February 19, 2010 at 1:52 PM
Please welcome my guest today! Her name is Paula Yoo and she's a violinist and a children's and young adult author. In this interview, Paula talks about her musical background, her books, and the National Picture Book Writing Week, among other things.
Thanks for this interview, Paula. It’s not often I get to interview a violinist who’s also an author. Why don’t you start by telling us a little about Paula, the violinist.
I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl. I was inspired after reading “Charlotte’s Web” in the first grade – I started writing my own stories after reading that book. My first “novel” was a 75-page handwritten book entitled “The Girl Called Raindrop.” (Hey, I was only seven years old at the time!) I actually mailed it in to Harper & Row because they published my favorite series, the “Little House on the Prairie” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. They wrote a very nice letter back saying I should try out for their children’s writing contest. I remember being upset and tearing up the letter because I felt I was not a “child” writer – I was a “real” writer! So I think of that as my first rejection letter! LOL!
Fast forward many years – I was an English major in college, and then received my M.S. in journalism and an MFA in creative writing. I spent the first ten years after college working as a newspaper and magazine journalist. Journalism taught me how to write on deadline – it was a great experience. I then taught for a little bit before switching over to being a full-time TV screenwriter for dramas. During that time, I sold my first two picture books and first YA novel.
Tell us about your books. Are they violin related?
My first two children’s picture books are not violin-related, but I still feel the lessons learned in these books are very similar to what a violinist learns. My first picture book was SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY (Lee & Low 2005). It was a biography of the Olympic gold medalist diver Dr. Sammy Lee. My second picture book, SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY (Lee & Low 2009), came out in July 2009. It is about the ground-breaking actress and first Asian American female movie star Anna May Wong. In both books, Dr. Lee and Anna May Wong worked hard at perfecting their art (for Dr. Lee, it was mastering difficult dives and for Anna May Wong, it was learning the craft of acting). They also struggled to come to terms with their own artistic dreams versus their parents’ dreams for them to have secure lives. Often times, parents want their children to have “regular” jobs and financial security. Pursuing sports or the arts is a very risky dream. I identified with Dr. Lee and Anna May Wong for those same reasons.
My first YA novel, GOOD ENOUGH, was published in 2008 by HarperCollins. This book is based on my own life growing up as a “violin geek.” I have often read books about violinists that come off as very “well-researched,” but do not have the authenticity and “insider knowledge” that a real violinist would have. I tried to bring that authenticity across in my novel. In addition, although my novel is about a Korean American teenaged girl who pursues her love of music despite her immigrant parents’ academic pressure on her, I wanted my novel to strike a universal chord among all teens. So I focused on the universal theme of how teens come of age by learning that sometimes, it’s not about being successful. It’s about being happy. It’s a difficult decision to make, and one that requires a lot of courage for a teenager to make.
How do you divide your time between being a violinist and an author?
I love playing my violin and can’t give it up! I have found the perfect balance in Los Angeles, where there are many freelance music opportunities for professional musicians. Of course my writing deadlines come first – but I try to always make time for music gigs. I have played with the Torrance Symphony and also given chamber music recitals with my friends. I also specialize in electric rock violin and country fiddle/folk music, so I have also had a chance to play with many cool and diverse groups, from the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles to country singer Buck McCoy to the famous No Doubt! I currently am playing with a King Crimson tribute band called THE GREAT DECEIVERS. Our website is here: http://www.myspace.com/tgdkingcrimson We have a gig this Friday Feb. 19th at Paladino’s in Tarazana, CA. I love playing this challenging prog rock music – it’s like a mix of heavy metal, jazz, rock, classical, and experimental music.
I understand you’re the founder of NaPiBoWRiWee (National Picture Book Writing Week). Tell us all about it!
NaPiBoWriWee happened by accident. I was feeling frustrated last year because I hadn’t written another picture book in several months and wanted to keep up the moment I had going with two published picture books. So I decided for one week I would imitate the famous NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) contest and write seven picture books in seven days. I know that writing picture books is a very complex and difficult process – so my goal was to at least come up with seven very rough drafts of seven different stories and then I would pick the best one and work on developing it more. It was totally a silly and fun idea I had to motivate myself. I decided to blog about it, and I invited anyone who wanted to participate to join me on my quest. I also wanted to promote my latest picture book, SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY, so I also had a contest where I would pick a participant by random in a drawing to win an autographed copy of my book! To my shock, HUNDREDS of people emailed me, saying they wanted to participate! What was supposed to be a fun, intimate silly thing ended up becoming a huge event that inspired people who had never written a picture book before. I had people join SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers & Illustrators) because of NapiBoWriWee. I was very proud and happy to have helped all these promising writers finally take that first step on their own writing journeys. It was both touching and humbling. So of course I will have another NaPiBoWriWee this May 2010!
How can one register?
There is no official “registration.” NaPiBoWriWee participants can either email me at paula at paulayoo dot com to request to be put on the list of names I will be collecting for the end-of-the-week prize random drawings. Or they can register on my website at http://paulayoo.com so they can participate in the comments section and forums during the NaPiBoWriWee week. I also collect the names of everyone who registers on my website to include in the prize drawing.
For more info, go here:
And for info on last year’s NaPiBoWriWee, go here:
I will announce the official dates for NaPiBoWriWee 2010 shortly. In
addition, I have a store with NaPiBoWriWee paraphernalia:
Where are your books available?
My books are available at your local bookstore. If they’re not in stock, please request them! You can also purchase my books at amazon.com. My YA novel GOOD ENOUGH is also available as an e-Book on Kindle and other e-reader devices. The official website contacts for these books are listed
GOOD ENOUGH (HarperCollins 2008)
SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY (Lee & Low 2009)
SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY (Lee & Low 2005)
Do you have a website and/or blog?
My website is http://paulayoo.com. I blog on it regularly. You can also
find me at www.myspace.com/paulayoo and my music violin page at
What’s in the horizon?
I am currently Co-Producer on the SyFy original TV series, EUREKA. My previous TV credits include NBC’s THE WEST WING and LIFETIME’s SIDE ORDER OF LIFE. Right now I’m swamped with TV work-related deadlines and responsibilities. So whenever I have some precious free time, I spend that working on a couple new novels and picture book ideas I have that are works-in-progress.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers?
Thanks for reading my books! And if you play the violin – KEEP PRACTICING! Thank you so much for this fun interview!
Thanks for the interview, Paula!
very nice interview
Thanks, Donna. Glad you enjoyed it.
If you have a teenage girl violinist in your life, go read the impressive reviews and first few pages of Good Enough on Amazon (five stars), and then buy it for her. (Laurie: Please add any Amazon referral code V.com has to the URL.)
Written as only a Connecticut All-State Concertmaster can...
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