Author Spotlight: Christina Matula
May 20, 2022
We are excited to feature author Christina Matula and her debut middle grade novel, THE NOT-SO-UNIFORM LIFE OF HOLLY MEI (Inkyard Press, 2022). Enter to win a copy!
|cover art by Yao Xiao; design by Erin Craig|
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
When I moved with my family to Hong Kong, I enrolled in a Chinese language class. Even though I’m half-Taiwanese, we spoke English at home growing up, so it was really rewarding to learn the language and dive into Chinese culture. One year during the Lunar Mid-Autumn Festival, my daughter was taught the folktale of the Archer and the Moon Goddess. I searched for a picture book in English about it but couldn’t find one and I ended up writing my own. After writing the first book, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the stories I wanted to share with young readers, and here I am eight years later.
Congrats on your MG debut, The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly Mei! Tell us about the story and what inspired you.
Watching my kids and their friends grow up in Hong Kong as expat and third-culture kids was what got me thinking about writing a story set in the city. It’s such a magical place – vibrant and exciting, so unique with its mix of Chinese and Western influence, clash of nature and concrete, and international population. They all make Hong Kong a character of its own in this book.
In The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei, Holly-Mei Jones is a regular field hockey-loving twelve-year-old in Toronto who happens to be undergoing some bumps in her friendships. When her mother gets a promotion and the family moves to Hong Kong, she’s excited and thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to start over. But things don’t go as smoothly as she thinks they will as she soon needs to navigate a new world of private school, friendships, and expectations, all without the guidance of her beloved Taiwanese grandmother, Ah-ma, who stayed behind in Canada.
It’s been sweet but winding. I started out writing picture books and I found an agent and landed a book deal quickly. The Shadow in the Moon, illustrated by Pearl Law, about the Mid-Autumn Festival was published by Charlesbridge in 2018. I had so many stories to share, but the feedback was that my stories were too long/complex for picture books and that I should try a different format. I was reluctant at first as it seemed so daunting to write a whole novel. But I outlined my story and chipped away chapter by chapter – it’s so much less scary in bite-sized pieces. In my draft for The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei, I was able to include everything I wanted without worrying about word count. And I’m thrilled that Holly-Mei will be a three-book series!
What projects are you working on now?
I’m finishing edits for the second Holly-Mei book, The Not-So-Perfect Plan, where Holly-Mei’s competitive nature comes to the forefront in an all-city sports tournament - will her push to win push her friends away? The book comes out in April 2023.
What are some of your favorite classic MGs? Recent ones?
Growing up, I loved everything Judy Blume. There was a little piece of me in all her characters. I love The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin – these were the first MG books that I read that reflected my own culture. Recent favourites are Restart by Gordon Korman, Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim, and The Many Meanings of Meilan by Andrea Wang. There are so many great books out there and my night table is overflowing with TBR.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same as you'd give to aspiring authors?
Read as much as you can, in a variety of genres. You’ll gravitate to what you enjoy reading and I think this would be a great starting point for writing. And when reading, try and look for patterns in the stories you enjoy. What elements keep you hooked, turning the pages, and satisfied at the end? Keep these in mind when outlining your own work. I love outlines!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I’ve spent the last 20 years living in the centre of big cities, but I’m most at home in a cabin in the middle of the forest.
Where can people find you online?
Christina Matula grew up in Ottawa, Canada. Being a child of immigrant parents, she has always been curious about other cultures and far-off places. Dumplings are her favorite food, especially her mother’s savory Taiwanese jiaozi and her father’s sweet Hungarian gomboc. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Hong Kong and now lives in Finland with her husband, two children, and puppy.
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