We went to Yallwest and spent some time talking East Asian culture and feudal Japan with FLAME IN THE MIST author Renee Ahdieh.
Flame in the Mist author Renee Ahdieh was at the Yallwest book festival in Santa Monica, California, and we spent a few minutes with her to talk about her upcoming book, the first of a new duology.
What inspired you to write Flame in the Mist?
The inspiration for Flame in the Mist is, I’m of east asian heritage. My mother’s family is South Korean, and I always knew that I wanted to write a book that brought an east asian world to life. And I loved the idea of samurai and ninja because when you juxtapose them alongside the western idea of a knight, that’s very much what’s going on there. But there’s a lot of subversion there, too, that gives you a lot of room to play with. And also the stories of my childhood that I loved, like Tamora Pierce’s “The Song of the Lioness” series, Norse mythology, Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” and of course, Mulan. They provided so much inspiration for this story, so I think I just wanted—I’m a sucker for those girls dressing up as boy warriors kind of things. And just playing around with gender tropes, I really like it.
What was the challenge of writing this as compared to writing The Wrath and the Dawn?
I would say that the biggest challenge is just trying to make sure that I’m doing something different, but something that’s similar enough that people who loved my other books will easily fall in love with this one. I don’t want to diverge too much from what it is that I love to write and what my readers want to read, but I also want to do it within the context of playing a little bit with different surroundings and different environments and different sorts of characters, but to retain the love that exists throughout.
How important was the research of getting everything right with feudal Japan?
That’s something that’s so important to me. That’s also very fun for me. I love doing research of any kind for a book. I love to learn about the weaponry, the clothing. I love to learn how to make the food. It’s actually a point of pride for me. Any book that I write any of the dishes that I describe, I’ve made before. So it’s a big point of pride for me. And of course, just trying to immerse yourself completely in a culture so that you can do a respectful representation of a culture, especially if you’re writing outside of your own culture.
What are you excited for the audience to read about?
I think I’m just excited for my readers to fall in love with another time and place and another set of characters, because one of the things that’s been such a gift and a blessing of writing The Wrath and the Dawn is seeing so many people who, regardless of their background, were able to immerse themselves wholly in this world. And I want people to be able to do that with Flame in the Mist, too. I read books to take me to a different place, to show me something different, to expose me to something that I may not ever have been exposed to before. I’m really hoping that happens with Flame in the Mist. At the same time, I hope that a Japanese girl or boy reading this would turn around and be, like, “Wow. This is done with such a tribute to my culture.” You know, it’s not an accident that you—I’m a girl with East Asian heritage, I’m South Korean, but I’m writing a story that’s based in feudal Japan that’s largely inspired by a Chinese ballad, and it’s not an accident. I know that there’s a lot of resentment between those different cultures, because there’s a lot of ugliness. Over centuries. I do feel that that’s how I express the pain that my family experienced through—you know, people tried to take over Korea so many times. Korea’s done so many terrible things to Koreans, Japanese people have done terrible things to Koreans, Chinese people—again, it’s all throughout history. For me, cultural exchange of healing these wounds is being respectful and responsible and doing honor and homage to what’s beautiful about these different cultures, and at the same time, what intrinsically links us.
What is the significance about the cover?
Firstly, the cover designer is the same designer for “The Wrath and the Dawn” and “The Rose and the Dagger,” her name is Theresa Evangelista, and I think she’s just brilliant. The way that she’s able to take what I’ve written and visualize it into something really eye-catching and something really emblematic is so important to me. It was also really important to me that the phoenix on the cover was a Japanese phoenix. And the representation of the shuriken and the sakura on the bottom. Again, I wanted it to be something that was very eye-catching, but also something that honored the culture as much as possible.
Flame in the Mist arrives in stores May 16, 2017. You can pre-order the book via Amazon.