Picture drawn by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009. Header made by S.F. Robertson, 2010.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Author Interview- Justina Chen Headley

1) Your books feature heroines who spend a lot of time being looked at and judged for how they look or what they have. Is there any particular reason you write that kind of conflict into your books?

Having people make snap judgments about us has got to be a universal experience: how we look, what we have, where we live, who we hang out with, what we wear. The horrific part is accepting that we all do this unintentionally!! Growing up, I was one of a handful of Asian-Americans in my neighborhood and my high school. So feeling different—looking different—certainly has played a part in why I wrote what I have. And the response that I’ve been getting for all my books has proven to me that others share this experience.

2) Your first three books were all contemporary realistic books. I hear you're working on a fantasy book. Is there anything you can tell us about it?

I’ve been so enraptured in my new contemporary realistic manuscript that I’ve put my fantasy trilogy on hold for a bit. Even so, the character from my fantasy novels keeps calling to me, spinning out her story. It’s a fairy tale…

3) In North of Beautiful, Terra has a port-wine stain on her cheek and acquires an interest in geocaching. How much research did you have to do on those? Have you gone geocaching yourself?

I do an intense amount of research for all of my novels, and North of Beautiful is no different! My research into portwine stains led me to a wonderful dermatologist who used a laser on the back of my hand so that I could feel what Terra does—from entering the office to lying down on the table to enduring the laser blast. And you have to know, I am hooked on geocaching—treasure hunting via a GPS—a very pleasant aftereffect of writing North of Beautiful. Geocaching appeals to me on so many different levels: it’s geeky, it’s treasure-hunting, it’s exploration of unexpected places I’d never discover on my own.

4) You're one of the readergirlz divas. Tell us a little bit about readergirlz (though everyone should know about you by now!) as well as what you all have planned for this year.

Readergirlz is the world’s leading online book community for teen girls—run completely by volunteers! The divas are all YA authors—Lorie Ann Grover, Dia Calhoun, Holly Cupala, Melissa Walker, Liz Gallagher, Elizabeth Scott, and myself. On one hand, we are a literacy group and have been recognized for our different programs that encourage teens to read. But we are also about building exceptional girls! Getting teens to gain their own power through reading books that feature strong girls.

On April 15, we kick off our third annual Operation Teen Book Drop.

5) What book(s) have you been reading lately, or are about to start?

I’ve been immersed in research, this time reading all about the Southwest. I have a couple of cookbooks that I’ve picked up and need to start using, just to infuse myself in the flavors of that region.

As for pleasure reading, I just finished Megan Whalen Turner’s new A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, which—as expected—is masterful. I am already yearning for the next book and am putting in an official request to see more of Gen. Must have more Eugenides, please! I also devoured Matthew Quick’s forthcoming SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR, which people will love, love, love.

6) You've been on tour for your books. What's it like to go on tour and what are your favorite parts of being on tour?

Book tours are wonderful—adrenaline filled days and nights meeting readers, librarians, booksellers. You can’t imagine what it’s like to meet people who have connected with your words, your stories! I’ve been in a parade on Main Street, conducted this crazy satellite TV / radio tour starting at 3:30 in the morning (!), and signed books in a shopping mall…

7) A follow-up to the tour question. I'm sure you've got quite a lot of wonderful memories of being on tour, but is there any one moment that sticks out to you more than the others?

How can I ever forget—or appropriately thank—the librarians at TLA, those who hosted a special dinner for the participating authors and those who came to a dinner that my publisher hosted for Sarah Ockler, Malinda Lo, and myself. Those librarians made me feel so cherished when I was experiencing a really hard patch in my personal life. Plus, who could not fall in love with their enthusiasm for words and stories?

And then, the Chicago Public Library will always have a special place in my heart. The YA librarians rallied behind me with my first book and I believe that they are the ones who really launched my career. They sent me all over the city—particularly the inner city… And this experience is really why readergirlz exists: to answer the needs of teens who need the solace of story the most.

8) You lived in Sydney, Australia as well as Japan (or was it China? or neither?) for a bit. What prompted those moves? What were the best and worst parts of each place?

Both my moves to Sydney and Shanghai exposed me to deeper insights about myself and a much broader perspective about the world. The hardest part of living in a foreign country for a short amount of time (Sydney for a year, Shanghai for a few months) was, frankly, feeling so new. It takes time to find your way around, to make a community for yourself, to figure out your favorite haunts…to find the best bookstores and libraries! J I love traveling and I love meeting new people, trying new food, experiencing new cultures. Who knows where I’ll live next. Maybe Siena. Or Paris. Or Big Sky.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Justina!!


  1. Wonderful interview! I love every one of Justina's books and think she is without a doubt one of the most talented authors on the YA scene.

  2. Here, here, Holly! Thanks Book Chic!