Interview with R. F. Kuang on The Poppy War

The Poppy War Interview

Hi all! Another day, another post to slowly transform Read at Midnight to a fanblog for The Poppy War. I have a very exciting interview with R. F. Kuang to share with you all today. Minor spoilers for the book in the last question (I’ll mark it, don’t worry). I also have links to R. F. Kuang’s other interviews at the end of the post, if you need to dive deeper into her brilliant mind.


Hi Rebecca,

Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview! The questions are below, feel free to skip some of them.

1. On your blog, you mentioned that this book was originally called Speerโ€™s Revenge. How did you come up with the final title, The Poppy War, in the end?

That was 100% my lovely agent, Hannah Bowman’s, idea. All of my title suggestions had words like “celestial” and “divine” in them and they were clunky as fork. Finally I suggested “The Third Poppy War,” which is terrible, and Hannah simplified it to “The Poppy War,” which is awesome.


2. The Poppy War was published while you were writing a thesis for University, how did you prioritise and managed all these different commitments?

I still haven’t really figured that out. I didn’t sleep or relax very much. There were times when I wouldn’t write for weeks because of midterms and exams, and also days when I’d procrastinate on papers because I was really into the scene I was working on. I try my best to stay organized with task management apps and procrastination apps like Habitica and Forest (which I swear by!!) but if anyone really has an answer for how to do school and writing at the same time, I’d murder them for it.

3. Some of the events in The Poppy War were inspired by significant and traumatic historical events such as The Nanjing Massacre, did you have difficulties balancing the line between historical accuracy and staying true to your own story? How did you overcome this?

I actually wrote a whole essay about this for Uncanny Magazine. Here’s a link.

4. Thereโ€™s a lot of darkness in your novel, and I know chapter 21 was especially difficult for you to write. How did you deal with writing and revising these emotionally intense scenes?

I let myself take breaks. I took long walks around Beijing and listened to the cheesiest pop music and tried to think about anything except the novel.

5. I loved seeing nods to Chinese folklore and literature in The Poppy War, such as allusions to characters from The Investure of the Gods and Journey to the West. How did you go about incorporating these elements while putting on own spin on them?

A lot of the Chinese influences are inside jokes and easter eggs for my Chinese fam! Anyone who has been to Beijing should have a good laugh at the Sinegard chapters, and I love it when readers pick up on historical parallels. Can you spot Mao Zedong? Chiang Kai-shek? Zhou Enlai? ๐Ÿ˜‰ย  (Aentee’s Notes: *gasp* plot theories thicken, Kitay is totally Zhou Enlai isn’t he?)

Most of the mythology in TPW comes from the Fengshen Yanyi. I think it’s the only classic mythological tale that hasn’t gotten a widely-known western remix, which is shocking because I think it’s by far the weirdest and the coolest. The FSYY already reads like an acid trip, so it’s not hard to incorporate its wacky brutality into a novel structure. (My version of Jiang Ziya is hot, though.)

6. For readers who loved The Poppy War and are eagerly awaiting the sequel, which books/movie/tv shows do you recommend they read/watch in the meantime?

If you somehow haven’t read Fonda Lee’s JADE CITY yet, do it. If you like ruthless and calculating heroines who make terrible choices, you’ll like Seth Dickinson’s THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT (the sequel is out in a few short months!!!) I also have a blog post up on Tor from a few weeks ago about five East Asian SFF books by East Asian authors, and every book on that list is pure gold.ย ย (Aentee’s Note: I have read all of these books, it’s true, they’re amazing, especially Jade City, Genie Lo, and Want, go add them to your TBR!)

7. In a battle between Azula and Rin, who would come out on top?

Rin, no question, but Azula would put up a good fight.

8. If The Poppy War was adapted to film/tv, what would be your dream cast for the main characters?

I actually didn’t have many actors in mind when I was writing TPW, in part because the Chinese film industry itself is already super biased against actors who aren’t conventionally attractive, and who aren’t paler than their corpses will be. (This is why I’m rather pessimistic that TPW will ever get a movie, but a girl can hope.) Rin, Altan, and Kitay would all likely have to be played by unknowns. Nezha could be any pretty-boy Chinese pop star. Tang Wei is probably too old for the role now, but she would have been a great Venka. My Su Daji (the Empress) has always been Zhang Ziyi. If anyone can come up with a good casting for Jiang, please let me know ASAP.

9. Minor Spoilers: I wanted to end with a quick-fire round of Rip it or Ship it, featuring characters from The Poppy War mashed up by a trusty!

  • Altan/Kitay: OUCH, NO, #PROTECTKITAY2018
  • Rin/Chaghan: Unless it’s a threesome with Altan, not happening.ย (Aentee’s Note: gay ship confirmed, I’m sobbing)
  • Auntie Fang/Jun: Why is that weirdly hot?
  • Niang/Qara: Eh, why not.

Thank you once more, both for the interview and your amazing novel.
Thank you!

Other Interviews with R. F. Kuang:

If you’ve done an interview with Rebecca that I’ve missed, link me below and I’ll add it to the list.

My full book review of The Poppy War here. My shareable wallpapers for the book here. I’ve already began writing my reread of the book, and will share my thoughts as scheduled below, please join me!

TPW Reread Schedule

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