come from unexpected places, because underneath it all, we’re more alike than we think.
What inspired the idea of your latest book, The Bride Test?
On several occasions, my aunt has tried to arrange marriages for her son, even going as far as to interview potential brides in Vietnam. When it came time to write Khai’s book, I thought it would be fun to see what might have happened if my aunt actually went through with her plans.
What message would you like your readers to learn from that book?
There are two messages in The Bride Test, but I’d rather pose them as questions here: 1.) Is there only one way to love? 2.) How do you measure the value of a person?
What is the greatest challenge that you have encountered in the publishing world and how did you overcome it?
Getting published itself was extremely challenging, and I think this was achieved through a combination of luck and perseverance. Did I do anything else to increase my chances? I admit that I switched from fantasy/ paranormal romance to contemporary romance because I saw that my chances of debuting in that genre were slim, but beyond that, I think the best thing I did was write my heart out. That’s the only thing we can do as writers.
ON BOOK DISCRIMINATION
How would you define book discrimination?
I suppose that would be discriminating against books for reasons that have nothing to do with the content.
How do you feel about it?
It’s wrong, but I have to be careful not to do it myself. It’s easy to do unconsciously.
What do you think is the cause of book discrimination?
I think people make assumptions about quality based on factors like method of publication, author race, author sexuality, etc.
What would you do against it?
I think the best thing we can do to combat book discrimination is to evaluate books on the basis of their content. This can be done by reading snippets/reviews or getting recommendations from trusted sources.
Fill in the blanks with a book recommendation. More people should read ________ by ________ because ________.
More people should read Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim because it is warm and beautiful and will fill your heart (and your tummy—there’s a lot of delicious food in the book) with happiness. It’s a magical realism women’s fiction set in modern day Chinatown in San Francisco and releases summer 2019.
Thank you so much for what you shared with us, Helen! I really appreciate that you talked about the writing process for The Kiss Quotient. I really love your book and learning how special it is for you also made it special for me. You are truly amazing and I’m honored to have this chance to feature you. ❤
Read my review for The Kiss Quotient here.