I'm late with this interview but better late than never applies most excellently to this interview. Welcome to RiC Ms. Shang!
Wendy Wan-Long Shang is the author of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu which was released January 4th (I let my sister borrow my copy before I read it and she won't give it back, she loves that the main character is her age and just like her, plays basketball).
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is receiving a warm reception and I'm just saying, but, it has a 4 average rating on Goodreads. Impressed yet? Yes or no, doesn't matter, keep reading to learn more about this lawyer/author/hilarious basketball player.
Please give us the scoop on The Great Wall of Lucy Wu
Lucy Wu thinks she's about to have the perfect year - her big sister is moving out of their shared bedroom and her basketball team looks terrific (as does her crush, Harrison). But when her father announces that a long-lost great aunt is coming to visit and that Lucy should start going to Chinese school instead of basketball, Lucy thinks her year is in shreds - but is it? Like the Chinese saying that events that appear to be good luck or bad luck often turn out to be the opposite, Lucy discovers that while her original dream is not going to come true, she can create something even better.
How did you break into publishing?
I started off by taking a class with author Mary Quattlebaum at the Writer's Center in Maryland. Mary is a fantastic teacher, and teaches not just craft but industry basics as well. She mentioned that the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is a good resource for writers, and I decided to join.
SCBWI lead to some amazing opportunities for me - I found my critique group at a SCBWI regional conference, and I also received one of their Work-in-Progress grants, which was a terrific confidence booster and a nice thing to mention in agent query letters. (True story: I was taking care of 6 kids when I found out about the grant. To this day, they will happily re-enact me jumping up and down and screaming. They think this is what publishing is about!) My book was sold by Lindsay Davis at Writers House to Lisa Sandell at Scholastic. (Lindsay has since left the industry, and I am very fortunate to now have Ken Wright as my agent!)
Frankly speaking, it's unusual to have a book about a young Chinese-American girl who loves interior design AND basketball. Even in the real world, when people think Asians and basketball the only person who comes to mind is Yao Ming. That's part of why I'm even more psyched to read The Great Wall of Lucy Wu. Why did you choose to create a character who is Chinese and loved both of these seemingly (to sheltered Americans anyway) unusual and disconnected things?
Well, Lucy is Chinese-American because I'm Chinese-American; as a first-time novelist, I knew I wanted to stick with what I knew! I also really love the way girls are today: you can be girly AND athletic. I wanted my character to reflect that idea because when I was growing up, there was a bit of the sense that you could only be one or the other. I chose basketball in particular because when I first started writing Lucy, we shared some characteristics, and I wanted to make sure she was her own person. And, if you've ever seen me on the court, I am not a threat to anybody...unless making somebody laugh so hard they're gasping for breath counts as a threat.
HA! I'm sure I'm even worse, the stereotype of being a good basketball player does not apply to me at all ;) But don't discount the gift of being able to make people laugh (well...erm...as long as it's WITH you and not at you). Seriously though, I love that today girls don't feel as though they have to fit in one mold. You can wear pink basketball shoes and still represent on the court.
What book would your book date (obviously it would be a very suitable date for a 6th grader)?
I think it would be really fun to have my book go on a date with Bette Bao Lord's In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. That book is about a Chinese girl coming to America and discovering what it means to be American, and I think it's a great mirror for my book, which is about a Chinese-American girl finding her Chinese roots.
We used to own that book, my sister read it but I never got a chance too. Now I intend on looking for it so I can read them back-to-back. And they both feature young female main characters who are unafraid to admit they like-no-love sports :)
You went from being an attorney working for juvenile justice (as well as being a court-appointed special advocate) to a writer. Do you think your experience with the law and courtrooms helped you in any way with being an author?
There are a lot of lawyers in the kidlit field. Rebecca Stead, 2010 Newbery Medal winner of When You Reach Me, and Kathy Erskine, the 2010 National Book Award winner of Mockingbird, were both attorneys! I think that going to law school teaches you how to analyze writing and think about how you want to convey your ideas effectively, so in that sense, legal experience is very helpful.
I never knew there were so many lawyers in the kidlit field, I don't know where I was hiding because I'm sure I would have read somewhere that Rebecca Stead is a lawyer. I do know that Francisco Stork is a lawyer as well, but that's all I've got off the top of my head. I admit, I have a hard-time wrapping my head around lawyers writing for kids (I've been around too many serious ones!) but especially if they work with kids, it makes sense. And all of the lawyers we've mentioned have won at least one award (Francisco Stork won the Schneider Family book award for Marcelo in the Real World)!
What are some of your current favorite MG reads? What fellow '11 debuts are you looking forward to?
I adored The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger - it was funny and sweet and a little mysterious. As for debuts, I can't wait to read Winifred Conkling's Sylvia and Aki, and The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill. Sylvia and Aki is set in 1940's California; Sylvia is Hispanic and must attend a "Mexican" school because of segregation laws; Aki is Japanese and her family is being sent to an internment camp. It is based on a true story. As for The Mostly True Story of Jack, I've had the privilege of seeing the first few chapters, and we're in for something really special. It's a magical story about friendship, loss and sacrifice.
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Why am I just now hearing about Sylvia and Aki? It sounds WONDERFUL. So much for not adding more than 500 books to my TBR *heads off to Goodreads* The Mostly True Story of Jack sounds quite mysterious and The Strange Case of Origami Yoda sounds HILARIOUS and I could certainly use a laugh-out-loud read...
What two PoC characters would you love to hang out?
I think it would be really fun to hang out with Alvin Ho of the eponymous books and Fern from One Crazy Summer. They're both such sharp, observant characters - I know I'd come away seeing the world in a completely different way.
What is one issue you have with MG books? What is something you love about MG?
One of the hardest things about writing MG is trying to avoid the typical tropes - orphans, red-headed best friends, boarding schools - or at least do something original with them! I love MG readers - they are the most appreciative readers in the world. I got a pop-up card from one reader, depicting a scene from LUCY, and it just melted me. And I thought, I bet even Jhumpa Lahiri (one of my favorite writers of adult fiction and a Pulitzer Prize winner) never got a handmade pop-up card!
Where can readers find out more about you and your books?
They can visit me at wendyshang.com, and I am also a contributor at From the Mixed-Up Files, a multi-author middle grade blog.
Thank you so much for stopping by Wendy! Now score some points and buy The Great Wall of Lucy Wu. I'm thinking it's at least as spectacular as a half court shot? haha ok I'm done.