Author Feature, Book Excerpt, and Giveaway: After the Dragons by Cynthia Zhang

Hello! Today we are collaborating with Stelliform Press to present a special video featuring debut author Cynthia Zhang on her novel, After the Dragons.

About After the Dragons

Dragons were fire and terror to the Western world, but in the East they brought life-giving rain…

Now, no longer hailed as gods and struggling in the overheated pollution of Beijing, only the Eastern dragons survive. As drought plagues the aquatic creatures, a mysterious disease—shaolong, or “burnt lung”—afflicts the city’s human inhabitants.

Jaded college student Xiang Kaifei scours Beijing streets for abandoned dragons, distracting himself from his diagnosis. Elijah Ahmed, a biracial American medical researcher, is drawn to Beijing by the memory of his grandmother and her death by shaolong. Interest in Beijing’s dragons leads Kai and Eli into an unlikely partnership. With the resources of Kai’s dragon rescue and Eli’s immunology research, can the pair find a cure for shaolong and safety for the dragons? Eli and Kai must confront old ghosts and hard truths if there is any hope for themselves or the dragons they love.

After the Dragons is a tender story, for readers interested in the effects of climate change on environments and people, but who don’t want a grim, hopeless read. Beautiful and challenging, focused on hope and care, this novel navigates the nuances of changing culture in a changing world.

The cover art for After the Dragons is by Wang Xulin, with typography and design by Yu-Lobbenberg Rachel.

About Cynthia Zhang

Cynthia Zhang is a Ph.D. student in Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture at the University of Southern California. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in KaleidotropeOn SpecPhantom Drift, and other venues. She is a 2021 DVdebut mentee.

The Giveaway and the Video

Stelliform Press is currently holding their second giveaway of advance review copies of Cynthia Zhang’s tender queer fantasy novel, After the Dragons. If you haven’t already heard the buzz about this book, we invite you to watch this video of the author briefly talking about her intimate approach to the fantasy genre, and reading a short excerpt. After the Dragons is a queer romantic fantasy novel which will be published by Stelliform Press on August 19th. The book is Cynthia Zhang’s first novel.

The video reading includes captions for those who prefer or require them and the full text of the excerpt is provided below. Be sure to sign up for the contest, or learn more about AFTER THE DRAGONS and pre-order a copy here. Also, signing up for the Stelliform Press newsletter will keep you in the loop about our upcoming launch event, which will include some fabulous opening acts and a chance to talk about the book with the author and publisher.

Read the Excerpt

It’s dark inside the store. A few dragons chirp in protest when Kai flips on the light, but the room is otherwise silent.

Kai glances around the shop, assessing the lines of cages and tanks. Then, without saying a word, he closes the door, slips his sketchpad under the front desk, and walks decisively toward the back of the shop.

After a moment of hesitation, Eli follows. “Do you want any help?” he asks as Kai slips a thick, leather glove over one hand.

“What, and have the whole shop escape? You can stand there, and if I need anything from the top shelves, you can take it down for me.”

“I think I can pull that off,” Eli says as Kai steps toward a cage in which a blue dragon sits atop a pile of rocks, preening the scales on its back. Compared to the tianlong Eli sometimes sees clustering on rooftops and stop lights, this dragon is larger and sleeker, the size of a hawk with a narrow chest and long curving wings. Feathery frills circle the dragon’s head, giving an appearance halfway between a lion’s mane and an Elizabethan neck ruff worn by a draconic poet.

Kai makes a high, clicking sound, and the dragon raises its neck toward him, imperious as a little monarch. “Hello to you too, your highness,” he says, unhooking the door and sticking his gloved hand inside. The dragon glances at the glove, then back up at Kai: and?

Rolling his eyes, Kai takes a dead mouse from one pocket and dangles it in front of the cage. The dragon cocks its head to one side, politely uninterested. “Oh, come on now,” Kai says, shaking his hand. “Cixi, baobei, piece of shit, don’t be like that —”

“Cixi? Like the empress?”

“Just like the empress,” Kai confirms, eyes intent on the dragon as she gingerly steps onto his wrist to take a bite — the smallest bite — of the mouse. “Almost as bad as the human one, too. Bossy little thing,” he says, carefully lifting his hand out of the cage, spindly dragon and all. “Isn’t that right, princess?”

In response, Cixi trills, licking her snout as she snatches the mouse and swallows it whole. Her eyes are tawny, and in the dim light, they gleam like gold coins against delicate whiskers and blue scales.

“She’s beautiful,” Eli says, leaning forward. “What is she?”

“A pain in the ass? Careful — this one does bite,” Kai warns as he hands Eli a strip of dried meat.

Eli offers it to Cixi, who sniffs the jerky before deigning to take it from him.

“In terms of breed, feilong, which goes a long way toward explaining the sense of superiority since they supposedly only appear to ‘great men’ in the wild.” Kai strokes her neck, Cixi leaning into the touch before snapping at his fingers. “Doesn’t do anything to explain the stubbornness or complete lack of manners.”

“Like owner, like dragon, maybe?”

Kai glances up, and for a second, Eli is unsure whether he’s earned the right to say what he did — but then Kai laughs, a short, surprised sound that turns into a wry smile. Eli can’t help smiling back. And then, with no warning whatsoever, Cixi swoops off Kai’s wrist and out the door, a glistening blue blur with Eli’s jerky between her teeth.

“Oh, fuck,” Kai mutters before sprinting after her.

Asian Settings in Middle Grade – Guest Post by Saadia Faruqi

“As an Asian American author, I’ve mostly written stories set in the U.S. After all, my children – now 11 and 14 years old – were born here, and this is the only world they know. So without really thinking about it, I’ve always gravitated towards writing for kids like mine. First generation. Muslim American. Asian American. South Asian American. American.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing. My kids – and all kids growing up in the U.S. today – need books that center BIPOC characters. They should be reading books that showcase cultural and religious differences yet take nothing away from the story itself. My Yasmin series for beginning readers is a perfect example of this: Yasmin and her family and proud Pakistani Americans and Muslim, but it’s not really mentioned in the books. You see that from the art (by the fabulous Hatem Aly) and from small clues like the words they use or the foods they eat. Yasmin is an ordinary second grader just like every American kid in elementary school, and that’s her appeal.

Somewhere in the last few years, however, I started thinking about why culture is so important in books for kids. I began to wonder why most children’s books in the U.S. are set in the U.S., even though a significant portion of young readers today are immigrants or first generation. I saw my own kids slowly losing their connection to their heritage, especially since we stopped visiting Pakistan as often as we used to. All of this has had a deep impact on me. More and more, I began to consider setting a middle grade novel somewhere else. Somewhere outside America.

And so, A Thousand Questions was born. I’ve set this novel in my birth place of Karachi, Pakistan. It’s the story of a first generation American girl Mimi who visits her grandparents from the first time, and finds everything awful. The heat, the language, the spicy food… everything is foreign. But slowly, these things grow on her, and she becomes close to her new family. She also meets a new friend, Pakistani native Sakina. The contrast between the two girls, their lifestyles, their hopes and dreams… this is what storytelling is all about.

A Thousand Questions isn’t just a friendship story, but one where setting plays a huge part. I could have set the story anywhere on earth, but I chose to place Mimi and Sakina in a land that may seem foreign to some readers. But hopefully they will see the benefit and enchantment of that land, and discover the similarities with their own home. At the end of the day, place is an important part of ourselves… our culture, heritage, memories, perspectives. The non-American settings of our books may be the most important part of the stories we tell, if we allow ourselves to do so.

I choose to allow myself.”

Saadia Faruqi is the author of the Yasmin series by Capstone, and A Place at the Table (co-written with Laura Shovan) by HMH/Clarion. Her new novel A Thousand Questions released in the U.S. on October 6 and will publish in the U.K. on Nov 12. Follow Saadia on Twitter and Instagram @saadiafaruqi.

#DVPit and Social Media Self-care: Part 2

This piece is the fifth stop (and part 2 of yesterday’s post) of the Spring 2020 #DVpit Blog Hop! #DVpit is a Twitter pitch event for marginalized authors and/or illustrators. The next event is scheduled for April 22-23. For more information, please visit

Guest Post by Meredith Ireland

Feat. Meredith Ireland

Meredith: Happy… Friday? Is it Friday? Let’s go with Friday. Okay, DVPit is in a few days. Let’s talk about what to do during and after the pitch event for self-care and in general.

Also Meredith: Thanks for having me back. Happy Blursday.

Meredith: Really committing to this format, huh?

Also Meredith: Have to sell it. Okay, so during DVPit you can pitch a project six times. That’s more than enough. You’ll find that one or two pitches gain traction and the rest kind of sit there, but use the six chances to highlight different aspects of your story. Make sure each pitch has the genre/category hashtags because some agents search by them. Tell your followers not to like your pitches if they’re not agents/editors. And definitely pin your favorite/most liked tweet to your profile!

Meredith: How about self-care during the event?

Also Meredith: Drink some water, read a book, go for a walk if you can. It’s both exciting and stressful. If you find yourself unable to breakaway from Twitter, lessen the stress by reading the feed. See what pitches you like. If you think a pitch sounds good reply and let them know. Follow each other. Cheer them on. Quote tweet their pitch without the hashtag for other people to see. I’m now friends with several authors I met during the first DVPit and generally it started with thinking their story sounded cool. You may even find a new critique partner if you both like each other’s concepts. DVPit is NOT just about the number of likes you get.

Meredith: Let’s talk about likes. What do you do if you pitch and don’t get any likes?

Also Meredith: Cry into a bag of chocolate.

Meredith: Other than cry. Be useful, dammit.

Also Meredith: Alright, if you pitch at 8:00am (I recommend not pitching exactly on the hour because people schedule tweets and usually pick the hour itself) and have no agent likes by say 10:30am, try to alter your remaining pitches. Something about them isn’t resonating. There’s an important caveat here, though: some books simply don’t sum up well and some people are better at crafting pitches than others. Querying is always open to you. Twitter pitch events fast track responses, but no matter how good a pitch is, you still have to send materials, so it comes down to what’s in your book, not the number of likes on a tweet.

Meredith: Okay, let’s go to the other extreme: what do you do if you get a ton of likes?

Also Meredith: Absorb the serotonin like it’s the sun’s rays.

Meredith: Are you going to be helpful or…

Also Meredith: I’m serious! Any agent like or editor retweet is a win. These are dark days. CELEBRATE the wins. Enjoy the serotonin. What you did was amazing: you captured the attention of industry professionals (and probably a bunch of randos who don’t understand the pitch contest and give you annoying false hope). Don’t feel like you have to immediately send out your material. You can just enjoy basking in the likes.

Meredith: Okay, after reveling, then what the next day?

Also Meredith: Spreadsheets!

Meredith: Zzzzz

Also Meredith: It’s not (necessarily) sexy, but you need to make a list of every agent who liked your tweet and every editor who retweeted. From there, I recommend creating a spreadsheet with information including the agent, their agency, when you sent the material, when they requested more (fingers crossed), and then when you sent the full. This is self-care. You’ll thank me when you get an offer of rep and you’re not frantically rummaging through your email to see who requested and who you need to notify because maybe you queried them… Mess.

Meredith: Should you send material to every agent who requests?

Also Meredith: Definitely not. Do research first. Querying is the Pit of Despair and takes a toll on your self-esteem as a writer. You don’t want to be in there more than once if you can avoid it. If you have a good fit the first time, there’s a chance you won’t have to query EVER AGAIN. So do your research. Word of mouth is the strongest in this business. Ask around, DM, check AbsoluteWrite for red flag agents. Look at PW sales if it’s an established agent and agency sales if it’s a new agent. See what agencies represent your favorite books in your genre. I’m a fan of making A and B lists of preferred agents and having a mix of those in each query round. That way if you later find out your original query sucked, you didn’t waste your shot with all of your A list agents. If you start getting requests, query the rest of your A list before you send out fulls. But don’t send material to an agent you wouldn’t sign with. That’s not respectful of your time or theirs.

Meredith: That’s good advice.

Also Meredith: I try.

Meredith: So my last question is what do you do if you end up with a ton of likes but ultimately no agent?

Also Meredith: Accept that it’s a let down, because it is. It’s incredibly hard not to compare yourself with others when you start seeing agent signings being announced and even book deals coming quickly out of DVPit. Patience is key, as is the recognition that every road is different for every writer. Some are windier. And even though everyone participating is marginalized, some concepts are still more sellable than others. However, you should look at possible other causes than: this is just a hard sell. The two main culprits are: your query letter needs serious work or, and this one hurts the most, your manuscript needs a lot of work. The silver lining is that all of that agent interest means you have an excellent concept and if you work on your manuscript you’ll likely still have interest. If you interacted with other DVPit participants during the event, hopefully you gained a critique partner.

This is where the community part comes in and why meeting other writers during DVPit is better than likes. You can exchange openings and see if you like each other’s critique styles/materials and then work to better each other’s manuscripts. Take a breath, step away from social media if those announcements after DVPit start getting to you. Then sit and do another revision pass. I’m rooting for you!

Meredith: Thank you for your time. Good luck on revising THE JASMINE PROJECT.

Also Meredith: *sobs into bag of chocolate* I got this.

About the Author

Meredith Ireland is a practicing civil litigation attorney and Young Adult author. Born in Seoul, Korea, she was adopted as a baby by a New York family. Her adoptive father was a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library and no doubt the source of her love of books.

Fate and a variety of questionable choices brought her to Saratoga Springs, New York, where she currently resides with her two children, and two carnival goldfish who will outlive us all. She hopes to one day have a writing treehouse, despite being deathly afraid of birds.

Meredith Ireland is a practicing civil litigation attorney and Young Adult author. Born in Seoul, Korea, she was adopted as a baby by a New York family. Her adoptive father was a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library and no doubt the source of her love of books.

Fate and a variety of questionable choices brought her to Saratoga Springs, New York, where she currently resides with her two children, and two carnival goldfish who will outlive us all. She hopes to one day have a writing treehouse, despite being deathly afraid of birds.

Find Meredith Ireland’s work on her Website and Twitter.

#DVPit and Social Media Self-care: Part 1

This piece is part 1 of the fourth stop in the Spring 2020 #DVpit Blog Hop! #DVpit is a Twitter pitch event for marginalized authors and/or illustrators. The next event is scheduled for April 22-23. For more information, please visit Find part 2 of the final stop here.

Guest Post by Meredith Ireland

Feat. Meredith Ireland

DVPit holds a special place in my heart. I connected with my agent through DVPit, and, in a roundabout way, the Twitter pitch event led to my first book deal. As one of the early success stories, I hope to provide some insight for writers thinking about pitching their books this month.

For those of you unfamiliar, DVPit is special because it’s only for writers who are marginalized and therefore historically underrepresented in publishing. Writers seeking an agent and/or publisher tweet pitches using #DVPit on the designated day for their category—April 22 and 23 this year. If the pitch sounds intriguing to an agent or small press editor, they like the tweet and invite the writer to submit material (from a query letter all the way to a full manuscript so be READY). If an editor from a Big Five publishing house retweets the pitch, it means they want to see the work once the writer is agented. It’s an incredibly valuable and unique part of the event.

This year’s DVPit comes at a precarious time for mental health across the globe, and particularly for Asians/Asian-Americans who, due to Covid and politics, have become target of online trolls. For everyone, social media self-care is necessary. For those participating in DVPit, it’s paramount and the purpose of this post.

In this time of social distancing, I have decided to interview… myself for self-care tips. So this is going to get weird, but it’s cool. Let’s do this.

Meredith: Thanks for being here.

Also Meredith: You’re welcome, but I’m always home these days.

Meredith: Okay, so… social media tips for this trying time. Let’s start generally and work our way to DVPit specifically. What’s the best self-care tip you have for people using Twitter?

Also Meredith: My general policy for Twitter is that the app is a weird little garden you can cultivate to your liking based on what you tweet about and who you follow. The mute and block buttons are your friends. Don’t be afraid to mute words/phrases you find endanger your mental health. See someone being sexist? Well, racism is usually right around the corner—block them preemptively. There’s a reluctance to mute/block accounts probably because most people are kind and polite, but no one deserves your time and some people are specifically on social media to be pieces of sh*t, so mute or block and move on. I’m a fan of blocking because I’m super petty. You’re going to be rude? No angry introvert bunnies for you, lol.

Meredith: How about for writers during *gestures vaguely* all this?

Also Meredith: I would say go easy on yourself. What make us writers is being sensitive to the world around us. That also makes it super hard to write in times like these. If your writing feels unnecessary right now, remember that people need art to escape into or to show them the way out. That hasn’t changed. But don’t be afraid to take a hiatus or set social media time limits if all of this is too overwhelming for your process. Focus apps like Flora help keep me away from my phone, even if it’s just to read a book.

Meredith: Okay, so DVPit specifically—what’s the most important thing to know going in?

Also Meredith: It’s going to sound like a sorority/cult answer…

Meredith: The BEST kind of answer.

Also Meredith: But best thing I got out of DVPit was the DVSquad—the friends I made and community I gained through this. Writing is so solitary. You can go it alone but the whole business is hard on mental health and it’s so much better with a support network—that’s doubly true for marginalized writers. We face unique hurdles in this business. DVPit is a chance to meet other marginalized writers in your same stage who can commiserate with you and cheer you on.

Meredith: Do you feel like writers need to create a “platform” ahead of DVPit?

Also Meredith: Not at all. It’s nice if your tweets show who you are and what you care about. Even though it feels like shouting into an empty room at first, genuine interest comes across. If politics is your thing, go for it. If it’s not, then don’t. Niche interests are cool, and, as we’ve found with baking, sometimes not that niche. The only hard rule is to make sure you have something as your profile pic—anything other than an egg because a lot of people have egg accounts blocked.

Meredith: So you have a Twitter account and you’re marginalized according to Are you ready for DVPit?

Also Meredith: It should go without saying, but somehow it doesn’t: it’s crucial to have a novel actually written, rested, preferably swapped with another writer for comments, and revised. DVPit is your chance to shoot your shot. Too many times I’ll see the same pitch used again and again in different contests and chances are that manuscript wasn’t ready to be pitched. Or even worse, the novel didn’t exist yet. This is not a proving ground for your story idea, it’s for finished works. I’ve definitely pitched too early in Pitmad, so I know it’s HARD to have the excitement of DVPit, the likes flying, and not jump in if you have anything written. But don’t throw away your first online impression. Be ready. There’s another DVPit in the fall.

Meredith: Fine fine, you have a Twitter account, are marginalized, and have a written, polished novel, what should you be doing in these last few days before DVPit?

Also Meredith: You should be tweaking your pitches. The best advice I’ve seen is to show your pitches to someone who has already read your work and someone who doesn’t even know you write. The one who has read it will be able to tell you if the pitch highlights the best aspects. The one who hasn’t read will be able to tell you if your pitch makes sense. Sometimes you’re too close to the work and know all the inferences but anyone else reading is lost. There are tons of resources out there for how to craft a good pitch. In its most basic format it goes: [COMP] meets [COMP] When [inciting incident happens] [MC] must [thing they have to do in your story] or [stakes, what happens if they fail]. The biggest mistake I see are list pitches like: post-apoc world, runs on oil, sword-wielding wild dogs, yellow hurricanes #DVPit #SFF #YA. Those are cool story aspects but they tell us nothing about the conflict or stakes.

Meredith: Alright, I’m sure you have a sourdough starter to check on. Let’s break for today and continue tomorrow with what to do during and after DVPit.

Also Meredith: False, but I should go water my seedlings.

Read onto Part 2 of Social media self-care and #DVPit here!

About the Author

Meredith Ireland is a practicing civil litigation attorney and Young Adult author. Born in Seoul, Korea, she was adopted as a baby by a New York family. Her adoptive father was a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library and no doubt the source of her love of books.

Fate and a variety of questionable choices brought her to Saratoga Springs, New York, where she currently resides with her two children, and two carnival goldfish who will outlive us all. She hopes to one day have a writing treehouse, despite being deathly afraid of birds.

Find Meredith Ireland’s work on her Website and Twitter.

On The Importance of Difficult Themes in Picture Books – A Guest Post by Meera Sriram

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Picture books are an influential medium, they have the ability to make children ponder, imagine, and question. There’s so much beauty and power in their brevity and visual appeal. Growing up in India, I did not have access to this category of books. I was introduced to them as an adult. And as a parent raising kids in the U.S, I’ve relied on them for everything – from potty training and early learning to first-times and friendship woes. I fell in love with them so much that I followed my heart and began writing them. However, I often wonder about themes that are not commonly seen in mainstream picture books (while I find them more accessible in books that cater to older children). If you think about events, people, places, and experiences that young kids are exposed to on a daily basis through social interactions or via media, we don’t really include most of them in our stories.

Many families are caught up in all sorts of struggles, small and big, everyday or long term. And children are great observers and sensors – they notice, listen, and particularly pick up on the mildest disruptions. Why then do we shy away from centering stories around topics like poverty or terminal illness, alcoholism, disability, guns, divorce, adoption or death? These things happen to us, around us. All the time. When my kids lost their first grandparent in India, they were confused, their grief compounded by immigrant-life challenges. My daughter was 6.Read More »

Defeating Self-Defeat in Asian Representation – A Guest Post by Mike Chen

asian lit bingo interviewguest post

I’ve always considered myself an accepting person. Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, I always knew when certain things felt right or wrong, when it was important to push for progress.

But all of that always pointed outward. As a Chinese-American and a child of immigrants, internal acceptance came much harder; in fact, on the cusp of 40, it’s still a struggle. No matter how much I fought for others, it was difficult to fight for myself — even in the face of explicit racism towards my parents. In those situations, a lot of internalized victim-blaming happened. “If only my parents weren’t so Chinese” or “if only they weren’t so frugal” or “if only their accents weren’t so thick.”

Because I hated being Chinese. The constant messages from culture were obvious: Asians of any type weren’t cool or sexy or heroic. And even if Asians made it on screen, we were all lumped together into one generic Asian bucket, regardless of South Asian, South-East Asian, West Asian and Central Asian identities.Read More »

Guest Post: Five Steps to Getting a Literary Agent by Clarissa Goenawan

asian lit bingo interviewguest post (2)

Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. Her award-winning short fiction has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in Singapore, Australia, the UK, and the US. Rainbirds is her first novel.

People often ask me, “Do you have any advice on how to be a writer?” I usually quote Stephen King. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others:
read a lot and write a lot.” I will also add, “Work hard, and never give up.”
But when people ask me for advice on how to publish internationally, or how to make
a living as a traditionally published writer, I will tell them to get a good agent.

Read More »