Kevin Kwan writes about the 'junk' behind fantasy

A private jet, a $40,000 dress, and a benevolent bachelor who's blissfully unaware that he's on the verge of bankruptcy: it's a trifecta that could only come true in a novel about Kevin. Kwan, who was born in Singapore and now lives in Los Angeles, is known for digging into his experiences with the super-rich, writing the best-selling "Crazy Rich Asians" series of novels that caused a stir in 2018. In his latest , Lies and Weddings , he returns to the well and delivers another delicious laugh through the lifestyles of the rich and wannabe famous.

Traveling between Hawaii, Marrakech, the English countryside and Beverly Hills, Kwan tells a story that only he can do, raising the 0.01% tax rate while emphasizing that no matter what your tax bracket, do whatever you want.

Kwan spoke with Bustle ahead of the release of Lies and Weddings . Over a lazy lunch at West Hollywood's Mauro Cafe - starting with pasta and finishing with an espresso - he talked about New York and Los Angeles high life, social mores, and his well-heeled muses. Did Si ever have a drink in his room. Face, so to speak.

I loved this book, and I admit I'm not finished yet. I'm trying to savor it. It stays with me every morning and night.

That's how it should be. It's like a piece of chocolate. You can eat it whenever you want.

I also learned a lot. As with your previous novels, you're basically giving a masterclass in how to live with your significant other while telling a very interesting story. How often do readers come to you and say things like, “I have to open a browser window to read your book to find the content?”

It always makes me so funny and tickled when people react like this. A writer recently told me that reading my books made her Google search suggestions more interesting. Really, all I have in mind is garbage. I have a garbage can brain that collects useless information.

"Crazy Rich Asians" stars Henry Golding, Constance Wu and Kevin Kwan (right). Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

You know the saying: “A man is trash…”

I'm talking like those people who make pope socks. Something like this. That's what's going on in my head.

You write about a world that you can only truly understand by experiencing it yourself.

The dosage is very limited. I just want to give this warning. The world in my books is not my daily life.

However, who else would know the rules of conduct and other rules on G6? Or when you board someone's private jet and they want to stop in Dubai or some faraway city that's not technically en route (this happens in Lies and Weddings ), do you have to go too? Have you ever been in this situation?

I have.

Where is the stopover?

I can't say. That would be a crime. If I wanted to be invited back, I had to be a good guest. But look – you’re going to go where they want to go. You are basically their prisoner. So, you know, be careful what you wish for. People think this world is a fantasy. I love peeking behind the curtain and showing that there is so much behind the fantasy, behind these stunning destination weddings. To me, that's what's interesting. It's the story of five people waiting for a plane on the tarmac who are upset because the pilot won't turn on the engine until the principal arrives. That's the rule. This is their plane and you wait for them to start burning fuel.

I love peeking behind the curtain and showing that there is so much behind the fantasy, behind these stunning destination weddings.

So they can tell you to arrive at the airport at 10am and they will show up at any time.

Yes. Or - this has never happened to me, but I keep hearing stories about a friend who flew on someone's plane and they were so grateful until they realized there were going to be three stops along the way. The shopkeeper is doing business. It's like you're getting in their car, but they're stopping in Omaha to drop off something or sign a document, or you know, whatever. You'd say, "Oh, I thought that would be the most efficient way to travel." No! But you can't complain.

Suppose you receive an invitation from a very wealthy friend who says, "Come on my yacht this summer." What's the next step? Do they put you in touch with an assistant who says, "Okay, we're sailing from this place on the 4th of July, meet us there"?

It does make a difference. There are people in this world who have one, two, three, or an entire team of concierge travel experts. Some people do it themselves. Some of it is really casual, like, "Oh, please use my boat," and you're like, "Okay," and then you realize how big the boat is.

I was once lucky enough to have someone let me use their boat for a day and it was an amazing experience. We were in Italy and our captain took us to places no other ship or tourist could go. At the end of the day we tried to tip the captain. He flatly refused. We left a tip when we left. The staff came running after us and were like, we're not taking your money.

These are the kind of friends many people would die for, like, how do I make friends with someone who is willing to lend me a boat but refuses to let me pay a dollar? What would you say to someone who is hoping to advance in the game of life by becoming friends with someone like this? What do you recommend?

I really do not know. The most important thing is always to be yourself and be who you are. Real friendship, real chemistry, you can't fake it. The friendship I was just talking about existed long before I became a writer—it’s someone I’ve known for a long time. So I don't know how to give such advice.

This is not about hanging out with zero bonds.

It's kind of the opposite. I'm really bad at small talk.

It's hard for me to believe this.

Some people are just so well connected. They were jumping around on the yacht, on the island, and this and that. I'm really not that kind of person. Once in a lifetime experiences, like a boat day in Italy, I don’t take them for granted. Most of my friends don't own yachts.

Research does show that the happiest people are those who have friends who are less fortunate or luckier than themselves. Like, if you hang out with rich people all day long, there's always going to be someone richer. Unfortunately, in many of these circles, competition is fierce. It depends on how much you have. Once lost, where will those so-called friends be? We've seen this happen time and time again.

You've spent most of your career between New York and Los Angeles. In your experience, how does the lifestyle of the 1% in New York differ from the 1% in Los Angeles?

New Yorkers are more active because they are more social. There is a strong emphasis on supporting New York culture. The New Yorker 1% have a strong sense of civic pride and are extremely generous and charitable. You know, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg gave the city an entire island. There are different crowds—the ballet crowd, the opera crowd, the arts crowd—but they all mix together. There are many overlapping circles.

And then there's the culture of social clubs, old-school social clubs like Knickerbocker, Union League, Colony Club and so on.

What about Los Angeles?

Los Angeles is great for home living. I found that all the socializing took place at home and was much more low-key. According to my observation, this situation is relatively rare. There is no benefit season like fall in New York. In Los Angeles, something happens every week. This is not a criticism, but an observation. People are really doing their own thing.

Look, I love being in these circles, but I don't aspire to be a part of that world.

What made you move here?

Work. Film and television projects. In addition, I also want to try a different life. After living in New York for twenty years, I wanted something new. I don’t want to go out to eat every night.

What are you cooking? Do you have a signature dish?

fried rice. I also make some pasta. Very simple, one pot stuff. Also, LA has a lot more outdoor life, which is exactly what I wanted. I often walk around the neighborhood and I go hiking on the weekends.

Truman Capote has been talked about a lot lately, and it got me thinking about the parallels between his record of high life and your own. I’m curious—have you ever worried that a generous person who let you into their world would read one of your books and say, “How dare you?”

It's never been a problem for me because I would never do anything like that. I would never reveal any of my friends' intimate stories or secrets.

Plus, you see, I enjoy being in these circles, but I don't aspire to be a part of that world. I don't have any such inclination or interest. My close friends are not in the world I write about.

Of course, there's an observational aspect to what I do - I'm not that imaginative. But a lot of what I saw was changed and reimagined in order to write an interesting novel. It never got to the point where it could identify or incriminate anyone in any way.

At least yourself.


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.