First Book Friday: Cindy Pon

It’s First Book Friday time again! Today we have Cindy Pon (cindy-pon on LJ). In addition to writing, Pon also does gorgeous Chinese brush art. Check out one of her recent works, titled Surly Cat. I love it! Bonus trivia: she was also the seventeenth Dread Pirate Roberts, having passed the name on to DPRXVIII a few years back in order to devote more time to her writing.

Pon’s second book, Fury of the Phoenix [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], comes out at the end of this month.


I’ve been writing creatively since around age twelve, beginning with poetry that rhymed. To this day, I still enjoy a good rhyming poem. I soon moved on to short stories in high school, and wrote a little through college. But I basically stopped writing creatively for a decade, too busy with “grown up” stuff like grad school, marriage, work, major moves, etc. It wasn’t until I had my two bubs back to back and was staying at home full time that I found my first love again — creative writing. I really needed something to call my own again, and began taking writing classes at the local university extensions at night. From there, I went on to take a novel writing class.

“Writing a novel” had always been on a checklist of mine, that I never even considered seriously. But now that I was home full time, why not take the time to try and do this? I began writing Silver Phoenix [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], not knowing anything other than that I wanted to write a classic heroine’s journey and incorporate Chinese mythology and folklore. I wrote forty pages — more than I had written for anything in my life — and kept going back to revise those forty pages over and over again. I was stuck. Immobilized by my own fears and insecurities. How could I go on to finish a novel? I needed at least two hundred more pages! It seemed daunting and impossible.

I stopped working on the novel for six months.

In the fall, I was fortunate enough to meet Margaret Weis for a private session on my first pages at a local writing conference. That meeting really helped to give me drive and courage to keep going. In the fall of 2006, I joined NaNoWriMo for the first time. I had no intention of writing 50k in a month, but I did intend to use it to plow through The Dreaded Middle. I proceeded to write around 1k words five days a week, and by the end of November, I had 35k more words for my novel.

I finished the rough draft of Silver Phoenix in January 2007, then proceeded to revise the novel at least six times that year, with the help of critique group friends. At the end of January 2008, I began querying for agents. I never set out to be published. I wanted to challenge myself, but when I actually finished the novel, I loved it so much I wanted to share Ai Ling’s story with the world. I knew I had to at least try.

Like so many other YA fantasy author friends, I had originally written Silver Phoenix thinking it was a straight adult fantasy. It wasn’t until I began querying and one big fantasy agent asked, “Isn’t this YA?” that I began querying YA agents. In the end, I was lucky enough to find one after querying 121 (with over 100 rejections to my name). I was seriously considering submitting directly to publishers who didn’t require agented manuscripts if I couldn’t find representation when Bill Contardi agreed to take me on in April 2008.

In the end, Silver Phoenix went to auction in May 2008 and I had as many editors interested in the manuscript as I had full requests from agents. I had such a difficult time finding an agent as they’d look to the books currently on the shelves and say, there is nothing like this on the market — I don’t know who would buy it. When really, it’s a very straightforward fantasy story, like so many of the ones that are published, the only difference being it is inspired by ancient China.

Silver Phoenix debuted in April 2009 and was named one of the top ten fantasy/science fiction novels for youth by America Library Association’s Booklist. It’s been a huge learning curve since I became published, and I’m looking forward to the release of my sequel this March, Fury of the Phoenix. It’s a true joy to be writing for the YA audience, as teens make some of the most wonderful reading fans. I’ve experienced many highs as well as many lows as a published author, but I honestly wouldn’t trade it for anything.