Emily X.R. Pan is back, and her latest tear-jerker will sweep you off your feet! You may remember Emily from the illuminous The Astonishing Color of After. Well she has returned with another heart-wrenching tale that is equal parts Chinese mythology and Romeo and Juliet! We sat down with her to talk inspirations, merging the magical with the mundane, and we even get a tiny sneak peek into what she’s working on now!
What was your initial inspiration for An Arrow to the Moon?
I’ve known for years that I wanted to do a modernized, feminist Romeo & Juliet retelling. I’ve known for even longer that I wanted to write my own version of my favorite myths—as I was growing up there were certain stories that my father told again and again, and it always bothered me that I never saw them represented in American media. Then it occurred to me that I could do a mash-up, since both the love stories I wanted to tell are doomed in their own way.
An Arrow to the Moon is based on the mythology surrounding Chang’e, the goddess of the moon. What was it like reimagining this myth? What parts did you find particularly difficult in retelling this story?
I wanted the stories of Chang’e and Houyi (the divine archer) to be recognizable to anyone who had grown up hearing them, so there were elements I borrowed as literally as possible. But I knew there were things about the characters that I would write differently. It’s always annoyed me how different versions of the moon goddess story blame Chang’e for being too silly or too greedy, or depict her as little more than a beautiful victim. I wanted my Chang’e to have more agency and power. And I wanted my Houyi to be soft and quiet and sweet, in contrast to the sometimes belligerent depictions of him in the traditional stories. The hardest part was definitely figuring out how I was going to earn and pull off the ending!
One of the things that really stood out to me was your ability to really sink into each character’s perspective. We get glimpses of not only Luna and Hunter’s points of view, but also their parents, Hunter’s brother Cody, and even some… less than savory players, shall we say. What was it like writing from so many perspectives? Which perspective was your favorite to write from?
It was an accident! I didn’t mean to have so many different perspectives. When I first set out to tell the story I thought it would go back and forth between Hunter and Luna, and that would be it. But then I realized that I needed to show the different angles in order to capture the complexity of my characters and their situations. My favorite one to write was probably Rodney Wong. Though he gets less screen time than other characters, I poured so much historical research into creating his origin story that I became very attached to him!
Both your novels An Arrow to the Moon and The Astonishing Color of After are set in the real world but have some magical elements (which I cannot get enough of, by the way)! What is it like trying to balance a modern (or in this case a 90’s) setting with the magic and fantasy? Was there any push and pull between getting the right amount of magic into the book?
The challenge for me is always setting the story up such that the reader can understand right away that the setting is an off-kilter version of the real world as we know it, with bits of magic lurking in the shadows if you know to go looking for it. But it’s my favorite kind of story. When I was growing up I so desperately yearned for mages and faeries and such to be real. I often went around looking for evidence of them, checking the backs of wardrobes well past an age when that would have been considered acceptable. So as a writer I’ve found myself always wanting to depict that possibility within the real world.
Both of your books are also major tear-jerkers! Not to give anything away, but that ending absolutely demolished me! What is it like writing such bittersweet stories? What do you think makes you gravitate to these stories?
I think sadness is such a beautiful emotion, though it’s one that we are often taught to hide, or are sometimes even shamed for feeling. It’s the contrast that emphasizes what we love, what we hope for. Fiction has always been the safest place for me to witness and experience sadness, and the books that have stayed with me the most have always been the ones that left my heart somehow aching. I suppose I just end up writing what I want to read!
What are some books you’ve been reading recently or would recommend?
I have to scream for everyone to read Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo. I’m currently reading Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore, and absolutely loving it. And a book I adore that doesn’t come out for another few months is Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert!
What are you working on now? Any exciting ideas you can share?
I’m working on a new young adult novel! It is my most speculative work to date, it is super queer…and it’s terrifying to write. I’ve got ambitious ideas, and we’ll see if I can pull them off. I think that’s all I can say for now!
Hunter Yee has perfect aim with a bow and arrow, but all else in his life veers from the intended path. The only things keeping him from running away are his little brother, his connection with the wind, and now this strange girl at his new school. He’s determined to escape the noose tightening around his wretched family in punishment for their past mistakes…but time is running out.
Luna Chang feels unmoored and overwhelmed by her parents’ expectations. It’s the last year of high school and graduation looms ahead, bringing with it the dreaded question of her future. The path forward is paved and waiting. When she begins to break the rules, she finds her life upended by a boy she can’t stop thinking about, and the curious arrival of fireflies who are much more than they appear.
As Hunter and Luna navigate their families’ enmity and secrets, and as everything around them begins to fall apart, they must figure out who they are meant to become and what they are fated to do.
About the Author
Emily X.R. Pan currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, but was originally born in the Midwestern United States to immigrant parents from Taiwan. She received her MFA in fiction from the NYU Creative Writing Program, where she was a Goldwater Fellow. She is the founding editor-in-chief of Bodega Magazine, and a 2017 Artist-in-Residence at Djerassi. She is the author of The Astonishing Color of After and An Arrow to the Moon. Visit Emily online at exrpan.com, and find her on Twitter and Instagram.