Join me in welcoming Natasha Yim to Highlighted Author.
Natasha is a Northern California children’s book author, freelance writer, and playwright. Her first picture book, Otto’s Rainy Day, was published by Charlesbridge Publishing, and her picture book biography, Cixi, The Dragon Empress, was released by Goosebottom Books in October 2011. Sacajawea of the Shoshone, the amazing story of the Native American teenager who traveled the west with Lewis and Clark hit the bookshelves in October 2012. She has also published non-fiction articles in the children’s magazines, Highlights for Children, Appleseeds, and Faces, and for adults in local and regional publications such as Mendocino Arts, Vibrant Life, and UnchARTed magazines. Her ten-minute plays have been produced and performed in venues around Northern California–Ukiah, Santa Rosa, Guerneville—as well as in Los Angeles, and Sydney and Brisbane, Australia.
Born Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, she grew up in Singapore and Hong Kong. She came to California in 1979 to attend Dominican College (now University) where she graduated with a B.A. in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis and a M.S. in Counseling Psychology. As a Social Worker, she worked primarily with emotionally disadvantaged children in group home and foster home settings, and with Child Protective Services. Since 2000, she has been busy raising three children and working on her writing. She’s on tour with her new release, Sacajawea of the Shoshone, and I’m proud that she has made Highlighted Author part of her world wide web travels.
Welcome, Natasha, when did you decide to be an author? Do you remember how old you were? The moment? (tell us about it)
When I was in 7th grade, an English teacher gave us a creative writing assignment in which we had to create an island, illustrate it with made-up lakes, rivers, mountains, towns etc., and write a story about it. It was so much fun, I’ve been hooked on writing stories ever since. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 11, and used to journal daily and write poems and short stories in my teens, but I didn’t get serious about my writing until after college.
What genre do you most enjoy writing? Reading? Why?
I enjoy writing for children. I’ve published mostly picture books, but I also like writing for an older audience and have some middle grade/young adult projects in the works. At one point, I thought that I would try my hand at an adult novel at some point, but I’ve discovered that I actually have no interest at this time in writing for adults. There’s a certain awe and wonder that children exhibit when you put a good book in their hands or read them a story they really connect with that’s not only refreshing and delightful, but very rewarding to an author. Most adults will read a book they like once then pass it on, but kids will ask for a favorite book to be read over and over again. My reading tastes are a little eclectic. I like to read anything from the classics (Jane Austen is still a big favorite of mine, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Lucy Montgomery) to contemporary writers like John Irving and David Sedaris. I tend to favor humorous books and am a great fan of Louise Rennison’s The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson Young Adult series. I’ve also been reading a lot of Young Adult and middle grade novels lately because that’s the genre I’m currently interested in writing and also because my daughter is reading those books so I’m trying to find out what she’s reading.
You’ve been very busy with your appearances at schools and organizations. What’s it like to share your books and skills with others? Please tell us about it.
When I had my first reading/book signing for my picture book Otto’s Rainy Day at a local bookstore twelve years ago, I was petrified! In a debilitating way. I asked my brother-in-law to read the book! But Practice makes Perfect, so the more I do presentations, workshops and appearances, the more comfortable I am in front of an audience, and now I don’t really get that nervous anymore. Believe me, it took a lot of pushing myself to get up in front of people and to grab any opportunity for speaking engagements to get me over the hump! Sometimes you have to jump blindly into the fray, because the only way to get over that fear of public speaking is to do as much of it as possible. The key is preparation. The more prepared I am, the less nervous I get. I used to be terrified of doing school visits too, and in the beginning, I’d much rather go to a school five different times to visit individual classrooms than to do one huge assembly in front of 300 kids. I did my first assembly in Spring of this year, and have done several since then, and now I really enjoy them and school visits in general because you get to connect with the kids who are your audience. They have such openness, tremendous curiosity and they LOVE meeting authors. We have a certain rock-star status with kids that’s really fun. At events, I try to focus more on connecting with the audience than on the nuts and bolts of my presentation and this helps to alleviate the anxiety. I’m a people person and I like the give and take of interaction. I’ve also discovered Power Point which takes a lot of the stress out of appearances because you can do really fun visual things on a screen which then takes the focus off you as the speaker. Kids love to see pictures of my family and pets and old pictures of me as a kid. It brings the author down to their level—hey, we were kids once too and we have normal families just like them. They also love it when I show all the editorial mark-ups I get on manuscripts, just like when a teacher corrects their homework. It makes them realize that writing is hard work and stories don’t just appear in book form as they see it at the bookstore. I also enjoy sharing my journey and process as a writer with other writers at workshops and conferences. We all had to start somewhere and I like to encourage other writers to keep trying and not give up in the face of rejection because we’ve all had to go through it. One of my favorite quotes is from Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull: A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.
Would you share the radio interview with the Stories for Children show on the World of Ink Network that you appeared on so that we can listen in?
My picture book biography Cixi, The Dragon Empress, which was released in Oct. 2011, is part of Goosebottom Books’ six-book series The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames. Each book in the series is written by a different author. Gretchen Maurer, the author of another dastardly dame Mary Tudor, Bloody Mary is a friend of mine. We live in the same town and have been in the same writing group for years so we decided to join forces and share the costs for our blog tour with World of Ink which occurred during the month of November 2011. As part of the blog tour package, we were interviewed on the Stories for Children network on blogtalk radio which aired on November 14, 2011.
Who do you find to be your greatest supporter? Why?
Other writers. I’ve been a part of two writing groups, have attended countless writer’s conferences and workshops, am a regular participant in the Green Gulch writer’s retreat, and have networked with many writers over the years at these events. Large as it is, the children’s book writing community is very close knit. Everyone is extremely supportive of each other. I think mainly because we all have struggled to get our foot in the door and to get noticed by an editor or agent, we know how hard it is and how much work it takes, so there is a lot of encouragement and support and “don’t give ups”. It takes another writer to know what you’re going through as a writer in terms of rejections, revisions, writer’s block, mediocre sales, poor turnout at book readings or signings and other literary disasters.
Where do you get your inspiration for your books?
Inspiration can strike anytime, anywhere. The idea for my first book Otto’s Rainy Day came to me while I was staring out of the window at the rain. I have another project I’m working on that was inspired by a friend’s son’s love of dance and theatre. In recent years, I’ve been more interested in tapping into my cultural roots and have focused more attention in including multi-cultural elements into my work. The topic of Cixi, The Dragon Empress was already selected in that the publisher selected the six dames they wanted to feature, but the authors got to choose the dame they wanted to write about, and I chose her because she was Chinese and I was interested in Chinese culture and history. I currently have two middle grade/young adult novels I’m working on that have female Chinese protagonists. One’s a contemporary Chinese American girl and the other is a historical fiction set in China.
Being a busy mother, what does your writing schedule look like?
I try to get up at 5 every morning and write till 7 when my kids have to get up for school. I used to allow for Sundays as my sleep-in day, but my kids sleep in on weekends, so now I still keep to the 5 am schedule when I can as I can usually squeeze a little more writing time in. I also try to get a few hours of writing in while they’re in school, while trying to weave in workouts at the gym, grocery shopping etc. and volunteer time at my kids’ school. There is just never enough time in the day!
Tell us about your featured book.
Sacajawea of the Shoshone, which has just been released in October, will be a new addition to Goosebottom Books’ first series The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses. It’s the biography of Sacajawea, the Native American girl who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition of the American West. She’s an amazing woman with a fascinating story and I’m so lucky to be able to write about her.
Now, don’t be shy with this one. I’d like you to share some tidbits of praise for it.
Since it’s just been released, I don’t have any reviews yet (please feel free to write one) but librarians and teachers have expressed a lot of interest in it.
However, here is what people have said about my last book Cixi, The Dragon Empress:
“It is a wonderful read and an evocative story that most kids will be able to sink their teeth into. It is a sad and inspiring story at the same time. But it has a depth that is rarely found in a children’s picture book.”—BlogCritics, Irene Roth
“Natasha Yim has done an excellent job of putting together this factual book. The history and behind the scenes look at a woman who crumbled an empire will have young readers turning the pages and looking up the history for themselves.”—Good Reads, Kristi Bernard
Would you share an excerpt with us?
Sacajawea of the Shoshone
Clouds of dust swirled across the plains, kicked up by galloping horses. Screams shattered the autumn air. Arrows arced in the crisp blue sky, sprung from Shoshone bows, but they were no match for the Hidatsa warriors’ guns. Through the smoke of musket fire, Sacajawea saw men fall. Her heart thudded against her chest. She raced over brush and brambles, the berries she had been picking scattering around her feet. If she could cross the river, she might be able to get away. One minute, her legs churned against the swift current, the next, a pair of muscular arms scooped her up, carrying Sacajawea far away from her tribe and family—and into history.
In November, seven months after Sacajawea set off from Fort Mandan, she finally heard the roar and crash of ocean waves. She felt their force as they rocked the boats at the mouth of the Columbia River. The Pacific Ocean was near! But these powerful waves made it impossible to get any closer to the sea along their water route. They had to camp inland a few miles away. As winter was approaching, and deep snow in the Rocky Mountains would make it impossible to cross back over, they decided to wait till spring to head back east. They built a fort in a protected grove of pine trees, and sheltered there through the damp, gloomy days.
One day, a local tribe brought the Corps blubber from a whale that had washed up on the beach. Lewis and Clark thought it was delicious, and formed a small group to see the “Big Fish” and get some more blubber. Sacajawea wasn’t included. As you can imagine, she was really upset. She had come such a long way, and she still hadn’t seen the “Big Water.” She wanted to see the “Big Fish” too! The Captains finally agreed, and Sacajawea made the five day trek with Pomp to the Pacific.
There are no records of Sacajawea’s reaction, but it must have taken her breath away to see the wide expanse of water stretching for miles to the horizon, and to finally breathe the salt-laced air. The sight of that immense whale, the largest animal any of them had ever seen, must also have struck her with awe and wonder.
Thank you so much, Natasha, for being with us today. It was wonderful having you.
Thank you, Charlene, for hosting me. It was a pleasure!
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Here’s where you can find Natasha: