If you’ve been following me for a while, you will know how freaking excited I am for this post. I have been in love with The Poppy War since before it was released and made sure I could meet R.F. Kuang at Bookcon! When I was in the beginning stage of my obsession, I was able to interview Kuang. But today’s post is a little different, it’s also a post where Kuang interviews me and we have a whole conversation!
The Burning God
After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead.
Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation.
Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it?
Conversation with R.F. Kuang
Lili: Your award speech was iconic. I wanted to know if you’d like to elaborate on the mis-categorization of your work as well as being clumped into the groups of POC authors. I’ve loved being able to see more POC authors, but have been feeling the frustration of both the miscategorization of women’s SFF into the YA genre. Additionally I’ve become incredibly frustrated with the call for more POC authored work, especially in SFF, only for identity to be treated as a monolith.
Rebecca: Thank you for saying that! Oh man, I could go on and on about miscategorization forever. I’ve been immensely frustrated with being categorized as YA when the books are not remotely YA (and indeed, they get less and less appropriate for younger readers as the series goes on!) I also am not a giant fan of big lists that lump wildly different books together based on the sheer fact that all of their authors are people of color. It’s demeaning. I’ve ended up on lists with MG Chinese American writers. While those MG books are great, how is this list remotely helpful for someone who wants reading recommendations? Someone looking for MG books isn’t going to like THE POPPY WAR, and vice versa. I wish people would focus on the actual content of our stories rather than the color of our skin.
Rebecca: As an active reviewer and Bookstagrammer, what do you think are better practices for categorizing and listing works by Asian writers?
Lili: I think the truly sad thing about lumping, for example, all authors of color together in a list like that is that it does not also do justice to the amazing amount of authors of color who are all writing adult SFF either! I think the biggest things that people could probably do better is to actually read the books before putting them on a list? This seems pretty straightforward, but I see a lot of lists where I just wonder…um how? I know that this might not be feasible for everything, but even when I think about lists I try to look at early reviews in terms of trigger warnings or even content before putting a list like that together. I also feel that a certain amount of miscategorization comes from not searching out more representation. In the last 2 years, at least, I’ve been actively making notes of authors of color and their book projects to specifically prioritize them and read them. And I’ve found more than I expected (although don’t get me started on the still present lack of marginalized voices and specifically when thinking about what stories publishing chooses to buy). So when I think about a list like that where you could be miscategorized, I’m like but when I also think of fantastic works by authors of color which I would recommend near yours, in terms of character depth, more graphic subject material, and world, I think of the Broken Earth Trilogy, the Jade War Trilogy immediately.
Lili: What genres or books do you go to in order to destress?
Rebecca: I really love campus novels! (Note: not dark academia, but proper light and fluffy amps novels.) Whenever I want something light and silly, I always default to books about students and their woes; it’s really nice to spend thirty minutes or so just wondering if Jasmine is going to get her paper done in time, LOL. I also like goofy, one-and-done suburban thrillers. Recently I finished Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone in an afternoon. I couldn’t tell you anything about the characters or even remember their names, but I do remember it was a fun and wild ride. What about you?
Rebecca: Which books are fun light reads for you, and do you have any recommendations?
Lili: I have been recently reading more romance books, not only because I know more what to expect, also in terms of ending, but because they’ve been little reprieves from my normal reading. I have begun to request some to review, but in the future I am going to only request ones that are already on my TBR and save the romance books reads I have for my purely for fun reading. I normally review them on Goodreads anyway, but no blog review and so for me anything where I just have a mini review to write immediately becomes more fun? They can also be pretty light reads where I don’t feel like I have to consistently read or I’ll forget! Some of my recent favorites have been the Brown Sisters series from Talia Hibbert which are Get A Life Chloe Brown and Take a Hint Dani Brown. I’m also currently reading the Reluctant Royals Series by Alyssa Cole and have also loved the Modern Love series by Alisha Rai.
Lili: Do you have any goals for yourself as an author? I know you mentioned that having a Wikipedia page was a fun milestone unlocked, but do you have other goals or wishes? Do you think your goals and the future you envision for yourself now are different than from when you were unpublished? And, if so, how/why?
Rebecca: Getting a Wikipedia page was so fun! My broad goals since I began publishing haven’t changed–I just want to write good books that lots of people read. I’ve grown in my identity as a writer, though. I used to think that I’d be writing epic fantasy forever. But now I want to try something new–I want to dip my toes into all kinds of genres. I want to do a contemporary thriller at some point. I want to write litfic. I never thought I’d want to write a YA, but I have a YA project that I’d like to make time for. The sky is really the limit at this point–I’m finally free of this trilogy contract, so I’m excited to explore a wide range of things with my next few books.
Rebecca: You read a ton of books by Asian authors! What genres or types of books by Asian authors do you wish would get published more? I see a lot of YA contemporaries and fantasies for example, but I’d love to see more thrillers. Or mysteries!
Lili: I’m with you, I’d love more mysteries and thrillers! I want ALL THE ASIAN STORIES! If you tell me something is Asian and it’s not my thing I will one hundred percent read it. I will say that a thriller I loved recently, which is a YA contemporary, is The Best Lies by Sarah Lyu, which is this twisty thriller about friendship which was something I’d rarely seen. I’d also love more generational adult Asian family stories but in a contemporary setting. I loved Pachinko and Min Jin Lee in general, but would want more especially as they might figure out their identity and self while dismantling the model minority myth in the US. Could also love more Asian superhero stories, love the Not Your Sidekick series by C.B Lee and the Heroine Complex series from Sarah Kuhn, but I want more! I would also, selfishly, love more books on transracial Asian adoptees both nonfiction, but also fiction. It’s more about stories I wish I had while growing up, but it’s also about this kind of balance between feeling like you belong sort of nowhere?
Lili: As you are now in the process of another project and moving forwards with your publishing journey past The Burning God, how does the idea of what stories publishing chooses to showcase/buy/market impact your life as an author? Is it something that you think about when you get an idea for the next project? Was it difficult to embark on or sell your new project?
Rebecca: I’m one of those authors who are, in a way, blessed by the fact that we only get one good idea that we really want to work on at a time. My stories are closely tied to the things I’m studying at any given time, and they take months and years to brew into a concrete idea that I’m ready to assign characters, plot, and world to. I never pick between ideas based on what I think might be most commercially viable – all I do is think about the best way to write the idea that’s burning inside me. Of course, I have conversations with my editors and agent about what might do well in the current market. But those are more so we know how to pitch and describe what I’m doing next, not what I’m doing next, if that makes sense!
It wasn’t difficult at all to sell the new project. I’m not sure how much I can say about the process, but essentially Harper came to us and said they’d like more books since the Poppy War trilogy was doing so well, and I said sure! It’s nice being with the same editor and publishing house, because I already know everyone and I know what to expect. I’ve formed a great working relationship with my editors David Pomerico and Natasha Bardon, and there’s a lot of comfort in staying with the same team.
About R.F. Kuang
Rebecca F. Kuang is the Astounding Award-winning and Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award nominated author of The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic (Harper Voyager). Her debut novel The Poppy War won the Crawford Award and the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel. She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from the University of Cambridge and is currently pursuing an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies at Oxford University on a Marshall Scholarship. She also translates Chinese science fiction to English. She starts her PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale next fall.
Tour of Other Posts!
October 5 – Petrik Leo
October 7 – Oro Plata Myta
October 9 – Your Tita Kate
October 12 – Utopia State of Mind
October 14 – Punderings
October 17 – Lyrical Reads
October 18 – Fannatality
October 20 – Read at Midnight
October 23 – Tammie Tries to Read
October 27 – A Cup of Cyanide
October 30 – Happy Indulgence
November 6 – Novels and Nebulas
November 9 – Mandarin Mama
November 11 – Camillea Reads
November 13 – Bookdragonism