Another day, another dose of Fonda Lee and her fun answers! I’ll keep my needless chattering to a minimum this time. Let’s go!
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.
JADE CITY IS A BOOK DEEP ROOTED IN FAMILY. HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO WRITE ABOUT THE FAMILY DYNAMICS? (Krisha @ Bookathon)
FONDA: I loved writing about the families. It’s difficult but also one of the most enjoyable parts to me because I feel like family is such an important thing in Asian culture overall. And I think everyone who grows up in an Asian family would say that [about] family and family dynamics — that duty to family and loyalty to family is just a big part of our lives.
I have a real fondness for The Godfather trilogy. It’s a gangster story, but it’s not a typical cops-versus-gangsters story. It’s actually just a family story — it just so happens that the characters are gangsters. So that was part of my inspiration, too. I always knew, in my heart when I started writing this story, that it would be about the family. Even though there’s magic and world politics and fighting, at the end of the day, it’s about the family.
When I first came up with the idea for Jade City, I didn’t have anything in mind other than the world. The initial idea for it — I wrote down in my writing notebooks years ago. It was just the title. So Jade City was the first thing that came to me. And I wrote down Jade City. And then I wrote down: gangster fantasy saga where power rests with those who have jade. And that’s all I had!
And then I knew I wanted it to be about the family, but I didn’t have any of the characters in my mind yet, so the story just sat around in my notebook for a year or two because I didn’t have a plot [and] I didn’t have characters. And then because I knew the story would be about family, I started to populate the family. I knew that I really wanted the dynamic between those siblings to be a real driving force so I set up the characters so that they were very different and they had personalities that would really rub up against each other, and also, that intergenerational aspect where the grandfather is aging and these younger characters are coming into power. So that was the set-up.
You know, when you start writing, the characters kind of feel — they feel very like broad strokes, almost like caricatures at first. And then as you write, you get to know them more and more and you can go back. […] As I was revising, I was just finding different layers and ways for them to interact.
SHEALEA: I don’t want to ask who your favorite is. I feel like they’re all your children.
FONDA: *laughs* They are. Maybe one day I will answer that question. I’ve had people ask me, and I said, “I’m not gonna answer until the series is done.” If I say who my favorite is, people might think that they’re safe.
OF ALL THE CHARACTERS IN THE SERIES, DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE? WHO WAS THE MOST FUN TO WRITE? WHO DO YOU IDENTIFY WITH, IF ANYONE? (Isabelle @ BookwyrmBites)
SHEALEA: This one’s about favorite characters, but I know you don’t want to answer that. But there’s also [a question] asking if you identify with any of the characters.
FONDA: Ooh. I feel like I identify with all of them in some way. See, the thing about being a writer is you have to find something in each character that you feel connection to, so that you can write them as authentically as possible. So, I feel like there’s something about each of the characters that I really relate to.
I’m probably most similar in personality to Shae if I have to pick one. Um, but each of the characters has something about them that I really feel connection to. And I’m not going to say who my favorite is. Yet.
SHEALEA: Which of the characters is the most fun to write?
FONDA: Oh, most fun. Hilo is always my favorite character to write.
SHEALEA: Yeah, I can see that. *laughs* I can see that. I love Hilo so much. *laughs* Well, I love all of them equally so I kind of get the whole “no favorites” thing. At first, I’d think that I love Lan the most, but when I think about it more, I’m like, “… No?” And yeah, I love them all in different ways but in equal amounts.
FONDA: Every time I felt like maybe I was starting to have a favorite, I would try to make sure that I bolstered up the characters of the others because I really wanted them all to play very strong roles and be equal to each other in the story.
IF THE WORLD IS ENDING AND YOU WERE GIVEN THE CHANCE TO READ ONE BOOK IN YOUR FINAL MOMENTS, WHAT BOOK WOULD YOU CHOOSE? (Rain @ bookdragonism)
SHEALEA: This is also from Rain. I feel like Rain has the most creative questions.
FONDA: Oh my gosh. My final moments.
SHEALEA: Yeah. I’d read yours — definitely — for my final moments.
FONDA: I feel like I would probably… I wouldn’t be reading anything because I’d be struggling to finish my next book. I feel like “I have to finish this book and get it out before the world ends!” To, like, give justice to the characters. So most likely, I’d be finishing one of my own books until I get it out at the very last minute.
But if I was done… Let’s assume that my book was done. What would I read? I think I would maybe go back to one of my childhood favorites and read a book that I loved as a child. Something like The Never Ending Story or Narnia or Chronicles of Prydain. Or something that I really enjoyed as a kid.
SHEALEA: I don’t know. I feel like it’s a nostalgic thing: the world is ending, let’s reminisce.
FONDA: Yeah, exactly. The world is ending, so yeah, probably a comfort read of some sort.
WHICH ROLE WOULD A CHARACTER PLAY IN A MULAN RETELLING AU? (Kate @ Your Tita Kate)
SHEALEA: So alternate universe, I guess?
FONDA: I don’t really know. What do you think? It’s been a long time since I’ve, like, seen that. I’m not super familiar with all the characters.
SHEALEA: All I know is the Disney version. And the Disney version is a bit weird to me because, you know, Shang and Mulan are, like, love interests and… yeah. Although I do know that Hilo would probably be Mushu. That’s for sure.
FONDA: *laughs* Yeah, I’d buy that. I buy that. Well, I feel like Shae would be Mulan. *laughs*
SHEALEA: Another thing we’re sure of.
FONDA: Yeah, those are the two I know for sure.
SHEALEA: I think Anden would be a good cricket, but… *laughs*
FONDA: Right. And Lan would be like…
SHEALEA: The Emperor.
FONDA: The Emperor or something. *laugh* We’ll go with that. That’s as good an answer as I can come up with.
SHEALEA: So no one’s Shang. It’s weird to have a Shang.
FONDA: Yeah, I don’t know. Who would be a Shang?
SHEALEA: I can’t think of anyone.
Pin this post on Pinterest!
You can share this post on other social media platforms, too — check out the buttons at the bottom of this post. If you really enjoy my content, maybe consider supporting me with a cup of coffee?
I’d love to hear from you!
🌻 Any guesses as to who Fonda’s favorite character is?
🌻 Are you like me? If the world was ending, would you pick Jade City as the book to read during your final moments?
🌻 Have you picked up Jade City? Are you excited for Jade War?