Monday, July 16, 2018

Happy Pub Day!

Tomorrow is the pub day for Christina Matula's adorable picture book, THE SHADOW IN THE MOON, which shares a contemporary retelling of the Chinese​ folktale about the Mid-Autumn Festival!  Booklist particularly enjoyed the illustrations, which they called, "[R]eminiscent of Tomie dePaola, with warm reds and yellows effectively used to depict the heat of the 10 suns, while cool greens and blues show the earth’s relief under only one sun. Useful for introducing a significant festival celebrated in Chinese and other East Asian cultures.

I've always been a sucker for anything folktale- or fairytale-related and loved the chance to learn about a story I never knew about before!  I recommend you all go pick up a copy :)

First off tell us about the book and what your inspiration was to write it!

The Shadow in the Moon is about a modern-day family coming together to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is a major holiday in the lunar calendar celebrated in many places in Asia, and indeed in many communities in North America with large Chinese populations.

The story begins as the grandparents arrive to celebrate the festival at their daughter’s home, which has been beautifully decorated with lanterns throughout and they bring the traditional gift of mooncakes for the whole family to share.  After dinner, the grandmother (Ah-Ma) tells the story of the ancient legend behind the Mid-Autumn Festival to her two young granddaughters.  She introduces the heroes of the tale - Hou Yi, the young archer, and Chang’e, the Lady in the Moon.
The recounting of the legend by Ah-ma brings the festival to life for the next generation and helps the two girls to have a greater understanding of their own heritage.  

My inspiration to write it was to pass on a bit of my own heritage to my children.  My mother is from Taiwan but I was born and raised in Canada, so didn’t have very strong ties to my Chinese cultural roots.  Now that I live in Hong Kong, it’s been amazing to learn about the different festivals, their origins, and most importantly the associated foods.  When my daughter was in kindergarten, the Chinese teacher told them the legend of Chang’e and Hou Yi.  I was fascinated by this legend, which I knew nothing about.  I ran out to find a picture book about it to read to her, but couldn’t find anything.   So, on a whim, I decided to write one myself.  Initially, the idea was to write a picture book just for my own family, but as it developed, I thought it was something that I would like to share, that would perhaps spark an interest in Chinese culture in young children.

So your path to publication (not to mention finding an agent) was an atypical one, because you previously self published THE SHADOW IN THE MOON in Hong Kong!  Can you share what your journey to being agented and being published was like as a self-pubbed author?

My experience of writing this book has certainly taken me down some unexpected paths.

I shared my original story of the legend of The Shadow in the Moon with family and friends.  One of these friends was Andrea Fessler, who is the founder of Premiere Performances, a classical music outreach charity in Hong Kong.  I showed her a draft of The Shadow in the Moon and she asked if she could set it to music and present it in her family concert series.  She commissioned a Hong Kong based composer, Alexis Alrich, to write the music, which was a beautiful combination of Chinese and Western classical instruments. A few months before the concert, Andrea told me that she’d like the book available for sale at the concert.  So this was the push I needed to retrieve it from the slushpile and just go with it.  I found a local illustrator, Pearl Law, whose edgy and bright illustrations I loved, and less than 6 months later, I self-published the book in Hong Kong!

About a month afterwards, I met with author Susan Blumburg-Kason, who was giving a writing workshop in Hong Kong as part of her book tour for Good Chinese Wife.  One of the tips Susan gave was to make friends with other authors.  So, after her talk, I got up the courage to go speak with her and tell her about my self-published book.   She was so kind with her encouragement and generously introduced me to her agent, which was you!  From my first chance meeting with Susan, she’s become a good friend and mentor.

Thanks to your support, we were delighted to find the perfect partner in Charlesbridge Publishing.  Writing this book has been such an exciting journey - from the original idea of capturing the story for my children, through to today when you can buy a copy all over the world.

This book was doubly unusual, because there was also a long lead time between when you signed the contract and when the book was published.  What was that like?

The original plan was to have the book published in summer 2017, which was two years from when we signed the contract.  However, the publisher had to move some of their launch dates, meaning my book was pushed to a winter launch date.  As Mid-Autumn Festival happens around September/October time, the book needed to be published close to these months, so it was moved so it would come out at a more relevant time.  The news was disappointing at first, but the extra year has flown by and has given me more time to work on marketing for the launch.

Is the Charlesbridge version of the picture book different from the self-pubbed version in any particular ways?

I really enjoyed working with my editor, Julie Bliven.  She kept my original story and the illustrations as they were, but helped me enhance my writing.  She also encouraged me to add more of a character arc for the main character and a bit more context to the festival.  So now there is a richer story around the young sisters in the story and additional beautiful illustrations to go along with it.

What is your favorite part of the Mid-Autumn Festival?

In many ways, Mid-Autumn Festival is a bit like Chinese Thanksgiving, bringing together friends and family in celebration.  My favourite part of the evening is having a picnic in the park or at the beach with friends and family, lighting our lanterns, and most importantly eating mooncakes!  My favourite ones are the red bean ones.  My kids love the snow-skin mooncakes, which are like mooncake-shaped mochi.

What is the most exciting/fun things you've done to promote the book so far?

I love going into schools and reading the book to students and having them share their own connections to the Mid-Autumn Festival or similar cultural festivals with me.  It’s a really satisfying feeling having a couple of hundred students waiting for you to turn the page and find out what happens next.  I’m planning to visit several schools as well as public libraries in September in the US and Canada and cannnot wait to share my story with the children there.

What do you hope readers enjoy most about the book?

The story takes place in an urban setting, but it could be the tale of any family in any city in any country.  For those readers with Chinese heritage, I want to share that fascinating legend that makes the Mid-Autumn Festival so special.  But for any reader, I hope they will not only be drawn into the charming tale, but also in observing their own parallels with the religious and cultural festivals that their own families celebrate.

Anything new authors can learn from your experiences?

Go out and get involved in local writing groups and attend workshops, such as via SCBWI.  This gives you a chance to meet people trying to get published, so you can share your experiences and give each other support, or meet established authors, who can be very generous with their words of advice and encouragement.  I’ve had the chance to sit down and chat with exceptional writers this year with my SCBWI group, most notably Grace Lin and Jason Reynolds.