It’s launch week for Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi, and Team Tara is here to get things started off right! Yup, two authors named Tara have interviewed two women with the initials EM (what are the odds?) about the process that went into selling and editing this beautiful middle grade novel.
We’re also giving away a signed copy of the book (and a bookmark!) to one lucky person who comments on this post by Friday, June 29, so make sure to leave your thoughts at the end!
Now Tara Dairman will kick things off by chatting with Emily Mitchell, who edited the book.
Tara Dairman: While a lot of middle-grade fiction today is high-concept or action-packed, Flying the Dragon tells a quieter, more family-centric story. What about the book appealed to you as an acquiring editor?
Emily Mitchell: The characters really drew me in — fully realized, flawed, sympathetic, and surprisingly funny. Strong characters are key for a quieter story like this one: in the absence of whiz-bang action, you need something to keep readers engaged, and the best way to do that is to create characters that readers want to spend time with. I loved Skye’s self-deprecating humor and Hiroshi’s earnest befuddlement, and I loved how Grandfather was wise and tender without feeling like a stereotype. Natalie and I worked hard to polish some of the plot elements during the editing phase, but the characters were spot-on right from the start.
TD: Did you know much about Japanese culture or kite-fighting before you started working on this project, or was it an educational experience for you?
EM: I read The Kite Runner — that was the extent of my knowledge of kite-fighting. And aside from having some friends of Japanese heritage and knowing I don’t like sushi, I knew very little about Japanese culture before working on this book. The tidbits about the rules of language, for example, were fascinating.
TD: One of my favorite elements of this book is how Hiroshi’s culture shock is expressed through so many specific, poignant, and even funny moments. Do you have a favorite?
EM: When Hiroshi proudly demonstrates his newfound knowledge of American slang by telling his ESL teacher, “That totally sucks.” Definitely my favorite moment in the book.
Thank you, Emily! And now here’s Tara Lazar in conversation with Natalie’s agent, Erin Murphy.
Tara Lazar: What was your initial reaction the first time you read Flying the Dragon? What elements of the story jumped out at you, and what stuck with you? How did you know you wanted to sign Natalie?
Erin Murphy: When I first read it, Hiroshi was the only point of view character. I really loved Hiroshi, and most of all, I loved his relationship with his grandfather. I love the way I learned so much about Japanese traditions through Hiroshi’s experience with having to learn American ones. Natalie’s manuscript hit that sweet spot that is very hard to find with middle-grade fiction manuscripts: the voice felt true to the age group, the character’s experience unique yet universal, the emotions going deep but tinged with humor, too. Natalie was both wise and enthusiastic when we spoke, and fun to talk with, and incredibly knowledgeable, both about children’s books in general and about the experiences her character had in the manuscript. I sensed we could work well together, and I knew she was committed to working on the manuscript to bring it to a new level and make it even more of what it was. In particular, Hiroshi’s cousin (then called Susan, now called Skye) was screaming to have a bigger voice in the story. Now half the story is hers, and the juxtaposition and overlap of Hiroshi and Skye’s experiences make for such a rich read.
TL: We hear these days that a lot of editors are interested in multicultural fiction. Did that make this book easier to sell? Or did the quiet nature of the story make it harder to market to editors?
EMu: Back when we were shopping the story, “multicultural” was still carrying a bit of negative connotation from years before, when publishers were all producing multicultural folktales that turned out to be spotty sales-wise. The push to publish multicultural stories that reflect the experiences of today’s diverse readers had not really begun in full, not in the way we see now. And Natalie and I have running jokes about the “q-word”; it came up in almost every rejection the manuscript received, I think–but, delightfully, it has also turned up in the shining reviews we’ve seen so far, as a good thing! As always, I hold on to faith that great fiction will find a home and an audience, even if it’s a little harder to find. I think the book is an absolutely perfect fit for Charlesbridge!
TL: What do you think of the cover? How does it visually convey the story that’s inside?
EMu: Oh my goodness, that cover! It made me swoon from the start. That dragon in the sky! Both characters shown, the bicycle giving it a contemporary feel, and yet the whole thing looks timeless. I could not be happier. There’s an extra pleasure in the way this book and EMU Jeannie Mobley’s Katarina’s Wish look side by side on my shelf–both with silhouetted figures, both with similar colors, both so incredibly eye-catching, and both such satisfying debuts.
TL: Why do you think kids and adults should read Flying the Dragon?
EMu: Because it’s a fabulous story! And if that’s not enough, people who have knowledge of Japanese culture will be delighted at its expression here, and those who don’t will learn something of it, and all will see bits of themselves in both Hiroshi and Skye–and very possibly have a good cry, too. And the kite fighting is thrilling!
Thank you, Erin, for that terrific peek behind the scenes!
And what’s a launch party without a door prize? Please leave a comment below for a chance to win an autographed copy of Flying the Dragon. We’ll choose a winner this Friday.