Local Author Gina Pham

“Do you remember that day that looked like Armageddon outside?” The sky was orange—full of smoke and ash—and as the world fell apart just on the other side of the window, Gina Pham was working away on her laptop. 

Pham is the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants.

She tried to do everything she could to make her parents proud. Pham graduated from UC Berkeley in only 2 and a half years, sacrificing her social life to help provide for her family. She immediately began the corporate climb, working in marketing while getting her MBA at night. As life happened she kept grinding. Marriage and two children didn’t slow her down. Even cancer and chemotherapy couldn’t stop her. It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic and the birth of her third child that she finally paused. 

“I felt I had no good reason,” she said about the day she turned in her notice. “I didn’t quit to write,” but she quit to be happy. Pham was merely tolerating her life. She loved her kids, husband, and family, but she wanted to love her life, too. The quiet that came with removing Corporate America from her life gave her the space to pursue her life-long love of writing. A Friend for When was published May 2, 2023.

A Friend for When is an office romance rife with the corporate angst that once plagued Pham’s life.

Pham’s website states that, “this is a story about the little moments that make the heart palpitate, break, and revive again.” 

Pham is no stranger to romance herself. “It’s the classic story of the class-clown and good girl,” she told me about her highschool sweetheart with whom she is going on thirteen years of marriage. “He teased me a lot,” she laughed as she remembered the early days of their relationship. 

Pham’s husband and children have been nothing if not supportive of her career change.

In fact, her oldest child, Charlotte, was her PR manager for the book’s release at the ripe-old age of seven. Pham was excited to show her daughter their hard work was successful when A Friend for When made it onto Amazon’s new releases list. “But it’s not the bestseller list, mom,” was Charlotte’s response. She was finally satisfied when the book ranked fifth on a list of Asian-American bestsellers. 

Pham’s daughter took over marketing because Pham herself still struggles with the fear of people reading her work. Even through positive feedback on her writing, Pham struggled to find the confidence to promote her book. “It never goes away,” she said, referring to the internal critic that we all know too well. “I think it’s ingrained.”

When I asked how her parents reacted to her career change, Pham said “I don’t remember telling them.” It was a well-kept secret that she was writing a book because it is not a career generally accepted in Asian-American culture. “I think it slipped out casually,” she added. To pursue her own happiness instead of a career that will provide for the family goes against everything she was raised to think. “It’s a privilege to think about passion,” Pham explained. 

Writing A Friend for When was therapeutic for Pham because of this.

In this fictional story, all she had was freedom. No rules to abide by except to tell the story that she wanted to tell. Her experience as an Asian-American did inform her character building—when Pham was growing up, Lucy Liu and Devon Aoki were the only two Asian women in pop culture she had to look up to. Now, she has published a romance novel with Asian-American leads, building the type of representation she wishes she had seen. 

My last question gave Pham pause.

I wanted to know how she had changed since her novel was published. At first she answered that she’s more confident in her writing, but a week later I received an email; “…Your question about what has changed about me since the book release lingered in my head for a while (no one has asked me that before). I thought about it a lot, and the answer is simple: I’m happier.

Gina Pham has zeroed in on a plot for her sophomore novel, but has yet to put it on a page. In the meantime, A Friend for When is available for purchase at Bookshop Benicia and can be borrowed from the Benicia Public Library

“Let’s remember to enjoy the mundane, the routine, the ordinary. Love who you want to love…. Love out loud. If you don’t speak it, it doesn’t get a chance to manifest. We are all fighting our own battles, so enjoy the process. Life is short.” —A Friend for When by Gina Pham

A Friend for When book cover