Filling The Gap for People of Colour In The World of Publishing

Kyla Zhao is the author of “THE FRAUD SQUAD”. Born and raised in Singapore, Kyla graduated from Stanford University last year and now works in Silicon Valley. Before authoring “THE FRAUD SQUAD”, she has been writing for fashion and luxury magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Tatler for years, which brought Kyla up close with high society and gave her the inspiration for the book set in Singapore’s high society.

“THE FRAUD SQUAD” is about a working-class woman who pretends to be a socialite in order to score her dream job at Singapore’s poshest magazine. But as she loses herself in this glamorous new world, her fears of being exposed deepen—especially with a mysterious gossip columnist on the hunt for high society dirt.

What was the main driver behind you writing the book?

It was the summer of 2020, at the height of the pandemic, and I was living alone in California while trying to complete my last year of university. I wanted to be back home with my family in Singapore, but I was also interning then and my company didn’t let me work from outside of the country.

Being all alone for months got to me and as I usually do when I feel troubled, I turned to books for comfort. But that was also when anti-Asian racism was on the rise, and I gradually realized that many of the books I read did not feature characters of color to whom I could relate to. That only made me feel even lonelier. 

So I got the idea of writing my own book—one that features an entirely Asian cast of characters and is set in my hometown of Singapore. Writing it allowed me to feel connected to my loved ones at home at a time when I was physically separated from them by the pandemic regulations. I also strived to make my book as fun, breezy, and glamorous as possible—the escape from pandemic reality that I really needed!

You’ve written and published a children’s novel too! How was the experience like writing for an adult novel vs writing for a children’s novel?

I personally think writing a children’s novel is harder because there’s always a certain level of innocence and optimism that you have to maintain when writing for children. Not always the easiest thing to do for a jaded adult. I’m working on adult novels and children’s novels at the same time, so switching back and forth between the two can be a bit jarring because the language and themes are so different!

What do you love most about writing?

Being able to write the books I wish I could have read when I was younger. For so long, I had internalized a Eurocentric ideal of beauty because the characters in most of the books I was exposed to were white. I really want there to be more Asian representation in the media, and to show that characters of color can lead vibrant, exciting, passionate lives too.

Who inspires you the most in your writing career?

My readers, especially readers of color. When writing gets tough, just a kind comment from a reader reminds me of why I’m writing in the first place.

What were some of the main challenges you’ve faced as a WoC author breaking into the world of publishing?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have an amazing agent and publishing team who really support what I write and never made me feel like my stories matter less just because I’m a WOC. I’m also lucky to have author friends who have been very generous in sharing their advice on how to navigate the (very confusing) publishing world. Whisper networks are so important for people of color!

What do you love most about your hometown Singapore?

Oh wow, where I do I even begin? The food—kaya toast, yong tau foo, roti prata; the list goes on. My brother (who just came to California for university) brought me a jar of kaya spread that I requested and I almost cried with happiness when I could make kaya toast for the first time in a year (kaya is so expensive here!). And of course, my family and friends back home. How clean, safe, and accessible everything is. And I’ll always be a city girl at heart so I miss Singapore’s urban landscape so much.

What does life look like 5 years down the track for Kyla?

Hopefully still doing something creative. One of the best parts about writing for me is how the story really lives with me when I’m writing it—it’s the first thing I think of when I wake up and the last thing on my mind before I fall asleep. So I hope I’m always working on something that makes me feel so passionate and excited.

Preorder your copy of “THE FRAUD SQUAD” and follow Kyla on her journey on social and via her newsletter.

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