I’ve been looking forward to Jade Fire Gold ever since it was announced. Now that it’s in the world, and you’ve had some time to read, I wanted to unveil my interview with June CL Tan. These were some of my questions upon finishing and I’m obsessed!
Jade Fire Gold
In an empire on the brink of war . . .
Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.
Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.
When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her arcane magical abilities.
But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.
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One of the things I love the most about JADE FIRE GOLD is the way it examines power and sacrifice. Can you talk a bit about what power means to Ahn and Altan?
This is such a great question! I think the concept and theme of ‘sacrifice’ resonates deeply in Chinese culture. It’s a thread you’ll find in myths and legends, and in philosophy and teachings, as well as how families function. I wanted to have this element in the story, be it a sacrifice of a personal nature for the greater good or a sacrifice that a parent commits for a child.
For Altan, he sacrifices his personal desires to pursue a path that he thinks his family would have wanted him to, i.e. to avenge their deaths and be Emperor. It’s implied in the story that this might not necessarily be the life that he wants, but he chooses to sacrifice his personal freedom for this anyway. I’d say for him, “power” is both an abstract and concrete thing. Concrete because having the power as Emperor allows him to right the wrongs of the past and atone for the sins of his ancestors (quite a naive thought, to be honest, but the boy’s an idealist); abstract because he thinks that by obtaining that power, he will finally be able to put the ghosts of his family to rest.
Ahn sacrifices her desire to find out more about the world outside her small, rundown village in order to stay and take care of her adoptive grandmother. And to me, that feels very real in the sense that it’s a sacrifice that I’ve witnessed my peers in Singapore make in order to be in the same country or area as their aging parents. Compared to Altan, Ahn is more practical, and at the beginning, I think perhaps she sees power as an escape from a poverty-stricken life. But later, she begins to understand that there are uses for it that may bring about a bigger change in the world.
Monstrosity and our own perceived images of ourselves is another theme that resonated with me, can you talk about what this means to Ahn because her journey with her own powers was one of my favorite character arcs?
It’s quite difficult to discuss this while avoiding spoilers, but I’ll do my best! I was interested in using the trope of the Chosen One for this story. But I didn’t want the element of prophecy to be present, and I didn’t want the main character to be necessarily someone who was a good, righteous person or Mary Sue-ish.
At the start of Ahn’s journey, she’s quite the cowardly sort and a little selfish, or I guess another word to use might be ‘practical’. She’s empathetic to the plight of others’, but will take care of herself and her own first. When we are introduced to her in Chapter 1, we see her refusing to help a stranger in need because of the potential consequences she might face. Even later, when she decides to give herself up, she’s doing it for her grandmother (“her own”) and not because of some greater ideal.
Because of her magical powers, others see her as monstrous and someone or something to be gotten rid of. Basically, the world is a safer place without her. But I don’t think Ahn sees herself as a monster, which was an idea I wanted to explore. Even when another character insists that she’s a “monster”, she’s adamant that she’s not.
She definitely feels guilty for hurting (and killing! oops!) other people, and at times grapple with the monstrosity of what her magic can do. But (and maybe readers will disagree) I think at the end of the day, she’s weirdly self-assured that she’s not inherently a terrible person despite what others may think haha.
If Ahn and Altan had to make a playlist for each other, which songs would be on it?
This is such a fun question! I’m going to cheat a little and share a Ahn x Altan playlist that a wonderful reader, Kashvi (@kerchbooks on Instagram), created after reading the book.
Can you talk about how it was to assemble your preorder campaign? How you knew what you wanted to do and the artistic process?
Honestly, most of the art came from random ideas I had and images that would come to my mind. I also presented my ideas to friends to see if they made sense. I did a lot of trawling for potential artists for the different pieces and I reached out to several potential artists at different stages to talk to them. Because I had a specific style and look and composition I wanted for each piece, I made sure to provide specific details and references for everything. Ultimately though, it’s a collaborative process as the artists provided input and suggestions too — it’s important to pick artists whose signature styles fit what I wanted, and then trust them because they’re the experts.
As for my preorder campaign – I basically just did what I felt like! Because I wanted to have fun. So there were a lot of visual pieces, and because I wanted to work with a few indies, I decided to have an indie-exclusive item. I don’t use bookmarks so while I wanted to have a bookmark as an item, I didn’t want it to be an ordinary one. Hmm…is it weird to say that I find packing the swag packs sort of therapeutic? LOL. It was like an assembly-line style set up and it became very routine in a good way as I got more efficient haha. I also packed swag while watching TV so it was fun! 🙂
If I ever do a preorder campaign again, I’ll probably streamline the process, since I think the form was a bit confusing and I’d like to make it more convenient for everyone.
Did you always know the trajectory/ending of the book when you began? How did the overall arc of the story change while drafting?
Yes! I always knew how the arc of the book would generally go more or less. But since I had planned JADE FIRE GOLD as a trilogy originally, there were certain things that wouldn’t quite work for the first book as a standalone so there were tweaks made along the way.
What other tag lines do you like for JADE FIRE GOLD for the front cover? Or did you know immediately that was the one?
JADE FIRE GOLD was actually sold to a different imprint at the beginning and I brainstormed several taglines with the team there. Here’s a sampling:
They were not afraid of her. They were afraid of what she would become.
She is the key to his kingdom. He must use her. Or kill her.
Some choices are paid in blood.
History is never written by its victims.
When my book moved to HarperTeen, the team there loved the tagline that the previous imprint had settled on (Her Destiny. His Revenge) so they decided to keep it.
About the Author
June CL Tan grew up in Singapore where she was raised on a diet of classic books and wuxia movies, caffeine and congee. She holds various degrees in communication studies, education, and film. After teaching for a few years, she took a detour into the finance industry. To no one’s surprise, she soon realized her mistake and made her escape. Now, she resides in New York City, talking to imaginary people and creating fantastical worlds under the watchful eye of her crafty cat. She enjoys telling stories that draw on both the traditional and modern to create something fresh to the eye, but familiar to the heart. Jade Fire Gold is her debut novel.