Mark your calendar for August 27, 2019. Add to your…
Can you guess what festival this is from the clues below?
- It happens during the harvest moon
- You traditionally eat mooncakes
- You hang paper lanterns
- It’s the second biggest festival in the lunar calendar after Chinese New Year
- Some people say it’s like Chinese Thanksgiving
If you guessed the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, you were right!
Christina Matula is the author of The Shadow in the Moon, which is about the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. I recently interviewed Christina about herself, her writing life, and her book.
Alexis: Let’s start with some “getting to know the author” questions. Christina, what are 3 little known facts about you?
1. One of my favorite places to be, other than my writing desk, is at our family cabin in the woods. The sound of leaves rustling in the wind is so soothing.
2. When I’m not writing or reading, you can find me playing field hockey.
3. I’m always trying to improve my writing, so I’ve enrolled in an MFA in Creative Writing program.
A:What is your Hogwarts House?
C: I expected to be sorted into Gryffindor, but I just found out that I’m really a Slytherin. I’m still trying to process what this means!
A: I am also a Slytherin! It took me some time to really come to terms with what it means to be a Slytherin and to get over my disappointment in not being a Ravenclaw. After some reflection, I know I am definitely a Slytherin-just not an evil one!
A: What is your writing Kryptonite?
C: I am an over-planner so I can’t start writing until I know exactly what will happen on every page or in every scene. I have a spreadsheet that I fill out before I start typing any part of the story, whether it’s a picture book or a novel. And I always start from the beginning. One day I hope to have the courage to just let the writing flow and see where it takes me.
A: I am the same way with my writing! I have a hard time “just writing” because I feel like I need to have it all planned first.
A: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
C: I have a lovely group of friends from the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) chapter in Hong Kong, where I live. We are a group of people who love reading and writing; we encourage and support each other through the ups and downs of the publishing journey. We also read each other’s work and offer constructive critiques. Through the author visits that SCBWI has arranged, as well as volunteering with the Hong Kong Young Readers Festival, I’ve been fortunate to meet and speak with some amazing authors like Grace Lin, Candy Gourlay, Matthew Cordell, and Jason Reynolds who have been so generous in sharing their knowledge and experience.
A: Oh wow I am so jealous of you meeting some fantastic writers! That is awesome.
A: What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
C: A novel that I discovered recently is The Hundred Dresses, written by Eleanor Estes and illustrated by Louis Slobodkin. It was written in 1944 but remains a timeless and touching story. It’s about a young girl, Maddie, who along with her friend, incessantly tease their classmate Wanda Petronski. Wanda not only has a different sounding name and wears the same faded blue dress to school every day, but she also claims she has 100 dresses at home! Although Maddie feels guilty about teasing Wanda, she goes along with it anyway, until one day Wanda no longer comes to school. It’s a great story to open discussions about immigration, acceptance, bullying, and forgiveness.
A: I definitely will be reading this book, it sounds beautiful.
A: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot or avatar?
C: Since my writing journey started with The Shadow in the Moon, I have a lantern in the shape of a white rabbit on my desk. It is said that this rabbit, also known as the Jade Rabbit, lives on the moon and keeps the Lady in the Moon company.
A: I love this! I need to see a picture of it soon.
A: Let’s move on to your books.
A: Tell us about the influence your heritage had on your book.
C: I’m mixed Taiwanese and Hungarian, born and raised in Canada. My mother was always keen for me to know and understand more about my heritage, but growing up in Ottawa, it felt very far removed from my day to day life. We would always celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival, but it meant little more to me than eating delicious mooncakes that my mom would bring home from Chinatown in the fall. Living in Hong Kong and with children of my own, I have been inspired to learn more about my roots and it has also ignited a passion for Chinese culture.
A: I love that you are so passionate about learning your culture.
C: I’m so proud that The Shadow in the Moon has been awarded a 2019 CALA Best Book Award, as chosen by the Chinese American Librarians Association.
A: That is amazing! Congratulations!
A: Describe the festival for us.
C: In many ways, Mid-Autumn Festival is a bit like Chinese Thanksgiving, bringing together friends and family in celebration. We share a wonderful meal and give thanks for what we have. My favorite 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 favorite ones are the red bean ones. My kids love the snow skin mooncakes, which are like mooncake-shaped mochi.
A: What is your favorite line or quote from your book?
C: One of my favorite aspects of the book is the grandmother, Ah-ma, passing down the legend about the festival to her grandchildren. Legends are a vital thread to our past and give us an insight into what people used to believe and how they lived. Also, the modern part of the story takes place in an urban setting, and it could be the tale of any family in any city in any country.
A: What do you hope readers take away from reading about the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival?
C: I love seeing the connections that students make with the characters in the book and their own families, and hearing about their own parallels with the religious and cultural festivals that their families celebrate.
A: I really enjoyed this story. I made many connections to my own culture and my family traditions, but also showed me what other cultures celebrate and how they pass down their traditions. It was a beautiful story with wonderful illustrations.
A: Let’s leave with some advice.
A: Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?
C: There are two nuggets of wisdom passed onto me from other writers. The first is to write a story that only you can tell. Meaning, no matter the topic or setting, use the feelings from your own experiences to make the story come to life. The second is to read, read, read. Read books from different genres and different writers. Think about what you liked and what you didn’t. Then reach into that knowledge and write your own story.
A: What advice would you give the readers of this interview?
C: Don’t be afraid to embrace your heritage and be curious about your background. Also, read stories written by or about someone from a different culture. It can give you valuable insight into how, despite our seemingly huge differences, we are all so similar.
A: Thank you Christina for this wonderful interview and I congratulate you on all of your accomplishments so far with your journey into writing. I look forward to reading more of your work and to seeing your stories go out into the world.
Order her book, The Shadow In the Moon, here.