Emily X.R. Pan is the author of The Astonishing Color of After (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), an Indies Introduce Winter/Spring 2018 young adult debut and a Spring 2018 Kids’ Indie Next List Top Ten pick. Pan, whose parents immigrated from Taiwan, grew up in the Midwest and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. She holds a BS in marketing and international business from NYU’s Stern School of Business and an MFA in fiction from NYU’s creative writing program.
Kristen Beverly of Half Price Books in Dallas, Texas, served on the bookseller panel that selected Pan’s book for the Indies Introduce program. “‘Astonishing’ is the perfect description for this book, which follows Leigh from America to Taiwan after her mother’s death, where she meets her grandparents for the first time,” said Beverly. “I was stunned by the beautiful and engaging writing in this book; the story consumed me from start to finish. It’s hard to believe that this is Emily X.R. Pan’s debut novel, especially with the perfectly executed, deep, and complex themes.”
Here, Beverly and Pan discuss the author’s writing on those themes, including depression, suicide, culture, and identity.
Kristen Beverly: The Astonishing Color of After starts with Leigh’s mother appearing to her as a red bird. Where did you get the inspiration for that red bird?
Emily Pan: In Buddhism, there’s this idea that when someone dies they have a transition to make, whether that’s going to be reincarnation or something else, and sometimes their spirit might linger while that transition is still being determined. That’s the part of losing a loved one that I have watched my family fixate on the most — the uncertainty, and the rules around it. For example, you’re not supposed to cry loudly, for fear that the one lost will hear your grief and be distracted, and it’ll make it harder for them to transition to a better place. I think the bird arrived in my head as my way of visualizing that limbo. There’s the obvious freedom of being able to take flight — but the bird is still trapped in our world, with a physical body that can be seen and heard.
KB: Did you come across any good resources for people struggling with depression or suicide while you were writing your book?
EP: Definitely — there’s a section at the back of my book listing resources like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and other organizations doing good and important work. I also have resources for those who have lost a loved one to suicide, like the Alliance of Hope, which felt just as important to me. There’s this terrible stigma around mental illness that makes it hard to talk about it, and I think a lot of people don’t think about how that’s true for the survivors, too.
KB: A good portion of the book takes place in Taiwan. Were you able to travel there to research the land and the culture?
EP: My extended family is in Taiwan, so I’d visited a few times growing up, but I did also specifically make a research trip in 2016 in order to capture the details more sharply. It was important to me that I walk — literally — in the steps of my characters and see and hear and taste and touch all the same things they did. It also really made the book that much more meaningful for myself.
KB: What has been your favorite part of the experience of being a debut author?
EP: Hands down, the best part has been seeing people reading the book (via social media and whatnot) and getting those readers’ reactions. Nothing is more amazing than when I hear that a reader really, really understands exactly what I was trying to communicate. People have remarked upon the handling of depression, and the biracial identity, and talked about how that was important to them — they have no idea how incredibly important it was to me, and so it’s so rewarding and validating to hear that.
KB: What books are on your nightstand right now?
EP: I’m currently savoring Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, who is truly a genius. One of the next books on my nightstand I’m really looking forward to is an advance reader copy of Monday’s Not Coming, by Tiffany Jackson. I also was just reading Nova Ren Suma’s newest book, A Room Away From the Wolves, which comes out this September and is absolutely fantastic.
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Young Adult, 9780316463997, $18.99) On Sale Date: 3/20/2018.
Find out more about the author at exrpan.com.
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