Student Author to Discuss BookStudent author to discuss book
By KATIE SANDERS Saturday, September 12, 2009
The St. Augustine Record
Nancy Yi Fan's story is enough to make just about anyone question his or her middle school productivity.
In fifth grade, Fan penned "Swordbird," a fantasy story about a war between cardinals and blue jays, an instigating evil hawk, and the mystical hero Swordbird that can bring peace to the forest.
It wasn't supposed to be a New York Times best seller -- just a dream that she fleshed out in her spiral notebook.
When she ran out of pages, Fan typed up her story and e-mailed it to publishers.
She wanted advice. What she got was a book deal with HarperCollins Publishers.
Fan, now 16 and a high school junior living in Gainesville, will discuss her success as a teenage author during today's Florida Heritage Book Festival. She is the featured young adult fiction author among about 20 other writers, including former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.
"Swordbird," published in 2007, made Fan the youngest best-selling author in HarperCollins history. She translated the text into her native Chinese.
When Fan talks about the e-mail spree that led to her original deal, it's as if she is an adult, years removed her from sending the messages.
"I was a little kid then," she said. "I wanted professional advice on my writing. You can imagine my surprise, my delight, when 'Swordbird' was accepted for publication."
She published a prequel to the novel in 2008, called "Sword Quest," and is working on that story's sequel, "Sword Mountain."
About a year after her first fantasy book's publication, Fan's renown climbed even higher. She was named one of the world's smartest kids by one of its most influential women: Oprah Winfrey. Fan appeared on her show in May 2008.
After the recognition from O, everyone wanted a piece of her, said Jewell Kutzer, a member of the festival's author selection committee.
Kutzer vied for Fan's availability, too.
The festival committee is aiming to broaden its scope of authors this year to appeal to younger writers, she said.
Several students told Kutzer and authors during classroom visits last year that they had already crafted stories, and others wanted to write, too.
"I found there was interest in it but a lack of confidence in the ability to make it happen," she said.
Fan's faith in herself is uncommon among most children her age, Kuzter said. Not every student has the self-discipline, talent and, as she put it, "chutzpah" to make a popular novel as Fan did.
Hearing from a best-selling peer that young authors don't have to feel intimidated by experienced professionals is a good thing, she said.
Every good writer has a muse. Fan has three: Ever-sky, Pandora and Dippler.
They are her lovebirds, and Fan said she can sometimes "decode their chirps" for insight.
To Fan, birds signify all that is peaceful and diverse in the world. They have captivated her since her childhood in China, where she lived until she was 7.
"They're the most eloquent symbol of freedom," she said. The birds' struggles for peace and triumphing over evil
Fan's work is also inspired by Chinese martial arts.
For today's book discussion, she plans to bring along the sword she practices with during writing and homework breaks. Moving with the sword limbers her up and sends blood to her head, she said.
She used the sword during a Friday speech at St. Augustine High School, where she discussed her work, writing process and the importance of developing a hobby, she said.
Her hobby helps her describe the sword-fighting action in her books with authority and accuracy, she said. She sketches out the scenes before writing.
"When readers read what I wrote, the picture will again form in their minds," she said.
Preparing for Ivy League
At her own high school in Gainesville, Fan is gearing up for the SATs, balancing work from her International Baccalaureate program and thinking about college. Her sights are set on the Ivy League, where she plans to obtain degrees in biochemistry and comparative literature.
She doesn't always plan to write fantasy stories, as she is a broad reader.
She just finished "All Quiet on the Western Front," a 1929 war novel by Erich Maria Remarque recommended by her history teacher.
For now, she's sticking with the "Swordbird" series.
There's still plenty of time to write about "humans and other things," she said.
She considers it her mission to inspire fellow students to try something extraordinary.
"Sometimes something surprising will happen," she said.
If You Go
Nancy Fan's presentation will be at 2:15 p.m. today in the Gamache-Koger Theater of the Ringhaver Student Center at Flagler College.
Admission is free and open to the public.