Jade Moon is a Fire Horse — the worst sign in the Chinese zodiac for girls, said to make them stubborn, reckless, and far too headstrong. While her family despairs of marrying her off, she dreams of traveling far beyond her tiny village, living out a story as big as her imagination.
First off, can you tell us about your novel, The Fire Horse Girl?
KH: Absolutely! Born in the year of the Fire Horse, Jade Moon is destined to be stubborn and strong-willed. This puts her at odds with her father, her town, and her society. The Fire Horse Girl follows Jade Moon on her journey from China through the immigration station at Angel Island and onto the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown. The stubbornness and fight that have gotten her in so much trouble might be the only thing that can save her.
Where did you initially get the idea to write about a young girl's immigration from China to America? Did you have to do a lot of research on the immigration process and Angel Island to build the historical setting accurately?
KH: I started to think about immigration when my husband and I were in the process of adopting our first child from China. I thought a lot about what the journey to a new country would be like for my son. But I think I really fell in love with the story when I discovered the Fire Horse sign. There is something appealing about traits like strength and stubbornness. They can block us from our dreams or give us the boldness we need to chase them against all odds.
I had to do a ton of research on immigration, Angel Island, and the immigrant experience after arrival. I desperately wanted that to ring true because while this book contains Jade Moon’s story, her story has ties to the men and women who landed on Angel Island, who went through the interrogations, the long waits, the rejection, the blackened hopes and busted dreams. One of my favorite books was Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigration on Angel Island (1910-1940) by him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung. Not only were the poems that immigrants wrote and carved into the walls revealing, but the interviews in this book brought the experience to life.
What is your favorite scene from The Fire Horse Girl?
KH: I have a couple of favorites. I love the scenes where Neil teaches Jade Moon how to fight. It was fun to put the two of them in the same scene and watch their personalities interact. In a related scene, I love when Jade Moon punches Sterling Promise. I mean he had that coming. And just for something different, I love the story telling scenes. They aren’t the most dramatic, but it is one of the ways that Jade Moon and I are connected. We both love a good story.
I recently discovered that I was born in the year of the Fire Rat (doesn't have the same ring to it...) What Chinese astrological sign to you have?
KH: First of all, being a Fire Rat is awesome! They are charming, witty, and energetic. Rats always find a way to come out on top. I am a Water Ox. There is a great story about how the order of the Chinese animal signs was decided by a race. In the race the rat knew that it was up against some much faster animals so he made a deal with the ox. He promised to sing to the ox as he raced if the ox let him ride on his back. The ox was at the finish line, ready to be the first animal sign when the rat jumped off and ran ahead to place first. That’s a creative problem solver.
Who are some authors that have inspired you?
KH: I love authors who can make me feel anything deeply. I have always love Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell novels because they seem to penetrate below the surface of society. For the same reason I love Justina Chen’s novels. She knows how to make the most of her character’s experiences and it allows her to create these rich experiences inside her novels. I admire Laurie Halse Andersong because she seems to be able to push and stretch her stories to mine everything they have to say. Honestly, I admire anyone who has the guts and the tenacity to write a book and put it out in the world.
Do you have any projects you're working on now that readers can get excited for?
KH: My second novel is scheduled for Fall of 2016. It is a contemporary YA set in West Texas called Interference. It is full of high school politics, actual politics, football, and water towers.
Since this is for the Summer Author Promo Blitz, I'll ask a few questions that relate to this great season. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of summer?
KH: I love so much about summer. I love snow cones and the way tomato plants smell. I love spending a couple of hours on a lounge chair by the pool, beach balls, slow mornings, and long days. I love summer rains and limeade and the way summer makes me lose track of the days.
I can only think of two things I don’t like about summer - mosquitoes and sunburns. A little sunblock and insect repellant, and I’m all set.
Do you have any recommendations for summer reads?
KH: Uh, yeah…Fire Horse Girl J. But I know, people can read dozens of books over the summer, so I’d also recommend. I just finished The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and loved it. Justina Chen’s Blind Spot for Boys would be a great summer vacation read. It’s the kind of book that is fun to digest in as few sittings as possible to really escape into it.
If you could vacation anywhere in the entire world, without having to worry about expenses or any other pesky details, where would you choose to go?
KH: I think I would go to Belize. I just heard a travel writer talking about how great it is, and it does combine some of my favorite elements of travel – good food, beautiful beaches, laid-back culture.
Lastly, if you could go back in time to when you were still writing The Fire Horse Girl (assuming there are no problems relating to the butterfly effect or the space-time continuum or anything like that), what advice would you give yourself on the publishing process?
KH: Ha! And assuming that if I can go back in time I might place a few bets instead of seeking myself out for a chat.I think I would tell myself to enjoy my time with my story and the process more. It is like every other process, it goes a lot at it’s pace and there is very little you can do to push it forward or hold it back. People gave me that advice, so I guess this time I would listen. The writing does come to an end, and the book goes into the world and there are no more late nights wrestling with scenes or trying to make your character be someone she’s just not. I am trying to learn to enjoy that process more. It is a little magical when you think about all it takes for a story to take shape on the page. It would be a quick chat before I go make a few smart investments.
Kay Honeyman grew up in Fort Worth, Texas and attended Baylor University, graduating with a Bachelors and Masters in English Language and Literature. The Fire Horse Girl (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic) is her first novel. She currently teaches middle school and lives in Dallas, Texas. You can visit her online at www.kayhoneyman.com.