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Between Two Lockers With Cindy Pon

Cindy Pon dishes on her YA self, her hangry readers, and her latest novel, Want.

Between Two Lockers With Cindy Pon

Cindy Pon's latest novel, Want (available now), is a futuristic sci-fi thriller about a group of teens who set out to save their pollution- and disease-ridden city. We're pleased as punch to be joined by Cindy at the FYA lockers today!

THE ACTUAL BOOK-RELATED QUESTIONS

I was pleasantly surprised when I recognized Want from its former incarnation as a short story, "Blue Skies". How long had you been ruminating on this idea, and what made you want to expand it to a full novel?

I actually decided to make it a full novel because I was having difficulty selling my fantasy Serpentine (which did publish with Month9Books). Quite a few editors were asking for something different from me. "Blue Skies" was the first time I wrote in the first person narrative as well as from a teen boy's POV. And when I decided to try something different than fantasy, I returned to this story. Both Daiyu and Zhou intrigued me very much while writing the short, and I also loved the idea of setting the novel in Taipei, my birth city. Want is my novel that took longest to reach publication—six years to be exact.

WHOA, but well worth the wait!

Taipei is such a vibrant backdrop for the story, and one that seldom appears in YA. How did you decide to use it as the setting?

As far as I know, Want is the first YA novel set in Taipei published by a bigger US publisher, and definitely the first YA SF. As I said, it is my birth city, and a city and country that I love. I immigrated to the US and moved to California when I was six years old, but my short childhood in Taiwan is deeply engrained in me. Also, it is such a dynamic and wonderful city. I did a big trip back specifically to research for Want in 2013 and much of what I saw, felt, and experienced on that trip made its way into the novel. I wanted to bring the city alive for the reader, for Taipei to be a character in itself.

I'd say you definitely did a fine job of that!

A common theme in your books seems to be tasty business. Is it a lowkey goal of yours to make readers salivate over your food descriptions? (If so, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.)

Ha! Thank you. No, it isn't intentional, but it seems to be something i'm (in)famous for. What can I say? I'm Taiwanese, we love our food. You can't walk ten feet in Taipei without bumping into something delicious to eat! I never think there's much food in my novels until readers point it out to me, often hangry tweeting at me at midnight.

The world of Want paints a grim future of pollution and disparity, both of which are already serious concerns in our present reality. What do you hope will be the main takeaway from this cautionary tale?

I'd like the reader to really think about where we are today and where we very easily can be. And from some reader reactions, I believe I did make a few pause and think. The truth of the matter is much of what happens in Want I took directly from current China headlines. Studies have shown that the Chinese who live in the north actually have more than five years cut from their life expectancies from pollution than those who live in the south. And you only need to look at the United States to see how much wider a chasm the wealth distribution has become between the wealthy and poor. What I portray in Want is already a reality, I simply nudged it a little further and added suits and flying cars.

Looking ahead to what's next for you: you're involved in a couple of upcoming anthologies, so what are the chances that another of your short stories will become its own book? And what's this about a Want sequel??

Yes! I'm part of the Because You Love to Hate Me anthology (Bloomsbury) out July 11th. That is a Medusa retelling and unlikely to be expanded upon, but I had a lot of fun writing that story and am quite proud of it. Another anthology I'm part of is A Thousand Beginnings and Endings (Greenwillow Books) which will release summer 2019. I do a retelling of The Cowherd and Weaver Girl in that anthology and I think I'm happy with the story as it is. I'm very excited for both these anthologies and so honored to be part of them! As for the Want sequel, yes, my wonderful editor Jennifer Ung offered on Ruse while I was in Shanghai this May researching for the novel. Ruse will be set there and it's due to release spring 2019!

EYES EMOJI at everything; I want them allllllllll.

THE YA QUESTIONS

If your real life adolescence was a YA book...

What would you, the main character, be like?

Loud, awkward, and funny.

Who is your secret crush?

#cuteasianboy who rocks out on the guitar and is way too cool for me.

What is your number #1 source of angst?

Lack of making out.

At what point would the reader pump their fist in victory?

When I go to the prom with my gay bff.

And who would play you in the film adaptation?

I always find these questions so hard because I know so few young Asian American actresses. Wah! I'll say a young Constance Wu.

All love for Constance, but Hollywood, give us more Asian-American actresses for our fantasy biopics!

THE SLUMBER PARTY QUESTIONS

What is your secret power?

Making hand farting noises!

What is your #1 favorite food?

*blubbers* ONE?

Tell me about your area of expertise.

Bossing.

If you could assemble your own Ocean's 11 of fictional characters, who would you pick and why?

Kas from Six of Crows because he is badass and doesn't screw around.

Gen from The Queen's Thief series because he's great at stealing and lying

Xifeng from Forest of a Thousand Lanterns because she is ambitious and cunning and just ruthless enough.

Iris from my own novel because she's lethal and gets the job done.

What is your best karaoke song?

"The Greatest Love of All" by Whitney Houston.

Tell me something scandalous!

I got a half-sleeve tattoo when I was forty-three! :D

What is your favorite adult beverage?

Coconut flavored La Croix.

What book have you read (or movie you’ve watched) the most number of times?

The King of Attolia.

Who is your "freebie"?

Godfrey Gao.

YA authors are so cool. Who would you give a BFF charm to?

Malinda Lo.

What a coincidence! (Also, what an author BFFship!)

Out of all of the characters you’ve written, which one do you most wish you could be?

Lingyi from Want.

If you were invited to the FYA slumber party (and obvs, you ARE), what is the most crucial snack food and/or movie/or anything you'd bring?

Snow ice with mochi and all your favorite toppings and The Princess Bride to watch!

OMG YES PLEASE MOCHI <3 <3 <3

Photo credit: Vania Stoyanova

Thanks for stopping by, Cindy! Check out her website, or find her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Want is available now. 

Mandy Wan's photo About the Author: Residing in Edmonton, AB, Mandy unabashedly loves YA lit, frozen desserts, and terrible puns.