Annette LeBox is the author of Circle of Cranes, a coming of age story about an impoverished Chinese orphan who is sent to New York City by her village that blends fantasy and realism. Annette dropped by the virtual offices to introduce herself and to discuss her book with us.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
[Annette LeBox] That’s a hard question. The way people view themselves is often radically different from the way others view them, so I confess I cheated. I asked my husband. He said ‘determined, hard-working, creative and adventurous’ so I’ll go with that.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Circle of Cranes?
[Annette LeBox] Circle of Cranes is a story of Suyin, an impoverished young Chinese orphan who is sent by her village to work in a New York City sweatshop. After a horrific two-month journey in the hold of a smuggler’s ship, Suyin forms strong bonds with Jade, Wing and Pickpocket Pang, a charming but incorrigible thief. Pang’s attention to Suyin unleashes the fury of Kwan-Sook, his possessive adopted sister, who sees Suyin as a rival for Pang’s affections.
When Suyin’s future seems hopeless, her crane sisters reveal that there is a mystery in her past, one that involves her mother and the extraordinary magic of the Crane Sisterhood. She discovers that she is no ordinary girl — in fact, she is the key to the entire future of the clan. To prove herself worthy, she must risk her life and the lives of her loved ones and find the mother she thought was lost to her forever.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?
[Annette LeBox] From the outset, I knew I wanted to write magic realism based on the transformation myth of woman and cranes. Then in 1999 and 2000, a series of migrant ships were intercepted along the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. The migrants were headed for New York City’s Chinatown where the girls would work in garment factories and the boys in Chinese restaurants.
Through a friend, I interviewed one of the immigration officers who had boarded the ships. The officer described the inhumane conditions in the hold and told me that many of the migrants were children. I also interviewed a Canadian foster parent who told me a gut-wrenching story about an orphan girl and a boy (unrelated) that she had cared for almost a year before the two were deported. The girl became Suyin, my main character and the boy (and Suyin’s love interest) became Pickpocket Pang.
Since Suyin was from China, I googled ‘cranes’ and ‘China’ and Cao Hai Lake popped up. Cao Hai is home to a flock of 800 black-necked cranes as well as hundreds of other species of birds. At that point, Suyin’s journey became my own. With a backpack and a few phrase cards in English and Chinese, (I could speak no Chinese) I set out alone to visit this remote village in the mountainous region of Guizhou, China’s least visited and poorest province. When I arrived, a crowd gathered around me. Many people in the area had never seen a foreigner before.
Later, I traveled to New York City’s Chinatown where an expert on sweatshops and illegal labor showed me the various locations. I talked my way into a sweatshop where the seamstresses allowed me to take photographs. I think I managed this because as a woman of only five feet tall, I look unthreatening. But in another sweatshop, after a couple of photographs, the factory boss chased me down the stairs and into the street. That incident became a badge of honor for me because by that time the character of Sister Fang-Chou, the brutal human smuggler and factory boss, was fully formed in my mind, I hated her as much as Suyin and her friends.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the story?
[Annette LeBox] The most challenging aspect was stitching the various threads of a complex story together: the culture of the Crane Women Clan, human smugglers, Miao beliefs and practices (Suyin is a Miao minority girl), embroidery techniques, the women’s secret script called Nu Shu, sweatshop conditions in the garment industry and the world family of cranes.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Suyin?
[Annette LeBox] Impetuous, stubborn and brave.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?
[Annette LeBox] The natural world and all of its inhabitants. Except for my first book, Miss Rafferty’s Rainbow Socks, a story about friendship, all of my books have been inspired by threats to wildlife, particularly cranes and salmon. I spent more than a decade fighting to preserve special places near my home. Two of those places are regional parks now, Blaney Bog, and Codd Wetlands. In Circle of Cranes, the birds symbolize the beauty of the wild and the bonds of sisterhood.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?
[Annette LeBox] A quiet place, time, and a deadline, either self-imposed (not so good due to author excuses, distractions and procrastination) or imposed by an editor. Better.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?
[Annette LeBox] I read Wuthering Heights in my late teens. I stayed up all night to read it and with that one book I was hooked.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
[Annette LeBox] I love to read or paint in my home studio. Because I love to eat, I start every day with a workout –– either cross-country running, lifting weights or a spin class at my local gym. Most of all, I enjoy hanging out at our cabin in the BC Cariboo. It’s rough and wild up there. Think outhouse, building fires in the wood stove, hauling water, and wolves, cougar, moose and bears. When I go running in the backcountry, I carry bear spray, a bear stick, bear bells and a hunting knife. I look ridiculous!
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!
Circle of Cranes will be in stores April 14th. You can order a copy from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below.