We had the good fortune of connecting with Irene Wen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Irene, why did you pursue a creative career?
I think the most honest way for me to answer this is to start with my belief that life is a creative journey. The side of you that creates lives on no matter where you’re working or what people tell you to is the right path to take.
My work life up until 2020 was defined by a sort of tug-of-war between jobs that ensured immediate financial gain and my consistent desire to switch to a creative career in writing. My last job was practicing law for nine years straight. I thought I could give up my dreams of becoming a writer during that time but I’m sure any creator can attest to the fact that dreams don’t die easily. I realized I had been helping others achieve their dreams for years but I hadn’t spent any time on achieving my own. That was when I had to take a good, hard look at what direction I wanted to take in my career.
Even at the times I wasn’t pursuing a creative career per se, my creative voice continued to speak. The vision of a creative career continued to pursue me. The magic happened when I stopped running away and pursued it right back.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
The road to choosing to become a writer was not at all easy though I recognize my privilege in growing up comfortably and well-cared for by my loving parents. What came with that upbringing was also a scarcity mindset that I had to shed in order to recognize the importance of my personal goals.
I’m proud of finishing my first YA fantasy novel, which took me three years to complete. It took 12 drafts and quitting my job in law to get to this point, so I’d definitely say I made sacrifices to get here. My work is an exploration of Chinese-American identity, the magical ways we move through time and space, and how to believe in a system that feels broken when you feel broken as well.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned along the way — and something I’m still working on — is the simple practice of listening. In a capitalist society that urges us to prioritize the hustle above all else, it’s hard to re-wire our selves. But we have to flip the switch as soon as possible, because I can’t think of a more necessary exercise right now than listening to, learning from, and amplifying marginalized voices that need a platform. As artists, being open to what’s happening around us is the most vital key to creation.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’d take my friend on an eating spree. The beauty of Southern California is its incredible diversity so we’d have a variety of places to choose from.
I’d start with my favorite Chinese food spots near where I live. Right now, that’s Tasty Box for takeout dim sum in Diamond Bar and Four Sea restaurant in Hacienda Heights for Taiwanese breakfast. For Thai food, Dean by Dean Noodles in Rowland is unparalleled. For cold nights, Bonjuk and Bibimbab Cafe in the same area is perfect for Korean porridge.
As to drink, the grapefruit tea from Tan-Cha in Rowland Heights is refreshing on a hot day. The coffee from Local Fixture in Whittier is the best in town, though I must admit I’m biased because it’s owned by a family member. Still, the coffee is GOOD!
Venturing out toward downtown, we’d head to Little Tokyo for japanese pasta at Pasta e Pasta and end with a matcha dessert at Tea Master in the same shopping center.
I’m a homebody lately so in terms of places to hang out, I’d probably suggest a nature walk in any of the beautiful parks of LA to enjoy the sunshine and local flora/fauna.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to dedicate this shoutout to my endlessly supportive husband, my amazing writing group, and my BTS ARMY friends, all of whom inspire me every day with their talent, courage, strength, and brilliance. Also, I could never have made the hard decisions I had to make recently without the support from my siblings and law school friends whom I love and admire so very much.