I am so excited to bring you this interview.
I love science fiction and fantasy and I particularly love it when someone writes a story and plays around with the tropes I love so well. One of the things I’ve noticed is that books from diverse authors really bring a distinct flavour to genre. For example, Lukyanenko’s Daywatch or books by Alliete De Boddard, Isabelle Allende, Ken Liu etc.
I stumbled across JC Kang’s series in one of Patty Jansen’s regular newsletters ‘Ebookaroo’. I was so taken by the covers I had to buy one. Then I started reading Dances of Deception. Oh my…I’d picked up book three but didn’t realise and it was too late to stop and go back to book one so I kept on reading it.
I couldn’t stop reading it!
This series is a high fantasy with dragons, elves, dwarves, gods and the rest. But for me it had something different–an Asian-centric viewpoint, meticulous world building carefully woven into the story, a world with many cultures, each with their unique manners and approach to life well depicted.
It had political intrigue, trade issues, plausible economics, ninjas and romance. The magic in this world ranges from beautiful and delicate to blunt and hard. The characters were well drawn and three dimensional, each with a history and a complex set of relationships. (As I started in book three this is to be expected). My favourite characters are Tian, the secret agent/spy dude, who is probably most like a ninja, the princess, Kaiya, who has difficult but character-building adventures and Jie, the half elf handmaiden, come body guard.
Here is a graphic of my favourite characters. Thank you John!
The baddie in this book is bad! Yet, there is a side to him that evokes some compassion, due to the curse of his people. I like how Kang sprinkles this hard race with sympathetic characters that lead you to believe that there is hope for change. I don’t want to spoil it for you so I’ll say no more.
Also, the interior layout is something special. Some lovely touches in the ebook.
This is definitely a five star read for me. Now my dilemma is do I buy the books in ebook or print?
John (JC Kang) dropped by my blog today and answered some questions. It’s a special day because Book four is launching today.
- John tell me a bit about you, where you live and what you do for a day job.
I hail from the black hole of despair, also known as the Capital of the Confederacy. Actually, Richmond, Virginia, has since transformed from the urban blight of my childhood, to hipster haven and up-and-coming foodie capital of America. We probably have more craft breweries per capita than any other place in the world. I’m an acupuncturist and herbalist, and also moonlight as a Wing Chun Kung-Fu instructor.
- What first interested you in the fantasy?
When searching for a BDSM club… no, wait, you mean fantasy fiction! Yeah, just ignore that first part. I must’ve been five, and my older brother read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to me. It was my gateway drug to The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and then onto harder addictions like Dungeons and Dragons.
- How long have you been writing? Did you always aspire to write fiction?
After I read the Dragonlance Chronicles, I was determined to be a fiction writer. My first story was basically a rip-off of Dragons of Autumn Twilight based in my D&D world, with only the names changed to protect the innocent. Basically, my younger self didn’t have a unique idea in his head, and he gave up on the idea of writing fiction.
- You have a beautifully rendered story in Dragon Songs Saga. How did you about developing this world? What were your influences? Did you research? If so, what, how?
Twenty-five years after I went through rehab for my D&D addiction, I uncovered the world building materials in my childhood home. As an adult, I had to laugh at what my younger self dreamt up (nice men who respected women) or otherwise plagiarized (impossibly beautiful women who like ugly guys). Still, there were some cool underlying ideas, and I spent the next week reimagining the world with those premises at the starting point; but taking into account trivial matters like gravity, supply and demand, and biology.
My biggest influences were the Civilization video game, Tolkien, Chinese Wuxia movies, and samurai dramas. And Jedi Knights. I can’t say I did a ton of research, but I’ve worked as a political analyst and economics technical writer, and watched a whole lot of TV (usually while I was doing economic analysis, which probably explains why I am now an acupuncturist). During the writing process, I researched everything from the Latvian language to ancient Ethiopian culture (and that BDSM in my search history, it was purely research for writing).
- Why did you write the Dragon Songs Saga? (I’m wondering here if there is a dearth of Asian-centric high fantasy, or was it that you were sick of western-centric fantasies etc).
I had actually planned three books total, the first with a Western-oriented story which would recount a war between cursed descendants of the Sun God and humans who had mingled with elves in ancient times; and the third which would follow an East African sorceress, a Persian priest, and an Asian Indian “jedi” (I was serious in that earlier answer) as they discover the secrets of the world’s pyramids.
However, I settled on the middle story about an East Asian princess who could evoke magic through music, and her childhood friend who had become a ninja, as they try to escape from the aforementioned descendants of the Sun God. It wasn’t because I was sick of Western fantasy—there’s plenty of non-Western stuff out there nowadays—but rather because I had a strong background in Asian history and was too lazy to research the other two arcs.
- I think, judging from the world building and plot in your books, that you are a planner rather than a panster? Am I right? How do you develop a series of books like this, so rich with culture? Spill your secrets!
I’m a totally plantser. After all, what was meant to be a single novel became a 4-book series. After I wrote the book you read, Dances of Deception, I went back and wrote the prequel, and then the sequel, and then the prequel to the prequel.
As a whole, I have an idea of where I want to go, but sometimes (this will sound so stereotypical) the characters rebel against my machinations and decide they know what they want to do better than I do; and sometimes get an idea and have to retrofit it into earlier parts of a story.
For example, Tivaralan has three moons. One of my earlier readers thought I shouldn’t use Earth’s hour system, and I realized one of the moons, which has an orbital period of one day and never moves from its spot in the sky, would go through all its phases in that day. People on the planet would naturally use it to tell time and for direction. Another moon was large and blue with an orbital period of 44 days; but later, I read an article about a Super Saturn, J1407b, so I turned that blue moon into a planet and moved its orbit way out so that its shape would change over the course of 2 years.
- Who are your favourite characters in the Dragon Song Saga and why?
I am a total narcissist, and since my characters all embody the best aspects of me, I can’t decide. Kaiya, because she has a heroic spirit. Tian, because he is smart and handsome. Jie, because of her quick wit. And Chen Xin for his modesty. In all seriousness, though, my favo(u)rite would be Tian’s brother, Ming, who is something of a flamboyant buffoon.
- What made you decide to Indie Publish?
I actually had a R&R out with an agent on Book 1, but after a brush with my own mortality–
- Brush with your mortality? That sounds serious! What happened?
My friends made me watch Fifty Shades of Grey, and at the end, I wanted to shoot myself.
10: So why indie publish?
I realized I could die any time, maybe before I got representation. Even then, the entire revision process would take a year or two, and who knows, maybe no publishing house would take it. In the meantime, I had 4 books which had been critted, revised, beta read, and revised again. Basically, they needed a professional edit and covers.
All that said, I didn’t know the first thing about marketing, so I first released Dragon Songs with different covers and titles which suggested YA Fantasy Romance. I was attracting readers who wanted to see Kaiya fall in love with the dragon, not vanquish it. I just rebranded starting this year.
- What’s ahead for you fiction writing wise?
I’m currently working on four projects, all which relate to the Dragon Songs series: a 1st Person, Single POV YA version of Songs of Insurrection; An episodic serial which follows the dragon, Avarax, who is stuck in human form and has to learn how to play nice with other humans; A story which takes place a thousand years before Dragon Songs, which recounts how the First Dragon Singer sings Avarax to sleep; and Book 1 of the series with the aforementioned Sorceress, Priest, and Jedi as they learn about the pyramids (I know, it sounds like the start of a bad joke, with a worst punchline). Jie from Dragon Songs will also play an important role in that story.
Thank you so much John. The story about you and your novels are so interesting!
What are you waiting for people! You should buy these books!
Book One, Songs of Insurrection, Blurb
Only the lost magic of Dragon Songs can save the realm. Only a naïve girl with the perfect voice can rediscover it.
Blessed with an unrivaled voice, Kaiya dreams of a time when music could summon typhoons and rout armies. Maybe then, the imperial court would see the awkward, gangly princess as more than a singing fool.
When members of the emperor’s elite spy clan uncover a brewing insurrection, the court hopes to appease the ringleader by offering Kaiya as a bride.
Obediently wedding the depraved rebel lord means giving up her music. Confronting him with the growing power of her voice could kill her.
Looks like these books are only available on Amazon. Free if you have Kindle Unlimited.
Book Two, Orchestra of Treacheries, Blurb
The mightiest dragon threatens the world, and only the power of a Dragon Song can vanquish him.
Two years have passed since Kaiya rediscovered the lost magic of Dragon Songs, yet the power of her voice is untrained. Potential suitors see her as a stepping stone. One ruthless cousin would rather step on her gravestone.
Not one to get walked over or buried, Kaiya is holding out for the exiled foreign prince who inspired her to sing. The only one who appreciates her abilities more is the world’s last dragon, Avarax, and it’s not because he enjoys a good song.
Raw and unproven, she finds mentors in unlikely places. An elf courtier. An ancient healer. A martial arts master. And an evil sorcerer. She’ll need their guidance to survive the final showdown between a girl finding her voice, and a dragon who has no intention of being fooled a second time.
Book Three, Dances of Deception, Blurb
An invincible empire threatens to invade Cathay, and only a Dragon Song can ensure peace.
After vanquishing the Last Dragon with the power of her voice, all Kaiya wants is a quiet life of anonymity. Instead, the Emperor sends her to negotiate peace with the aggressive Teleri Empire.
The critical mission reunites her with her childhood friend Tian, now an assassin-spy who loathes killing. He is no longer the adorable, gullible boy from her memories, any more than she is the adventurous, sweet girl from his. Instead of rekindling nostalgia for a youthful innocence they both yearn for, their reunion ignites a mutual hatred.
When the Teleri Empire breaks off talks, Tian must help Kaiya escape. Orcs, Ogres, and enemy soldiers stand between them and home, and their volatile relationship could get them captured… or killed.
Book Four, Symphony of Fates, blurb
Kaiya escapes her ordeal at the hands of the Teleri Emperor, only to return to a homeland beset by enemies on all sides, and crumbling from within.
As a teenager, she quelled a rebellion with the Dragon Scale Lute. As a young adult, she vanquished a dragon with the power of her voice.
Now, robbed of her magic by grief, Kaiya must navigate a web of court intrigue to save the realm before it falls. Only she can lay claim to the Dragon Throne on behalf of her unborn sons—whether the father is the lover who perished rescuing her, or the hated enemy who killed him.
In the final story in Kaiya’s saga, she must rally a nation, repel invaders, and prove to the world why her family alone holds the Mandate of Heaven.
This book is live today.
Here is a link to John talking about YouTube.
BTW I’m on the hunt for some more diverse fantasy and science fiction so expect more.