Today’s W.O.W. features one of the kindest writers I know, Stacey Lee. Not only is Stacey an amazing writer, but she is also a big part of WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS where she is currently the Legal Director. What I love most about this interview is what Stacey shares about her dedication to the craft of writing. Since a very young age she knew she wanted to write. Through many life changes, she stayed the course and eventually signed with an agent. Now, her debut novel, UNDER A PAINTED SKY will hit bookshelves this March!
Many thanks to Stacey for sharing her writing odyssey today…
Amy: I love the story on your website about writing your first manuscript on a typewriter when you were very young. Have you always had the writing bug?
Stacey: Yes. My third grade teacher hung a poem I had written about Thanksgiving on the classroom wall. I was the shyest kid in the class, and was astounded to be recognized this way.
Amy: What was the most challenging thing in writing your debut, UNDER A PAINTED SKY?
Stacey: For me, it was not being episodic. My main characters, Sammy, a Chinese girl, and Annamae, a black girl, are fleeing down the Oregon Trail disguised as young men. There were a lot of adventures that I had to ‘cut’ from the main journey as it didn’t move the main story along. For example, there was one baseball scene where the girls are forced to play baseball, and have to do it ‘in character’ as boys. I hated to cut that, but it had to go.
Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?
Stacey: I started querying in 1984 as a teenager, and back then, everything was so slow. I would often give up querying because it was just too daunting a process to send manuscript after manuscript, then wait for the SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) to come back, which could take months. Email made things a lot easier!
Amy: How many agents did you query for UNDER A PAINTED SKY?
Stacey: Around 20, I think!
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?
Stacey: Not instantaneous. A few requested right away, but then it took a few weeks for them to read. Once I got the first offer though, things did start moving – other agents began requesting to talk to me. I was on my way to Lake Tahoe and my phone connection was really spotty. I felt sure I was going to mess it all up and no one was going to want me.
Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Kristin Nelson? How did you know she was the right fit for you?
Stacey: I had always enjoyed reading her blog posts, and knew she was a great agent. (She had previously rejected another of my manuscripts.) She was at the Romantic Times convention when she offered, and so it was a super busy time for her, too. Our ‘call’ wasn’t long. Basically – she told me what she liked about my MS, and I said, okay, thanks, let’s do this.
Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?
Stacey: Absolutely. Sometimes it happened after querying a big project and getting nowhere. Sometimes it happened when I got busy with other things in life – like having kids! And pursuing other interests. But I always naturally came back to writing. I think it’s the same with a lot of writers – it’s instinct, like how salmon swim upstream. Without the dying part at the end.
Amy: The writing process is grueling and querying even more difficult. What one piece of advice can you impart to aspiring writers to encourage them to keep working towards their dream?
Stacey: Do it because you love to do it. Because you can’t NOT do it. Then you’ll stick to it.
(Available March 17, 2015)
Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.
Stacey Lee is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to California during the heydays of the cowboys. She believes she still has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul. A native of southern California, she graduated from UCLA then got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall. After practicing law in the Silicon Valley for several years, she finally took up the pen because she wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day, and it was easier than moving to Spain. She plays classical piano, wrangles children, and writes YA fiction. For more on Stacey, checking out her website, or follow her on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook or Pinterest.