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Can you share what inspired you to write the way to bea?
Kat Yeh: I was over the moon when I sold my debut middle grade novel in a two-book deal. What could be better than a publisher believing in you so much that they’d take the next thing you wrote, sight unseen? The thing I didn’t realize was that that second book, the Sight Unseen one? It was a Sight Unseen to me, too. I originally had another manuscript ready to go, but it wasn’t quite the right fit to follow The Truth About Twinkie Pie. So I had to come up with something else. Something New. And I knew the only way I was going to be able to write something good and heartfelt and authentic that I could feel proud of—UNDER DEADLINE—was to find something I felt truly emotional about.
When I was in ninth grade, my very best friends and I started hanging out with different people. The size of our class had doubled in high school and we drifted. It wasn’t contentious or dramatic, but it happened and it was sad. I recalled that my daughter went through a slightly more dramatic version when she was in high school and I started wondering what it would be like to experience the splitting up of friendship as a seventh-grader. The heartache of not knowing where you belong as someone just entering that tumultuous age of middle school. I knew that exploring this sort of storyline would give me that emotional hook and have a hold on my heart. So, the inspiration for The Way to Bea? Seeking out that certain Something to snag my heartstrings and make me want to explore its emotional journey. Once I found that Something I could relate to, I was all in.
What was your favorite scene to write in this story? (No spoilers, please!)
Kat Yeh: Argh! ALL my favorite scenes are spoilers. So, I will say this much: my main character, Beatrix Lee, is a young Taiwanese-American poet, painter, and music-loving twelve-year-old who finds herself wondering what to do with her unabashedly silly, joyful, exuberant energy in the face of all the changes that seventh grade brings. I loved finding ways to show Bea’s artistic struggle with expressing herself through writing poetry. I really connected to her experiments with how to be in her art and writing—going from painting fancy multi-colored verse all over her bedroom walls to scratching out tiny haiku on torn paper in invisible ink. I also loved curating a playlist of songs that she listens to throughout the story—it reminded me of the way Twinkie Pie expressed GiGi’s journey through recipes.
I already miss Bea and writing in her voice and being in her world.
Some writers love drafting, while others prefer revising. Some are plotters, and others are “pantsers.” How would you describe your process? Is it the same for every book?
Kat Yeh: I’m still figuring out my process and what works best for me and, honestly, it feels as if each book experience has been completely different. Two novels in, and now working on the potential third and fourth books, I think that the one thing they all have in common is:
1) I may not know how the story begins, but I know how it ends.
2) I have the very faintest and most skeletal of outlines.
My outlines are usually no more than a bare-there three act paradigm (see Syd Field’s paradigm worksheet) with, maybe, a line or two describing where my character starts, the plots points in each act that push the story into the next phase. From there, I start filling it in . . . always asking myself, is this moving the story toward the ending? Does this scene or sentence or word serve the ending and the theme? Then, after I have managed to scrawl out the very roughest of rough drafts, I hit save and then run from the room, crying and bemoaning my fate. A month or so later, I’ll let myself look at what I’ve done and have a fresh read. The next part, getting the story into some kind of acceptable form, is the hardest part for me. All that second-guessing and deleting and rewriting. But once my drafts start to seem like a real story, I get excited. I love, love, love getting to the part where I know exactly what the story wants to do and I get to have an editor help me get there.
We have a series of posts here at All the Wonders called “Then and Now,” which pairs classic books with newer ones based on shared elements or themes. Is there a book from your childhood that you’d pair with The Way to Bea?
Kat Yeh: Though this book is not from my childhood and I would never dare to compare my own book to this utterly perfect one by Jerry Spinelli, I pick Stargirl. It’s the book given to Beatrix by her favorite librarian (who loves nothing more than finding the perfect book for the perfect kid). The themes of friendship and acceptance and deciding whether or not you will allow someone else to define for you what is Acceptable or Not are part of both stories. Though Bea mentions several classics throughout the novel, I love that she gets to ponder the way that Leo and Stargirl’s story unfolds.
And now, here’s an exclusive excerpt from The Way to Bea:
I want to write something, but I’m not sure what and that makes me think of this thing my mom always says: Whatever you feel on the inside is what you put out there in the universe.
And what I’m thinking about now is Hammy and the maze and how unfair it is when you think a path will lead you somewhere amazing and you just end up running into a dead end.
I close my eyes, hold my hand over my heart, and count out the beats of words that come from the inside.
if you are in a maze . . . (six). Start again.
a blind alley up ahead . . . (seven). No.
tell me why, my friend (five)
blind allies have to appear (seven)
on the paths we walk (five)
Five, seven, five.
Thumb over my heart on the last beat. Haiku.
The way I know when something I’ve written is perfect is that I feel truly connected to it in a way I didn’t before. It’s like the words and the feeling behind the words are coming right from my heart. Whether they’re happy or wondering or sad, they just feel right and real and right.
I dip my pen into the invisible ink and write the words down. They shine bright and clear, made up of lemony water and whatever it is inside me that makes poems want to be in the world. I quickly close my eyes again before they can evaporate.
I know the whole point of invisible ink is to make things disappear, but today, this thought makes a little sting in my heart. Because no matter how long I wait out here, no matter how many snapping twigs or rustling bushes I hear, I know that no one is coming with a light to make my words visible again. And after all the thinking and feeling and writing, all I’m really left with is an invisible haiku that doesn’t belong anywhere.
I open my eyes and see the Portal.
I stare for a second—then begin to roll the little paper as tight and tiny as I can. I search the ground and pull up a long piece of grass. The kind that’s sturdy and wide. The kind you can make a long, loud whistle from when you hold it between your thumbs and blow. I wrap the grass around the roll twice and tie it.
I hear the nearby rustling again and quickly look side to side, but I’m still alone.
I take a deep breath. Look into the Portal. And tuck my invisible haiku inside. Safe. I’m about to walk away, but then I stop and grab the pack of matches I keep in my backpack for testing out my invisible inks. And I tuck that in, too.
Because even invisible things deserve to have a little hope.
Kat Yeh is the author of the award-winning, middle grade novel, The Truth About Twinkie Pie, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, as well as the picture book, The Friend Ship, from Disney-Hyperion. Kat lives on Long Island with her family and spends her time exploring all the secret beaches and hidden paths.
Hannah Barnaby is a former children’s book editor and indie bookseller turned author. Her debut young adult novel was a William C. Morris Award finalist and her second novel received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Hannah will make her double picture book debut in 2017 with Bad Guy and Garcia & Colette Go Exploring. She lives in Charlottesville, VA with her family. You can find her at www.hannahbarnaby.com and follow her on Twitter at @hannahrbarnaby.