Welcome, Miss. Julie C. Thank you so much for giving us the time for this amazing interview, today. It’s an honor and pleasure to have you visit The Life of a Booknerd Addict blog. We’re huge fans of your amazing debut and also of you. We would love to get to know you a little bit and were wondering if you could tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you became a writer.
Thank you for having me, It’s a pleasure to be here. I’ve always loved writing! I wrote and illustrated my first “novel” at age 9. It was called The Hidden Kingdom and it was about my two best friends and me going through a portal in my living room TV to a magical, unicorn-filled world. I kept writing all through school but stopped in my late teens because my parents didn’t think it was a good career. I couldn’t stay away, though! I started writing again in my early 20s and never looked back.
We’re extremely happy that you couldn’t stay away and gifted us with this amazing story, that we so desperately loved. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
One of my dearest author friends is Stephanie Garber, the author of CARAVAL. I go to her with everything: good news, bad news, and whenever I need a little boost because she is delightfully positive and a ray of sunshine! She reminds me to appreciate everything and overcome obstacles. Many of my close writer buddies are not published yet (it’s only a matter of time, so get ready, world!) but they keep me happy, humble, and grateful. They were there for me way, way back, and they’ve seen me at my best and my worst. I’m so thankful for the lovely writer community!
That’s fabulous that you have such exceptional support behind you. How did you come up with the idea of FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS?
The idea for FOTL came when I was 13. I was playing a game of Solitaire that had beautiful art on each of the cards: these grim, gorgeous young queens who looked like they wanted to kill each other! I found myself imagining their stories and conflicts, and put this together with my love of fairy tales and folklore. The tale of Snow White popped into my head: a stepmother and stepdaughter battling each other for control of the throne. I didn’t feel ready to write it for many, many years, but in 2015, I decided to finally sit down and explore the concept with an all-Asian cast of characters. And the rest was history!
Our best ideas usually come from childhood. How was your writing process for FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS?
I do a lot of plotting for every story I write. Before I start, I have a whole outline that lays out my entire novel chapter by chapter and I make character sheets with people’s backstories. And then, because I’m so prepared, I can usually put down the first draft in about a month. Revising takes a long time, but it’s not as messy as it might have been if I hadn’t thought out the details beforehand!
That’s actually great advice for debut authors out there. What other advice would you give to us aspiring authors for when we hopefully become debut authors?
The key is to never forget how much you love writing, no matter how many no’s you hear. Because you will hear many, MANY no’s when you’re trying to get an agent or find a home for your manuscript! It’s just part of the business. But do not lose that magic that pushed you to write in the first place. Sometimes you need to turn off social media and spend time with a story you love, a character you adore, and a world you don’t want to leave. And then pick yourself back up and try, try again!
Very notable advice to take, thank you. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
The main kingdom of FOTL is inspired by Imperial China, so I spent many weeks researching everything I could about that era: everything from food and clothing to how the Emperor’s army worked and what roles servants played in the palace. My book is a fantasy, not historical fiction, but I wanted to ground the story somehow.
I also read quite a few Asian folktales and fables. It was so interesting to see how many different variants of each tale existed in China, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, and other countries around East and Southeast Asia. It was a wonderful reminder that although each culture is distinct and unique, they aren’t isolated, so storytelling frequently passed through borders and was shared across different lands.
You heard it here young authors. Research, read, research and read, it’s never enough! What are the most important books or/ and magazines for writers to read?
I actually don’t read a lot of craft books, but I really mean to as soon as I have some downtime! I read BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert this year and really enjoyed how inspirational and encouraging it was to creative folks. I read many blogs and listen to podcasts. The Pub(lishing) Crawl blog and podcast have helped me for YEARS (and I’m not just saying that because I’m a contributor now!) and I absolutely love Yin Chang’s 88 Cups of Tea podcast for writers.
We’ll definitely have to check that podcast 😉 What’s your favorite place to write?
I write in my office, at my big mahogany desk! But I’ve also been known to curl up on my bed or couch. I wrote the entire first draft of FOTL on my comfy brown sofa under a cozy blanket, in the early days of November.
That does sound super cozy. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I absolutely loved “Juniper” and “Wise Child” by Monica Furlong when I was growing up. I don’t hear people talking about those middle-grade fantasies as much as they do, say, Tamora Pierce or Lloyd Alexander, and I think it’s a shame! They are wonderful books about a girl who goes to train with a wise and wonderful healer.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
My parents really wanted me to be a doctor and pushed and pushed me in high school. If I could go back, I would fight them harder so I could start improving my craft at an earlier age. I think of all those years I won’t ever get back that I could have spent practicing and studying the art of writing. But I’m grateful I ended up where I am anyway!
It was definitely meant to be. What kind of music did you listen to while writing FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS?
I listened to the cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s performing group, the Silk Road Ensemble, which brings together musicians and instruments from all over the world. I also listened to Tan Dun’s score for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” a few songs by Two Steps From Hell like “Casablanca” or “Rise Above,” and lots of Hans Zimmer. He’s a composer who strikes a gorgeous balance between lyrical, lovely music and gritty, action-packed pieces.
We also prefer composers. It seems to set the perfect mood for when reading as well. What came first the plot, the characters or the setting? Was it difficult to integrate all these three?
The plot came first! But as soon as the story popped into my head, the characters did too. And I’ve always known I wanted to write a story with strong Asian women at the forefront, so it was not hard at all to put all the pieces together!
With which character from the book do you most relate to?
I like Shiro, the ambassador from Kamatsu, quite a lot! He’s bookish and kind, and definitely someone I would be friends with.
We’re extremely passionate about everything that you, Miss. Julie C. Dao, so we ask you what are you currently working on now?
Book 2 of the Rise of the Empress duology!
What can we expect from the sequel of FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS?
You will see a LOT more inspiration from Asian fables and folktales, and a new leading lady who is the exact opposite of Xifeng. There will be desert chases and discoveries, a quest and friendship-to-love and (of course!) the fulfillment of several characters’ ultimate destinies.
Thank you so much for this amazing interview Miss. Julie C. Dao! We can’t wait for the upcoming Rise of the Empress sequel!!!
October 2 – Alexa Loves Books – Author Guest Post | Inspiration Behind FOATL
October 3 – No BS Book Reviews – Review
October 4 – The Young Folks – 10 Reasons to Read FOATL
October 5 – Chasing Faerytales – Author Guest Post | On Villains & Backstories: What Makes Them So Interesting?
October 6 – Arctic Books – Favorite Villains & Anti-Heroes
October 9 – NovelKnight – Review
October 10 – The Book’s Buzz – Author Q&A
October 11 – Across the Words – Author Q&A
October 12 – What Sarah Read – FOATL Mood Board
October 13 – One Way or an Author – Tour of the World of FOATL
October 16 – MrsLeif’s Two Fangs About It Book Reviews – Review
October 17 – Twirling Pages – Author Guest Post | Julie’s Writing Starter Pack (aka items that got her through writing FOREST)
October 18 – Mundie Moms – Review
October 19 – Book Nerd Addicts – Author Q&A
October 20 – Little Lillie Reads – Review & Playlist
October 23 – Tales of the Ravenous Reader – Author Guest Post | Julie’s Dream Cast
October 24 – The Eater of Books! – Favorite FOATL Quotes
October 25 – A Page With a View – Author Q&A
October 26 – A Perfection Called Books – Review & Mood Board
October 27 – Xpresso Reads – Author Guest Post | Talk about anything fun/bizarre she discovered while writing the book.
Enter for a chance to be one (1) of three (3) winners to receive a hardcover copy of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie Dao. (ARV: $18.99 each).
NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Enter between 12:00 AM Eastern Time on October 2, 2017, and 12:00 AM on October 27, 2017. Open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are 13 and older. Winners will be selected at random on or about October 30, 2017. Odds of winning depend on a number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.