Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Getting Across The Finish Line: An Interview with Wendy Wan-Long Shang

I'm so excited to have the author of The Great Wall of Lucy Lu which I reviewed last month, here. It is one of my favorite reads so far this year.
Welcome Wendy!

1) Why do you write for children?
     I love every aspect of writing for children. I enjoy the process - imagining the story, writing, and revising. I think it's an honor to write for kids and be a part of their lives. And when I began meeting other children's book writers, I felt like I had found my "tribe".

2) Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer.
      I was originally an attorney working on behalf of children in the juvenile justice system, and I left that work to stay home with my children. Then about six years ago, I received an invitation to a high school reunion, and that got me thinking about what I wanted to accomplish with my life. I realized that I wanted to try to write a book, and on the advice of a friend, I signed up for a class on writing for children at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. It was quite difficult to attend the classes - my husband had to come home early from work to take over for the kids and it was a long slog through Washington's infamous rush-hour traffic to get there. However, once I attended the first class - taught by the wonderful Mary Quattlebaum - I was hooked.
      I began to work on what would become LUCY in the fall of that year, and I wrote about 50 pages in a year. Then I received the call that I had won a Work-in-Progress grant from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. That call was a game-changer; I realized that I had been acting as if the story could not be finished and that I should finish quickly so that I could mention the grant without looking like I had waited too long. I wrote the next 100 pages in 6 months!

3) What was the inspiration for The Wall Of Lucy Wu?                                                         
The real kernel of inspiration for The Great Wall of Lucy Wu came from a relative in China I never met. He had written to my mother, asking her for family photographs because he was researching our family. She sent him some copies, and he wrote back, saying, "I thought I'd never see these photos again." Presumably, the photos had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. I was so blown away by this thought that I wanted to write about it in a way that was meaningful to young people.

4) Tell us about your writing process.
When I start a story, I have an idea of what the climax should be and a general idea of how I want the story to end. Everything else in between is an adventure.

5) What does a typical writing day look like?
There really is no "typical" day for me; having three kids does that! When things are going well, I write for an hour and a half to two hours, and I try to leave the manuscript with a question or idea to gnaw on for the next writing session.

6) Where is your favorite place to write?
I like to write in public places, even if I don't talk to anybody - the local public library or a coffee shop. I'm really lucky - I have four libraries within a 15-minute drive of my house!

7) What did or do you find most challenging in creating the story and getting it published? What do you wish you would have known?
My biggest challenge - and I'm hardly unique in this - is keeping writing at the top of the list. It's so easy (and sometimes tempting) to let chores and the demands of everyday life take over and keep me from writing. I am working on keeping the "nibblers" (the little things that eat away at my time) to a minimum.

8) What kind of marketing have you found to be most effective?
I've been fortunate to have Scholastic's incredible marketing and publicity teams behind my book - I really feel that their support has allowed me to focus on the fun stuff: writing and school visits.

9) What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
I can't remember where I saw it, but the saying that sticks with me is, "The most important job of a writer is to finish."

10) Are you working on a new project? Can you tell us about it?
I'm a bit superstitious about talking about works-in-progress, but I'll tell you a bit about the inspirations: in the early 1970s, my dad allowed a girl on my brother's baseball team, much to the consternation of some of the other parents. In this same time period, Taiwan was beginning a long reign over the Little League World Series.

11) What advice would you give others that write for children?
When you write, think about the children for whom your book will be the most meaningful. When I was in the middle of writing LUCY, I watched Mad Hot Ballroom, a documentary about 5th graders in New York City learning to ballroom dance. There's a moment where they interview different kids - about the opposite sex, I think - and three Chinese girls are included. I started crying when I saw them, because I realized I was writing for them (and the 5th grader inside me) and I hoped LUCY would be a book they would love and relate to. While LUCY is, of course, for many different children (and I have received many letters starting with "I'm not Chinese-American but I understand Lucy's story because..."), having a specific audience in mind helps focus your story and inspires you to get across the finish line!
Find more Wendy:
From The Mixed Up Files

Be sure to check out my review here for great links and more information about her book.


  1. I am reading THE GREAT WALL OF LUCY WU right now! It came to my attention because of your review, Pam! It's such a delightful read.

    Wendy, thank you for sharing insight into your writing world. I especially love the part about being a mom and 'when things are going well,' you can write for (maybe) an hour and half. I totally get that.

  2. I really enjoy author interviews. Thank you both!

  3. This looks like a great book, and author. It's now on my "to read" list.



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