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Author Interview: Cindy Pon

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on May 18, 2009.


On the day of her first betrothal meeting--and rejection--Ai Ling discovers a power welling deep within her. She can reach into other people’s spirits, hear their thoughts, see their dreams. And that’s just the beginning.

Ai Ling has been marked by the immortals. Her destiny lies in the emperor’s palace, where a terrible evil has lived, stealing souls, for centuries. She must conquer this enemy and rescue her captive father, while mythical demons track her every step. And then she meets Chen Yong, a young man with a quest of his own, whose fate is intertwined with hers.

Here is a heart-stopping, breathtaking tale for fans of action, fantasy, and romance--of anything with the making of legend.

Hello! Today we continue our celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month with an interview of Cindy Pon, author of a new Asian fantasy for young adults, Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, 2009).

Cindy, can you please tell us a bit about your Asian American heritage?

my mother was born in guang xi, china. my father was born in taiwan but his family was originally from guang dong. i was born in taipei and immigrated to the united states when i was six years old. i was an esl (english as a second language) student--and it's something that is deeply ingrained in my childhood. i think when you go to a new country where you can't understand a word that is spoken, it makes quite an impression.

Why do you write for young adults?

i actually stumbled upon this wonderful genre quite by accident. i had written a straight adult fantasy (so i thought). it wasn't until i began querying for agents that i was clued into the fact that Silver Phoenix could indeed be a young adult book. it contains many prevalent themes {in young adult books} such as rebelling against what's expected, the search for yourself, falling in love for the first time...

What inspired you to write Silver Phoenix?

i've written since i was in elementary school. i wrote short stories and poetry all through my teens, but stopped completely during my twenties. it wasn't until i had my bubs back to back in my thirties that i returned to my first love--writing. i really needed something to call my own again. i took a few classes on writing and decided i would try completing a novel. i wanted to combine two interests--fantasy, my favorite genre, and chinese culture. i had just started as a chinese brush art student and was eager to learn more about my roots.

What was the path to publication like for Silver Phoenix?

hard. writing a novel and then revising it for a year was just the beginning. i decided after i was done i loved it enough to try and see it to publication. i thought my book deserved it--that i deserved it. i queried 121 agents and got probably just as many rejections. i had a feeling that though some agents were drawn by my story and prose--they were afraid to take on the project--seeing that asian fantasy was not what was currently on the young adult market. it was certainly a challenge. and the "close ones" hurt the most.

Where were you and what were you doing when you found out that your novel was going to be published? What were your first thoughts and feelings? How did you celebrate the good news?

my book went to auction and i disbelief. it was utterly surreal. i had phone chats scheduled with editors from major publishing houses in new york city between packing lunches for my bubs and putting them down for naps. i really couldn't wrap my mind around it. when i made the decision to go with virginia (my editor) and greenwillow books, i was still feeling so stunned. i couldn't believe that i was given my dream. i was thrilled and TERRIFIED. i've said it before and i'll say it again--it takes a lot of courage to chase your dream, it takes even more courage to live it.

What are the challenges and rewards of being an Asian American young adult book writer?

i think the fact that what i've chosen to write is a little different than what's out there. it can be seen as a "risk". but honestly, i've only met so much encouragement since being published. i couldn't have asked for more support from the writing and reading community. i know it's impossible to write a book that every reader will love--but if Silver Phoenix touches a few in the way i intended, it'll all be worthwhile. if i inspire any other asian-american teens to follow their own writing dreams, that would be amazing.

Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this month?

i don't! or i haven't for a long time. before the children, we did attend festivals when living in northern california. now our weekends are filled with birthday events and play dates and such. but i live my life like an asian american every day--in the things i discuss with my children, in my art, in what i read, in my language and in my food. i hope to lead just by living and example. i really want them to have a strong sense of their chinese heritage. i hope that they do grow up with that.

What are some of your favorite experiences so far from signings, interviews, and other promotional activities for your novel?

the signings were wonderful. it really made me feel like an author. and truly, the best part was seeing all my friends come to help me celebrate this achievement. so many of them were as excited for me as i was. it really touched me. i had support from online friends i'd known for years but had never met. my heart was full after both signings.

(Cindy with a writing friend, Mike Jung, at a signing in San Francisco)

If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for Silver Phoenix to be award-winning, or for Silver Phoenix to be bestselling? Why?

can't an author have both? haha! i choose neither. i really would like my book to find the readers that will love it. that's what i wanted from the very start--to send my novel out into the world and reach as many readers as possible who will enjoy it. anything beyond that would just be icing.

What kind of teen reader were you? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?

i was really into anne rice and piers anthony as a teen. i also went through a vc andrews and sweet valley high period. i read agatha christie (poirot only!) as well as jean auel. stephen king was certainly a favorite and i also read the hobbit as a teen. i didn't read LOTR until i was in college or perhaps even after. i started reading iris murdoch (a severed head) when i was a junior, i think.

What are your favorite Asian or Asian American young adult books?

i'm embarrassed to say i haven't read many at all. when i grew up, i don't think i've ever read a young adult book with an asian-american or asian character--much less a main character. after i discovered i would be publishing in the young adult genre, it's been a scramble to try and play catch up reading within this genre. i've got dragoneye reborn, north of beautiful, book of a thousand days, millicent min, girl genius ALL in my pile to be read. not to buy, i already have them--just haven't had the chance to read them yet! i'm looking forward to the reads!

i'm very excited that this generation has much more to choose from in reading diversity. i hope it continues to grow and it'll be more so when my children are teens.

What young adult books are you reading now?

i'm currently reading the ARC for EYES LIKE STARS by lisa mantchev which will be out in a few months. omg. wonderful. so unique, beautiful prose, fantastic characters and dialogue, a complete original. i high recommend it. another reason my pile keeps growing is i'm reading a lot of ARCs by other deb authors. which is truly exciting and fun!

Why do you think there is the misconception that young adult literature is not as deep or as complex as literature for adults? What is your response to this misconception?

i think perhaps some adults consider the genre "childish". i think anything but. i've read some amazing young adult books and i'm barely scratching the surface. i think that the teenage years are one of the most volatile and most intense. there is so much going on physically, emotionally, sexually, intellectually, spiritually--on every level. i'm not quite sure any other time period in life can compare truly.

and to say that writing about that time period, from that time period is... not complex or boring or whatever label someone chooses to use. i think that's simply silly. if you bypass young adult as a reading genre, you know what... your loss.

What are you working on now?

i'm working on the sequel to Silver Phoenix and also a children's picture book featuring my chinese brush art!

(a cover from Cindy's dummy for her picture book)

Cindy, thank you for celebrating your debut novel and APA Heritage Month at Into the Wardrobe. I truly hope Silver Phoenix becomes a bestseller AND an award-winner!


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