Kathie: Hi Xiran, and welcome to MG Book Village! Thanks for taking some time to chat with me about your debut middle-grade book, Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor, which comes out on May 10th from Margaret K. Elderry Books. I recently had the opportunity to read it and I loved it! Can you tell our readers a bit about it, please?
Xiran: Hello, Kathie! Zachary Ying is a middle grade adventure I pitch as Chinese Percy Jackson meets Yugioh. It features a 12-year-old Chinese American boy who’s not really connected to his Chinese heritage, but is compelled to go on a journey across China to fight historical and mythical figures and heist real artifacts after the First Emperor of China possesses his AR gaming headset.
Kathie: What five words would you use to describe Zack, and what do you think makes him such an appealing character?
Xiran: Shy, awkward, sensitive, gloomy, determined. I put a lot of my younger self into him, and I hope that his character arc shows what it means to stand up for yourself and break free from the impossible expectations of others.
Kathie: I really love the way you used technology to connect the past to the future, especially since connecting with others plays such a big part in your life with social media. If you had an AR gaming headset that would connect you to anyone, who would it be and why?
Xiran: I’d want to connect with the First Emperor’s famous chancellor Li Si, who supposedly betrayed him on his death bed and faked an edict to execute his assumed successor (his firstborn son, Prince Fusu) and pass the throne to his youngest son Huhai instead. This ultimately caused the fall of the Qin dynasty because Huhai was so irresponsible. But there are a lot of questions surrounding these events, and I’m so curious that I’d demand to know what really happened from Li Si. Also, he’d be able to tell me what kind of treasures were buried in the First Emperor’s mausoleum! The terracotta soldiers we know so well are only an insignificant part of his burial grounds, after all.
Kathie: There is so much interesting Chinese history packed into your story! What was your research process like, and did you know about these historical figures and events before you wrote the book?
Xiran: Yeah, pretty much all the historical tidbits were stuff I already knew and put in the book out of excitement. I didn’t do much extra research other than to confirm that the details were correct.
Kathie: Growing up in the Canadian school system, I’m amazed by how much world history I missed out on. What advice do you have for young readers who want to know more than they’re taught in the classroom?
Xiran: Don’t shy away from historical stories from non-Western societies! Often, they can be even more fun to learn about, since you’re not getting graded on them. HistoryTubers like Oversimplified and Cool History Bros make great animated videos on history. Or, if you don’t mind longer videos, there’s my own channel too 😛
Kathie: What’s one question you’d love to be asked about your book and why?
Xiran: What’s my favorite quote from the book? It’s “This isn’t even close to the worst thing I’ve ever done! I don’t know why we’re being punished for it!” Peak Qin Shi Huang right there.
Kathie: Are we going to see more of Zack’s story, and if so, is there anything you can share with us?
Xiran: There is definitely going to be a sequel. Maybe even multiple sequels…? Stay tuned!
Kathie: Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?
Xiran: I’m on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Tumblr, all under @xiranjayzhao!
Kathie: Best of luck with your book’s release, and I look forward to hearing what young readers think of it!
Xiran: Thanks so much for inviting me to chat, Kathie!
Xiran Jay Zhao (they/them) is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Iron Widow series. A first-gen Hui Chinese immigrant from small-town China to Vancouver, Canada, they were raised by the internet and made the inexplicable decision to leave their biochem degree in the dust to write books and make educational content instead. You can find them on Twitter for memes, Instagram for cosplays and fancy outfits, TikTok for fun short videos, and YouTube for long videos about Chinese history and culture. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is their first middle grade novel.