|The bookmarks in the box were a nice surprise!|
Q: When did you write Ting Ting?
A: I started writing Ting Ting exactly three years ago today. A few weeks previous to that I had gone down to Seattle to visit my friend Hilary. At that time I was working on writing something else, and Hilary arranged a meet-up to discuss my work with a friend of hers who is a writer. They both were very encouraging about my writing, and suggested I should enter NaNoWriMo.
I pointed out that it was just a couple weeks away, and besides, I couldn't use the story I was already working on for NaNoWriMo. The whole idea of NaNo is to start something from scratch on November 1. I also argued that it might not be a good idea to be working on two things at once. (I guess I had visions of my writing life turning out like my knitting life, with unfinished projects littering my computer the way half knit projects are stashed in every nook and cranny of my house.)
They did not back down. I caved. I came home, bought a a Macbook Pro, which to keep the knitter's analogy going was like moving from a cheap set of circular needles to Addis, and on November 1, 2010 I started writing.
Q: Did you have a plan, or are you a seat-of-the-pants kind of writer?
A: I am mostly a seat-of-the-pants kind of writer. Up until a few days before NaNo started I had a vague idea of a story I thought I might try writing. Then, at the last minute, I dropped that idea and decided to write about Ting Ting. I had a few main events I wanted the story to revolve around, but had no idea how the story was going to unfold in between those events. When I got up on the morning of November 1 I didn't even know how the story was going to start. And yes, I was a bit worried about that.
Q: If you didn't know what you were going to write, where did the ideas come from once you sat down at your computer?
A: I honestly don't know. When I sat down to write the story just came out. All I had to do was not let my rotten typing skills impede the process too much.
Q: Did you finish the book by the end of November, in time to qualify as a NaNo winner?
A: Yes, I actually finished a few days early.
Q: Did you know right away that your story had the potential to be published?
A: No. It might sound strange that I wrote a book, then set it aside and didn't think about it again for a few weeks, but NaNoWriMo is a very intense time. You have to write 50,000 words in a month. It consumes almost all of your free time and even some of what should be your sleeping time. It felt good to be finished with it. Plus we were moving into the busy Christmas season.
It wasn't until Rebekah came home for Christmas vacation that I pulled it out again. I told her I had written a book - up to this point I had been a stealth writer, telling no one in my family what I was doing - and she asked me to read a bit to her. Not wanting to be overheard, we snuck up to my room and I read her the first chapter. She asked me to keep going. I read another chapter. She asked me to keep going. It was just like when the kids were little and I would read aloud to them. When we were in the middle of an especially good book they would beg me to read "just one more chapter."
This was the moment I realized the book might have some potential.
Q: Was it hard to find a publisher?
A: The publishing world is very different now that it was just a few years ago. I think in many ways it can be discouraging for writers, especially new writers. I went into the process of trying to find a publisher knowing full well that even if the story was publishable, that didn't necessarily mean it would get published. In other words, I had low expectations. Not to mention the fact I am a terribly insecure writer. Even though Rebekah had been so encouraging, I still wasn't sure this book was good enough to find its way to print.
I decided that rather than send out query letters to dozens of publishers and agents all at the same time, that I would send them out one at a time. Not only that, but I looked very closely at a publisher's website before putting them on my "to contact" list. My book is about a girl who immigrates to Canada, so I decided my chances were much better with a Canadian publisher than an American one. That narrowed the field considerably. It might seem obvious, but I also made sure the publishers I contacted actually published children's books. In fact, I wanted one that leaned heavily, if not completely, in that direction.
I had a list of several publishers I wanted to contact. One of the ones at the top of the list was Sono Nis. By now it was the end of the summer of 2011. I went to their web page to read through their submission guidelines again(hint - this is a very important thing to do as the differ from publisher to publisher). I was devastated when I saw they had stopped taking submissions! I knew it was never permissible to phone a publisher and ask them to look at your book, but I decided it would probably be okay to phone and ask when they would be open for submissions again.
Well, that ended up being a very good decision. Diane Morriss, the owner, answered the phone. She asked what I had written. When I told her the outline of the story she said it sounded like something she might be interested in, and asked me to send along the first fifty pages. I hung up the phone in shock. I hadn't been expecting to pitch my book during that call, and I certainly hadn't been expecting her to express an interest.
A little while later (I would be more precise, but I can't remember exactly how much time went by) she requested the complete manuscript, and then some time later (memory issues again) I got the call asking if I was interested in publishing my book with them. In many ways I think my book getting published had a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time. Or, in this case, making the right phone call at the right time.
Q: Will you write another book?
A: Maybe. It could go either way. There might be another book, or I could end up being a One Book Wonder. It's too early to tell.
Q: Have you had any feedback from your book?
A: Not yet. One family member has started reading it and she is very enthusiastic. But let's face it. What are family and friends going to say other than that they love the book? I promise this is my final knitting analogy in this post, but what if my book is like those horrible slippers your favourite auntie knit you for Christmas - the lime green acrylic ones with the big orange pompom on the top. The ones you said were beautiful and slipped on your feet while sitting around the tree so you wouldn't hurt her feelings? The same ones you promptly put in the garbage two days later. I'm not saying I think my book is lime green acrylic junk, but still, I'm plagued with enough doubts and insecurities that I'm worried it could be that orange pompom.
This is the part that terrifies me the most about the book now being out in the wild. I know I'm no JK Rowling. I always cringe when I read nasty reviews on Amazon, and now I could end up being a recipient of some of those scathing words. It's enough to make me want to crawl under a rock.That's why I said at the end of my last post that I might faint.
Q: Is the story true?
A: I know I said I was fairly confident I would be able to answer all the questions, but this one is tricky. The short answer is no, the story is not true. However, the story was inspired by a real person. There is a real Ting Ting. She was born in Jinan, China. Her father came to study at UBC in Vancouver. Her mom went to visit him while Ting Ting stayed behind in China with an aunt. The real Ting Ting's parents were offered permanent status in Canada after the events at Tiananmen Square, an offer they accepted. These were the main events I had in mind when NaNoWriMo 2010 started. There are a few other parts of the story that are vaguely similar to the real Ting Ting's story, but I don't want to give spoilers for my own book, so won't list them here.
Q: Who is the real Ting Ting?
A: This is where the warning part of this post comes in. This sign hangs on the wall in my home and I think all who enter should take it very seriously.
Some of you may have already guessed this, although maybe not since the one family member who is reading the book had no idea, but the real Ting Ting is my daughter-in-law Diana. This is a picture of Diana and her grandfather, taken in Jinan, China in 2009.
Q: Is Diana still speaking to you?
A: Yes. But I think she is now much more careful about what she says for fear there might be a sequel.
Q: If I want a copy what is the best way to order one?
A: If you live in North America your best option is to order directly from the publisher. You will get free shipping! The book is also in stock at Amazon.com. Amazon is your best option if you live overseas. Also, the Kindle edition should be on the Amazon site within the week. The book is also available in bookstores around the province, including Kids Books in Vancouver. I hope to have links in the blog side bar in a few days.
Q: Okay, we are tired of all these details. Can you please tell us about the giveaway?
A: My publisher has kindly agreed to send a copy of Ting Ting to one of my readers. If you are interested please leave a comment below. I'll leave the contest open until midnight on November 15.