Chatting With YA Author Malinda Lo About Her Latest, "Inheritance," PLUS, Book Giveaway!

"We have to move beyond the idea that queer characters and people of color can only exist in issue books; they can exist in all sorts of books, and they do."

Sep 24, 2013 at 5:00pm | Leave a comment

Malinda Lo is one of my all-time favorite people and authors, so I was tickled pink when she agreed to talk to me about her latest book, "Inheritance," the sequel to her fantastic conspiracy theory-laced, adventure-time, alien-discovering, sweet gay lovin'-filled "Adaptation." It comes out this week, and you'd better be racing to the bookstore to get your own copy. Trust me. You won't regret it. 

Short on funds? Longing for a signed copy? At the bottom of this post, I have information about a two-book giveaway kindly hosted by the lovely Ms. Lo! FREE BOOKS, people. It's like catnip.

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Courtesy of the author. 

xoJane: "Inheritance" picks up where "Adaptation" left off, plunging our characters into a world post-discovery of aliens. Given global tensions right now, how easy do you think it would be to establish diplomatic relations with aliens (assuming we have't already *coughs*)?

Malinda Lo: Oh, wow, I think it would be incredibly hard. Honestly I hope we don't establish contact with aliens before we find some way to stop fighting amongst ourselves. It's interesting that a lot of science fiction that's set in the future gives Earth one global government, which makes sense because if you're going to have a story set across galaxies, it's easier to deal with planets than nation-states. Given human nature, though, I think it'll be a long time before we have real, working, consistent cooperation between all nations, and even longer before we have a global government -- if ever.

xoJane: I thought it was very appropriate that the Imrians set up on Angel Island, given its history; are you hoping that readers maybe get a bit curious about what happened on Angel Island and its important role in Asian-American history, or am I reading *way too much* into that authorial decision? (I am *such* a nerd when it comes to California history, aren't I?)

Malinda Lo: I chose to use Angel Island because I needed to have a place to land the Imrian ship where it wouldn't cause massive traffic jams. Since the main characters live in San Francisco, which has a big harbor, it seemed logical to put the ship on an island. The city or state could regulate ferry traffic to the island more easily than they could shut down traffic to a specific area of the city or surrounding mainland area.

Once I decided to use an island, I had a few options, but the main ones were Alcatraz and Angel Island. That's when symbolism came in. I definitely did not want to put the Imrians on a former prison island! But also, there wasn't a lot of open space on Alcatraz where they could land a ship of that size. I was left with Angel Island, where there is open space, plus I got the bonus of the place's history. I was a little worried that it would come across as heavy-handed -- you know, immigrants are also known as "aliens." However, I ultimately decided to go for it. It seemed to fit and sadly, not that many people know about the awful facts of Asian American history. So if it prompts some readers to look into it, that's great.

(Thus, if you're a nerd, so am I!)

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Photo: Patty Nason.

xoJane: THE THING [Ed. note: THE THING is our codeword for a spoilery thing in this book, because we wanted to talk about it without ruining the surprise. Believe me, you'll know what it is when you read it.]. You've definitely emerged as a champion for queer relationships in YA and letting love instead of convention lead your characters: did you encounter resistance with the relationship in "Inheritance"? How have your experiences in general been with writing sweet gay love, and do you think that perhaps YA is maybe more accepting of queerness? 

Malinda Lo: Sweet gay love indeed! No, I didn't encounter any resistance with the relationship in "Inheritance." I was aware that it was a little out there for YA (not for adult -- it's not like this stuff doesn't happen in adult science fiction!), but it seemed to be the only possible conclusion. The thing is, to me it seemed completely normal. My editor did remind me that my concept of "normal" is perhaps not quite the mainstream one.

As for YA in general, I think that over the last ten years, queerness has become increasingly accepted in YA -- just as it is increasingly accepted by young adults in real life. It makes sense to me that the literature being published for young adults should reflect young adults' own ways of being in the world. Coming out in 2013 is so totally different than coming out in 1993. It's night and day.

Of course, there are pockets of resistance to queerness in YA -- just like there are places in the US where people still actively hate LGBT people and try to pass laws to encode that hatred. But I admit I do find it frustrating when I come across comments (on the internet of course!) from people who clearly aren't familiar with much YA and yet assume that queerness isn't acceptable in a YA novel. That's just not true.

xoJane: How has the early response been to THE THING? Are people excited? Put off? Intrigued? 

Malinda Lo: I haven't heard from too many people about THE THING yet, though the few people who have responded to me directly have seemed to be excited about it. I did receive two trade reviews for INHERITANCE within the same week -- one from The Horn Book and one from Kirkus -- and they completely disagreed about THE THING. The Horn Book thought it was done well, but Kirkus found it unbelievable [Ed. note: Stodgy old Kirkus!].

I can't help but be amused by this divergence of opinion. Even though it was only two reviews, I think it may reflect the way the chips will fall: you're either going to think it's awesome, or you're not going to buy it. Obviously, part of the responsibility for making THE THING believable rests on my shoulders, and I'm not saying I did it perfectly, but as with all reading experiences, the reader is also a significant part of the equation.

Every reader approaches a book with their own experiences, worldview, and expectations. No writer can hope to anticipate how every reader will react to their work. Sometimes no amount of writerly effort will convince a reader that something is believable. Sometimes a writer and reader are so clearly in sync that the writer will only need to barely suggest something and the reader will think, "Yes! Exactly!" With certain issues, particularly ones involving so-called "lifestyle choices" (even though I hate that phrase), a reader's personal background may be more likely to dictate their response. At least, that's what I believe: you can never escape your situation in life. Maybe that's my own personal background coming through.

xoJane: What about pushback on interspecies lovin'? You've really introduced a note of complexity there with the relationship between Amber and Reese. 

Malinda Lo: But is it really interspecies?

xoJane: We already know that readers can support queered texts and POC characters with their wallets and library cards: what else should they be doing?

Malinda Lo: Speak up! Recommend those books to your friends who are looking for something to read -- even if they don't ask specifically for books about queer characters or people of color. We have to move beyond the idea that queer characters and people of color can only exist in issue books; they can exist in all sorts of books, and they do.

Once I saw a collection of lists recommending various YA books -- you know, YA fantasy! YA romance! Those kinds of lists. All the books with LGBT characters were categorized under LGBT YA. That's ghettoizing LGBT characters. Plenty of YA books about LGBT characters are also romances; why not include some YA with LGBT characters on those lists instead of isolating them in queer-only lists? I'm not saying we can't have lists of LGBT YA (those are important too), but to only ever see books with LGBT characters in that issue-related frame is incredibly limiting.

xoJane: You've said that your deep love of the X-Files heavily influenced this series: what are some of your favorite episodes?

Malinda Lo: My favorite X-Files episode is "Bad Blood," written by Vince Gilligan, who has since gone on to create "Breaking Bad." I love pretty much all of Gilligan's episodes, honestly, because they have a sense of humor that provide some welcome relief from the very dark stuff that The X-Files tackles. Also, he wrote the Mulder/Scully dynamic really well. I loved that.

xoJane:What's on your "just read and loved" as well as "to-read" lists right now?

Malinda Lo: The last book that blew me away Curtis Sittenfeld's "American Wife," which I read over the summer. I'm looking forward to reading her latest, "Sisterland," too. In terms of YA, I want to give a shout out to Jon Skovron's "Man Made Boy," which is a really fun and thought-provoking urban fantasy about the son of Frankenstein, who also happens to be a computer hacker. I loved it. (It also has A THING, which is not the same as THE THING at all, but is sort of in the same general area. If that was vague enough.)

xoJane: This often turns out to be my favorite question in interviews: what's a question you wish people would ask, and what would you say if someone would finally get up the gumption to ask it?

Malinda Lo: OK, you've stumped me. I've thought about this question for DAYS. The problem is I've been on the internet doing things for decades, and people have asked me a zillion different things, and when they haven't asked me, I've had a blog or access to a blog and could write a post about it. Once or twice in the past I've been asked questions that offended me, but those questions have been argumentative, in which the interviewer was attempting to put words in my mouth. Please don't do that. Nonetheless, those questions were way more interesting than the standard ones I get. (They include "What does diversity mean to you?" or "How hard was it for you to get your lesbian novels published?")

So I'd like to encourage any interviewers from the future to feel free to ask me anything. Seriously! Anything goes. I probably have an opinion.

xoJane: Finally, a key question for our readers: cake, or pie?

Malinda Lo: I enjoy cake, but I LOVE pie. I love it so much that I've taught myself how to make pie crust and I try to make pies for all special occasions. I've mostly focused on fruit pies so far -- and I always make apple pies for Thanksgiving -- but I've decided that this winter I will learn how to make some savory meat pies. Last summer I visited Cornwall for the first time (and hopefully not the last) and fell in love with Cornish pasties, which are basically stews in handheld pie form. I'm determined to learn how to make Cornish pasties at home this fall. My favorite Cornish pasty from last summer was the mint-and-lamb pasty, so that's at the top of my list. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!

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Courtesy of the author.

Me too, man, me too. Damn you, Malinda!

See, I told you Malinda Lo was cool. (You can follow her on Twitter, and be sure to check out her Diversity in YA project, which she runs with fellow super awesome author Cindy Pon.)

Now, you want me to stop pussyfooting around and give you the deets on the giveaway.

So. Here they are! Comment on this post by midnight on October 1, and you'll be entered in a random drawing using a very sophisticated and highly technical system much like this one for your very own set of "Adaptation" and "Inheritance." Sad to inform you that this is limited to US addresses only! (We love you, international readers, but we don't love your postage rates. :()

"Inheritance" hits shelves TODAY, and I hope one of the shelves it hits is YOURS.