Interview With Author Mary Soon Lee

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

I’m Mary Soon Lee. I grew up in London, but have spent over twenty years living in Pittsburgh. My two latest books are from opposite ends of the poetry spectrum: “Elemental Haiku“, containing haiku for the periodic table (Ten Speed Press, 2019) and “The Sign of the Dragon“, an epic fantasy with Chinese elements (JABberwocky Literary Agency, 2020).

# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

After the birth of my second child, for reasons unclear to me, I stopped writing science fiction and fantasy. For almost a decade, I wrote mainstream poetry. Then one summer I wrote several fantasy poems — and loved doing so. The sixth of these poems was about a boy chosen by a dragon to be king. I’d meant it to be a standalone poem, but the boy stayed with me. Bit by bit, I ended up writing over three hundred poems about him. Together they form an epic fantasy with Chinese, Mongolian, and Celtic elements: “The Sign of the Dragon.” The Chinese and Celtic elements surfaced without planning, drawing on my background. My father was ethnically Chinese, my mother Irish. Of all the things I’ve written, “The Sign of the Dragon” is the one that matters most to me.

As for the story behind “Elemental Haiku,” one day, on a whim, I wrote haiku for the first two elements of the periodic table, hydrogen and helium. Once I’d written those, I wondered to myself whether I could write haiku for all 118 elements, and decided to try. Aided by memories of high school chemistry and a lot of research, I worked my way, element by element, all the way to the end of the periodic table. (Or at least its current end: I look forward to new elements being synthesized.)

# What are your plans for future books?

I’ve recently completed a collection of astronomy poems, “How to Navigate Our Universe.” Beyond that, I’m writing poetry and short stories.

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

A few weeks ago, I completed Duolingo’s Italian course. I’ve loved traveling to Italy and hope to return every year or two.

I have a little antenna creature that I used to doodle in my lecture notes when I was a math student. Nowadays, I often add it to my signature if someone asks for an autograph.