Lee has published both adult and children's books. Her kid's midle grade novels include Stopping to Home (2001) Seaward Born (2003) Wintering Well (2004) Margaret K. McElderry Books & Aladdin
"I worked in corporate America for thirty years doing public relations and strategic planning, bringing up the four Asian daughters I adopted as a single parent, and running my antique print business . In 1998 I took a buyout package, moved to Maine, and began writing fiction. As of 2004 I have 6 published books."
What drove you to get started?
I've always wanted to write, and I've always written. To support my family I needed a steady income and benefits, so I worked in the "nonfiction world," and wrote about adoption in my free time. Now my children are grown, I have a little savings, and I'm concentrating on writing fiction.
Do you have any specialized training?
Academically, I have several degrees, and I've worked as a professional writer for most of my life.
Has this been something you've always wanted to do?
Absolutely. And I'm very excited that I can finally concentrate on learning new writing skills, and reaching new audiences.
Have there been any obstacles along the way?
Of course, aren't there always? I had other priorities like having a family and I needed to take care of those before I could concentrate on fulfilling my own creative needs. But during all of those years I was writing, studying, and honing my craft. That has made the transition to fiction work.
Before you got the all important contract, how did you friends and family react to your goals? Were they supportive?
I'm been lucky to have had a few close friends who have always been supportive, but some of my family saw my writing as something that would take me away from filling their needs. I had to reach a point in my life when I could assert my own priorities and not deny theirs.
Now that you have a book in print, do you get different reactions from friends and family?
We all have different roles with different people. To my family, I'm still mom, sister, etc. Nothing has changed. And it shouldn’t! Some friends have been extremely supportive and excited for me. A few others have had trouble accepting the success I've had. And I've made new friends who have always known me as a writer, and that's how they think of me. I've been very lucky to have re-connected with a close friend from my past who has always believed in me and supported me emotionally. We were married a year ago, and his help has made it possible for me to be much more productive. And happy!
How did you land that very first book deal?
I studied other books similar to the one I wanted to write, and books on writing and publishing, and polished my manuscript for months. I connected with Simon & Schuster at a conference run by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I'd submitted a chapter for critique and the editor doing the critique loved what I'd written. I had a contract 3 months later.
Did you have any misconceptions in the beginning about the whole book process?
I didn’t realize that sometimes, especially with a book for children, it might be two years after your manuscript is contracted before it is published. And although I knew authors had to do some marketing and publicity work, I had no idea of how all-consuming that could be.
How would you describe your work? What's the most important thing you'd like others to get out of it?
I write in two very different genres. My historical novels for children are literary fiction for ages 8-12, and contain a great deal of historical information as a platform for the story. My mysteries for adults are traditional, with the world of antique prints as a background. In all my books I hope to entertain my readers and to have them learn a little about American history and culture and art at the same time.
Do you have an agent?
If you don't have an agent, would you consider getting one?
That's something I'm thinking very hard about right now. I'm about to contract for additional books, and I want to make sure that the contract is not only fair, but competitive. If I find an agent who can answer my questions, and can increase my contract above the 15% he or she would earn from it, then I might decide to be agented.
Describe your relationship with your editor(s.)
I've had three editors so far, and I've enjoyed working with each of them. They each had strengths and weaknesses and so do I. I want a strong editor, and I've been lucky to find three of them.
How do you most often communicate with your publisher?
By e-mail. Definitely. Only manuscripts and books are sent snail mail!
What books do you have in the works now?
I've written the next book in the Shadows Antique Print mystery series. Shadows at the Spring Show will be published next August. Right now I'm doing the research for my next children's historical, which will take place in Wiscasset, Maine, in the late 1830s.
Is there anything you’d do differently with your new projects?
I hope every book I write is stronger than the last. In my mystery series I try to get a little edgier, and to get a little more into my protagonist's character. In my children's books, I hope to find topics that will attract both boys and girls and will draw them into the 19th century.
Do you do author events? How important do you think author appearances are for you and your books?
I've done a fair amount of speaking at bookstores, schools, libraries, librarians' conferences, writers' conferences, mystery conferences, and other events. I'm flexible. I tailor what I say to the needs and wishes of the audience, which often is an"“on the spot" issue. Author events are great ways to meet readers, though, and I do try to fit as many as I can into my schedule. The time they take is an investment in future readers and book sales.
What's the best thing about publishing a book? What's the worst?
The best thing? Reaching readers who are moved by the pages you've written. My children's books are being used in adult literacy classes in Maine, and that is thrilling to me. The worst thing? Becoming a"public person" in some ways, and needing to respond to a lot of people. This is important to do, but it takes time and focus away from the writing, which is sometimes frustrating.
Any last words of encouragement for beginners?
Read, read, read. Read to really understand how the author has made a book work well or not. You have to be your own first and best editor and critic, because no one else will take as much time or care as much about your work. And don't try to reach the top of the mountain before you're ready. One step at a time will get you there. My favorite quotation is from George Eliot, who said, "It is never too late to be what you might have been"