I am thrilled to welcome Xiran Jay to BookEnds! Her YA novel was so immersive, I still think about the worldbuilding and how complex, yet effortless she made it feel. I was rooting for her heroine from chapter one, and loved that her mission always was at the forefront of every decision she made, keeping me eagerly turning the pages! I can’t wait for you to read it, but for now, get to know more about Xiran below! ~Rachel
Tell us a bit about your writing process. Where do you write, and how often?
It’s as often as I physically can, now, right at home. I used to be super picky about having to be in the mood, but I’ve been really working on my discipline to get. Shit. Done. THESE CONCEPTS AIN’T GONNA WRITE THEMSELVES.
What do you love about writing sci-fi?
I love to worldbuild, but I’m not the type of person who can make stuff up out of thin air. I can only build on logic, and sci-fi allows me to do that. For example, in the book Rachel is taking me on for, I started with the concept of “Asian cyberpunk mermaids” and built the world by asking myself question after question of how it would logically work. How would people communicate if they can’t talk? Sign language. How would various Asian cultures take their traditional clothing into the ocean? Transforming nanosilk made of nanoparticles. How would genetically-engineered aquatic humans have the huge volume of gills necessary to filter oxygen into their bloodstreams? Gill wings that expand out of their backs. How would Oceanans have buildings in areas where the seabed is out of sunlight’s reach? Top-down towers that dangle from artificial islands of hollow glass.
What book do you wish you had written, and why?
Surprisingly, not a sci-fi book, but And I Darken. I don’t think I’ve ever been as amazed with a book as I was with that one. I have a couple of historical fiction concepts besides all my sci-fi ones. There is some WILD SHIT in Chinese history.
If you’re not reading or writing, what would we catch you doing?
I’m gonna be upfront with being a nerd, y’all. I’m either going to be studying biochemistry for school or Chinese history for sheer enjoyment. There are currently at least 12 Chinese history books on my bed, some of them being raw text over two thousand years old (which is totally normal for Chinese history, thanks to my boy Ying Zheng the First Emperor, who unified Chinese writing in 221 BCE. We can literally dig bamboo slips out of two-thousand-year-old tombs and just start reading). I also love to experiment with makeup and have done some modeling, though that’s taking a backseat to writing.
Where can readers find you on the web and social media?
(HMM I WONDER IF THERE’S A THEME OR SOMETHING)
If money were no object, what would be your dream writing location?
I’m perfectly fine in my room! Going outside just frazzles me writing-wise. I need absolute concentration.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice you’ve received?
Your antagonist should, deep down, be fighting for the same goal as your protagonist. From The Anatomy of Story, the best craft book I’ve read.
Plotter or pantster?
I used to be a pantster, but ohhhh maaaaan, NEVER AGAIN. If you’re a pantster, please consider making the transition. It will save you from having a saggy middle. You can’t meander if you always know where the story is going.
Synopses, love them or hate ‘em?
I have a better opinion of them now that I’ve turned into a plotter. If you know what you’re writing well enough, you should be able to sum up your plot and character arcs easily. I know incorporating the worldbuilding is a pain, but just know that agents and editors are not expecting the synopsis to read like a book. All they want to know is there’s going to be a satisfactory arc in the story before they dive in.
Do you have a writing playlist or a vision board? If so, what’s on them?
I get inspiration from everything from Korean drama soundtracks to anime openings. Too many to list properly, honestly. But I especially like the anime OSTs by Hiroyuki Sawano.
Do you get inspiration from any TV shows or movies? If so, which ones?
Again, I’m admittedly heavily influenced by anime. The trash type shonen anime, specifically, like Dragon Ball Z, Saint Seiya (Knights of the Zodiac), and especially Yugioh (all six current series!). But I also really, really enjoy Chinese palace dramas. I can’t get enough of those beautiful concubines manipulating the Emperors to achieve their goals. Why can I say? I simultaneously have the media tastes of a 7-year-old Japanese boy and a 64-year-old Chinese housewife.
Drink of choice when writing? When not writing?
Hot water. Always. Because I’m Chinese.
What excites you most about joining the BookEnds family?
I have heard so many good things about Rachel, and her no-nonsense style matches mine perfectly!
What advice would you give to other authors in the query trenches?
You gotta cut the fat. Make every scene live up to a purpose. I actually queried Rachel with the same book once before, and she rejected me due to pacing issues—she was right to! I ended up cutting 10k in needless scenes under the guidance of my amazing 2018 Pitch Wars mentor Rebecca Kim Wells, and Rachel was happy to take me on after that.
If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would you want to meet and why?
Wu Cheng’en, Ming Dynasty author of the Journey to the West. Just to ask how the hell he came up with all that fantastical stuff. (For those who don’t know, the Journey to the West was a Chinese fantasy book so influential it’s been a permanent part of Chinese culture for some three hundred years now. Its characters have been worshipped in ACTUAL TEMPLES.)