Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bookshelf: Interview with Lisa Yee!

With the publication of Millicent Min, Girl Genius, Lisa has realized her lifelong dream of becoming an author. The winner of the prestigious Sid Fleischman Humor Award, there are over 300,000 copies of MILLIE in print. Lisa's second novel, Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time won the Chinese American Librarian Association Best Book of the Year award, and was named an American Library Association Notable Book. Lisa was also named the 2007 Thurber House Children's Author-in-Residence. Her third novel, So Totally Emily Ebers came out in 2007 and so did Good Luck, Ivy, an American Girl historical novel. Lisa Yee's most recent novel is Absolutely Maybe. -

INN: Absolutely Maybe features a cross-country road trip, crazy charm school mothers and Hollywood quests for unknown dads. Where did you find the idea for this novel-- or multiple ideas?

LY: The original title was CHARM SCHOOL DROPOUT and it was a much different book--lighter and for a much younger crowd. Then I started writing and even though I worked from an outline, the characters sort of hijacked the story. I always write my endings first, so at least I knew where we were headed. But some of the side trips surprised me.

Initally, I planned for the book to take place in thirds. The first being in Kissimmee, FL where a goth girl grows up with a ex-beauty pageant queen mom. I thought a road trip would be fun because I once drove across country with my best friend Henry. And then I wanted Maybelline (she calls herself Maybe) to land in Hollywood, the way Dorothy landed in Oz. Only, as I began to write, the LA/Hollywood part sort of took over, and I cut way back on the other two parts.
My struggle with writing is never lack of ideas, but having too many. In the deleted many subplots because it made Maybe's story meander. (However, I've saved them and they may appear in another book!)

INN: If Maybe had her own TV show, what would it be called and what would it be about?

LY: Oooh, great question! Hmmm . . . I know! It would be called TIPS 'n' TACOS WITH MAYBE. She would help people solve their problems. Plus, Maybe would figure out what kind of taco would make them feel better, and cook it for them.

INN: You've written very successfully for middle grade/middle school readers with Millicent Min, Girl Genius and the sequels with Stanford Wong and Emily Ebers: what was the transition to writing YA like?

LY: It was heaven. With YA there are no constraints either with topic or language. I felt a freedom writing Maybe's story that I hadn't felt before. I loved every minute of it.

INN: I'm a huge American Girl fan: can you talk about writing Good Luck, Ivy?

LY: American Girl approached me about writing a historical fiction. At first I said no, because I don't really write that sort of thing. But when I found out it was set in 1974, I was shocked! To me, that doesn't seem so long ago because I was alive then. Finally, I agreed to do it and had a great time. The story is set in San Francisco, so they sent me there to research. I said, "I really think there needs to be a scene that takes place at the Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory." And they said, "Well then, you should go there." And I thought, "Oh yeah!"

It was really weird/cool seeing the Ivy Ling doll. And the book and doll were on Oprah, so that was tres exciting.

INN: What's up next?

LY: I have a chapter book series that will debut in September. The first book is called BOBBY VS. GIRLS (ACCIDENTALLY) and the illustrator is the talented Dan Santat. He has a Disney Channel cartoon called THE REPLACEMENTS.

INN: Any advice for teen writers?

LY: Read, read, write, read, write and read some more. Every book you read is like getting a free writing class. If you love a book, reread it for style, pacing, plot, etc. And write all the time. It doesn't have to be stories, e-mails, journals, letters, they all count. Also, don't just write what you know, but write what you want to know. Explore. Have fun.

Find out more about Lisa Yee at

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