Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Our Friend is Here: Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond during the month of May, where Asian and Pasifika authors are invited to celebrate being Asian and Pasifika work and literature! Find the introduction post for Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month here.
When I first saw the cover reveal for Jade Fire Gold on Twitter, I gasped. I grew up watching Chinese wuxia dramas with my mother (who was very much the source of my early C-drama obsession as a kid), and the cover art instantly transported me back to those 6 PM childhood evenings spent in front of the television set, rapt with long-running story arcs of whatever was airing at the time. Like a lot of diaspora kids, my upbringing featured a steady hybrid diet of both Asian and Western media: the evening C-dramas were interspersed with Japanese anime, nighttime Disney movies, and American cartoons.
This unique mix of influences is precisely what makes Jade Fire Gold‘s twin ‘comps’ of wuxia meets Avatar: The Last Airbender so potent for me too; it’s genuinely so heartening to see more books being published today that reflect the huge varieties of media that marginalized readers are growing up with. It is thus my greatest honor today to be sharing a little interview we had with June C.L. Tan about her upcoming book, the inspirations behind it, and her writer journey so far!
June is joining us today as a fluffy cat in sunglasses with a mug of coffee, who might look a little… familiar if you’ve been into action-adventure anime lately (hint hint: a certain jujutsu anime with a white-haired teacher, perhaps?), and I cannot wait to share with you June’s insights on Jade Fire Gold and her writing! This book has been a long time in the making, and I’m so thrilled that it’s finally getting close to making its way into the hands of eager, excited readers. Before we jump straight into the interview though, let us take a peek at the STUNNING book cover and summary:
Jade Fire Gold by June C. L. Tan
In an empire on the brink of war…
Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.
Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.
When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her arcane magical abilities.
But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.
Author Interview: June C. L. Tan
Skye: Hello June! Thank you so much for joining us today here at the Pond! For anyone just now discovering your work, could you tell us a little about yourself?
June: Thanks for having me at the Pond, Skye, so happy to be here 🙂 Hi everyone! I’m June — I love cats and coffee (and BTS! lol). I grew up in Singapore but now reside in New York. I’m a science fiction and fantasy author, and my debut YA fantasy, JADE FIRE GOLD, will be released later this year on October 12 (US, Australia, New Zealand) and November 4 (UK).
It’s a dual POV story following two main characters: a peasant girl cursed with the power to steal souls and an exiled prince out for vengeance. In order to achieve their individual goals, they have to form a tenuous alliance — cue a magical roadtrip, shadowy court intrigue, a few twists and turns, and what I hope will be a roller-coaster ride of emotions for readers!
Skye: Where did the spark that grew into Jade Fire Gold come from? What kept you coming back to the story again and again throughout the writing process?
June: I was trying to write a different story in late 2015 when I had a fleeting dream of a girl standing alone in a vast desert that was ever-expanding and consuming everything in her world. That image stuck in my head and I started playing around with the idea of a girl trying to survive in a harsh environment. I knew that the girl had an adoptive grandmother and that she had to save her grandmother from something or someone. I also wanted to include the trope of the Chosen One as, when I was writing it, most of the chosen ones and main characters in YA fantasy were still white characters.
But I also wanted to subvert the trope a little and give it a twist, and decided to give her a counterpart in the form of another main character. That was how Ahn and Altan were created. They each embody traits of the Chosen One trope and archetype in different ways: one is cursed or blessed (depending on whose perspective) with powerful magic that could destroy the world; the other was born into a position to be Emperor (a chosen one in this sense), but had that destiny snatched from him.
It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that made me go back to this story again and again. I think one big reason, apart from me just wanting to finish it and make it the best it could be based on my current skill level, is that the actual main plot or story arc never changed from the beginning. It was always about Ahn and Altan and their connection, and their backstories were what they were from the start. So it felt that I had to tell this story.
Skye: Between Jade Fire Gold, Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun, and Zen Cho’s The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, we’re beginning to see more wuxia and xianxia-inspired stories in the Western publishing scene! As someone who grew up watching countless Chinese period dramas myself, it’s been both a little strange and heartening to see these types of stories seep into the mainstream. Can you tell us a little about your own experience with the genres and their influence on Jade Fire Gold?
June: Singapore is a country where the “traditional” and the “modern” intersect from everything from perspectives to cuisine to cultural traditions and architecture, so I grew up following many cultural traditions and being immersed in Chinese period dramas. I totally understand what you mean about it being heartening and yet, a little odd, to see these stories I’m used to seeping into western publishing spaces recently. So excited by all these Asian-authored books by the way! This mini “trend” (I personally loathe this word with regard to publishing because marginalized people’s voices are definitely not “trends”) is also more pronounced in some ways especially with the popularity of some web novels and adaptations like The Untamed and Word of Honor. I’m glad that there’s a pocket of audience and readers who have found these stories and who enjoy them, though sometimes it does feel weird to see such stories “exoticized” or analyzed through a rather white/western lens.
For Jade Fire Gold, I was mainly inspired by many of the wuxia films and TV shows I watched as a kid. Most of them were largely Hong Kong adaptations of Jin Yong novels like Shediao Yingxiong Zhuan (The Legend of the Condor Heroes), Tianlong Babu (Demi-gods and Semi-devils), and Xiao Ao Jianghu (The Smiling, Proud Wanderer), and adaptations of Chu Liuxiang (The Swordsman Chu Series by Gu Long). In terms of aesthetic inspirations, apart from period c-dramas, Hero and House of Flying Daggers (both directed by Zhang Yimou) had some impact in how I imagined the world would look like in Jade Fire Gold. But so many classic scenes like a secret rooftop meeting in the dead of the night or a bustling street market with food stalls or beautiful robes flying in the wind as a martial arts battle takes place atop a bamboo forest — they’ve long been staples in all sorts of East Asian media and they also appear in my book. And these aren’t just for aesthetic purposes in my opinion, because they do have meaning within the worldbuilding and they mark important instances/events/ in these genres and are often used as plot devices.
I also spent a lot of time at my maternal grandparents’ house with my cousins when I was young and we really had fun pretending to be wandering xiake (martial arts heroes) fighting villains and demons. Slight digression here but one of the things we did was to take quilted blankets or towels and wrapped them around our shoulders as capes or “robes” so we could do the swishy sleeve thing, and we would use traditional bamboo fans, and chopsticks, and walking sticks or backscratcher canes as weapons to fight. LOL fun times.
Anyway! When I was writing Jade Fire Gold, I decided to just throw everything I enjoyed during my childhood. There’s the wuxia and xianxia aspect, plus some court intrigue, and I also weaved in bits and pieces of myths and legends that are familiar in Chinese culture. For example, Chang’e the Moon Goddess and Hou Yi, her archer husband.
However, since there are so many regional, historical, and diaspora-influenced differences in all these myths and legends, I wanted to put my own spin on them. So the main legend and the mythological creatures you read about in Jade Fire Gold are inspired and not actual. For example, the Peaches of Immortality appear in several Chinese myths and also Journey to the West. But in Jade Fire Gold, I used them in a slightly different way and created my own story-based myth. I think this melding of influences and use of creative license is also something I observe in wuxia and xianxia genres (and beyond) anyway, especially with new generations of diaspora and local (Chinese) writers.
Skye: Zooming out into talking about Asian stories as a whole, do you have any particular recommendations of Asian media that have either inspired the book or inspired you recently? Feel free to gush ALL ABOUT your favorite ones!
June: Apart from the media I mentioned above, I’m also into anime and k-dramas, and wish I had more time to indulge! They’re all inspirations for me when I write, and probably account for the way I approach storytelling. Which is kind of interesting? Different cultures have their own way of telling stories, and for me personally, it has been challenging at times as I’m writing in part for a western audience who is used to certain methods of storytelling. For example, worldbuilding and how things are introduced or how backstories are presented can differ in styles. And sometimes there’s no shorthand way of introducing an element of story to an audience who is less familiar with it. That said, I’m working on another project right now, and shutting out everything so it’s shaping out to be something more self-indulgent (and dare I say, confident?) in terms of what I want to do with it.
But I digress! For recommendations, I’m going to go with a mix of some older faves and new faves:
- Anime: FMA: Brotherhood, Madoka Magica, Code Geass, Death Note, Darker Than Black (I do love Blue Exorcist and BLEACH, too!)
- Current fave anime/manga: Jujutsu Kaisen.
- Special mention: Sk8 Infinity is also pretty fun and surprisingly emo.
- K-drama that has everything I love: Goblin: The Lonely and Great God
- Recent scifi dystopian K-drama I absolutely loved: Sweet Home was truly amazing and I love the character arcs (note the content warnings; it’s also a webtoon)
- C-drama if you’re into political intrigue and a very brilliant protagonist: Langya Bang (Nirvana in Fire)
- New C-drama I’m watching and enjoying: Chang Ge Xing (The Long Ballad) (Incidentally, a friend pointed out that Wu Lei would be a good face cast for Altan, it’s all in the eyebrows and the scowl haha.)
Skye: Ultimately, what do you hope young readers take away from Jade Fire Gold?
June: I think that once a book is out in the world and in the hands of readers, each reader imbues a particular meaning to it based on their own experiences and perspectives. And the story ends up being different things to different people, and sometimes it transforms into something else I never knew it could be. Which can be really cool! My personal goal as a writer is to make a reader feel something when they read, be it joy or excitement or anger or sadness or dislike.
That said, maybe it was a subconscious thing, but I wrote about two people who feel alone in their world(s). I remember feeling like this when I was growing up—angsty teen years haha. Some of the frustrations and experiences I had in terms of my upbringing definitely leaked onto the page. Adolescence and young adulthood can be quite an isolating phase of life as so many new things can happen to a person that they may be unprepared for. It’s a time where you’re discovering who you are, what you stand for, and your sense of self worth, and simultaneously separating yourself in many ways from the sometimes claustrophobic bubble of “family” in order to be your own person.
There are some particularly salient themes and aspects in the book that may be relatable to young readers because of this. At the core of this story is the concept of family and all its joys and burdens and expectations. Many, if not all, of the teen characters bear the weight of familial legacy and expectations in one way or another, and each has to grapple with it and strike a balance between their own individual sense of self and the desire to fulfil what they think others and their families expect of them. While I was writing from an Asian perspective, I don’t think that these issues only manifest in Asian families. To some degree, they are a part of growing up and finding one’s place in society. The teen characters in the book progress and learn and reach a point where they understand themselves a little better. Growing up is hard, but we’ll all get through it :`) So maybe the takeaway here is that things do get better when you grow older, even if it feels scary.
Skye: I know publication is still some time away, but I’d love to peek behind the curtain a little on your publishing journey — how has your book grown and evolved throughout this entire process so far?
June: Instead of writing another long essay-like answer, let me attempt to draw the process!
Skye: Okay, looking forward to the future a little: what’s your wildest pie-in-the-sky writing dream?
June: 😮 this is a surprisingly difficult question. Mainly because I’ve been keeping my expectations low since publishing/writing is such an unpredictable thing. I used to think that having Jade Fire Gold adapted for the small screen in the form of a donghua (Chinese animated series) or as a webtoon (basically any adaptation with a visual aspect to the medium is #goals) would be my wildest pie-in-the-sky writing dream. In a way it still is. But honestly? Right now, my wildest dream is to keep doing this — to keep writing more books and publishing them, because this industry is so very hard to survive in.
Skye: Before we close, do you have any advice for other aspiring writers out there in the trenches of their various WIPs?
June: KEEP WRITING! It’s such a cliché but it’s true. All writers have to hone their craft, and other than reading and analyzing other forms of media, writing itself will help the discovery and evolution of personal voice and style i.e. what makes your story unique to you and only you. I also think it’s important to understand how to handle feedback and to figure out what is constructive and what is not. And to find your gut when it comes to telling your story, because at the end of the day, it’s something that you’re putting out there. It will have your name on it, and you have to be proud of it and stand by it.
This is something I still struggle with, but I think you’ll need to learn how to shut out all the other voices in your head telling you to stop, or that you’re not good enough, or that what you’re writing is crap. Because they’re just imposter voices standing in the way of achieving your goals. It’s definitely an on-going process, and many writers feel this all the time – so you’re not alone! Conversely, I would say that finding your writing people is just as important. And they won’t even have to be fellow authors. Basically have a support group who will be there for you because writing is sometimes isolating, and you’ll need that encouragement from others.
About the Author
June CL Tan writes science fiction and fantasy inspired by her childhood in multicultural Singapore where she was raised on a diet of classic books and wuxia movies, caffeine and congee. When she is not writing, she can be found wandering the streets of New York City in search of everyday mysteries and miracles. Her fantasy novel Jade Fire Gold is forthcoming from HarperTeen and Hodder & Stoughton (UK).