Visiting Author Series: Stacey Lee

We’re delighted to welcome Stacey Lee to Sixteen to Read’s Visiting Author Series. Stacey published her debut novel, the critically acclaimed Under a Painted Sky, with Putnam in 2015. In May 2016, she followed it up with Outrun the Moon, which Kirkus has called “powerful, evocative, and thought-provoking.” Stacey’s third novel, The Secret of a Heart Note, is due out from Katherine Tegen Books on December 27.

Sixteen to Read’s Sonya Mukherjee recently chatted with Stacey about writing, publishing, and what she’s learned so far.

Stacey, thanks so much for taking the time to drop by. To begin, we’d love to hear about the earliest stages of your career. What was the querying process like for you with your first book, Under a Painted Sky?

I began querying when I was fifteen, and that was a very long time ago, before there were computers. All told, I queried about seven different projects at various stages of my life, from picture books to YA. Each project received more nibbles than the prior one, and so I knew I was moving in the right direction at least. Plus, with the advent of the Internet, it became easier to figure out what I was doing right or wrong through sites like Query Shark.

For more detailed information about perfecting a query letter, my agent Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency and I chatted about my original query for UAPS at Literary Rambles.

What aspect of the publishing experience was most surprising for you that first time around? And what was the most fun?

I was surprised by how many people it takes to make a book. There are so many people involved with getting a book on the shelf, marketing people, salespeople, publicists—I’m still not sure I met everyone who worked on UAPS! The most fun was meeting some great author friends along the way. I couldn’t have done it without their support!

Your first two novels were both historical, while The Secret of a Heart Note, which comes out next, is contemporary. What drew you to writing historical characters and settings? And after starting with historical, what appealed to you about contemporary?

As a fourth generation Californian, I always wondered about those Chinese ancestors of mine who first touched down on American soil. So that’s what led me to write UAPS, as well as my second historical, Outrun the Moon. But I also love writing in other genres, like contemporary with a little magic, which is how I describe The Secret of a Heart Note. That one arose from my odd synesthetic ability to ‘hear’ different scents and my interest in natural perfumery. It’s different animal than my historicals, but everyone who has read it says they can tell it’s me who wrote it.

What’s your writing process like? Has it changed over time?

I brainstorm on paper. I take lots of walks to develop those ideas, then plot out some emotional beats I’d like to hit. Then I start writing soon after I get a general outline going. It’s definitely an organic process for me, and often what and who I intend to write about changes along the way.

You’ve been quite prolific. Your first book just came out last year, and you have two out in 2016. How do you balance your writing time with all the other tasks related to publishing and promoting your work? Do you have set schedules or plans that help you divide your time?

I don’t watch TV! I just have to clip bits of time here and there and hope and pray it all gets done! With two kids, it’s definitely a challenge because I don’t start writing until around 9 or 10 pm. I stop around 1 or 2 am.

Can you share anything about what you’re working on next?

Another historical that might or might not involve stagecoaches. J

Lightning round:

Favorite writing beverage: iced coffee with almond milk

Favorite place to write: in my home office

Music to write by: I need quiet. I get too distracted by song lyrics.

Last book you read: I’m reading The Reader by Traci Chee.

Author from the past you’d most want to meet: LA Meyer, author of the Bloody Jack series, who passed away in 2015.

First thing you’d do if you could time travel to one of your novels’ settings: What a great question. I’d learn how to ride a horse.

Best thing about living in the 21st century when not time traveling: Anesthesia.


Jennifer DiGiovanni Reads The Freshman Fifteens

Jennifer DiGiovanni

written by Jennifer DiGiovanni

The Sixteen To Read authors love discovering new books! While we’re waiting on our own book releases next year, we’re paging through the debuts of our sister group, The Freshman Fifteens, and we’d love for you to join us. Can you handle the sheer awesomeness of fifteen binge-worthy YA novels by new authors? I think my heart just skipped a few beats.

Last month, I set off on my Freshman Fifteens debut author challenge by reading My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga and Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee. Here are some of my thoughts on these truly great books.

Under a Painted Sky

Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky , set along the Oregon Trail in 1849, begins with a series of tragic events forcing Samantha and Annamae on the run for their lives. Disguised as boys, the girls quickly become friends and learn to rely on each other’s strengths to survive. Together, they travel toward the promise of fortune, freedom, and escape from their troubles out West.

To hide their identities from authorities, Samantha and Annamae become Sam and Andy. As their journey begins, they meet up with three cowboys, West, Cay, and Peety. As the narrator, Sam uses folklore and legends passed down from her Chinese grandparents and father to describe the personality traits of her fellow travelers and she’s usually dead on with her first impressions. Quiet West is an artist at heart. Cay is a ladies’ man who often goes after the wrong girl, which causes the group to make a quick escape more than once. And Peety just made me laugh.

As the story progresses, it becomes quite obvious that Sam and Andy aren’t hiding their secrets as well as they think they are. Well-paced action scenes and some laugh-out-loud awkward situations the girls run into while posing as boys kept me highly entertained. Under a Painted Sky  was a fun book and so different from anything I’ve read in YA lately. Lee truly “paints” a beautiful setting and brings the Wild West to life through her characters.

My Heart and Other Black Holes

Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and Other Black Holes tackles a tough teenage issue, one that’s truly deserving of an authentic voice. Aysel suffers from depression and has resolved to take her own life – but she doesn’t want to take this last step alone. She meets Roman, a boy with his own set of personal demons, through an online website. As the two spend time together, an emotional bond develops between them and they connect through their ability to understand each other’s personal struggles.

In a Goodreads Q&A, Warga commented on how difficult writing can be, especially balancing “the sad with the funny, the uplifting with the dark.” I’ll admit that at times as a reader I needed to step away from this book. Not because of the writing – the prose is hauntingly beautiful and Warga is very skilled at pulling back and lightening up a scene before she takes us too far down a path of sadness. For me, parts of this this book were hard to read simply because Aysel’s depression was portrayed so realistically. Warga makes you feel the pain caused by the “black slug” of depression nestled in Aysel’s chest. The character development is superb and as a reader you wish you could help Aysel. You want to shake everyone around her and ask why they can’t see how sad and isolated she feels. You realize how easy it can be to miss the signs of major depression.

Despite the pain portrayed in this story, Warga infuses a sense of hope into her characters. Although Aysel and Roman’s struggles won’t be easily overcome, nor will their problems be solved overnight, we want them to prevail.

Final Thoughts?

The characters in both Warga and Lee’s books are truly memorable and the quality of writing is superb. Each author has such as distinctive, fresh new voice. I’m looking forward to reading more by both Warga and Lee, as well as the rest of the Freshman Fifteeners’ debut novels this year.


Jennifer DiGiovanni is a freelance writer and small business owner. Her debut YA novel, MY SENIOR YEAR OF AWESOME will be published by Georiga McBride Media Group’s Swoon Romance imprint in 2016. When she’s not reading or writing, you can find her working on home design or home improvement projects, exercising, or cheering loudly at her kids’ soccer, basketball, or little league games. You can connect with Jennifer on Twitter or Facebook.