Stacey Lee is an award-winning author of historical and contemporary young adult fiction, including UNDER A PAINTED SKY, OUTRUN THE MOON, winner of the 2017 Pen Center Award for Young Adult Fiction and the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association YA Book of the Year, THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE, which sold in eight countries, and her most recent THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL, which received five starred reviews and which Booklist called “Spectacular." Her books have been selected for the Amelia Bloomer list for feminist fiction, the as well as the YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults List, and the New York Public Library's Best Books for Teens. A native of southern California and fourth-generation Chinese American, she is a founder of the We Need Diverse Books movement and writes stories for all kids (even the ones who look like adults). Find her @staceyleeauthor on Instagram and Twitter.
You write novels for teens that are incredibly rich, informative and fresh. Your fourth historical novel, LUCK OF THE TITANIC, out next May, is the fictionalized account of Chinese passengers of the Titanic. How much research did your book require? And how do you balance facts and fiction?
It takes about six months of research to get myself grounded in a place and time. When I start writing, I research issues as they come up, and they come up often! For LUCK OF THE TITANIC, I had to read blueprints of the ship. I love learning new things, but I’m not going to lie, it was tedious and I think I dropped some vision points! As far as how I balance fact and fiction, I try must best to adhere to the facts as much as possible, but I have changed facts in the service of the story. For example, sometimes I will change the timing of events to fit better with the timing of my story. There’s a reason it’s called historical fiction, and my goal in telling a story is not to give you a history lesson, but to take you on a journey.
How does your culture(s) influence your writing? And vice-versa, can you say that writing made you discover things about your culture(s)?
It’s definitely affected the kinds of subjects I write about; I’m always trying to find those stories you don’t hear about, the ones that fall into the cracks. For Asian Americans, our stories have only been partly told, and often by people who have no business telling them. I definitely learn as I go; for example, I did not know Chinese were brought into replace field slaves after the Civil War until I started researching how Chinese ended up in the South. These are the kinds of stories we should hear about, because they show how important Chinese were to the fabric of this country.
What’s your least favorite part of the writing process? Why?
The first draft! It’s a hard thing, weaving a story, especially when it comes to about the mid-mark when you have to start making things make sense and come together!
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
About a year, then the editing process takes another year on average.
Samantha, Mercy, Jo… You create leap-off-the-page Chinese heroines and share stories and experiences from marginalized, underrepresented perspectives. What advice would you give writers who aspire to do the same?
Thank you! For many years, publishers told us that stories from marginalized communities wouldn’t sell. I’m so glad the tide is turning on this kind of thinking. And I’d encourage your readers to write about whatever speaks to you, because your passion will show in your writing. We are such a diverse community even within our diversities. Celebrate it, write about it. People want to and need to know.