Thursday, September 18, 2014

Interview with Helen Wan, Author of The Partner Track

Helen Wan is the author of THE PARTNER TRACK, about a young Chinese-American woman competing for partnership at a prestigious “old-boy” law firm. Before becoming a full time author, Helen was a corporate and media lawyer for many years in New York. She is a frequent speaker on advancing women in the workplace and has written for The Washington Post, CNN, and The Daily Beast. She’s also a new mom, and lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York, where she’s at work on a new novel. Helen’s author website is She loves to hear from readers, so please follow her on Twitter @helenwan1 and like her Facebook page at:

Where did you grow up? 

I was born in Carmel, California but raised in the suburbs of Washington, DC. (I know – people always say, who moves away from Carmel, California??! My parents still talk about that as the House That Got Away.)

When did you begin writing?

Oh, as a kid. I’ve always loved writing. In elementary school, I wrote and illustrated a bunch of little mystery books about this crime-fighting family called The Dixon Detectives. It was always my childhood dream to be a published author one day, but I ended up taking a thirty-year detour as a lawyer. Better late than never, I guess!

Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?

Ha.  Well, it only took me twelve years to finish my novel, as I was definitely writing in whatever random moments I could find. I had a full-time law job, and of course family and personal responsibilities as we all do, so I wrote in spare bits of time: on weekends, late at night. I would hoard my precious few weeks of vacation each year and use them to churn out as many new pages as I could.

What is this book about?

THE PARTNER TRACK is the story of a young woman of color trying to make it in corporate America. It’s an American Dream story. It’s about how sex, race, class, and “outsider” status complicate the lives of talented people climbing the corporate ladder. It’s about women and men in the workplace and the clashes that come up in ways both predictable and unexpected. Finally, it’s about loyalty, sacrifice and ambition itself – I am very interested in our complicated relationship with ambition, and what drives us toward success.

What inspired you to write it?

That’s easy. Years ago, as a young woman who’d just landed at her first corporate law job, I felt I might as well have landed on the moon. I was good at school, but I was utterly unprepared to navigate all the subtle games of politics, all the unwritten rules, of the corporate world. And no one was passing out decoder rings. Yet many of my peers at the firm – mostly men – seemed to understand the unspoken rules innately. So, dutiful law student that I was, I went out in search of a book that could tell me how a young minority woman could succeed on the corporate ladder while still being true to herself and trying to live an “authentic” life.  But I couldn’t find any books that spoke to me.  I was not seeing any credible, authentic, contemporary stories out there about young women (let alone a woman of color!) trying to navigate all the challenges of the corporate world.  Finding none, I decided to write one myself.  All these years later, I’m just thrilled that THE PARTNER TRACK is finding an enthusiastic audience.  Every time I hear from a reader who tells me my novel has made them feel they’re not alone, I’m so happy.  It makes the twelve years it took to write this book completely worth it.

Who is your favorite character from the book?

The one I most identify with? Ingrid.
The one who was most devilishly fun to write? Murph. Definitely, Murph.

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

Your favorite bookseller, either digital or the old-fashioned kind, so that would include Bames & Noble, Amazon, all the usual suspects.  The paperback edition -- with a fresh new cover and a nifty set of reading group discussion questions! -- is coming out on Tuesday, September 9th.

What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?

I’ll share the writing advice that finally made me get off my butt and finish my novel in earnest:

There were years when I just wasn’t writing at all, given the life stuff that gets in our way. Then one night, I attended an event where the wonderful journalist turned novelist Anna Quindlen was speaking. Someone in the audience asked for advice for aspiring writers, and she said, “Be sure you’re someone who really wants to write, not just someone who wants to have written.”
I realized at that moment she was describing my predicament. To be someone who had written, I needed to actually write! Enough excuses about having too stressful a day job, being too tired when I got home from work, being too scared to embark on a novel, etc.
I signed myself up for an “Intro to Fiction” workshop. Like many busy women juggling too many balls in the air, I work best under deadline. If I owed 12 random strangers 20 pages for class Tuesday night, you can bet I got those pages out! The homework pages I wrote for that class became the seed for my novel. I’m thrilled that THE PARTNER TRACK is finally out in the world. It was a labor of love.

What is up next for you?

Thanks for asking! I’m currently working on my second book. It’s not a direct sequel to THE PARTNER TRACK, but it does tackle similar themes, and it features strong, smart, successful women.  It’s a deeper dive into people’s complicated relationship with ambition itself, how we define success, and what truly influences our pursuit of happiness.

Anything you’d like to add?

I genuinely appreciate feedback from readers, and learn a lot from you, so please stop by my author website ( and come find me on Twitter (@helenwan1) and Facebook (! Thank you! Happy fall reading!

- Helen Wan

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