Guest Post: Inside the Writer’s Studio by Jean Kwok

Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation comes out in paperback today.  The novel chronicles the immigrant story of Kimberly Chang who comes to America from Hong Kong, China.  She must navigate between her culture and the new world she finds herself in and the struggles that occur.  If you haven’t seen this book or read this book yet, you’ll be even more swayed to do so when you read Booking Mama‘s review and if you visit Jean Kwok’s Website, you’ll find that much of the story comes from her own life.

Today, we’re going to get a glimpse of Jean’s writing space and her three cats, who seem to be her constant writing companions . . . distractions.  Without further ado, here’s a peek at her writing space:

I have a tiny pink laptop on which I do my easy, practical writing – email, Facebook posts and the like – but when the going gets tough, I bring out the big guns. Up in my writer’s studio in the attic of my house, I do all of my novel-writing on a double quad-core Mac Pro, complete with 24-inch screen and an ergonomic, split-style Kinesis keyboard.

I know, you’re thinking, “How much power do you need to run Word?” It’s true. I guess I don’t actually need an octo-core computer, but facing the blank page is intimidating. When I turn on my Mactopus, as I call her, I know I have sheer power backing me up. Then, for more holistic support, I keep a bottle of lavender room spray on my desk, which I always use to keep me focused and calm. To my left is a statue of Kuan Yin, peeking over my shoulder to help guide my process. All around the walls of my attic are bookcases, filled with books by wonderful authors like Margaret Atwood and Maxine Hong Kingston.

I have all sorts of inspirational notes stuck to the edges of my computer screen. They say things like, “I sat down here and I turned my life around.” I’d heard some author say that in an interview long ago and when I was struggling to finish my first novel, I returned to those words again and again. It’s hard for any writer to know if they’re on the right path or not. For me, it was especially difficult because I’d worked in a sweatshop as a child and lived in an unheated apartment that was not only bitterly cold in the winter but also overrun with cockroaches and rats. I wondered often if I’d made the right decision or not, choosing a profession as financially risky as being a writer.

The notes also have more practical reminders, like, “Don’t check email!” and “Do the big stuff first!” The rest of my enormous desk is piled high with books, papers and items that have to do with my next book. Right now, I’m looking at a pair of professional Latin ballroom dance shoes because my next novel is set in the ballroom dance world. Next to them is a stack of baby naming books, which I used to choose names for my characters. By the way, if you ever want to give the person you’re dating a heart attack, just start leafing through your baby name books.

Then I’ve also got a stack of photos of Chinatown factories and apartments, research for the heroine of my next book as well. I’ve also got a tape measure here because sometimes I’ll start wondering things like, “How big is a person’s head anyway and could you possibly get it stuck inside a goldfish bowl?” and then I’ll whip out my tape measure and wrap it around my head.

The entire right side of my desk is taken up by a folder system for all of my foreign book contracts and correspondence. My debut novel, Girl in Translation, is being published in 15 countries so at a glance, I can see the Italian promotional pamphlet lying on top of the Swedish book, a set of Dutch tissues with the cover of the book printed on top, a lovely note from my UK publisher sticking out from in between a few very official letters about accounting from my German publisher that I don’t understand at all. Oh, and I have three extremely furry cats who all think it’s the funniest thing in the world to lie across my keyboard while I’m trying to type.

In other words, my desk is an unholy mess, which is why I’m not submitting a photo of it for this article. However, it’s a creative mess. It has everything I need to keep writing, which is what this is all about.

Thanks, Jean, for sharing your writing space with us. Now aren’t you all wondering what the new book is about? I know I am.

Stay tuned for my review of Girl in Translation tomorrow.


  1. I loved this book and can’t wait for another by this author, Love the cats.

  2. I so enjoyed this (and her book, too!)

  3. Of course, I want to know what the new book is about!! I love this post – it makes me feel better about my messy space.

    • I cannot wait to find out what the new book is about. I’m so curious now that I’ve read Girl in Translation. I think I have another go-to author to add to my growing list

  4. Love the cats…and the pink laptop! Looking forward to your review.

  5. Beth Hoffman says

    This was a fun post, and I love the kitties!

    • I used to have cats that would sit on top of my desk keyboard, but the dog was too big for that so he sleeps on top of my feet when I’m at the computer