Interview with Fonda Lee

Everyone, please welcome Fonda Lee to Rich in Color! Fonda’s new sci-fi book, EXO, is out today, and we’re thrilled to be part of her book tour. (You can find all the other stops on the tour–including other interviews, reviews, excerpts, and a guest post–by checking out the tour schedule at the end of the post.) There’s also a U.S. only giveaway for the book, which you can enter through the widget at the end of the interview.

If you love science fiction, you should consider adding EXO to your reading list! Here’s the summary:

It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip. But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one . . .

Find it: AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooksGoodreads

Now on to the interview!


Tell us more about the aliens you created for EXO and your world-building process for a conquered Earth.

The aliens in Exo are called the zhree. I wanted them to be very different from humans in appearance yet enough like humans in character that it was eminently plausible that the two species could work together. So I decided they needed to be land dwelling, highly social creatures with vocal language and dexterous appendages. Everything else was left up to my imagination. The zhree (or “shrooms” as some humans call them) have dome-shaped torsos, six limbs, six eyes, fins, and super strong flexible armor over their bodies.

In creating the world of Exo, I thought a lot about how Earth might have changed in the aftermath of alien arrival and global war. In movies, aliens often arrive over New York or another big city, but why would new explorers set down somewhere already densely infested with natives? I set the alien cities in sparsely populated places: Mongolia, Patagonia, the Australian outback, and here in North America, smack on the prairie on the border of Wyoming and Nebraska. And then I imagined how, over the course of a hundred years, war refugees and those privileged enough to work with the new governors would all flock to those sites and the world would be drastically reshaped by alien presence.

What can you tell us about the main character (Donovan) and his exocel?

Donovan is a young man with a tough job, who genuinely wants to do the right thing—he just isn’t always sure what that is. And navigating the moral dilemmas of the world he lives in just gets harder and harder for him. Donovan’s been raised to have a strong sense of duty and responsibility, but he’s also aware of the fact that he’s part of a privileged class. At a young age, he was Hardened—he went through a dangerous procedure that endowed him with an exocel, an alien biotechnology that gives his body a flexible, invulnerable armor that makes him stronger and much longer-lived. His status as an exo and as the son of a powerful political figure mean that he’s very much invested in the alien-governed world, but he’s also forced to come to grips with the violence, inequity, and problems associated with it.

Donovan has a conflicted identity: the aliens see him as human, but other humans see him as alien. My editor pointed out that his situation is in many ways a metaphor for mixed-race or second generation kids. I had no idea I was doing that, but given my own identity as the child of immigrants, I realized that she was right: my own experience had seeped into my protagonist’s character.

Your bio says that you have black belts in karate and kung fu. There were several great fight scenes in your previous book, Zeroboxer–can we expect intense fight scenes in EXO, too?

I promise Exo is just as action-packed, but in a different way. Zeroboxer is full of hand-to-hand combat, so in writing it, I relied heavily on my own martial arts background and watched an awful lot of UFC. Exo has a much more military sensibility, with firearms and dangerous missions and explosions. I’m neither a soldier nor a firearms expert myself, so I read a lot of military memoir, went to gun demonstrations, and did research. I enjoy all sorts of fight scenes; writing them is always a pleasure for me.

What was the most difficult aspect of writing EXO? What has the most rewarding part been?

The most difficult aspect of writing Exo was setting it up as the first book in a potential series while still delivering a story that was entirely satisfying on its own. My first book, Zeroboxer, was a standalone, so I hadn’t faced this challenge before. At the time, I didn’t know if my publisher would want a sequel to Exo so I needed to lay the foundation and keep that door open without leaving readers hanging at the end. It took quite a bit of revision for me to nail that balance to my and my editor’s satisfaction.

The most rewarding part of writing Exo has been, honestly, confirming that I can do this writing thing as a career. It’s difficult to write and publish a book; it’s more difficult to sit down and do it again. And again. And again. If you can still love writing and be motivated after the debut process, I think that says something. The second book is hard; writing Exo gave me confidence I have lots more books in me.

Both EXO and Zeroboxer are science fiction. What draws you to tell science fiction stories? Are there other genres you’d like to explore soon?

I’ve loved science fiction ever since I was a kid. I can blame my dad—he told me that he used to hold me in his lap as a baby while watching Star Trek original series reruns. Science fiction can be a very fun, entertaining genre full of cool futuristic gadgets and rollicking adventure, but it’s also, I would argue, the absolute best genre for exploring ideas about our world and society. The potential to both thrill readers and make them think is what draws me so strongly to the genre over and over again.

That said, I’m a fantasy writer as well so you’ll see me cross between science fiction and fantasy, YA and adult. I have no desire to write in any other genre; I have too many sci-fi and fantasy ideas already!

Why is diversity in young adult fiction important to you?

It’s more realistic. I know that sounds like a particularly blunt and unsentimental reason, but it’s true. Our society is diverse and growing more so. Fiction reflects truth; fiction should reflect diversity. As a science fiction writer, it’s my job to look at the world as it is and make plausible extrapolations into the future. Imaginary worlds are mirrors into our own. So, to me, it’s especially important to champion diversity in genre fiction because all people need to be able to see themselves as protagonists.

What books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to this year?

I’ve got my eyes on Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien, Want by Cindy Pon, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, and Warcross by Marie Lu.

What’s ahead for you? Are you able to share anything you’re currently writing/revising?

I’m hard at work on Exo 2, which will be out in the summer of 2018!

Giveaway Details:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of EXO, US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Fonda Lee writes science fiction and fantasy for teens and adults. Her debut novel, Zeroboxer was an Andre Norton Award finalist, Jr. Library Guild Selection, ALA Top 10 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, Oregon Book Award finalist, and Oregon Spirit Book Award winner. Her second novel, Exo, releases from Scholastic in February 2017.

Fonda wrote her first novel, about a dragon on a quest for a magic pendant, in fifth grade during the long bus ride to and from school each day. Many years later, she cast her high school classmates as characters in her second novel, a pulpy superhero saga co-written with a friend by passing a graphing calculator back and forth during biology class. Fortunately, both of these experiments are lost to the world forever.

Fonda is a former corporate strategist who has worked for or advised a number of Fortune 500 companies. She holds black belts in karate and kung fu, goes mad for smart action movies (think The Matrix, Inception, and Minority Report) and is an Eggs Benedict enthusiast. Born and raised in Calgary, Canada, she currently resides in Portland, Oregon.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Facebook | Goodreads

Tour Schedule:

Week One:
1/23/2017- Tales of the Ravenous Reader Interview
1/24/2017- Bibliobibuli YA– Review
1/25/2017- Two Chicks on Books– Excerpt\
1/26/2017- The Forest of Words and Pages– Review
1/27/2017- Novel Novice– Excerpt

Week Two:
1/30/2017- Omg Books and More Books– Review
1/31/2017- Rich in Color– Interview
2/1/2017- Nerdophiles– Review
2/2/2017-Fantasy Book Critic– Guest Post
2/3/2017- Such a Novel Idea– Review

One sci-fi book this week!

We have one science-fiction book on our radar this week–and make sure to come back tomorrow, when we’ll be posting an interview with the author!

exoExo by Fonda Lee
Scholastic

It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip . But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one . . .

Book Review: Poison’s Kiss

Title: Poison’s Kiss
Author: Breeana Shields
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 300
Publisher: Random House
Review Copy: Purchased from B&N
Availability: Available Now

Summary: Marinda has kissed dozens of boys. They all die afterward. It’s a miserable life, but being a visha kanya, a poison maiden, is what she was created to do. Marinda serves the Raja by dispatching his enemies with only her lips as a weapon.

Until now, the men she was ordered to kiss have been strangers, enemies of the kingdom. Then she receives orders to kiss Deven, a boy she knows too well to be convinced he needs to die. She begins to question who she s really working for. And that is a thread that, once pulled, will unravel more than she can afford to lose.

This rich, surprising, and accessible debut is based in Indian folklore and delivers a story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Review: I was a little hesitant to read and review Breeana Shield’s debut novel because I’ve been in a #ownvoices kind of reading mood since that cold day in Nov. but since the book I really wanted was not at the store, I chose this Poison’s Kiss. The premise was intriguing and fantastical, which appealed to me because I love nothing more to get lost in a fictional world that is so unlike my own. And while I did read the book quickly and got caught up in the story, I was left with wanting more. I couldn’t figure out what it was and then it hit me…the world building of the story could have been better.

While I don’t know much about Indian folklore so I’ll leave that critique to someone smarter than me as to how well Shield’s incorporated mythology and folklore into her novel, I do know about world building and where I find the story lacking. One of the aspects of the story that continually drove me crazy was establishing a time and place for the novel. The world that Marinda lives in, Sundari, is very different than our own, but I was somewhat confused as to the time period the novel took place. It seemed to be a mix of modern society and an pre-industrial society. For example, uses some modern sayings that don’t quite fit into the world Shield’s established. I feel like Shields couldn’t decide between being inspired by ancient and modern India so she combined the two, but it ended up being confusing because modern India is such a dynamic country and quite different than a colonized idea of India of old. I’m also a bit of a geography nerd when it comes to my entertainment, so when an author establishes that a city is two days travel for two characters, but then the characters make it back in a matter of hours, I get twitchy. I feel Shields does spend an significant amount of time establishing the mythology of Sundari and the beliefs of the people, which was really well done. I could see where her inspiration from Indian folklore blended into a mythology and folklore of her own making.

In her author notes, Shields states that she wanted to explore the idea of making a child an assassin, essentially taking away their choice for what they’d like their life to be, and that theme is perfectly explored here. Marinda is kept ignorant of who she works for and why, as well as other aspects of being a visa kanya and Poison’s Kiss is all about her awakening. While the impetus for her to start searching is her becoming “friends” with Deven, I feel like her search for self was beginning before she ever met him. Marinda is unhappy and filled with guilt over killing boys and young men, but does it out of love for her brother. She knows she is being manipulated but doesn’t see a way out. Her interaction with Deven is what actually makes her take action because he is the first person, aside from her brother, to show her kindness. I feel like this theme of ignorance trapping a person is wonderful metaphor for American’s current state of affairs. When one is kept in ignorance, the powers that be, and in Marinda’s case it is her handler Gopal, can convince people of anything. It is when one decides to search for their own answers that one becomes free. And Poison’s Kiss is ultimately about a girl who actively works toward getting her freedom.

Recommendation:
Despite it’s flaws, Poison’s Kiss was an entertaining read, and I intend to read the sequel.

Mini-Review: March: Book Three

Title: March: Book Three
Author: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (Artist)
Genres: graphic novel, autobiography
Pages: 246
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Availability: August 2nd 2016

Summary: Welcome to the stunning conclusion of the award-winning and best-selling MARCH trilogy. Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, joins co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I first learned about John Lewis’s March series through its Free Comic Book Day issue. I read it, got hooked… and then forgot about it for a year. But then a month ago at the library, I found all three books from the series chronicling John Lewis’s life and work in the Civil Rights Movement, and I ended up reading them all in one go. They were that good.

The art is powerful, as is the story of how John Lewis grew up to become an important part of the fight for civil rights in the 1960s and onward as one of the Big Six who organized the March on Washington and the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The books don’t shy away from tough topics and imagery such as racist violence and death, but that made the March series all the more compelling in its accuracy.

March: Book Three focuses on the latter part of John Lewis’s career and work as he struggled with others to gain voting rights for the African American community. It details how he looked for a way forward for the movement in the face of political and local pushback. It’s an eye-opening view into how activism and organizing works, along with the shameful role the American government played in blocking progress.

I honestly believe this should be required reading in school — and in life. Given the recent elections, the 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and rampant voter suppression in America via voter ID laws, the March series is more relevant than ever.

Recommendation: Buy it now! And watch this powerful speech by John Lewis during the National Book Awards.

New Releases

We found two new releases this week and they both look to be pretty intense.

City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets Gone Girl in this enthralling YA murder mystery set in Kenya.

In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn’t exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill’s personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it.

With revenge always on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving on the streets alone, working as a master thief for the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job for the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving her the chance for vengeance she’s been waiting for. But as soon as she steps inside the lavish home, she’s overtaken by the pain of old wounds and the pull of past friendships, setting into motion a dangerous cascade of events that could, at any moment, cost Tina her life. But finally uncovering the incredible truth about who killed her mother—and why—keeps her holding on in this fast-paced nail-biting thriller.

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
Katherine Tegen Books

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a church-going black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

In this gritty and haunting debut, Tiffany D. Jackson explores the grey areas in our understanding of justice, family, and truth, and acknowledges the light and darkness alive in all of us.


In addition, we missed a release earlier in the month and didn’t have it on our calendar, so I wanted to highlight it here:

God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems by Ishara Deen
Deeya Publishing Inc.

Craving a taste of teenage life, Asiya Haque defies her parents to go for a walk (really, it was just a walk!) in the woods with Michael, her kind-of-friend/crush/the guy with the sweetest smile she’s ever seen. Her tiny transgression goes completely off track when they stumble on a dead body. Michael covers for Asiya, then goes missing himself.

Despite what the police say, Asiya is almost sure Michael is innocent. But how will she, the sheltered girl with the strictest parents ever, prove anything? With Michael gone, a rabid police officer in desperate need of some sensitivity training, and the murderer out there, how much will Asiya risk to do what she believes is right?

Review: Flying Lessons & Other Stories

Title: Flying Lessons & Other Stories
Editor & Authors: Ellen Oh (Editor), Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Walter Dean Myers, Meg Medina, Tim Tingle, Kelly J. Baptist, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, and Grace Lin
Genres: Anthology
Pages: 216
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories.

Review: Technically, Flying Lessons is a middle grade book, not young adult, but my love for these stories overruled small technicalities like that. I was so excited when I first heard that this anthology was coming out, and I’m happy to say that Flying Lessons more than lived up to my expectations.

Flying Lessons featured stories about a wide variety of racially diverse characters and included LGBTQ characters and disabled characters as well. The characters also filled a variety of socioeconomic levels, from a family wealthy enough that the grandmother could take a child away on a several-week traipse through Europe to a family that ended up homeless. There’s a little something for everyone to enjoy, and maybe even see themselves in, in this collection. (However, I will note that I was surprised and disappointed that the titular story “Flying Lessons” by Soman Chainani included the slurs g*psy–“g*ypsy bangles”–and lame–“so he doesn’t think I’m lame.”)

My favorite stories were “How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium” by Matt de la Peña (a thoughtful account of a summer at a new basketball court and the lessons learned there), “The Difficult Path” by Grace Lin (a fun story starring a servant girl who has an encounter with famous pirates—I’d love a full book on this one), and “Secret Samantha” by Tim Federle (one of the cutest first crush stories I’ve read in ages). The other seven stories are also very good, and they span a wide range of topics, styles, and tones. Some stories are more serious (dealing with the death of a parent or trying to navigate some nasty microagressions), while others are more lighthearted (a story-within-a-story about a family’s encounter with the Naloosha Chitto, the Choctaw equivalent of Bigfoot).

While I love “The Difficult Path,” it does feel strikingly out of place as the only story in this anthology that wasn’t set in the present day. Since it was the second story in the book, it made me think we were going to get more non-present-day stories (e.g., historical, fantasy, sci-fi, etc.), but I was disappointed when that never happened. I would love to see another anthology like this with more non-contemporary titles and with even more kinds of representation.

Recommendation: Get it soon, particularly if you enjoy middle grade fiction! Flying Lessons is a thoughtfully compiled anthology that strove to be as inclusive as possible, and it mostly achieved its goal to celebrate diverse voices.

Extras
“‘We need diverse books,’ they said. And now a group’s dream is coming to fruition.”

“‘Flying Lessons’ Is The Short Story Collection Every Child Needs To Read In 2017.”

“A Collection of Tales That Bind.”