It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Derrick Chow, the author of
Twelve-year-old Reggie Wong has a quick temper that’s always getting him into trouble at school, while at home his mom struggles to get out of bed—let alone leave their apartment. That’s why Reggie desperately needs his dad back. One problem: His dad is dead.
Enter the Conductor, a peculiar man who promises to make Reggie’s wish to see his father just one more time come true. All he must do is climb aboard the man’s subway train, which leaves St. Patrick Station promptly at midnight. Desperate to have his dad and happy family back, Reggie takes him up on the offer, only to discover the train is filled with other children who have lost a loved one, just like him. As he speeds through the wild, uncharted tunnels beneath the city, Reggie meets Chantal, an annoyingly peppy girl obsessed with lists and psychiatry, and Gareth, his arch-nemesis and bully since the fourth grade. As each kid steps off the train and into the arms of their lost family member, Reggie can’t believe his impossible wish is about to come true.
But when Reggie comes to the end of the line and sees his father waiting for him, he soon discovers all is not as it seems. He and his unlikely new friends have been ensnared in a deadly trap. Together, the three must find a way to foil the Conductor’s diabolical plot and find their way out of the underground subway where horrors worse than they have ever imagined lurk around every corner. The rats of St. Patrick Station have taken over and they’re absolutely ravenous.
Let’s talk to this incredible author about his awesome book!
This is Derrick. Everyone say, “Hi, Derrick!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Derrick! Tell us about yourself!
Thank you so much for having me on! I’m a writer, illustrator, and comic creator. In other words, I love storytelling in many forms, whether it involves typing in a Word file or putting brush to canvas. Ravenous Things is my debut novel, and I’m so thrilled to have this opportunity to talk about my writing process!
What was the inspiration behind RAVENOUS THINGS?
I was grieving the death of my father when I came up with the idea for Ravenous Things. I knew that I wanted to work through my feelings by putting it on the page, so to speak. In those months after my father’s death, I noticed that I was spending an inordinate amount of time imagining impossible scenarios in which I could talk to him again.
And that’s when it came to me – the image of a little boy stepping off a subway train, entering a subterranean recreation of his childhood home, where his deceased father welcomes him with open arms. That’s the image around which I built up my entire story.
RAVENOUS THINGS has lots of spooky and thrilling elements at play. How did you handle writing scary content while keeping it at a middle grade level?
It was a surprisingly intuitive process, in that, I didn’t need to censor myself at all during the writing process. I simply put myself in the shoes of the twelve-year-old protagonist and envisioned what scenarios I would find most terrifying.
The key was to conjure up dangers and threats that felt consistent with the world I had created, both in terms of tone and aesthetics. The world of Ravenous Things is a dark, urban fairy tale of sorts – with subway rats, a Pied Piper figure, and lots of musical enchantments. Keeping this in mind helped me to stay in the right lane, in terms of scare level.
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on RAVENOUS THINGS?
One fun surprise for me was the way this book morphed into a re-imagining of the Pied Piper. For much of my drafting process, that wasn’t my intention. The villain of my novel, the Conductor, lures countless children down to a midnight subway train with the promise of being re-united with deceased loved ones. Then they are whisked away into the wild, uncharted subway tunnels beneath the city.
Well, at one point, I took a good hard look at what I had written so far and did a double take. It was so reminiscent of the Pied Piper tale, that I was surprised I hadn’t noticed. Once I made that connection, so many new creative routes opened-up to me. It allowed me to incorporate a lot of interesting elements from a fable that is, in and of itself, super creepy.
Another surprise was my portrayal of the supporting characters, Chantal and Gareth. At the start of my writing process, they functioned mostly as comedic foils to Reggie, the protagonist. But through various drafts of the book, their emotional arcs came to the forefront. Each of the characters enabled me to explore grief and the way we handle it in very different ways.
Lastly, I discovered that deadlines are my friend. When left to my own devices, I tend to tinker and tweak my stories endlessly. And the indecision! Ooof! Trying to decide which plot twists to go with or what characters I should include or what the chapter titles should be…all that stuff slows my process down immensely. Once I signed my book deal and deadlines were suddenly a thing in my life…well, that seemed to cure all my hemming and hawing as a writer.
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
I would transport Reggie and his pals, Chantal and Gareth, right into the charming town of Avonlea from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books. I adored that series growing up, and I feel my characters deserve a calm, decidedly un-terrifying vacation after all the horrors they encounter in my book.
That’s such a good idea! You know Anne would love to hear all about their adventures!
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
I love writing for this age group because this demographic is so open to many types of storytelling. They aren’t jaded or closed off to certain ideas yet. Magic, happily-ever-afters, monsters hiding under the bed – the audience at this age is willing to suspend disbelief for all of it. For myself, as an author, it’s endlessly fun playing in that wide open sandbox.
Any hints about your next book project?
I’m working on two projects at the moment. One is a graphic novel, and the other is an idea for another middle grade horror. Stay tuned to find out more!
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
I had always thought of writing as a solitary act. It was something I did during the dead of night, in my room, without the expectation that anyone would be obliged to read the words I was typing.
But it turns out this whole publishing thing is truly a team effort. I’ve been lucky enough to work with so many endlessly creative and supportive people. From my fantastic agent, Thao Le; to my wonderful editors at Disney Hyperion, Kieran Viola and Cassidy Leyendecker; to the brilliant designer Joann Hill. I’ve learned so much from all these people during this process, and that’s something I hadn’t anticipated when I first started working on Ravenous Things.
Experiencing the team effort side of things is definitely the best kind of surprise!
What are you reading right now?
I’ve been fortunate enough to get my hands on an advanced copy of Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad. This YA book is such a cozy, heartfelt delight! I can’t wait for readers to meet the four sisters she’s dreamed up!
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
I read an interview with a Hollywood actor once that resonated with me as a writer. He mentioned that, before his big break, his secret to keeping his morale up was to view every audition as the end goal, rather than a means to an end. In other words, he found joy in the audition process itself. Those few minutes in which he was performing for a casting director were a win; they were brief moments during which he was allowed to perform, to display his talents for a captive audience. Whether he landed the gig or not, that audition was something he could always feel proud of.
That’s how I’ve tried to approach every step of this publishing journey. When I first signed with my agent, and I was working on edits to my manuscript, I made a concerted effort to avoid obsessing about whether the book would sell. Instead, I focused on the joy of writing for an audience of one: my agent. That’s pretty much the mindset I adopt at every stage of the process, from working on pass pages for my editors, to putting together a pitch before going on submission to publishers. The moment I get too fixated on the long game is when I tend to trip myself up. Staying present within those smaller moments, and truly reveling in the process is when I feel I do my best work.
That is such a great perspective!
Thank you so much for joining us, Derrick!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out Ravenous Things!
It’s on shelves now!
Click here to enter to win a copy of RAVENOUS THINGS!
Contest closes Saturday, October 1st at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading!