AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Ken Liu

Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings hits the shelves today, and because he’s an awesome person, he was willing to do a short interview with me, answering a few questions I had about the book (my review of which will be live tomorrow, so stay tuned)!

1) One scene struck me fairly early on, and that was the scene with people trying to convince Erishi that a deer was a horse. That reminded me of a commonly-told meaning behind the Japanese characters for “idiot,” (written with the kanji for “horse” and “deer”), the story for which goes that it refers to someone so stupid they can’t tell the difference between a horse and a deer. Was it something similar that inspired that scene?

The Grace of Kings is a re-imagining of the history and legends surround the rise of the Han Dynasty in “silkpunk” epic fantasy form, and as such, I borrowed liberally from the source material when it suited my purposes. This particular scene is based on a real episode during the reign of the second emperor of the Qin Dynasty in Records of the Grand Historian, by Sima Qian. Sima’s history is the foundation for Chinese historiography, and this particular episode has become an often-used allusion in Chinese to describe those who would deliberately confuse truths with falsehoods.

2) What was the inspiration behind Mata Zyndu’s double pupils? (It was as a result of seeing this in The Grace of Kings that I discovered pupula duplex in the first place, so I’m really curious!)

In traditional Chinese physiognomy, the presence of the “double pupil” is supposed to be a sign that the person is destined for great things. Mata Zyndu is based on the historical figure of Xiang Yu, who was said to be double-pupiled. Ovid and other writers of classical Western antiquity also spoke of “pupula duplex” as a distinguishing mark (the Evil Eye), though it’s not clear exactly what physical condition the phrase referred to.

I chose to take the phrase literally, as this is, after all, a work of fantasy.

 3) From a writing standpoint, was it difficult to handle such a large cast of characters, especially when so much military strategy was involved?

My experience was with short stories, which could be kept all in the head during drafting. The biggest challenge for me as I shifted to the novel was keeping all the details about plot, timing, worldbuilding, and character traits straight. I ended up having to learn to keep a wiki for myself and essentially write a mini Wikipedia about Dara to be sure I recorded all my decisions.

4) Of them all, who was your favourite character to write?

This depends on the day you ask me the question! I’d say probably Gin Mazoti. She’s an interesting character who will develop further in the sequel, so giving her enough of a character arc in Book I to be satisfying was a challenge, but also instructive.

Thanks so much, Ken, for dropping by and agreeing toanswer questions about this amazing fantasy! (And I completely agree about Gin; she’s one of my favourite characters, and I can’t wait to see more of her in the sequel!)

4 comments on “AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Ken Liu

  1. I am enjoying this book so much. My family’s background is Chinese, so I grew up hearing snippets of stories/accounts/legends from Chinese history, and reading this was like “Ooh, I think I know the reference for this scene!” every few chapters.

    And I learned of “pupula duplex” when I was a kid visiting Ripley’s Believe it or Not wax museum, lol. There’s a bust of a Chinese general or emperor there (probably from legend) with two-pupiled eyes and I remember it freaking me out. Whether it’s real or not, the name of the condition stuck with me forever.

    • That’s awesome! Reading this book made me want to learn a lot more about Chinese history, that’s for sure. And I love books that do that, that make me want to get right into research mode and learn about things I don’t know.

  2. Pingback: April in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

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