Friday, March 6, 2015

Author Interview with Thanhha Lai

The DMS was lucky enough to interview Thanhha Lai. Lizzy reviewed her book Inside Out and Back Again, and it was great to share our thoughts about it and hear yours! We're excited to learn a little more about her story. So, without further ado... take it away, Thanhha!

What inspired you to write Inside Out and Back Again?

I had been struggling for 15 years with a much more ambitious novel that went nowhere. Right before giving up writing for good, I had an idea to write a much more contained book, spanning one year instead of 4,000 and developing one central character instead of 15. So the inspiration came mostly from exhaustion.

How long did it take you to write Inside Out and Back Again?

I was already writing about a Vietnamese family coming to Alabama. But the voice was never right. Once I came up with the prose poem format to convey how the girl is thinking in Vietnamese, the actual writing of Inside Out took about six months. But those six months resulted from a 15-year struggle.

What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Were there any specific authors who inspired you?

I read anything that had to do with animals, Where the Red Fern Grows, Charlotte's Web, The Call of the Wild. Growing up between two cultures, I found human beings too confusing. Animals, though, showed unconditional kindness.

If you could befriend a character from any of your books, who would you befriend? Why?

I would befriend the Mother in Inside Out. Luckily, I modeled her after my own mother, so we're built-in friends. I can imagine spending hours listening to her talk.

Where do you like to write? Do you listen to music while you are writing?

I write in a small bedroom sitting in a love seat with a laptop on my lap. When I need to nap, I just lean over. I like quiet, with just a few chirps out the window.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why?

I would be a gypsy and spend half a year in every major city in the world. I love cities, the idea of being faceless among millions.

The path to publication varies from author to author. Every author has a unique story and one that other authors can learn from. Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication or do you have any advice for new authors?

It took my close to two decades to get published, so I'm not sure I have any advice for authors other than "keep going." I wrote and rewrote and my first manuscript of an overly-written novel, which was rejected by agent after agent. When I finally sent out Inside Out, seven out of ten agents got back to me within a day.  Rosemary Stimola was the first. She asked for five pages, then 25, then 50, then the whole novel. Rosemary nudged an editor to read Inside Out, which had been sitting on her desk for a year. We received an offer shortly after.

Inside Out and Back Again is written in prose. Have you always been a fan of poetry? What inspired you to write a book in this style?

I’ve always read poetry but do not consider myself to be a poet. I wrote Inside Out in prose poems to convey what it’s like for the character to think in Vietnamese, which is naturally lyrical and rhythmic, at least to my ears. So my protagonist dictated the style.

Are you currently working on a book? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

On February 17, 2015, my second novel will be published. Listen, Slowly is about a Vietnamese-American, Laguna Beach girl who has no interest in her heritage. One summer she is forced to accompany her grandmother back to a village in Vietnam. And what a summer she has! 
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  1. Wonderful interview. I love the fact that you never gave up and finally "found" your story. I imagine your readers are happy too. Congratulations, Thanhha. You are an inspiration to keep writing.

  2. Having lived really close to Laguna Beach and knowing the culture of the town, I bet your new book is an interesting read!! Enoyed reading the interview and best wishes for much success with your writing career!


  3. What a fascinating interview. Thank you both. So much.

  4. Great interview. Lovely to read all about you.

  5. That was a nice inspiring interview.

    Have a great weekend!

  6. Fantastic interview as always. Thanhha, I loved reading your inspiring answers. I'm trying to do this same thing with my story right now. This was a pep talk from you. :-)

  7. Wonderfully intriguing. Thanhha Lai inspires and the interview was a terrific interaction.

    Well done on this. A peaceful rest of your weekend.

    Gary :)

  8. What an inspirational interview... on how to never give up on what you love... sometimes you just find another way like you did... and here comes your second book... that is wonderful xox

  9. How interesting that her inspiration to write this novel came out of her being tired from writing another one. I think it goes to show that you should never give up because in the end there might be something wonderful secretly hidden.

  10. Congratulations to Thanhha Lai! Cover is eye-catching and sounds wonderful read!

  11. That's the first time I've ever heard that "exhaustion" was the inspiration for a novel! Haha! Sometimes, things just happen at the right time and our own path becomes clearer. Wishing Thanhha much success!

  12. She read a lot of the same books I read as a kid! Great interview. I love seeing that so many great books are being written to help children learn and grow.

  13. Thank you for the intro to Thanhha. The book sounds great. :) Appreciate the interview!

  14. Nice interview. I also enjoy the anonymity of city life.

  15. It's a huge pleasure reading about Thanhha's road to publishing Inside Out. The story is written lyrically and Ma sounds like a character I'd like to befriend, too (right after Ha, of course).

  16. It's always interesting to read how a story came to life.

  17. I love the interview and to learn about this author. I'm glad that she was persistent and didn't gave up on her writing. Her talent just needed a to be expresses and she found the path to express it even though it took 15 years by changing her approach. This books sounds very unique and interesting.


  18. What a wonderful story bridging two cultures that I am sure many children will connect to! This especially resonated with me: "Growing up between two cultures, I found human beings too confusing. Animals, though, showed unconditional kindness." So glad she didn't give up her journey to write this!

  19. What a great interview! So inspiring! Thank you for putting this author on our radar :)
    ~Michele and Mckenzie


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