‘Listen to yourself more than you listen to other people’ Advice to her 15-year-old self from Author Peg Cheng

I met Peg Cheng via email through a mutual writer friend, Tamiko Nimura.  Right after, I purchased her middle grade novel, The Contenders, on amazon.  I was hooked from page 11 by the clean writing and sweet father-daughter relationship.  A few weeks later, over coffee at Corina’s Bakery, I had the feeling I had known Peg forever. Our conversation ran everywhere.  Our stories towards our lives as writers merged in many places. I thought later how interesting and useful it would be to share with younger writers the twisted and uphill routes we take and make as we move forward in life.  So when I came up with an Author Q&A, When I was 15, Peg was naturally the first person I asked to participate.

If you’d like to connect with Peg and look into the services she provides as a writing coach, check out her web page!


Tell us a little about your most recent work or your work in progress. My last book was a middle-grade novel called The Contenders, which is about Eunice Yang, an Asian-American tomboy who has to team up with her archenemy in the fifth grade Brawn & Brains Contest. My work in progress is an adult suspense novel called Seven Dudes (that’s the working title) that’s inspired by the Snow White fairy tale and takes place in 1980s Seattle.

What made you want to write this? One of the reasons I wrote The Contenders was because I didn’t have the opportunity as a kid to read books that featured an Asian-American girl as the main character. I thought that all characters were white because pretty much every single book read to us in class, or assigned as homework, featured white characters (with the occasional person of color usually portrayed as a stereotype). Growing up, I read a lot of books by Beverly Cleary, and I especially loved her Ramona Quimby books. I didn’t realize until I was deep into writing Eunice’s story in The Contenders that I was essentially writing the Asian-American Ramona.

Did you have a specific reader in mind? I would love it if millions of Asian-American girls read The Contenders, but I didn’t necessarily write this book for them. I wrote it for my 10-year-old self. If the kid in me loved it, then I figured other kids might like it too. You don’t have to be Asian-American or a girl to like it. If you have ever felt different, been bullied, or really hated another kid when you were a kid, I think you can relate to what happens in The Contenders.

When I was 15 (more or less)…

The most memorable thing a teacher said to me (good or bad): That I was a good writer. My freshman year English teacher nominated me for the annual award in English, as did my senior year English teacher. They both complimented me on my writing but I don’t remember their exact words. The fact that my high school career was bookended by these two award nominations in English should have clued me in to focus more on writing in college, but it really didn’t dawn on me that I had this strength and ability that other people didn’t necessarily have until I was in my mid- to late 20s. By then I was working hard at any job that could hold my interest and paid a decent salary. It really wasn’t until my late 30s that I realized I should capitalize on my writing ability.


At school, I hated (a person or subject or space): I hated all math past 6th grade, and also hated the boys and girls and teachers that were bullies (too many to name here). Hmm, I wonder why I wrote my first novel about bullying?


My hidden talent: I have several quirky talents that people are surprised about when they happen or appear. I don’t think of them as “talents,” just strange or unusual skills. For example, I can recognize a song by The Beatles within a few seconds of it playing (sometimes from the very first note) and can usually name the title and who sang it too. I have this “talent” because my brother Steve used to quiz me mercilessly on Beatles songs when I was 7-8 years old.


I often worried about: Everything. I grew up with very critical parents that made me worry about everything. It seemed like from age 6-18, I could not do anything right in their eyes. So, I worried about a lot of things I know now that I should not have worried about.


My biggest crush: There was a guy named Mike that I had a huge crush on from 7th grade all the way through high school. I never told him and we were never friends. Then, some years ago when I was in my late 20s/early 30s, I was looking at my high school’s web site and it listed Mike as being one of the graduates from my high school class that had died. It’s really sad to know that he’s gone.



If you could give the 15-year-old you any advice, what would it be? Listen to yourself more than you listen to other people.


Did you experience anything during those teen years that has had a lasting, positive influence on your life? I had several teachers throughout my K-12 education, not just my teen years, who really encouraged me and pushed me to use my strengths in art and writing. I’m really glad I wasn’t one of those writers who had a teacher tell them, “You can’t write. Just give up.” Or “You can’t draw worth crap. Stop trying.” No, I was lucky. I had different teachers throughout the years (six of them come to mind) who praised me and encouraged me in those two subjects. I will always be grateful to those teachers and I hold teachers in high regard because of them. I think it’s one of the big reasons why I’ve worked in helping professions throughout my life–career counselor, academic adviser, prelaw adviser, writing coach–it’s because I’m trying to give to others what I was given.


List the jobs you’ve had. Which was your favorite? Which was your least favorite? I’ve had 35 jobs. Yep. It’s true. As I learned from the famous career counselor Barbara Sher, I’m a scanner not a diver. I like to try lots of different things, I’m always learning, and my curiosity never ends. My least favorite job was being a bus parts counter for one day. My favorite job is the three-pronged one I have right now: author, blogger, and writing coach.