Quidditch, Lightsabers, and Feminist Sport
I’ve written a guest blog post as part of the YAReads Debut Authors’ Bash about PEASPROUT CHEN, quidditch, lightsabers, and feminist sports.
Here is the text of the blog post.
WHAT WU LIU IS
Wu liu is an art form/sport that I invented for the world featured in my first novel PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD (Holt/Macmillan, April 2018). Originally developed for combat purposes, it combines figure skating with kung fu.
Wu liu arose in a fantastical city called Pearl that is made out of a substance that looks like semiprecious pearl but stays dry and smooth to the touch. Located on an island inspired by my homeland of Taiwan, the entire city is ornately carved and can be skated on, every rooftop, handrail, balustrade. Thus, there’s an element of parkour in there as well. Once a defensive art, wu liu is now used primarily in Pearlian opera, a dazzling spectacle that features displays of wu liu in place of singing.
QUIDDDITCH AND LIGHTSABERS
I wanted to come up with something as iconic and cool as quidditch and lightsabers. However, I believe in the maxim that you should write the story that only you could write.
I wanted to make it very personal to me, something that had Asian roots. Ang Lee’s film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon rawked my world so hard that I’ve never gotten over it. I also wanted to invent a sport that had a gay soul, something that was campy but ferocious and deadly stylish.
I also wanted to focus on an activity that conveyed pure joy. There’s not enough joy in children’s lit or the world in general. I specifically was shooting for a Miyazaki flavor of joy. The delirious pandemonium of Spirited Away and the exuberant scenes of flight in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, and so many of Miyazaki’s films were particular inspirations.
Because wu liu was so unusual, I needed to create a titular heroine whose voice would be memorable enough to carry the world building. I modeled Peasprout on myself, which was confronting and humbling. Peasprout is brave, wildly talented, huge-hearted, a true original, and pretty hard to forget. She is also self-aggrandizing, deluded, extreme, a bit of a weirdo, and rather lonely. Like I am. It was like drawing a portrait of your own face but refraining from tweaking your least favorite features. Writing such a deeply flawed character with honesty while keeping her relatable and lovable was an act of learning to accept myself while recognizing that I’m a work in progress.
As research for wu liu, I took figure skating and kung fu lessons. I figured that as a fit and pretty strong guy, I would be tolerable at them.
I was comically appalling at both. I wish there were video of it, especially of the 19-year old woman gracefully kicking my butt in kung fu class. What I learned was that these are two sports that often reward balance and flexibility more than brute strength. As a combination of both sports, wu liu is an art form that very much promotes girl power and traits that aren’t always valorized.
This informed my creation of wu liu and Peasprout. With this book, I wanted to show that heroes truly come in all shapes and sizes.
I intended PEASPROUT CHEN as a gift to say thank you to all the women who have nurtured and inspired me, family, friends, teachers, authors, editors, my agent, and so many others. This book was my way to say, “Thank you, I see you, I love you, you’re my heroes.”