Interview with Caroline Tung Richmond – Co-editor of Hungry Hearts

Today we welcome Caroline Tung Richmond to the blog. She is co-editor, along with Elsie Chapman, of Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food and Love. Caroline kindly answers questions about editing an anthology, writing, sloths, and of course food.

Publisher summary: A shy teenager attempts to express how she really feels through the confections she makes at her family’s pasteleria. A tourist from Montenegro desperately seeks a magic soup dumpling that could cure his fear of death. An aspiring chef realizes that butter and soul are the key ingredients to win a cooking competition that could win him the money to save his mother’s life.

Welcome to Hungry Hearts Row, where the answers to most of life’s hard questions are kneaded, rolled, baked. Where a typical greeting is, “Have you had anything to eat?” Where magic and food and love are sometimes one and the same.

Told in interconnected short stories, Hungry Hearts explores the many meanings food can take on beyond mere nourishment. It can symbolize love and despair, family and culture, belonging and home.

I adore books featuring food. On a scale of 1 to 10, how hungry will we get while we’re reading Hungry Hearts?

I’m hoping for a 10! My mouth was definitely watering every time I edited the stories in this collection, and I would inevitably curse at myself that I couldn’t sample the dishes I was reading about. So I’d recommend going out to eat right after you’ve finished Hungry Hearts — or better yet, read it while you’re eating!

What brought you and Elsie Chapman together for this project?

Twitter, actually! Elsie and I started chatting on Twitter years ago, and our friendship has grown via social media and emails. Back in 2017, I was tweeting about The Joy Luck Club and how I’d love to read more books that include its themes — food, culture, family, and the tension between immigrant parents and their first-generation children. Elsie contacted me shortly thereafter to see if I’d be interested in co-editing an anthology around these ideas, and I said OF COURSE!

We spent about a month and a half refining the concept, drafting the proposal, and revising it with our agents before we went on submission. Much to our surprise and delight, the book sold quickly — which was both wonderful and a tad stressful because I was nine months pregnant at the time! I believe we received the offer from Simon Pulse right before I delivered my son, and then we accepted it when he was about a week old.

Have you edited an anthology before? What are some of the challenges and rewards?

This is my very first time editing an anthology! Thankfully, Elsie has done this before (she co-edited the fabulous A Thousand Beginnings and Endings with Ellen Oh) and so she helped me navigate the learning curve. I also got wonderful advice from my friend Jessica Spotswood who has edited multiple anthologies, like Toil & Trouble and A Tyranny of Petticoats, which I contributed a short to.

My main challenge was dealing with taxes — I hate paperwork and crunching numbers so no surprise there! I’d recommend consulting with an accountant if you’re putting together an anthology since the taxes can get a bit complicated. But aside from that, Hungry Hearts was truly a joy from start to finish. I adored working with such talented writers, and I also loved working with Elsie and our editor Jen to shape the anthology as a whole. Usually writing a book is a very isolating process for me, and so it was refreshing to work on a project that required a lot of collaboration.

Is there a specific food you associate with family and/or love?

Oh, definitely! When I was growing up, my family would visit my paternal grandmother on Sunday evenings (we call her Nai-nai) and she’d make us dinner. My favorite dish of hers has always been her lion’s head meatballs. I have no idea why they’re called that — and they’re made out of pork, not lion, haha — but it’s a Shanghai dish and that’s where my grandma grew up.

My Nai-nai’s meatballs were always moist and perfectly seasoned, and she’d simmer them over a bed of Napa cabbage leaves and rice noodles that would soak up the yummy flavors. We’d serve everything over hot rice, and just thinking about it makes my mouth water and brings me back to my grandma’s little apartment. Nainai is now 96 and doesn’t cook anymore, and one of my biggest regrets is not asking her to teach me how to make those meatballs. I’ve made a couple recipes I found online, but they just aren’t the same. But I’ll keep trying!

Beyond this tempting collection, are there other young adult books you would recommend for our readers?

I’ve been reading a lot of adult fiction and non-fiction recently so I’m sadly behind on YA, but I’m really looking forward to checking out With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo because it’s about an aspiring chef and I love stories about food. I’m also excited to read Maurene Goo’s Somewhere Only We Know because it sounds like a delightful rom-com of a novel — and it’s set in Hong Kong! I’m hoping there’s a scene or two that features dimsum because I live for dimsum. (Turnip cakes might sound bleh, but they are SO GOOD and I could eat a plate of them right now!)

If you’re allowed to tell us, what other projects are you working on?

Hungry Hearts is my first stab at contemporary literature and so it’s a bit of a departure from my novels, which have all been historical fiction. My next book is a Cold War alternate history that’s set in Washington, D.C. and that features super advanced robots. No title yet, but it should come out in 2020 from Scholastic!

This last question is fairly random and has nothing to do with the book, but on your blog I saw a photo of you holding a sloth. How did that come about? Sloths are amazingly adorable.

Aw, I’m so happy you asked! I love sloths, and back in 2012 I was lucky to spend a week volunteering at a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica, which took care of orphaned and injured sloths. I spent my time there cleaning out the sloth enclosures, prepping food for them (chopping up carrots and sweet potatoes and the like), and playing with the babies (best job ever!). My favorite sloth was a little guy named Linus who was super sleepy and just wanted to be held all the time. I wish I could’ve taken him home.

We always appreciate hearing from book creators and look forward to reading Hungry Hearts now that it’s out in the world.

Caroline Tung Richmond is the award-winning author of The Only Thing to Fear, The Darkest Hour, and Live In Infamy; and the co-editor of Hungry Hearts. She’s also the Program Director of We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit that promotes diversity in children’s literature. Caroline lives with her family in Frederick, MD.