Author Interview: Candy Gourlay

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tall Story is about Bernardo, an 8 ft. tall boy (a giant!) in the Philippines, and his half-sister Andi in the UK. I really enjoyed reading Tall Story. It's an interesting story and I love so many things about it: How it is about family, Filipino legends and superstitions, and basketball. Its melding of British humor and Filipino humor. Andi's strong and fresh voice. How the main characters seem so real that a part of me thinks there really is an 8 ft. tall boy named Bernardo in the Philippines with a sister named Andi in the UK. I love how in Tall Story there is the question of how belief in legends and superstitions affects how one reacts to events... And does something happen (or not happen) because of a person's belief (or lack thereof) in a legend or superstition?

Tall Story is for children aged 10+ and will be published by David Fickling Books in the UK (June 2010) and the US (early 2011), and by Cacho Publishing House in the Philippines (date to be announced). Today, I am excited to present an interview with Tall Story author Candy Gourlay

Candy is a Filipino writer who lives in the UK. In the Philippines, she was a journalist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. In the UK, she was the London correspondent for the news agency Inter Press Service and editor of the pan-European magazine Filipinos in Europe. Candy moved to the UK in 1989 after she married Richard Gourlay, who was the Manila correspondent for the Financial Times of London. Richard and Candy have three children.


Hi, Candy! 
 
What was the spark that set you off writing Tall Story?

I have always been fascinated by gigantism and had the germ of an idea -  a teenager who suffers from gigantism.

As an awkward teenager, I felt like a freak - a lot of teenagers, the uncool ones like me, feel like that, don't they? I thought: what if you really were a "freak"? Maybe, a giant?  

And then, my sister (Joy Ramos) told me the story of Ujang Warlika.

When her husband, Bong Ramos, a former PBL [Philippine Basketball League] player turned PBA [Philippine Basketball Association] basketball coach, was coaching Aspac Texaco, an Indonesian team, he was asked to turn Ujang into the equivalent of Yao Ming, the Chinese giant.

The thing was, Yao Ming at 7 feet 6 inches was genetically tall ... and Ujang who was 7 feet 4 inches was not tall, he was a giant - he suffered from the disease called gigantism, caused by an overactive pituitary gland that overproduces growth hormones. Ujang ended up spending a lot of time hanging out with my sister's daughter Camille, who is a tiny but formidable basketball player. Camille now plays for La Salle [University] and the Philippine Women's team. Poor Ujang died of his illness.


Please guide us through your writing process, particularly the writing process you used for Tall Story. What influences and inspirations (both literary and non-literary) did you draw from while writing? What were the challenges and rewards from writing Tall Story?

The Philippine legend of Bernardo Carpio is an important part of Tall Story. Can you tell us a bit about the legend and why you incorporated it into the novel? Did you do a lot of research on the legend, or did you rely on the stories you heard growing up?


When I started writing Tall Story in September 2008, I only had that tiny idea - about a teenager with gigantism. I thought of setting it in the UK, but the UK is not a basketball playing country (even though my sons love it, they discovered basketball watching PBA games in the Philippines).

I thought of setting it in the United States - but that would have been super risky, never having lived in the States.

I asked myself what I did know?

I read everything I could find about giants, all the folklore and all the legends. This brought me to Bernardo Carpio, the Filipino legendary giant. I read all the different versions of the Bernardo Carpio story and realized that through the years it had been adapted by storytellers to suit the times - Bernardo Carpio was a metaphor for the resistance against Spain, he was an explanation for a lot of geology in the Montalban area, and he was even a Christ metaphor in the early 1900s. Nick Joaquin wrote a wonderful time travel story featuring Bernardo Carpio in Pop Stories for Groovy Kids, retellings of Filipino stories published in the 80s. That decided me - I was going to tell my own version of Bernardo Carpio and other Filipino folk tales.

I really set out to reflect a Filipino sensibility, despite the story being set partly in London. I had a fear that some Filipinos might not like the way I portray them, given Pinoy sensitivities about their image in the rest of the world. But I set out to capture that unique sense of humour that I miss so much living abroad - our love of poking fun at the way we have domesticated English, the spiritualism that borders on superstition, the rich storytelling seam, the showbiz dramatics, the sense of family and belonging. I hope Pinoy readers will recognize how lovingly I wrote it .. fellow expatriates might feel the undercurrent of homesickness that underlies the whole novel which is the lot of the Filipino abroad. I suspect this will be a constant feature in all my novels!

Was it difficult getting an agent? What was the path to publication for Tall Story?

I have been trying to get published for nine years. I know this because I recorded the date when I started writing my first novel. Tall Story is my fourth!

That first novel was set in London with English characters and had a gripping enough first chapter to have the whole manuscript invited back whenever I sent it out. But I didn't know the ups and downs of plot or in-depth characterization, and had a slew of rejections. I had so much to learn.

I decided to throw myself into the process of learning. I joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and tried to attend every event and volunteered for anything going. I thought I would also use my journalistic skills and report on what I learned in a blog - which continues to this day - Notes from the Slushpile.

But it was only when one agent told me, "Why are you writing about English characters? A first novel should reflect the author's experience." that I realized that I was not mining the wealth of experience and story that my heritage had to give. It was only when I started setting my stories in the Philippines and using Filipino characters that my writing really came alive. After that flurry of rejections with my first novel, I became more cautious. I didn't submit my novel to every agent I ever met or heard of. I concentrated on learning to write rather than getting published.

In 2008 I won a place in SCBWI's inaugural Undiscovered Voices anthology with an excerpt of Ugly City, my dystopian fantasy set in a city suspiciously like an extreme Manila. The agent Hilary Delamere had already read another novel of mine and called to tell me she liked it BUT ... after a bit of discussion, she asked if I had anything else. I sent her Ugly City and three days later she signed me up.

Where were you and what were you doing when you found out that your novel was going to be published? What were your first thoughts and feelings? How did you celebrate the good news?

I'm afraid I didn't believe it. I was sure I'd heard wrong and it was only when I actually met my agent at an event a few days after she told me that I felt I had permission to tell the world. Over the years, I guess I'd become overcautious and my default position was rejection. It was really hard to take in the news. I celebrated in little ways with my family and friends. I think it was only the reaction of my 10-year-old friend Hugo that convinced me it was really happening. Last summer I read chapters of Tall Story to Hugo and a bunch of other children.

Candy: Hugo, my book is going to get published.
Hugo: (slightly bored) Which one?
Candy: Tall Story.
Hugo: (genuinely thrilled) TALL STORY? THE ONE YOU READ US LAST SUMMER? THAT IS SO COOL!

And after that I thought it was so cool too!

How are you going to promote Tall Story? What are your plans for its release?

I have not really made plans that far ahead, although June 2010, the launch date in the UK is coming very fast. I want to do some fun stuff online, maybe make some YouTube videos with the kids which I love doing anyway. I will have to redesign my website of course ... and I am hoping my brother Armand Quimpo who is a cool motion graphics animator will make me a book trailer. I'm definitely going home to the Philippines for the Philippine launch but it's still early days so watch this space!

The two main characters in Tall Story, siblings Bernardo and Andi, make important wishes on a wishing stone. What are your wishes for Tall Story?

Do I get three wishes?

One of my big wishes has already been answered: that a Filipino publisher will take it to a Filipino audience. That has always been so important to me and I made that clear to my agent from the moment we started talking about selling my books. My second wish would be that my readers would love my characters as much as I have come to love them. And my third wish? That the book might inspire kids to read more ... and to write.

THANK YOU Tarie!

Thank you, Candy!!! I can't wait for the world to read Tall Story.



[My copy of Tall Story was provided by the author.]

Author Interview: Perpilili Vivienne Tiongson

Sunday, November 29, 2009
I love "I Hate My Mother!": Magnetic levitation, a grain of rice & 3 women (Cacho Publishing, 2007), so I feel honored today to be able to interview its author, Perpilili Vivienne Tiongson ("Perpi"). "I Hate My Mother!" is emotionally powerful young adult fiction with an authentic voice. Click here to read my blog post about the novel and here to read my review of it for PaperTigers.org.

And now introducing... Perpilili Vivienne Tiongson!

Welcome to Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind, Perpi!


Why do you write for young readers?

Why not? I regard this question as if I am being asked, "why invest in the young?" Whether they are readers or not is not as important to me as the fact that they are young. Many have said it in so many ways: The children are our future. So we should invest in them. I have children of my own, and when I think about the world that they will inherit, I have to do everything I can to ensure that it's a world worth passing on. I can't imagine a world without stories. So, whatever I can do to make sure there will be stories for young readers of whatever age, I try to help.
 
Can you please guide us through your writing process?

Hmmm. Tricky question. My writing process is still evolving. In my earlier years as a writer, I could never begin on a blank computer screen. I had to do it manually - with pen and paper. After the blank staring for hours, when you eventually get a sentence going, I usually wait till I've written out at least a paragraph or two before transferring to the PC. And always, when I start all over (like continuing to write the next day), I have to read through my previous text, rewriting/revising some, then adding on. Everytime I stop and restart, I read through before adding again. It's a painfully long process, but nothing ever comes out if I just read the last line and add from there. I feel like the reader will know I stopped here and just connected this part later because it's not as cohesive as the other parts. You know like when you don't finish a book in one sitting and you have to put it down and pick it up sometime later? You can't just pick up from where you left off. You kinda have to read a few sentences/paragraphs/pages back just to refresh the plot.

When I think I have all of it down, I put it to sleep. For a day, a week, depending on how much distance I can put between me and the manuscript. Then I read it all over again for one last revision. Sometimes, that means going through the entire process again. Not until I feel like I've got nothing to change do I think it's done, at least from my end.

As for ideas, they come from anywhere. You just have to have discipline to bring a notebook and pen with you all the time and take down notes. You'll never know when they'll come in handy.

What inspired and motivated you to write "I Hate My Mother!"?

A mix of things. It started out as a short story writing assignment. But friends who reviewed it would always say it seems like there's more. So I decided to write it out as a novel. The story became three chapters, until I added more and more chapters, until... In terms of inspiration or motivation, I would say a bit of it is personal. (Which I think answers the next question.) I went through a phase when I thought I hated my mother. And at that time, I felt like I was the only one. So I felt like I had this dark secret that I had to keep lest I was found out. All my friends didn't seem like they were going through what I was going through, and I really felt like I was going to burn in hell for hating my mom. So it's my way of reaching out to people, YAs especially, to let them know that they're not alone. That perhaps they would find their own "resolution" in my book, or in any other YA book for that matter. At the very least, I am hoping YA books are like best friends you can run to.

"I Hate My Mother!" feels so intimate, so intensely emotional. Are any parts of it autobiographical? Where did you draw all that emotion from?

I think like any writer, you can't help draw from your own life. So in a way, yes, parts of it are autobiographical. But I don't mean that scenes or events are exactly as they happened in my life. Like I may use my life to draw parallel situations. For example, in trying to live out the fight between Bell and her mom, I might draw from a different situation where I might have felt intense emotion like a big fight with my sister (whose name happens to be Aileen, not Cory :D).

I do believe that all writers write about themselves, one way or another. Even if for example I were writing about a male character, some parts of that character will echo some parts of me, my personhood. I don't think you can escape that.


What were the challenges and rewards of writing "I Hate My Mother!"? What was the path to publication for the novel?

In the early stages of my draft, one of my greatest challenges was convincing adults that hating your mom was a normal teen phenomenon. And this was at a time when my novel wasn't even titled, "I Hate My Mother!" (The first title was Mother's Grain of Rice.) My adult readers felt HATE was too strong a word. It was a time when many adults still saw YA as an extension of children's lit - safe and sanitized. They feared it would only cause more teenagers to hate their mothers/parents. They could not imagine how a 16 year old could hate her mother so. One of my readers even said, "I hated my mom when I was a teenager, but I don't hate her now." That was exactly my point, I wanted to say. :D

I'm not sure what you mean when you say, "path to publication," but there was nothing extraordinary about the process I took. I sent my manuscript to the publisher, prayed a lot and crossed my fingers hoping to hear what I wanted to hear. I didn't exactly hear it the way I envisioned it. It was more like, "I can publish this, but not in this form." And I was thinking, "ok, what exactly did he mean?" It took almost 4 years of revising based on the publisher's comments before I was formally offered a contract to publish.

What do you hope young readers will experience or take away from the novel?

In my critical essay on YA Novels, I said that YA novels can be a safe place. A safe place to explore, to experience, to experiment. Literature, we say, is vicarious living - living through the experience of others. So let's take advantage of it. If you've never known what it's like to feel strongly about your parents, the book might help. You can feel angry with or through Bell, but hopefully in the end, you'll feel her sadness too, and come to your own realizations through hers. But I don't want to limit it to just hating your mom. It can be about anything - going on an adventure, telling a lie, falling in love... The book just serves as a possibility, an opportunity.

What are your favorite children's and YA books? How have they influenced your own work?


Believe it or not, I started my love for reading through horror/suspense books and films. Peter Straub, Stephen King, Agatha Christie... I even had a crush on Peter Cushing ( I thought he looked more vampish than Christopher Lee). This was when I didn't really know about YA lit. When I discovered YA, I liked Robert Cormier, Lois Lowry.. Nowadays, I like the books for younger readers (maybe because of my kids!). [Ed. note: Check out the picture of Perpi's beautiful family on the right!] Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss will always be on my list. But there are so many others. There's also the local writers like KUTING [a group of Filipino children's book writers]...

Because of this mix of horror and children's, I think my writing always has that dark side to it, which I hope I get to mask in humor.

What are you reading now?

I am trying to read L'Engle again. I've been wanting to write a sci-fi or fantasy for boys. 

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am working on a short story for intermediate readers. I am also hoping to work on a collection of narratives I wrote several years ago. But soon, I would like to get started on a sequel to "I Hate My Mother!".  

I would love to read a sequel to "I Hate My Mother!" Perpi, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions about your novel.  


[I bought my own copy of "I Hate My Mother!"

About the Blog / Review Policy

Saturday, November 28, 2009
Thank you very much for your interest in this blog! Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind is a children's and YA book blog about: children's and YA books set in Asia, children's and YA books with Asian characters, children's and YA books with characters of Asian descent, Asian children's and YA book authors and illustrators, and children's and YA book authors and illustrators of Asian descent.

Books

I happily accept books for review. If you would like to send me a book for review, please email me so that I can give you my mailing address.

I will feature every book I receive (through a review or an author/illustrator interview, etc.). However, I cannot promise a positive feature for a book. I will be honest about both the strengths and weaknesses of the book. I also cannot promise a specific date for posting about the book. But every book will get featured.

E-Books

Yes, I accept electronic copies of books for review. Please email me before sending an electronic copy of a book. My guidelines for electronic books are the same as my guidelines for books.

Interviews

I love interviewing authors and illustrators (and really anybody in the children's and YA book world)! If you would like to request an interview, please email me information about the author or illustrator and his/her work. It would be best if I received a copy/e-copy of one of his/her books so that I can ask the best questions and even accompany the interview with a review of the book.

Blog Tours

Yes, I participate in blog tours. Email me to inquire about my interest in a tour. For a blog tour, I will need a copy/e-copy of the book being promoted.

Giveaways/Contests

I would be glad to host giveaways/contests for the benefit of my blog readers. Email me to inquire about my interest in a giveaway/contest.

Thank you so much for considering Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind! I look forward to working with you. :o)

EMAIL ADDRESS: asiaintheheart@yahoo.com

Publishing Giant Acquires Giant Novel - Written by a Filipina!

Thursday, November 26, 2009
Press release (originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on November 13, 2009):

David Fickling Books is enormously proud to announce the acquisition of a new stand-(tall)-alone novel, TALL STORY!

TALL STORY by Candy Gourlay is an outstanding and highly original novel for 10yrs+. The deal was negotiated by Hilary Delamere from The Agency and David Fickling.

This is a book about Bernardo, a boy who lives in the Philippines, and Bernardo is tall. Not just tall, he’s 8ft tall. Bernardo is actually a GIANT! In a novel packed with humour and quirkiness, Gourlay explores a touching sibling relationship and the comedic results of two very different cultures colliding.

Editorial director, Bella Pearson, knew there was something special from the first page: “It isn't often that I am in fits of laughter one minute and in tears the next - TALL STORY is one of the warmest, funniest, most moving books I've read in a long time - and Candy Gourlay is a rare and new voice in children's fiction. We are feeling immensely excited (and smug!) to be able to add her name to the DFB list.”

Candy Gourlay was born in Manila during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. She was in her twenties when she moved to the UK after covering the revolution that overthrew Marcos. In addition to journalism and writing for children, Candy is involved in a range of media: blogging, designing websites and even creating
YouTube videos.

Candy is passionate about embracing and exploiting the digital world to promote books, meeting other likeminded people and reaching out to younger readers online. She runs the popular blog Notes from the Slushpile for aspiring writers. TALL STORY will be Candy’s first full-length published novel.

TALL STORY will be published in June 2010 in hardback and will be launched with widespread digital publicity and buzz; David Fickling Books in the US will publish later in the year and Hilary Delamere has negotiated a separate edition to be launched in the Philippines by Ramon Sunico’s Cacho Publishing House.

For more information about Candy Gourlay see: www.candygourlay.com

For more information about DFB see: www.davidficklingbooks.co.uk

Notes for Editors


David Fickling Books is publisher of quality picture books and fiction, and is home to some of the most bestselling and highly acclaimed authors including Philip Pullman (published by DFB in the UK only), John Boyne, Mark Haddon (published by DFB in the UK only) and Jenny Downham. Its authors have won all of the major literary prizes including the Costa Children's Book of the Year, the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, and most recently the Carnegie Medal. David Fickling Books is an imprint of Random House Children’s Books UK and Random House Children’s Books in the United States and is based in Oxford, England and New York, USA.

For more information please contact:

Georgia Lawe, Deputy Publicity Director at RHCB
T: 020 8231 6413 or E: glawe@randomhouse.co.uk

Author Interview: Sang Pak

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on November 11, 2009.


Today, I welcome debut author Sang Pak to Into the Wardrobe! Sang has English and Psychology degrees from the University of Georgia and is a denizen of Georgia, Southern California, and Seoul. His coming-of-age novel, Wait Until Twilight, was published in August. :o)

Sang, what motivates and inspires you to be a writer?

Writing makes me feel connected and gives me a sense of purpose and meaning.

Can you tell us a bit about your debut novel?

Wait Until Twilight is a story about a high school boy, Samuel, who comes across a set of deformed triplets and their psychotic adult brother. Samuel finds himself obsessing about the triplets, though he is repulsed by them. All this coincides with re-emerging emotional memories of his dead mother. It’s a southern gothic / coming of age tale full of grotesques, adolescent life, and violence.

Why did you write Wait Until Twilight? What's the story behind the story?

The story is based on a set of dreams I had one summer a few years ago. Over a two week period I had many vivid dreams I wrote down all set in high school. So I put the pieces together and fleshed them out into a novel.

What were the challenges and rewards of writing Wait Until Twilight? What was the path to publication for the novel?

The challenge was getting a strong central story arc for the disparate vignettes that comprised the book. Once I got the story arc it was fine. Getting published took a few years of submitting to agents until one of them loved it and was able to get a deal with HarperCollins.

Where were you and what were you doing when you found out that your novel was going to be published? What were your first thoughts and feelings? How did you celebrate the good news?

I think I was about to go out on a Friday night when my agent called me to tell me about getting the deal. My thoughts and feelings were basically it’s about time I finally got published!

I had drinks with friends! Woohoo!

What are your favorite coming-of-age novels? How have they influenced your own coming-of-age novel?

I love the psychological exploration and transformation in Demian by Herman Hesse and I love the humor and youthful angst of Catcher in the Rye by Salinger.

Well, the aspects I love about them, I hoped to incorporate those aspects into my novel. The psychological exploration of Demian and the humor and angst of Catcher. Also these novels showed how a coming of age novel can be done in a literary style without being boring....

What do you think is the importance of coming-of-age novels?

A coming of age novel is more or less a story of transformation, which is always interesting and relatable. It just so happens to be in the framework of child to adult.

What books would you like your own work to match or surpass (in terms of writing, impact/influence, popularity/sales, or awards)?

I really can’t say. I can’t compare. I don’t think I’m competitive enough!

What is your strongest or favorite memory from when you were Samuel's (your main character's) age (16)?

Wow so many. But what comes to mind this moment is just the impression of driving country roads with friends without a care in the world.

Are you working on another novel right now?

Yes I am but I don’t talk about them until they are finished! I’m superstitious that way!

Sang, thanks so much for stopping by and chatting with me!

Book Review and Author Interview: Chenxi and the Foreigner by Sally Rippin

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on September 5, 2009.


"Every student watched Chenxi and the foreigner and every one of them had something to say about it."

It is April 1989 and eighteen-year-old San Francisco native Anna White is visiting her father in Shanghai. While in Shanghai, Anna, who is an artist, will learn traditional Chinese painting. One of Anna's classmates at the Shanghai College of Fine Arts, Chenxi, has been assigned as her translator and tour guide. Anna falls head over heels in love with the handsome, mysterious, and talented Chenxi.

There are student protests in China while Anna is there, and Chenxi is one of the students protesting the Chinese regime. When Anna is forced to return to the United States, the protests culminate in what the Chinese government calls the June Fourth Incident, but the Western world calls the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Chenxi and the Foreigner, by Australian children's/YA author and illustrator Sally Rippin, is a very brave YA novel about being a wai guo ren (outsider/foreigner), obsession and infatuation (how Anna feels about Chenxi), and the economic growth and political and social tensions in China in the late 1980s. It's a gently powerful novel that is amazingly honest in its portrayal of life in 1980s China and of the life of teenagers in general.

The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feel of China are very much alive and authentic in Chenxi and the Foreigner - in everything from how the Chinese speak English to how life is like in the Chinese countryside to how the Chinese treat foreigners. We see the country through the eyes of Anna, who is curious and open to the culture but definitely has the confusion and natural biases of a wai guo ren, but the tone of the novel is never condescending or disrespectful. And China is never exoticized.

This is an important novel that I was sorry to put down once the story had ended. I didn't want to leave Anna. I didn't want to leave Chenxi. Most of all, I didn't want to leave China.

[The North American edition of Chenxi and the Foreigner is from Annick Press (2009). The Australian edition is from Text Publishing (2008). I read an electronic copy of the North American edition sent by Annick Press.]


Into the Wardrobe is the last stop on Sally Rippin's blog tour and I had the great pleasure of interviewing Sally. Thank you so much, Sally!

What was it like as an Australian partly growing up in Brunei, Hong Kong, and China? What are some of your strongest or favorite memories from Asia?

I have very strong memories of all these places: they have become part of who I am. Even Brunei, I was very young, but I remember my Ah Ma (my nanny) washing my mouth out with soap for having said a rude word in Malay. I’m sure I can still remember the taste of soap! I remember my best friend lived in a houseboat, and my Ah Ma and I would have to walk across all the other houseboats tethered to the port to get to his. I remember, too, my parents asking me to ask things of my Ah Ma, because I could speak Malay and they couldn’t and not understanding why if they wanted to ask her something couldn’t they just ask her themselves! I’ve lost all my Malay now, unfortunately, but I think having grown up in Asia as a child meant that when I went to live in China as a teenager, I picked up Mandarin very quickly. I still speak Mandarin Chinese but it has become very rusty, though when I go back to visit my father in Shanghai I’m always surprised at how quickly it comes back.

Wow, that's amazing, Sally! I wish I knew how to speak Mandarin.

How has partly growing up in Asia molded you as a person? How has it influenced your writing and illustrating for children and young adults?


It influences everything. From the stories I choose to tell to the technique of illustration I use. Many stories I write for children are about Chinese-Australians. I am particularly drawn to exploring stories of outsiders whether they be new immigrants, artists or troubled teenagers. These are the characters I most identify with from having been called a ‘foreigner’ much of my own life.

I studied Chinese painting for three years in China and still use brush and ink for many of my illustration work today. Even when I am painting in a way that may not be recognizably Chinese, I am very influenced by Chinese composition and, like traditional Chinese painters, I am always aware of the importance of white space.

(Above is a picture of Sally as a teenage art student in China. Below are some of Sally's illustrations influenced by Chinese art.)




Your three years in China studying traditional Chinese painting inspired Chenxi and the Foreigner. The novel is even dedicated to the real Chenxi. Who is the real Chenxi? How much of the novel is fact and how much of it is fiction?

There is a lot of my novel based on my own experiences studying in China and events of the time, but the love story between Chenxi and Anna is invented. I imagine many writers combine their own experience with imagination. For me this is the key to creating a story that feels authentic and true. The ‘real’ Chenxi was my best friend in Shanghai and I am still in touch with him even though we haven’t seen each other for years. He now lives as an accomplished painter in Austria. The invented Chenxi, is a composite of many of my friends, all the best bits of course, plus lots of imagination. That’s one of the best things about writing – you can create your ideal guy!

Chenxi the character is certainly interesting and attractive as a very independent and rebellious artist!

What were the challenges and rewards of writing Chenxi and the Foreigner? What was the path to publication for the novel?


Without knowing it, I began writing the first drafts of Chenxi while I was still living in China in my early twenties. While I was living in China I wrote lots of short stories, letters and diary entries that I was then able to use later to pull my novel together, a process that took many drafts and many years. Before Chenxi, I wrote another novel, basically to learn how to write a novel. It was never published but an editor at Penguin took an interest in it and encouraged me to write something for Young Adult readers as that was her particular area of interest. I re-wrote the novel three times, under her guidance, over a period of three years while I was living in the South of France with two small children. Eventually the editor left Penguin and wasn’t able to take the novel with her to her new publishing house but by that time the novel was polished enough to send elsewhere. It was published with a new publisher, went out of print, and then was picked up by Text Publishing in 2008. They have since sold it into five countries – so, to my joy, almost twenty years after I first began writing it, it keeps on living!

I'm not surprised that it keeps on living. It's quite a lovely novel.

What do you want readers to take away from Chenxi and the Foreigner?


Firstly, a love of my characters, and secondly a love of place. I would love readers to become interested in China after reading my novel and to hopefully have an insight into a fascinating and culturally-rich country that is changing so rapidly that my novel seems to have now become a piece of history!

You have me there, Sally! I want more of Anna and Chenxi. And I hope you write more novels set in China.

What is your favorite response to Chenxi and the Foreigner from either a critic or a reader?


I received a lovely review from a young Chinese-Australian reader who thanked me for introducing her to a period of history that she hadn’t been aware of, even though she had been born in China soon after those events. I guess the new edition of this book has given me the opportunity to revisit and document a significant time in Chinese history, particularly now that I know that it has become a taboo topic in other forms of Chinese media. I would hate to think that the hundreds of protestors who lost their lives in Tiananmen Square and many others in the months afterwards, could simply be erased from history. I rewrote the new edition of this book in their honour.

(Sally provided these pictures of student protests in Shanghai in 1989.)



Do you have a message for readers in Asia?

Not particularly, I am just so thrilled to find a readership there! I would love to hear from anyone in Asia who has read any of my books – if there is anyone out there? :)

Check out the other stops on the blog tour to learn more about Sally!

Tea Time at Annick Press

The Book Muncher

Cindy’s Love Of Books

GreenBeanTeenQueen

Hey! Teenager of the Year

Also, check out Sally's blog! She has recently posted photos from her time in China.


Playing It Safe by G.T. Los Baños

A Filipino YA novel in English

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on August 12, 2009.


"It all began that day we went up against the Mountaineers for the interclub university softball championship. I guess knocking a girl unconscious with a softball is just about as weird as it gets when it comes to starting any sort of relationship, but anyway, here's how things happened on that crazy, glorious afternoon:

The game was sort of a grudge match: the two toughest organizations on campus, the Mountaineers and my team, the Outsiders, squaring off for the school's interclub softball championship."


Playing It Safe by G.T. Los Baños (Cacho Publishing House, 2007) is about sports, university life, and relationships. It's about Jon Garcia, a sophomore college student on the varsity wrestling team, and Sheila Prado, a member of the same university's varsity swim team, and how Jon falls for and pursues Sheila... Or is about how Jon falls for and fails to pursue Sheila? After all, he does plays it safe. But everything goes Jon's way - until Sheila implies that she wants a bit of traditional Filipino courtship (flowers and the whole works), which Jon doesn't believe in.

For a love story, Playing It Safe is heavy on Jon's exposition, light on action and dialogue between him and Sheila or any other character. And on that note, Jon and Sheila's story has its cheesy moments. But I could not stop smiling while reading. I even had to stop every few pages because I would hunch over laughing. I was so amused and so entertained by Jon's story, and I found Jon and Sheila, their lives, and their relationship so interesting and so refreshing. (There aren't many Filipino YA novels in English about sports, university life, and relationships!) Plus, the writing is incredibly engaging. There's also the fact that Playing It Safe is a fun and accurate portrayal of life on a Philippine university campus. My only disappointment with this novella is all the typos. Apart from the bad proofreading, it is very good!

The ending of Playing It Safe is a real cliffhanger. I can imagine some readers will be dissatisfied with this and burn with curiosity about what happens with Jon and Sheila. I was satisfied with the ending because it raised great questions about, yes, playing it safe in relationships and about whether or not a little bit of traditional Filipino courtship is still desired and/or relevant.


[I bought my own copy of Playing It Safe. G.T. Los Baños was one of my college English teachers. He was so cool and such a good teacher that when my younger brother got to college, I recommended he take Mr. Los Baños' class. My brother really enjoyed his class too!]

"I Hate My Mother!": Magnetic levitation, a grain of rice & 3 women

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on August 6, 2009.

A Filipino YA novel in English


"I Hate My Mother!": Magnetic levitation, a grain of rice & 3 women (Cacho Publishing House, 2007) introduces readers to finding a mother's wisdom in a grain of rice, the parallel between human relationships and magnets, and Bell, her mother, and her sister Cory.

This book made me happy. Not because it's a bright and cheery novel - in fact it has its funny moments but is mostly a serious novel. But because good books make me happy, and this is definitely a solidly good book.

I have heard once that children love their parents and then love them again as adults. "I Hate My Mother!" is about that time in between, when teenagers "hate" their parents. Written in that unique way Filipino teenagers use English, and generously peppered with Filipino words and phrases, "I Hate My Mother!" traces the transformation of Bell's awe of her mother's wisdom as a little girl to her bewilderment, annoyance, and frustration with her mother as a teenager.

But as the years went by, it only became harder for me to understand anything Mommy would say. Even in my most patient moments, no beam of light would shine on me or on Mommy's words. Parang* I was losing all capacity for understanding.

But then again, more and more, I would come to believe it was my Mom who was losing all her wisdom.

...

Kasi** while I was getting wiser, Mommy was getting dumber. Like she was losing the wisdom Dad always talked about when I was a little girl. And she was losing it fast.


In this novel, Perpilili Vivienne Tiongson gives readers an almost pitch perfect portrayal of the INEXPLICABLE rage many teenage girls feel towards their mother.

I just wanted to feel nothing. For once, to feel like nothing's the matter with my Mom. To just watch her walk across the hall, or even into our room, without having to avoid her, without having to pretend that I was too busy to talk to her or pretend I had not noticed her at all. To not cringe at the way she chewed her food when we sat at the dining table. To not shudder at the slightest touch of her hand on my back. To not ice over at the words "I love you."

There is no clear, neat, happy ending for this novel. No resolution between mother and daughter. But the ending does satisfy in that there is hope. And as one cannot help but get emotionally involved with the story, the ending is also satisfying because it gives readers plenty of room to work out their own thoughts and feelings.

Needless to say, I recommend this book!


Loose English translations of the words in Filipino:
*It was as if...
**Because...

[I bought my own copy of "I Hate My Mother!".]

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on July 30, 2009.

The 42 students (21 boys and 21 girls) of Third Year Class B, Shiroiwa Junior High School, in Shiroiwa Town, Kagawa Prefecture, the Republic of Greater East Asia, are normal fifteen-year-olds. They worry about school, they love spending time with their friends, they enjoy sports, and they are crazy about their crushes. But their fascist government is not "normal." In fact, it is cruel - very, very cruel. Every year, the government of the Republic of Greater East Asia randomly selects fifty third-year junior high school classes and forces them to participate in a battle simulation program. The students of Third Year Class B in Shiroiwa Junior High School think that they are on a study trip, but they have actually been selected to take part in the program. The class is drugged and brought to an abandoned island where they are forced to play a game. The game really only has one rule: Kill each other until only one survivor is left.

Each player in the game is provided with a limited supply of food and water, a map of the island, a compass, a watch, and a weapon that has been randomly assigned. The weapons include different kinds of guns and different kinds of knives. But some of the "weapons" turn out to be things like darts complete with a dart board, a banjo, and... a fork. If the players refuse to fight each other, or if they try to escape the island, the metal collars that have been placed around their necks will explode and instantly kill them. They must kill or be killed.

The prize for the "winner" of the game: He or she can go home and live. Also, he or she gets a lifetime pension and an autographed card from the Great Dictator. The official reason for the game: Research purposes / it is the country's special conscription system.

Is this a violent story? Yes, it is. Here is an excerpt:

The slashing sound Megumi heard sounded like a lemon being cut.

It was a nice sound. The knife must have been really sharp and the lemon fresh, the way they are on television cooking shows, as in, "Today, we'll be cooking lemon salmon."

It took her a few seconds to realize what had occurred.

Megumi saw Mitsuko's right hand. On the left side under her chin. Her hand held a gently curved, banana-shaped blade that reflected dully against the flashlight beam. It was a sickle - the kind used to harvest rice. And now its tip was stuck in Megumi's throat....

Her left hand clutching the back of Megumi's head, Mitsuko dug the sickle in further. It made another crunching noise.


Ladies and gentlemen, that is Battle Royale. When I started reading it, I was in a daze. Like the students, I couldn't believe what was happening. As the students' uncertainty, fear, and suspicions grew, so did mine. I was horrified. And I realized with even more horror that I couldn't stop reading. Even though at first I thought I wouldn't be able to stomach what I was reading, I read on because of hope for a happy ending and for the survivor, interest in the lives of each student (there are plenty of flashback scenes), and morbid curiosity about how each student would die. Then together the characters and I slowly realized with dismay that we were getting desensitized to all the violence.

The beginning and ending of Battle Royale are action-packed because so many students are dying in those parts. In contrast, the middle of the novel seems a bit boring because the students are hiding from each other and those who have teamed up are just talking. But always, always there is an ominous tension.

There is an important character who gets into unrealistic situations. A couple of parts in the story are predictable. And there are several typos in the book (bad proofreading!). But this is good stuff. Battle Royale is about trust and paranoia. It is about how life and death situations bring out the brightest parts of human nature as well as the darkest parts. It is about a totalitarian government and fighting that government. But above all, Battle Royale is about entertaining readers.


[Battle Royale was originally published in Japanese in 1999. My copy of the book is a borrowed copy from a friend. (Thank you, April!) It was published by Gollancz (an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group) in the UK in 2007. The English translation is by Yuji Oniki.]

Author/Illustrator Interview: Anne Sibley O'Brien

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on July 13, 2009.


We're in for a real special treat today! Today, I have the honor and great pleasure of interviewing Anne Sibley O'Brien, an American author/illustrator who creates multicultural children's books.

Anne Sibley O'Brien was raised bilingual and bicultural in South Korea (as the daughter of medical missionaries). She has received the National Education Association’s Author-Illustrator Human and Civil Rights Award for her work with Margy Burns Knight, TALKING WALLS and other books; the Africana Award for AFRICA IS NOT A COUNTRY by Margy Burns Knight and Mark Melnicove; and the Aesop Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and the Global Korea Award for THE LEGEND OF HONG KIL DONG: THE ROBIN HOOD OF KOREA, a graphic novel she wrote and illustrated. Her latest book is AFTER GANDHI: 100 YEARS OF NONVIOLENT RESISTANCE, which she illustrated and co-wrote with her son, Perry. (Click here for a complete list of Anne's work.)

Anne is involved in diversity education and leadership training. She is also a performer and has created a one-woman show entitled “White Lies: one woman’s quest for release from the enchantment of whiteness” (http://www.WhiteLies.ws). She lives with her husband in Maine, and is the mother of two grown children.

Welcome, Anne!

What was it like growing up an American in Korea? Do you remember the culture shock you experienced when you first moved to Korea? Did you experience culture shock again when you moved back to the U.S.?

Memories of my earlier years are fuzzy, but from the time I turned seven and we left New Hampshire to move to Korea, it's as if someone turned on a video camera - I have a continuous set of images of this most definitive event in my life. I'm sure that there was considerable adjustment for me as a young child, losing one world and encountering a completely new culture and country, but children take their cues from their parents, and mine framed the whole thing as a grand adventure. In moving to Korea to serve as medical missionaries, they were both fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Our family - my parents, my two brothers, my baby sister and I - arrived in Seoul in 1960, seven years after the end of the Korean War and the partitioning of the peninsula into North and South Korea. It was a difficult time as people struggled to recover from the devastation and figure out how to survive in its aftermath. We often saw young children dressed in rags, begging on the streets. Over the twenty years that it was home, we witnessed the miracle of South Korea's development and modernization to become one of the world's most industrialized nations, which instead of increasing the gap between rich and poor, actually benefited all of the country's citizens. So the Korea I knew as a child was dramatically different from the country I lived in as a young adult, and the country I visit today - the changes are just so fantastic.

Growing up as an American in 1960's Korea was kind of like being a princess. South Koreans were deeply grateful to the U.S. for its role in the war; at the time it was probably the most pro-American country in the world. There were few foreigners and we were extraordinarily privileged and visible. When I went to the market or anywhere in public, I attracted a crowd of children and adults who were fascinated by how different I looked: my light brown hair (like "gold!"), my large round eyes, my big nose, my height. But the attention was so friendly, so full of awe and wonder, that it became the catalyst for my own passion for human difference and connection.

In their dream, my parents had envisioned working side-by-side with Koreans as colleagues, so they were dismayed to discover that missionaries in 1960 were housed in turn-of-the-century three-storey brick houses up on hills, on compounds surrounded by barbed wire. The second significant thing that happened, after moving to Korea, was my parents' choice to live in a Korean house, which they managed by the time I was nine. That changed everything about our relationships with Koreans, some of whom became dear friends and extended family. I also had a number of experiences of total immersion in Korean life and language, including a year at a Korean university, so I became - and remain - bilingual and bicultural.

Growing up in Korea meant belonging to a place I did not belong, being of a place I was not from, being welcomed and loved by people who were not "my" people. Somehow, culture shock and the sense of dislocation always felt more intense when I returned to the U.S., to the place I supposedly belonged, to the place I was from, to "my" people.


(Seoul, July 1960 - Anne's 8th birthday with friends)

What are some of your strongest memories from when you were living in Korea?

- Falling in love with Korea's culture and traditions: the graciousness and generosity with which guests are welcomed; the brilliantly-colored designs on the underside of palace or Buddhist temple roofs; the charming and cunning cast of animals animating folk stories and folk art - dragons, rabbits, tigers, goblins, magpies; the bold colors and graceful sweep of the traditional hanbok, with its long skirt and half-moon-sleeved top; the love of children and reverence for elders.

- Sleeping on a thick padded quilt on the floor, heated in winter, with another heavy quilt over me, my body toasty, cool air on my face. Eating meals - Korean rice and side dishes, American stew or spaghetti, or a mix - seated on cushions around a low table.

- Family vacations with Korean friends spent enjoying the country's natural beauty: tall twisted pines along a rocky seacoast, terraced rice fields climbing a hill, mist enveloping the base of craggy peaks. Eating picnics of kim-bap - rice, egg and vegetables wrapped in seaweed - and cucumber sandwiches, seated on the large flat boulders beside a mountain stream, in between wading or swimming in the deep pools of icy water.

- Navigating between worlds: riding through Korean streets in the LandRover that took us to school where we studied an American curriculum in English (at an international school founded by missionaries in Seoul, and a military dependent school on an Army base in Taegu); or walking up the alley steps past makeshift shacks and an open sewer, then through the compound gates to play with missionary friends in the ease and beauty of their lawns and gardens.

(Anne in Taegu, 1963)

- My favorite after-school activity in 5th and 6th grade: playing with the babies in the children's wing of the hospital where my father worked, where they'd been sent for medical care from area orphanages. The short-staffed caretakers were happy to have extra hands. When I'd walk into the room where a dozen or so older babies and toddlers lay in metal cribs, every one would stand up and hold up their arms to me. (I tried to get my mother to adopt some or all of them, but had to wait twenty-five years to fulfill that dream, when my husband and I brought our adopted daughter home.)

(Revisiting Korea, June 2009 - Anne with her daughter Yunhee)

- The summer before my senior year of high school, our family moved with Korean colleagues to a rural southern island to set up an experimental project in the delivery of medical care directed by my father, the Kojedo Community Health Project. The island was an unspoiled gem of hilly peninsulas jutting out into waterways and bays, with no electricity or paved roads in the northern end where we set up camp. My friends were the village girls who trained as nurses' aides. I worked there for two and a half of the eight years the project ran. (I just returned there last month for the first time in thirty-two years, and the island now has highways, high-rise apartments, and two of the world's largest shipyards! But many of my friends were still there.)

(June 2009 - Kojedo homecoming with Jum-soon and Kum-ja, former nurses' aides)

Those are truly wonderful memories, Anne. :o)

What kind of young reader were you? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?


I loved books. Probably my three favorite things were people, drawing and reading.

I have a vivid memory from when I was eight, living in Seoul, and my mother, brothers and I caught a lingering virus that kept us bed-ridden for weeks. A woman who called herself the Story Lady came to visit with a pillowcase of books over her shoulder. Magical.

Once or twice a year, we got to order used books from a church warehouse in the States. We checked them off on a master list, mailed off the order, then waited months for the package to be delivered by sea mail to discover whether or not we'd gotten the ones we'd wanted. Books were precious.

My mother read to us a lot, classics like WIND IN THE WILLOWS, WINNIE THE POOH, the NARNIA books and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. We had an extensive library of marvelous picture books like BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL, Taro Yashima's UMBRELLA, and the delightful Little Golden books illustrated by Eloise Wilkins.

I was a romantic child, and I loved books about babies, princesses and fairies - an antique book I got from the order service called JIJI LOU, about a doll who makes a home for abandoned baby dolls; BABY ISLAND; FLOWER FAIRIES; THE GOLDEN BOOK OF FAIRY TALES illustrated by Adrienne Segur. In junior high, my favorite book was a fairy tale, TATSINDA by Elizabeth Enright, with pictures by Irene Haas, who became one of my favorite illustrators. As a teenager, I loved the novels of Madeleine L'Engle (especially the Austin books) and Katherine Paterson's novels set in Asia.

How has growing up in Korea molded you as a person?


Aside from being born into my family of origin, growing up in Korea was the single most formative event of my life. I was seven years old, that time in development when a child is moving from sensing oneself as the center of the universe to having a look around at the rest of the world, so it had a huge impact.

The greatest gift is the certainty that we are all connected, that all human beings belong to each other as members of one family. I think I sensed this as a young child, but it was confirmed by the direct experience of being embraced by people who were different from me, yet claimed me as their own. My early experiences were the inspiration for my desire to explore the glory of human difference, to portray racial and cultural particularity in such a way that we can all see the beauty of other ways of being.

Having the reference points of two often contrasting languages and cultures is wonderfully mind- and heart-expanding.

I've also exercised my mind and heart working at the puzzles of race, economic class, and privilege. All the attention I got as a child for my visible difference made me intensely aware of my own race, which is an unusual perspective for a white American. When I came back to the States for college, my culture shock propelled me into an exploration of racism and whiteness that has became a lifelong passion.

What was your path to publication as an author/illustrator for children?

I started off as an illustrator. By the time I finished my studio art major at Mount Holyoke College and moved back to Korea, I was leaning towards children's book illustration as my chosen art form. In 1978, just married and living in the States, I set up a course, "Writing & Illustrating Children's Books," taught by Eric Carle, for the teacher-community center in western Massachusetts where I worked. During that wonderful series of classes, I decided that this was exactly what I wanted to do, even if it took ten years to break in (I would have been astonished to know that it would take seven).

I put together an illustration portfolio and over the next seven years, took it around to art directors and editors at New York and Boston publishers, attended conferences, and used what I learned to keep improving my work. Finally, in 1985, I was in the right place at the right time, when an editor told me he wanted to publish a series of board books on toddler conflicts. As the mother of a two-year-old son, I was primed and ready to respond. Holt Rinehart published the first set of four, which I wrote and illustrated, in 1985, the second set a year later (all long out of print, but still sometimes found in libraries).

In between, I illustrated my first picture book, JAMAICA'S FIND, by Juanita Havill. Nine books in eighteen months!! Then three long years went by before my next contract, another JAMAICA book. During that fallow time, I started to take my writing much more seriously, first in order to develop manuscripts that I could illustrate, then for its own sake.

(Anne's daughter Yunhee was the model for Brianna)

What inspires and motivates you to write and illustrate for children?

By the time I was seven, I was announcing to the world that I was going to be an artist when I grew up. I drew constantly - filling sketchbooks, doodling all over my math papers, trading sketches of babies for American candy from my Army kid classmates. Those early picture books were an inspiration - I loved illustrations of people's faces, which was also my favorite thing to draw.

In fourth grade, I used to write stories for fun after school, making up the kind of families I wished I lived in - with lots and lots of children, not just four.

At Mount Holyoke, where the art department was exclusively fine arts, it became clear that I was more drawn to applied arts, and my advisor gave me a piece of wisdom: "The task is to find work that sustains you, that you can sustain."

To this day, most of the ideas I have for creative projects come in a form that works for young people, though they cover the spectrum from board books to young adult novels. "I get paid to write stories and make pictures," I tell groups of schoolchildren. "Isn't that a cool job?" I'm blessed to say that, so far, my work sustains me, and I can sustain it.

What is your creative process when you are writing and/or illustrating a book?

I always hold this intention for my creative process: "I will listen, receive impulse, and follow it through response into form." My working principle is that everything has more substance and power when it comes through me rather than is directed by me. I hope to let images and ideas rise up from the unconscious rather than being consciously produced.

In concrete terms, when I'm illustrating a book I start with very rough thumbnails, then move to storyboard and dummy, often cycling through this process several times before reaching final illustrations. If I'm also writing the picture book, it may move from text to images back to text, in any order. Each book seems to have its own unique journey, its own needs.

When I'm writing longer manuscripts, I never move through the story in a line from beginning through middle to ending. Instead, I write whatever scene feels lively, wherever the energy is moving. I can juggle many projects at a time when I'm working on them informally, but not once I'm on a schedule, limited by a deadline. I always think that when I'm doing final illustrations, I could also be working on revising a novel on the side, but it never seems to work out that way. Apparently, I can only work intensively in one medium at a time.

How has growing up in Korea influenced your writing and illustrating for children?

In addition to all the ways I've mentioned, it's provided source material for a number of my books - THE PRINCESS AND THE BEGGAR (Scholastic 1993, out of print) and THE LEGEND OF HONG KIL DONG: THE ROBIN HOOD OF KOREA, plus a forthcoming book I illustrated, WHAT WILL YOU BE, SARA MEE? (Charlesbridge 2010) by Kate Aver Avraham, about a Korean-American first birthday, and four of my current projects.

THE LEGEND OF HONG KIL DONG, a hero tale in graphic novel form, is my most decorated book, receiving the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award, the Aesop Award, and the Global Korea Award, and named to Booklist's "Top 10 Graphic Novels for Youth 2007."


(The Smithsonian, May 2007 - Readers' theater presentation of THE LEGEND OF HONG KIL DONG, photo by James DiLoreto)

(ALA, June 2007 - Anne signing books after the ceremony for the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature)

What are the challenges and rewards of being an author/illustrator for children?

The biggest challenge for me is the sustaining part - economically, that is. I often say that the finances are as creative as the work. I put together a living (and I'm incredibly lucky to actually be able to do this) from advances, royalties, school visits, other writing and illustrating gigs like emergent readers, and other bits and pieces of income. Of course there are creative challenges with the work itself, each book seeming to present its own new set, but that's what makes it worth doing: it's not easy.

The rewards include: doing work I love; having the freedom of a totally varied and flexible work schedule which I am in charge of; going to work in my pajamas; getting paid to dream and imagine and play as well as write, draw and paint; being part of a creative team with editors, art directors, marketing people; interacting with audiences of young people and adults, some of whom have read my books(!); connecting with other children's book creators; royalties, still coming, even on one book published twenty-four years ago; and having a really cool response when people ask, "What do you do?"

Can you tell us a bit about your book tours, school visits, or workshops?


I'm an extrovert and a performer, so the presentation part of book marketing is fun for me. I've done hundreds of school visits across the U.S. over the last twenty-five years. I do between fifteen and thirty days per year, I'd guess, mostly K-5, but sometimes middle school and occasionally high school classes.

Programs include joint author-illustrator presentations with Margy Burns Knight for TALKING WALLS and our other books, and solo visits as the illustrator of the JAMAICA books (author Juanita Havill lives in Arizona, but we did manage one week of joint school visits this year) or talking about creating THE LEGEND OF HONG KIL DONG: THE ROBIN HOOD OF KOREA. I also do specific content workshops such as "Composing Comics: The Power of the Frame," "Visual Literacy," and "From the Heart: Illustrating Across Cultures."

I appear at conferences, writers' workshops, and events such as the Kennedy Center Multicultural Book Festival; spend a week each summer as the Creative Writing teacher at a Korean cultural camp in New Jersey; and have twice presented at my high school, Seoul Foreign School in Korea. I'd love to do more international schools.

There's lots more information about appearances, including some of the programs I offer and a complete list of the schools I've visited over the last three years, at my website, AnneSibleyOBrien.com.

What are some of your favorite experiences from your book tours, school visits, or workshops?

Just a few:

- Looking out at a roomful of children - all those beautiful faces!

- Who knew you could fascinate entire classrooms of American fourth and fifth graders with 15th century Korean history, including the invention of the Korean alphabet?

- Hearing students say as a program is ending that all they want to do is go write or draw.

- Connecting with Korean-American students - I start speaking in Korean and they nearly fall out of their chairs.

More thoughts about school visits and programs at my blog, "Coloring Between the Lines," (www.coloringbetween.blogspot.com)

Readers, check out Anne's blog! On it, Anne looks at issues of race and culture in relation to creating and using children's literature. :o)

What are you working on now?


I have about twelve of my own projects at various stages of development: two teenage novels (one set in Seoul, the other in North Korea), two graphic novels (both with Korean content), two long-term memoir projects, four picture books, and a couple of others at the concept stage.

This fall I'll be illustrating a picture book, THE MOON WATCHERS (Tilbury 2010), written by an Iranian-American friend, about a family celebrating Ramadan in the U.S. And I'll be promoting two new books: AFTER GANDHI: 100 YEARS OF NONVIOLENT RESISTANCE (Charlesbridge 2009), which I co-wrote with my son, and the seventh in the JAMAICA series, JAMAICA IS THANKFUL (HMH 2009) by Juanita Havill.


If you were to visit the Philippines, would you a) visit white sand beaches and underground caves, go sailing, go snorkeling and scuba diving, etc.; or b) check out the natural wonders above ground, like the Taal Volcano, the Banaue Rice Terraces, and the Chocolate Hills. Why?

Beautiful landscapes feed the eyes and the soul, so I'd certainly look for a dose of natural wonders (a and b), but my first choice would be meeting Filipinos, interacting with them and seeing how they live. Then I'd want to see and do whatever they recommended to introduce me to their country. And I'd want to spend time in markets selling handcrafts.

What is your message for your readers in Asia?

Wow, I have readers in Asia?! I'd love to be invited to your school, library or conference. I've been to India, Nepal and Hong Kong in the 1960's, otherwise only to Korea and Japan. I'm eager to experience other Asian countries. And 안녕하세요 to anyone from Korea!

Anne, thank you so much for sharing your experiences, work, and insights with us!

Author Interview: S. Terrell French

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on June 28, 2009.


In the heart of Mendocino County, California, there is a gorgeous stand of rare old-growth redwood trees known as Big Tree Grove. One of the redwoods has an amazing tree house. The front side of the tree house is a deck with long benches, the back is a little cabin with a pointed roof. There's a pulley seat to go up and down the redwood. The tree house is fortified with sleeping bags, walnuts, apples, water, peanut butter, bread, cheese, cereal, crackers, powdered milk, jam, and chocolate-chip cookies. Julian Carter-Li, Robin Elder, Danny Lopez, and Ariel Glasser - all ages 11-12 - are camped out in that tree house and they are NOT coming down until San Francisco-based IPX Investment Corp. agrees not to log in Big Tree Grove.

How did Julian, Robin, Danny, and Ariel meet and become friends? How did they find out about IPX's plans for Big Tree Grove? Why do they want to save the grove and how did they get their parents' permission to "tree sit"? Most importantly, are they successful in saving Big Tree Grove? You'll have to read Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French (Amulet Books, 2009) to find out!

S. Terrell French grew up near Washington, D.C. and is a graduate of Harvard University and Berkeley Law. She currently lives with her husband and three children in San Francisco, where she is practicing environmental law.

S. Terrell French is at Into the Wardrobe today to tell us more about herself and about Operation Redwood, which is her debut novel.

Why did you write Operation Redwood?



I always loved reading and writing. I'd written a lot in college and then switched paths when I moved to California and began working in environmental law. After my kids were born, I returned to the world of children's books. My first image of the book was of a boy, alone in an office, inadvertently coming across an e-mail from a faraway girl, one that would lead him on an unexpected adventure. I ended up writing the book I wanted to read aloud to my own kids.

WOW. How did you divide your time between being a wife and a mother of three, being an environmental lawyer, and writing Operation Redwood?

When I was writing the first draft of OPERATION REDWOOD, my youngest was only three and my legal work was episodic. I would write during his afternoon naps, while my two older kids were in school, or at night after they were all in bed. I wrote more briefs later, but tried not to schedule work when I was expecting another round of revisions.

What influences and inspirations (both literary and non-literary) did you draw from while writing?

I love the back-to-nature adventures of Jean Craighead George, the contemporary mystery of FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER by E. L. Konigsburg, and the lyrical, clear writing of Laura Ingalls Wilder. In real life, I was inspired by the story of the people who risked so much trying to protect the Headwaters Forest -- the last major unprotected stand of old-growth redwoods -- in the 1990s.

What were the challenges and rewards from writing?

It's challenging for me to find time to write now that OPERATION REDWOOD is out and my kids are older. I love the writing process itself. Sometimes I'd be so excited at night after finishing a scene or a chapter of OPERATION REDWOOD, I couldn't sleep. Now that the book is out, I really enjoy meeting with or hearing from kids and other devoted readers like teachers, librarians, and booksellers.

I was excited when I saw that the main character of Operation Redwood, Julian Carter-Li, is Chinese American. Is there a particular reason you made Julian Chinese American?

My husband is Chinese-American and so my own children are "half-Chinese" like Julian. I tried to find books for them with Asian heroes, but found that most were set in Asia or revolved around themes like immigration or trips to Chinatown. I was interested in writing a book, set in the very multicultural city of San Francisco, in which the characters' ethnicity is simply taken for granted and the focus is on other things: friendship, mystery, and adventure.

THANK YOU for writing a middle grade eco-adventure with an Asian hero. :o)

What was the path to publication for Operation Redwood? Was it difficult to find an agent and a publisher?

I was fortunate to find my agent, Kate Schafer Testerman, fairly quickly -- through a friend. Kate really handled everything from there. She submitted OPERATION REDWOOD to Susan Van Metre at Amulet Books. I made some revisions based on Susan's very thoughtful editorial letter, and then Amulet made an offer.

Where were you and what were you doing when you found out that your novel was going to be published? What were your first thoughts and feelings? How did you celebrate the good news?

I knew OPERATION REDWOOD was under consideration and was on pins and needles waiting until my agent e-mailed me. I’m not sure I actually celebrated until the contract was signed (that’s the lawyer in me) and then my husband and I went out to dinner. Because it was my first book, it seemed a little unreal and I had no clear idea of what the future would hold.

What do you want young readers to take away from Operation Redwood?

I wrote the book with my own kids in mind, so I wanted it to have a lot of humor and adventure and plot twists. The book also reflects my own interest in the fascinating history of the California redwoods. I think it’s important for children to realize that the battle over natural resources isn’t just something that occurs in faraway places, like the Amazon, and that taking action can make a difference.

{sorrel, a flower that grows in the redwoods}

{a redwood snag with a redwood sapling growing out of it}

In your novel, the children ask for permission from adults to be tree-sitters so that they can save a redwood grove. Would you allow your children to be tree-sitters?

I better hedge my answer in case my kids ever read this! I would say that if my kids were in the situation of the kids in OPERATION REDWOOD, I might give the kind of permission that Robin's parents give, which is highly conditioned on various promises from the kids. It's a very different scenario from what the (adult) tree-sitters faced during the Headwaters battle.

What are some of your favorite experiences so far from signings, interviews, and other promotional activities for Operation Redwood?

I just spoke at the four-day Children's Writers and Illustrators Conference at Book Passage, a wonderful indie bookstore in the Bay area. I had attended this conference just after I wrote the first page of OPERATION REDWOOD. It seemed impossible at that time that my book would ever be on the shelves at this fabulous bookstore, so it was very gratifying to be back there as “faculty” speaking about OPERATION REDWOOD. I’ve done a number of school visits and I love talking with the kids about the book and about the history of the redwoods. And I just did a book signing a Muir Woods, our closest redwood park, which was very fun.

{S. Terrell French at the launch party for Operation Redwood}

If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for Operation Redwood to be award-winning, or for Operation Redwood to be bestselling? Why?

Well, I’ve already written the book, so winning awards wouldn’t really change anything (except my ego maybe). So, I’d rather have people reading the book. I just got an e-mail from a boy who said his family read the book under the redwoods during a family trip, and I love the thought of that!

Will you continue to write for children? Are you working on another novel right now?

Thinking a lot and trying to work!

If you were to visit the Philippines, would you a) visit white sand beaches and underground caves, go sailing, go snorkeling and scuba diving, etc.; or b) check out the natural wonders above ground, like the Taal Volcano, the Banaue Rice Terraces, and the Chocolate Hills. Why?

I’m a person who reads guide books obsessively and wants to see everything, especially natural wonders. So I’d probably try to see it all. But my whole family loves the water and snorkeling and going to the beach. The closest we’ve been to the Philippines is Hawaii, which is one of our favorite places. My husband and I used to dive occasionally, but snorkeling gives you a little more freedom and I never really liked all the heavy equipment. We live near the beach in San Francisco, but it’s so cold you really have to wear a wetsuit, so we all appreciate the chance to swim in warmer water. Now you’re making me think we should all go to the Philippines!

Of course you should all go to the Philippines! ;o) Thank you so much for sharing with us today.

To all my blog visitors looking for a summer read, I recommend Operation Redwood. The eco-adventures of Julian, Robin, Danny, and Ariel happen in the summer, and Operation Redwood is an enjoyable read with important messages about the environment and fighting for what you believe in.