I’m so delighted to bring you another interview, one with the amazing Rebecca Kuang, author of the upcoming THE POPPY WAR, a brutal and devastating Asian fantasy book that I am completely in love with. Speaking to Rebecca was such a lovely experience, and I definitely urge you to pick up her book when it comes out next month!
Hey Rebecca, welcome to the blog! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. First of all, I always like to start off with an easy question so, what is your favorite food or meal?
I’m Chinese-American so obviously I have too many goodies to pick a firm favorite. But right now I’m really craving taro milk tea and char siu bao (I’m a dim sum girl).
For your book The Poppy War, what’s one fun fact you’d like to
share about it?
The Cike (the merry band of shaman-assassins Rin joins later in the book) are based on the main characters in Journey to the West. Only a few people have picked up on that so far, which shocks me.
The Poppy War is filled with parallels to Chinese history,especially the relationships that Nikara has with its neighboring countries. Could you share a little about how you see the cultures mentioned in The Poppy War mapped onto the real world?
The Nikara Empire is clearly China and the Federation of Mugen is clearly meant to be Japan. Past that, the relationships become a little less historically accurate. Speer shares some similarities with Taiwan, but it’s not meant to directly represent Taiwanese history in the same way (though I do try to highlight the ways Taiwan got shafted by geopolitical power plays and the decidedly poor treatment of Taiwanese aboriginals by both countries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.)
In the past few years, mainly due to the strength of the WNDB campaign, we are seeing a more vocalized demand for inclusive literature in the US, especially in kidlit. How would you say that has influenced your experience in the author industry?
I’m heartened and excited about the way some publishers (like Harper Voyager) are responding to the push for inclusive literature. In the past year, Harper Voyager has published Nicky Drayden, Maggie Shen King, and myself–all debut authors of color. And their works have been tremendously well received (duh, because they’re amazing writers.) Not everything has gotten better. Authors still face racism and discrimination at every stage of the publishing process, from writing workshops to the querying process to book deals to their treatment by publishers after they’ve signed their contracts. And of course, the numbers still look awful–just look at the stats that came out recently about the percentage of works about people of color compared to the percentage of authors of color published in the last year. But there are a lot of people in the industry doing incredible, important work–like my agent and editor!–and we should celebrate that. I’m very encouraged by the gatekeeper allies who use their platform to give authors like me a voice. We’re moving in the right direction.
I couldn’t help but notice that The Poppy War seems like an darker and more volatile Avatar the Last Airbender (although shhh I like The Poppy War even more.) If you could describe some of your main characters as a combination of the ATLA characters, who would be what?
Haha yes! ATLA was the first western cartoon I ever saw that really reveled in its Asian influences (in a non-appropriating way! How rare!) so it’s been formative for me. Rin is very much like Azula, obviously. But Azula’s actions in the show are explained away by sociopathy. I hope Rin is a little more complex. She’s not a total maniac. She cares deeply about other people and thinks she’s doing what’s best. That can be scarier.
I think Nezha is similar to Zuko (without the sibling connection to Rin, because gross.) He’s born into nobility and starts out as this nasty Draco Malfoy character, but over the series you see him grow and evolve to become far more responsible and compassionate. (I’m so proud of him.) Kitay is a combination of Katara and Toph. He’s tough in a way you underestimate and also cute as a button.
(Bonus: a fun graphic I made to appreicate Nezha, click through to see it in full-res on tumblr)
Can you say anything about your current projects and one thing you’re excited about from them?
I don’t tease something unless I’ve sold it, but I won’t be in a position to sell anything until I’ve finished this trilogy. And that’s going to be…a while. They’re long books, Eri.
If you were to say something to your 17-year-old self, what would you say?
1- Don’t do your eyeliner like that.
2- He’s not the one.
Finally before you leave, do you have any Asian literature recommendations? Feel free to list as many as you’d like haha.
Too many. I just finished Maggie Shen King’s An Excess Male which was a very smart and clever take on the Party and modern China’s gender problems. A little while ago I read Fonda Lee’s Jade City, which has since been (rightfully) nominated for a Nebula (!!!) If you haven’t read JY Yang’s Tensorate novellas yet, you should. They’re gripping and delightful. I also have a blog post coming out with Tor.com soon highlighting five books about Asian cultures by Asian authors, so look out for that.
Be sure to follow Rebecca on twitter and make sure to check out THE POPPY WAR when it releases next month!
When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late. – Goodreads