Interview with Cindy Pon: On Writing, Sacrifice, and Beyond

Cindy Pon (Author Photo)Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. Her most recent novel, Serpentine (Month9Books, 2015), is a Junior Library Guild Selection and received starred reviews from School Library Journal and VOYA. The sequel, Sacrifice, releases this September and is also a Junior Library Guild Selection title. WANT, a near-future thriller set in Taipei, will be published by Simon Pulse in summer 2017. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Learn more about her books and art at http://www.cindypon.com/ .

***

Q. Even though you’ve mentioned the possibility of yet more stories set in the Kingdom of Xia, Sacrifice is the final book in this series that follows Skybright and Zhen Ni. Was it difficult to say goodbye to these characters? How do you strike a compromise between the things you would like to write in farewell and the things that you have to write in order to properly conclude the story? Or are these driving forces one and the same to you?

A. I seem to naturally think and story tell in duologies (two books), because I do not plot my stories. I believe trilogies and longer series need more careful planning than I am capable or interested in doing as a writer right now. It is always bittersweet to end a character’s story, but I also enjoy it, because I do not believe a character’s story truly ends with my last words on the page. I believe they live on, and have more adventures. It’s why I love more open endings. I think you’ll still see old characters from Serpentine in my third Month9Books Xia title (slated for Fall 2018 release), but I just don’t see Skybright as the center of the story. It is easy for me to let go because I feel very much like when a story arc ends, I need to move on as an author. Otherwise, the characters will begin to bore me, and this will show in the writing.

Q. When you started writing Serpentine did you already know how Sacrifice was going to end? Did your characters—many of whom are delightfully loud and independent—lead you to the epic conclusion, or were you stern about your plotting?

A. I actually had no idea how Sacrifice was going to end. As I mentioned before, I am not a plotting type of writer. But I very much believe following a character to a natural conclusion and arc, something that makes sense and is organic to the story. I don’t like to force things, I like to let the characters be and do and act how they will. Having said that, I’m not the type to sit down with nothing in mind at all when I’m writing. With second books, I feel I know the characters a lot more, so I have a lot of fun writing them!

Q. Unlike Serpentine, Sacrifice has a couple of new POVs woven into the narrative. How did you decide which characters to follow closely in this book? Was it a matter of plot, or did it have to do with the characters’ voice, or the lack of it?

A. Since Skybright and Zhen Ni are separated for most of the book, I knew that Zhen Ni needed to be a main pov in Sacrifice. It wasn’t until I finished my first draft and had beta readers that I realized Kai Sen needed to tell his view point as well! I do what needs to be done to serve the story, and it’s interesting that with Fury of the Phoenix (the sequel to Silver Phoenix), I found it necessary to use dual pov.

Q. In our last interview you had cited the 1981 movie Clash of the Titans as having inspired you to explore issues of beauty/monstrosity through Skybright. Sacrifice, I feel, further complicates this dichotomy as it brings in the issue of how sexuality in women is often punished, and how defiance of these unspoken rules of proper femininity results in the dehumanization of the women. Were there certain stories that you were inspired or influenced by as you tackled these topics again in the second book?

A. Not this time, no. I think there is so much from just current events in our society to underscore how women and girls are still policed and judged in so many ways when it comes to their sexuality, sexual pleasure, and sexual independence. It’s why I love writing fantasy so much, because the otherworldly elements, for me, helps often frame themes and issues that are still existing in our world today.

Q. How do you silence your inner censor? What happens when your inner critic gets rowdy?

A. I learned to write through the poo years ago, I think. ha! I think I’m practical in that way, like Skybright, and also, I’ve learned to trust myself and my process. If I over think it or over censor, I would never get any writing done. It also helps that I am kept so incredibly busy with author travels as well as taking care of my two bubs. There is no time to give in to the inner critic or her voice!

Q. The publishing gods say there is to be a break between Sacrifice and the next Kingdom of Xia novel, but you do have a rather different novel coming out in between. Would you like to tell us more about your upcoming novel WANT?

A. Ah yes! WANT is my near-future thriller set in Taipei, and will publish with Simon Pulse summer 2017. It is the first novel I’ve written that wasn’t fantasy, and I love it so much. I hope that readers do too. It is a cross (at least visually) between Blade Runner, Ocean’s Eleven, with tons of sexual tension through in, and features (of course) an all Asian cast. The cover is AMAZING. I can’t wait to share it!!

Q. What are you looking forward to reading this fall?

A. I loved My Sister Rosa and Labyrinth Lost. I’m looking forward to reading Radical, The Reader, Another Brooklyn, Enter Title Here, Crooked Kingdom, When the Moon was Ours, and Tattoo Atlas!

***

Thanks Cindy, for patiently fielding all my long, convoluted questions! Congrats on the release of Sacrifice and good luck with WANT! Can’t wait to chat with you about your next project! <3