The following is a repost from an author interview I conducted with Sam Wright.
Not THAT Rich looks like an exciting story. Compared to Gossip Girl and Crazy Rich Asians, what can you tell us a little about it?
I wrote Not THAT Rich through the lens of being the book that I wish I had as a high schooler. Growing up, there wasn’t much Asian American representation in pop culture, and even when there was an Asian American actor on TV or in a book, I felt like it didn’t reflect my own experience of being a second-generation daughter of Chinese immigrants. I wanted to write a book that encompassed the glitz and glam I sought out in books growing up (like Gossip Girl and The Clique) but also gave readers a glimpse into the diversity of perspectives and experiences that can be found in the world of being Asian American (like Crazy Rich Asians to a certain extent, despite being set in Singapore).
Most importantly, I wanted the book to be fun. Young adults already have so much on their minds these days from juggling family, friends, education, and just being a teenager. The heaviness cast on 2020 by the pandemic and political turmoil made it even more important for me to write a lighthearted and juicy book that helped readers escape into a satirical world. It ultimately became a delicate balance of being a cerebral read while also still drawing out reflections about identity, motivations, and consequences.
Congratulations on making it as a #1 New Release on Amazon. What about the book do you think makes it such a big hit?
This is a tough question because I wish I knew as well, then I can make it an even bigger hit *laughs*. I think everyone has their own reason for liking the book but what I’ve heard the most often is that despite how “extra” and dramatic some characters and scenes are — the book is relatable. The emotions, cultural adversities, familial tension, miscommunications in friendship, and educational pressures all strike a chord in the reader in some way or another.
What inspired you when writing Not THAT Rich?
Not THAT Rich is inspired by a lot of stories, scenery, people and experiences that I witnessed growing up in an Asian American suburban bubble. There are parts of the book that are exaggerated (like having a $2 million dollar teddy bear, which is only found in a museum in South Korea), but the intense drive for monetary and educational success, the struggles of managing a multicultural identity, and the awkwardness of young love are all things I either experienced or saw firsthand in my own life.
There are quite a few characters in your book with different backgrounds and perspectives. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
Because my book is arranged in chapters with alternating perspectives of characters from the elite private high school, Winchester High, it might be easier to go down the list of them one-by-one:
Hunter Wang — He’s the popular and athletic overachiever who has a bullseye target on getting into Stanford. Tall, handsome, and smart, he’s also dating the most popular girl on campus — Sierra Jones. His obsession with college admissions drives him to take actions that cause many regrets in Not THAT Rich.
Trisha Wang — The goody two shoes perfectionist who has a massive crush on the new kid, Ray Martinez. She’s the younger sister of Hunter and while more practical than him in love, she struggles to maintain her straining friendship with her best friend, Pamela Shah.
Pamela Shah — She’s my wild child character and low key, my favorite one. As the eldest to three siblings and the daughter of conservative Pakistani immigrant parents, she does everything possible to live two completely different lives.
Matt Miller — A quarter Chinese, a quarter Korean, and half German, he’s a multicultural melting pot and also harboring a secret from his best friend, Hunter Wang.
Paul Jones — The “golden boy” of the school. He’s the jock in the story who has tunnel vision on getting into USC.
Sierra Jones — The “it” girl of the school. Because she’s part of the highly elitist Jones family, she feels obligated to play the role of the popular and cool girl on campus when in reality she hates it all.
Ray Martinez — A new junior transfer to Winchester and a complete outsider to the affluent world of his classmates. He’s down-to-earth, funny, and also completely exasperated by how out of touch some of his classmates are with the “normal” world.
Jack Zhou — The billionaire rich kind and new transfer to Winchester. He’s spoiled and snobby, but underneath all the layers of ambivalence, all he longs for is acceptance.
The Stranger — The silent lurker in the world of Winchester High who, due to severe bullying growing up, has revenge plans.
What will readers get out of your book?
Besides the fun and page-turning read that I’ve emphasized in previous questions, readers will also be able to take a glimpse into the elite world of Winchester High. It’s a world that is fictional but is very much inspired by my real-world experiences growing up in San Gabriel Valley, also known as a “mecca for Asian Americans.”
Do you have any other books planned?
I would love to make a series out of Not THAT Rich… but that really depends on how well this first book goes :)
How did you come up with the story and ideas in Not THAT Rich?
Some stories were inspired by real life occurrences, like the stolen AP test plot line in my book. However, most of my ideas came from starting with the character. For instance, as I was creating Pamela Shah, she really came to life while I was thinking about what motivates her, what grounds her, and what type of actions and consequences would she take when she’s pushed to the brink?
Did anything stick out as particularly challenging when writing Not THAT Rich?
My biggest challenge was making sure that my characters didn’t become tokenized versions of themselves. Because I had such a diverse cast of characters from various ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and even religious traits, I didn’t want to misrepresent anyone in any way. At some point, after interviewing multiple people who matched aspects of my different characters, I realized that it’s impossible to fully capture everyone’s unique experiences, because, surprise(!), everyone’s unique. I ended up coming to terms with the fact that my characters are distinctive on their own based on how I weaved their backgrounds into their personality, but I still feel like there’s so much left unsaid about my characters’ experiences and decisions… maybe that can be saved for the next book.
You work full-time as a software engineer and help run an ant-bullying nonprofit, Act To Change, as a Managing Director. When did you find the time to write a book?
I get this question a lot! I’ll be honest — I’m a bit of a workaholic. I don’t know if it’s a product of my Tiger Mom upbringing or if being surrounded by workaholics has just rubbed off on me over time, but I’m always looking for things to do. The pandemic has been awful but in many ways by quarantining at home, it really let all the stories that I’ve buried and created in my head throughout the years come to life on my laptop… and voila! Not THAT Rich was born.
That being said, I still find plenty of time to spoil my big-boned cat, Pishi (who is the inspiration behind Buttercup in the book!), annoy my perpetually grumpy dog Tyrion (yes, after Tyrion Lannister), and go kickboxing (my favorite workout!). Recently, my boyfriend and I have also been binge-watching all the seasons of Law and Order (there are so many!).
Where can readers find out more about your work?
I am the most active about my writing journey on my Instagram account @blei_writes, but I also have a Twitter and Facebook page. I’ve also created a website where you can subscribe to a #NotTHATRich newsletter for updates and read blog posts at.