An Interview with Marlene Cheng

This month I’m delighted to welcome Marlene Cheng, an author who has written an amazing ten books. I first met Marlene on social media through our shared interest in reading and writing, and we discovered and enjoyed each other’s books. So far, I’ve only read one of Marlene’s books, Black Pansies, but I look forward to enjoying others in the future.

Marlene is a Wall Street Journal, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon bestseller. She also has Maincrest Media and Book Excellence awards in women’s fiction.

Her fiction books are about the relationships that define women’s lives; romance, friendship, and family. Marlene tells me she is a keen observer of how people think and feel and finds this helps her write lyrical, uplifting, and emotionally rich stories.

Marlene was prairie-born, farm-raised, and now lives among the old-growth pine and cedar, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, on the West Coast of Canada, a haven that stimulates creativity.

So, a warm welcome to you, Marlene.

Thank you, Marcia. I’m happy to be here.

Let’s get to know you. Where do you call home?

I live in Vancouver on the West Coast of Canada. From my house, I have a view of the Pacific Ocean.

How lovely. I visited Vancouver with my husband in 2006 and it’s a beautiful city, as you can see from my photo. We walked all around Stanley Park – a distance of some ten miles I believe, and I remember seeing a display of some impressive totem poles. The other things I remember about Vancouver are the trams and a steam clock in Gastown.

Speaking of home, I’m curious. Do you have a specific place in your home where you write?

That’s an interesting question. I’ve always been curious about authors’ writing spaces. I imagine Hemingway traipsing about Europe, Africa and the Caribbean with his 1926 Underwood Portable strapped to his back, typewriter ribbons, white-out, scraps of paper, and pencils stuffed in every pocket of a safari jacket. How he found time to publish novels amazes me. I can picture his publicist sifting through reams of crumbled hotel stationery and discovering great writing.

To answer your question. Yes, I do have a space in my home where I write. We’ve renovated the attic. It’s a large space surrounded by book-laden shelves. There’s a day bed for napping. In another corner, which I call, The Hospitality Suite, there’s a coffee table, that I ram-shacked from my late husband’s first dental office, and new-to-me chairs. Photos of African children, that I took while there in the 1980s adorn the wall. Dividing those areas from my workspace is a lovely lounging chair.

A world globe, which has different tints of inlaid mica to distinguish the countries, is tabled by the lounge chair. It brings the world into the cloistered room. What I call, My Organising Area has a large table, stacked with books and paper, where I write notes. A whiteboard and a pinboard hang on the wall. Another area houses a writing desk and a computer. It is always a clutter with notes stuck on every available wall space and piled high on the desk and scattered about on the floor—unorganized chaos. Where there’s space on the walls, I’ve hung framed posters of my book covers.

Has writing always been your career?

Heavens no. I wasn’t born with a pencil in my hand. My background is in health sciences. Scientific reports are a far cry from creative writing.

I see, so what started you on the creative path?

An illness. That illness changed my life. It taught me to stop trying to heal the world and start healing myself. I had known that growth can bloom from scary moments in our lives and can even have a transformative impact. I courageously took the plunge. I quit my clinic and started to paint. I told myself I was choosing authenticity over a reliable income cheque.

And what started you to write?

My husband’s family on his mother’s side, the Kwans, were having a family reunion in 2012. You might recall that, more recently, Kevin Kwan, a cousin, made the family famous in his Crazy Rich Asians book. Anyhow, for the 2012 reunion, the clan wanted my sister-in-law, Man Sheung, an elder, to write down her memories, so that history wouldn’t be lost. Man Sheung recruited me. She lived in Singapore. I lived in Canada. We were both computer illiterate. I went to Singapore. She talked. I wrote. In a few months, The Many Layered Skirt: Dàn Gâo Qún: Man Sheung’s Story was published on time for the reunion.

So, what is it that hooked you and kept you writing?

I discovered that writing gives me joy. Like painting, it’s mindfulness, but storytelling seems to satisfy my creative longing differently than painting, so for the time being, I’m writing.

What do you write? Do you stick to any one genre?

I’ve been feeling my way. I started by writing about things I know—my life, my interactions with people in my community and abroad while travelling. Shifting to Freedom is fiction autobiographical. I embellished myself so that the story would be more universal. I have a five-book series in women’s fiction. It’s recently been revised and is now entitled Their Heart’s Desires. I’ve tried my hand with historical fiction. That story took place in the 17th century Dutch Republic. The book’s title is The Inspector’s Daughter and the Maid.

I have an entry in a non-fiction anthology, Writer’s Success Secrets. My article is about coming to writing in the later stages of one’s life. It was most exciting when, over the Christmas holidays, that book reached best-selling ranks in Wallstreet Journal, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.

Are your books traditionally or self-published?

I enjoy the promptness and freedom of self-publishing. I believe the current trend is starting to lean in that direction. I’ve used several platforms, but now use KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) exclusively. Their instructions are clearly laid out, it’s simple, and it’s free.

How do you market your books?

I’d far rather be writing than marketing books, but if you want to sell, in a massively overcrowded arena, you must market. Social media platforms are not much help. I’ve used Book Roar with some success. When you read and review someone’s book you get a point for one of your books. This makes it eligible to be bought and reviewed. The Facebook Group Best Book Editors, Authors, Readers, Others Welcome, has a bookstore that is cleared once a week and refreshed. You can put your book for sale in the store. It is assumed that you’ll buy other authors’ books.

Yes, I think all authors, including me, prefer writing to marketing, but as you say it is necessary if you want to sell any books. I know the Facebook Group you mention and I use it too.

I’ve showcased my writing in Crones with Pens and BookBub and I’ve found that participating in Joint Giveaways helps to increase my Email list. The best place to find these opportunities is on Nick Stevenson’s Dream Team Network. I haven’t sold many books through these platforms, but I have connected with other authors and heard their stories. This brings fullness into my life.

I’ll take a look at those suggestions, though I think many giveaways are not available to authors in the UK; that is certainly the case with Goodreads anyway.

I also use Amazon Ads. Bryan Cohen’s Amazon Ad Challenges teach how to best use Amazon Ads. His teachings simplify the process, and they are fun.

I might also take a look at that, thank you, though at the moment I have just signed up for David Gaughran’s free course, Starting from Zero, which I understand contains some very useful tips for self-published authors.

Do you give talks and attend book fairs?

I’m an introvert. I can’t imagine being a “speaker.” I’ve been to the LA Times book fair. For an unknown, pipsqueak of an author, the experience was a waste of time and money. The crowd was there to be entertained by the speeches of big-time, famous authors. The people rushed by the expensive booths of unknowns, only hesitating to pick up any FREE offerings. The line-ups were at the hotdog stands. I’ve been to a few local book fairs. The biggest benefit comes from meeting people and, maybe, becoming a little bit known. In small communities, the book fair may still be alive and kicking, but in cities, I think that it’s becoming an endangered species. The Ebook trend and COVID have hastened that.

I’ve attended a couple of book fairs, as we still have them in the UK, but I didn’t sell many books – and neither did any of the other authors.

What do you read?

I’m not a fan of fantasy worlds or who-done-it mysteries. I like to read fiction where I can learn something about the human condition, places, and cultures. I loved Ken Follett’s, The Pillars of the Earth, and Lisa See’s, The Island of Sea People. I’m a big Isobel Allende, Anthony Doerr, and Kristin Hannah fan. John O’Donohue’s non-fiction books on Celtic Spiritualism are my Bibles.

Are you working on any projects now?

As I’ve mentioned, I’m revising Their Hearts’ Desires series. Book One, Secrets & Truths was published near the end of this January 2023. May I give it a shout-out?

Of course; do you have a cover and a blurb to show us? And where might we get a copy?

This is the cover and the blurb.

She saved a hockey hero’s career. When their doctor-patient relationship crosses the line, will off-the-ice chemistry burn up their worlds?

Vancouver, BC. Geneva Olsson believes family comes first. Deeply loyal to her twin, the sisters’ connection includes looking down their noses at the inflated masculinity of professional athletes. So, when a player for the local NHL club is wheeled into her ER like royalty, the reserved physician is completely unprepared for how his boyish charm makes her heart race.

Knowing he has a wife and children in Europe, Geneva desperately struggles to resist the temptation of his surprising intelligence and animal magnetism. But after they begin a taboo liaison, she fears their inescapable passion is about to ruin multiple lives.

Can Geneva find the balance between doing what’s right and finding happiness?

Secrets & Truths is the emotional first book in the women’s fiction series, Their Hearts’ Desires. If you like tormented heroines, romance with risk, and deep moral quandaries, then you’ll adore Marlene Cheng’s riveting read. Buy Secrets & Truths to melt under love’s fire here: Secrets & Truths

It sounds interesting; I’m sure we’ll all keep a look out for it.

If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world whilst writing a book that took place in that setting, where would you choose?

Interesting that you should ask. On my last trip to Italy, I made tentative arrangements with a monastery cum boarding house that is just outside the gates of Cortina, the ancient hill town in the Chian Valley in Tuscany. My plan was to return there for an extended stay and write. Frances Mayes who wrote Under the Tuscan Sun had a villa on top of the hill. The author of Images and Shadows, Iris Origo, has an open-to-the-public, beautiful garden, one valley over. The winding, narrow, cobbled streets lead to a quaint church that has famous relics.

The one main street allows no vehicles. It is a community of fresh vegetable stands and el fresco coffee offerings. If I wished, I could visit the many nearby Etruscan sites, or take a train jaunt to Milan and Lake Como, or Verona or Florence, but my plan was to just be under the Tuscan sun, take each day as it came, and write. However, life got in the way, and I never went back. Much is the pity.

Is Tuscany your favourite place in the world?

I love Tuscany, but my favourite place of all is my home and my garden. I feel a deep belonging among the old-growth pine and cedar and being close to the ocean. I’ve travelled a lot and enjoyed many places, but there’s no place like home.

Thank you so much for talking to me today, Marlene; it’s been most informative and enjoyable.

It’s been my pleasure.

Readers, if you would like to find out a bit more about Marlene and her books, here are her social media links:

Marlene Cheng: Author marlene cheng


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