As a huge fan of A Magic Steeped in Poison, I knew I had to see if Judy would chat with me. If you love court politics and tea, then you have to read this. But continue reading to find out what questions had been steeping in my mind ever since finishing this book.
About the Book
For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.
When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.
But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.
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If each of the characters in your book were a cup of tea, what would you pick? Alternatively if you’ve answered this before, what kind of teas would your favorite books be?
This was a fun question to answer for a tea nerd!
For Ning, I would say she is a Muzha Iron Goddess oolong, which is roasted and slightly bitter. She has a strong personality and takes a little bit of getting used to.
For Kang, he would be charcoal roasted Dong Ding oolong. Smoky, but with a surprisingly sweet finish. Someone who is not as he first appears and his smile hides a complicated personal history.
Zhen is definitely jasmine green tea, elegant and floral, a little snobby and particular.
Lian is something fun and bouncy, like a passion fruit green tea with jelly. Very sweet and friendly.
One aspect I really loved was the court politics, did you have any inspirations? How did you craft the mystery/political side? Did it come easily to you?
The perfect c-drama to me is Nirvana in Fire, which has been called the Chinese version of the Count of Monte Cristo. It is a revenge epic that is about a strategist who navigates the court with hidden intentions and as the story continues, you learn about the truth of which prince he is influencing and why. One thing I loved about this drama was that there was always the sense of intrigue behind the scenes, that nothing is as it seems. I wanted to portray that feeling while writing A Magic Steeped in Poison, and the sense that the reader should be suspicious of everyone’s intentions.
Another element that I drew inspiration from was that many of the battles fought in these imperial court based dramas is based on your wit and words, not fighting and martial arts. I wanted that in the competition especially, where Ning has to think cleverly on her feet in order to save herself, and as she continues in the competition she realizes that she is sinking deeper and deeper into intrigue and has to claw herself out.
When you were drafting, did you always know it was going to be two books, or did you draft as one and then split it?
I knew that the story couldn’t be wrapped up in one book because the story in my mind continues beyond the competition. I wanted to explore the magic and the gods and the empire further but I didn’t have room to do that in one book. I didn’t have the second book planned out fully though, that took some time after to truly work out how to conclude the series.
Your preorder campaign was so cute, how was that to put together/decide what you wanted and who to work with?
The preorder campaign was something that I dreamed of ever since I sold the duology. I wanted to make sure that I had two items: stickers that would be cute and useable, as well as a character art piece, and I also wanted to work with Asian artists who are familiar with the Chinese and/or Taiwanese cultural inspirations of my book. Since food is a big element of the story, when I saw @runqii’s food collages on twitter, I knew that she would be perfect for the stickers. I sent her photos of the food and the tea ware and I’m so happy with how it turned out! Each of the items that is featured in the collage all make an appearance in the book.
For the art piece I wanted to do something different than a character portrait. I really like the style of c-drama posters, so that was the art direction and I needed to make sure I had an artist that is familiar with c-dramas. I contacted a few artists to see what their availability was and connected with Carissa Susilo that way. Carissa’s art style is gorgeous and has a sense of mystery, which is perfect as I wanted a piece that is darker and moody to contrast with the bright and colorful design of the cover art. I sent her information about the pose that I wanted the characters to be in, and some details about their clothes and design elements that could be incorporated into the background. She was great to work with and understood what I wanted to convey. I am absolutely in love with the art and was so thrilled that her beautiful piece was on the endpapers of the B&N exclusive edition!
Ning’s love for her sister, and her desire to find an answer, is a major source of motivation in the novel. Can you talk about Ning’s character. Was she always roughly the same in drafts or did she change? What about her sister?
The character arcs and motivations always take me several drafts to figure out. With the help of my editor though, I was able to fully flesh out Ning’s character. I wanted to make sure that the stakes were high and that she was forced to make difficult choices. Even though Ning is leaving her sister behind at the start of the book, she is always on her mind. In earlier outlines, Shu’s death actually occurred very earlier on in the story and Ning’s motivations were supposed to go in an entirely different direction. But I’m glad of the suggestions that my editor made and I think it became a much stronger story in the end. Does Shu survive though in the final story…you’ll have to read the book to find out!
Another fabulous element is the competition. Do you have favorite competition books? When you first had the idea for this book, what was the first idea that came to you?
The competition element was definitely influenced by An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. The competition in that book was vicious and brutal and I was furiously flipping through the pages trying to guess what would happen next. The competition in my story has a different sort of intensity as it revolves around puzzles and navigating the court, but I hope that readers also want to keep reading to find out what happens next.
I always knew from the beginning that Ning would have to leave home and find herself alone in a brand new place and come into her power. The idea for the competition came later and all of the challenges in each round of the competition definitely took a lot of time to figure out.
So we have to talk about your gorgeous cover which is seriously stunning. Can you talk about the cover inspiration/creation process?
Initially I was asked to send in cover inspirations of designs or details that I wanted to be on the cover. I sent in some drawings of how I imagined the characters to look like, and plot elements such as the carp, the crane and water lilies.
When I first saw Sija Hong’s portfolio, I was amazed by her use of color and motion in her pieces. The first cover concepts did not include characters at all, but then when I was sent the sketches that featured Ning front and center I loved it immediately. When I thought I couldn’t love the cover art even more, then I saw that the art would stretch across the full jacket AND would connect both books in the duology.
I am so happy that Sija’s art is on my books and I also have to thank Rich Deas, the designer, for working with Sija to create such beautiful covers.
About the Author
Judy I. Lin was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Canada with her family at a young age. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now works as an occupational therapist, and still spends her nights dreaming up imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughter. A Magic Steeped in Poison is her debut novel.