Talking With Nancy Yi Fan
Nancy Yi Fan moved to the United States from China when she was 7 years old. She was prompted to begin writing fiction by the September 11 attacks and by a dream she had about birds at war. This year, her first novel, SWORDBIRD, was published. WRITING caught up with Nancy to ask her about her literary inspiration and her tips for young writers.
WRITING: The events of Sept. 11, 2001, were the inspiration for SWORDBIRD. Can you tell us more about your inspiration?
Nancy Yi Fan: I visited and climbed up the Wolrd Trade Center early in the summer of 2001. Having been there personally, I was sad that so many people died on September 11. In school I had been learning about the American Revolution. I had a dream about birds that were fighting each other. When I woke up, I wanted to write a story about the birds in my dream, why they were fighting, and how they became friends again.
WRITING: What made you write an entire book, instead of a short story?
Nancy Yi Fan: I started out writing a short story but the characters begged to have their stories told, and SWORDBIRD got longer and longer. I had been scribbling merrily away in a thick notebook, when one day I flipped the page and found that there were no more! [...] It was a start of a long adventure.
WRITING: How did your book get published?
Nancy Yi Fan: It's really a story of pure luck. Before I finished writing SWORDBIRD, I knew I needed a list of e-mails of people at publishing houses. I knew that having contacts would make me feel more certain about the book's future. I looked everywhere: books, magazines, on the Web. I wrote all the information down in a notebook. After I finished the first complete draft of SWORDBIRD, I took out the notebook again, took a deep breath, and sent my draft to all the e-mail contacts, which, by chance, included Jane Friedman, the CEO of HarperCollins Publishers.
WRITING: What advice do you have for students your age who want to write?
Nancy Yi Fan: I would tell them, "You've set our goal. You have the determination. Go for it." There's nothing to lose. Everybody's writing is unique, and someone is bound to like your writing.
WRITING: What advice do you have for students your age who hate to write?
Nancy Yi Fan: Everyone can write; everyone has something to say. Writing is just about letting something you really care about flow on paper. Keep the rules and expectations of your assignment somewhere in your mind as you write, but don't let them limit or discourage you; let what you write fit into the rules, and tell yourself that once the flow naturally ends, you can fix and change all you want. Of course, it helps if you don't wait until the last minute to start your writing assignment. I think my writing tips can also help students who don't feel confident about their writing. Writing is not hard. If you write from your heart, you will succeed.