Welcome to the fourth interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.
About the Book
- Title: This Is Not My Home
- Authors: Eugenia Yoh and Vivienne Chang
- Publisher: Little, Brown
- Release Date: January 24th, 2023
- Genre/Format: Contemporary Picturebook
When Lily’s mom announces their family must move back to Taiwan to take care of their elderly Ah Ma, Lily is devastated to leave behind her favorite foods, friends, and life for a place that is most definitely not her home. But Lily soon realizes through the help of her family and friends, what home means to them.
And perhaps someday, maybe not today, but someday, it might become her home too.
Interview with Eugenia Yoh and Vivienne Chang
Q: What’s your favorite Taiwanese food? (Feel free to pick more than one.)
Vivienne: My favorite Taiwanese food(S) include 豆花, 青蛙下蛋, and 滷味.
Eugenia: Oh my goodness, I am such a fan of 牛肉麵, 麻辣火鍋, and 雪花冰. My family and I would visit Taiwan during the summers when it was really hot, but even that couldn’t stop us from eating as much 麻辣火鍋 as possible in an air-conditioned restaurant. The spicier the better.
Q: What drew you to the picturebook medium? How did you play to its strengths and work within its limitations?
Vivienne: Believe it or not, I hadn’t read a picture book for over 10 years before I wrote the book. However, inadvertently I realized I followed an abnormally large number of picture book illustrators on Instagram alongside my many other following niche interests such as whale sharks, foodies from Taiwan, and infographics. I just love the colorfulness, whimsical nature, and vibrancy of art from picture books. At the same time, I met Eugenia’s whose dream was to become a picture book author and illustrator so we definitely were able to play on her strengths there, aka the best artist I know.
Eugenia: I loved picture books from the very beginning, and knew it was the one thing I really wanted to do. Everything else I learned along the way, whether it was a year-long graphic design internship or animation residency, were small detours from the greater goal of writing and illustrating picture books. In my head, a picture book is the perfect marriage between pictures and words. There are so many things you can do with pictures that you can’t do with words, and so many things you can do with words that you can’t do with pictures. When they come together harmoniously, it is so magical.
Of course, one can argue that animation can accomplish the same thing as well. But there is something so intimate about picture books: the way the book is held by the reader and the way the audience gets to pick the pace at which they are interacting with the piece. Everyone reads a picture book differently, so it is interesting to hear how other people interpret the story. I think once the medium is released in the world, the narrative becomes somebody else’s experience, and the original creators have to give up control on how the reader sees the story.
I can’t put into words the beauty of reading a well-written and heartfelt picture book. As we get older, adult novels start to reflect the grit of reality, and we become jaded to the troubles of the world. Picture books are a reflection of a time when we believed in hope.
Q: Are there any picturebooks or picturebook artists that strongly influenced the creation of This Is Not My Home or inspired you? If so, what aspects of their craft do you love?
Vivienne: For me, really any Asian American book was inspiring in the creation of This Is Not My Home. It’s not necessarily the content or art style of the books that influenced our work but rather the idea that Asian/Asian American voices are being presented in literature and that we can continue this movement as well. I remember reading books like The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin and Name Jar by Yangsook Choi and thinking “wow, that’s me”. These books really were the catalyst for not only my love of storytelling but my love for reading.
Eugenia: To tell you the truth, I hated reading as a kid. I was a slow reader, and my parents, with their broken English, relied heavily on recorded tapes to do our bedtime stories for us. My brother and I would sit on a long white couch, preparing our fingers to turn the page when we heard a tiny little ding from the CD player audio recording. I think that is why I was always a picture book kid. Even for someone who struggled with reading, as long as I could follow the pictures, I could understand the story.
I am most drawn to books with beautiful pictures. I admire different books for their different strengths: I’ve always been a fan of books by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (I Want My Hat Back, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole). Their books are a masterclass in pacing– their ability to capture dramatic reactions with perfectly calculated page turns is so impressive. In addition, I’ve been a longtime fan of Isabelle Arsenault’s work– the first book I have from her is Jane, the Fox, and Me, which tells a story in a panel structure like no other. And growing up, my favorite books were Kevin Henkes’ mouse stories (Wemberly Worried, Chrysanthemum), as they always manage to capture the perspective of a child in the most genuine, perfect way possible.
Q: Typically in publishing, unless the author is also the illustrator, the words of a picture book come first and are then illustrated after acquisition by a publisher, with no direct communication between the author and the illustrator. Since the two of you worked on it simultaneously prior to submitting for querying, I’m curious about your collaboration and the division of labor. Who contributed what, and how did you resolve any differences of opinion?
Vivienne: We really are an author-illustrator duo, and the lines are quite blurred. I like to joke that I can’t draw or write so I’m not sure why I’m here but I would like to say that I’m more of the business person in our friendship —developing and honing in the messaging of our book, providing art direction advice, and really any business-y tasks that need to be done. Eugenia, on the other hand, is definitely the artist of the two as she illustrated and colored the entire book as well as shaping the words and messaging. It really was a collaborative process, we developed the words at the same time as the images. It’s hard for us to see a separation between the two as both the images and the words help tell the story.
Eugenia: I think Vivienne nailed this answer perfectly. It is hard to tell who did what, in terms of writing the story. While I was the one who put brush to paper, Vivienne is a visual thinker with a strong picture book intuition. Sometimes she would look at a sketch I did, and admit that something doesn’t look quite right. It’s incredibly helpful to have someone who understands the story just as well, (if not better) to give feedback on how it should be told. Our strengths compliment each other very well: I have the illustration experience and expertise, while Vivienne is incredible at sending emails, scheduling events, and keeping our correspondences organized. I personally dislike networking and sending follow-up emails, and Vivienne’s drawings look like stick figures with hair. We both know what we are separately good at, and there is so much to learn from on the other side.
We’ve definitely stumbled upon a lot of problems that I never thought we would encounter during the course of our friendship. Our friendship is a lot different from when it first started. More often than not, we have disagreeing opinions, sometimes on the story, sometimes on the way we do things, like how we talk during an event, and our goal for publishing books. Sometimes we would be sobbing on the phone, a little frustrated with each other. But through these tears, we learn something fundamental about ourselves, our friendship, and what we are willing to sacrifice for the other person.
What I appreciate about Vivienne most is that we have the same goal, but we tend to look at the issue in two different perspectives. Vivienne puts things in a realistic perspective, bringing up sales, timelines, and the logistics of the business. My more naive view focuses on the heart, the quality of the story, and the personal impact on individuals reading the book. Even though our measures for success look different, at the end of the day, we both want to tell good stories, connect the community, and do really cool things together.
Q: There are a lot of neat details and design elements in This Is Not My Home found under the jacket, on the endpapers, and on the copyright page and title page. Were these aspects that you had planned from the beginning, or did you come up with them after the book was acquired?
Vivienne: Aww thank you! We’re so glad you noticed them. I know that Eugenia is super proud of these little details in our book, but for me I had no idea that the reveal (the image under the book jacket) and other book elements were even a thing! I guess as a casual reader you’re just like “oh a book!” but you don’t really pay much attention to the small details. So yeah, these details were definitely thought of later although we really wanted to be intentional and sprinkle some of our book’s messaging in these images. For example, our first endpaper is an image of daytime in America, but our last endpaper is an image of night time in Taiwan. This is to represent Lily’s home changing from one (America) to the other (Taiwan).
Eugenia: That is a fantastic question! I am a bit of a book geek, so when it comes to little special features, I take them very seriously. I would say these ideas came to us after the story was fleshed out. We only started considering these features at a developed stage, the editor would prompt us to consider the endpapers and covers. Along with the endpapers, I am very proud of the way the covers interact with one another. In the front, we have Lily’s face, her wide frown showing the title “This Is Not My Home.” At the back of the book, we have Lily’s head from a backside view, with all these thoughts trailing behind her “These are not my fireflies, this is not my backyard barbeque, this is not Jill.” This is because the only words coming out of Lily’s mouth throughout the book is “This is Not My Home.” The other words are all just thoughts on the back of her head.
Q: What kinds of changes did you make during the editing process?
Vivienne: The most memorable change during our editing process is the wordless runs of pages at the back of the book showing our main character Lily slowly but surely beginning to adopt Taiwan as her home. It was interesting because originally Eugenia and I were going to make Lily grow up and become an old woman—she has kids and her kids have kids—before she adopts Taiwan as her home. We thought however that would be a bit too dramatic, and maybe seeing our 6-year-old main character become a 60-year-old in 3 pages may be a bit too shocking, haha!
Eugenia: Another edit we made was deleting a golden retriever-looking named Taxi the dog. We wanted to have a dog initially because it would be a cute little seek-and-find for kids—something for the reader to look for in each of the pages. Lily jumped over the dog as she chased her mom in their American home, the dog sat with her in the fragile box, and slept under the table while the family was having dinner. But then the editor brought up the complication of dogs traveling internationally. In Taiwan, if you want to transport a pet across the border, the pet has to go through their personal quarantine for two weeks in case they bring a disease abroad. This quarantine law made it really difficult to follow the timeline of events. We were bummed about this, especially Eugenia, who had to go back and erase the dog from the final illustrations.
Q: What was the biggest challenge of the publishing process (from inception of the idea for the book to publication), and how did you overcome that challenge?
Vivienne: If you ask Eugenia this question, we will have different answers, but for me, the hardest part of publishing was actually not writing the book but getting the word out about our book. We’re lucky enough to have media like this one who are championing our story and help spreading the news, but in an environment where people’s attention spans are only 7 seconds long, how do we engage people and get them excited about our book? I have a high school friend who often says she doesn’t read. I would say “fair enough” because I would assume that book to be 200+ pages. Well today, I’m not even sure she wants to read 200 words, which is around the length of our book! I guess it’s just the way the world works these days.
Eugenia: I think Vivienne has a really good point– trying to get the word out is really difficult! Especially since there are so many incredible books being published every year (I’m not sure what the exact number is, but I think it’s 3,000 books a month globally?). How do we stand out from everyone else? Just when we thought we were done (Wrote the story! Got an agent! Sold the book to a publishing house), little did we know that we were just getting started.
I think marketing the book feels like the hardest thing because it is the step we are on right now. When we were writing the book, it was agonizing sometimes, trying to solve how to tell the story. Some things just didn’t click naturally, and some pages had to be redrawn so many times before it felt just right. And if you want to go even before that, getting an agent was difficult too! Vivienne made an entire excel sheet of people to contact, what they were looking for, and how to best way to word our query letters. For a long while, we didn’t hear back from anyone. We were both impatient children, running around our little rooms thinking WHY WON’T ANYONE CHECK THEIR EMAILS? DOES NOBODY LOVE US?
But because we are trying to market the book right now, it seems like the most difficult part at the moment.
Q: What kinds of stories are you hoping to work on next?
Vivienne: Honestly I want to tell a dumb dumb story. Something like Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi where it’s hilarious but has a lot of truth to it. Or maybe something like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett where it just stretches out the reader’s imagination. But we’re actually working on another book right now that is coming out in Summer 2025 that will be another universal concept story that hopefully will touch hearts everywhere. Our mission as an author-illustrator duo is to write books and do projects that will help develop the next generation of emotionally intelligent and good humans, and hopefully we will continue to do just that!
Eugenia: I like Vivienne’s point of making a dumb story. I have a very similar vision, but along with dumb stories, I aim to make grown people cry. I think that was the goal of so many of my projects since the beginning: how can I make people cry? I feel like it is so powerful to be able to make a perfect stranger swell up with emotions from something that you made. Also I guess I am just a big bully.
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About the Authors
Vivienne Chang and Eugenia Yoh are two unlikely friends who met at Washington University in St. Louis. Bonded by their love for children’s books and boredom during the early Covid days, they embarked on a collaborative picture book writing journey. Their debut, This is Not My Home, (Little Brown, Hachette January 24, 2023), follows a young girl named Lily moving from America to Taiwan. The story uses emotion and humor to explore how an unfamiliar place becomes a home. In the past, Vivienne has written for taiwaneseamerican.org and helped spearhead the 100 passionate people project, interviewing personal stories from the Taiwanese American community. In school, Eugenia was the art director for a variety of college extracurriculars, including but not limited to Taiwanese Students Organization, China Care Club, and Lunar New Year Festival. In 2021, they were runner-up in the Clairvoyant Children’s international picture book writing competition hosted by Die Siostry, a Polish publishing company.
Vivienne is a student at Washington University studying Economics and Dance. Eugenia has since graduated from the Communication Design program and is currently a junior designer at Chronicle Books in Northern California.
Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!