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Author Interview: Lisa Yee

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on May 18, 2009.

Let us welcome to Into the Wardrobe Lisa Yee, . . .

author of the middle grade novels . . .

and of the young adult novel . . .

Lisa, thank you very much for stopping by to join the celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! Can you please tell us a bit about your Asian American heritage?

I am Chinese American. My mother was born in Los Angeles, and my father was born in Seattle, Washington. However, both sets of {my} grandparents came to America from Canton, China.

(Lisa's parents, before Lisa was born)

What inspires and motivates you to write books for children and young adults?

I just can't help myself. It was something I have always wanted to do and I am drawn to books for kids. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that I peaked when I was about 12 years old.

What was your path to publication as a children's and young adult book writer?

I had been every other sort of writer there was--journalist, copywriter, screenwriter, etc. Everything but what I wanted most: author. So finally, I realized it was something that was going to plague me for the rest of my life unless I gave it a shot.

I was pulled out of the slush pile by Arthur Levine, editor of the Harry Potter series. He really mentored me and it's because of him that I have a career in books.

(Lisa and Arthur Levine)

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

I surf the Web and am on Facebook more than I want to admit. But all of this is warm-up. I'm not one of those authors who can just sit down and go at it. I have to noodle around a while before I can settle down and write. And then by then it's usually time to pick up my kids from school or have a snack. Therefore, I get most of my writing done very late at night when there are fewer distractions.

(Lisa's office)

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

A bad writing day is when I am on a deadline and nothing gets done. When those days happen, and they do, it just means that I have to be more conscious of how I spend my time the next day. I give myself daily and weekly goals, so I know when I'm slacking.

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

I really never thought of myself as an "Asian American author." However, it's come to my attention that that's what I am! Honestly, I've been surprised by how many kids identify with me or some of my characters because they are Asian American. I didn't have an agenda when I first started writing, I just wrote about kids like me.

As for the challenges, some people have told me that I'm a role model--so I have to be careful not to blow it!

(Lisa giving a luncheon keynote at the First Joint Conference of Librarians of Color)

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

This year I had the honor of being named one of Fox Sports Networks' Americans in Focus. They selected several Asian Americans and produced short segments that are running throughout Asian Pacific American Heritage Month on FSN-TV. Mine can be viewed here . . .

Lisa Yee

Or you can see it on my blog here.

Who are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's and young adult book writers? What are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's and young adult books? Why are they your favorites?

Linda Sue Park is fabulous. Her novel A Single Shard won the Newbery Award and when you read the story, it's clear why. Paula Yoo's Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds is a great picture book. And Shaun Tan's graphic novel, The Arrival, is absolutely brilliant. His storyline about an immigrant, coupled with his unique illustrations, make this one of my favorite books.

What are you working on now?

I have a new series coming out in September that stars a fourth-grader named Bobby Ellis-Chan. His father is white and his mother is Chinese. The first is called Bobby Vs. Girls (Accidentally) and it's for ages 7 - 10. The illustrator is Dan Santat, who's a Thai American.

I'm also working on a new middle grade novel that will probably be out next year.

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

Really? I didn't know that! Very cool. To my readers in Asia, "Hellooooo, I hope you like the books. I'll keep them coming if you keep reading them!"


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