Friday, January 3, 2014

Goldy Luck's Arduous Path from Vision to Reality

As Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas’ publication date finally arrives on Jan. 7, 2014, after a lengthy and arduous nine-year journey, I can’t help but reflect on the path this book has taken from my original vision to the final product, and the many hands it has passed through and how each has helped shape the book in some significant way.

The journey began about a dozen (or so) years ago, when I learned about fractured fairy tales at a writing conference. I was intrigued by the idea of re-writing a familiar tale from a different perspective or culture. After checking out some books at the library, I played around with a few fairy tales. Something about the Goldilocks story had always stuck with me. Here was a little girl breaking and entering into the three bears’ home, destroying their stuff, and leaving a mess never to be heard from again. How rude! And what kind of message does this story give kids? I wanted to re-write this story with a more compassionate protagonist and a more satisfying ending.

My first few attempts told the story from Papa Bear’s perspective (I believe it was called “Papa Bear’s Good Deed”). The story began from the moment Goldilocks ran away, leaving her hat behind, and Papa Bear’s journey to find Goldy and return the hat to her—and all the people he inadvertently frightened along the way (because he was a bear) even though he had set out to do a good deed. It went on for about 2,000 words. Yeah, not even close to publishable. And, it didn’t have the unique angle I was looking for or the resolution that I felt was missing from the original story.

Then, a title and a “what if” question popped into my head. What if Goldilocks wasn’t a little girl with blonde ringlets, but Chinese? I asked my aunt to help me come up with a Chinese name that sounded phonetically similar to Goldilocks and hence, the first seeds of  a story called “Go Dil Lok and the Three Chans” began to germinate. But I wanted the book to be about more than just Goldy having a different ethnic background. I wanted the story to also offer some insights to Chinese traditions and culture. So, Go Dil Lok began her fictional life in a skyrise apartment in Hong Kong (where I had spent my adolescent years), preparing to celebrate the biggest and most colorful Chinese festival of the year, Chinese New Year.

In its nine-year route to publication, this story passed through the hands of my writing group, The Ukiah Writers Salon (multiple times), and five different editors from two publishing houses who have all contributed greatly to shaping the book. This meant changing the name from the hard to pronounce Go Dil Lok to Goldy Luck (“Luck” serving the double purpose of being a Chinese last name as well as mirroring the theme of good luck in the book) and relocating Goldy from an international location to an American one (which one editor felt kids in the US can better relate to.)

In my attempts to give the mundane beds and chairs a modern twist, earlier versions of the book included an aquarium (Goldy smudged the glass), an oriental rug (she spilled fish flakes all over it) and a computer game (Goldy beat Little Chan’s record). And a greatly detailed Chinese New Year parade with lion dancers. I thought it’d make for really fun illustrations, but another editor wisely suggested I simplify the story and revert back to the original three bowls/chairs/bed structure. 

Still, I wanted a slightly different spin. Enter my uncle’s massage chair and my parents’ Tempurpedic electric bed (as a writer, I never know what every day event or thing creeps into a story!). The really fun part was implanting the traditions and rituals of the New Year (receiving “lucky” red envelopes, eating turnip cakes) into the story and thinking up ways to make Goldy’s experiences more culturally relevant (“She felt like stuffing in a pork bun,” “The mattress felt as hard as a week-old almond cookie”)

Finally, illustrator Grace Zong added her fabulous artistic touch, and brought Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas to vibrant life.  So, how many people did it take to make this children’s book? One writer, five editors, four readers in a writing group, one agent, one illustrator, one publisher, not to mention the cast of people behind the scenes from the art director to the marketing personnel. Yes, an entire village. Writing may be a solitary endeavor, but publishing is not. And I am truly grateful to my Charlesbridge village for making my vision become a reality. 


Posted by Natasha Yim, author of Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas, releasing January 7, 2014.