Friday, May 13, 2011

Author Interview with David Yoo

For my first. author. interview. ever. on this blog, I bring to you David Yoo. I read David’s young adult novel, GIRLS FOR BREAKFAST (Delacorte), and was sucked into the story of Nick Park, a Korean American boy who struggles with his outsider status growing up in a waspy Connecticut town. After reading the book, I contacted David and he was totally cool about talking to me. 

Like his protagonist in GIRLS FOR BREAKFAST, David is also a native of Connecticut. When he was three, his family relocated to Seoul, Korea for five years, and then they resettled in Avon, Connecticut. David has an M.A. in Creative Writing from CU-Boulder, thereby fulfilling his parents’ lifelong dream of having him be a struggling writer and temp, as he puts it. These days, David teaches in the M.F.A. program at Pine Manor College and at the Gotham Writer’s Workshop when he’s not writing.

How did you decide to write professionally for kids?
I kind of fell into it. There seem to be two types of kidlit writers—those who harbored dreams of writing for kids seemingly from birth, and those who didn’t. I fall into the latter camp—basically the first time I wrote something that my agent seemed to actually like was when, on a whim, I wrote from a teen’s perspective. This was about five years after we’d started working together. Prior to that point I’d been focusing on adult fiction. Years later, I found out that my agent was actually a kidlit agent. Anyway, his encouragement opened my eyes to the genre and I immediately took to it. I also write for adults still—my first collection of essays, HONORABLE MENTION (Grand Central) comes out April 2012, but otherwise most of my time is spent tapping into the 12-year-old me, which is relatively easy for me given the fact that, mentally, I hover around 14.       

What advice do you have for aspiring writers of kidlit?
Don’t preach.

In GIRLS FOR BREAKFAST, Nick Park aspires to be popular, to date white girls, and to socially distance himself from other Asians. Nick could almost be someone I knew back in school. Where did you get your inspiration for Nick's character and story? Have you known people like Nick?
Nick is loosely based on me, but it sounds lame to say that I served as the inspiration for my narrator. For the record, I wasn’t so much inspired as I was equal parts appalled/pleasantly bemused when I looked back on myself as a teenager, and writing has always been somewhat therapeutic for me. I created Nick in part to try to make sense of who I was back then. Meanwhile, I’ve known plenty of Asian guys that were like Nick/me. In college, it seemed like you either roved around in an Asian cluster or went to great lengths to avoid said cluster like the plague. I used to feel deeply envious of the blessed few who seemed to be able to navigate both worlds with ease.

What aspects of Nick's story are autobiographical?
I’d say it’s emotionally autobiographical, but the majority of the scenes are made up.

While I raised my eyebrows at some of Nick's actions, I still wanted him to have his day in the sun. What is your strategy for developing a flawed character that readers would still want to root for?
I don’t feel you can control how a character will be perceived by the reader, or that it’s dangerous to try to do so. Teen readers, especially, can sniff out inauthenticity from a mile away. My only goal when I write, I suppose, is to try to present my characters as honestly as possible—again, because it seems so naked when a writer tries to manipulate the reader’s feelings or attempt to impose a specific response to their character. This rationale extends to my reading preferences as well. The characters I feel a kinship with as a reader are often hard to like. Not that I consider myself hard to like (occasionally moody, I’ll readily admit), but simply because I trust when a character is presented -warts and all—the warts are what make characters interesting for me. I can’t lose myself in a story unless I trust the characters; therefore, I root for characters if I believe them.

What makes a story multicultural?
In a nutshell, any story that isn’t about any one culture exclusively. Hence the word, “multi.” Okay, honestly I feel ill-equipped to offer a substantive, insightful answer.

What makes a compelling multicultural story?
Don’t preach.

I also read your short story, A Fistful of Feathers from GUYS READ: FUNNY BUSINESS, edited by Jon Scieszka. Is defining and addressing the notion of masculinity a favorite theme of yours? What other themes or topics do you also like to write about?
Well, the notion of masculinity is certainly a topic all boys wrestle with at one point or another, and my male characters often end up dealing with it since much of what I write is focused on teen boys struggling to fit in. Meanwhile, and this isn’t a theme, per se, but rather just something weird I realized over the winter, but no kidding, every book I’ve ever written features at least one reference to the movie Top Gun, I have no idea why. Actually, that factoid probably goes hand in hand with my interest in writing about the notion of masculinity. Now I feel weird.

Who were your favorite authors growing up?
Roald Dahl, Paul Zindel…the usual suspects. Specifically, DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD was my favorite book in elementary school, and I was similarly jolted by MY DARLING, MY HAMBURGER. THEN AGAIN, MAYBE I WON’T by Judy Blume was also an important novel for me as a kid, and I think I wrote maybe a dozen book reports on THE OUTSIDERS in middle school. Which explains why—whenever it’s time to say goodbye at a dinner party or something—I tend to mutter, “Stay golden, Ponyboy,” and the person usually stares blankly back at me. That is, unless their name is Ponyboy, and they happen to be made of gold, which hasn’t happened yet, and-okay this is coming out stupid, but I really do say that phrase a lot.

Which kidlit books depicting the Korean American or Asian American experience have you connected with? 
I connected with AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, by Gene Luen Yang, and I also revere anything by Adrian Tomine, who writes these great graphic novels. But there are countless more, too many to count—instead, I’ll offer a few I’ve had the bonus pleasure of getting to know a bit, like Mitali Perkins, Marie Lee, Ben Esch, Ed Lin, etc. It’s really exciting to come across so many books dealing with the contemporary AA experience—part of my motivation for writing GIRLS FOR BREAKFAST was I wanted to write a book the teen me could have related to, since at the time it seemed like there was a dearth of books dealing with the AA experience I was having. Though I liked it, THE GOOD EARTH didn’t really resonate with me back in the mid-80s, I guess.

Tell me about your new book coming out in June.
My first middle grade novel, THE DETENTION CLUB (Balzer + Bray) comes out June 21st, 2011. I’m horrible at describing my own projects so in the meantime here’s the description from the publisher, and in the future feel free to check out my web site  for more information:
Detention: The best worst thing to happen to Peter Lee?
Peter and his best friend, Drew, used to be so cool (or, at least, not total outcasts) in elementary school. But now they're in middle school, where their extensive mica collection and prowess at kickball have earned them a new label: losers. Then Peter attracts the unwanted attention of the school bullies, and his plan to become popular through his older sister, the practically perfect Sunny, backfires. Things go from bad to worse when Peter gets detention. But what at first seems to spell his utter doom turns into an unlikely opportunity for making friends and influencing people. . . .
Thanks for having me! 

Thank YOU for sharing your insights with me, David.

Monday, May 9, 2011

National Doodle Day

May 12 will be National Doodle Day, a day where children's book authors and illustrators' doodles, along with that of celebrities, will be auctioned off on Ebay. Funds raised will benefit NF, Inc., an organization assisting people and families affected by neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder. Organized by publishers Albert Whitman & Company, Chronicle Books, Gibbs Smith Publishers, and Running Press, National Doodle Day will feature doodles by a number of children's book profs, such as Eric Carle, Jon Scieszka, Peter Reynolds, Annie Barrows, and Neil Gaiman. Before the auction begins on May 12, doodles can be seen at

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Children's and Young Adult Literature for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Kidlit is one of many things that shed light on the rich and diverse heritage and cultures of Asian Pacific Americans. Being Asian American, I grew up thirsty for books about Asian Americans that I could relate to. But not all books featuring Asian American characters resonate with me. But there are many that do. The following is an abbreviated list of just some of the many children's  and young adult books about Asian Americans that touched me in some way:

GIRLS FOR BREAKFAST by David Yoo (Young Adult- Delacorte) A girl-crazy Korean American boy struggles with his identity as an Asian male in his predominantly-white high school. Check out my author interview.


THE YEAR OF THE DOG by Grace Lin (Middle Grade- Little Brown) A Chinese American girl tries out different things, from entering in a science fair to performing in a school play, to decide what she wants to be when she grows up.

A STEP FROM HEAVEN by An Na (Young Adult- Puffin) A Korean American girl and her family immigrate from Korea to America. In addition to struggling with a new language and culture, the girl is a constant witness to her alcoholic father's abusive nature towards the family.


SHADOW OF THE DRAGON by Sherry Garland (Young Adult- Harcourt) A Vietnamese American boy wants to date a white girl whose brother is in a skinhead gang, and at the same time, he tries to keep his refugee cousin from joining a Vietnamese gang.

WILLIE WINS by Almira Astudillo Gilles, Illust. by Carl Angel (Picture Book-Lee & Low) A Filipino American boy is embarrassed to bring to school his father's alkansiya, a bank made from a coconut shell, and then he discovers a valuable item inside.

HOME OF THE BRAVE by Allen Say (Picture Book- Houghton Mifflin) In a story told through dark and dreamlike images, a man confronts haunting memories of his Japanese family's internment during World War II.

SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY by Paula Yoo, Illust. by Lin Wang (Picture Book- Lee & Low) This is a true story about Anna May Wong, a Chinese American actress who toughed it out in Hollywood during the 1930s in spite of the limited film roles offered to her. 

Feel free to share any favorite children's or young adult books depicting the Asian Pacific American experience that aren't on this list.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Books I Read in April

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson (Young Adult- Dial) Girl copes with her sister's death and is caught in a love triangle between her sister's grieving boyfriend and the new boy in town 

EXCLUSIVELY CHLOE by J.A. Yang (Young Adult-Puffin) Adopted daughter of a Hollywood couple trades in her glamorous life to live undercover as a non-celebrity                 

THE RETIRED KID by Jon Agee (Picture Book-Hyperion)-Retired kid moves into a retirement community and enjoys his new life at first... 

BUYING, TRAINING AND CARING FOR YOUR DINOSAUR by Laura Joy Rennert, Illust. by Marc Brown (Picture Book- Knopf Books) A fun guide about ways to manage a pet that is no longer extinct