Amanda Sun is a YA author. She was born in Deep River, Canada and started reading fantasy novels at 4 and writing as soon as she could hold a pencil. In university, she took English, Linguistics, and Asian History, before settling into Archaeology. She has written bestselling The Paper God series. Visit her here.
NAW- Tell us about your literary journey. How did you end up becoming a writer?
I’d always known I wanted to be a writer. I remember passing out short stories and fan fiction at recess to anyone who would read it. I wrote for my high school and university papers, but it wasn’t until 2004 that I got very serious about getting published. Up until that point, I’d written a lot, but I was having trouble finishing stories. I finished one, and started to query agents. In the meantime, I wrote short stories. The first one I submitted ended up winning a writing contest and publications in a literary journal, so that was a fantastic start!
I kept getting rejections from agents saying that they loved the novel, but that genre was a tough sell in the current market. Did I have any Urban Fantasy? I spent a year reading every book I could get my hands on in YA, and then I wrote INK. It went through a couple of major revisions before I signed with my agent. One more revision, and we sold it to Harlequin TEEN in 2011.
I even majored in Archaeology at school to give myself a good background for world building and writing. It’s a good thing all this worked out because I wouldn’t be a terribly good archaeologist–I’m terrified of spiders.
NAW- Tell us about your book, ‘Rain.’ What is it about? How did you get the idea for The paper Gods series and why this name?
RAIN is the second book in The Paper Gods, a YA Fantasy series set in Japan. The books are about a Canadian-American teen who moves to Shizuoka to live with her aunt and crosses paths with the kendo star at her school, Tomohiro, whose drawings come to life in dangerous ways. What he draws lifts off the page with a darkness of its own. The Paper Gods is a name my editor came up with, and it comes from a connection Tomohiro makes in the first book, INK. Paper in Japanese is kami, which sounds the same word as the word for God. The Paper Gods delves into kami mythology and Japanese history, while at the same time telling a hopefully exciting fantasy story set in the backdrop of modern day Japan.
NAW- Why did you base your books in Japan? Why not your native country where you have lived for a longer period of time?
Well, I was an exchange student in Osaka when I was in high school and the experience changed me. I’d always been interested in Japan, starting with a mythology book my mother bought me. It had such rich and fascinating stories of the kami, completely unlike the European fairy tales I was used to. Of course I also loved Hello Kitty and Sailor Moon growing up, which led to me self-teaching myself Japanese and wanting to go on exchange there.
When I came back from Japan, I felt like I couldn’t fully express what the experience had been like. And so after writing some short stories set in Japan, I wrote INK. I wanted to make Japan accessible to outsiders, to show what the culture is like and to hopefully break a few stereotypes along the way.
NAW- Why did you choose a paranormal theme for your works? How was the readers response?
The idea of the ink coming to life came from my Archaeology roots. Egyptian scribes believed snake glyphs could come to life off the wall, and chiselled lines through them so they wouldn’t bite the entombed pharaohs. And kanji, the Chinese characters now adopted in Japanese writing, were originally used to communicate with the gods. They’d be carved onto turtle shells which were used for divination. I liked the idea that drawings could come to life, and could be connected to kami, but wouldn’t necessarily be safe.
I have also always loved Fantasy, so it was natural for me to write about it. At first I’d set out to write INK as a contemporary, about a Japanese boy who wanted to be an artist, but whose family wanted him to be a doctor. One time when I was watching Tomohiro draw in my mind, his drawing moved on the page. I was shocked, and Tomo began to tell me the truth of who he really was. So I suppose the story decided for me.
Reader response has been fantastic. I’ve had a lot of manga and anime fans who enjoy the book, and I think Japanese mythology is something that we haven’t seen a lot of yet in YA. I hope that changes!
NAW- Tell us about your other works? What made you decide to write a YA fiction? How much of Japanese culture been an inspiration? Did you research for your books and if yes, then how did you go about it?
The first story I had published, “Treading Water,” won Room Magazine’s Fiction contest back in 2007. It was a literary fiction piece about a Canadian girl who visits her friend in Kyoto and questions whether her life is everything she wanted it to be. Other than that, everything I’ve written has been YA. I feel YA chose me, and not the other way around. For me, writing always starts with the characters. When I was eight, I’d write about characters that were 10, since they were more mature and certainly cooler. Then when I was 10, I’d write about characters who were 12. But when I became a teenager, my characters stopped aging. I love the energy and passion teenage characters have. They’re not jaded or tired from life. They’re empowered, and they’ll take on anything. Everything is new and exciting, and I love that. YA is filled with fantastic voices, and I love the way it pushes the boundaries of fiction.
I researched a ton for The Paper Gods. Writing about Japanese culture, I wanted to do my absolute best to be respectful and accurate. I kept a journal when I lived in Japan, so I referred to that while writing. I also asked my Japanese friends about school life, teen slang, Japanese names, and so on to make sure everything was as accurate as possible. Then I went back to Shizuoka after writing INK and researched all the places again to help make the descriptions more vivid.
In fact, I’m going back to Japan this summer on a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. Book 3 of The Paper Gods covers a lot of new places I haven’t been to, so I’m going to go and make sure I do my best to accurately portray them.
NAW- How do you develop your characters? How were Katie and Tomohiro developed? Do they bear any resemblance to actual living people?
Yes and no. I think all characters reflect shards of an author’s personality and life experience, but their twisted and distorted, like dreams. Characters show up in my mind long before I write about them. They just sort of pop up one day, and I start to learn things about them. I’ll ask them questions, and when it’s the wrong information, I know it’s wrong. That’s why I can’t write a story until I’ve got their name write. Their personality traits do change and evolve over the course of writing, though. They’ll react in situations or reference events I didn’t know about, and that changes their overall makeup.
Katie was originally created as part of a fan fiction plot I dreamed up. She was supposed to be an ensign on a starship. She was a bold character who wouldn’t back down, but also very kind. When I needed a character to push Tomohiro’s buttons, I knew it would be her.
As far as resemblance to living people, only small things. For example, Katie’s friend Yuki wants to go into fashion design. My host sister studied fashion in university. That’s the only thing they have in common. So little things like that.
NAW- What drew you to writing?
My favourite part of writing, and reading, is that moment when you connect with your reader. You read a certain sentence, and you just stop reading. You read it again. You think, “I’m not alone in the universe. Someone else has felt the way I did. Someone else has thought that.” To me, that’s worth everything.
I also grew up in a very small town with not much to do. Writing was a wonderful way to build landscapes and have adventures. It’s like reading, except the story goes exactly where I want it to, which is a really interesting experience.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What are your hobbies? What do you do when you are not writing?
Well, I’ve mentioned my interest in Archaeology. I also love languages. I’ve studied French, Japanese, Anishinaabemowin/Ojibway, Latin, Welsh, Spanish, and Middle Egyptian Hieroglyphic. I used to dance ballet and played bass clarinet in my hometown orchestra. I love gaming and knitting nerdy things like companion cubes. And I also love cosplay. I’ve been cosplaying since 2010, and have won a few awards in masquerades. You can check out some of my cosplays on Pinterest.com/AmandaSunBooks
NAW- What is the one interesting thing that your readers don’t know about you?
Probably that I can read and write Egyptian hieroglyphs. I often offer to sign readers’ books with their name in Egyptian, so if you’re at a signing and want your name in snakes and birds, let me know! I’m really passionate about archaeology and I keep catching up on the latest at the digs. My areas of specialty are Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Anatolia (Turkey).
NAW- Did you face any difficulty in getting published?
Of course! Publishing is mainly discipline, thick skin, and waiting, and a lot of that waiting is for the right time and the right person. It took me over 2 years to find an agent, but now I’m so privileged to work with Melissa Jeglinski. I think when you start out, you want “an agent,” but then you realize, you want the agent, the one who champions your work, who can help you through your career as a writer. It takes a while to find the right people and the right climate in the market.
NAW- What are your upcoming projects?
Right now I’m working on Book 3 of The Paper Gods, as well as a special project that I can’t say much about yet, but I’m excited for it. I can also confirm that I’ll have a new book coming out in 2016, but that’s all I can say about it at the moment.
I hope you look forward to them.
Thank you again for having me on NAW. It’s a pleasure to talk to you about The Paper Gods and writing!