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Debut Author Interview: Betty Yee on Creating a Riveting Historical Novel and Gold Mountain Giveaway and IWSG Post

Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Betty Yee here to share about her YA historical fiction Gold Mountain. It’s set in the 1860’s when the Transcontinental Railroad was being built. I love historical fiction and am super excited to read this one.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Working on the Transcontinental Railroad promises a fortune—for those who survive.

Growing up in 1860s China, Tam Ling Fan has lived a life of comfort. Her father is wealthy enough to provide for his family but unconventional enough to spare Ling Fan from the debilitating foot-binding required of most well-off girls. But Ling Fan’s life is upended when her brother dies of influenza and their father is imprisoned under false accusations. Hoping to earn the money that will secure her father’s release, Ling Fan disguises herself as a boy and takes her brother’s contract to work for the Central Pacific Railroad Company in America.

Life on “the Gold Mountain” is grueling and dangerous. To build the railroad that will connect the west coast to the east, Ling Fan and other Chinese laborers lay track and blast tunnels through the treacherous peaks of the Sierra Nevada, facing cave-ins, avalanches, and blizzards—along with hostility from white Americans.

When someone threatens to expose Ling Fan’s secret, she must take an even greater risk to save what’s left of her family . . . and to escape the Gold Mountain alive. 

 


Before I get to my interview with Dannie, I have my IWSG Post.

Posting: The first Wednesday is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group Day.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The awesome co-hosts this month are Kim Elliott, Melissa Maygrove, Chemist Ken, Lee Lowery, and Nancy Gideon!

Optional Question: It's the best of times; it's the worst of times. What are your writer highs (the good times)? And what are your writer lows (the crappy times)?

My writer highs were in the early years of my writing about 20 years ago when I was super excited about writing and had my first manuscript go to acquisitions at Little Brown. I didn’t know it had even gotten that far until the editor I submitted to sent me a very nice rejection about a year after I submitted it to her.

My lows have been after my husband died and I lost all my drive to write. Even now, I’ve seen how hard writers must work and not always succeed even if they’ve been traditionally published. It’s hard to get too excited about the possibility of being published, when there is so much about it you can’t control. I try to focus on the joy of writing for the sake of writing instead.

What have been your highs and lows?

Interview With Betty Yee

Hi Betty! Thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you so much for inviting me!

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

Reading has always been a source of comfort and joy. From an early age, I learned to climb into the world of books. I never wanted the stories to end, so I spent a lot of time retelling my favorite stories to myself in my daydreams, sometimes changing scenes, adding new characters, even inserting entirely new adventures. I longed for sequels and if they weren’t forthcoming, I made up my own. I began writing down some of my re-imaginings. Before long, I realized that more and more of the stories had veered far from the source material, and moreover I enjoyed and preferred creating my own worlds and characters!

I started taking writing classes and joined a writing group that I’ve been a member of for over ten years.  I love being around other writers. Their encouragement keeps me going, but more than that I love talking with them about books, writing craft, and the writing process. Giving feedback to other writers has taught me to look at my own work more objectively.

2. I’ve always loved books too. Where did you get the idea for Gold Mountain?

The idea for Gold Mountain began with a character: a Chinese girl disguising herself as a boy.  I had the character, but needed to find a compelling reason for her to take such drastic steps. It wasn’t long before I placed her in a setting I long held an interest in: 1865 and the construction of the American transcontinental railroad. All my life I’ve heard about the thousands of Chinese sojourners who worked on the transcontinental railroad, and how dangerous that work was. I was curious about who the workers were. Here was a chance to find a face and a story for those unknown people.

On Writing a Riveting Historical Fiction Story

3. Ling Fan’s story starts in China and then moves to America. Share about the research you had to do for both places and the challenges you faced in having research both settings.

My parents grew up in the 1920’s in the southern province of Guangdong, China. They were raised in villages very similar to Ling Fan’s fictional hometown, Lo Wai. Many of the descriptions of everyday life in China come from stories my parents told me of what life was like for my grandparents as well as for themselves. An early scene in the book in which we see Ling Fan stealing oranges came from stories my mother told me of how as a girl she was guilty of climbing up her neighbors’ fruit trees to steal snacks!

My research into the life of the railroad workers was much more challenging. I started off by getting a general sense of the time period both in China and in the United States. I wanted to get the perspective of the big events before and after the years that GM takes place. I read extensively about construction of the railroad–Stephen E. Ambrose’s Nothing Like It In World was an invaluable resource as was Lila Perl’s To the Golden Mountain.  I made a timeline of major milestones in the Central Pacific’s progress because I wanted to embed as much of that into the novel as possible. This was tricky as the actual timeline doesn’t fold perfectly into the novel’s timeline. The challenge of writing historical fiction lies in balancing the needs of the novel with the needs of being as historically accurate as possible.

What I was most surprised by in the course of my research  was how little information there is on the lives of the Chinese sojourners themselves. There was virtually no primary source material–no letters, no payroll records, etc. There’s a lot of detailed information about the financial backers and details about the construction work, but most of my information about the sojourners came from secondary sources.

Shortly after I finished work on GM, I learned about Stanford University’s Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project. I encourage anybody interested in learning more about these remarkable workers should check it out!

4. That’s great that you could rely on your families’ experiences in China. Were you a plotter, punster, or something in between when writing Gold Mountain? Has your plotting process changed since you worked on this manuscript?

I was a pantster for most of the first draft. It wasn’t until I began to feel the edges of the story and officially began a second draft that I wrote my first outline. Now, whenever I start a new writing project, I begin with an outline, but try to be flexible with it. More often than not, I wind up changing things completely, so I suppose that makes me a plantster!

5. Readers have said that they couldn’t put your book down. Share your tips on making historical fiction a page turner.

I think that the key to writing engrossing historical fiction is in finding the balance between the needs of the story and the needs of being faithful to historic events. You don’t want to bog your readers down  with so much historical background that  they feel as though they're wading through a text book, but you also don’t want to make your story so lacking in detail that it could take place in any time period.

Careful world building is one way to strike that balance. Fantasy and science fiction writers are familiar with the importance of world building, but this is also true for historical fiction. Quite a lot can be conveyed by a quick description of the geography of a scene. Everyday objects reflect the technology of the time period and casual conversations between characters can quickly summarize social attitudes and biases. Every bit of world building adds up to a compelling tale.

On Your Road to Publication

6. Your agent is Emily Keyes. How did she become your agent?

I started by using databases such as Query Tracker, MWSL, Publishers Marketplace  and Literary Rambles to search for agents interested in books similar to Gold Mountain. I also looked for agents that had some experience with editors of books I loved. From there I sent out my queries. I’m so fortunate that Emily Keyes reached out, expressing interest. When we talked on the phone, I was impressed by Emily’s enthusiasm for Gold Mountain. I knew I’d found a staunch advocate for myself and my work!

7. Glad researching agents at Literary Rambles helped. What was your submission process like? What tips do you have for other writers going on submission?

After a few rounds of edits, Emily felt we were ready for submission. Early on, we’d discussed publishing houses that might be a good fit. Emily has an excellent sense of what editors are looking for, and what they are interested in. She sent GM to a fair sized list of publishers and we waited to hear back. We were very fortunate to get an offer  from Amy Fitzgerald, editor of Lerner/Carolrhoda!

We were very lucky that submission for GM went quickly, but quite often this is not the case. My tip for writers going on submission is to be patient and trust your agent. Agents work hard behind the scenes for their clients and they are skilled at navigating the currents of publishing. The best thing that writers can do at this point is to keep writing! Also, there are so many groups on social media who have members who are in the same boat. Connecting with them helps keep things in perspective.

On Marketing Your Book

8. You are part of the #22Debut group. How has that helped you get ready for your debut book release?

The #22Debuts is a group of kind, generous, supportive writers who are always happy to share their experiences, resources, support and advice. The group chats, vents, and celebrates milestones. It has been so helpful knowing what to expect, and to have advice on how to navigate the year. Members enjoy sharing examples of marketing graphics, author websites, pre-order campaigns and ARC giveaway ideas. Being a member of the #22Debuts has kept me sane this year!

We’re able to amplify our individual social media presence by featuring collective events such as monthly chats (every 22nd of the month) on Twitter and occasional month long “meet the author” expos on Instagram. The group has a collective hashtag on Twitter and Instagram which boosts posts from members. There’s also a beautiful website, https://www.22debuts.com/  that features each member’s book and author information.

9. Being part of a debut group sounds so helpful when you’re trying to navigate your debut year. What are you doing to promote Gold Mountain and celebrate its release?

I’m doing a couple of  author events with my long time friend and fellow 2022 debut author, Karen Winn. Karen Winn is the author of OUR LITTLE WORLD, coming from Dutton/Penguin Random House on May 3. We will be in conversation on the theme, Coming of Age in America.

 Our first event will be in person in Boston on May 24th.

https://vilnashul.org/events/event/coming-of-age-in-america

 10. What are you working on now?

 I have several ideas simmering in the back of my mind, but currently I’m drafting a MG fantasy novel based on Chang’e, the Chinese moon goddess, the Jade Rabbit and the Monkey King.

 Thanks for sharing all your advice, Betty. You can find Betty at:

 Author Website: https://bettygyee.com

#22Debuts Website: https://www.22debuts.com/

Twitter: @B_Yee09

Instagram: @bgyeewriter

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bgyeewriter

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57223569-gold-mountain

Email: bgyeewriter@comcast.net

 Giveaway Details

Betty has generously offered an ARC of Gold Mountain for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by May 21st. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S. and Canada.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Monday, May 9th I have an agent spotlight interview with Jennifer Unter and a query critique giveaway

Tuesday, May 10th I’m participating in the Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop

Monday, May 16th I have a guest post by Donna Gallanti and a giveaway of her MG fantasy Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand and I’m participating in the Mom’s Rock Giveaway Hop

Monday, May 23th I have an agent/author guest post by Natalie Lakosil and Tracie Badua with a giveaway of Tracie’s MG contemporary Freddie vs. The Family Curse and a query critique giveaway by Natalie

Hope to see you on Monday!

 

44 comments:

  1. Hi Natalie. I still want to be published but remain grateful that the actual writing continues to bring joy. Thank you for this interview. Betty's book sounds like an excellent read.

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  2. "I try to focus on the joy of writing for the sake of writing instead." This right here, what you said, is so true. The ups and downs as a writer are endless. Embrace the joy of writing and let everything else go.

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  3. Gold Mountain sounds terrific and intense. I'm always impressed with people who write historical fiction. So much research!
    Natalie - the publishing journey is sure a roller coaster, isn't it. Focusing on the joys is the way to go!!

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  4. I'm with you Natalie, I focus on the joy I get from the creative process of writing. If I try to think too far ahead, I'm in danger of being discouraged. What you've managed to do since the loss of your husband has been nothing less than extraordinary.

    @DebsDespatches visiting from
    Fiction Can Be Fun

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  5. Yes to focusing on the joy of writing! :)

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  6. Hi, There's a lot about the publishing world that I don't understand. I think for me happiness comes from knowing that I am doing a job that I have always loved.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

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  7. Congratulations to Betty! I'm a pantser the first go around with a manuscript too, and then the outline comes into focus.

    I love that you're focusing on the joy of writing, Natalie! I love it when the writing flows. My low has consistently been marketing.

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  8. I've been writing for the very reason that it gives me wings! It's like teaching, doing it for the money makes it harder but doing it because it's a love for it is even better!

    I like how Yee talked about world building--as both a fantasy writer and historical writer, I understand that it can bog any story down. This applies to modern stories as well; too much description on the setting is boring!

    Thank you for the interview!

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  9. Betty's book sounds wonderful. This timeframe is one of my favorites--America during the time of the transcontinental rr building. Email for the giveaway: askatechteacher@gmail.com.

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  10. Today's interview resonated with me. My upcoming novel is pre-transcontinental, but researching early railroad construction was interesting. I bet the author's research on the lives of the workers lends much detail to the the characters in Gold Mountain. Best of luck!

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  11. What an informative interview. Betty you picked a fascinating topic that a lot of us don't know that much about.
    'Lo, Natalie;)

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  12. I stick with the love of writing as well. It's gotten me through the worst of times. :-)

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  13. Great interview with Betty Yee, and her book sounds right up my alley :) As for the highs and lows... I think we all share most of those, getting high on the times when writing is going well, and when we finish or publish a book. Lows when things are rejected, or we find that sales are poor.

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  14. How nice that your book reached the acquisitions stage at Little Brown.
    Liked the interview with Betty Lee.

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  15. Keep focusing on the joy of writing!

    Ronel visiting for IWSG day Culling the To-Do List and the TBR

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  16. Natalie - I'm glad you are holding onto the joy in writing from the writing. That is a breath of fresh air to read and remember. Thank you for sharing that.
    Congratulations to Betty - her book sounds intriguing, and your interview is excellent!

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  17. That is a great attitude, Natalie because the writing industry is so unpredictable and it really is a matter of luck more than talent.

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    1. this is Michael Di Gesu... for some reason, it is coming up as anonymous.

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  18. I'm not sure why someone would choose to write if they didn't love to write. There have been times when I've been unable to write for anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months. I get really cranky when I can't write. Everything gathers in my head with no place to go. I love the highs and deal with the lows.

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  19. Betty's book sounds fascinating, especially because I know nothing about that episode in American history.

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  20. That is a very interesting historical period. I am in awe of historical fiction writers. The research involved...

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  21. What an interesting book! Anything historical fiction fascinates me because of the research that goes into it.

    Yes-good for us to focus on the joys of writing. Thanks for the reminder of that.

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  22. That's my writing now - just for the joy of it.

    Historical MG/YA means school and library appearances, too. Bonus for Betty!

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  23. How wonderful that Betty is able to incorporate her family stories into her work! It often happens that people I care about find their way into my characters. It keeps my writing close to my heart. Wishing you lots of joy in your writing!

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  24. I hope that you get published at some point, Natalie. But what you've done with "Literary Rambles" is an amazing accomplishment. Few people match what you have done. Betty Yee's book sounds wonderful. I remember studying about the Chinese working on the Transcontinental Railroad in university. Chinese men were employed in Canada as well, as cheap labor on the Canadian Pacific Railroad. I think her book would be fascinating. Enjoy the rest of your week!

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  25. Enjoying writing for the sake of writing is what keeps me going.

    I love the setting and premise of Gold Mountain. I'll have to keep my eye out for that one.

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  26. This sounds so good! Congrats to Betty! I really loved hearing how she based this on her own family's experiences. Natalie, that's huge that your first manuscript went to acquisitions!

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  27. Great interview! Betty's book sounds interesting - I love historical fiction.

    My story is so closely aligned with yours that I'm just shaking my head, thinking "this is so me." We're both blessed to have had a career that now lets us write for the pure joy of writing. I don't fret over publication. Someday, if I'm satisfied with a manuscript, I'll publish indie.

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  28. Betty has written of a very interesting historical time. The premise sounds great.
    And yes Natalie, life is full of ups and downs and I know when I'm down I find it very difficult to write. I see I'm not alone.

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  29. This was a great interview and sounds like a wonderful book. Congratulations, Betty! And Natalie--I resonated with every word you said about highs and lows. Keep on, keeping on!!

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  30. Focusing on the joys of writing itself is a smart way to go!

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  31. My highs were mostly back when I was working full time and had to squeeze in the time to write. My lows come when I realize that even though I now have more time, my productivity seems to have plummeted.

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  32. That sounds like an interesting premise for a book. Thank you for introducing it here. I agree, the joy of writing must be paramount on our minds.

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  33. I hope your writing mojo comes back soon Natalie. And in the meantime you have your blog which you write in so you are technically writing. I would like to read Betty Yee's book - it sounds fabulous.

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  34. FYI - this is Leigh Caron at Em-Musing commenting. Somehow the link to show my profile isn't working. I understand your lowest. Writing did though pull me through until I found joy again. The interview was fabulous! Love to get in the heads of other writers. Their story is as fasciating as the story they write.

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  35. I am with you on trying to focus on the joy I experience while writing. I too love reading historical fiction and this book is set in a new time and place for me. I can't wait to read this one--the premise sounds exciting. I follow Natalie on Twitter and shared on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/danielle.hammelef/posts/10223738975596175

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  36. This genre of historical fiction is my favorite type of book to read. This must of been a very emotional book for you to write-thanks

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  37. Ooh, fascinating! This sounds like a wonderful book to read! Congratulations and best wishes!

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  38. One historic fascination of mine is real-life cases of women who had to disguise themselves as men to survive/make a living. This sounds intriguing!

    It makes sense to focus on the joy of writing over all else. I also try to do that. In my interactions with other writers via blogs, events, and social media, it's really hit home how different everyone's experiences are and how flexible I need to be on what my future plans are. I'd like to embrace the hybrid life to at least try out traditional publishing in novel-length fiction, but I'm not against circumventing it, either.

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  39. Sounds interesting positive.ideas.4youATgmail.com

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  40. Sorry it took me so long to swing back this way to say Happy IWSG day! I remember you talking about the rough time you had after your husband passed. I'm glad you're finding new joy in writing again, and I hope you get back to the high you had back 20 years ago and go even higher.

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  41. Sounds fascinating. positive.ideas.4youATgmail.com

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  42. This sounds like an amazing book and I really enjoyed the interview. Loved reading about her path to publication- how cool. Thanks for sharing. :)

    Also- I can relate to your low when it comes to writing and seeing how hard it is. I try to focus on writing for fun- but sometimes that can be a challenge too. Not feeling like writing can also be a low for me.

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