R.J. Anderson (rj_anderson) wrote,
R.J. Anderson

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INTERVIEW: Cynthea Liu, author of "The Great Call of China" (Puffin, February 19th)

Today I'm excited to be hosting the talented and versatile debut2009 author Cynthea Liu, who just celebrated her release date for her first book The Great Call of China yesterday with an exciting online party! Congratulations, Cynthea!

About the Book:

Chinese-born Cece was adopted when she was two years old by her American parents. Living in Texas, she's bored of her ho-hum high school and dull job. So when she learns about the S.A.S.S. program to Xi'an, China, she jumps at the chance. She'll be able to learn about her passion--anthropology--and it will give her the opportunity to explore her roots. But when she arrives, she receives quite a culture shock. And the closer she comes to finding out about her birth parents, the more apprehensive she gets. Enter Will, the cute guy she first meets on the plane. He and Cece really connect during the program. But can he help her get accustomed to a culture she should already know about, or will she leave China without the answers she's been looking for?

About the Author:

Cynthea spent her formative years in Oklahoma and Texas where she was a Whiz Quiz member, an Academic Decathloner, and a spelling bee champion. (Yes, she was very popular.) After attending college on the East Coast, she worked at a corporate job where she mastered PowerPoint and racked up thousands of frequent flyer miles. Eventually, she traded in her suit for sweats to do the fun stuff--writing for children. In addition to The Great Call of China (Puffin, February '09) and her middle-grade novel Paris Pan Takes The Dare (Putnam, June '09) Cynthea's nonfiction book Writing for Children and Teens: A Crash Course (how to write, revise, and publish your kid's or teen book with children's book publishers) is available in paperback.

Welcome, Cynthea! How did you research THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA? Have you been to China personally in the recent past, or did you have to rely on secondary sources?

The information I used for the book came from both primary and secondary sources. Mainly primary. When I heard about the S.A.S.S. proposal I knew I had to set the story in Xi'an, China. Most people think of Beijing or Shanghai as the place to go when you're there, but Xi'an is a must-see, too! The city is just so rich in history that it wasn't difficult to find the data I needed. I also had an inside connection. My brother lives there. I wrote most of the proposal for S.A.S.S in his apartment during a two-week visit. He also runs an English school so I interviewed a whole classroom of Xi'an teens about what they liked to do there. I took copious notes. That was probably the coolest part about the research--getting to know all about teen life in Xi'an first-hand. We talked about love (*everyone blushed when I brought that up*), school, dating, food, everything! Later, before I finished the book, I returned a second time just to make sure I had everything I needed.

What drew you to the idea of writing about a Chinese girl adopted into an American family? Was Cece's being adopted always a part of the book or did that aspect come in later?

The S.A.S.S. concept letter mentioned a potential plotline for a book set in China about a girl returning to her birth country to learn about her ancestry. So I went from there, turning the plotline into... an adopted teen returns to China to find answers to her past. Writing the story was the hard part!

Was there anything you learned over the course of writing this book that surprised you – either in terms of your research, or the craft and discipline of writing, or just in terms of how the plot developed?

The plotting wasn't nearly as difficult as writing the story itself. It was incredibly hard to write in the same tone as the series. S.A.S.S. books are very commercial so I had to adapt my writing to ensure the style was aligned with all the other S.A.S.S. books. PARIS PAN is more like my usual writing style, a cross between commercial and literary. If you read both books, you will see that it might seem like two different people wrote them! And now I feel like I can do just about anything, having had the experience of writing both series fiction and original fiction.

BTW, if you are interested in writing "clean" series YA books, study the S.A.S.S. line. It's one of the few opportunities out there to write for a series, without a jillion-book commitment. Many of the S.A.S.S books are by different authors. Pretty uncommon these days, as you can guess, by looking at the series bookshelves at any B&N and Borders.

How do you usually approach writing a book? Do you plan it out carefully beforehand, or fly by the seat of your pants, or something in between?

Usually I just sit in front of the computer and start typing. For S.A.S.S., I knew I was doing something about an adopted girl returning to China. So I wrote the first three chapters, then started an outline, subsequently got mad at the outline, then kept writing until I thought I had something workable. All the while, my critique partner, the notable Tammi Sauer, is telling me what she thinks sucks and what works. Without that second voice, it would be much harder to get through writing the book as efficiently. So it's a flying-pants thing and an outlining thing. But mostly flying-pants. Hey, I like saying that. Flying-pants, flying-pants, flying-pants!

Tell us about a typical day in your house. You have an active (and adorable) little girl to look after, not to mention your famous rabbit Snoop – how do you make time for writing on top of your family commitments and online projects like Writing for Children and Teens: A Crash Course and AuthorsNow!?

My secret weapon is a wonderful college student named Julia who comes in each day and helps me with Baby Liu. I also drink lots of coffee and stay up often. Before I had Julia's help though, I survived by going to Tulsa, my hometown, where I drafted four grandparents for baby-duty. I probably stayed up until 4AM consistently for many straight weeks during my heaviest revisions with S.A.S.S. and Paris Pan. After my books were completed, I took a break from writing and started AuthorsNow! My typical day now includes the usual baby-upkeep duties and lots of computer time. I try to make every minute count.

But sometimes I just stare blankly at my laptop and say, WHAT DID I HAVE TO DO AGAIN? I'm sure every parent and busy writer knows what it's like to space out on occasion. Have you ever stuck your car keys in the fridge? Or leave your housekey in the door with your wallet attached? That's a favorite of mine. I have also tried putting my bra on by sticking my legs through the armholes, thinking they were pants. (And I was NOT dressing in the dark.) YIKES!

Hee. I definitely know that feeling! Thanks for dropping by, Cynthea!

Finally, Cynthea's also put together a great little YouTube video describing how she came to write The Great Call of China and telling a little more about the book itself. Check it out:
Tags: books, debut2009, interviews, writing
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