Yay! It's my favorite day of the week, Women Who Rock Wednesday, the day when I get to shine the spotlight on a female artist who totally rocks my world. Before we meet today's amazing lady, I have a mix cd of my favorite songs by female artists to give away. The winner is... Shooting Stars Magazine from MySpace! Please send me your addy, Lauren!
Now, I want to introduce you to Paula Yoo, a fabulous author that I met at a conference a couple months ago. I bought her book, GOOD ENOUGH, and immediately devoured it. No, I'm not musicially talented nor am I Korean like the main character Patti, but I related to Patti on a couple different levels. As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, I was a geek/nerd/dork. Also, I was a big overachiever who put a ton of pressure on herself in school. Yeah, in high school I hung out with the punks and the misfits and the stoners and I ditched classes and got high, but I made sure I maintained straight A's in all of my classes (except for Biology. Grrr at Biology.) and I got extremely stressed out over my grades. Yeah, weird I know. But there it is. My confession of the day.
Anyway, so not only did Paula write an amazing book that I think you all will love, I also believe she and I might have been separated at birth. All the stuff we have in common is crazy. But let's get on to the interview because she gave some amazing answers! And of course, she is being kind enough to send a signed copy of GOOD ENOUGH to a lucky winner drawn at random from everyone who leaves comments. So read and then comment away! Here's Paula!
Q: There aren't enough books that show us exactly how cool and kick ass "nerdy" girls really can be. Since I was a total nerdy girl growing up, I was head over heels in love with GOOD ENOUGH. But instead of me describing the story to my readers, can you tell us all about the book and where you got the idea?
PAULA SAYS: I can't believe you were nerdy, Stephanie! Wow, we would have been BFF's back in high school together! :) Thank you for your kind words. To answer your question: GOOD ENOUGH was based on my life growing up as a violin geek whose Korean immigrant parents pressured me to stay home and study all the time because they wanted me to get accepted into the Ivy Leagues. And then I met a cute new guy in the 10th grade who played guitar and trumpet and we shared the same tastes in music - this was back in the '80s when alternative rock was NOT mainstream and the only way you could hear this music was to listen to college radio stations. Eventually, we would meet to "jam" as he taught me how to improv on my violin to rock music. Our friendship was important to me because he was "popular" but yet treated me like an equal because of our interest in music.
When I wrote GOOD ENOUGH, it was the first novel I had ever written that was based specifically on my own life. I used to hate debut novels that were thinly-disguised autobiographies because I used to think that was "cheating." Instead, I now realize that often a first novel is heavily based on the author's own experiences because you are trying to find your own voice and how your perspective shapes your writing. As a writer, you are sharing your world view with readers, and in order to have a world view, you need to have a deep understanding of your own life to shape that world view. Wow, that suddenly sounded very pompous. LOL. Well, in regular English, I just wrote about my own awkward teen years and first crush and how I learned to relax and not study so hard and do a little rebelling and act like a normal teen. When I started writing GOOD ENOUGH, I thought it would be much more sarcastic and darker in tone but I kept laughing as I remembered all my so-called miserable experiences and the book just became a funny and satirical look at academic pressure for teens, growing up with immigrant parents, exploring my love and passion for music and the violin, and using humor as a way to deal with racial stereotypes and cultural differences. It ended up being a story about a nerdy, high-achieving teen girl who learns the difference between the importance of being successful versus being happy.
Also GOOD ENOUGH was originally set in 1984 but my publisher wanted me to make it contemporary, and joked that "historical fiction" wasn't in these days. haha! So I made it contemporary and changed Duran Duran to "Jet Pack." But I still managed to sneak in a DD reference near the end of the book. So that's a fun trivial pursuit fact for you!
(Stephanie totally squeals at this point, going 'I knew Jet Pack was Duran Duran!!!!')
Q: Like many of my Women Who Rock, you are a true renaissance gal. You also are a musician and TV drama writer. Let's talking writing first, how did you get into writing? Have you loved it since you were young? Which came first TV writing or novel writing for you? Who have some of your influences and inspirations (particularly the women since its WWRWeds) been?
PAULA SAYS: I like that label, "Renaissance Gal"! That's so much better than the term I use to refer to myself - "Jack of All Trades, Master of None." I also refer to myself as "Overeducated and Underpaid." :) But I think I'm sticking with Renaissance Gal! :) If I could only have one word to describe myself, I would definitely say WRITER. I wanted to be a writer ever since I was in the first grade and read CHARLOTTE'S WEB. In fact, I wrote my first novel (with the horrific title, "The Girl Called Raindrop") in the 2nd grade and submitted it to HarperCollins (back then it was known as Harper & Row) because they published the Little House on the Prairie books which I was also obsessed with. They sent back a nice letter saying I was talented and should consider applying for their children writers' contest for kids age 7-10. I was furious and ripped up the letter, crying to my mom, "I"m not a child writer! I'm a REAL writer!" LOL! So that led to an obsession with novel writing - the journey veered into journalism after college because I felt that I wasn't ready to write the Great American Novel until I had lived life a bit, so I figured, if Hemingway was a journalist, then I should do that too! Being a journalist proved invaluable as it taught me how to write on deadline and to get to the point quickly in your stories and to trim the fat when it came to purple prose. I then decided to quit journalism and try writing again, so i got my MFA in creative writing and taught for a few years. I was all set to be a teacher and hopefully one day get published when I accidentally fell into TV writing.
A TV friend suggested I try out for the Warner Bros. TV Drama Writing workshop because I loved watching TV! So I submitted my first ever TV script and six months later got the call - I had been accepted into the program! That quickly led to my new life as a TV writer for shows like THE WEST WING on NBC and most recently SIDE ORDER OF LIFE on Lifetime. During my TV career, I still clung to my dream of getting published, and during my "free" time, I finally wrote two books that sold - my non fiction children's picture book biography SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY (Lee & Low Books '05) about Olympic Gold medalist Sammy Lee and GOOD ENOUGH.
As for inspirations and influences, of course as an English major I was into the heavy hitters like Hemingway and James Joyce. But as for women writers, I would say Virginia Woolf blew me away with her use of language and experimental stream of consciousness writing and of course her famous treatise on women and writing, "A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN." And I will say that Amy Tan's "JOY LUCK CLUB" was an influence because I didn't realize you could write about your own ethnic background and make it universal and appealing to a wide audience. Up until Tan's novel, I had been part of the generation who grew up with immigrant parents who wanted to "assimilate" into American society by emphasizing that we were AMERICAN of Asian descent. Or just plain AMERICAN. Today, kids now embrace their hybrid heritage of being ASIAN AMERICAN. I would say love her or hate her, Amy Tan's book influenced me to NOT deny my heritage and to embrace it in my writing. However, this is not to say that I will ONLY write about characters who are Asian American - I can write about ANYONE, but in order to do that, I had to embrace and accept my dual heritage as a writer.
Q: Now let's talk music. You're violinist. When did you start playing and who are your musical influences? Can you talk a little bit about how your writing and your music go together and inspire each other?
PAULA SAYS: I started playing violin at age 5. My favorite classical composers are not just the Big Three (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart) but also the romantics like Brahms and Grieg and I have a thing for the Eastern Bloc composers (Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Bartok, Janacek etc.). Much of GOOD ENOUGH's musical scenes are based on my real life experiences where I was concertmaster of my All-State Orchestra and the time I performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with my youth orchestra. I still play today and do professional freelance work with TV shows and recordings and with rock bands. I have gone on tour with bands like Arthur Lee of Love and Spiritualized. I also have given some fun classical chamber music recitals with friends, and recent performances include a Mendelssohn piano trio and Copland's Appalachian Spring with the Los Angeles Chamber Players.
Q: Admittedly this is kind of a selfish question because right now I'm writing a book about violinist who starts to get into listening to punk rock. I know you are into both rock n roll and classical music. Can you talk about what these different types of music do for you? Also, many of my readers are probably like me and more into rock than classical, can you list some must-hear classic music pieces that will charge us up just as much as a great rock or punk song? We want our horizons expanded (or at least I do!).
PAULA SAYS - OMG! I CAN'T WAIT TO READ YOUR BOOK!!!! THAT SOUNDS AWESOME!!!! I grew up listening to both types of music and my musical tastes are all over the map (I also play country fiddle and Celtic fiddle). I've played with my regular acoustic violin and my Fishman pickup with Arcade Fire type bands, and I've also played on my Fender electric violin (solid body) with heavier rock bands because it doesn't feed back as much. I'm a huge pedal fanatic, so I have a billion special effects pedals, including my favorites the Chorus pedal and the Tube Screamer from Ibanez. I use a Fender blues jr. amp because I love tube amps and the Blues Jr. is also light enough that I can carry it by myself. (As a girl rocker, you gotta be able to carry your own gear!) Being a classical geek, I have always hated the stereotype that classical music is "pleasant" and "soothing." A lot of music I grew up to ROCKS. For example, a list of really great rockin' classical favorites off the top of my head:
Holst, "The Planets" - check out this amazing performance of the first movement "Mars" (think: original Darth Vader theme!)
Shostakovich, "String Quartet No. 8, Movt. 2" - I played this in a recital few years ago. Here's a great youtube performance from a string quartet that nails this piece - to me, this is just as aggro as Nine Inch Nails!
Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1, Movt. 2 - I LOOOOOOVE THIS PIECE! Check out Hilary Hahn's performance here.
Brahms Piano Concert No. 1 - here's a performance of Movt. 1 - it's just majestic.
If you want a rockin' brass section, check out the opening to Janacek's Sinfonietta here.
Now a lot of these examples are rather "modern" sounding. For more traditional classical sounding stuff, I think Beethoven's famous 9th Symphony is amazing, especially the 2nd movement. Here's the famous Herbert Von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.
Here's an excerpt of Mahler's Symphony No. 2, first movement. This changed my life because I performed this as concertmaster of the Connecticut AllState Orchestra in 1985. This ROCKS!!!!!
And of course, the opening to the movie Amadeus included Mozart's rockin Symphony No. 25 in g minor.
And if you want a great melding of the two worlds, check out LA's SECTION QUARTET. They are the best string quartet that does classical versions of everything from Radiohead to Led Zeppelin to Tool. Check out this youtube clip of their performance of "JuiceBox."
Phew, and that's just off the top of my head!
Q: What is next for Paula Yoo? Do you have a new book or another project coming soon that we can look forward to?
PAULA SAYS: My next children's non fiction picture book, SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY, will be out in May 2009 from Lee & Low Books. It's about the 1920s movie star Anna May Wong who achieved stardom despite being the daughter of a poor Chinese laundry worker in Los Angeles' Chinatown. I am also writing another YA novel that hopefully my agent will like!
Q: Now for the two standard Women Who Rock Wednesday questions. The first is a two parter. What was the first album you bought and the first concert you attended? Be honest, we don't judge. We like to see the true roots of rockin' women!
PAULA SAYS: First album bought - unfortunately, I am so old I can't remember the FIRST album. I lived in Seoul Korea for many years so whenever we would go home to the U.S. during summer vacation, I would buy as many 8-tracks (I told you I am old! hahaha) as possible. I mostly recorded music off the radio on my cassette tape player. So my first 8-tracks in cluded Chipmunk Punk (Alvin & the Chipmunks doing versions of punk rock songs including My Sharona!), Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, Donna Summer's Bad Girls, and The BeeGees Spirits Having Flown. Clearly I was a child of disco... until Pink Floyd's THE WALL came out. I bought that on cassette tape in the fourth grade and it changed. my. life. forever. I loved the symphonic structure of this album and how it also told a story (albeit a scary one cuz I was only 9 years old!).
I also made a tape recording of my friend's record album of The Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks when I heard it in the 6th grade. It also changed my life - that's how punk rock entered my life. When I was in the 9th grade, for my English Honors Gifted Program class, I tried to write a play about the life of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, that's how obsessed I became. I was a secret punk rocker and would occasionally rebel by spraying pink into my hair and trying to spike it up. LOL! (I would clean the pink hairspray out before I went home.) But for the most part, I was sadly too geeky and never managed to look punk enough. :(To me, the DIY attitude of early British punk was fascinating because I was so classically trained and the idea of just raw power as a form of music was so new and unique for me. To play a song out of tune and out of rhythm? To scream instead of sing? The rawness and energy and spirit behind those types of bands (Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, etc.) made me rethink my violin playing. Sure, I still had to play in tune for classical music, but I started re-interpreting music with more emotion and passion, because that's what made punk rock (at least the original old school sound) work for me - the energy and passion behind the music made up for the lack of technical prowess! :)
My first rock concert was in the 8th grade. I went to see RUSH. Of course I love prog rock, I play the violin! My friend couldn't go so my dad had to take me, and to this day, whenever he hears Rush, he gets excited and says, "That's Geddy Lee!" LOL!
Q: So far, what has been your biggest rock star moment? Maybe it was a concert you went to or played, a moment of big success in your writing career, an "I'm Not Worthy!" Wayne's World type moment where you met someone cool, or a time where you just got the rock star treatment? Whatever it is, please dish!
PAULA SAYS: Biggest rock star moment? When I played with Arthur Lee of Love and we headlined the House of Blues in August 2003. When that curtain rose and the sold-out audience screamed, I remember thinking how I wanted to quit everything and just join a rock band. That was an incredible moment I will never forget. When I toured with Spiritualized last November 2007, we played the historic Apollo Theatre in the heart of Harlem, so we all had to touch the famous "Tree of Hope." Here are my myspace blog entries from that tour.
Thanks again for doing this, Paula!
And here is an added bonus that Paula sent me. It's not her rock star moment, but it might have been mine, she's performing on the Two Coreys!!!!
Personally I love Paula even more after reading this interview. She named two of my childhood obsessions: Little House on the Prairie and Rush. And she just has to be the coolest classical music rock star on the planet! I was thrilled to learn so much about classical music and hope you were too. Please comment away and be entered to win a signed copy of GOOD ENOUGH! I will draw the winner next Wednesday!
As of right now I don't have a guest lined up for next week. Hopefully I'll get one, but since I should be getting my revisions notes for BALLADS tonight or tomorrow, WWRW blogs and blog entries in general may be sporadic. I'll keep you updated as best I can and remember you can follow me on twitter for the most consistent updates. But no matter what next week, I will announce Paula's winner!