Birds Convey a Teen Writer's Message of Peace to the World
Birds Convey a Teen Writer's Message of Peace to the World
By Faiza Elmasry
21 February 2008
Nancy Yi Fan is a fairly typical American teenager who loves birds, martial arts and writing. But she didn't learn English until she was seven and her family immigrated to the United States from China. Just a few years later, she wrote a book in English. Her first novel, Swordbird, became a best-seller. Faiza Elmasry tells us more about the young author, who has just published her second novel.
Nancy Yi Fan's family moved to the United States just a few months before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. One night shortly afterwards, she dreamed about a giant white bird trying to make peace among warring flocks of birds in a forest.
"When I woke up," she says, "I wanted to turn my dream into a story because I wanted to express the importance of peace and freedom."
It took her almost a year to finish her story, Swordbird.
"I went on line to look for e-mail addresses of people who worked in publishing houses," she recalls. "Then I e-mailed my manuscript off. I only hoped to receive advice on how to improve my writing, but you know, Swordbird got accepted for publication. I was lucky enough that one of the recipients was President Jane Friedman, CEO of Harper Collins [a major publishing house in the U.S.]."
Harper Collins CEO Jane Friedman remembers Yi Fan's e-mail. It was addressed: "Dear President Friedman."
"I started to read it, which is not something we usually do because we don't accept unagented manuscripts," Friedman recalls, "but I thought there was something here, really something here."
Something so special, says Friedman that she decided to give Nancy's story a chance.
"I sent it over to my children's division," she says. "They found it to be absolutely brilliant. We felt that we had a prodigy in our hands. We took on the book and the rest is history.
Nancy Yi Fan was 12 years old when Swordbird was published last year. Within weeks, it reached the top of the New York Times list of best-selling Children's Chapter Books.
Swordbird is a fantasy about warring birds. It shows how friendship and courage can overcome tyranny.
"Swordbird is about the cardinals and blue jays of Stone-Run Forest," Nancy says. "They have been tricked by an evil hawk named Turnatt. Once they realized the truth, they band together. They can't turn Turnatt away. So their last hope is to try to find the legendary Swordbird who is a hero, who helps others in need."
Recently, Yi Fan published her second novel, Sword Quest. A prequel to her first novel, it's set hundreds of years before Snowbird.
Yi Fan, who translated her first work into Chinese, says she finds inspiration in her cultural heritage.
"In Sword Quest, for example, I added a fortune teller who uses the yin and yang symbol and the fortune telling sticks to guide some of the characters to a destination," she says. "Also, the main antagonist in Sword Quest, Yin Soul, is a ghost. That's inspired by my grandmother's ghost stories about the spirits who stay in the crossroads and wait for people to cross the street. They try to get into your body."
Becoming a published author at such a young age, Yi Fan says, has affected her life in many ways.
"I think it trained me to think more logically," she says. "It helped my imagination and certainly tasted my determination, self-control and dedication. I discovered things like structure, preciseness of wording. Now when I write essays in school assignments, it's much easier for me."
Yi Fan says she writes to satisfy herself, entertain her readers, and more importantly, to convey her philosophy of life.
"I guess it could be expressed by Ewingerale, one of my characters," she says. "He sings a song in Sword Quest. It goes like this: 'Fate is wind, not a river. / The directions of wind can always change / But rivers shall flow the same. / No matter which way the wind shall blow / Dare to use your wings.'"
The youngest author ever published by Harper Collins hopes to continue writing. And Nancy Yi Fan says she will use her wings to go wherever her dreams take her.
Nancy Yi Fan on Conner Calling Radio Program
Nancy Yi Fan talked about her new book Sword Quest
on Conner Calling Radio Program on Feb. 15, 2008
Dayton Daily News
At age 14, successful author pens new novel
By Charity Smalls
Thursday, February 07, 2008
While most 12-year-olds were playing with their latest game system or hanging out at the mall, Nancy Yi Fan was writing a novel and learning sword play.
Fan, who brought the world the best-selling novel "Swordbird," is coming to Books & Co. at the Greene on Sunday. Now 14, she brings the story of Swordbird's origin in "Sword Quest."
The prequel "Sword Quest" explains the journey of Swordbird, the champion of justice and namesake of Fan's first book. In her new book, Swordbird is called Wind-voice and goes on a quest that takes him from slave to savior. "No one is born a hero," Fan said.
She said her character came from a dream she had about "cardinals, blue jays and a white bird."
Fan is now writing the third book in the series, a sequel to "Sword Quest.
"(The new manuscript is) about a family of eagles mentioned in 'Sword Quest'," she said.
When the straight-A student is not writing or doing homework, she likes to read, draw and practice martial arts with the sword she uses during presentations while on tour.
"Reading paved the way for my writing. Drawing is like writing. Both are ways to convey what you see," she said.
She first took up the sword to help make battle seems more realistic.
Thanks to the success of her first book, Fan said she has had incredible experiences. She received a letter from her hero, actor Jackie Chan, who wrote that she was "an inspiration to him." "I feel very grateful and fortunate," she said.
How to go
What: Book signing with children's author Nancy Yi Fan
Where: Books & Co. at the Greene, 4453 Walnut St., Beavercreek, OH
When: Feb. 10, 2008 at 2 p.m. Sunday
Information: Call (937) 429-2169
By Alisson Clark
Gainesville Magazine Feb./Mar. 2008
Becoming a best-selling author at age 13 could be a mixed blessing for someone less grounded than Nancy Yi Fan. But Fan, whose novel “Swordbird” spent weeks on the New York Times Children’s Bestseller List in 2007, takes success in stride.
“At school, I’m just like anybody else,” says Fan, now 14 and celebrating the release of her second novel, the prequel “Sword Quest,” in January. She’s appeared on the The Today Show and Martha Stewart and gets fan mail from around the world, but the ninth-grader says the role of famous author is like an alter-ego.
“It’s like I have a double life, like Spiderman,” she laughs. “I have a light switch in my head that goes back and forth easily.”
Fan was born in China and had to learn English in a hurry when she moved to Syracuse, New York, with her parents at age 7. A few months after visiting New York City and standing on the observation deck of the World Trade Center, Fan watched the towers fall on 9/11. Her tumult of emotion after that day, along with a lifelong affinity for birds, led to a dream in which birds in old-fashioned clothing fought with swords clutched in their claws. When she awoke, she immediately began writing, and “Swordbird” was born.
Fan e-mailed her manuscript to several publishing houses, where it caught the eye of Jane Friedman, President and Chief Executive Officer of HarperCollins. The book hit shelves in February 2007 and was chosen for Al Roker’s kids’ book club.
“I’m so glad ‘Swordbird’ is inspiring to other kids,” Fan says. “Writing ‘Swordbird’ allowed me to express what I wanted to say in a way that’s beautiful and poetic but at the same time, fun. I want everyone who reads it to realize how precious peace is.”
The response from kids around the world has been tremendous: Fan spends time each day responding to reader mail and laments that she can’t personally respond to each one.
“I’ve had to look up the names of some of the countries on a map, “she says.
Fan’s parents, Harvey and Lora, help their daughter balance her writing with homework, martial arts (she took up swordplay to write better fight scenes) and time outdoors.
“My parents take me to Paynes Prairie so I’m not cooped up in front of a computer all the time,” Fan says. “Sometimes I’ll take my writing and sit in the shade and watch the birds. I love the herons stalking in the ponds and the clouds of white egrets floating over it.
Nancy says it was her grandfather, however, who first put her on the path to success. When she was born, he placed an English book under her head while she slept in the hopes that it would make her gifted with words.
“In a way, it was magical, “she says.
Last year, on a trip to China in support of “Swordbird,” she returned the favor, placing a copy of the novel under her 93-year-old grandfather’s pillow.
In the years to come, Fan hopes to go to Harvard and continue writing and practicing swordplay, but beyond that, “I’m still a kid: I can’t really imagine that far,” she says. Her focus is on finishing her freshman year of high school and her next novel, which takes place in the period between “Sword Quest” and “Swordbird”. Although she plans to keep writing, she hasn’t ruled out other fields.“Im’not sure what I’ll choose for a career, but whatever I choose, I know I will write for the rest of my life,” Fan says. “Writing is an integral part of who I am.”