All posts by The Shenners

Author Interview: Livia Blackburne

I know I’m late, but here is the fourth and final interview for my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series, with Livia Blackburne, whose most recent book Rosemarked was one of my favorite reads of 2017. I’m dying for the sequel, Umbertouched, which comes out later this year (November 6th), but in the meantime, here’s a spoiler-free interview with Livia about Rosemarked and writing. 🙂

Synopsis of Rosemarked from Goodreads:

A healer who cannot be healed . . .

When Zivah falls prey to the deadly rose plague, she knows it’s only a matter of time before she fully succumbs. Now she’s destined to live her last days in isolation, cut off from her people and unable to practice her art—until a threat to her village creates a need that only she can fill.

A soldier shattered by war . . .

Broken by torture at the hands of the Amparan Empire, Dineas thirsts for revenge against his captors. Now escaped and reunited with his tribe, he’ll do anything to free them from Amparan rule—even if it means undertaking a plan that risks not only his life but his very self.

Thrust together on a high-stakes mission to spy on the capital, the two couldn’t be more different: Zivah, deeply committed to her vow of healing, and Dineas, yearning for vengeance. But as they grow closer, they must find common ground to protect those they love. And amidst the constant fear of discovery, the two grapple with a mutual attraction that could break both of their carefully guarded hearts.

This smart, sweeping fantasy with a political edge and a slow-burning romance will capture fans of The Lumatere Chronicles and An Ember in the Ashes.

Q: In YA, we always talk about the concept of “strong female characters,” and in fantasy, these tend to be warrior-types who literally kick ass. In Rosemarked, your main female character, Zivah, is a healer rather than a warrior. What do you think makes her strong, and what do you believe a healer’s perspective brings to the story?

A: I’m glad you made that observation! Writing Zivah the way I did was a deliberate choice after writing Midnight Thief, in which the main character  Kyra was a more traditional type of kick ass heroine. And while I love Kyra, with Rosemarked, I started thinking about other kinds of strength. What are other ways to change the world, if you are not able to beat up everyone you meet? And so, there’s Zivah. Physically, she’s very weak. In fact, she’s very close to death. But she’s smart. She’s worked hard to gain knowledge, and she’s savvy about applying it. She’s also determined, loyal, and brave.

Q: The Rose Plague is a very distinctive illness in how it manifests. Did you base it on any real life disease(s)?

A: The broad strokes of rose plague were inspired by leprosy. In fact, one of the main inspirations for Rosemarked was a play about the Hawaiian leper colony at Molokai. I was struck not only by the biological aspects of the disease, but the social emotional aspect aspect. It’s bad enough to develop a terminal illness. How much worse is it to have to deal with that illness in quarantine, apart from your family and everyone you love? For the specific symptoms of rose plague, I borrowed from a whole bunch of different diseases. Rashes, of course, are very common disease marker, and I also included some flu-like symptoms such as fever and delirium.

Q: Although Rosemarked is a fantasy novel, there are aspects of it that I could tell were grounded in science. Was your science background (Biochemical Science and Cognitive Neuroscience) helpful in writing this book, and if so, how?

A: Well, I did a lot of research into the history of medicine to find inspiration for the healing techniques used in the story, and my biochemistry background helped out a lot with that. Also, the story centers around a memory potion. While that potion is strictly fantasy, it is based on real neuroscience principles of memory. For example, the potion takes away your personal memories and your knowledge of the world, but doesn’t take away physical skills such as the ability to use a sword. This is very similar to actual incidences of amnesia, where people might forget ever learning to play the piano but still be able to play a minuet.

Q: One of the central conflicts of Rosemarked and Umbertouched is the colonial occupation of Dara and Shidadi people by the Amparan Empire. Are any of these cultures based on real life cultures?

A: None of the cultures map directly onto a real world culture. When I decided I wanted to write an ancient empire, I did look at the Persian empire as an example of how an empire might be run in that kind of time, with that kind of technology. And some aspects of the Persian empire did make it into the Amparan empire. For example, the importance of roads for transportation and communication, as well as a very cool military technique that appears in Umbertouched.

On the other hand, Ampara differs from Ancient Persia in many ways as well. Most notably, the Persian empire was actually quite good to the people it subjugated, so much so that sometimes their armies were welcomed as liberators. Anyone who reads Rosemarked, however, knows that the Amparan empire is anything but merciful.

There is some Asian influence, especially in the landscape of Monyar peninsula. One of the early Amparan surgeries described in Rosemarked was based on a real technique used in ancient India. And here’s a random bit of trivia, the basic philosophies of the Shidadi and Dara people stem from two sides of a Facebook debate about safety, liberty, and government overreach that scrolled across my news feed after the Boston marathon bombing. I wouldn’t read too much into the story about my own political views though. The story goes where it will.

Q: Rosemarked is your sophomore series. Has your writing process for this series changed from when you were writing Midnight Thief, and if so, how?

A: Midnight Thief was the first novel I ever completed, and I really had very little idea of what I was doing. A lot of things, like character traits, or world building, I kind of improvised as I went along. With Rosemarked, I was a lot more deliberate about planning beforehand. I spent a lot more time on world building. I thought a lot about what I wanted the story to be like, what I wanted the characters to be like, and what I wanted that I asked to be. Basically, I built a much stronger foundation and it saved me a great deal of time in revisions.


Livia Blackburned author headshot.jpg

New York Times bestselling author Livia Blackburne wrote her first novel while researching the neuroscience of reading at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since then, she’s switched to full time writing, which also involves getting into people’s heads but without the help of a three tesla MRI scanner. She is also the author of MIDNIGHT THIEF (an Indies Introduce New Voices selection), DAUGHTER OF DUSK, and ROSEMARKED (an Amazon best book of the month and YALSA Teens Top Ten Nominee).

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Author Interview: Henry Lien

Hi again! Today’s Taiwanese author interview is with Henry Lien on his debut middle grade fantasy novel Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword.

Peasprout Chen Future Legend of Skate and Sword

The synopsis from Goodreads:

Welcome to Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, where the blades are sharp and the competition is fierce. 

Peasprout Chen dreams of becoming a legend of wu liu, the deadly and beautiful art of martial arts figure skating. 

As the first students from the rural country of Shin to attend Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, Peasprout and her little brother Cricket have some pretty big skates to fill. They soon find themselves in a heated competition for top ranking. 

Tensions rise when the dazzling pearl buildings of the Academy are vandalized and outsider Peasprout is blamed for the attacks by her rivals … and even some friends. 

Now, she must uncover the true vandal to ensure peace between Shin and Pearl – all while becoming a champion.

Now, buckle-in for this in-depth interview!

Q: To start off, what is your favorite Taiwanese food? (You’re allowed to pick more than one.)

A: What a great question! Food is identity. I choose dan-dan mian (peanut butter noodle). It’s classically Taiwanese, naturally vegan, appeals to young and old, and serves as an eminently charismatic introduction to Taiwanese food. It makes an appearance in the second PEASPROUT CHEN book. In fact, there are a lot of cameos by Taiwanese food in the series.

Runner up would be a traditional Taiwanese breakfast spread with ride porridge, three kinds of pickled vegetables, simmered tofu, fried crullers, warm soy milk, etc. Truly the best breakfast in the world and I will fight, kill, and toss into the sea anyone who says different.

Q: Tell us a little more about Peasprout and the world of Pearl beyond what’s in the synopsis.

A: Peasprout is a huge personality. She is courageous, has a huge heart, is expressive (when she’s not reticent), is warm (when she’s not being icy), makes grand, gorgeous, generous gestures, says things that no one else says, does things that no one else thinks to do or has the guts to do. She is always the most original, most talented, most unforgettable person in the room. When you meet her, you will think about her later that day. She is also self-aggrandizing, deluded, extreme, a bit of a weirdo, and rather lonely. She’s pretty much me.

It was excruciating to write such a deeply flawed character based so candidly on myself while forbidding myself from shading her more flatteringly. However, writing this way was an exercise in a) learning to applaud the parts of myself that I am proud of while; b) gazing at my flaws fully and hideously lit; and c) accepting that I’m perpetually a work in progress and will probably die that way. Sigh.

Regarding the world of Pearl, I could go on and on. It’s a world where you can skate on any surface, any rooftop, handrail, balustrade, etc. The entire city was built to accommodate this fictional sport of wu liu, which combines figure skating with kung fu. The city is essentially a figure skating, kung fu amusement park. It was my own personal parkour course on a city-scale, my own private Disneyland built from a brain-scan of what I liked and cared about. I feel like joy is pretty thin in science fiction/fantasy and the world in general these days. I wanted to create a city that while far from perfect, was in one primary way an exuberant expression of pure joy.

Q: Why the name Peasprout?

A: I wanted a name that that was gender-neutral, equally adorable in English, Mandarin, and Taiwanese, didn’t actually exist, and had a lot of personality. I wanted something that was as rich in Chinese/Taiwanese flavor as the names that Tolkien made up to express essential Englishness in his works.

Q: Given the history and current presence of Asian Americans in figure skating, from Michelle Kwan and Kristi Yamaguchi to today’s Karen Chen, Nathan Chen, and Alex and Maia Shibutani, it feels appropriate to have an Asian ice skating story. Did any of these skaters influence or inspire your story?

A: Massive influence! I don’t feel equipped to make generalizations about why there is such a high representation of Asian Americans in the sport. However, Kwan and Yamaguchi had to both deal with a lot of misstatements and nonsense regarding their Asian heritage in media coverage about their performances, endorsements, etc. That unfairness influenced the book since Peasprout herself is an immigrant and a dawning awareness of unfairness in the world is a classic theme in middle grade fiction.

On a more fundamental level, it felt right to write an Asian skating story because I always saw figure skating as the soulmate of traditional wushu (kung fu).

Q: What kinds of research did you do for this story, if any?

A: I took figure skating and kung fu lessons and was appalling at both. I wrote a blog about it, actually. If you want a good laugh, here’s a link: http://henrylien.com/writer-suffers-devastating-injuries-while-researching-kung-fu-figure-skating-childrens-book/ Despite the farcical tone, it’s actually 99% true. Read it and laugh at my woe.

For the worldbuilding, I also did a tremendous amount of research about language, culture, history, international relations, the complex history among Taiwan, China, and Japan, marine biology, architecture, engineering, meteorology, fashion, puberty, culinary fads, superstition, and on and on and on. A lot of that is happening under the hood but there’s so much solid research supporting the book that I in fact don’t really consider it fantasy. The fantastical worldbuilding is actually just exaggerated/extrapolated real stuff. I deliberately set out to write a fantasy that had no magic because I wanted to show that culture and history are in themselves magic enough.

For the characters and the interpersonal dynamics, I spent a lot of time in conversation with women including my sister, my agent, my editor, beta readers, etc., to make the representation of girls diverse and realistic, since I was writing from outside my own lived experience. I particularly wanted to examine the oft-bandied generalization that girls are socialized to be more relational and to develop instant relationships, positive or negative, with every other girl in their social unit, which instinctively felt super-sweeping and super-binary. Whether or not there is truth in this generalization, I wanted to explore the idea that not all girls are like this, want this, or agree with this generalization. Appreciating the differences of opinion about this idea was one of the things I spent the most time on.

Q: What would you say has been the hardest part of writing Peasprout Chen?

A: This question is hard to answer because everything about this book was hard. Perhaps the hardest thing was the puzzle nature of the plot. I was determined to write a puzzle plot that was as ambitious as “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban” or “Abre Los Ojos”. The engineering required to pull off such a plot while staying mindful of all the other elements that go into a book while serving my particular plot’s unusual requirements for pacing, frequency of clues, scaling of transparency of clues to a vast age range of potential readers, passage of time in the book’s world (mapped onto a rigid academic schedule and seasons that don’t match with our world’s seasons but have plot impacts), number of pages elapsed, etc., while also making the book as enjoyable on a second read after you learn its secrets, all while striving for a feeling of effortlessness in the choreography of story elements, was a staggering amount of work.

Q: I went and listened to the podcast of Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters, which was posted on Asimov’s Science Fiction (links: Part 1, Part 2). According to your site, Peasprout Chen’s story is a sequel to this story but also the first in a trilogy of its own. Why did you choose to Peasprout Chen’s story as the start for the series?

A: “Pearl Rehab Colony” was always intended as a contained experiment, a sort of proof of concept for the larger series. It’s told from the POV of Suki, the villain of the Peasprout Chen series. As such, it was intended as an experiment to test my powers of empathy and ventriloquism. However, Suki’s head is a cramped, claustrophobic, forbidding place in which to situate a viewpoint. I don’t think readers would have been able to bear spending 360 some pages in the head of such a nasty person. Peasprout is quite the pill herself but a different sort of pill, one whose edges break off as it goes down, one that sweetens while being broken apart. In some ways, Peasprout’s story is not the story of a winner, but of a loser, and it takes a tenderer, more complex narrator than Suki to bear such things with dignity and beauty. I wanted a narrator that showed that being vulnerable was not incompatible with being strong.


Henry Lien author headshot

Henry Lien is a 2012 graduate of Clarion West, and his short fiction has appeared in publications like Asimov’s, earning multiple Nebula Award nominations. Born in Taiwan, Henry currently lives in Hollywood, California. Before becoming an author, Henry worked as an attorney, fine art dealer, and college instructor. His hobbies include vegan cooking, losing Nebula awards, and finding excuses to write and publicly perform science fiction/fantasy themed anthems. He is the author of Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword.

Author Interview: Fonda Lee

Hey everyone, sorry for the gap in posting. Today’s interview is with Fonda Lee. Aside from addressing more general writing questions, this interview will touch on the first book of her adult fantasy, Jade City, which came out late last year, as well as her YA science fiction duololgy that began with Exo and concludes with Cross Fire, which is coming out later this month on May 29th. For context, I’m giving y’all the summaries of the books. (There won’t be any spoilers in the interview.)

Exo and Crossfire take place in a future in which Earth is colonized by aliens called the zhree. Here’s the Goodreads summary for Exo:

It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip . But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one…

And the Goodreads summary for Jade City:

FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.
Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon’s bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

Jade City begins an epic tale of family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of jade and blood.

Now, for the actual interview!

Q: Unlike many aliens we see in sci-fi, the aliens in Exo and Cross Fire, the zhree, are very clearly non-humanoid. Are there any real life-forms that inspired their design?

A: I was very intentional about not making the zhree humanoid. There are so many humanoid aliens in science fiction because Hollywood has human actors; I don’t have that constraint as a novelist. I wanted the aliens to be truly alien, but they needed to have certain characteristics to satisfy the premise of humans and aliens coexisting and cooperating on a future colonized Earth. I made a list of what traits would make an alien race compatible with us; they would be land-dwelling, use vocal communication, and be intelligent tool users. I also knew, from all the research I did into space travel for my previous novel, Zeroboxer, that radiation and harsh conditions are a major barrier to astronauts. An alien species with natural body armor would have a huge advantage over us in creating a galactic civilization. So that’s how the zhree came about: I envisioned them sort of as six-limbed, armored land octopi.

Q: The main character of the Exo duology, Donovan, has a unique position of privilege within the zhree-dominated colonized society because of his father’s political influence and his own integration of zhree technology into his physiology to become more like the zhree. What made you decide to center his perspective exclusively as opposed to, or without the addition of, that of someone with less privilege or even someone in the anti-colonial organization Sapience, like Anya?

A: I’d read plenty of young adult dystopian novels in which the protagonists are rebels fighting oppression: The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc. They’ve become a staple of the category. It’s easy to root for and identify with a character who’s downtrodden and trying to forcibly overthrow an evil empire. It’s more challenging to understand and change the system from within. I love moral ambiguity in my fiction; I don’t want to make it easy for readers to identify good guys and bad guys (in fact, I never write them), because the real world is rarely so simple. If I’d written the book from Anya’s perspective, or written it in dual-POV, it would’ve been like a dozen other YA dystopian novels. Here’s the thing: the world is NOT dystopian from Donovan’s POV. In fact, it’s pretty darn good. Which goes to show that dystopia is all a matter of perspective. You could say that I wrote EXO and CROSS FIRE specifically as a way of challenging myself to make readers like, understand, and even root for, the “other side.” Donovan and his friends are good people who try to do what they believe with their own solid reasoning is truly right, which is to uphold the alien colonial regime. I want that to mess with reader’s heads.

Q: One of the hardest aspects of writing speculative fiction is avoiding excessive infodumps. How do you manage the balance between action/suspense and providing information on the world the characters inhabit?

A: One of the keys to seamless worldbuilding is to weave information into the narrative in a natural way. The story should keep plowing forward and readers should be able to absorb everything they need to know in context. This also means giving the characters opportunities to interact with the world and examine the backstory in a way that informs the reader, without it ever seeming to inform the reader. For example, I don’t open EXO with an infodump on how the aliens came to rule Earth. It’s not until about a third of the way through the book that Donovan happens to see some old footage of the invasion and that’s when the reader gets it, in an almost “oh, by the way” as the story progresses.

Q: I know you have a background in martial arts, which must be helpful for writing the action and combat scenes in your books. What advice do you have on writing such scenes for people who don’t have that background?

A: Don’t get caught up in the nitty-gritty blow-by-blow details. Action scenes have to have narrative purpose and emotional consequence for the characters; that’s the most important thing. That said, action scenes should have rhythm, freshness, and clarity. Don’t use the same old clichés, “Her heart was pounding,” or “He saw red.” Come up with better ways of conveying the sensations of the fight, and make sure the reader can clearly visualize what’s happening. Finally, there’s no substitute for research. That might be first hand (take martial arts classes, learn to safely handle weapons) or second hand (for me, that included watching a lot of live MMA, action movies, videos on YouTube, and seeking out good action and fight scenes in other books.)

Q: I’ve only gotten to read a small part of Jade City, but I got very distinct Taiwan vibes from some of the worldbuilding. I know you’ve mentioned Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Hawaii, Japan as influences on the worldbuilding for Jade City in another interview. Are there any parts of the setting based on very specific real life locations, e.g. a particular neighborhood, street, building you’ve seen or visited?

A: The city of Janloon in Jade City is very much a world entirely of my own imagination. Think of it like Wakanda in Black Panther; it’s a place very much formed out of real world cultures and geography and aesthetic cues, but it’s also magical and completely its own place. I want the reader to feel like this setting is familiar, but they shouldn’t be able to identify anything that’s obviously from our world. Even the brands of cars and motorcycles and guns are invented; but my goal was to render everything so specifically that it feels real.

Q: Your debut novel, Zeroboxer, was a standalone whereas Exo and Jade City are both the first books in series. How has your writing process for these series differed from your writing of Zeroboxer, if at all, and do you have any advice for writing multi-volume stories?

I’ll hopefully be able to answer this question in a few years! Right now, I’m in the thick of working on the Green Bone Saga, so the one thing that I can tell you is that writing a sequel comes with its own set of challenges and is just as hard as writing the first book. (Not least of all because of the more aggressive deadlines.) The only way that the writing process really differs is that I have to think further ahead. For example, as I’m writing the second book now, I’m thinking about how certain thing might have repercussions in the third book. And I have my eye not just on the story arc for this book, but for the entire series.


Fonda Lee photoFonda Lee is the author of the gangster fantasy saga Jade City (Orbit), a finalist for the Nebula Award and named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, and Syfy Wire, among others. Her young adult science fiction novels Zeroboxer (Flux) and Exo (Scholastic) were Junior Library Guild Selections and Andre Norton Award finalists. Cross Fire (the sequel to Exo) releases in May 2018. Fonda is a recovering corporate strategist, black belt martial artist, and an action movie aficionado living in Portland, Oregon. You can find Fonda online at www.fondalee.com and on Twitter @fondajlee.

Author Interview: Stephanie Chen

Hi everyone! Today’s author interview is with Stephanie Chen, author of Travails of a Trailing Spouse, an adult fiction book that was released earlier this year that is loosely based on the author’s experience moving to Singapore for the sake of her husband’s job.

Travails of a Trailing Spouse.jpg

The plot synopsis from Goodreads:

The adventure starts when Sarah’s husband, Jason, is offered a position at a university in Singapore. Sarah, a successful lawyer in the US, quits her job and the couple say their farewells, and, with their two children, fly off to a new country, a new condo, and a completely new life.

The country is easy enough to adapt to (though the prices of some things? Jaw-dropping!) and Sarah and Jason soon meet the other expats in the condo. There’s Carys, the teacher, and good-looking Ian; Ashley, who keeps her apartment freezingly air-conditioned, and Chad, her amiable husband; Sara, who, like Sarah and Jason, is Asian-American, and John, who travels often for work. The couples form a close-knit group, and their evenings are soon filled with poolside barbecues, Trivia Nights, dinners, drinks and more drinks.

But is it time to put the brakes on the craziness when Jason and Chad are arrested after a pub brawl? Why, with such a fantastic lifestyle, is Sarah starting to feel listless? When will Sara’s brave front finally crack? Who’s that woman in the lift with Ian? And what secret is Carys keeping from her friends?

Not a simplistic novel of one-dimensional characters, Travails of a Trailing Spouse will strike a chord with anyone, expat or not, who has ever found life more interesting, complicated, frustrating and, ultimately, deliciously rich than could ever have been imagined. 

Q: To start off, I just wanted to ask what your favorite Taiwanese food is, and what are some of your favorite dishes in Singaporean cuisine?

A: Besides boba (duh), I love Taiwanese breakfast – 蛋餅 dan bing (egg pancakes), 燒餅油條 shao bing you tiao (fried dough stick in flatbread), 豆漿 dou jiang (soy milk), 蘿蔔糕 luo bo gao (turnip cake). My mouth is watering as I write this!

In Singapore, their version of turnip cake – or “carrot cake”, as they call it here – is also delicious. Called by the Hokkien pronunciation, 菜头粿 chai tow kway, it consists of stir-fried cubes of turnip cake mixed with scrambled eggs and crunchy 菜脯chai poh (preserved radish).

Q: Since, like your main character, you moved to Singapore from the U.S., it’s not hard to see that your novel is partially inspired by your personal experiences. What are some less obvious inspirations for your story?

A: While a lot of the book was drawn from my own life, some of the stories were “ripped from the headlines,” accounts that were reported in the local news that I thought were interesting enough to become part of a bigger novel.

Q: The word “expat” is often associated with white people in majority nonwhite countries. Since you’re an Asian person moving to a majority Asian country, did you ever get mistaken for a local when you first moved to Singapore? Does your book touch on this experience at all?

A: When I moved to Singapore, I thought, actually, that we would have a very local experience. We enrolled our children in local school, shopped at the local markets, etc. What I didn’t realize, however, was that because Singapore has such a large expat community, we immediately fell into the “expat crowd”. The book does touch on this when the main character attends an evening outdoor event and realizes that the entire park is filled with expats – she feels self-conscious as an Asian among the mostly Caucasian crowd, even though they are in Asia.

Q: Like Taiwan, there are lot of people of Hokkienese origin in Singapore. Did you have any déjà vu-like moments when you first moved, where things felt familiar despite being new?

A: Whenever I hear Taiwanese/Hokkien, I always turn my head towards it! There’s a familiarity about it that gives me comfort, although I usually get a strange reaction from taxi drivers or at the markets when I speak in Taiwanese to them!

Q: Did you have any particular people you used for the appearances of your characters? Alternatively, if your book became a movie like Crazy Rich Asians, who would you cast as Sarah and Jason?

After Constance Wu is finished with Crazy Rich Asians, I’d think she’d make a great Sarah Lee! For Jason – Ken Leung from Lost, maybe?

Q: What is your favorite aspect of writing or being a writer?

A: For me, writing fiction is really liberating; I think I’ve always been a bit of an embellisher, and now I have an outlet for that!

Q: Lastly, have you considered writing a book about Taiwan?

Yes, for sure, it’s on the list of book ideas! My father has also written a novel, called 優美的南台灣 (Beautiful Southern Taiwan) so perhaps I could do a translation of that someday – I would really have to improve the level of my Chinese, however!


Stephanie Chen author headshotStephanie Suga Chen is the author of the Straits Times bestselling novel, Travails of a Trailing Spouse (Straits Times Press, 2018).  She is a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a former partner of a New York City-based private investment fund. A proud Taiwanese-American, Stephanie grew up in Michigan and moved to Singapore in 2012 with her husband, two children and elderly cocker spaniel.

 

 

 

 

 

Announcement: 2018 Asian Lit Bingo Reading Challenge & Taiwanese American Heritage Week Author Interviews

Hey everyone! It’s May again, which means it’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. I’m a bit late to announce this here, but the month-long Asian Lit Bingo reading challenge I founded and co-hosted last year in May for APAHM has made a comeback this year.

In case you don’t know, the activities my blogger friends and I organized for Asian Lit Bingo last year evolved into a permanent coalition to uplift Asian voices in publishing called Lit Celebrasian, which has its own Twitter and WordPress blog. The Asian Lit Bingo reading challenge information post for this year is on the Lit Celebrasian blog instead of here. While May is almost halfway over, it’s not too late to sign up and participate in Asian Lit Bingo for a chance to win book prizes!

In addition, I decided to renew my Taiwanese American Heritage Week author interview series I hosted last year with a fresh set of Taiwanese authors. The interviews will be posted throughout this week, which is Taiwanese American Heritage Week (officially designated as the week following Mother’s Day). If you want to read the interviews with last year’s featured authors, you can find the links to them below:

Review for The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker

Summary: Frances has many ideas for making fabulous dresses but no outlet to express her creativity. Through a stroke of good luck, she secures a job as a secret seamstress to Prince Sebastian. The prince wears the dresses Frances designs while going by the name of Lady Crystallia and quickly becomes a fashion icon in Paris, garnering recognition for Frances’ designs. Over time, the two become good friends and develop romantic feelings for one another. However, their happiness is threatened when they are pulled in different directions, Frances by her ambitions to work in a position where her name is known to the public, and Sebastian by their filial duty to marry as the royal heir.

Review:

When I first heard about the idea for this graphic novel and saw preliminary design sketches on Tumblr a few years ago, I was so impatient for it to be released. Now I’ve finally read it! If you saw my Goodreads review, it was basically me crying about my love for this book. Initial impressions aside, I have conflicting feelings about the book that I’ll elaborate on below.

The Good/Great:

The plot made for a great coming-of-age story, with the characters’ desires and growth at the forefront. I’ll admit I’m biased in being drawn to and loving the story because Sebastian is trans (there weren’t specific labels mentioned in the book, but genderqueer and trans femme seem to fit the best from what I gathered) and there are so few trans characters in YA. Watching Sebastian transition and become comfortable presenting as a girl was super heartwarming for me as a trans and genderqueer person. Frances’ arc in developing her creative/artistic talent was likewise relatable to me as someone who writes and draws and wants to be a published author. Jen Wang’s art style is a combination of cute and elegant and really makes the whole experience a visual treat.

The Not-So-Good:

It partially follows the template of a typical trans acceptance narrative. While Frances and Sebastian’s manservant have no problem accepting and respecting Sebastian’s gender from the beginning, the same can’t be said for other characters. Sebastian being closeted and fearful of rejection and disgust from their parents as well as the public drives the primary conflict in the story. This isn’t automatically bad, but it’s part of a broader trend of cis authors putting trans characters through some rough situations that aren’t always handled very well in execution.

TW: outing of a trans character

There is a scene where Sebastian is publicly outed by another character who pulls off their wig while they are presenting as a girl, which results in a confrontation involving the king and queen that is pretty emotionally devastating. My issue with this scene is that forcibly outing characters, especially as a humiliating spectacle, is really overused for dramatic effect by cis authors, who may not realize how hurtful the experience can be for trans readers. It happens so much that I am desperate for more stories where trans characters are able to come out on their own terms.

Conclusion: While the the characters are endearing, the art is lovely, the ending is a happy one all around, and the overall message is hopeful for trans/non-binary people, trans/non-binary readers who choose to pick this up should take care while reading in the second half since the outing/confrontation scene is potentially triggering.

Time Bubble Tag

I found this tag through Wendy @ What the Log Has to Say and it was created by The Book Loving Pharmacist.

Here’s the premise of the tag: Picture this, you’ve encountered a bubble or portal which, if you step through, can manipulate the time inside. With this, you can read all the books you want and when you step out of the bubble, no time has passed in the real world. You can finally make time for all those books you’ve been ignoring. So, now that you’ve stepped through the time bubble, answer the following questions:

  • What book(s) (or audiobook) have you been meaning to read for a long time but haven’t gotten around to reading:

There are a bunch of backlist titles that I’ve had on my TBR for well over a year that I really need to read. Here are a few series by Asian authors that I’ve been meaning to read.

Gates of Thread and Stone and The Infinite by Lori M. Lee

Dualed and Divided by Elsie Chapman

Born Confused and Bombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier

  • A book you’ve been meaning to reread but haven’t:

His Dark Materials Omnibus

I want to reread His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman since The Book of Dust came out last year, and it’s been a really long time since I’ve reread the series. I own the omnibus edition pictured above.

  • A book from a genre you don’t normally read but have been meaning to try and give it a chance:

Jade City

Jade City by Fonda Lee. I want to read more adult fantasy since I’ve mostly stuck to YA. I’ve read and enjoyed Fonda Lee’s YA books, so I’m hoping Jade City will be my thing.

  • A series you’ve been wanting to read but haven’t because of how long it is:

crown-of-stars

The Crown of Stars series by Kate Elliott. Each individual volume is massive and there are seven books total. 😰

  • A book you wish you could go back in time and read for the first time:

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. The way everything falls into place as the plot progresses is so beautifully done that I wish I could go back to experience that suspense for the first time again.

  • Book recommendation you’ve been putting off:

Coffee Boy, Peter Darling, and Caroline’s Heart by Austin Chant. I think it’s because they’re ebooks and I’m terrible about reading the ebooks I have.

March and April 2018 MG/YA Releases by POC/Indigenous Authors

Disclaimer: These are all of the ones I know of, not all of the ones that exist! Also if I’m wrong about any of the descriptions/categorizations feel free to drop a comment. Detailed synopses can be found by clicking the hyperlinks in the titles, which redirect to the books’ Goodreads pages. 🙂


  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (March 6th) – YA, Contemporary, Novel-in-Verse, Afro-Latina Dominican(?) MC, Own Voices
  • Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha #1) by Tomi Adeyemi (March 6th) – YA, Nigerian-inspired Fantasy, Black MC, Own Voices
  • The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (March 6th) – MG, Contemporary, biracial Korean American MC, Own Voices
  • The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (March 6th) – MG, Historical Fiction, Multifaith Muslim/Hindu Indian MC, Own Voices
  • The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi (March 6th) – MG, Contemporary, Afghan American MC, Own Voices
  • After the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay (March 6th) – YA, Contemporary, MCs of Color (one Black, one biracial but exact ethnicity I’m not sure of)
  • The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk (March 6th) – YA, Contemporary, Black MC with Anxiety (Own Voices for both?), Korean American Adoptee MC, Queer White MC
  • Lies That Bind (Anastasia Phoenix #2) by Diana Rodriguez Wallach (March 6) – YA, Mystery/Thriller
  • Restore Me (Shatter Me #4) by Tahereh Mafi (March 6th) – YA, Dystopian
  • The Final Six by Alexandra Monir (March 6th) – YA, Science Fiction
  • Fire Song by Adam Garnet Jones (March 13th) – YA, Contemporary, Gay Indigenous MC (author is Cree/Métis), Own Voices
  • Like Vanessa by Tami Charles (March 13th) – MG, Historical Fiction, Black MC, Own Voices
  • The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (March 20th) – YA, Contemporary Fabulism, Biracial White/Taiwanese American MC (Own Voices for Taiwanese but not biracial)
  • Along the Indigo by Elsie Chapman (March 20th) – YA, Fabulism, Biracial White/Chinese MC (Own Voices for Chinese but not biracial rep)
  • Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles (March 20th) – YA, Contemporary, Black MC, Own Voices
  • The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch #2) by Rin Chupeco (March 20th) – YA, Fantasy, Secondary World POC MC
  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (March 27th) – MG, Mystery, Black MCs, Own Voices
  • Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender (March 27th) – MG, Contemporary Fantasy/Horror, Queer Black MC in the Virgin Islands, F/F Romance, Own Voices
  • The Place Between Breaths by An Na (March 27th) – YA, Contemporary, Korean American MC, Own Voices
  • Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book is a Classic (Cilla Lee-Jenkins #2) by Susan Tan (March 27th) – MG, Contemporary, Biracial White/Chinese American MC, Own Voices
  • Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi (March 27th) – YA, Contemporary, Korean American MC, Own Voices
  • Aru Shah and the End of Time (Pandava #1) by Roshani Chokshi (March 27th) – MG, Fantasy, Indian American MC, Own Voices
  • Damselfly by Chandra Prasad (March 27th) – YA, Contemporary, Biracial White/Indian American MC, Own Voices
  • Love Double Dutch by Doreen Spicer-Donnelly (April 3rd) – MG, Contemporary, Black MC, Own Voices
  • Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl (Jasmine Toguchi #3) by Debbi Michiko Florence (April 3rd) – MG, Contemporary, Japanese American MC, Own Voices
  • Rebound (Prequel to The Crossover) by Kwame Alexander (April 3rd) – MG, Contemporary, Novel-in-Verse, Black MC, Own Voices
  • Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (April 3rd) – YA, Historical Fantasy/Alternate History, Black MC, Own Voices
  • Isle of Blood and Stone (Isle of Blood and Stone #1) by Makiia Lucier (April 10th) – YA, Fantasy
  • Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert (April 10th) – YA, Contemporary, Gay Chinese American MC (Own Voices for Chinese American rep)
  • You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly (April 10th) – MG, Contemporary, MCs of Color(?)
  • Sunny (Track #3) by Jason Reynolds (April 10th) – MG, Contemporary, Black MC, Own Voices
  • The Lost Kids (Never Ever #2) by Sara Saedi – YA, Fantasy
  • Running Through Sprinklers by Michelle Kim (April 17th) – MG, Contemporary, Biracial white/Korean MC, Own Voices
  • Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (April 17th) – MG, Fiction, Black MC, Own Voices
  • Krista Kim-Bap by Angela Ahn (April 18th) – MG, Contemporary, Korean Canadian MC, Own Voices
  • Inferno (Talon #5) by Julie Kagawa (April 24th) – YA, Fantasy
  • Trouble Never Sleeps (Trouble is a Friend of Mine #3) by Stephanie Tromly (April 24th) – YA, Contemporary

And that’s the end! I do roundup posts like this bimonthly (I started in July 2017, skipped November-December 2017 due to lack of time/smaller volume of releases), so check back in late April/early May for the May and June releases. 🙂

These posts take a lot of time and effort on my part, and I’m not paid by anyone for the labor. If you have a little money to spare, you can donate to my ko-fi: www.ko-fi.com/theshenners.

January and February 2018 MG/YA Releases by POC

I don’t about the rest of y’all, but I am so ready for 2017 to be over, not only because it’s been a hell year but also because 2018 has so many great kidlit releases in store for us. If you would like to greet the new year by being hit in the face by a bunch of awesome middle grade and young adult books, you’ve come to the right place. Below I’ve compiled a list of 28 MG/YA books by POC and anthologies including POC that are releasing in January and February. (Special thanks to Aimal at Bookshelves and Paperbacks for making me aware of King Geordi the Great. Her Ultimate Guide to Diverse YA Books Releasing 2018: January – June includes diverse books of all kinds and is an excellent reference.) Note: Links redirect to Goodreads. 🙂

  • Meet Cute edited by Jennifer L. Armetrout (January 2nd) – YA anthology – authors of color included: Dhonielle Clayton, Nina LaCour, Nicola Yoon, Ibi Zoboi
  • Someone to Love by Melissa De La Cruz (January 2nd) – YA, Contemporary, biracial Mexican American MC
  • Chainbreaker (Timekeeper #2) by Tara Sim (January 2nd) – YA, Fantasy/Steampunk, Queer MC and biracial Indian MC, own voices
  • Black Panther: The Young Prince by Ronald L. Smith (January 2nd) – MG, Superhero, Black MC, own voices
  • A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi (January 23rd) – YA, Contemporary, Syrian refugee MC
  • Markswoman (Asiana #1) by Rati Mehrotra (January 23rd) – YA(?), Asian-inspired Fantasy, Secondary world Asian MC
  • I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan (January 25th) – YA, Contemporary, Muslim Pakistani MC, own voices
  • The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos (February 1st) – YA, Contemporary, MC of color (race/ethnicity unknown)
  • Shadowsong (Wintersong #2) by S. Jae-Jones (February 6th) – YA, Fantasy, Bipolar MC (own voices)
  • American Panda by Gloria Chao (February 6th) – YA, Contemporary, Taiwanese American MC, ownvoices
  • Checked by Cynthia Kadohata (February 6th) – MG, Contemporary
  • Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi (February 6th) – YA, Contemporary, Iranian American MC, own voices
  • The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (February 6th) – YA, Fantasy, Black MC, own voices
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (February 13th) – YA, Historical Fiction, Graphic Novel
  • Prettyboy Must Die by Kimberly Reid (February 13th) – YA, Contemporary/Thriller, Black MC, own voices
  • Blood of a Thousand Stars (Empress of a Thousand Skies #2) by Rhoda Belleza (February 20th) – YA, Science Fiction/Fantasy
  • Pitch Dark by Courtney Alameda (February 20th) – YA, Science Fiction/Horror, Latina MC, own voices
  • A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena (February 27th) – YA, Contemporary, Indian MC, own voices
  • The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani DasGupta (February 27th) – MG, Fantasy, Bengali MC, own voices
  • All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages edited by Saundra Mitchell (February 27th) – YA anthology, authors of color included: Malinda Lo, Anna-Marie McLemore, Nilah Magruder, Alex Sanchez, Sara Farizan, Tehlor Kay Mejia
  • Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration edited by Rose Brock (February 27th) – YA nonfiction anthology – authors of color included: Atia Abawi, Renée Ahdieh, Howard Bryant, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, I.W. Gregorio, Marie Lu, Jason Reynolds, Aisha Saeed, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Jenny Torres Sanchez, Nicola Yoon

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Review for Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Note: My review is based on the ARC I received in exchange for an honest review.

My Summary: Xifeng’s aunt, the witch Guma, has raised her for a great destiny. She is chosen by a god to rise to the throne of Empress of Feng Lu. However, ambition has its price, and Xifeng must make some tough decisions as she grapples with a dark power growing inside her.

Review:

I don’t consider myself a huge fan of villain stories in general, but this one definitely left an impression on me. Xifeng’s complexity as a character won me over. They say a villain is the hero of their own story, and that is definitely true for Xifeng. The early stages of her journey are not far off from a hero’s journey, but the choices she makes ultimately cements her role as a villain.

Xifeng starts out as an underdog of sorts, mistreated by her aunt with her only consolation being the promise of a grand future. Her struggle to break free from Guma’s grip is one most would sympathize with. However, even after Xifeng leaves behind Guma physically, her psyche still carries that history with her, thus shaping her later developments.

The romantic subplot was refreshing to me because Wei’s role as a love interest departs from the usual narrative in that he becomes and obstacle to Xifeng’s goal rather than the goal she aspires to. Though they have a long history together, and Xifeng genuinely cares for Wei, the futures they each imagine tug them in different directions, creating tension. This conflict struck me as being very true to real life and the kind of challenges that couples face when weighing individual interests against the benefits of being together.

Another key player in Xifeng’s complex psychological landscape is the figure of the current Empress of Feng Lu, who is at once a rival/obstacle to her goal but also a source of comfort and maternal affection. Though Xifeng puts on a show of good graces for the Empress as a ruse of harmlessness/benevolence, there is also a note of genuine emotional attachment that makes it difficult for her to view her relationship with the Empress in black and white terms and treat the Empress as completely disposable.

One of the things that really lent itself to Xifeng’s character arc is the power of internalized misogyny. Growing up with constant reinforcement that her physical appearance and beauty determine her worth, she is beholden to her fear of losing that, thus driving her to draw on her dark powers. The question of how much you’re willing to do in the quest to attain an ideal of beauty is salient in our world. In my view, Xifeng’s cunning, ambition, and perseverance make her a “strong female character” of sorts, but her choice to weaponize and play into oppressive beauty standards for women in order to achieve her goals makes her a villain or anti-heroine rather than a traditional heroine.

I guess what made the book for me as a retelling was the filling in of major gaps in the original Snow White story and the twists on the familiar figures from the original tale. The Evil Queen appears out of nowhere and has little purpose except to function as an antagonist, so building up her background and her ascent to power satisfied that curiosity of she is at the core besides an archetypal Bad Guy. It also created a great setup for the other half of the story (book 2), which centers on Snow White’s character and chronicles Xifeng’s fall from grace, so to speak.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for an antiheroine to rival Adelina in The Young Elites, Xifeng is your girl. Highly recommended for fantasy and retelling fans.