Paula Yoo is a children’s book author and TV writer/producer. Her latest book, TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK (Lee & Low), is a Junior Library Guild “Best Book” selection. Other books include the YA novel GOOD ENOUGH (HarperCollins ’08) and IRA Notables SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY and SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY (Lee & Low Books). She is also a writer/producer for TV drama series, including NBC’s The West Wing, SyFy’s Eureka, Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, and SyFy’s Defiance. When she’s not writing, Paula is also a freelance violinist. She lives in Los Angeles.
For what age audience do you write?
I write non-fiction picture book biographies for the K-3rd grades and YA novels for teenagers. I am also a TV writer/producer for TV drama series.
Henry: Yoo must be a busy lady!
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low Books, 2014). It’s about the life of Professor Muhammad Yunus, who created the Grameen Bank which gave bank loans to impoverished women in Bangladesh. He won the Nobel Peace Prize with Grameen Bank for his pioneering work in the field of “micro credit” which helped people living in poverty become financially independent and self-sustaining. His dreams of eradicating poverty was his way of trying to achieve world peace so nations did not have to fight each other over resources. I also had the honor of meeting and interviewing Muhammad Yunus for this book. (To find out more, see https://www.leeandlow.com/books/2851)
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope my readers not only learn and become interested in the practical aspects of Professor Yunus’s story about money management and how banks work, but that they also embrace the concepts of compassion and generosity in helping those less fortunate than them.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
The most challenging aspect of writing for me is finding the voice of my characters. What is their point of view, their personality, their flaws, and their speaking voice? Once I figure out the voice of my main character, the rest falls into place easily. I can brainstorm plot and structure and problem solve very easily, but the writing doesn’t truly begin until I have nailed down the voice of my main character.
Henry: Interesting how we all take different paths. I focus on story arc first.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
A powerful lesson I have learned as a writer is not to take rejection personally. Yes, we put our heart and soul and even bits and pieces of our real lives and world views into our writing, but in the end, the rejection of my writing is NOT a rejection of myself as a human being. Once I learned to make this distinction, rejection in the world of writing and publishing was no longer a negative thing but a powerful and constructive lesson in learning how to improve my writing and making it bulletproof from rejection.
Henry: Yes, if we took rejection personally, no books would ever get written.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
There is not one specific memorable experience, but I would say overall had I never become a writer, I would not have gained a greater depth of understanding and compassion for people. Being a writer AND a reader of books helps you become more compassionate and sympathetic to people’s problems. I feel that writing and reading books has given me a new perspective on why people behave – and misbehave – the way they do!
Henry: Writers are people whisperers.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
My advice is simple. Anyone can START writing a book. Very few people can FINISH writing a book. Finish your book. THEN go back and revise and submit. You don’t know if a book works or not if you can’t get to the end. A successful published book is one that has been rewritten several times over from beginning to END. If you can commit to FINISHING a completed novel or book, that means you have the stamina and fortitude to accept and work with rejection, criticism and revision to create a powerful piece of work in the end.
Henry: Yes, I think the number of revisions required can surprise new writers.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
I have many favorite quotes about writing. But I’ll stick with the opening sentence of Charlotte’s Web which always reminds me that a book must open with the most intriguing and exciting moment possible.
“‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”
Her dad has an AX? Her dad has an ax and it isn’t even BREAKFAST yet? Why would her dad wake up and grab an ax first thing in the morning? How will Fern’s mother react? So many questions and concerns and suspense happen in my brain immediately upon reading that first sentence. It’s also incredibly economical because you know instantly that it’s morning, Fern has a solid relationship with her mother because they’re getting ready for breakfast together, and that her dad has an ax and is about to do something incredibly powerful that is going to change Fern’s life forever once she finds out the answer to her question. So whenever I’m stuck with my writing and having writer’s block, I always remember the first sentence of E.B. White’s CHARLOTTE’S WEB as my favorite inspirational quote to get me writing!
Henry: Newbery-winning author Richard Peck is a master of the intriguing first sentence.
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
The only ritual I have is to play my violin when I get writer’s block. Aside from writing, I am also a professional freelance violinist. I have been playing the violin since kindergarten. I love playing the violin as much as I love writing. So when I’m stuck, I will play the violin for a bit because it helps my subconscious simmer with ideas and gets me into a really introspective and emotional state. I think writers should all have a hobby or passion outside of writing because it helps open up your subconscious to out-of-the-box creative ideas and solutions for your writing.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Every time someone asks me what superpower I could have, I always instantly think of flying. Even though logically when you think about it, flying is not that practical. It’s cold and turbulent when you’re flying at 3000 feet above the ground. There are other scary birds in the sky who could fly into you. There’s air pollution. And flying means you probably fly about as fast as you’d run on land, and I’m not a fast runner, so flying means it would still take me forever to get from one place to another. A car is much more practical as a means of transportation. But despite all those logical arguments, I STILL want to fly because the view would be spectacular. LOL!
Henry: You get asked that question a lot!? Say, did you read my fictional interview of Edna Mode (from The Incredibles movie) in which she talks about the challenges of flying!
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would they be?
If I could have three authors visit me for dinner (and assuming that if hey are no longer around, they would not appear in zombie form)… there are way too many authors for me to choose from, but off the top of my head, I’d say Stephen King because I am a horror fiction fan, E.B. White because Charlotte’s Web inspired me to become a writer at age five, and Tom Perrotta because I’ve read all his novels and am a huge fan of his writing voice and style.
Henry: A true horror fan should enjoy meeting a zombie version of Stephen King. Wikipedia helpfully adds:
“Tom Perrotta is an American novelist and screenwriter best known for his novels Election (1998) and Little Children (2004), both of which were made into critically acclaimed, Academy Award-nominated films. Perrotta co-wrote the screenplay for the 2006 film version of Little Children with Todd Field, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. He is also known for his novel THE LEFTOVERS (2011), which has been adapted into a TV series on HBO.”
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
My favorite creature that only exists in literature are the dragons from Anne McCaffrey’s dragon books (Dragon Rider, Dragon Quest, The White Dragon books of Pern and the music-related novels Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragon Drums). I love Ramoth, the regal queen dragon, and Ruth, the quirky and unique runt dragon. I’m a nut about these books and would love to meet and take a ride with these majestic creatures!
Henry: Dragons are a perennial favorite. While I’ve never met a dragon, I’ve done the next best thing, which was to interview Anne’s son Todd McCaffrey for my writing blog.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
When I’m not writing, I like to do four things. 1. Play with my three cats Oreo, Beethoven & Charlotte. (You can follow them @oreothecatyoo on Twitter!) 2. Eat gourmet Top Chef-type food at cool trendy restaurants or authentic hole-in-the-wall diverse spots in LA because I’m a diehard foodie at happy hour budget prices. 3. Read books. I’m a bookworm who devours several books a week. 4. Watch TV or go to the movies.
Henry: 5. Answer silly blog interview questions.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
The first thing that popped into my head was “She worked hard.” Because I do. Writing is hard work. Period.
Where can readers find your work?
Readers can find my books at your local bookstore (please support your local independent bookseller!) and on Amazon and other online retail stores. You can also find my picture books at https://www.leeandlow.com, and my novel GOOD ENOUGH at http://www.harpercollins.com/9780060790905/good-enough. For more info, visit my website: http://paulayoo.com.
This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.