Linda Sue Park Q & A
with Newbery Winner, Linda Sue Park
Many thanks to Jeff Sampson for editing this transcript for us
Close Window to Return
LINDA SUE PARK CHAT TRANSCRIPT - 10/8/2002
Linda Sue Park is the author of four novels for young people, including A SINGLE SHARD (2002 Newbery Award winner) and WHEN MY NAME WAS KEOKO. Five picture books are forthcoming, and she has also published poems, short stories and essays for the adult market.
Linda Sue worked at various writing jobs for many years, including public relations work, food journalism and freelance editing. Since childhood, however, her first love has always been children's literature. You can learn more about her and her work at her website: http://www.lindasuepark.com
JEFF: Before we begin--Ohmigod, Linda Sue! I love you! EEEEE!
LINDA SUE PARK: Jeff--Thank you. I love you too.
[Editor's note: She loves me! EEEEE!]
VERLA KAY: And now we'd all like to give you a terrific round of applause for being here and sharing with us, but mostly for being YOU and for winning the NEWBERY, Linda Sue!
[And thus the applause and cheers begin...]
VERLA: Whistle Whistle Whistle... WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! YAY!
JEFF: Woo and hoos all around!
* Elsbet claps enthusiastically!
AGY: Wooohoooo LSP!
PAULA LESSO: Clap clap clap!! Thank you for coming!! You rock!
NARNIA GAL: Whhooooo Hoooo!
* Chas_ applauds
DE: Thanks LSP... Yeah!
NARNIA GAL: Are we allowed to stomp?
* Jeff stomps
NARNIA GAL: Guess we are...
AGY: OW Narnia and Jeff, watch the toes.
NARNIA GAL: Wear your steel tips, Honey!
SUE A: Jeff, you're going to break the table...
SUE A: Yeah, Linda Sue!
* Linda Sue Park tries to curtsy. Trips.
PAULA LESSO: LOL
NOTE: LOL = Laughing Out Loud
VERLA KAY: LOL LS
TEM2: Good to "see" you again, Linda Sue. :D
NOTE: :D = a sideways "huge grin"
LYRA: Congrats on your success, LS.
[...Applause and congratulations end and a gracious Linda Sue takes the stage.]
LINDA SUE PARK: Thanks, everyone, and hi Tem. It's always so nice to come in here and see so many folks from the 'old' days, and meet new ones as well!
VERLA KAY: Okay, Linda Sue, you are ON. Do you have any words of wisdom for us to begin?
LINDA SUE PARK: DEFINITELY no wisdom, Verla--I'm just as clueless as ever. So I'd be happy to start right in with the questions.
VERLA KAY: LOL Linda Sue. I have a question then... How does it FEEL to have won this fabulous award? What changes has it made in your life?
LINDA SUE PARK: It still feels unbelievable. I pinch myself at least three times a day, and I mean that literally! I don't know if I'll ever get used to the idea. This year has been a dramatic change, because I've been traveling and speaking, which means NO time to write. That has been a difficult adjustment.
BARRY: That must leave a lot of black and blue marks, LS.
TEM2: Sounds painful, too.
LINDA SUE PARK: Barry, Tem, I pinch myself quite gently. No black and blue, you kinky devils...
[The audience laughs.]
BARRY: Did you ever get one of those personal voice projection systems like Sharon Draper told you to? How's your voice holding up?
LINDA SUE PARK: Hi Barry. Voice doing OK, I try to do only 3 presentations per day at schools and use a mike, learned that the hard way!
LIBBY1: When A SINGLE SHARD first came out, I told you (here in Verla's chat room) that I thought it was Newbery quality. You, of course, were very modest. Did you have a feeling that it was indeed that good?
LINDA SUE PARK: No, I had NO idea. Because I don't know what 'that good' means. I think it varies with each committee and with the books that come out that year.
AGY: I agree with other's assessment that A SINGLE SHARD was flawless. How do you brainstorm for plot and characterizations, and are there any special considerations because you write historical fiction? Your book interwove the two beautifully.
LINDA SUE PARK: Wow, your questions cover lots of ground! But that's great, maybe other people will have their questions answered, too.
OK, plot... I do a very rough outline, which lists a character and a quest. I also know basically how I want the story to end. Other than that, I do not plot my stories ahead of time. I write in scenes. In every scene, the character must either make progress in the quest, or be impeded. If I keep the story headed in the direction of its ending, but with a varied path of progress/impediment, the plot seems to take care of itself.
Characterization: Character is revealed whenever possible through scenes. I have an intense dislike of too much interior monologue--too many of the character's thoughts. If I may be permitted a small rant here...
AGY: But of course.
LINDA SUE PARK: I think the prevalence of psychological introspection in the novel is a post-Freudian development that stops Story dead in its tracks. I think in another hundred years or so, this overemphasis will be seen as the major weakness of the literature of our age. It's the story, Stupid. Story is what endures, is timeless, and transcends barriers of time and culture. So, I spend as little time as possible inside my characters' heads. Sure, it can be interesting to learn a little about their motivation, but what's inside a person's head doesn't mean jack in the end. It's what happens when they're out in the world, when they rub up against people and circumstances, that counts. So I try to limit my characters' thoughts to no more than a couple of lines at the most, a paragraph if I absolutely HAVE to. Otherwise, character is ALWAYS revealed through *scenes*--through stuff that HAPPENS, through action and reaction.
Whew. Sorry. That was a long answer.
AGY: Thanks, lots to think about!
TRACEY: LS, How did your city take the news when you won?
LINDA SUE PARK: My city has been wonderful. I didn't grow up here, but you'd never know it! The City legislature passed a resolution honoring me, and the Greater Rochester Arts Council named me their 'artist of the year.' That luncheon is on Oct. 31, and sadly I can't accept it in person--I'll be in Korea! So my crit partner Marsha Hayles is going to accept it in my place.
[The crowd congratulates Linda Sue wholeheartedly on this great honor.]
VERLA KAY: I have a touchy one, ignore it if it makes you AT ALL uncomfortable to answer it, LS! I've been told that when you win the Newbery, your income will jump to about five times what it was before. Are you finding that it really did help you financially to become more 'self-sufficient' as a writer? (In other words, could you live off your income from it?) And if so, how long after you got the award was it before you saw any appreciable increase in income?
LINDA SUE PARK: I will answer as best I can. As some of you know, my first book was published in 1999, the second in 2000, and the third in 2001. I felt (and still feel!) like I'm new to the biz. My advances were small; the books sold decently but not spectacularly. I did not make enough in any of those years to make a living. I continued to teach part-time, and I am also the fortunate recipient of a Husband Grant. He pays the mortgage.
VERLA KAY: Me, too, LS. And our first books came out almost together. My first ones were released in 99, too.
LINDA SUE PARK: Given all that, income times five is not quite accurate. It's more like income times 7 or 8. But remember, my income was VERY modest before this. And I also think that this year will be a real 'blip.' Although I expect to be able to make a living off my writing now, I don't think I'll EVER have another year like this one!
VERLA KAY: LOL! But that sounds darned good, LS. I'm SO pleased for you. Will you continue to teach now? Or 'just' write?
LINDA SUE PARK: I had actually quit teaching last winter, before the N, to do some school visits and see if I liked it. I told them I might come back to teaching--but now of course I'm not going back, at least not for a while!
DYSTAR: LS, some authors get 'stuck' in a genre and publishers won't let them out. Did you find your adult credits a bonus or a detriment when submitting kids' books?
LINDA SUE PARK: In my cover letter, I mentioned my journalism experience when I was first submitting. I don't know what kind of impact that had. I didn't mention my adult publishing credits because I didn't think they were relevant at the time. Poetry and short stories in small journals. I do hope to be able to write non-historical, non-Korean midgrades someday. I hope my efforts will be welcome... But we'll have to wait and see.
BARRY: Are you comfortable now with your public speaking? Most writers prefer to write, not talk about it.
VERLA KAY: I'm obviously not 'most' writers then. I love to speak!
LYRA: I have LEARNED to love to speak. (g)
LINDA SUE PARK: I'm getting more comfortable. I would still rather write than talk. But people have been very kind about my speaking engagements, lots of nice responses, which is encouraging. I hope I'm improving.
BARRY: Well, you certainly did a great job in Ohio. And I'm sorry I missed your acceptance speech in real life.
AGY: Linda, the Horn Book transcripts of your Newbery acceptance--it was lovely and inspiring!
LIBBY1: Do you find that people treat you differently now? Are you ever uncomfortable with all the attention?
LINDA SUE PARK: Hmm, that's a tough one. I know that I feel more 'pressure,' when people ask me questions about writing. I'm the same person and writer that I was before the N. Before, what I said was just one writer's opinion. Now I feel like what I say has more weight. That is an uncomfortable feeling sometimes. But mostly people have been so nice. They're thrilled to meet me and talk about my books, and I'm thrilled right back at them. :-)
Oh--Libby, one more thing. I HATE having my photo taken. THAT has not gotten any easier!!
LIBBY1: LOL--You looked GREAT on the Today show!
PAULA LESSO: I still think of that outfit!
NARNIA GAL: What kind of PBs have you written, Linda Sue?
NOTE: PBs = Picture Books
LINDA SUE PARK: The first is called THE FIREKEEPER'S SON. It's the closest in spirit to my novels--an episode from Korean history. But the other four are quite different.
#2) MUNG-MUNG! A book of animal noises from around the world, written as a guessing game. (That one will be published by Charlesbridge, spring 2004)
#3)IN A COTTAGE GARDEN. A rhyming picture book, also a guessing game, that follows a bunny through a garden and names colors and flowers. Clarion, 2004.
#4) STAYING GREEN. A poetry collection for elementary students. The form is sijo, a traditional Korean syllabic form of verse, but the content is strictly all-American. About 30 sijo on ordinary moments in a kid's day.
#5) BEE-BIM-BOP! A rhyming text about a mother and a child cooking together, making a traditional Korean meal. This one and #4 are both Clarion, unscheduled.
LJE: What is the publisher for THE FIREKEEPER'S SON?
LINDA SUE PARK: Clarion, Fall 2003.
AGY: Was it more difficult to write the PBs? Did you approach them differently?
NARNIA GAL: I can't wait to read them, Linda Sue. When did you do the PBs? In between the novels, after first drafts?
LINDA SUE PARK: I can answer those together. I work on picture books between novels. I need a break from extended stories, but I don't want to stop writing. So I work on poetry. Poetry was my first love, the first thing I ever published. I still read and write a lot of it. It didn't seem a big jump from poetry to picture book text.
NARNIA GAL: Thanks, Linda Sue. I could talk writing process all night. But I'll have mercy on you!
CKM: Congrats, Linda Sue. I have a question, but first I want to tell you how helpful you have been to me. I visited your web site earlier this year and read what you said about how you sit down every day to write, and some days the writing is good and other days it's lousy--"but, the key is, I never know which it is going to be." I think of those words every day and you know what? I. Finished. The. Book. So, thank you!
Now, here's my question: What kind of revisions has your editor asked you to do on your novels and how do you approach the revision process?
LINDA SUE PARK: Each novel has been different. SEESAW required only one revision that was easy to do: The editor wanted more development of the wedding scene. It went from being just a mention to becoming an entire chapter. THE KITE FIGHTERS went through two revisions. In the first, I had to pick one character to focus on; I had tried to write the story with two main characters, and the editor felt it shrifted them both. After I got that straightened out, we did another revision, mostly small stuff, I can't remember exactly what. I just remember it was two, whereas SEESAW GIRL had only been one, so I thought I was getting worse as a writer. *g*
NOTE: g = GRIN
[More laughter from the audience.]
Shard was very unusual. No editorial revision. It got sent straight to copyedit. I also received the entire advance on signing, which I had never heard of before with a novel. So there I was, thinking I really knew my stuff and BAM, I got knocked right off my high horse with KEOKO. The editor saw at least six MAJOR revisions. I have 37 complete drafts on my hard drive.
[The audience collectively gasps.]
VERLA KAY: Wow, 37 is a LOT!
CKM: THE KITE FIGHTERS revision sounds hard. Was it? How long did it take you?
LINDA SUE PARK: THE KITE revision was difficult at the time (although it turns out it was a piece of cake compared to KEOKO!). But remember, I was so new to the biz. I was very eager to please my editor, and what she was asking me seemed reasonable; I was willing at least to try. Also, I adore revision most of the time, so it was mostly fun for me.
AGY: Why was KEOKO more difficult? Closer to the bone?
LINDA SUE PARK: If you want to hear about the revision process for KEOKO, it will be a long answer. I am happy to share if people are interested, but it will be long... What do you think?
AGY: I love to talk about this stuff, please!
LINDA SUE PARK: OK (deep breath). When I first wrote KEOKO, it was called "The Photograph". I sent the sixth draft to the editor. It was written in first person, from a girl's POV. The editor felt the girl was not a character in her own right, that she was merely a vehicle for telling the brother's story. I tried for several drafts to get her more involved in the story; the editor probably saw draft 10 next. She said I was closer, but still no cigar.
At about version 13 or 14, I gave up on the girl. I decided to rewrite entirely from the boy's point of view. I got about halfway through a draft from his point of view when the girl visited me in a dream--the ONLY time this has ever happened to me. She was really p-o'd. She wanted to try again. She was very insistent.
NOTE: p-o'd = very angry
VERLA KAY: Wow, that's weird, LS. Spooky even!
LINDA SUE PARK: That is when I made the decision to go to alternate point of views. The editor next received draft 20 (or thereabouts). She liked the alternating point of views, but she said the girl's story was STILL weak. It wasn't until about draft 30 that I finally had a 'Eureka!' moment and gave that poor girl her own story. The remaining drafts worked on voice, getting the two voices to sound distinct without being too drastically different.
VERLA KAY: LS, how long did it end up taking you to write all those drafts of KEOKO?
LINDA SUE PARK: KEOKO took about 2-1/2 years from first draft to final acceptance. The Photograph. The Most Beautiful Tree in the World. By Order of the Emperor. Rising Sun, Morning Calm. These were some of the titles on various versions of the story. In the end, the photograph which was the basis of the first draft was completely cut from the story!
VERLA KAY: Does that count your research time, too?
LINDA SUE PARK: No. I research for about six months before starting to write.
DONA: LS, could you see the weakness in the girl's story yourself, or did you only see it after the editor pointed it out to you?
LINDA SUE PARK: No, I was blind as a bat. I thought she HAD her own story. I kept tinkering and tinkering, using an etching tool when what was needed was a sledgehammer. When I finally *did* see it--who knows why we can't see these things at one time but can at another?!--it took only ONE draft to fix.
CKM: Was your book under contract for the whole two years?
LINDA SUE PARK: No. Much of that revision was done without a contract. I finally got a contract when I fixed the 'girl' problem.
MARYSMUSE: Wow, LS, that's a long time. Wasn't KEOKO from your mother's childhood? (I heard you speak with Dinah Stevenson--do I have her name right?--at a conference not long ago). :-)
LINDA SUE PARK: KEOKO is fiction, but many of the episodes are from my parents' childhoods. And yes, you have Dinah's name right. *g*
MARYSMUSE: Oh good! My memory for names, or lack thereof, is embarrassing at times.
PAULA LESSO: Linda Sue, what do your kids think of the fact that their mom won the Newbery?
LINDA SUE PARK: Paula--my kids are very proud of me, but also keep me firmly down to earth. They're more worried about getting rides to soccer practice and the mall, than any dumb award. *g*
PAULA LESSO: Kids are great reality checks.
NARNIA GAL: I'm kind of looking forward to needing a reality check, personally.
ELLA: Linda Sue, I was struck by the vivid imagery in A SINGLE SHARD. What inspired your choice of celadon pottery as the focus?
LINDA SUE PARK: A personal quest. I was born in the U.S. of Korean parents. All my life I have known about Korean values and traditions, but I knew almost nothing about the country itself. I wanted to explore something unique about Korea. Celadon seemed the perfect choice, as Korea was so famous for its celadon.
NARNIA GAL: How did you know you were at the 'end' of the research period and it was time to write?
LINDA SUE PARK: Of course you could research forever, and you're never really 'finished.' I'm still learning about celadon! But there comes a point for me where I feel very confident about my research. I've read and re-read and re-read, and I truly feel that the necessary facts are a part of me. I like to write without having to go back to the books (of course I have to sometimes) when possible.
TONI B: Linda Sue, if you've had time to write of late, how has it felt? Is it feeling heavier at all, as though you had to 'measure up' to the award? I'd worry about that.
LINDA SUE PARK: Hi Toni! :-) I've done very little writing this year, but I did have one stretch in Aug-Sept where I had three weeks at home and got a little done then. I was very relieved that when I sat down at the keyboard and stared at the screen, it felt the 'same' as before. To be honest, I think it helps a great deal that the current project is not another midgrade. I don't know how I'll feel when I sit down to write another one of those.
TONI B: Yes, Linda Sue, I can see how that would be more daunting!
LINDA SUE PARK: It was great to be writing again, but there's no question that I'm 'rusty.' I hope it's like riding a bike--that when I get to go back in earnest (next June) I'll wobble around for a while, but remember how before too long!
TONI B: I MISS you, by the way. But I'm glad you're having a Newbery year :>
BARRY: What I want to know, LS, is where your dad put the medal! ;^)
NOTE: :> and ;^) = sideways smiley faces
LINDA SUE PARK: Actually, that questions links up to Toni's. It's going to sound really stupid and neurotic, I know, but I am secretly relieved not to have the Medal in the house!!! I think he keeps it on the dining-room sideboard, in easy reach to whip out whenever anyone stops by. Friends, neighbors, the poor deliveryman...
[The audience laughs.]
DONA: Yow, LS! You won't be able to write until next June!
LINDA SUE PARK: Yes. My own fault. I said yes to too many speaking requests. But some of them were very hard to turn down! On Friday I'm going to DC for the National Book Festival. Including a gala black-tie dinner at the Library of Congress, and breakfast at the White House with the First Lady.
[The audience is suitably wowed, and congratulates Linda Sue.]
BARRY: Hmm, LS, hope it can be an a-political event...
LINDA SUE PARK: LOL, Barry--I'm a lifelong Democrat.
DONA: LS, how will you handle the speaking engagements after the next book. Less or just as many?
LINDA SUE PARK: I'd like to continue speaking, but fewer engagements.
NARNIA GAL: Linda Sue, do you have a 'process' that helps you figure out exactly where your story begins? You may have guessed that is something I'm working on right now. Never had that problem before but do with my latest writing.
LINDA SUE PARK: As I mentioned, I have a character and his or her quest. Then I just start writing. The beginnings of my books are never published as I wrote them, with the exception of KITE. I always end up throwing out or revising my original beginning.
NARNIA GAL: That's encouraging, Linda Sue!
TRACEY: LS, are you willing to sign books if they are sent to you?
LINDA SUE PARK: Yes, I'm happy to sign books. Or send bookplates, whichever you'd prefer.
TRACEY: Where do I send my book/info to?
LINDA SUE PARK: Send it to me c/o Clarion Books, 215 Park Avenue South, NY NY 10003. They are very good about forwarding them to me for my signature.
PAMELA: Hi Linda Sue. I'd love to hear your commentary about your role as a novelist. Do you feel like you are creating a story from scratch or are you more your story's first reader? Do you have bones and scraps in a bag that you work with, mix with, paint with, or do your characters tell you where to go and what to do next? Where does that essential story come from?
LINDA SUE PARK: I am very conscious of my role as a novelist. For example, as I mentioned earlier, my characters do not talk to me. I never cry over a scene when I'm writing it. I feel almost clinical about it, choosing the right words, working on the rhythm, making sure each scene integrates. I suppose one way to put it would be that I am very conscious of the *craft* when I am writing. It is not in any way a mystical experience for me. It is very concrete. The best words in the best order.
JEFF: My characters never talk to me either. I've always felt so conscious of what I'm writing. It's great to hear another writer feels the same way!
NARNIA GAL: Me too, Jeff.
PAMELA: And you avoid interior thoughts--even in first person POV? (Looking at KEOKO right now.)
NOTE: POV = Point Of View
LINDA SUE PARK: No, I don't *avoid* them. They're essential, of course. But I try my best to keep them as short and crisp as possible, and to get back to the action, to something happening, as soon as I can.
PAMELA: I'm really glad you flagged this issue because I suspect a lot of the text I cut is actually the POV character's inner voice. Good point and a great slice of editing advice.
NARNIA GAL: Linda, can you think of a particular book that you feel goes overboard on the interior psychology in kid lit?
LINDA SUE PARK: It's MUCH less of a problem in children's books. That's why the best writing today is going on in kid lit! It's more of a problem in adult books, especially so-called 'women's fiction.' But these trends tend to filter down into kids' books sooner or later. I'm fighting it like the devil. *g*
NARNIA GAL: Good for you, LS! But I can see the need for keeping a check for balance--it could easily swing that way from where kid lit is now.
LINDA SUE PARK: One more rant: I think the reason for the emphasis on introspection in literature is because novelists have ceded the Story ground to the movies. Of course that is a sweeping generalization.
LYRA: I worry that when I write more action/reaction without too much introspection I get pegged as 'mass market.'
JEFF: Lyra, I think the same thing sometime--not about YOUR work, but that I'm too glib.
AGY: What if the story is about finding your voice?
LINDA SUE PARK: Agy--for me--and this is just my opinion--a story has to be about more than an interior journey. Something has to HAPPEN. There are many books these days, adult and some much-praised children's books, in which nothing really happens. These are the ones that I believe will not survive as Great Literature.
[Many in the crowd agree and applaud the insight.]
LYRA: Interesting, LS. Nice to hear, actually. Which books do you think succeed at this?
LINDA SUE PARK: Succeed, you mean, at Story?
LYRA: Yup. What are some examples? Assuming you have had a chance to read lately!
LINDA SUE PARK: For adult books, recently I've read PEACE LIKE A RIVER and CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL. Both have a real Story to tell. I enjoyed them very much. For young people--Harry Potter. The Pullman Trilogy.
BARRY: I liked CARTER too, LS! Heh, actually liked it better than KAVALIER AND KLAY
DEETIE: PEACE LIKE A RIVER was a GREAT book.
LINDA SUE PARK: I thought PEACE read like a children's book, with its emphasis on scenes and the minimum of introspection. I loved it.
DEETIE: It was the most fantastic ending I've ever read.
BARRY: LS, are you going to be in NYC any time soon?
LINDA SUE PARK: Looks like January 16-17, for the Child magazine awards, and then again in Feb for SCBWI Midyear.
BARRY: Oh good! I'll certainly catch up with you in February, then.
DEETIE: LS, how is your adult book coming, did you finish it?
LINDA SUE PARK: No, not finished. But my agent is subbing it as a partial.
GAIL M: Linda Sue, would you enjoy traveling to the Northwest, all hotel and travel paid sometime next year? I am involved with the SCBWI of Washington and we always look for new speakers. Hey, I'll give you a tour or Seattle viewpoints. It's worth it!
LINDA SUE PARK: I will be in Vancouver, BC in February. Clarion was talking about me going to Seattle on that same trip, but I haven't heard anything more about it.
BARRY: Seattle's lovely, LS, but they keep having their SCBWI conference during Bologna, so I keep having to say no.
LYRA: LS, does Clarion decide your travels now?
LINDA SUE PARK: No, I decide, but all the requests go through them, and sometimes there are conferences they ask me to consider.
LYRA: How much traveling are you doing on the average every month?
LINDA SUE PARK: Two or three times a month now. Usually 3-4 days at a time. Too much.
LYRA: That is a lot of traveling!
LINDA SUE PARK: Everyone, thank you very much for coming, I had a great time! I have to go now. Happy reading and writing to all of you!
[Everyone in the audience thanks Linda Sue for chatting and wishes her a good night.]
VERLA KAY: Linda Sue, I can't tell you how MUCH we appreciate the time you took out of your busy schedule to come and talk with us tonight!
* Linda Sue Park waves and blows kisses.
Copyright © 2002
All Rights Reserved