Our Friend is Here! An Interview with C.B. Lee, Author of A Clash of Steel – On the Lessons Each Book Taught Her, Love for Pirate Stories, and Joyous Queer Love

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.

Pride Month is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where during the month of June, queer authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being queer, queer books, and their experiences of being a queer reader. Find the introduction post for Pride Month at The Quiet Pond here.

It’s now the end of Pride and I have the delight of hosting our last guest for Pride Month this year. Today’s guest is, what I would consider, a favourite of The Quiet Pond. Her books make frequent appearances in our book recommendation posts, I had the privilege of hosting the blog tour for her most recent Sidekick Squad book, and I even had the honour of hosting the cover reveal for her upcoming YA, A Clash of Steel! Indeed, today’s guest is none other than the incredible C.B. Lee, author of hopeful and fulfilling queer literature, and I get to share my interview with her today!

I had the opportunity to read A Clash of Steel, and friends: add this to your to-read lists, because I think you will all love this book as much as I did. A Clash of Steel is a retelling of Treasure Island centering two wonderful queer girls; it’s a story of adventure, of finding yourself, and of finding love and family and home. I loved it immensely and I know you will too.

C.B. visits us today as a delightfully round seal wearing a sailor’s hat and holding some toast! I’m so excited for you all to read my interview with C.B.; I had so much fun reading her answers and I’m excited for you all to learn about A Clash of Steel as well!

A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee

1826. The sun is setting on the golden age of piracy, and the legendary Dragon Fleet, the scourge of the South China Sea, is no more. Its ruthless leader, a woman known only as the Head of the Dragon, is now only a story, like the ones Xiang has grown up with all her life. She desperately wants to prove her worth, especially to her mother, a shrewd business woman who never seems to have enough time for Xiang. Her father is also only a story, dead at sea before Xiang was born. Her only memento of him is a pendant she always wears, a simple but plain piece of gold jewelry.

But the pendant’s true nature is revealed when a mysterious girl named Anh steals it, only to return it to Xiang in exchange for her help in decoding the tiny map scroll hidden inside. The revelation that Xiang’s father sailed with the Dragon Fleet and tucked away this secret changes everything. Rumor has it that the legendary Head of the Dragon had one last treasure—the plunder of a thousand ports — that for decades has only been a myth, a fool’s journey.

Xiang is convinced this map could lead to the fabled treasure. Captivated with the thrill of adventure, she joins Anh and her motley crew off in pursuit of the island. But the girls soon find that the sea—and especially those who sail it—are far more dangerous than the legends led them to believe. 

Goodreads | Amazon | Indiebound | Book Depository | Bookshop

Author Interview: C.B. Lee

CW: Hi C.B.! We’re so excited for you to be visiting us again at the Pond – we love having you visit us! For our friends out there who may only be meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

C.B.: Hi Quiet Pond friends!  Thank you so much for having me here, CW! I love to write everything from adventure stories to finding magic in the mundane world, and I’ve written YA novels, graphic novels and short stories! In my spare time I enjoy a hot cup of tea and curling up with a good book–I’ve loved reading for almost all my life, in all sorts of genres from contemporary, romance, historical, science fiction and more. I’m been recently getting more into poetry and memoirs as well.  I love exploring our world, going hiking and backpacking and kayaking, it’s a joy to fall asleep under the stars and explore hidden paths and trails! 

CW: You’re well known at the Pond for your spectacular Sidekick Squad series, which we adore. How have you grown as a writer, and what has each book that you have written and published taught you about writing?

C.B.: I think with every book I’ve written, I’ve learned something new about myself and my process. My first novel, Seven Tears at High Tide, taught me that I could write a novel– that this huge insurmountable challenge that I thought impossible could be done, and that I could do it again. Each of the Sidekick Squad books has been a delight to write, and each time I’ve learned more about what it takes to write a series with so many moving parts. I learned so much about planning and outlining and juggling multiple character arcs and working with different perspectives. 

CW: Congratulations on your upcoming book, A Clash of Steel, which is part of the Remixed Classics from Feiwel and Friends! Can you tell us a little bit more about how you got the opportunity to write A Clash of Steel as part of this series? What was your thought process?

C.B.: Emily Settle at Macmillan reached out to me with an invitation to write for the Remixed Classics series; after learning more about the series, I was definitely interested, and had the opportunity to choose which classic I wanted to work with most. I’d always been fascinated by the history of Zheng Yi Sao, the famously successful Chinese pirate commander, most commonly known as Ching Shih, and I had always wanted to write a story that involved her legacy, so I knew Treasure Island would be the story I wanted to remix. So the legendary treasure that everyone is looking for in A Clash of Steel is based on her legacy, and it was so much fun to get to focus on that area of history. 

CW: I had the opportunity to read A Clash of Steel early and I think it’s now one of my favourite pirate books I’ve read, ever. I felt like I had gone on this incredible, vivid adventure with Xiang and Anh and my heart felt so full by the end. What do you love about pirate stories? And how did you intertwine that love into A Clash of Steel

C.B.: I love the call to adventure. I think you can see that in every part of the story, from Xiang’s longing to more to the riddles I had them tackle while on the island looking for treasure. Pirate stories in general deal with many things, everything from examining one’s own identity, what they’re willing to give up on the search for treasure (and who!), betrayal, loyalty, hidden secrets… I definitely wanted to bring all of that and the romance of swordfights and clues hidden in maps into the novel. 

CW: One of my favourite things about A Clash of Steel was how the book’s setting, Asia 1826, came to and hummed with life. How did you approach the research that you did for A Clash of Steel? (Can you share with us any fun facts during your adventures into history?)

C.B.: I did extensive research on the time period, hunting down textbooks written on the subject and diving into academic journals that explored and analyzed the real life of Zheng Yi Sao. I also worked with a translator, Jeanette Wu, who helped me understand historical documents in Chinese to better get an accurate sense of history from eyewitnesses and first hand perspectives of those who were present in those battles. 

Some fun facts I learned were about the city of Canton, which was a world class port destination that would have seen trade from all over the world at the time. I wanted the reader to feel immersed in the richness of cultures and languages and foods that would have been present. I feel like people have a historical sense of the busyness and cosmopolitan feel of other port cities like New York or London, and I wanted to show how central Canton was as a center of commerce and had traders from all over, including the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and America.

I also had a lot of fun researching clothing of the time, especially the different undergarments that women from different cultures would have been wearing. There’s a fun scene that came out of that where Xiang’s new crew compares undergarments…

CW: I absolutely adored both Xiang and Anh, my two queer Asian babies. I loved the tension and electric romance that the two have in the story. Across your writing career, you have given us so many queer darlings who find joy. How does Xiang and Anh’s joy and romance matter to you, personally?

C.B.: I loved writing this romance and I hope readers will get the sense of thrill and exhilaration reading it that I did writing it. I think it’s important to show queer love as joyous and positive. Growing up queer and Chinese-Vietnamese American, I didn’t get to see a lot of queer people in media, let alone people who shared my identity getting to be the romantic interest or the hero.  It means a lot to be able to show these characters as worthy of love and adventure and happiness.

CW: I can’t wait for A Clash of Steel to be out in the world, so that everyone can love it as much as I did. What are you most excited for readers to discover in A Clash of Steel

C.B.: Everything, I suppose! I hope readers enjoy the adventure and romance, but also that they enjoy getting brought along on my journey into the history of the time period and of Zheng Yi Sao. 

CW: Thank you so much for visiting us today, C.B.! My last question is a question I ask all of our guests: What is a food that reminds you of ‘home’ – wherever or whoever that may be?

C.B.: A hot bowl of phở. My mom will make a huge pot of broth, simmering beef bones overnight, then layering the rice noodles with fresh herbs, squeezes of lime, and tender slices of beef and tendon and tripe. Any time I would travel anywhere, or any time I came home from college, she would make phở as my first meal when I came home. 

About the Author

CB Lee is a Lambda Literary Award nominated writer of young adult science fiction and fantasy. Her works include the Sidekick Squad series (Duet Books), Ben 10 (Boom!) and All Out (Harper Teen). CB loves to write about queer teens, magic, superheroes, and the power of friendship.  When not nationally touring as an educator, writer and activist, CB lives in Los Angeles, where she can neither confirm nor deny being a superhero. You can learn more about her and her adventures as a bisexual disaster at http://cb-lee.com.

Find CB on: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Facebook | Goodreads

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