The DMS was lucky enough to interview Grace Lin, author of the middle grade novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Fairday reviewed this whimsically, magical book, and it was great to share our thoughts about it and hear yours! We are excited to learn a little bit more about the story behind the story. So, without further ado... take it away, Grace!
What inspired you to write Where the Mountain Meets the Moon?
I grew up in Upstate New York, the only Asian (except for my sisters) in my school. Because of this, my childhood was always tinged with a strange sense of identity. Was I Chinese? Taiwanese? American? Books and stories were always a source of comfort. I loved folktales and fairytales as a child. I love the classics East of the Sun, West of the Moon, The Light Princess, and The Wizard of Oz – all with gorgeous illustrations, which I devoured and gazed at in awe. It was because of my love for these stories that my mother knew she could pique my interest with the Chinese fairytale books. At the time, she regretted that I knew and had so little interest in our cultural heritage – this was a way of “sneaking” it in. And it worked!
I began reading the Chinese folktales and was at first disappointed. Used to lush illustrations and descriptions, the Asian books were plainly translated with an occasional simple b/w line drawing and seemed an inadequate comparison. However, slowly I discovered the stories had a magic and I began to image details of my own, tinged with Asian-American sensibilities. When I grew older and was able to travel to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China – the stories came alive. And that’s when Where the Mountain Meets the Moon came into existence. An homage to the folktales and fairytales I read in my youth, it is a mixture of Asian fairytales and North American classics. Not a traditional retelling of stories from either cultures, it is a mix – like me, Asian-American. Hopefully, it is full of the magic from both that will satisfy readers everywhere
How long did it take you to write Where the Mountain Meets the Moon?
It took about 3 years.
What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Were there any specific authors who inspired you?
The books I loved as a child and still love are the Shoes books by Noel Streatfeild. I think my favorite is Family Shoes, anything by Rumer Godden. I love Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, anything by Beverly Cleary. Ramona and Her Father still makes me feel warm and fuzzy. The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, anything by Ruth Chew The Witch’s Buttons. I also LOVED Anne of Green Gables (so much so that I even went to PEI) A Search For Delicious by Natalie Babbit, and, of course the Narnia Books and the Oz books. All of those books and authors have inspired me.
Where did you come up with the character Minli?
Hmm, Minli is kind of an idealized version of myself in my youth—the heroine I wanted to be. In reality, however, I’m probably most like the Ma character.
If you could ask the Old Man in the Moon for anything, what would you ask for?
How can I make cake, candy, cookies and all the things my sweet tooth craves into health food?
No, really, I don’t know. The problem is the things I want to know change. Five years ago I might have asked for the cure for cancer. Right now, perhaps I’d ask how to make sure my daughter’s life was long, happy and healthy. Maybe what I’d really ask is how to live without any regrets.
You are your own illustrator. What is the process you use for deciding on the illustrations that accompany your story?
I wanted the chapter headers to be simpler, more of a teaser or clue to the upcoming story rather than a window into it (which is how I wanted the full page images to be). For those, I looked at Chinese paper cuts. Paper cuts, to me, have always been an interesting art form – all the abstract shapes suddenly coming together to make an image, rather like how (hopefully) the chapters come together to make a story. So, I thought it would be a good approach for the chapter headers.
For this book, I really wanted my art to have a traditional Chinese-inspired look. I didn’t want to reproduce a traditional Chinese painting style, as I feel that the book is not a re-telling, not a historically accurate tale; but an original fantasy with a Chinese influence. I wanted the art to be influenced, but not an imitation. So, like the writing, I tried to do research and blend what I found with my own sensibilities. I took thousands of my own photos during my trips abroad that I used as a photo reference, but I also looked at Chinese paintings, ceramics, and paper cuts. In China, we visited a cloisonne factory (a tourist standard!) and I found the many steps that the artists do to create cloisonne images fascinating. The intricate patterns, the ornate borders, had a certain jewel-type richness that I felt fit the magical atmosphere I wanted to achieve in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. So the cover illustration was very much inspired by that. The full-page illustrations also had cloisonne as its muse, but they were also mixed with influences of traditional Chinese paintings and the art of antique Chinese vases and ceramics.
If you could choose a magical creature to befriend, what would it be? Why?
Oh, good question! Right now I’ve been reading about a Chinese fairy called the Ginseng Boy—a healing and benevolent spirit. I might want to befriend him…or a unicorn. When I was 12, I loved unicorns, so that would be fulfilling a dream!
*We were lucky enough to meet Grace Lin at the 2011 UCONN Children's Book Fair. It was wonderful to get to chat with her in person, and we are excited to tell you about her latest novel Starry River of the Sky, which just hit bookshelves in October!