Monday, June 8, 2015

Author Stacey Lee In Conversation

Author Stacey Lee
by Lupe Fernandez

Stacey Lee is the author of Under a Painted Sky, a YA, historical western. Two girls, Samantha and Annamae, flee arrest and slavery on the Oregon Trail disguised as boys. They fall in with a couple of cowboys headed for California's gold rush.

There's stompin' stampedes, cross-patched chuckleheads and confused courting. Don't worry, friendship gets 'em through the whole caboodle.

Would Sammy's dispatching of Ty Yorkshire have read more severely if this story had been a contemporary YA? Does historical fiction offer leeway with violent scenes?
I think historical has the potential to be equally graphic. For example, MT Anderson's THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING is skin crawlingly graphic in its depiction of small pox, as is any western by Larry McMurtry (a scene that sticks in my mind is the disembowelment of an unfortunate settler by a Native American). For me, it came down to my main character. She is classically educated, a sheltered city girl. It was important to write the story as how she would've seen and filtered it. This means, the violence is PG, borderline PG13. It's there, but the story isn't the violence.

You describe Oregon Trail landscape vividly. Did you travel to any of the locations featured in the book?
I spent a fair amount of time on the California Trail on which there's a wealth of experts, rangers, trail leaders, and wagon builders who are more than happy to speak with you about this important part of American history. For hardcore OT enthusiasts, there's an annual trip down the OT in caravan, and you can live how the pioneers lived. If I wasn't such a light sleeper and a bad traveler, it would've been fun to do that!

During your research for this book, did you discover anything surprising about the 1840's?
Yes. I learned so much about the trials the Pioneers went through. They had all sorts of interesting remedies for the problems they encountered on the Trail, such as cholera. At the time, there was no cure, so they had to come up with their own, including tying a raw chicken to one's leg. I don't know if anyone was actually cured through this method, but they were probably put off chicken for a long time.

I also enjoyed learning about the cowboy life, and how incredibly diverse the cowboys were. There were blacks, Mexicans, but probably no Chinese (except in Hawaii, eventually).

Would you have preferred extra-curricular reference material at the end of the book, such as historical maps and websites for further information? Perhaps for the second printing?
Yes, this would've been fabulous to have. I am always getting asked questions about where to get more information. Also, I'm a big fan of maps.

Do you feel the Chinese experience in 19th century America as portrayed in popular media has been confined to helpless immigrants, wandering Kung Fu masters and cheerful laundry workers?
Don't forget the dragon ladies and the nerds. I read a book recently which I loved and was a recent Newbery Honor, but failed me in one regard - the only Asian person in the book was a Karate teacher. We still get saddled with these roles, in books, and in other forms of entertainment.

This reader pictures the author dunking herself in a rushing river to capture the details of Sammy's watery perils. With all the roping and riding and river crossing, you must be an experienced cowboy, yes?
I wish! The truth is, I'm deathly allergic to horses, though I actually went so far as to research hypoallergenic horses because I really do want to learn to ride a horse one day (maybe even stand on one). :) And yes, there is a hypoallergenic horse called the Bakshir Curly. I'm saving up.

You and author Stephanie Garber make a dynamic duo in your video blogs. Will you two ever collaborate on a book? Or at least come out with your own line of hats?
Thank you, we try! We always talk about collaboration. And then we devolve into hapless giggling and eat dessert instead. It's inevitable. Actually, the first picture book I wrote was "The Math Monster" and her first PB was "The Jelly Monster." We've been on the same wavelength even before we met! We've started a tumblr together and big plans are in the works for it. And that reminds me. It's time for dessert.

The Management would like to thank Stacey Lee for this interview. For more Stacey Lee, saddle up and ride on over to Then mosey on over to your local independent book store and wrangle yourself a copy of Under a Painted Sky. Now get a wiggle on!


  1. Great interview. I loved reading about all the research Stacey did for her book. I'm hoping to read it this summer.

  2. Love your research. Sounds like a great book. Added it to my want to read list on Goodreads.


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