I am so happy that Elsie agreed to do an interview with me. I think I first became aware of Elsie’s work with A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and ever since I’ve seen it everywhere! Most recently I just finished Color Outside the Lines which comes out in November and Elsie’s story is definitely one of my favorite as just part of a fabulous anthology! In terms of dates you should be on the look out for: later in the week is Elsie’s MG, All the Ways Home (May 28, 2019, Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends) and then Hungry Hearts (June 18, 2019, Simon & Schuster/Pulse) which I am so excited for! Give me all the anthologies and this one is food themed! Not to mention that I’m excited for Elsie’s next solo book, Caster (September 3rd, 2019, Scholastic) and another anthology Color Outside the Lines (November 12th, 2019, Soho Teen) which is just stunning.
But enough of that, let me get to the interview!
All the Ways Home
Anna Roberto at Feiwel and Friends has acquired YA author Elsie Chapman’s debut middle grade novel, All the Ways Home, in which a Japanese-Canadian boy’s last chance to avoid expulsion is a summer writing assignment that will take him to Tokyo and the far reaches of Japan to reunite with his estranged father and brother.
Among your works, you have a few anthologies. Can you talk to me about the process both editing an anthology collection and contributing to one? How has your writing process changed as you switch between anthologies and novels?
Hi Lili! For me, editing an anthology and contributing to one are very different processes, and each challenging in their own way. Editing a dozen or so stories, I have to also think about the big picture and the collection as a whole. It’s almost like creating a puzzle where I get to shape each piece before putting it together. You want to make each piece fit the puzzle in the first place, but then also make them fit alongside the others.
When it comes to contributing, whether it’s for one of my own anthologies or someone else’s, I pretty much take the same approach – I set out to draft something that I hope fits whatever prompt we’re given, without worrying too much about how it might or might not fit the other stories in the collection. Because that’s for later, when editing comes in, whether it’s going to be done by me or by another editor. Hopefully I’ll already have been on the same wavelength as the rest of the contributors when it came to interpreting the prompt so my contribution is more hit than miss!
As for the writing process for anthologies vs novels, yes, they are really different! Personally speaking, I find shorts easier to write simply because of length alone. But at the same time, I only have twenty or so pages in which to get readers invested, so I do my best to think of it as being spare vs limiting.
You have been a writer for a few years now since DUALED released in 2013. How have you changed as an author and a writer since then? How has the YA community changed since then for you?
I think I’m a much better writer now, for sure. I’ve learned so much since my debut. In some ways, I don’t think I was ready to be published when I was, and if I were to write DUALED today, it would likely be very, very different. But, also, it took that experience to get me to where I am today, so it’s just what it is. I also think the YA community has a changed so much since then. Many of the authors I debuted with in 2013 are no longer in publishing, which I think says a lot about this industry.
The biggest change – and it’s one for the better – is that there is way more talk about diversity now. Much more conversation about writing books to reflect the world as it is, for marginalized writers to write more fearlessly about our own cultures and identities, and just a greater sense of awareness when it comes to content and how we want readers to construe that content.
Now that you’re based in Tokyo, how is writing different for you, or is it, since when you were based in Canada? Do you consider yourself an international writer and does this change your journey or experiences as an author?
I don’t think my writing process has changed, other than having to stay up late some nights if I need to be around for a phone call with my editor or to boost something on social media as it happens. And though I’ve always considered myself international, it does feel more reinforced now. Especially because Japan is not an English-speaking country, vs being international but based in the UK, for example. In that sense, I do feel isolated at times since there is no local market for English language kidlit in Japan. So this is when being online really helps, because I’ve gotten to know other authors from non-English speaking countries who are also primarily published in the US. Writers need other writers!
Part of what I love about your most recent covers ALL THE WAYS HOME and CASTER is the Asian MCs on them, can you talk about your journey with your own covers and maybe how you see this reflective in the industry as a whole with more POC on covers?
Thanks, Lili! I also really love how those covers feature Asian MCs! I am definitely seeing more of this and I think it’s such a good, important development in kidlit. I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about this, but I had the chance of having an Asian MC on the cover of DUALED and decided against it. This was back in 2012, back when libraries still had shelves labeled “Asian Books” and so much of popular YA was white girls in ballgowns on the cover. Not that I wanted that kind of cover, but neither was DUALED the kind of story that fit on those specific shelves. I wasn’t brave enough yet to embrace the POC aspect of my book, or to even know how to start. I just remember that thought in my head at the time: that no one would want to read a book with a Chinese girl on the cover. That the very few that already existed in YA then was all that the industry could support. Which is why I’ll always be immensely grateful to WNDB for helping me get over that fear of not writing white and the fear that there was no more room. I hope YA never goes back to that.
When was the first time you felt represented? Part of what I loved about A THOUSAND BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS was the promise of how it would have felt like as a teen to pick up that book. Feeling disconnected from the myths and culture as an adoptee, I wish I could have seen books like this.
I wish you could have too! I also never saw Asian mythology in my library as a kid, either, and worse is that I never expected to. So getting really wonderful feedback for the anthology has been amazing, and it’s mind-blowing that I got to take part in creating it. I love knowing that it’s in so many classrooms and libraries for kids to read if they want. I love how it’s now an option!
I know I adore reading all these upcoming anthologies, are there projects you’d love to see? Current WIPs you can tease us about? I know I am so excited for HUNGRY HEARTS and CASTER!
I’d love to read an anthology of Shakespeare retellings. Or an anthology of nothing but fluffy rom-com, like CRAZY RICH ASIANS but YA and not necessarily limited to Chinese (if anyone is doing either of these, let me know so I can beg to take part!). As for current WIPs, I’m about to dive into something I hope I can talk about soon! I would also love to do another MG, so I’m hoping to get to work on that soon, too. I’m actually really excited for ALL THE WAYS HOME to release because it’s my MG debut, and debuts are always special. And I’m so glad you’re looking forward to HUNGRY HEARTS and CASTER – thank you, Lili! I am too!
About the Author
Born and raised in western Canada and a graduate of UBC with a degree in English Literature, Elsie Chapman currently lives in Tokyo with her family. She writes books for kids and teens.