Malinda Lo is the author of 2009’s Ash, a magical take on the traditional Cinderella story—in which the title character’s beloved is another woman—and 2011’s Huntress, a prequel to Ash. She’s also one of the judges for the teenquake contest, which everyone can vote in now by clicking here. But even if you aren’t a teenquake entrant, learning what makes Malinda Lo tick is totally fascinating. She answers our questions below.
Ash was a straight romance to begin with. What made you realize it would work better as a gay one?
I asked a good friend of mine to read the first draft of Ash, and it was she who pointed out that Ash didn’t have much chemistry with the prince, but seemed to really like this other character, who happened to be a woman. I was pretty surprised when she pointed it out, but when I reread the draft, I saw that she was totally right. It took me a while to decide to go for it, though, because I thought writing a lesbian Cinderella would make the book unsellable. So initially I tried to make Ash more interested in the prince, but it just didn’t work out. Finally I gave in, and Ash was much happier!
Why did you name your dog 007? Are you a Bond, James Bond fan? Do you take your martinis shaken, not stirred?
Well, to be honest, 007 is not my dog’s name! It is a code name because for some silly reason, I thought it would be funny if I gave her a code name on the Internet. (And, OK, 007 is related to her real name, which shall remain a secret!) That said, although I’m not the biggest James Bond fan, I do, in fact, take my martinis shaken, not stirred.
How do you think being Asian-American has shaped your writing?
My identity as an Asian American has shaped my interests as a person, and I think that in turn influences my writing. I’m very interested in cultural hybridity, or the blending of cultures, which is pretty much what being Asian American is about. This interest has led me, in my graduate studies and now as a writer, to think about peoples and places that inhabit or create spaces of hybridity. This sounds really intellectual, and in some respects it is, but it’s also reflected in really down-home things, like local foods in Hawaii. I’m fascinated by the way Hawaiian barbecue has incorporated Korean and American techniques, as well as Pacific Islander traditions, to create super yummy barbecued ribs!
When it comes to writing, I think I’m drawn to writing stories about people who are also cultural hybrids—people who are come from more than one cultural background, or people who travel from one place to another and become part of each. In Ash and Huntress in particular, I know that it’s my Asian American background and these interests that made me want to write about humans meeting fairies; they’re two different peoples who have to interact. What happens when they meet? How do lives change in the process? These things are really interesting to me as a writer.
Do you think gay and lesbian romance is underrepresented in YA literature?
Yes. No doubt in my mind. In 2011 I’ve been trying to keep track of YA novels that include lesbian/bisexual girl main characters (often with a romance). I’ve discovered five, including my own. That’s a tiny, tiny number. Then again, the quality of these five books—and the kinds of stories they tell—represent a giant leap forward from what was being published even 10 years ago. So things are improving, though they seem to be doing so at a glacial pace.
What made you decide to write a prequel to Ash?
When I finished Ash, one aspect of the novel kept bugging me. At one point in the book, Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, tells Ash that a long time ago, the huntress served as a something of an ambassador between the human kingdom and the land of the fairies. I was really intrigued by this and I basically wanted to know more about what Kaisa was talking about. Huntress was the answer to my question of how these huntresses came into existence. So it’s kind of an origin story, and though it takes place before Ash, it’s not too close of a prequel. You can certainly read Huntress without having read Ash first.