Today I am thrilled to be hosting Natasha Yim on the 4th leg of her blog tour for Sacajawea Of The Shoshone. Let’s jump right into the interview, shall we? It’s a little long (I apologize – but there are extra cinnamon sugary cider donuts to help sustain you :)) I think you’ll find it very interesting, and I didn’t want to break it in two because it would have required an extra post on a non-posting day. Your reward? (Aside from the extra donuts…) If you read to the end you can have some fun and there’s a chance you could win a signed copy of Natasha’s brand new book!
…which, BREAKING NEWS!!! was just nominated for the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project (Feminist Books For Youth List)!!! (which I happen to know about because Punxsutawney Phyllis was on that list, so Sacajawea is in good company :)) Congratulations, Natasha! 🙂
SLH: Welcome, Natasha! Thank you so much for joining us today! Can you tell us a little about your writing beginnings?
NY: My love of writing began when a 7th grade English teacher gave us an assignment where we had to create our own island and make up names of lakes, mountains, forests, villages etc. and weave a story around it. It was so much fun, I was immediately hooked and I’ve been making up stories ever since. I kept several journals and wrote in them daily. I also kept notebooks where I wrote poems and short stories. My Mom knew of my interest in writing and she was very supportive. She encouraged my creative expression, sometimes reading my stories and offering comments, but mostly just letting me write.
SLH: What was your first published children’s book? Tell us about the moment when you got your first offer!
NY: Otto’s Rainy Day(Charlesbridge Publishing, 2000). For some reason, Charlesbridge was the only publisher I sent this manuscript to (maybe it was because they wanted exclusive submissions at that time? I can’t remember), but I sent it out and went on to work on other things. The guidelines said they would respond in 3 months. 3 months went by and nothing happened. At the 6 month mark, I received my SASE back. I could feel my heart dropping thinking this was a rejection letter. It wasn’t. The letter said they were really backlogged and hadn’t gotten to my manuscript yet, and to be patient because they will read it—eventually. I remember thinking how nice that was. Usually, you just don’t hear from publishers unless they reject or accept your work. At the 9 month mark, I received a phone call from the editor. I was soooo excited, thinking this was it. This was THE call. It wasn’t. The editor had called to say they were still really backlogged and were catching up on reading manuscripts and that she promised I’d hear from them soon. After my initial disappointment, I thought “Now, that was really nice of them”. Usually, publishers don’t bother to call unless they want your work. Finally, one year after I submitted the manuscript, I got a call from the editor who told me that they wanted to publish my book! My heart leapt into my throat, I was so excited but I had to limit my exuberance because they had called me at work. I did tell my co-workers and allowed myself a few “woo-hoos”. And I did tell my husband who was my boyfriend at the time. My family lived overseas (my parents in Hong Kong and my sister in Australia) so I had to wait until I got home to tell them.
SLH: How did you go about doing the research for Sacajawea Of The Shoshone? Was there anything different or interesting about getting the art for a historical type book?
NY: There weren’t a whole lot of adult books on Sacajawea. Mostly, she gets a mention in books about Lewis and Clark. However, there were quite a few books about her in the juvenile section of the library, so I read about six books on her and browsed about a dozen websites. I found a really good Shoshone website that gave a very comprehensive overview of Sacajawea’s life plus interesting information like the meaning and spelling of her name. The internet is great for immediate access but you have to be careful about the information on there as there are a lot of misleading information out there, so I did a lot of cross-referencing with books. The publisher and art director are the ones who are responsible for the visual layout of the book including the illustrations. It’s one of the unique features of the Goosebottom Books books that they use a combination of real-life photographs and illustrations. For photographs, you have to get permission from the appropriate people and get permission to use the pictures, and all that was handled by the publisher. There is also one illustrator for each series so that the books in that series has a uniform look. The Real Princesses series is illustrated by Albert Nguyen, so when Sacajawea was added, he naturally became the illustrator for this book.
SLH: What surprised you the most when you were writing Sacajawea of the Shoshone?
NY: Though Sacajawea has often been mistakenly labeled as the expedition’s “guide” and her name only comes up about 8 times in the Lewis and Clark journals, her presence on the trip was nonetheless invaluable and without her, the expedition could have failed at several points. Not only was she instrumental in providing food for the Corps of Discovery; she gathered edible plants and roots to supplement the game they hunted or in place of game if it was scarce, she patched up and made new moccasins for the men as they were continuously being ripped up by the rough terrain, she saved most of Lewis and Clark’s important instruments and documents when the boat in which she was riding almost capsized, she prevented other native tribes from attacking them because the presence of a woman and a baby indicated that the Corps was not a war party, and as the only Shoshone language speaker, she successfully negotiated for horses that helped the expedition cross the Rocky Mountains. Sacajawea’s contributions have left an indelible stamp on the history of the American West. Today, there are three mountains, two lakes, and twenty-three monuments named after her, yet her tribe, the Shoshone, are still fighting for Federal recognition. That, to me, is not only incredible, it’s outrageous!
SLH: What has been the most challenging thing you have faced as an author/illustrator?
NY: Everything about writing is hard. It’s hard work to make your story as perfect as possible before you send it out. It’s really hard getting the attention of someone who likes your story. If you’re lucky enough to be offered a contract and get your book published, getting it the attention it deserves and the marketing and promotion of it is challenging. But I think for me, the most challenging part was getting over my fear of public speaking and realizing this was something authors had to do. Only this year did I start to agree to assembly-type school visits but having done a few of those, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be, although all the ones I’ve done, I’ve done with another author. It might be a whole other level of anxiety if I have to do assemblies alone.
SLH: Do you do school visits? Would you be kind enough to briefly describe your program/presentation? What is your preferred age range and group size? Do you have materials available for parents/teachers to go along with your books(s)?
NY: I do do school visits. The kind of program and presentation depends on the age groups, the needs of the teacher, and the book I’m promoting. For example, sometimes the teachers have been working very closely with their students on practicing writing and editing their work so they’ll want me to talk about my writing process. I’ll show them my edited manuscripts with all the mark ups so they can see good writing takes work and practice. If I have it, I’ll show them the original manuscript and then the final accepted one, and read passages as a before and after comparison. For larger audiences like assemblies, I like to use power point presentations because kids tend to be more engaged with visuals. I do a little intro of myself and show pictures of me as a kid, my kids, my pèts, my workspace etc. I can also show slides of the page excerpts I’m reading and the illustrations which are easier to see on a large screen. For individual classrooms, I’ll sometimes conduct writing exercises. For the biographies, I’ll have the kids pair up and “interview” each other then write a biography of their partners from their interview notes. For younger kids, I have coloring pages and sometimes the teacher or librarian and I will come up with related activities. For a recent library event, I presented Cixi, The Dragon Empress and we had a Chinese fan making activity. Every age group can be fun but I love the 4th to 6th graders. Not only are they the age group for the Cixi and Sacajawea books but they’re the most engaged and the most engaging. They always ask such great questions. You can access and download my school visit program at: http://www.natashayim.com/file_download/13/School+visit+program.pdf
SLH: What advice do you have for authors/illustrators just starting out?
NY: Keep writing and keep trying. Editors and agents have such different tastes. Just because you get rejected by one doesn’ t mean the next one won’t love your work. My upcoming book Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2014) was rejected by several publishers. Author Richard Bach once said, “a professional writer is an amateur who didn’ t quit.”
|Natasha’s work space (which, incidentally is a LOT neater than mine :))
SLH: Can you give us any hints about what you’re working on now?
NY: I have a couple of middle grade/YA projects in the works and a picture book manuscript.
SLH: Do you attend writer’s conferences? Enter contests?
NY: Yes. I’ m a conference junkie. I LOVE writing conferences because I always learn so much and I get to network with other writers. I rarely enter contests though just because I don’t really have the time.
SLH: Any marketing tips? What have you done that has worked well?
NY: This is in line with a recent question I received on my blog from Amanda J. Harrington who asked, “What is your best marketing strategy for building up a following on line?” I promised to provide a link to whoever posted a question on one of my blog tours. So, here it is: www.thewishatree.com. Please hop over and check out Amanda’s site.
My marketing tip is that every writer has to do some of it. How much or how little will depend on your comfort level and how much time you can afford. I have a blog, Facebook , twitter, Pinterest. I do school visits, book festivals, public speaking engagements. But it’s really difficult to gauge how effective each aspect of marketing is because there is no measurable yard stick that tells you if you do a, b & c, you will sell x amount of books. However, what I do know is that people can’t buy your book if they don’t know it exists. To answer Amanda’s question, in terms of building up a following on line, here’s what I’ve learned:
1) When I first started my blog, I posted things about my writing life, my home life, how I juggled that with writing, any meagre successes I encountered. But here’s the thing: nobody wants to hear or read about you talking about yourself all of the time. My blog began to feel…well…a little self-absorbed. So, I started incorporating things that I think might be of interest or useful to other people, especially writers, such as interesting writing conferences or retreats, writing tips I’ve gleaned from other sites or articles I’ve read. And now I’ve included a Friday Features segment on my blog that is purely devoted to interviews with other authors. It’s been great fun and I’ve learned so much from the authors I’ve interviewed. Come check out interviews with Deborah Halverson, Linda Joy Singleton, and coming up soon, Gennifer Choldenko (www.writerslife2.blogspot.com).
2) I see this on Facebook groups all the time: “Come read my new blog post.” or “Check out my new blog.” and my question always is “Why?” Generic announcements like this don’t entice me out of my busy schedule to go look at somebody else’s blog or blog post. I have to give credit where credit’s due. Elizabeth Stevens Omlor, the lovely hostess of the fabulous blog, Banana Peelin’: Ups and Downs of Becoming a Children’s Writer (http://bananapeelin.blogspot.com) which features different writers talking about their slips and embarrassing moments on their way to publication, would post upcoming blog posts with teasers such as, “This week we have Cori Doerrfeld, the author/illustrator of one of my family’s favorite reads, LITTLE BUNNY FOO FOO! She reveals her experience managing deadlines after the birth of her first child.” So, if I was a writer with young kids at home and struggling with time management, I might be really interested in what Cori had to say about this.” I think this is a very effective way to attract readers to your blog and I do this now. I’ll find something in a blog post that others might find interesting or useful and mention it in my announcement. For example, for my interview with author and editor Deborah Halverson, I mentioned that she would share tips on the YA market trends and how she started her popular DearEditor.com blog. I’ve had quite a few visitors over to read her interview. The Banana Peelin’ blog will be blog stop #7 for the Sacajawea of the Shoshone blog tour on Oct. 23. Stop on by for my top secret blog post. Shhh…
3) Comment on other people’s blogs or Facebook postings etc. Don’t make it all about you. Congratulate others on their successes, ‘like’ the posts you enjoyed, exchange information. The key word in social networking is “social”.
4) I have a Facebook fan page for Cixi, The Dragon Empress and Sacajawea of the Shoshone. In addition to posting events and book information, I’ll post interesting tidbits about the characters—Cixi’s six inch long fingernails, for example, or a video of the Shoshone Love song on Sacajawea’s page. It makes the pages more fun and interesting.
I don’t know how much of a “following” I have, but my blog has seen an increase of about 4,000 page views since January when I focused on making it more interactive and informative.
SLH: Where can we find you?
NY: You can connect with me on my:
You can find my books at:
Just for fun quick questions:
Left or right handed? Right
Agented or not? Agented: Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary
Traditionally or self-published? Traditional
Hard copy or digital? Hard copy
Apps or not? Not
Plotter or pantser? A converted Plotter. I used to be a pantser, but now I like having some sort of road map to go by.
Laptop or desktop? Laptop
Mac or PC? Oh definitely Mac
Day or night worker? Day, 5 am. to be exact
Coffee or tea? Coffee in the morning and early afternoon, tea in late afternoon and evening
Snack or not? Throughout the day, unfortunately
Salty or sweet? Mostly salty unless you offer me Lindt’s Dark Chocolate
Quiet or music? Quiet but I’m trying nature sounds to tune me into writing my book rather than doing other things like social media, email or marketing stuff
Cat or dog? I’m a dog person but right now we have two cats
Currently reading? LA Meyer’s Bloody Jack Series, my friend Jody Gehrman’s “Babe in Boyland”
If you’d like to read previous stops on Natasha’s tour, please visit:
Natasha, thank you so much for joining us and being so helpful with all your answers!
And now! The moment you’ve all been waiting for – the chance to win a signed copy of Natasha’s gorgeous and informative book (I have it, so I can attest to how interesting it is and how beautiful the art is!)
You know me. I like to make things fun 🙂 So here’s what you have to do to earn a chance to win Sacajawea Of The Shoshone:
In the comments, please answer the question “If you were Sacajawea, what would you have written an article/advice column about?”
Here are a few examples to get your minds in gear… 🙂
“Dress Up Your Teepee: Creative Decorating With Buffalo Hide”
“365 Recipes For Corn!”
“5 Subtle Ways To Let Your Traveling Companions Know It’s Time For A Bath!”
You get an entry for every article/advice column suggestion 🙂 (And OK, if you want to be
boring serious you can :))
But if you’re not feeling creative at this hour on Monday morning I don’t want to penalize you. If you can’t think up an entertaining article, you can just say why you’d like to win the book 🙂
I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with! Comments must be entered by Tuesday October 16 at 11:59 PM EDT. Winner will be drawn at some point on Wednesday or Thursday when I have 5 seconds free by random.org and announced on Friday along with Perfect Picture Books, which, I’m warning you in advance, will be Sacajawea Of The Shoshone, so don’t anyone else plan on doing it 🙂