By Steven Mihailovich
Avid fans of fantasy fiction featuring phantasmagorical creatures and demons vexing teen heroes will be thrilled with the March 29 release of “Fury of the Phoenix,” the latest book by San Diego author Cindy Pon.A sequel to Pon’s lauded first work, “Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia,” the story aims at young adult readers enthralled by the adventures of Ai Ling in an imaginative kingdom based on Chinese folklore.
As she prepares for a small tour next month to promote her book, which includes a signing at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in Kearny Mesa at 2 p.m. on April 9, the author finds that her feelings haven’t abated the second time around.
“I’m excited,” Pon said. “I’m always nervous. Writers are the most angst-y people ever.”
The book stands apart from the copious titles in the fantasy genre because the protagonist is female, but more so for its Asian setting and culture. That richness, along with Pon’s writing style, appeals to a broader base, according Pon’s agent, Bill Contardi of Brandt and Hochman Literary Agents.
“Cindy’s novels are young adult fantasy that easily crossover to an adult audience,” Contardi said. “(Her books) are sexy and thrilling and have an epic energy to them. Not to mention romantic with a highly empowered heroine.”
Although the romantic scenes are sensual, the content is not gratuitous, Pon said. Since the 17-year-old female character is considered of marrying age in ancient Chinese society, her sexuality gives the story plausibility. That is crucial when writing to a teenage audience plugged into a world of Internet, iphones and TV, the author explained.
“One of the first things is never to write down to them,” Pon said. “You can’t be condescending and didactic. You don’t go into writing thinking that you’re going to teach them a philosophy. If you write anything that seems fake, they can spot it a mile away.”
With two young children of her own, Pon understands the concerns. However, Pon is always astonished that the violent scenes with various ogres never raise an eyebrow.
“People always bring up the sexual element and not the violence,” Pon said. “It’s indicative of the society today. My writing is very personal. I don’t write for anyone but myself. When I’m done, I gauge whether I’m comfortable with what I’m putting out there.”
A UCSD graduate, Pon entered the waters of fantasy writing because she was already immersed as a young reader. Restricted only by the imagination, the genre allows Pon to portray genuine issues and human feelings without becoming mired in realism, she said.
“It’s hard to read about, say, bulimia or depression,” Pon said. “Real stuff is hard to digest. Fantasy cushions that. I grew up reading fantasy. I wanted to go somewhere else. It’s the books I read as a kid that I remember the most. I think that’s an age that’s very important.”
“Fury of the Phoenix” took four months to write and another four months for three major revisions, Pon said. Although the second book firmly establishes her prominence in the fantasy realm, Pon is ending her series in the limitless genre before it limits her as a writer.
“I don’t write seven books in a series,” Pon said. “I think a story has an end. I want to end on a high note. I don’t want to be the writer that dragged it out, so people say she should have ended two books ago.”
Pon said her next work will be a children’s picture book illustrated with her own Chinese brush painting, an “art therapy” she’s been pursuing for the past 10 years. The shift follows Pon’s own advice to young writers starting out.
“Always challenge yourself with each project,” she said. “Be courageous. It’s more important for the young writer to know and acknowledge that they’re special. At that age, it’s so hard to believe in yourself and what you can do. Give yourself permission to write poorly. No one is perfect the first time.”
About the Book
“Fury of the Phoenix” by Cindy Pon, UCSD graduate and resident of UTC, March 2011, Harper Collins, 323 pages, hardcover (about 79,000 words)
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