Janet Lee Carey-Dreamwalks DreamWalks Janet Lee Carey Award-winning author of novels for children and young adults

Measuring Up

Dreamwalkers, welcome Lily LaMotte, author of MEASURING UP! Illustrated by Ann Xu. Lily’s outstanding graphic novel for children hits the stands October 27th. I was lucky to snag her on launch week for a creative conversation!

photo by Lucien LaMotte

10/27/ 2020 HarperAlley/HarperCollins
“A beautiful story about food, family, and finding your place in the world.” —Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese and Dragon Hoops
Twelve-year-old Cici has just moved from Taiwan to Seattle, and the only thing she wants more than to fit in at her new school is to celebrate her grandmother, A-má’s, seventieth birthday together. Since she can’t go to A-má, Cici cooks up a plan to bring A-má to her by winning the grand prize in a kids’ cooking contest to pay for A-má’s plane ticket! There’s just one problem: Cici only knows how to cook Taiwanese food. And after her pickled cucumber debacle at lunch, she’s determined to channel her inner Julia Child. Can Cici find a winning recipe to reunite with A-má, a way to fit in with her new friends, and somehow find herself too?
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
A Parents Magazine Book Nook October Selection
A Fall 2020 Indie Next Selection
A CBC October Hot Off the Press Selection

Janet: Welcome, Lily!

Lily: Hello Janet!! Thanks so much for having me!

Janet: Happy Book Birthday this week for MEASURING UP!

Lily: Thank you, Janet! Having a Book Birthday is so exciting! I’m a debut author, so this is my first.

Janet: I remember sitting next to you while you were working on the book. We wrote side-by-side, and I was so curious about your story. Can you tell us how it all began?

Lily: We must have been at one of our regional SCBWI meetings! Let’s see. I wrote MEASURING UP as my post-grad semester with Gene Luen Yang, who is a faculty at Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. He is very much in demand as a faculty advisor so having him agree was very kind of him since it meant he took me on as an additional student.

Before the semester started, I worked with Lisa Cron on developing the idea for the book so that when I sent Gene my synopsis, a lot of it was in place. I still had to revise my synopsis because, as writers, we’re always working to make better books. So I ended up sending him a revised synopsis with each packet. But doing all that preliminary work allowed me to dive right into the semester and start writing pages. I was able to write a complete first draft. There was no better feeling than typing “The End” in my last packet of the semester.

Janet: It’s amazing you were able to work with Gene Luen Yang, author of AMERICAN BORN CHINESE and DRAGON HOOPS! And yes, typing “The End” always feels sooooo good. Then the work begins. I’ve never written a graphic novel. Can you tell us a little bit about your process?

Lily: Gene is amazing. On top of his many awards, he just won the Harvey Award in two categories. DRAGON HOOPS is Book of the Year, and SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN is Best Children or YA. I very much wanted to write a graphic novel even though MEASURING UP happens to be the first graphic novel I’d ever written. I knew I’d be in the best hands working with Gene. You can imagine how thrilled I was.

To prepare for learning the graphic novel format, I read both of Scott McCloud’s books UNDERSTANDING COMICS: THE INVISIBLE ART and MAKING COMICS: STORYTELLING SECRETS OF COMICS, MANGA, AND GRAPHIC NOVELS. I went to the Highlights Foundation class on graphic novels with faculties Matt Phelan, Merrill Rainey, and Kelly Light. That way, I wasn’t starting my work with Gene from ground zero. It also helped that I’d taken several screenwriting classes many, many years ago, and did my master’s creative thesis on picture books. Graphic novels have several things in common with picture books like page turns, writing succinctly, and of course, the visual element.

Gene has his students send him a synopsis or outline before the semester begins so that he can help shape the story and troubleshoot places that need it. As far as formatting, there is no industry standard for a graphic novel script. He has his students use the Dark Horse graphic novel format which can be found on their website.

After that, it was a matter of cranking out forty new pages each month and revising my synopsis.
As you can see, it took a very large village to help me make MEASURING UP.

(Lily on the panel at NY Comic Con)

Janet: Most authors spend their working hours alone, but it’s not a solo undertaking. Wise people help us along the way. Our teachers and mentors are vital to the creative process. Still, this book is yours. You brought it to life. How did it feel to tell Cici’s story?

Lily: We all need those wise people! I didn’t even talk about my critique groups. I have my three weekly critique groups, the EmGees, Imagineers, and HamlinePB, to keep me on task. And I can’t forget the Grou to help keep spirits up.

About telling Cici’s story, I loved doing that. At the time that I wrote Cici’s story, there were few Asians or Asian Americans stories in kid lit, including graphic novels. It was rewarding to connect to that side of my culture. Writing the book also let me connect to my parents. I had many questions for them about Taiwanese culture. And it let me ask them about what life was like in their parents’ and grandparents’ lives. There’s a flashback scene in MEASURING UP where A-má tells Cici about her own experience as a child. I couldn’t find any information or photos on Google about old-time Taiwan. At least, not in English. I didn’t have the lived knowledge that my parents have. They were able to help me with that scene, especially with making the kitchen authentic.

Janet: Beautiful story, Lily! Were you able to pass that information on to the illustrator, Ann Xu, somehow?

Lily: One of the interesting things about the graphic novel process with my editor is that it is very different from picture books. In the picture book world, editors, art directors, and the illustrator take our picture book manuscripts and make all the decisions on the art. With the graphic novel, I give the illustrator instructions for every page and every panel. I determine whether it is a close-up, medium shot, or long shot. I will describe each page with the number of panels, placement of the panels if I want them in a particular layout, indicate particular colors when it is important, and many other things. I kind of am the art director in that sense.

So, I saw Ann’s illustration for that scene and knew that the kitchen wasn’t quite right. I sent the illustration to my parents for confirmation. They sent me back exact descriptions and some photos of the stove/oven. I gave all of that to my editor, and she passed it on to Ann.

It really is a team effort between myself, my wonderful editor Clarissa Wong, equally wonderful book designer Erica De Chavez, and illustrator extraordinaire Ann. I couldn’t be more grateful to them for all the fabulous work on my book!

Janet: I’m learning so much here. It’s interesting to see the creative collaboration that takes place for a graphic novel. Can you tell us what page the particular flashback is on? I’m curious now to look that up as soon as MEASURING UP is in my hands.

Lily: The scene is in Chapter One on page ten. The lovely team at Studio East and I collaborated on doing a reading of Chapter One. The video with the illustrations from Chapter One and that scene can be found here 

Janet: Love the video and recognize your voice reading A-má. One last question. What did writing MEASURING UP teach you?

Lily: Aside from teaching me how to write a graphic novel script, I learned to connect to and appreciate my Taiwanese culture in a deeper way.

Janet: Ah, Lovely. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me and sharing this with the Dreamwalkers, Lily. I can’t wait to join you at the launch party tomorrow night. (Dreamwalkers see more about that below.) You brought Cici and her family to us all. Soon it will be on library shelves, bookstore shelves, and best of all, in children’s hands. I’m grateful for your artistic drive, your persistence, and your heart.

Lily: Thank you so much for having me, Janet. This has been very fun. And I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy.

Dreamwalkers, join in the Celebration!
Register for the MEASURING UP Virtual Book Launch here https://tinyurl.com/y6srpfdm .
Lily will be in conversation with Gene Luen Yang. Enter the random drawing giveaway by pre-ordering signed copies through Brick & Mortar Books at info@brickandmortarbooks.com or by phone (425-869-0606) by October 27, 2020. When you order, please let them know if you would like the book personalized.

Third Place Books is doing two giveaways from October 28 through November 2 for a random drawing of Lily’s book and a handmade 2021 calendar tea towel sewn by Lily! There will be one random drawing winner in Third Place Book’s main Instagram account and one winner from their kids’ account. Go to Third Place Books’ IG accounts to enter.

You can also get signed copies by ordering at Third Place Books: Hardback


And if you’re a cooking buff, check out Lily’s cooking video for HarperCollins’ Shelf Stuff on YouTube https://youtu.be/z_yS1u0Fb18

Lily LaMotte is the debut author of the middle grade graphic novel MEASURING UP from HarperCollins/HarperAlley on October 27, 2020. When she isn’t writing picture books and middle grade graphic novels, she’s cooking up new recipes. Sometimes, when she sees the gray clouds outside her window in the Pacific Northwest, she loads up the campervan for a writing retreat camping trip with her husband and two dogs.
She is a graduate of Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.
She is repped by Laura Rennert of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

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