My name is Stacey Heather Lee and I write young adult books. I’ve dreamed of writing books for a living since I was nine, when I penned my first children’s novel. For four years, I labored to type it on the family Smith Corona (that’s a typewriter, kids). Each time I made a typo, I would retype the whole page. By the time I finished, my fingers flew at 120 wpm. The book became a bestseller amongst my stuffed animals, and baby, I was on my way!
But before I could write for the un-stuffed crowd, I had to make several stops in the real world. Hi Mom and Dad! I studied, got degrees, and earned paychecks. In my spare time, I continued writing. Several years later, I got a wonderful agent, and now I write even when I’m sleeping. I hope you will enjoy browsing my website. All are welcome, stuffing and all.
I am a fourth generation Chinese-American. A native of southern California, I graduated from UCLA then got my law degree at UC Davis King Hall. After practicing law in Silicon Valley for several years, I finally took up the pen because I wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day, and it was easier than moving to Spain. I play classical piano, raise my two children together with my supportive husband, and write YA fiction.
A powerful story of friendship and sacrifice, for fans of CODE NAME VERITY.
Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush.
Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.
This debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.
1. UNDER A PAINTED SKY is the closest I’ve come to a YA western since BLOOD RED ROAD. What about the Wild West made you choose this time period?
My mother's side came during the late 19th century, and I thought it would be interesting to examine what the US 'looked' like at this time. The first great wave of Chinese immigration occurred during the California gold rush, which coincided with the westward expansion & "frontier" days.
2. There’s a heavy emphasis on the effects of race and gender in the 1800s, particularly so for Annamae who is an African American slave, and Samantha who is Chinese-American. How important was it to you for the girls’ to maintain their identities while disguising themselves as boys?
Their races add another thread of tension to their journey. Any black person traveling alone would raise questions as to whether they were freemen or slaves. But Annamae makes a point of saying she didn't want to be white. She has a 'let's get this done' kind of personality that won't let something like race stop her. As for Sammy, seeing a Chinese person on the Oregon Trail was just plain odd. But Sammy's identity is an important part of who she is, and part of the reason she is so desperate to find her mother's jade bracelet. She doesn't want to lose that connection between herself, and her family, which necessarily includes her cultural identity.
3. What was the most important message you wanted to convey about diversity throughout the novel?
I love this question, because I honestly wasn't trying to convey anything about diversity. I only wanted to paint a realistic picture of 1849 America, and that includes people of all different nationalities and cultures. The US has been a pretty diverse place from the start. Look at the Native Americans. Also, Mexicans. Mexico owned a good chunk of the US back in the 19th century.
4. Set in 1849, UNDER A PAINTED SKY delves pretty deeply into the risks of living on the frontier. Cholera, wild mustangs, thunderstorms, and even bandits threaten the lives of your characters at some point. How much research did you do to accurately portray life on the Oregon Trail?
I did a fair bit of research, starting with the children's section of the library, and moving up to the adult's section for a deeper look into life in America at this time. I read pioneer diaries, I also visited a slew of museums, and spent some time in Gold country, California, talking to experts on the California Trail (a main trail fork from the Oregon Trail).
5. Samatha’s violin is her most prized possession and music in general plays a huge role throughout the book, almost becoming a character in and of itself. What role does music play in your own life and what was your inspiration for making Samantha so musically inclined?
Back in the 19th century, music was how people entertained themselves. After dinner, they'd retire to the drawing room and listen to someone play the piano. I really wanted Sammy to be able to bring something to the table, a way to be useful, and maybe even endear herself to the cowboys (and one in particular). Given her classical education, it made sense for her to learn music, though it was unusual for her to play the violin, which was considered a man's instrument because of its suggestive female form. I'd played the piano competitively until I was 18, so had a good handle on how to write this angle of Sammy. Now I'm more of a listener than an entertainer, though it's something I want to take up again one day!
6. Family is one of the more emphasized themes throughout the novel, playing a large part in everyone’s individual stories. Annamae is searching for the last of her family, Samantha has lost hers completely, and the boys have developed their own, unconventional, family. What was the significance of showcasing so many different forms of family?
For Chinese people, family is hugely important (as it is in my own life). It was important in Sammy's journey for her to understand that even though she's lost her family, she can still create a family for herself. For the others, showing where they came from in a family sense is key to understanding who they are, as is showing who they've chosen to be friends with.
7. What was your biggest inspiration for writing UNDER A PAINTED SKY?
My parents! (See 6, above). While my mom's side were the ones who came during the 19th century, my dad also inspired me. He came to the US in the fifties when he was eleven, with only his thirteen year old brother for company. Dad loves a good western because in the fifties, the western movie was at its heyday. I always picture him as a bit of cowboy himself.
8. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Pantser, much to my shame. I could probably save myself a lot of time by becoming a plotter.
9. Coffee or tea?
Both. I love both.
10. Favorite movie? TV show? Band?
The Empire Strikes back; Castle; does solo artist count? I'm a Beyonce fan.