How do you approach agents during the querying stage? How do you find the one who will champion your work? How important is the pacing of your manuscript in order to keep your readers intrigued? Do you struggle with writing and editing difficult and emotional scenes? We get into all of it with today’s special guest: R.F. Kuang.
Her debut novel, “The Poppy War” was recently released and is the first installment in a trilogy that grapples with drugs, shamanism, and China’s bloody twentieth century. R.F. immigrated to the U.S. as a child and just graduated from Georgetown University where she studied Chinese history with a focus on Chinese military strategy, collective trauma, and war memorials. In addition to working on the rest of her installments of “The Poppy War” trilogy, she’s a 2018 Marshall Scholar and will be heading to the University of Cambridge to do her graduate studies.
Books & Resources Mentioned in Sabaa’s Episode:
The Odyssey Writing Workshop – Jeanne Cavelos
How to Talk to Ghosts by R.F. Kuang featured in Uncanny Magazine
The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang
CSSF Writing Workshop – Kij Johnson
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
Ken Liu – Author
Cindy Pon – Author
Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
Jade City by Fonda Lee
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
If you got some awesome takeaways from this episode and would love to show your appreciation, the best way would be through any of the following:
- Help sustain 88 Cups of Tea by making a monthly gift in any amount through our ‘tokens of love’ page
- A one-time contribution by clicking here
- Pick up our carefully crafted writing prompts with your gift of $10 or more
We dedicate a ton of heart and soul into fostering a space that encourages learning, creativity, growth, and community. The most sincerest thank you for your love and support!
Check out these highlights:
- R.F’s views on staying preoccupied and expanding her life experiences to help her craft stories with depth
- A look into R.F.’s writing journey from being self-taught to immersing herself in writing workshops
- What second-book syndrome feels like and ways you can overcome it
- The importance of pacing in your manuscript and keeping your readers intrigued throughout your story
- Incredible tips to help you have a successful querying process and find an agent who will be a champion of your work
- A quick snapshot of R.J.’s new novel The Poppy War and the emotional inspiration behind it
- The importance of honoring your ancestors’ stories and memories
- Strategies to help you write and edit difficult and emotional scenes that connect closely to you and your loved ones
- We dive into our listeners’ Q&A segment of the episode (If you’d love to submit your questions for upcoming guests, join our private Facebook group):
- I would like to know more about your experiences participating in the Odyssey and the CSSF writing workshops. How did they contribute to your growth as a writer and would you recommend this for people to attend them?
- Often times, “Asian stories” aren’t seen as marketable in the publishing world. What struggles did you face in publishing if at all any?
- I’d love to know how she balanced what I can only deduce is a pretty time-consuming college workload, History major at Georgetown seems like a BFD, with writing a masterful and intense and by all reviews really incredible adult fantasy novel and does she have tips for people who feel like they’re just floundering at doing more than one and a half things at once?
“You need to know the entire iceberg but the reader only needs to see the tip.”
“You take your inner angst and turmoil and make it a cool thing.”
“If I stop learning and growing and doing other complex things now, what on earth am I going to write about that is human and changes the way we think about things.”
Say ‘Hi’ to R.F. Kuang!
Learn More About “The Poppy War”
“I have no doubt this will end up being the best fantasy debut of the year […] I have absolutely no doubt that [Kuang’s] name will be up there with the likes of Robin Hobb and N.K. Jemisin.” — Booknest
A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.
When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.
Learn More About R.F. Kuang
I immigrated to the US from Guangzhou, China in 2000. I currently study Chinese history at Georgetown, where my research focuses on Chinese military strategy, collective trauma, and war memorials. I’m a 2018 Marshall Scholar, and I’ll be heading to the University of Cambridge next fall to do my graduate studies.
Fiction-wise, I graduated from Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2016 and attended the CSSF Novel Writing Workshop in 2017. My debut novel, The Poppy War, is the first installment in a trilogy that grapples with drugs, shamanism, and China’s bloody twentieth century.