Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
When I first came across You’ve Reached Sam and read the blurb – about a girl who grieves the death of her boyfriend and calls her boyfriend’s phone, only for him to pick up thus giving them a chance to say goodbye – I probably cried. And then when I read this book? I had tears and snot dripping down my face. This book is a beautiful story about love, grief, and the connections that we have with others, and I’m excited for you all to read it come November.
Therefore, I am so thrilled to have Dustin Thao, author of You’ve Reached Sam, visiting us at the Pond today! I’m so excited to have him visiting us – as a blue rhino wearing headphones! – to talk about his debut, his writing journey, and also Your Name – which one of Dustin and I’s favourite movies! If you want to know more about You’ve Reached Sam, then I think you’re going to love this interview as much as I did.
But, in case you missed the cover reveal for You’ve Reached Sam and you want to learn more about it, allow me to introduce to you all You’ve Reached Sam.
You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao
There’s only a few months left until graduation and seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes.
Heartbroken, Julie skips his funeral, throws out his things, and tries everything to forget him and the tragic way he died. But a message Sam left behind in her yearbook forces back memories. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail.
And Sam picks up the phone.
In a miraculous turn of events, Julie’s been given a second chance at goodbye. The connection is temporary. But hearing Sam’s voice makes her fall for him all over again, and with each call it becomes harder to let him go. However, keeping her otherworldly calls with Sam a secret isn’t easy, especially when Julie witnesses the suffering Sam’s family is going through. Unable to stand by the sidelines and watch their shared loved ones in pain, Julie is torn between spilling the truth about her calls with Sam and risking their connection and losing him forever.
With the cover reveal for You’ve Reached Sam happening yesterday, I think all of us spontaneously cried when we saw it. And as someone who had the privilege to read a bound manuscript of You’ve Reached Sam, I can attest that the cover is absolutely perfect and the details are wonderful.
Author Interview: Dustin Thao
CW: Hi Dustin! A big and warm welcome to The Quiet Pond! We are so excited that you’re visiting us today, especially since your upcoming debut, You’ve Reached Sam, is one of my most anticipated book releases of 2021. For all our friends out there who are just meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Dustin: Hi CW! Thanks so much for the invite! An honor to be at the Pond. And happy you’re excited for You’ve Reached Sam! FINALLY I can say it comes out this year!!! 🍾 A little about me, I am Vietnamese American. I write contemporary YA. And I am currently based in Chicago, where I’m two years into my PhD program at Northwestern (will I ultimately get kicked out? Time will tell…)
CW: You’ve Reached Sam sounds like an inherently emotional story, one that will resonate and move a lot of readers (and I think a lot of us who are excited about You’ve Reached Sam are eager for our hearts to be torn apart). What was the place you were writing from when you wrote this story – especially the emotional scenes?
Dustin: That’s an interesting question. You’ve Reached Sam was written on and off over the course of a few years, so I was in multiple states. It was my second project. It was a struggle to get through. I started it when I moved to California, and didn’t know anyone, so I had a lot of time to myself. It’s definitely an emotional story, as it explores loss, grief, and those second chances we wish we were given. I guess I’ll open up a little here, something I haven’t shared before. When I was writing some scenes, I thought back to my best friend from high school who passed away a few years ago. The story’s a little complicated. We had a bit of a falling out a long time ago, and when she finally reached out to say “hi,” I never responded. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t have a second chance. It’s something I still think about. It’s something I wish I could go back and make different.
CW: You’ve Reached Sam has been comp’ed to Your Name (Kimi no na Wa), which is one of my favourite movies of all time. Without giving away too many details, what similarities can we expect between Your Name and You’ve Reached Sam – and what are the differences?
Dustin: Your Name is also one of my favorite movies! I must have seen it over twenty times by now. In terms of the similarities, I think both have a lot of emotional gravity, and both explore similar themes—the experience of remembering and forgetting, the feeling of longing, the things that can never be. I think back to a scene in Your Name, where the grandma explains the symbol of the braided chords, how they represent life and the flow of time, how they “twist, tangle, unravel now and then, break and reconnect.” That’s how I think about Sam and Julie in my book. Their chord has been broken, but in a miraculous turn of events, they’ve been reconnected through the phone, for a temporary moment in time. And like in Your Name, there’s a ticking clock that’s about to run out, giving a short window to say their goodbyes. Of course, you can’t talk about the film without bringing up those visually breathtaking moments, like the scene where they’re running along the crater, searching for each other (if you know, you know). That’s what makes You’ve Reached Sam inherently differently. The format. I wanted to create my own Makoto Shinkai-style atmosphere but on the page, in the form of a book. Only time will tell if I did a good job haha.
Also, the premises are inherently different. While the characters in Your Name are strangers who’ve never met, Sam and Julie begin their story as first loves, making their journey through their own gap in the universe much more intimate.
There is one more major difference between the two. But it’s actually a spoiler, so unfortunately I can’t share it here haha.
CW: In the vaguest way possible, can you tell us about a scene or moment in You’ve Reached Sam that you’re really proud of?
Dustin: The lanterns… When you read that scene, I hope you feel the same way I did as I wrote it!
CW: My first encounter with your story was when you pitched it during DVpit, and I remember buzzing with excitement when I read your pitch! Can you tell us about your writing journey prior to DVpit and what your DVpit experience was like? (Do you have any advice for people out there wanting to participate in DVpit in the future?)
Dustin: Ah my DVpit story! I haven’t shared that with too many people, so I’m glad you asked. It was a real turning point for me. And I almost didn’t do it. Up until then, I wasn’t on Twitter, didn’t have any writer friends, and my only CP at the time was my sister. I can’t count how many revisions I went through with You’ve Reached Sam. Probably got thirty rejections before I even got a partial request. Anyway, far into the query process, I received an unexpected email from an agent. She said she was halfway through the manuscript and was loving it so far! Then she asked if I was on social media. This had never happened to me before. She also explained she was busy with conferences at the time, so she wouldn’t be able to finish reading right away, and asked me to keep her updated. I was so excited. This was also the same week as DVpit, which I had only recently learned about.
Now, I know you’re not supposed to have dream agents, but she was definitely high on my list. I almost didn’t enter DVpit because I was too anxious for her to email back, maybe with an offer. But I knew not to put my eggs in one basket. I stayed up all night working on my pitch and submitted. When I woke up, the response was incredible. For someone new to Twitter, I honestly didn’t know what was going on. Agents who had rejected me before had commented on my tweet, asking me to resubmit. The day after, I received an email from that first agent, saying she had finished reading and wanted to have the call. That agent was Thao Le and we sold the book three months later! So technically, Thao didn’t find me on DVpit, though it definitely sped up the process haha. But DVpit helped us find my editor, Eileen Rothschild at Wednesday Books, who is incredible to work with!
In terms of advice, there are so many helpful pitch videos that I watched on Youtube, such as ones from Kat Cho! But writers should definitely use the hashtag to look at successful pitches, especially the most recent ones to get a pulse on what agents are currently looking for. One more piece of advice: if an agent does like your pitch, don’t stress about querying them right away. You can take your time, and submit when you’re ready. I have DVpit friends who queried a month or two later, and received offers.
CW: You have You’ve Reached Sam releasing later this year – but you also have another book releasing in 2022. Can you give us any hints about what this will be about?
Dustin: Ya know I’m not sure if I’m supposed to talk about book 2 yet, but I will anyway. 🙂 As of now, I’m personally pitching it as Nina Lacour’s We Are Okay meets La La Land. I won’t give away too much, but the story explores loneliness, complicated friendships, and the missed opportunities we can’t stop thinking about. It’s my first #ownvoice project, so I’m both excited and nervous about putting it out into the world. I’m actually in the middle of writing it. Funny story—when I was sharing the synopsis with my agent over Zoom, I could barely get the story out because I kept choking up, but once I did, she started tearing up too. I guess, what I’m trying to say with that is if you think You’ve Reached Sam is heartbreaking, you’re not ready for book 2, haha.
CW: And finally, the question I like to ask all of our guests: what is a food that reminds you of ‘home’ – wherever or whoever that may be?
Dustin: Korean BBQ. My sister and I would always go when we lived in California. It must have been over a year since I last had it. I miss it. Once things are back to normal, that’s the first thing I’m eating when I’m back in SoCal.
About the Author
Dustin Thao is a Vietnamese American writer based in Chicago. He graduated from Amherst College with a B.A. in Political Science, and is currently in a PhD program at Northwestern University. He writes contemporary fiction, and his first book titled You’ve Reached Sam will be published November 2021 with Wednesday Books.