Tag Archives: Asian

An excerpt from SACRIFICE by Cindy Pon

By Cindy Pon

As a writer, I always feel like my second books are stronger than my first. My stories naturally seem to be told in duologies, and with the sequel, it might be that I’m more comfortable with the characters, their motivations, and worlds. As someone who does not outline, my process is pretty intuitive. I knew that Sacrifice would be told from dual narrations (as Fury of the Phoenix was told): Skybright’s and Zhen Ni’s. It wasn’t until I finished the first draft that I realized that I needed to include Kai Sen as a main point of view. This allowed me to expand the lens into this world, and I enjoyed it as much as it challenged me as a writer. I love this story, and I’m so happy it’s finally out in the world! I share an excerpt from Sacrifice below and ordering information for personalized and/or signed copies with pre-order gift!


Someone opened the panel of her room quietly. “Zhen Ni?” a male voice whispered.

She smothered a scream. No man had ever been within her bedchamber, except for the doctor on rare occasions, and even then, she had been hidden behind silk drapes on her bed,  offering her arm so the man could examine her pulse. No common man had ever been allowed within the inner quarters, unchaperoned much less, and in the dead of night. Blood pounded in her ears, and Zhen Ni gripped her dagger tighter, prepared to use it if she had to.

“It’s me. Kai Sen.”

Recognition dawned. She had thought the voice sounded familiar, but she hadn’t seen Kai Sen since they parted ways over half a year ago, after he had escorted her home from visiting Lan one last time. What in the goddess’s name was he doing here, breaking all rules of decorum? Her reputation could be compromised if he were caught.

Zhen Ni smiled in the dark then. It was a wonder anyone would take her as a wife at all. She was notoriously known as a stubborn runaway and truly didn’t give a donkey’s ass about decorum now, but she had behaved perfectly to please her parents since returning home. She held still in her dark corner, waiting to see what Kai Sen would do.

A bright flame ignited within the bedchamber. She squinted, thinking he had lit a lantern, but it appeared as if he cradled a ball of blue fire in his very palm. Astounded, Zhen Ni stared as Kai Sen drew to her empty bedside, peering down at the rumpled coverlet, then turned to survey the room.

Dressed in a black sleeveless tunic, he seemed taller than she remembered and definitely bigger. Kai Sen had been all wiry muscle when they had traveled together but thin, still boyish in some ways. His time in the monastery since had filled his frame, as if he’d finally grown into his adult physique. He had looked strong before; now he looked powerful. She watched while the flickering flame danced across his face. Kai Sen’s dark eyebrows were knitted together as his alert eyes swept the large bedchamber. Zhen Ni could see why Skybright had been drawn to him—he was handsome. He exuded masculinity. Assuming a girl appreciated that sort of thing: rough hands and deep voice, the odd metallic tang of sweat. She knew from their travels together that he even smelled different.

Zhen Ni wasn’t attracted to these things.

For a brief moment, she remembered the soft curve of Lan’s neck bent over her embroidery, smelled the rose perfume she used to dab at the hollow of Lan’s throat, the scent sweet and mellow when she would kiss the same spot hours later … Zhen Ni blinked the memories away and whispered, “What are you doing here?”

Buy the Book:

Order from Mysterious Galaxy Books to get signed and personalized copies of Serpentine or Sacrifice, and choose a pre-order gift of your choice! Grace Fong’s gorgeous art of my girls Zhen Ni and Skybright magnet, or my hummingbird Chinese brush art card. You receive a gift for every book purchased AND you’re supporting my favorite indie book store!

Zhen Ni and Skybright by Grace Fong

Serpentine is also currently on sale across all ebook platforms for 99c. If you haven’t had a chance to read the first book yet, here’s the perfect opportunity for less than a buck! #nook #kindle #kobo #ibook #googleplay

With No Map and a Flimsy Parachute

By Sarah Fine

fine-ofdreamsOf Dreams and Rust is a sequel (and the conclusion of a duology), but I will tell you right now that it was a little tougher for me than the other sequels I’ve written. See, Of Metal and Wishes is a retelling—The Phantom of the Opera, set in a meat factory—and with retellings, you already have a bit of a road map when you sit down to write. But … there really is no official part deux to The Phantom of the Opera (yeah, I know there’s a sequel to the musical, but have you seen it? I haven’t.) So, after lovingly crafting that first book with parallels to the original, writing this sequel was kinda like launching the story into open air.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what I did to Wen, the protagonist of this series. While the first book takes place in a slaughterhouse that acts as a crucible for class and ethnic inequality and tension, this second book offers up the entire society and a formidable landscape (one that’s inspired by the Xinjiang region). Lots of ground to cover and no road map. Lots of cliffs and crevasses, both literal and emotional. Lots of ambiguity and no easy choices.

In Of Metal and Wishes, Wen sees herself nestled warm in the belly of a beast she never truly recognized until she rubbed up against people she’d only known as vague stereotypes, and she realized that if you are close to someone, it’s hard to see them as anything but a fellow human being—but if you aren’t, it’s often too easy to view them with far less complexity (and then dismiss or persecute them). In Of Dreams and Rust, Wen’s in the arena with this beast, trying to avoid its stomping feet. She’s driven by her love for Melik, a boy from a different ethnic group with a long history of oppression at the hands of Wen’s, but as she’s reunited with him, a completely different realization dawns—that even when you experience someone’s humanity with great intimacy, you can still make mistaken assumptions based on deeply ingrained lessons about the value of one belief over another, one characteristic or quality over another. Wen doesn’t know where she’s going to land. Until I’d written the last page of the book, I wasn’t sure, either.

As a member of a multicultural family and someone who has been in a cross-cultural relationship for seventeen years, I’ve inadvertently initiated and witnessed some of those misunderstandings and stumbles. I studied cultural differences in emotion expression and socialization in my early professional life, and in my personal life I’ve had to negotiate them moment by moment. One is a lot more visceral than the other. One provided at least the illusion of an organized path—and the other is like jumping into open air.

Once I’d written Of Dreams and Rust and the freefall was over, I hoped the story had captured some of that heart-level striving and bumbling and pushing onward. And with the book’s release on August 4th, I feel like I’m launching it back into the wide open air once again—but this time my readers get to decide where it lands.

Sarah Fine is the author of several books for young adults, including the Guards of the Shadowlands series (Skyscape), Scan and Burn (with co-author Walter Jury; Putnam), Of Metal and Wishes and its sequel, Of Dreams and Rust (McElderry), and the upcoming YA fantasy, The Impostor Queen (January 2016; McElderry). She is also the author of the adult urban fantasy series Servants of Fate (47North). When she’s not writing, she’s working as a psychologist, but she promises she isn’t psychoanalyzing you right now.

Of Dreams and Rust is available for purchase.

An Unexpected Climb

By Amanda Sun

sun-stormIt’s summer in Japan, and the buzz of the cicadas cuts through the muggy heat that sticks to your skin. Thanks to a writer’s grant, I’m in Shizuoka, living in the setting of The Paper Gods as I finish the final draft of Storm. Every day is filled with details, wandering through Sunpu Park or the tunnels of Shizuoka Station, checking what kind of flowers and bushes grow at Toro Iseki or what kind of charms adorn high school students’ bags these days. Today I’m a tourist in the pages of my own books—I’m visiting Sengen Shrine, just west of the fictional Suntaba High where Tomo, Katie and their friends go to school.

Sengen is a beautiful shrine complex, complete with gardens, bright red bridges over silent ponds, carved golden dragons looming over entranceways, and shrine maidens selling good luck charms. But there’s a steep stairway set into the mountain that I can’t resist, even in this heat—I have to see where it goes, to see what’s at the top.


By the eighth stair I’m sweating, but I make my way up those stone steps to another set of shrine buildings. And then the dirt path wraps around the side to more stairs, and I just have to see where they lead as well.


Before I know it, I’m at the very top of a trail through the green hills that border Shizuoka City, and I’m looking down on the breathtaking view of houses and stores, the greenness of Nihondaira Mountain and its strawberry farms looming back at me from the other edge near Suruga Bay.


Writing a trilogy is a lot like that visit to Sengen Shrine. Some of the grounds are easier to walk and observe than others. Some take more exploring and more sweat. But I needed to see where Tomo and Katie’s story went. I wanted to bring my love of Japan and its culture to readers, to make them see what we had in common at the heart of all of us. I wanted to write a variety of characters that challenge us to think harder about how we view those different from us. I had to follow each step up that mountain until there was a complete view laid out in front of me, no matter how many tears or how much sweat went into that climb.

Writing isn’t always easy—most of the time it’s hard, and there’s no way around it but to go one stone stair at a time. And there’s nothing more wonderful than when you’ve reached the end of that journey, when you can finally catch your breath and look over everything you’ve written and know that you tried your best to tell the story in a way that captured everything it made you feel.

sun-guestpost-photo4When I climbed down those steep steps, I met an elderly man who was walking through the shrine gardens. We got to talking about the weather, and why I was there at Sengen Shrine. And then he reached into his pocket and placed a candy in my hands, wishing me a wonderful day. The brown sugar candy was sweet and delicious after that hike up the mountainside, and the wrapper came with an inscribed message – otsukaresama, which carries the meaning, “you’ve worked hard.”

There’s something bittersweet about walking away from a trilogy that you’ve finished. But I hope that with the conclusion of Katie and Tomo’s story in Storm, readers will all feel that same sense of wonder in coming down off that mountainside with a new view and experience, that they will be challenged to look at characters, and each other, complexly. For the journeys you take in your reading and writing, and in life, I hope you remember to take a moment and tell yourself: otsukaresama.


Amanda Sun is the author of The Paper Gods, a YA Fantasy series set in Japan and published by Harlequin Teen. The first two books, INK and RAIN, are Aurora Award nominees and Junior Library Guild selections. She has a new YA Fantasy coming in May 2016, HEIR TO THE SKY, about monster hunters and floating continents. When not reading or writing, Sun is also an avid cosplayer. Find her on Twitter at @Amanda_Sun and get free Paper Gods novellas at AmandaSunBooks.com.

Storm is available for purchase here.

5 Things I Learned While Writing INK AND ASHES

By Valynne E. Maetani

maetani-inkandashes-ag15When my sister turned eighteen, I decided to write Ink and Ashes for her. Because I never got to see myself in books other than those with settings involving war, an internment camp, or high fantasy, I wanted her to have a contemporary title with a Japanese American protagonist. I was tired of reading about people like me who were hated just because of the way they look and thought the greatest gift I could give her was a book I never got to read.

Following red herrings and guessing how a story might end has always been a thrill, so I knew this was the type of book I wanted to write. I also wanted a Japanese element which added mystery, and that naturally led me to the yakuza, the Japanese mafia.

The only problem was that I had never written a book before. Fortunately, writing a book was really fun and easy.

Until it wasn’t.

So here are some of the most important things I learned:

1. Writing is hard. In order to grow, I had to leave my ego at the door. I had to be willing to let my manuscript be ripped to shreds. I had to hear why parts of my story didn’t work. I had to learn where my weaknesses were, so I could discover my strengths.

2. Writing is hard. There were times I hated my book. I hated my characters. I wanted them all to die. But I also loved my book. I loved it enough that I couldn’t give up writing. I was passionate about my story even when I thought my manuscript would never be published. In fact, I was pretty certain my story would never see the light of day. No one had written a book like mine, and so I believed there wasn’t a market for my story. But having an underlying passion for what I was writing carried me through the times that were difficult.

3. Writing is hard. I think some of the hardest scenes to write for Ink and Ashes were the ones where I left a part of myself on the page. Allowing myself to be vulnerable was difficult, but it also meant I was writing a story no one else could write.

4. Writing is hard. But having friends who are writers has made the journey easier. Only writers truly understand why we do what we do—why we torture ourselves and yet love the craft. Writers understand exactly what it means to get an agent, to sell a book, to be on deadline, to write another book. They have been a support system that I couldn’t have done without.

5. Writing is hard. But it is also fun. It is worth the blood, the sweat, and the tears. It has brought joys and opportunities I could have never imagined; introduced me to people I wouldn’t have met otherwise; and filled voids that I wasn’t even aware of.

Writing is hard. But it wouldn’t be meaningful otherwise, and I can’t imagine life without it.

valynnemaetaniValynne E. Maetani grew up in Utah and obtained a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. In a former life, she was a project manager and developed educational software for children with learning disabilities. Currently, she is a part-time stage mom, part-time soccer mom, and full-time writer. Her debut novel, Ink and Ashes, is the winner of the New Visions Award 2013 and a spring 2015 Junior Library Guild selection. She lives in Salt Lake City, UT.

Ink and Ashes is now available.

To Tell or Not to Tell

By Lisa Freeman

freeman-honeygirlBack in 1972, when my novel Honey Girl is set, secrets were whispered into someone’s ear or mumbled to a priest in a stuffy, wooden booth. Secrets that take root in young people can cost a life, but they can also save it. I wanted to write a novel that allowed the reader to peek into another world, a world where pink and dolls were for girls, blue and sports were for boys, and there was no in-between. I wanted to explore sublime everyday relationships, where mundane activities like waking up and going to sleep could bookend a day that changed a life forever. I wanted to write a story about the last place I would have wanted to be caught as an out lesbian when I was a teen. So I took the reader back to State Beach in Santa Monica, California, which is a real place I bring to life with fictional characters, a place where I once roamed with my own secret about my sexuality. Back then, being queer was something you took to the grave. There was no Tyler Oakley on YouTube. Telling was never a possibility.

Honey Girl is written in a close first-person narrative, which invites the reader to share in the narrator’s secrets without her revealing them. Haunani Grace Nuuhiwa is hapa haole, half Caucasian, half Hawaiian, and recently transplanted to the mainland from Hawaii after her father’s sudden death. Although she can’t keep her skin color a secret, she can protect her true identity by having a boyfriend, especially when he’s one of the hottest surfers on the beach. I can’t even count how many boyfriends I had before I came out. Like Nani, I tried to negotiate with myself, and I fluctuated between being straight and being gay. This, in my experience, was not bisexuality. It was conflicted homophobia, and this time of my life is a painful reminder of the days I spent trying to determine what degree of acceptance I would tolerate within myself, constantly battling between telling or remaining silent.

The Latin word secretus means to set apart or separate, and that is what a secret does. It’s hidden information that incites a deep fear of being hurt or shamed. So what does this have to do with a beach story about surfing the in 1970s? It’s a mirror of the reality that I grew up with—a reality that still exists, although we have made large strides in ending persecution due to sexual orientation in many parts of the world. The physical act of coming out is still, for most, a daunting process of negotiation and surrender.

Nani is a Virgo, which means she is tuned in to details and focuses intently on others. By learning their secrets, she is unimpeded by her own. It is very important to me that the reader always knows the truth about Nani. Although she never speaks it aloud, her internal monologue about being a funny kine girl rings louder than the dialogue she vocalizes. No one suspects she likes girls except one counterpart: the beautiful leader of the beach, Rox, who is attracted to girls as well. It’s interesting how we find each other on our path to coming out. Maybe two can keep a secret after all.

In order to capture history accurately in this novel, it was imperative that Nani wasn’t capable of even thinking the word lesbian let alone coming out publicly as one. This conflict is just beginning to erupt because Nani has other secrets she needs to deal with first. She stole her father’s ashes in order to perform a secret funeral, keeps a copy of Playboy hidden in her closest, and eavesdrops on her new friends. Nani believes secrets are doorways to power. Like Nani, my greatest strengths were once my greatest weaknesses, or should I say, my greatest secrets.

I wanted to bring to life a time when teens were not monitored, photographed, or Instagrammed every moment. It seems nowadays teens have to go deeper into their minds to keep their secrets safe, until they are ready to reveal them. Everything is public. Maybe that’s why anonymous blogs like PostSecret go viral; they provide a platform on which people can reveal their one truth that can never be spoken.

Whatever your secret may be, it’s been my experience that in order to survive a secret big or small, eventually it must be told. And if you’re being honest, nobody else’s opinion would stop you from feeling good about your authentic self. In the meantime, be safe, be strong, and don’t give up. To tell or not to tell is not a question: it’s a choice. The only question is when.

imageLisa Freeman started her work as an actor and has been in numerous TV productions and films (Mr. Mom and Back to the Future I & II to name a few). She performed at the Comedy Store, which led to her writing career in radio and spoken word. Freeman has a BA in liberal studies and Creative Writing, an MFA in Fiction, and a certificate in Pedagogy in Writing from Antioch University. Inspired by Hawaii and the Los Angeles region, Honey Girl was written about a time when girls were the color of tan-before-sunscreen, drank Tabs by the six-pack, smoked Lark 100’s, and were not allowed to surf. Honey Girl is her debut novel.

Honey Girl is available for purchase.

One Asian Book is Quite Enough

By I. W. Gregorio

A groundbreaking story about a teenage girl who discovers she was born intersex … and what happens when her secret is revealed to the entire school. Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.


When I was at the NYC Teen Author Festival panel on representation a couple of weeks ago, there were a flurry of Tweets that quoted me:

“There’s always diversity within diversity.” @IWGregorio @diversebooks #NYCTAF (Important for all of us writers to remember.)

“There is diversity within diversity…no one book is going to tell every story.” –@IWGregorio at #NYCTAF

“There’s a huge gap in terms of intersectionality in young adult books. We need more diversity within diversity.” @IWGregorio #NYCTAF

In fact, it was A.S. King who first put this earworm of a phrase within my head during the first few days of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, back when we were still “just” a hashtag. As anyone who’s ready any of her books knows, Amy is absolutely brilliant. And here’s some more evidence:

@IWGregorio @TerraMcVoy …I have yet to meet a human being who fits into the box allowed to them by their race, religion, or sexuality.


Her words mean so much to me because of my experience with my first novel. As so many newbie writers do, I took the old adage to “write what you know” to heart, and unsurprisingly wrote about a second-generation Asian-American girl in Central New York. Like a lot of first novels, that book didn’t sell (though it did land me an amazing agent).

The fact that it didn’t sell didn’t in itself bother me; indeed, looking back, I’m very happy that book never saw the light of day as it clearly wasn’t my best work. What disheartened me was the type of feedback that my agent got from editors. Much of it was all over the map, with one exception: Three different editors from three different publishers said that it was too similar to another book with an Asian-American protagonist on their list.

In all honesty, I think that these editors were probably looking for kind ways to say that the book wasn’t up to snuff. Publishing as an industry was going through a very, very tough time. Of course houses didn’t want to take on a book that was too similar to something they already head – it was difficult enough to market the titles they already head. But still.

What comments like this tell me is: “We’ve filled our quota.”

It tells me that publishers think: “One Asian American book is quite enough, thank you.” And what did I do for my next book, with an intersex main character? I subconsciously whitewashed it. I had internalized the rejection of my ethnicity so deeply that I didn’t even think of making my main character a person of color, let alone Asian.


Thank goodness that things are changing. At around the time my first manuscript was dying a slow death, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on the Danger of a Single Story went viral (It’s been viewed by more than 8 million people – pic to the left courtesy of amightygirl.com). We Need Diverse Books has give me hope that for my next book, I can revisit the land of thinly-veiled autobiography. Because you know what? No one’s yet told my story, even though you would think that someone had – after all, I spent my formative years in Central New York and went to the same high school that Newbery Honor-winning author Grace Lin went to. I love Grace’s books so much (I’m reading Dumpling Days to my daughter right now). I see a lot of myself in her characters.

imageAnd at the same time, I don’t see myself at all.

Here’s why: Although I’m ethnically Chinese, my father was born in South Africa and grew up in Malaysia. He and my mother (who was from Taiwan) divorced when I was two. I was raised by a grandfather who had lived most of his life in South Africa, and a grandmother who lived the first half of her life in Mauritius, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean just off the coast of Madagascar. Neither of them spoke more than a few words of Mandarin. Because we didn’t travel much, I didn’t have dim sum for the first time until high school. My grandmother cooked South Asian curries for dinner (and my grandfather had a serious addiction to Vienna sausages in those tiny little cans).

My grandfather meeting the Sultan of Malaysia

Anyone who met me when I was thirteen years old would think that I was such a cliché: An Asian American girl who plays the violin, is a straight-A student & whose (grand)parent is a doctor. Look closer, though, and I’m hardly the “typical” Asian (whatever that means). My school pic shows why: I was one of only two Chinese students in my school. Even today, I speak less Mandarin than some of my Caucasian friends who have lived overseas. I didn’t got to my first traditional Chinese wedding until medical school. And, to my husband’s chagrin, I know how to do a basic Asian stir fry but that’s pretty much it.

The thing is, the more people realize the diversity within diversity, the more stereotypes crumble. ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat hooked me from its first scene, when the close-up of someone getting dressed listening to hip hop pans out to a Asian middle-grader.


In the end, we’re all just people, none of us defined by race, religion or sexuality. So let’s tell our stories in all our multitudes–and let’s read them so we can see each other in all our complexity

I. W. Gregorio is a practicing surgeon by day, masked avenging YA writer by night. After getting her MD, she did her residency at Stanford, where she met the intersex patient who inspired her debut novel, None of the Above (Balzer & Bray / HarperCollins, April 7, 2015). She is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books™ and serves as its VP of Development. A recovering ice hockey player, she lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. Find her online at www.iwgregorio.com, and on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram at @iwgregorio.

None of the Above is available for purchase here.

A Climb That Inspired a Story

By Lisa Yee

“Where do your ideas come from?” is the second most asked question I get. (The first being, “Do you want fries with that?”)

You know, it’s weird, but my ideas mostly come from that mysterious region in my brain that collects odd facts, interesting faces, and bits of fluff and memory leftover from childhood. That said, although it’s rare, every now and then I’m able to pinpoint an inciting incident that has caused a novel to materialize.

I always write my endings first. Even though I revise the hell out of a manuscript, the ending never changes. Never. I guess I focus on the finish line. Speaking of which, when my daughter was in high school she ran cross-country track. One afternoon, she was meeting with other girls on the team, and so I dropped her off at one of their houses.

A couple hours later I got a phone call.

“Mom, Mom can you come pick me up right away?” Her voice sounded shaky.

“Honey, is everything okay?”

When she replied, “Don’t worry, I’m safe,” I began to worry.

Not my proudest moment, but I probably broke a dozen laws speeding to get to her. When I pulled up to the curb, she flung herself into the passenger seat. She had been crying.


Then my daughter said the words no mom ever wanted to hear…

“I wanted to talk to you first, before the police called.”

It seemed that the girls had hiked to the water tower on the top of the hill. The chain link fence was broken and despite the “No Trespassing” sign, they trespassed. I’m not sure which one had the brilliant idea, but they dared each other to climb to the top of the water tower.

Guess who volunteered to go first?

When I raised my daughter to be brave and embrace challenges, this was not what I had meant. Nevertheless, she began her ascent. She was halfway up before she realized that not only were none of the other girls following her, but they had company. The police ordered her to come down, but panic set in and instead of coming down, she kept going up until she reached the top.

When I heard this, I thought of all the things that could have happened to her. What if she had slipped? What if she had fallen? What if… What if… What if… it was after midnight, and she was wearing a bathrobe, and the police thought she was suicidal, and that she wasn’t a girl, but a boy, and… and… and that’s where the idea for The Kidney Hypothetical: Or How Ruin Your Life in Seven Days came from.

When I began to write the novel, this was what I knew. That at the end of the book a boy, a senior in high school who was scared of heights, would be trapped on the top of a water tower, with the police down below. Oh, and he’d be wearing a pink bathrobe.

My latest YA chronicles the last seven days of Chinese English Jewish American high school senior Higgs Boson Bing — Harvard-bound, prom king, valedictorian, boyfriend to the most popular girl in school. But someone is trying to bring him down and succeeding. As his once idyllic life crashes and pain, chaos and confusion set in, Higgs is faced with the question: What if the person you are meant to be, is not the person you want to be?

As for my daughter? Well, I’m pleased to say that her life of crime ended there. Well…except for that one thing. She graduated from college and is now an editorial assistant in New York. In the acknowledgements of The Kidney Hypothetical, it reads, “To (my daughter) who climbed the water tower and lived to tell about it. I love you, but don’t ever do that again.”

 Lisa Yee’s debut novel, Millicent Min, Girl Genius, won the first Sid Fleischman Humor Award. Since then, she has written ten more novels including Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, Warp Speed, and Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally), plus books for American Girl. She has also written for Huffington Post, NPR and Twitter (those these are mostly photos of food). Lisa’s most recent YA is The Kidney Hypothetical: Or How To Ruin Your Life In Seven Days. Accolades include Chinese American Library Association Best Book of the Year, Fox Sports Network’s “American in Focus” for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, and USA Today Critics’ Top Pick.

Visit Lisa at www.lisayee.com or catch her procrastinating on Facebook.

The Kidney Hypothetical is available for purchase here.

Taekkyon and the End of the Prophecy Series

Ellen Oh’s Prophecy trilogy follows the journey of Kira, a young female warrior in ancient Korea; this week the final book, King, is published.

By Ellen Oh


When I first started writing Prophecy, I wanted to develop a kickass girl warrior who was also a master martial artist. But this was set in the 3rd century, and Tae Kwon Do, as we know it, didn’t develop until after the Japanese occupation of Korea ended in 1945. In large part, this was because of the banning of all martial arts by the Japanese. And right there, I was fascinated. Martial arts banned. So how did Tae Kwon do form then? The answer led me to Taekkyon.

Taekkyon is one of the oldest martial arts of Korea, if not the oldest. Research is a bit divided on its relation to Tae Kwon Do. There are some that believe that Taekkyon is the source of Tae Kwon Do, but Taekkyon purists like to point out how different the two forms are from each other. I think the link is kind of clear, but in either case, the history of Taekkyon is fascinating.

Mural paintings dating back to the Three Kingdoms period of Korea (3rd century) show that Taekkyon was a popular art form practiced mostly by the ruling classes and military. In fact, it was part of the soldier’s exam up to the 10th century.


But by the 14th century, Taekkyon had spread to all classes and Taekkyon matches were popular contests at festivals and holiday events, along with archery, sword fights, and wrestling.


This photo above is dated between 1890 and 1900 and was taken by a missionary of a children’s Taekkyon match. Young children competed in Taekkyon and these would be the opening games for annual Taekkyon contests, before the adult matches began.

During the Japanese occupation of Korea, 1910-1945, Taekkyon was completely banned and almost vanished. Legend has it that a sword-wielding Japanese soldier was killed by an unarmed Korean man using only Taekkyon. The Japanese immediately outlawed the practice, stating that it was too deadly, and killing anyone associated with or continuing the teaching of Taekkyon. After many years, the art was nearly forgotten until not that long ago, when an 80-year-old man was seen practicing the movements and an ancient art was reborn.

The truth is probably that Taekkyon was banished because the Japanese did not want Koreans to gather together in large groups — like the Taekkyon contests, and to prevent the spread of Korean nationalism. Because of the Japanese occupation, Taekkyon almost disappeared. After Korea regained her independence, Master Song Duk-Ki (1893∼1987) was the only remaining practitioner of Taekkyon. It was due to his efforts to continue to teach and train people in this ancient martial art form that allowed it to survive. It was designated by the Korean government as an “Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 76” on June 1, 1983.


In the Prophecy Series, Kira and her brothers are trained in Taekkyon. It is an important part of their military training, but for Kira, it is also something special she received from her father. As she practices, she can hear her father’s voice in her head.

“How you fight in combat and how you practice forms are two very different things. The first is self-defense, but the second is art. It is your connection between mind and body.”



The movements of Taekkyon are graceful. They are, at their root, dance steps.

“She remembered when she was five years old her father had taken her to see saulabi practicing their taekkyon forms. As they watched the perfect choreography of the soldiers in motion, her father had said, ‘There’s no dance as perfect as this one.’” 

King, the final installment of the Prophecy Series, is now out and I am both happy and sad to see the end of the Prophecy Series and Kira’s story. I loved every minute I spent in this fantasy Korea. And I especially loved the characters that peopled the story, especially Kira. I grew as a writer along with Kira (at least I think I did — and belief is a powerful thing!). Kira’s not strong because of her tiger spirit or her Taekkyon training or her proficiency with the bow; she’s strong because of family bonds and love and friendship and a growing belief in her own self-identity. We all have moments where we doubt ourselves and others. Nobody is perfect and nobody has it completely easy. But that is what makes each person so interesting, those moments of humanity where we mess up and learn a lesson. Yeah, I’m mostly talking about myself and my mistakes. :o)

I learned so much from traveling this journey with Kira and her brothers, Taejo and Jaewon, Brother Woojin, Nara and Gom. They will always hold a very special place in my heart. Thank you for letting me share their story with you.


Originally from NYC, Ellen Oh is Co-founder and President of WeNeedDiverseBooks and a former entertainment lawyer with an insatiable curiosity for ancient Asian history. She also loves martial arts films, K-pop, K-dramas, cooking shows, and is a rabid fan of The Last Airbender and the Legend of Korra series. She is the author of the YA fantasy trilogy, The Prophecy Series. Ellen lives in Bethesda, Maryland with her husband and three daughters and has yet to satisfy her quest for a decent bagel.

King is available for order here.

The Cowgirl and Cowboy Behind “Under a Painted Sky”

By Stacey Lee

lee-underapaintedskyThe idea to write a story about a Chinese cowgirl came about more through inspiration than thought.  It was only after writing the story that I examined why I had written it.  I realized that the reason was bifold: mother, and father.  For many Chinese people, family history is important, which might explain why dinners with extended family take so long.  Elders in my family are introduced by their relationships. (“This is your mother’s, father’s second wive’s cousin’s eldest daughter’s first son.  Don’t forget.”.  It could also explain why we eat such elaborate banquets, because by the time we get to the food, we’re starving.

My mother’s first recorded ancestors in the United States came during the late 1800s.  I was intrigued by the attitudes towards Chinese people during this time.  Back then, to catch a glimpse of a “Celestial” was a rarity.  If you saw them at all, they probably would have been sailors, tea merchants, or the occasional circus act.  China at the time had only recently opened its doors to trade, and so not much was known about China by the average American.

My father immigrated to the United States in the 1950s when he was only 11. He came by boat with his brother, who was 14, to a country which didn’t necessarily want two more Chinese kids.  Many people don’t know that up until 1964, the United States was still a segregated society.  Like many who immigrated, the 1950s were a time when the movie western was in its cinematic heyday.  My father loved John Wayne movies, and would often play cowboy music for my sisters and I, so that was essentially the music of our childhood.  I think, like many immigrants of that generation, the western appealed to him because in westerns, the hero is faced with an often-hostile country, and must go it alone.

This is the central problem in Under a Painted Sky.  The heroines Samantha and Annamae quickly realize that they won’t get very far on their own, especially Sammy, who has always been a bit of a city girl.  Their survival is in their own hands.  Not only do they face the problem of being girls, and all the restrictions that go along with that, but they are racial minorities and fugitives.  I think that’s what makes this story quintessentially American, the idea that in America, we are in charge of our own destinies.  And that it helps to have friends.


Stacey Lee is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to California during the heydays of the cowboys.  She believes she still has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul.  A native of southern California, she graduated from UCLA then got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall.  After practicing law in the Silicon Valley for several years, she finally took up the pen because she wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day, and it was easier than moving to Spain.  She plays classical piano, wrangles children, and writes YA fiction. Her historical YA, Under a Painted Sky, debuts March 17 from G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Follow her on twitter @staceyleeauthor.

Get a copy of Under a Painted Sky here.

Writing Diversity in Dialogue

By Y. S. Lee

lee-rivalsinthecityOne of the delights of the written word is the power — in fact, the necessity — of creating your own mental pictures and soundtrack. Only you know just what the heroine looks like when she’s angry; only you know the precise music of her nemesis laughing. Setting plays a huge role, too: contemporary America vs. medieval France vs. a planet far, far away. As readers, we are our own casting directors, cinematographers, and composers. I’m here today to argue that we should be our own dialogue coaches, too.

As a genre, historical fiction — which I love, and which I write — is prone to spelling out accents. Often, it’s not enough to mention in passing that a character is a stableboy or a visiting German aristocrat; the characters’ words are spelled out so that we can see, on the page, just how outlandish their pronunciation is. And that’s not all. The real problem is that historical fiction is especially prone to spelling out lower-class accents.

See the bias here? Everybody has an accent; that much is obvious. But in novels where lower-class accents are spelled out, the upper-class accents are rendered in standard English spelling. The not-so-subtle subtext is that upper-class accents are “normal,” while lower-class accents deviate from an invisible, correct norm. Add to this the fact that working-class accents are most frequently used to provide comic relief or create pathos, and what we have is proud and unexamined social snobbery written openly on the page. We should be embarrassed. We should repudiate this. We should complain, bitterly, so that writers and editors re-think assumptions about class, accent, and the ways we report speech.

When I wrote the Agency novels, which are set in Victorian London, I solved the problem by representing dialect (irregular grammar) but not accent. I might write a character who says, “I don’t know who done it.” I might even write, “Dunno” instead of “Don’t know,” on the grounds that everybody, across the social spectrum, uses contractions in speech. But I assume that my readers can imagine what “I don’t know who done it” might sound like, spoken aloud. I won’t write, “I daown’t knaow ‘oo dunnit!” It’s patronizing, it’s ugly, and it’s an invitation to readers to feel superior to that character.

But whether they were mudlarks or monarchs, all these characters of mine were native speakers of English. When writing my new novel, Rivals in the City, I found that I had a fresh problem: how to write dialogue for a character who speaks imperfect English. A character, in fact, who spoke only Chinese until a couple of years prior to the action of the novel, and who speaks with a distinct Chinese accent.

I wasn’t going to fall into the trap of spelling out his pronunciation. Still, I felt stuck as to how to convey his accent. Stereotypes of Asian accents in English are usually patronizing and ugly. While French accents are heard as charming, and British accents register as classy, Asian accents are fodder for the unfunniest kinds of jokes. How many times have you heard a French or British person congratulated on speaking “without an accent”? Yeah. Asian accents are the stableboys of the accent hierarchy.

In the end, after a lot of deliberation, I wrote this Chinese character’s dialogue as I would that of any other. His vocabulary is more limited, because he’s relatively new to the language. Figures of speech perplex him. But for me, the clearest and most respectful way of signaling his difference was in giving him words, hearing him speak, and having him articulate his confusion and discomfort with London life in the year 1860. I think that was enough.

I’m curious, though: have you tried or run across other respectful, effective strategies for signaling difference through accent? I’d love to hear them. With any luck — because we’re going to keep reading and writing about diverse casts of characters, right? — this problem will be with us for a long time yet.

ysleeY. S. Lee is the author of the award-winning Agency novels (Candlewick Press), a quartet of mysteries featuring a mixed-race girl detective in Victorian London. She is obsessed with the gritty side of history and often blogs about it at www.yslee.com.

Rivals in the City is now available.