Cheng Channels Life Experiences Into Young Adult Novel – The Heights
If you are losing weight, you are too skinny. If you gain weight, you are too fat. Celebrities are under constant scrutiny, which means constant scrutiny. Not surprisingly, such a review often comes at a cost. From Britney Spears to Kanye West, the public eye has taken its toll on many occasions. Celebrity’s mental health check-up prompted Jessie Cheng, CSOM ’22, to write her newly published novel Without glory.
Ever since she was little, Cheng has been interested in entertainment, she said. Growing up in Fremont, California, she loved to sing and frequently gave concerts with her younger brother.
Rather than pursuing music full time, this interest has found other avenues since Cheng arrived at Boston College. As a Marketing and Business Analysis student at the Carroll School of Management, Cheng’s career direction may initially seem far removed from the music industry, but she sees an overlap.
âI want to work in the music industry someday, work directly with artists to promote their music,â Cheng said. âMusic is such a universal language and you can use it to convey many important messages. I hope to use my marketing experience to help promote these posts.
As she got older, Cheng’s perspective on the entertainment industry and the celebrities that make it up matured, she said.
âI have a huge heart for celebrities because they are so openly criticized and they are always expected to be perfect idols for the rest of us,â Cheng said.
This recognition, coupled with his love for writing, is exactly what motivated Cheng’s decision to write a novel from a famous singer’s perspective. Without glory is a young adult novel about 19-year-old singer Rose BD, a Chinese-American pop star. A story of resilience and recovery, Without glory chronicles Rose’s secret struggles with an eating disorder in an industry that demands perfection.
âThe more I wrote, the more I understood my characters and could write about how they might react to certain situations in their lives,â Cheng said. “I enjoyed connecting my characters together or delving more into their childhood and how this upbringing affected their mental well-being.”
Cheng’s own experiences also played a big part in his decision to write. Without glory, she said. Her battle with an eating disorder over the past seven years has provided lived experience to the struggles so often faced by celebrities, Cheng said.
Cheng knew the pandemic was a good time to talk about eating disorders because COVID-19 only made things more difficult for those who have trouble eating, she said.
“As many people with eating disorders or eating disorders might report, my 40s definitely complicated my relationship with food and with my body, as I was stuck at home with so many things. food around me all the time, âCheng said. “Writing Without glory was a therapeutic way for me to put my emotions on paper, as well as reflect on my past experiences and write about mental health.
Before the pandemic, Cheng wanted to start a podcast on mental health in the entertainment industry first, she said. In May 2020, Cheng’s plan changed after speaking with his mentor, SJ Petteruti, BC ’07.
Petteruti first met Cheng on a Zoom call about his experience as a graduate writer of English literature. After the lecture, Cheng came to Petteruti with his interest in writing a novel.
âI’ve told a lot of people to write a book,â Petteruti said. “Jessie is one of the few people I have met who has experienced this.”
When Cheng spoke to Petteruti about starting with a podcast, he urged her to establish some credibility first. This prompted Cheng to start writing Without glory in May 2020, an âovernight idea,â as she called it.
Recognizing how much work writing a novel takes from his own experience, Petteruti is extremely proud of Cheng’s work, he said.
âShe did so much work on her own,â Petteruti said. âShe’s a talented writer and she has a great voice. I think we’ll hear more over time.
Another key resource for Cheng as she navigated the novel writing process showed up in an unlikely place: an email chain. After reading an email on the Institute of Creators, a group of over 200 new authors with similar deadlines and target publication dates, Cheng was immediately mesmerized, she said. She scheduled a call with the founder and from there joined the group.
As a member, Cheng participated in weekly workshops focusing on topics ranging from improving storylines to character development to messaging and more. Despite the structure provided by the group, balancing writing a novel with being a full-time student in the final year of college was no easy task, Cheng said.
âThe Institute gave me a lot of responsibility, but it was extremely difficult to hold myself accountable at school,â Cheng said.
Cheng said that she tried to write at least one chapter every week and found herself writing mostly between 1 and 2 a.m. in her dorm room, when there were few distractions.
âI had this post-it on my wall that said, ‘Remember why’. Turn your pain into a goal, âCheng said. “Remembering the end goal and the impact of my book gave me a lot of motivation to keep going.”
The difficulty of staying motivated was compounded by the difficult nature of what Cheng wrote. Since many of Rose BD’s experiences are drawn from Cheng’s own life, the writing was a very vulnerable process, she said.
âIt was something I was ready to share with the world because I knew people would be comforted by my story and relate to it,â Cheng said. “The whole writing process and having to confront my past experiences was probably one of my biggest challenges.”
In April 2021, Cheng launched a crowdfunding campaign to cover the $ 5,000 publication fee. Without glory, which she exceeded by more than $ 1,000. She said this allowed her to establish a first community of authors. Those who donated to his campaign received a pre-ordered copy of Without glory and I helped choose the cover for the book.
Cheng released Without glory via New Degree Press in August 2021, just 15 months after originally deciding to write the book.
âIt was terrifying to put me there,â Cheng said. “Like most freelance writers, I think marketing is a challenge after you publish because most of the marketing efforts have to be done on my own.”
Cheng has sold over 200 copies of his book so far. Without glory can be purchased as a paperback or e-book on Amazon. Despite the difficulty of writing and marketing a novel and the pain of facing the struggles of the past through its protagonist, Cheng said writing novels is not something she will stop anytime soon.
âI hope to continue advocating for mental health and blogging about eating disordersâ¦ writing is definitely something I will be doing all my life,â Cheng said. “I hope this book will encourage the community in British Columbia and beyond to seek vulnerability, as well as seek recovery in their lives, what that might be like.
Graphic presented by Olivia Charbonneau / Editor-in-Chief of Heights
Photos courtesy of Jessie Cheng