Friday, June 15, 2012

What's Fresh with Natalie Dias Lorenzi

We welcome Natalie Dias Lorenzi to our blog today, to talk about her debut middle grade release. entitled FLYING THE DRAGON, Kirkus gave it a starred review, calling it “A quiet, beautifully moving portrayal of a multicultural family.”

Hello, Natalie! Could you please tell us a little about your writing background and how you made your first sale? 

Natalie: My first sale took a circuitous route, to say the least! When I signed with my agent back in 2006, I had an offer from a small, new publishing house. My agent and I decided not to take the offer because their distribution was very limited at the time. The house ended up folding a few years later, unfortunately, so I’m glad I listened to my agent’s advice. 

After about a year, we decided to talk revisions. At the time, FLYING THE DRAGON had only one main character, Hiroshi, a boy who moves from Japan to the US and feels like a total fish-out-of-water. There was a girl in his class, Skye, who wasn’t very nice to him at all. She’s half-Japanese, half-Caucasian, but considers herself 100% American. When her parents make her give up her spot on the All-Star soccer team in order to attend Saturday Japanese school, she needs Hiroshi’s help to pass her exams and get back to playing soccer. When my agent and I were brainstorming revision paths for this manuscript, we agreed that Skye was itching to tell her side of the story. So I opened up a blank document (gulp!) and started over, this time alternating chapters between Hiroshi and Skye. As I did this, I got to know Skye better and realized that she wasn’t really the mean girl that I’d painted in earlier drafts of the story. 

It took me almost two years to finish this revision. Once it was finished, though, it took about four months before we received the offer from Charlesbridge in November of 2010, almost four years after I’d queried my agent.  

Readers and writers often like to get a behind the scenes peek of an author's writing routine. It would be great if you could please share your typical writing day schedule. 

Natalie: Oh, if only I had a writing routine! Aside from teaching, I’m taking coursework towards an LMS (Library Media Specialist) endorsement so that I can become a full-time school librarian. I also do freelance work—I’m a contributing writer for Scholastic’s Instructor magazine, and I create curriculum guides for children’s authors. The tricky thing about writing for yourself is that you have no deadline. I have article deadlines and curriculum guide deadlines, and report card deadlines at school. But before you sell that first book, there are no deadlines. What keeps me writing on a regular basis is my critique group. For the past seven years, we’ve taken turns subbing pages to each other every Wednesday, and sometimes the only pages I write are those that I know I’ll need to sub to them when my turn comes around. In general, though, I tend to write in the evenings when everyone in my house has gone to sleep. And since I have the summers off, I get the most writing done between June and August.

Please tell us about your novel, FLYING THE DRAGON, and what we can expect from your characters.

Natalie:  Here’s a blurb:  American-born Skye knows very little of her Japanese heritage. Her father taught her to speak the language, but when their estranged Japanese family, including Skye's grandfather, suddenly move to the United States, Skye must be prepared to give up her All-Star soccer dreams to take Japanese lessons and to help her cousin, Hiroshi adapt to a new school. Hiroshi, likewise, must give up his home and his hopes of winning the rokkaku kite-fighting championship with Grandfather. Faced with language barriers, culture clashes and cousin rivalry, Skye and Hiroshi have a rocky start. But a greater shared loss brings them together. They learn to communicate, not only through language, but through a common heritage and sense of family honor. At the rokkaku contest at the annual Washington Cherry Blossom Festival, Hiroshi and Skye must work as a team in order to compete with the best.

I’ve lived overseas both as a child (in Germany) and an adult (in Italy and Japan), so Hiroshi’s fish-out-of-water experience is something that springs from my own life. As an ESL teacher, I work with kids like Hiroshi and Skye every day—from bewildered newcomers who struggle with the language and culture to kids who have assimilated into American culture much to their parents’ dismay. My own kids straddle two cultures—my American culture and my husband’s Italian culture. All of those experiences have ended up, one way or the other, in my characters. For readers who have moved to a new town or state or country, I hope they will see themselves in Hiroshi. For kids who feel caught between two cultures—not fully belonging to either one—I hope they will see themselves in Skye. And for those who have grown up in the same town all their lives, I’m hoping Hiroshi’s and Skye’s stories will lend some insight into what it’s like to be the new kid.
  
What's up next? Do you have another project in the works? If so, please tell us about it.

Natalie:  I have several things I’ll be working on this summer—revising a young adult novel, tinkering with an idea for a humorous middle grade novel, and revisiting a few picture book manuscripts. If only summer were six months long!

Would you like to close with a writing tip?

Natalie:  One thing that I like to do with emotional scenes (happy, sad, angry, etc.) is to listen to songs that reconnect me with a time when I felt the same way as I need my character to feel in a scene. The circumstances may be different, but the emotional core is the same. For example, your teen main character has just been asked out by her crush, go back and listen to a song from high school or college that reminds you of a crush you had at the time. Lots of writers make playlists of songs that they think their main characters would listen to, but add some songs that elicit the emotions that you and your main character share. 

Thanks so much to Natalie for visiting us here at YA Fresh, and we hope our readers will check out her wonderful book!


3 fresh comments:

Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

Thanks for sharing with us, Natalie!!

Janie Emaus said...

This sounds like a terrific book.
Thanks for the interview.

bibliolinks said...

Thanks Kelly and Janie, and thanks Tina for hosting me on YA Fresh! :-)