Believe it or not, my first writing conference happened a world away in Singapore! The annual Asian Festival of Children's Content celebrates books by Asian authors or children's books with an Asian setting. I left my apt in Korea at 4:30 a.m., took a bus to the Korean airport for my 9:00 a.m. flight, arrived in Singapore around 2:00 p.m in time for the Scholastic Asian Book Awards ceremony at 7:00 p.m.
It all started the summer of 2015 when I took Nancy I. Sanders' online course Write a Middle Grade Novel in 1 Month. I had a picture book story that some of my peeps and agents suggested trying as a novel. So I did. I wrote it in May 2015, sent it out to beta readers, and revised in July/August. My critique partner Carrie Finison and the Sub It Club Facebook group told me about the Scholastic Asian Book Award deadline of September 1st, in which an author of Asian descent living in Asia who has a book set in Asia could apply. So for fun, I submitted, dreaming of flying to Singapore the next May.
Sometimes dreams come true! In April, the conference organizer emailed saying my manuscript Chasing Freedoms: The Asian Underground Railroad was shortlisted along with four other contestants out of 50-60 submissions (can't remember the exact number). Soon I saw my photo and synopsis that I had composed as an exercise from Cheryl Klein's Second Sight on their website, newsletters, and even the Singapore Times Newspaper!
Chasing Freedom: The Asian Underground Railroad (Author: Tina Cho, South Korea) Two unhappy kids. Two stories that lead to separate escapes across the North Korean border to China. Brokers, a pastor, and other people help Yunho and Joo Ri escape to freedom along the Asian Underground Railroad through China, Laos, Thailand, and eventually to America. Soldiers, child slavery, fake IDs, jail time, and trekking through jungles are difficulties they must face. Will they be caught and repatriated back to North Korea and sent to brutal concentration camps? In the worse moments, Yunho and Joo Ri come to terms with their past, their fears, and face the enemy head on.
Thankfully God worked out all the details so I could attend. I'm thankful to my job and husband who allowed me to go.
One thing I love about Singapore is that people speak English. It was so refreshing to order at Subway at the airport, and the clerk understood me. A funny thing about getting a taxi is I followed the driver to the car, and he opened the right side front door. I thought he was being a gentleman, and I almost climbed in. Except he climbed in first! Singaporeans drive on the opposite side (rt side) unlike Americans and Koreans. Feeling embarrassed, I quickly ran to the other side of the car and let myself in. The palm trees and green vegetation reminded me of California. I didn't mind the heat (90F) or humidity too much because I was on an adventure.
Being at a hotel by myself was weird at first, but then I enjoyed the quietness of no kids, students, homemaking, etc... The awards ceremony was very formal with a Singaporean government official attending--the Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Education handed out awards. His Excellency, the Ambassador to Singapore from Japan was also there since Japan was the country of focus for the conference.
The winner of the Scholastic Asian Book Award was an Indian author, whose premise I thought was really good! She's had a previous novel published as well. I was happy to receive 1st Runner Up, and the editor from Scholastic Asia wants to publish it. I look forward to hearing details from her.
I also loved connecting with online writing friends and people whose blogs I've read or are popular in the kidlit world--Emily Lim I met in 12x12, Leonard Marcus I've heard and read about in SCBWI, Cynthia Leitich Smith who runs the Cynsations writing blog, Charlene Chua, Canadian illustrator whom I met in the SCBWI "Blueboards," and Cynthea Liu, of the popular Red Light Green Light contest.
Look for more about my experience on June 2nd at the Grog Blog!
Tina M. Cho, children's author
I'm a children's author and freelance writer for the educational market. Welcome!