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Author C.S. Pacat talks living in Japan, reverse culture shock, fan fiction and more

Natalie Ng

Wed Sep 16 2015


WE had barely scratched the surface after talking to author C.S. Pacat for SEXtember. Natalie Ng has the the second part of her interview with the Captive Prince author who talks about her five years living in Japan, fan fiction and her upcoming projects.

In the first part of our interview with Captive Prince author C.S. Pacat, we discussed LGBTQ fiction and its representation in the media as part of our month-long SEXtember campaign!

In the second part of our interview, we discuss her five years of living in Japan, how the country influenced her writing, Pacat’s upcoming projects, her experience at the recent Melbourne Writers’ Festival and much more!

You were just at the Melbourne Writers Festival. How was that for you?

It was absolutely amazing. I took part in two parts of the same festival.

I spent a weekend at the Romance Writers of Australia’s conference and that was completely incredible. First of all, [it’s] such a warm, generous, largely female community. So welcoming to newcomers [and] so mutually supportive of each other – it was nothing like I had ever experienced! It was really emotional for me at times to see everyone so supportive.

[There’s] so much support for all the aspiring writers [too]. Lots of great workshops on technique and structure and I really recommend that conference for any aspiring writer that is hoping to hone their craft, even if their genre is not necessarily romance.

I also had an opportunity to speak at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, and that was really a wonderful experience. I also got to meet a lot of new readers, so that was really great as well.

You spent some time living and working in Japan, and for Meld’s audience, that’s very interesting. Could you tell us more about your time there? Did your experiences with going into a new culture and a new language influence you and the Captive Prince world?

I lived there for about five years. My time in Japan definitely influenced me [in two ways].

The first [came from] being an expatriate in a different country for years. When you go into a different culture, a different language – even when you’re learning a different language –  you gain another self. You have to take on a different self and a whole new way of behaving where you’re using different words, different forms of expression and what is culturally acceptable for you to do might be completely different in another country. It certainly was in Japan.

And once you take on the other self, what I found out was that when you return home, you can’t really take that self home. You can never fully become part of that other culture yet it will change you, but when you go home you are never who you were to begin with either. And that self that you learnt and grew overseas then becomes quite a lonely part of yourself, because you can’t really share that with other people in your own country. They just don’t have any means to link to it.

So there is a paradigm shift in thinking where you learn how to see your own culture from an outside point of view in a way a lot of people in your own culture are unable to. And you also learn how so many forms of behaviour that you thought were normal were actually socially constructed and you come to appreciate cultural difference in that way. So I’m always fascinated when I meet anyone [who] has lived in a different culture for a long period of time and I feel like that is something I have in common with them that they will understand. It is such a unique experience that we share and there are so few people you can actually share that with, especially once you’ve returned to your own country.

The other way that Japan influenced me was their own incredible culture of storytelling they have. I think there is something in Japanese storytelling that is a lot more evolved to a much more sophisticated level than western storytelling. Japanese storytelling is one of the bests in the world in terms of creating and utilising the power of character archetypes. They are so in control of the power of archetypes and what they mean and what they can do in a story.

I think that a lot of times, Japanese storytelling has a kind of unfettered feel to it. I feel like a completely free sort of imagination and expression exists in that storytelling, particularly in the fantasy genres, in a way that we are not so much here. So much of fantasy is still beholden to a few writers, like Tolkien, where people are still so engaged with him in the same trope set. Whereas in Japan, I think there are a lot of early reference points, and the storytelling feels much freer, more broad, and wild imagination is really encouraged over there.

And then, because so much of the storytelling happens in manga, which is in serial format, the writers are really good at narrative traction – that page turning point – to keep a reader coming back which you don’t necessarily have to do when you’re writing a novel. So you have to be really skilled in keeping people [addicted and] interested in your content. Captive Prince started as an online serial and it was really influenced by the manga format.

Did yaoi have any impact in your writing of Captive Prince?

I think it helped in that it existed. So it made me think, “Well this exists somewhere!”, [which] gave me the permission to write it in a way. I don’t think I was necessarily influenced by yaoi, though yaoi did teach me the power of opposites when it came to character construction. A lot of the famous yaoi stories have a lot of very opposite characters as two halves of a pairing, and I learnt that that has its own inherent power. When I constructed my characters, Damen and Laurent, I made sure they were opposite of one another in the most interesting ways.

But probably a lot of my influences when it came to Japanese media came from shoujo or shonen manga. I found Berserk [to be] a really influential manga. The archetypes of the very instinctive warrior and the much more slender, prince-like character. Even in 90s anime like The Heroic Legend of Arslan, [they] also had the same duality about it.

As an international student who’s lived in Australia for two and a half years now, it is always a really strange experience when you return to your home country. Not that it doesn’t welcome you, but you feel like a stranger in what was supposed to be your home now.

I had a lot of reverse culture shock when I came back from Japan. I found it really hard to reintegrate into Australian society and it probably took me about two years before I felt comfortable here again. I think that was actually a huge influence on Captive Prince actually – the idea of going somewhere and not being able to return as easily as you thought you would be. I think when you go there and live, you can’t help but take on a lot of that culture’s quirks. For example, there’s a lot of importance placed on things like status and relationships, and a lot of that subtly filtered down into Captive Prince as well.

I think that when you live overseas as an international student or expat, the culture around you is so different that you yearn to go home; you yearn for the familiar. You think that once you go home you can be yourself again. But then when you go home you realise that no, this feels different to me now. I no longer feel like I have that place anymore where I fully fit in. I’m between worlds. It’s a very unusual feeling that not a lot of people get.

What’s up next for you after the third Captive Prince book, Kings Rising, drops next February? 

I’ve got two projects coming up. One is a Captive Prince adjacent project. I’m not allowed to reveal much about it, but what I can say is that I’m so excited about it and I will be doing that in collaboration with Penguin Australia. It’s not a book series, but I can say nothing more about it.

And then I’m going to be writing a completely new series, which is going to be Young Adult in focus. It will also be fantasy but I’m also really invested in it having really diverse characters and really intense character-relationships. It will have its own magic system as well, so I’m really excited to be able to write magic this time round!

Will it have female characters? Because in the Captive Prince series there aren’t many.

It will have female characters. I think for Captive Prince it was a conscious choice I made at the beginning but I don’t know if I would make the same choices again. I had a whole set of reasons choosing to do that when I started the book but those reasons don’t apply in my new series. And even now, looking back, I wonder how important my reasons were compared to the necessity that exists to write female characters, because there aren’t that many out there.

I should say, I’m really happy that there is critique around Captive Prince for its lack of female characters. Those kinds of critiques are really useful in the world. I feel like all books should be critiqued rigorously, in terms of what kind of representation they have, whether or not the author made the right choices and so on – I think that’s really useful. And I suspect we’ve gotten a lot better at that as well because of the internet as well.

That’s really refreshing, because I’ve seen a lot of popular fantasy authors who are not very receptive to critics. They try to instruct or enforce the way their readers should read the characters or the story, or completely put down fanfiction, because they feel like these are their characters and they have the authority on how readers should think about them. 

No, I don’t feel that way at all! I feel like the characters belong to the readers. I mean obviously, in my head they belong to me, but once they are on the page, they belong to the reader. The reader will learn things about the text that I never even knew about the text. The reader will see problems with the text that I might not recognise, and I think that’s great! It encourages a dialogue.

And I really hope, in 50 years time, anything that is progressive about my books just seems normal and that anything that is limited or wrong-headed on my part is just laughed at. That’s my hope. That we progress to that point.

Thank you so much for taking the time out to chat and  I wish all the best for Kings Rising because it deserves it!

Thank you so much! This was really interesting for me as well.

The first two installments of the Captive Prince trilogy Captive Prince and Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat can be found in any good bookstore anywhere. The final installment of her trilogy, Kings Rising, will be out on February 2, 2016.