It began with a letter sent to Jackie's Hong Kong office from a young fan in America:
Dear Mr. Chan,
Hi! I'm Nancy Yi Fan, a thirteen-year-old Chinese girl who is a martial arts (swordplay) enthusiast as well as a writer. I've created a fantasy novel called Swordbird. Deep within my story, the sword symbolizes justice and peace rather than fighting, which is also the soul of Chinese martial arts. If you could spare some time to read it, and write some comments, I'm sure it would amplify my voice in conveying the message of peace to the world. (I think you are the symbol of martial arts in the eyes of the world.) Please let me know and I will ask my publisher to send an advance copy to you. Thank you!
Nancy Yi Fan
Nancy's publisher did send a copy of Swordbird to our office, but because Jackie was in the USA filming Rush Hour 3, I took the book home to read it for him. I couldn't put it down. As I turned each page, I kept having to remind myself that this had been penned by a youngster. It was skillfully written; an amazing story full of imagery and spirit.
The next day, I did some research on Nancy Yi Fan. I read a bit of biographical information on several websites, watched clips of her interviews on American television, and read some of the reviews of her book. Hers is a fascinating story and one that I knew Jackie would love.
Nancy was born in Mainland China in 1993 and moved to America with her parents when she was seven years old, arriving in the States speaking no English. Who could imagine that only six years later she would become a published author - in her second language!
Nancy began writing Swordbird when she was only 10 years old. Haunted by the terrorist acts of September 11, she struggled to make sense of a frightening world. One night she dreamed about a giant white bird trying to make peace among warring flocks of birds in the forest. When she woke up, she began to write. Over the next two years, with the support of her parents, friends, and teachers, Nancy's story of peace and conflict grew into a novel. In 2005, she emailed her manuscript to as many publishers as she could find addresses for and luckily, it caught the eye of Jane Friedman, President and CEO of Harper Collins Publishers Worldwide. Phoebe Yeh, Editorial Director of Harper Collins Children's Books, read the manuscript and knew that they had to give Nancy's story a chance. She worked on revisions with Nancy via email and telephone, and the book was published in early 2007. Within weeks it made it to the top 10 of the New York Times Bestseller List for children's chapter books. Nancy then translated the book into Simplified Chinese for publication in Mainland China (yes, Nancy speaks, reads, and writes Chinese as well as English).
After reading the book and finding out as much as I could about Nancy, I told the entire plot and story of Swordbird to Jackie. He loved it, and was completely entranced by what he learned about its author. Harper Collins asked Jackie to provide a quote and here is what he had to say:
I am honored to make a statement about Swordbird and its remarkable 13 year-old author, Nancy Yi Fan. The more I learn about Nancy, the more I admire her. I was so impressed to find out that even though Nancy had to learn English when she moved to the US from China [at age 7], she studied so hard that she was able write an entire book in English just a few years after learning it! I am very happy that she has continued to study Chinese and was even able to translate Swordbird from English to Chinese. It always makes me sad to hear about Chinese who move overseas and leave behind their language and customs. I am so proud of Nancy for continuing to treasure our culture.
Swordbird is a story about peace, freedom, and tolerance. These are all things that are very close to my heart. When I travel throughout the world and see what happens to people because of war and violence – for example, the landmine victims in Cambodia – it breaks my heart. I know that Nancy wrote her story partly as a reaction to the events of 9/11. I’m happy that she found a way to express her desire for peace and freedom. I think that Nancy is an inspiration to a lot of people and she is proof that if you work hard and dream big, anything can happen!
from Los Angeles, CA
March 22, 2007
When Nancy read Jackie's statement, she was so touched that she wrote to tell us why Jackie is such an inspiration to her:
Children all over the world brighten up at the name Jackie Chan. I remember when I was in the US in third grade, some of my classmates asked me, “Can you do Kungfu like Jackie Chan?” Being linked to such a hero, I felt very glad and proud. Even though I did not know how to perform martial arts at the time, I was determined right away to learn it. Now I’ve been practicing martial arts with a sword, which helped me in describing the fighting scenes in my book, Swordbird, whose themes are peace, freedom, and justice. Mr. Chan as a worldwide symbol of martial arts spreads the key spirit of Kungfu--the love of peace, in his movies. His deeds such as raising money to build schools and participating in charity performances to help others also reflect the virtue of benevolence. His heartwarming, gregarious, happy-go-lucky character has inspired many kids, including me, to aim high.
Jackie always says that if you work hard enough, you can make your dreams come true. Nancy worked hard for a very long time and her dream of sharing her story of Swordbird is now a reality. She is even writing a prequel to Swordbird, which should be ready for publication in 2008. You can learn more about Nancy on her personal website or on her Harper Collins page. And if you're interested in making your dream of writing a novel come true, start by following Nancy's tips:
TOP TEN TIPS FOR WRITING
1. Find a quiet place to work.
2. Stay focused. It helps if you have a peaceful mind.
3. Come up with a solid idea to get your story started. Write on a topic that you're really wild about.
4. Write an outline so you have a general idea about how your story will evolve. Remember that it is okay to deviate from your outline.
5. Set goals for your writing. Be disciplined about achieving your goals.
6. Do research. The information in your story should be accurate.
7. Be patient! Your first draft isn't going to be perfect and that's all right.
8. Take breaks. While I was writing Swordbird, I watched birds that had nested outside of my window. I also went on long walks.
9. Keep an open mind about making changes to your story. Revising is an excellent way to improve your book.
10. Be passionate about your writing. This is most important. You have to love to write and feel completely dedicated to your story for it to feel real.
Update (June, 2007)
Nancy sent us this fabulous photo from her appearance on the Martha Stewart Show:
Photo: Anders Krusberg/The Martha Stewart Show
Swordbird appeared in the June 11 issue of People magazine in the kids’ “What to Read this Summer” section. People says, “This bestseller about birds trying to end a forest war would be a standout even if it wasn’t written by a 12-year-old.”
A Few Photos:
Nancy in China, 1997
Nancy practices her swordplay. She learned this to help her write her fight scenes more realistically.
Nancy with her three birds.
In China with Harper Collins President/CEO Jane Friedman.
Talking to students in Beijing, China.
Swordbird awaits a photo with Jackie on the set of a commercial shoot in Hong Kong.
Thank you to Phoebe Yeh, Amanda Lipnick, and Greg Ferguson for providing
photos and information for this article.
Thanks also to Stella Chou, STAR China.