Interview with Malinda Lo
Malinda Lo’s first novel, ASH, a retelling of Cinderella with a lesbian twist, was a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, the Andre Norton Award for YA Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the Lambda Literary Award. Her second novel, HUNTRESS, a companion novel to ASH, is an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. Her young adult science fiction duology, beginning with ADAPTATION, will be published in fall 2012. She lives in Northern California with her partner and their dog.
Currently I'm listening to the audiobook of THE PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD by Ellen Kushner. It's set in a European-based fantasy world and is about a 15-year-old country girl who is invited by her uncle, a wealthy and notorious duke, to come live with him in the city. The condition is that she train in how to be a swordsman. The girl doesn't really have much choice in the matter, and the way she deals with her lot — as well as her swordsmanship lessons — are fascinating, and I'm completely addicted to listening to it. (I should note that this is not a YA novel.)
What first sparked your interest in writing?
I was born being interested in writing. So: genetics?
What do you love the most about writing? The least?
This has changed or evolved over the years, but right now, after having written two novels about the same cast of characters (ADAPTATION is the first of two books, and I just completed the second draft of the sequel), I think my favorite part of writing is spending time with my characters. I've thought about them so much that they feel totally real to me. I know that I'm going to miss them a lot when I'm finished writing these books.
My least favorite part of writing is transition scenes. I hate these, I really do! I wish people would just get from point A to point B without me having to deal with it, but unfortunately, in fiction as in life, you have to suffer through the commute.
What inspires you?
Almost anything can inspire me. Food, nature, music, fashion, history, art, love, fear, mortality. I think that writers must be able to find inspiration in as much as possible. What's the opposite of inspired? Jaded? Those who are jaded or cynical cannot truly be creative, because they deny possibility.
That said, any creative project — novel or other art form — does not come solely from inspiration. It comes from putting in the time and going to work, even when inspiration does not seem remotely likely to strike.
Why young adult?
I did not set out to write young adult fiction. ASH was written for adults, or so I thought, but when it came time to send it out to agents, I realized it fit better in the YA market. Since then I've been writing YA because that's where I was launched, and I really enjoy plenty of YA fiction. I like its immediacy and its focus on story. That doesn't mean I'll only ever write YA, but I do think it's a wonderful category right now.
How was ASH born?
ASH resulted from my desire to write the book I'd always wanted to read. My favorite novels growing up were written by Robin McKinley, who has retold many fairy tales. My favorite fairy tale was "Cinderella." Robin McKinley didn't retell that story, so I decided to do it myself.
How was ADAPTATION born?
ADAPTATION came from a dream I had. In the dream, two teens were trapped in an airport while planes began crashing. It was incredibly vivid, and when I woke up I ran to my office and wrote it down in my writing journal. I thought immediately that it would make a great story, and I kept thinking about it long after I'd had the dream. That's how I knew I wanted to write a book that started with what I saw in that dream.
Your two worlds are very different. Was one harder to write than the other? One more fun?
It was a little difficult for me to get the hang of the style of ADAPTATION at first because I was so used to writing in that old-tymey fairy tale voice. However, I think at the beginning of every novel I grapple with how the book should feel, so this wasn't really that different. Once I figured out the book's voice, I found it wonderfully fun and liberating. I got to use all sorts of words that I couldn't in ASH or HUNTRESS — scientific jargon and contemporary curse words and slang. I really enjoyed it.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Read a lot. Read what you love. If you don't love something, give it another couple of chapters before you give up on it. Sometimes books take a little bit of time to ease into. And try to read with an open mind; try not to judge it before you've digested it.
Similarly, write a lot. You will need to write a lot of crap before you write anything good. Keep writing, even if you think it's bad — and especially if you think it's good, because it probably isn't. Not at first. I've never written a first draft that rocked on all levels. You always need to step back, give yourself time to digest it (just like with reading) and come back to look at it as dispassionately as possible.
And don't rush. Everything now is go-go-go, but I think speed can be the worst thing to happen to writing. Slow down so you can see the words better.