Attendees received bright handkerchiefs and fake moustaches upon arrival at author Stacey Lee’s talk at Northside Library on March 21. Lee is the author of the newly released young adult novel, “Under a Painted Sky.” A tale of historical fiction is told from the perspective of a Chinese American girl living in Missouri during the mid-1800s. After she kills a man who tries to attack her, she goes on the run with an escaped female slave onto the Oregon Trail. Guarding their safety, the two girls impersonate boys during their journey.
“I chose the vehicle of a western to tell the story because when my father came to the United States at the age of 11 in 1945, his favorite movie genre was the western, and that was at its heyday,” Lee says. “My sisters and I grew up listening to country western music, and those were the tunes that were in my head when I sat down to write this book.”
A former restaurant reviewer with The Santa Clara WEEKLY, Lee says she writes late into the night and takes naps during the day.
“Does anyone want to guess how many drafts I went through to get this book ready?” Lee asks the audience, to which her son responds. “Yes, 426. The book itself has 95,000 words and each of these words were very carefully chosen and polished for you to read.”
“I read Stacey’s book before it came out,” says Stephanie Garber, an attendee. “It has one of the most compelling openings. Stacey tackles some real difficult topics, such as slavery and prejudice, in a very thoughtful way. And it was balanced out by her humor and the amazing friendship between the characters.”
“I think Stacey did a great job with making really interesting scenes,” adds Kristi Wright, another attendee.
Lee is currently a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and has won a couple of awards through the organization.
“I won the SCBWI Book Launch Award, a grant given to debut authors who [meet a certain criteria],” she says. “I [also] won the Golden Gate Award given by SCBWI South San Francisco, given for the best manuscript at a conference.”
When Lee is not writing and winning awards, she is busy advocating for diversity in children’s literature.
“I’m one of the founding members of We Need Diverse Books; it’s a grassroots organization that’s now a non-profit,” she says. “It was created to address the lack of diverse children’s narratives in children’s books.”