Author Interview: Christina Matula

Welcome to the sixth interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.

About the Books

  • Title: The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei
  • Author: Christina Matula
  • Cover Artist: Yao Xiao
  • Publisher: Inkyard Press
  • Release Date: April 5th, 2022
  • Genre/Format: Middle Grade Contemporary


Packed with humor and heart, this debut middle grade series follows a girl finding her place in a brand-new world of private school and frenemies when her family moves to Hong Kong.

Holly-Mei Jones couldn’t be more excited about moving to Hong Kong for her mother’s job. Her new school is right on the beach and her family’s apartment is beyond beautiful. Everything is going to be perfect . . . right?

Maybe not. It feels like everywhere she turns, there are new rules to follow and expectations to meet. On top of that, the most popular girl in her grade is quickly becoming a frenemy. And without the guidance of her loving Ah-ma, who stayed behind in Toronto, Holly-Mei just can’t seem to get it right.

It will take all of Holly-Mei’s determination and sparkle (and maybe even a tiny bit of stubbornness) to get through seventh grade and turn her life in Hong Kong into the ultimate adventure!

  • Title: The Not-So-Perfect Plan
  • Author: Christina Matula
  • Cover Artist: Yao Xiao
  • Publisher: Inkyard Press
  • Release Date: April 4th, 2023
  • Genre/Format: Middle Grade Contemporary


Return to Hong Kong in the second book of this charming middle grade series starring Holly-Mei, a girl navigating her new city, new school, and new friendships.

It’s the start of a new year, and Holly-Mei Jones is determined to make the most of it. She has amazing friends, a great field hockey team, and Hong Kong at her doorstep. This semester is going to be perfect . . . right?

Maybe not. Despite their closeness last year, Holly-Mei’s friend group seems to be splintering. Desperate to bring everyone together, she ropes her friends into competing as a team in an inter-school tournament across the city.

But as Holly-Mei becomes obsessed with winning, her friends seem less interested in the tournament—and in her new attitude. Will she be able to pull off her perfect plan?

Interview with Christina Matula

Q: What is your favorite Taiwanese food? (Feel free to pick more than one.)

There are so many! I have a bit of a sweet tooth so I love bubble tea and shaved ice. But my very favourite things are mantou, youtiao, and sweet soy milk. They remind me of visits to my Ah-ma where we would go to the vendor down her street early in the morning to pick up breakfast.

Q: What drew you to writing children’s books? What was your journey to publication like?

After moving to Hong Kong, I took the opportunity to learn Mandarin, which was always a personal goal of mine. I learned more about the origins of festivals and associated folktales, including that of Chang’e and Hou Yi at the Mid-Autumn Festival. I tried to find an English-language picture book about this legend to read to my kids, but I couldn’t find one. So, I decided to write my own! I initially self-published The Shadow in the Moon after teaming up with artist Pearl Law in Hong Kong. I soon found an agent (the fabulous Carrie Pestritto) and the book was bought and traditionally published by Charlesbridge in 2018.

Q: Now that you have three books out (one picturebook and two novels), what would you say you have learned about the writing and publishing process for yourself?

The words flow only when I’m writing about something that I’ve experienced myself or touches my life in some way. I did try and write something with a lot of desk research, but I couldn’t make it come alive and sound authentic. I’m in awe of writers who have the imagination and ability to create other worlds. In terms of the publishing process, I’ve learned that even when I think I’ve handed in a perfect draft, my editor will come back with pages of comments, all which make my story stronger.

Q: Did you plan for The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei to be the first in the series from the beginning, or did it turn into one later after you had started drafting? How did you go about developing it into a multi-book work?

I originally wrote the first Holly-Mei as a stand-alone book. It was during the negotiation with the publisher that they offered to acquire it as a three-book series. I was thrilled! But also a bit nervous as now I had to think up two more books. I thought about how Holly-Mei’s arc would develop over the year, as all three books take place during Grade 7 in her first year after moving to Hong Kong. The first book, The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei, is about moving and settling into a new world away from what she knows. The second book, The Not-So-Perfect Plan, is about how she, now settled, deals with bumps in her new friendships and her own need to succeed. The third book will look even more inward and delve into her Taiwanese heritage and what it means to her to be mixed-race.

Q: A lot of novelists talk about “second book syndrome,” where they struggle with their second ever novel or the second book in a series because it has to live up to the previous one. Did you have second book syndrome when writing The Not-So-Perfect Plan? What was the most challenging aspect of writing it?

Actually, I found the second book the easiest to write. I had already built the Tai Tam Prep world so I could immerse myself in it right away. Holly-Mei’s flaws have parallels to mine and it was straightforward to imagine a plot where her competitive nature caused conflict in her new friendship group. It was the third book that I found most difficult. I really wanted to delve into her mixed-race heritage as well as the pressure that kids this age face about their own identity amongst their peers. They are both complex topics and it took a while to find the right balance with the voice of the story while remaining authentic and natural.

Q: You call your Holly-Mei series a “love letter” to Hong Kong, which was your home for 14 years. What are some things and places in Hong Kong that feel like home to you? Did you slip any of these into the books?

I slipped them all in! Before writing the books, I made a list of all the places that I loved to go, foods I loved to eat, and things I loved to do in Hong Kong, and I tried to include all of them over the three books. Holly-Mei lives in Repulse Bay which is not far from where I lived and it was at that beach that I learned to open water swim, and where Holly-Mei does too. She visits the Peak and eats at Din Tai Fung and City Hall for dim sum – two of my favourite restaurants, and hikes for the first time along the Dragon’s Back trail, the most beautiful trail in Hong Kong. And the field hockey pitch in Happy Valley was where I spent many happy weekends, so I had to include that too.

Q: The cast of characters in the Holly-Mei series include various people with really interesting names with a lot of flair, such as Snowy and Rainbow. Where did you get the inspiration and ideas for the different characters’ names?

Most of the names in the book are inspired by people that I know or have met in Hong Kong, including Snowy and Rainbow – these two names in particular were striking and memorable for me so I was excited to include them. Some of the characters were named after people who helped me with my initial research into the book, like Dev, Gemma, Millie, and Mollie (which I turned into Holly-Mei).

Q: Can you share a little about what’s next for Holly-Mei, or for your writing career?

I’m just finishing up the edits for Holly-Mei book 3, which will be called The Not-So-Simple Question and will come out in April 2024. In it, Holly-Mei travels to Taiwan for a school trip! I was so fortunate to be able to visit Taipei and Tainan a couple of months ago and I can’t wait for readers to explore Taiwan with Holly-Mei!

Book Links

Purchase The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei:

Purchase The Not-So-Perfect Plan:

About the Author

Christina Matula is from Ottawa, Canada and is of Taiwanese-Hungarian heritage. Being a child of immigrant parents, she has always been curious about other cultures and far-off places.

Moving to Hong Kong gave Christina the chance to explore her Chinese cultural roots (amazing food, fascinating festivals) and learn some Mandarin (constant uphill climb).  She loves eating dumplings, playing field hockey, and hiking.

She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Hong Kong. She is also a former Board Member of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, which advocates reading aloud with children and provides quality books to local underserved communities.

She now lives in Helsinki, Finland with her husband, two children, and puppy.

Photo Credit: Melanie Adamson

Author Links:

Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!

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