Danielle Wong - Exploring How Love Transcends Boundaries of all Kinds
Danielle Wong is an award-winning author living in California. Her debut novel, Swearing Off Stars, won an Independent Press Award, an International Book Award, and a Benjamin Franklin Award, among others. Danielle's writing has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, The Huffington Post, and Writer’s Digest. She has short stories published in the Be the Star You Are!® series, and is currently working on her next novel. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Swearing Off Stars.
Please give us a short introduction to what Swearing Off Stars is about.
Amelia (Lia) Cole is an American studying at Oxford in the 1920s. After arriving in England, she quickly falls for Scarlett—an aspiring actress who introduces her to a gender-equality movement with high stakes. But when their secret love clashes with political uprising, their relationship is one of the casualties. Spread across time and place, Lia and Scarlett’s story is one of desire, adventure, and ultimately, devotion.
What inspired you to write this book?
More than anything else, I wanted to explore how love transcends boundaries of all kinds. I originally conceptualized a contemporary narrative, but my manuscript quickly evolved into one deeply rooted in history. I chose to punctuate Lia and Scarlett’s relationship with a series of political events and socially imposed obstacles. This friction ultimately serves to strengthen their bond, though not without years of strain and struggle.
Tell us more about Amelia Cole. What makes her tick?
Lia craves freedom and independence from the only life she’s ever known. Traveling across the world and studying abroad provides a welcome sense of autonomy. It’s only after meeting Scarlett that she begins to uncover a new dimension of herself.
Why did you pick the 1920s as the backdrop for your story?
I have always been fascinated by the 1920s—the grit, the glamour, and the dichotomy between modern and traditional ideals. I wanted to explore what college life would be like during such a tumultuous decade.
What makes Scarlett so appealing to Lia?
Scarlett is everything that Lia is not. She’s confident, dramatic, and unafraid to speak her mind. These traits initially draw Lia in, but she eventually discovers a hidden vulnerability within Scarlett that no one else has seen.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I know how to evacuate a full plane of passengers in an emergency. It’s an interesting—albeit nontransferable—skill that I learned during my time as a flight attendant. Balancing drink trays during severe turbulence sounds a little less morbid, though, so let’s go with that!
Your story covers over thirty years. Why did you take this approach?
My goal was to render a realistic relationship given the political climate. Love can be messy and irrational to begin with, but Lia and Scarlett’s story has several additional layers of complexity. Setting my novel over an extended time period allows the characters to grow into themselves and experience the magnitude of a lifelong love.
Is there an underlying message you wish to relay about basic human nature through your characters?
I think it’s kind of brilliant how love can endure despite the most harrowing circumstances. It survives war, death, and destruction . . . centuries, malice, and chaos. I wanted Swearing Off Stars to capture that idea.
What was your greatest challenge when writing this book?
The research that a historical fiction novel demands is quite extensive. Although finishing my manuscript was a huge step, I had my work cut out for me when I started the editing and fact-checking stages. I wanted to accurately portray the multiple time periods included in Swearing Off Stars, from dialogue and technology to clothing and sense of place.
What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
A fellow author once told me that she rarely feels inspired to write. “If you wait for inspiration to strike, you’ll be waiting forever.” I genuinely feel lucky that I get to do this for a living, but I agree with her main point. Sometimes, it’s a matter of forcing yourself to start. You have to be able to stare a blank page in the face and commit to filling it up, even when the words aren’t flowing.
Is there something that compels you to write? And do you find that writing helps you achieve a clarity about yourself or ideas you've been struggling with?
I have always gravitated towards reading and writing as valuable outlets and means of escape. During childhood, I learned that discovering a great story can feel like magic, and I wanted to create that thrill myself. Writing books both enables and requires me to imagine other points of view while exploring new worlds and periods of time.
Do you consider yourself a disciplined writer? Do you have a schedule that you stick to, or is it more in the moment?
My schedule evolves frequently to accommodate what else is going on in my life. I am equally spontaneous and plan-oriented, so I find it helpful to maintain a malleable routine. I usually alternate between daily word count minimums and timed writing blocks. If I’m struggling with a particular scene, I often shift to character development or background research. When all else fails, I take a break and go running. Physical activity is the paramount stress reliever. It allows me to reset and return to my work with fresh eyes.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished writing a psychological suspense novel about a woman who wakes up with no memory of the past decade. As she struggles to adjust to a shocking new reality, she becomes the prime suspect in a murder case. The victim? Her husband.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I always love hearing from readers! Daniellemwong.com has more information about my work, and I stay pretty active on social media during the week.