Artwork by Aixa Perez-Prado
Today for We Need Diverse MG, we are delighted to share an interview with E.L. Shen, author of The Comeback, and editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Also: be sure you check out the book giveaway after the interview!
Welcome to Mixed-Up Files, Elizabeth!
Thank you so much for having me!
Interview with THE COMEBACK Author E. L. Shen
Please tell us about The Comeback. What inspired you to write Maxine’s story?
In fourth grade, I watched the movie, Ice Princess, and desperately wanted to become a famous figure skater. While that did *not* happen, I did take lessons for several years and developed a love for the sport. I was particularly obsessed with it during the 2018 Olympics. Around the same time, I had a conversation with my friends about a comeback list I had created when I was in middle school – any time I was bullied, I wrote down the insults and my fake responses so I would be “prepared” for next time. One of my friends offhandedly mentioned that this would be an amazing book idea. So when I sat down to write Maxine’s story, I realized that my love for skating and my middle school antics would marry into a perfect middle-grade. Maxine’s determination and spunky personality flew off the page, and the rest is history.
Racism and Bullying in MG
What are some subjects you’ve addressed in The Comeback?
The idea that female competitors can be friends is a topic that I felt strongly about portraying in The Comeback. We tend to be close to people who have similar interests, which sometimes leads to rivalry and jealousy. In addition, female figure skaters are often stereotyped as catty. I wanted to dispel these rumors by showing Maxine and Hollie’s gradual friendship on and off the rink. I also addressed racism and bullying in The Comeback because it’s important for young marginalized readers to have a roadmap for support when they come across these kinds of problems.
What are the top three things readers can take away from this story?
- Winning is not always everything.
- When you feel most alone, know that there are people ready and willing to support you.
- While a delicious brownie and good music can’t solve every problem, they can help.
((For more on bullying themes in MG, read this WNDMG guest post))
Could you share your author/editor journey with us?
Yes! When I was little, I desperately wanted to be an author, but as I grew older, I fell more and more in love with editing, and helping other writers’ visions come to life. In college, I majored in creative writing and simultaneously did several publishing internships at HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan. Three years later, my career has blossomed at Macmillan and I am honored make a home for myself at FSG. The opportunity to write has always been my dream so I am lucky to do both.
Could you share with us your ideas and goals when it comes to the representation of diversity in the books you write and publish?
It has and will always be my goal to shine a light on the multifaceted marginalized child’s experience. BIPOC children are not a monolith. Queer children are not a monolith. The more we tell our – and our ancestors’ stories – the better. As an editor and an author, I want to dispel stereotypes, and show the beauty and humanity in all of our various histories and imaginations.
What are some common reasons for a manuscript to make it to acquisitions at Macmillan?
Excellent, vivid storytelling, a strong point of view, and steady, confident pacing. Pacing really is everything!
What exciting projects are you working on right now with your own writing as well as your editorial projects?
Ooh, so many!! On the editorial side, I have a number of wonderful picture books coming out, including Dear Librarian by Lydia Sigwarth, illustrated by Romina Galotta in June 2021. I also have your fabulous picture book, She Sang for India: How M.S. Subbulakshmi Used her Voice for Change out in Winter 2022. In the middle grade and young adult spaces, I’m excited about a nonfiction underdog story based on a bestselling adult book titled Spare Parts, a queer Black gothic debut from Ciera Burch, and a sweeping historical drama from Libba Bray.
On the author end of things, I’m working on what I like to call the Asian American Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. For now, that’s all I can say on that. 😉
E. L. Shen is a writer and editor living in Manhattan. Her debut middle grade novel, The Comeback (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2021) is a Junior Library Guild Selection, received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, and was praised for its “fast-paced prose, big emotions, and authentic dialogue” in The New York Times. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Barnard College of Columbia University, where she majored in English with a concentration in creative writing. She is represented by Marietta Zacker at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency. elshenwrites.com
Want to own your very own copy of The Comeback? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below!
You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on March 15, 2021 and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US only) to receive the book.