What sparked the inspiration behind your retelling of the Chinese tale, the Butterfly Lovers?
I thought it was really interesting how “The Butterfly Lovers” is largely perceived in the west as being the Chinese version of “Romeo and Juliet.” I used to think of it that way, too! But other than both tales being about star-crossed lovers, it turns out they’re actually very different, theme-wise. “Romeo and Juliet” is about rebelling against family in the name of love, while “The Butterfly Lovers” is about turning away love because of family. Which actually makes so much sense, given how familial duty is huge in Asian culture, particularly in comparison to that of the West. So I just wanted to play with that difference a bit.
How did the idea of the anthology begin to form? What has been the most rewarding part of co-editing this anthology so far?
The ideas behind the anthology—having just Asian authors, then doing ownvoices retellings of Asian myths—just came together as Ellen and I brainstormed. We knew we wanted to do an anthology together, but we also knew it had to be something extra special and meaningful. So one of the most rewarding aspects of working on this project is knowing how many Asian kid readers will now get to have myths of their own to read. Because as a kid, I absolutely loved Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, as well as all the traditional fairy tales, but I never once questioned why there weren’t books like that in the library with Asian characters. And there’s something really wrong about that, both the not questioning and the very real lack of available material.
Which folktale/fairytale character would you take with you to escape a labyrinth?
The Eight Immortals, because I’m going to cheat a bit and count them as a single entity! Which would mean eight times the power on my side, right?
What drew you to writing YA mystery and dystopian books?
More than anything else, it was probably just growing up reading mostly mysteries and books with darker themes. I read somewhere once that if you’re going to be a writer, the kind of writer you’ll be is pretty much formed by the time you’re fifteen, and you’re this unique mash-up of all the books and movies and other kinds of art you’ve absorbed up until that point. And I do think there’s a grain of truth in that. So as a kid I’d sign out Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike from the library, and from the store I’d buy V.C. Andrews, lol. And my dad would always have Stephen King and Peter Straub books lying around the house, and super old detective novels from the 70s by guys like Lawrence Sanders that I also ended up reading.
What are you working on now – or – what should readers look out for in the future?
I’m contributing a short story, “Imago,” to an anthology called Shades Within Us that releases September 2018. The theme is about borders and migration and identity, and it’s an indie- and Canadian-based project, with partial proceeds going toward the Mood Disorders Association and Alex Community Food Centre. As a Canadian, I couldn’t be happier to be involved.
My middle-grade debut, All the Ways Home, comes out Spring 2019 from Macmillan, and it’s something I am super looking forward to. It’s the book that’s most personal to me—I write about family, and Japan, and music—and I’m just so grateful that it’s really going to be on shelves one day in the near future!
Then Hungry Hearts comes out Summer 2019 from Simon & Schuster, an anthology I’m co-editing with fellow YA author Caroline Richmond. It features marginalized authors, and it’s about food, family, and culture, and the way those things can interconnect and become something really meaningful in someone’s life. We’re very excited about it and hope readers will be, as well.
There are also a couple of other projects that I can’t talk about quite yet, but hopefully soon. Thanks so much for having me and A Thousand Beginnings and Endings on Lit CelebrAsian!
In case you missed it, check out our previous 1KBE author interview with Shveta Thakrar!