• Literary Snobbery Can Just Die

    There is so much talk lately about YA. The New Yorker talks about it, a lot it seems. There are so many opinions about it. So many.

    And I've tried being that above-it-all person, to keep my mouth shut on the issue. Because 1) I'm a YA author, so clearly I'm just biased right? 2) The condescending tone in these articles reveal the ignorance of the writers on the subject, so why bother?

    I don’t know what it is—but the most recent piece on YA by a national magazine really was the last straw. Some claim that maybe middle grade and YA is not a good introduction to reading, that instead these poor kids reading fun books may only want to read fun books forever and therefore become stunted stupey human beings.

    I don’t feel like reaching into the far recesses of my brain for all the big words I learned while taking years of classes on critical thinking. Basically classes intended to throw down on stupid arguments and tear them apart, verbal velociraptor style.

    Because I’ve got books to write, guys. No time for that.

    But I have a smidge of time to share my personal story of reading and becoming a YA author. I’ll keep it short.

    I didn’t like to read until I was seven years old, when I was introduced to Ann M. Martin’s THE BABY SITTER’S CLUB series. They were charming books about middle grade students who babysat. Some might call them fluff, I call them a godsend. I re-read one of them recently and was appreciative of how sensitive they were to the young reader, of how lovely and funny they were. 

    And those books? Opened up a world of reading.

    Soon after, I was reading EVERYTHING. LM Montgomery to RL Stine to Louisa May Alcott to Louis Sachar. A copy of Pearl S. Buck’s THE GOOD EARTH on my dad’s shelf. Everything by Michael Crichton and John Grisham. Vintage copies of Dickens I picked up for 5 cents at the book fair. I fell in love with short stories, with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Flannery O’Connor, Richard Yates. And while I was discovering THE CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, Nabokov, and E.M. Forster, I was reading THE PRINCESS DIARIES. I was re-reading the President’s Daughter series by Ellen Emerson White while wolfing down Dave Eggers and Zadie Smith (and this is when I started writing YA, probably not a coincidence). SOMEHOW, I was able to read YA AND hipster-approved literature at the same time. The mind boggles??!!

    This is not to brag about the books I’ve read (though, certainly, I feel a perverse pride for all the time I’ve spent not getting exercise but holed up in a corner somewhere with books), it’s to say…

    ARE YOU STUPID? OF COURSE IT’S OKAY TO READ ANY KIND OF BOOK YOU WANT.

    And also? If you never want to read Tolstoy and stick to JK Rowling and Veronica Roth forever, go ahead. A love of Tolstoy does not equal superior intelligence over someone who remembers every flavor of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. It just means you like Tolstoy, get over yourself. 

    But for me, reading middle grade and YA changed my life, shaped me as the adult today who loves to read all kinds of literature—except, maybe one more tedious article about why YA sucks. To that I would like to say a big like, OMG STFU already, yeah? Totes.

  • On Taking Time Off

    I took about 5 months off from writing, from doing much authorly stuff, as you can probably tell from the tumbleweeds breezing by you on this website.

    It wasn't intentional—in fact, I was on a real writing roll with my newest WIP. But I took on a job, working on this awesome book, and it turned into an all-consuming beast. In order to a do a good job, though, everything else had to take a back seat. 

    When you're not able to write for months because of pure exhaustion and lack of brainpower, you question yourself. "Um, am I even a writer anymore?" True identity crisis time.

    But now I'm back, and feel really sure about one thing: I don't ever want to feel that way again.

    I did a library talk last week about my writing process—the group had a lot of aspiring authors in it—and gave my very bare bones writing tips. I'm not one to spout writing advice because I feel very unseasoned in it and because I feel strongly that everyone needs to figure out their own routines. But it was a good exercise in distilling what works for me and also a good reminder of what I need to do. And it's what I've learned as someone who doesn't have the natural self-discipline to sit and write everyday. Maybe you're that person, too, and might find a nugget of helpfulness in this list. 

    Happy writing!

    xx

  • The Beauty of TMI

    Last night, I was a guest author at this really great book club and they asked some fun questions, but mostly it was a casual hang-out and we talked about books, movies, T.V., everything.

    Afterwards, I was nagged by that ol' familiar feeling: I think I TMI'd again.

    Basically, if you put me in a room with people and they ask me questions, I will say way too much. So much stuff. I have absolutely no mystique. I am as transparent as a window, as forthcoming as a...whatever thing is very forthcoming. And I used to think that was a bad thing, that I should maintain a distance from readers or people I didn't know very well. That only my nearest and dearest should be privy to my real opinions on things.

    But that's not me. At all. 

    My main character, Holly, says what's on her mind a lot because I want to champion that sort of behavior. I completely agree that there is merit to being private, to keeping your mouth shut. But at the same time, I don't think saying what's on your mind a lot should be this thing that's considered distasteful, tacky, or something you need to fix. Yes, there is definitely a TMI threshold for all of us—bowel movements, your sex life, slightly racist thoughts, etc. Keep that shit to yourself. And then, there's always knowing your audience, too. Probably best to not bring up your disdain for religion around a nice group of Christians who are just talking about their love of the Divergent movie. And in fact, I admire people who are mysterious and always manage to say the right thing. Because to me, it's about as mystifying as people who love to run at 6 am every morning.

    I suppose what I like to encourage, or defend, is revealing a lot about yourself to strangers. I think that's ok. I think it shows a generosity of spirit, of wanting to connect to people. And while the consequence of this is sometimes kicking yourself later (WHY did I talk about my love for Zac Efron in front of that astrophysicist???), I like to think that I've fast-forwarded many friendships because of it, and made myself accessible to some of my readers in a way that I wouldn't have been able to do as this aloof, too-cool author person.

    Because, let's be honest, hardly any authors are that cool. C'mon now. We like to sit alone and make up stories.

  • For O, with Love

    I've mentioned several times that the first draft of SINCE YOU ASKED involved an opening with Holly filling out one of those Facebook surveys. Back in the early days of FB, it was good times to fill out these "25 Things You Don't Know About Me!" lists and tag people on it.

    When I was filling one out, I had thought, what if someone answered these really obnoxiously and got in trouble for it? So I went ahead and did it, and Holly was born.

    One of the questions I made up for her was "How many pets do you have?" Her answer to that was something like: "This is the equivalent of asking 'How many gold statues do you have in your house?' Not everyone has pets. I come from a family that doesn't believe in sleeping next to wild animals, thank you very much."

    Why I thought it would be funny to make Holly anit-pets, I don't know. Because I have always, always loved animals. And I was one of those sad kids that didn't grow up with a pet. Because, like Holly 1.0, I wasn't allowed to have pets growing up. The main reason being that my parents thought it would be too much heartbreak if something happened to the pet. My sister and I scoffed at the idea, at how flimsy that excuse seemed at the time.

    We used to try and trick our parents into getting pets—one time even picking up a dying baby rat off the street, gingerly placing it into an Easter basket filled with tissues. It never worked. I lived 18 years in my parents' home without even a goldfish to my name.

    So the first thing I did when I moved across the country, very far from my family, was adopt a kitten. I named her Walnut. She was a 1 lb. tabby with a scratched nose, belly bloated with worms, and the worst farts I have ever smelled in my entire life.

    She was so cute but for the first couple weeks, I had complete buyer's remorse, a pet-mom's version of postpartum depression. I would stare at that fluffball and feel a mix of detachment and burden. I can barely even type that now, it makes me feel so ashamed. But after a couple weeks, something clicked. I fell in love with her so completely. I was willing to walk to the vet in a snowstorm with her cuddled into my coat because she had a little cough. I let her poop in my bed and cleaned it up with zen-like calm. I wiped her butt with a washcloth because she didn't know how. I recorded her playing with string for 15 solid minutes.

    Walnut was my first pet, and eventually she became my family's first pet. I lived with them for a year after moving back to L.A., and my parents fell equally in love. So when I moved in with my now-husband, I let them keep her. She was way too attached to them and that house anyway. She's fat and happy there.

    Then, a few years, ago, I got my second pet. Another cat. This one, a peachy white stray that my husband and I found down the street during a late-night walk. He followed us to our house, then we fed him some salami and he was ours. We named him Oliver, after that most famous of orphans. Then one day we noticed his paw was hurt and took him to the vet. He looked like this after:

    He got lost two days after this photo was taken. We were devastated. Because he was an intrepid outdoor cat, we figured he got attacked or eaten by something in his vulnerable state. One month later, he showed up at our house again—castless and coneless, with a new collar and no tags. Suspicious that he belonged to someone, I wrote a little note with my number and rolled it up into his colllar. That day, a woman called to say that Oliver was her cat. She and her family lived (and still live) five houses down the street from us, exactly where we found him on that night walk. With her two small children, my neighbor said Oliver hadn't been getting the attention that he was used to and she was happy he was living with us. 

    We found out a few things about him:

    1. He was 16 years old.

    2. He was found in a Home Depot parking lot in Atlanta.

    3. His belly once caught on fire when attempting to jump over a bunch of tea lights.

    4. He had a brain tumor and survived.

    5. He was once very obese but lost the weight with the introduction of a new kitten.

    He's been our cat ever since—and he is the best pet to have ever lived. He rides in the car with you, happily. He sleeps on your chest. He follows you on walks around the neighborhood. He eats ice cream off a spoon. He yowls down hallways when he's feeling good. He only drinks running water. He puts his paw on your arm when he wants attention. He sleeps on your head. He likes vigorous pats on his behind. He has a mouth that is black and gross from rubbing it against sharp objects. He has the worst breath which you smell all the time because his face is almost always right next to yours. He will use his litter box no matter where we put it, and no matter what kind of litter or box we change up on him. He doesn't need to hear "no" more than once to never do whatever it is that elicited that no again. If you say "Tree?!" he will follow you to his favorite tree and sprint up the trunk so that you can pat his butt and he can scratch happily. 

    And now he's 20. And sick. And not himself anymore. And I am now keenly aware of what my parents had been shielding me from all those years ago.

    Because it's utter heartbreak.

    I have spent the past few weeks vacillating between despair (watching him fall off a table as his hind legs collapse beneath him) and euphoria (He's purring! The meds are working!). I cry into his soft belly. I feed him with a spoon and wake up at dawn to do it. I check up on him constantly when I'm at work and my husband is home. 

    I would do anything to buy 10 more years of life for the old guy.

    But. My parents were wrong, too. Yes, this is terrible and at the moment I am so sad. But, man. What a gift to have even known this guy for four years. A lot of our friends say that he's lucky to have found us, because of how much attention and love we give him. But I can say, knowing full well how saccharine it may sound, that we are lucky to know him. My life is, and will be, 1 billion times better because I had this cat.

    So I'll spend the next few weeks, hopefully months, spoiling Oliver rotten. Enjoying having this wild animal sleep in my bed next to me. 

  • On Failure and Android Mating

    A few years ago, my friend Derick Tsai moved to Minnesota for his girlfriend who was attending a veterinary program (Spoiler: She's my vet now!) and I had this vague notion that he was becoming a bit of a crazy cat man while over there. 

    Actually, he had gone to take a huge life risk, to leave his city and his own successful design company behind to create something of his own. A graphic novel, a movie—something that was from his heart and not for money. 

    When he moved back to L.A. a few years later, I didn't think that he had failed. I just knew nothing quite gelled. I guess the word failure is something a lot of people avoid to describe their experiences, myself included. (Although, I have to admit, I've failed enough at things in life that I'm no longer very scared of it.) Derick decided to embrace failure, to make something out of it. And it had a lot to do with a man who drew with his eyes. 

    He has a cool story. An inspiring one. And TED asked him to talk about it, at TedxYouth in San Diego. Watch it, and get that kick in the butt that we all need once in awhile to plunge in and really really pursue that thing. To let go of all the insecurities and doubt, because every single creative person I know has them. For me, it took years of trying to find the right fit in book publishing to realize that the best fit was becoming an author myself. Or at least one of the many things I'd like to do in life—one of the many ways to tell the stories I want to share with the world.

    For anyone creative out there, this talk is for you.

    Congrats Derick, I'm so proud of you dude. Also, android mating rituals? You perv.

  • Looking Forward

    Every year that I've had a blog, I've always done a year in review type post. And I always enjoy it, it's a great time to reflect and make a lot of fun lists.

    But this year? WAS TOO MUCH!

    So many amazing highs and lows and new experiences that a blog post attempting to summarize it all would fail in every way. Also, I am a smidge too lazy for that sort of thinking at the moment.

    Instead, I'd like to start my first post of 2014 by looking forward.

    2013 was my debut year, so it will be hard to beat. But, still so many things to look forward to:

    - More bookish events! (Check out my events page on occasion to be updated) A highlight of 2013 was going to panels, festivals, and various book events. Not only did I feel slightly badass (booknerd badassery that is), but there's nothing really more rewarding than meeting readers in person. Or having a stranger buy your book because of your panel or event. A STRANGER BOUGHT MY BOOK? MY MOM DIDN'T GET THIS FOR YOU FOR FREE? Very cool. Although sometimes there is a bit of anxiety, like below.

    - Knitting. I failed completely this year in knitting—again, just too busy. It's a hobby that I truly love and want to keep nurturing and now I have a reason for more knitting projects: A new nephew!

    - Swimming, spinning, and hiking. I took a hiatus from my normal routine of spinning + ballet this year and it's taken a mental and physical toll (YAY 30s METABOLISM). Can't wait to get back on the saddle (heh) and also integrate some other activities—like my all-time favorite exercise, swimming! Also, need to take better advantage of all the awesome hiking trails in LA, so easy to get too cozy in one's home.

    - Writing in this chair. Best Christmas present ever.

    - Growing more edibles. My only gardening successes this year were succulents and grasses. Terrible. No matter how crazy my life gets, I really want to spend more time outside in the dirt. 

    Gardening PLUS cats???? 

    - SO MANY BOOKS. I kinda OD'd on YA this year, being my debut year and getting a little caught up in this world. I may take it easy on YA and integrate some nonfic and adult fic again into my life. But who knows? SO MUCH GOOD YA!! Started off 2014 finishing Amanda Sun's INK and starting Cheryl Strayed's TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS. Really enjoyed INK (contemp YA fantasy set in Japan? YES PLEASE), and so far absolutey enthralled and moved by TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS.

    - Far-off Travels. I'd love to keep visiting new cities in the U.S. for book events, but I also hope to squeeze in at least one big international trip. Husband and I are considering Korea or Paris...he's never been to Korea, I've never been to Paris! Or, we might fulfill husband's LOTR nerd dream of visiting New Zealand...stay tuned.

    - Growing my friendships with all the authors I've met this year. Really, so invaluable and wonderful. Us crazies get each other in a way that the normals don't. I look forward to more wine-fueled rants! (My ranting has earned me the nickname of KanYA by a friend of mine.)

    Happy reading in 2014, everyone!

  • Gomaps!

    My Korean American friends and I have a habit of abbreviating Korean words and phrases, totally butchering them, rendering them unrecognizable to Korean ears. One of my many favorites is, "Gomaps," short for "Gomapseumnedah" which is the longass formal way of saying, "Thank you."

    So, here is my Thanksgiving thank you list—hideously abbreviated as really it should be miles-long. 

    Thank you to everyone who bought my book.


    You all preordered, you ordered the day of my release, you ordered two copies, you ordered multiple copies for you and your friends and your friends' mothers. You helped me sell out my book signing, multiple Amazon re-stockings, and all else. You rule.

    Thank you to everyone who spread the word about SINCE YOU ASKED.


    You posted on FB, on Twitter, on Instagram. And the best part? Most of you aren't book people—you don't normally talk about young adult novels on your personal social media sites. But you did it out of kindness, support and awesomeness. 

    Thank you to bloggers and readers who made this experience UNREAL.


    You know who you are. Your gifts, words of lurve, and all else made all of this worthwhile. I feel incredibly lucky all the time.

    Thank you to all my fellow YA authors who have become indispensable allies during this debut year of ours...you have saved my sanity, made me snort-laugh, and taught me so much. 

     
    Why do we all have Sanrio keychains? 

    Thank you to the librarians and independent bookstores.


    All authors everywhere thank you so much. Thanks for having me at your events and for being such a warm introduction to the reading community. 

    I know there are a million other things to be thankful for that aren't related to my book, but this is my author blog and it was my debut year and I'm too lazy to list everything so...

    one last general THANK YOU that encompasses everyone who was awesome and you know who you are. 
     

  • Hi. No thinking ahead, just photos.

    Sorry it's been so long since my last blog post. I know you are ALL clamoring for more blog posts in general, right? There's just not enough Internet to entertain us!

    I have just been...busy. Busy with work, writing, and book promo. I barely have time to pepper my cat with oppressive kisses. I've decided to do NaNoWriMo for the first time in my life and while it's scary and stressful as hell, it's also quite exciting. I've grown to really love the writing community, especially YA and kid lit in general.

    So I'll post some pictures from fun things I've done the past few months, the things keeping me away from Blog.


    What happens when you're busy. Clothes explosion.


    This calms me down in the midst of extreme too-muchness.


    Had a blast the SCIBA dinner—watched my pal Jon Klassen win yet another award and my other pal Kazu Kibuishi sign prints of his Harry Potter covers for a long line of fans. So proud of them, I love these guys.


    Did a panel at the West Hollywood Book Fair (haha, not my panel, this one features my friends Amy Spalding, Sarah Skilton, and Steph Kuehn), with the lovely Marni Bates and David Iserson


    The other thing consuming my life right now—comics. Can't discuss yet, but when I do, get ready to be super jeals.


    Oh, also, I won $50 off a scratcher. A life highlight.


    Something else consuming my life: SCANDAL. Also, I paused on this scene because that's my friend Brendan Hines there playing the (ill-fated) journalist. 


    One of my favorite events this year, the Los Angeles Public Library Teen Book Fest. I was on a couple panels with delightful folks like Bill Konigsberg, Kristen Kittscher, Amy Spalding, Lindsey Leavitt, and Ned Vizzini. Got to talk to a lot of great readers, too. I loved it.


    My lovely cousin-in-law Nancy, invited me to speak to her class. It was the most fun I've had—smart, adorable kids. They screamed in excitement when I walked in, I know what it's like to be a Beatle now.


    I drove up to Oakland to speak at the Oakland Public Library's Asian Branch. I made all my Nor Cal friends come out because I was scared no one would show as it was just me! Nerve-wracking but my friends pulled through—some of whom I haven't seen in years. I love everyone. And yes, that is my author photo shirt, I only wear that shirt ever.


    I was super excited for the Vegas Valley Book Festival—but things didn't go according to plan. My flight was one hour after the LAX shooting in the infamous Terminal 3. It's a very strange feeling to know you were that close to a horrific event, and even stranger to feel simultaneously relieved and enraged. Mass shootings becoming commonplace is just NOT okay. 


    But I made it. And I had such a blast.


    The Definition of Me panel, me looking like a space cadet.


    The highlight was definitely meeting my fellow Lucky 13s: Lydia Kang, Nicole McInnes, and Leila Howland. They were as awesome in real life as they are...online. Hehe, sounds creepy that way, doesn't it.

    Which brings me up to speed with this week. Headed to New York tomorrow and doing another book event with some more lovely Luckies! 

    So, this is why Blog has suffered. Thanks for coming back, regardless of flakiness. I promise to be better. 

    xo

  • Breaking Bad Habits of Judginess

    Weeks after the finale and Internet fervor, I'm talking about Breaking Bad again.

    (my friend Bannister created a series of amazing iconic car posters, see the rest here)

    I was not a BrBa diehard at first—in fact, the entire premise put me on edge and I found it so depressing. Cancer + drugs + desperation + desert suburbia + impending doom = the perfect cocktail of D:

    But, like almost all other humans who have watched the show, I got hooked. Because, man, the story.

    You know, being a writer and having a screenwriter for a husband, with writers/storytellers as friends—you get pretty sick of hearing people talk about story. Seriously, if you want me to start snoozing in front of your face just use the word "story" once and I'll be slumped over, near-dead. I don't care if you're Stephen King, I really despise talking about story. It's partially because when I write, it takes a backseat to everything else. I care about moments, characters, about how they talk, if they make you laugh or feel something. Authenticity and warmth. I thought that this was all separate from story. 

    But. Breaking Bad proved to me that what I love most about writing and reading IS all part of story. Walter White—his duplicity, his panic, his smugness, his pratfalls—it was all story. Not just because of the change his character went through, but because all the nuances of his character told a story about him and the people surrounding him. Man, what a good story.

    I think part of what bothers me about story-talk is the kind of "rule" feel to it. I'm resistant to it not only because of sheer arrogance, but because I get overwhelmed by all the tips and tricks, and I also firmly believe that everyone is different and there's no right way to do anything creative. 

    That said: Story matters, you guys. It doesn't just mean James Cameron regurgitated schlock (sorry, I hated Avatar more than anything in the world). Or plots that follow some tidy magical formula. It means…caring about what happens. And that happens with good characters.