Hawks to Watch: Tracey Lien, author

Why Tracey is a Hawk to Watch:

Oftentimes schoolwork is enough for a passing grade, and usually it’s good enough for a degree. On rare occasions though, it’s good enough to be published — which is where this Hawk to Watch comes into play. 

Tracey Lien’s thesis for her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing was published this past September, and it’s being hailed as a gripping mystery-thriller dealing with powerful topics, including death, immigration, and anti-Asian racism in a suburb of Sydney, Australia. Reviewers on Goodreads are describing the novel, titled “All That’s Left Unsaid,” as “mesmerizing,” “heartbreaking,” and “beautifully-written.”

Through a lifelong love of journalism Tracey fine-tuned her chops for telling nonfiction stories, but it wasn’t until a near-decade into a successful reporting career that she felt the urge to write and share stories of her own creation. She utilized her time in Lawrence and devoted her master’s thesis to her debut novel, and after graduating in 2021, is experiencing a serendipitous level of success.

We were lucky enough to schedule a chat with Tracey, who talked about her upbringing and inspiration for her novel, why she changed career paths and tips for those considering a similar move in their 30’s, and advice for those who find themselves at the beginning of a huge undertaking. See why Tracey is a Hawk to Watch.

Tell us in a sentence or two what you do for a living.

I’m the author of ALL THAT’S LEFT UNSAID, a novel published by HarperCollins in September 2022. I am currently working on my second novel.

How did you begin your career? Was there a certain moment when things came together, or was it a longer journey?

Prior to becoming a novelist, I was a business reporter for the Los Angeles Times. I’d wanted to be a journalist since I was a child — I loved the idea of telling other people’s stories for a living, and it was such a privilege to be able to do it for a big newspaper. But, around the time of Donald Trump’s presidency, my job changed. There seemed to be a new crisis everyday, and I found it harder and harder to tell the kinds of stories that I cared about. And so, I applied to MFA programs in creative writing. KU accepted me in 2018. I quit my job, packed my bags, and moved to Lawrence to learn how to write fiction.

What themes or ideas do you explore through your work?

I grew up in Australia where I was told from a young age that I belonged, that I was as Aussie as they come, and that I’d get a fair go, only to realize that my citizenship was actually conditional. It was conditional on my impeccable behavior. It was conditional on my gratitude. And if I ever did anything to step out of line, I risked being perceived as a nuisance or, worse, a threat. My novel explores that conditional citizenship and the precarious tightrope that people of color often have to walk in order to not face violent rejection.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

When I started at KU, I wasn’t sure that I had it in me to write a novel. I’m really glad that I gave it my all.

What was your lowest career moment and how did you pick yourself up and move on?

As someone who had always wanted to be a journalist, who’d been single-minded about it my whole life, my lowest point was probably when I realized that I didn’t want to do it anymore. For the first time since I was thirteen, I lacked a sense of direction. Fortunately, a wonderful editor at the LA Times suggested that I apply to MFA programs — perhaps I would find a sense of fulfillment doing another kind of storytelling. He was 100% right.

How did your KU degree prepare you for your life as an author?

KU gave me the time and space to read voraciously, reflect on my work, and try new things. Most importantly, it gave me supportive relationships with professors, colleagues, and peers that remain invaluable today.

What do you know now that you wish you could tell your college-aged self?

I arrived at KU in my thirties, so my tip would be to not rent an apartment in the Bar-muda triangle, no matter how reasonable the rent.

What’s your best career pro-tip for students and young artists?

This is by no means original advice, but if you find a project to be daunting, just chip off a bit each day. For example, I was incredibly intimidated by the prospect of writing a novel, so I told myself I would only attempt 300 words a day while I was working on ALL THAT’S LEFT UNSAID. This approach isn’t for everyone, but it worked for me.

What do you do after you clock out?

During the NBA season, I’ll attend every Brooklyn Nets home game.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I know Teeline Shorthand!

Meet more of our Hawks to Watch. For more information, visit the Department of English at the University of Kansas. Buy Tracey’s book on Amazon.