Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Asian Author Spotlight: Ellen Oh + Giveaway

Today I get the privilege of spotlighting Asian author Ellen Oh!

Her debut novel Prophecy - The Dragon King Chronicles (it's the first in a trilogy!) won't be coming out till January 2nd 2013 from HarperCollins but that doesn't mean we can't highlight her now right? Enjoy this great interview where Ellen shares with us why she thinks diversity is important, talks about her love for spicy food, and tells us her favorite Asian dish!

What made you choose to write the genre you do?
I don’t think I chose to write in this genre, my story dictated what I wrote. It just happened to be YA. But subconsciously it probably helped that I had small children and I was reading a lot of children’s books at the time. In fact, I preferred them to adult books. Still do!

What inspired you to write your book(s)?  I'd become fascinated with Ancient Asian history after reading a biography on Genghis Khan back in the year 2000. It led to years of obsessive research that led to a kernel of an idea -- an idea that I could write a fantasy novel using a mix of history, mythology and legend.

What advice would you give to another writer?  "Shut up and listen carefully" should be your new mantra. Before you get offended or confused, let me explain. Writers can be very opinionated and defensive and yet at the same time really insecure and paranoid. This comes out in how you interact with other people, how you talk, how you act, and even how you write. In order to become a better writer, I had to tell myself to shut up already and start listening carefully to what's really being said.

How do you listen carefully? First, you have to take ego out of the equation. All the ego - not just the "I'm the best writer in the world" ego, but the "I suck and can't even write 'how to' manuals for a can opener" ego. It is inevitable that most of us are our own worst critics. It's just as important to tell your critic to shut up. You know the one that sounds like Joan Rivers and says you suck and you're ugly. That guy. You need to punch that guy in the face and tell him to shut up. Listen to your gut not your critic. Your gut wants to help you succeed. Your critic wants to make you stab yourself in the eye with a spoon. So who do you really want to listen to?

Listening carefully also means to weed out the negativity. To weed out the naysayers. The people who just want to bring you down (whether on purpose or unconsciously) and say things that undermine your confidence. Listening carefully means recognizing truth from untruths. Not easy to do when your inner critic is bitching at you about how badly you stink. He helps all that negativity take root and you begin to second guess yourself. He needs an ass whooping. And you need to listen carefully. When you take your ego and your critic out of the equation, then a negative criticism becomes easier to analyze. It's easier to consider whether it really has merit or if it's just trash talk.

One naysayer told me that my first book (which I shelved) was "too oriental for western sensibilities." After I kicked in his teeth (in my head), I listened carefully to what that criticism was really about. In my first book, I had some difficult Korean names. The kind that make you scratch your head wondering how to even attempt pronouncing them. Fair enough, I thought. I never did like the fact that I had no idea how to pronounce all the Elvish names in Lord of the Rings. I kept that in mind when I wrote Prophecy. Now I have names in my book that are easier to pronounce. Did I sell myself out to do that? Absolutely not. I listened carefully. I disregarded the inherent racism in the implied criticism and instead focused on how to address it.

As a writer, there will be many times when your ego and your critic will get in the way of your writing. Don't let them control you. Don't let them block your forward progress. Tell them to shut up so you can listen carefully. Only then can you find the truths that will work best for you.

If you could have any supernatural power, what would it be?
I would want to be like superman strong, but without the kryptonite.

What is your opinion on spicy food?
I’m Korean, does that answer your question? ;o) I’m the type of person that will try to add Tabasco to everything I eat (except sweets). So yeah, I pretty much adore spicy food. But as I get older, the spicy food isn’t loving me back as much so Zantac has become my new best friend.

Do you think there needs to be more diversity in young adult fiction?
Hell yes! We need a lot more diversity in YA fiction. I just did a blog post on this subject here:

One of the reasons I wrote up this post was because my oldest daughter, who is 12, has now been haunting the YA sections of the bookstore and she commented on how “white” it was. It made me sad because she felt excluded without even really knowing why.

I will also be doing a blog series where I ask authors of diverse books to talk about what diversity means to them and why it is so important.

How close would you say you are to Asian culture?
Well I wrote a book about ancient Korea because I was fascinated by Asian history. I am a huge K-pop and K-drama fan and I adore Korean food. Well actually, I love all food, especially Asian food. There is no doubting my Americanism, but I respect and admire my Korean roots.

What is your favorite Asian dish?
This is way too hard! Because the answer is – it depends on my mood. When I’m in the mood for noodles, my favorite food is Pho. If I want comfort food – it’s Korean bibimbap. Then there are days where the only thing that I want to eat is sushi. And when I just gotta have meat, kalbi is the only way to go.

Thanks for such an awesome interview Ellen! To find out more about Ellen's debut novel Prophecy check out Ellen's official website here and take the time to check out her blog here where you can see the posts she mentioned on cultural diversity! Totally awesome right?

And now for the GIVEAWAY! *throws confetti in air*

Ellen Oh is giving one lucky blog reader a $15 Barnes and Noble Giftcard! If you want to win just fill out the easy peasy Rafflecopter form below.

Sorry international folks but this is a US only giveaway. :(

a Rafflecopter giveaway

May the odds be ever in your favor!

Be sure to hit up our All Things Asian event page for all the posts and giveaways! Click HERE to see more awesomeness. (And no, you don't have to be Asian to participate!) And don't forget to check out iLive, iLaugh, iLove Books and My Words Ate Me today for more posts!

Julia :)


  1. ATA is a great idea! Congratulations to Ellen for your debut.

  2. love this interview! especially the advice to writers! thank you ellen and julia!

  3. Great interview! Looking forward to Ellen's book. :) Listening to our gut, and putting more diversity in all of children's lit are some pretty powerful take-aways. Thanks!

  4. I absolutely love this event!! Mm, reading the answer to her favourite dish got me so hungry! I enjoy all types of Asian food too and I really wish there was more diversity in YA too.

  5. Loved the interview and your blog!

  6. "I’m Korean, does that answer your question" hah! Question answered. And I also LOVE pho. Best comfort food. <3

  7. Thank you everyone! All things Asian is such a great event! I was really happy to be a part of it!

  8. Thanks for the great interview. I love reading Ellen's blog because of her insightful posts - like the one on diversity and an even earlier one about the whitewashing in The Last Airbender movie. I'm stoked for her book!

    Also, thanks for this great blog hop!

  9. GO ASIANS! :D Thank you!. Inteview was great.

  10. i'm new to your blog!!!! thanx for this giveaway!!!

  11. Love this giveaway! Thanks so much.

  12. Fantastic interview! Now I'm hungry for some yummy Korean food. Sigh.

  13. Thanks for the great giveaway!!

  14. Thanks so much for the great giveaway! :)

  15. I ADORE Ellen so much. I can't wait to see her again - hopefully soon. She's like my sister separated at birth.

  16. Thanks for the giveaway! The interview was very interesting and I am very excited to read Ellen's debut!

  17. Love how your spotlighting Asian culture! Thanks for the giveaway!


  18. This was a great interview ^_^. I definitely agree there needs to be more diversity in YA but I also must say in comparison to five years ago there are a lot more diverse characters in YA today, still not enough I admit but I think we are moving in the right direction :). Also can't wait to read Prophecy!!

    Scribing Shadows


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