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Doing It All Despite the Odds – Interview with Kyla Zhao

Written by: Alicia Ng Si Qi 23A15


Ms Kyla Zhao and her second novel Valley Verified


Even though Women’s History Month has ended, discussions over the challenges modern women face still remain as spirited as ever. What many women can commiserate over is the challenge of expectations – today, women face pressures to be family-oriented homemakers, precedent-defying “girlbosses”, and pursuers of their passions, all at the same time. At its core, this debate is about the all-important question: Can you really have it all?


Seemingly, Kyla Zhao can. An author, content creator, and marketing analyst, Kyla graduated from Hwa Chong in 2016, before attending Stanford University for her Bachelor’s and Master's degrees. These accomplishments are clearly not through chance – her hard work is evident from a packed schedule: on weekdays, she works a 9-to-5 day job in Silicon Valley; and on weekends, she writes into the afternoon and creates TikTok videos in the evening. This jam-packed schedule was plainly evident while arranging this interview — she was busy with her book tour (across America), so a Zoom meeting was not on the cards; Email responses had to do. In the end, though, nothing was lost. Kyla is a writer, after all, and her tenacity, passion, insight and creativity clearly shone through her prepared answers to my questions.


These same qualities have made Kyla a publishing success. Her first book The Fraud Squad was a buzz pick by Good Morning America, and a #1 new release in Asian-American literature on Amazon Kindle. It was featured in Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Buzzfeed. Ahead of the release of her second novel, 2024’s Valley Verified, she was selected by Forbes for its 30 Under 30 list and Tatler as a Leader of Tomorrow.


Despite everything going on in her life, Kyla still manages to find “enjoyment and fulfilment in all three parts”. She notes that her three vocations “are different enough that each serves as an ‘escape’ from the other two”. She sees them less as “commitments'' and more as “ways of exploring [her] passions” that enhance each other: in how her Excel expertise helps her keep track of her writing progress, and her communication chops lets her make technical information easily understandable. They also bring different values to her life. In technology, she cultivates an analytical mindset and finds community in a collaborative team. While writing and crafting social media content are seemingly solitary work, she ironically gets to share her thoughts, ideas and imagination with “so many people”.


It comes as a surprise that Kyla did not see herself embarking on the non-conventional paths of becoming a writer and media creative. At a STEM-dominant Hwa Chong, she “never envisioned [herself] becoming an author”. Her time in the Humanities Programme, though, “deepened [her] love for storytelling and appreciation for the power of the written word”, and “introduced [her] to a wide variety of books”, which helped as “reading widely and outside of the genre you write in will develop you into a stronger writer.”


Ms Kyla Zhao


Currently based in San Francisco, the epicentre of tech and computing, Kyla professes that she does feel self-conscious when telling coworkers that she also writes books. However, she is learning to embrace her authorial identity, helped by a supportive and “wonderful writing community”. This idea—of feeling out of place—is, of course, something that Kyla continuously grapples with in her books. She shares, “I hope readers realize that it is normal to feel like you do not know what you’re doing. Although The Fraud Squad and Valley Verified seem very different on the surface—the former about a working-class woman pretending to be a socialite to get her dream job; the latter a fashionista who joins a tech startup—both explore what it is like to feel like an imposter and worry that you do not belong.” Reflecting on her past experiences with imposter syndrome, Kyla stresses that “it is so normal and valid to feel uncomfortable as we go through changes in life. And instead of bottling them up, it helps to talk openly about these difficult emotions, so that we can normalize them and support one another.”


Venturing out of her comfort zone is all too familiar to Kyla. An introvert, she admits that posting so much on social media “can feel overwhelming at times”, given that she does not like talking about herself; and she is “always rather nervous” right before a book event. However, she takes it all in her stride. After accepting that self-promotion is unavoidable in a creative field, meeting readers is now her favourite part of being an author.

    

The gripping twists and turns contained in her books are soon going to become available to a younger audience. Her next book May the Best Player Win, coming out in September, is a children's book. Written during a “pretty bleak” time at the height of the pandemic and as the 2020 US presidential elections played out, working on May the Best Player Win was Kyla’s antidote. The book captures a “more youthful and less cynical perspective” to life, enabling both young and old readers to find joy in life’s small things, and rediscover their childhood innocence.


Our interview ends thus, but even days later, Kyla’s sheer tenacity and passion remain with me. Truly an inspiration to writers and non-writers alike, her story is nothing short of a testament to how one can still keep in touch with the arts in this STEM-dominated world, and how you can have it all, with enough grit.


Valley Verified and The Fraud Squad are available for purchase at Kinokuniya bookstores islandwide and also at online retailers including Amazon. To those looking to find out more about Kyla, she is accessible via these platforms:


Instagram: @kylajzhao

Twitter: @kylazhao

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