Interview with Author Mike Yam

Mike Yam

I am thrilled to have interviewed author Mike Yam, who shared with us details of his writing life, his book ‘Fried Rice & Marinara‘, which was released on 20th June 2023, and answered a few fun questions. This post contains affiliate links.

Mike Yam

Mike Yam joined NFL Network in 2020 and serves as a news anchor and host of such shows as NFL Total Access. In addition to his duties at NFL Network, Yam can be heard regularly on SiriusXM radio.

Prior to NFL Network, Yam spent nine years as the lead studio host for Pac-12 Networks, anchoring numerous pre and postgame shows for the networks’ football and basketball programming. Yam also spent four years at ESPN where he served as a SportsCenter anchor and contributed to the network’s NBA, college football and college basketball coverage. Additionally, Yam was a frequent voice on ESPN Radio, an NBA TV studio host and was the play-by-play voice on Intel Sports’ coverage of the NFL, college basketball and golf on its True View technology from 2017-20.

Yam is a graduate of Fordham University and the author of the children’s book Fried Rice and Marinara.

interview picture 2023


1) Where did the inspiration for your book come from?

As a kid, I didn’t think anything of the different cultures. I always knew I was Chinese and Italian, but as I got older, I realized that my friends didn’t have to think about or balance multiple cultural experiences that were very different. I also realized that many stories available for children didn’t always feature diverse characters. I do think for my generation not seeing much diversity in characters playing a leading role alters your thinking about a career path.

Part of the reason I wanted to write Fried Rice and Marinara was to have young readers see a multi-ethnic character in a lead role. I also wanted to spark the thought that families with diverse backgrounds are normal. At times in my childhood, I thought I had to “pick a side,” which is weird to think about now. I really want young kids to be able to embrace their heritage and be proud of their background. I know for my family, food was a backdrop to everything we did. I wanted to use cuisine as a vehicle to bring the story to life.

2) How did you plan out the plot?

It was important to me that premise of Fried Rice and Marinara was not something that you see in many diverse stories. I wanted to expand the storytelling to include a plot that was universally relatable, so birthdays made the most sense.

I really was fortunate to have both Italian and Chinese food at my birthday parties as a kid. I genuinely was excited about the dishes and felt that my parties always had the best cuisine. My goal was to take that excitement and combine it with a party backdrop that everyone could appreciate.

3) When did you choose the title for your book?

I took Italian when I was in high school. My classmates knew I was Italian and Chinese and I’ll never forget when I was asked about what type of food I eat. I explained that we had all different types of foods, but at our family parties we had both Chinese and Italian. My friend chuckled and said “have you ever had fried rice and marinara?” I laughed, but that combination 20 years later always stuck in my head. When I was thinking about the title of the story, it took me less than 5 seconds to know exactly what I wanted my book to be called.

4) How did you come up with the names for your characters?

Every character in the story is based on an actual person I know. The names are either family or friends. In fact, the illustrator of this story, Laura Dong, asked me for pictures of family. She was so detailed that even the picture of the house is based on my childhood home. I really appreciate that she wanted to make sure all the images were as authentic as possible, including my grandmothers.

5) How did you go about researching the content for your book?

I didn’t do much research to tell the story in Fried Rice and Marinara, but I made it a point to see what types of diverse stories were available for children. It’s an understatement to say I was disheartened by the selection. According to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin (2022) you are nearly as likely (39% BIPOC/37% Animal/Object) to see a children’s story about an animal or object than you are to see a story depicting a character from a diverse background.

Some might ask why it’s a big deal, but it’s huge when you consider what was published by the American Psychological Association. Their research says children in the United States associate whites with wealth and higher status. By the time they are 3, children in the U.S. connect some racial groups with negative traits. Statics like this were a huge driver for me to work on Fried Rice and Marinara.

6) What made you choose this genre?

I wanted to do a children’s story because I think back to my own childhood. I never had a book that featured an Asian boy or a mixed race family. It was important to plant the storytelling seeds on a young audience. It never occurred to me as a child that being a storyteller or sportscaster was an option. I know not having exposure to diverse stories played a role.

Being a sportscaster didn’t click in my head as an option until I got to college and had cable tv for the first time. I saw Michael Kim on ESPN. I never saw an Asian guy do sports. Little did I know that in just a few years I would actually get to do shows with Michael and be lucky enough to call him a friend. Many of my colleagues in the sports broadcasting community knew they wanted to be sportscasters at a young age. They had life idea seeds sprinkled all over their brain. I want kids to be exposed to creative mediums and have those seeds planted.

7) How long did it take you to complete your book?

I did not go down a traditional path. I worked with a company called Vooks which animates children’s story with narration and read along text. No other company is doing that and I absolutely love the Vooks mission. I pitched them the idea of Fried Rice and Marinara and their leadership team immediately recognized that stories like this were important for kids to see. I was fortunate the story resonated with children and spent time as the number 1 story on the platform. The views on YouTube were strong, which prompted Vooks to ask if I wanted to take Fried Rice and Marinara to print. The answer was an immediate YES!

8) Can you describe your book in three words?

Delicious Cultural Fusion.

9) What’s the hardest part of being a writer?

I’ve spent my career telling the stories of athletes. I’m comfortable in that realm, but with Fried Rice and Mariana, it’s the first time I tried to connect with a young audience in a medium I’ve never worked in. I have always loved having fun with my nieces and nephews, telling them crazy stories at home. I tried to imagine telling them this story as if we were in person. No, I can’t rhyme on the fly like in the book, but it’s about the tone.

I always love asking kids questions to see where their mind goes. If you notice at the back of the book, there is a page that gives kids an opportunity to write their own funky food combinations with the ability to draw them, too. It’s really important to me that the experience with the book doesn’t end when they’re finished reading it.

10) Why should our readers pick your book up?

I really hope parents consider this story for their children for a variety of reasons. Fried Rice and Marinara provides an opportunity for all kids to explore and celebrate cultural diversity. For the children who come from mixed race backgrounds, it gives them an opportunity to relate to a character just like them. The various cultural elements will help foster a sense of identity and pride in their own heritages.

Fried Rice and Marinara by Mike Yam

Fried Rice & Marinara

Author – Mike Yam
Illustrator – Laura Dong
Publisher – Vooks Inc
Pages – 32
Release Date – 20th June 2023
ISBN 13 – 978-1737726951
Format – Hardcover


Birthday parties are so much fun: the friends, the family, the games, the gifts, and, of course, the food! But what type of food do you serve at a birthday party when your family is from two different cultures? Young Mikey Yam is having a hard time choosing between the Italian food of his mother’s side and the Chinese cuisine of his dad’s. So, he turns to his grannies, Bahboo and Nonna, for advice.

“Ravioli or Dumplings? Linguine or Lo Mein? All of these options were hurting his brain.”

Join Young Mikey as he decides which type of food to have for his birthday party, and the important life lesson he learns along the way.

A Vooks Original, Fried Rice & Marinara is a rhyming story about two cultures coming together to create something special.

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Fun Questions

Talking Owl Interview Pic 2023

1) Do you have a writing buddy?

I do almost all my writing with a cup of cold brew in one of 2 mugs. Vooks gifted me a really nice coffee mug, and when Fried Rice and Marinara was released, my mom bought me a mug that says “Published Author.” I know she’s proud of me so that mug has really special meaning for me.

2) Do you have any writing quirks?

I’ve been known to do writing while I watch NFL game replays. The notes tab on my phone is filled with ideas and most of them pop into my head while I’m watching a game.

3) Where do you write?

I’m not one of those authors that needs to be in a coffee shop or an office. I can work anywhere. I’m typically at home with my laptop on my lap. I sound boring. I wish I could honestly say I wrote Fried Rice and Marinara during the commercial breaks when I was hosting Total Access on NFL Network. I’m not nearly good enough as a multitasker for that or am I?

Mike Yam Writing

4) Your book has been made into a movie, you’ve been offered a cameo role, what will you be doing?

Considering the main character is Mikey Yam, I would be absolutely heartbroken if I didn’t get to play myself! I’m imagining a casting director telling me “you just aren’t right for the role of Mikey.”

5) A talking owl has just finished reading your book, what’s the first thing he says to you?

‘The fusion of Chinese and Italian flavors dance like fireflies at night. I want to fly away with Mikey! Hoot-Hoot-Hooray!’

Author links


A big thank you to Mike Yam for sharing his writing life with us and for a wonderful interview.

The above links are affiliate links. I receive a very small percentage from each item you purchase via these link, which is at no extra cost to you. If you are thinking about purchasing the book, please think about using one of the links above. Thank you.

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