Category Archives: Interview

Author Interview: Gloria Chao

For Day 5 of Taiwanese American Heritage Week, I interviewed Gloria Chao, whose third YA novel, Rent a Boyfriend, releases November 10th, 2020! This is her second time being interviewed on my blog. If you’d like to read the old interview about her debut novel, American Panda, click here.

Rent a Boyfriend

Synopsis:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda.

Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents.

Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him.

When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community.

But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?

Interview:

Q: How does it feel to have your second novel published? What lessons have you learned since your debut?

It’s such an honor to have two books out in the world. When I started this journey, I barely allowed myself to dream of having one book published, let alone two, and I’m thankful every day that I get to do this job. Thank you to all my readers for helping to make this happen!

Since my debut, I’ve learned to (and am still learning to) focus on the writing. A lot of the publishing journey is out of the author’s control, but the one thing I can control is the work I produce and how I feel about it.

Q: Now that you’re on your way to publishing your third novel, has your writing process changed at all since you were writing your first? If so, how?

My writing process has changed a lot over the years. While my debut required years of rewriting and restructuring, I drafted my third book in two months and the final stayed fairly close to the original. Part of it was because I had to—deadlines—but experience and working with my editor on multiple books also helped me be able to see my story better before I begin writing. Plus, I’ve learned (and again, am still learning) to trust my process more. Before, I used to feel like I had to put words on the page every day, but I actually work best when I spend a lot of time planning, then writing in big spurts. One thing that hasn’t changed is that when I start a new project, I still have that moment of, What’s a book? How have I done this before? And sometimes that can last weeks!

Q: Our Wayward Fate balances the humorous with the serious very well. How did you achieve that balance? Did you have to cut any scenes that felt wrong for the mood you needed?

Thank you so much! With American Panda, I had to do a lot more editing to balance the humorous and serious, and much of my rewriting was figuring out what to cut and what to rework. After putting a lot of time in during the first book, it came easier for Our Wayward Fate. I didn’t end up cutting scenes because of mood, but line edits did consist of amping up certain emotions and tamping down others.

Q: Our Wayward Fate contains quite a bit of funny dialogue and banter. Do you have tips for writing dialogue?

Thank you! I absolutely loved writing the banter between Ali and Chase in Our Wayward Fate. My tip for writing dialogue is to try to imagine the conversation being spoken aloud. I tend to draft dialogue without any tags so that the flow feels a little more natural, and then I go back later and add in who’s talking and what they’re doing. Another tip: even if an idea seems too wacky, write it down anyway and try to find a way to make it work. Sometimes it won’t work and you’ll end up cutting it, but other times it’ll lead to an unexpected and funny joke!

Q: Rent a Boyfriend features fake dating, which is one of many beloved romance tropes. What’s your favorite romance trope?

I love fake dating as well! That’s my favorite trope, and why I was so excited to write Rent a Boyfriend! I am also a fan of forbidden love, which has been an aspect in all three of my books (and, spoiler alert: I like for it to work out in the end!). And I am a huge fan of slow-burn romances. With lots of banter!

Also, I’m thrilled to be a part of an upcoming anthology, FOOLS IN LOVE, which will offer fresh takes on classic romance tropes. It’s edited by the fabulous Ashley Herring Blake and Rebecca Podos, and I’ll be writing the oblivious-to-lovers trope. I can’t wait to share that story with you all in 2021!

Q: If Chloe from Rent a Boyfriend had an Instagram account, what would her handle be and what kinds of photos/videos would she post?

Chloe’s Instagram handle would be @SnowyChloe. Even though she’s from Palo Alto (and a large chunk of the book takes place there), she’s a sophomore at the University of Chicago, and Chicago is where she feels most like herself.

She would post photos of herself around the gorgeous UChicago campus: studying at the stunning Mansueto Library (which was the Erudite headquarters in the Divergent movie!); getting boba tea and Kimchi nachos; walking through the Quad full of Gothic architecture resembling Hogwarts; and of course, taking classes at the economics building (Saieh Hall) that resembles a church, which, according to Chloe’s, is “fitting” because of how everyone in the department worships Becker and Friedman.

Q: According to your previous interview with me, like Chloe, you’ve had some experience with being set up with boys by your parents. Do you have any funny/memorable/awkward stories from those experiences to share?

In Rent a Boyfriend, Chloe’s parents want to set her up with their Asian community’s flagship bachelor, and, well, let’s just say I didn’t have to reach far for that storyline. The reasons weren’t exactly the same as in the book, but there is (unfortunately) a lot of truth to what’s written! In real life, my mother hadn’t met the guy she was trying to set me up with, but she knew his parents, and “since they were good, he must be good, too.” I had no interest because I was already dating my now-husband, but even if I wasn’t dating him, I have to say that her endorsement was not the most convincing. 😉

About the Author:

G.Chao--Author PhotoGloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American PandaOur Wayward Fate, and Rent a Boyfriend.

Her wayward journey to fiction included studying business at MIT, then becoming a dentist. Gloria was once a black belt in kung-fu and an avid dancer, but nowadays you can find her teaming up with her husband on the curling ice.

AMERICAN PANDA received four starred trade reviews, is a Junior Library Guild Selection and Indie’s Next Pick, and is a Seventeen MagazineBustlePopSugar, Chicago Public Library, and Paste Magazine Best YA Book of 2018.

Author Links:

Website – https://gloriachao.wordpress.com/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/gloriacchao

Author Interview: Cindy Lin

For Day 4 of Taiwanese American Heritage Week, I interviewed Cindy Lin about her middle grade fantasy series The Twelve. The second book and conclusion, Treasures of the Twelve, releases July 28th, 2020.

Synopsis:

Usagi can hear a squirrel’s heartbeat from a mile away, and soar over treetops in one giant leap. She was born in the year of the wood rabbit, and it’s given her extraordinary zodiac gifts.

But she can never use them, not while the mysterious, vicious Dragonlord hunts down all those in her land with zodiac powers. Instead, she must keep her abilities—and those of her rambunctious sister Uma—a secret.

After Uma is captured by the Dragonguard, Usagi can no longer ignore her powers. She must journey to Mount Jade with the fabled Heirs of the Twelve, a mystical group of warriors who once protected the land.

As new mysteries unfold, Usagi must decide who she stands with, and who she trusts, as she takes on deadly foes on her path to the elusive, dangerous Dragonlord himself.

Interview:

Q: What sparked the idea for The Twelve?

It happened to be Lunar New Year right around the time I was taking my first creative writing course, and so there was a lot of mention of how we were entering the year of the Ox. And my sister is born in the year of the Ox, as well as other friends and family, and I was struck by how we usually identify ourselves as the zodiac animal itself, like “I’m an Ox!” or “I’m a Tiger!” That got me to thinking — what if people actually had the power of the animal that ruled their year? Like, what if someone born in the year of the Ox had incredible strength? Or if a Tiger-born person had super keen night vision? It seemed like it would be a fun concept to explore and write about, and it was! But it took me a long time to figure out how to make it work in a way that made sense to me. I initially tried setting the story in our contemporary world, but in the end, setting it in an imaginary mythical time and place unlocked it for me.

Q: What is your zodiac animal and what powers would that give you in the universe of The Twelve?

My ruling animal is the Dog, and I made sure to include a character with dog powers in my books — more than one, actually! I gave them different talents associated with dogs, like a hyper-powerful sense of smell, and the ability to communicate with and command dogs. Other talents might be strong jaws and a fearsome bite, or the ability to hunt anything down. There are so many types of dogs that the possible talents are endless, but I definitely had to start with a super sensitive nose that could identify all sorts of things near and far.

Q: In the book, there are twelve legendary treasures, each with a special power. If they were real, which of these treasures would you want to possess, and what would you use it for?

I’ve asked myself that question a lot! One thing about power is that it usually comes with a price, so I wanted to make sure that the powers of the Treasures were tempered somewhat. As a writer you don’t want an object that gives you unlimited power without consequence, because what’s the fun in that? It’s always more interesting when there’s a catch and a downside to having power, I think. I feel like I already have one of the Treasures — my smart phone is a lot like the Mirror of Elsewhere, and I struggle with its pull all the time. I wouldn’t mind having the Conjurer — the hammer that grants you whatever you wish for (albeit for just a day). But at this moment, in the midst of a global pandemic, what I really want is the Apothecary — the pillbox that holds cures for ailments — as well as the Bowl of Plenty, which fills up with whatever you put in it. We could really use those two now.

Q: What was your favorite part about writing The Twelve?

All the fun I had doing research! I visited museums, read countless books on all sorts of topics, tried different sports (including kendo, or Japanese fencing, which ended up being so fun that I joined a dojo), and generally got to geek out. It was also really gratifying to put in little mentions of things that are meaningful to me. For example, though the island kingdom of Midaga is inspired by many different places, I did write in a little shout-out to where I lived in Japan (Stone River Province is in honor of Ishikawa Prefecture) and gave some locations the names of actual landmarks in Taiwan, where my family is from. I loved the feeling of discovery as I wrote, and I also met so many great fellow writers as I worked on The Twelve. When I started all this, I didn’t realize I would find such an amazing community and kindred spirits.

Q: What was the hardest part about writing The Twelve?

Not knowing what I was doing, as it was my first attempt at writing a novel! It was hard to eke out a sentence, a paragraph, a page for the first time, and wonder if I could string together enough to make a coherent long-form story. It took many tries and many versions, and a lot of lost sleep and sacrifice. I wrote when I was on vacation with family, I got up early before my day job to write, I wrote in the middle of the night and wouldn’t get to bed until dawn — it was like I was possessed. I couldn’t not do it, but I gave up a lot for it, and at the same time, I was riddled with doubt. That was hard to wrestle with. And writing itself is so solitary. That can be lonely at times. Rejection is also no picnic, though all of the difficult stuff really does make you better and stronger.

Q: Who is your favorite character in the duology and why?

Of course, I love my main character Usagi, as I’ve been carrying her with me for years. But I did find a couple of supporting characters surprisingly fun to write, and so I feel a lot of affection for them. One is the hermit, Yunja — I have a blast with him every time I bring him into the story. I also love the Tigress, because she’s like my personal Yoda. Honestly I love all my characters for different reasons, but I’ll stop with those three!

Q: Sequels and sophomore novels have a reputation for being difficult to write. Did you find Treasures of the Twelve, which is not only a sequel but the conclusion to a series, to be a challenge compared to the first book?

It was a challenge for sure, but in a different way from Book 1. I had to figure out how to develop things that I’d set up in the first book, and how to start the book in a way that wouldn’t be horribly confusing for anyone who hadn’t read The Twelve, but not too repetitive for those who had. I tried to balance introducing new ideas, places and characters with including familiar bits from Book 1. I also had to wrap things up in a satisfying way. And I had to do it all in a compressed time frame. It took me many years to write Book 1, and just a fraction of that for Book 2. That said, it helped that I had already spent so much time building the world of my story — it did make some things easier as I drafted Treasures of the Twelve. I kept reminding myself that other authors have written sequels for publication in consecutive years, so it was in the realm of possibility — but I definitely worried about pulling it off. Given the constraints of time, I did the absolute best I could, and take heart in the fact that my publisher gave it the green light. I think it goes to show that there’s nothing like a deadline to help kick you in the pants!


About the Author:

Cindy Lin author photoA former journalist with degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, Cindy Lin has worked for Sony Pictures Entertainment and has written and produced many multimedia news features for children, one of which received a Peabody Award. The Twelve is her debut novel.

Author Links:

Website: https://www.cindylinbooks.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cindylin_tweets

Author Interview: Ruby Lang

For Day 3 of Taiwanese American Heritage Week, we have an interview with romance author Ruby Lang on her recent novella House Rules!

House Rules

Synopsis:

ROOMMATE WANTED to share a gorgeous sun-filled apartment in Central Harlem. Must love cats. No ex-husbands or wives need apply.

Seventeen years ago, different dreams pulled Simon Mizrahi and Lana Kuo apart. But when Lana takes a position as a chef back in Manhattan, her apartment search puts her right in her ex-husband’s path. Music teacher Simon is also hunting for a new place to live, and when Lana proposes they be platonic roomies, well…it’s not the worst idea he’s ever heard.

A sunny uptown two-bedroom sounds far more appealing than the cramped, noisy space where he’s currently struggling to work. Still, Simon has seen firsthand that Lana’s a flight risk, so he agrees on a trial basis.

Three months. With strict boundaries.

Living together again feels wonderfully nostalgic, but when the ex-couple’s lingering feelings rise to the surface, the rules go out the window.

Of course, chemistry was never their problem. But while Simon’s career feels back on solid footing, Lana is still sorting out what she wants. With their trial period soon coming to an end, they’ll have to decide if their living arrangement was merely a sexy trip down memory lane or a reunion meant to last.

Interview:

Q: Where did you get the inspiration for House Rules and the Uptown series?

House Rules, a second-chance contemporary romance about exes who end up living together once again because New York City rent is too damn high, was inspired by stories about the desperate things we do to find apartments in expensive metro areas.

The book is part of the Uptown series, my contemporary romance trilogy about love, real estate, and adulting, which I was prompted to write while walking around in Harlem. Harlem is a sprawling neighborhood in Manhattan with such an amazing history—it’s especially rich in Black history. It’s a great place to eavesdrop on conversations and the architecture is gorgeous. But the neighborhood has been gentrifying. So I wanted to write some small, intimate stories about ordinary people in that context.

Now, of course, I miss those long, aimless walks. I miss the chatter.

Q: If Lana and Simon from House Rules used Twitter, what would their Twitter handles be, what would they put in their bios, and what kind of content would they Tweet, respectively?

Lana would be @lananoodle. On her Twitter, she would only post links to Instagram. Her IG is pictures of food, plants, her cat, and sometimes scenes from the classroom where she teaches noodle making.

Simon will be @Mizrahi0905214. His profile photo is a blank and he’s only ever retweeted announcements from the college where he teaches, and that was 2 years ago. He follows 5 people and is followed by 2—both of whom are his interns.

Q: What’s your favorite romance trope to write?

I love writing enemies-to-lovers, probably because what I enjoy most working on banter. Even if characters are on opposing sides, the tension of having them match their wits against each other is always so fun to write, and read.

I love that contradiction of characters being at their worst but also being at their best, cleverest, funniest, sharpest, quickest with each other. I love the sense of play that often comes out when characters spar. I love showing readers what makes these people tick though the way they talk.

Q: If you could go on a date (platonic or romantic) with one of your characters, who would you pick (name and which book they’re from), what would you do/where would you go, and why?

Oh, wow! The idea of going out anywhere at all these days is pretty nice. But I’d definitely want a friend date with Lana and Simon. I’d try her hand-pulled noodles and maybe we’d all listen to music together.

Q: Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in between?

I’m a little bit in between! I often will write most of an outline, come to a section in the plot that seems too complicated to figure out, give up on mapping out the story, and then start writing the actual manuscript. And then I’ll often end up going off the path, get lost in the weeds, and get to an ending in a completely different way than anticipated. I’ll also write snippets of dialogue, absolutely sure they’ll fit in at some point, and totally forget about them.

Q: What advice would you give to inexperienced writers for crafting a compelling romance?

Characters first! Always think of the characters, what they think they want, what they actually want, and how that all comes into conflict. I think that some people think that romance is a genre of pure wish fulfillment. (And that’s probably one of the many reasons why it often comes under fire.) But it’s more a genre about subjectivity and how people’s desires clash with expectations; writing romance means you have to have a firm grasp on what makes people tick.


About the Author:

Ruby Lang author photo

Ruby Lang is the author of the acclaimed Practice Perfect series. Her alter ego, Mindy Hung, wrote about romance novels (among other things) for The Toast. Her work has also appeared in The New York TimesThe WalrusBitch, and other fine venues. She enjoys running (slowly), reading (quickly), and ice cream (at any speed). She lives in New York with a small child and a medium-sized husband.

Author Links:

Website – http://www.rubylangwrites.com/

Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/RubeLang/

Author Interview: Victoria Ying

For Day 2 of Taiwanese American Heritage Week, I interviewed Victoria Ying, whose debut middle grade graphic novel City of Secrets releases July 28th, 2020!

City of Secrets

Synopsis:

Author Interview: Grace Lin

Hi, everyone! If you weren’t aware, it’s Taiwanese American Heritage Week, so in honor of the occasion, I’ll be posting a series of five author interviews and two book reviews focusing on Taiwanese authors and their books. This is the first, featuring middle grade and picture book superstar Grace Lin! Her two most recent releases are A Big Bed for Little Snow and Mulan: Before the Sword.

A Big Bed for Little Snow

Synopsis:

Little Snow loves the new big, soft bed Mommy made him for the long, cold winter nights. But Mommy says this bed is for sleeping, not jumping! What happens when he can’t resist jump, jump, jumping on his new fluffy, bouncy bed?

Mulan Before the Sword

Synopsis:

Family is important to Hua Mulan—even if her parents don’t understand why she would rather ride her horse, Black Wind, than weave, or how her notorious clumsiness can be so different from the graceful demeanor of her younger sister, Xiu. But despite their differences, Mulan has a deep love for her family, especially Xiu. So when her sister is bitten by a poisonous spider, Mulan does everything she can to help, including seeking out a renowned healer. However, it quickly becomes apparent that there is more to both the mysterious spider bite and the healer than meets the eye. On a quest with the Jade Rabbit of legend, Mulan visits extraordinary places, meets Immortals, and faces incredible obstacles while searching for an antidote for her sister. And the danger only rises when Mulan learns of a prophecy foretelling that a member of the Hua family will one day save the Emperor . . . and of the powerful enemies who will stop at nothing to prevent it from coming to pass.

Interview:

Q: Where did you get the idea for A Big Bed for Little Snow?

“A Big Bed for Little Snow” is a companion book to my book “A Big Mooncake for Little Star.” Both books are kind of my homages to classic picture books that I loved as a child, yet yearned to see someone that look like me—someone Asian—in. “A Big Mooncake for Little Star” is inspired by “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey and “A Big Bed for Little Snow” is inspired by “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats. They are my attempts at making American classic picture books featuring Asian faces, hopefully helping to show that we are also a part of the Americana.

Q: What art tools did you use for A Big Bed for Little Snow?

I’m still very old-fashioned in my art—I don’t use a computer.  I used pencil and paper to draw the sketches; paint and paintbrush to do the paintings. I use a kind of paint called gouache which is an opaque watercolor. For “A Big Bed for Little Snow” as well as “A Big Mooncake for Little Star” I did take photos of models in costumes. Because I was using the patterns on the clothes to articulate the character’s bodies, it was really important to get the folds correct.

Q: As an adult, how do you get yourself into the head of a young child to write a book from their point of view?

Well, I think I kind of have the mind of a child to begin with! Though, I have to admit having my own child has made it easier as well. When I see all the thing that fascinate her, hear all the questions she asks—it is fodder for books!

Q: Your most recent release, Mulan: Before the Sword, was an official collaboration with Disney. How much creative freedom did you get in writing the story? Were you the one who came up with the story’s premise?

I actually was given quite a bit of creative freedom, which was wonderful. They gave me the script and pretty much said I could write whatever I wanted as long as I didn’t contradict anything that happened in the movie. So, yes, I did come up with the book’s premise. It was such a delight to think up the backstory of some of the characters!

Q: I love the full cover spread for Mulan: Before the Sword. How long did it take for you to complete it?

A painting like that takes me about a week and a half, maybe two. It usually takes me about a week to do one spread in a book.

Q: So far all of your books have been for middle grade or younger audiences. Do you think you’ll ever write books for teens?

Well, you never say never, but I don’t see it in the near future. Maybe when my daughter hits the teenage years!

Q: Can you give us any hints for what’s coming next from you?

I’m working on another picture book! Right now it’s called “Once Upon a Book” and co-written with Kate Messner. It’s inspired by the Children’s Book Week poster I did for the CBC—I loved the image so much I wanted to do a book about it. At the time, I was so deep into writing Mulan that I couldn’t think of anything and asked my friends if they had any ideas. Kate did and, now, if I can get the illustrations done, it will be a book!


Grace Lin author photoBefore Grace Lin was an award-winning and NY Times bestselling author/illustrator of picturebooks, early readers and middle grade novels, she was the only Asian girl (except for her sisters) going to her elementary school in Upstate NY. That experience, good and bad, has influenced her books—including her Newbery Honor WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, her Geisel Honor LING & TING, her National Book Finalist WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER and her Caldecott Honor A BIG MOONCAKE FOR LITTLE STAR. But, it also causes Grace to persevere for diversity as an occasional New England Public Radio commentator and when she gave her TEDx talk “The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf,” as well as her PBSNewHour video essay “What to do when you realize classic books from your childhood are racist?.” She continued this mission with a hundred episodes of the podcast kidlitwomen* and now currently hosts two other podcasts: Book Friends Forever and Kids Ask Authors. In 2016, Grace’s art was displayed at the White House and Grace, herself, was recognized by President Obama’s office as a Champion of Change for Asian American and Pacific Islander Art and Storytelling.

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).

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Author Interview: Kathleen Burkinshaw

The last special guest for May Asian author interviews is Kathleen Burkinshaw. Her debut novel, The Last Cherry Blossom, was published just last year, and in this interview delve into the behind the scenes writing process for the book, which was based on Kathleen’s mother’s experience.

The Last Cherry Blossom

From Goodreads:

Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden from its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

SW: Please tell us a little about The Last Cherry Blossom beyond what the synopsis says.

Kathleen: The Last Cherry Blossom depicts the culture, mindset, and daily life during WWII before the bomb was dropped through the eyes of a 12-year-old-something that has not been done before.

My hope is not only to convey the message that nuclear weapons should never be used again; but to also reveal that the children in Japan had the same love for family, fear of what could happen to them, and hopes for peace as the Allied children had. I want the students/readers to walk away knowing that the ones we may think are our “enemy” are not always so different from ourselves. A message that needs to be heard now more than ever.

SW: I definitely agree since the othering of the “enemy” is constantly used to justify violence.

Aside from talking to your mother, what kinds of research did you do for this story? What was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned?

I had to search for books that were about daily life in Japan during WWII-not as easy when you need to find them written in English 😊 But I was lucky to find a couple out of print books on eBay. Also, my local library had some great resources.  In addition, the website for Hiroshima has some information on life during WWII in Hiroshima as well.

The most surprising and interesting piece of research happened while in Hiroshima. In July 2015, we went to honor my mom at the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. (Sadly, my mom had passed away in January 2015. Thankfully, she did know TLCB would be published and had read one of the drafts).  The most surprising information came while visiting with the librarians at the Memorial Hall. They kindly spent about 2 hours with me. I gave them my mother’s Hiroshima address and they showed it to me on a map from the early 1940’s.  My mother had always said she was over an hour from the center of the city. However, when we looked at it on the map she was only 2 miles away from the epicenter; much closer than what I had thought! To me, it’s a miracle that she survived considering how close she was to the epicenter.

Also, while there I realized the beauty of Hiroshima.  I had been so focused on the horrific destruction of August 6th itself.  But while we were there I saw the beauty of the sea, the mountains, and palm trees!  My mother always said she grew up in a beautiful place and I finally could see it through her eyes.  This came in very handy when I returned to my first round of edits from my publisher.  The visit to Hiroshima enhanced my descriptions in of Hiroshima before the bombing.

SW: I’m glad your trip surprised you in a good way and allowed you to connect to your mother’s feelings and memories. 🙂

Representing a culture that is unfamiliar to most readers is like an act of translation. Did you have any difficulties on this front while writing your book?

Kathleen: Yes, I wanted to be as true to the culture and time period as I could.  However, I needed to make it flow naturally. I spent a great deal of time working through this. One of the issues I had involved dialogue. The Japanese language has a polite form-especially at that time.  There are also no contractions when they speak.  So, I wanted to show that, but struggled with it sounding stilted.  I finally found a balance by using contractions and less formal conversation when Yuriko narrated and when speaking with her friends.  However, when a younger character spoke to an adult, or an adult was speaking to the younger character’s, it would be more formal and no contractions used.

SW: Making historical fiction both educational and engaging can be difficult. What techniques did you use to strike this balance?

Kathleen: Yes, it is very difficult. I tried to describe the historic information so it would flow with the story.  I didn’t want it to read like a report of Japan during WWII.  One of the reasons I used newspaper headlines, propaganda poster text, and radio slogans as chapter headings was to set the tone on what was happening and how it was reported. I wanted the story to be about the characters and their personal issues. The war would be part of the scenery in the world that these young girls happened to live in. I hope I came close to that balance for the readers. 😊

SW: Do you have any favorite historical fiction kidlit titles?

Kathleen: Yes, I do! I have too many to list them all.  But a few are: Kira-Kira and Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata. Two books that were inspirational to me were Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter and Eleanor Hill by Lisa Williams Kline.   Also from the 2016 debut authors- Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban.

SW: I have Kira-Kira and Weedflower on my shelf, but I still need to read them. Weedflower stands out to me in particular because it shows a Japanese girl prominently on the cover.

Although it doesn’t have a person represented in it, I honestly love the cover for The Last Cherry Blossom. Did you have any input on the design, and how did that process work?

Kathleen: Thank you! Katy Betz is the talented artist behind the stunning cover art. My editor asked me to make a mood board.  A few weeks later she sent me the cover art. I would have never come up with it (which is why I write and can’t draw), but from the moment I saw it I knew it perfectly represented beauty from the ashes.

SW: What would you say has been the most rewarding part of being a children’s author?

Kathleen: Meeting readers and students who tell me that my mother’s story taught them something they didn’t know about WWII, that her story inspired them, they think differently about nuclear weapons, and that they want me to write more books, touch my heart and amaze me so much.

Also, I’ve received emails from students/readers who didn’t like to read, but after reading The Last Cherry Blossom, they are interested in reading again! What could be a better compliment to an author?!

SW: That sounds lovely. I can’t wait to read and experience The Last Cherry Blossom for myself!


scbwisigningyay! (1)Kathleen Burkinshaw is a Japanese American author residing in Charlotte, NC. She’s a wife, mom to a daughter in college, and owns a dog who is a kitchen ninja.  Kathleen enjoyed a 10+ year career in HealthCare Management unfortunately cut short by the onset of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Writing gives her an outlet for her daily struggle with chronic pain. She has presented her mother’s experience in Hiroshima to middle schools for the past 6 years. She has carried her mother’s story in her heart and feels privileged to now share it with the world. Writing historical fiction also satisfies her obsessive love of researching anything and everything. The Last Cherry Blossom is a SCBWI Crystal Kite Award Finalist (southeast region) and 2016 Scholastic WNDB Reading Club selection.

You can find Kathleen online at kathleenburkinshaw.com and on Twitter @klburkinshaw1.