Friday, September 21, 2012

Dystopian Cyberpunk and Asian High Fantasy: An interview with Camille Picott

1) Tell us about your book. 

Sulan is a near-future YA book that’s a blend of dystopia and cyberpunk (which I call dystopunk). It stars a Chinese heroine. There aren’t a lot of Asian heroes and heroines in YA lit right now. I wanted to create an Asian heroine kids and teens could admire. 

2) Dystopia is popular right now, but very few dystopia stories have a sovereign default as their precipitating event. Were you at all influenced by recent economic turmoil is setting that background for the book? 

I was definitely influenced by current trends when creating the backdrop for Sulan. I took current events—climate change, global economic turmoil, simmering conflict with North Korea, and the growing power of China—and extrapolated them ten-fold.

3) Tell us about your lead, Sulan

Sulan is a math prodigy who feels pigeon-holed by her gift. The adults in her world all expect Sualn’s life to take a certain path. Sulan resents this and struggles against it. I think a lot of teens struggle against adult expectations. I know I did.

What Sulan really loves is sparring and learning to defend herself. Though she’s not gifted in this area like she is with math, she finds happiness when she’s sparring. Hard work and dedication go a long way to enhance her skill set. She enjoys working hard for something she’s passionate about, as opposed to excelling at something that comes easy to her.

4) How did you approach world-building? Was it more about extrapolating from existing tech or more about highlighting certain techs to enhance your story?

I definitely extrapolated on existing tech. I wanted to create a near-future dystopian setting—one that readers could imagine being our reality in the next 10 – 20 years. (As opposed to a dystopian setting that exists several hundred years in the future.) I expect to see virtual reality as mainstream technology within my lifetime, so it seemed natural to include that.

5) What are the primary themes your book explores?

I covered a lot of themes in the questions above, but one I haven’t talked about yet is the corporate theme in my book. Corporate lobbyists hold a lot of power in our current political system. I was interested in exploring what might happen if corporations and the individuals who lead/own them gained an even larger share of power and control in our country. Again, I took a current trend and extrapolated ten-fold.

6) How do you feel writing young adult books is different than adult books? Is just about age or do you feel there should be a thematic focus difference?

This is a great question! I actually wrote a blog post addressing this very issue. You can read the entire piece here. In summary, here’s what I see as the main differences between YA and adult.

1. Themes and situations. The themes found in Adult vs YA are a vastly different. Examples of themes I've found in adult books: Dating with kids. Work-life-balance. The joys and struggles of maintaining a long term relationship. Parent-child relationships from the parent's POV. Examples of YA themes I've seen: Conflicts with friends. Love angst. Friendship angst. School conflicts. Parent conflicts (from the teen's POV). Coming of age.

2. Pacing. I think adult novels often have a slower pace. Not always, but I definitely think authors can get away with a methodical pace in an adult novel. YA, on the other hand, tends to be very fast-paced—one of the things I personally love about it.

3. Length. It's not very often I see a 700 page YA novel. I see them quite a bit in the adult section. I think long YA books are, in general, shorter.

4. Age of the Protagonists. This is sometimes a good indicator of where a book should be shelved, but not always. One example I can think of is Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. One of the main characters is sixteen at the start of the series, but the series is definitely written for adults. The characters, even the young ones, are all very adult with adult problem. So I don't think protagonist age should be the only thing taken into consideration when calculating the target audience for a novel.

7) Please tell us about some of your other projects.

My current project is an adult book entitled The Warrior & The Flower. It’s a high fantasy in an Asian-inspired setting. I’m aiming to have it out in December. Here’s the synopsis:

Yi, a retired soldier, has lost everything he loves—his wife, his daughter, and his home. With nothing left to live for, he focuses on serving the aging World Emperor. His duty is to transport precious liquid steel arrowheads to the imperial army. Unfortunately for Yi, the cloud shamans—lightning-wielding warriors of the Sky Kingdom—seek the precious commodity as well.
Tulip, the young child of a prostitute, constantly draws the ire of the house madam with her irrepressible curiosity. An impulsive stunt results in a wrathful beating from the madam.
Yi, fleeing from pursuing cloud shamans, witnesses Tulip’s beating. Drawn by the child’s striking resemblance to his own lost daughter, he impulsively negotiates for her purchase—after all, how hard can it be to care for one little girl?
But with Tulip’s inquisitive and precocious nature, he gets more than he bargained for. With the cloud shamans on his heels, Yi must confront his own grief and learn to be a father all over again.

8) Do you have an excerpt you'd like to share?

Sure! Here’s a scene from Chapter 1 of The Warrior & The Flower. (It’s still a working draft, so please excuse anything that seems rough at this point.)

Jen Yi resisted the urge to whistle as he rode. Just because he was less than an hour’s ride from home did not give him an excuse to be a fool. Whistling could attract attention of a menghai, the spiky bovine-like creatures that stalked this area of the mountains.
Sweet little Jian would be terrified if her papa arrived home covered in quills and bleeding from a tumble with a menghai. Sei, on the other hand, would be overjoyed to have menghai quills for her embroidery work, even if she did have to pull them from her husband’s backside. Of course, she would not be pleased if the beast managed to kill him. Damnable menghai could be harder to kill than cloud shamans. The last time he’d come up against a menghai—
Beneath him, Fire Foot hissed and shied sideways.
Yi snapped out of his reverie. He drew his sword, scanning the evergreen forest on either side of the road. He was a fool to let himself daydream in menghai territory. 
“What is it?” he asked his kylin, pressing one hand to the beast’s scaled flank.
Fire Foot snorted and hissed again, his forked tongue flicking out to taste the air. His ears pricked forward beneath a bushy red-and-gold mane. He flared his nostrils, pausing to paw at the ground with a cloven hoof.
Yi inhaled deeply. Fire Foot carried him forward another hundred yards before he caught the scent. Smoke. The smell of burning was faint yet discernible. 
The forest was tall and thick on this section of the road. Yi had little visibility beyond the trees on either side of him and the ribbon of blue sky overhead. He leaned forward, urging Fire Foot toward a rise in the road. From there, he would be able to see more of the land.
Fire Foot broke into a canter, red-and-gold scales rippling beneath the afternoon sun. As they crested the rise, Yi saw a thick column of smoke churning up from the northwest—from a small village comprised of tidy pine cottages.
It was Fen-li. His village. And it was burning. Smoke obscured most of the houses and shops from sight, but great gouts of orange flame licked at the clear sky.
“Sei,” he whispered. “Jian.” He jammed his boot heels hard into Fire Foot.
The kylin shrieked and bolted forward, galloping down the road and toward the village. Yi leaned low over him, wrapping his free hand in the mane.
How could there be a fire in Fen-li? The earth was still wet from the spring snow melts. Even when the elders did burn fields, they were careful and never burned this early in the season.
A shadow flickered above him. It blotted out the light for a fraction of a second. Had Yi not spent fifteen years of his life as a soldier, he likely wouldn’t have noticed it. But in that split second, Yi knew exactly how the fire had started. More specifically, he knew who had started it: the cloud shamans.
They can’t be this far east. They can’t be.
But they were.
Looking up, Yi saw a lone cloud shaman bank sharply on his cloud. Dressed in the tight-fitting brown leathers of the Sky Kingdom, the shaman rode the cloud with his knees slightly bent. As he spun the cloud around to charge at Yi, there were several heartbeats when his body was parallel with the ground.
Yi jammed his sword into his sheath and pulled out his bow. The cloud shaman raised his hands, honey jade bracelets winking pale yellow beneath the sun. Silver chains connected the bracelet to honey jade rings on his fingers. The stone jewelry glowed, the honeycomb interior charged with lightning harvested in the Sky Kingdom.
Fire Foot screamed at the sight of the bracelets, his mane fluffing with anticipation. The kylin craved lightning the way Jian craved sweets. Even from this distance, Fire Foot smelled it. He reared and pranced, straining in its direction.
In that instant, the cloud shaman hesitated. If he fired at Yi, he risked hitting Fire Foot instead—and a lightning-charged kylin was dangerous, even more dangerous than Yi. A kylin in a lightning frenzy was deadly.
That hesitation was all Yi needed. He snatched an arrow from his quiver. It was tipped with a liquid steel arrowhead, the only metal in the Three Kingdoms that could obliterate a shaman’s cloud.
In one smooth notion, he drew and fired. The first arrow barely left his bow before he fired a second one. Both shot forward in whistling arcs.
In his youth, he’d been the best archer in Emperor Chun’s army. Even in retirement, his shots flew true. There was the solid thunk of one arrow hitting flesh, and the telltale hiss as the other pierced the cloud and turned it to insubstantial mist.
The shaman cried out as he plummeted earthward. As he fell, he raised one bracelet and fired. Yi was blinded as lightning blazed forth from the honey jade, flashing straight for him.
He threw himself against the kylin’s neck for protection. Fire Foot reared and hissed with excitement, his body guided by his instinct. Yi felt the kylin take the strike square in the chest. It reverberated through Fire Foot’s body like a gong, sending out shockwaves that made the beast quiver in response.
Fire Foot shrilled in ecstasy. Yi opened his eyes to see the lightning crackling across his scales. It quickly disappeared, absorbed by the kylin’s body. The beast glowed red-gold. His eyes emitted a white-hot light, and even his dark gold antlers glowed.


Sulan: Episode One: The League is now available in physical, ebook, and  audio book format at Amazon.

Please visit the author at


Teddy Rose said...

Thanks again for taking part in the tour!

Camille Picott said...

I had a lot of fun answering these interview questions. Thanks again for taking part in the Sulan tour!

J.A. Beard said...

My pleasure.

Anonymous said...

Very cool to see what you have coming down the pipe. I'll look forward to seeing it around December.

Jenny said...

Oh my gosh! I'm so excited to read anything you write but this new one you're talking about sounds great!