Tuesday, April 17, 2012
The Writer's Block Interviews: Natasha Yim
1) Tell us a bit about who you are, and where you live and work.
I’m a children’s book author, freelance writer, and playwright. My first picture book, Otto’s Rainy Day, was published in 2000 by Charlesbridge Publishing. It was a Kids’ Pick of the Lists for that year. Cixi, The Dragon Empress, a picture book biography, was just released in October 2011 by Goosebottom Books. I have also written articles for adult magazines such as Vibrant Life, AsiaPacific, and Mendocino Arts as well as the children’s magazines, Highlights for Children, Appleseeds, and Faces. My ten-minute plays have been performed in venues around Northern California; Los Angeles; and Sydney, Australia. I live and work in Ukiah, a small town in Northern California.
2) Describe your journey to becoming an author.
My first love of writing came after receiving a creative writing assignment in my 7th grade English class. I've loved writing ever since and have wanted to be a writer since I was 11 years old. Throughout my teen years, I kept various journals where I wrote not only about my daily life, but poems and short stories. I attended Dominican College (now University) in San Rafael, California, a small liberal arts college. I started out with a Psychology major, but after a few creative writing classes, changed my major to English Literature with a Writing Emphasis to pursue my love of writing. But acknowledging that writing itself may not pay the bills unless one is as prolific as Stephen King, I then went on to attain a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology, also from Dominican College. After college I worked professionally as a counselor and social worker, and wrote when time allowed. I began with non-fiction articles for adult magazines such as Vibrant Life, AsiaPacific, and UnchARTed. However, I worked primarily with children in group homes, foster homes and through my work with Child Protective Services, and in the mid-1990s, children's stories started coming to me. One stormy, rainy afternoon, I thought of the story of a little boy called Otto, and my first published book Otto's Rainy Day was born. I submitted the manuscript to Charlesbridge Publishing. A year later, they contacted me and told me they were interested in publishing the book. I was ecstatic! It took another year to sign on the illustrator, and it was finally published 3 years after they accepted my manuscript.
3) What kinds of books do you write? Who is your ideal reader?
I write children's books. At one point, I thought that some day I would write an adult book, but have discovered that I actually have zero interest in writing for adults, so I think I'll be writing for kids for the rest of my career. I've written primarily picture books, but I am interested in writing for an older audience, and I have a couple of middle grade/young adult stories in mind. Right now, I've been working on outlining a middle grade novel.
4) Tell us about Cixi, The Dragon Empress? How was the concept conceived and how did you come to write it?
Most of the time, a writer writes a manuscript then submits it to publishers. Cixi, The Dragon Empress was an entirely different process because the publisher, Goosebottom Books (www.goosebottombooks.com), a small, independent press that was established in 2010, has a very different approach. They publish biographies of powerful women in history that cover a span of countries as well as timelines. Their first series, The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Real Princesses featured 6 women in history such as Hatshepsut of Egypt, Isabella of Castille, and Sorghatani of Mongolia (the mother of Kublai Khan). The books in this series were all written by the publisher Shirin Yim Bridges who is the author of The Umbrella Queen (GreenWillow Books), and the Jack Ezra Keats award winner Ruby's Wish (Chronicle Books). However, for the second series Goosebottom Books wanted each book to be written by a different author so the publisher and editor (Amy Novesky, former editor of Chronicle Books) put out a call for submissions. They asked for a 1,000 word sample. I sent mine in, and was one of 6 writers chosen for the series. The publisher came up with the theme and title for the second series: The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Dastardly Dames, and she and editor Amy Novesky decided on the 6 women in history they wanted to feature: Cleopatra, Agrippina, Mary Tudor, Catherine de Medici, Marie Antoinette, and Cixi, The Dragon Empress. The writers were asked for their 1st and 2nd choices. Cixi was my first choice because in the last few years, I had become more interested in my cultural roots and my writing has reflected that. I was also very much interested in Chinese history because I did not study it in school (I went to an English high school in Hong Kong and we studied mainly European history). I was really glad to have been able to work on Cixi. The research was fascinating. She was a complex woman living in a male-dominated culture, society, and time period, but manipulated her way to becoming and remaining the most powerful person in China.
5) What other titles have you penned?
Otto's Rainy Day (Charlesbridge Publishing) was my first published picture book. My picture book biography Sacajawea of the Shoshone will be released in October 2012, and Charlesbridge Publishing will be publishing my picture book Goldy Luck and the Three Chans, a multicultural twist on the Goldilocks story in January 2014.
6) Who are your favorite authors? What is on your reading list right now?
I like the classic authors like Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, and William Faulkner. I'm also a great admirer of John Irving's works, and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is my all-time favorite book. Currently, I'm reading a lot of middle-grade and YA fiction because that's where my interests lie in terms of my writing. I love the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series by Louise Rennison, and I'm currently reading the Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer (there are 10 in the series—so far). I've just finished book #8: The Wake of the Lorelei Lee. It's a fantastic historical, adventure series with a great voice. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is also on my to-read list.
7) How do you promote your work? What methods have worked best for you?
Promotion and marketing is still hit and miss for me. It's difficult to assess what is truly effective and what isn't in terms of book sales because there is no concrete way to track this and relate it back to your promotional efforts. For Cixi, The Dragon Empress, I did a blog tour through World of Ink tours; two book launches—one in my hometown and one in the San Francisco Bay Area; school visits and book events around Northern California, two interviews on BlogTalk radio as well as online and print interviews. I attended professional conferences such as the ALA (American Library Association) and the CRA (California Reading Association) and writing conferences where I could display, sell and sign my books. I also attended a Chinese New Year event hosted by Families with Children from China Northern California. Sometimes I sell a dozen books at an event, sometimes 1 or 2, so it's hard to tell what, if anything, draws more of a crowd than the other. I continue to look for ways to attain some exposure for myself and my books such as this interview. I also have a website: www.natashayim.com; a blog: www.imustbeamasochist.blogspot.com which recently was awarded a Sunshine Blogs award; two Facebook pages, an author page: www.facebook.com/natashayim.author and a Cixi, The Dragon Empress page: www.facebook.com/cixithedragonempress; and Twitter: www.twitter.com/natashayim.
8) What are your upcoming plans for 2012?
My new picture book biography for Goosebottom Books, Sacajawea of the Shoshone, is coming out in the fall, so I'm beginning to brainstorm ideas for promotion and marketing, book readings and signings etc. I have a ten-minute play in production at Mendocino Community College's New Plays Festival in May, and I'm currently writing a children's play based on the Thinking Girl's Treasury of Dastardly Dames series, a middle-grade novel, and re-working a picture book. I also have a full length play idea I want to flesh out into a script, but am not sure if it'll come to fruition this year.
9) What is your definition of success as an author?
It's interesting that you should ask me that because my friend novelist Jody Gehrman and I were just talking about this last month. It seems that the yardstick keeps moving up. First, you feel you've arrived as an author if you get something published, then if you get more than one book published, then if you actually make a living as a writer etc. You can read my blog post on this subject here: http://www.imustbeamasochist.blogspot.com/2012/03/monday-musingswhat-does-it-take-to-be.html
But all musings aside, this is such a competitive business and it's quite challenging to get your work published and noticed in the first place that I consider every byline, every publication a success whether it comes with monetary compensation or not. We have to celebrate the little things in life. And I'm so appreciative and grateful to have the editors I've worked with, my agent, my writer's group, and my writing friends critiquing my work, giving me advice and helping me shape my stories into something publishable.
10) What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?
Never give up. Goldy Luck and The Three Chans went through several rejections, four editors, an offer of publication followed by a cancelled contract when Random House decided to close down Tricycle Press, the imprint that had offered me the contract in the first place before it found a home with Charlesbridge Publishing. By the time it comes out in print, it would have been a nine year journey for this story. And keep working on other projects. You can't let rejections derail you. It's all part of the process. And you can't mope around waiting impatiently for editors and agents to get back to you. It'll drive you insane. So you have to work on other projects while your manuscript is making its submission circuit.
www.goosebottombooks.com) in fall 2011. Natasha’s upcoming books, Sacajawea of the Shoshone (Goosebottom Books) is due out in fall 2012, and Goldy Luck and the Three Chans (Charlesbridge Publishing) is slated for a January 2014 release.