Some teens spend countless hours posting narcissistic selfies or manipulating silly birds on their portable devices. Others spend their times flexing their creative muscles and building careers.
Cheryl Chan is a teenager who falls into the latter group, having just published a children’s book she has both written and illustrated called “The Thing About Things.” According to the synopsis:
“There is nothing worse than being ordinary. At least, according to seven-year-old Joey Jones. When Joey gets picked not first, not last, but right in the middle for playing dodgeball at school, he feels unspecial and unwanted. But through an encounter with a certain monster who has been hiding in his bedroom all along, Joey learns that everyone, every Thing, is special in their own way. With homespun illustrations, clever dialogue and unmistakable heart, “The Thing About Things” is a book that will be enjoyed by both children and adults.”
The seventeen-year-old Chan, born in Hong Kong, says she draws much of her inspiration from her home city and the contrast between its dense, multicultural residential and commercial zones and the scenic mountains and ocean which surrounds it. Here, exclusive to Teens Wanna Know, Chan reveals some of her other inspirations and shares advice to other teenagers wishing to get into the arts.
Why, in such a technological age, did you decide to write and illustrate a classic-style children’s book?
There’s such a magical quality to holding an actual book, rather than a tablet, in your hands. It’s like having something very current and very ancient all at once, since you can flip through the pages when you are a child and then flip through the same pages as an old man or woman and still feel awash in a fantasy land. Also, when I’m 80, I might not know how to press the buttons on whatever fancy holographic, smell-o-vision tablet emerges–but I’ll still be able to turn a page or two!
Joey is a projection of my tendency to overthink.. He’s more afraid of the idea of something than the actual thing, but once he gets past his own mental barriers, he’s very quick to take apart a situation and adapt. I also created Joey as a different interpretation of what it means to be brave–very often children are just told not to be scared, but I’m trying to say that it’s okay to be scared, and only when you accept that can you truly find courage.
Where did you get inspiration for The Thing?
There’s a line from Big Fish that goes something like, “most things that look mean or scary are actually just lonely.” I knew I wanted The Thing to look like a nasty (but not unlovable) creature. I wanted him to be a good mix of cute and creepy. So I tried to think of a real life equivalent to that, and the vampire bat came to mind. Everything else: the green fur, the seven eyes–are all just my attempt to exaggerate things, because that’s what fiction is for, right?
How did you decide to become a writer?
I like having complete sovereignty over what I do, and writing is an exercise that demands that. I don’t have to follow convention to find what motivates me to create–contrary to the portrait popular culture might paint, I don’t spend my days reading classics and hammering away at a typewriter. I am actually inspired by a lot of TV (Doctor Who, Psych), and try to go out of my way to see and experience things as much as possible. It’s a great feeling; to be able to do what I love, exactly how I want to do it.
What is your dream job?
Before, I was completely set on writing children’s books. I still want to do that, but I also want to write scripts and novels, voice cartoons, work in animation…I’m just in pursuit of a good story, no matter what the medium. I want a career in which, on a daily basis, I can apply my imagination to and find humour in new projects. So my dream job would be to work at Pixar.
Ask yourself why you’re doing this. If you feel a little crazy and unsure and terrified, yet at home–then I think that’s a good indicator. A support system is absolutely necessary for inspiration and sanity’s sake, so find one. Don’t be afraid of appearing self-indulgent or inexperienced. Cheer yourself on like you’re the first of your kind. And don’t rely on a single “lucky break”. It’s so much work. But it’s fun!
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I’m on the Speech and Debate team at school, I spend a lot of time on Yelp planning weekend food excursions, and I’ve started vlogging. Whenever I come across song lyrics, concept art, quotes, etc. that I like, I collect them in a folder. I chat online with my brother a lot, since he is away at university. Our personalities are very different; while he nerds out about video games and trial law, I prefer a day of doodling and daydreaming. He’s my best friend, even if he is a little embarrassed to admit it sometimes.
Buy “The Thing About Things” on Amazon