Meet Stacey, an award-winning author of historical and contemporary young adult fiction. Being a fourth-generation Chinese American from California, she stayed in the state studying law at UCLA then UC Davis King Hall. After several years of being in the field at Silicon Valley, she decided that she wanted to become an author so she picked up a pen and started composing her debut novel, Under a Painted Sky.
Website and links to the book: https://www.staceyhlee.com/
Can you tell us about yourself outside of your work?
I grew up in Los Angeles, as a fourth-generation Chinese American, and Californian. I’ve loved writing since I was a little girl, though I took the long route to be a writer, going to law school and practicing law for several years first. I also love coffee, books, and hanging out with friends and family.
A lot of your novels were written in a genre (historical fiction) which is quite a niche. What were the inspirations for writing these books?
Each particular story is inspired by different things, but in general, I would say themes of family and friendship always seem to work their way into my stories. For my book out in May ‘LUCK OF THE TITANIC’ was inspired by the eight Chinese men who were passengers on the Titanic but were largely forgotten about by history, even though six of the eight survived, an incredible survival rate for third-class passengers. They were not included in news stories, not even let into the country because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, whereas the rest of the passengers were allowed to bypass Ellis Island completely, no questions asked.
How do you deal with creativity-block especially during a time like this? What advice would you give to others who struggle from it?
I’m a big believer in walking as a way to unblock creativity. There are actually studies that confirm this phenomenon. When you walk, you get your brain moving. I usually start my walks with a particular problem in mind, and then eventually the problem gets worked out. When others take hot showers to unblock, I walk.
What was one of the most surprising things you have learned when creating your book (whether it was about yourself or a topic)?
As a writer of historical fiction, I’m always coming across strange and sometimes alarming facts. I’ve learned things like that one method thought to cure cholera was tying a raw chicken on your leg, and a good Victorian outfit weighed six pounds, not including the hat or shoes. Sometimes the research you uncover is quite sad like I recently learned that nearly a tenth of the population of Chinese in downtown Los Angeles were hanged by vigilantes in the late 1900s. In terms of publishing, I learned there’s a lot of ‘hurry up and wait’ time, periods of high, deadline-rushed activity, followed by strange lulls in which you wonder if you forgot to do something.
How do you use your work to connect to a deeper societal issue?
I definitely hope my work shows Asian Americans where you didn’t think they existed. They were an important part of American society but are not often given their due. I try to steer clear of messaging in my stories but I do write about the problems Asian Americans faced when living in a world where they always feel like an outsider looking in.
When writing an emotionally draining scene, how do you prepare yourself mentally and set the mood?
I love this question because I never really thought about it. Do people really set the mood? I actually don’t think too much about it—every scene requires emotions, and the emotionally draining scenes are just another day in life.
What advice would you give to Asian youth who want to begin doing similar work that you are doing? How should they start and what should they keep in mind?
The cliché “live your best life” applies here. Without experiencing life in all its highs, lows, and in-betweens, it’s challenging to write with the breadth and depth that a good story requires. So go fall in love and have your heartbroken, and go travel as widely as you can. Interact with the world and see how it changes you. In terms of the craft, that comes with practice and reading so you can see how others have done it. I think that’s the beauty of being a writer. Anyone can do it.