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Inkling Interview: Lori Lee

Happy Friday Friends!

One of the coolest things about really stepping out of my comfort zone and connecting with the #writingcommunity on social media has been the opportunity to connect with authors I really admire, people who advocate every day for positive rep in literature and do it with both grace and tenacity. This week’s author is one of those advocates, and I so admire not only her but the fantastical (slightly scary!) stories she weaves! Please welcome, Lori Lee!

Hi Lori! The very first thing I have to tell you is that I have a childhood friend who is also named Lori Lee (fun fact, her older sister is Amy Lee from Evanescence!) and I’m having big Twilight Zone vibes thinking about it. Aaanyway, my first question for you is about your writing journey. Where are you at the moment, and how did you get there?

How cool! I wish I could claim a famous older sister as well, but alas lol.

In terms of where I’m at right now, I’m working on the sequel to FOREST OF SOULS, which is the first in a new YA fantasy series that releases June 23, 2020. I’m also working toward the deadline for another project that hasn’t been announced yet, so I’m feeling the pressure!

For those that haven’t seen the cover of this beautiful book, check it out:

As to how I got here, I’ve been a writer and a reader all my life, and I knew I wanted to write books from a very young age. In 2009, I participated in my first NaNoWriMo, and even though I was thoroughly burned out by the end of it, it taught me A LOT about my writing process. Although I’d written novel-length fanfics and a truly ridiculous portal fantasy romance when I was a teenager, I’d never written an entire draft in one month. So it was really empowering to know that, because I’d done it before, I could do it again.

Ooh, I was a NaNo-er (is that a word? Now it is!) too! For those who haven’t tried it, it’ll come around this November and I highly encourage you to give it a try! Sorry, Lori, please continue!

While I queried that book, it was the next book I wrote that led to signing with my agent in 2011. Since then I’ve published two books and two short stories in anthologies, but I won’t pretend it was all rainbows and sunshine. There were a lot of ups and downs. Fortunately, perseverance won out!

One thing I hear over and over again as I talk with authors--no matter the stage they’re in at the moment--it comes down to perseverance. Okay Lori, you gave us a hint about your upcoming novel above, but could you pitch it to us for those who may not have heard about it yet?

FOREST OF SOULS is about a spy-in-training who discovers she’s the first soulguide in living memory and is tasked with destroying the Dead Wood, an ancient forest filled with malevolent spirits.

Having read this, I can promise that it reads just as spookily as it sounds. I want to talk with you, Lori, about what goes on behind the curtain for you as a writer. What, in a word or two, is your writing style?

I’m a fussy plotter?

LOL I love this.

I write lengthy outlines (the longest clocked in at 50 pages, but not all of them are quite that detailed haha), which allows me to fast-draft a completed (if terrible) manuscript within a month without burnout. I prefer the revision process over drafting, so the sooner I can get it all out, the sooner I can fix it!

I totally get this, and… now that I think about it, maybe I am also a fussy plotter and didn’t know it? So that being said, what are your favorite/least favorite parts of the writing process?

My least favorite is definitely first drafts. Writing down that first sentence, and that first scene, is always a little intimidating because of how important they are. Even though I know I can rewrite it later, my brain still stalls.

My favorite would be when the manuscript is done haha.

Ah, sweet victory. Okay, if it’s all right, I’d really like to take a moment to ask a more serious question. A while back, I remember reading a thread on Twitter you posted that really resonated with me. It was about being part of a diaspora and the effect that had on your stories (namely, the fact that they aren’t necessarily “Asian fantasy”). Can you talk more about how being a diasporic person affects what you write and how your market it?

Sure! Growing up obsessed with the medieval-ish, mainstream fantasy genre, I yearned to be able to see myself in those stories. But in all the books and films and media, people like me simply weren’t there (or if we were, then we were stereotypes and certainly never the star). I think this may be true for a lot of people who are part of the diaspora, but it took a really long time for me to reconcile the fact that to be Hmong American meant I didn’t have to sacrifice one part of my identity in order to fit the other. They are not mutually exclusive, although they may overlap in ways that don’t match the status quo, and that’s okay! And yet, it took even longer before I gave myself permission to write about characters who looked like me, and when I finally did, I thought about the kind of representation I desperately needed as a Hmong kid growing up in America.

I needed to know that I belonged, even in spaces that weren’t always welcoming. I needed to know that people who looked like me could go through the wardrobe, that we could have the hero’s journey and the happily ever afters. To that end, FOREST OF SOULS takes place in a secondary world that’s a mishmash of my favorite fantasy tropes alongside a magical system inspired by Hmong shamanism. FOREST OF SOULS is not an Asian fantasy. It is a fantasy that happens to star Asian-coded characters, because not all books by and about us belong in a subgenre.

(To clarify, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Asian fantasy, which I love and read and immensely appreciate, but that’s not the book I set out to write.)

“I needed to know that people who looked like me could go through the wardrobe,” is ringing through me right now in the very best way. Thank you for being willing to be so open--I know this can be a really personal thing to talk about. Lori, you sometimes share bits about your personal life and family on social media, and that makes me wonder: How do you manage life and other responsibilities alongside your writing?

Not very well haha. When I write, I have to put in my earbuds and blast my music in order to try and zone everyone out as best I can. It can be a struggle, and I wrote a great number of books during the hours of 10 PM and 2 AM because sometimes, that was the only time I had.

A bit of advice I’ve also heard time and time again: find the time in your day to dedicate to writing. It’s really encouraging that you’ve found a way and persevered (and I’d say it’s working, you’re about to publish your third novel!). Switching gears for a moment: How do you combat writer’s block and/or tough critiques of your writing?

For writer’s block, I’ve found that my outlines are great in preventing this. I always know where the story needs to go and which scene I need to write. So even when writer’s block takes the form of a complete lack of inspiration, I’m still able to strap myself in and get the words down, terrible though they might be!

This is the advantage, I think to being a fussy plotter! So, now a fun question: Would you rather have the power to be invisible or fly?

I thought way too hard about this, but I think I’d rather be able to fly. Flying opens up the entire world. Also, I have a deathly fear of heights, and being able to fly would confront that head on without the actual risk of falling.

Ha, I love it! Going back for a moment to the tougher parts about being a writer, I wonder what advice do you have for aspiring writers, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds?

I’d tell them that they belong in publishing.

Their stories deserve to be told just as much as anyone else’s. Don’t give up. Support the kinds of stories that you want to tell. Also, it’s so important to acknowledge those who came before us and fought to carve out those hard-won spaces. Ten years ago, YA fantasy starring Asian characters *by* Asian authors was practically non-existent. Today, the publishing landscape looks vastly different, and that’s solely thanks to the hard work and relentless push for inclusion by marginalized creators in the industry.

Thank you for that! Another fun question: what’s your “anthem,” the song that would play if your life was a music video?

I don’t think I listen to enough variety of music to answer this haha. I mostly just listen to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack on loop. So maybe that?!

Ooh yes, I love instrumentals and soundtracks, especially when writing! And now: Bonus Question! You have a tree in your backyard that grows anything infinitely--what would you want on your tree?

Money, right? I mean, that’s the obvious answer haha.

Absolutely, positively. Thanks again, Lori!

Want to know more about Lori and her books? There are several ways to connect with her:

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram!

Visit her website!

Pre-order FOREST OF SOULS or add it on GoodReads! It’s out this June! And stay tuned, I’ll be pre-ordering one lucky follower a copy closer to its release!

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