Monday, April 27, 2009

Interview with YA Fantasy Author Cindy Pon

Today is release day for Cindy Pon's YA fantasy novel, SILVER PHOENIX: BEYOND THE KINGDOM OF XIA (HarperCollins/Greenwillow). I met Cindy on an internet writer's forum about the time she had just started looking for an agent. I was impressed by her determination and perpetual optimism, as well as the way she always has kind and encouraging words for other forum members. I'm so thrilled that fate has smiled on her and brought her to this exciting day.

Cindy has answered a few questions for us about her novel and about writing in general:

From what you’ve told me, you did a lot of research into ancient China before writing SILVER PHOENIX. Why did you ultimately choose to cast SILVER PHOENIX as a fantasy rather than an historical novel?

i did do a lot of research to set the tone and setting of SILVER PHOENIX while writing it. i bought beautiful books on the emperors of china, the palaces, the court rituals, the architecture of china in centuries past, the dress, etc.

but when i began writing, i found that i was really "stuck" on historical details. what period was it? i'd have to set it before the qing dynasty, maybe even before the tang,  where foot binding began at the tail end... what i wanted my heroine to do, to go through, was nearly impossible to believe if set in actual history. AND i wanted the fantastic elements. i realized then i wasn't lisa see, i wasn't writing a historical, i was writing a fantasy. i wanted to be able to use chinese folklore and myth, but also be able to use my own imagination--as many fantasy books do.

What is something interesting you learned during the research phase of writing? Did this fact make it into the novel under some guise?

i researched on eunuchs and how they had their "precious parts" removed. and yes, this made it into the novel. 

Young adult fiction is quite popular in today’s market. Did you set out to write a novel for teens? To what do you attribute the appeal of young adult fiction to adult readers?

no. i didn't set out writing SILVER PHOENIX for the YA market. i thought i was just writing a straight adult fantasy novel. it wasn't until i began querying for agents that some writer friends as well as agents asked me, isn't this YA? it's a really fine line, especially in fantasy, where many of the protags can be teens. but in the end, i realized that there were elements of finding yourself, searching for your own identity, rebelling a little or a lot against society, against your parents, and of course, first love. these elements are in my debut and often themes in YA fiction.

i think the crossover line is getting murkier by the day. especially in the fantasy genre--if you look at TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER as examples.

Who is your favorite character in SILVER PHOENIX and why? Were there any characters you wish you could have spent more time with?

tough one. i have a crush on my own hero, chen yong. but he remains a bit of a enigma to me. he intimidates me a little as a writer, his creator. or maybe more than a little. =) i really love li rong (and almost all readers tell me they love li rong), who is chen yong's younger brother. he really added humor to the novel and i found him incredibly easy to write.

What do you want your readers to come away with from their reading of SILVER PHOENIX?

i hope that they were able to escape, that they trusted me as a writer, and believed what they were reading. i hope my characters and story linger with them for a little while after they've finished reading.

What was something you learned about yourself while writing the novel?

that i was a writer. a serious writer. i never considered myself as one until i finished revising the novel and went on to query agents. i found out that i'm pretty determined as a person, as well as optimistic. it's a cautious optimism, but it's there. =)

You are quite active in the virtual writing community. What role did various writers’ forums, blogs, or critique groups play in your quest for publication? How important do you think being “plugged in” to such things is for a writer today?

oh my. the online blog and writing forum community are mentioned in my acknowledgement page. and rightly so. before i found my writing friends, i only had the online community to look to for help and guidance and encouragement. this is such a roller coaster heart wrenching business. our writing means so much to us, and truly, no one but another writer would understand

 the despair of rejection after rejection or the utter elated joy of getting a full request or an agent who says YES or the elusive editor that does. i find the writing community to be incredibly supportive, and i hope that i can give back as much as i can.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

keep writing, keep dreaming. not everyone sells their first book or even their third. it takes a lot of will power and a thick skin, but if you feel passion for it, if you love the world you create, your characters enough, keep going. it's well worth the difficulties to keep reaching for the stars.

for what are we without our dreams?

If you were to write an historical novel, when and where would it be set?

oh wow. i LOVE reading about elizabethan and tudor times. i am fascinated by anne boleyn and elizabeth I. i love strong women who led in the past, the double whammy they had to deal with being in power and being a woman. the rules are turned on their heads, and so many smart, clever women were able to navigate through this, despite it all.

that world is much more familiar to me, even now, after writing silver phoenix. but i'd love to write a historical based in china. i'm intrigued by my maternal grandmother and grandfather's stories, in pre world war II china. SILVER PHOENIX is dedicated to them.

What can we look forward to reading from Cindy Pon in the future? 

i hope many more books, well written and then even more well written, with stories that will draw you into the world. i've got a sequel for SILVER PHOENIX that i'm working on as well as a children's picture book using my own chinese brush art.

thanks so much for having me, julianne. i always enjoy reading the wealth of info on your blog and it's a pleasure and honor to be interviewed!!

Thank you, Cindy, and best wishes for a long and successful career!


Cindy, as she mentions, is an accomplished Chinese brush artist. You can see examples of her art at her website, To celebrate her launch, Cindy has graciously offered to send a bookmark with a lotus painting on it to the first five commenters below. Post a comment, and if you're one of the first five, send your snail mail address to Cindy at pon.cindy  @ [without the spaces]. She'll be sure to send you one. Although you probably won't need it for SILVER PHOENIX--it promises to be a book you won't be able to put down! I'll post a review as soon as I get my hands on a copy.

Cindy will be stopping by, so feel free to ask any questions you might have for her. Once again, congratulations to Cindy on her special day!


I've had to turn on "Comment moderation" since the blog has been getting spammed with unsavory links in a foreign language. Please don't let this stop you from commenting; I promise to approve all genuine comments as soon as I am notified of them.

Thanks for understanding!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Booksale Bonanza

I'm such a book geek. Here I am all excited about the great haul I made yesterday at our local library used book sale. For $16, the price of one new trade paperback, I bought the following books, all hardcovers but two:

The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi
by Jacqueline Park 
[I've read this before and liked it and since it's set in the 16th century, I wanted to own a copy.]

Depths of Glory: A Biographical Novel of Camille Pissarro by Irving Stone
Those Who Love: A Biographical Novel of Abigail and John Adams by Irving Stone
[I read The Agony and the Ecstasy as a teenager and loved it, so I thought I'd try more Stone. Plus, I've always wanted to know more about Pissaro.]

Somewhere in France by John Rolfe Gardiner 

The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik 
[Always wanted to read this memoir.]

Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
[Cold Mountain is one of my favorites, so I'm looking forward to this one, although I hear it's quite different.]

Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick

Shadow of the Moon by M.M. Kaye
[Read this in high school, but I think it's worth a re-read.]

A Song of Sixpence by A.J. Cronin
[Have never read any Cronin before.]

The Fool's Tale by Nicole Galland

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason
[This is one of my favorite books, but I didn't have my own copy.]

Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger
[Members of Historical Fiction Online always mention Shellabarger, so I thought I'd try one! This one has a lurid 1970's cover.]

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Paint It Black by Janet Fitch
[I loved White Oleander. Janet Fitch is an instructor at the Squaw Valley Writer Community of Writers, which I've attended twice, and I've always found her talks to be inspiring and full of practical advice.]

So, while I feel slightly guilty to have bought all these books used and thus cheated the authors of royalties, I'm excited about my finds. I realized while I was skimming the spines on the display tables why it is I write--I want someone to feel the same thrill on finding my book that I feel when I find a book I've been wanting to read! It's not the fame, not the money (good thing!), but the thought that I could bring a few hours of enjoyment to someone by doing something I love to do. I want someone to rush home someday with my book in her hands: "Look, I found the latest Julianne Douglas!" (And, shhhh, don't tell my agent, but I won't even mind not getting the royalties for it. *smile*)

Now, someone please tell me when I'm going to find the time to READ all these books, never mind where I'm going to put them!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Upcoming Author Interviews

I have two exciting events to announce:

Next Tuesday, April 28, is the release date for my writing friend Cindy Pon's debut YA fantasy novel, SILVER PHOENIX: BEYOND THE KINGDOM OF XIA (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins). To celebrate the novel's release, I will be posting an interview with the author. Cindy, who is an artist as well as a writer, has agreed to send a beautiful, hand-designed bookmark to the first five people who comment on the interview. Be sure to check back on the 28th for the fun.

On Monday, May 11, I will be participating in Sandra Gulland's blog tour for the paperback release of her novel MISTRESS OF THE SUN (Touchstone). I will post a Q & A with Sandra and a review of the book. In addition, Sandra's publisher has provided a copy of the novel for me to give away to a lucky reader. More details will follow as the date draws near. 

On a related note, Robin Maxwell is working on responses to the interview questions I sent her, but she must at present focus on the final revisions of her forthcoming novel O, JULIET. I will post the interview and my review of SIGNORA DA VINCI together as soon as Robin is able to get back to me. I wish her all the best as she polishes what is sure to be another marvelous novel!

Back to work now...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Virtual Tour

The internet is a wonderful thing. Poking around today looking for information about the palace of Fontainebleau, I found this neat video tour that offers a panoramic view from four vantage points in the palace (two exterior, two interior). The view of the lagoon is stunning. I'm not sure how much of the décor of the Salon François I is original (the palace has been renovated and redecorated innumerable times through the centuries), but the stucco decorations above the fireplace are surely the work of Rosso or Primaticcio. Unfortunately, and inexplicably, the tour does not include a visit to the Galerie François I, which has been faithfully restored to its original state and is the showpiece of the palace.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

An Egg-ceptional Easter

Although eggs do serve as a powerful symbol of new life and resurrection, the custom of decorating eggs at Easter has a more mundane, though quite interesting, origin. As eggs were a forbidden food during the forty days of Lenten fasting, eggs laid during these weeks either had to be hatched or kept for eating after Easter. To preserve the eggs, people dipped them in mutton fat or wax and decorated to make them more attractive. Poor people dyed their eggs red; noblemen gilded theirs or adorned them with their coats of arms. Plates of decorated eggs were brought to the parish priest on Easter morning. The priest sprinkled them with holy water and blessed them with a specific egg-blessing, thus releasing the worshippers from their Lenten privations. The decorated eggs were then given as gifts. Baskets of painted eggs were presented to the King of France after high Mass on Easter Sunday; he would distribute the eggs to his courtiers. Henry VIII once received a Paschal egg in a silver filigree box from the Pope. The largest egg laid in the vicinity of the palace during Holy Week was wrapped with a single red ribbon and presented to the king. The groups of youths would go from door to door in towns and villages singing and collecting eggs from their generous neighbors. They would use some of the eggs for rolling games and tosses; out of the rest they would make huge omelets which they would share to celebrate the end of the fast. 

Hmm, an omelet is sounding pretty good right now. . . race you to the kitchen!

Best wishes for a happy and blessed Easter.

(Sources: A History of Food, M. Toussaint-Samat and A. Bell; The Antiquarian Magazine and Bibliographer, E. Walford; The Gift in Sixteenth Century France, Natalie Zemon Davis)

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Mother's Anguish

The grand connétable Anne de Montmorency commissioned this Pietà from Rosso Fiorentino for the chapel at the château d'Ecouen. Painted sometime in 1538 or 1539, the Pietà is the only surviving example of an easel painting that can be dated with certainty to Rosso's stay in France. The artist acknowledged de Montmorency's patronage by decorating the orange cushion beneath Jesus's body with the connétable's coat of arms. Originally, the Pietà adorned the chapel altar, though it was later moved to hang above the door. During the Revolution, the painting was confiscated from Ecouen and transported to the Louvre, where it can be viewed today. The intense personal anguish exhibited by Mary, whose outstretched arms recall her son's posture on the Cross, may provide a glimpse into artist's troubled emotional state; Rosso died by his own hand a year or so after completing this work. 

Descent from the Cross

Rosso Fiorentino painted this Descent from the Cross in 1521, a good ten years before he came to France at the invitation of King François. It was commissioned by the Company of the Cross of the Day, a confraternity of flagellants in the Italian city of Volterra. The starkness of the painting's composition, the unnaturalness of its lighting and colors, and the rawness of its emotion shocked contemporary viewers. It is rumored that Rosso, in the tradition of Albrecht Dürer, painted himself into the composition in the red-headed figure of the apostle John, who grieves his beloved Christ's death in the lower right corner.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Henry VIII's Prayer Roll

Here's a link to an interesting article about the discovery of a prayer roll, a long piece of parchment inscribed with Latin prayers and devotions, that a young Henry presented to one of his attendants and which bears an inscription in Henry's own handwriting. The scholar studying the prayer roll claims it is evidence that in his youth Henry was quite pious and traditional in his relationship with the Catholic church; it was only after the difficulties he faced obtaining his divorce from Catherine of Aragon that Henry turned hostile towards Rome. 

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Friday Snippet

I've been busy writing, so instead of a history post I'm going to share a snippet of my WIP. This is the opening of the fourth chapter; the characters are King François and his official mistress, the powerful Anne d'Heilly, Madame d'Etampes. Charles V is the Emperor; the Dauphin is the king's older son Henri; Orléans is François's third son, another Charles. Montmorency is the Grand Constable of France, one the king's chief advisors. 


Copyright 2009 by Julianne Douglas. All rights reserved.

François paced the length of her chamber like a caged lynx, their hurried coupling already forgotten. “You will not dissuade me, Annette. Despite our victories in the field, Milan yet proves elusive. Perhaps, as the connétable suggests, peace and friendship will garner what war has failed to win.”

He stopped before her and extended a hand. Anne worked the leather glove, stiff with embroidery, over his fingers and palm. His skin hardly quivered when she kissed the underside of his wrist.

“I have taken the first step. Today I granted Montmorency permission to approach the Spanish ambassador on the subject of a match between the Emperor and young Marguerite.” She felt his eyes on her face, watching for her response to this unforseen bit of news.

She managed to preserve her smile, though inwardly she cursed his impatience. “So soon?” She released his hand and reached for the other. “Queen Isabel died hardly two weeks ago, and by all accounts the Emperor loved her dearly. Might not this proposal signal an unfortunate disregard for his sentiments? You, of all people, should be mindful of that.”

François snatched his hand away, annoyed rather than dissuaded by this mention of his first wife's passing. He flexed the glove into place. “You find fault with the proposal? Charles is a king, and kings are able to separate matters of state from personal sentiment.”

"Are they?" she wanted to ask, but instead bent to retrieve the fur-bordered cape puddled on the floor. “It is not your proposal I question so much as the source from which it comes. No one but Montmorency himself would envisage such a scheme.”

François threw back his shoulders. “The connétable judges Charles’s overtures sincere and urges me to respond in kind. What better way to cement the peace than through a joining of our houses?”

Anne shook the cape out with snap. “Charles has already promised his own daughter to Orléans, with Milan as dowry.” The king stooped so she could swing the garment about his shoulders. “Marrying Marguerite would provide him the perfect pretext for releasing the infanta from this pledge. Milan would remain in imperial hands forever.”

François’s eyes narrowed as he considered this fearsome prospect. Encouraged, she cradled his face in her hands and drew his head down until their foreheads met. “Surely you understand what prompts Montmorency’s suggestion.”

“Suggestion?” François repeated, his hands seeking her waist.

She twisted out of his grasp, determined not to distract him. “Montmorency wants nothing more than to cheat Orléans out of the prestige and power of an imperial marriage. He won’t hesitate to quash Orléans’s prospects in order to further the Dauphin’s. And his own.”

François’s face clouded as he contemplated this slight to his favorite son. “Young Charles, ruling Milan with the blessing of the Emperor, does pose a serious threat to Henri’s eastern flank,” he admitted.

“Exactly. Montmorency is no fool. Knowing how your nobles favor Orléans over the Dauphin, he is loath to place young Charles in a position where he could easily be led astray.”

François laughed, a clear and hearty peal. “God’s blood, Annette, without a doubt your fancy runs wilder than Montmorency’s. The connétable but seeks to take advantage of the Emperor’s empty bed, not forestall a rebellion! Easier to snare the Hapsburg fox with a morsel like Marguerite than negotiate endlessly over the price of the infanta.” He reached out and pulled Anne close, nuzzling her neck. “You may be sure I’ll keep you close at hand when the Emperor draws nigh.”

She pushed away from his chest, certain she had misheard. “The Emperor comes to France?”


There's a lot of history and politics in this scene--I'd love to hear your thoughts on how I handled it. Too much information, too clumsily presented? This is only a draft, so I'd really appreciate feedback.