Member Interview: Christina Soontornvat

Soontornvat_24Sep15_Cathlin McCullough Photography

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)! 

 

CSoontornvat2Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?

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.

 

The Changelings by Christina SoontornvatDid you always want to be a writer, or did that come later?

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!

 

 

In A Dark Land by Christina Soontornvat

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!

CSoontornvat1 

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.

 

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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.

 

 

Changelings WorldWhen a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?

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?

Space!

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.

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Member Interview: Carmen Oliver

carmen

This month we welcome Carmen Oliver to our Austin SCBWI member interview series. Carmen has plugged into our writing community in many ways, from Assistant Regional Advisor of our chapter, to representing authors and illustrators through The Booking Biz, to being a supportive and talented writer. Her everpresent smile and positive attitude have blessed many a creative soul, and we are so glad to learn more about her here.

little CarmenWhere did you grow up, and did that place (or those places) shape your work? If so, how?

I grew up in Winnipeg, Canada and my backyard was definitely my playground.  In the spring after heavy snowfalls, the thaw filled our ditches with water and I would raft down its channel and catch zillions of tadpoles. The trees provided the perfect cover for spy games and tree forts. The open fields with tall wavy grasses were ideal for hide and seek and watching woodland animals in their habitat. Growing up there was a band of us kids roaming and exploring the neighborhood streets using our imaginations and the outdoors to have fun and stay out of trouble. This landscape helped to shape my imagination and to always invite curiosity into everything I do. Those early friendships taught me how to get along, watch out for one another and always have each other’s back. When my brother and I were about 10 and 12 we went caroling at Christmas to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. We’d recently watched a telethon in the fall and we wanted to help make a difference. Big family reunions in the summer: lots of fellowship, games, and love. All of my experiences as a child have helped lay the foundation to the themes I write about today.

Carmen book

Carmen’s first picture book-Grade 2

Did you always want to be a writer, or did that come later?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. In elementary I wrote illustrated storybooks. In high school I wrote poems about friendship and first loves and broken hearts. I wrote for the school newspaper but it took me a really long time to get that first article published. There were a lot of failed attempts before they finally accepted my article on the Make a Wish Foundation. I dabbled as a news broadcaster on the television station telling other people’s stories but when I went to college I wasn’t quite confident enough to follow my dream as a writer. I knew I wanted to make a difference and I wasn’t sure which path was the right one to follow. So I did several different things. I joined the RCMP as a cadet. I studied insurance and got my broker’s license and I went back to school to pursue computer programming and became a programmer analyst. It wasn’t until I moved from Canada to Texas in 2003 that I allowed myself to return to my roots and what I was really passionate about. My daughter was always there to remind me, “When are you going to write that children’s book, mommy?” She wasn’t willing to let me off the hook. And so I jumped and years later, I’m now published.

If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?

It depends on the day. There are some days when I’m so busy that they would see me tied to my desk wearing PJs all day long. Sometimes, I forget to eat but I keep a box of protein shakes under my desk. Other days, I’m out walking early in the morning or running to the gym to stretch more than my mind. I love to read every night before I fall asleep. And if I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, I’ve got a notepad to jot down my thoughts. Also when I can’t fall back to sleep, I return to my book and get lost in the story. I’m not an everyday writer but when I’m working on a revision or a new story idea I work until I can’t go any further. Then I put the work away to rest and come back to it a week later with fresh eyes.

How does your everyday life feed your work?

Life changes on a dime and I’ve learned to roll with it. I try not to worry about the things I can’t control and I concentrate on the things I can. Everything I read, watch, experience constantly is informing and feeding my imagination and my work. With traveling more this last year, the new places are seeping into my subconscious to serve a story in the future.

Bears Make the Best Reading BuddiesTell us about some of your accomplishments that make you proud (work and/or otherwise).

The partnership with my husband is the cornerstone of my life. His trust and love and belief in me have allowed me to soar and yet keep me grounded. My children are my greatest accomplishments as I watch them grow into these amazing human beings with sensitivity and grace and kindness. Each one of them has something unique and brilliant to share with the world and I love being a part of nurturing them to follow their dreams. I’m proud of the writing that has made it into the hands of children whether it’s an article I’ve written or a book I’ve published. I love that I have the opportunity to work with so many talented authors and illustrators and be a small part of helping them to connect and inspire their audiences. I’m proud to see the sun set at night and rise in the morning because life is full of challenges and it’s a rollercoaster of ups and downs and our family is still here and thriving.

fearlessWhat surprises you about the creative life?

The writing. Some days it flows and other days each word you put on the page is a chore. But I love the spontaneity of the entire creative life. You never know what you’re going to get except the promise if you show up at the page, do the work, love the work—it will eventually love you back.

Your work is like a gift for your readers. When they open it, what do you hope they find? (you can talk about a particular story, or your work in general)

I hope my readers will connect with me through my stories and that I will remind them a little of themselves and what they care about. That we share similar passions and that reading is a lifelong journey and one of the best rides in life. Oh the places we'll go!

 

Author Bio: Carmen Oliver is the founder of the Booking Biz, a boutique style agency that brings award-winning children’s authors and illustrators to schools, libraries, and special events. She is also the author of picture book Bears Make the Best Reading Buddies as well as the forthcoming nonfiction picture books The Favio Chavez Story and A Voice for the Spirit Bears. She teaches at the Writing Barn and Highlight Foundation and speaks at schools, conferences and festivals. Growing up in Canada, she saw many bear species along the hiking trails but always kept a respectful distance. She and her family now call the wide-open spaces of Texas home. 

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