How do you pronounce your last name?
Just like Peter Pan. (No relation.)
What do the “X” and “R” stand for?
Even though I’m American and Emily is my real name, my parents also gave me a Chinese name: Pan Xiang Ru. I took the initials from that.
Where were you born?
Where do you live currently?
How did you get your agent? Do you have any tips?
I queried the old-fashioned way. This is my “How I signed with my agent” post, and this is my “How to research and prepare for querying agents” post. My tips: don’t obsess over trying to speed up the process; focus on making your novel as good and done as possible. Persevere, and be patient.
Will you read my story/novel/writing sample/personal statement/query letter?
Unfortunately I have to say no. But I wish you the best of luck!
What creative writing programs would you recommend?
The only one I have personal experience with is NYU, and they have great programs for both undergrads and MFA candidates. I also think very highly of VCFA, where I very nearly enrolled for my MFA. I ended up at NYU instead because their offer was better in terms of financials, and that is the one important thing I will say regarding choosing a program: I don’t think it makes sense to go into debt for an MFA.
Do you think I need to study creative writing in school in order to be a writer?
Nope, not at all. I originally went to business school. And I was a writer even back then. All it takes is making the choice to write, and to work hard at finishing what you start. (I personally strive to write every day. However there are plenty of great published writers who churn out book after book who don’t write every day.)
When did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. My mother is a prolific essayist (writing creative nonfiction in Chinese) and my father has an intense passion for storytelling. Inspired by them, I made my first attempt at drafting a novel when I was seven years old. I typed it in a neon purple curlicue typeface using only my index fingers, and I got about four pages in.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for aspiring writers?
Read. I know everyone says this, but it’s the type of thing where you don’t truly understand the effects of it until you’ve read enough books to have sharpened your instincts. Read as much as possible. Read a wide variety — push yourself to explore outside your favorite genres because there’s a lot to be learned there. And most importantly: don’t focus on reading fast, but instead reading carefully. Which also means rereading. Because the first time through a novel you’re just taking in the story and the landscape. But it’s upon rereading it that you can notice the details, the seams. It’s when you’re going through it a second/third/fourth time that you can really dissect the book and figure out answers to questions like: Why is this scene so satisfying? What part of this gets you all teary-eyed and why? What makes this character feel so real? When you figure out the techniques behind those answers, you gain new tools for sharpening your own stories. All you need to be a good writer is enough tools and enough practice.
What do you do aside from writing?
Practice and teach yoga. Play piano, violin, and a few other instruments. Draw and paint and take photographs. Belt Broadway tunes and Disney songs and 90s pop in the shower. Hunt for the perfect cookie ice cream sandwich. Daydream about where I’ll travel next.