Monday, May 6, 2019

TBR: Dear Scarlet: The Story of My Postpartum Depression by Teresa Wong

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

Dear Scarlet is an intimate and honest look at my struggle with postpartum depression after the birth of my first child. Written as a letter to my daughter, my graphic memoir is equal parts heartbreaking and funny, capturing the ups and downs of life as a new mother.

What boundaries did you break in the writing of this memoir? Where does that sort of courage come from?

I wrote this book as an honest telling of what I went through and didn’t think I was breaking any boundaries until other mothers told me that my book is much needed. There is extreme pressure on new moms to be perfect and to embrace motherhood as a wonderful, joyful experience—and if you don’t find it all that great, you feel ashamed and alone. I’m not sure if Dear Scarlet is courageous, but I tell the ugly truth about my postpartum experience, and I hope others who are struggling will feel encouraged by it.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

So many lows, so many highs! I began the book in 2015, writing and illustrating it over nine months. I finished my second draft and began querying in the summer of 2016, eventually landing a U.S. agent a few months later. We went out on submission in mid-2017 and, by the fall, had been rejected by 20+ “Big Five” imprints. Most editors loved the material but didn’t see it breaking out in the market, either because of the topic or because of the genre. We got really close in one case, but in the end it all came down to the profit-and-loss statement.

At the beginning of 2018, my agent dropped me, so I made a list of indie publishers and began sending my manuscript out in batches. By the summer, one small press had expressed interest, but they were waiting for their editorial board to reconvene in the fall before making an offer. That same week I received an email from Brian Lam, the publisher at Arsenal Pulp Press, who asked if I had gotten his earlier email containing an offer (I hadn’t!!) and restating his interest in publishing Dear Scarlet. They wanted to fast-track the book because they had an opening for their Spring 2019 lineup. I took Arsenal Pulp’s offer to a Canadian literary agent, who agreed to represent me and took over negotiations.

What has struck me most about the past year was the number of people (total strangers) who gave me advice and offered help. I’m part of a large online writers group for women, and when I lost my agent, so many of them encouraged me to keep going. One woman even sent an email on my behalf to her ex-boyfriend, a well-established graphic novelist. He, in turn, introduced me to his own agent. Even though nothing came of it, I will never forget how kind and generous people were to me.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

“If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse.” Anne Lamott wrote this in Bird by Bird, which is a book full of the best writing advice I’ve ever read.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

I was surprised that I ended up illustrating it myself. I am a writer, not an artist, and I felt for sure that I’d need to collaborate with an illustrator to make the book. However, when I showed the first draft to friends and colleagues, they said that the simple drawings amplify the vulnerability of the story. They told me it would be a better story if I drew the thing myself. I’m not entirely happy with all of the drawings in the book (especially now that I’ve been practicing for a few years), but there are certain panels that I really do love.

Who is your ideal reader?

My ideal readers are people who know or want to know what it’s really like to be a new mother, how big of a change it is and how difficult it can be, even when you have a baby under ideal conditions (e.g., with access to health care and a supportive partner).

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

I write about traditional Chinese postpartum foods, but I’m sure nobody here wants my mother’s recipe for pork liver soup.




DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.