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!


Rose Pressey said...

Wonderful interview. Can't wait to read the book. Congratulations again, Cindy!

Susan Higginbotham said...

Great interview! But I confess I'm curious about one thing: is the novel written in all lower case, like the answers in this interview, or is it just how Pon types to avoid hand strain, perhaps?

cindy said...

thank you rose!

susan, that's just me and my odd email / online blogging quirk. do not worry, the novel is not written this way. haha! =D and you win a lotus bookmark! =D

and of course, rosey too! <3

Dara said...

Great interview!

I was going to get the book today but none of the stores around here have it in stock! Gonna have to keep looking :)

Dara said...

P.S. Did I post in time to get a bookmark? Not sure since the comments don't post until after they're approved.

I hope so! :) It looks lovely!

Michelle Moran said...

What a wonderful review!!!! I pre-ordered mine on Amazon and my impatience for it to arrive is increasing!

Julianne Douglas said...

Dara--I believe Cindy said Borders is not stocking it (since she is a debut author), but Barnes & Noble is. Did you try there?

Both you and Michelle were one of the first five comments, so you qualify for the bookmark.

One more bookmark left to give away!

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks, Cindy! I'll look for the book--and I'm looking forward to my lotus!

Dara said...

I did check Barnes and Noble; the only one remotely close that doesn't say out of stock is in Cincinnati--a good hour's drive away.

I did call the local store and they said they have some on order, so perhaps in a few days...there are still local bookstore chains I have to try.

If all efforts are exhausted, I'll order online. :)

Shauna Roberts said...

Gosh, I was afraid I was going to be posting too late to get a bookmark, but I'm the fifth person, right? I hope so.

Very interesting interview, particularly because I struggled with some of the same issues in writing my historical Like Mayflies in a Stream (not yet published), which has its roots in the Gilgamesh epic, and I had to take all the paranormal elements out or provide a logical explanation.

Congratulations, Cindy! I look forward to reading your book. It sounds fascinating.

lucyp said...

Yay, Cindy! It is so inspiring to see your success. And I enjoyed the interview --- I have in mind a more fantastical medieval novel, so I'm looking forward to reading how you handle it in China.

Julianne Douglas said...

Rose, Susan H, Dara, Michelle, and Shauna, please be sure to email Cindy your addresses so she can forward you a bookmark.

Thanks, Cindy, for checking back in with us!