Thursday, April 29, 2010

Author Interview and Contest with Laura Manivong!

Laura Manivong brings historical fiction to life in her middle grade novel, Escaping the Tiger, just released by HarperCollins Children’s Books.
This multicultural story follows twelve-year old Vonlai in his desperate escape from the oppressive Communist Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand.

Full of adventure, threats and forbidden skills, this book is a must read.

And I’m thrilled to have Laura here on my blog for my first author interview! (Clapping please!)

1. You incorporated many of your husband’s memories into Escaping the Tiger. Tell us a little about that.

I’ve never been a refugee, never been to Laos, never been really hungry, never been without a shower unless it was by choice, and never feared for the safety of my entire family for years on end.

he book would not exist without his memories, as well as the experiences of others he knew who had to flee Laos. I relied on him for all of the sensory details too: how the refugee camp smelled, how a rifle shot sounds as it travels across a river, how it feels to play soccer on an empty stomach. And the way he described his mother’s face when she didn’t have enough to feed her kids? All of that came from him, and he claims I woke him up during dead sleeps asking for details. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do, for the sake of the story, right?


2. What was the toughest part about writing Escaping the Tiger?

Relying on my husband for all of the details! I asked him to relive a lot of not-so-pleasant memories. I did a book signing recently at an indie store, and the seller wanted her merchant neighbor, a survivor of war in southeast Asia, to come say hi. The woman declined and asked the bookseller to please make sure no one came asking her any questions. She wanted nothing to do with the memories.

3. The most rewarding part?

Sharing it with the Laotian community. This piece of history is so recent, with many people immigrating to America under political asylum in the years shortly after the Communists took control of Laos in 1975. But others, like my husband’s family, came much later. Because my father-in-law was held as a prisoner-of-war for 12 years in the re-education camps in northern Laos, it wasn’t until 1989 when he and my mother-in-law (and their five children) had to start their lives over at age 50—in a country on the other side of the planet. No 401K, no equity in a home, no savings, no job, and only a basic ability to speak English. Get ready. Set. Go.

(Wow. I’m awed and amazed at your husband’s family’s determination and the will to overcome.)

4. I love the picture of your writing space on your website. It’s fun and full of color. What are some things that you must have or love that keep you inspired?

The night sky. It makes me wonder. An open window. It clears my mind. And my lamp that has a blue bulb to simulate moonlight. It makes me feel a certain kind of longing that I need when I write.

(I’m inspired just thinking about your lamp.)

5. Once you finished writing Escaping the Tiger, what was your next step toward publication?

I had another novel that had been on submission through my agent, and wasn’t appearing likely to sell, so while I waited to hear back from the last editor who had it, I finished Escaping The Tiger, and thankfully, it sold in the first round. But prior to all that, I racked up over 100 rejections on my own with various projects picture books and poetry.

(Another story of determination and the will to overcome!)

6. Share with us the one piece of writing advice you wished you had when you first started writing.

Read a giant stack of books in the genre you’re writing before you ever take pen to paper.

(Now that sounds like fun.)

And here are some quickies:

7. Favorite type of chocolate:

Cheap. That fancy stuff makes me gag. And if it has a little of that crispy, puffed rice in it, well that right there is music in my mouth!

8. #1 country you’d like to visit:

Wow, this one stumps me. A real, live vacation seems so impossible right now, so I don’t even think about it. But let’s say Greece. I want to wear some long, white, flowing clothes and stand in front of the Parthenon.

9. Favorite mode of transportation:

Dreams. (okay, I know that was sappy.) But seriously, a car. I love the open road with the radio blasting and the sky stretching out in front of me. That is my kind of freedom.

10. Preferred writing method (i.e.) computer, pen, pencil:

It depends. If I’m doing structural stuff, the cut and paste feature is priceless, and I can’t understand how novels ever got written on plain old typewriters. If I’m doing revisions and finessing the prose, I gotta go with pencil and paper. When I’m holding the manuscript in my hands, it reads more like a book, and I can see it more as a reader would, as opposed to being the author.

Now for your chance to WIN Escaping the Tiger (fabulous title BTW). All you have to do is make a comment below.

Laura has also agreed to pop by and answer any questions that you may have. Isn't she rocking awesome?

Oh! And before you start commenting away, watch this quick 30 second book trailer.

Contest ends midnight EST, May 7th!!!!!!


I've been given the Beautiful Blogger Award from Kate at Trees Are Not Lollipops.

And the Creative Writer award from Nora MacFarlane at Lemons for Lemonade.

Thank you girls!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Go and Write Crap!

Okay, so that title could really be misinterpreted. But let’s face it. Not many of us sit down and whip out a shining, sparkling first draft.

If you’re like me, that first draft is full of stinky, smelly, disgusting stuff. And I’m here to say, don’t bash the garbage.

I like to think of my first draft like a carrot (I know, I know, just stay with me a little longer). When you pull that carrot out of the ground, it’s all dirty and grimy. Then you scrub off the junk, peel off that rough skin and slice it up into delicious bites of sweetness.

So the next time you’re writing away and all you can think about is how terrible, rotten and ick-worthy your books seems, I want you to think of carrots. (Okay, so maybe that’s not the best visual. How about your nice, shiny book sitting on your local bookstore’s shelf?)

And here’s something else:

1. It’s okay to write crap.

2. Sometimes you need to write a bunch of stuff (that later you’ll want to delete) to get to what you really wanted to write.

3. You’ll be amazed what a change in verb, a tweak of sentence structure or a sharper image can do for a sentence.

4. Don’t despair, bad sentences can be fixed!

5. What you thought was awful at the time might actually not be so bad when you come back to it.

6. There is nothing wrong about writing a scene, a chapter or even a book (!!!) more than once to get it right.

7. A book of 60,000 words begins with a single sentence. (A terrible paraphrase of “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”)

So I’m guessing you don’t sit at your computer visualizing carrots when you’re wading through a tough passage. What do you do to keep yourself from getting discouraged or past those crappy writing days?

Picture by Josep Maria PeƱalver

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Asian Literature for Kids

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a big, big fan of multicultural fiction. Not only do I get to learn about new cultures, civilizations, but I get to ‘travel’ to new places. Very cool.

I tend to be bias to Asian fiction, but you can’t blame me after living in Asia for 10 years! I was thinking about some of my favorites, while at the same time looking for new stuff that you might have found. So here’s a quick list of good reads, but please add others that you know of in the comments section. I'm always on the hunt for book recommendations!

Here’s some of my top reads that I’ve taken some liberty categorizing.

Historical Fantasy

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon (YA)- adventure set in China

The Sword that Cut the Burning Grass by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler (YA)- mystery set in Japan

Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn (YA)- set in Japan

Dragon Keeper by Carole Wilkinson (MG)- set in China

Historical Fiction

The Master Puppeteer by Katherine Paterson (MG)- set in Japan

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (MG)- set in Korea

Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi (YA)- set in Korea (a must read)

So Far From the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins (MG) set in Korea, but from a Japanese POV (great comparison novel to Year of Impossible Goodbyes, but controversial)

Adventure Focused Historicals

Escaping the Tiger by Laura Manivong- (MG) set in Thailand

Sisters of the Sword- by Maya Snow (MG)- set in Japan

The Ancestor Series- by Jeff Stone (MG)- set in China

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (MG)- set in China

Modern Day Fiction

Great Call of China by Cynthea Liu (YA)- set in China

Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell (YA)- set in Southeast Asia

Sea by Heidi Kling (YA)- set in Indonesia (haven’t read this one, but it’s on my to-read list)

Archer’s Quest by Linda Sue Park (MG)- set in the US, but with a character from ancient Korea

Note: The first two pictures were taken in Kyoto, Japan and the last three were taken in China. And I'd like to add, don't be fooled by the impression of peace and tranquility you might feel at looking at the pictures of the Golden Pagoda.

My two boys were very, VERY busy creating havoc by climbing rocks and throwing pebbles into the pond, disrupting the perfect reflection. So while most remember this beautiful setting with serenity, I only remember chasing two little boys and repeatedly apologizing to tourists.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Revising My 2nd Draft!

This week I’ve been rocking out my 2nd draft and I’m pretty excited about it. For 2nd drafts, I don’t necessarily look at sentence structure, grammar, or spelling (my fast drafting critique buddies are graciously putting up with these errors right now!).

Instead, I’m dealing with plot structure, character motivation, tightening and bridging gaps in the story.

Here’s my breakdown:

1. Big picture- I pull out my giant chart and glance over how the story moves and flows. Are there any scenes missing? Did I bring all the key points and clues into the story? When I look at the structure, I ask myself if the scenes are in the right order to give the story a solid ending.

2. The 50 Page Dash- You might have heard this term before and I think it’s a great one. In these pages, I like to make sure I’m drawing my readers in, introducing the main problem for the story, and making things tough for my main character.

3. Complications- Next I look at my scenes. Do they complicate the story in a way that it drives my character to action and reveals or builds my character? Each scene must push the story forward and raise the stakes.

More great links on plotting and revising:
1. Elana's thoughts on QueryTracker
2. Sarah has some great ideas at If You Give a Girl a Pen
3. Gale Carson Levine talks about Plot Luck
4. Tons of great stuff on revision over at

What you do when you work on your 2nd draft? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kkultarae- Traditional Court Cake

After our SCBWI author dinner, a couple of us decided to take a stroll through Insadong. We spotted these guys making kkultarae and reciting the process in Japanese! We asked them if they could recite it in English.

"Of course!" they said.

These guys were quite the showman and we laughed so hard at their 'wows!'

Kkultarae is also known as Korean court cake, which is made from stretched honey. To keep the strands from sticking together, they're dipped in cornstarch. Nuts fill the inside for extra flavor. When it's finished, there are 16,000 strands of honey!

Here's a video of how they make this sweet traditional cake that used to be researved for the king and his court. (Okay so I'm new to Movie Maker)

And here's me tasting it:


What's an unusal treat that you really love? And you can't say Twizzlers because then I'll start craving them again.

Very Cool Contest

Sarah with a Chance is having an awesome contest with great giveaways such as agent critiques and Twizzlers. I know you might be interested in the agent critiques but I'm really all about the


It's been MONTHS since I've had one. Like 8 months! I need to stop thinking about them or I'll dream them, write about them, obsess over them....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Contest Winners and Cool Links

Congratulations to the seven winners of the Shopping in Korea Contest!!!!!

Here they are:
Silk Bag- Karen Gowen
Bookmark- Jennifer Hammons
Mini Notebook- Julie Dao
Purse- Carol
Necklace- Naomi Thomspon
Coasters- PJ Hoover
Chopsticks- Victoria Dixon
Magnets- Rebecca Thompson

Email me your address and I’ll ship your prize to you. Remember that it will take about 2 weeks with airmail.

There’s been lots going on in the blogsphere and I wanted to point out some other great stuff. Check these blogs out!

1. Lisa and Laura chat about Ms. Booksniper Outs Herself
2. Beth talks about the online presence of an author.
3. Dear Editor is having a fantastic kick-off contest offering a full book critique. WOW 
4. Jill Corcoran blogs about the formula for the query.
5. Need help Connecting Your Characters? Check out my blog post over at MiG Writers.
6. Bish takes on the A-Z Challenge. (very brave if you ask me!)
7. Researching agents? Check out Casey at Literary Rambles.

Need some fun? Check out the game that went along with my Highlights article, Shoot with Power.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Tour of Insadong (as promised!)

So last Friday night, while I was at the author dinner (see here), I took lots of pictures for you all of Insadong. Yes, I was thinking of YOU!

Insadong is my favorite place to shop in Seoul. If you come to Seoul, go there! If you're taking the subway, take line 3 to Anguk Station, walk to the corner and take a left. And you're there.

In 1988, the Korean government decided that this district would retain its cultural idea of a Korean marketplace. Really, it's one main cobblestone street with tiny offshoots along the way. On Saturday, Sundays and holidays, all cars are restricted from this street, which gives it a festive feel.

You'll find traditional painting as well as the rice paper and brushes to do it yourself, celadon pottery, wooden boxes as well as all of the things in my shopping contest.

Everytime I go, I always find something new that I like and MUST buy. There are delicious restaurants as well as tea houses. This is a picture of a man selling boiled chesnuts. And the traditional candy is made right in front of you so its fresh and sweet (I'm going to do a post on that soon!).

So now do you see why I adore Insadong? How about you? Do you have any places that you really like to shop at?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Q & A with Emily Gravett

This past weekend, our SCBWI chapter here in Korea had an author dinner with award winning, British author and illustrator, Emily Gravett. What an amazing experience!

The author dinner was located at O SeGyeHyang restaurant in Insadong (yes, I promise to post pics soon!) down this tiny offshoot of the main road. Isn't it the most adorable restaurant?

At the door, like all traditional Korean restaurants, we took off our shoes and settled on comfy pillows on the floor. I decided to order Shabu-Shabu because it's been so long since I've had it. Plus it's fun to cook your own dinner without all the work.

Emily has written and illustrated the famous British titles Mouse's Big Book of Fears and Wolves. We felt so lucky to have Emily come spend time with us amidst her insane tour schedule. And she was open and ready to answer all of our crazy questions.

Here are a few of them:
Where have you been on your tour? And how did you arrange for it to happen?
Actually, my publisher sent me so they provided with flights, hotel and interpreters. I was just in China and after I leave here, I'm off to Singapore. It's busy, busy, busy though. No shopping or rest. (Poor Emily, we really wanted to take her shopping.)

You are quite the public speaker. How do you keep all those kids in your audience captivated?
I get them to participate. If they are engaged in what I'm saying, they're less likely to be chatting off with their friends. I have them do things like 'Put your hands up if you like this' or 'Put both hands up if you love it'. Kids like to be involved.

When you start a story, do you come up with the illustrations or the writing first?
They come together at the same time really. When I wrote Little Mouse, I found the story as I drew.

How is it different presenting to an Asian audience opposed to your audience back home in the UK?
The kids react differently. If they know the books and they speak English then it's easier to get them involved. Often the Asian kids have a harder time to raise their hands since they have a very lecture style approach in their schools. I find I really have to work at it to get the kids to put their hands up. But once they do, they start catching on.

We've read that you are active in the publication process of your stories. Tell us a little about that.
Once I draw the book, I scan it into Photoshop and take it to the publisher. They'll transfer into InDesign but I like to decide how the book will be laid out and such. I even choose the paper for its gloss, smell, and weight. My books are quite interactive with pop-ups and holes. (Me adding in that the mouse bites are just hilarious!)

To top off the evening, Emily's publisher from Macmillan, Soojin who came from Hong Kong to be Emily’s interpreter (and 'brilliant' as the British say), brought books for all of us. And Emily autographed them! I snagged The Cave Baby and The Rabbit Problem for my two boys.

So if you're looking for lovely picture books, with that witty British humor, you really need to check out Emily's books.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Stay in Shape!

Today I went jogging for the first time since I broke my toe two weeks ago. And let me tell you, it was PAINFUL! It sure didn’t take long for me to get out of shape.

The view is gorgeous from the mountain road that I jog along. If you look at the picture here, which was taken from my apartment, the mountain road I run is to the right of the tall apartments.

So while I was huffing and puffing up the mountain, I was thinking how writing is the same way. Work has been taking over my life the last week and I haven’t spent much time on my revisions. I’m getting out of shape in my writing! Because writing every day keeps my eyes sharp for my silly errors, my creative juices flowing, plus I’m in tune with my characters since I’m spending time with them.

So next week my goal is to spend more time running and writing. If I exercise my muscles and even those ‘writing muscles’, I know I’ll be in better shape and that WIP of mine will be too!

Some things I’m going to do to help me out even if I get busy:

1. Pick one random page from my book and edit only that page.

2. Think of 5 things my main character would like and jot them down in the notebook I carry around.

3. Imagine a funny conversation between two characters in the book. Jot it down.

4. Do a writing prompt:

I’d love to hear how you keep your writing skills sharp even when you’re busy.