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TBR: Lina Chern

About the Author: Lina Chern


What would you like readers to know about you?

I have written trivia questions, word puzzles for a TV game show, paranormal romances, dialogue for your favorite comic book characters, voice scripts for noisy educational toys, award-winning movie reviews, and poems that have been published and read by up to dozens of people. English is not my first language.


What music do you listen to (if any) when you write?

No music for me, I’m afraid - too easily distracted!


What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?

It’s a little far afield from where I ended up, but as a kid I worked my way methodically through my dad's enormous science-fiction collection, and was deeply influenced by folks like Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Isaac Asimov. Those were the authors that initially made me want to write. Later on, I was drawn to the tough, voicey, accessible-yet-sophisticated fiction of writers such as Elmore Leonard, who is a huge influence on my work. Some current writers who inspire me are Sara Gran, Lou Berney, and Duane Swierczynski. 


About the Book: Play the Fool


What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?

Play the Fool is a comedic mystery about Katie True, a cynical tarot card reader working a dead-end job in the Chicago suburb where she grew up. She’s a whiz with the cards and a natural at reading people, but feels stuck in life and out of sync with the expectations of her judgy, overachieving family. Everything changes when she meets the older, mysterious Marley, who encourages Katie and becomes her closest friend. When Marley turns up dead, Katie finds that the curiosity and intuition that make her a great card reader also make her the only one who can solve Marley’s murder – no matter the cost.


What has been your inspiration for writing it?

I’m not sure this qualifies as inspiration, since I didn't discover it until the book was well underway, but Katie’s conflicted relationship with her own tarot reading is a stand-in for my own complicated relationship with writing. I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember, but was hamstrung for years by anxiety, perfectionism and doubt, and this book is the result of me finally overcoming those barriers. In a weird, Möbius strip sort of way, this book is the story of its own creation.


What was your favorite scene or part of your book to write?

My favorite part of the book is an early chapter in which Katie first meets Marley, whose friendship and eventual murder end up driving Katie’s own transformation into a stronger, more confident version of herself. Through all the book's many revisions, this chapter remained mostly unchanged. I have always believed that it’s the things we don’t fully understand that are the most inspiring and alluring, and Katie and Marley’s first interaction feels strange and elliptical to me, like an intriguing hallucination. It’s the perfect start to their relationship and to Katie’s journey.


Where can your book be purchased?

Play the Fool is available wherever books are sold, but I always recommend supporting your local independent bookseller. The Penguin Random House website has a handy set of links to many retailers, including indies:



To the Future Writer:


What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?

Be patient with yourself when learning your craft. Expecting to write something perfect right off the bat will only set you up for disappointment. Reading is the best writing teacher: read as much as possible and pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. One writing process works for one writer: it’s normal to search around for a while – in my case, a long while – before you settle on a process that works for you specifically. Remember that even though writing will never be easy, it should always be fun. The pleasure of writing is the only reason to write, because all the other rewards aspiring writers tend to chase – publication, fame, money – are few and far between. If you write because you love to write, you will always be rewarded. 


What’s next for you? Any events, upcoming pubs, etc.

I am working on my second novel, and lining up promotional appearances for the summer and fall.   


Where can we find you:



What’s on your TBR list?

White Cat, Black Dog, by Kelly Link 

Silver Nitrate, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Candy House, by Jennifer Egan

Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh

Dark Ride, by Lou Berney


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