Hello! I am so excited to share this interview with Asian-American author, JC Kang. His debut Asian-Inspired Fantasy novel, The Dragon Scale Lute, is releasing on March 2. If you like a good Asian-Inspired Fantasy, be sure to check this one out!
So JC, tell us a little bit about the Dragon Scale Lute.
Well, it’s part coming-of-age sword and sorcery, part political conspiracy, with a touch of romance. Set in a realm loosely based on Imperial China (with Qing and Tang influences), it follows Kaiya, a fourteen-year-old princess who has the potential of rediscovering the art of invoking magic through music. Her homeland appears stable; but the emperor’s spy network, led by Kaiya’s banished childhood friend Tian and his half-elf sidekick Jie (she thinks HE’s the sidekick), uncover a brewing rebellion. The emperor wants to placate an ambitious lord by offering Kaiya’s hand. However, she meets a foreign (based on India) martial mystic who suggests her voice, not her marriage, will better serve the realm.
What inspired you to write Asian-themed fantasy?
I am something of a Born-Again Asian. I grew up in the South—the Confederacy’s capital, actually—in complete denial of my heritage. The very few Asians I knew in middle and high school were recent immigrants from China and Vietnam, who, in my teenage eyes, fit comfortably into negative stereotypes in the 80s. Luckily, I grew up, lived in Asia for a while, which changed my view of things.
So it’s kind of like atonement?
Hah, maybe? On top of being Asian, I’m also a geek. I watched Star Wars, and read classic fantasy like CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien (which is why I go by JC). Too many stories from my youth focused on Caucasian heroes, and oftentimes, the villains were People of Color. I have kids now, and I wanted to write stories with heroes that had faces like theirs.
You flip the script, then.
I wouldn’t say that. I didn’t want to make it like Asian cinema, where some villains are horrible stereotypes of Caucasians, or create race-based hostilities. My world is home to East Asians, South Asians, Native Americans, North Africans, Eastern Mediterranean, Western Mediterranean, East European, and Middle Easterners, along with classical fantasy beings like elves, dwarves and a dragon. There are good and bad guys (and gals) in every ethnic group, just like in life.
It sounds like the influence of multiculturalism. Are humans, then, pretty much like those on earth?
Well, in addition to cultures based on historical peoples, I give each of the ethnic groups a unique sphere of magic. For the East Asians, it is evoking magic through artistic endeavor. South Asians experience combat in slow motion. Middle Easterners—
Wait! Don’t tell us everything. So did you randomly place all these different ethnicities on your world map?
OK, I have a confession to make. I used to play Dungeons and Dragons, and I created the original world as a teenager. Which is to say, naiveté and puberty went into its creation. Yes, you’re cringing. I am, too. Hear me out. I was cleaning out my junk from my mom’s house one year, and stumbled on my Dungeons and Dragons world. While I laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of my fourteen-year-old self, I did appreciate a few of the underlying ideas in this world.
I spent the next six days remaking my world, taking into account trivial matters like gravity, climate, and supply and demand. And unlike the first version, I used diverse human ethnicities. I considered how their proximities would influence each other culturally, religiously and technologically.
On the seventh day, I rested. I looked at my new creation, awestruck at how decades of life experience could influence a world. In that moment of modesty and deep contemplation, I realized I would never play Dungeons and Dragons again.
On the seventh day? Delusions of grandeur?
Maybe. In any case, we were in midst of a blizzard, and with not much else to do, I wrote. Why not? I had worked professionally as a technical writer and an editor. I knew about varying sentences structures and avoiding repetition of the same words. I started with an action adventure love story set in the Asian part of the world, and in the span of three weeks, I pumped out a 150,000 word novel.
The Dragon Scale Lute?
Hah, no. It turns out, technical writing and fiction writing are two very different beasts, and that first novel was pretty bad. I joined Critique Circle, an online crit exchange site, and basically learned the craft as I went. That first novel is now Book 3 out of 4. The Dragon Scale Lute is chronologically the first book, but I wrote it last.
So it’s a polished, refined tour de force.
Um… right. I’ll let you be the judge of that. It comes out on March 2.