Spotlight Mini-Series: Fonda Lee on the daily, part 5 (ft. Asian soups & second book stress)

We’re down to the last part of this mini-series! Just to recap, 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. Our hour-long interview resulted in a 21-page transcript, which sparked the idea for this daily mini-series!

Unlike the previous parts of this mini-series, which consisted of randomly selected questions from the blog tour hosts, Part 5 is a more formal interview with questions prepared by yours truly. Here, we will learn more about the writing process behind Jade War — with a couple of silly questions thrown in!

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; and (2) 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


SHEALEA: Months ago, Eugene Lee Yang tweeted, “Y’all wanna see a real fight? Ask your Asian friends whose culture has the best soup.” So, inspired by this tweet, my question is: in your opinion, what is the best Asian soup?

FONDA: That is so hard, and I feel like no matter what I say, I’m gonna make everyone else mad. *laughs* That’s so hard. Best soup. They’re all so good. There’s so much good soup. Especially because I said that one of my comfort foods was noodle soup, and there’s a lot of good noodle soups.

Okay, well, I’m gonna go with Taiwanese beef noodle soup.

SHEALEA: Mm, I haven’t tried. I will look into that.

FONDA: And that’s just too hard. That’s a cruel question. That’s like asking me which is my favorite character.


SHEALEA: Have you encountered a game called fuck, marry, kill? I came up with a small spin-off of that game, and so it’s called: fight, marry, kneel using the Kaul siblings. So, in this context, fight is physical combat, marry is self-explanatory, and kneel is like a pledge of allegiance — like among them, which one would you serve or be the right hand of?

FONDA: I don’t want to fight any of them because I would get killed. Do I have to fight one? Because I feel like whichever one I fight, I’m gonna die. *laughs*

SHEALEA: *laughs* I feel like the one you didn’t pick for the other two options would be your default “I would have to fight [them].”

FONDA: Okay, well — and it has to be one of the Kaul siblings? Like I can’t choose someone else?


FONDA: It has to be one. Oh, goodness. Okay, well, I’m going to choose… I feel like Shae would take mercy on me. *laughs* So I’m gonna fight Shae. She’ll either kill me super-fast or take mercy on me. And then I’d pick — these are hard. Um. And then marry, I’m gonna go with… I think I’d go with Lan. He’s, you know, he just seems like a good guy. Responsible. I think he’s marriage goals. And then kneel — yeah, I’d kneel to Hilo. It’s hard not to. He’s the one that’s left.

SHEALEA: He’s very charismatic. I would die for Hilo. I feel like my answers would probably be like: I would… although I get the concern about fighting and then inevitably dying, I would kneel for Shae, I would marry Hilo, and I know I have to fight Lan but I feel like I should do that after the marry and kneel so that at least I had a good life. I wouldn’t stand a chance, but I lived a good life.

FONDA: Yeah, yeah. That makes sense.


SHEALEA: You’ve written, like, several books, including sequels to some of the series, so it’s not exactly a completely foreign experience to you to write a second installment. But even so, what did you feel while you were writing Jade War? Especially given the response you’ve received from Jade City.

FONDA: Writing a second book is really hard, and I think that’s for a few reasons. Because now there’s expectations on you. The first book you’re kind of doing all by yourself and nobody’s paying attention — no one’s asking for it, nobody knows what you’re doing, and so there’s the anxiety of “Will people like it? Will it sell? Will my publisher want it?” But with the second book, you’re under a lot more time pressure and you have expectations from the first book and people are reading it and you’re getting feedback from people — and even if it’s good, it kind of messes you up because then it gets in your head while you’re writing the second book.

So, I think the hardest thing with the second book is making it feel like it’s a story on its own. Oftentimes with trilogies, the second book is the one that feels like it’s just a bridge between the first book and the third book. And I really didn’t want that to be the case. I wanted the second book to feel like a complete story in its own right. And on top of that, you have to continue all the threads that you started in the first book and build on them and introduce new threats and raise the stakes and new antagonists. All of that makes it feel like writing the second book is just constantly juggling so many balls or you’re trying to solve, like, a Rubik’s cube and get all the pieces to fit in the way that you want. The second book is really hard.

And I’ve had more than a few times when I was just like, oh, I had this fear that I wouldn’t live up because you have this first book already and I knew people were eager for the second book and like asking me when the second book was gonna come out, so there was just this anxiety of “I don’t want to disappoint people, and I want to do justice to the story and to the characters.”

And you’ll get there when you read it, but there was a big climactic moment, especially in the middle of that second book, that I didn’t figure out until a little bit later. Each time I’ve written a second book, it has changed significantly in the writing because you realize like, “Oh no, I need this to go a different direction.” Because oftentimes, it starts out just being “Take the first book and then continue it and keep going” but that doesn’t lead to its own — to a complete story in its own right. So oftentimes, I’m realizing “No, I need to change direction in a few places,” or up the stakes, or bring in a different antagonist. And that turns it into its own thing.

Second books are hard, and oftentimes they don’t get as much attention as the first book, because the first book is usually when the publisher gives the book — your series — its biggest push. But you do hope that everyone who loved the first book will be satisfied with the second book. I’m really happy with it. It was stressful. *laughs*

SHEALEA: I can imagine.

FONDA: Oftentimes, the second book is where the series really grows — like the first book sets the stage — but I think there’s even more character development and more story development in the second book than in the first book.


FONDA: One of the key themes in Jade War was the — I wanted to take the conflict over jade in between the clans to an international level so —

SHEALEA: Oh my god. *literally clutches heart* Okay. I was not prepared.

Okay, you can keep blowing my mind. Continue.

FONDA: So, I knew that the first book was, at its heart, about this conflict between the clans in Kekon and who would control jade. With Book 2, the scope expands to be about how that starts having an impact on relations with other countries, and how both clans are expanding internationally and finding both enemies and allies overseas. That was going to be a huge theme in Book 2, and [it’s] very tied to real-history inspiration of globalization in the modern age. One of the things that I really wanted as part of setting this story in a modern era was exploring some modern themes, including globalization — and that’s something that’s very prevalent in our world and is a struggle for Asian countries today. It’s like, “How do you balance tradition versus modernity?” — and that’s a theme that runs through the whole book. Or through the whole entire series but comes out a lot, especially in the second or third book.

The other theme that I really wanted to dive into was the Kekonese diaspora — because we meet the Green Bones and the world of Kekonese culture comes out in the first book — and all Asians know that we’re not a monolith, that there [are] so many nuances of culture within any given diaspora. So, we meet Kekonese diaspora characters in other countries, and they are characters who are Kekonese, and so, they have the ability to wear jade, but they’re living in other countries besides Kekon — so how does that result in a different culture? That was another big theme that I wanted to explore.

And then the third was just amping up and continuing the family saga and how the characters of the first book — who take power of the clan — come into those leadership roles. The struggle in the first book was being thrust into those leadership positions and having to take leadership and survive, and in the second book, it’s about how do they hold onto power and how do they grow into their roles as leaders and how is that affecting their relationships? And I knew that certain secondary characters in the first book, Anden and Wen in particular, who had roles in the first book — but not leading roles — `would step up and have leading roles in the second book.

SHEALEA: Yes, I love Wen!

FONDA: Just wait. *laughs* Yes, Wen has more screen time in the second book in a big way.

SHEALEA: [And] oh my god, we’re getting new characters. I’m so happy!


SHEALEA: What can readers expect from — aside from what you’ve already said — what can readers expect from the second book in the Green Bones saga?

FONDA: They can expect what I think is probably the best fight scene in the series so far — that’s gonna be in there. There’s a lot of maneuvering and backstabbing that goes on. And there [are] some colorful new villains and antagonists that show up. They can also expect to see a lot more from Anden and from Wen. And they’re gonna be — I think there’s a few points in that book where they’re gonna be shocked by some of the decisions that the characters make. I really wanted to kind of push these characters in ways that make it challenge readers and the characters, so they have to make some really brutal decisions.

SHEALEA: *barely able to breathe* Okay.

FONDA: *laughs*

SHEALEA: I was literally holding my breath while you were talking. I’m okay. Sinking in, it’s sinking in. As a last follow-up, on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest), how badly are we going to get hurt in Jade War?

FONDA: Oh gosh. I mean, I don’t know if you can be hurt more — I mean, I still feel really hurt by the first book and I wrote it.

Um, on a scale of 1 to 10, maybe like 7.5?

SHEALEA: I see, I see. That’s a safe answer.

FONDA: It’d hurt, but it’s not like you’d be utterly destroyed. Yet.

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I’d love to hear from you!

🌻 What are your thoughts on the final interview? Do you agree with Fonda’s assessment of the pain Jade War will cause its readers?

🌻 Who would you fight, marry, and kneel among the Kaul siblings?

🌻 Have you picked up Jade City? Are you excited for Jade War?

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2 thoughts on “Spotlight Mini-Series: Fonda Lee on the daily, part 5 (ft. Asian soups & second book stress)

  1. I have the same answer with Fonda on the fight, marry, kneel question! Lan is marriage goals for me too lol and then Hilo, I’d kill for him. I also love him as well as Shae. I’d fight Shae for the same reason that she might give me mercy too. That is quite an cool question, Shealea! And this whole series is. I wasn’t able to contribute to the Qs because I haven’t read Jade City by that time yet and I can’t think of any creative Qs 😅🙈


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