On February 11, 2017, Saturday, Chinese around the world will be celebrating The Lantern Festival. Families will be appreciating the bright full moon and family reunion, also wrapping up the 15-day-celebration of Lunar Chinese New Year. I thought to myself, what would be better than sharing my interview with Ms. Sylvia Liu, some of her beautiful illustrations, and her lovely children’s book – A MORNING WITH GRANDPA, which won 2013 NEW VOICES Award from Lee and Low, to celebrate the Lantern Festival with all of you. “A MORNING WITH GRANDPA is a lovely story about special bond between grandparent and grandchild and the joy of learning new things together.”
Ms. Sylvia Liu is an amazing and inspirational author and illustrator! She is also the co-founder of KidLit411 (a resource website for kid lit authors and illustrators) and is named by Writers Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers. Before she became a children’s book author/illustrator, she was a lawyer working at the U.S. Department of Justice and the non-profit group Oceana to protecting the oceans.
J.J. Gow: Congratulations on winning the 2013 NEW VOICES Award from Lee and Low for A MORNING WITH GRANDPA, and it is your debut picture book. What does this award mean to you? What is the most valuable lesson you learn during the process of publishing your book? How did you come up with the book idea?
Sylvia Liu: It’s been a thrill from the time I learned I won (December 2013) until publication (May 2016) and up until now. I was inspired by my dad teaching my daughters qi gong (another Chinese mind-body practice). I’ve learned how collaborative the creation of a book truly is – from the comments I received from my critique group to my editor’s insightful suggestions to Christina Forshay’s delightful illustrations to the publisher’s hard-working marketing team.
J.J. Gow: How did you make the career switch from a lawyer to a Children’s book author and illustrator? Do you still practice law? If not, do you miss being a lawyer?
Sylvia Liu: It was a gradual process. I had always written and made art growing up and in college. While working as a public interest environmental lawyer, I took evening art classes. When my girls were 3 and 1, I decided to stay at home and focus on illustrating. Switching from an established career to a creative field at age 35 turned out to be less of a shock than parenting toddlers full-time. It wasn’t until they went to school about 7 years ago that I seriously pursued both writing and illustrating.
I don’t miss the law itself, but I sometimes miss the excitement and sense of purpose of working with really amazing colleagues on important environmental issues.
J.J. Gow: How do you find balance in pursuing writing/illustrating, running Kidlit411, and being a mom?
Sylvia Liu: I’ve learned not to expect to do it all. I let housework slide, I don’t make dinner most nights (you can go a long way with takeout, leftovers, frozen Trader Joe’s food, and breakfast for dinner), and my career has taken longer to get off the ground than if I had no other commitments. I don’t miss my daughters’ games if I can help it, but I will be the mom reading a book or sketching on the sidelines. I spend several hours a week on Kidlit411, so it’s not a huge time commitment. (it helps to have a wonderful Kidlit411 partner, Elaine Kiely Kearns).
J.J. Gow: Your kid lit resource website Kidlit411 is full of valuable information and knowledge and it was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers in 2016 and 2015. Congratulations! How did you co-found KidLit411 and what are your goals for KidLit411 in 2017?
Sylvia Liu: My critique buddy Elaine Kiely Kearns came up with the idea of pulling together resource links in an easily accessible format. I joined her to make the site visually oriented, and together we added elements such as the weekly updates, the author and illustrator interviews, and a Facebook group that has turned into a vibrant community. We also run two other Facebook groups for writers and illustrators to find critique partners (Kidlit411 Manuscript Swap and Kidlit411 Portfolio Critique Swap).
Our goal for 2017 is to continue to bring great content and resources to the kid lit community.
J.J. Gow: Do you attend writers’ or illustrators’ conferences? Which is your favorite and why?
Sylvia Liu: Yes. It took me awhile to realize how valuable conferences are, for both craft and networking. I’ve been an SCBWI member since 2004, but only started going to the New York and Mid-Atlantic conferences and other workshops in the last five or six years.
If I had to pick my favorites, for writing it would be the Better Books Marin Conference, a three-day craft workshop (limited to 25 MG or YA writers) with a stellar faculty. Small groups were paired with an agent or editor and we shared 25 pages of our manuscripts in advance. We critiqued each other’s works and had a full day and a half with our faculty member (in my case, agent Susan Hawk). The other day and a half was craft-based presentations from all of the faculty.
My favorite illustration experience was a six-month mentorship with David Diaz through the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program, open to all SCBWI members. It pairs a mentor with a few writers or illustrators. It begins and ends with in person conferences in Nevada, with an online mentorship in between. A close second was the Mid-South SCBWI Best Dummy workshop where we worked on a picture book dummy for six months prior to the workshop, got feedback from Scholastic editor Orli Zuravicky, and spent a weekend of critiques and art exercises with Grosset + Dunlap Art Director Giuseppe Castellano.
J.J. Gow: Which was your favorite book when you were a child? What memory do you have associating with it?
Sylvia Liu: My favorite series was Lloyd Alexander’s Book of Three series that I read over and over again. It sparked my lifelong love of fantasy and it reminds me of lazy summer days sitting on our apartment’s balcony porch reading.
J.J. Gow: Thank you very much Sylvia to give me the honor to interview you!
For more information about Ms. Sylvia Liu’s book and illustrations, please visit her websites at: http://www.enjoyingplanetearth.com/