WriterGirl Interview with Cindy Pon, author of Silver Phoenix!

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Lord Willowbies Welcome Home by Elizabeth Farr.

Today I am ecstatic to tell you that we have the fantastic and wonderfully talented Cindy Pon here on The Secret Adventures of Writer-Girl. Cindy is amazingly sweet and so open to her fans, which I love. Her novel, Silver Phoenix, is an Asian fantasy, which I think is pure awesome because it combines two of my favorite loves. She graciously agreed to do an in-depth interview, but she did request that I mention that this interview contains SPOILERS, so please be warned. (I thought I had done a great job of avoiding spoilers, turning a phrase just the right way, but no. I see how there are plenty of SPOILERS to be had. Sigh). However, there is a really cool hint about what her next book is about (second to last quest for the non-spoiler readers). So without further ado, here is Cindy Pon with her debut novel, Silver Phoenix.

P.S Beth over at Writing it Out has informed me that she has posted her review of Silver Phoenix on her blog. Isn't that pleasantly happy? :)

CONTAINS SPOILERS (but if you don't care, or have already read it, read on! Tis an awesome interview).

[ME]: Silver Phoenix - will we ever get to hear her story more fully? I was totally taken in with her character, even if she was mentioned so little.

[CP]: Yes! You'll learn more about Silver Phoenix in the sequel!

[ME]: What made you think to defeat Zhong Ye how you did? It was a way I had never thought of before, but perhaps the greatest deception of all.

[CP]: The climax scene was always there in my mind, along with the kiss. I just didn't know how the story would wind itself there to make sense. Thankfully, it did. I liked the irony that Ai Ling left home to avoid a betrothal, only to walk straight into another. It also made sense to me that Zhong Ye's guard would be down, that'd he'd equate Ai Ling to Silver Phoenix, and assume their love and connection would be instant.

Of course, he didn't suspect his past lover's (Silver Phoenix's) motivation either.

[ME]: Besides the Life-Seeker, what monsters were your own creation?

[CP]: Ha! was the life seeker obvious? But what she did is pretty much in line with Chinese folklore. Alluring women seduce men only to turn into something monstrous (like the snake demon).

With the exception of the snake demon and the one-armed tribe, all other monsters and demons were from my own imagination.

[ME]: You have mentioned that you felt this story was about unrequited loved and that it felt complete to you as a stand-alone title (despite people pleading with you for a sequel. Screaming, in some cases) :) What made you want to decide to write a story about unrequited love? It certainly isn't an approach most authors take. Were you ever afraid of the risk of how it would be received?

[CP]: I felt it was fitting to the story. Chen Yong isn't at a place to wed--he's still
searching for his identity and also recently lost Li Rong. That doesn't make it a place for him to be open to love. I felt that the ending stayed true to the storyline as well as my characters--that Ai Ling would be too fearful to let her feelings be known. That Chen Yong's mind isn't exactly on romance.

I wanted to write about unrequited love because it's all I knew as a teen and in college. Ha! Seriously.

I never realized how unusual it was, and I'm very thankful that my editor allowed me to keep it as is.

For those who read the novel and were not happy with my ending, take heart, there's always the sequel. Tho honestly, if the book was stand alone, the ending would have remained exactly the same.

[ME]: Why is it the demons never tried to attack Ai Ling before her journey started?

[CP]: Because she wasn't a threat until she started to make her way to the palace. In my mind, the giving of that jade necklace catapulted her from the normal world into a fantastic one.

[ME]: Since you weren't originally planning on a sequel - how did you originally foresee the rest of Ai Ling's life being like?

[CP]: Oh, but I did have the seeds of a sequel in mind. I didn't write toward it, but after I finished the novel, I realized there could be more. I just never started it because I knew how much I had emotionally invested into the novel, not to mention the work and time. I couldn't bring myself to write the sequel unless I knew I could sale the first book!

There's a dream sequence Chen Yong has of leaving home and traveling on a ship. Then at the end, I knew he would go abroad to find his birth father. it naturally lent itself to another book.

[ME]: What is your favorite scene, personally?

[CP]:The scene in the bamboo forest. The climax is a close second.

[ME]: Did you have to cut out anything you didn’t want to cut out? (editors or otherwise?)

[CP]: Honestly, not really. There were some phrases and prose I thought was genius on my part, but more likely over-written. Ha!

[ME]: Where is Jiang Dao? You say it is across the sea. Is there any real-life counterpart to it? (like in Lord of the Rings?) :)

[CP] Nope. I may draw on a culture for inspiration, but at this point, I'm really just making stuff up. =D

[ME]: Any hints as to what happens in the sequel? Just a little?

[CP]: The sequel will be a pre-sequel. At least, that is my hope. The prequel is Silver Phoenix and Zhong Ye's story three centuries prior. the sequel follows Ai Ling and Chen Yong to Jiang Dao. And somehow, the storylines will merge. *crosses fingers* =)

[ME]: Everyone in the blogosphere seems to be raving about the descriptions of food in your book (it's something I love about Ai Ling, by the way. What a unique trait to have! And that you modeled it after yourself is the best part of all). :D Can you share a simple Asian recipe with us that we could make ourselves? (it would be amazing if it was something from the book, but anything would be wonderful). You just tantalized us too much.

[CP]: Ha! Thank you! Unfortunately, I'm a eater, not a cook. =( My mom is a wonderful Chinese cook, but I never learned anything from her. One of my favorite dishes, however, is mapo tofu. Bean curd in a spicy sauce with minced pork. Soooooo good!!

Thank you so much Cindy, it was blast talking with you. But you know, I was still itching after all that mention of food you gave. So I took the liberty and found a recipe for Mapo Tofu (courtesy of the Washington Post). I hope it is as good as your mother's. Thank you again and we're greatly looking forward to your next installment.

"The Best" Mapo Tofu

The Washington Post, October 1, 2008
  • Course: Main Course

This version of a spicy Chinese classic was judged "the best" by journalist and author Jen Lin-Liu's husband-to-be, Craig Simons. It was one of the first meals she served him when they were dating in Beijing.

A small amount of ground beef is used, more as flavoring than as main ingredient. Cubes of either firm or soft tofu can be used.

Usually, Sichuan peppercorns are sprinkled on at the end, providing a numbing sensation as the dish is eaten. But Lin-Liu prefers a more subtle use, infusing the cooking oil with Sichuan peppercorns for a few seconds, then removing them before cooking the remaining ingredients.

Serve with steamed rice.

4 to 6 servings


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1/4 pound lean ground beef [or pork, I'm sure - WriterGirl interjection]
  • 2 tablespoons minced leek or scallion (white and light-green parts only)
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger root
  • 1/4 cup broadbean paste (a fermented, reddish-brown condiment available at Asian markets)
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine [optional - WG interjection]
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 12 to 15 ounces (1 package) firm or soft tofu, cut into 1/4-inch cubes


Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the Sichuan peppercorns and cook for a few seconds, until some of them pop and crackle. Remove the wok from the heat; use a spoon to remove and discard the peppercorns.

Return the wok to high heat; when the oil is hot, add the beef, breaking it into small pieces and stirring for a minute or two, until it begins to brown. Add the following ingredients in order, stirring for 1 minute between each addition: leek or scallion and ginger, broadbean paste, soy sauce, rice wine, salt, if desired, and sugar. Then add the water, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 4 to 5 minutes; the mixture will bubble at the edges.

Add the tofu and increase the heat to high; cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat; serve immediately.

Photo courtesy prospect.org

Recipe Source:

Adapted from Lin-Liu's "Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China" (Harcourt, 2008).

Silver Phoenix : Beyond the Kingdom of Xia
Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, April 28 '09



Unknown said...

Oooo...I think a prequel sounds brilliant! And for some reason, I never put together that she goes from one engagement to another...but that does seem to fit much better now that I think about it...

Jeannie Lin said...

Wonderful interview! I enjoyed reading Silver Phoenix and I can see how much of your own personality went into its creation.

And an ending of unrequited love it much more satisfying than a tragic ending -- which is quite common for Asian stories. Thanks again for the lovely read and the recipe!

Unknown said...

WOW (impressed look). I am really enjoying your blog

Here I bought a sauce pack so as to skip all the seasonings! and i will try this friday after work.

Heather Zundel said...

Thanks Sophie. Have you tried the recipe yet?