Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

Changing Your Fortune: a Grace Lin giveaway

So it’s been a week since the New Jersey SCBWI conference. Already?

Well, I am still all fired up and have a busy writing week to show for it! (Many revising hours — very little human contact — or even virtual activity — not as many revised chapters as I’d like for all that work, but that’s another story. Hey, at least there is forward movement. At least it feels like I am getting somewhere.) Sometimes in writing, and in life, the roads are winding.

Do you know the story of Grace Lin, the author of Newbery Honor-winning “Where  The Mountain Meets the Moon?” It’s all over the blogosphere — how she was growing up the only Asian kid in a not very diverse Upstate New York town, how she made herself believe that she wasn’t Asian.

At the beginning of the conference, Grace told us that when she was young, her ambition was to “make the most amazing Sleeping Beauty book of all time.” She studied classical artists, went to Rome to emulate the great masters, and prided herself in creating technically difficult drawings.

Grace Lin’s identity-searching art, while she was in college

But she felt something wasn’t working. Something was off. She started asking herself, “why was I always imitating?”

“I figured out that the reason I wasn’t ever going to become Michelangelo or Botticelli was because I was Grace Lin,” she said during her conference keynote address last Saturday.

“You should be an artist,” she said, “because there is something you really want to share with the world.”

I have some things in common with Grace Lin. Growing up in the Soviet Union, I always felt like a bit of an outsider. By the time I was a teen, I couldn’t wait to cross the ocean. When I got here, I was so ready to embrace everything American — and toss everything Russian into the depths of history. When I first arrived here, the immigration officials stamped my first name with an embarrassingly long  “Yekaterina” spelling that I hated. In a New York City high school, I told new friends to just call me Kate.

Now, eighteen years later, my American skin feels so comfortable. In so many ways it feels truer than the Russian one that never did fit. And yet, I find myself writing a second novel set in the country of my birth — the Soviet Union. “Why do you need the stupid Russia?” my mom asks me. “Americans want to read something American.” And a part of me cannot wait to tell those sorts of stories too. I want to explore my today and my tomorrow, the country I call home. But first, after wanting nothing to do with any trace of Rusian-ness, I dig into these Russian-Jewish stories that are a part of my history. I dig into the past, into the pain.

But back to Grace Lin.

When she started her career with a small publisher Orchard Press as an author-illustrator,  she was ecstatic. Not only was she going to be able to pay some of those bills doing what she loved with her first picture book “The Ugly Vegetables,” but the world was going to finally see her true vision, hear her authentic voice. Except, she had to keep her expectations small. Several times in the beginning of her publishing journey, Grace Lin was reminded that she was a “multicultural author,” even by the editor who first discovered her. Being a multicultural author was great and everything. But it meant Grace’s books were in a niche market, which placed a definite ceiling on how wide an audience she would be able to attract.

“I tried to fight against the multicultural label,” Grace Lin said, “but it was the Asian books I kept getting noticed for.”

And then, of course, she won the Newbery Honor. The book became a New York Times bestseller. Many, many kids of all races are reading it.

“This book melted away all trace of race and gender,” Grace said, “and in that was truly multicultural.”

At the start of the New Jersey SCBWI conference, Grace read from one of the book’s beautiful chapters. She read a story within a story, about doing the impossible — about changing one’s fortune.

I don’t know what can be more inspiring than Grace Lin’s example, and her heroine Minli’s “IMPOSSIBLE” quest of changing her family’s fortune.

Has anyone ever told you that your task was impossible?

If you stop in to say hi here on this blog, one week from today you just might be one FORTUNATE winner of Grace’s inspiring book. Grace autographed it for you, and even sketched in a special lucky rabbit (very timely for the Chinese Year of the Rabbit, by the way). Whether you win this book or not, remember, fortunes can change! 🙂

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June 12, 2011 - Posted by | Personal Mirror, The U.S.S.R., Writing Mirror | , , , ,

12 Comments »

  1. Katia – in regards to your stories – it seems to me that sometimes writers just have to tell their stories first. To get them out of our systems, so to speak, so that we can move on and begin to care about other people’s stories. When my sister read my first manuscript she said, “Joyce, you don’t have to put everything you’ve ever experienced into the first book.” Boy was she right about that. I would never have guessed then, how little incidences, conversations, moments from my life would crop up in so many places within all my books. But I still think I had to write that first book about, what was essentiallly, my life – because after all, it was what I knew! It helped me find my writing voice. It will never be published but it served a useful purpose! (not referring to BFF, here)

    It’s funny though – back when I dreamed of publishing this book I only dreamed of publishing in a Mennonite market – one that would understand me. Like Grace I wasn’t ready to fully embrace and proclaim my heritage to the general public. But I think I was coming to terms with it through my writing.

    I have yet to read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. So please enter me in the contest. I WANT to win it. I do!

    Comment by Joyce Hostetter | June 12, 2011 | Reply

    • Of course, you’re in Joyce!! And yes, we write what we gotta write, don’t we, and let the Universe sort out which stories of ours are meant to be seen.

      Comment by Katia Raina | June 12, 2011 | Reply

  2. Hi Katia, Aren’t SCBWI Conferences wonderful? Thank you for sharing an inside view of Grace Lin and her books. I love the idea of changing one’s fortune. Isn’t that what most of us want?

    Comment by Clara Gillow Clark | June 12, 2011 | Reply

    • Yes, Clara the right conferences are wonderful, and this one definitely was. In fact, I’ll be blogging more about it next week. I have more to share!

      Comment by Katia Raina | June 12, 2011 | Reply

  3. I can relate. There was a time when I wanted to forget my ethnicity and not have people wonder/question about it. I wanted to blend in with everyone else. This was after I moved from New York City to a suburb that lacked diversity.

    I’m so glad that many people are now reading Grace’s work.

    I tweeted and FB’ed your giveaway.

    Comment by Medeia Sharif | June 12, 2011 | Reply

    • Medeia, among other things I was thinking of you when I wrote this post. 🙂 Thanks for spreading the word!

      Comment by Katia Raina | June 12, 2011 | Reply

  4. Hi Katia! I’ve never read any of Grace Lin’s work but from your description of her book it sounds like she offers us a unique perspective on growing up outside of the majority.

    Comment by Stephanie Pyle | June 12, 2011 | Reply

    • Hey Stephanie, so great to hear from you.
      And yes, a unique perspective, totally. But in a way, I think no matter where we grew up, each one of us has that unique perspective to offer the world. And that was the point of her speech. Whether or not you win the book, I hope you get to read it!

      Comment by Katia Raina | June 12, 2011 | Reply

  5. I loved Grace Lin’s talk. It was very moving. Such a privilege to hear her speak, wasn’t it? Great post, Katia.

    Don’t enter me in the contest, since I have my own copy. So let someone else have it. But I will mention your giveaway in my regular Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post tomorrow!

    Comment by Joanne Fritz | June 12, 2011 | Reply

    • That is awesome, Joanne — thank you! Yes, that’s exactly what I felt it was — a privilege. There is such magic about Grace Lin, and I felt as though she shared some of it with us through her talk — and her books.

      Comment by Katia Raina | June 13, 2011 | Reply

  6. It was lovely meeting you at the conference, Katia. I really related to Grace Lin’s keynote as well. I was very moved and found countless similarities to the emotions she expressed. I had fun reading your first pages! The ideas are really fascinating and I hope that you finish it so I can find out about this mysterious Game and the Plague! Hope to see you at another conf soon! Kat Yeh

    Comment by Kat Yeh | June 13, 2011 | Reply

    • Hi Kat — I am sure we’ll bump into one another again sometime, because after the fabulousness of this summer’s conference, I have resolved to crawl out of my writing cave once in a while.
      As for the Game and the Plague, sh-sh-sh. 😉 I showed those to practically noybody yet!! Most people have no idea what sort of story I’ll be writing next. First, must finish these revisions. Sigh.

      Comment by Katia Raina | June 13, 2011 | Reply


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