Abigail Hing Wen Is the author of Loveboat Forever. Loveboat Forever follows Seventeen-year-old music prodigy Pearl Wong. The novel explores romance, self-discovery, and empowerment. YEM was able to speak with Abigail about what her writing process was like, her inspirations, and having asian characters represented in her books.
Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first know that you wanted to be an author?
Abigail Hing Wen: I’ve always loved stories. I used to tell what we called “group stories” to my twin siblings when we were younger. My brother would sneak into the room I shared with my sister, and I’d make up stories of adventures in a wild world without grownups, where we kids (siblings, cousins, close friends — the “group”) were left to fend for ourselves.
I also discovered so many wonderful books in my classroom library and I began keeping a journal when I was nine. In college and even law school, I always wrote a short story in lieu of an open-ended assignment.
I didn’t know I could be an author. Back then, I never read books by authors like me or stories about the things I knew about. Years later, when I was pregnant with my second child, I had a fantasy novel swimming around in my head. My husband encouraged me to just try writing it, which was like saying, “just try building a rocket ship.” Still, I did try, and the novel just came pouring out of me. I didn’t even know I was creative! But it wasn’t until I attended VCFA five years later, and was surrounded by encouraging writers and mentors, that I first had the courage to call myself a writer.
YEM: How does it feel to be releasing the third book of Loveboat, Loveboat Forever?
Abigail: Wonderful — like a gentle exhale after a cool down after a marathon.
It’s really unusual to have worked simultaneously on creating a story universe as it was also made into a movie. Which was exactly what happened — I wrote the novels Loveboat Reunion and Loveboat Forever while working as an executive producer on the Love in Taipei film adaptation of Loveboat, Taipei.
I wrote Loveboat Forever across three continents — in the US, where I live, in Taipei, while we were filming the Love in Taipei movie, and in Vienna, Austria, where I moved for a year with my younger child, who wanted to study music. Vienna was the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into Pearl’s classical music world.
After Vienna, I came back to the United States for the Love in Taipei film launch on Paramount Plus. It was such a busy time with premieres and interviews — go go go! — and now this third book launch feels like the reward. I’m so glad I get to travel on book tour and speak with readers and viewers all over the country.
Loveboat Forever takes place six years after the events of Loveboat, Taipei and Loveboat Reunion. It’s a stand alone companion novel following Ever’s younger sister, the seventeen-year-old music prodigy Pearl Wong. Pearl had the summer of her dreams planned at a prestigious music program in Manhattan—until a Tiktok blow up leaves her in need of new plans, and she finds herself headed to Loveboat instead.
Even with her sister’s example, there’s more awaiting Pearl there than she could have ever imagined, like a scandalous party in the dark, a romantic entanglement with a mysterious suitor…and a summer that will change her forever. I can’t wait to hear readers thoughts on the story!
YEM: Did you know going in that you wanted to make this a series?
Abigail: Not at all. I originally wrote Loveboat, Taipei from five alternating points of view: Ever, Rick, Sophie, Xavier and even a few Jenna chapters. But at 120,000 words, the story was both too long and too shallow. It took me 26 drafts to realize I had too much story for one novel. So I scrapped the whole thing and started over from just Ever’s point of view. It was a hard choice, but the result was a much richer, deeper story, with secondary characters who were well rounded, because I knew them so well.
Scrapping the original left me with so many extra stories and plotlines, especially Xavier’s. When the book went to auction, almost all the publishers suggested doing a second novel, so Loveboat Reunion was born as part of the first book deal.
Getting to write Pearl’s story in Loveboat Forever was a surprise to me. Pearl is Ever’s younger sister by seven years, and her partner in crime. In Loveboat, Taipei, she cleverly helps Ever dodge their parents, and has her own arc with dyslexia and learning visually complex piano pieces. Pearl was a fan favorite, and when my agent and editor asked me to write a third Loveboat, I pitched two ideas: a story following Emma and Victor from the second novel, and a Pearl story set years later, when she gets to follow in Ever’s footsteps to the same program. The rest, as they say, is history.
New readers can pick up Loveboat Forever by itself, as it is a new adventure with a new cohort of friends, some of whom are the kids of Loveboat alum. But readers of the earlier Loveboat books will also get to see their favorite characters all grown up, including Marc Bell-Leong, now back as the Headmaster, and more of Ever, Rick, Sophie and Xavier’s lives and loves as they reach new milestones.
I’m also thrilled for the risks I took writing Pearl’s story. Especially because she’s going on Loveboat years later, she feels even more modern to me, and very much an Asian American girl of our time. And I love that we get to go deeper with the Wong family as they journey to their village of origin.
YEM: What is your writing process like?
Abigail: Ideas come at me all day long. My mornings are especially full — I wake up with a lot swimming around in my head, so I try to write the ideas all down quickly before the day’s activities — breakfast, school drop off, walking the dog — begin and I lose them.
That’s the main exercise for me — to capture the ideas and organize them into one or more of the various projects I’m always working on, figuring out where they fit best. For example, I had a story about biang biang noodles — the most complicated character to write in Chinese. I decided to include it in Loveboat Forever since it was a fun calligraphy challenge. But I don’t think I got it in, so hopefully it will appear in a later work!
Since I work on multiple projects at the same time, I never get stuck with writer’s block. I also use different writing muscles to generate new material, edit later stage works, talk through a story arc or characters with one of my reps or comment on graphics like book covers or promotional assets. I find that I can only generate new material for a few hours a day, and the rest of the time I spend on the other work. I love having such a diverse blend of things to do — it’s not only more productive for me, it keeps things fun and interesting!
YEM: Where does the inspiration for your books come from?
Abigail: From everywhere. Loveboat, Taipei drew on my experiences as an Asian American girl growing up in Ohio, experiencing the gap between the children of immigrants who grow up in one culture and their parents. One thing that’s a bit different about my particular experience is that my parents are also the children of immigrants — their families immigrated from China to the Philippines and Indonesia. So they were also aware of some of the challenges that created, and it’s something we talked about while I was growing up. I think that gave me even more insights to work with.
Loveboat Reunion drew inspiration from personal family experiences with neurodiversity. Xavier has dyslexia and undiagnosed dysgraphia, and Sophie has undiagnosed ADHD, though it’s never explicitly identified or labeled. I like that the two of them have different experiences with their neurodiversity, and that in the end, they find freedom in just being themselves.
Loveboat Forever is inspired by my love of music, as well as by the cultural questions we are wrestling with in our present time and the dynamics of social media giving platforms to some of the most divisive voices.
Finally, my fourth novel, Kisses Codes and Conspiracies (forthcoming August 2024), drew inspiration from my local setting in Silicon Valley, where a lot of the kids are familiar with coding and cryptocurrencies. It’s my first published novel outside the Loveboat universe, and is dedicated to my younger siblings, because it draws on that familiar dynamic of an older child looking out for a younger one, with all the imperfections of impatience and thoughtlessness but also a lot of love. And now that I’m answering this question, I am struck by the realization that KCC is very much like those group stories I told my siblings when we were younger — a world without adults, where the kids must fend for themselves. I can’t wait to tell my siblings that one of those imaginary stories made its way into the world!
And here’s a bit about the story!
After a magical kiss at Prom, best friends Tan Lee and Winter Woo agree to cool it off, a plan that goes awry when their parents jointly head off to Hawaii and leave Tan and Winter to babysit Tan’s sister Sana together. If that isn’t complicated enough, Tan’s ex-girlfriend from Shanghai arrives on his doorstep with money stolen from her billionaire father and thugs on her heels.
Tan soon finds himself on the run through the San Francisco Bay Area, trying to out-maneuver international hackers and protect his friends, family and sister – and his own heart.
YEM: What does it mean to you to be able to write Asian characters and have them represented in your books?
Abigail: I hear so often from Asian American parents that they wished they had my books as a young person. I feel the same way. Growing up, I didn’t have any stories with characters like me. And I loved stories — I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books so much that I wanted to live in their pages. And yet I knew, deep down, that Ma Ingalls, who hated Indians, would not like me on sight. And that even Laura, who was very open minded for her day, would likely not feel as close to me as I did to her. So there was some pain there, too — a lack of belonging that I’m glad I could address through Loveboat, Taipei and the film Love in Taipei. I am so honored to hear how seen my readers feel reading the novels and watching the movie.
Since most of the Loveboat characters are Asian American or Asian, that quality is not their most defining or interesting feature. Which allows the characters to just be themselves — big sisters, boy wonders, dancers, success stories and failures, friends and lovers. I have worked hard to reflect more of the beautiful diversity of people who exist in the real world through the ensemble of characters in the Loveboat universe. My hope is that readers and viewers of all backgrounds will feel seen and accepted by my stories and characters, of which there are more to come.
YEM: What do you hope your readers will take away from reading Loveboat Forever?
Abigail: Some wisdom around navigating social media, which can be tricky and even treacherous! Also, that cultural differences and narratives are often far more complicated than social media allows them to be. Most importantly, that our power comes from being ourselves. So let’s get to it.
YEM: What advice do you have for those who want to be writers?
Abigail: Read widely and write write write. The old adage that it takes 10,000 hours and a million words is pretty spot on! And if you are trying to publish, don’t chase trends, which shift quickly anyway. Finally, lean into what is uniquely you and write what only you can write.
YEM: What do you most enjoy about writing for a young adult audience?
Abigail: Young adult novels today are different than what they were in the past. A Wrinkle in Time when I was growing up was considered YA, but is considered middle grade today. I think of YA novels as just novels, but they do uniquely explore so many firsts — first loves, first time away from home, first kiss. Many readers can relate to these moments, which is why I think it’s such a widely read genre.
Also, young adults are the hardest audience to write for, because they will sniff out any hint of inauthenticity. They want truth. They want real. Even in the guise of fiction. And I love that about my readers!
YEM: Is there a genre that you have not tried that you hope to write in the future?
Abigail: I actually love exploring different genres and finding the best vehicle to tell the particular story I’m trying to tell. I have a picture book, dystopian and graphic novel in the works. I also have a high fantasy that I can’t wait to get back to. My legal background means I always appreciate mysteries and thrillers, and I tend to weave those elements into my other relationship-based stories. And now that I’ve come through an entire filming process from start to finish, I’m writing scripts too! All of these help me to play around with the story and take them deeper, even if the final outcome doesn’t stay in that medium.
YEM: Is there a quote or scene that is your favorite from Loveboat Forever?
Abigail: I love the scene when the Wong ladies (Ever, Pearl and their mom) visit their family temple in the Lim family village in Fujian province. They end up meeting hundreds of relatives they didn’t know existed, and find the names of their ancestors on a set of stone tablets. As an immigrant family, especially before this new age of connectedness, it was very hard to stay in touch with your family of origin. The Wong family felt like an isolated family of four in Ohio, four notes on a page. But when they discover the village, they realize they are part of a whole symphony.
I actually took a trip like this with my parents and younger child. It was an incredibly grounding experience to find out more from where I’d come and to meet all those relations. I’m so happy this experience is now captured in a novel to share with others. We all come from somewhere.
YEM: What do you have planned on writing next?
Abigail: As I mentioned, my fourth novel, Kisses, Codes and Conspiracies, is coming out August 2024! And I have more unannounced books in the works. I also recently signed on with the Hollywood talent agency William Morris Endeavor and am working with them on other secret fun projects.