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Family ties

Los Altos author's 'most-anticipated' book looks at life, death and money in Silicon Valley

Like the characters in her multi-generational debut novel, Los Altos writer Kathy Wang is good at keeping secrets.

Her first book, "Family Trust," to be published Oct. 30, focuses on the Huangs of Silicon Valley, a Taiwanese-American family with hidden depths. It's a project Wang worked on without telling virtually anyone until the book was sold and the contract signed.

Insightful, funny, moving and well-constructed, "Family Trust" has been selected as one of the season's most anticipated books by the Washington Post, Buzzfeed and Entertainment Weekly. It benefits from, but does not depend upon, the success of "Crazy Rich Asians," the recent bestselling novel and blockbuster film with a predominantly Asian cast.

"I think there's a growing interest (in Asian stories), which I think is great," said Wang, a product manager at Seagate Technologies who grew up in Los Altos with her engineer mother and government-worker father. "(We) were relegated to a very small section of the bookshelf for so long."

Reached by phone, Wang, 34, talked about how a New Year's resolution inspired her to write a novel.

On Jan. 1, 2017, Wang resolved to write her first novel before her daughter's due date, six months away. Taking advantage of naps and early bedtimes for her son, Wang was able to produce 1,000 words per day.

She said she felt a sense of urgency "because my second kid was coming and I knew after she was born that my schedule would be too tough to do anything else."

As it turned out, Wang finished the novel the day before her daughter was born and had an agent three days later.

At the start of "Family Trust" patriarch Stanley Huang receives a diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer, throwing his family into turmoil. No one seems to have a firm grip on what his assets are and how he plans them to be distributed after his death. His ex-wife, Linda, wants to be sure the bulk of his wealth goes to their grown children — Fred and Kate — and not to Stanley's much-younger second wife, Mary.

Even as they deal with an evasive, tight-lipped and rapidly declining Stanley, the younger members of the supporting cast have their own crises to attend to. Fred can't stand the fact that his career never took off the way he wanted it to, that he's stuck as a minor investor at a middling corporate firm. Kate has gone back to work after her second child but wonders how much time her husband is putting into the mysterious startup venture he is supposedly running out of their attic. Linda, meanwhile, explores the idea of online dating, attracting a foreign suitor who always seems strapped for cash.

"Family Trust" was originally titled "A Man of Means." It explores how many men feel a need to be a person of significance.

Wang asks, "What happens if you haven't achieved all that you wanted to? How do men deal with that? How do women? That was the concept that I was obsessed with. The rest just grew from there."

Although set in Palo Alto, Woodside and environs, a milieu with which she is well familiar, "Family Trust" isn't autobiographical, Wang claims.

"I think a lot of first books are kind of autobiographical because the author feels confident she knows that subject well. As 'Family Trust' progressed, it just completely diverged from my personal life."

Wang said that Kate was the most challenging character for her to write.

"I read somewhere that the character whose life most closely mirrors your own comes across the most flat. With her, I had to think, 'Is this something she would really do? How would she react to this?' With the other characters, I just knew."

Just days before her interview for Palo Alto Weekly, Wang had finally received her finished copies of "Family Trust." One was earmarked for her mother, whom she had kept in the dark during the book's inception. Wang defended her strategy.

"I didn't want to tell her I was writing a book and then have it go nowhere."

It's time for the reality of a book release, and Wang thinks her mother is a little bit nervous. She said she told her mom, "This isn't you in the book."

Now she confides, "Actually, it's dedicated to her. She just doesn't know it yet."

Freelance writer Michael Berry can be emailed at mikeberry@mindspring.com.

What: Book launch with Kathy Wang.

Where: Books Inc., 317 Castro St., Mountain View.

When: 7 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 30.

Cost: Free.

Info: For more information, go to booksinc.net.

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