Dear Readers, I'm thrilled to announce that I've sold my first manuscript! Simon's New Bed is a picture book with art by Melissa van der Paardt. The great Justin Chanda, publisher extraordinaire of numerous imprints at Simon & Schuster, is editing; the talented Lauren Rille is handling design. Simon's New Bed will be on sale 25 August 2015.
My journey to becoming a published author has been long in the making...and then happened all at once. I never thought of myself as a creative type. Or, rather, I never allowed myself to think that way. Which is odd, considering I regularly got the solo in my choir, I loved dancing, and I had a pretty constant urge to put on costumes.
Still, my strongest subject was math, and kids who are good at math (and also have Asian mothers) are often encouraged to pursue paths more secure than the arts. For me, that was medicine.
From age five to nineteen, I was certain I was going to be a doctor. Every decision I made - selecting classes, participating in extracurriculars, skipping parties I wasn't invited to - was meant to bring me closer to my goal of getting into a university with a stellar pre-med program.
Once I got to college (Northwestern University), I soon realized that my chosen path might not be the right fit. Not only was I struggling through organic chemistry and physics (admittedly, instead of buying the textbook for the class, I purchased a sweater), but also I had become completely enamored with the theater crowd. Never had I met such charismatic, talented individuals. They could sing! They could dance! They could over-act! I wanted to be just like them.
But I was not a creative type. Unlike these peers, I had not devoted my childhood to honing my singing and dancing skills. I did not deserve to be in their shows. Really, I didn't even have the right to audition.
With pre-med behind me and no clear plan what to do after college, I decided to move to Los Angeles (as one does). One of my first jobs was doing script coverage, and I found I was quite good at tearing apart other people's hard work. Uninspired dialogue, plot holes, weak transitions--I discovered that I had a natural gift for sussing out these problems. Additionally, a number of my friends were aspiring screenwriters, and we had long talks about process and spent many nights dissecting and criticizing primetime television shows.
Side bar: The pilot for Felicity is masterful.
Simultaneously, at the urging of a great friend, I started to take acting classes. There, I learned the importance of back story and character development. I started to audition (the talent pool in LA was less intimidating than the one at NU), but I felt like an impostor. Even though I knew none of them, the other young people aspiring to be Guy #1 in the new Taco Bell commercial struck me as more worthy. I could commit in class, but at auditions, I found biting into imaginary burritos and driving through fake drive-thrus a bit embarrassing. And for anyone who wants to be an artist, commitment is key.
Though I loved the art of acting, I couldn't stomach the business. I had also grown tired of Los Angeles and was looking for jobs in New York City. And I landed a great one, one that would greatly enhance my understanding of storytelling. Thomas Schumacher, then president of Disney Feature Animation and Theatrical Group, who oversaw the production of many of my favorite movies, was opening an office in New York and needed an assistant. I'd never worked for someone so charismatic and passionate--his every breath was about great storytelling. On top of that, Tom was brilliant with talent. He knew how to bring out the best in people, to tap into their most creative selves, to comfort bruised egos and gently reign in inflated ones. Little did I know that I was receiving some of the best training for my future job as a book editor.
Through Tom, I met many other great storytellers: Rick Elice, Roger Rees, Francesca Zambello, Julie Taymor, Sir Richard Eyre, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Phil Collins, Doug Wright, Julian Fellowes. While deeply inspiring, my interactions with these folks intimidated the wannabe artist inside me. I hungered to do the things they did, but as I had been doing for many years, I convinced myself to leave the art-making to the real experts.
After two years working for Tom, I switched to publishing. (In today's market, landing an editorial job is akin to winning the Hunger Games, so I was very lucky to get in when I did. I just happened to have the right skill set and can-do attitude my new boss, Brenda Bowen, was looking for.) The desire to create lingered, but at long last, at least I was in a position that would allow me to produce.
Brenda threw me into the process, first teaching me the basics and then helping me to develop my skills. Tom had instilled in me the value of systems, and I incorporated them into my process. As an editor at Disney Hyperion, I was exposed to the works of Jonathan Stroud, Eoin Colfer, Melissa de la Cruz, E. Lockhart, Mo Willems, and Rick Riordan, many of whom I would eventually have the great pleasure of editing. (Or rather, mostly the great pleasure.) Over the years, I've worked for and with some truly legendary editors, and if/when I win a Golden Globe, they will all be thanked in my speech.
My understanding of story blossomed in these years, and with it, a belief that I could create something of my very own. I decided to try my hand at screenwriting because, as everyone knows, selling a screenplay is super easy. My first effort, in partnership with a friend with some experience with the format, was a female-driven comedy about motherhood, of all things. We never finished the first draft, but I took a lot away from the experience, particularly that writing is hard!
I next tried a screenplay on my own, one that I completed and one that will eventually win me that Golden Globe. A good friend who has worked on a number of Oscar-winning films gave me priceless feedback...that I've yet to address. In essence, I need to rewrite the whole thing, and I'm struggling to find the time to tackle the revision. Let's just say I now empathize with my authors who are facing a lengthy editorial letter. (Not to suggest that I didn't before, but let's be honest--I didn't.)
In April of 2013, after eight years with Disney Publishing and thirteen--my youth!--with The Walt Disney Company, I moved over to Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. This post is about my book deal, so I won't go into how much I love being an editor at S & S. I will write, though, that I felt much more comfortable pursuing my artistic endeavors once I started there. Emboldened by the fact that I had finished a 100-page screenplay, I began writing more regularly. There were a couple of picture book ideas I wanted to tackle. As part of the terms of my employment, I shared the manuscripts with my boss, Justin. He liked them. He made offers on both. I accepted them. Less than a year after starting at S & S, I had signed two contracts for two manuscripts I had written in that timeframe. (I'll tell you more about the other book very soon.)
Years ago, I often spoke with Schumacher about my desire to create something and my insecurities about competing with folks with so much more experience. He pointed out the obvious: "Everyone has their own path." They were words I needed to hear, words that I eventually internalized. I'm happy that I finally decided to take the chance on my own work. I'm thrilled that my name appears on the cover of a beautiful book. And I can't wait for you all to read it!
Learn more about Simon's New Bed here.