Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon – a Review:
A while ago I blogged about author Cindy Pon’s debut YA novel, Silver Phoenix – Beyond the Kingdom of Xia. You may recall that I mentioned entering a competition in the hope of winning a copy of the book – and what do you know – I won!
I have so enjoyed reading Silver Phoenix – it is gripping, magical and lyrical – and a book you very much want to read in a single sitting. Cindy’s distinctive style, reminiscent of Amy Tan, evokes rich imagery which sings colourfully across the pages.
The story is an archetypal one of good overcoming evil and a young woman’s journey of self discovery.
In her heroine, Ai Ling, Cindy has created a strong yet well balanced main character. Yes, Ai Ling is strong-minded and has unexpected powers but her feelings, her fears and hopes also give her a vulnerability which is infinitely relatable.
The supporting characters, both heroes and villains, are well formed, vivid and evocative.
Written in the fantasy genre, Silver Phoenix is woven through with creatures and beings evoked by Chinese mythology, while the scenes and backdrop are rich with elements drawn from traditional Chinese culture.
There is adventure, humour, romance, sorrow, horror and wonder in this story, which all told makes for an entertaining, captivating and magical read.
Silver Phoenix will, I suspect, appeal to adult readers as much as teens.
An interview with debut author Cindy Pon about her book Silver Phoenix, the business of writing and the road to publication:
Who or what inspired you to be a storyteller?
I think as with so many writers, I began writing because I loved reading so much. I had an interesting journey as I am ESL (English as a second language). That experience I think is deeply ingrained in me. It was very exciting and also a little scary to move to a new country at age six. But what I’ll never forget is not understanding what *anyone* was saying. It really made an impression on me.
I remember looking out the window at the neighbourhood kids outside as they biked and played each afternoon and my mom diligently taught me how to spell "slide" and "yellow" over and over. Then all of a sudden it's two years later, I’m in third grade and I can't stop reading! I began writing before I was declared English proficient at age twelve. My favourite authors were Noel Streatfield, Scott O’Dell and Frances H Burnett.
What was the inspiration for Silver Phoenix and how did the idea arise?
It’s my first novel. I had written poetry and short stories before. I was staying at home full time with my bubs and I really needed something to call my own again. I took a few writing courses at the local uni extension and decided I’d challenge myself and write a novel. At the time, I was a new student to Chinese brush painting and beginning to really be intrigued with my culture, history and traditions. Fantasy was always a first love for me as far as genre. So I decided to write a novel combining these two loves.
Did you experience a long road to publication and what do you think finally swung it for you in getting an agent and a contract?
It took me two years to write the novel and revise it. I queried 121 agents between January and April 2008. I had originally thought my novel was straight adult fantasy -- but a big fantasy agent asked if it was young adult. And I thought, why not? So it opened the number of agents I could query.
Querying is such a knife in the heart. But I took it on like a battle. I researched constantly and if I didn't hear back from anyone for two days, I’d revenge query and send out another three to five queries so I’d hear *something*. I wanted rejections over just silence. I had quite a few agents like my story and writing but wasn't sure if Silver Phoenix had a place in the market. I was lucky when agent Bill (Contardi) said yes! to my manuscript. I honestly didn't know if it was going to happen, and was considering subbing directly to publishers if I couldn't find an agent.
I was on submission for about five weeks and the book went to auction. I was speaking with editors from major houses between packing lunch for the bubs and nap times. It was utterly surreal, thrilling and very terrifying. It sold in mid-may 2008.
In the story you draw strongly on Chinese mythology. Did you have to do a lot of research or where these stories with which you grew up?
I did do quite a lot of research on myth and creatures of folklore. But I also drew a lot on my own imagination and fears. If you read Silver Phoenix, you'll easily see what kinds of phobias I have. The snake demon is a folklore that is popular and ingrained in Chinese culture. The three breasted concubine and corpse monster (just to name a few) are from my own crazy imagination.
Do you think there is a little of Ai Ling in you?
Most definitely. It’s so easy to draw on what you know for personality traits. She’s stubborn like me, and also is a painter. And most importantly, she loves to eat. Ha! Like me! But I do think she is much more rash and braver than I am.
Your writing style is lyrical and highly visual, what do you believe influences this?
Honestly, I don't know. It’s strange to have your writing labelled. I’m so close to it that I can't name it anything but my own. When I write, I do see the scenes in my mind, playing like a dream or a movie. And I try my best to convey what I see to the page. I usually feel I fail with words, because the essence of the scene within my imagination is so pure, with nuances and emotion there. But I try!!! And when I get close, I’m happy!
Are there further adventures in store for Ai-Ling and have you envisioned a series or a trilogy?
I’m working on a pre-sequel for my second novel. The prequel part is the story of Silver Phoenix and Zhong Ye. The sequel is of Chen Yong and Ai Ling. The two storylines will merge -- at least, that's what I’m hoping!
We never really learn exactly who Silver Phoenix was - do further books reveal this?
Yes. She was just a name really in my original manuscript. It wasn't until my editor began asking questions about her that she fleshed into a real character for the next novel.
What do you think is the most important lesson you've learned in your journey to becoming a published author?
Believe in yourself and your story. Keep positive (you are allowed to tantrum and whine and feel utterly like poo when you get that full or partial rejection -- but pick yourself back up again!) and be professional. Know that there's always room to improve in your craft and story, so be open to revising. Never stop chasing your dreams!
Thanks to Cindy for sending me a copy of Silver Phoenix and for doing the interview!