By Chana Stiefel
We’re so excited to welcome Sylvia Liu to KidLitTakeaways! Sylvia and I connected through her website KidLit411.com—a great hub for kidlit resources—which she co-runs with her critique partner Elaine Kiely Kearns. KidLit411 had an awesome birthday bash last year, which included several amazing giveaways for authors & illustrators. I hit the jackpot, winning a year’s supply of debut picture books, including…A MORNING WITH GRANDPA, Sylvia’s beautiful debut picture book! Sylvia not only agreed to an interview, but she is also offering a signed copy of her book to one lucky winner (details below). Enjoy!
KLT: How did the story of A MORNING WITH GRANDPA come to you? Is it based on personal experience?
SL: Yes, sort of. My father was teaching my daughters breathing techniques for qi gong, a Chinese mind-body practice, and that inspired me to write a story about a grandfather teaching his granddaughter tai chi.
KLT: Mei Mei and Gong Gong—are these names in your family?
SL: Gong Gong is what my girls call my dad. It’s Chinese for grandfather. Mei Mei means younger daughter in Chinese, and I grew up as a Mei Mei. We don’t call my younger daughter Mei Mei, though.
KLT: When did you write your first draft? How similar is it to the final book?
SL: I wrote it during the summer of 2013. I went through many revisions with my critique group, and then I signed up for a paid critique that came with a Writer’s Digest course. The original story had Gong Gong teaching Mei Mei both tai chi and qi gong, and she was teaching him how to make lemonade. With the help of my critique group and a professional critique, I pared down the plot and introduced yoga into the story. The fun and caring relationship between the two characters remained the same.
KLT: How does the writing process work in your critique group?
SL: I have an amazing online critique group of six other picture book authors. We live on three continents and formed three years ago. We have a secret Facebook group where we interact and share our stories. Each of us takes turns sharing one story a week. One of us posts a story on a Sunday and the rest of us have the rest of the week to provide comments. Our turn comes around every seven weeks, and if we don’t have a story to post, we can use our turn to discuss any writing or career-related issue (for example, which stories should we submit to an agent, what do people think of this idea, etc.).
KLT: I love that the back matter of A MORNING WITH GRANDPA includes instructions for yoga and tai chi movements and postures. This seems unique for a fiction picture book. How did the back matter come about?
SL: I have been writing back matter for several of my fiction stories because most of my stories are inspired by some real life component. Because tai chi is not as well known as other forms of exercise and meditation, it felt natural to explain it. I did the same with yoga.
KLT: Describe the submission process for A MORNING WITH GRANDPA.
SL: I submitted the story in late October 2013 as a submission for Lee & Low’s annual New Voices Award, a contest to identify new authors of color. I won the grand prize that year, which included a publishing contract for A MORNING WITH GRANDPA. I signed the contract in early 2014 and the book came out in May 2016.
KLT: Congratulations! You are also an accomplished illustrator. Was illustrating A MORNING WITH GRANDPA an option? Are you planning to illustrate your own books?
SL: The New Voices award is geared towards finding and promoting new authors, so Lee & Low planned to hire a different illustrator from the beginning. I would love to illustrate my own books eventually.
KLT: Lee & Low is a publisher known for its multicultural books. Why is it important to share diverse books with a young audience?
SL: We need diverse books for young people (and everyone) so that we can learn from, understand, and experience the full and amazing multiplicity of stories out there, which show both our common humanity as well the fascinating distinct forms it takes. Reading diverse stories opens people's minds and hearts to the "other" so we realize that we are all essentially the same. Reading diverse stories helps us appreciate that we also have very distinct histories and cultural influences that make each person unique and interesting. Reading diverse stories helps us realize there is not one monolithic story about how we got here, what our country is about, and why we are here.
KLT: So true! What are you working on next?
SL: I’m developing several new stories, both the words and illustrations and revising other stories.
KLT: What’s your takeaway for other aspiring authors?
SL: Keep creating and don't compare yourself to others. Work on your own timetable and don't stop!
Thank you Sylvia! Sylvia is generously offering a free signed copy of A MORNING WITH GRANDPA. (Must be a U.S. resident.) Check out the Rafflecopter below Sylvia's bio to enter!
Sylvia Liu is a picture book author and children's illustrator. Her debut picture book, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA, illustrated by Christina Forshay (Lee & Low Books) came out in May 2016. Her portfolio can be found at enjoyingplanetearth.com and she co-runs the successful kid lit resource website, www.kidlit411.com. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband, two girls, cat, and guinea pig. She is inspired by cephalopods, aliens, kraken, grandpas, robots, and more.
Donna Cangelosi and Chana Stiefel are picture book critique partners & friends who are passionate about kids' books & are eager to share tidbits from their writing journey with other aspiring writers.