Thanks for agreeing to this Q&A! Most readers will know you as the author of Sorcerer to the Crown and, recently, The True Queen, which came out in March 2019. Tell us something about yourself that readers might not know?
In my copious free time when I’m not writing, I work part-time as a corporate lawyer.
Your first book, Sorcerer to the Crown, is set during Regency England. What made you decide to write a historical fantasy, and why set it during this specific era?
I just really enjoy the Regency era in literature. I love books both by authors of the period like Jane Austen and by authors looking back on it, like Patrick O’Brian, Susanna Clarke and Naomi Novik.
With Sorcerer I drew inspiration from Georgette Heyer, who wrote these great, frothy Regency romances with balls and banter and pretty frocks. Sorcerer has all of these things, plus magic and dragons!
In a recent blog post, you talk candidly about the journey of writing your second book and some of the struggles you went through when you had to rewrite the manuscript. Could you tell us whether or not you think this process changed you as a writer?
I do think the process changed me as a writer, but in a way, every project changes you as a writer. You learn new things with everything you write. I suppose the great benefit of struggling so hard with The True Queen was that I came out with a stronger sense of what I want to be doing as a writer, the sort of story I want to tell.
After the challenges of writing The True Queen, how did you feel when the book was published? Did it feel different to publishing your debut?
It did feel different but that was inevitable – it’s been four years since Sorcerer came out and I’m in a different position now compared to where I was then. That said, there were some commonalities.
As nice as it is to publish stories, it’s also a very exposing process – you’ve invested so much of yourself in a book that you do feel vulnerable when you put it out there.
With Sorcerer I was nervous because it was my first novel and it felt like there was a lot riding on it; with The True Queen I was nervous because it was the second and I didn’t want to disappoint readers. There has been a lot of positive feedback which has been extremely rewarding.
In your second novel, you move away from England and to the Straits of Melaka, where your family are from. Did TTQ feel more personal as a result of this?
Yes and no. It felt like more of a gamble as The True Queen presents perspectives and places that are perhaps less immediately familiar to Western readers.
But the historical setting and the fact that the protagonist Muna is culturally Malay – so we don’t share an ethnic background – both operate to provide some distance. That said, you put yourself in all your work. There’s a lot of me in both Sorcerer and True Queen.
Tell us a bit about your writing process. Do you have playlists or make mood boards? Is there a writing spot you always go to, or a type of food you like to eat while writing?
My process is fairly unfussy. I have the great luxury of having a study, so I either sit down at my desk there, or on a sofa in the living room, and bash some words out on my laptop.
I do have Pinterest boards for stories but they function as link repositories – a place to store things I look up in the process of planning and writing – rather than as mood boards.
I usually write on the computer, but I have lots of friends who are really into stationary and fountain pens, and have come by a few nice fountain pens and cool inks as a result. So sometimes I brainstorm and plan scenes in longhand before typing them up. It does seem to help loosen the brain a bit.
Now that The True Queen is out, what’s next for you? Can you give us a hint about what you’re working on currently?
I’ve recently turned in edits on a novella called The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, which will be coming out from Tor.com Publishing at an as-yet-unspecified future date. It’s a wuxia-inspired fantasy about nuns and bandits and I’m really excited about sharing it with readers.
Zen Cho is the author of a short story collection (Spirits Abroad, Fixi, 2014) and two historical fantasy novels (Sorcerer to the Crown, 2015 and The True Queen, 2019, both published by Ace and Macmillan).
She is a winner of the Crawford Award and the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer, and a finalist for the Locus, Hugo and Campbell Awards. She was born and raised in Malaysia, resides in the UK, and lives in a notional space between the two.
Huge thanks to Zen for this interview. Check out her blog here.