Peg Cheng writes stories that tell the truth about everyday people trying to survive and thrive. Before becoming a full-time writer, Peg worked in 35 jobs including fabric cutter, bus parts counter, career counselor, prelaw adviser, and public toilet researcher. When she’s not writing, she enjoys globetrotting with her husband Marcus, marveling at nature, and hugging stuffed animals.
That’s me in a nutshell. Now, I will answer questions for your reading pleasure.
Q: Tell us a little about your most recent work or your work in progress.
A: I just finished a Kickstarter to publish the illustrated version of my novel, The Contenders. So excited about this! I’m also expanding my blog into the areas of health, travel, money, and magic, and working on new zines and self-care journals for 2020.
Q: How did you get into creative writing?
A: It all started in 2003 when I enrolled in a year-long course in screenwriting taught by Geof Miller and Randy Sue Coburn at the University of Washington. The class was challenging, gave me anxiety, and I took it in the evenings after working all day at my university job, but somehow, I had sustained energy and never felt more alive. I loved screenwriting. After that, I took a class called Invisible Ink from writer/director Brian McDonald which permanently changed my eye and helped me truly understand storytelling. I kept rewriting and my efforts paid off. My first screenplay, BOYFRIEND GIRLFRIEND, was one of the Top 5 winners of the 2005 Washington State Screenplay Competition and finished in the top 4% in the 2005 Creative Screenwriting AAA Competition.
Q: How did you get into writing books?
A: I’ve written stories since I was a kid but it wasn’t until I completed another year-long course in 2008–this time in writing for children with authors Donna Bergman, Meg Lippert, and Brenda Z. Guiberson–that I felt confident enough to write a novel. I finished The Contenders in 2010, but when I couldn’t find an agent, I shelved it until my husband Marcus convinced me that it was good and should be out in the world. So, I hired an editor and a designer and published it myself in 2015. During that time, I also wrote and published three how-to books for prelaw students called The No B.S. Guides while running my company, Prelaw Guru.
Q: What made you want to write THE CONTENDERS?
A: One of the main reasons I wrote The Contenders was because I didn’t have the opportunity as a kid to read books that featured an Asian-American girl as the main character. I thought that all characters were white because pretty much every single book read to us in class, or assigned as homework, featured white characters (with the occasional person of color usually portrayed as a stereotype). Growing up, I read a lot of books by Beverly Cleary, and I especially loved her Ramona Quimby books. I didn’t realize until I was deep into writing Eunice’s story in The Contenders that I was essentially writing the Asian-American Ramona.
Q: Did you have a specific reader in mind?
A: I would love it if millions of Asian-American girls read The Contenders, but I didn’t necessarily write this book for them. I wrote it for my 10-year-old self. If the kid in me loved it, then I figured other kids might like it too. You don’t have to be Asian-American or a girl to like it. If you have ever felt different, been bullied, or really hated another kid when you were a kid, then I think you can relate to what happens in The Contenders.
WHEN I WAS 15 (MORE OR LESS)…
The most memorable thing a teacher said to me (good or bad): That I was a good writer. My freshman year English teacher nominated me for the annual award in English, as did my senior year English teacher. The fact that my high school career was bookended by these two award nominations in English should have clued me in to focus more on writing in college, but it really didn’t dawn on me that I had this strength and ability that other people didn’t necessarily have until I was in my mid- to late 20s. By then I was working hard at any job that could hold my interest and paid a decent salary. It really wasn’t until my late 30s that I realized I should capitalize on my writing ability.
At school, I hated (a person or subject or space): I hated all math past 6th grade, and also hated the boys and girls and teachers that were bullies (too many to name here). Hmm, I wonder why I wrote my first novel about bullying?
My hidden talent: I have several, but I don’t think of them as “talents,” just strange or unusual skills. For example, I can recognize a song by The Beatles within a few seconds of it playing (sometimes from the very first note) and can usually name the title and who sang it too. I have this “talent” because my brother Steve used to quiz me mercilessly on Beatles songs when I was a kid.
I often worried about: Everything. I grew up with very critical parents that made me worry about everything. It seemed like from age 6-18, I could not do anything right in their eyes. So, I worried about a lot of things I know now that I should not have worried about.
Q: If you could give the 15-year-old you any advice, what would it be?
A: Listen to yourself more than you listen to other people.
Q: Did you experience anything during those teen years that has had a lasting, positive influence on your life?
A: I had several teachers throughout my K-12 education who encouraged me and pushed me to use my strengths in art and writing. I’m glad I wasn’t one of those kids who had a teacher tell them, “You can’t write. Just give up.” Or “You can’t draw worth crap. Stop trying.” No, I was lucky. I had teachers throughout the years (six of them come to mind) who praised me and encouraged me in those two subjects. I will always be grateful to those teachers and I hold teachers in high regard because of them. I think it’s one of the big reasons why I’ve worked in helping professions throughout my life–career counselor, academic adviser, prelaw adviser, writing coach–it’s because I’m trying to give to others what I was given.
Q: Do you have a degree in English or Writing?
A: Nope. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Analysis & Design from the University of California, Irvine, and a Master’s in Public Administration (specializing in Urban Environmental Policy) from the University of Washington.
Q: List the jobs you’ve had. Which was your favorite? Which was your least favorite?
A: I’ve had 35 jobs. As I learned from famous career counselor Barbara Sher, I’m a scanner not a diver. Recently, I learned from Emilie Wapnick that I’m a multipotentialite. Her book, How to Be Everything made me feel seen, heard, and understood. I like trying lots of different things, I love learning, and my curiosity never ends. My least favorite job was being a bus parts counter for one day. My favorite job is the one I have now: writer.
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Photo: Peg & Froggy by Marcus Donner.
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