An Interview with Lucy Zhang
By Fiction Editor Ann Fisher
I’ve seen warped trees at some national parks and they’ve always struck me. It’s like they’re saying “look what my will to live has done to me.”
How did the storyline for “Final Molt” come to you?
I wanted to write a story about bugs. A part of me was also thinking about the day job and how you can sometimes pigeonhole in the code you’re writing and forget about the big picture—often to our detriment.
Do you have a favorite line or scene from this story? If so, say a bit about why it stands out.
I like the image of damaged, warped trees. I’ve seen warped trees at some national parks and they’ve always struck me. It’s like they’re saying “look what my will to live has done to me.”
Tell us a bit about your writing process with this piece, and your writing process in general? Was this piece any different in the way it emerged?
My writing process is to write. I hardly plan. “Final Molt” was no different. I typically pick a concept (like “bugs”), surf the internet reading about said concept and searching for inspiration, and then run with it. I rarely think up plots ahead of time. The story unfolds as I type.
There is a tension between generations and ancestry that plays out in the farming of the silk, rendering back to the tales of giving, taking, and honoring. Are these themes that also play out in your other work?
Yes, very much so. I think it’s these uneven balances of giving and taking that propel an interesting story.
Congratulations on your recent joining with the Transatlantic Group for representation! Can you tell our readers a bit about that process?
Thank you! I went into the querying process knowing nothing beyond online research. I had just finished revising my first novel and started sending it out. I would look through twitter once a week seeing what agents were open to submissions (the “#querying” and “#opentoqueries” are useful for finding calls), read up on the agent, and decide if I wanted to submit. When in doubt, I’d go “so what” and submit anyway. I had also received some useful feedback from the first few rejections which help shaped my revision during my second wave of querying. I’s really the manuscript that matters. I had what I believe to be an absolute crap cover letter because I have no idea how to pitch myself or my work. Finally, rejection is a process of life, and life is too short to be hung up on that 🙂
You are a software engineer and author. How do you work both into your life?
I used to write after work, but now I’m too tired and only want to devolve into a manga-reading potato. I write on the weekends which is when I try to avoid all work-related emails and Slack messages. I used to have deeper, more eloquent answers to these types of questions, but now it’s just: Lucy has finite energy and must allocate accordingly.
You mention that you are on your way to being a full-time author for your career. What roadblocks have gotten in your way, and how have you worked to solve them?
I say that I’ll become a full-time author so often that I don’t even know if I’m joking or not. At work, I’m always saying I plan to retire before I turn 30. Will I actually retire? That’s a great question. The reality is that right now, work provides me with dental and health insurance, salary, and stock—three things that writing doesn’t really provide me at all. Also, I will not lie: I think dealing with engineers is easier than dealing with literary folks.
How does your work on several editorial boards for diverse journals feed your own writing? Would you recommend joining a literary journal to your readers as a way to strengthen their own writing?
The single greatest thing reading for a journal has taught me is how particular my tastes are and how easily I can not favor a well-written piece. I always like seeing what’s in the queue though. I feel much more grounded to the literary world reading submissions to literary journals than books published by big publishing companies. When you read for a literary journal, you need to be of a particular mindset to be able to learn how to strengthen your own writing. If you’re reading just to decide whether or not it’s a pass, you probably won’t gain anything. Even for pieces I know I definitely would not accept, I try to find at least one thing to take away—even if it’s just “remember to avoid doing that.”
The Burlington Writers Workshops, which houses Mud Season Review, focuses on fostering readers, writers, and on learning the publishing field. Do you belong to any creative groups where you share and edit work together?
I don’t. I rarely share my work with anyone else at any phases of the writing process. If I did, maybe I’d get some more acceptances. But I’ve always been a bit of a solo bird whether that be for writing or coding.
What was one piece of advice you’ve received over the years that you keep by your side because it has shifted how you write?
“This is jaw-breakingly bad,” said a professor during a creative writing class I took. I was taking the class to fulfill my humanities credit and thought I might as well learn about a topic I enjoyed. That comment traumatized me into drastically improving how I write. It also helped me build such tough skin that after that, whether in the literary world or in corporate America, nothing anyone said to me could even compare.
What are you focused on currently? Do you have a dream project you’d love to someday bring to fruition?
I’m working on a second novel! It consumes all of my weekends. I’m trying to finish it before the end of 2023. As for my dream project? Make it so that all meetings on this planet are under 30 minutes.