Middle Grade Mafia: I’m always interested in how experienced authors approach writing a novel. Do you start with character, place, plot or does the story evolve as you write?
Lisa Yee: I always start with character and get to know them before writing one word. I may have a loose idea about plot, but not much more than that. Then I write the ending first, followed by an outline. The outline always changes, but the ending never does.
MGM: One thing I really enjoyed about the Millicent Min, Girl Genius series is that there weren’t a ton of characters, so you really got to know the main characters very well (Millicent, Stanford and Emily).
LY: Hmmmm . . . this is something I’ve never thought about before. When I write, the characters reveal themselves to me. Personally, I would rather have fewer characters, but go more in-depth about each one than overpopulate a story and never really get to know anyone.
MGM: You have such a terrific sense of humor and it’s very apparent in your books, website and online newsletter, Lisa Yee’s Daily Booksy News. Where did this come from and can anyone learn to incorporate humor into their books?
LY: Not sure where my sense of humor came from. Aisle #14 at the grocery store, perhaps? Incorporating humor into my books comes naturally to me — and it’s also necessary. Because in all of my stories there’s also a lot of heartbreak and I need to humor to balance that out.
I teach a lot of writing workshops, including one on humor. What I tell my students is “I can’t teach you how to be funny, but I can teach you how to be funnier.” An author can incorporate humor into their writing, if it feels right. However, it should never be forced.
MGM: You have done many school visits and talked to so many children. What one piece of advice would you give authors about school visits?
LY: Never talk down the students. They’re smarter than you think they are. In fact, they are probably smarter than you.
MGM: I was fortunate enough to hear your keynote speech at a writing conference a few years ago. What other speaking engagements do you have coming up? Would you ever consider stand-up comedy?
LY: I’ll be at YALLWEST in Santa Monica in April, and there are a few other appearances that I’m finalizing now. As for stand-up comedy, I think the world would be a better place if I didn’t attempt that.
MGM: Your next book is a departure into YA, The Kidney Hypothetical — Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days. When is this book due to be released?
LY: I’m very excited about my new YA — it’s my first since Absolutely Maybe, and will debut at the end of March.