Mothball chats with debut fantasy author Judy I. Lin to discuss world building, tea, and what’s up next for the stunning fantasy duology after the release of A Magic Steeped in Poison.
At GateCrashers, we start every interview with the same hard-hitting question: What is your favorite sandwich?
I like a banh mi with satay pork and lots of pickled veggies!
Congratulations on your first debut novel! I’m already eagerly awaiting the second in the series. Can you give us some insight into what brought this book to life? (Idea, writing process, finding a publisher, anything!)
Thank you! I’m very happy the wait is over and the book is finally on shelves. A brief overview of my journey to publication – I started working on the initial idea, which began with the concept of “tea magic”, near the end of 2018. After a few false starts where the beginning of the book was revised a few times, the duology sold at the end of 2019. Since it sold as a proposal with a few sample chapters and an outline, I finished writing the rest of the book in 2020 and also went through a few rounds of revisions with my editor that year before jumping directly into writing the sequel.
How did you start writing this series? Plot, characters, world, something else?
I like to have an idea of what the world looks like when I am writing, so I usually start with research. I knew I wanted to write about the rituals around tea and how that could become a way to call forth magic, so I started looking into tea culture in Chinese history as that was what I am most familiar with. While developing the world, I usually consider how that would influence and expand upon the basic framework in the story outline. Even in the drafting process as I am getting to know my characters, I continue to research and world build.
Who and/or what do you draw inspiration from? Are there any authors that influenced your writing style?
A Magic Steeped in Poison was heavily influenced by wuxia films from Hong Kong that I grew up watching as a kid. Those movies were filled with tons of martial art fight scenes and are usually about outlaws fighting against corrupt governments. While I was writing I was also watching Chinese period dramas for inspiration for the setting of the palace and the court intrigue / backstabbing that is in quite a few of those dramas. All of those elements found their way into my story.
For influential authors, I am a big fan of authors who write lush fantasies, such as Roshani Chokshi. The Star Touched Queen is a favorite book of mine. I also like authors who write action-packed stories, like Sabaa Tahir. I loved the Ember Quartet.
The world you’ve built is absolutely stunning, are any of the places you describe a mirroring of locations you’ve been to or want to go to?
The palace in A Magic Steeped in Poison was inspired by The Summer Palace in Beijing, which is a palace that contains beautiful lakes and gardens. I would love to go there one day.
Ning’s village and surrounding areas with the tea trees and the orchards was inspired by my visit to a tea farm in Hualien, Taiwan. I was able to see the process of growing, picking and processing tea, which was a wonderful learning experience!
Tea and memories are a prominent coupling in your book–do you associate any fond memories with certain teas (or drinks)? Or, do you have a favorite tea that reminds you of different emotions?
I grew up drinking tea with my family, and even now as an adult every time I brew a cup of tea in the traditional way, I am reminded of tea time with my parents and sister. We usually eat Taiwanese pastries like pineapple cakes during tea time, so the scent of oolong conjures up many happy memories.
Finally, what’s up next for you?
The sequel to A Magic Steeped in Poison comes out on August 23, 2022. I’m looking forward to finishing up Ning’s story in A Venom Dark and Sweet, and I hope readers will enjoy it!