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Author Interview: Justina Chen Headley

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on May 21, 2009.

Stopping by today to proudly talk about her Asian American heritage is the beautiful Justina Chen Headley - young adult book author, co-founder of readergirlz (an online book community for teen girls), and winner of the 2007 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature.

Welcome, Justina!



Can you tell us a bit about your Asian American heritage?

I am Taiwanese-American. My parents were both born in Taiwan, and I was born here in America.

What inspires and motivates you to write for young adults?

The teen years fascinate me—they’re at once formative and frustrating. Those are the years that form a person into an adult, yet so many of the rites and rights of adulthood are withheld.

Do you have a particular writing process or any writing rituals?

I try to journal for a few minutes at the start of my writing day. There’s something about pen connecting with paper that I find to be hugely liberating. And then I’ll write for 3-4 hours a day, oftentimes with a candle burning.

What is your definition of a “bad writing day”? How do you deal with bad writing days?

A bad writing day is when life overtakes my writing time, encroaches on the time I’ve set aside to create. I try to keep my writing time sacred, which means not scheduling anything during those hours. I’m not entirely successful at that!

What are the challenges and rewards of being an Asian American young adult book writer?

To be honest, I see myself as a young adult author who happens to be Asian-American rather than letting my race define who I am. For now, I’m intent on populating my books with characters of different ethnicities because I feel like there’s a dearth in representation in our fiction today. That gives me the room to create characters I want to write about, including Terra Rose Cooper in NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL who happens to be white with a port wine stain on her face—and her love interest, Jacob, a teen boy who was adopted from China. I love being able to introduce my culture to people--whether that's through incorporating passages of food, of country, of history.

Justina's books for young adults:




Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this year?

I eat Pan-Asian as much as I can throughout the month! Three years ago, I celebrated the month by embarking on a Hi-YAH! book tour with Janet Wong and Grace Lin.

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

I was a voracious reader, but unfortunately, YA wasn’t as well-developed as a category. My favorite books were by Paula Danziger and Judy Blume, but my all-time favorite book is THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, a book for all ages.

What are your favorite Asian or Asian American young adult books?

I’m so happy that more and more Asian American authors are writing young adult. Everyone should check out Paula Yoo, David Yoo, An Na, Mitali Perkins.

What young adult books are you reading now?


I can’t wait to get my hands on Cindy Pon’s new YA novel!

Why do you think there is the misconception that young adult books are not as deep or as complex as books for adults? What is your response to this misconception?


I wonder if people mistake length for depth? In any case, I am first to say that I think some of the best literature being written right now is for young adults. That’s one of the reasons why I co-founded readergirlz—the world’s largest online book community for teens. We are all about celebrating YA novels with strong, gutsy girl protagonists. Check it out at www.readergirlz.com and www.readergirlz.blogspot.com.

What are you working on now?

I’m juggling two different projects, one a contemporary YA novel and my first YA fantasy series—a retelling of a Chinese fairy tale. I took a phenomenal research trip to Dunhuang in China, part of the Silk Road. Fabulous!



Your books are available in bookstores in Asia. Do you have a message for your readers in Asia?

Be proud of our heritage! And read, read, read!

Justina, thank you for dropping by and chatting with me today. :D

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