Summer Blog Blast Tour: Cindy Pon
Cindy Pon‘s debut novel, Silver Phoenix, is an Asian-inspired YA fantasy published last month by Greenwillow Books. It’s received great reviews from publications like Booklist and Kirkus, as well as from readers (including me).
Cindy is also an artist. Besides writing the sequel to Silver Phoenix, she is also working on a picture book. You can see several of her Chinese brush paintings here in this interview, and be sure to visit her website to see more. (I especially love the panda.) A few lucky readers will win a bookmark featuring the “enchanted dragonfly” painting shown below. All you have to do is leave a comment for a chance to win.
And now, on to the interview.
You immigrated to the United States as a child. How did/does this influence you as a reader and writer? What are some of your (other) major influences?
i came over to california when i was six years old from taiwan.
i think my esl (english as a second language) background really
influenced me as a person. i still very clearly remember not understanding anything
that anyone said when i went to first grade. my teacher wrote my name
on the blackboard, as i didn’t even know the alphabet, much less spell
my name. i spent many afternoons at home while my mom taught me
how to spell swing and yellow and slide. (i still remember this.) and i’d
look longingly outside at the neighborhood kids playing and riding their bikes.
at some point, my language skills surpassed my mom’s. and i discovered
a whole new magical world in books. i remember reading voraciously in
third grade. (wow, what a difference two years made?) i read nearly the
entire shoes series by noel streatfield, dancing and ballet shoes being
my favorite. a little princess by burnett and island of the blue dolphins
by o’dell remain two of my favorite books.
i think my experiences influence me as a writer on a very subconscious
level. everything i write is based on everything i am, my experiences
and how i percieve the world. i think my upbringing and culture also
filtered into SILVER PHOENIX. as well as my own love for chinese brush
painting and…food. ha!
In addition to writing, you are also a painter. You say on your website that you began writing as a child; what drew you to Chinese brush painting as an adult?
it’s funny as i never ever considered myself an artist.
i wasn’t gifted as a child. i didn’t pursue or learn about art.
i began writing in elementary school, and new “labels” for ourselves
are hard to take on and integrate. even now, it’s sort of hard
to say, hey, i’m an artist! because i feel so new to it all.
i began painting because i was simply inspired. i found myself
very much interested in learning more about my own culture, and
i had a friend and coworker, who had painted for years. i saw her
paintings and really connected with them, was utterly entranced.
so i began taking lessons.
it’s also the same reason i wrote an asian based fantasy. i really
wanted to combine my two loves : fantasy and chinese culture.
Do you see any similarities in how you express yourself creatively
with paint (ink?) and with words?
i think i’m evolving both as an artist and writer.
my brush painting teacher says i’ve become more fearless
as a painter, that i just plunge in and paint. even if it’s something
new and different. (i just finished my children’s picture book dummy
on my own, which probably contributed to my braver approach to things.)
art and creative outlets are free therapy for me. i think EVERYONE
should do something creative in their lives. it really taps into another
side of your brain, another side of your soul. i find the entire process
both mystifying but highly satisfying. for me, both painting and writing
require dedication and discipline, but there is much joy in the act of artisttic creation.
and you are always your own worst critic and enemy with progress.
i talk about art in my novel because my heroine is an brush painting
student as well.
What was the inspiration behind Silver Phoenix? Did you intentionally set out to write a YA fantasy set in or based on ancient China?
i was staying at home full time with my bubs and really going
loopy. ha! i needed to have something to call my own, returned
to my first love (writing—as i had stopped writing all through
my 20’s) and began taking some writing classes at the local
uni extensions. then i had the wild idea of writing a novel.
i scribbled a few words into my journal : journey, arranged marriage,
making friends, etc. but didn’t begin to write the novel until
two years later. when i wrote it, i wrote it as straight adult
fantasy—not realizing or being much aware of the YA reading world
until i began querying for an agent.
For people who may not be familiar with it (including me!), how much of the fantasy aspects of Silver Phoenix is based on Chinese
it’s definitely a combination of both—as with many fantasy novels.
when i first began, i got really mired in historical details. then i finally
realized i was NOT writing a historical, i was writing a fantasy. i really
needed to free myself. the snake demon is something that is very
popular in chinese ghost stories. but the corpse monster is something
i created in my own mind. (i won’t say much more—due to spoilers. =)
i also added touches of ritual like breast binding—since i didn’t have
foot binding in the novel. but the act of breast binding fit within the
theme of my book. and the style of hair to indicate status, etc.—they
were all ways to “bind” the girl somehow. to categorize her.
I thought I read somewhere that you also did some artwork for the start of each chapter. How did this come about?
well, thanks for remembering! but yes, my editor started from the
start that i do some chapter decorations for the actual novel.
which was such an honor! each chapter contains my calligraphy
in the final novel. i think the entire layout of the book is beautiful—
of course, i’m not biased. =)
The ending of Silver Phoenix begs for a sequel. You are writing a sequel, yes? 🙂 Can you give us any hints about what occurs?
it does. and i’ve gotten some comments about the ending….
i felt as an author that the story was a complete story in itself.
and when i finished it, i did NOT have a sequel in mind and that
wasn’t my intent. (the ending is the original ending.) but the subconscious
works in strange ways. i found hints of the sequel in the middle of
SILVER PHOENIX. that i had written in and not acknowledged. ha!
so yes, i’m working on the sequel currently. it’s actually a presequel.
a new word by yours truly. =) it will be the story of silver phoenix and
zhong ye (in the past) and chen yong and ai ling (current time). the
two story arcs will meet … somehow. ha! that’s my hope.
And now for a few lighter questions:
What did you have to sacrifice to the cover gods (or is it goddesses?) to get such a stunning book cover?
trisha, seriously, right? i just got really really really lucky.
the final novel is actually in a slightly bigger trim, so it really
stands out. my editor consulted with me every step of the way,
from helping to select the model (whom i think looks exactly like
my heroine—and funny enough, some online friends say look
like ME—i’ll take that as a huge compliment, ha!) to costumes,
hair style, etc.
In addition to admiring your prose, reading Silver Phoenix made me hungry, with all the descriptions of food. Did writing about all the food make you hungry, too? What meal or snack do you recommend a person eats while reading Silver Phoenix?
haha! i was usually eating when writing. ha! just kidding.
but seriously, i wrote a lot in cafes. my critique friends joke
that i need to debut with a companion cook book. =D
anything snacky is goo—preferably asian. if you can hook yourself
up with some dumplings, pot stickers, or a plate of chow mien,
you’ll be a happy reader! don’t forget the tea!
Thanks, Cindy, for stopping by!
Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a bookmark. I’ll randomly select the winners on Monday.
The rest of today’s SBBT interviews are:
Siobhan Vivian at Miss Erin
Alma Alexander at Finding Wonderland
Laurel Snyder at Shaken & Stirred
Thalia Chaltas at Bildungsroman