It gives me great pleasure to welcome Newbery Honor winner, Grace Lin, to the Mixed-Up Files. Today we are chatting with her about DUMPLING DAYS, the third book in the Pacy Lin series. And as an added bonus, one lucky commenter will get a chance to win an advanced reader copy or ARC of DUMPLING DAYS from Grace!
(from Indiebound): Pacy is back! The beloved heroine of The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat has returned in a brand new story. This summer, Pacy’s family is going to Taiwan for an entire month to visit family and prepare for their grandmother’s 60th birthday celebration. Pacy’s parents have signed her up for a Chinese painting class, and at first she’s excited. This is a new way to explore her art talent! But everything about the trip is harder than she thought it would be–she looks like everyone else but can’t speak the language, she has trouble following the art teacher’s instructions, and it’s difficult to make friends in her class. At least the dumplings are delicious…
As the month passes by, Pacy eats chicken feet (by accident!), gets blessed by a fortune teller, searches for her true identity, and grows closer to those who matter most.
Hi Grace! Great to have you here! Let’s get started! In Dumpling Days, Pacy visits Taiwan for the first time during a summer vacation. What were some considerations you made when writing about a foreign country for your young American readers?
Actually, I don’t think I made too many special considerations. I just tried to convey the experience as close as possible to how I remembered my first trip to Taiwan. I tried to put in all the things that surprised and fascinated me—from the toilets to the shrines on the street.
I really enjoyed revisiting my past trips to Taiwan, especially the food! I love writing about food.
It’s funny you say that! Across many of your chapter and picturebooks, I notice food as a common theme running throughout. Aside from your love writing about food, why do you think family meals and the preparation of them play such an important role in your books?
When I was younger (especially during those teenage years) I disliked being Asian. I didn’t want anything to do with my culture—the onlyexception being the food. Now, as adult looking for her culturalroots, food has become a key link between past and present. In many ways, my culture was passed down to me gastronomically! So, of course, writing about food is my way of expressing it. Also, I just like writing about food. Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder was one of my favorite books just because I liked reading about all the thing she ate.
Dumpling Days is the third book in the series (the first two being: Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat). Was this a planned series, orsomething that evolved between you, your editor, and your fans?
The first book, Year of the Dog, was my first effort at a middle grade novel—my homage to the Carolyn Haywood & Betsy-Tacy books that I loved as a child. As I wrote in my author’s note in The Year of theDog, I wanted to write the book I had longed for as a child. Those books I adored had so much I loved in them—school, friends, family. The only thing they didn’t have was someone like me, someoneAsian-American. So, The Year of the Dog was a kind of wish fulfillment on my part.
The second book, Year of the Rat, came directly because I felt like there were some loose threads in Year of the Dog (for example, the friendship with Charlotte and Becky). These books are heavily based on my life, a lot of what I wrote really did happen and I wanted let the readers know how those loose threads came together. After that, readers often asked me to continue, wanting me to write“Year of the Tiger” or “Year of the Horse.” I was thrilled that they wanted more but I wasn’t sure if I had anything else to write that was not repetitive. For me to write another “Year of…” book I would probably have to start completely making up entire events and anecdotes, instead of basing them on what had really happened.
In general I have no problem with that, but I felt the heart of these books was how very real they were. I felt that the reason the bookshad struck a chord with readers was because they could sense the truthin them. So, I searched in my memories for something that I felt could be of real interest and the result was Dumpling Days.
Your books suggest a blend of fiction and autobiography…for example, the main character’s name in school is Grace Lin, like yours. I love that you walk this line, and I wonder – do you find readers assuming that your books are about your own childhood? What made you decide to use your own name in your books? Were you being playful, orwas there a more serious intention?
These books are highly autobiographical and readers know it. When I first began writing, I followed the “write what you know” rule and just wrote it using my name and real people to help me. I thought Iwould change it later. But as the book progressed, it just felt right to leave it as is. I think I was inspired a little by the Little House books, where Laura Ingalls wrote about herself and used everyone’s real names—reading those books felt more exciting because you assumed it all really happened. I hoped that readers would feelthe same way when they read my books!
One of the things I absolutely enjoyed in Year of the Rat (the book that comes before Dumpling Days), is Pacy’s friendship with Melody. Like Pacy and Melody, I also had to experience losing my best friend to a move when I was in elementary school. And in fact, you experienced something similar, too, with one of your friends, who later turned out to be your editor! Can you tell us a little about what it’s been like to write and edit together a story that might be inspired by experiences you shared together? Do you both rememberdifferently what happened? Do your shared memories play a role increating and editing?
Yes, I definitely have an extremely unique relationship with myeditor. The character of Melody is based on my good friend Alvina Ling—we were childhood friends, just like in the “Year of the Dog” and she moved away, just like in the “Year of the Rat.” But just like in“Dumpling Days” we kept in touch and we have for all these years,becoming roommates at the start of our careers in children’s books atthe same time (I published my first book just as she got an internshipat a publishing company all the way back in 1999). And now, she’s the editor of my books! I think because we are such good friends, there’s an element of trust that is really wonderful—we didn’t have to build up to it, the trust was there right from the start. When she tells me something isn’t working, I really believe her—it’s like the friend that tells you about the spinach in your teeth.
We do remember the events I write about differently. In fact, many times I forget what actually happened and think the way I wrote it is completely 100% true, when it is more like 80% true and she has tocorrect me. And because we’ve experienced so many similar things,she’ll point out things that I’ll overlook. For example, in Dumpling Days, when I described the night market, I wrote it mainly as the things I saw. She would remind me, “Don’t forget how loud those markets are! And how strong the smells!” Another editor, not having experienced the night market, may not have pointed that out. And, of course, my point of view was different from hers. For example, her parents have always been Taiwanese nationalists (believing Taiwan should be it’s own country, not a part of China) whereas in my youth my parents were rather hazy about their ideals and often labeled themselves and us as Chinese. This is always something we go back and forth about when I write the books. But it’s good!
What’s it like to illustrate your own chapter books? Could you describe the process? Where do your ideas start for what to illustrate, and how do they become finalized?
First, I write the book—the story in its entirety. Once it is finished and approved, I begin drawing. For books like Dumpling Days (my other books, like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon have a completely different process) I just go through chapter by chapter and doodle as many little pictures as occur to me. Then I go through the doodles, pick out the ones that I think would be most interesting to put in the book, sketch them a bit clearer.
Then, using a light table,I do a final “clean” drawing using a special kind of marker whose tip is brush-like.
Not exactly a calligraphy pen, but similar. I give the designer a huge slew of drawings and let her sort it out for the book!
So I can’t help asking. What’s YOUR favorite dumpling?
Definitely xiao long bao—the soup dumplings! You can get them in NewYork, at a place called Joe Shanghai’s. I definitely recommend!
Thanks so much for stopping by, Grace! Dumpling Days will be available January 2012 from Little, Brown. Meanwhile, to enter our giveway of an ARC of DUMPLING DAYS, please leave a comment below.
Grace Lin is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. She is the author and illustrator of the Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and the acclaimed The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat, as well as many celebrated picture books. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband. You can visit her online at www.gracelin.com.
Sheela Chari’s first novel, VANISHED (Disney Hyperion), is available in stores now. www.sheelachari.com.