In search of dragons…

I attended the kick-off of the Diversity in YA tour this Saturday. Diversity in YA is the brain-child of two talented YA authors, Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo, and is a celebration of the portrayal of diverse cultures in young adult fiction. This Saturday’s event was focused on Asian American authors (Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, Gene Luen Yang, and J.A. Yang), though the entire tour features books from a wider range of ethnicities and cultures.  I’ll post a write-up of the topics discussed in the panel, but to start things off, one question from the audience made me reflect upon my early reading habits.

The question was regarding what each of the authors read growing up and almost every single author, with the exception of Gene, spoke about not reading any book with Asian characters. Cindy Pon mentioned that she was writing the books with the adventures she never got to read. Malindo Lo remarked that a teacher passed her Maxine Hong Kingston’s Warrior Woman and she wasn’t able to connect with the book at all! J.A. expressed that he similarly didn’t read books with Asian characters growing up because he liked books with warriors and protagonists that were quite different from him. Only Gene, with his background of comic book reading and early childhood growing up in Asia (I forget where, sorry Gene), had a wide range of Asian stories available.

This made me realize that I have always been in search of dragons. I would literally, look for covers with Asian looking art or titles that sounded Asian. Perhaps this is why I ended up reading so much fantasy because the dragons I usually found were from those books.

I don’t know if it was necessarily because I wanted protagonists that I could identify with. I felt I identified with all the Caucasian protagonists I was reading just fine. I shared their adventures and felt all their angst. Reading about Japan or China (never Vietnam unless it was about the War!) felt like reading about a foreign and exotic place for me too, so it was as more my desire for vicarious exploration and adventure than my need to read about characters with similar backgrounds as me.

When I read Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, I was very deeply moved. I mean, yes, they were deeply emotional stories, but they struck a chord with me, not only because they expressed some very core elements of being Asian American that I hadn’t seen in writing in this way before, but because I knew that other people were reading it too. Non-Asians were reading it. My high school friends were reading it.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon gets knocked by a lot of wuxia purists because they say it’s a poor example of the genre. That it was watered-down for mainstream audiences. I don’t agree at all. And when I saw the trailer for that movie, I became so incredibly excited and showed it to everyone. It was a wuxia film like the ones I grew up with, but it was being shown to mainstream audiences. It was the absolute joy that something I loved could finally be shared with other people who had never seen a Jin Yong film. And it could be shared in a way that I couldn’t explain with words.

So I’ve always been in search of dragons, but not only for myself. Not to find Asian heroines that look like me, but to find something that could be shown to people who don’t look like me. Who have no idea about the stories that I enjoyed.

I remember Taye Diggs once corrected a reporter who called one of his films a “Black film”. He said it’s not a Black film, it’s a film with Black actors. And people didn’t seem to understand what the big deal is. I believe Enrique Iglesias has made similar comments about his music not being Latino music, but music with Latino influence. They’re not rejecting their own race or getting nitpicky — I get it now.

Media is about connecting to a wider audience. It’s about reaching out to people who have never been somewhere, experienced something, thought of life in this particular way. When a work becomes marginalized as an Asian work for Asian people, it feels to the artist that they’re being dragged two steps back from their real goal.

So, I’m rather tickled pink that after searching for “Dragon” books for so long, I have my own Dragon title coming out in September: The Dragon and the Pearl. Ha, ha — stereotypical Asian title. Whatever. I’m so proud that maybe someone in search of dragons will find my book and be pleased that it’s not about Western fantasy dragons or Vlad Tepes or European warriors. I do hope that Asian women will read the story and identify and fall in love with the romance, but I’m also hoping many of those people searching don’t look a thing like me, or come from a similar place that I do, at all. And I hope they’ll identify just as much with the characters.

Chinese New Year Giveaway and Reading List

Happy New Year!

One of my laments is that I shall never be invited to be part of a holiday anthology. I mean there are Christmas anthologies and Valentine’s Day anthologies. There are even Halloween anthologies. There are no Chinese New Year anthologies. No Mid-Autumn Moon festival. Okay, this lament is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but a lament nonetheless!

So I thought I’d wish everyone a Happy New Year with an eclectic list of Chinese New Year reads. 2010 was actually a lovely year for Asian stories. These were not all set in Asia — in fact most of them were set in fantasy worlds that were very obviously based on historical China.

I’m a rolling stone this week: First a hop to Northern California to visit Little Sis and her newborn Peregrine and then a jaunt over to Montana for a ski trip. Since I’m jumping about, I wanted to get my New Year’s giveaway and reading list out early.

First the goodies:

Lucky money – Subscribe to my Newsletter and I’ll send you a personal New Year’s good luck wish along with a replica of an imperial Chinese coin. If you’re already a subscriber, there’s a link within the January Newsletter to follow.

Giveaway – One random commenter will be chosen to receive the original hardcover of Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix with the original stunning cover. Please let me know in the comments that you’d like to be entered. I’ll be selecting the winner when I return on Superbowl Sunday, Feb 6.

Recommended Reads

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

Well, if you’ve followed my blog at all, you know I’ve raved about Silver Phoenix several times. Ai Ling is a young girl who suddenly discovers a mysterious gift–she can transport her spirit into another’s body. Along with two brothers, she embarks upon a mission to find her father and discover the origins of her power. This is a classic adventure tale with elements of Chinese mythology interwoven within it.

As the story progresses, the scope of the adventure also grows until it encompasses palace intrigue, reincarnation, and the mysterious Silver Phoenix who is somehow linked to Ai Li’s destiny. I was so excited when I first spotted this cover on AbsoluteWrite that I immediately searched out Cindy Pon’s website to find out more.

The paperback release of Silver Phoenix is February 1, 2011. Read it now to get ready for the sequel, Fury of the Phoenix, which releases in March!

Buy Links: Borders | Amazon | Indiebound | Powell’s | B & N | BookDepository

EON: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

Little Sis gave this to me for a birthday present because she thought I would like it. She was SO right. It’s hard to resist a sword-wielding heroine, let alone one who wields double swords. The dragon mythology in the book is based around the Chinese zodiac, though I felt the culture was likely an amalgam of Chinese and Japanese culture. There are occasional Western sounding names thrown in, which made me imagine a more cosmopolitan mix of characters, though the setting is definitely Asian.

EON is masquerading as a boy in hopes of being chosen as a Dragoneye, the specially trained warriors who commune with dragons in order to protect the empire. When she is unexpectedly chosen by the Mirror Dragon, she it thrown in the middle of a power struggle for control of the throne. I really loved this adventure: the fight scenes, the ceremonies, the manifestations of the magic. As you’ll see, the sequel is way high on my TBR.

Buy Links: B & N | Indiebound | Amazon | Borders | Powell’s | BookDepository

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay bases his fantasy world on Tang Dynasty China. I felt the allusions were thinly veiled at best. He blatantly borrows the historical events of the An Lushan rebellion and the historical figures are obvious. He does, however, inject some of his own elements such as the Kanlin warrior sect and a whisper of magic in the shamanism of the northwestern tribes and the ghosts of the dead in Kuala Nor.

I felt the book captured the culture of the Tang Dynasty quite well with its emphasis on poetry and language as well as glimpses into the culture of the capital city as well as relations with the neighboring tribal kingdoms. The historical figures are also portrayed in a very engaging manner as Kay re-invents the motivations and circumstances behind the famous rebellion. You have to be a patient reader for this one. It builds slowly with a lot of text dedicated to create an almost haunting atmosphere. It’s one of the big fat books you can really sink your teeth into.

Buy Links: Powell’s | B & N | Borders | Amazon | Indiebound

Red-Hot Renegade by Kelly Hunter

Surprised to see a contemporary romance here? I actually love reading contemporary romances and this book was a great find. Martial arts hero, Chinese heroine. Set in modern day Singapore — I love the international scene! This is a story of a couple that married young and then separated. Twelve years later, Jianne Xang-Bennett is threatened by an unwanted suitor and she reunites with her estranged husband, Jake.

The interracial romance was executed perfectly here. (Jake is Caucasian) We see the conflict of two people coming from different cultures, but it’s subtle and realistic. Similarly, their reunion and emotional angst is handled so well. And the romance is sexy and HOT. This book hit all the right notes for me and I immediately bought the previous book in the series and will most likely read them in reverse order.

Buy Links: Powell’s | Amazon | Indiebound | B & N | Borders

Hot Soup by Robyn Patterson

I bought this from Amazon for my Kindle and it’s a complete steal at the 99 cent price. The introduction at the beginning describing the wuxia genre is insightful and fabulously written. If anyone wants to know what wuxia is and why I’m always babbling about it, definitely buy this story.

The story itself is charming and quirky. Gou is your quintessential trickster hero; one of the beloved archetypes of the martial arts genre. He’s cheeky, clever, and a scoundrel with a hidden heart of gold. As commonly done in wuxia renditions, the language in the story is colloquial and the action is over the top. I laughed out loud several times and thoroughly enjoyed the madcap action scenes as Gou gets chased through tea houses and rooftops.

Buy Links: Amazon | Smashwords

To Be Read…

These are titles I haven’t yet read, but I’m looking forward to checking out.

Fury of the Phoenix by Cindy Pon – Hardcover Release date March 29, 2011

I’ve been avoiding all manner of reviews and commentary about this book because I really want my reading experience to be as pure as possible. So my blurb is not going to do it justice.

It’s the sequel to Silver Phoenix and goes into the past history of the mysterious Phoenix as well as the continuation of Ai Ling and Chen Yong’s story as he journeys to his father’s homeland.

I expect to encounter more supernatural creatures, imaginative places, and lots of delicious food. I’m pretty much willing and ready to go wherever Cindy Pon wants to take me in this sequel.

Buy Links: Amazon | Indiebound | Borders | B & N | Powell’s | BookDepository

EONA by Alison Goodman – Hardcover Release date April 19, 2011

Don’t want to give any spoilers here, but let’s just say EON: Dragoneye Reborn ends on a doozy of a cliffhanger!!

I must, must see what happens. And the quintessential romantic in me is just waiting for the sparks to fly between the young Emperor and Eona now that he knows she’s a girl…and he’s really pissed that she deceived him.

Fully AWESOME! Let it begin, let it begin…

Plus look at the cover. My pretty, pretty Precious…

Buy Links: Powell’s | B & N | Indiebound | Amazon | Borders | BookDepository

Captive Bride by Bonnie Dee – Release date February 14 from Carina Press

I’ve read other stories by Bonnie Dee and she has a way of portraying more sensitive and thoughtful heroes as well as complex emotional situations. For that reason, I’m really looking forward to this historical romance set in San Francisco in 1870.

Captive Bride features a Chinese immigrant, Huiann, who comes to America only to find that the man who was supposedly going to be her husband is planning to pimp her out as a prostitute instead. She seeks refuge with Alan, a local merchant who also has political aspirations.

Buy Links: Carina PressPowell’s | Amazon

Do you have any Chinese New Year recommendations to add to the list?

Remember to comment for a chance to win Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix with the original cover art.