Tuesday, October 2, 2012

At Last, At Last! It's Release Day for STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY!

Know what happens on very special Tuesdays? BOOKS ARE RELEASED! Today is one of those very special days: It's launch day for Grace Lin's Starry River of the Sky! If you're not jumping up and down in your seat, what's wrong with you?

Rendi is a boy on the run until he's discovered stowing away on a wine merchant's wagon and kicked off in the tiny and isolated Village of Clear Sky. Luckily for Rendi, the master of the inn has a need for a chore boy. Luckily too, the Village isn't as deadly dull as it first appears. There are long-standing feuds to sort out, a batty old man who makes a pet of a strange toad, and a beautiful and mysterious woman full of tales to share who convinces Rendi to begin to share his own stories. Not only that, the moon itself seems to have disappeared from the sky, and only Rendi can hear the cries of loss that seem to be coming from the starry river above.

Starry River of the Sky shares a lot with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. For one thing, they are both exquisitely beautiful objects, illustrated throughout in full color. Opening either one is a delight even before you start reading. For another thing, both incorporate folklore throughout, and not just folklore but storytelling. For the young Rendi, both the stories he is told and the stories he is persuaded to tell to others are critical stepping stones on his journey. There are other links between the two books for those who look for them, too. And, as with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, when the tales come together at the end of Starry River of the Sky, it's like a wonderful puzzle being assembled before your eyes.

But you're not here to listen to me talking about the book, and I'm so excited to have had a chance to talk with Grace Lin about Starry River of the Sky. So without further ado...

KM: I love how folklore functions in these books--it informs the world and helps to move the story forward, but the story is completely your own. How did you craft this book (and was it the same for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon)? How did the tales and the big story come together? What came first?

Grace: Hmm, that's a hard question to answer as I'm not a very organized writer. Before I start anything, I usually have the beginning and end in mind. From there, for the publisher's sake, I write a one sentence summary of each chapter of how the beginning will get to the end, which I call my outline. However, I've never ever followed my outline once I start writing. And the neither the big story or the tales come first, really. I research a lot of folktales and some just naturally link together and inspire the larger story; sometimes I go in search of a tale that would fit what I think is a blank spot in the large story. It's really just a big mess in my head that comes out and only gets organized during the revision process.

KM: I know just enough about Chinese folklore to recognize certain familiar motifs in Starry River of the Sky (and in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon), but so far I have yet to recognize any specific stories--but then again, I'm an absolute beginner. How much of the storytelling is drawn from specific pieces of lore, and how much is your own creation? What approach do you take in crafting these tales?

Grace: For Starry River, I would say about 60-70% is from specific lore, though all highly embellished by me. I usually write the folktales from memory and add my own details, settings and descriptions. I want to stay true to the spirit of the original legends but I also want to the freedom to tell my own version of them.

KM: I love how WangYi and his wife, much like the Old Man of the Moon, are introduced and brought so fully to life through tales told about him before either character appears "in real life" to Rendi or Minli. Can you talk a bit about how you manage this? It reads as effortless, but at least in my experience it isn't that easy a thing to pull off.

Grace: I'm glad it reads effortless. I would interchangeably worry that it was too obvious and then too subtle. I really wanted the readers to figure it out themselves, but in a way that they would have to think about it--anything too easy is no fun! I have to say it was my editor and subsequent readers who helped massage it--encouraging me to take out certain references in some areas and to add hints in others.

KM: Traveling is a big theme in this book, as well as in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and this is also a subject near and dear to my heart. It seems deeply tied to the ideas of home and destiny and family, and while I never get the sense that the world of the books discourages people from leaving home, their paths always do seem to bring them back to where they started. Can you talk a bit about this? 

Grace: Hmm, I never really thought about it that way but you are completely right.  It must because these books are partially inspired by my own trips to Asian countries. While I loved my travels and feel many of them were life changing, it was the returning home that made the experiences feel complete.

KM: Much is made in both books of the differences between the perception of power and the reality of responsibility--and, maybe related, maybe unrelated, the wisdom of children as compared to the wisdom of their elders. In each book, also, it falls to the young protagonists to work out who to trust and who not to trust, and when to follow their own instincts. Can you talk a bit about this?

Grace: Typically in Asian culture, it's the older generation who are revered; they are the wise ones and the decision-makers. But in contemporary, American children's literature it's the child who must drive the action and make the decision. These books are my attempt to blend those two. While Rendi makes the ultimate decision he is guided by the older characters of the book.

KM: Can I ask what might be a silly question, since I can't draw to save my life? Does your artists' background figure into your writing of a book like Starry River--meaning, are you ever guided towards writing a scene in a particular way (or at all) because you'd like to paint it, or do you sort of flip that switch afterward when you choose the images you'd like to illustrate? 

Grace: Very rarely does the art come first. While I write and think of ideas, images to float in and out but I never put pencil to paper until the writing is done. So the "switch" is half on while I write but never full on until all the writing is done!

KM: Thank you so much, Grace. Congratulations on another gorgeous book, and thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Readers, I'll leave you with Starry River of the Sky's new trailer. Enjoy, then join the online launch party at Grace's blog, where today there are some exciting things going on in the way of contests and giveaways and general celebration. Everybody's invited!


  1. Interesting to hear about the inclusion of the folk stories, although Grace doesn't worry too much about getting things all exactly the same. Nice to hear she is passing on the stories with her slant on them. The fact that the art comes last is interesting, too. Like you, Kate, I might have guessed that the art sometimes was roughly sketched. Perhaps others are different? Thanks!

  2. Thanks so much, Kate, for this great interview! I really appreciate it!

  3. This looks wonderful. I can't wait to read it!

  4. I love books based on Chinese folklore. This one looks perfect for me.

  5. Fantastic trailer and I loved this interview. Congratulations on your new release, Grace - this sounds like another winner!


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