Joining us today is Natasha Yim, author of Cixi, The Dragon Empress, and Gretchen Maurer, author of Mary Tudor “Bloody Mary”. Both books are geared toward children, ages 9 – 13.
Thank you for joining us today, Natasha and Gretchen.
Can you please start off by telling us a bit about yourself?
Natasha: I’m a children’s book author, freelance writer, and playwright. My first picture book, Otto’s Rainy Day, was published in 2000 by Charlesbridge Publishing. It was a Kids’ Pick of the Lists for that year. Cixi, The Dragon Empress, a picture book biography, was just released in October 2011 by Goosebottom Books. I have also written articles for adult magazines such as “Vibrant Life”, “AsiaPacific”, and “Mendocino Arts” as well as the children’s magazines, “Highlights for Children”, “Appleseeds”, and “Faces”. My ten-minute plays have been performed in venues around Northern California; Los Angeles; Sydney, Australia; with an upcoming play to be performed in Singapore this December.
Gretchen: I live in Northern California with my husband and three kids. I’ve taught high school and college English, and my writing has been published in The Discovery of Poetry and in A Cup of Comfort for Mothers to Be. I co-wrote the screenplay, ALMA, a short film that has screened in film festivals throughout the country, and I’ve written for several magazines, including Adventure Cyclist and Highlights for Children. Mary Tudor “Bloody Mary” is my first picture book. It’s a biography for 9 to 13-year-olds, published by Goosebottom Books.
When did you first get bit by the writing bug?
Natasha: It was in Mr. Harry’s 7th grade English class. We were given an assignment to create an island and name our own lakes, mountains, towns, then write a story about it. It was so much fun, and I loved creating this imaginary world. I’ve been writing stories ever since.
Gretchen: I got 4 pen-pals from around the world in elementary school, and I used to write them long, detailed letters. I’d tell them all about my life, my travels with my family, little stories or things I observed. I loved writing those letters … and reading the letters they sent to me.
Why did you decide to write for children?
Natasha: I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I didn’t wake up one morning, thinking, “I’m going to write children’s books.” I had started out writing for adult magazines and newspapers, but I was working with children, at the time, as a counselor/social worker (and had done so for awhile) in group homes, residential treatment centers, and foster home agencies. So, I guess it was a natural progression. The story of Otto just came to me one day, and I’ve been writing mostly for children ever since. I still write for some adult magazines, and my plays have been strictly for adults (although I’m currently working on one for children), but the stories for my books have been for children. I think I have all these kid characters in me wanting to tell their stories.
Gretchen: I started writing for children after I had kids. I’d check out several picture books from the library on the same subject or theme read the books to my kids while analyzing how they were written. Each author’s approach was so different. After a while, I started writing my own stories, fiction and non-fiction.
Do you believe it is harder to write books for a younger audience?
Natasha: Most definitely, especially picture books.
People think picture books are easy to write because they’re short and don’t have very many words. But what they don’t understand is that they still need to contain the elements that are in adult books: a beginning, middle, and end; a narrative/character arc; a relatable main character; a satisfying ending. But you have to get all this in in less than 1,000 words. In today’s publishing climate, it’s more like 600 words.
Gretchen: I don’t think it’s necessarily harder, but it’s different. Picture books and articles for children have to have the elements of a good story (interesting language, a story arc, compelling characters etc.), but they’re short. Sometimes it can feel like it’s all about the word count—you’re always making decisions about what to cut. And you have to keep asking yourself, Would a child think this is interesting? Would she get this? Would this be funny to her?
What is your favorite part of writing for young people?
Natasha: I love the wonder and awe children exhibit when they open a book and read (or listen to) a story that they connect with. Adults will read a good book, think “Oh that was a great book.” and put it away. Kids will ask you to read a story over and over again if they love the book. My kids have books they’ve cherished for years.
Gretchen: I love imagining what kids will like about my story or article, or how they’ll react to it. And when I’m reading them something I’ve written, I love it when they laugh or gasp or when their eyes get big. I’ve heard from a few parents that my Mary Tudor “Bloody Mary” book inspired their kids to write their own Mary Tudor books. They copied sentences from my book, added their own words and pictures … how cute is that?
Can you tell us what your latest book is all about?
Natasha: Cixi, The Dragon Empress is one of six books (all written by different authors) in Goosebottom Books’ series, The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames. The series profiles six women in history who have earned dastardly reputations. Cixi was the last empress of China who rose from the ranks of a lowly concubine to become ruler of a nation. As with all the dastardly dames, she was a woman who wielded great power at a time when women had very little say at all. She was vilified for many things from stealing funds from the imperial navy to support her extravagant tastes to poisoining rivals. But was she truly evil or merely misunderstood? Would she still have attained this reputation if she had been a man? In addition to telling her fascinating story, the book (as are all the books in the series) is filled with cultural and historical details of the time in which Cixi lived. And it poses the question: did she deserve her dastardly nickname? And begs kids to consider the long-lasting effects and consequences of name-calling.
Gretchen: Mary Tudor “Bloody Mary” is one of six books in the Goosebottom Books series, The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames. The series profiles women in history who have earned dastardly reputations, but pose the question: did these women really deserve their dastardly nicknames? Or were they simply misunderstood? The first first reigning queen of England, Mary Tudor, a devout Catholic, is best known for burning several hundred Protestants at the stake. She ruled from 1553-1558, during a brutal time in history when all European rulers had blood on their hands. The book tells about how Mary Tudor came to power (her childhood was not short on jaw-dropping drama), how she used her power, and why. Mary Tudor “Bloody Mary” is packed with beautiful visuals, too, and all kinds of interesting facts about Mary’s life. For example, in the “What She Ate” sidebar, I mention how her favorite candy, Manus Christi, was made from rosewater, crushed pearls, white sugar, and was sprinkled with gold.
What inspired you to write it?
Natasha: The publisher chose the series theme and the list of women to be featured, but she asked the writers to pick their first and second choice. Most of us picked different ones, so we pretty much got our first choice. Cixi was my first choice because, in the last few years, I had been more interested in getting in touch with my cultural heritage, and my stories have become more and more multi-cultural. I really wanted to write about this woman from China. I also knew very little about Chinese history, so was eager to learn more about it. I love the quote by Benjamin Disraeli, “The best way to become acquainted with a subject, is to write a book about it.”
Gretchen: I was fortunate to be selected by the publisher to write the book. Out of the 6 dames to be featured in the Dastardly Dames series, Mary Tudor was my first choice. I thought she had the most brutal-sounding nickname, and I wanted to learn more about why and how she earned it and whether or not she deserved it. I wanted to find out if she did anything good, too, and to learn more about her childhood and who she was as a person. I dug into my research and put a boiled down version of what I learned into Mary Tudor “Bloody Mary”. It definitely makes you think. I believe it’s important for girls to read books about powerful women in history, books that really flesh out their lives and explore the social/political times in which they lived. A lot of books have been published about influential men in history, but not as many about women.
Where can readers purchase a copy?
Natasha: In your local bookstore (I’m a strong supporter of independent bookstores). The bookstore can order it from their distributor if they don’t already have the book on their shelf. Or from the publisher’s website: www.goosebottombooks.com; or the distributor’s website: www.ipgbook.com
Gretchen: Same answer as Natasha’s.
Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more?
Natasha: Yes. My website is: www.natashayim.com/ and my blog is: www.natashayim.blogspot.com/. You can also find me on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/natashayim/ and on the Cixi, The Dragon Empress Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cixithedragonempress
You can also follow me on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/natashayim
And Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/natashayim
Gretchen: I have a Facebook book page for my Mary Tudor book:
You can find more information about my book, take a look at several pages, and order it directly from the publisher by clicking on this link:
Also, you can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is up next for you?
Natasha: I have just completed the biography of Sacajawea for Goosebottom Books that will be added to their first series, The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses. It will be released in fall, 2012. Charlesbridge Publishing (publisher of my first book, Otto’s Rainy Day) has just acquired my picture book manuscript, Goldy Luck and the Three Chans. I have a picture book and a middle-grade project I’m working on. But I’m going to take a short break from books, and work on some play projects through the rest of fall and winter.
Gretchen: I’m finishing up a novel I’m co-writing with a friend, targeted at the women’s fiction market. We’ve been at it for a while, so I cannot wait to complete it and send it off.
Do you have anything else to add?
Natasha: Tune in on Nov. 2 & 3 to listen to Natasha’s interview with host Don MacAuley on The Author’s Show, http://www.theauthorsshow.com.
Gretchen: Thanks very much.
Thank you for spending time with us today, Natasha & Gretchen. We wish you much success.