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Malinda Lo, author of Lambda Award Finalist Ash, gives us the scoop on her newly released prequel, Huntress, queering up The Vampire Diaries, and how LGBT literature helps gay youth.
If you were going to be held prisoner in an enchanted palace, which book would you choose to bring with you and why?
I would bring Jacqueline Carey’s Santa Olivia, which I read a couple of weeks ago and completely fell in love with. It’s sort of a dystopian fable about the making of a genetically enhanced heroine in a post-plague near future, starring a girl who grows up to be a boxer, and falls in love with another girl. It is gritty and sexy and a total thrill ride. I feel like I could read this book repeatedly and always be enthralled!
What are you reading right now?
She Loves You, She Loves You Not by Julie Anne Peters, which comes out in June 2011. It’s a YA novel about a lesbian teen dealing with the aftermath of her first love, as well as coming to know her birth mother for the first time. It’s so real and heartbreaking!
With the highly publicized recent LGBT youth suicides, do you believe your novels can be helpful to at risk youth? How so?
It depends on the specifics of each situation, obviously, but I can definitely see how reading a novel in which being gay is not a problem could be comforting to someone coming to terms with their sexual orientation. I know that I’ve received emails from readers who say that Ash helped them to feel less alone and more confident about coming out, and I’m so happy about that.
But if someone is truly depressed to the point of being suicidal, I urge them to reach out to some real people who can help them. I’ve been depressed before, and it’s such an awful experience to endure. I got through it with professional help, and I’m very grateful for that.
We’re big fans of Glee. Do you have a favorite show on television right now? If so, why do you like it? If not, what’s missing on network TV?
I am a huge fan of The Vampire Diaries. I love that show! It’s totally melodramatic and crazy and fun. I think it works because it just goes all out for drama; there’s no holding back anywhere on the show, and it also doesn’t take itself too seriously. I love the humor and camp factor. Of course, I wish it had some queer characters! I keep hoping one of the vampire girls will fall into the lesbian vampire tradition. Come on, Vampire Diaries, what are you waiting for?
There was a ton of media coverage of MTV’s Skins this year. Some argued that the show was too explicit. Others argued it was too real. Do you ever feel pressure to “sex up” your work?
Not at all. Young adult fiction is much less sexually explicit than TV, and YA fantasy tends to be less explicit than realistic/contemporary YA. I haven’t written any graphic sexuality in my books yet because it just hasn’t fit in with the style of the novels I’ve published so far. As a writer, I’d love to write more sexy stuff in the future because it’s very challenging to do well. I like a challenge.
Are your books being translated into Chinese (Mandarin/Cantonese)? If so, is “lesbian” love (for lack of better term) more or less problematic outside of the US?
Chinese translation rights haven’t been sold yet. But I doubt they will be for a long time, if ever, because homosexuality is not widely accepted in the People’s Republic of China or in Taiwan, even though I know there is a lively queer subculture in both places. I have been told that the gay content prevents my book from being published in many countries outside the United States. It’s a bummer, but those are the facts. Gay people have it pretty good in this country, even with the lack of national same-sex marriage rights.
Your characters’ names are brimming with originality — there’s even a pronunciation guide in the book. How did you come up with them?
I scoured many, many lists of names. I just have to see a lot of names and then pounce on one that feels rights. Characters’ names change, though, at the beginning, while I’m still getting to know them.
In Huntress, Prince Con is much more developed than Prince Charming in Ash. He’s devoted and brave while Prince Charming is a more one-dimensional, background figure. Why did you decide to make Prince Con a major character?
This isn’t a very romantic answer, but I needed to have a representative of the government included in the group of people who travel to the Fairy Queen’s land. I didn’t want to send the King because I thought he would be too old to be a main character in a young adult novel, so I sent the prince. Since Con isn’t saddled with the burden of being Prince Charming, he was able to have his own personality. I liked him from the beginning!
Is another spin-off of Ash in the works?
Not right now, although I will be publishing a short story set two years after Huntress this summer, at Subterranean Magazine Online. It’s about Kaede, the main character in Huntress, and it will be free and available for everyone to read.
Your next book, Adaptation, is slated for 2012. What has that process been like?
I just turned in the first draft to my editor, and I’m excited to dive into revisions in the near future. I’m still in-process on it, so I’d rather not talk about the process of it right now. I’m superstitious!
Last question. And it’s a heavy one! Do you see yourself as an LGBT author? What is an LGBT author anyway? We’re curious if you’ve ever felt pressure to make your work less queer. Have you ever been criticized for featuring girls who like girls?
Personally, I see myself as a writer, period, but I know that plenty of people will see me as a lesbian writer or as an Asian-American writer, or as an Asian-American lesbian writer from California. These are all fine with me. When I first came out I was reluctant to accept labels, but I’ve long since realized that everybody who sees me will see a label of some sort, and I know that labels can be very positive and affirming things. We wouldn’t have the gay rights movement without the label “gay.”
In my professional career, I’ve never felt any pressure to write things that are less queer. Of course, some readers haven’t liked my books because of their gay content, but that’s because those readers are homophobic. I frankly don’t care what they think.
I know that I wish there were many more books about lesbian characters out there, and since I have the opportunity to help change that, I’m thrilled to do so. If calling myself an LGBT author makes a difference, I’m proud to be an LGBT author.