By Alaina Leary
Today we’re pleased to welcome Lily LaMotte to the WNDB blog to discuss her MG graphic novel Measuring Up, out now!
Twelve-year-old Cici has just moved from Taiwan to Seattle, and the only thing she wants more than to fit in at her new school is to celebrate her grandmother, A-má’s, seventieth birthday together.
Since she can’t go to A-má, Cici cooks up a plan to bring A-má to her by winning the grand prize in a kids’ cooking contest to pay for A-má’s plane ticket! There’s just one problem: Cici only knows how to cook Taiwanese food.
And after her pickled cucumber debacle at lunch, she’s determined to channel her inner Julia Child. Can Cici find a winning recipe to reunite with A-má, a way to fit in with her new friends, and somehow find herself too?
What was it like working with illustrator Ann Xu on Measuring Up? How did you collaborate on the illustration process?
The process was very much like that for picture books in that I worked through my editor. What is different about picture books and graphic novels is that picture books have few, if any, illustration notes. For my graphic novel script, I described every panel and page in detail. Ann brilliantly translated my descriptions into wonderful illustrations.
Are you normally a plotter or a pantser, and did you follow your usual writing process for Measuring Up?
I am definitely a plotter so when I worked with Gene Luen Yang in a post-grad semester through Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adult, I was very happy to send him the synopsis he asked for. As it turned out, my synopsis was too detailed. Basically, Gene said that the synopsis needs to be detailed enough to contain the story but broad enough to leave room for new and better ideas during the actual writing of the book. He was totally right. I found that having the plot arc and the character arc worked out in broad strokes gave me a road map to follow. At the same time, not diving too deeply into details gave me the freedom to write the pages and panels with fresh eyes.
Measuring Up is your debut. Do you think you’ll write other graphic novels, or do you have other genres you’re hoping to write next?
My second graphic novel just went through copy edit and I’m thinking about how to shape my next one. Throughout my time writing these graphic novels, I’ve always had one or another picture book in revision. I find working on picture books gives me a mental break from working on the long form. I also just started a poetry 101 class at my local college. I’m taking it for fun and to learn new things. Maybe someday in the far future, I’ll write a verse novel.
Do you have any advice for debut authors, especially middle-grade debuts?
It’s a challenging time to be a debut right now. So many of the events that authors had planned have gone virtual. I had planned an in-person book launch at one of my local indie book stores but that’s now virtual. The upside is that readers from all over can now come.
I’m not sure what my wonderfully supportive publicity and marketing team would have planned, but I am thrilled by how they’ve pivoted to the new situation. I’ve been on several virtual panels like the NY Comic Con Metaverse and the Tween Reads Festival. And on blog posts like this one. Thank you for having me!
I think the main thing is to do what we can, try not to stress about it, and write the next book. Being a writer is always about writing the next book.
This book centers around your protagonist in a cooking competition. Do you also love to cook? If so, what are some of your favorite recipes?
When I graduated from college, I found myself with little to no cooking experience. So I learned by buying and reading cookbooks and most of all experimenting. There were a lot of failures along the way. My kids still remember the time I decided that scallops and apples would make a delicious pie. It does not. I was a big collector of cookbooks and everyone knew that they could always gift me one. These days, I’m so busy that I no longer make elaborate meals but I’m still experimenting. I have fewer failures but they still happen. And since I’m terrible at taking notes and use the “a pinch of this and a pinch of that” method of cooking, I can’t reproduce the dishes that do work.
Are you inspired by any authors, kidlit or otherwise?
At the time I was in the Hamline MFA program, we had a required reading list. I found that I loved reading the middle-grade graphic novel on the list. I sought out more of them to read. I love Cece Bell, Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, and of course Gene Luen Yang. They inspired me to try writing one of my own which turned out to be Measuring Up.
What other books do you think Measuring Up is in conversation with? And do you have any recommendations for other published or forthcoming kidlit (particularly MG)?
There are so many wonderful middle-grade graphic novels. The ones that I mentioned earlier. I also love Jerry Craft’s New Kid. There’s also Jen Wang’s Stargazing and Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina. On my read shelf, I have Lorena Alvarez’s Nightlights and my fellow HarperAlley middle grade authors Jerry Craft’s Class Act, Tim Probert’s Light Fall, Kathleen Gros’s Jo, Alejandra Green and Fanny Rodriguez’s Fantastic Tales of Nothing, and Ursula Murray Husted’s A Cat Story. I’m going to add Elise Gravel’s King of the Birds and Brian “Smitty” Smith’s Pea, Bee & Jay to my stack since who doesn’t love funny early readers. I feel that the world of graphic novels has changed in the last few years so that there is such a huge variety available. Just about every reader can find something that speaks to them.
What’s one question you wish you were asked more often (and the answer)?
I’m not sure. As a debut author, I’m just starting to be asked questions. And I’m grateful to be in a position to be asked!
Lily LaMotte graduated from Hamline’s Writing for Children and Young Adults program with an MFA. When she isn’t writing, she’s cooking up new recipes and supporting her library system as a KCLS Foundation board member. Measuring Up is her debut graphic novel. Visit her at www.lilylamotte.com.