Welcome to the first in my author interview series for Taiwanese American Heritage Week! Throughout the week I will posting interviews with diaspora Taiwanese authors about their work. Today’s special guest is Cindy Pon! She’s making her sci-fi debut with Want, which releases June 13th. Before we get into the interview, let’s take a look at the beautiful cover of Want and the synopsis:
The cover art is by Jason Chan, who is a gift to Asian SFF. He also illustrated the covers for Heroine Complex and Heroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn, which are super kickass.
And the synopsis from Cindy’s website:
From critically acclaimed author Cindy Pon comes an edge-of-your-seat sci-fi thriller, set in a near-future Taipei plagued by pollution, about a group of teens who risk everything to save their city.
Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.
With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.
Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO.
Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart?
Now, on to the interview! My comments and questions are in bold and labeled “SW.”
SW: Since your book takes place in Taiwan, and food is essential to Taiwanese culture, I’ll have to ask about it. What’s your favorite Taiwanese food? (You are more than welcome to list multiple foods as I’m sure it is impossible to choose just one.)
Cindy: It IS impossible to choose. And there are always so many new Taiwanese eats, and I have not been able to visit enough. *crying* I do love stinky tofu. I prefer the soft tofu cooked in giant vats of spicy broth that singe off your eyebrows in the night markets. In fact, I wrote that into the beginning chapter of WANT. Ha! Other than that, anything sticky rice. I’m a sucker for it. Sticky rice intestines come to mind as well as migao. I’m drooling just thinking about it. I also love iced and fresh sugar cane juice, and fresh made bite sized mochi.
SW: I feel like a bad Taiwanese person for not liking stinky tofu. Sticky rice, on the other hand, is the best. And mochi is amazing, especially mochi ice cream! Now that we’ve gotten past the appetizer, let’s talk about the main course, which is your book. Want is your first venture into science fiction. Has your writing process for this book been significantly different from the process for your previous ones?
Cindy: I’m not sure if significantly different, but it was definitely different. It is my first novel written in the first person and in a contemporary teen boy voice. The research was more tech involved, and the whole book just challenged me a lot. Because of that, I decreased my daily writing goal from the usual 1k words to 500. I’m all about going easy on myself when it comes to writing and a lot of pats on my back for even the smallest victory. No one else is gonna cheer me on like I have to cheer myself on. Ha!
SW: Speaking of research… Writing a book that’s considered “own voices” means you’re writing about a character whose identity or experience you share in some way. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that no research is required. What kind of research did you do for Want: that is, for what topics, and what form did it take (e.g. reading, traveling, interviewing people, etc.)?
Cindy: I think my main form of research was actually going back to visit Taipei in 2013. It was a mother-daughter trip (with my mom), and it was lovely. I tend to naturally be a very sensory writer, and nothing is more sensory than to be on location of the place you are writing. I really wanted to bring Taipei alive in WANT—it was an ode to my birth city. In the end, I wound up using many locations in actual scenes of places I had visited. I had taken hundreds of photos, visually, everything can be an inspiration, a moment captured in time that I could relate to the reader. For me, it was a trip of a lifetime (seems strange to say because I was born there, but it was), and this book holds a very special place in my heart!
SW: I visited Taipei in both 2015 and 2016, and both times I took tons of pictures because there’s so much to take in. If I ever decide to write a book set in Taipei, I’ll probably already have half the hard work done. Which brings me to the next question… What would you say was the hardest part about writing Want?
Cindy: I would say the tech stuff, which thank goodness I had friends who could help me with, and also most definitely writing in first person contemporary teen boy voice. I can much more easily fall into the narrative voice of my Xia titles. Fantasy is what I have written for years and what I’m comfortable with. Grasping Zhou’s voice was a challenge, but when I did manage, I loved what I heard from him.
SW: You’ve mentioned in the past that you faced barriers in getting published because you wrote about Asians. Do you have any advice for aspiring Asian authors who are writing about Asians?
Cindy: F ‘em! 🙂 ha! Is that not good to say? Seriously though, it was a very personal choice on my part. And as a writer, and especially someone who wants to be published, you are going to be faced with hard and difficult choices all along your journey. I knew that I wanted to stay true to my stories and the characters in my head. I knew that I wanted to write what I loved and what drew me. Because writing is so damned hard already! And there are no guarantees in publishing. So why NOT write what you love? It’s too easy to lose your way in the craft as well as in the business. So my inner compass was always: Is this the story you want to tell? Are these the characters that matter to you? That simplified things for me.
SW: I’ll keep this in mind as I work on my own Asian stories. ^o^
Speculative YA seems to be your genre, but have you ever considered writing a contemporary YA? Contemporary YA could definitely use some more cute Asian boys. ;D
Cindy: #cuteasianboys 4evah! I always say never say never, but I honestly and truly cannot imagine NOT writing genre. I mean, I love to read to be whisked away, to be transported. It’s not that contemporary stories do not do that, it’s just that I want literally more magical journeys, I guess? So I don’t think I would? But again, never say never!!
SW: Well, if you ever do venture into contemporary, I will be first on the list of people demanding to read it! Now, for the last question. Do you have any hints as to what’s next after Want?
Well… I’m headed to Shanghai mid-May to do research for the sequel? I’m very excited about this trip. My first ever visit to China was in 2014 when I was asked to be the resident artist for a private school in Hangzhou. I was able to stay in Shanghai for just two nights, and the city totally captivated me. It just felt like the right location for the WANT sequel to take place. I won’t say anything else, other than I’m excited to write this story!
SW: Excuse me while I scream with excitement!!! I’m probably going to die waiting for more news about this sequel. But in the meantime, I’ll keep myself busy with a bunch of other amazing diverse books. Thanks a bunch, Cindy, for doing this interview! Can’t wait for my copy of Want to arrive! >o<
Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. Her most recent duology Serpentine and Sacrifice were both Junior Library Guild selections and received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. WANT, a near-future thriller set in Taipei, will be published by Simon Pulse in June 13th, 2017. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Learn more about her books and art at http://cindypon.com.
You can add Want on Goodreads here.
You can find Cindy on social media:
Cindy is doing a pre-order giveaway through her local indie bookseller, Mysterious Galaxy. If you pre-order Want from Mysterious Galaxy, you can get a signed and/or personalized copy of the book, and you’ll receive the following art prints:
a post card featuring illustration of Zhou and Daiyu by Jason Chan
and a peach blossom brush art card by Cindy herself