behind the scenes

The Inspiration Behind THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER by Emily X.R. Pan

In The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, the setting itself is a character. You'll feel like you're in Taiwan with the vivid descriptions of all the sights and sounds. Emily X.R. Pan has been sharing these amazing behind-the-inspiration on her Instagram so we thought we'd compile them all into one post. 

 In 2016 I made a trip to Taiwan to do research as I was revising THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER. It was something I knew in my bones that I had to do—I hadn’t visited in years and wanted to be sure to get the setting right. Though I was born in the States, some very important pieces of me are rooted in Taiwan. THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER ended up being partly my love letter to my family and to that island.

In 2016 I made a trip to Taiwan to do research as I was revising THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER. It was something I knew in my bones that I had to do—I hadn’t visited in years and wanted to be sure to get the setting right. Though I was born in the States, some very important pieces of me are rooted in Taiwan. THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER ended up being partly my love letter to my family and to that island.

 My amazing waipo (on the left) was the spark that made me begin writing THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER. (Some of you have heard me tell the story of how my grandmother was sold to another family as a baby—this woman next to her was the daughter that family sold in order to have the money to purchase my grandmother.) Waipo is very old, and very frail, but I really hope that I’ll be able to visit her and give her a copy of the book. She won’t be able to read it—she’s illiterate, even with Chinese characters, and has never learned English—but she’ll be thrilled to see my photograph on the back flap. I can already hear her voice brimming with pride when she remarks that I’m a writer, just like my mother.

My amazing waipo (on the left) was the spark that made me begin writing THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER. (Some of you have heard me tell the story of how my grandmother was sold to another family as a baby—this woman next to her was the daughter that family sold in order to have the money to purchase my grandmother.) Waipo is very old, and very frail, but I really hope that I’ll be able to visit her and give her a copy of the book. She won’t be able to read it—she’s illiterate, even with Chinese characters, and has never learned English—but she’ll be thrilled to see my photograph on the back flap. I can already hear her voice brimming with pride when she remarks that I’m a writer, just like my mother.

 One of the places mentioned in THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER was based on the Zushi Temple along Sanxia Old Street in New Taipei. I stood in this Taoist temple for a long time, watching people toss bwabwei moon blocks into the air in search of answers to their questions. My main character ended up doing the same. 

One of the places mentioned in THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER was based on the Zushi Temple along Sanxia Old Street in New Taipei. I stood in this Taoist temple for a long time, watching people toss bwabwei moon blocks into the air in search of answers to their questions. My main character ended up doing the same. 

 Jiufen was one of the places in Taiwan that I went during my research trip to help me revise my book. It looked so magical at night—I felt like I simply had to squint, and ghosts would reveal themselves to me.

Jiufen was one of the places in Taiwan that I went during my research trip to help me revise my book. It looked so magical at night—I felt like I simply had to squint, and ghosts would reveal themselves to me.

 I took this photo in Jiufen, where we watched the sun set and I squinted out at the mountains, imagining the ghosts in THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER hovering near.

I took this photo in Jiufen, where we watched the sun set and I squinted out at the mountains, imagining the ghosts in THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER hovering near.

 Another photo I took in Jiufen, when I was on the hunt for the perfect tea house to sit and write in—and where the characters of THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER would end up sitting, too.

Another photo I took in Jiufen, when I was on the hunt for the perfect tea house to sit and write in—and where the characters of THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER would end up sitting, too.

 It took me a strangely long time to realize I had incorporated Buddhist ideas into my book. I guess being raised with those beliefs meant that I wasn’t consciously looking at those pieces as I was writing the book—they rose to the surface on their own. When I traveled to Taiwan to do additional research, I realized I needed to fold in even more of the religious culture—both Buddhism and Taoism. Visiting temples was one of my favorite parts of that trip. Watching the incense burn, and the candles being lit, and the people genuflecting on the low benches, I felt close to the members of my family that I’d lost. And, I felt like my ancestors were watching me, seeing the important work I was trying to do for myself, and my family, and all those who have lost loved ones to suicide.

It took me a strangely long time to realize I had incorporated Buddhist ideas into my book. I guess being raised with those beliefs meant that I wasn’t consciously looking at those pieces as I was writing the book—they rose to the surface on their own. When I traveled to Taiwan to do additional research, I realized I needed to fold in even more of the religious culture—both Buddhism and Taoism. Visiting temples was one of my favorite parts of that trip. Watching the incense burn, and the candles being lit, and the people genuflecting on the low benches, I felt close to the members of my family that I’d lost. And, I felt like my ancestors were watching me, seeing the important work I was trying to do for myself, and my family, and all those who have lost loved ones to suicide.

 Another shot from my research trip to Taiwan for THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER. Leigh’s mother, as a music student at the Chinese Culture University, would often have paused to gaze out the window at this exact view.

Another shot from my research trip to Taiwan for THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER. Leigh’s mother, as a music student at the Chinese Culture University, would often have paused to gaze out the window at this exact view.

 When I took this photo in Taiwan while on my research trip, it was on an evening when I was feeling especially panicky about the state of my book. There was so much I wanted to do in my revision, and it felt overwhelming, and I didn’t have the confidence that I could do it. It was on a day when we had done so much traveling, and I was so worn out, I didn’t feel capable of writing—that exhaustion made me feel defeated. But I looked out at these mountains and these lights, and I thought I saw a wisp of something in the trees. It was probably just my eyes being tired, but I thought: Was that a ghost? That was an important spark for me, and made its way into my book. The lesson: Even when you’re worn down—don’t discount the possibility that you’ll find a magical something, and it’ll end up being exactly what you needed for your story.

When I took this photo in Taiwan while on my research trip, it was on an evening when I was feeling especially panicky about the state of my book. There was so much I wanted to do in my revision, and it felt overwhelming, and I didn’t have the confidence that I could do it. It was on a day when we had done so much traveling, and I was so worn out, I didn’t feel capable of writing—that exhaustion made me feel defeated. But I looked out at these mountains and these lights, and I thought I saw a wisp of something in the trees. It was probably just my eyes being tired, but I thought: Was that a ghost? That was an important spark for me, and made its way into my book. The lesson: Even when you’re worn down—don’t discount the possibility that you’ll find a magical something, and it’ll end up being exactly what you needed for your story.

The Astonishing Color of After makes us want to visit Taiwan right away and we're sure you feel the same way too! Find out more about The Astonishing Color of After here