Author Interview: Cindy Lin

Welcome to the seventh interview in the 2023 run of my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series dedicated to featuring Taiwanese authors and their work. Taiwanese American Heritage Week occurs every year during the week that begins with Mother’s Day in May, which is also Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. You can find the past interviews and posts in this series via the Taiwanese American Heritage Week tag or through my Post Index.

About the Books

  • Title: Creatures of the In Between
  • Author: Cindy Lin
  • Cover Artist: Daniel Chang
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • Release Date: April 11th, 2023
  • Genre/Format: Middle Grade Fantasy


Princess Mononoke meets How to Train Your Dragon in this magical middle grade adventure from Cindy Lin, author of The Twelve, featuring a blend of East and Southeast Asian folklore and mythical creatures, and starring a boy with a hero’s destiny.

Prince Jin is running out of time.

He must find a monster companion before his thirteenth birthday or lose the throne completely.

And that means traveling to the only place where monsters still live: the legendary, dangerous Whisper Island.

But untold perils await Jin there. The magical creatures he seeks are not so easily swayed, and an even greater threat looms on the horizon—one that could threaten everything Jin hopes to achieve.

Interview with Cindy Lin

Q: Last time I interviewed you, you hadn’t quite released your second book yet, and now you have three novels published. How does it feel to be here? Has anything about your approach to writing changed?

It feels a bit surreal, to be honest, especially since the second one came out in the first year of the pandemic when we were all hunkered down. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I have three books published, especially when imposter syndrome kicks in, or if I start worrying about whether I can pull off another book. It does help to tell myself that I’ve been in this space of uncertainty before, and eventually came out with something deemed publishable. With the third book, I kept telling myself to focus on just getting something down, and work on making each iteration better than the one before — aiming not for perfect, but better than what was on the page before. It sounds simple but it’s amazing how much we can get in our own way sometimes!

Q: Creatures of the In Between takes place in the same universe as The Twelve but in a different region. Did you feel like you had to reinvent the wheel with the worldbuilding, or did having that baseline from The Twelve make it easier to extrapolate?

In some ways having the baseline from The Twelve was helpful — I knew right away I wouldn’t be having smartphones and airplanes in this book, for instance. I could rule out certain things quickly in creating this new world. But in other ways it did feel like having to start from scratch, especially since I had been working in the world of The Twelve for so long, refining and revising over years. I had to create a whole new world much more quickly this time, and sometimes I wasn’t sure I could do it! I asked myself a lot of questions about this new land, sometimes prompted by something that I had taken pains to develop in the first series. Like, if people order their lives around the animal zodiac in these ways, then how would a society that revered monsters order theirs? I also thought about how it would relate to the world of my first two books, but after a while that actually got in the way. I had to put the world of Midaga fully aside and focus on fleshing out the empire of the Three Realms.

Q: The creatures in this story come from East and Southeast Asian cultures and many are common across multiple cultures and have different names across different languages (e.g. qilin vs. kirin). How did you go about picking which of these names to use? Was there any rhyme or reason to it?

There was definitely a guiding principle for me, although it might come off as arbitrary at first glance! Because I’m writing in English for an English-speaking audience, my criteria was based on how things sounded and whether they would be easy to pronounce. I worked under the assumption that most young readers will not know pinyin (Chinese romanization), for instance — it’s not intuitive for English speakers. So the Japanese kirin felt like it would be more straightforward to say than qilin (which is roughly pronounced “chee-leen” in Mandarin). The Korean pronunciation of “girin” was also a possibility but I figured you can find products in the real world using “kirin” (as in Kirin beer, for one), so I went with that. Similarly there is a Korean confectionery company called Haitai and I felt like it was easier to read/pronounce than “haetae,” or “xiezhi” which are other names for the same creature. I also thought piyao was easier to read aloud than “pixiu” (which are both Chinese names for the same creature). Basically if there were multiple names for a certain creature across different languages, I would try to go with one that wouldn’t stop a reader too much (I myself never formally learned pinyin and get tripped up by its use of “c,” “x” and “q” and must sometimes silently pause and correct myself). Occasionally I would go with an English interpretation, like “water ape” for the creature popularly known as “kappa,” an aquatic monster said to resemble a cross between a monkey and a turtle, or warrior crab instead of “heikegani,” because it was a creature minor to the story or it seemed to fit better upon reading. I use a similar approach when I name characters.

Q: I imagine you spent a lot of time researching creature mythology and folklore for this book. What was that research process like?

For me, research is the most fun part! I tend to buy and read books even tangentially related if I think it will help with world-building, and mark them with little post-it flags till they’re bristling like porcupines. I also keep a file on my computer where I save any interesting links, from seafaring and animal husbandry to festival traditions and weapons demonstrations on YouTube. My browser usually has a million tabs open as well. For Creatures of the In Between, I read a bunch of books on imperial courts in Asia, including the Japanese emperor’s court of the Heian era, when court diviners held sway, and accounts about Cixi, the last Chinese empress dowager. The number of mythical creatures and monsters in Asia is staggering. Japanese yokai alone are overwhelming in scope, including monsters that are disguised as umbrellas, lanterns and other common household items. I have so many books on Asian mythological creatures now, but two monster compendiums that I found especially helpful were The Yokai Encyclopedias of Toriyama Sekien and A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways through Mountains and Seas. But they didn’t necessarily narrow things down! I aimed to feature monsters that might be somewhat known or not too esoteric, and if they had counterparts across various cultures, so much the better. The challenge for me is distilling everything I find into something relevant to the story I’m writing, and to not get too sidetracked with going down Wikipedia rabbit holes.

Q: The members of the royal family in Creatures of the In Between are known for commanding a monster companion. If you could pick any creature for your companion, which would you pick and why?

I have to say I rather love the piyao — a winged lion that is a fierce and loyal fighter as well as a guardian and harbinger of treasure. I mean, a furry feline that will protect you, safeguard the great fortune it brings you, fly you around AND doesn’t need a litter box (since piyaos can’t poop)? It’s the perfect companion for me!

Q: What aspect of writing this book did you enjoy the most?

I really enjoyed building a new world, as hard as it was sometimes. It was like going on a great adventure into the unknown. It was also so fun to imagine a world where these mythical creatures we see on so many buildings, artwork and household items in Asia actually existed. I had a list of things I wanted to explore and incorporate into the story, such as going to a festival, visiting a fortune-teller’s tent, sailing on a ship and living in a palace. Checking things off my list was very satisfying.

Q: Did anything about writing this book surprise you?

I’m always surprised when a new character shows up that I hadn’t intended, or if events take a turn I hadn’t planned. This is rather specific, but I had a moment late in revisions where a silly joke struck me out of the blue. For some reason it cracked me up to no end — probably because I didn’t see it coming but it really fit the story. I was sitting at my desk in the wee hours of the night, laughing my head off. The fact that I could be so entertained by something I was writing was ridiculous and delightful. When unexpected moments like that happen, it feels like magic.

Book Links

Purchase Creatures of the In Between:

About the Author

A former journalist with degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, Cindy Lin has worked for Sony Pictures Entertainment and has written and produced many multimedia news features for children, one of which received a Peabody Award. She is the author of The Twelve, its sequel Treasures of the Twelve, and most recently, Creatures of the In Between.

Photo Credit: Joanna DeGeneres

Author Links:

Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts and would like to show your appreciation by tossing a coin to your blogger, please consider donating that coin to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese friend who needs help with rent payments during this Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks!

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