Monday, June 11, 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Cynthia Chin-Lee

1) Tell us a bit about yourself and where you live and work.

I write multicultural children's picture books and I live in northern California, Palo Alto, to be exact which is about 45 minutes south of San Francisco.

2) How did you become an author?

I've always been a "writer." My first book was for adults and called It's Who You Know. Then I became a parent to two children and after reading thousands of children's books (or was it a few books hundreds of times?), I became a fan of children's literature. I love the collaboration of words and images and I wanted to see more multicultural books.

3) Why write for children? Who is your ideal reader?

Children are our hope and our future so it's very important work. I've faced racism and prejudice and wanted to introduce young people to different races and cultures through my work. My ideal reader is between 5 to 11, curious and open-minded.

4) Please describe your body of work. What do you want your legacy as an author to be?

I have four non-fiction picture books (all alphabet books) and two fiction picture books. All of them are multicultural. A Is for Asia and A Is for the Americas (co-authored with Terri de la Pena) are a fun romp through Asia and North, Central,and South America. The other two alphabet books are short biographies about men and women who have changed the world. They have met big challenges and overcome them.

Both the fiction picture books, Almond Cookies and Dragon Well Tea, and Operation Marriage are based on true stories, but liberally fictionalized.

I hope that my legacy will include opening hearts and minds to new cultures.

5) How do you promote your work? What methods have worked best for you?

I don't have much time for promotion sadly as I have a full-time job and a full-time family! I love doing school visits and talking to kids. I'm willing to Skype with classes but so far no one has taken me up on the offer.

6) Who are your favorite authors? What is on your reading list right now?

Some of my favorite authors and illustrators are Antoine St. Exupery, Christy Hale, Peggy Rathmann, Nancy Farmer, Patricia MacLachlan. I just finished reading Holes. I also read tons of non-fiction.

7) How did you get started as a public speaker? What is your advice for others who desire to do the same?

Toastmasters! I've been a Toastmaster for many years and it's been a wonderful learning experience. I've started one Toastmasters club myself.

8) When you are not writing, how do you spend your time? Describe a typical day in your life.

I love to swim and walk and hit the gym. I like reading, playing with my son and my cats. I spend way too much time on the computer.

9) What projects do you have in the works?

I'm working on a multicultural religion manuscript right now...

10) What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?

Read tons of books and try to write in your journal daily. Join Toastmasters ( and if you write for children, join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (

About the Author

Cynthia Chin-Lee and her four older siblings were born and raised in Washington, D.C. by a medical-doctor father and a homemaker/artist mother. Cynthia began writing for fun when she was in the sixth grade. "I liked writing poetry and scribbling in my journal because I found it comforting and therapeutic. I still write for that reason and because I like playing with words."

Cynthia attended Harvard University, where she studied East Asian Languages. She spent her junior year abroad at the Mandarin Training Center of National Taiwan Normal University. After graduating from Harvard magna cum laude, Cynthia accepted a graduate fellowship at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, and studied at the University of Hawaii.

She began a technical writing career by writing for banks and high-tech companies. She has also written freelance articles for magazines and newspapers, as well as taught writing classes at community colleges and universities. She currently works as a publications manager at Oracle.

Cynthia's first book, Almond Cookies & Dragon Well Tea (Polychrome Publishing 1993) is an autobiographical tale of friendship. She is also the author of A Is For Asia (Orchard Books 1997), which Ruminator Review called one of the "Best 100 American Children's Books of the Century," and A is For the Americas (Orchard Book, 1999), which earned an award from the National Council for Social Studies and Children's Book as a Notable Children's Book in Social Studies in 2000 and earned recognition as an Americas Award Commended Book. Amelia to Zora: Twenty-six Women Who Changed the World, and Akira to Zoltan: Twenty-six Men Who Changed the World, both illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy, are alphabet books that describe men and women who have made a considerable impact on the world. Her most recent book is called Operation Marriage (Reach and Teach, PM Press). Based on a true story, the book looks at what it takes for two children to convince their mothers to get married before California's Prop 8 passes and bans gay marriage.

Cynthia is an active member in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), which can be found on the web at The San Francisco Bay Area local chapter's web location is

She lives in Palo Alto, California with her husband and two children.

Contact Cynthia




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