Sunday Brunch: A Chat with Authors E.K. Johnston and Emiko Jean

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[Note from Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora got the chance to chat with authors E.K. Johnston and Emiko Jean and ask them a few questions each. Up first, E.K. Johnston!]

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?

E.K. Johnston: I loved the massive feeling of Jupiter Ascending so much when I saw it. Here’s this girl who just wants to protect her family, and all of a sudden she’s on a galactic stage. Pendt is a bit different, because she’s looking for a place to belong, but I loved the idea of giving a girl A Lot Of Power and seeing what she did with it.

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?

Probably Pendt! She’s trying to do right by people, which is something I always try to do. She’s much braver than I am, though!

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?

One of my absolute favourite things about writing YA is that teenagers are such discerning readers. They’re not just after a cool world or an interesting theme. They want the entire package, with social relevance too. This drives YA authors to push boundaries and create incredibly real, incredibly well-rounded characters, and I love being a part of that.

Please describe the content of your latest read and what can readers expect from it.

Aetherbound is a quiet sci-fi about a girl who runs away from an abusive family and discovers that she is very, very powerful. Once she finds a place to stand and a group of people who truly care about her, she can change the universe…and she’s going to. Readers can expect found family, a nascent rebellion, a sweet romance, and at least one argument about nachos.

What’s next for you in the bookish world?

I have a new STAR WARS book out in November called QUEEN’S HOPE, and I am always working on new projects, but I can’t talk about them yet. 🙂

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

This question is so HARD. I’ll think I’m going to say LL McKinney. She’s so versatile, and she’s writing all sorts of different things right now, from her own Alice in Wonderland retelling to comics and graphic novels in the DC universe. In addition to her writing, she’s an absolute force of nature online. The sooner publishing pays attention to her, the better we’ll be.

Any writing advice for aspiring writers? 

I always tell aspiring writers three things:

1. Read everything you can, and then try to figure out what makes it tick. (This also works for TV and movies.)

2. Finish your stuff. You can fix it when the draft is done, but you can’t fix a blank page.

3. Ignore all writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Up next, Emiko Jean!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?

Emiko Jean: What appealed to me was writing a story about a girl, specifically a Japanese-American girl like myself, searching for her identity—a place where she belongs. For me, a book always starts with what-if questions. What if this girl reunited with her family in Japan? What would that look like? How would it go? From there, it was a hop, skip, and a jump to casting the girl as a descendant of the imperial family. It all seemed right, using the classic I’m-really-a-princess trope and pairing it with a search for cultural identity. 

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why? 

The main character, Izumi, is very much inspired by real-life experiences I had as a teen. Her struggle to find her place as a Japanese-American and never really feeling enough of either—Japanese or American—was very much my journey as an adolescent. The rest of her life, however, is very fictionalized

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?

Representation has always mattered. At least it did to me as a young adult. Seeing myself reflected in the stories I read was incredibly important. However, that wasn’t the case while I was growing up. I never had the privilege of reading a book about an Asian princess, warrior, villain, or even just a plain teen. I believe this is a common story. As a result, a thirst has been building for quite some time for readers to see themselves in the fiction they consume. That demand is just starting to be met by publishers. It’s been so gratifying to see characters from all backgrounds be published.  

Please describe the content of your latest read and what readers can expect from it. 

Tokyo Ever After is a YA contemporary about a Japanese American who discovers she is really a princess—picture The Princess Diaries meets Crazy Rich Asians!

What’s next for you in the books world?

So much! I’ve been hard at work on Izumi’s second novel. Her princess journey will continue in Japan. I can’t say too much, but the stakes will be higher. I can’t wait for everyone to read! I am also contributing to a short story to an anthology about the biracial experience in America. It’s currently untitled but will hit shelves in 2022, I believe!

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

Ugh, this is such a hard question to answer. There are so many wonderful authors out there producing such stellar work. Lately, I’ve been craving lighter reads; honestly, romance got me through 2020 and now the first part of 2021.  

Any writing advice for aspiring writers? 

A sticky note has been taped to my desk since my debut novel, We’ll Never be Apart, and it merely says: don’t give up. I see it every day, and it is my reminder to keep pressing forward. In this industry, there will always be hurdles. I am careful not to say failures because failures are just successes that haven’t happened yet . I received a lot of rejections for We’ll Never be Apart (too many to count). It’s important to know you’re not alone. We are all swimming in the same turbulent waters, so rely on others to keep you afloat. 

Second, to that, I would also say: write. There is an adage about not being able to fix a blank page, and I also think about that every time I am gearing up to draft.

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