Educator and curriculum designer only partially describes the tornado of activity that is Virginia Loh-Hagan. With a doctorate in education and a special emphasis on literacy, she prepares future teachers enrolled in credential programs at San Diego State University for the rigors of the classroom. But arguably her dissertation on Asian-American children’s literature opened a path she’d never before considered—that of children’s author.
Virginia and I first met when, as she says, “Patricia crashed my lunch date with [author] Larry Dane Brimner at a California School Library Association conference a couple of years ago.”
Patricia: How did your dissertation influence your writing career?
Virginia: In graduate school I knew that I was going to study Asian-American children’s literature. Early on, I remember I was giving a presentation about Asian-American children’s lit based on the research perspective. Somebody in the crowd said, “So, what are you doing to help to get more books out there?” I never thought of myself as being a producer. I thought of myself as a scholar. But then I thought, why not me? Even though I still have an Asian-American focus as a writer, I find myself wanting to go outside of that, too, to explore new areas and genres.
P: How did you and your co-author for Paper Son come up with the idea for the book?
V: I was teaching fourth grade, and in fourth grade we study California history. I wanted to teach about Angel Island and I realized there was a dearth of available fiction books. That sparked an idea to write one. At the same time Helen [Foster James] was inspired by Larry Dane Brimner’s nonfiction book, Angel Island. So we both had these ideas stewing separately. Helen approached me at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) event, and said, “We’re both working on this idea. Let’s do it together.” We’d done a lot of research on our own, and combined it into a draft manuscript.
P: And Paper Son was recently nominated for the California Young Reader Medal.
V: This means a lot because I really admire the sponsoring organizations: CRA [California Reading Association], CATE [California Association of Teachers of English], and CSLA [California School Library Association]. Plus, it’s a book about California and it seems appropriate for kids all across California to read it!
P: Po Po’s Lucky Chinese New Year will be released in December with Sleeping Bear Press. Can you tell me about it?
V: The book was inspired by an author visit. I’d created a PowerPoint presentation about Chinese New Year. It started out as a straightforward list of dos and don’ts, but then I imagined pictures of a spunky little girl protagonist and the story was born. She basically took over what I was doing—telling the dos and don’ts—then I started to see more of a story. I went through the writing process of drafting, revising, and polishing. There’s a plot line of Chinese New Year, but there’s also a sweet story between the [main character] and her brother.
P: How does the revision process work between you and your editors?
V: We send many drafts back and forth. It takes me a long time to revise—way longer than writing the first draft. My editor offers a lot of suggestions and I listen to them. Writing has taught me to have thick skin, be flexible, be coachable. I like to think that I’m easy to work with. I’m a stickler for cultural and factual accuracy, but I’m open to critical feedback about my writing, characterization, plotting, etc.
P: Sometimes the series book ideas come from your editors. Is that true of your new Magic, Myth and Mystery series?
V: 45th Parallel knew they wanted a new series, and I’d been trying to pitch monsters for a long time. I pitched it a couple of seasons ago, and I kept pitching it. Finally it happened! I wrote about Bigfoot, dragons, hydra, unicorns, vampires, werewolves, witches, and zombies. So cool!
P: Describe a childhood memory that sticks out in your mind.
V: I didn’t have the best childhood. I came from a broken home. I was a happy person, but not at home. Libraries were safe spaces for me. I found that books were a way to escape into other worlds. I found refuge in stories.
P: Describe your daily writing schedule.
V: I’m a vampire. I write at night. I’m very social so I get distracted during the day. Plus, my day job at SDSU takes up my daytime hours. But my nighttime hours are reserved for my writing! No one calls me late at night and I’m most settled at that time. I’m a work horse, and I manage my time well. I also have a very supportive husband. I’ve been lucky.
P: Explain one thing you’d like your readers to know about you.
V: I have an obsession with pianos! I have three: a seven-foot Steinway, a Yamaha professional upright, and a Mason and Hamlin console. I host a recital group in which we perform for each other. [Children’s author] Kathleen Krull is in my group.
P: Any last words?
V: I’m honored to be giving back. We all have stories to share. I hope mine inspire young readers like many authors inspired me.