Welcome to my seventh interview for my [belated] Taiwanese American Heritage Week series! (Note: Judy is not American but rather Canadian, but I want to highlight the Taiwanese diaspora outside of the U.S. as well during TAHW.)
About the Book
- Title: A Magic Steeped in Poison
- Author: Judy I. Lin
- Cover Artist: Sija Hong
- Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (an Imprint of Macmillan)
- Release Date: March 29th, 2022
- Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, “These are the hands that buried my mother.”
For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.
When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shénnóng-shī—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.
But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.
A Venom Dark and Sweet, the sequel to A Magic Steeped in Poison, will be published August 23rd, 2022 from Feiwel & Friends!
Interview with Judy I. Lin
Q: It’s been 5 years since I first interviewed you on my blog, and at the time you didn’t have a book deal yet whereas now you have debuted and even become a New York Times bestseller, with a second book releasing this year. What lessons have you learned that you’d like to share with folks who are currently on the path to publication?
A: Wow, that was so long ago! I remember being newly agented and hopeful that my book will sell and of course the crushing disappointment when it did not. When I’ve learned since then is that it is impossible to predict what will sell and what will not. The books that are being published now sold a year or two ago. Even though my YA horror did not find a home, writing it gave me the confidence to eventually work on the project that I was always scared of – the project that became A Magic Steeped in Poison.
Q: If you were to describe the major characters of your book as different kinds of dumplings, what would they be?
A: This is such a creative question and I’m definitely hungry after answering it.
Ning is best represented by the dumpling that appears in the story: the humble zongzi (glutinous rice dumpling). A dumpling with history, associated with remembrance and sacrifice.
Zhen is the soup dumpling (xiaolongbao), known for its delicate folds, with a surprising filing inside. Just like how she keeps her true self hidden.
Kang would be shumai. A combination of pork and shrimp, from a province by the sea, but has traveled all around the world. There are many varieties of shumai, like how he has to put on different personalities in order to survive.
Lian is the potsticker (guotie). A small package of flavor, very similar to her personality, and usually accompanied by a spicy dipping sauce.
Q: Authors of color are often criticized for writing fantasy stories that draw on their culture that are “inauthentic,” but half the fun of fantasy is being able to make stuff up. What parts of the worldbuilding for Dàxī did you have the most fun with?
A: I really loved incorporating elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine into my story, especially the herbal remedies. In my research, I learned about the formulas from some of the compendiums (including Shénnóng Běncǎo Jīng – the herbal medicine classic!) and what sort of ailments those ingredients and tonics would address. This led me to imagine what these ingredients would be used for if they took on magical properties. Most of my worldbuilding, even the fantastical or magical components, was usually built on a kernel of something that existed in the real world.
Q: I appreciate the amount of thought that went into names of places in the story. How did you come up with the place names in Dàxī?
A: It was important to me that names in the story had a corresponding Chinese name that evoked a certain feeling I wanted to convey (whether it is a person’s name or the name of a place), so I had to make sure the names sounded fine in both the pinyin representation (and corresponding sounds in English) and that it wasn’t something offensive in Chinese. It was a lot of back and forth where I might have settled on an English name, but then had to tweak it when I found that another character matched the feel better.
You’ll also notice that a few places I drew on place names from Taiwan. Yěliŭ for one, because I liked the literal translation – Wild Willow, since the academy is in the forest, surrounded by trees. Língyǎ is from the Kaohsiung neighborhood I grew up in, but I changed the first character to “tomb”, which matches its role as the resting place of former emperors. It’s a fun part of the process!
Q: How do you approach drafting? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you overwrite and have to pare down or do you underwrite and then have to fill in details? Do you write everything in order or do you jump around?
A: I am a plotter for sure. I like to have an outline before I start drafting so I know where I am going, but I still leave space for myself to explore and then revise the story as needed. My first drafts are very short, and I have to keep building with each revision – adding details and emotional arcs as needed.
I usually write everything in order. After I’m done, I update my outline, and then I go back and write it all over again! Maybe not the most efficient writing process, but one that works for me.
Q: What strategies and tools do you find most effective for immersing yourself in the mind of a character or a world?
A: During my first draft, I like to free write. Free writing and using stream of consciousness allows me to fully step into the character’s mind, see what they see and feel what they feel. Most of what comes out of it is not useable, but it helps me get into their headspace and I can see the direction the story should take as I embody the character and navigate them through the story.
I also listen to music a lot while I’m writing. I build a playlist that captures the feeling of the book and then every time I turn on the playlist, I’m instantly in that headspace where I am ready to create.
Q: Publishing involves a lot of factors that are out of our control as writers. What personal goals do you have for your writing that aren’t about numbers, ranking on bestseller lists, etc.
A: To be honest, how A Magic Steeped in Poison has been received has surpassed even my wildest dreams. There were so many things I was able to cross off my “author list”.
My personal goal though is just to be able to write more books. I would love to someday sell a book set in Taiwan, because that’s a dream that has yet to be fulfilled. I have a few ideas that I’ve been working on that I hope I will get to write some day! But right now I have two projects already in the works that I am very excited about and I can’t wait to share when I am able to.
Q: On a similar note, how do you keep yourself grounded when faced with rejection, disappointment, setbacks, etc. in the publishing process?
A: I’ve experienced all of those things and more during the first few years when I was trying to sell a book. There were times when I wanted to give up, but I kept going because my goal was always to show my daughter that it was important to keep working to pursue your dreams. My husband was also very supportive and ensured that I had the time to write without distractions.
On the writing side, I was lucky in that along the way I connected with friends who were at different steps of the publishing journey, so we could help each other get through all the highs and the lows. I was able to cheer them on and received their support and that kept me writing as well. Professionally, my agent continued to champion my stories even when it felt like nobody wanted them! Without all of those supports I don’t think I would still be writing today.
Purchase A Magic Steeped in Poison:
- Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/dp/1250767083?tag=macmillan-20
- Barnes & Noble – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/9781250767080
- Books-A-Million – http://www.booksamillion.com/product/9781250767080
- Bookshop.org – https://bookshop.org/a/3214/9781250767080
- IndieBound – http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781250767080
- Indigo – https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/magic-steeped-in-poison/9781250767080-item.html
- Kinokuniya USA – https://united-states.kinokuniya.com/bw/9781250767080
- Waterstones – https://www.waterstones.com/book/a-magic-steeped-in-poison/judy-i-lin/9781803363486
Pre-order A Venom Dark and Sweet:
- Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/dp/1250767105?tag=macmillan-20
- Barnes & Noble – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/9781250767103
- Books-A-Million – http://www.booksamillion.com/product/9781250767103
- Bookshop.org – https://bookshop.org/a/3214/9781250767103
- IndieBound – http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781250767103
- Indigo – https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/venom-dark-and-sweet/9781250767103-item.html
About the Author
Judy I. Lin, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of the Book of Tea duology (A Magic Steeped in Poison and A Venom Dark and Sweet), was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Canada with her family at a young age. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now works as an occupational therapist and still spends her nights dreaming up imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughters.
- Author Website – https://judyilin.com/
- Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19661255.Judy_I_Lin
- Twitter – http://twitter.com/judyilin
Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts, please consider donating to the victims fund for the Taiwanese American church community in Orange County that was attacked this weekend on May 15th by a gunman, or donating to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese person who needs help with student loan debt and medical bills. Thanks!