Working with Words: Joey Bui

We spoke with Lucky Ticket author Joey Bui about being your own fan, how memories change and why it's important to ask people questions.

What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry? 

Photograph of Joey Bui

Photo: Leah Jing McIntosh

The first piece of writing that made me cry was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton – I think after Dally dies. The only other time that writing made me cry was when Sirius Black died.   

I can’t remember the first thing that made me laugh, but currently it’s The Bachelor recaps by Patrick Lenton and Rebecca Shaw. I’m excited for episodes to come out just to read their recaps. 

Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?

Yes! The earliest piece I remember was in third or fourth grade – a 'book' about two twins, Linny and Linna, who fight an underground war with their dragon. I worked on a YA book about teenagers with superpowers for a long time. When I was about 15, I won an award for a short story about Beethoven writing his final piece of music before he lost hearing. A high school friend recently reminded me about a story of mine that she liked – about a goddess’s jealousy of mortal people. 

What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?

I’ve been a waitress, tutor for high school students, English tutor for new immigrants, journalist, research assistant, answered a hotline for asylum seekers in detention centres, and lawyer. Being a journalist probably had the most impact on my writing. Through journalism, I found out that it’s okay to approach almost anyone and ask them questions. It sounds simple, but it’s something that probably doesn’t happen enough. Most of the time, people are very willing to talk and it almost feels like they’ve been waiting for someone to ask. I like getting ideas for writing this way. It also helps me get out of my own head, and stop thinking about my own life, so that I can channel characters better. 

Most of the time, people are very willing to talk and it almost feels like they’ve been waiting for someone to ask.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I'd be a lawyer. I’m currently trying to make both work, a writing career and a law career. 

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

The best advice: write what you would want to read. 

I think it’s easy to get caught up in other things, like trying to make the writing more ‘serious,’ or trendy, or sell better. You have to like it. You have to be your first fan.

Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now? 

I’ve always kept a diary. Most of it – especially the teenage years – is just a very obsessive chronicle of my crushes. But diaries are so valuable. When I read back diary entries, I’m often surprised by how differently I’ve come to remember events and people, compared to my first impressions of them. It shows me that memory is constantly rewriting and overwriting. 

Which classic book/play/film/TV show do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated? 

The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector is an unsung gem. Originally in Portuguese by a Brazilian author, it’s a key work in modern Latin American literature, but I don’t think there’s enough attention for it in the US and Australia. 

When I read back diary entries, I’m often surprised by how differently I’ve come to remember events and people, compared to my first impressions of them.

The Confession of a Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella is underrated. It’s a chick-lit genre book that is so fun, with well developed, compelling characters. I’ve read every one of them. 

I don’t want to say which books I think are overrated! 

Have you written anything in the past that you now wish you could go back and change?

The one and only screenplay I ever attempted was horrible. I wish I could go back and not write it, and definitely not show it to anyone.  

Which artist, writer or character would you most like to have dinner with?

Jia Tolentino or Mindy Kaling. They are both amazing writers with fun personas. Jia is brilliant on any topic. Mindy is a triple threat with groundbreaking work and she’d make the dinner really fun – she’s a lot funnier than I am.

Portrait of Joey Bui

Joey Bui is a Vietnamese-Australian writer. She graduated from New York University Abu Dhabi where she completed her first collection of short stories, Lucky Ticket, based on interviews with Vietnamese refugees around the world. Joey has been published in journals and magazines in the US and Australia. She is currently studying at Harvard Law School. Lucky Ticket was longlisted for the 2020 Stella Prize and the Booktopia Favourite Australian Book Award, shortlisted for the 2020 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction and the 2020 UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing NSW Premier's Literary Awards and was the winner of the University of Southern Queensland Steele Rudd Award for a Short Story Collection Queensland Literary Awards 2020.

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