Interview: Lisa Yee
Current Mood: okay
Current Song: Broadway Rhythm by Gene Kelly from Singin' in the Rain
Lisa Yee is a mother, a blogger, a writer, and a fan of marshmallows, among other things. Her funny fiction has snagged the attention of tween boys and girls as well as librarians and booksellers.
I'm proud to say that I wrote one of the first published reviews of MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS, Lisa's debut novel. Years later, we finally met in person. Now, I've been given the honor of interviewing her for The Edge of the Forest.
Not my life, that's for sure. (Lots of people assume I was a girl genius -- ha!)
Actually, it came about from a play on the words "child psychologist." I thought, wouldn't it be funny to write a book about a child who was a psychologist. Of course, for that to happen, she'd have to be a genius. And so it began. I first wrote an entire novel about a kid who solved problems for adults. But over the years (and it did take years) it morphed into a book about a 12-year old genius, and how isolating that was for her.
STANFORD WONG FLUNKS BIG-TIME, your second book, paralleled Millicent's story. Was this is the first time you had written from a male perspective?
Yes, I had always written from girls' POV. But I was so taken with Stanford's character that I wanted to know him better. I had to do a lot of eavesdropping to get the dialogue right. But the emotions were something I just channelled. I think that heartache and fear and love are the same no matter what sex you are.
Your former teacher, Mr. Glick, inspired a character of the same name in BIG-TIME. How is the real Mr. Glick doing?
Mr. Glick just retired this year and there was HUGE banquet in his honor, and kids (now adults) from all his years of teaching showed up.
When I visited his classes, I did a combination of a booktalk and true confessions. I told the kids what I thought of him when I was their age, and asked them how they felt about him. Their opinions changed depending on the time of year I'd speak. If it was near the beginning of the school year, the kids were terrified of him, towards the end, they loved him, just like when I was in 7th grade.
I also told them that when he was my teacher I thought he was REALLY old. Later, I found out he was 32 when he taught my class.
Novel number three, SO TOTALLY EMILY EBERS, is slated to hit stores in April 2007. What is on Emily's plate?
Emily Ebers is more like (an) every-girl. She's the person you are, or want to have as your best friend. She's not a genius, she's not a sports star, but she is that girl who's nice to everyone.
Emily's parents have just gone through a messy divorce. Her father is a rock star on a comeback tour. Her mom is a famous journalist. And Emily feels neglected by both.
While writing the book I was surprised by the depth of her anguish. When I first met her in Millicent's book, she was bubbly and seemed carefree. In Stanford's story, she was idealized as the perfect girlfriend with sparkly eyes. But behind that facade is a girl who was forced to leave behind a life she loved and start all over again.
My husband just read the ARC and said, "Her emotions are all over the place."
"She's a girl," I explained to him. "And she's 12, and she's learning about loss and love in the same summer."
When you were Emily's age, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an author!
Would you call these books a trilogy? Are you 'totally done' or 'pretty much done . . . for now' with their neighborhood?
I'm done. Although MILLICENT MIN was supposed to be a stand-alone, and look what happened to that. That said, right now I have no plans for sequels.
My next book has a new setting and all-new characters. CHARM SCHOOL DROPOUT features a Goth-type girl who's mom runs a school for beauty pageant contestants. Some bad stuff happens (ooooh, how's that for description) and she runs away to Hollywood to find her father who doesn't even know she exists.
I LOVE blogging. It keeps me in touch with the world. The life of an author is so solitary. But blogs put you out there. Plus, you can read all about what others are up to. It's like you have permission to peek into people's diaries.
As for my website www.lisayee.com - lots of kids email me from there. One of the reasons I wrote a book about Emily was because so many kids who wrote to me asked for it.
Do you test out early drafts of your books on your family members? Did your kids influence any parts of your stories?
Definitely. I run all sorts of things past my daughter, who is now in high school. I ask her things like, "Does this sound realistic?" And because she is a teenager, she likes to correct me. So we both enjoy that back-and-forth.
I've written several short stories that I test on my son, who is in elementary school.
However, my husband is only allowed to read ARCs. That's because I once gave him an early draft of a manuscript and he fell asleep. Never again.
Tell us about Magic Pencil Studios.
Both my husband and I worked for Disney in Florida for a long time. When our first child was born, we were sleep deprived and said, "Hey, let's quit our jobs and start a company." For ten years we offered creative services to companies like Disney, Universal, Red Lobster. I was the creative director and head copywriter. My husband ran the business side and was the senior art director.
Then one day I got a contract from Arthur Levine to write a book. I told my husband, "I need to do this because I may never get this chance again." I gave myself two years, and said that if it didn't work out, I'd go out and get a job. So far it's worked out! My husband was so inspired by my quitting, he did that same and we shut down the company. He now runs the local Chamber of Commerce, although we still do marketing and creative consulting work as Magic Pencil Studios from time to time.
You are also part of some phenomonal groups, including AS IF! (Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom) and the LAYAs (Los Angeles Young Adult Authors). How did you come to be involved with each group?
Cecil Castellucci actually came up with the LAYAs in response to the New York YA authors always bragging about their drink nights. The LAYAs pretend to bowl and have dinners and create mayhem, all in the name of literature. It's great fun!
As for AS IF!, I belong to a listserv of published authors. More and more our topics started turning toward the fight against censorship. So some of us decided to create a separate group for this, and AS IF! was born.
I read about your massive collection of Winnie-the-Pooh memorabilia. What inspired your collection?
I had nooooo idea that Big Pooh (what I named my first Pooh bear that Santa gave me at age 7) would create an obsession that would last a lifetime. Most of the Poohs now reside in the White River, Canada Winnie-the-Pooh Museum. I had so many, they sent a truck to retrieve them and we filled it up with about 80 boxes. I was really sad, but happy that I would finally be able to share my collection with other Pooh lovers.
Your blog, like your books, is lighthearted and funny. Do you post at the speed of thought?
When I blog, it's stream-of-consciousness and unedited. I try to be disciplined when I am working on a book, so blogs are a great source of frivolity and writing amuck for me. However, I do write about the writing life. And about Peeps and blowing up bottles of Diet Coke, which I contend IS part of the writing life. At least for this writer. After all, it's all material, right?
Speaking of which, what is your favorite flavor or kind of Peeps? (I can't stand marshmallows, so feel free to eat my share.)
The yellow Peeps.
What are your favorite hobbies?
I like to make things from found objects. Like stuff I find at the bottom of the washing machine -- gum wrappers, rocks, odd pieces of metal, toys, etc.
Right now I am collecting things that my dog has chewed up. I plan to make a sculpture or something from those. And one time I gathered a month's worth of cereal samples from out cupboard and mounted them on wood and framed it. It hangs in the kitchen and it's pretty clear what family member ate which cereal by the colors and types. (BTW, the Kashi was mine.)
What are your ten favorite books of all time?
Ooooh, unfair question! Deep breath. Let's see
(although I JUST KNOW I will leave something out) . .
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL
ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY series
WALK TWO MOONS
BIRD BY BIRD
THE SECRET GARDEN
THE WINNIE-THE-POOH BOOKS
Related Post: Author Spotlight: Lisa Yee