Sunday, September 27, 2009

Author Interview: Joy Preble

I'd like to introduce another debut author today. :o) Joy Preble is the author of the young adult fantasy Dreaming Anastasia: A Novel of Love, Magic, and the Power of Dreams (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2009), an intriguing and enjoyable re-imagining of what happened to Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov of Russia and the Russian folk tales about Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Beautiful (also known as Vasilisa the Brave).

Thank you very much, Joy, for stopping by today to answer my questions!

How does your teaching high school English affect your writing and vice versa?

I suppose the biggest effect on me is that I’m around my target audience five days a week, 8-9 hours a day. So I definitely feel somewhat hooked in to trends, issues and the whole inner angst of high school. I do think that most adults forget the intensity of the teen years sometimes, but it’s hard for me to do that when it’s basically right on top of me all the time. I also think it gives me a healthy respect for how hard it is to grow up- to learn about love and loss and regret as well as triumph and success - and I do want to reflect that in my writing. As for the vice versa, I do think writing teenage characters does make me fairly mellow most days. (okay not all days) But it’s hard to gripe at some kid for not reading his chapters in To Kill A Mockingbird or whatever when you’re going home and writing in the head of a girl who’s blowing off her academics because a handsome hottie has told her she needs to save a Russian princess.

Why did you write Dreaming Anastasia? What’s the story behind the story?

I’ve been fascinated by the Romanov story for a very long time. Such a huge tragedy – all those pretty people gunned down in their prime. That creepy, creepy Rasputin. And of course Anastasia herself – so young and feisty and full of life. Russian history always seems to exist on such an enormous, larger than life scale. So it was hard not to have it all stuck in my head. Eventually, when I got serious about writing novels, the idea of a girl came to me. She was in high school, and she was smart and funny and possibly a little angry. Her life wasn’t what she wanted it to be. And then she starts getting stalked by this guy who tells her it’s her destiny to save Anastasia. I figured a lot of wackiness would ensue. And I guess it did!

What influences and inspirations (both literary and non-literary) did you draw from while writing Dreaming Anastasia?

You know I can’t really point to any one influence. I think my influences in general come from a variety of places. I admire Sarah Dessen for her ability to make her characters seem absolutely real and I strive to emulate her in that regard. I love Libba Bray’s use of history in her Great and Terrible Beauty series. I think John Greene and Maureen Johnson are hysterically funny when they write and I only wish to get to their level at some point. Television writers influence me as well – the genre blending of western and sci fi in Joss Whedon’s Firefly let me think that it was possible to do things differently and get away with it. And of course the Palladinos set the bar for fast paced, smart dialogue in Gilmore Girls. If I could be an ounce as good as any of those folks, I’d be a lucky girl.

Where were you and what were you doing when you found out that your novel was going to be published? What were your first thoughts and feelings? How did you celebrate the good news?

Actually, I was on my way to the dentist to have a cavity filled when my agent at the time emailed and said she had news and would I call her. My heart started pounding because I knew that Dreaming Anastasia (then titled Spark) had been in acquisitions at Sourcebooks. But even with that, you never count on a deal until it’s actually offered. It was honestly the happiest I’ve ever been while sitting in the dentist’s chair! It ended up that I needed a crown not just a filling, and I was sitting there saying whatever! My book sold. Drill away. Eventually, when the Novocain wore off, my husband took me out to dinner. I chewed on one side only, dribbled my wine down my shirt because my lip was still a little numb and smiled a crooked smile all night.

Do you have a message for your readers in Asia?

I hope that Dreaming Anastasia is as universal a story as I think it is. And if you like this tale of a girl who thought her life was ordinary until she discovered it wasn’t, a guy who has more than a few regrets, a princess who made some of her own mistakes and has been trapped for a long time, a maybe crazy, maybe not witch, a bad guy or two and a best friend who’s always there when the going gets rough, let me know. It’s about love and loss and redemption and our need for second chances, about the things we wish to change and the ones we find we can’t. I hope that appeals to everyone – no matter where we live!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Books I Scored at the 30th Manila International Book Fair

This is my first time to participate in the In My Mailbox meme from Alea of pop culture junkie and Kristi of The Story Siren. Here goes!

Below are the children's and YA books I bought Saturday at the 30th Manila International Book Fair. :D

From Taiwan:

The Careless Boy, Mr. Know-it-all (The Illustrated Sutra of the One Hundred Parables Vol. 3) by Yun-peng Kung, Chia-chi Kuan, and Kristian Kildall

From the Philippines:

Children of Two Seasons: Poems for Young People written by Lara Saguisag and illustrated by Hubert B. Fucio

The Brothers Wu and the Good-Luck Eel: A Tale from the Philippine Islands written by Fran Ng and illustrated by Arnel Mirasol

Haluhalo Espesyal written by Yvette Ferreol and illustrated by Jill Arwen Posadas

Papa's House, Mama's House written by Jean Lee Patindol and illustrated by Mark Ramsel Salvatus III

Naku, Nakuu, Nakuuu! written by Nanoy Rafael and illustrated by Sergio Bumatay III

Displaced by Aneka Rodriguez

Ang Inuwi ni Nanay / What Mama Brought Home by Ramon C. Sunico (Darn, no cover image available online!)

The Grand Parade written by Carla Pacis and Nanoy Rafael and illustrated by Marcus Nada (Double darn re: no cover image available.)

From the US:

The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming (Book II of The Brotherhood of the Conch) by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports (Maximum Ride, Book 3) by James Patterson

Double Dutch by Sharon M. Draper

Sweet Valley High #1: Double Love by Francine Pascal

Ghost Ship written by Mary Higgins Clark and illustrated by Wendell Minor

Celebration of International YA Bloggers

Australian YA blogger Adele is celebrating international YA bloggers at her blog Persnickety Snark. She's already featured YA bloggers from Bangladesh, Vietnam, Spain, the Netherlands, and other countries - and the celebration is only halfway over! Today, she is featuring yours truly. :o) So if you want to know a little bit more about what it's like to blog about YA books from the Philippines, head on over here to read Adele's interview of me!

And oh yeah, today is my 27th birthday. :o)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Author Interview: Kaleb Nation

Today I have a quick Q&A with probably the youngest children's/YA debut author of 2009. This twenty-one-year-old is the author of Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse, a novel about a teen who has discovered that he has incredible magical powers - while living in a city where magic is illegal.

Introducing... Kaleb Nation!

Kaleb, please tell us, what motivates, inspires, and influences you as a writer?

As a writer, I think that I am most influenced by the things that happen to me in real life. Everyone has experienced happiness, and heartbreak, and joy at some time or another. When I am writing, I try to think back to the things that I've felt in my life, and I try to imprint those feelings onto my characters.

Where were you and what were you doing when you found out that your novel was going to be published? What were your first thoughts and feelings? How did you celebrate the good news?

When I got the call from my agent, I was actually sitting in class at my university. My phone buzzed and I quickly checked the Caller ID, and the moment I saw my agent's name, somehow I knew it was THE call. I got out five minutes later, and I raced across campus to my next class, playing his voicemail a dozen times on the way. I called him back from the hallway, and he had the deal!

I was so flustered that I was 15 minutes late for the next class. But when the professor found out why, she didn't mind too much!

What books would you like your own work to match or surpass (in terms of writing, impact/influence, popularity/sales, or awards)?

If I could one day become at least half the writer that John Green is, then I will feel I have really achieved something. And as for goals, I've always wanted to be a New York Times Bestseller sometime.

If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for your novel to be award-winning, or for it to be bestselling? Why?

I think I would prefer award-winning. Books that win good awards usually stick around longer than quick bestsellers.

Do you have a message for your readers in Asia? :o)

It's amazing that you'll be reading the book all the way around the world from where I wrote it! Hope you enjoy the story :D

Thanks so much for answering my questions, Kaleb!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Almost Wordless Wednesday

See that little girl on the left? She's still in me! She comes out whenever I read picture books. :o)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Book Review and Author Interview: Chenxi and the Foreigner by Sally Rippin

"Every student watched Chenxi and the foreigner and every one of them had something to say about it."

It is April 1989 and eighteen-year-old San Francisco native Anna White is visiting her father in Shanghai. While in Shanghai, Anna, who is an artist, will learn traditional Chinese painting. One of Anna's classmates at the Shanghai College of Fine Arts, Chenxi, has been assigned as her translator and tour guide. Anna falls head over heels in love with the handsome, mysterious, and talented Chenxi.

There are student protests in China while Anna is there, and Chenxi is one of the students protesting the Chinese regime. When Anna is forced to return to the United States, the protests culminate in what the Chinese government calls the June Fourth Incident, but the Western world calls the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Chenxi and the Foreigner, by Australian children's/YA author and illustrator Sally Rippin, is a very brave YA novel about being a wai guo ren (outsider/foreigner), obsession and infatuation (how Anna feels about Chenxi), and the economic growth and political and social tensions in China in the late 1980s. It's a gently powerful novel that is amazingly honest in its portrayal of life in 1980s China and of the life of teenagers in general.

The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feel of China are very much alive and authentic in Chenxi and the Foreigner - in everything from how the Chinese speak English to how life is like in the Chinese countryside to how the Chinese treat foreigners. We see the country through the eyes of Anna, who is curious and open to the culture but definitely has the confusion and natural biases of a wai guo ren, but the tone of the novel is never condescending or disrespectful. And China is never exoticized.

This is an important novel that I was sorry to put down once the story had ended. I didn't want to leave Anna. I didn't want to leave Chenxi. Most of all, I didn't want to leave China.

[The North American edition of Chenxi and the Foreigner is from Annick Press (2009). The Australian edition is from Text Publishing (2008). I read an electronic copy of the North American edition sent by Annick Press.]

Into the Wardrobe is the last stop on Sally Rippin's blog tour and I had the great pleasure of interviewing Sally. Thank you so much, Sally!

What was it like as an Australian partly growing up in Brunei, Hong Kong, and China? What are some of your strongest or favorite memories from Asia?
I have very strong memories of all these places: they have become part of who I am. Even Brunei, I was very young, but I remember my Ah Ma (my nanny) washing my mouth out with soap for having said a rude word in Malay. I’m sure I can still remember the taste of soap! I remember my best friend lived in a houseboat, and my Ah Ma and I would have to walk across all the other houseboats tethered to the port to get to his. I remember, too, my parents asking me to ask things of my Ah Ma, because I could speak Malay and they couldn’t and not understanding why if they wanted to ask her something couldn’t they just ask her themselves! I’ve lost all my Malay now, unfortunately, but I think having grown up in Asia as a child meant that when I went to live in China as a teenager, I picked up Mandarin very quickly. I still speak Mandarin Chinese but it has become very rusty, though when I go back to visit my father in Shanghai I’m always surprised at how quickly it comes back.
Wow, that's amazing, Sally! I wish I knew how to speak Mandarin.

How has partly growing up in Asia molded you as a person? How has it influenced your writing and illustrating for children and young adults?
It influences everything. From the stories I choose to tell to the technique of illustration I use. Many stories I write for children are about Chinese-Australians. I am particularly drawn to exploring stories of outsiders whether they be new immigrants, artists or troubled teenagers. These are the characters I most identify with from having been called a ‘foreigner’ much of my own life.

I studied Chinese painting for three years in China and still use brush and ink for many of my illustration work today. Even when I am painting in a way that may not be recognizably Chinese, I am very influenced by Chinese composition and, like traditional Chinese painters, I am always aware of the importance of white space.

(Above is a picture of Sally as a teenage art student in China. Below are some of Sally's illustrations influenced by Chinese art.)

Your three years in China studying traditional Chinese painting inspired Chenxi and the Foreigner. The novel is even dedicated to the real Chenxi. Who is the real Chenxi? How much of the novel is fact and how much of it is fiction?
There is a lot of my novel based on my own experiences studying in China and events of the time, but the love story between Chenxi and Anna is invented. I imagine many writers combine their own experience with imagination. For me this is the key to creating a story that feels authentic and true. The ‘real’ Chenxi was my best friend in Shanghai and I am still in touch with him even though we haven’t seen each other for years. He now lives as an accomplished painter in Austria. The invented Chenxi, is a composite of many of my friends, all the best bits of course, plus lots of imagination. That’s one of the best things about writing – you can create your ideal guy!
Chenxi the character is certainly interesting and attractive as a very independent and rebellious artist!

What were the challenges and rewards of writing Chenxi and the Foreigner? What was the path to publication for the novel?

Without knowing it, I began writing the first drafts of Chenxi while I was still living in China in my early twenties. While I was living in China I wrote lots of short stories, letters and diary entries that I was then able to use later to pull my novel together, a process that took many drafts and many years. Before Chenxi, I wrote another novel, basically to learn how to write a novel. It was never published but an editor at Penguin took an interest in it and encouraged me to write something for Young Adult readers as that was her particular area of interest. I re-wrote the novel three times, under her guidance, over a period of three years while I was living in the South of France with two small children. Eventually the editor left Penguin and wasn’t able to take the novel with her to her new publishing house but by that time the novel was polished enough to send elsewhere. It was published with a new publisher, went out of print, and then was picked up by Text Publishing in 2008. They have since sold it into five countries – so, to my joy, almost twenty years after I first began writing it, it keeps on living!
I'm not surprised that it keeps on living. It's quite a lovely novel.

What do you want readers to take away from Chenxi and the Foreigner?

Firstly, a love of my characters, and secondly a love of place. I would love readers to become interested in China after reading my novel and to hopefully have an insight into a fascinating and culturally-rich country that is changing so rapidly that my novel seems to have now become a piece of history!

You have me there, Sally! I want more of Anna and Chenxi. And I hope you write more novels set in China.

What is your favorite response to Chenxi and the Foreigner from either a critic or a reader?

I received a lovely review from a young Chinese-Australian reader who thanked me for introducing her to a period of history that she hadn’t been aware of, even though she had been born in China soon after those events. I guess the new edition of this book has given me the opportunity to revisit and document a significant time in Chinese history, particularly now that I know that it has become a taboo topic in other forms of Chinese media. I would hate to think that the hundreds of protestors who lost their lives in Tiananmen Square and many others in the months afterwards, could simply be erased from history. I rewrote the new edition of this book in their honour.

(Sally provided these pictures of student protests in Shanghai in 1989.)

Do you have a message for readers in Asia?
Not particularly, I am just so thrilled to find a readership there! I would love to hear from anyone in Asia who has read any of my books – if there is anyone out there? :)

Check out the other stops on the blog tour to learn more about Sally!

Tea Time at Annick Press

The Book Muncher

Cindy’s Love Of Books


Hey! Teenager of the Year

Also, check out Sally's blog! She has recently posted photos from her time in China.