Chelsea Lin Wallace and I met rather serendipitously over social media many months ago, and I do feel that fate was somehow at work in drawing me to a fellow left-handed, empath, Meyers Briggs type I/ENFJ. What can I say? This woman speaks my language. I was immediately taken in by her talent, her warmth, and her extremely creative way of looking at pretty much everything in this world. This shines though so clearly in her writing.
Chelsea’s just-released debut picture book, A Home Named Walter, is a heartfelt and many-layered story, with the main character being–you guessed it, the title’s namesake! Readers young and old will fall in love with Walter, a home that initially will not allow himself to be loved again. Despite a rather bumpy start, he and his new young friend manage to help one another cope with the pain of loss, and open their hearts up to new love and new experiences. Beautiful and vivid illustrations by Ginnie Hsu provide the visual dazzle that will make this one of your favorite read-aloud books.
When Chelsea is not crafting lovely, one-of-a-kind picture books, she is writing clever and engaging poetry with whimsical doodles to accompany it! You can check out some of her work on her website, and also on her widely-followed Instagram page.
Hilary Margitich: Chelsea, I am so honored to have you here with us today on Writers’ Rumpus. Welcome, welcome! I just love A Home Named Walter. Can you tell us a little about how Walter came to be, and where your inspiration for this story came from?
Chelsea Lin Wallace: Hi Hilary! I am honored, humbled, and honestly moved by that lovely intro of me. Thank you so much for having me here; I am thrilled to be your guest.
Ever since I was tiny, I felt the spirit in all things. Everything around me had feelings that mattered. I soon became the rescuer of abandoned stuffed animals and discarded toys. It used to drive my parents crazy because I’d never dare throw anything out.
Then there was Woolly. Woolly was my lovey, a stuffed wombat. I honestly believe to this day my love loved him alive. Unfortunately when I was eleven years old, I lost Woolly on an airplane. I still grieve that loss. But I also felt Woolly’s ache. Was he okay? Was he scared? Was he ever found and loved again?
On top of all of this, I moved around a ton as a kid. Gosh, a dozen houses and four states before the age of twelve. Can you imagine how I felt about each house we left and each home we made?
All of this is to say, Walter likely has been living with me for a while and decided it was time I tell his story.
HM: I love the way you took a seemingly inanimate object (a house) and used it to illustrate an important lesson about life for children, in a way that they can readily digest and understand. Do you enjoy writing from the point of view of an unexpected character? That is not an easy thing to do. Do you have any tips for the rest of us on how to do this effectively?
CLW: One of my favorite types of poetry to teach children is the I Am Poem. The structure of it gives you an opportunity to feel, see, and wonder about the world from another perspective. As an intensely empathetic person, I don’t just walk-through the practice of that perspective. Like a method actor, I embody it as my own. I find it most interesting to do this with inanimate objects; mostly because, to me, they aren’t inanimate at all.
My tip would be to use the I Am poem as a way of entering the emotions of that object. I have a theater background so I like to say, “Get into character!” Beyond that, don’t place a plot or an emotion onto the character; allow them to guide you authentically. Once your character has revealed the emotional experience that is authentic to them, dig deep into your own well of memories and pull that feeling from yourself in an authentic way. Weave what’s yours with what is your character’s.
HM: Your passion for self-expression and creativity is very apparent in your poetry and accompanying drawings. They are such a signature part of your creative style. Can you tell me a bit about how they fit into your writing life and your writing routine?
CLW: Oh, Hilary. I love this question. And thank you for those kind words. A few years before I started writing picture books, I suffered a miscarriage. My grief poured out in poems. When I shared them I was humbled to see them connecting with others. I continued to process my feelings in poems and felt like I was sharing an authentic piece of my soul with the world.
I felt so full with how they were helping others I began writing poems for other people on a dedication basis. That’s when my audience grew rapidly and my production was almost daily. It was rewarding beyond measure, but I couldn’t keep up with the requests after my book-writing started taking off. Now I’ve gone back to the original model of writing and sharing when the feeling arises.
My poems continue to bring gifts to my soul-universe. Recently, I was asked take my poems to school visits where I helped young children use poetry as a way of processing difficult emotions and affirming self-positivity. That has been the most rewarding surprise of all.
HM: Tell us about your path to publication. Have you always wanted to write for children? And how did you find your agent?
CLW: I was that six-year-old writing ghost stories and silly poems far past my bedtime. My mom kept all of it too – crates and crates. I have an autobiography from when I was nine years old, and in it I say, “When I grow up I will be a writer.” Life zig-zagged and I found myself in digital marketing before becoming an elementary teacher. While teaching, I rediscovered that first love of my life: stories and poems.
Even as a teacher, I became a student all over again. I took a picture book writing course at UCLA, studied and practiced my craft, formed a critique group, and eventually started querying. After a year in the craft, I met my now agent at a conference for a critique consultation. She signed me soon after and we sold my first book, A HOME NAMED WALTER a few months later.
While this trajectory seems almost dreamlike, it wasn’t without its failure and rejection. I fell on my face plenty (before and after) signing with Jen. But the thing is: I just can’t NOT do this. There is nothing else that feels as good in my skin as writing stories for children.
HM: What would you like to tell aspiring children’s book writers who might be reading this blog post? Is there anything you wish you could tell your pre-published self that you know now, but didn’t know then?
CLW: It’s not a ladder of success. It’s a web. Publishing doesn’t travel up in one single forward motion. It’s not like you get the agent and it’s only rung after rung upwards from there. More importantly – if it’s not a rung up from there that doesn’t mean it’s DOWN. THAT is the most important thing to remember. Instead of feeling like every story that gets red-inked, rejected, passed up, shelved, bad reviews, no awards, low sales means that you have somehow taken two steps back – you haven’t. You have merely extended your web in another direction. And every direction that web takes is crucial to the design, sturdiness, and capturability* of your creativity. *Yes, I made up a new word.
Imagine this. Imagine that selling a book and having it fly off shelves and win awards wasn’t the purpose for that book. What if that book’s purpose was to reach one child in Ypsilanti, Michigan who needed to read it because it made her fall in love with stories? What if.
That’s the magic of the web.
HM: What are you working on now/next and where can we follow you online and on social media?
CLW: After WALTER, I have five more books coming out in 2023-2024! I am excited about each and every one of them. Two have been announced, ODE TO A BAD DAY, illustrated by Hyewon Yum, and A TRIP TO MISS PEATREE, illustrated by Alison Farrell – both coming out from Chronicle.
You can follow me on Instagram at chelsealinwallace and Twitter at chelseaauthor and on Facebook at Chelsea Lin Wallace. You can also follow me on my newsletter! All social and newsletter links here:
I can’t wait to read more of your books and poetry, Chelsea. You are very inspiring. Thank you for visiting us here on Writers’ Rumpus, and for chatting with me!
Hilary, you are truly a light. I feel so honored and humbled to be a guest here with you. Thank you for holding this beautiful space.
Chelsea Lin Wallace is an author and a poet with a master’s in education. As a former elementary school educator, she loves teaching creative writing to children. As a little girl, Chelsea moved around a lot, but felt a unique connection to every home. She now lives happily in Los Angeles, California with her husband, daughter, and dog.