Monday, July 13, 2009

Author/Artist Series: Grace Lin

Today I'm honored to share an interview with Grace Lin. Her lovely books are becoming today's classics which combine her Asian/American background. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful. Her persistence, and love of her craft has made her the outstanding success that she is today. Here is what she has to say!

1. How did you get your first book published? 
After I graduated from RISD, I sent millions of samples with minimal responses. One of the few responses was from an Assistant Editor at Orchard Books, Harold Underdown. A year and a half later (while I was still toiling away, depressed at my lack of publishing credits), Harold became the Senior Editor at Charlesbridge Publishing and contacted me. He asked if I had any stories to go with my illustrations and even though I didn't, I said yes! I was desperate to get any kind of foot in the door and wasn’t going to let any opportunity slip. I quickly started writing. The story I wrote was, The Ugly Vegetables and, after many of revisions and a couple of writing courses, it became my first book.  

(From Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin)

2. What was your next big break? 
After my first book, it was a bit easier. I put together numerous dummy books (books in rough draft form) and headed to NYC with them. With a better focused portfolio and understanding of books, I was able to obtain a contract for Dim Sum for Everyone! at Knopf Books for Young Readers. 

3. What is your educational background? 
I have a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in illustration; and I was a bookseller at children's book store, Curious George Goes to Wordsworth, which actually taught me more about children's books then my college education... I’ve done other types of illustration (Seventeen Magazine, Nickolodeon,  etc.), mainly earlier on in my career.  People told me you couldn't make enough money to live off of doing children's books, so in the beginning I attempted to find work in all the illustrations fields—editorial, giftware, etc. It was only when I focused on books, doing what I loved, that I found success (and made a living too!). 

4. Where do you get your inspiration? 
I grew up in Upstate New York where there were few minorities, especially Asian. My parents wanted us to blend; they wanted us to grow up really “American” and made the decision to speak to us only in English. So, my sisters and I grew up very Americanized.  A lot of my books deal with Chinese culture because, in a way, I’m trying to find the culture I lost. I’m making the books I missed when I was younger. My new book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (a novel for grades 3-6, but also has colored images), was inspired by my love of fairytales and folktales I read as a child. I loved the classics, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” “The Light Princess,” and "The Wizard of Oz"—all with gorgeous illustrations, which I devoured and gazed at in awe. But when I began reading the Chinese folktale book my mother brought me, I was at first disappointed. Used to lush illustrations and descriptions, the Asian books were plainly translated with an occasional simple b/w line drawings and seemed an inadequate comparison. However, slowly I discovered the stories had a magic and I began to imagine details of my own, tinged with Asian-American sensibilities. When I grew older and was able to travel Hong Kong, Taiwan and China—the stories came alive. And Where the Mountain Meets the Moon came into existence. An homage to the folktales and fairy tales I read in my youth, it is a mixture of Asian fairytales and North American classics. Not a traditional retelling of stories from either cultures, it is a mix—like me, like almost all of my books, like almost all of my art—Asian-American.  

5. What were some of your first rejections, and what made you keep going? 
My first rejections were of the silent variety, I suppose. Sending out those thousands of samples and receiving no feedback just made me feel like I was dumping things in the trash. But I guess I couldn't or wouldn't let go of the hope.  I always wanted to make books, even as a child. This is something I’ve always wanted to do and trained for—I think I'd probably keep trying until the end even if I didn't "get through."  

(From Fortune Cookie Fortunes by Grace Lin)

6. What advice would you give to someone just starting out? 
If I were going to give upcoming authors helpful fortune cookies, I think the fortunes would say: 
1. Remember, writing a book is personal; getting a book published is not. 
2. Another person’s success never takes away from your own. 
3. Talent is nothing if passion, perseverance and discipline does not accompany it.

Grace's new book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon just came out. She's hosting a book launch...join the fun here! Thanks to Grace for sharing her fascinating journey with us, and best wishes for a terrific new book!


Cristin said...

What a wonderful and thoughtful article. Now... I need to get her book - a work of art.

Also, thanks so much for dropping by my blog. Your's looks fab!!!


Minnie said...

This is an awesome interview, maybe my favorite of the series. Grace, your illustrations are beautiful. We've been enjoying "The Seven Chinese Sisters," for two years now and it continues to be a frequent demand from my kids who also thumb through it often. I love your persistence in getting your first book published and the idea of a virtual book party (as someone whose wedding was book-themed!) and will have to take some time to go through that website and link back to it and this interview somehow from my own blog. We'll also have to check out some more of your books since I'm always interested in having my kids learn more about different cultures.