Abigail Hing Wen Set To Release ‘Loveboat Reunion’, The Sequel To NYT Bestselling YA Novel.

New York Times bestselling author of ‘Loveboat, Taipei’ and the forthcoming ‘Loveboat Reunion’ Abigail Hing Wen

The New Year is just around the corner and while we can’t predict what 2022 will hold (thanks ongoing pandemic!) we DO know what we will be reading, courtesy of New York Times bestselling author, and entrepreneur, Abigail Hing Wen. We’re kicking off our new year by digging into her new novel ‘Loveboat Reunion’ released Jan 25 through HarperCollins.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, this book is the sequel to Abigail’s YA fiction bestseller ‘Loveboat, Taipei’, which has its own exciting update: the book has just been optioned by the same production company, Ace Entertainment, who made author Jenny Han’s ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’. So now that we have your attention, it’s time to get familiar with the Loveboat crew.

‘Loveboat Reunion’ follows fan favorites Sophie Ha and Xavier Yeh on a new adventure as they take control of their own futures. They’re what some would call a tumultuous past. It’s a classic tale of girl-meets-boy, boy-meets-other-girl, heart-gets-broken, revenge-is-plotted, everything-blows-up. Spectacularly.

At least they’re friends now. They’ve left the drama behind them back in Taipei — at their summer program, Loveboat — forever. Now fall is here, and it’s time to focus on what really matters. Sophie is determined to be the best student Dartmouth’s ever had. Forget finding the right guy to make her dreams come true. Sophie is going to make her future happen for herself. Xavier, on the other hand, just wants to stay under his overbearing father’s radar, collect his trust fund when he turns eighteen, and concentrate on what makes him happy, for the first time ever.

But the world doesn’t seem to want Sophie and Xavier to succeed. Sophie’s computer science professor thinks her first major project is too feminine. Xavier’s father gives him an ultimatum: finish high school or be cut off from his inheritance.

Then Sophie and Xavier find themselves on a wild, nonstop Loveboat reunion, each trying to resist the chemistry that originally led to them to combust. As they grow closer, they hatch a plan to take control of their own futures. Step one? Break all the rules.

The story merges Abigail’s interests in culture, leadership and artificial intelligence through the eyes of a girl in tech. Referenced in a recent Forbes profile of Abigail: “My second novel… follows a girl in AI and machine learning who tries to bring together her interest in fashion with these hardcore technologies and navigate both worlds. As far as I know, there aren’t any novels about girls and AI, and I’m excited about telling the story of how my girl brings her full self to the table.”

As if being a NYT bestselling author and now movie producer weren’t impressive enough titles, Abigail is kind of a badass in a number of areas. She is a rare woman-in-tech leader specializing in artificial intelligence, a new filmmaker as well as a wife and mother of two. She writes and speaks about tech, AI ethics, women’s leadership, implicit bias, equity, and transforming culture.

We had the chance to catch up with Abigail before her new book release to talk all things ‘Loveboat’ and what to expect with the film version of her popular book.

‘Loveboat Reunion’ cover. Image courtesy of HarperCollins.

First of all, congrats on the news your first book, Loveboat, Taipei is going to be made into a film! How are you feeling about it all?

When I stepped onto the plane and realized I was flying out to Taipei because of this story, with the crew emailing me from “Loveboat, Taipei production”-labeled accounts. That was when it truly hit me that this was happening.

This has been a long journey and I did not know I would ever get to this point. I have always been such a fan of book-to-film adaptations, and was obsessed with movies like Lord of the Rings, Narnia and Twilight. I was the one who knew every detail that differed between novel and movie. Now there are a million details constantly in flux as the story I made up iterates through different versions of the screenplay, and now, production and filming. It’s like experiencing the multiverse over and over… an unbelievable experience like no other.

You are also gearing up for the release of your second book, Loveboat Reunion in Jan 2022. What can fans and readers expect in this sequel?

I loved seeing fans post things like “Justice for Xavier” — well, here it is! Two fan favorites, Sophie Ha and Xavier Yeh team up to take control of their own lives, and find themselves on a wild unexpected reunion in Taipei.

I have to add that I shared the Justice for Xavier post with my filmmakers, and someone joked that we should start a hashtag #justiceforbenji. I hope my readers enjoy that as much as I did!

Over the past few years we’ve seen some much-needed diversity and the increase in Asian-American representation on screen. Can you tell us what it means to you personally to see this cultural shift finally happen? 

In high school, ninth grade, I was cast in a one act play for a non-English speaking role. In the role, I spoke a made up language in a show about a director trying to get actresses to be quiet and just do what they were told. My character was the one who did, because I couldn’t even speak to anyone.

It was so humiliating, especially growing up with random people speaking fake Chinese to me at times. But I internalized it and never said a word to anyone about how I felt at the time. Going forward, there was no place for me in school productions, because there were no Asian Americans in those story worlds like Oklahoma and Annie Get Your Gun.

For many years, I didn’t know that an Asian American girl could be the main character of a novel, let alone a movie. And now I do, and so do scores of other people. 

Representation is so important for two reasons: one, that Asian Americans can see our authentic stories on the screen and know our experiences matter; and two, that everyone can see people playing different roles and living out unique personalities regardless of race. They can be leaders, artists, slackers, they can be funny, emotional and brave. I’m so grateful to be part of this movement breaking those old stereotypes at long last, but we still have a surprising way to go. 

Who are some of your fave Asian-American storytellers and writers that more people need to know about? 

My critique partners are all brilliant and wonderful human beings. 

Stacey Lee, New York Times best selling author of The Downstairs Girl, whose Luck of the Titanic follows 8 actual Chinese whose stories on that iconic voyage were written out of history.

Sabaa Tahir, New York Times best selling author of Ember in the Ashes Series has an amazing new book coming called All My Rage.

IW Gregorio’s None of the Above shares the particular struggles of an Intersex girl. Most people still don’t understand what that means and that journey. She and others like Kelly Loy Gilbert are helping to create spaces in our culture for empathy and acceptance, for self-worth and a place of their own.

You also have a career background in tech, which comes with its own issues regarding gender, race and discrimination. Can you share more about why it is important for you to speak up about the need for change in Silicon Valley? 

There is implicit bias in every industry. Who is perceived as a leader, as technical, as ethical. Implicit bias keeps talent from being tapped to its full potential. In artificial intelligence, if implicit bias and systemic injustice is built into systems, they can have the unintended consequence of perpetuating these historical biases. For example, an iconic headline a few years ago featured a human resources algorithm failing to correlate women with leadership roles. Fortunately it was caught and corrected — and we need to give companies space to find and fix these issues as they arise through the innovation cycle — but there are other less obvious analogues that we may not have caught yet. We don’t know what we don’t know and so we need to be vigilant about looking for these issues as part of responsible release of technology.

I’ve had the fortune of working with many forward thinking people in this space. But there is still work to be done in raising awareness. For example, I recently spoke on a panel at an AI conference. A man there said that people were in too much of a rush to fix fairness and injustice issues, and that everyone needs to slow down and think through everything first before making changes. 

I was once again surprised by the gap. Of course, who can argue with a call to think things through and create thoughtful solutions? But the comment showed a lack of empathy and understanding, which unfortunately is not uncommon. The reason for the urgency is that underrepresented people have lived with injustice for generations. Their advocates can see all the way down the track to the train wreck coming if we do not address these issues on an ongoing basis. 

There are no easy answers, yes. But calling for slowing down in addressing issues of injustice is speaking from a place of privilege, and unfortunately, many people in power still sit in that same seat. So it’s important to help bridge these gaps in understanding. I see this bridging work as a large part of my calling.

As a mother of two kids, how has your life and/or career been impacted by the pandemic over the past year? 

We had several deaths in our extended family at the start of the pandemic, which was so difficult and sobering. It was impossibly hard to navigate a funeral service with covid and restrictions and not knowing what was safe and how it was spread. That on top of mourning.

As for balancing work and life, we were fortunate to have teenagers, so we didn’t have the same struggles with managing childcare as families with younger kids. For us, the pandemic gave us precious time together at home. I’m grateful we’ve all come through the hardest part and hope that other countries where vaccines have been slower to reach will be able to return to relative safety soon, too.

Hard times like the pandemic have a way of focusing us on the most important things in life. This pandemic was no exception. I also realize that as an immigrant kid, I’ve received a heritage from my parents of survival. My parents and grandparents suffered so much in leaving their homes and countries for foreign lands, and yet they’ve come out okay. They’ve passed down a resilience that enabled me to get through some of the toughest times this past year. Therapy has also been critical and I’m grateful for the professionals I’ve had a chance to learn from along the way.

What do you hope your kids will grow up knowing most about you and all that you are accomplishing? 

My kids are pretty involved in my work. We often “incubate” ideas around the dinner table with each other. They know, above all, how much hard work and heart goes into every project and also that we don’t have full control of outcomes. But working towards a larger goal, a mission, helps us weather the inevitable ups and downs. And we are never done. Life brings both opportunities and storms to weather, and we don’t always know what new challenges we will be called to face.

Aside from Loveboat Reunion, what other film and literary projects do you have in the works? 

I have about twelve projects under way! Still exploring the boundaries of how much I can work on at a time. Here is what I can share at the moment:

My first short story, The Idiom Algorithm, comes out January 4 in an anthology Serendipity, from MacMillan. It’s a Silicon Valley based story, about sixteen-year-old Tan Lee, who builds an algorithm to find his kidnapped girlfriend. 

In addition to more novels that I’m currently working on, I’m also moving deeper into film and television. I’m working on a few scripts and have some other projects I can’t wait to share more about. Lots to come soon!

While we’re sure all the details of the film version of Loveboat, Taipei are still confidential, are there any actors on your ultimate wish list you’d love to see being cast in the feature?  

I’m thrilled to have Ross Butler playing Rick, and Ashley Liao as Ever, as well as having Nico Hiraga and Chelsea Zhang on board. The ensemble of other students rounds out the cast and Arvin Chen is our director extraordinaire. We are off on an incredible adventure and I could not be more thrilled with the company.

During the casting process, I had a chance to watch many wonderful audition tapes as well as what’s called a “chemistry” read between the leads. Afterwards, I told my producers that this movie was going to be crazy amazing. I’m so honored that such talented people are bringing my characters to life, and excited to be a part of bringing them to the screen. 

‘Loveboard Reunion’ will be released January 25, 2022 through HarperCollins. You can pre-order your copy HERE.

‘Loveboat, Taipei’ cover. Image courtesy of HarperCollins.

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