Interview with Cindy Pon

When we at YARN heard that one of our favorite YA fantasy authors was coming out with a new book—one called “Want”—did we ever want to get our hands on it! Cindy Pon is an expert at immersing readers in fantastical Asian worlds, and we expect similarly great things from this near-future thriller set in Tapei. If you haven’t yet read any of Cindy’s work, read on to find out more so you can choose where to start.

Writing Process:

YARN: What does your writing process consist of, from the idea to publication? If you have a drawer full of shelved projects like many writers, how do you push a project you love aside to work on something else? Any tips on finding the story that gets sold (to agents, editors, and readers)?

CP: I am not a write every day kind of writer. In fact, I can go half a year or more without ever writing. I don’t think people speak about the in between spaces of writing, and how much daydreaming and *living* helps with storytelling. I feel really drained after I’ve finished a novel and revised it multiple times. I need to refuel! When I’m drafting, I usually aim for 1k words a day, but am pretty easy on myself, ha! Any words and forward motion are a great thing. I will usually draft for 3 months, take a break (due to life interferences) then draft for another 3 months and finish the novel. I cannot give tips on getting stories sold. I can only tell you that for me personally, I have to really love and feel a passion for the story in order to finish it. Completing a novel is no joke. It takes discipline and dedication! If you are working on something you love and care for, this will come across in your story.

YARN: Have you ever felt “stuck” in your writing? What advice can you give teens who might be struggling with writing assignments and need to get unstuck before the due date?

CP: I think all writers feel stuck at one time or another! I’d recommend doing something else entirely like reading, taking a walk, doing something active, whatever, to stir those parts of your creativity in a different way. You might also try writing out of sequence and skipping ahead.

YARN: What are some of the pluses and minuses of writing a series, specifically in your case, duologies? Is writing the second book easier than the first?

CP: I think trilogies are a hard sell in YA now. But they can also be very successful if you have created worlds and characters readers love like in Cinda Williams Chima’s books or Megan Whalen Turner’s or Marie Lu’s to name a few. I naturally seem to write in duologies. I never know if there is a second book until I have finished the first one. I don’t really force the process and am annoyingly organic and intuitive in my writing. ha! I think my second books are always stronger. I know the characters more, and I love wrapping up a storyline. I love writing denouements.

Your Books:

YARN: Like most Cindy Pon fans, we at YARN loved your “Phoenix” books as much as “Serpentine” and “Sacrifice.” You really bring the reader far away from the typical European-based worlds found in much YA fantasy and infuse so many Asian details—especially, I’ve got to say, the food. I find myself ordering buns and dumplings as soon as I start one of your books. How much of your work comes from actual experiences and travels versus research of Asian mythology and history, for example?

CP: For my Xia titles, I’d say nil for actual travels. Because I didn’t visit China until 2014, and by then, I think I had at least three of the Xia books written. All of my research was done as any other writer would do, through reading and learning. This goes for clothing, architecture, sociology of women in the inner quarters, as well as mythos. The food comes more easily and naturally because I love to eat (I do NOT cook), so I basically write the foods I love into the books.

YARN: We couldn’t be more excited about your latest book, “Want,” especially once that stunning cover was revealed. Can you share a little snippet from the book? Favorite line or paragraph? Or did you have a favorite snippet that wound up on the cutting room floor?

A you boy strutted toward the girls, his features obscured by his glass helmet from this distance. We called them Bowl Heads in derision, as their helmets looked like fishbowls. His sleek suit was black, with an indigo dragon breathing orange flames woven down one long sleeve. The suit ensured that he got the best oxygen available, that his temperature was regulated, that he was always plugged in to the you communication system. The taller girl in the white and silver suit ignored him, intent on winning a koi in a jar, but her petite friend nodded to the bodyguards, and the you boy swaggered through.

I snorted under my breath.

They chatted, probably pulling up info on their com sys, assessing weight, height, and genetic makeup even as they exchanged first names. This was what it meant to be you, to have. To be genetically cultivated as a perfect human specimen before birth—vaccinated and fortified, calibrated and optimized. To have an endless database of information instantly retrievable within a second of thinking the query and displayed in helmet. To have the best air, food, and water, ensuring the longest possible life spans as the world went to rot around them.

Me, I’m like the other ninety-five percent of the meis in this country—without. We want and are left wanting. I’d be lucky if I lived to forty. I’m almost halfway there.

YARN: You mention on your blog that you are a big lover of horror. Would you ever consider writing one yourself? What would it be about? What would the scariest scene entail?

CP: Oh gosh, never say never. But I’m not sure if I would be any good at horror? I just enjoy reading it so much. I don’t like hack and slash and gore, I like the slowly building suspense, when they are just screwing with you, you know? You’re jumpy because you’re anticipating the Bad Thing even though the author hasn’t even written it on the page!

YARN: Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little about what else you’re working on?

CP: My editor is asking for a WANT sequel, and I’m traveling to Shanghai in May for research!

Other Books/YA stuff:

YARN: You’ve been a great role model in the push for more diverse books in the young adult market, and we’ve loved watching your books succeed and inspire more young people. Do you have any specific advice for #ownvoices writers struggling to tell their stories?

CP: I would say to keep your head down and write what matters to you and speaks to your heart. Put your story and your voice on the page because it truly does matter, and it is needed. I won’t lie and say it will be an easy journey. Publishing in itself is just hard, and often, #ownvoices writers will face even more obstacles.

YARN: Quick! Name five underappreciated YA writers! (We love bestsellers as much as the next guy, but we also like to trumpet and discover others, like with our BFSRE.)

CP: Anna-Marie McLemore, Malinda Lo, Lamar Giles, E. M. Kokie, and Dia Reeves.

Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow), 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; Serpentine and Sacrifice (Month9Books), which were both Junior Library Guild selections and received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus, respectively; and WANT (Simon Pulse), a near-future thriller set in Taipei. She is the cofounder 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

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