The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Hope Lim
Hope Lim is a children's book author from South Korea who now lives in San Francisco with her family.
Hope has always loved language. She majored in English Literature and earned a master’s degree in Conference Interpretation. For many years, she navigated the world of diplomats, working as a conference interpreter for the US State Department. Then motherhood ushered her into the world of children's literature, where she discovered the power of picture books, which transcends time, place, and language.
Now, she continues her love of language by reading with her two children and writing stories, often inspired by them. Hope runs every day, practices yoga, and indulges in dark chocolate while trying to translate her inner child's emotions into words. Her second picture book, My Tree, (Neal Porter Books/Holiday House) releases May 4, 2021.
Her debut picture book, I Am A Bird, (Candlewick) releases Tomorrow!
Welcome Hope tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
HOPE: I write on my spacious dining table in the morning with a cup of coffee and on my desk when the night sets in. I tend to stay up late these days and often the feeling of doing something at night when everything is quiet adds a magical element, especially when I feel creative.
My writing journey started when I became a mother. I kept a journal of my kids and their milestones and everyday adventures with them. When my daughter went to preschool. I watched her at play with other kids, and my observations of them became the foundation for my stories later on. I joined my first critique group in 2014 through 12x12 and met many wonderful critique partners. My favorite type of book to write is a picture book, for all the craft and knowledge I have gained over the years. But I also like to write poems whenever I have something stir inside me.
That late night time, when the house stills, is indeed magical. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I have two baby teeth still sound and strong. Many dentists told me I would lose them soon, but they have stayed with me all these years.
Now that's something unusual. Wow! Where did the idea for I Am A Bird come from?
The idea for I Am A Bird started after an encounter with a stranger in Golden Gate Park. I thought she was strange at first, but I immediately recognized my perception was unfair and started to reflect on our innate fears and biases toward each other. When I came home, my husband told me about how my daughter made joyful birdcalls on their way to school on the back of his bike. I was struck by the contrast between my daughter and my simultaneous experiences. At that moment, I knew I had to write a story about exploring the fear of the unknown and combined it with my daughter’s soaring spirit. That’s how I Am A Bird was born - a story of celebrating kindred spirits discovered unexpectedly, all told from a child’s perspective.
What a great impetus for a story. It's fun to learn that your daughter actually did this. How many drafts, or revisions, did I Am A Bird take?
To answer this question, I looked back at the folder of I Am A Bird on my computer. The first draft was written in October 2015. I distinctly remember the moment when I felt the urge to work on this story. It was after I finished two poetry books, Book of Nature Poetry by J. Patrick Lewis and Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman. I had already started a draft, but after reading these books, the lines started to pour out of my heart and I simply transferred them onto paper. I realized again the importance of reading poetry for picture books, especially when your mind is still fresh with a story idea.
After that first draft, I wrote 14 revisions in the next three months before I shared it with my agent, who offered her suggestions for revisions. After that, we submitted to publishing houses. After the initial interest, I revised it based on the editor’s suggestions and it was acquired. After that, I Am A Bird went through additional rounds of revision, one of which including “killing a darling,” the most difficult part of any revision. I thought those lines were necessary and I was attached to them but taking them out was a right decision in the end.
Interesting that it took inspiration from poetry books to bring the manuscript out of the "waiting" folder. What was the hardest part of writing I Am A Bird?
The hardest part of writing this book was “to kill a darling” during the revision process with my editor. I could have insisted to keep them but I knew they weren’t necessary. It was hard because I worked hard on those specific lines and simply wouldn’t want to let go of them.
I think that is one of the toughest things for any creative person. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or what was favorite book as a child?
My favorite author is Leo Lionni, and my favorite books as a child were the Roman and Greek mythologies. I was so fascinated by the tales and vividly remember how I wanted to visit the world inhabited by Gods and Goddesses and to meet them.
Was there anything that surprised you about the illustrations? What is your favorite spread in the book?
When I received the sketches, I was blown away by Hyewon’s authentic and thoughtful way to capture a child’s emotions. One pleasant surprise was her genius way of projecting the child’s fear by using the gaping monster drawings on the wall in the background. My art note for that scene was for the child to imagine a monster’s tail sticking out of the woman’s bag. But what Hyewon delivered was more authentic and child-like than what I had in mind.
My favorite spread is the last one, where every character is singing bird song. Again, in that spread, Hyewon made Daddy sing, an excellent example of how an illustrator can add meaningful depth and layers to the story.
Illustrators are amazing in the life they bring a writer's text. When I first read the book, I was immediately struck by the monsters the child sees on the brick wall when the old lady passes. What's something you want your readers to know about or gain from I Am A Bird?
In a time when we need more unity than division, I hope I Am A Bird will be a book that can raise awareness for us to stay away from bias and find common ground. We have more in common than we may think.
It's a wonderful gentle reminder that outward appearances/impressions can be deceiving. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)
My children and the way they think, see the world around them, and express what they know.
*Smiling* How are you staying creative these days? What are you doing to “prime the well”?
From my experience, the best way to stay creative is to write and read. I read poems when I need to “prime the well.”
Great advice. Besides, My Tree, illustrated by Il Sung Na, coming out on May 4th, are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I am working on a project about human connections and how new perspective can open up new ways of seeing the world.
We'll have to keep our eyes open for that one. I know you have multiple critique groups and writing partners, what have you learned from your critique buddies over the years? Or from your writing journey so far?
I have learned how to find and give my time to them. I have a few critique partners and they have been the most generous with their time whenever I need a new set of fresh eyes.
There is nothing like the comradery of encouragement and honesty from a critique partner. What is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with at the moment? Why?
My favorite animal is a penguin, because it’s my daughter’s and it has become mine over the years. I like their clumsy and cute way of walking on land then they turn into something completely different when they jump into water. So graceful and powerful.
Thank you Hope for stopping by to share about yourself and your debut picture book.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on I Am A Bird.
To find out more about Hope Lim, or get in touch with her: