See, I loved this book so much, I’m writing TWO posts! OK, it’s true that I love this book, but I decided to make two posts so I could post one part early. My travel plans are messed up by weather and I need to leave a day earlier, and probably wait in the airport for an extended period, and while there, post part two! But at least part one will be out there while you wait for part 2.
Part 1 is the more “serious” part of the interview, and part 2 is fun. I think it’ll show you two important facets of Wendy’s personality — a serious, professional, accomplished writer AND a fun person with a wonderful sense of humor. She’s the type of person who’s great to sit down and have a cup of coffee (or tea) with and be able to have a deep conversation and laugh at the same time. Read on…and then check out her website!
Can you tell us how this book came to be published?
I started developing this story during a workshop with Mary Quattlebaum. It was really an ideal situation for two reasons. The first is that Mary is an amazing teacher who both encourages students and pushes them to take the story to the next level. The second was that I had three kids, all under the age of 6 at home, and I was determined to make the most of each class because my time was so limited. I think I had 8-10 solid chapters under my belt by the time I left that workshop.
I worked on the story for about half a year on my own, and then I received a Work-in-Progress Grant from SCBWI, which gave me a great incentive to actually finish the book! The book was sold by Lindsay Davis in 2008.
Congratulations! Tell us why we should buy this book.
About halfway through the first draft, I decided to talk about Chinese idioms, and put one of my favorites up front – the story of the old man who loses his horse. The old man refuses to believe that it is bad luck when he loses his horse, or good luck when the horse comes back with a second horse, because things that appear to be good or bad luck often turn out to be the opposite. This turned out to be a great device to use for the overall story, and I hope readers will enjoy the twists and turns that Lucy’s life takes!
I loved that feature and enjoyed learning some Chinese idioms. Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?
My family has been the biggest inspiration so far, particularly my parents. Writing has presented me with a wonderful opportunity to talk about their lives and experiences, which were so different from my own. What’s really funny is that sometimes we’ll talk about something, and I’ll realize that they’ve never discussed this topic between them before, and they’re just discovering some similarity or difference they have.
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to teen readers. What is that?
You’ll know you’ve found the thing to do with your life when that thing becomes the lens through which you view the world. It doesn’t have to be writing. It can be music or accounting or medicine. But when you find that thing that gives you a point of view and a passion, hold on with both hands.
Agreed! What’s an important “nugget” that you’d like readers to take away from your book?
I would like readers to regard this book as an invitation to really get to know their families and their stories. Every family has wonderful stories of courage, daring and wisdom, and I think it’s good for young readers to know that connection they have to the world.
Why did you write this book?
It’s not the only reason why I wrote this book, but I would say I did want the opportunity to talk a little about the Cultural Revolution. I think there are important lessons about history and human nature, and while maybe a reader might not seek out, of his or her own accord, an entire book on the Cultural Revolution at first, I hope some readers might be spurred to read more or learn more after this initial introduction.
Why do you write for young people?
I write because I derive so much joy from it. I love thinking about stories and tinkering with what I’ve written. I don’t think about writing for young people – it’s just what naturally comes out. I suspect that deep down, I am always twelve.
Twelve is a great age. When do you write?
I usually write in the mornings, before I have time to get into trouble.
Ha! Where do you write?
In the living room, in a big upholstered chair by the window. I usually sit with the phone and a glass of water, so I have as few excuses to get up as possible.
What helps you write?
The old saw about writing every day is definitely true for me. The more I write, the more I have TO write. I also usually try to leave the previous day’s writing with some idea to gnaw on. Then, when I’m back to the computer, my mind feels “pre-loaded” with ideas.
How do your ideas come to you?
They usually come when I’m driving or cleaning the house. Sometimes, for particular problems, I try to think of them very intently before I go to sleep and see what my subconscious comes up with.
How long have you been writing?
I wrote a lot when I was a kid, and in high school I had this weekly serial I wrote with a friend for all four years (and yet it didn’t occur to me that I might want to be a writer). I started writing again in 2006.
How much of your book is autobiographical?
There are bits here and there, but I really think of Lucy as her own person. I think the biggest thing is that we both wish we could speak Chinese better – and we are both still working on it!
Good for you! Do you have a favorite quote or bumper sticker?
It’s not the most lyrical, but I heard Jane Yolen say something at a conference that has stuck with me. She said something to the effect of, You may very well be a better writer than me, but I guarantee that I will work you under the table. She reminds me that writing is about work, not about waiting fancifully for “inspiration.” Oh – and that’s another favorite, from Jack London – You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
:o) What’s an embarrassing story about yourself that you don’t mind telling?
I have a couple of friends from college who will cheerfully tell you about the time I ate SO MANY gummi worms that I almost had to be taken to the emergency room with stomach pains. So, yes, I’ve committed self-injury in the name of candy. I’ve really never felt the same about gummi worms since then…
Oh. I guess I won’t send you that box of sour fruit gummi worms, then. What are you working on now?
I’m working on a book inspired by my dad. It is set in the early 70’s (historical fiction! I know!) and has to do with baseball.
I’ll look forward to it! Why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do?
No one’s life ever changed from playing MarioKart. Stories help you identify who you are and what you believe in. There are other ways of doing that, of course, but books take you to so many places – why wouldn’t you?
THAT is a fabulous answer. Thanks, Wendy, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow, or as soon as possible!!