Hi guys! Earlier this Summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to review Starswept by Mary Fan, which releases TOMORROW! I loved it so much, and you can see my review of it here! Today I have the amazing opportunity to interview Mary Fan on the blog here, and I’m so excited to share it with you. I hope you enjoy!
Some melodies reach across the stars.
In 2157, the Adryil—an advanced race of telepathic humanoids—contacted Earth. A century later, 15-year-old violist Iris Lei considers herself lucky to attend Papilio, a prestigious performing arts school powered by their technology. Born penniless, Iris’s one shot at a better life is to attract an Adryil patron. But only the best get hired, and competition is fierce.
A sudden encounter with an Adryil boy upends her world. Iris longs to learn about him and his faraway realm, but after the authorities arrest him for trespassing, the only evidence she has of his existence is the mysterious alien device he slipped to her.
When she starts hearing his voice in her head, she wonders if her world of backstabbing artists and pressure for perfection is driving her insane. Then, she discovers that her visions of him are real—by way of telepathy—and soon finds herself lost in the kind of impossible love she depicts in her music.
But even as their bond deepens, Iris realizes that he’s hiding something from her—and it’s dangerous. Her quest for answers leads her past her sheltered world to a strange planet lightyears away, where she uncovers secrets about Earth’s alien allies that shatter everything she knows.
1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?
Quite simply, I love writing because I love stories, and writing is my vehicle for bringing them to life. I’ve always been a huge reader, and even in elementary school, I was always making up my own stories and creating my own books out of construction paper and glue. It was around seventh grade that I started trying to write full-length books. It started out as being just for fun, but the more I wrote, the more I wanted to get good at it. Every kid has their after-school hobbies, and mine was writing stories.
Sometime around junior year, though, I stopped. I think it was for a variety of reasons… partly because I was feeling discouraged (I’d been rejected from a bunch of writing programs), and partly because I was discovering my love of music theory and composition (I’d been an instrumentalist since I was a toddler, but never really appreciated composition until then). So I set aside the writing for several years while I studied music in college. Then after college, I picked it up again… and I’ve been going ever since!
2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?
Oof, this is always a tough one! Asking me to name my favorite books is like asking me to name my friends… I never want to list them all because I’m afraid I’ll leave one out and feel bad later! I will say, though, that my favorite genres have always been sci-fi and fantasy. I just love out-of-this-world tales. I tend to lean a bit more toward sci-fi, and I think that’s because I’m just more partial toward the aesthetics of futuristic technology and outer space (though I do love castles and magic as well!). I can trace my love of sci-fi back to Jack Williamson’s Legion of Space, which I discovered around seventh grade. I then fell down a rabbit hole of classic sci-fi—Asimov, Bova, Bradbury, Pohl, etc. Come to think of it, I think my tween obsession with reading old-school sci-fi led to my writing habit… the first manuscript I completed (a silly story about Star Trek-style space explorers battling evil aliens) was a space opera. So I think it’s safe to say those had a huge impact on my writing.
3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?
I currently work a full-time day job in financial marketing, and I treat writing as my second job. I give myself a schedule and deadlines and everything—I’m my own tough boss haha. Of course, one can’t be working all the time—even when that work is also fun. I also love traveling—both around the world and within the United States. There are so, so many places I want to go! And, of course, I love going to live performances—operas, ballets, Broadway shows, rock concerts, circuses…
4. Your latest sci-fi novel Starswept (which releases tomorrow August 29th from Snow Wings Publishing!) follows Iris as she tries to navigate both her arts school Papilio and the otherworldly planet of Adriye equipped with only her viola and a love for the mysterious boy she’s been having visions of. Did you ever surprise yourself as you wrote Starswept? Were there any parts where they panned out different as you refined the story?
Though I’m a neurotic plotter, my characters always find ways to surprise me when I actually start writing! In the case of Starswept, I was surprised by how the final scenes played out… they ended up being quite a bit more intense than I originally imagined! I don’t want to give any spoilers, but let’s just say that in the outline… not as many things went wrong haha.
Other parts got changed a lot in edits. In fact, I had to redo the whole structure of the world at one point! In its earliest incarnations, Earth was a blasted wasteland, and Iris and the other young performers were kept in a domed city to protect them from the toxic atmosphere. But in the end, that element wound up being a distraction from the real focus of the story, which is the arts school and its relationship with the planet Adrye.
5. I love that Iris is a violist and has such a powerful connection to music, and you yourself are one, too! Do you sing, play any instruments, or write music? What are some of your favorite venues that you’ve played in or your favorite songs/pieces that you’ve played or composed?
I do all of the above! I started playing violin as a toddler and spent my entire childhood and teen years in orchestras and chamber groups (I was in two orchestras in high school—half my life was rehearsals!). I also played in the orchestra pit for a lot of performances, and it always bothered me how little credit we got, even though we were playing for the entire show (especially the violins, who underscore just about everything) while the actors/singers got to take breaks backstage. So that’s why I made Iris a pit orchestra member… my little way of giving the pit the spotlight for a change.
In college, I traded orchestras for choirs because I’d always wanted to sing, but never had a chance to because I was too busy with violin. I even got a role in the university’s opera—which felt like vindication because I’d worked four jobs to pay for voice lessons. I’m still an active choir member today (altos rule!).
I’ve also dabbled in a few other instruments—piano, shakuhachi, recorder (it counts! I was in an early music ensemble and everything), guitar, drums (I was in the college marching band for a spell). Never got really good at any of them, but the experience was certainly rewarding.
I was also a composer—that was my college major, in fact. My thesis was an hour-long rendition of the Dies Irae text written for a chamber choir and piano quartet. Really, I dove headfirst into the whole music thing while at university, and though I didn’t end up pursuing it as a career, it’s certainly given me a lot of great experiences.
As for favorite venues… my favorite has got to be the university’s chapel. It’s this grand, cathedral-like structure with gorgeous stained glass and amazing reverberation. There’s nothing quite like letting out a note and hearing it ring on and on.
Favorite song/pieces… Again, I’d feel bad if I listed them and left something out, but I think the Verdi Requiem deserves a special shout-out, since it was so influential to me. In fact, I wrote a whole paper on it as part of my independent coursework. It’s just such a gorgeous balance between the operatic and the liturgical… it’s both a theater piece and a religious piece, and it reflects the passions of both.
6. What was your world-building process for creating this futuristic society of Earth and Adriye where musical ability is highly sought after? How did you come up with the history, language, and culture of Adriye and its interactions with Earth?
When I set out to write Starswept, I knew right away that I wanted to write the sci-fi version of a paranormal romance… that is, alien love interest. So by necessity, the aliens would need to be humanoid (I embrace my genre conventions!). I also knew I wanted the aliens to be obsessed with Earth’s performing arts, and soon came to the thought: What if theirs is a world without art? A world without music? A world without dance? Why would such a world exist? That led me to mull over what performing arts are really about, and the answer was, expression. We use music and dance and song and other arts to express what words cannot. But what if these aliens never needed to do that because they could just share their thoughts with each other? If they were telepaths? These ideas formed the foundation of the Adryil were. And since they’d ally themselves with Earth, despite being centuries more advanced (which was necessary for the space travel element to be possible), they’d probably be a relatively peaceful people—the kind who’d find a primitive world (Earth) and try to befriend it, rather than conquer or colonize it.
The language of Adrye combines grammatical elements of the four languages I’m most familiar with—English, of course, Chinese (my parents’ language), French, and Latin. As for the actual syllables—I wanted something that would sound like music to Iris (and to English-speaking readers). So, for the most part, I picked syllables I’d seen in my opera scores. I also wanted them to evoke the right emotions… smooth, lovely syllables for words like “love” and “beautiful,” harsh, biting syllables for words like “curse” and “worthless.”
7. Since most of your books are either science fiction or fantasy, what about those two genres draws you as an author and a reader?
I just love the endless possibilities that sci-fi and fantasy present. I live every day in the real world, so when I seek entertainment, I want something as far from it as possible. I want escapism. Though I do enjoy reading a lot of contemporary works, I’ve always been drawn more to things beyond this world. That’s translated into what I write as well—I love creating worlds and developing my own rules for them. Which often means breaking the rules of this one—but that’s the magic of speculative fiction. As long as you’re consistent within your world, you can do whatever you want. And it’s fun to be that unlimited.
8. You are also the co-editor of Brave New Girls, a collection of YA sci-fi stories that features girls in the STEM fields, and all the proceeds from the sales will go to the Society of Women Engineers scholarship fund. What made you passionate about this topic? How do you want this anthology to impact readers?
I’ve always been a nerd, and for the most part, this meant being one of the only girls (if not THE only girl) in various activities—physics camp, Science Olympiad, etc. And it sucked! Not that I minded hanging out with the boys, but being in such a stark minority is always a bit unsettling. I used to think I was just weird, but as I got older, I began to wonder what was driving girls away from STEM fields. Especially since I, myself, wound up dropping out of the engineering department my sophomore year. At the time, I focused on the fact that I was switching to music and pursuing a passion. But I ended up essentially double-majoring in economics as a fallback anyway—if I was going to study two subjects, why didn’t I stick with engineering? Looking back, I think it’s because there was this pressure for perfection I’d internalized—the idea that if I was going to be a girl in a boy’s field, I had to be extra good, superhumanly good. And when I couldn’t live up to that, I thought I was stupid. But the fact is that engineering is supposed to be hard—and it’s hard for everyone. There’s just this huge confidence gap between girls, who internalize the idea that girls aren’t supposed to go into STEM, and boys, who see themselves depicted in STEM-type roles from an early age.
So with Brave New Girls, we’re trying to fill this gap. We wanted to show girls that you can be a scientist or an engineer or a programmer, etc., and still be the heroine of your own story. You don’t always have to be the nerdy sidekick. Or the bombshell love interest who just follows the male action hero around. So much of what we become is influenced by what the world tells us we can be, and so with Brave New Girls, we wanted to show girls that they, too, can be techy sci-fi protagonists.
9. Out of all the books you have written, which one was your favorite to write? Which one presented the most challenges?
Hm… I actually think my favorite to write was Starswept! I certainly wrote it the fastest (it only took me six weeks to complete the first draft… a record I haven’t come close to meeting since). And I think it’s because I’d been in both the music world and the sci-fi world for so long, meshing the two felt natural.
The book that presented the most challenges was the first sequel I wrote, Synthetic Illusions, which is the second book in my Jane Colt space opera trilogy. I had two false starts on that one—in that I plotted, outline, and got several chapters into two different drafts (with different plots) before I figured out what I was doing with it. I think the reason is because I lost sight of what the story was really about—the characters—and was trying to squeeze too many elements into it that just didn’t fit.
10. The cover for Starswept is one of the most gorgeous ones I have ever seen, and the process to create it is very interesting. How did the idea for the cover come about? Could you explain to us how you were able to gather the people and resources to produce this stunning image? Were there any challenges that arose during all of this?
Thank you so much! I always knew that I wanted Iris pictured on the cover. There aren’t a lot of Asian Americans on book covers, and fewer still on those for sci-fi/fantasy. Especially when the story isn’t necessarily Asia-centric (people seem to have a hole in their imaginations for Asian Americans… you’re either white and American or Asian and from Asia). So it was super important to me to help fill that gap with a cover that depicted an Asian American girl in a sci-fi setting, wearing the kind of ballgown that only white girls seemed allowed to wear on book covers.
I’ve always loved underwater photography, and using the weightlessness of water to simulate the weightlessness of space seemed like a natural fit. Plus, water gives everything a soft, romantic look that matched the book’s content.
I found the photographer, Roberto Falck, through a simple Google search. Lucky for me, I live in the NYC area—a hub for talented artists. Roberto had done multiple underwater photo shoots before (including a few book covers for a mermaid series), which made things super easy for me. He knew where to book a pool and obtain equipment and such—I just had to give creative direction.
Now, I was only able to get all this done because I’m in a relatively privileged financial position. I’d spent the past seven years working full-time, and my parents paid for college, which meant no student loans. In other words, I drained my savings account. I figured if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right, and I don’t have kids or a mortgage or anything else to worry about.
Most of the cost of the shoot went to hiring the talent and renting the equipment and space. We were in a diving school in Long Island, and in addition to Roberto, there was a crew of five people—a producer, underwater support, and various other roles (someone to adjust the lights, someone to run errands, etc.). The model was my sister, Angel Fan, who agreed to do the shoot for the heck of it (she got to live her mermaid dreams for a day!).
The props we used were actually pretty cheap. I found a $40 viola on eBay, knowing full well that it would get wrecked from the water (even though I knew it was cheap and had been bought for the purpose of getting dunked, it still hurt a little to put it in the water!). And then I found two cheap gowns on Amazon—one with pretty flutter sleeves and one with voluminous skirt. Both had elements that would look great underwater—the sleeves fluttered like wings, and the skirt, well, that was just a lot of fun to watch swish around (the one pictured is the second one). The nice thing about water is that the weightlessness makes even a cheap dress look like couture.
Of course, something had to go wrong. About an hour into the shoot, the viola neck snapped right off the body… the tension from the strings caused too much strain. Luckily, we found a fix. Frank, the underwater support guy, is super handy, and he used a screw to reattach the neck. And I know a thing or two about string instruments, so I was able to restring the thing after he was done.
All in all, though it went really smoothly!
11. What could we expect from you in the future? Could you give us any secrets about what will happen in book 2 of Starswept?
I’m still in the process of plotting the sequel to Starswept, so I don’t want to reveal much about the book since it might change… However, I do have a title! I haven’t announced it anywhere yet, so this is the first time it’s being revealed… drumroll please…
I know it’s weird to have a title before I have a definite grip on the plot, but hey, sometimes, you just know what a book’s meant to be called. I can also tell you that Book 2 will pick up where Book 1 left off—there won’t be any huge time jumps. And it’ll feel a lot more like the second half of the book than the first half, if you know what I mean. Plus, in addition to the core group—Iris, Damiul, Milo, and Cara—one of the less-prominent characters is also slated to return.
12. Do you have any tips to any aspiring authors or writers?
Be open to feedback, but remember, everything is a matter of opinion. To paraphrase some colorful pirates, “The rules are more like guidelines.” What one person loves, another person hates. The “rules” are created around what’s the most popular and backed by the most powerful people. If you stress about them too much, you’ll tie yourself in knots and still not get everything “right,” because “right” doesn’t exist.
Also, write what you love. Because at the end of the day, it’s impossible to tell what’ll make a book sell, and there’s no real destination for any of us. There’s no trophy at the end of the game, or castle at the end of the road. Just more game, more road. So enjoy the process of writing. If nothing else, it should be fun!
Thanks so much, Mary, for coming onto the blog! I love your answers!
Here’s a Behind-the-Scenes Cover Shoot Video and the Book Trailer!
About the Author
Mary Fan is a hopeless dreamer, whose mind insists on spinning tales of “what if.” As a music major in college, she told those stories through compositions. Now, she tells them through books. She is the author of the Jane Colt space opera trilogy, the Firedragon YA dystopia/fantasy novellas, and the Fated Stars YA high fantasy novellas. She’s also the co-editor of the Brave New Girls YA sci-fi anthologies, which are dedicated to encouraging girls to enter STEM careers and raising money for the Society of Women Engineers scholarship fund.
Find her online at www.MaryFan.com
Facebook: facebook.com/ mfanwriter
Do you have any thoughts or questions?
Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!