An Indies Introduce Q&A with K. X. Song

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K.X. Song, author of "An Echo in the City"K.X. Song is the author of An Echo in the City, a Summer/Fall 2023 Indies Introduce Kids selection.

Song is a diaspora writer with roots in Hong Kong and Shanghai. She currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Zsamé Morgan of Babycake’s Book Stack in St. Paul, Minnesota, served on the panel that selected Song’s debut for Indies Introduce. Of the experience, Morgan said, “An Echo in the City is the coming of age novel that you didn’t know that you needed. Set against the backdrop of a love affair that could be shattered by both honesty and lies, An Echo in the City gives a gripping insider’s look at a very real, deeply emotional side of Hong Kong that is not often exposed. But whose truth is the truth when everyone’s perspective is shaped by what is at stake?”

Here, Song and Morgan discuss An Echo in the City.

Zsamé Morgan: Thank you for bringing An Echo in the City to life and engaging readers around the globe. Why did this particular love story feel important for you to bring to life?

K. X. Song: Oftentimes, contemporary love stories you hear about can feel inevitable, like two halves coming together. To me, Phoenix and Kai’s love story feels like the very reverse of this, more along the lines of “in spite of everything else.” Through their story, I wanted to interrogate questions of empathy and understanding. I’ve always wondered: Can two people from entirely different worldviews and backgrounds ever fully know each other? And if they choose to try, how can they begin to understand one another?

ZM: With even very young readers having such access to media from all parts of the globe, why is it important that books reflect the diverse experience of characters in cultures that may be less represented or misrepresented in other forms of media?

KXS: I wholeheartedly love the form of the novel because of its ability to lend nuance and depth to its subject matter. Most people today find out about what’s happening around the world through print and TV news. And while these channels are important, they often fail to capture the essence of these real people behind the attention-grabbing headlines and pithy soundbites. Through the form of the novel, I wanted to try to capture the energy of the city, to allow readers to feel like they were there in Hong Kong in 2019. I wanted to show a few perspectives of the people on the ground — and show not just their actions but their thoughts, feelings, dreams.

My hope is that young readers who experience stories like these come away with a greater understanding of the world around them and learn to value perspectives outside of those they’re familiar with. In regard to representation, it’s inevitable that when you read a novel, you put yourself in the shoes of your narrator or protagonist. You start to relate to them, no matter how different they are from you. And in some way, this exercise changes you — even after you close the pages of the book. That’s why I believe diverse representation in stories is important, regardless of if you’re the one actually being “represented.”

ZM: Do you feel narratives like this can support readers in being able to examine and understand the big shifts that are leading to revolutions in so many places?

KXS: To be honest, I don’t know. I think better understanding the various elements that lead to successful or unsuccessful revolutions may require a more analytical and comprehensive study. It’s important to note that in reading An Echo in the City, readers are only reading a few perspectives, which are not indicative of the entire Hong Kong population. Instead, I believe in reading a narrative like this: readers can come away with greater empathy and/or personal interest in political action and reform, whether in supporting the place they read about, or in more closely examining the place they call home.

What’s fascinating about protests and revolutions is how inherently similar they are across the world, no matter the context of that time and place. In fact, many of the strategies used during the 2019 Hong Kong protests were shared with American protesters and adopted during the 2020 George Floyd protests. Because even though governments appear different on the outside, power structures congregate in similar patterns, until they begin to resemble each other at their core, despite an external façade of difference.

ZM: What would you say is the best writing structure for a new writer who wants to document their world as it exists and as it changes?

KXS: I always start with questions. Ask yourself why things are the way they are. Look at your city or hometown through the eyes of a tourist. What is novel, unusual, strange? Contrast your hometown to other places. How are the people here different? What sets them apart? How do you know when you’re home again? What does coming home feel like? These questions can help you start to see your hometown — which can often feel mundane or ordinary — in a new and engaging light. Follow those questions like a trail of breadcrumbs, leading you to a seed of a story.

That seed can come in the form of a character, for example, someone new to town. Or it can come in the form of an event, like the Hong Kong protests. What’s important to remember about documentation is that it’s impossible to be fully comprehensive. You can try, if that’s the aim of your novel, but don’t let the need for comprehensive documentation overwhelm the plot or heart of the story.

ZM: What did you find most challenging about sharing a story in which the conflict had such extreme consequences for those who were touched by it outside of the book?

KXS: By far the most challenging part was interviewing people still in Hong Kong, and knowing I was, in an indirect way, putting them at risk. Almost everyone I interviewed was left out of the acknowledgments, but the few people who did want to be acknowledged used pseudonyms. As a diaspora writer, I know I have extreme privilege in being able to even write a story like this. And being so close to people who did not have those same privileges made that juxtaposition especially jarring and sometimes upsetting.

The other aspect that was particularly challenging was figuring out a cohesive ending. As someone who lives in the present day, I know what’s happening in 2023. But for Phoenix and Kai, I had to time box their story. I needed them to believe what they would have believed in 2019. And that made the ending particularly challenging and bittersweet for me to write.

An Echo in the City by K. X. Song (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 9780316396820, Hardcover Young Adult, $18.99) On Sale: 6/20/2023

Find out more about the author on her website.

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