This month we welcome Austin SCBWI member Christina Soontornvat to our interview series.
Christina is the author of the middle grade books THE CHANGELINGS and IN A DARK LAND: A CHANGELINGS STORY (October 3, 2017), as well as the upcoming picture book THE RAMBLE SHAMBLE CHILDREN. Christina offers up wisdom on "going for it," finding joy in juggling multiple priorities and writing really good words. Thanks for joining us, Christina (and an extra-special thanks for being the first to answer our new section of rapid-fire questions)!
I grew up in a small Texas town called Weatherford. My parents owned (and still own!) a Thai/Chinese restaurant there. For most of my childhood I was one of the only Asian kids in town. Even though our community was mostly welcoming and I had wonderful friends, I always felt like an outsider. That, combined with long days spent hanging out at the restaurant while my parents worked, led to me escaping into books. I was a voracious reader, and particularly loved fantasy. As a writer, I gravitate toward magical stories about outsiders and misfits, and I see the roots of that stretching back to my childhood.
I never thought that I would become an author. From a young age I pictured myself working in the sciences. Even though I loved stories and books, I considered myself a more analytical person than the creative type. I always thought that writers were born with “A Gift”, and I was convinced I didn’t have what it took. I started writing after my first daughter was born. There was something about having a child that made me rethink all the assumptions I held about what I could do with my life. And I also realized that there would never be a “good time” to go out on a limb and try something crazy (like writing a book), so I might as well just go for it!
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
They would be so bored because for the biggest chunk of my day I am sitting at my computer in complete silence! (Although sometimes if I’m working ondialogue in a scene I will talk to myself.) In fact, some days when I go to pick up the kids from school I get so tongue-tied making small talk with the other parents. It’s like my mouth forgets how to form words after not speaking for 7 hours! But once the kids are home it is non-stop action until bedtime. I try to cook dinner for the family every night if I can, though I’m not the world’s best cook. When I was growing up, I ate most meals from our restaurant so I love the idea of our family sitting down to dinner together. It seems like such a luxury.
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
I am very proud of my books for sure, and it still amazes me that they exist in the world. In terms of recognition, I have had both great reviews and middling reviews from grownups. But it’s the endorsements from kids that mean the most to me by far. Whenever I hear from kids (often via their parents) that they loved something I wrote, all the other struggles involved with publishing and writing fall away and it hits me that this is such a wonderful space to be working in.
In addition to writing, I also have a vibrant Science Education Consulting career that has taken years to cultivate. I’m just as passionate about my science projects as my writing, and am quite proud of the work I’ve done for museums, zoos, and indoor skydiving facilities (yes, that is a thing!). I have wondered what it would be like to write full-time, and have come to the conclusion that I would feel something missing if I had to give up my other work. So for now at least I will continue to juggle the two!
How does your everyday life feed your work?
Having young children means that our lives are sort of automatically filled with stories: bedtime reading, movies, picture books, stories that I tell the girls during car rides. It definitely helps me to keep my creative juices flowing! I don’t know what I’ll do when my kids get older. I’ll have to borrow someone else’s children.
What surprises you about the creative life?
I’m mostly surprised by how much fulfillment I get from the actual work. When I sold my first book I was certain that my publication day would be my “best day ever.” When the day finally came, it did feel rewarding and special, but I was surprised that it also felt very ordinary. I realized that my “best days” have more to do with the actual work of writing and creating than any public milestone like signing a book deal, or having a launch party. Those events are wonderful and I do try to celebrate them. But I feel at my best when I am in the creative zone, writing really good words. It has been a really satisfying thing to discover.
I recently had a message from a parent who said that she was reading my book to her kids before bedtime. She told me that it was causing problems because when they got to the end of a chapter, her kids would revolt and get angry because they didn’t want to stop reading. I don’t think an author could get any better news! So that’s what I will aspire to from now on: creating work that ruins bedtimes.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS!
If you had to be an octopus or an antelope, which would you choose?
Octopus. Always choose predator over prey.
Deep space explorer or deep sea explorer?
Travel to the future or travel to the past?
Past. I would gladly live this whole crazy life over again!
Be sure to save the date for a triple middle-grade launch party, Sunday, October 8, 2017,
featuring Christina Soontornvat, Jeannie Mobley and Tara Dairman!
See this, and other events, on the SCBWI Event Calendar, HERE.