Finding Joy

Redefining Success (Part 3): Interview with Coco Ma

I'm Rishma!

Naturopathic Doctor & PhD turned scientific creative, travel adventurer, joy seeker, book lover, mom of two amazing humans, wife to her best friend. 

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Today I’m including a bonus episode. It’s a departure from my usual podcast programming. If you’ve noticed, the past few episodes are really focussed on my kids.  It started with me re-defining success (if you haven’t listened to that one, it’s a good one). Then part 2 was an interview with my 13 year old daughter who wrote a full length young adult fantasy fiction novel.  And then there was one episode that was a quick tip on how to get really clear on your goals – it’s also a great episode that’s really applicable to so many situations but I used her writing as an example. Today is the final installment, my kids and I are interviewing their favourite author, Coco Ma, who all three of us are enamoured with and want her to be our bestie. 

Before I introduce her, I want to thank all of you for listening. I don’t often share about my kids and I’ve had so many wonderful messages about their very short, background cameo appearances in season 1. 

I want this podcast to be really relevant and applicable to you, my dear listener who I appreciate and value so very much.  I also think it’s fun to get a behind the scenes look at how I apply personal growth in my own life with my family. Not to mention after this interview, my kids think I’m awesome so how could I resist? 

So without further ado, I would like to introduce the lovely Coco Ma. 

She is a Canadian author and pianist. She wrote her first novel, Shadow Frost, at the age of 15. She also began playing the piano at the age of five and a half, she has performed on some of the world’s greatest concert stages and graduated with a pre-college diploma in piano performance from The Juilliard School in New York City. Currently, she studies at Yale University. When she isn’t practicing piano, writing, or studying, you might find her binging Netflix or eating cake. 

Q: Your your books are fantastic. Like they’re spectacular. I can’t wait for like more.

A: Thank you so much. Um, that’s really really encouraging to hear. I’m kind of in the middle of a really difficult kind of time with editing right now. So I’ve been working like eight or nine hours a day. So yeah, yeah, it’s been it’s been a lot of work but it’s really nice to hear, you know, wonderful things from readers like you.

Q: So my first important question is I love your books. Do you happen to know when the next books coming out? Because like, I’m really excited.

A: Okay. So, um, Kingdom Hall, which is the third book actually, the release got delayed because I ended up changing publishers. So it’s written but we kind of there’s like, a lot of technicalities regarding contracts and that kind of thing. So sadly, it might not be for a while, but I do have another book coming out next fall. And that’s night breaker, which is a totally different series, but very, very fun. It’s set in New York City, and it’s got magic and monsters and it’s very exciting. I’d say it’s like kind of like Percy Jackson in the same way. It’s like set in New York and there’s mythology, but rather than a Greek mythology, I kind of created this New York based in New York. Inspired mythology. So yeah, I hope you guys will enjoy. Yay. Thank you have any questions?

Q: What inspired you to like start writing write Shadow Frost?

A: I was a huge fantasy reader when I was younger, I’m sure much like yourselves. And so I didn’t really think that much about writing. Um, I actually wasn’t very good at writing at all, especially when I started out. I mostly just loved reading. And when I was, I think in high school, so when I was in 10th grade, there was a project where we got to pick whatever we wanted to do, you could like, learn how to knit or you know, like go kayaking and lakes or something like that. And so I decided to write a series of short stories. And then the first short story just kept getting longer and longer and longer. And that was what shadow frost ended up being because I had written so much, it was like, definitely not a short story anymore. And I think I had like 50,000 words or something like that. And I was like, oh my god, this is like, I still have like half a story left to tell. So then I decided to finish writing it and then eventually that got published.   

Q: They could not put your books down. Like I think we have them. I think they read them multiple times. We’ve gifted them to lots of friends. They just couldn’t put it down. I have to say they’re just big big fans. Favorite. Oh,

A: Wow. That means so much to me. Thank you. Oh,

Q: There are so many characters and they have such good personalities. But how do you write other backstories and like connected together? 

A: Oh, yeah. So um, I learned a lot from Leigh Bardugo who did Six of Crows, which is definitely yeah, also probably one of my favorite books ever. So having read the amazing thing she did with all those multiple point of views and like there are so many different storylines that she weaves together so beautifully. And so I decided that I kind of wanted to try that because it sounded like a lot of fun getting to, you know, tell a story from so many different perspectives. And I think also one really great thing about that is that you get to tell multiple versions of the exact same story, because everyone perceives things and sees things differently. So there you there, you have a lot of opportunity to do like, sort of unreliable narrating that sort of thing. So I think that one of the easiest ways like when you start a book with like lots of characters is to just kind of write it out. And I think I even made tables of kind of what the different characteristics of the characters were. What their personalities like, what their desires were, what their fears were. strengths and weaknesses, all of that kind of thing. So that was a lot of fun to do as well.

Q: Because I tried that but it’s hard to like stay on track with writing characters when you want to write the scenes the action seems legit. Like, you have to kind of balance it out. With that, like how do you how do you after edit it like because you have so much writing and then there’s like so much work to do after how do you manage that?

A: Oh, so I think it’s actually really fun to edit, especially when you have a great editor on your side. Because it’s really it’s really rewarding I think to see a kind of a piece of work that you’ve made and been working on for so long and like poured your heart and soul into and figure out all the ways to make it even better. So I think that in itself is quite motivating. And you know, you always want like the story that you end up sending out to readers to be like something that they will really enjoy and have it be like your best work or as as best as you can get it because the creative process kind of you know, I sometimes I feel like if I didn’t have a deadline, I would just keep working on something forever. So you kind of have to have some self control and know when it’s time to let go of a work. But um, yeah, it’s very important to me that I work really hard on edits and listen to some of the really great advice that and feedback that my editors have had to ensure that the story that I end up sharing with you guys is like the best I can make it

Q: Yeah, I totally, I totally agree. But how do you like after all the editing after finishing it? How do you get people to take your book seriously agents and publishers?

A: Yes, that’s a really, really great question. And I think especially as a young author, that can be kind of difficult and tricky to navigate. So I think that to be honest, your work should speak for itself. And you shouldn’t have to convince anyone that you’re worthy of their attention or their praise just because you know, like they don’t believe in you and that sort of thing because of your age or whatever else. So I believe that, you know, there are a lot of things that aren’t in your control. You can’t control whether an agent decides to take you on as a client or a certain publisher like I mean, everyone knows like the story of what happened with Harry Potter, right? Like, how many publishers went and rejected that manuscript and live to regret it right. So that’s something that’s completely out of your control. What’s in your control is how much time you spend on the book. You know, what kind of work you put into it. And also just being kind of like, proactive about researching and looking for what options are out there and stuff like that. So that’s that’s stuff that you know, you can actually spend time and is worth your time focusing on not the stuff that’s out of your control.

Q: Who’s your favourite character? So like related to actual story. My favorite character is Quinlan like your favorite character and that’s why

A: I’m so we currently, Quinlan was such a delight to write he was kind of what my dream, you know, Prince kind of would be in a fantasy novel. I wish he was real. That would be really nice. I think it would be very entertaining to have him as a friend and also really nice to have him in a sticky situation involving monsters or you know, any kind of like, threat or obstacle in life. He’s also, I think, the conversations and the dialogue that I worked on for him and like between him and asked her and especially were the most fun to write.

Q: I my favorite characters Quinlen too.

Q: I’ll jump in and ask some questions. And then if you girls have any more, you can let me know something along the way. First, I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time. So nice of you. And I know that they’re just so thrilled to be able to talk to you. I guess I wanted to start by asking like as a parent is there any way that you found your family really supported you in this journey? Because I know that you have, I mean, you’ve written amazing, successful books. You’re a very accomplished pianist. We were listening to your music and it was amazing and we’re just blown away. The girls also play piano and so they’re aspiring to play like you one day. So there’s so many things that you’ve just really pursued with it sounds like a lot of determination and passion and how can as a family member as a parent, how can someone support their kids my kids in particular, I’m thinking like how to support them through their hobbies.

How can parents support their kids in following their dreams?

A: Oh, yeah, that’s such a great question. Um, honestly, I think the best way I can answer it is actually kind of the opposite sort of experience that I had. Um, I mean, I love my parents very much and I’m very close with them. But they definitely had a more strict approach to my upbringing. Um, you know, like the whole Tiger parent thing. And so, it definitely, I definitely felt discouraged some of the time and in a way I guess, sometimes how hard they pushed me and how hard they kind of in fact, were against my writing when I first started, made me even more determined to kind of prove them wrong. I was very much that kid. So I was too. Yeah, I find that. I mean, like, if it works, you know, but I mean, the support and encouragement that my parents have given me since I think, has definitely been a lot more productive. I think, um, I I really do believe that especially if you’re, if your kid has some kind of passion or interest or curiosity, it’s so important to foster that and to cultivate it. Even if you know you personally don’t really see it going anywhere. You know, kids are amazing, and they have so much potential. So it’s really important to kind of let them do their thing and see how it turns out. And even if it doesn’t, you know, become like they don’t become, you know, the best in their field or something like that. They do. learn a lot and get a really good experience. life experience from that. Especially for kids who love reading, I think it’s really important to even if you’re not like buying or ordering books for them, like taking them to the library, my mom used to go to the library and bring me back like a sack of like 20 books. And it didn’t match even care if I read them or not, but she just knew that I wanted to and that was something that she really wanted to encourage. So I mean, she had to know like what books were hot or like, you know what all the kids with the other kids were reading she just like picked whatever she thought I might like and so I ended up devouring so many books like even if I didn’t finish them, you know, it was just having that kind of support that really meant a lot early on.

Q: I wanted to ask you, I guess more like into grownup topics. Because I feel like you are it seems like very passionate on multiple levels like you’ve got your music you’re studying now you’re writing. I guess I wanted to ask you about balance because all of these things. I mean, even just one thing would take a lot of time and energy and practice and determination, and then having these multiple areas that you’re really trying to dive into. I’m sure there are days when you feel like you’re not balancing it. But do you have anything that you’re working through right now?

What helps you balance so much work and discipline with enjoying life?

A: Yeah, I mean, so I feel like the older I get, the less I’m you know, I have to kind of say for myself. But I think that when I was younger, I always was juggling piano in school. So I was practicing maybe five, six hours a day, and also doing school, which already in itself was like a full time job plus academics. And then when I moved to New York, I was doing the IB program at my high school and also, you know, going to Juilliard at the same time, which was a huge commitment. And I had a lot of pressure than to kind of like, you know, make sure I was doing everything and practicing a lot and still keeping up with my academics. And then on top of that, I was in the middle of I think, revising shadow frost because it was coming out the year after I actually I think this the fall after my last semester at Julliard. So um, one thing I noticed was that my my mom kind of wanted me to fulfill a certain time allotment per day of each thing. So like, let’s say like, three hours of homework and, you know, six hours of piano or whatever then like plus school and then whatever time I had leftover I could use on books. And so I kind of took that approach for a while and I realized it really didn’t work for me because some days I felt very frustrated with piano and or I was tired and things weren’t working and I didn’t really want to practice. There were other days when I was working on my book and nothing was working and I would much rather be like in the practice studio. So I think just being flexible and like forgiving with oneself is very helpful in being productive and achieving like a high rate of productivity rather than just like sitting in front of your computer or in front of your homework and just getting mad at yourself or things not working out the way you want. them to. So that being said, there are only so many hours in a day. And so I think my best tip for like balancing and you know, prioritizing your mental health and that sort of thing is getting enough sleep because I I’ve gone through many different kind of stages, I guess where I was either getting a lot of sleep, maybe too much sleep, I’m definitely not enough sleep, and then just like the right amount for for what suits my lifestyle, and I find that I’m just a lot happier. Get a lot more things done when I’m well rested.

The Importance of Sleep For Productivity

Q: Yeah, it’s so hard when you have a lot of pressures like deadlines and you know you’re studying and you have a performance coming up like sleep is almost the first thing to go when you have stress. Because there’s no time or you know, you’re you wake up because you’re stressed that happens to me sometimes. And sleep is the first thing to go and it being in healthcare. I know that it’s also one of the most important things. So it’s a really it’s a really important point that you bring up with this.

A: Yeah, absolutely. When I was in my junior year of high school, I think I was sleeping like four hours a night for four to five hours a night and I was like I was a mess. So that was not good. Um, and I thought it was so cool, like not sleeping very much because, you know, I think there’s kind of a, you know, glorification of pulling all nighters and like this kind of this kind of lifestyle, where you drink a lot of coffee and you know you don’t you don’t sleep and you whatever, you play video games late into the night or do whatever, and I was not doing well. And I found that like I would stay up and I would be trying to study for an exam or read an essay or something like that and I was spending 95% of my energy just like keeping my eyes open. Because I just wanted to sleep so bad and I would spend like half an hour reading the same page because I wasn’t processing any of it because I was so exhausted. Um, so I definitely don’t do that. I would. I don’t think you can survive college without getting enough sleep.

Q: Yeah, for sure. I think it’s that way with life. A lot of my listeners I mean, right now of course we’re doing I’m like trying to win the Best Mom award by bringing you on and interviewing you but I was reading about you and I feel like there’s so much that is interesting about your life and what you’re doing. And I think what hopefully what you’re thinking towards your future because one of the things I was struck by a lot of my listeners are people who have done amazing things in life but also have got caught into, you know, sort of the momentum of the day to day and we all fall into this sort of routine sometimes. But but people are really growth minded and really want more out of life in whatever way or shape that comes to them. And so one of the things I was thinking about was it seems like everything I’ve read, you really think big in life, you know, like you’re performing and I think I read that you were in Carnegie Hall and then you write this book and you get published and you have, you know, a publisher and an agent. And it seems like a lot of people might take it so far and then you kind of push it to that next level. And I guess I wanted to ask you about you know your thoughts around performance or thinking big or just reaching out to that next step. Just what if I could just do it a little bigger, you know, I think we teach those things to our kids. But when it comes to us as adults, we kind of end up in these little boxes. So I really admire that part about you. And I was wondering if you have thoughts on that.

Following Your Dreams

Be sure to listen to the rest of the interview, we talked about how she dreams big, how she gets the confidence to follow her dreams and she gives us some insight on the behind the scenes writing process!

If you enjoyed the episode, please consider writing a review on itunes! And don’t forget to subscribe for updates on new episodes.

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Travel adventurer, joy seeker, book lover

Hi, I'm Rishma.
Your BFF + New
Life Strategist.

I ran a thriving healthcare practice as a Naturopathic Doctor and Acupuncturist for over 20 years. I also earned my PhD and spent time in academic research and teaching positions. Now, I read scientific studies because I'm passionate about personal growth. I use the insights to help me, and our community, live our own XO life.

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