Angela Ahn, author of Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field, is a former teacher and librarian and the author of Krista Kim-Bap, a Bank Street Best Book of the Year (2019). She worked in the Canadian public education system, as well as in Hong Kong for two years, teaching English as a Second Language. After five years of teaching, she went back to school to earn a Master of Library and Information Studies from the University of British Columbia. She lives in Vancouver with her family.
Thanks to Hear Our Voices Book Tours, I got the opportunity to interview her. Here is an insight into how she got the idea to write story of a 11 year old aspiring paleontologist, Peter Lee.
What inspired you to write this book?
In all truthfulness, the inspiration was a green stuffed dinosaur that my daughter was very attached to. We bought the stuffie at the giftshop of the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta during a family trip. She carried that thing around everywhere for years. So of course, the very first inkling of the story was a book about a little girl who was inordinately attached to a stuffed dinosaur. I initially wanted to write a “fun” story about a family vacation, but everybody kept telling me I needed “more” to the story. Ultimately, I hope I kept the “fun” bits and managed to add “more”!
Why did you choose Peter Lee’s area of interest as Paleontology?
It was partly inspired by my own kids who had a keen interest in dinosaurs (hence the family trip to Drumheller, Alberta). At one point, I actually knew quite a lot about paleontology from books and documentaries. I still had to do a lot of research while writing because my mind is not as sharp as it once was, and I forgot everything about dinosaurs as quickly as I had learned it. I think paleontology and dinosaurs generally, are one of those topics that people still find fascinating as adults. I know I do.
How difficult or easy was it to write a book from a child’s perspective?
I’m immature, so it’s no problem! My kids are 11 and 13, so I get their perspectives all the time.
Is any character in the book inspired from your life?
I do see quite a bit of myself in Peter’s mother. You know the mom that buys her kids lots and lots of books, and signs her kids up for extra-curricular activities, like piano lessons, computer programming classes etc. That’s me. I think there’s this line said by Peter’s dad about doing extra math homework, “You’ll thank me one day.” I’ve even said to my kids as they protested about something! I guess I’m that mom who just wants my kids to have every opportunity they can have.
L.B. is like an exaggerated form of my daughter. My daughter was a very chatty toddler (still is, as a tween) with far too much energy. I took her youthful energy, multiplied it by 10, and created L.B.
You might assume that Peter, therefore, is like my son, but actually that’s not the case at all. Peter started off as a whiny, complaining brother, but grew into the sensible and caring character he is in the final book. But he still likes to complain. Who doesn’t?
What motivated you to become an author?
Boredom. When my youngest went to full-time kindergarten, I had a few hours everyday with nothing to do. I wrote Krista Kim-Bap on and off for a year without any clue how to write a novel. Literally zero clue what I was doing. Then the most surprising thing of all happened–editors started to seem interested. When I finally got an offer to publish it, I really couldn’t believe it. After a bit of beginner’s luck, I started writing the story that would ultimately become Peter Lee. I started to get serious about writing, and even started looking for an agent this time. Although, I admit, even with an agent, and two books, I often feel that I haven’t clue about how to write a story. I tried reading books on “craft” and I manage to get about half way through, and then i stop reading because my eyes and brain have started to glaze over. I’ve still got lots to learn, but I’m a reluctant student!
What message would you like to give to people who wants to become an author?
It’s never too late! Write because you want to, first of all. And if your ultimate dream is to become a traditionally published author, it does require a lot of commitment and very, very thick skin. It’s also really helpful to connect to other bookish types. You really cannot do this job in isolation, which may be the exact reason you like writing to start — the being alone part. Ironic, huh?
About Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field:
Eleven year-old Peter Lee has one goal in life: to become a paleontologist. Okay, maybe two: to get his genius kid-sister, L.B., to leave him alone. But his summer falls apart when his real-life dinosaur expedition turns out to be a bust, and he watches his dreams go up in a cloud of asthma-inducing dust.
Even worse, his grandmother, Hammy, is sick, and no one will talk to Peter or L.B. about it. Perhaps his days as a scientist aren’t quite behind him yet. Armed with notebooks and pens, Peter puts his observation and experimental skills to the test to see what he can do for Hammy. If only he can get his sister to be quiet for once — he needs time to sketch out a plan.