Amy M. Le was born in Vietnam and immigrated to The United States in 1980 at the age of five with her mother and cousin. She graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in Sociology and worked in the technology and telecommunications sector for twenty years. After her mother’s death in February 2017, Amy left her corporate job to write her debut novel SNOW IN VIETNAM as a tribute to her mother’s heroic decision to flee Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. Amy calls the Pacific Northwest and Oklahoma her home. Her greatest joy is spending time with her husband, son, and their many pets.
Would you please introduce yourself to my readers and share something about your life.
I was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the United States in 1980 with my mom and cousin. We were refugees of the Vietnam War who risked everything to find freedom from communist rule. Life in American was a dream come true but the dreams were achieved through hard work, perseverance and trial and error. Along the way, I met my husband. We’re raising a beautiful son with our two dogs, one cat, and one leopard gecko. We call Seattle, WA and Edmond, OK home.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
Well, I do love my coffee, and you can sometimes find me drinking straight out of a coffee pot with a straw. Twelve cups a day is normal, right?
Tell us something really interesting that’s happened to you!
When I worked for Microsoft, I once met President Bill Clinton. His protection detail was everywhere on high alert and when it was my turn to shake his hand, I almost tripped from my high-heel shoes. I was so afraid security would haul me away thinking I was about to attack him…but I gracefully recovered (I think) and shook his very soft, buttery hands. We even took a photo together.
What are some of your pet peeves?
I’m one of those people who will rearrange a perfectly loaded dishwasher if someone else didn’t load it just right. Toilet paper has to roll out and of course, if you have to ask me if it’s too early to have a glass of wine, we can’t be friends.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
Ooh, that’s a tough one. In no particular order…
- Snow in Vietnam
- These Is My Words
- Year of Wonders
- The Second Torpedo
- On Writing
- Black Beauty
- Oh, the Places You’ll Go
- Living a Charmed Life: Your Guide to Finding Magic in Every Moment of Every Day
- Prince: Before the Rain
What inspired you to write this book?
When my mom passed away in 2017, I quit my corporate job at T-Mobile to write my debut novel, Snow in Vietnam, to honor my mom. It is an historical fiction story about one woman’s extraordinary story of survival after the fall of Saigon. The book is dedicated to the boat people of Vietnam and the hundreds of thousands of refugees who escaped at the end of the Vietnam War.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I am working on a women’s fiction novel titled The Copper Phoenix that is based on a true story of one woman’s heartbreaking story of surviving childhood abuse, breaking the cycle of dysfunction, and overcoming the habitual cycle of shame and self-destruction. The story is dedicated to the men and women who survived sexual abuse, who continue to reconcile what happened to them, and who are working to take control of their life again. I applaud people like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith who are using their power to help abused women and girls.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born in Tra Vinh, Vietnam. When I was five, my mother escaped Vietnam by boat and took my cousin and me with her. I grew up in the Seattle area, lived in Orange County, California for a few years, but then returned to Seattle when I was sixteen.
If you knew you’d die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
I’d throw a big party in which anyone and everyone was invited. There would be copious amounts of wine and scotch, caviar, foie gras, steaks, seafood, and gelato. Fireworks would be a must. I want to be able to hug everyone who made a difference in my life and go out with a bang. My husband and son would be by my side every step of the way.
Who is your hero and why?
My husband, Joe Walls. He is the most patient, giving, and selfless person I know. He sacrifices so that our son and I can pursue our goals.
What book do you think everyone should read?
I’m not going to suggest a specific book but I will say everyone should read at least one book from every genre to get a taste of different writing styles, voice, and to expand their knowledge… Fiction, nonfiction, fantasy, speculative, children’s, middle grade, young adult, manuals, poetry, romance, mystery, etc. There is so much to explore!
Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
I’m going to put a shameless plug for my book, Snow in Vietnam, and say that other than my heroine, my favorite character is Sister Six. She has a big heart but doesn’t know how to be affectionate so she shows it through cooking and criticizing. She means well and she’s an easy target for teasing, but you can’t help adoring her.
Describe your writing style.
I start my process with a brain dump that looks like I’ve vomited words on the page that make no sense. Then I go back and clean it up, polishing it over and over until it’s lyrical, real, and digestible. I want the reader to get immersed and invested into the world I am building and the characters I am developing, so that they cry and laugh like they are there alongside everyone.
What makes a good story?
A good story starts where the balance of life gets disrupted and things get turned upside down…for a while. You have to turn the world right side up again and make things balanced again…otherwise your reader will throw up all over your book and claw to get off the ride before it’s over.
What are you passionate about these days?
I’m passionate about building a new career and brand for myself. I want to be taken seriously as a writer. For over twenty years I partnered with officers and board of directors of big corporations as a senior executive assistant and a board specialist for corporate governance and securities. Now, I am leaving that behind to redefine myself as an author.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I love my onesies so relaxing involves sitting on the couch with my onesie and a glass of wine. I can binge-watch shows all day long. If it’s nice outside, I love swinging on my hammock with the music playing or a good book to immerse myself in.
How to find time to write as a parent?
Luckily my son is pretty self-sufficient. I spent years teaching him to cook, clean, and problem-solve on his own. He’s ten now so he doesn’t require much, except a chauffeur.
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
I’ve always wanted to write. It was my outlet when life was mean and unfair. When I was in college I wanted to be a journalist or the next Connie Chung, but was told I didn’t have the looks or the talent. I buried my dreams of writing but when my mom passed, every emotion burst out, including my desire to write. It was absolutely the right decision as I feel whole now, but having a regular paycheck again would be nice.
Describe a day in your life as an author?
There is a lot of procrastination in my author life. Working for myself at home, alone, in my yoga pants, makes it so easy to push the pen and keyboard aside. I make an effort to do at least one thing a day to propel my book and writing career one step further. Other than that, I do a lot of cleaning and cooking during the day. After my son gets out of school, I become his chauffeur again taking him to his activities.
Advice you would give new authors?
I have several advices. Be realistic, be patient, and be ready to struggle. Don’t write because you want to get rich and famous. Be happy knowing you have a story in you that needs to be told and you’re the one to write it. Start building the anticipation and hype now with your audience. The more people you tell, the more they’ll eagerly wait for it and the more you’re accountable to yourself for getting it done. Finally, don’t tell everyone the whole story because once you tell it, your desire to write it goes away.
What are you currently reading?
The Amazing Adventures of a Marginally Successful Musician by Bill Cinque. I love the candidness of this book and the dry sense of humor.
How long have you been writing?
Since April of 2017. My mom passed in February of that year. I took time off to mourn and then immersed myself into the literary world of fiction. I never looked back.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
Once I know what I want to write about, I start with interviews. I carry my recorder everywhere as well as my journal. Then I dive into research. I try to do most of the work upfront before I even write or type the first sentence. From there it just flows. I’ve tried outlining my chapters first but I always deviate so now I just write by the seat of my onesie. Along the way I have my critique team. We call ourselves the Quixes, short for Quixotics – a clever take on Don Quixote who tilted at windmills, i.e., someone who strives gallantly to do the impossible.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
Some of them come as I write. For example, in Snow in Vietnam, my character Ommo didn’t come to life until I got close to the end of writing my book. As authors, we have to fill in details and develop characters to patch the gaps and tie the loose ends.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
I try to immerse myself in the world my character is in. With my current project, The Copper Phoenix, I am reading The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse and I also recently finished White Elephants, a memoir by Chynna T. Laird. I try to get as many people to talk to me as possible to share their stories so that I can have perspective from different sides.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Ambivert who’s addicted to coffee.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book? (Pick one of your books if you have books.)
For my debut novel, Snow in Vietnam, that was easy. I wanted to keep the memory of my mom alive so I wrote a book based on her. I believe this book is unique as it gives perspective of the Vietnam/American War from a Vietnamese civilian’s perspective. There are memoirs and documentaries on the war but I felt the world needed to understand the refugee experience.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
It brought me closer to my mom and the people who were in her life. I found myself crying and laughing while I wrote this book. I got very attached to my characters and thought about them all the time. Sometimes I’d cry knowing what they were about to face and I am apologetic.
Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?
Snow is my protagonist. She is an outlier when it comes to traditional Vietnamese women. Sure, she’s graceful, obedient, and demurring, but only when she wants to be. She values independent thinking and the freedom to love as her heart chooses. Grit and tenacity gets her far in life but it is love and forgiveness that takes her to the finish line. I just love her because she can be feminine, masculine, and non-binary. Ultimately she does not care what society thinks. She’s going to do what she needs to do.
Do you have any advice to give aspiring writers?
Surround yourself with other aspiring writers as well as established writers; immerse yourself in the literary world and attend as many conferences as you can. It is important to do the scary things and put yourself out there. There is so much to learn from writers, editors, publishers, attorneys, screenwriters, producers, etc. Always keep your eyes and ears open and your arms outstretched.
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If you take elements of Clementine Wamariya’s memoir, THE GIRL WHO SMILED BEADS, and Oliver Stone’s docudrama, HEAVEN & EARTH, then throw in sprinkles of Kevin Kwon’s CRAZY RICH ASIANS, you’ll get Amy M. Le’s debut historical fiction novel, SNOW IN VIETNAM. There are elements of humor, romance and heartache injected throughout these pages of fear and uncertainty. Strength from family and trust in oneself are at the heart of this book.
Growing up in war-torn Vietnam was normal, even idyllic at times, for Snow, the youngest of seven children in her family. Although her heart belongs to an American GI, she honors her father by marrying a Vietnamese man. Her halcyon life unravels as the Vietnam War ravages her country and the threat of communism culminates with the fall of Saigon. Life in unified Vietnam under the new regime becomes unbearable. Betrayed by her husband and left with a dying child to raise, Snow must set aside her morals and push herself to the limit emotionally, physically and mentally, to buy her way out of the country. Her decision to escape and find sanctuary in America takes her adrift in the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand with her daughter, nephew, and other boat refugees. For days, they are at the mercy of pirates, storms, and dire conditions. Ultimately, Snow settles into a refugee camp on the island of Galang in Indonesia, but life there is deplorable. The threat of repatriation and the will to keep her family alive keeps her motivated to hustle for a ticket to freedom.
SNOW IN VIETNAM was written to honor the memory of the author’s mother. The novel was a finalist for the 2018 Pacific Northwest Writers Association literary award. This story is dedicated to the boat people of Vietnam and all the refugees who risked their lives in a desperate search for safety and freedom.
Reviews of the book:
“Well-developed characters, a brave and admirable protagonist, a vivid setting and heartbreaking struggles that felt real combine to make SNOW IN VIETNAM a compelling, unforgettable read.” –Alicia Dean, Award Winning Author of Heart of the Witch
“Compelling, informative and beautifully written.” –Frances Evlin, author of Circles of Deception
“I stayed up all night reading because I literally could not put it down. This book leaves you hungry for the next chapter and the next chapter and the next chapter. This is the kind of book that you can’t stop thinking about after you read it because the characters just come alive and the descriptions of the settings and the activities are so vivid.” –Diana LeBeau, Beta reader
“I love how I laugh and cry and just find myself lost in your writing.” –Courtenay Brimer, Beta reader
“Love the way you write! Can’t wait to read all your stories and learn from you as well. Web Page is AWESOME!” –Frances Moore
“I loved going on Snow’s emotional journey and learning about the Fall of Saigon through her unique perspective.” –Lisa Schumann, Beta reader
“This novel is epic. It’s a love story. The title character “Snow” falls in love with an American G.I. but also demonstrates love for her child, her family, her village, and her country. She honors her father by accepting a husband he arranged. Honor is a very important thing in Asian cultures. Snow honors the various characters that helped her in her quest to leave Vietnam by calling them honorifics like aunt, uncle, brother, or sister. The author honors her mother by telling her mother’s story. The story gives us a glimpse into the everyday life of a small village and a big city. Snow was born during WW2, witnessed the war against the French, and then communist/American war. War interrupted their tranquil village life and threw people into extraordinary circumstances. Snow adapts and conquers; a great read.” –Michael Harmon, Beta reader