Author Wong winning rave reviews
Mandy-Suzanne Wong thought the e-mail claiming someone wanted to publish her novel was a hoax.
She’d sent copies of Drafts of a Suicide Note to at least 100 publishing companies — not one was interested, but then Regal House weighed in.
“I stopped counting because it got too depressing,” she said of the numerous rejections she received over four years.
“When I got the e-mail, at first I thought, well if they want my work there must be something wrong with them.
“When I realised the e-mail was real I felt excited. I immediately started having visions of what could happen — what the cover would look like and so forth. Of course, the publisher determines that sort of thing, but I couldn’t help daydreaming.”
Set in Bermuda in 2011, Drafts of a Suicide Note centres around the disappearance of a mysterious young woman, Aetna Simmons, who lives alone in a cottage in St George’s.
She has no friends or family and no one knows what she does all day. When she disappears suddenly, she leaves behind ten suicide notes, which are found by petty criminal Kenji Okada-Caines.
He becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her, but there is no record she ever existed. Seeking the truth, Kenji unearths a forgery scam Aetna was poised to expose.
Some publishers told her outright that they didn’t want to work with non-Americans.
“I knew I wasn’t going to give up, but it was sometimes hard to keep discouragement from taking root,” she said. “It’s very hard for a Bermudian to get a book published.
“They didn’t say why, but I think they were worried people from outside wouldn’t be able to promote the book. But we travel.”
Stories of authors such as JK Rowling, who sent her international bestseller Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to 12 publishers before it was accepted, gave her some encouragement.
It also helped that Drafts of a Suicide Note did well in several competitions. The day before she heard from Regal House, it was named a finalist in the University of Alaska’s 2018 Permafrost Book Prize.
It was also shortlisted for the 2015 Santa Fe Writers’ Project Literary Award, and was a semi-finalist for the Conium Review Book Prize in 2016.
Dr Wong, 39, said her writing has been heavily influenced by a passion for music. She has been playing the piano since she was four, and studied it to the master’s degree level.
“In professional training, to be a pianist you spend hours a day in a room by yourself, practising.” she said. “That is what you have to do when you are an author. Piano training really gave me the discipline to do that and taught me persistence.”
Like writing, piano is also difficult to break into, because pianists don’t work in orchestras.
“You are always trying to get noticed and it is the same with being a writer,” she said.
She started writing as a teenager.
“When I was 15, I wrote my first novel with a friend, Rich Andrew, who is now a screenwriter,” she said. “I got my first story published the next year, but I was doing classical piano as well. I couldn’t really decide which I wanted to do as a career.”
She decided to become a professional pianist but in the middle of a master’s programme at The New England Conservatory she developed carpal tunnel syndrome, a common condition that causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and arm due to pressure on the median nerve.
“I was 24,” she said. “I was just trying too hard.”
She changed her focus, and earned a doctorate from the University of California in Los Angeles thinking she could write about the history and philosophy of music. She taught music history at UCLA for several years but didn’t enjoy it.
“I figured out I had to go back to being the weirdo artist I was always meant to be,” she laughed. In 2013, she moved back to Bermuda to devote herself to writing full-time.
“My friends and family were very supportive,” she said. “They knew how unhappy I’d been while teaching. And since I received word of my book being published all sorts of people have been coming out of the woodwork to congratulate me. That’s been really nice.”
But the writing life hasn’t always been an easy one, financially. She does online data entry and freelance editing to support herself.
“So far, 2018 does seem to be a really good year,” she said.
Her next book, Listen We All Bleed, is a work of non-fiction. It’s about how animal activists use sound to fight their battles. Bermuda’s Andrew Stevenson, a whale activist and photographer, is one of the people featured.
“I was commissioned to do that on May 24, 2017, my birthday,” she said. “That is also exciting.
“I have been sending out my work, hoping one good thing would happen” she said. “Now I have two books coming out. That’s hugely exciting for me.”
She also won first prize this month in a Greek competition, the Eyelands International Flash Fiction Contest, for her short story Coconut Octopus.
“It was picked from 300 entries from around the world,” she said. “Now it will be translated into Greek.”
She is also close to finishing another novel, Elements and Separations, about homelessness in the United States.
“Right now there is so much going on for once in my life,” she said. “There are so many opportunities coming up.”
For more information visit mandysuzannewong.com