Kristen Pham poses in front of images of Vietnamese refugees.
Kristen Mai Pham ’92 stands in front of images taken when Vietnamese refugees, including her family, arrived at Camp Pendleton in 1975.

After more than two decades in the health-care field, Cal State Fullerton management alumna Kristen Mai Pham ’92 launched a second career as an author, sharing her experience as a Vietnamese American.

One of her stories, “Welcome to Tent City,” a thank you to the humanitarian personnel, volunteers and U.S. Marines who helped her family after they escaped from their war-torn homeland in 1975, was featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America: 101 Stories about the True Spirit of Our Country, published in 2017.

It was the first of her 13 published works in the iconic series to date, and three of her essays have been accepted for inclusion in the University of California, Irvine Libraries Southeast Asian Archive for preservation.

Pham discusses her writing career and how all of us can become better writers and share our personal journeys:

What are some of the milestones in your writing career? 

I chose to pursue a writing career later in life. As an author, my first milestone was becoming published with the iconic book series, Chicken Soup for the Soul.

As a fan of their uplifting tales for quite some time, it was thrilling to be welcomed into their writer community.

I am told that two other writers and myself were the first Chicken Soup for the Soul authors to ever be invited to do a book signing at Barnes & Noble. I subsequently did two book signings at the iconic book chain, and those were special moments that I will never forget.

Another memorable milestone was when my essay, “Finding Mai,”was published in The Orange County Register. This essay centered on the journey toward embracing my cultural identity as a Vietnamese American. I am especially proud of this essay in light of the anti-Asian sentiment that has plagued our nation, and I hope that it will bring strength and comfort to anyone experiencing prejudice and racism today.

My first milestone as a screenwriter came just last month when one of my holiday-themed, romantic comedy screenplays was optioned by a production company. They felt it had potential as a cable television movie of the week. This is very exciting, and I am hopeful that it will be the first of many screenwriting successes to come.

Kristen Pham at Barnes and Noble
Kristen Mai Pham (far left) at an author’s signing event at Barnes & Noble.

What advice would you give to students or alumni about writing as a career path? 

For students, I would suggest exploring the classics as well as contemporary work. Be well versed in all kinds of literature. You can learn from everything and everyone.

For alumni, I would look into the various online and in-person courses available for creative writing and screenwriting to hone the craft. And I would be sure to connect with other writers and network, whether it be in person or through social media. Connections are key.

Looking back at your CSUF student days, what were some of the highlights? 

Obtaining my business degree at CSUF was the first step in solidifying my career path in business. Armed with my degree, I enjoyed a long and prosperous career in health

care for which I am very grateful. I met a lot of wonderful people at CSUF, and I learned many valuable life skills while I was in college.

What would be one piece of writing advice you’d like all Titans to know, regardless of their goals? How can we all be better writers? 

For a very long time, I experienced “imposter’s syndrome” – the nagging idea that I had no right to become a writer because I had neither the formal training, education or literary pedigree to become a “legitimate” writer.

Even after I was published multiple times, imposter syndrome remained my intermittent companion as I worried that I was actually a hack and that someday, people would discover my shameful secret. I am told that even established writers occasionally experience this imposter’s syndrome. So, my advice would be to believe in yourself. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t educate yourself. By all means, educate yourself. There are all kinds of college courses and online programs to help emerging writers. But the first step is to believe in yourself and your worth.

On the other hand, I would also advise writers to remain humble. Regardless of the level of success that you achieve during your career, always be willing to learn and to improve your skills. The best writers are constantly in a state of continuous quality improvement.