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Conversations on Writing: Interview with Award-Winning Young Adult Author Cindy Pon, Part 2

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By Cora Daniels

"Do not be afraid to write. Do not be afraid to explore. Do not be afraid to make mistakes."

In Part 2 of our interview with YA fantasy author Cindy Pon, she discusses how she got started writing and offers recommendations for young writers looking to improve their craft.

Cora Daniels: Did you write as a teenager?

Cindy Pon: I did! Like so many writers, I began as a reader, and a lover of books. I started writing poetry when I was around twelve years old, and moved on to short stories at fourteen. I also began keeping a journal at age eleven, with the encouragement of my maternal grandfather, whom I dedicated Silver Phoenix to.

CD: Any must read books that influenced you as a writer that you would recommend?

Gosh, these are always the toughest questions. I would suggest Flash Burnout by L. K. Madigan, Huntress by Malinda Lo, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, A Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves, Yacqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina, Pantomime by Laura Lam, Legend by Marie Lu, FAKE ID by L. R. GIles, To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han, In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith, and More Than This by Patrick Ness just to start. These are all fabulously written YA novels from varying genres.

CD: Did you always want to write YA fiction?

Actually, no. When I finished Silver Phoenix (the first novel I'd ever written and also my published debut), I had assumed it was an adult fantasy. Because many of the adult fantasy novels I had enjoyed had narrators who were teens. But when I began querying agents, one of the big name fantasy agents who rejected me asked: Isn't this YA? So I decided to query literary agents who represented YA, and no one who read Silver Phoenix questioned it's place as a young adult novel. It seems that I'm naturally drawn to coming of age stories, and my voice fits the storytelling for current YA market.

CD: Does your style change much because you write for teenagers rather than adults or is good writing always the same?

I don't believe in writing down to teens at all - they are some of the smartest readers I know. I receive emails from readers who are polite with amazing comments about my story - I'm always blown away by their insight. I think good writing affects the reader somehow. It could make them laugh or cry, or simply touch them emotionally and the story and characters linger. Any type of story for a reader of any age can do that, I believe.

CD: What is your advice to young writers? Any tips you'd like to share to help young people become better writers?

Do not be afraid to write. Do not be afraid to explore. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Writers write and writers read. Read widely. Read genres that you love and genres that you might not usually pick up. You'll always learn something from the author no matter what you might be working on yourself. Know when to take critiques and learn from them, and also know when you have done well with a piece and give yourself credit. You need to be your own biggest cheerleader as a writer. If you are passionate and writing matters, set time aside for it, make it a priority.

This is the final post in our interview with Cindy Pon. If you like to know more about her books or art, check out her website at cindypon.com.

Cora Daniels, a Write for the Future coach, is an award winning journalist, author and adjunct professor at NYU. She is author of the forthcoming Impolite Conversations, a collection of essays.