Where are They Now?
We caught up with Abigail Hing Wen (AB ’99) to see what she has been up to since releasing the New York Times best-selling novel, Loveboat, Taipei. The sequel, Loveboat Reunion, will be released by HarperCollins on January 25th. Ms. Hing Wen is executive producing the book-to-film adaptation of the first novel with ACE Entertainment, creators of the Netflix franchise, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. She and her work have been profiled in Entertainment Weekly, Forbes, Fortune, Cosmopolitan, NBCNews, Bloomberg, Google Talk and the World Journal, among others.
Q. So much has happened since we profiled you in January 2020. You’re now a New York Times bestselling author. How does that feel?
A. Oh, boy. It's unbelievable. I wrote in obscurity for 10 years before Loveboat, Taipei was sold to an editor.
When I came out here to Taipei for the shoot and was introduced to the production team in their office, there were about 30 of them sitting around a big conference room table. Someone said, ‘this is Abigail, the author’, and I said, ‘I'm so grateful for all of you’. And then they applauded. That's when I realized how much this movie meant to them. Not only as a cool job, but they were working on a movie about themselves.
That was a huge moment for me because representation has been such an important part of the work that I've done in all my professions. I went to law school because I cared about social justice. I've tried to pursue it in my various avenues; I did work in economic development, microfinance, and venture capital thinking about implicit bias and the under representation of women and minorities, and now I'm addressing it through my stories. To also see the behind-the-scenes jobs that are being created by my book was an incredible moment.
Q. Have alumni of the Loveboat program reached out to you to share their own stories?
A. I actually did this little mini tour before my book came out where I had various Loveboat reunions around the country. I got to meet all kinds of Loveboat alumni. The earliest back I met was someone who'd gone in the 80s – the program has been around since the 1960s. The most recent was someone from 2013. It was fascinating to meet them. First, it's a very selective program, and the alum are incredible. Second, Loveboat was an opportunity to heal in terms of our understanding of ourselves as people between cultures. A lot of us had grown up without many Asian Americans and being made fun of or seeing our parents discriminated against. There was a lot of pain that came with that. By going on a program like Loveboat, you got a chance to meet other Asian Americans.
And for me, you know, this is something I wrote about in the book — that opportunity to just have that cultural experience was incredible. I think that healed us and made us stronger people, and able to bring our full selves to the table. The third aspect was this rebellion piece of Loveboat – it’s known for all these kids seeking out clubbing and really letting loose for the summer. But I think those are important skills to have in corporate America, because it taught us to buck that system a little bit more in a way that was healthy for us to grow as leaders.
Q. How did the project come together?
A. The scouts found my book pretty quickly after my book deal. I had had a number of agents and publishing houses bidding for the book. So it went to auction, it sold for what's called a major deal and there was a lot of buzz around the book. My film manager also shared the book. We talked to a lot of producers, and they presented different visions of it. I ended up choosing Ace Entertainment, the To All the Boys team, because I loved what they’d done with Jenny Han's work. The cinematography was gorgeous and I loved that they kept the Korean American girl character, in a time when main characters like her were still being changed to white because people believed mainstream audiences wouldn’t otherwise connect with them. But Jenny Han stuck to her guns and it proved it right. So that was important to me, to have a team that was willing to do that.
Q. How did it feel adapting your own work for the screen? Did you see it as an opportunity to tell the story slightly differently?
A. I love how every medium is different. One of the criticisms of the book was that it didn't have enough of Taipei. I think that's legitimate. I had to cut out some descriptions because the book is already too long. With the film you can fully show the city itself. I’m also excited to bring out the dance elements of the novel. Ever Wong loves to dance, as I do, and there’s a lot of dancing in the book. I actually danced a lot when I was writing, because it helped me to understand my character, and that is an element that we can also showcase.
Q. How involved were you with the casting of the project?
A. It was really important to me to put out a general call, because there was a lot of new talent that would have to be found for a cast of this many Asian Americans. We haven’t announced the entire cast yet, but the four leads have been announced: Ross Butler (Rick), Ashley Liao (Ever), Chelsea Zhang (Sophie) and Nico Hiraga (Xavier), as well as Janet Hsieh (Aunty Claire) and Ang Lee’s son, Mason Lee (Marc) at a recent press conference here in Taipei. They are all such incredibly talented and unique individuals.
Q. Your next book, Loveboat, Reunion comes out January 25th. Do you hope to create a longer series following these characters into adulthood?
A. That's definitely on the table! This next book follows Sophie and Xavier as they take control of their own futures — Sophie as a girl trying to bridge her fashion obsessions with technology, and Xavier trying to get out from under his controlling father’s thumb.
When I wrote Book One, initially, I wrote it from all four points of view of the lead characters. It was way too long, way too much story to fit into one book. I had to scrap all of it and start all over from just one point of view. But because I still had stories left, that's what ended up becoming a lot of Book Two. I have infinite parallel stories like that. It will be an interesting exercise to figure out what are the right stories to tell next. I’m working on that now!
Q. Do you plan on sending your kids on the program when they are old enough?
A. They're here with me in Taiwan to visit the set, meet new friends and family, and take a look around. So hopefully, this will be their Loveboat experience.
Q. How has the pandemic affected you (professionally and/or personally), and will you be making any changes in your life or creative process going forward?
A. The silver lining of the pandemic is that it was a lot easier for working parents, for sure. On one hand, you have small kids at home, and that was hard. On the other hand, you could be home and have more time with your family than ever had before. And so I loved that aspect. I think it helped my work in the sense that I didn't have to be in Los Angeles all the time to do the Hollywood stuff. And then as a writer, I can write anywhere. Pandemic isolation gave me more time to write, so that was helpful, too.
On the downside, it did hit right as my book was launching, I had a month and a half before it shut down. Seven of my major events were canceled, and so I never really got to meet the writing world. I would have gone to a bunch of book festivals, and all those were canceled or became virtual. My first virtual panel had 1000 people attend which wouldn't have happened in a real life panel, but I never got to have those behind the scenes conversations where you're just hanging out with the other authors.
For Loveboat Reunion, I hope folks will join me for my virtual book tour with Chelsea and Ashley in January! I also have signed copies available for preorder through Keplers Bookstore.
Q. What lasting impact do you hope to make for the Asian American community moving forward?
A. There is still a surprising lot of implicit bias. I experienced it myself in a relatively older tech company in Silicon Valley — even as a Harvard-educated woman in the 21st century. I hope that by presenting a more nuanced and accurate portrayal of Asian Americans, I can help to change these stereotypes and perceptions in a way that impacts all industries.
Through the Loveboat stories, I hope to show that Asian Americans can be everything and anything — they’re artists, doctors, lawyers, screw ups, business people, leaders. They’re friends and romantic interests. They make mistakes like everyone else, get better and move on, and they become better people.
This is a thesis for my whole life. I have bridged many worlds. I grew up in a very conservative community in Ohio, and now I live in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, working on thought leadership. There are so many things dividing our country now. There's the elections, there was COVID. There's mask wearing, there's vaccinations, there's critical race and gender, and there's just very little understanding. And even me, having grown up in one community, I still have a hard time understanding where that community is coming from. That is something I'm hoping to bridge more so that we can have more productive conversations and better care for each other.
Loveboat, Reunion will be released by HarperCollins on January 25th and can be preordered at all major retailers and bookstores.