Before Sylv Chiang was a published author (congrats), she was a blogger – my blogger – when I worked at a Toronto community newspaper. She eventually wrote two blogs for me – fun things to do with children in Toronto as well as a teacher’s look at an Ontario classroom. At the same time she was also writing what is now called Tournament Trouble, her first middle grade book, which releases in March and is published by Annick Press ($11.95).

And while I had no hand in Sylv’s success – that was all her – I feel very proud of her accomplishment and her dedication.

Congratulations, Sylv, I knew you could do it.


Cross Ups Book 1: Tournament Trouble, about 12-year-old Jaden, who is invited to attend a video game tournament but there is a slight problem – his overprotective, traditional Chinese mother has banned the game from his house as it’s too violent and he needs her permission to go.

Q. This book has been a long time coming. When did the idea come to you? What was the idea? Has the idea changed from initial concept to final product? How? Why?

A. Jaden first appeared in a scene I wrote in a writing workshop. He was arguing with his sister, Melanie, and I liked him. So I wrote Chapter 1 and discovered his talent for gaming. I didn’t have an outline, so the story developed bit by bit. I always knew where he was going, but I wasn’t too sure how he’d get there or what would happen there.

Q. You are a French teacher in the Toronto District School Board. What grade do you teach? Do you have a classroom or do you only teach French? ‘How did this job inspire you both in the story and your writing?

A. I was teaching Grade 5 Extended French when I started the novel, which means I had my own class. I wanted to write something that would appeal to the students in my class who are reluctant readers. Often those kids play a lot of video games, which is why Jaden is a gamer. I made sure to give Jaden’s French teacher a few lines in Tournament Trouble.

Q. Did your students help you in the writing, editing of your book? What do your students think of their teacher being a published writer? What do you tell the children about your journey?

A. Being in a school every day definitely helps when writing for this age group. Jaden is in Grade 7, so sometimes I would linger around the Intermediate students when I was on yard duty and listen to the way they talk to help me with dialogue. At one school I read the entire novel to a group of students during recess breaks. It was great to have a test audience. I got some useful feedback, including one really insightful comment that made me move scenes around for better effect.

Students at my current school are surprised when they hear I wrote a book. I tell them about the time and commitment it took to complete the project. I feel like kids often expect things to happen with little effort, so I want them to realize it wasn’t easy.

Q. According to your bio on Annick Press, you have wanted to be an author since Grade 1, but it wasn’t until your second daughter was born that is when you remembered your dream and started to make a reality. What happened at that point that made you remember your childhood dream and decide to pursue it?

A. I was on maternity leave and really immersed in the mommy life. I needed to do something for myself with adults. That is when I finally enrolled in Part 2 of the Writing for Children course at George Brown College. I had taken Part 1 years before, but for Part 2 you are supposed to be working on a project. I finally had Jaden and Chapter 1, so I decided to make that my project and go for it. The class takes place in Mabel’s Fables, a children’s book store. It’s a really magical setting that gets the creative juices flowing.

Q. Did your children inspire you in any way for this book? Or husband? How? Are they gamers? Are you? Why write a book about gamers for gamers? What do you hope your book will do?

A. We aren’t really into gaming at my house. Well, my husband would like to be, but he doesn’t have the time.

Initially, I wrote about gamers to get kids who play video games to pick up the book. I based Cross Ups, the game in the novel, on my vague understanding of Street Fighter (in the earliest versions I even called the game Fight Street). But in researching I went to tournaments and discovered the Fighting Game Community (FGC), who are a great bunch of people. They beat the crap out of each other in the game, but they are super friendly and kind.

Primarily, I hope the book will get kids reading. Maybe it will spark some conversation about violence in video games and other forms of media versus real life violence.

Q. Jaden is a mixed-race westernized pre-teen growing up in a strict Chinese household who hangs around with a diverse group of friends. Why was it important to include diversity in your book? How did you make the problems/situations seem real?

Jaden’s family is like mine, except reversed because it’s Jaden’s mother who is from Taiwan like my husband. Jaden and his friends resemble the kids in my classrooms teaching for the Toronto District School Board. I didn’t plan to write a “diverse” book, I just wrote what I know.

Q. I don’t think people understand how much work is involved in writing a book. Can you please tell me from start to finish, how long you were working on this book and the steps you took to ensure its success?

A. Well, I mentioned that I started writing the story when I was on maternity leave. That child is now seven, so the whole process took about six and a half years. I finished the novel after joining my awesome critique group. I then took part in an awesome Writescape retreat called Second Draft Boot Camp with Gwynn Scheltema. I eventually decided the story needed to be written in first person (it was originally in third person), so I went back and did a major overhaul. Then I had Writescape help me out again. It was a long process!

Q. What was the turning point for you in regards to the book’s success?

A. Just as I was getting up the nerve to send Tournament Trouble out to publishers, I got the news that it was a finalist in the CANSCAIP Writing for Children Contest. CANSCAIP sent it to three Canadian publishers. That was huge! I was fortunate that all three showed interest in the manuscript.

Q. What was the biggest help in your writing/publishing journey? What would you recommend new authors do in order to be successful?

A. The best decision I ever made was joining the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR). That’s where I found my tribe. Their slogan is “Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary act!” It’s through the WCDR that I met my critique group and found out about great workshops and classes. I met awesome role models and mentors there. I highly recommend writers find ways to connect with other writers for support and encouragement. Only other writers will understand when you tell them about the characters talking in your head.

Q. You took a lot of courses and seminars, which one did you find most beneficial and would recommend to others?

A. The most important thing is finding classes that meet your needs and my needs have changed over time. At first, a six-week Writescape class was perfect to get myself into the groove. Later, the magical Writing for Children classes at Mabel’s Fables were a perfect fit. Writescape’s Second Draft Boot Camp was just what I needed after I finished my first draft. I also learned so much at the Story Master’s conference last spring where top writing gurus Donald Maass, Christopher Vogler and James Scott Bell enlightened us for four days.

Q. What step in your publishing journey took the longest – writing, editing or trying to find a publisher? And which of these steps did you enjoy the most? Least?

A. I would say they were pretty equal. It took about a year and a half for each of those stages. Then another two years from finding a publisher to book release. Since it was new to me I liked all stages equally because I was learning as I went.
Q. What happened when you first saw your published book? How did you celebrate?

A. I remember when I found out that I was a finalist for the CANSCAIP contest. I was so excited I turned on music and danced around the living room. That felt like the biggest success – a validation that the story is good. The rest has been whipped cream on my sundae.

I got an advanced reader copy of Tournament Trouble in the fall and gave it to my daughter for her 10th birthday. That was a nice moment. Then when we saw it on the shelf at Mabel’s Fables last month there were a lot of selfies taken!

Tournament Trouble, published by Annick Press in March, is the first book in a planned series by Sylv Chiang, a Durham resident and a Toronto District School Board French teacher.
Tournament Trouble is the first book in a planned series by Sylv Chiang.

Q. When is the official launch date of your book? What are you doing to promote it? What are you looking forward to the most about your upcoming publicity tour?

A. Tournament Trouble officially launches March 13! We’re celebrating with an event at Mabel’s Fables during March Break geared to kids aged eight to 11. It takes place from 10:30 to 11:30 am. Thursday, March 15. There will also be a traditional book launch at Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge on Saturday, March 24 from 1 to 3 pm.

Q. If you could change anything in your publishing journey, what would it be? What advice would you give your younger self about your journey? What would you tell others about their journeys?

A. That’s an easy one. I would start writing earlier. I basically started at the busiest time in my life! But I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer. The best time to start working toward your goal is now.

Q. Who is your favourite character in your book? Least? Did anything happen in the book that made you sad or you wished it didn’t have to go that way? Did you ever get tired of your characters or their stories during the course of your journey? Did you take a break from them?

A. That’s a hard question. Obviously, I love Jaden. He can be a bit clueless at times, but he has a good heart. His friendship with Cali is very special. Hugh and Devesh always make me laugh. There’s something in each of the characters I like, with the exception of Cali’s dad – he’s a jerk. I’m glad I get to write more stories with this cast.

Q. What are you working on right now? When is Book 2 due out?

A. Cross Ups 2: Anyone’s Game is due out in September 2018. In the second book we get to know the characters better, especially Cali and Jaden’s sister, Melanie. I’m currently working on Book 3.

Q. Once your series is over, what do you hope to write about?

A. I’m a pantser (someone who flies by the seat of their pants), as they say, so I don’t write detailed outlines. I think it would be boring to know everything ahead of time. I’m about half way through another middle grade novel that I’m anxious to get back to because I want to see how it ends. It’s the story of three cousins who are dealing with the aftermath of a life changing event. It takes place at one of my favourite places in Ontario – a lakeside cottage resort my family loves. The setting was the inspiration for this one. Every time I would visit, I’d think, there’s a story here!

Q. Anything else you would like to say?

A. Thanks for the interview, it was a lot of fun!