WBBT: Finding Humor with Lisa Yee

What can I say about Lisa Yee, that most people don’t know already? She has fun contests on her blog, she finds a way to meet incredible people and manages to infuse humor in the most difficult of circumstances. Even her little Peepy has a better social life than I do. Sigh.

Lisa has written some wonderful books for middle grade readers: Millicent Min, Girl Genius; Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time; So Totally Emily Ebers; and Good Luck Ivy.

Side note: Millicent Min, Girl Genius was even on the sixth-graders’ reading list (of my local middle school) this past summer! Kids are on waiting lists to read about Millicent Min and Stanford Wong. How cool is that!

Millicent Min, Girl Genius is Lisa’s Yee’s first book. What a great book! You have to love a brilliant, geeky, socially incompetent girl who figures out a way to get back at a bully and just wants to be like other girls her age. In this book, Millicent learns about loyalty, friendships, and being comfortable with who she is from her new friends, Emily Ebers and Stanford Wong. Brilliance never looked so fun!

Check out all of Millicent’s awards! Sid Fleischman Humor Award 2004; Publishers Weekly Flying Start; CCBC Choice Bank Street Book of the Year 2004; International Reading Association Children’s Choice; 2005-2006 Texas Lone Star List Nominee; The Young Hoosier Book Award Nominee; Georgia Book Award Nominee; Garden State Book Awards Nominee; Pennsylvania Young Readers Choice Award Nominee; Nevada Young Readers Award Nominee; Nene Award Nominee (Hawaii); Insinglass Teen Award Nominee (New Hampshire); Young Reader’s Choice Award Nominee – Pacific Northwest Library Association; South Carolina Junior Book Award Nominee.

Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time has been recognized as a ALA Best Book for Young Adults; CCBC Choice; Chicago Public Library “Best of the Best”; Chinese-American Librarians Association Best Book Award for Youth. Stanford finally realizes how easy he has it–He has a girlfriend who doesn’t care what he looks like, dresses like, or thinks like–as long as he is honest with her and true to himself?

I adored So Totally Emily Ebers and was surprised at the depth of emotion Emily had in the book. So different from how she appeared in the Millicent Min and Stanford Wong books. As a sidenote, there was a brand of designer clothes in So Totally Emily Ebers that sounded so familiar, and since I had the opportunity to ask Lisa, I had to ask her about the name. She confirmed the origin of the name–an author pal–and now you’ll have to read the book to figure it out! Hee, hee. I was inspired to create a contest about this, A Shout Out to All the Wonderful Authors Out There Contest, and had it posted here, but forgot about the long holiday weekend and all. So, look for this contest next week…

It is with much pleasure that I welcome Lisa Yee to my blog. You are going to love what she has to say.
HWM: What was the most difficult part of writing from each of these three voices–Millicent Min, Stanford Wong and Emily Ebers?
It was actually easy to write in three voices, once I found my groove. Because I wrote MILLICENT first, I already knew the characters of Stanford and Emily for their books. However, the depth of their emotions/heartache did surprise me.

I guess the most difficult part was actually technical. I had to make sure that in the overlapping scenes, the dialogue matched up, and that all the dates were correct, etc. It was sort of like plotting a mystery novel where everything must come together to be believable.

HWM: When you first started writing, was it difficult to find an agent or publisher who was interested in publishing books with an Asian protagonist? Do you think the marketing process is different?
I didn’t have any difficulty. However, most of that credit goes to being with Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic from the outset. Arthur discovered me from the slush pile. There was never any discussion about Millicent Min being Asian. It’s just who she was. Although the plot changed several times, her ethnicity never did.

Marketing-wise, I was so pleased that her being Asian was not an issue, nor was it the selling point of the novel. This was a book about an 11-year old genius who was lonely, quirky, and funny (although she was not aware of any of these things). It was positioned as a realistic contemporary fiction, which it is.

HWM: When did you know you had the right ending for each of these books?
I always write my endings first and then write my way toward them. It’s always the first 50 pages that cause me the most difficulty. So I overwrite and then cut, cut, cut away.

HWM: Which character, if any, is most like you?
I’m sort of a little Millicent-y in that I got really good grades in school and would have probably passed out if I got less than an A. But I was social, like Emily. I was nothing like Stanford, although do have a boy’s sense of humor and am not easily grossed out.

HWM: What did you learn from writing from a teenage boy’s point of view?
I learned that the emotions boys have are not all that different than girls’– it’s just that the way they communicate is different. Boys tend to hold things in. Girls talk them out. Of course that all changes when we become adults . . . NOT!!!!

HWM: Who was the toughest character to write about?
Lisa: Of all my characters, Digger was the hardest. He’s Stanford Wong’s friend/enemy. Digger is such a mean negative guy. But I hinted at his home life with a father who hit him. I didn’t want to make him one-dimensional, and wanted to explore why bullies are the way they are. Quite a few kids picked up Digger’s vulnerabilities and have commented on it to me.

HWM: Tell me about your experience as The Thurber House Writer-in-Residence.
Ah, such a wonderful time. The Thurber House is in Columbus, OH and it is the boyhood home of author James Thurber. The house is a museum, but the attic has been transformed into a two-bedroom apartment . . . all for the writer-in-residence! I taught at a homeless shelter, and at the Thurber Writing Camp, for a few hours a week. The rest of the time, I wrote. Well, wait. That’s not entirely true. I did fall on my face while running and was privy to the inside of a hospital emergency room. And I did d
o some hobnobbing with other authors, bloggers, ghosts and literary-types.

HWM: How much research was required to write the American Girl novel, Good Luck Ivy? Will you be writing more books for Ivy?
American Girl provided a researcher/historian, so any questions I had I could ask him. (How cool is that!?!?!!) I did go to San Francisco though. It was mostly to soak up the atmosphere. I walked around the areas Ivy lived. I visited Chinatown and ate at restaurant similar to the one I imagined her grandparents owning. And, of course, I had to go to Ghirardelli Square to sample the ice cream and chocolates since I made sure that was in the book. Ah, what we do for research!

As for writing more Ivy Ling books, there are no others planned at this time.

HWM: I understand you have a few new books in the future. What can you tell me about them?
I’ve got a young adult novel called DEFINITELY MAYBE coming out in fall 2008. It’s about a goth girl from Florida whose mother runs a charm school for beauty pageant contestants. Some really bad stuff happens, and Maybe (short for Maybelline – she was named after her mother’s favorite mascara) runs away from home. She ends up in Hollywood looking for the father who doesn’t know she exists.

I also have a couple of chapter books coming out in 2009 and 2010 called JUST BOBBY. It’s about a very sincere, accident-prone boy who’s trying to navigate though his chaotic family life and the fourth grade. All these books are with Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic.

HWM: It’s one thing to be funny in real life; it’s another to be able to convey the humor in writing. What secrets can you share for writing with humor?
Be aware of your punctuation.

? . : ; !!!!

Really though. It’s all pacing. And some other stuff. I don’t think about being funny when I write. It just sort of comes out. I believe that in some ways our writing can mirror out views on life. My teenaged daughter is always saying (and not as a compliment), “Geez, mom, you’re always cracking yourself up.”

I like to laugh, so that spills over into my work.

HWM: Do you feel pressure to be on…to be funny, all the time? What do you do to alleviate the pressure?
One time, when I was in high school, my date said, “Everyone says you’re funny. So say something funny.”

That was the quickest way to get me to clam up.

These days, I’m just myself. Sometimes funny. Sometimes strange. Sometimes sad. Whatever. Whatever. Or not. Or more.

HWM: What has been your most rewarding experience as a writer?
Some letters I receive are so touching. And then when I get to meet my readers in person, it is just so heartwarming. I love it when a fan approaches me with one of my books, all bookmarked and worn from reading. Lovely.

HWM: Do you outline or free form?
Outline. Always.

HWM: Where do you like to write?
I write on the road when I have to. But my favorite place is in my office, surrounded by all my stuff. I’m not one of those people who can write in a coffeehouse. I don’t like people looking at me when I write. If someone is standing behind me when I am typing they may as well hit me over the head with a hunk of smelly cheese–it’s that discombobulating.

HWM: What is your writing process or ritual?
I need big heavy chunks of uninterrupted time to write. Probably because my warm-up routine takes so long. First I have to peruse the NY TIMES online, then Drudge Report, then NY Post, and of course, the billions of blogs. Once my head is filled with news, and I know I’m not missing anything, I can get to work. Only then, it’s usually time for a snack.

HWM: How do you think of your contest ideas?
They usually just smack me in the side of the head. I think I’m due to have one in a month or so.

HWM: What has been the biggest surprise of your writing career?
The amount on non-writing I do. This year in particular I’ve been on the road a lot. I had no idea this was part of being an author!

HWM: If you could share any unique writing tip to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Assign a word to your main character. Then constantly refer back to that word when you are working on that book. For example, Millicent Min’s word was “lonely.”

HWM: What was the best writing advice someone ever gave you?
To paraphrase Anne Lamott because I am too lazy to look it up, she once said something like, “Don’t be afraid to write sh*tty first drafts.”

HipWriterMama’s Curiosities
Tell me about the most interesting comment from a fan.
Lisa: There’s a character in Stanford’s book named Marley. Marley’s a kid who’s practically invisible and has no friends. When I was speaking to a large audience, a boy stood up and said, “I need to know what happens to Marley.”

Later, his teachers told me that the boy was exactly like Marley, and never spoke. So for him to stand up in front of about 300 other students was a very brave thing of him to do.

HWM: Why do you blog?
Lisa: For fun and because I use my blog as a writing journal. I print out my blogs and keep them in a binder to remind myself of where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to.

HWM: How much time do you take to write one of your posts? — What is your favorite post?
Lisa: Each post takes less than an hour to write. However, all uploading/downloading those photos and links are what take up all the time. I don’t have an all-time fav post. Recent ones I like though are when Son got to meet JK Rowling, or when author Mary Calhoun read my Horn Book essay, or when I blow up Peeps, or when . . . oops, better stop now.

HWM: How’s Colin Firth?
Lisa: J — That’s too personal to get into here.

or Sock Monkey?

HWM: If you found a way to go back to your teen years as one of your characters, what would you do differently?
Lisa: I’d spend less time on my hair.

HWM: What makes you laugh?
Lisa: My kids.

HWM: If you were a superhero, what powers would you want and why?
The power to take five-minute nap on command and wake up refreshed.


Other Places to find Lisa Yee:
Lisa’s website
Lisa’s LiveJournal
Lisa’s MySpace

Excerpt from Millicent Min: Girl Genius, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003
Excerpt from Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005
Excerpt from So Totally Emily Ebers, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2007

Today’s WBBT Interviews:
Loree Griffin Burns at Chasing Ray
Lily Archer at The Ya Ya Yas
Rick Riordan at Jen Robinson’s Book Page
Gabrielle Zevin at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Dia Calhoun at lectitans
Shannon Hale at Miss Erin
Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple at Shaken & Stirred
Alan Gratz at Interactive Reader
Lisa Yee at HipWriterMama

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Vivian Lee Mahoney

Consider yourself warned: I write books about rebels. I'm also a postergirlz for readergirlz, a literary advisory group for teens. Who knew going back to the teenage years would be so rewarding?

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