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Between the lines: Author Interview with T.A. Chan

I always say, to be a writer - you have to truly love it, otherwise, you'll never endure the endless road, littered with criticism, rejection, and obstacles that you had to dodge like Katniss storming the Capital in Mockingjay.

Akin to warriors, wielding pen and paper instead of a sword and shield as we race through a grueling gauntlet of hurdles just to reach the glittering trophy at the end, absolutely bloodied and beaten down, but smiling like maniacs, nonetheless, for having survived.

For having made it.

But probably the most important thing that keeps a writer going, beyond their love of the craft? Their community. Other writers whom they've met in the trenches and linked bloody elbows with as we all forge ahead to reach that seemingly elusive goal of: 'name in print' and 'book on shelf'.

It's your friendships and community that will pick you up, dust you off, and give you the emotional support you need to try again on the days when you really don't think you have anything left in you to give.

And one who I am infinitely grateful for is none other than the incomparable T.A. Chan.

T. A. Chan Grew up in the nobody-knows-about-us state of New Hampshire (with a cat, a dog, and an army of plants), and attended university in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. Apparently, she can’t set down roots for long since she's hopped over to the west coast best coast state of CA where she works on awesome Mars mission projects as a mechanical engineer.

Tina loves reading (duh), writing (duh), and manatees (not-so-obvious duh. But think about it: Manatees are basically swimming potatoes). In addition to manatees, she also has an obsession with space stuff, the impossible triangle, bubble tea, Hans Zimmer, and traveling.

She's a self-admitted social media addict. If she's not busy crafting some speculative story or exploring the city, then she's probably hanging around on Twitter or Instagram.

Oh, and she also drinks a copious amount of coffee and tea!

Hi Tina –

First, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I'm so excited to reconnect and chat about you and your writing journey! I am sure a lot of exciting things have happened since we connected a few years ago in the Twitter/CP trenches.

So to kick off, I’d love to start by giving readers an opportunity to learn more about you:

What would you like new readers to know to get a sense of who you are as an author and as a person?

Any fun and cool hobbies or crazy life stories? (insert googly eyes here)

Tina: Hiiii! So lovely to meet y’all!

I love writing all things science fiction, fantasy, and of the late, have been dabbling with thrillers as well! Most of my stories all stem from a “what if” idea since I love exploring concepts and possibilities.

I also have an affinity of reimagining well-known tales—from English classics such as Moby Dick to traditional Chinese mythology such as the legend of Chang’e. I currently reside in the state of CA with my dog, Starbuck. Speaking of dogs, I had a close encounter with a pack of feral dogs while jogging in the rural mountains one early morning!

(It was quite scary, but a fortunate intervention from a stranger on the road prevented any disaster).

Fallon: Omg feral dogs? Thank god for helpful strangers! What brought you to writing? Was it always part of your childhood or something that you fell into later in life?

Tina: An author visit to my elementary school got me into writing! Shortly after the visit, I wrote a picture book that was pretty much a knock-off version of Frog and Toad. From there on, I pretty much never looked back and haven’t stopped writing since.

Fallon: Oh wow, you know what's crazy is it didn't clue in for me until I was literally well into highschool that authors exist and a making a career out of writing books was an actual possibility! Sounds strange to admit but it genuinely never occurred to me until, so I lowkey wish I had an author visit my school as a kid to light that bulb a little sooner lol.

As far as writing goes, I’m curious to know, generally, what leads you to your story ideas? Are you inspired by dreams or songs? Places you’ve traveled to? Or are you like me and hear your characters talking in your head?

Tina: My books usually start with a 'what if' scenario.

What if Moby Dick took place in space?

What if secrets could be traded as a magical currency?

What happens in the aftermath of the legend of Houyi shooting down the suns?

From there on, I’ll usually quickly figure out the main plot of the novel—I’ll know the beginning, climax, and ending.

During this time, the characters will generally make themselves known as well (and yes, they absolutely talk in my head lol! It’s quite the party in there). I don’t like to be too detailed with my outline—just knowing the general arc of the plot and character development is all I need to start drafting!

Fallon: Sounds far less . . . noisy than what goes on in my head hahaha. Now that we know how you started, tell us a bit about where you are on the path to publication. We all know there can be many speed bumps along the way and landmines in the querying trenches but it often pales in comparison to going out on submission.

Has the journey been fast? Or are you battling through years of querying and hundreds of rejections?

Tina: I’m still in the process of getting my book out there!

It’s been a very long and slow journey, to be honest. Writing (especially traditional publishing) is a marathon, is my general experience. Actually, it’s very much a “hurry up and wait” sort of experience haha! I queried…oh….3-4 books before I signed with my current agents. Racked up 100+ rejections during the time.

At least 2-3 years of querying on and off, too. There were many many “almost but not quites” during that time period. I also participated in many writing events (Query Kombat, Write Mentor, Pitch Wars) which definitely helped sharpen my skills and feel part of the writing community.

Fallon: Honestly I am so BAFFLED you haven't been snatched up, yet. There were so many moments when I was reading your SFF manuscript that I just sat back in absolute AWE of your voice and talent.

Have you had more than one agent? (Something I don’t think we talk about enough is that sometimes your first agent won't in fact be your only agent)

Tina: When I signed, I actually signed with 2 agents at once (Karly Dizon and Laurie McLean)! Nowadays, I primarily work with Karly for my more frequent check-ins, but both Laurie and Karly help review my manuscripts. Fallon: Did you get multiple offers? If so – how did you possibly choose?

Tina: Yes, I had a handful of offers after completing Pitch Wars. To decide, I picked the agent(s) that best: 1) had experience representing my genre, 2) was willing to represent other potential genres and works I wanted to write in the future 3) seemed truly invested and enthusiastic about my writing 4) had a personality that clicked with mine.

Fallon: Sounds like you covered all the crucial bases. I swear I lost nearly ten pounds from stress alone when I had to make a decision. It's a great but very nerve-wracking choice to make, but in the end you really do have to think big picture and long-term, not just excitment and butterflies.

Did you do edits together before going on submission? How long did that take?

Tina: For the book I signed with (The Celestial Seas), we went through super light edits that took less than a month before sending it on submission. The MS was pretty polished already from Pitch Wars, to be honest, so it was more or less ready to go.

Fallon: God, I miss Pitch Wars! It was such a fun community to be part of and the interaction gained from it all really did help foster some amazing friendships. How many rounds of submissions did you go on with editors before you finally got your debut deal?

Did Celestial Seas, or any other books, die on submission? (I ask while crying in a corner and snuggling two precious book babies)

Tina: Gosh….The Celestial Seas went through many many rounds. One of the more common feedback we got from editors was that the book straddled the line between YA and A, which made it hard to sell. I made multiple edits to the book, primarily to make it fit in the YA category better.

It’s been about 3 years now since that book went on sub, and it’s gone on and off sub throughout. Recently, after chatting with my agents, we decided ultimately the original MS is the favorite, so we’ve stopped pitching the edited version. I like to say it’s “hibernating” on submission 😊

A book that did “die” on submission would probably be Warpers, a YA scifi thriller. I wrote this MS before The Celestial Seas and it got pretty good receptions during querying (and was also the MS that got me into the Write Mentor program), but similar to The Celestial Seas, the general feedback for Warpers when I was querying agents was that it “didn’t quite fit into YA nor A”.

I briefly tried to make the MS fit into the A category, but at this point I’ve more or less moved on from this book.

Fallon: I have had a similar issue with not quite YA or A, so I raised a virtual glass of wine to you in commiseration. Any plans to revisit those dead books or will they stay buried as you move on to newer projects?

Tina: There is one book that never quite made it onto submission—The Secret Currency. It’s a YA Fantasy that—you guessed it—blurs the line between upper YA and A.

Do you sense a theme in my books?

Fallon: Oh, I do indeed, haha, and I am HERE FOR IT!

Tina: I set it aside since shortly after writing the draft, since I signed a contract for writing serialized fiction. I turned my attention to fulfilling that contract for about 8 months before getting side tracked by other writing projects.

I would love to revisit The Secret Currency though and see if I can wrangle it into something more clearly YA or A.

Fallon: Well, I humbly offer myself as CP Tribute when the day arises!!

Now, editing – love it or hate it: what does it look like for you, and what would you say your approach is to tackling the dreaded revisions? Has it changed at all over the years, especially now that you’re pursuing representation and, one day, publication?

Tina: I hate writing and love editing when I’m drafting. I love writing and hate editing when I’m making revisions.

Guess the grass is always greener on the other side! I’ve tried soooo many different methods of editing but I’ve yet to find a particular method that works “the best” for me! I guess one thing that’s changed in terms of editing is that I now depend more on my writing group for feedback, compared to 5 years ago where I got most of my feedback from Scribophile (which I still love the site—it’s a wonderful way to connect to different writers).

Fallon: Oooo Scribophile, that's a new one I haven't heard of! Looking back on your journey, is there anything you wish you did differently?

Tina: Hmmm, I think I would wish that I stopped placing so much pressure to get agented/published/etc back in college. Don’t get me wrong, I still 110% want to get published one day, but putting that kind of immense pressure on something that is 99% beyond your control is a recipe for disaster.

The past 1-2 years, I’ve learned to remember why I started writing all those years ago: it’s because I love story telling. Write for yourself, first and foremost, and everything else comes afterwards.

Don’t lose sight of the joy of writing.

Fallon: Don't lose sight of the joy of writing. Oh, wow, do I need that etched on my forehead. It's so easy to get burntout in the publishing grind if you're not careful, and I myself am making a slow recovery to finding that joy again. If you could live in any fictional/fantasy world, which one would it be and why?

Tina: Gosh that is a tough choice!!! Ummm…..I think I would like a world with high-tech and magic and a good government (a girl can dream!).

I can’t think of a particular world with all three at the moment though, but that would be ideal.

Fallon: A girl can dream, indeed. Which of your characters do you feel most resembles you/which one do you wish you could be?

Tina: Ah, I feel like I put pieces of myself into pretty much all of my characters—just little snippets here and there. I think it allows me to feel connected to them to enables me to write from their perspective with a raw passion that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

I’ll say Ishara from The Celestial Seas probably most closely resemble me! I would want to be Xiao Fu/Ao Ming/Chang’e if I could be any character from my stories though haha.

Give me all of that magic power 😊

Fallon: Hahah magic all the way, for real! If you could look into a crystal ball and see your future, where do imagine you’ll be five years from now?

Tina: Hopefully with a book published hahaha! Honestly, I see myself still writing and just keep on doing what I love. Is that too cheesy of an answer?

Fallon: Oh, without QUESTION, publication is in your near future. I have spot on my bookshelf already with your name on it, waiting ;) Can you give us a hint of what you’re working on next?

Tina: Urban fantasy! With legendary Chinese characters! Lots of sass, lots of magic, and lots of angst hahahah.

Fallon: UGH just give me all the T.A. Chan books now, please!! Okay, one final question for a bit of fun: Name one book you’re madly in love with and can’t get off your mind?

Tina: All Systems Red!!! This is by far my top 3 favorite books. I highly recommend this novella to anyone and everyone :D

Fallon: Omggg the exclamation points are killing me - I can literally hear the fangirl screaming :P I haven't heard of it but I'll absolutely add it to my TBR.

Tina, what else can I say but THANK YOU for taking the time to share insight into your writing journey with me. I think it's so vital for others to hear not just from published authors, but talented individuals like yourself who are working tirelessly towards achieving their dreams. I can't wait to circle back to do a follow-up once that day comes so we can pop virtual champagne together.

As for those of you who'd like to keep up with Tina, and her soon-to-be METEORIC (see what I did there?) journey, you can find her on Instagram or Twitter. Trust me, this is a name you soon will see in lights everywhere! ;)

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