Welcome to my eighth and final interview for my [belated] Taiwanese American Heritage Week series!
About the Book
- Title: An Arrow to the Moon
- Author: Emily X.R. Pan
- Cover Artist: David Curtis
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Release Date: April 12th, 2022
- Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Romeo and Juliet meets Chinese mythology in this magical novel by the New York Times bestselling author of The Astonishing Color of After.
Hunter Yee has perfect aim with a bow and arrow, but all else in his life veers wrong. He’s sick of being haunted by his family’s past mistakes. The only things keeping him from running away are his little brother, a supernatural wind, and the bewitching girl at his new high school.
Luna Chang dreads the future. Graduation looms ahead, and her parents’ expectations are stifling. When she begins to break the rules, she finds her life upended by the strange new boy in her class, the arrival of unearthly fireflies, and an ominous crack spreading across the town of Fairbridge.
As Hunter and Luna navigate their families’ enmity and secrets, everything around them begins to fall apart. All they can depend on is their love…but time is running out, and fate will have its way.
An Arrow to the Moon, Emily X.R. Pan’s brilliant and ethereal follow-up to The Astonishing Color of After, is a story about family, love, and the magic and mystery of the moon that connects us all.
Interview with Emily X.R. Pan
Q: Welcome back to my blog! It’s been 5 years since I last interviewed you. At the time, your debut, The Astonishing Color of After hadn’t come out quite yet, and now you’ve published your second novel. What lessons have you learned since then that you wish you could send to your past self?
A: This question always gets me all philosophical and turned around—like if I could share some of my current wisdom with my past self, would it really have changed the path I took? Would I actually be worse off in other ways? But it is certainly interesting to think back on how I’ve grown. I had no idea back then that it would feel harder to write after I was a published author. There was much less pressure when I was just writing for myself—much of the time I was full of despair, of course, as it took multiple books for me to sign with an agent and finally sell something. But that’s nothing like the feeling of writing up on a stage, with people watching to see what I’ll produce next.
I learned that I have to trust my creative instincts. I have to trust myself. It took me so long to pull the right iteration of An Arrow to the Moon out of my brain because I was drowning in the noise of everything that followed my debut. I was worrying about what readers would think, whether they would be disappointed, the comparisons they might make.
I remember this conversation I was having with Laurie Halse Anderson at one point—she warned me that no matter what, everyone would compare my second book to my debut. And as soon as she said it, I knew she was right and I had to quit worrying about it. I wanted to write something very specific, and I knew it was going to be quite different from Astonishing—because I would be bored out of my mind if I just wrote the same type of book again and again—and I had to just get out of my way and let myself do it.
Q: An Arrow to the Moon is set in the past in the year 1991. What about this time period interested you, and why did you choose this time as the setting?
A: Two specific reasons. I wanted to bastardize a bit of history from 1974, so that timeline put my characters in 1991. And I wanted to capture the isolation that I felt when I was growing up in a predominantly white town: How my parents would seek out community, but in a way that often made me feel more separate from other Asian Americans my age. How connecting deeply with a single person was enough of a lifeline to get me through the choppiest of times. As an ode to the way I grew up, I wanted this story to be before cell phones, before everyone was on the internet 24/7, to really underscore what that isolation was like.
Q: You mentioned in another interview that you read many different versions of Chang’e and Houyi’s tale while doing research for the book. Do you have a favorite among those different versions you looked at? What version of the tale did you hear growing up?
A: The version I heard the most growing up had Chang’e being so unable to resist her curiosity that she decides to try just a little bit of the elixir that was meant to be shared—she ends up consuming all of it by accident.
My favorite version I came across while researching had a third key character—a villain—who tries to steal the elixir from Houyi. In that one, Chang’e consumes the elixir only to prevent this bad actor from getting his hands on it.
Q: Whereas The Astonishing Color of After is written in first-person from a single narrative viewpoint, An Arrow to the Moon jumps around quite a bit between third-person perspectives of multiple characters. Did you decide to do this from the beginning, or was it something you incorporated after you began drafting?
A: I started out just jumping back and forth between Hunter and Luna, my two main characters. The other perspectives came in because I knew I wanted all the family relationships to be much more complicated, and that I needed to show elements and secrets that Hunter and Luna would not be aware of. I started journaling and freewriting to figure out more about all the parents, and it became clear that I had to give them their own POV chapters.
Q: You mentioned that this book took many years to complete, and you almost thought you wouldn’t finish. Since everyone in the publishing industry seems to be going through burnout and fatigue right now due to the pandemic, I’d like to ask: what kinds of things have you done to take care of your mental health while working on this book, and what kinds of supports from people around you have helped?
A: This is such a wonderful question—thank you for asking it. I am a strong believer in taking all the help I can possibly get for my mental wellbeing. I’m lucky to be privileged enough to afford a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a mindfulness coach, all of whom were absolutely instrumental in helping me care for myself throughout the process of writing this book. They all emphasized the importance of being gentle with myself, and I have to credit my mindfulness coach with patiently teaching me how to do that.
I am also lucky to have the most incredible friends who sent me little gifts or baked me delicious treats when they knew I was having a hard time, or called to check in on me, or made a point of not talking about publishing and getting my mind off things with a board game or some D&D. And on the publishing side, I have the most incredible agent, who really prioritizes my mental health, and who is always helping me find the best way to balance this job with my health. Having his support in that regard really means everything.
I have found that the best things I can do for myself are to get off social media (in fact get off the internet and strictly enforce screen-free time), make some other kind of art (maybe painting, maybe crocheting, or playing the mandolin), reconnect with friends outside publishing, spend some quality time playing with my dog somewhere with grass and trees and fresh air blowing on my face. I recommend everyone try any of these.
Q: I know you have other projects in the works that you can’t really share details on, so I’ll ask a more general question about the future: what kinds of new challenges do you want to tackle with your next books?
A: I have an idea for something that is meant to be commentary on sociopolitical dynamics, that I don’t know if it’s ever going to become what I envision it being—that one feels really hard. But I’m hopeful. I’m also eager to play with form and try something really wacky. And I have some other bits of history that I very much want to bastardize and play around with, and those will be a real challenge with the amount of research I still have ahead of me.
I have too many projects in the works, and not enough time. But what I’ve found is that it’s the stories that feel the most challenging and ambitious for me, craft-wise, that I am most interested in pursuing.
Add An Arrow to the Moon on Goodreads.
Order a signed copy of An Arrow to the Moon from Books of Wonder.
Purchase An Arrow to the Moon from another seller:
- Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0316464058
- Barnes & Noble – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/9780316464055
- Books-A-Million – http://www.booksamillion.com/p/9780316464055
- Bookshop.org – https://bookshop.org/a/2344/9780316464055
- IndieBound – http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780316464055
- Indigo – https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/an-arrow-to-the-moon/9780316464055-item.html
- Kinokuniya USA – https://united-states.kinokuniya.com/bw/9780316464055
You can also read my review of An Arrow to the Moon on Medium.
About the Author
Emily X.R. Pan (she/her) is the New York Times and National Indie bestselling author of THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER, which won the APALA Honor Award and the Walter Honor Award, and received six starred reviews. It was also an L.A. Times Book Prize finalist, longlisted for the Carnegie Medal, and named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 Best YA Books of All Time. Emily co-created the FORESHADOW YA platform and anthology, and is a passionate teacher of creative writing. She has taught fiction workshops, literature seminars, craft bootcamps at various institutions, including New York University, The New School, The Center for Fiction, 92nd Street Y, Tin House. Emily has mostly recently joined the Vermont College of Fine Arts as MFA faculty in their Writing for Children’s and Young Adults program. Originally born in the Midwestern United States to immigrant parents from Taiwan, Emily now lives on Lenape land in Brooklyn, New York. She received her MFA in fiction from the NYU Creative Writing Program, where she was a Goldwater Fellow and editor-in-chief of Washington Square Review. She was also the founding editor-in-chief of Bodega Magazine. These days she spends her free time playing the mandolin, making art, and training her furry dog-beast to balance on strange objects. Her latest novel, AN ARROW TO THE MOON, was an instant national bestseller. Visit Emily online at exrpan.com, and find her on Instagram: @exrpan.
- Author Website – https://exrpan.com/
- Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15450609.Emily_X_R_Pan
- Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/exrpan
- Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/exrpan/
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!