Picture drawn by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009. Header made by S.F. Robertson, 2010.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fresh New Voice of YA- Interview with Malinda Lo

1) How did you get the idea for Ash?

Well, this is kind of a convoluted story. I'll start out by saying that one of my favorite books when I was a teen was Robin McKinley's Beauty, a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast." She's gone on to retell other fairy tales, but never "Cinderella," which I must admit was my all-time favorite fairy tale. I even loved the Disney version, cheesy though it was (hey, I was only 6 years old!). I guess I've always been a romantic!

I wrote three fantasy novels when I was a teen, but after college I went through a long dry spell in terms of writing. I did write a couple of short stories and essays, but no novels. I worked in publishing for a couple of years, went to graduate school, and puttered around trying to convince myself that I could be happy without being a writer. Eventually I realized this was never going to work, so I left graduate school and decided to be a freelance writer. I had no idea what I was getting into!

At the same time, I wanted to write another novel. It was a daunting idea because I hadn't written fiction in years. I decided to write a retelling of "Cinderella" because it was the novel I'd always wanted to read, and also it had the added benefit of being a fairy tale -- I already knew what was supposed to happen! So I thought, at the time, that I wouldn't have to worry too much about the plot. Ha!

I wrote an entire first draft of Ash in which the main character, Ash, falls in love with Prince Charming -- yes, an actual (male) prince. I sent this version off to a good friend to read, and when she had finished reading it, she told me that the Prince Charming character was kind of boring. I realized, then, that Ash was actually gay. Looking through that first draft, even, I could tell that she was trying to come out, and the woman she winds up falling in love with was already in the book. When I figured this out, I was a little shocked: I wondered if I really dared to write a lesbian Cinderella? I knew that the idea of a "lesbian Cinderella" was either going to be a fantastic hook or it would totally fail. I had to think about it for awhile, but ultimately I decided to go for it.

And that is the origin of Ash.

2) What brought you to the YA genre? Have you always been a fan or are you still pretty new to it all?

I didn't write ASH specifically for YA, actually. It wasn't until I'd finished writing it and was considering which agents to submit to that I realized that's the genre it fit best in. I have to say that my favorite books have always been YA novels, though. But I didn't read much of it (except when I *was* a teen) until I'd sold ASH. Then I started catching up and getting reacquainted with YA.

3) What is your favorite Jelly Belly jelly bean flavor?

Honestly? I'm not a fan of jelly beans. They're, you know, JELLY. In BEAN form. But if they had one flavored as a watermelon Jolly Rancher, I'd go for that!

4) What book(s) are you reading now, or about to start?

I am currently reading THE DEAD AND THE GONE by Susan Beth Pfeffer, about what happens after the moon is hit by an asteroid and falls closer to the earth. Short version: Disaster! I love disaster scenarios. After that, the next book on my list is Sarah Rees Brennan's THE DEMON'S LEXICON.

5) You write for AfterEllen.com. How did you get involved with that, and what sort of things have you written about while working there?

I went to college with Sarah Warn, the founder of AfterEllen.com, so we're friends. When I was making the decision to leave grad school and be a freelance writer, she asked me to write for AfterEllen.com, this brand new, tiny website that she had just started. This was back in 2003, I think. At the time she basically told me, "You have nothing better to do, so why don't you write an article for my site?" I agreed, and I wrote the site's first article on Ellen! (It's here: http://www.afterellen.com/TV/ellen-talkshow2.html)

After that, I went on a crash course in entertainment reporting. I've done everything from book and movie reviews to interviews with celebrities such as Melissa Etheridge and Laura Innes (I've also interviewed "celebrities" such as the lesbian/bisexual contestants on America's Next Top Model). I've written a lot of analytical articles, using my grad school experience, on representations of lesbians and bisexual women in television and film. Most importantly —— and the high point of my career at AfterEllen —— I got to go on the set of Dollhouse last summer and meet both Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku. I am a huge Whedon fan, so I loved that.

6) What are you working on now, bookwise? Can you tell us anything about it?

I am working on a companion novel, of sorts, to Ash. It is set several hundreds of years before Ash, and there are no crossover characters, but it is set in the same world (although parts of it look very different). In Ash, you'll find out that hunting is the favorite sport of the King, and every hunt is led by a woman, a huntress. The book I'm working on now is the story of the first huntress in that kingdom.

7) What's your writing process like? Tell us about a typical day in your life.

There really is no typical day in terms of writing, because I'm always working toward different types of deadlines. If it's a nonfiction article or column, it requires a different kind of thought process than a novel.

Over the past year, while I've been working on fiction, I like to start the day with meditation. Then I try to stay offline all morning until noon. During that time I write. This involves staring into space a lot, and then frantically writing 1000 words between 11:30 and 12:00.

In the early stages of a novel, I usually don't write in the afternoon, and instead do other book-related things (email, business). As the deadline approaches, I will write in the afternoon too, and then toward the end I'll write morning, noon and night and largely abandon all other things in life. Except food. I have to make sure I eat three meals a day, and they have to be good ones. :)

8) Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Don't give up! You have to believe in yourself, because nobody else is going to sit down and write for you.


  1. I think that strange how some things end up turning out - start with one idea and end up with something totally different. This was a great interview. I have Ash and can't wait to start reading it.

  2. This is a great interview. I'm really intrigued that you didn't start out thinking of Ash as YA, and how you came to pitch it that way.

    Has the decision to place it as YA meant that your career has gone in a diffeernt direction from how you imagined, and do you feel pigeonholed by that, or does the sheer variety of what you do stop you ever getting that fenced-in feeling?