Linh Nguyen is a Vietnamese immigrant to Canada who straddles many intersecting worlds. Her stories revolve around home, liminality, and living between cultures. She loves to ride horses, swim in the ocean, and design creative, community-engaged programming to foster opportunities for under-represented artists. No Place Like Home is Linh S. Nguyen’s debut novel.
Q & A with Author Linh Nguyễn
Where do you find the inspiration for your books?
I often start with my personal experiences. Writing helps me process hard feelings like being in-between homes as an immigrant. From there, I draw inspiration from the books that I love but would want to make changes to. No Place Like Home started with me questioning Dorothy’s decisions in The Wizard of Oz — why didn’t she want to stay? All I wanted at 11 was to escape! The story was then complicated by my interpretations of what home even means, as someone who’ll always belong to many places and people.
What were your favourite books when you were a kid? As a young reader, did you see yourself in the books you read?
I read everything I could get my hands on, but I especially loved classic portal fantasy series like The Chronicles of Narnia’ and the Oz books (all 14 of them!). While I could relate to characters like Susan Pevensie, I did not see my experiences reflected and could not picture a heroine who looked like me on a swashbuckling magical quest.
Fun fact: in my first draft of No Place Like Home, my main character was named Sabryna and was far removed from her Vietnamese heritage. Annabelle and Marlow were both blond. Silva was entirely westernized. I had to challenge my assumptions of what fantasy heroes and settings looked like. This story honours my childhood classics but also subverts them to reflect more diverse experiences and values closer to mine.
What’s the most surprising thing you have learned when creating your books?
I’m always surprised by how much grows from the process of writing; most of the story, the characters, or the plot show themselves as you write. There’s only so much to plan. Another beautiful recognition is that imperfect drafts are valuable and needed. In the initial stages of writing, it’s crucial to get the words out, to prioritize quantity over quality. It’s hard to imagine the messiness of a first draft turning into a real book, but even great stories start out as a mess.
What is a challenge you have faced as a writer?
Challenges like instability, finances, and perseverance definitely exist. I sometimes joke that there is no act of faith greater than writing your first book; you spend all this time and effort producing hundreds of pages that may never see the light of day. There are no guarantees. Personally, I have also balanced a working life and grad school over the past few years of working as a novelist. As an artist, we often juggle so many things.
That said, a former manager once told me, “Every job comes with stress. You just have to pick the stress you want.” I have wanted to be a full-time writer since I was 11, and for the past six months, I got to do that. I got to walk into shops and sign my book. I spoke with hundreds of kids at different schools. I flew to Porto and spent weeks in an Airbnb working on my next manuscript. All that to say, I’ll take the challenges any day.
What advice do you have for kids who are interested in writing?
Read a lot and write a lot. As a kid, I hated it when authors said that, because it sounds so simple — but the truth is that there’s no shortcut! You become a better writer by writing.
Don’t be afraid of being bad. Most of the things I write are not great, but practice makes you better. The first draft will not be perfect, but it’s important to get the words on paper. You can always revise a bad draft, but you can’t revise a blank page.
Lastly, don’t give up. Keep writing!