Wanda Lynne Young: Bookalicious


The Better Mother by Jen Sookfong Lee

20 Questions with Jen Sookfong Lee

Canadian author Jen Sookfong Lee is a keen observer of the human condition. In her new book THE BETTER MOTHER she throws together an unlikely pair to highlight the importance of friendship as a vehicle of self discovery. Below, the author talks about her new book and gives insights into her writing experience.

1.  How would you summarize your book in one sentence?

Set primarily in Vancouver in 1982, The Better Mother is about the unlikely and coincidental friendship between Danny Lim, a wedding photographer, and Miss Val, a long time burlesque dancer, and their journey to discover their true selves.

2.  How long did it take you to write this book?

Four years.

3.  Where is your favourite place to write?

It used to be my office with its alder bookshelves, but I’ve since moved, so I don’t have a favourite spot anymore! I guess the corner of my bedroom beside my pile my shoes?

4.  How do you choose your characters' names?

I choose names that embody a character’s main flaws and virtues. This is highly subjective, of course, and while Miss Val screams 1950s burlesque to me, it might very well be the name of someone’s cat and mean something quite different. I don’t agonize over it though. I just pick and move on!

5.  How many drafts do you go through?

I don’t count drafts anymore—it’s too depressing! From start to finish, I would maybe guess at six.

6.  If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson, mostly because it’s moving and funny all at the same time. I wish I could be funny in print.

7.  If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?

For Danny, maybe Lawrence Chou. For Miss Val, I want to say Kathleen Turner!

8.  What's your favourite city in the world?

New York! I’d live there if I could.

9.  If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask?

Emily Dickinson. I’d like to ask her if she was really that lonely, and if so, why she didn’t just LEAVE THE HOUSE.

10.  Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind?

I need complete silence. I’m not kidding.

11.  Who is the first person who gets to read your manuscript?

My husband. He’s a really perceptive, big picture sort of guy. And he notices historical inaccuracies better than anyone.

12.  Do you have a guilty pleasure read?

Crime novels. I’m not very discriminating about them either. The less plausible, the better. Also, celebrity gossip blogs. I can’t stop!

13.  What's on your nightstand right now?

The Divinity Gene by Matthew J. Trafford. I’m really enjoying it. Funny, poignant, wildly creative.

14.  What is the first book you remember reading?

It might have been The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop, which no one reads anymore because it really can be seen as racist. But I’d give it to my son. Why not? It could inspire a great discussion. Besides, as a five-year-old, I adored that book.

15.  Did you always want to be a writer?

Yes. I had no back-up plan. Not very smart.

16.  What do you drink or eat while you write?

I eat nothing because I have an issue with crumbs on my workspace (I know, I’m just that neurotic). I drink water. Have mercy, I sound like a monk. I eat and drink lots of other things, just not while writing. Really!

17.  Typewriter, laptop, or pen and paper?

Laptop as well as pen and paper, depending on what I’m doing. Laptop for writing content, pen and paper for planning and mapping.

18.  What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published for the first time?

I laughed at my husband who was dancing around the kitchen with my dog in celebration. Then I cried.

19.  How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?

I don’t ever make that decision consciously. I usually start writing and the point of view just comes. Every story demands something different. That said, if I could, I would write in the third person all the time.

20.  What is the best gift someone could give a writer?

Time! Every writer needs more of it. So if you know one who has children, you can offer babysitting. Or if you live with a writer, take on his or her chores on the weekend. Also, we could all use neck and shoulder massages.


Jen Sookfong Lee is the author of The Better Mother and the YA novel The End of East and Shelter. Her poetry, fiction and articles have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including TOK: Writing the New City, The Antigonish Review and Event. 

Jen is a popular radio personality, as the voice behind “Westcoast Words,” and she has a weekly writing column featured on CBC Radio One's On the Coast and All Points West. She is a regular columnist on Shelagh Rogers' The Next Chapter and is a frequent co-host of the Studio One Book Club. Jen lives in Vancouver with her husband and son.


Random House Canada has copies of THE BETTER MOTHER to give to two lucky Bookalicious readers who leave a comment below.

Yummy Rules and Regulations:
You must be a Yummy Mummy Club member to win.
Click to sign up! It's free and filled with perks. One comment per member. Entries accepted until June 17, 2011. Contest open to Canadian residents. Winners will be picked using www.random.org. Please mark the email [email protected] as a "safe sender" when you enter the Bookalicious giveaway!

Relish reading,

Follow Random House Canada on Twitter: @RandomHouseCA @BookLounge and find them on Facebook: BookLounge.ca. "20 Questions with Jen Sookfong Lee" and cover image published courtesy of Random House Canada.

Good luck!

Relish reading,

Wanda Lynne Young