Today, I am so honored to have Kyla Zhao join me to chat about her new novel, The Fraud Squad. I first ‘met’ Kyla on Instagram, and when I got an ARC of her book, I couldn’t wait to read it! Before I give anything away, I’ll let Kyla do the honors.
Kyla! Welcome! Your social media posts about The Fraud Squad are the best! Tell readers more about your debut novel!
Thank you, Carly!! The Fraud Squad stars a working-class woman who thinks the only way to get her dream job at Singapore’s poshest magazine is to impersonate a wealthy socialite. To impress the editor-in-chief, she enlists her friends’ help to infiltrate the country’s upper echelons. But as she sinks into this glamorous new world, her fears of being exposed as a fraud also deepen—especially with a mysterious gossip columnist hunting for high society dirt and other socialites determined to bring her down. It’s best compared to Crazy Rich Asians and The Devil Wears Prada.
What inspired you to craft the story of The Fraud Squad? Are you a Crazy Rich Asians fan?
What inspired me was my love for fun and vibrant stories in which Asians are the stars. That was what I craved amidst the rising anti-Asian racism during the pandemic. Because I couldn’t find enough of them to satisfy my reading appetite, I got the idea of writing my own. I also used my own experiences working at luxury magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Tatler to create the authentic high society setting and characters in my book. 😊
And yes, I’m a huge Crazy Rich Asians fan! It was the first time that I saw such a fun book with Asian characters achieve mainstream popularity. Like CRA, my book is set in Singapore’s high society, though I put my own spin by framing the story from the perspective of an outsider who would do anything she can to enter this exclusive world. Other inspirations include The Devil Wears Prada because my protagonist is also a working-class woman who dreams of writing for a luxury fashion magazine and Gossip Girl for the idea of the mysterious gossip columnist. I have my very own Gossip Girl in The Fraud Squad, who causes my protagonist to live in constant fear that her fraud would be exposed.
The Fraud Squad by Kyla Zhao
Genre: Women’s Romance
The story centers around Samantha Song, who only wants to work at a high society magazine in Singapore. Enter her ‘fraud squad’ who lend her posh items and into the hottest parties so she can get closer to her dream. But will she forget who she is?
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Buy this Book: Amazon
Who was the funniest character to craft?
I wouldn’t say her humor is her defining trait, but I really enjoyed writing my protagonist Samantha. Even though I don’t ever plan on committing fraud (😉), I was able to draw on my own sense of imposter syndrome when crafting her outsider-entering-a-new-world persona. It was also a lot of fun writing about all the schemes she hatches and the shenanigans she gets up to! Kind of like a way for me to live out my daredevil fantasies that I won’t have the boldness to do in real life.
Is there one chapter you had the most fun writing?
The climax scene takes place at a fancy party inspired by the Met Gala. I had a lot of fun writing about the luxurious couture and decadent setting while I was living alone in my sweatpants during the pandemic lockdown. This is also the point where all the plot threads in the book collide, and the reader sees how they were in fact, interwoven from the very beginning.
What similarities do you have with Samantha? Did you use yourself as character inspiration?
My protagonist Samantha and I have a lot of similar interests—fashion, magazines, pop culture. She is a genuinely good-hearted person who cares a lot for the people she loves (even if she sometimes makes wrong decisions… but don’t we all, hah?). I think she’s a lot cooler than me, to be honest, and I would love to have some of her boldness rub off on me!
Let’s talk writing. Before writing your debut novel, you wrote for magazine publications. Tell us which ones and how that differs from novel writing.
I wrote for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Tatler, among others. My very first magazine byline was for Harper’s Bazaar when I was 16—I was a teenager giving brides-to-be advice on luxury wedding preparation haha.
Writing for magazines means changing your writer’s voice to suit the magazine’s vibe—at the end of the day, you are writing for the magazine brand and not for yourself. It also feels like a sprint compared to the marathon that is writing a novel—I was writing one magazine article every day during my work experiences, but I can spend years writing and editing my novels.
What was the process like in publishing The Fraud Squad, from getting an agent to reaching your release day?
It felt like it all flew by in the blink of an eye, but it actually took 2.5 years from writing the first word to my book coming out. In my last year as a university student, I signed with an amazing agent. And one day before my 23rd birthday, she sent my book out to publishers—it felt like the start of a new chapter in my life. I was fortunate that several publishers were interested in buying The Fraud Squad, so my agent set up an auction where everyone could send in their best bid. Ultimately, I chose Berkley (a Penguin Random House imprint) because they have an excellent track record for books written by authors of color and starring characters of color. I lucked out with an incredible publishing team.
Can readers expect a sequel?
I currently have no plans for a sequel, but I am writing a second adult novel that combines my two favorite things: fashion and Silicon Valley (where I currently work). The protagonist in my next book doesn’t commit fraud, but she does grapple with a different kind of imposter syndrome. She’s also just as stylish and bold as Samantha! This novel comes out from Penguin Random House in November.
Do you think you always stick to one genre to write in?
I write primarily contemporary fiction, but I have books for different age groups. Besides The Fraud Squad and the second adult novel mentioned above, I also have a children’s novel coming out next year called May the Best Player Win. It’s about a female chess prodigy who makes a bet to prove her sexist teammate wrong, and it’s close to my heart because I grew up playing chess. 😊 All my books are inspired to different extents by my own experiences at various stages of my life.
Before I let you go, tell readers where they can find you on social media. I saw on Twitter you just hit 1M TikTok likes! That’s amazing!
Thank you! I actually just crossed 3 million likes on TikTok, which is kind of mind-blowing to me that so many people find my content about writing, pop culture, and fashion interesting. Here’s where you can find me:
- Book purchase: www.linktr.ee/kylazhao
- Newsletter: www.kylazhao.com/newsletter
- Twitter: @kylazhao_
- Instagram: @kylajzhao
- TikTok: @kylazingaround