Woven In Books

WOVEN IN BOOKS|| Interview with Joan He, author of The Ones We’re Meant to Find

Hello everyone! Welcome again to Woven In Books 2021. I started Woven In Books series last year as a way to hype diverse books, authors and bloggers and I’m so glad for all the amazing posts I could put out there. This year has been so much more hectic due to which I haven’t been able to put put many posts but I hope I can manage more in the coming months.

Today on the blog we have Joan He, author of The Ones We’re Meant to Find and also Descendant of the Crane which is one of my favourite books of all times! I started with with Descendant of the Crane and I became such a fan and I knew I would always read anything Joan writes! I’m so glad to have her on the blog today! Without further ado, lets start!!

Related: 2020 Woven In Books interviews and posts

Hi Joan!

Thank you so much for agreeing to do this! I have read and loved both your books so I’m very excited for this!!

1)Descendant of the Crane was a political fantasy whereas The Ones we’re meant to find is a dystopian future with environmental issues as one of the themes. How was the shift in writing these two very different kind of books?

DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE was actually the book that forced me to become a plotter. Anyone who’s read it can probably understand why writing it without a plan was NOT a good idea. But even for DOTC, I knew the middle from the start, as well as how I wanted it to end. Same for TOWMTF. So the overall approach didn’t really differ even though TOWMTF is in a different genre. I will say though that the second book is harder solely because you have more voices in the room than you would when working on your debut.

2)Where did the inspiration for this book come from and how much of that original idea has remained/evolved into the final book?

The initial idea came to me in a dream: I had a very vivid image of a girl diving to the bottom of a sea, in search of something or someone. As I tried to figure out the “what”, my mind went back to some of my favorite YA Dystopians I’d read as a teen, such as The Hunger Games and Legend. They left a deep impression on me, particularly in how they signaled the relatability of their main characters. A single scene with a younger sibling, for example, could frame a protagonist as human and vulnerable before they went on to topple dictatorships or save the world. I wanted to subvert that. What if, I wondered, the girl in my dream is searching for her younger sister, but that sister is more than a storytelling device? And so came the idea, twist, and overall plot of the story, which has stayed almost exactly the same from draft to final book even as the world and characters got more fleshed out.

3)Cee and Kasey were both such strong characters and so different. Their bond was deep and still fraught with so many emotions. How was it writing these two characters and their bonds?

Something I enjoy exploring in all my familial relationships, be in the father daughter one in DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE or the sister relationship here, is the idea of unconditional love—what it looks like and how the absence of it can hurt, but how the presence of it can hurt as well. We can want the best for someone and still end up harming them, simply because everyone goes about achieving their goals a different way. And so naturally I really loved exploring the different ways in which Kasey and Cee express their desires and perceive one another.

4)The world building for this book was essentially divided into two: one on the island with Cee and one in the eco-city with Kasey. How would you describe the process of crafting and executing this?

For me, plot and character go hand in and hand and often come to me first whereas world comes second, and always in service of the story and characters. So I always knew, because of knowing the twist, that the characters would be separated and the ocean would be between them. As a character, Cee is much more outgoing and wants to be near people. What kind of world and setting would highlight this part of her character? An abandoned island, I thought. Meanwhile Kasey is the opposite—she wants to be alone and away from people, and so it felt right to me that in building her world, I would emphasize the population density and shortage of space. Kasey is literally surrounded by people, but disconnected by choice. That’s really how I built the big framework of the world. When it came to smaller details, I again referred back to character. For example, there’s a detail in Kasey’s world where some people can opt to genetically modify themselves so that they can photosynthesize their energy, much like plants, to reduce their environmental footprint. In doing so, you might be able to gain admittance into the eco-city. I added in that detail because it seemed like something that might be controversial and uncomfortable to the ordinary person but Kasey isn’t perturbed by it. Her mind works as such: If you need a rank boost, then why not GMO yourself? So not only does this detail add to the world, but it also tells us something about her character.

5)What was the message you intend for readers to take away from the book?

I never really write with the intention of feeding the reader a message—not through the story, or through the characters. Even when one might save the day (or world in this case), that doesn’t necessarily mean that I support their worldview or takeaways.

Instead, I hope that readers come away with more questions than answers. Take this question, for example: Cee and Kasey are very different characters. One of them was specifically written to be more traditionally “relatable” (a word that I put in quotes because I don’t think we should have one set of criteria of what constitutes a relatable character and yet in practice, we often do). If I did my job and you do relate to the “retable” one, does that mean that they deserve more of our attention and care? Do they deserve to be rooted for more, to live more, just because they feel closer to us? What about the people we do not see ourselves in? What about the people we sometimes do not see at all?

6)Your books always have strong, vulnerable and complex heroines. Would you say this is due to personal experiences and/or the media you consumed?

I’m so glad you think so! I don’t think I deliberately try to create characters who are complex, vulnerable, and strong. Instead I just try my best to create real people. Part of this is probably because I’ve always been fascinated by psychology and ended up majoring in it. One of the first things psych teaches you is that 1. Everyone thinks that they’re somehow different, exceptional, or an aberration from the statistic, but 2. In many situations, people are more similar than they are unique.

Even when we feel alone, a lot of our fears and insecurities are universal. In a high stress situation, most people will perform the same exact action, no matter how immoral or seemingly uncharacteristic (you only have to look at the results of Milgram’s experiment). Most of the times, we’re not exceptional. When we are—why? I always try to interrogate that as deeply as possible, because it’s the moments that we act differently that reveal something true about ourselves, but it’s also the moments when we succumb and do the same unwise things as the person next to us that reveal our humanity.

7)Which is the book or movie which brings you the most comfort?

Spirited Away (comforting, but also very emotionally distressing, and probably why I now write the kind of endings that I do).

8)Lastly, congratulations on hitting the New York Times Bestselling list!!! How did you feel when you first came to know?

Thank you!! It still doesn’t feel real. I was out running when I got a text from a friend congratulating me for hitting the indie bestseller list, which tends to come out a couple hours before the New York Times list every Wednesday (with the Times coming out at around 5pm). So after getting that news, I went home and basically waited nervously until 5pm because it felt like there might be a chance, but I also didn’t want to get my hopes up. When I finally got the congratulations email from my editor, I texted all my friends, ran out to tell my parents, cried a bit, and then felt stiff from head to toe. I wanted to emote, but I also felt like I was still buried under the huge weight and pressure that comes with releasing a book into the world. You’d think that I’d be less stressed since this was my second time doing it, but nope. I’m so, so grateful for all the support, especially from readers of DOTC like you!

Thank you so much for taking the time out to do this Joan!!

Read my review of the books here: Descendant of the Crane || The Ones we’re Meant to Find


Joan He

Joan He was born and raised in Philadelphia but still will, on occasion, lose her way. At a young age, she received classical instruction in oil painting before discovering that storytelling was her favorite form of expression. She studied Psychology and East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Pennsylvania and currently writes from a desk overlooking the Delaware River. Descendant of the Crane is her debut young adult fantasy. Her next novel, The Ones We’re Meant to Find, released from Macmillan on May 4th, 2021.

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