Interview: Swordbird author working on prequel
Nancy Yi Fan, the 13-year-old author of Swordbird, a New York Times children's best-seller, was working on the fowl fable's prelude and planning a trilogy about the bird story.
In an email interview with Xinhua, Nancy said she was working on the last two chapters of the prequel "Sword Quest" and had signed a contract with HarperCollins to publish her second book in winter 2008.
"It's about how Wind-Voice gets his magical sword. He travels with Ewingerale, a woodpecker, Stormac, a myna warrior and Fleydur, an eagle musician, meeting other bird tribes as they seek clues that will lead them to the sword. They need to get to the sword before Maldeor, an archaeopteryx who has been corrupted by his vision of a perfect world," Nancy talked about the plot.
"In Swordbird, I was exploring the themes of peace and freedom and what happens when you lose your freedom. Now in Sword Quest, I' m examining what it means and what it takes to be a hero," said Nancy, adding that she would write a third novel about birds that HarperCollins will publish in winter 2009.
Nancy was born in Beijing in 1993. She moved to the United States with her parents in 2000. In 2004, she started writing her first novel, Swordbird.
Asked about tips to learn a foreign language, Nancy said: "At first, it was hard to understand what people were saying even though I had learned some English when I was in China. Everyone spoke so quickly."
But for sure, Nancy learned English quickly. Besides attending the regular school classes, she went to an ESL (English as a Second Language) class. She credits her progress to her ESL teacher who introduced her to books and also her parents who took her to the library every weekend.
"I used flash cards to learn new vocabulary words. Once I learned new words, I tried to use them in my writing. I eventually learned that the best words aren't always the biggest words in your writing," Nancy said.
The Swordbird story came to Nancy in a dream after the 911 attacks. In the dream, the cardinals and blue jays must battle an evil hawk. After she woke up from the dream, she decided to write it down.
"When I began writing Swordbird, I thought I was writing a short story. But it got longer and longer and I realized I was writing a full-length book. The writing really improved my use of grammar, vocabulary and understanding of English idioms. It also helped me think about my writing in an organized manner. It really pushed me to be imaginative and creative."
The book is a big success. Some book reviewers believe Swordbird would probably have a space in the world's children literature in view of its style, content and structure.
Birds are Nancy's passion. In a tiny cage in the living-room are perched Ambergold, Cyan and Tiger, her budgerigars.
Nancy said: "Of the three, Tiger is the most spirited, being especially fond of chewing toothpicks... The slavebirds, the cardinals and the blue jays, and especially the Willowleaf Theater members in my book all show the ever cheerful spirit that my pets have."
For the eighth grader in Florida, it seems that she would not stop when talking about her birds. Observing birds first-hand at home and in the forest gave Nancy a lot of inspiration. Sometimes she went to the forest near her home, taking her binoculars and her laptop. She wrote as she watched and listened.
Nancy was not just a bird fancy but also a book worm.
"I read many, many types of books in Chinese and in English. I love reading award-winning books, especially the Newberys. Some of my favorite books are CHARLOTTE'S WEB and JULIE OF THE WOLVES. I also read popular books like Redwall and Harry Potter."
"A few years ago I read JANE EYRE and GONE WITH THE WIND. When I went back to China, I read the Four Classics: DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER, THE JOURNEY TO THE WEST, ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS and OUTLAWS OF THE MARSHLAND. I just finished reading the Chinese version of DON QUIXOTE."
Being a Chinese, Nancy was so proud that the 2008 summer Olympics will be held in Beijing, her hometown. She said she would love to attend them and help out as an interpreter for Chinese and international athletes.