Debut author Judy Lin has harbored a love of mythological worlds and magic since she was a child, browsing the aisles in Taiwan bookstores, always gravitating toward Japanese and Celtic folklore. When her family immigrated to Canada, fantasy books provided her a different kind of comfort through stories about “somebody finding themselves in a new place and having to become accustomed to the people and the culture there in this strange new world,” Lin explains. “And that was what I was experiencing at the time. Just being able to relate those stories to the experience of being an immigrant cemented my love for fantasy, and it never left.”

Her debut fantasy novel, A Magic Steeped in Poison (Feiwel and Friends), follows 17-year-old apprentice tea-maker Ning as she participates in a competition to find a worthy successor to the shennong-shi, masters of the ancient art of magical tea-making. But Ning’s progression in the competition, which she needs to win to save the life of her younger sister, is thwarted by the underhanded political happenings in the palace. Soon, Ning becomes embroiled in the fight for the throne, not knowing who to trust.

Lin’s writing career began with another fantasy universe, playing open world video games such as Dragon Age: Origins and the Mass Effect series, where players are invited to traverse the world with less structured goals and objectives. Eventually she began writing to explore and expand the relationships in the role-playing games she played. Those stories were her introduction to storytelling, critiques, and working with writing groups. She says the fan fiction community helped her “build my confidence into moving into my own writing.”

In 2016, while working full-time as an occupational therapist, Lin wrote her first manuscript, a YA horror novel. For Lin, the two genres are not so different as one might think. “Fantasy and horror kind of exist in the same space. I always liked the darker, scarier, spooky stories,” she explains. It was this manuscript that gained her acceptance into the Pitch Wars mentorship program, where she was mentored by authors Janella Angeles and Axie Oh. The program’s annual agent showcase is where Lin found her first agent, Rachel Brooks.

Though Lin’s first manuscript didn’t sell, she continued writing other stories. She says she always wanted to write a Chinese-inspired fantasy, but didn’t have the confidence to do it. A conversation with friends encouraged Lin to begin the first draft of A Magic Steeped in Poison, which allowed her to share her love of fantasy and Chinese and Taiwanese cultures through the ceremony of tea-making, which is meaningful in her own life. “Tea-drinking was just a culture that I had growing up.” she shares. “My parents would ask me what type of tea I wanted every morning, and still do when I go visit them today. And my daughter really likes tea, so she usually drinks with me. It’s nice to be able to carry that forward.”

After rounds of revisions, her agent began pitching the new project, and in 2019, Emily Settle at Feiwel and Friends acquired it. A Magic Steeped in Poison was published in March to much praise, and it debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Due to Covid restrictions, Lin wasn’t able to experience her first in-person event with readers until June, at the Toronto Book Festival.

Venom Dark and Sweet, the second volume of her duology, is due out in August. “I’m hoping that in the second book readers will be interested in seeing different types of magic and gods,” she says, “ and that they feel like the world Ning is in is even grander and more immersive than just the bit of hints I gave in the first book.”