Welcome to my Taiwanese American Heritage Week feature series! Taiwanese American Heritage Week is celebrated every year in May starting on Mother’s Day and ending the following Sunday. Each year during TAHW I spotlight Taiwanese authors and books in some form or fashion on my blog. You can find all of the past features in my Post Index.
The final author interview in my 2021 TAHW series is with self-published fantasy author JC Kang on his recently republished series starter Songs of Insurrection.
Only the lost magic of Dragon Songs can save the world. Only an awkward girl with the perfect voice can rediscover it.
The Dragon Singers of old summoned typhoons and routed armies, liberating mankind from the orcs before fading into legend. Now, with the world again facing a new cataclysm, the power of music stirs in Kaiya, a naïve misfit with the perfect voice.
Without a master to guide her, she must rely on Hardeep, a disgraced foreign paladin, to help awaken her latent magic. His motives might not be entirely noble. When he leads her to the fabled Dragon Scale Lute, which only a Dragon Singer can wield, it is up to Black Lotus Clan to intervene. Because the instrument’s fell power can save the world…Or destroy it.
Q: Obligatory food question! You told me you worked in Taiwan for some years when you were younger. What are some of your favorite Taiwanese foods, and what are your favorite memories of living in Taiwan?
A: One of the best part of living in Taiwan was the food! Because so many chefs from all over China fled to Taiwan, there were so many wonderful regional cuisines. Since I hung out mostly around 師大, I had several favorite haunts in the day/night market: a northern potsticker/dumpling/tricolor noodle dive; a man who flew in from Hong Kong on the weekends had a stand where he made amazing beef chow fun; and a restaurant that had delectable 滷肉飯.
Also, a peppered fried-chicken stand a block away from my apartment. It might be sacrilege, but my favorite beef needle soup was not on 永康街, but from the chain restaurant, 三商巧福. Is it embarrassing to say, I actually loved McDonalds in Taiwan, too? I miss their fried pork sandwiches and teriyaki burgers!
Besides just the fun of being in my 20s and hanging out with friends, probably my favorite memory was the 1996 Presidential election. We were playing Mahjong at a friend’s apartment on Ren Ai Rd, and as the ballot returns were coming in, a huge commotion erupted on the streets. Honking horns, people marching and chanting, firecrackers… As someone used to seeing less than 50% turnout for American elections, it was so exciting to see the people being involved in the democratic process.
That said, I also met my wife in Taiwan, so I should probably include that as a favorite memory?
Q: I read Songs of Insurrection several years ago, so I was surprised to see that you recently republished it with not only a gorgeous new cover but also some content revisions. What motivated the update, and what was it like giving your book a makeover?
A: Even though it was the first book in the Dragon Songs Saga, Songs of Insurrection was actually the last one of the series that I wrote. I was misguided and arrogant in thinking that I had the skill to write a book that would appeal to everyone, and my goal was to create an insta-love situation which would eventually turned on its head and subvert that trope.
Many of the critical reviews mentioned a dislike for the insta-love, and Kaiya’s lack of agency because of it. Therefore, I revised the story to make her love interest, Hardeep, suspicious. It’s probably still too subtle for some readers.
The series ended up selling very well—60k copies and 35 million Kindle Unlimited page reads—so I wrote a prequel series following the most popular character, Jie. I also learned my audience was mostly women 30+ who liked romantic arcs, so I had the covers redesigned to target that demographic more.
When it came time to do the audiobooks, I decided to tweak The Dragon Songs Saga. I included some references to the prequel series, and added a few chapters with one of its popular characters. I simplified stuff like units of measurement and translated some Mandarin terminology into English so that it would be easier to follow on audio.
How do I feel about it? I probably spent way too much time in money for very little return, so there is a level of regret. However, it’s helped me find some new readers, and sell hundreds of hardbacks to existing fans. So, not a total loss.
Q: Indie authors, for lack of access to the same resources as traditional authors, tend to become a jack of all trades in order to advance their career. What kinds of useful skills have you developed since you started writing and self-publishing?
A: I would argue that the Big 5 put most of their marketing budgets into a handful of authors, and therefore, indie authors actually have an advantage over the average trad debut author (at least, in eBooks). However, they’re services we have to pay for out of pocket, and, as you point out, it requires developing a wide array of skills.
For me, that’s meant basic Photoshop. Data analysis to learn about audiences. Networking and alliance building. Learning how advertising platforms work. Using emerging big data technologies like pixels.
Q: Unlike in traditional publishing, where you have an agent who matches you up with an editor at a publishing house, self-published authors have to find their own freelance editors (to my knowledge, anyway). How do you decide who to go to for editing?
A: For me, it was word of mouth. I’ve used the same editor (Alexis at The Quick Fox, formerly known as Word Vagabond) for line edits and proofreading for years. For the Dragon Songs re-releases, I hired a second proofreader (Sarah Chorn of Bookworm Blues), who is very well-known in indie fantasy circles.
Q: I saw from looking at your past interviews that you watch a lot of East Asian media, which you cite as being among the influences for your work. Do you have any particular East Asian movies, dramas, etc. that have inspired your work and/or that you want to recommend to your fellow fantasy fans?
A: I am probably going to show my age with this one, but I’m a huge fan of 1990s Hong Kong movies and early 2000s Japanese Samurai dramas. Some of my favorites:
- Once Upon a Time in China 1 & 2
- Fist of Legend
- Fong Sai-Yuk 1 & 2
- The Taiji Master Zhang Sanfeng
- Swordsman 2
- A Chinese Ghost Story
- Dragon Inn
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
- House of Flying Daggers
- The Myth
- Drunken Master 1 & 2
- Toshiie to Matsu
- When the Last Sword is Drawn
- Twilight Samurai
Q: I noticed the illustrations of your character Zheng Tian look suspiciously like the actor Hu Ge. Is he the inspiration for the character’s appearance by any chance? On a related note, who would you cast to play Kaiya, Jie, and Tian in a live-action adaptation of your work?
A: LOL, I’m probably showing my age, but Takeshi Kaneshiro was my visual muse for Tian. I pictured Vickie Zhao for Kaiya, and Maggie Q for Jie. I am not up to date on current Asian media, except tangentially through the K-Pop and K-Dramas that my kids follow, so I’d have to go with those three actors from 15 years ago!
Q: Please shout out some Asian indie authors whose work you’ve enjoyed with a short pitch for their books!
- M.L. Wang, Sword of Kaigen. Winner of Mark Lawrence’s Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog-Off. It’s a mix of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Poppy War. Emotional Roller Coaster with deep, deep themes.
- Jeannie Lin (hybrid), Gunpowder Alchemy. Opium Wars re-imagined as Steampunk.
- Tao Wong, A Thousand Li. Wonderful character interactions and lush worldbuilding. Probably the second-most popular Xianxia series after Will Wight’s Cradle.
- Sarah Lin, The Brightest Shadow. Epic Fantasy x Xianxia, with compelling characters and fabulous worldbuilding.
About the Author:
Born and raised in the capital of the Confederacy’s urban blight, JC Kang grew up a total Twinkie. Though he savored the irony that his GI Joe: Greatest American Hero toys were made in Taiwan, he didn’t know where that was, or that his parents had once lived there. Interestingly enough, his father had been staunchly anti-KMT, and fled to Taiwan in 1947 to escape authorities in Xiamen, never expecting the Nationalist government to flee there; and his mother’s family had deep ties to the KMT, her uncle eventually serving as the personal attaché to Madame Chiang Kai-Shek in New York. Apparently, love—or at least, young lust—conquered political differences.
JC’s life changed the summer between his first and second years at UVA, when he was accepted to the University of Paris for a summer program. Instead, his father sent him to the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei. It was such a life-altering experience that JC returned after graduation (and a year in Japan) to Taipei, where he worked as a translator and technical writer, apprenticed under an acupuncturist, and trained in Wing Chun Kung Fu under Grandmaster Ip Man’s nephew, Sifu Lo Man Kam. Many of these influences found their way into his writing.