Friday, August 20, 2010

Marjolein Book Blog interview with Justina Chen Headley!

An interview from Marjolein Book Blog! with Justina Chen Headley, author of North of Beautiful!

How did the idea for Nothing But The Truth and North of Beautiful originate
Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) drew heavily on my experiences growing up as one of a very few Asian-Americans in my high school. I wanted to write a love letter to kids who straddle multiple cultures—whether racial or socioeconomic.
The inspiration for North of Beautiful came through a chance conversation. I had just finished speaking at a middle school and I recognized one of the boys there. He was Mr. Cool on campus: athletic, good-looking, witty. And he has a portwine stain on his face. A couple of days later, I bumped into his mom and I was telling her what a great job she had done parenting him because he didn’t let his birthmark get in his way. She looked at me and said, “That’s because he’s a boy.” That got me thinking: what would it be like for a girl to be under constant scrutiny? What if she had a father who put a premium on physical perfection and her birthmark was a personal affront to him? With Terra, I was able to tackle the whole notion of beauty, a topic that’s been at the forefront of my mind as a mother, woman, and writer! When did size 00 become the figure we are all supposed to attain?

I loved that there was a red line in Nothing But The Truth about Taiwan, which I found truly original because as far as I know aren't any YA novels about. How much of you is in the character of Patty Ho?
It was easy to get into Patty’s head because in many ways, it’s my head! So many things make me uncomfortable—feeling uncomfortable and not quite fitting in, for one. I went to Stanford for my undergraduate degree and for a summer camp—politics and government, not math!

In North of Beautiful, Terra has a very controlling dad and a mom who is suffering his grills, how did the idea for their characters started?
Writing any scene with Terra’s father was really difficult for me emotionally. I’ve been around too many controlling men. One of my teen readers was the impetus for tackling a story with an emotionally abusive relationship. She approached me after one of my readings and commiserated about how she, too, had been afraid of going after her dreams. Instead of a professor mocking me, it was her father who belittled her ambitions. I knew I had to write this story for girls who have been knocked down by Those Who Think They Know Better (but don’t).

Could you tell us about your path to publication? Any sprints or stumbles along the way?
I’ve been writing for teens ever since I was 8 years old and wrote my 50-page epic novel about Kitty and Dot. After a professor at Stanford told me that I couldn’t write, I put away my dreams of being an author. Sad, but true how demoralizing one person’s opinion can be. After I had my kids, I realized that it was shameful to allow one person to derail my dream! So I took a children’s writing course at the University of Washington Extension Program and on my last day of class, I sold my picture book, THE PATCH. My first two novels—NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (AND A FEW WHITE LIES) and GIRL OVERBOARD—were sold at auction not too long after. (So there to naysayers!)

If you could have dinner with a book character, who would it be and why?
OH, I would have dinner with Gen from Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia for sure. I have the biggest book crush on him—because he’s a wonderfully complicated character. Mischievous yet deadly serious in intent.

What did you read as a teen? Which authors inspired you the most? And which are your favorite books and authors now?
I read a ton as a teen—but unfortunately, there weren’t as many YA novels back then. I’m so glad teens today have such a wide range of amazing fiction to choose from.

I loved to read that you use your writing also for philantropy. Can you tell some more about this and what readers can do?
I tie every book I publish to some kind of philanthropic effort. In our world, we need more than words; we need action! My biggest philanthropic effort is readergirlz, the world’s leading online book community for teen girls—run completely by volunteers! The divas are all YA authors—Lorie Ann Grover, Dia Calhoun, Holly Cupala, Melissa Walker, Liz Gallagher, Micol Ostrow, and myself. On one hand, we are a literacy group and have been recognized for our different programs that encourage teens to read. But we are also about building exceptional girls! Getting teens to gain their own power through reading books that feature strong girls.

What are you working on now, can we expect new books by you soon?
I’m currently writing another contemporary YA novel, entitled RETURN TO ME. It’s expected out in Spring 2012. And that’ll be followed by another contemporary, title TBD. J

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1 comment:

Lizaza said...

Ooooh I loved this interview! :) Thanks for posting it! Justina is great and I hope you post more of her books in a Feature. Or maybe she'll write more soon!