Sometimes, I have an author interview where the author is a bit shy about being recorded for a podcast (so understandable because I’m actually like that too), but the author is just so wonderful, that I have to interview them anyway.
That’s the case with Timothy Stone and his debut novel.
Here’s the blurb:
Emily Lau is a normal girl with a normal life. She goes to school, has a best friend, argues with her parents, and daydreams about being a hero. When her aunt shows up with a gift, Emily’s life will never be the same. Her family has a secret, and it’s everything she’s ever dreamed of.
Magic is real. Not only that, Emily is descended from a long line of warriors. Her aunt starts teaching her the family martial arts, and Emily thinks she’s going to be just like the heroes in all her favorite stories. But if heroes are real, then so are monsters. Her family has enemies, and they’re coming for Emily. She was just getting used to her new life. Will she get to keep it?
Here’s me saying kind things that don’t even begin to express my excitement.
It’s his debut middle grade and it’s just? I am absolutely in love with it, the twists of adventure, Emily, her amazing family and BFF, and Timothy’s writing.
It’s a powerful combination.
Here’s my interview with Tim and another link to his fantastic book!
What was the first book that made you cry?
This was the first question on the list, but probably one of the last ones I answered. To be honest I don’t remember the very first book that made me cry. The first book that comes to mind is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness/inspired by Siobhan Dowd. I remember that one destroyed me. I read it once years ago and I just read it again a couple of days ago. It left me in tears again.
When you write does it make you tired or does it make you energized?
The best answer I can give to this question is, yes. It really depends. Some days I get super energized while I write and I just want to keep going and I write a ridiculous amount. Other days it feels like I’m forcing words out. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I force myself to write when I don’t feel like writing and eventually I settle into a rhythm without realizing it. Sometimes I feel tired after I do this though. When I’m energized I feel like I can keep going. When I force the words out it feels like my brain needs a break at the end of the session.
What is your best tip for avoiding writer’s block? Do you believe in writer’s block?
I’m going to be confusing with this answer. I do believe in writer’s block. And I don’t think it’s something you can avoid. I don’t think writer’s block is strictly a thing only writer’s experience. I think anyone can get a block when they’re trying to do something. And I mean creatively, in sports, anything. I think the trick is to not believe the block. This is where it gets confusing. Yes I think blocks exist, but the way to avoid it is to not believe them.
It’s like the answer to the question about writing while tired. You just keep working until you do it. There’s this anime called “Haikyu!!” that I watch. In the latest season one of the characters is asked for advice on how to do something. He responds “Just keep trying until you can!” I feel like that really resonates with writers block and any time you feel like you can’t do something. At least it does for me.
I watched someone who played college volleyball react to one of the episodes and she talked about something called a “fixed mindset.” It’s when someone feels like they are at the limit of their abilities and nothing they can do can change the situation. She goes on to say that a fixed mindset isn’t helpful for anyone. She says what you need is a “growth mindset.” This is when you view challenge and failure as an opportunity to grow and learn. That if you put the work in you can get better.
That being said, I’m terrible at following my own advice/listening to myself.
What does writing success look like to you?
I’m not answering these questions in order. This is probably the third question I answered but it was the first one I read where I felt like I knew the answer immediately. I think I’ve known the answer to this for a long time. I don’t know if I’m going to explain this very well. I’ve had this picture in my head of me in a setting. Sometimes it’s an airport, sometimes it’s a coffee shop, or a book shop. I’m just minding my business and then I see someone sitting reading my book. I don’t know why but it puts a smile on my face.
How scary is it to have your first book ready to go out into the world?
WAY SCARIER THAN I THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO BE. I thought there was going to be this magic moment where I just knew that it was ready, but there hasn’t been one yet. I feel like I’m running around in circles with no idea what’s going on. I’m sure you can tell how nervous I am about it, Carrie. Every time I send my book to someone to read I get anxious about it. It’s like I’m giving them part of my soul and I’m just sitting here hoping they’ll like what they see.
Your soul is so beautiful, Tim. I promise.
Have you always wanted to be a writer or are you stunned that this magical thing has happened and you’ve written a book?
I have always loved stories, but it took me a bit to realize I wanted to write them. The first time I remember wanting to be something was in third grade. I wanted to play for the Lakers. I was not a good basketball player. I’m still not. Then in middle school I wanted to be a lawyer. It wasn’t until high school that I started to get into creative writing. It was just something I did for fun though, I never thought about writing a book. At least not seriously. Eventually I graduated and started college. I got a job working in athletics and decided definitively that I wanted to work in athletics. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a sports agent or an athletic director or what. I think college is really when the idea of being a writer took hold of me.
I remember being really bored in a history class about Thomas Jefferson. So, I decided to start writing something that had been in my head. Before I knew it I had a chapter done. Two days later I was in the same class and it was just as boring so I started writing again and suddenly I had two chapters. I didn’t think about it too much until my cousins found out and asked to read it. I sent it to them and they loved it. Then it hit me. Could I be a writer?
I’ve worked other jobs since college, but the whole time I was trying to find the answer to that question. And I think I have.
Your book has amazing magical elements. Did those come naturally? And have you always been interested in magic?
If I’m being honest, probably not. I like to think I’m being unique, or as unique as possible, but I love stories in pretty much every form of media. Books, comics, manga, TV, movies, anime, games, etc. I think I’ve become a sponge of everything I’ve ever seen or read.
And I have always been obsessed with magic. Not just magic though I guess. Magic, superpowers, science fiction, all of it. I would say 90% of everything I read or write has some sort of fantastical element to it.
Some of my magic elements I’ve had in mind for a long time and I finally got to use them. Others were born of convenience. I needed a way for something to happen, or a place to exist, and the easiest way to explain it was “magic.” That feels a little lazy but also genuine.
What was the best part of the writing process for this book? The worst?
The best part for me was when I suddenly got a random idea for my story that made me excited to sit down and write. I mean those moments when you’re doing nothing related to writing whatsoever, or when you’re stuck and then suddenly you get the perfect solution to the problem. Then everything just works.
Also, when I finished my first draft for the first time. It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I remember when I finished it, I just started laughing to myself for no reason. Then I ran around the house for a little bit and told my closest friends.
The worst part was rereading it after I finished. The first time was great, but then I read it so many times that I got tired of it. Don’t get me wrong, I loved going back and reading it to make it better. I just hit a point where I got burnt out reading my own book. I started questioning if I could read at some point.
Your book is so lovely and inventive. It’s got a great family story, a buddy story, and a huge adventure.
Without giving too much away, can you tell us who Meihua is and where you got the idea for her from?
This is probably one of the more difficult questions for me to answer because I feel like anything I say about who she is might be a spoiler.
Meihua is a guardian. She protects the people that she cares about. She’s that friend that everyone would love to have, but would be terrified to anger.
The idea for her was really random. I was talking to my friends one day about our favorite childhood movies and I mentioned The Iron Giant. I had seen a tweet at some point where someone said The Iron Giant was the best Superman movie. I tried looking it up to link it, but I couldn’t find it. I did find interviews though where Brad Bird said that the movie was based on the premise “What if a gun had a soul?”
What was the most surprising thing you discovered while writing Emily’s story?
Probably how much it changed. I recently looked back at my notes and conversations with a friend and the story is very different from what it used to be. Emily and Meihua’s origins. Everything. I’m not the most organized person with my notes so I’m not sure where it all came together and I got to the where I am today, but I am so glad that it happened. The story I have now is so much better than what it was when I started.
Also how easy it was? Don’t get me wrong it was difficult. There were days I absolutely had to force words out. But there were a lot of days where things just flowed and felt easy. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to write the story. The ideas just kind of came to mind while I was writing this book and suddenly I had a grand plan.
Can you talk a little bit about Emily and her cultural identity and family and how that’s interwoven into your narrative?
So, Emily is Asian American, like me. Specifically she’s Chinese American. When I set out to write this I didn’t plan on writing the Asian American experience. I was struggling at the time to write something that felt “true” or that I was really proud of. I finally decided to follow the “write what you know” advice and started writing an Asian American character in a setting I knew. I wrote Emily with the experiences I had growing up. She doesn’t speak Chinese because I never spoke Chinese. The food she eats is what I ate growing up. And even the family dynamic is similar to mine. The glaring difference being that I have siblings and she doesn’t.
And when I first started planning it things were very different than how they turned out now. But I remember my friend had recommended I read some wuxia novels. Wuxia I believe translates/means “martial heroes.” It’s kind of fantasy fiction about martial artists in Ancient China. Around the same time Jin Yong’s Legend of the Condor Heroes series was being translated into English. So I picked up the first book and enjoyed it and then I wanted to watch martial arts movies. I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, and The Assassin. Eventually I thought “what if I mixed martial arts and magic.” That’s kind of how this story came along. It’s more a “traditional” fantasy story with some martial arts elements to it.
AND IT IS AMAZING.
Okay, If you didn’t write books, do you think you’d have to find a way to channel your creativity?
Honestly, after having written one, I’m not sure I can imagine doing anything else. I have all these stories in my head and I feel like I have to tell them. I’ve always had stories popping in and out of my head, even when I was working full time or when I was in school. Something would just come up and I would start writing it at school or when I got a free moment at work. I’d like to think I would find a way to channel my creativity but I feel like I only think in stories. Everything I want to do is story driven. If I didn’t write books I think I would like to write the story for a video game. Which I hope I get the chance to do someday.
What was the hardest scene for you to write?
There were a few. One of the most difficult for me to write was the first chapter I think. The very beginning. I knew how I wanted it to end. I knew all the big and little things that were going to happen along the way. But I didn’t know how to start it.
I guess I wasn’t sure how to finish it either. I had an ending in mind, and you saw it, but it wasn’t that fulfilling. You helped me fix that!
I think training scenes were hard for me to write too. I felt like I really had to get into the nitty gritty of it and explain things as best as I could without making it too constricting. At the same time I didn’t want to pretend to be an expert on wuxia elements because I’m not. I’ve only read a few books. Most of my knowledge comes from the little I’ve read and the movies I’ve seen. I didn’t want to do a disservice to an amazing genre of fiction with my lack of knowledge. So I put in things I wanted to have in the story without getting too technical.
There are others but I want the readers to be able to experience them first.
Do you have a website or social media so that readers can find out more?
Here’s a bit more about Tim!
Timothy Stone was born in Southern California to an American father and a Chinese mother. He writes fantasy and Emily Lau and the Plum Blossom Sword is his first novel. It took him a while to put pen to paper, or keystrokes really, but he got there eventually. He attended university and graduated with a degree in history from Cal State Fullerton, but part of him has always wanted to tell stories