I first heard about Paula Yoo when her book, GOOD ENOUGH, was the featured title for readergirlz in September 2008. I’ve read a handful of YA books that resonate completely with me, in terms of my own teenage experiences. GOOD ENOUGH is one of them.
Paula is MULTI-TALENTED and keeps herself Busy, with a Capital T. Not only is she a children’s book writer, Paula is also a tv writer (currently Co-Producer for the Eureka series on The SyFy Channel and may I also add, has writing credits to NBC’s The West Wing!!!) and a professional classical and alternative rock violinist. And may I repeat, Paula writes books!
How does she find the time to write books? Well my pretties, read further and you’ll discover Paula’s secrets. Kick back and hold on. This is good stuff.
Please welcome Paula Yoo…
HWM: You have such a glamorous and accomplished life. How do you manage it all and still have time to write children’s books? Why children’s books?
PAULA YOO: LOL! I don’t feel glamorous or accomplished at all. But thank you for saying that! 😉 It is very difficult to work as a full-time TV writer when also writing books. But what helps is that I often have a hiatus period between TV writing jobs. So I take advantage of that hiatus time to work as much as I can on my books. Overall, I just write as much as I can, period. I love having an entire day or night to write, but if I only have ten minutes here, 20 minutes there, I’ll take advantage of those free short breaks to get as much writing done until the next break. You have to be flexible as a children’s book writer. As for children’s books – I was always interested in writing picture books because I find them so lyrical and poetic and timeless. I am grateful to have had the chance!
HWM: GOOD ENOUGH, your debut YA novel, is the book I wish I had when I was a teen. It captured a good deal of my high school experiences–Korean parents, violin (assistant concertmaster–ack!), competitions, grades, Ivy League colleges, and even the dreaded Spam (who knew?). Even though your book was about a multicultural experience, the theme of being good enough/finding your way is universal and makes the book appealing to many. What were your challenges in writing GOOD ENOUGH?
PAULA YOO: Thank you for your kind words! It sounds like we are twins separated at birth! 😉 Thank you for also noticing the universal aspect to the book’s themes as well. My hope was that this book would appeal to a wide range of readers and not just Korean American readers. The challenge for GOOD ENOUGH was making sure the teen voice was authentic. I had to remind myself that some of Patti’s reactions would be different from my own because I have an adult perspective. So there were times when I wanted Patti to stand up for herself, but I realized she couldn’t stand up for herself yet because she was still coming of age and finding her courage within.
HWM: Your protagonist, Patti Yoon, is spot on. When did you know you had her right voice?
PAULA YOO: Voice is one of the most difficult techniques to capture in writing. You can have the most interesting character and an exciting plot, but the person telling the story has to have an engaging voice that appeals to the reader and makes him/her want to stick around to hear the entire story from that voice. I knew I had Patti’s voice right away because I wasn’t trying to be funny or forcing myself to write in a certain way. I just was telling a story, and her voice came naturally to me. Mainly because her voice reflects my real voice… I think writers need to embrace their own natural voice first in order to be able to write in other voices later.
HWM: You’ve also written two non-fiction picture books, SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY and SIXTEEN YEARS in SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY. What made you choose these individuals, famous in their own right, but unknown to many? What were the challenges you faced in getting these stories heard?
PAULA YOO: I found out about Sammy Lee and Anna May Wong by accident when I was doing research on the Internet and accidentally stumbled upon some articles about them. I remember being fascinated by their lives. I wondered why there weren’t any children’s biographies on these very influential historical figures. I was lucky that my publisher Lee & Low embraces multicultural literature and is interested in promoting stories about lesser-known but equally important historical people of color.
HWM: Do you outline or free form?
PAULA YOO: I do both. In TV writing (I’m a producer on SyFy’s EUREKA), I have to write very detailed outlines because scripts are all about structure. I use that same outlining technique for my picture books and novels, but I am less detailed in my outlines. I just need a beginning, middle and end, plus a few key scenes, and then I just write. So it’s a mix of outline and free form.
HWM: What is your writing process or ritual?
PAULA YOO: No rituals. I just find time to write. When I’m “blocked” or don’t have time to write or am not in the mood to write, I will read a book, do research, or journal about my writing progress so far. That helps organize my thoughts for when I do have more time to write!
HWM: What project(s) are you working on now?
PAULA YOO: As a TV writer, I’m always coming up with ideas for future spec scripts. In TV, you have to have a fresh script ready for future job opportunities. So I’m working on a new idea for a script. I am also halfway through a children’s novel and almost done with an adult novel. These have not sold – like most book writers, I just write and finish a project and once it’s ready to submit, I submit it to my agent. So we’ll see! Fingers crossed!
HWM: What has been the biggest surprise of your writing career?
PAULA YOO: Being able to do it full-time with TV and books. I feel very blessed and grateful to have this opportunity because most writers have to work a full-time job. I have no idea how long this will last, so I keep teaching on the side too because I love teaching and because I think in this economy, it’s good to have skills in more than one job area!
HWM: What was the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?
PAULA YOO: FINISH WHAT YOU START. I had a teacher say anyone can start a novel. Anyone can start a script. And there are many talented writers out there. But not everyone can FINISH a novel or script. And being talented is only half the battle – you have to also be a “finished writer” in order to succeed in this business. So a great start and having talent is not enough… so I am very strict about FINISHING any new idea I have for a book or script. I have to get to the end to know if the idea even works.
HWM: Please share a writing tip with us!
PAULA YOO: Because my days are so crammed, I’m finding it harder and harder to have that luxurious four to six hours straight of writing time. It’s getting harder to find an entire weekend of nothing to do but write. I’m finding that I get 25 minutes here, 10 minutes here to write. So I have been doing the “Pomodoro Technique” which is fun and keeps me focused. Basically, you just do “short spurts.” Tell yourself you are going to get ONE thing done in 25 minutes – that one thing could be coming up with a strong first sentence to your story/novel/chapter or brainstorming a solution to a plot problem or revising something you already wrote. Whatever that one goal is – give yourself 25 minutes to get it done. (So keep it reasonable, like “I want to revise the first three pages of my novel” or “I want to write a first draft of at least 2 pages of this picture book”). And time yourself! You can even go to this website to download a fun clock that times you for 25 minutes: http://www.focusboosterapp.com/ So that’s my latest writing technique because my life is too hectic these days!
OTHER PLACES TO FIND PAULA:
- Paula’s Website
- NaPiBoWriWe: 7 Picture Books in 7 Days!
- twitter @paulayoo
- twitter @oreothecatyoo
- Interview at Lee & Low Books
- Interview at Violin and Books
- Interview at Into the Wardrobe
- Eureka Unscripted Interview