Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Zen Cho

Zen Cho was born and raised in Malaysia where she read a lot of 19th century British and North American fiction. While not containing the dragons and spaceships she likes, the books did encapsulate an alien world "featuring strange people who spoke a different language, had mysterious, intricate social customs, and used outlandish technology like post-chaises and handkerchiefs." She now lives in London, lucky her, not that I'm jealous or anything. OK, I totally am. Zen has been nominated for a plethora of awards, the most notable being the Pushcart Prize. She was also honour-listed for the Carl Brandon Society Awards which is part of WisCon and seriously, if this means she was in Madison at some time and I missed her I'm going to be very sad. Dammit she was! And I totally had a ticket for that year but couldn't make it at the last minute. I am now very sad. Back to Zen... her debut novel Sorcerer to the Crown, the first in a historical fantasy trilogy, was published last year. It is awesome.

It is staggering the number of best lists and awards Sorcerer to the Crown is receiving, but once you read it you won't be surprised. Sorcerer to the Crown is the first book of 2016 that has literally blown me away. Currently Cho isn't a full time writer, she's a lawyer. I suspect that this might not be the case for long, which is totally my opinion not hers. But lawyers due tend to abandon ship for the literary world... just look at Lauren Willig. Aside from her first novel, she has also written a novella, The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, which I bought immediately upon finishing Sorcerer to the Crown. She also has a short story collection, Spirits Abroad, as well as being the editor of the anthology Cyberpunk: Malaysia. I can see a long career ahead for her; the only problem I see is that I found her at the beginning of her career so now I have an unendurable wait ahead for her next book! Which I really needed a few weeks ago. Like the second I finished Sorcerer to the Crown.

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: I was around 12 years old – an impressionable age!

Question: What do you think Jane Austen would think of her impact with so many literary offshoots, from parody to pastiche?

Answer: I suspect she'd be delighted, amazed – but also, secretly, not really surprised. I think most authors who are really good know it, even if that conviction is accompanied by the usual self-doubt and neurosis.

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Answer: From everything, but mostly stories – the stories I read and watch, but also those I hear from friends and family and see in the news.

Question: What makes the early 19th century mesh so well with magic?

Answer: When you come to novels and letters from the 19th century as a modern reader, the world they contain may as well be a fantasy world, it's so different from ours. I think SFF readers and writers are drawn to that aspect of 19th century Britain as a setting: it's such a complete alternative society with its own history, social norms and technology, and it's one that is familiar to many people worldwide, since the literature of Britain's Georgian and Victorian eras have had enormous global reach due to imperialism. The focus on the early 19th century specifically, the Regency period, I think to some extent is bleedover from the Regency romance subgenre.

Question: The world building and system of magic varies greatly in the regency fantasy genre, how did you go about creating yours?

Answer: For Sorcerer to the Crown I was really much more interested in magic as a bone of contention than anything else – a resource to be quarrelled over. The worldbuilding went primarily into the power structures surrounding magic. So the chief antagonists are the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, an ancient body of magicians who are very cross about anyone they don't approve of having access to magic, and Fairyland, which is mad at Britain for various reasons.

Question: If you had to choose between writing only period literature or only fantasy literature, which would win?

Answer: Fantasy. You can interpret any period of history you like through the lens of fantasy, so I wouldn't really be giving anything up!

Question: Be honest, have you ever dressed up in Regency clothes just to pretend for a moment you are in the past?

Nope! If I'd lived in Britain at the time I doubt I would have had anything particularly nice to wear.


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