Wow! I had my first in person interview with the amazing Lisa Yee. She wrote Millicent Min, Girl Genius, Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time, So Totally Emily Ebers, and Good Luck, Ivy.

I haven’t read your American Girl book yet, but I do have one question. What was it like switching from Millicent and her friends to American Girl?
Actually, in the beginning it was hard because I’m used to writing in first person and the American girl book is in third. But once I got the hang of it, it was really fun to write. Also, the language is a little bit different because the American girl books are skewed to younger readers. It was a challenge, but it ended up being really fun and great. I always enjoy a challenge, so I had a great time with it.

How did you change your writing from Millicent to Stanford to Emily?
That’s a good one. That’s difficult because in writing Stanford I had to write a boy’s voice. Iniatally, my editor had told me “You’re making the boys sound like girls because they’re talking about their feelings and their emotions, and boys don’t do that.” So I had to do a lot of research. I would hang out and spy on middle-grade boys. I noticed they mostly smacked each other on the head, didn’t speak in complete sentences, and there was a lot of grunting going on. I thought “This is how they communicate!” And so I rewrote the book and took out about half the dialogue. I had incomplete sentences and things like that. Then once I did that, I kind of nailed the boy voice. For Emily, she’s very much the opposite of Millicent, you know, I didn’t want her to seem like an airhead, and yet she’s very bubbly, and I thought that I really needed to show the other side of her. Sometimes people who are the bubbliest and seem the happiest maybe are hiding something or having something going on deep inside. And so I had to find out what that would be. That’s when I discovered just how lonely she was. And so I would have here public voice be one thing, and that’s why her writing is very sad.

Wow. How long did it take to switch voices?
Millicent took about six years to write, to write Stanford, it took about nine months for the first draft, and then I had to rewrite the entire thing. That’s just the first draft. The Emily book, then I did know her character, I was a much more confident writer, because a lot of what goes on with writing is up here, and how when you face a blank page you just can’t get started. I can’t do that anymore because it’s my job. For the Emily book, the first draft took about four months. So ya know, it’ns not that I’m a better writer, but I’m a more confidant writer. I still have to grill everybody I know before writing and goof off, and then I can get serious.

What books that you have read recently do you recommend?
Oh, gosh, well, I loved The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It just won the national book award. And, Hugo Cabret, of course. Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. That is marvelous. Jay, he blogs on disco mermaids. I met him before he was published. That was really, really good. Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy, that was amazing. There’s just so many books out there.

Did you start out knowing it would be a trilogy?
Nooo… I had no clue it would be a trilogy. It’s funny because people will come up to me and tell me how smart I am to do that. I had no idea when I had written Millicent, and when I was going to write something completely different. My daughter was acting all, “Boy’s stink, boys are stupid”. I thought she’s wrong, and that’s when I decided to write a book about a boy. I thought of Stanford, the boy Millicent couldn’t stand. I asked Kate if she wanted a book about Stanford, and she said, “I’d love that”, because she thought I was going to slam him, and I would tell her boys were awful. After my daughter read it, she said, “You know what, he’s not that bad”, and I said, “No he’s not.” He’s not bad. Fans started writing me about Emily.

How much do you have to check making sure everything was correct?
There was a lot of that. I had to have calendars and charts, and what I would do is, on my computer screen there would be all three books out. The dialogue could not change between each book. Everything else was what people thought they heard, their interpretation. I had color coded the outline of Stanford, and then I got a calendar and put dots on it when basketball teams were, and this and that. Anytime Millicent was there, she’d be purple. Anytime Emily was there, she’d be red. And so I know by looking at the calendar that he’s bumping into them on these days. Actually it’s uncreative, all the research. I need to go back to the book, check the dialogue. There actually are some mistakes. In Emily, Stanford uses Zappo Zit. She sees Stanford in a drugstore. He drops it when he sees her, and she picks it up. She sleeps with it under her pillow, and it is Zappo Zit in her book. In Millicent, it’s Clearasil. I didn’t catch that. One of my editors, Cheryl Kline, she’s also the continuity editor for Harry Potter, oh she is so cool, someone emailed me, and I forwarded it to her, and she was so upset. To me it was like funny, but to her it was horrible. She said, “What do you want to do? Do you want to reprint?” I said “Well, um, I think it’s kinda cool.” There’s not a lot of mistakes, and there were other things in there like Wendy Wann most valuble player, and then Emily won that award or something. We are going to go back and fix that. It was sort of a nightmare.

Are you changing the Zappo Zit- Clearasil?
I’m okay with that, it’s funny. Cheryl wants to change it. We had a whole conversation about it. My daughter said, “Well Millicent wouldn’t be wrong because she’s so precise”, and yet there’s so many references to Zappo Zit. We decided if it was to be changed, it would be changed in Emily’s book because there are literally hundreds of thousands of copies of Millicent already out there. I’m leaving it up to Cheryl.

How do your childhood experiences reflect in your writing?
Umm.. well I’m not a genius, I used to be really smart when I was a kid, but now it’s gone. I’m a mom, it like leaves your head. You do, right? You like lose your brain cells. I was a straight A student. If I got a B I would have a meltdown. I didn’t like to study I spent more time figuring out what my grade would be like, “Okay, if I take this test and get an 87 will I still have an A?” I was social, like Emily, I had friends. And um I have a boy’s sense of gross humor. If I fall on my face, I’ll be like, “Look at my bruises!” It’s kind of like that.

Millicent and Emily don’t have brothers and sisters. Do you?
I have a younger brother who lives in NYC. He’s a wall street guy, totally opposite. When I wrote Millicent, I think it was easier for her not to have brothers or sisters because that was another character to write. How could I make it the easiest thing on myself Because I didn’t know it would be a trilogy, I wanted it to be the easiest, too. As far as Stanford goes, there was actually a boy I went to school with, and he had really smart sisters. He was terrible, and I used to wonder how he felt when teachers said, “Oh, you’re the brother of these two people. WowS”. The teachers expected a lot from him and he couldn’t deliver. That must have been really tough for him.

Part 2 coming… when I finish!