In The Nian Monster author Andrea Wang and illustrator Alina Chau reimagined a Chinese folktale about the horrible legendary monster that returns at the New Year and is intent on devouring Shanghai, starting with little Xingling!
We were lucky enough to sit down with Andrea to chat about The Nian Monster, food, and celebrating the holiday.
Q. What was your inspiration for your title?
A. Chinese New Year is one of my favorite holidays. Several years ago, I was looking for interesting information about the holiday to tell my children and I came across the folktale of the Nian Monster. I had never heard it before and I loved that it was a trickster tale. My husband’s family lives in Shanghai and I had been thinking about setting a book there to showcase this wonderful city. I was inspired to re-tell the folktale in a contemporary setting using some of my favorite foods.
Q. Do you have a regular routine while creating a book?
A. I always start out by writing my story ideas in a fresh notebook – in my case, I use composition notebooks. I brainstorm, free-write, and take notes on any research. When I feel like I finally have a good grip on the kernel or heart of the story, I start writing on the computer. Then I revise, send out the manuscript to my critique group, revise again, get more critiques, and keep revising until I think it’s ready to send to my agent.
Q. What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?
A. For me, the easiest part is coming up with a story idea. If you’re curious about the world, there’s an endless number of things to write about. The hardest part for me is making that idea into a compelling story with heart and underlying themes.
Q. What makes your book stand out?
A. I like to think that it’s the contemporary Chinese setting that makes The Nian Monster stand out. Many of the picture books that are set in China show small villages with thatched huts and people wearing old-fashioned clothing. While rural places in China may still look like that, modern China is full of skyscrapers and people in current clothing styles. I think [illustrator] Alina Chau did an amazing job illustrating how vibrant and cosmopolitan Shanghai is, alongside the ancient parts of the city.
Q. Do you have any writing quirks?
A. I get obsessed with finding the perfect names for my characters. The name has to have a special significance or meaning that relates to the story. In The Nian Monster, Xingling’s name means something like “born with a clever nature.” Don’t you think that describes her well?
Q. Are you working on any other projects?
A. I’m working on two other projects right now – a nonfiction picture book biography and a coming-of-age middle grade novel about a young Chinese girl. True to my obsession, it’s about names and whether they define her identity.
Q. What was the process of working with your editor like?
A. Working with Kristin Zelazko was a wonderful experience. As a debut author, I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be a lot like working with a great critique partner. I felt like we had a conversation going on through emails and comments in the manuscript. Kristin also asked me how I envisioned the illustrations for the book, and was very gracious when I deluged her with notes and photos of Shanghai. I’m so grateful for how receptive Kristin, Jordan (the art director), and Alina were to my suggestions!
Q. What is your favorite Chinese New Year tradition?
A. As you can tell from the book, I love food! We always try to have noodles, fish, and sticky rice cake for Chinese New Year. We often make Lion’s Head Casserole, too, and not just for the holiday. The whole book is really a tribute to all my favorite New Year foods. I love the symbolism behind the different dishes and trying different versions of the recipes. There’s a savory version of sticky rice cake, made with pork and pickled snow cabbage, that is popular in Shanghai and is also one of my favorite dishes.
Q. What would you do if you saw the Nian Monster?
A. It’s a toss-up between running away and petting him. Nian is so adorably ferocious – I kind of just want to cuddle him!
Thanks so much, Andrea! Find out more about the Nian Monster with this adorable trailer and more about the book on our website. Plus, get insight from the illustrator, Alina Chau, on how she created the illustrations here and here.