If we’re following Philippine time (and since we’re on my blog, we are), the second session of FONDAily is quite the buzzer beater. My dumb, tired, and easily distracted self totally forgot to schedule this post properly. But I digress.
As part of the Jade War blog tour, I interviewed Fonda Lee, the award-winning author of Jade City and the more recently released Jade War, through a Skype video call. Since our conversation lasted for an hour or so (which resulted in a 21-page transcript), I’ve decided to create a mini-series of author interviews!
Before we proceed, here are a couple of disclaimers: (1) although I have a word-for-word transcript of our video conversation, these interview posts are partially simplified, edited, and revised to make them easier to digest; (2) this mini-series consists of five parts, and these parts are not chronological, but are instead composed of a mix of interview questions (except for the last part, which solely consists of my questions); and (3) there is an extremely tiny, albeit unlikely, probability for human error since this is all transcribed from video.
Other installments of this mini-series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
THIS SAGA IS ONE OF THE FEW FANTASY BOOKS I’VE READ THAT’S SET IN THE “MODERN” ERA OF THE UNIVERSE RATHER THAN A MEDIEVAL-ESQUE TIME PERIOD. WHAT RESEARCH WENT INTO WRITING THIS AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO SET THE STORY IN THAT ERA? (Kate @ Your Tita Kate)
SHEALEA: Okay, this is pretty long.
FONDA: This is a great question because she’s absolutely right. Most epic fantasy takes place in medieval era – horses and kings and so on. It was really a deliberate choice for me to set it in a late twentieth century timeframe. There were a few reasons why I did it.
The first is because I knew it was going to be a family saga, that it was going to be really inspired by gangster stories and movies and that genre. And that whole of gangster film and fiction really invokes that kind of time period. If you think of American gangster films, it’s always in 1920s prohibition or 1950s the heyday of the five families of New York, and if you think about Hong Kong crime drama, often it’s like 1970s, 80s — like right around there. I knew right away that because of the genre I was writing, it was going to be a modern-era story.
And then I was also inspired by real history because so much of gangster fiction is often set around times of economic growth and social change. If you think about the 1920s – the roaring 20s – or, you know, the post-war era – back where Asia, in particular, saw this huge economic boom and the rise of Singapore and Taiwan and Philippines. All of that economic growth that was happening in post-World War II timeframe, that was also the time of the rise of mafia and mafia groups in those areas as well. That was a huge boom for organized crime in those periods. I wanted to kind of combine those inspirations — so both the genre piece and the historical facts — and create something that really evokes that kind of late twentieth century but not current era.
I had to be really specific when I was writing it. I’ll be like, “Oh, there’s no cell phones and no Internet, but there [are] cars and there [are] airplanes.” So that involved a lot of just making sure that I had the right cues for technology when I was writing the story.
SHEALEA: What specific research did you take to make sure those things were accurate and that everything falls into place?
FONDA: Well, one thing was: I did quite a bit of research into the history of Asian economic development after World War II. I read up a lot about the history of Japan and Taiwan and Singapore and the growth that they went through in the 60s to the 70s. I also would just spot-check myself. Fortunately, I’m old enough to remember the time before cell phones and computers – fortunately or unfortunately. [Also,] I would often actually check when were things invented, like when was the cassette deck invented? […] I pegged the story to certain timelines.
But I did also just a lot of research into the history of all these organized crime groups, so I did a ton of reading into the yakuza and the triads and the Italian-American mafia and Cosa Nostra and all sorts of organized crime groups, because even though the clans aren’t technically organized crime groups, I was really drawing inspiration from some of those cultures.
It was a combination of like real history and real-life groups, and then I would just make stuff up. This is my fantasy world, so this is the way it’s going to be.
WHICH ASPECTS OF YOUR BOOKS DO YOU ENJOY WRITING THE MOST? (Rain @ bookdragonism)
FONDA: Oh gosh, which aspect. I really enjoy writing fight scenes because they’re my candy. […] I find them easy to write because I have background in martial arts, and I love writing fight scenes so if I know there’s one coming up, it’s like my fun. It’s like the fun part of writing for me. But I also love writing the political conflicts and, like, the different ways the characters are like maneuvering for advantage and the sort of like subtle conflicts that happen — they’re a lot harder to write, but I also really enjoy writing those — and the relationships between them.
So I would say that the [most fun parts] to write are the fight scenes, but all the political and interpersonal conflict [are] also a lot of fun — just harder.
SHEALEA: I get that. [It’s] like a bit rewarding, sort of.
FONDA: Yeah, and they take a lot. It takes a long time to get them just right. Like the way the characters are talking and the sort of subtle subtext, the clues that they’re giving to each other, and the way they talk so they’re harder to write, but they’re a lot of fun.
IF YOU WERE STUCK ON AN ISLAND, WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO BE WITH YOU? (Rain @ bookdragonism)
SHEALEA: This is also from Rain, and the question is: if you were stuck on an island, which of your characters would you choose to be with you?
FONDA: Ooh. *laughs* Okay.
SHEALEA: *laughs* This is hard.
FONDA: Hard. So are we going to be rescued or do we have to survive?
SHEALEA: It doesn’t specify that.
FONDA: Yeah. ‘Cause I feel like that might, uh…
SHEALEA: *laughs* Like that might narrow it down? Like, “What situation is this island?”
FONDA: Hmm. I’m going to pick Hilo. I’ll be stuck on an island with him. I feel like he would be the most fun to have a conversation with.
SHEALEA: Oh, okay. I was, like, thinking — my thinking was like, “Who would guarantee my survival? Who would, like, work hard to make sure that I survive, and I have to do little work in my survival?”
FONDA: Right, right. Who would you pick in that situation?
SHEALEA: At first, I was like Lan is the most responsible one. He’d have, like, a plan, right? A solid plan [of] how to get us out of the island. But then I think of Hilo, he’s like — you’re right [that] he’d be more fun to be with, which would be nice if you’re [on] an island and you’re a little bit like “Oh my god!” and you’re freaking out and stuff. I feel like Hilo is more equipped to handle my emotional breakdowns [on] the island.
FONDA: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Those are both good answers. I think it does depend on whether you have to survive and get off the island or whether you’re just kind of stuck on this island and you’ve got to spend time with someone.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD? (Divine @ R E A D I V I N E)
FONDA: That’s so hard. I like so much food. I love food. You know, I love noodle soups of all types. I love ramen — it’s probably one of my huge comfort food — a bowl of pho, [so] I think noodle soup is probably a comfort food. And I’m also a carnivore so, like, a good steak is probably also good comfort food.
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