Who knew I was doing a series! This post marks the last in a series of three posts featuring the most amazing critique partners a children's writer could have!
Today I am featuring Sylvia Liu, writer, illustrator and winner of the Lee & Low New Voices Award 2013.
I was lucky enough to meet up with Sylvia a year ago through Julie Hedlund's 12x12. We share a lot of the same passions and interests and I was very impressed with her knowledge of illustration and her willingness to share her experience with everyone. I am now honored to call Sylvia a friend and am excited to follow her journey towards the publication of her first picture book, A Morning with Gong Gong.
What is the New Voices Award?
Established in 2000, the New Voices Award encourages writers of color to submit their work to a publisher that takes pride in nurturing new talent. The Award winner receives a cash prize of $1000 and a standard publication contract, including the basic advance and royalties for a first time author with Lee & Low.
The Winning Story:
A Morning with Gong Gong portrays an energetic young girl named Mei Mei, as she spends time with her grandfather. When Mei Mei sees her grandfather, Gong Gong, practicing t’ai chi in the garden, she is eager to join in. He tries to teach her the slow and graceful moves, and Mei Mei, in turn, tries to teach Gong Gong some of the yoga poses she has learned in school. Although they both struggle with these new activities, Mei Mei and Gong Gong realize that it’s the time they spend together that is important. (From the Lee & Low website)
Please paint a picture, what was your reaction when you found out you had won the Award? I know you had to sit on the good news for a while before you were able to share it, it must have been sweet suspense.
When I got The Call, it was actually Call Waiting, because I was on the phone with my husband. I saw a New York number on caller ID. Not recognizing it, but not thinking much about it, I took the call. It was my editor, who introduced herself as being from Lee and Low. At that moment, my heart began to beat double time. My immediate thought was that I was one of the finalists, but then she told me that I had won. I am sure she thought I was a blithering idiot. After the call, I did a happy dance and called my husband. I did some more happy dances with my girls when they came home from school.
I heard on December 20, so it was a wonderful Christmas present. Lee and Low asked me not to share the news with anyone except close family until they officially announced the award in mid-January. I was dying to tell my critique members and other close friends, but I kept mum. The three and half weeks until the January 15 announcement were torture, but I learned that I can keep a secret.
Roughly how long did it take you to write A Morning with Gong Gong from idea to submission?
It was very short compared to most my stories, which go through months of resting and revisions. I came up with the idea in June 2013, wrote my first draft in July, and went through a couple rounds with my critique group in August and September. I had a professional critique done in mid-September and snail mailed the story to meet the contest deadline of September 30.
I know that you do not practice t’ai chi yourself, what inspired you to write this story?
My dad has practiced t’ai chi since I was a teenager. In the last decade or so, he has moved on to a different Chinese mind-body practice, qi gong. I wrote the story when I was on a family vacation in Vermont with my parents. Watching my dad practice qi gong and seeing my him interact with my girls and my sister’s three kids inspired the story. The story originally included qi gong as well, but I ended up paring it down.
Is there an underlying theme or an overarching philosophy that runs through your writing?
I guess my stories reflect a curiosity about the world. I try to remember what it’s like to be a child where everything is new and strange and mysterious. Some of my stories have environmental themes, a leftover from my years as a marine conservation attorney. Others are more idiosyncratic.
Can you describe your writing process?
I’m a pantser when it comes to picture book stories, and an outliner for my middle grade work. I usually have an idea of a character or a story in mind, and I start writing and see what develops. The problem is that my resulting story often lacks an important element, like a narrative arc or a motivation for the main character. That’s where my awesome critique group comes in and points out that I need to include a plot or an ending. It usually works itself out after a few rounds of critiquing, which is why I am such a fan of critique groups in general and my critique group specifically.
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Children's Writer and Illustrator