Sunday Brunch: A Chat with Four Can’t-Miss YA Authors

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[Note from Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora got the chance to chat with four buzzy YA authors and ask them a few questions each. Up first, Nghi Vo!]

Aurora: What was your inspiration for The Chosen and the Beautiful?

Nghi Vo:  I’ve always thought that Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was a small book with a lot going on in it. I first read it as a teenager for class, and even then I was curious about what the novel was only hinting at. As a queer kid, Jordan Baker rang a lot of bells for me, but at the time, I wasn’t sure why. When I got older and returned to the text, I got some answers and then realized that there were even more questions. That’s more or less what inspired The Chosen and the Beautiful!

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?

In The Great Gatsby, Jordan Baker draws the eye by being the outsider who’s also an insider. While she’s very much a part of Daisy and Tom’s glittering crowd, she also has a distance that allows her to talk with Nick about their world. Everyone in the novel is existing very hard, and only Jordan seems like she has any idea why she’s doing it. In The Chosen and the Beautiful,  I position Jordan as a member of the diaspora and as a queer woman, both things that are important to my identity, and we just went from there. 

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?

Novels with powerful and unique characters have always been attractive- what we’re seeing more of right now are voices that previously have not been heeded. Queer, disabled, and non-white voices have always been there, offering their unique perspectives on the world. When they are given a broader audience, they complete a picture that some people weren’t aware was broken. The more diverse voices we have, the more complete a mirror we have for the world, both the way it is and (very important for speculative fiction) the way it could be.

Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from it. 

The Chosen and the Beautiful  is a retelling of The Great Gatsby featuring a queer, Vietnamese-American Jordan Baker, a darkly magical New York, deals with devils, glamour to spare, and a re-examination of who’s really dreaming the American Dream. 

What’s next for you in the bookish world?

Well, I just finished the third Singing Hills novella, due out in 2022, and later that year, I get to introduce everyone to Luli Wei, the heroine of Siren Queen. Siren Queen was the first novel I ever wrote. It features a Chinese-American actress making her way in a 1930s Hollywood run off fairyland rules. 

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

My favorite writer changes from moment to moment, but right now, it’s likely Sylvia Moreno-Garcia, because Mexican Gothic was terrifying and stunning in equal measures .

Any writing advicefor aspiring writers?

You don’t need dialog tags as much as you think you do, know your filler phrases and get rid of them, and no one is going to tell the story that you’re going to tell exactly as you would tell it, so you’d better tell it. Also if you’re a freelancer, the US government takes ¼ of your income for taxes so plan accordingly.

Up next, Talia Rothschild and AC Harvey!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?

Talia and Ash: We were inspired at the age of 13, at a sleepover! We’d been close friends since the fifth grade, but we’d finally outgrown make-believe games. So, instead of play-acting, we decided to write down a story instead! Driven by our passion for mythology (largely sparked by the Percy Jackson series), we created characters and a world among the Greek pantheon, and with that, The Immortal Game was born. 🙂 We found inspiration in other books, movies, and ultimately, each other, as we talked through some of the most epic ideas we had. 

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?

Ash: I would say I most relate to Galene. She’s not particularly outgoing, she doesn’t need people to see her in a certain way, or to be the center of attention to be confident and happy in herself. Galene is just trying to do her best and help the people she loves, and she doesn’t let the hard things in life stop her from doing that. Even when life pushed her in unexpected ways, she adapted and got on with it. Her values never changed, and through it all she stuck to herself, her beliefs, and her dreams. In that way, she inspires me too.

Talia: Iyana. Which is funny, because originally, Ashleigh wrote as Galene and I wrote as Iyana. 🙂 When we first started writing her, I put a lot of my own insecurities on the page, into her character. I related so much to her that I grew very, very proud of her when we shaped her story into an empowering arc of learning and strength. I relate to how fiercely she loves her friends, and the loyalty that matches it. She’s sweet and fun, but she has an indomitable courage and fierceness to her spirit that I would love to emulate.

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?

Because they’re inspiring! We don’t know if they’ve ever not had a strong voice. Our world celebrates being unique and powerful in our own way, but it’s not easy. Seeing characters who exemplify this and use their unique personalities, gifts, and abilities to triumph over evil and hardship gives us hope for the world we’re fighting for. It encourages us to be that way ourselves, despite all the darkness trying to stop us.

What’s next for you in the bookish world?

Ash: Writing, writing, and more writing! I just hope to continue publishing books. I have a new adult fantasy novel my agent is currently reviewing and a YA fantasy I’m plotting out. This summer I’m transitioning into a full time writing career and definitely not slowing down!

Talia: All the writing! I’ve finished my next novel and first solo project, another YA Fantasy, the first in an intended series (working title The Cobra’s Heir). I’m currently working toward deals on that book and starting a new project (YA Fantasy Romance). 

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

Ash: Neal Shusterman. I am in the middle of the Scythe series and absolutely loving it. This man is a genius. His ideas are novel and so intriguing, and the themes he addresses in his plot are incredibly powerful, but woven into the story in such a way that doesn’t make them overwhelming or tactless. His books are immediately engaging, so well written, and thought provoking as well as inspiring! I want to be like him when I grow up!

Talia: Just one?!? I can’t! Among my favorites are Brandon Sanderson, Sarah J. Maas, Holly Black, and Leigh Bardugo! I love them for completely different reasons: Sanderson’s worlds are epic, complex, and riveting, his endings seamless and mind-blowing; Maas has kept me up all night for story, character, and romance; Black has such unique themes, twisting dark and childlike into a fascinating mix; and who taught Bardugo to write description like that??

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?

Ash: Do whatever you can to reach your dreams. Do the work! It’s FUN work and so fulfilling. Make the time to write, read, practice, learn and grow. Make the sacrifices for your passion and it will reward you 🙂 Never give up, despite all the rejections you WILL get. Dedicate yourself, be patient, and do the work.  Also, surround yourself with people who feel the same way and will encourage you and help you reach those great heights you aspire to.

Talia: YES to everything Ash said! Part of doing the work, for me, is carving out time to write. It’s not going to magically appear—you have to proactively prioritize writing over a lot of other things in your life. Find a system that works for you, and don’t give up! Go to conferences, network, research, join writing groups, put yourself and your work out there! Fill your life with the things that inspire you. Please be open to feedback and remember, even the most successful of authors have been told no time and time again, so don’t give up.

Last but not least, Sarah Suk!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?

Sarah Suk: I would say my inspiration for Made in Korea came from the desire to write a fun, contemporary, unapologetically Korean diaspora story. It started with a seed when I thought, ‘it would be fun to write about Korean teens selling K-beauty products at school, but I don’t know what else they do yet’ and it just kept on growing from there.

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?

Is it cheating to say all of them? Haha. I relate to Valerie’s ambition, Wes’ people pleasing nature and love for the arts, Charlie’s optimism, Pauline’s thoughtfulness, and so on. While no one character reflects all of me, I think each character has a bit of me in them.

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?

I think because they make us feel alive. Powerful and unique characters have a way of stretching our imagination, showing us what the world could be, and resonating with us in a way where it makes us feel like we’re not as alone as we may have once thought. They also give us language for the things we may have been feeling ourselves but didn’t have the words to articulate. At a time when so many of us are craving genuine connection and freedom, I think this really means a lot.

Please describe the content of your latest read and what can readers expect from it.

Made in Korea is a YA romcom about two teens selling Korean beauty products at school and going head to head to out-sell each other… and maybe falling in love along the way. Readers can expect savvy teen entrepreneurs, that fluttery first love feeling, and lots of Hi-Chews.

What’s next for you in the bookish world?

I’m usually pretty quiet about my works in progress, but I will say that I’m currently working on a story that focuses mainly on family dynamics and, of course, features a lot of Korean food. I hope I can share more one day!

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

I have so many favorites that my answer to this is always changing. Today I will say Jandy Nelson. I’ll read anything she writes.

Any writing advice for aspiring writers? 

Keep on writing. It sounds simple, but there are days where that can feel really hard and all you want to do is quit for good. Just remember that you’re only going to get better and better with each thing you write so don’t give up. No one can tell your stories the way you can.

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