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23rd December 2019
A Conversation with Kathy Tong
Author of Not-Quite-Supermodel

When Remedy fans hear Kathy Tong's name, they'll likely think about her work as the badass Mona Sax in Max Payne II: The Fall of Max Payne first, but recently the talented model and actress became a newly published author.

Kathy's first book, Not-Quite-Supermodel is available now at Amazon, Barnes and NobleiBooks, Apple Green Books, and Chapters.

Not-Quite-Supermodel is a charming book following the life of Alex Emmerson who unexpectedly gets spotted by a modelling scout while working behind the counter in Canada, a moment which propels her into a brand new life in New York. It's a character-driven and, in many ways, a coming of age book, with Alex discovering herself and facing her worries and insecurities with stubborn determination as she finds her place in the city that never sleeps and in a unique industry. I really enjoyed the book, and I look forward to writing more about it in the next Bookclub article.

Not-Quite-Supermodel's cover artwork, designed by Stephanie Jimenez

In the meantime though, I'm excited to share an interview that we had last month. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking to Kathy on the phone, about her new book and her experiences in becoming a published author. You can read the full transcript below:

The Sudden Stop (Rachel): My first question has to be; how does it feel being a newly published author?

Kathy Tong: Oh gosh. you know there’s a part of me, that feels really accomplished because you’ve worked so hard on something for five years, and there’s a part of you, honestly, that’s terrifying because people are going to read it now. And some people, of course, are going to say 'oh it’s the best thing ever' and some people are going to say 'it sucks'.

R: It’s gotten some very positive reviews so far!

K: Well, so far but inevitably someone is really going to hate it and they’re going to have no problem telling you, and that’s okay! But I think there’s a part of everyone, certainly me, with criticism, even if it’s fair, you want to crawl under a blanket and hide there, y'know?

R: Oh yeah, I completely understand that! *laughs* So, why and how did you decide to write this book now? 

K: Well, back in 2009 a friend of mine was going to start, maybe even further back, a blog. She’s really creative and artistic and a much more visual person than me. And it was before POPSUGAR and the internet blew up with all these sites; shopping sites and whatever’s going on with social media now. So I had written a couple of stories for that, and it sort of fell apart.

She needed to get a full-time job, and I just kept writing and thought you know what? If so many people say so many negative things about the fashion industry, and again they’re legitimate complaints and there are a lot of negative aspects of it, but there are some really funny, joyous moments in it. It is like being in a circus. And you do meet some great people and not everyone has a bad experience. So I just wanted to put some light and some fun into the story that hopefully everyone can relate to, right?

R: Oh yeah!

K: That none of us are perfect. And, yeah, that’s kind of how it went and then it sort of became a challenge like, wow, I really want to do this.

R: You touched on this a little bit in your previous answer, but why did you want to focus on the modelling industry as the centre topic?

K: Well, I hope it’s way more than about modelling, but people often say 'write about what you know'. So there are some people that create- I’m hardly one of those people who created a wonderful world like The Hunger Games or Lord of the Rings, I just tried to write true to what I know. About experiences that I could write honestly about, and paint a story that is believable. I didn’t want to vilify the modelling industry, I just wanted to show that there are people everywhere; we all kind of the same. It just happens to be set against that backdrop and that is kind of the life that I’ve lived for twenty-some-odd-years.

Kathy Tong's author photoshoot by Lisa Houlgrave.

R: Both you and your character, Alex, share a history in a way.

K: Yes. 

R: You were both discovered by a modelling scout while working behind the counter. Was modelling always the goal for you or did you have, at the time, another career goal in mind?

K: Ah God. Yeah, y’know, I was- *laughs*. Here’s a true story, so my boyfriend at the time in my little hometown his ex-girlfriend had been a model. I don’t know about you, but I was super insecure about that and thought 'I’d never be good enough to be his girlfriend if I’m not a model'. I never thought about [modelling] in my life and then somebody came in and asked if they could take my picture and that was how it all took off, but no, I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to teach kids. Or if I had any talent, I would have loved to have been on Broadway but I cannot sing or dance. So *laughs* that made it tricky.

R: So, I don’t want to go too in-depth with the plot with my questions. […] All of the characters are very interesting, and even the ones where you feel like they’re doing very okay for themselves there’s a rawness, there’s a very human quality to them and to the writing that I really love.

But going back to the start of the book you mentioned about some of the similarities between you and the main character I was wondering how autobiographical those scenes were; her being discovered by a modelling scout, then having those conversations with family and friends, and then making that journey to New York?

K: It’s funny, someone asked me to do a Q&A, [and] they asked me about how much is true and isn’t true, and I would say 'yes', 'no', or 'no comment'. So I will say that the reality of going to New York wasn’t exciting to me at all. I was terrified. A lot of people have that dream of going and I was terrified; I had never left home before, and the truth is that the first place I went to was Europe. I was in Europe for three years before I went to New York.

R: Oh! Really?

K: Yeah! Paris, I was there for three days. They weigh you, every day back in the 90s, you’d have to get on a scale and they’d weigh you in. That was too much pressure for me *laughs* so I left Paris.

I worked quite a bit in Germany, and I was a little bit older when I went to New York. It was probably in '94 when I went to New York? I was maybe twenty-two? But yeah, it was terrifying and most of the girls my age had been doing it a little bit longer and they didn’t seem as nearly as insecure, although they might have been. You know, we all put up a front, but yeah, I was terrified. And modelling is not easy, it’s not easy.

The actual act of modelling, unless you were a natural or a dancer *laughs* it’s hard! It is! And I was never a natural. I was afraid to ask about how do I do it because I didn’t want anyone to know that I didn’t know what I was doing. My friends at home were saying 'this is the stupidest thing in the world, why are you going there' *laughs* 'this is just not right for you'.

And my friends at home, just to touch on that, even as I got older, there was a point where… I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but I would come home from New York and I would have some giant sunglasses on thinking that I was- I wouldn’t say 'all that' but all fashioned out from New York.

My friends really are Canadian and they do wear Birkenstocks and they are pretty casual folks that love nature, and I’d come home and they would all be hanging out on the patio and, y’know, smoking a joint or something and I would come in with *laughs* this hair and these sunglasses. A friend of mine said 'you know, Kat, you looked like an idiot. Why are you sitting there in those giant sunglasses?' And he was right! He was right, it was a little bit poser-ish. I am really lucky to have family and the friends I have because there was no room to - I don’t know - to embrace that kind of lifestyle, there was no room for it.

R: I’m curious, did you have any culture shock because New York sounds very different to where you were living before?

K: Yeah, fuck yeah. Maybe it’s inappropriate to swear?

R: *Laughs* Nah, it’s fine!

K: Yes, you know, I often spend time in London. I really love London. My problem in London is the weather, right? Are you in London, Rachel?

R: I’m currently in Helsinki, slightly colder, slightly damper, but I’m going to be back in London before the holidays, yeah.

K: Oh my God. Helsinki? Jesus! That is far away. What are you doing? Wait, I’m not supposed to ask the questions am I?

R: *Laughs* It’s fine!

K: Helsinki? I’ve never been there!

R: Really? Huh!

K: Nope! I have not!

R: I made a decision beforehand not to mention Max Payne, and to focus on the book, which I still want to do, but I am kind of surprised that you haven’t been to Helsinki for that. I think you’d really love it here. It’s got like that seaside town vibe but also that city vibe.

K: Mmm, nice.

R: It’s also very safe. Which… I can appreciate. *laughs*

K: Which isn’t a bad thing! Yeah, no kidding. No kidding. Yeah, no, it's definitely on the bucket list. It's definitely on the bucket list. But to go back to your question just because I could sit and ask you a million questions, right? It's always fun to talk to other people about their adventures. *laughs*

But I love London and you know, I have a British passport so I could work there legally. And, my whole family's English so there was- listen, moving to a city from a small town is always a little bit shocking. But New York? There are just no words. Also, it was New York in the 90s, it was a different experience than now. I hate that 'gentrified' word but it’s a little more. Anyway, just the subway, you can’t know unless you’re from the city; my brother-in-law, we took him to England this year, and he’d never been on the subway.

R: Huh!

K: Yeah, just all of these things you took for granted if you’re a city-kid. For someone from a small town like us, we’re just 'what the fuck is going on?'. Everything is going so fast and you have no idea where. And London is hard to navigate because you have a lot of little streets. New York was easier. But there’s a magic in New York, I miss it so much. I’m on the west coast now but as a younger person… it was an unbelievable culture shock. Just 'what in the hell is going on?' *laughs*

R: Yeah! So, how long did it take you to feel settled into New York?

K: Personally again, different than the story, and of course there was no Instagram back then, but I moved to New York full time when I was thirty. In my twenties, I sort of bounced around; staying back in Canada, at home because it was all very nerve-racking and pressure-filled. And when I went back when I was thirty, I fell into a group pretty fast. But I was older at that point, and yeah, I just fell in love with it. I was there for fourteen years, and it was my whole life but New York’s a tough city to get old in. I’m forty-eight now, right? Once you’re past forty-two, if you don’t have kids and a place to go during the winter; it’s a tough city to get old in. It’s cold and it is fast, and also I fell in love with a guy and we ended up living out here in California.

R: It sounds a lot warmer. So there’s that!

K: *Laughs* It is! It is a lot warmer. 

R: So how did it feel stepping back into the shoes of a model who is just starting out in the industry?

K: You mean writing like I was Alex?

R: Yes!

K: You know, the hardest thing for me about that, was not capturing the feeling - because I think it’s very similar for a lot of girls, except some girls are fearless and they just can’t wait or they can’t wait to get out of a situation that they’re in. But with the social media aspect of it, I had to research and research and study and study what was going on with that. Because when I modelled and most of the people I know, you didn’t have that. This is a phenomenon that really started model-wise in 2014 where you could become Instagram-famous. And so having to post and having to have a social media presence, that was the hardest thing to write about because I didn’t really have one myself.

In a way, it was super fun because you [can] look back on it and you go 'I really did that!', and it’s nice to have some personal victories which I won’t give it away. But it was fun, definitely a fun experience! It’s a lot of work though, honestly, Rachel. And lonely work, because you’re alone. When you write, you’re alone, you’re not in a writers’ room, but that was the only thing about it; it was a very lonely experience.

R: When I was reading, I did notice, because Alex’s world is so focused on places like Instagram, when I was reading it I was thinking about what it would have been like to be writing about that. It must have been something that transformed the modelling industry so much! Suddenly there’s that internet focus and you have to focus on self-promotion.

K: Well, what was really a challenge about that was, because fashion, and social media; everything’s moving so fast. The book is set in 2014, and when I was working with my editor she asked 'why don’t we set it in now?' and I said because to go in and change it, since the book has been written, now they have - I don’t know if you’re familiar with modelling at all - but Coco Rocha? A super famous model, all of these people have started modelling schools or modelling camps that teach girls how to move and teach girls about the industry.

So, my book is not even relevant to 2019. I mean the story and the people and the feelings, all that is true! But it could not exist, some of the things that happened with her, because now there are things that could help that she could have sought out like the model camp or the model coaches, and there’s a lot more available to girls where they can go and learn that stuff. Even the outfits, the fashion! I could not go through it again and find out who was wearing what in 2019 because *laughs* I really don’t care.  So that was a challenge!

R: Huh! I didn’t even consider that to be an issue while writing. Both social media and the modelling industry just changes so much in such a short amount of time that… yeah, that’s a really interesting answer! I hadn’t considered that! 

I have a question about… well, a lot of writers face imposter syndrome, that even though you can do the job really well, you don’t always feel it. And I was wondering if that was something that you had faced while writing the book?

K: Yeah, that’s a great question. Yes! That’s why at one point, I just quit writing it. I had shown people the original draft, mostly my inner-circle people who I could trust to say this is awful or not, and everyone said: 'no, keep going'. Even my sister, my best friend, she was a daily pep-talk; 'just don’t quit, it’s really good, it’s really good!'

Yeah! Listen, even if it’s not really good, the point is finish it. You’re committed to it, y’know? But yeah, often I’d just think; 'what am I doing? I should be teaching kids, this is awful', and 'what makes you think that you can write a book?' You really just go through all of that and really beat yourself up.

There were times certainly, really, either you drink, which I’m not encouraging or you just sit-, it happens right?!

R: Yeah.

K: You just sit around and cry. You just think 'what am I doing?'

So yes, I felt like that as a model, often. I certainly felt like that as an actress. Then I had that with this book also. But I think the older you get, at some point, some people are eighty, and they just get to the point where they just don’t care about anything. *laughs*

R: Oh yeah!

K: And I think, pushing fifty now, I don’t think I could have put this out in my early forties. I don’t think I could have handled any scrutiny, and now I kind of can.

I did get one review that someone did post and she said she hated it, everyone. And this reviewer is entitled to that. She hated everyone. She hated the main character. And I just thought, 'oh my God'. But like I said, I think that would have been crippling for me eight years ago. I don’t think I could have gone on. I might have pulled it off the shelf. But now, I can laugh about it. People are allowed to feel what they feel about it.

R: I had a question about the setup that you had to write the book, whether you had any routines that helped you get into that writing mode? For instance, did you wake up and you plan to do a chapter, or you sit at the computer and you had to have a cup of tea; something that kickstarted it and made that writing happen?

K: Yeah, that’s a great question too. It’s hard. I think- I honestly don’t know exactly what you do, but I feel like it’s something artistic. So, in that way, it’s not like a job or becoming a doctor where you have a set schedule. 

For me, I’m most productive in the morning. After 6pm, that’s not when I’m doing my best work. So I would say, in the beginning, there’s the challenge of committing to writing every day which, sometimes was really hard. I would just sit down and say 'this is it, it’s 9:30, you went for a walk, you’ve had your coffee, and now you’re not moving until 12:30.' Even if you write dribble, at least keep writing. And that was sort of the goal, at least six days a week, for at least three hours. And then sometimes you could write for ten, and then some days three hours was like The Shining; nothing was happening.

So, yeah. Great questions, you really prepared.

R: *Laughs* I hope so! Looking back on the entire project, what has been the most rewarding part of writing?

K: Well, the book was finished for me a long time ago. My side of it was finished, I would say, in April. Done. And then it has to go to an editor. There weren’t that many edits to make, I had been working on it so long. Then it has to go to a copy-editor which is not just spelling but grammar, and somebody who goes over that.

So for me, what has been going on, really, since June, has been marketing; working with the publicist, and I’ve been unbelievably lucky to work with the illustrator [Stephanie Jimenez]; she’s doing all of the illustrations for social media and she did the book cover. Other than writing blurbs and stuff for social media, it’s been a while since I sat down and wrote every day. And this has been the least enjoyable part of it, the marketing.

R: Really?!

K: Yeah, I hate it. God bless these people who are social media- that’s a full-time job for people! That’s what they do. I just find it exhausting and the self-promotion is just ehhh, y’know? Trying to find fun ways of saying 'hey, buy my book?', 'hey, I’m so awesome, but I’m not saying that.' Y’know, it really kind of a sticky thing, it does make me a little bit uncomfortable.

Luckily, I have found this amazing woman to work with me and her illustrations are outstanding and so, I didn’t really want to use myself to promote the book; that’s really what people wanted me to do. For once, I’d rather- clearly it’s linked to my life but you can see that in my bio, you can see that with the novel, I didn’t want to be the face of it going out there. I just wanted the book to be about the book. I’m happy to talk to people, I’m happy to take to bookclubs and things like that, that’s why I started an Instagram feed exclusively for the book so that people could follow that and not be the thing that interests them. Do you know what I mean?

R: Yes!

K: Let the book be interesting by itself.

R: One aspect which I was interested in was how did you find the process of finding and acquiring a publisher for the book?

K: Ah, great question again. A solid one. The thing about getting a publisher and getting an agent, for a project like this is that they want a commitment from you that you’re going to write four more books by 2022, let’s say. And I didn’t want to have that kind of pressure on me, A. And B, this is just an honest thing, there has been a bit of interest from people in television, streaming networks, in this work, and that had started even three years ago, before people had seen a rough draft. So, if you have a mainstream publishing house pick up your work, they get a big chunk of that money. If you put your heart and your soul into something, it could turn into a hot TV or film, at this point, if you keep yourself contained, you own the rights to everything.

So, what I did was that I started my own publishing- I wouldn’t say publishing house because it’s a hybrid publishing, [but] I have my own label to publish under, and then you just outsource it to Amazon and another company like IngramSpark who, like an aggregator, can plug your book to Barnes and Noble. They plug that to everyone for you. You incur all the costs upfront and so you are entitled to all of the royalties and whatever else comes with it.

That was another huge thing that, just a massive undertaking, 'what in the hell am I going to do if I don’t want to go to a traditional publishing house?' Really you need an agent and I don’t- I did not want to commit to that. I might happily write four more books, but I don’t want the pressure of someone saying, I want a hundred pages by tomorrow.

R: Yeah. I have a few friends who are- they’ve got their books ready, or they’re almost there, and they’re looking for agents and publishers. It’s an intimidating part of the process. So, I’m interested in what you said about that.

I know that we’re running out of time, I’ve just got one more question, if that’s okay. So after completing the book, and it’s now out there, what is one piece of advice you could travel back in time to the start of the project?

K: If I could travel back to the start… Y’know what? I think I would give the same advice to anyone; there is that sense of fear, and normally I would say 'oh, it’s a bunch of nonsense, it’s not true, it doesn’t hold you back' but it really does. It’s not the fear of failure, it’s the fear of 'I can’t do it', and so I would write myself a letter and say, 'you absolutely can do this.' And I think it’s freeing, you really believe it in your heart.

Now if I went to write another book, I know I can do it. But there was a sense of a daily thing, 'I can’t do it' and that was defeatist to wake up and do that. So, it would just be to say 'you can absolutely do it' and just make the room to you for it to not be perfect and to try and enjoy it. Try to enjoy the process a little more instead of just stressed out, because there was a lot of stress. Just try to enjoy the process and not the end result would be my short answer. *laughs* That I just answered in a very long way. 

R: It’s a good answer!

A huge thank you to Kathy Tong for taking the time to do an interview and to her agent Erica Ohayon for arranging the phone conversation and sending a review copy of the book. It was so lovely talking to the both of you! 

Kathy's first book, Not-Quite-Supermodel is available now in paperback and ebook formats at AmazonBarnes and NobleiBooksApple Green Books, and Chapters.


Formerly "Vanguard"

The Crossfire Series

The Control Series

The Quantum Break Series

The Alan Wake Series

The Max Payne Series



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