Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, was released in April 2011. Her first published short story is featured in Diverse Energies, a multicultural YA dystopian anthology from Tu Books (October 2012). Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Visit her website at www.cindypon.com.
Cindy blogs at Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo at Diversity in YA.
Her brushwork is available on Etsy.
I asked Cindy how she developed courage in Ai Ling, the main character in Silver Phoenix. Do you consider the character’s courage (or lack of it) while you’re writing? Is it always there, or does it grow? Are there considerations when developing courage in female characters? How do you exhibit a character’s courage?
It is an honor to be invited to talk about courage here on Edi’s blog. Edi wanted me to speak a little on how the heroine from my debut Silver Phoenix developed courage as a character. Silver Phoenix was the first novel I’d ever written, so I believe that my heroine Ai Ling’s journey mirrored my own. Ai Ling lived a sheltered life, the only daughter from a scholar’s modest household, she worked up the courage at the beginning of the story to meet her betrothed in an arranged marriage, only to be rejected as not good enough. After her father’s journey to the emperor’s palace resulted in his disappearance, Ai Ling decided to do the unthinkable–she left home in search for him. It was around this same time, forty pages into the novel, that I stopped writing. I’d been writing short stories since I was a teen, but these were ten, fifteen page affairs. Here I was, forty pages into a story, and I was too scared to move forward. I had no idea what I was doing! I needed two hundred more pages? How was I going to do that? Who was I kidding? So instead of moving forward, I went backward, revising the forty pages I had over and over again. Until they were pretty great forty pages. But I was no closer to setting on my own journey to finishing my first novel. If I’ve learned anything as a young novelist, it’s that the writer is always her own worst enemy. So after a six month hiatus, I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November of 2006 and sat down to write five nights a week, usually after 9pm, when my little ones had gone to bed. By the end of that month, I had written 35k new words for Silver Phoenix. They weren’t great words, but they had propelled me along the story. And Ai Ling, on her treacherous journey had encountered and defeated monsters, had made new friends, and perhaps was falling in love. She was coming of age in multiple ways as a character just as I was as a first time novelist. I believe in letting a character grow organically and letting them be themselves. This means making mistakes, stupid ones and arrogant ones. This means learning and evolving from experiences just as we do as people. I believe Ai Ling was able to accomplish what she set out to do only because she had taken those first fearful steps from home to live through both amazing and devastating encounters. And I wasn’t the same writer when I finally finished Silver Phoenix, because I had walked with my heroine and learned with her, every step of the way.
Thank you Cindy!
There are three posts left in this series. Coming next: Debbie Reese.