Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
We’re talking with Remy Lai, the author of
PIE IN THE SKY
When eleven-year-old Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn’t speak English, and he’s often stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.
To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she’s at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they’ll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep the cake making a secret from Mama.
Told in prose and graphic novel elements, this middle-grade novel is about a boy’s immigration experience, his annoying little brother, and their cake-baking hijinks!
Let’s talk to this amazing author about her wonderful book!
This is Remy. Everyone say, “Hi, Remy!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Remy! Tell us about yourself!
Thank you for having me here! I’m a writer-illustrator based in Brisbane, Australia. I have two dogs. Sometimes I eat ice cream for breakfast.
Where did the idea for PIE IN THE SKY come from?
For a long time, I had an image in my mind, of two brothers secretly making cakes. When I figured out that they couldn’t speak English, the story that would become PIE IN THE SKY clicked into place. From there, I borrowed things from my childhood, about moving countries and learning new languages.
What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book?
It was early morning over here (which was probably around 5pm in New York). I was having my coffee and nervously waiting for a call from a fantastic editor who wanted to have a chat. An hour before the scheduled chat, my phone rang. It was a US number I didn’t recognise. I thought that I had converted the time wrongly and that it was the editor calling.
But turned out, it was my agent Jim The Beard (yes, he lets me call him that), using a different line then the one he used when we chatted previously. I had told him to call me if PIE IN THE SKY got an offer, no matter the time and day, but when I heard his voice, I didn’t dare assume I had an offer. Also, a publishing offer usually comes after a phone call with an editor, followed by an acquisitions meeting (Don’t quote me on this!), and I hadn’t even spoken to the first editor.
“What’s up, Jim The Beard?” I said, acting nonchalant but dying inside.
Very, very, very calmly, he said, “So . . . good news . . .” And then he told me that Macmillan had placed a pre-empt.
We both screamed and squealed a lot.
Oh, my goodness – that’s the best! How exciting!
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on PIE IN THE SKY?
1. Drawing and writing about cake makes me want to eat cake for breakfast, lunch, dinner. Sadly, there is a limit to how much cake an adult can eat in a day. For kids, I think the limit is infinity. They’re so lucky.
2. Americans hardly use the word “toilet.” Your bathrooms don’t actually have baths in them.
3. Most people don’t realize how many people it takes to get a book ready for the shelves.
What was that collaborative experience like for you as an author/illustrator?
I loved every minute of it. I’m constantly bowled over by every single person in every single step of publishing, from my editor Brian Geffen to my book designer Carol Ly to my colorist MJ Robinson to the copy editors, the proofreaders, the marketing team, the publicity team, the school and library team, the media and advertising team. They work so hard and have so much love for kids’ books. They’re the best!
You are an artist as well as an author (which is so cool)! How did you decide which parts of PIE IN THE SKY should be illustrated? Did you go with the flow or did you have a plan for which parts had to be in prose?
I’m a pretty intuitive writer, so during the early stages of writing PIE IN THE SKY, I went with the flow. During later revisions, my Relentless Editor (really, that’s his name plaque haha) would ask me questions and make me think deeper about my choices. It was really cool realising why my intuition chose what it chose.
It’s so neat how those threads can appear without us seeing it the first time through!
Any hints about your next book project?
Like PIE IN THE SKY, it’s also a graphic novel/prose hybrid. It’s about a twelve-year-old boy who goes on an international flight on his own, without his parents’ knowledge, to prove that he’s not a baby anymore.
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
What a roller coaster of emotions it is. One moment you’re ecstatic, the next you’re jealous, and then dejected, and then terrified, angry, grateful, joyous, zen hopeful, and then one day you find yourself making a deal with Satan in exchange for a solution to a plot hole. Just kidding. Satan finds the tortured souls of writers to be too gristly.
What are you reading right now?
I’m drafting a middle-grade manuscript, and I don’t read middle-grade during this period, so I’m reading a fantastic adult fantasy—Jade War by Fonda Lee (it’s an ARC, the book will be out in July).
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
Yes! Important to never forget that part!
BONUS QUESTION: if you were a cake, what type of cake would you be?
Some days I’m all light and happy like an airy chiffon cake. Some days I’m all philosophical and complex like a layered cake.
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out PIE IN THE SKY! It’s out now!
Add PIE IN THE SKY on Goodreads!
Click here to win a copy of PIE IN THE SKY! Contest closes Friday, June 7th at 11:59 EST.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!