Clarbojahn Presents! Interview with Author/Illustrator: Sylvia Liu


(c)Sylvia Liu 2014 Pirate & Prince

(c)Sylvia Liu 2014 Pirate & Prince

Just like I promised last Friday, we have a special guest on our interview today. An award-winning picture book author, Sylvia Liu!

Please grab your coffee and enjoy!

Thanks so much for taking this time to answer my questions.

You just won the 2013 New Voices Award at Lee and Low Books. Can we talk a little about how that happened?

1-     Tell us a little about you book, “A Morning with Gong Gong?”

The story is about a little girl, Mei Mei, who sees her grandfather doing t’ai chi in the garden. She tries to copy his graceful moves, but she’s too active and impatient. She then tries to teach him yoga moves, but he’s too old and inflexible. Their funny and loving interactions make their efforts worthwhile though.

2-     What is the story behind the story? How long between getting the idea of the book to finishing it to getting it published?

I was incredibly lucky that it was a very short time between story idea and finding out that I would be getting a contract, which is unusual in this industry. It won’t be published for quite some time though.

As you know, I’m part of Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 challenge, which is to write one picture book manuscript each month. I also joined Kristen Fulton’s WOW nonficpic challenge, which was to write 7 nonfiction manuscripts in the first week of July. In July last year, I decided to combine the challenges. I was visiting Vermont with my extended family and watching my dad do qi gong (another Chinese mind-body practice similar to t’ai chi) and the first draft just flowed.

After I got the story in shape, I submitted the story to Lee and Low in September as part of their New Voices Award competition and got the (most exciting) phone call from them at the end of December.I am now at the very beginning of the publishing process with Lee and Low.

3-     How did you develop the idea into a story that was publishable?

I couldn’t have done this without my amazing critique group. The story originally had both qi gong and t’ai chi in it and a different ending. I got back great feedback from my critique partners, including a suggestion to change the ending, which made a huge difference in the storyline.

Also, about a month before the Lee and Low deadline, I took part in a Writer’s Digest One-on-One course and critique offered by a literary agency. I submitted this story as part of that course and received an insightful and detailed critique from a participating agent, which helped me revise it even further. I have had professional critiques on other manuscripts from others and I always feel that it is worth the expense to get feedback from seasoned professionals.

4-     Tell us a little about the award?

Lee and Low has been running the New Voices Award contest for 14 years, and it’s part of their effort to find and encourage more authors of color in children’s publishing. As they said in their announcement, last year, less than 7% of the children’s books published were written by authors of color.Unagented, unpublished authors of color are eligible.

5-     What is your writing process?

For picture books, I tend to have two different processes. For some stories, I marinate on an idea for awhile, and then one day, I’ll sit down and pound out a rough draft in one go. I let it sit, spend some time revising it, and then send it to my critique group for their feedback. The revision process after that takes a lot longer, can go through many drafts, and can take months.

For other stories, I may have a glimmer of an idea, and I’ll open a new document on my computer and write down a snippet. It might be the first ten lines or the middle ten lines. Then I file it in a folder of drafts and forget about. Then weeks or months later, while I’m procrastinating, I scroll through the folder and click on a title that seems vaguely familiar. Then I find the story and then add another ten lines or so. At some point, I decide to finish it. Then I go through my usual process of revision, critique group, and more revision.

6-     Do you have a writing discipline?? Like to do you write every morning? And how long? Or do you have a word count or some other way to account for your work?

As you can see from the previous answer, I don’t have much writing discipline. I’m also an illustrator, and I am disciplined about working on my art. I am in the middle of a pretty intense mentorship (with the Nevada SCBWI Mentor program), working with illustrator David Diaz, so nowadays I spend a lot more time on my illustration than on my writing.

I am working on a nonfiction story involving a local subject that involves a lot of research, so I’ve been reading for that and will soon spend some time traipsing around town looking at primary sources.

7-     Tell us a little about your publishing journey. Did you submit to many places? How many rejections did you get before being accepted here with Lee and Low?

I don’t really keep track of how many submissions I’ve made. I wrote my first picture book story jointly with my husband on our honeymoon 16 years ago. Then I focused on illustration. About six years ago, I was illustrating some of my husband’s manuscripts, and we jointly submitted manuscripts with sample illustrations and dummies to publishers. We got many form rejections, but a couple of personalized rejections gave us hope for his writing and my art. I will always treasure the response that said (to my husband), “Please tell Ms. Liu that her art is brilliant.”

Four years ago, I started writing my own stories so that I could illustrate them. I spent a long time on one story and submitted it to several agents and publishers. Again, I received a few personalized responses. Two years ago, I joined the 12×12 challenge. The past two years have been very productive as I’ve taken courses, read craft books, and continued to learn to write and revise and write and revise. Last year, I started querying agents and some publishers, and again have gotten enough hopeful feedback to know that I’m on the right track.

With A MORNING WITH GONG GONG, I knew I had something special, but I only sent it to the Lee & Low competition and one agent.

And now some fun questions:

What are you going to d o with the $1,000?

It has been practically used up already with my illustration expenses! I will use it to pay for my travel and trip to my next Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program retreat. We’re meeting in an old Western town called Virginia City in Nevada in April and there is no way to get there from where I live in less than three flights. The rest will go towards art supplies and books. And I promised my husband a very nice dinner. J

What are your favorite books? What are your favorite TV programs?

When I read for fun, I love to read fantasy and sci-fi. Some of my favorite authors are Neil Gaiman, Haruki Murakami, and Neal Stephenson. My favorite TV programs are sadly not on air anymore. My all time favorite is the short-lived Firefly. I also liked Veronica Mars – so much so that I took part in the record-breaking Kickstarter campaign that funded a movie that will come out soon.

8-Where else can we  find you on the internet?

Sylvia Liu Profile Pic 2014

Sylvia Liu Profile Pic 2014

Here is Sylvia Liu’s bio:

Sylvia Liu is a former environmental lawyer turned writer-illustrator. After a decade of work in marine conservation legal work, she returned to her original love of painting and writing. Her art has been exhibited regionally, including in the 2012 New Waves show at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. She is taking part in an illustration mentorship with Caldecott winner David Diaz as part of the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. Her portfolio can be found at and she blogs at

Thanks so much, Sylvia. I am really honored you would do this interview with me for my blog.  I really appreciate the time you took to answer these questions and it was fun getting to know you better. 🙂

I was also part of Julie Hedlund’s 12x12x13 last year and found it extremely helpful in writing those manuscripts. And so many new writers found agents!! It was so inspirational.

I am so glad I found a kindred spirit. Congratulations! Sylvia for the publishing contract and the award! May there be many more picture books and many more awards. 🙂

We’ll be seeing Sylvia in the comments. *YaY!*

XXXooo And we’ll be seeing you on Friday for another one of my reviews on fairy tale retellings!  *yay! readers!*

I found some other interviews for you. Now go back and get another cuppa and read!

Yep! We do give away’s here. Are you ready for another one? Let me know in the comments ok?

About ClaraBowmanJahn

Journal writer. Author of "Annie's Special Day" And coauthor of Edmund Pickle Chin, A Donkey Rescue Story." Proud mother and grandmother of wonderful kids. Wife of brilliant husband. Servant of two cats. Member of Pennwriters and SCBWI.
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47 Responses to Clarbojahn Presents! Interview with Author/Illustrator: Sylvia Liu

  1. Great interview with Sylvia. I know more lawyers who are pursuing writing careers. You are doubly talented — writer and artist. I enjoyed hearing how your story idea came to you. Again, congratulations on signing with Lee and Low. I love their multicultural books.


  2. clarbojahn says:

    Thanks so much, Patricia!

    I love Lee and Low as well and am very proud of Sylvia Liu. I can’t wait to read her book. 🙂


  3. Joanna says:

    I was so so thrilled when I discovered that Sylvia had won the New Voices Award. It is a very meaningful award and one I have had several friends apply for. I can’t wait to read A MORNING WITH GONG GONG.


  4. Catherine Johnson says:

    Fabulous interview! I am so looking forward to reading your first pb Sylvia. Congrats on the award!


  5. Gayle O'Donnell says:

    Great interview! Sylvia’s book will be the first of many successful Picture Books for her. So happy to have her as an illustrator buddy! ❤


  6. I never tire of reading these interviews about Sylvia! She shows how hard work and perseverance will lead to great things. 🙂


  7. So delighted for Sylvia! The New Voices award is a well-deserved honor, Sylvia. This was a great interview — thank you to you both.


  8. Super thrilled for you, Sylvia. I offer another CONGRATULATIONS! because I can’t say it enough. I enjoyed reading this interview and learning more about you. Thanks Clar!


  9. Tina Cho says:

    Wonderful interview! I enjoyed learning about how this story came to be. Thanks, Sylvia and Clar!


  10. Thanks for this interview with one of my fabulous critique partners! I am beyond thrilled that one day I will have A MORNING WITH GONG GONG on my bookshelf. So happy for you, Sylvia!


  11. This is so wonderful, Sylvia! And for you to be progressing on both sides of the PB coin just doubles all the goodness!


  12. Great interview, Clar and Sylvia! Congratulations, Sylvia, on this very distinguished achievement – so exciting! I can’t wait to read the book! And it’s wonderful that you excel in both art and writing! I’m sure this book will be the first of many!


  13. Awesome! 😀 Great interview! I think Ms. Liu and I would get along well – we both love fantasy/sci fi! (have you ever read Timothy Zahn’s STAR WARS Heir to the Empire series – he’s an awesome author!!!)


  14. Congratulations, Sylvia! Success couldn’t happen to a nicer gal!



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