An Open Letter to Companies Who Don’t Pay Freelancers on Time

Dear [insert name of delinquent company]:

I love being a freelancer. I make my own schedule. I get to work on different projects. I don’t have to ask anyone for time off.

As such, my obligation to your company is to turn in work on deadline, answer any questions you have, and turn in invoices for my services.

The major downside is dealing with companies, like yours, who are frequently late paying me every month or drag their heels in paying for work I’ve already turned in (with so many wild excuses).

If I told Verizon that I couldn’t pay my cell phone bill because I’m “in the midst of a timing issue,” they would just cut off my service.

I’m a professional working writer who has to pay bills, eat, and make a living, just like you. Being a freelancer doesn’t mean FREE work until I threaten you with legal action or possibly quit.

Just pay me on time and we’ll be ALL GOOD.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Chen

I’m Looking for Creative Women-Owned Businesses

I’m writing a series for the lifestyle website Brit + Co focused on interviews with creative women business owners for the site’s How to Quit Your Day Job series. So far, I’ve interviewed a wedding jewelry designer who has an Etsy shop and a LA-based home decor designer (interview to be posted soon!). On deck, I’m interviewing women who own a cat-themed subscription box company, an Indian cooking school, and a former lawyer turned ice cream shop owner.

Ideally, I’m looking for women who quit their day jobs and followed their passion and created a business based on what they love. If that’s you or you know someone who be ideal for me to interview, please comment below with a link to the company and the person I should contact.

Thank you for your help!

From the blog Basic Grey. Click image for info.

5 Great Vegan Ice Cream Places in LA

It’s been a HOT summer here in LA. Temps have regularly hit 95 and even 100. Cooling off with some delicious dairy-free ice creams is my best solution for beating the heat.

Here are my fave places to get a good scoop of vegan ice cream.

Yogaurt

1. Yogaurt

This new place opened in cute little Kenneth Village in Glendale. The entirely vegan shop (except for bee pollen as a possible smoothie addition) offers delectable flavors like salted caramel, green tea, and coconut chai, along with toppings like mochi bites and shaved dark chocolate. While it’s a pricey (about $16 for two mediums with toppings), they make the almond milk base on site and the cups and utensils are compostable.

Quenelle

2. Quenelle

This tiny ice cream shop in Burbank has some great, unusual non-dairy flavors like cinnamon soymilk and the flavors rotate so it’s always different. They mark all of their non-dairy flavors with an asterisk on the menu so you don’t have to ask. FYI, they are closed on Sundays and Mondays.

3. Scoops

There’s three locations of this cash-only ice cream shop (Chinatown, Westside, York Blvd) and they always have some great vegan flavors. Just like Quenelle, the flavors change so you’ll always find something unique. If you pop into the York Blvd location, be sure to head over to Donut Friend next door for vegan doughnuts that will blow your mind.

Frog

4. Frog

This Hollywood frozen yogurt bar is just like Yogurtland except there are vegan flavors like peanut butter, watermelon, and key lime that make it even better than Yogurtland. Plus, this location is open until 2am every day so you can satisfy your sweet tooth late at night.

Hugos

Enjoying some frozato with Brendan and Sutton. Perfect summer day.

5. Hugo’s Tacos

OK, this taco stand isn’t an ice cream place but they do have an awesome frozato that is entirely vegan and comes only in chocolate, vanilla, or swirl, but really, it’s amazing and I love it.

Depression Shouldn’t Be Shameful

For the past few months I’ve been researching and interviewing Asian American college students and mental health professionals for an article that was recently published by Pacific Standard. (If you don’t know their work, they cover a wide range of fascinating topics from science to health. And I’m not just saying that because I write for them.) My piece, The Dangerous Weight of Expectations, explores why depression and suicides are prevalent amongst Asian American college students.

Obviously, depression and mental health issues extend beyond the AA community, but I wanted to focus on why we don’t talk about these serious issues. It’s often seen as shameful to talk about your feelings of sadness, anxiety, or depressive thoughts. The suicide rates for AA students is quite alarming, as evidenced by Jenn Fang’s Reappropriate blog post detailing the Asian American student suicide rate at MIT, which is quadruple the national average. Her article was the spark that made me want to investigate further.

In the article, I talked with a mental health expert at Cornell, the director of the Asian American Activities Center at Stanford University, and two students—Reera Yoo, a former NYU student, and Annie Phan, a current student at Stanford— about why this is such a silent problem.

I applaud the efforts all of my interviewees to bring much-needed awareness surrounding depression and mental health care, especially Yoo and Phan. Their honesty about their own journeys through therapy and seeking help are an inspiration to younger AA students who may think that they are completely alone in their problems.

Depression affects everyone. Asking for help may seem scary, but it’s needed. You’re not alone.

A Tribute to The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

Back when Brendan and I were dating in NYC in 2004, he worked at The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. He started as an NYU intern, got hired as a production assistant, then moved up to the writers’ assistant. While we were dating, I got to go to the show, meet the staff, and go to election parties. I’ll always remember the Gore v. Bush election night where we all sadly learned that we’d have another four years with Bush. A quiet came over the bar.

The less fun part were election years when The Daily Show did brilliant coverage, but meant that Brendan would leave for chunks at a time to cover the Democratic National Convention and the Republic National Convention. Or live tapings during important election nights when he’d come home at 1am (possibly later?).

Now, that Jon Stewart has left the show, there’s been a ton of articles about his 16-year reign. And one of those articles happened to have a screenshot with Brendan’s credit (thanks, Vulture!).

I’m so proud of Brendan’s involvement with this pivotal show. He wouldn’t be where he is today in his career without working at The Daily Show. He always had kind words about Jon, his first real boss outside of college.

It was amazing to watch Jon’s final show and see some of the staff that I met many years ago. He made the show what it is today, and I’m grateful I got to watch his rise from the sidelines.

 

An Introvert’s Guide to Networking

I think this Daria GIF pretty much says it all.

MTV / Via astoldbyravyne.tumblr.com

When I was a kid, I was so shy that I used to hide my face under a couch pillow when adults came over to the house. I once dressed as a silent ghost for Halloween in second grade and talked to no one, not even my teacher.

As a professional writer, it’s not possible to hide under a bed sheet and pretend the outside world doesn’t exist. AS MUCH AS I WISH THAT WAS POSSIBLE.

Part of my growth as a working writer was realizing that I needed to learn the scary art of networking. So I talked to the most outgoing writers I know — my friend Eric Loo and my husband Brendan Hay — and learned from what they told me. (You can read Eric’s tips here and Brendan’s suggestions here.)

This past weekend I put my networking skills to the test by attending the annual SCBWI summer conference by myself. Granted, a writing conference geared toward YA and children’s book writers and illustrators probably isn’t the most intimidating crowd, as they are some of the nicest people on the planet who just love books. But still. I went alone, knew no one, and made it a point to talk to someone new every single day. I survived, ladies and gents, and this is what I learned.

  • Introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you at a workshop. I’ve met great people this way.
  • If there’s someone’s work you admire, politely tell them so in-person. Writers and artists appreciate this.
  • When approaching an important person (like an editor or agent), compliment a project they’ve worked on and they’ll remember you. I was interested in talking to a particular literary agent and knew she repped a book that I loved so I told her that it was a beautiful book and she asked me to contact her when I was ready to query.
  • Take a break when needed. For an introvert, it can be really overwhelming to talk and be around so many people. So every day of the conference, I made a point to find a comfy chair to hide out in and take a 20 to 30 minute break.
  • Make small goals. If I went to the conference, thinking, I must land an agent, I would’ve peed my pants trying to talk to a literary agent. Instead I made my goal to make a list of agents who I wanted to see if they were right for me, and I did.

Phew! I’m glad I went. The conference was inspiring. I learned a lot. But I’m SO GLAD it’s over and I can be my shy self again.

5 Great Podcasts For Writers & Creative Folks

One of my favorite things is listening to podcasts while driving, cooking, and getting ready in the morning. As a writer and journalist, I love listening to stories. They inspire me and help me learn something new. One of my favorite poets, Nikki Giovanni, said in a talk before a reading of her latest collection, Chasing Utopia, that a writer should read something every single day. I couldn’t agree more. For me, that could be a fascinating article in a magazine, a chapter of a book I’m reading, or listening to one of my favorite podcasts. I think it’s important to surround myself with storytelling and interesting characters (fictional and not) as part of my own creative process. Without further ado, here are my five favorite podcasts.

1. Ted Radio Hour

Each week, there’s one single topic like “Growing Up” or “Why We Collaborate” and the host Guy Raz interviews different TED speakers on the very topic that relates to their talk. I love the interesting stories that emerge. Guy Raz is a great interviewer and each theme is varied and fascinating.

2. This American Life

This is a classic. Ira Glass hosts the series based on a theme with either one single story or several stories focused on a theme. Some times the stories make me laugh or cry, but I love every single one. Recent favorites include, “Birds & Bees” and “Is That What I Look Like?”

3. Mortified

As a young adult writer, Mortified is one of my favorite things to listen to and remember the awkwardness of adolescence. If you’ve seen the live show, you know that real-life people read from their teenage journals. Hilarity ensues. Some times the stories can be touching and sweet or so wonderfully funny. The podcasts air one single story told live.

4. Dear Sugar

Authors Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond collaborate as the dual advice columnists of this podcast. I’m a fan of Cheryl’s work. Tiny Beautiful Things, her collection of Dear Sugar columns, is a gem of insightful life advice. She tackles the topic of being a writer beautifully (if you haven’t read “Write Like a Motherfucker”—it’s a must). This podcast is thoughtful and lovely and often brings in writer guests to weigh in on important topics.

5. Serial

This spin-off of This American Life was a huge hit when it debuted. The podcast focused on one story—the murder of high school teen Hae Min Lee—and spent the season delving into the different aspects of the suspect and the trial. It was fascinating and addictive. Season 2 is in the works and I’m sure it’ll be just as interesting. I can’t wait for it to come back!

Do you have a favorite podcast? Share it with me in the comments!

#DreamComeTrue: My First Article for O Magazine

In Amy Schumer’s brilliant sketch “Fight Like a Girl,” she says that women can’t deny the authority of therapy and/or Oprah, and she’s damn right.

As a freelance writer, I have a list of my dream magazines that I would be thrilled to write for, and now I have my byline in one of them — O: The Oprah Magazine. In the August 2015 issue, I wrote for the Women Who Make Beautiful Things section, featuring Erin Lang, the business owner behind Garden Creamery, a delightful ice cream food truck.

I’ve been pitching O Magazine for five years now (no joke) and I’m beyond happy that my persistence has paid off.

Back when I lived in NYC, I used to play street hockey in a female and male league. One of my male teammates said to me once that other teams underestimate me. I might look small at five feet and one inch, but I’m tenacious and don’t let up on my opponents. That comment has stuck with me through the years because on the outside, it may seem like, wow, that’s cool, she wrote for Oprah, but not see the many years it took me to get to this moment.

There’s nothing quite like hanging on to a dream and then seeing it happen. Thank you, tenacity.

Buddy Was My Best Friend

My husband and I adopted Buddy back in January 2010 from Indi Lab Rescue in southern California. When we adopted him, he was severely overweight at 118 pounds, had two ear infections, and didn’t know how to play. I threw him a chew toy and it hit him in the face. Our first walk together, he refused to move and sat in our driveway. Eventually, we got him to take short walks. Then the weight came off. Underneath all the health issues was this charming, lovable, silly yellow Labrador who often used his snout to beg for more pets on his head.

IMG_1218

On June 27, 2015, Buddy passed away after waking up unable to move. It was the hardest decision we had to make, but for a dog who loved his daily walks and following us around the house, there was no life for him to be immobile.

Buddy was more than a dog. He was a kind friend, a compassionate soul, and he brought joy to everyone he knew. I loved him deeply. On our last morning together, I told him that I would miss him greatly, but his body wasn’t working any more and it wasn’t fair. He put his big paw on my chest as I cried.

I miss him every day, but I’m so grateful for the five-and-a-half years we had together. He taught me how to appreciate every single day like it was Christmas morning.

I love you and miss you, my teddy bear.

Behind the Scenes of My BuzzFeed Video

Back in January 2015, I wrote Why I Don’t Want My Miscarriage to Stay Secret, for BuzzFeed. The response was astounding. Hundreds of comments, tweets, Facebook messages later, I decided to try to put together a miscarriage anthology as a resource for the many women who experience pregnancy loss.

BuzzFeed Me

A few months after the essay was published, a BuzzFeed video producer asked if I wanted to turn my essay into a video for them, like these amazing videos: Fat Is Not a FeelingThis Is What It Feels Like To Be Depressed, and What It’s Like To Go Blind.

My first reaction was: NO.

I’m not an actor. I don’t want to be on YouTube. I’m not comfortable with this.

But a wise friend and my husband told me that I would be missing out on an opportunity to share my story with a larger audience, and help other women who might feel alone, ashamed, or scared.

So I did it. And here’s the final result.

Many thanks to my producer Steven Lim who was amazing to work with and who did an excellent job of turning a difficult topic into a visual story. Thanks to my friends Bernadette Guckin and Sarah Allyn Bauer for starring in the video and being so compassionate to take their time to be part of it. Thank you to Laura Beck and Brendan Hay for encouraging me to say YES when I was scared.

Thank YOU for watching.

For more info about the upcoming book, please click here.

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