THE WAY TO BEA ASSETS
About the Book:
Title: THE WAY TO BEA
Author: Kat Yeh
Pub. Date: September 19, 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
With a charming voice, winning characters, and a perfectly-woven plot, Kat Yeh delivers a powerful story of friendship and finding a path towards embracing yourself.
Everything in Bea’s world has changed. She’s starting seventh grade newly friendless and facing big changes at home, where she is about to go from only child to big sister. Feeling alone and adrift, and like her words don’t deserve to be seen, Bea takes solace in writing haiku in invisible ink and hiding them in a secret spot.
But then something incredible happens–someone writes back. And Bea begins to connect with new friends, including a classmate obsessed with a nearby labyrinth and determined to get inside. As she decides where her next path will lead, she just might discover that her words–and herself–have found a new way to belong.
Hi Kat! Welcome to For the Love of KidLit! I’m super excited to chat with you!
Thanks for having me, Jennifer!
Here we go…
1) In your bio, I learned that you spent many years in advertising/sports marketing and wrote children’s books in the late hours of the night. How did you finally become published? Were you plucked from a slush pile? Did you meet an agent/editor at a conference?
I will say right away that I did NOT have a typical publishing experience with my first book. If there were a movie based on what happed, it would be called One Wedding & A Funeral.
My first book, YOU’RE LOVABLE TO ME (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2009), is a sweet, rhyming, goodnight, picture book. I love, love, love this book, am so proud of it, and smile every time I think of it.
It all began at a beautiful black-tie wedding in NYC. I was seated next to a friend of my husband. I am usually pretty shy, but this friend was so kind, I opened up and began talking with him. I mentioned that I was working towards writing children’s books and had a background in marketing and advertising. Immediately, he wanted to introduce me to his parents who were looking to rebrand their company, LOVABLE, with characters that appealed to children. I began to work with them and proposed including a children’s book in the project. I wrote a manuscript and worked with an illustrator on a very finished dummy. As anyone in publishing knows, this isn’t the way it usually works. But they had an illustrator they wanted to use. So that’s what we did. I was lucky, because she was wonderful. I brought in an art director friend of mine I’d worked with to help lay everything out.
During this time, the folks from LOVABLE attended a funeral and happened to strike up a conversation with a woman there — whom they later found out was a literary agent. They sent her our dummy and she sent it to Random House. Then — voila. Like I said: NOT at all a typical path to publication.
The thing is that you never know who might become part of your story — or when or where or how you might meet them. I think that what I always liked the most about the way things unfolded in this particular instance is that it never felt like the kind of tale you’d tell to teach Networking 101. It wasn’t about that. This felt more like an example of what can happen when you’re open and let people in a little. I often tend to be pretty introverted at public functions. And I can easily picture an alternate reality where that wedding reception is just a lovely memory with me, smiling and nodding politely and then — just going home.
2) In a Bank Street College of Education video clip, I saw you talking about where the idea for The Truth about Twinkie Pie came from—I was fascinated to learn that it more or less started with you jotting down a recipe for Twinkie pie and, voilà, a character’s voice emerged in your head! How did you begin the process of writing The Way to Bea?
The writing of THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE was very organic (did you ever think you’d see the words Twinkie and organic in the same sentence?) So, I was incredibly hopeful that my second novel would unfold the same way.
It did not.
The voice of GiGi, my main character in Twinkie Pie, seemed to drop out of the sky, fully formed. But Beatrix Lee — my Bea from THE WAY TO BEA — took a lot of searching and trying and failing before she finally arrived with her heart and story tucked away in a secret, hidden place. Which is perhaps why she was so hard to find.
Something I realized as I struggled through my very, very first rough draft of THE WAY TO BEA was that I wouldn’t know Bea’s voice until I knew what she wanted and needed. What she was afraid of. What she yearned for. And I knew that the best way for me to find those things – and truly be able to write them from the heart – was to start with my own heart. (Btw I’m kind of all earnest and heart-on-my sleeve-ish, if you haven’t noticed yet). I knew I had to find something I felt so emotionally vulnerable about that the need to express it would drive me through to the end of the story. As I scribbled, I realized it was going to be about being myself, accepting myself, and belonging. I couldn’t stop thinking about this line of a poem I wrote long ago as a young girl:
if I act
I wish I were
am I still acting
I knew that they would have to become Bea’s words. And she would be a poet. I knew there would be poems throughout the novel in the same way that there were recipes throughout The Truth About Twinkie Pie. Once I got to that place, I was ready to take Bea’s journey.
3) The Way to Bea already has a 4.5-star rating on Goodreads—CONGRATS! The novel highlights some of the obstacles and joys in finding new friends and ultimately learning to be yourself. The main character, Bea, writes haikus and poetry, and the novel spends time showing Bea’s creative process. How did this help you to tell Bea’s story?
The really wonderful thing about creating characters is that we writers get to experiment with different ways that they express themselves. And we get to think about the kind of journey we want our readers to take with these characters.
For Bea, who is so tangled up in herself, I knew that much of the journey for her would be internal. The struggle of dealing with what is happening with her friend group (or rather: former friend group) and what is happening inside her and how she does not know how to respond. And I knew that I wanted to show those tangled up feelings and how they progress and change and develop in a way that was both vulnerable and very clear.
In a way, this was a story happening inside my own story. As I struggled with finding a way to write this novel about a girl struggling to find a way to express herself.
I grew up wanting to be a poet. To this day, I will doodle solitary lines on the borders of random pieces of paper or in the blank spaces of magazines or on a paper placemat in a diner. Poetry has always been a natural extension of my own feelings. So it felt like a natural way for me to help Bea show reader how inside her own head she was — as well as what was going on in there.
4) You’ve written several picture books and two middle grade novels, and friendship and family are common themes in your books. What motivates you to write these heartfelt stories for children?
I’ve never planned for my books to have any common thread other than feeling completely true to myself. If family and friendship come up often, then I guess it simply means that these are things that are part of who I am and the heart of what makes me me. And I think that’s the most important (and satisfying) we can do as writers. Just truly be ourselves and hope that someone out there will connect with us.
I think my favorite comment I’ve ever received in a review was being called “sincere.” I often joke about my being overly earnest and open and stuff when I write. I regularly cry and laugh aloud and make a spectacle of myself during the process. The thing is, it’s the only way I know how to be in order to tell the stories I want to tell. And it’s the only way I know how to create stories that have a chance to connect to anyone out there who might be waiting and wanting to find someone…to cry and laugh aloud with. (see? all earnest and open and stuff) xo
Thanks so much Kat!
Kat grew up reading, doodling, and scribbling in Westtown. She worked for many years in advertising and sports marketing, while writing children’s books in the wee hours of the night. She currently lives on Long Island where she can see water every day and explore all the bay and harbor beaches with her family.
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3 winners will receive a finished copy of THE WAY TO BEA, US Only.
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One thought on “Middle Grade Spotlight & Author Interview: The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh (with a giveaway!)”
I love reading middle grade the best and enjoy friendship and acceptance stories very much. This book will be a joy for me to read.