‘First, I make tea’: the craft of writing with Yoon Ha Lee

Author Yoon Ha Lee

Yoon Ha Lee is a Korean-American writer of science fiction and science fantasy. YHL has a B.A. in math (maths to those of us in Australia) from Cornell University and an M.A. in math (yes, maths) education from Stanford University. Yoon loves to explore mathematics for story ideas. His fiction has appeared in several revered sci-fi & fantasy (SFF) publications such as F&SFTor.com, and Clarkesworld Magazine, and his stories have been chosen several times for  “The Year’s Best…” anthologies.

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to review Yoon’s fabulous book, Hexarchate Stories, an instalment in his much-loved Machineries of Empire series. I introduced my review with this sentence:

Prepare to be amazed and captivated by this collection of science fiction delights…

Imagine my pleasure when Yoon agreed to be interviewed for the Last Word of the Week!

Welcome, Yoon, and thank you for speaking with me today. You’ve been widely published and have quite a name in SFF circles. What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?

YOON: There is a lot of writing advice out there.  Realize that every writer is different, and that advice that works for one person may not work for another.  There’s often no harm in trying something to see if it works for you, but if the advice doesn’t work, there’s likely nothing wrong with you.  It’s intended for a different kind of writer, that’s all.  Take what works and discard what doesn’t.

That’s very reassuring. Do you have a go-to routine for writing?

First I make tea.  Then I sit down to write, except my tortoiseshell cat, Cloud, jumps up and blocks the keyboard.  I pet her until she decides that she’s had enough worship and wanders off.  Only then do I get started.  Really, worshipping a cat is one of the most pleasant ways to brainstorm anyway.  She interrupts me at intervals for more petting, which is a great way for me to take typing breaks!

I think I need another blog series called ‘authors and their feline muses’! How much research is involved in your writing?

It depends on the story!  In a sense I’m constantly researching, because I keep an eye out for ideas and interesting facts as I read or browse the internet or listen to conversations.  Some stories are mostly invention, so they don’t require me to research anything specific.  On the other hand, my forthcoming novel Phoenix Extravagant is set in a fantasy version of Korea during the Japanese occupation, and its protagonist is a painter, so I spent six months reading everything I could get my hands on about Korean archaeology and art history.  Spoiler: it’s hard to find much on those topics in English; I am indebted to my mom for helping me find books!

Ah, a secret research assistant. Excellent! How do you deal with plot holes – if you ever have any!

First, I go to my husband and whine at him, usually with the words, “Joe, my novel is brokedy.”  Then I make him take me to a cafe, where I explain why my story isn’t working (and probably the other patrons are giving us weird looks because we’re talking about nanomachines or undead generals or whatever).  He brainstorms with me and comes up with a solution.  I ask him to type it up and email it to me.  I read the email.  Then I ignore his suggestions and do something completely different.  Strange as this method sounds, it works!

I must try it! I can’t get my husband to read my books until they arrive in paperback form. How you get feedback about your story before it’s published?

I have a trusted group of friends whom I ask to beta read for me.  There’s usually a few people willing to volunteer at any given point in time.  Some of them are writers, some of them aren’t.  Every beta reader has different strengths and weaknesses, so I try to get a few different viewpoints.  For example, my husband is a physicist, so he’s great at finding logic holes.  Character arcs, not so much.

The Candlevine Gardener & Other Stories by Yoon Ha Lee
The Candlevine Gardener & Other Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Good plan. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

Right now I’m working on a science fantasy short story for the Silk & Steel anthology.  I’m a novice fencer attending the Red Stick School of Fencing in Baton Rouge, so there will be dueling!  My duelist character is going to be much more competent than I am–what else is wish-fulfillment for?

I’m currently under contract for a sequel to my kids’ Korean mythology space opera, Dragon Pearl, so I’m excited to be working on that after the short story’s done.  I love space opera so it’s going to be fun returning to that genre.  That’s due in October.  And after that, who knows?

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (Machineries of Empire #1)

That’s quite a program! And you’re the third SFF author I’ve met who also fences… What’s your favourite genre to read?

I have two right now–nonfiction and tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs).  The world is full of weird and fascinating facts; my shelves have books on linguistics, military history, music theory, and other delights.  As for the RPGs, I’m a gamer with an interest in game design, so I love looking both at older settings like TSR’s Planescape (a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting) as well as indie RPGs like Monsterhearts 2 or Tiny Frontiers.

Are you planning to write any graphic novels?

I’d love to give it a go; I’ve experimented with one- and three-panel gag strips in the past.  My current project, sort of in the nature of a warm-up, is a 22-page comic adaptation of my short story “The Battle of Candle Arc,” originally published in Clarkesworld Magazine (http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/lee_10_12/).  I have a script, thumbnails, and color test, so the next step will be to do the pencils.  Trying to make a story work in a visual format is extremely interesting.  I’m personally looking forward to drawing exploding starships because, please, don’t we all?

What would be a dream come true for you?

This is a very long shot, but I would be thrilled if someone made an animated TV adaptation of Ninefox Gambit or even all of Machineries of Empire.  I suspect that doing it as live-action would be cost-prohibitive because of all the “magical” special effects and space battles, but maybe animation would ameliorate that?  It’s nice to dream, anyway!

A wonderful dream – I’d love to see that! Thank you so much for the chat. You’re an inspiration.

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

 

LINKS

website: http://yoonhalee.com

Twitter: @deuceofgears

Instagram: @deuceofgears

BOOK LINKS

Phoenix Extravagant (preorder):

https://www.amazon.com/Phoenix-Extravagant-Yoon-Ha-Lee/dp/1781087946/

Dragon Pearl

https://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Pearl-Yoon-Ha-Lee/dp/136801335X/

Ninefox Gambit

https://www.amazon.com/Ninefox-Gambit-Machineries-Empire-Yoon/dp/1781084491/

Belinda Missen romances the Last Word

Lessons in Love by Belinda Missen

Belinda Missen = author + sometimes foodie + ridiculous romantic.

Belinda lives in country Victoria (Australia) with her devoted and beloved husband, surrounded by books, cat-fur, and half-eaten cake. Belinda divides her days between writing rom-coms, baking, and indulging her love of comic books.

Belinda’s happy and uplifting novels are often described as ‘funny’ and ‘flirty’, and maybe that’s a reflection of herself as well as her style. I think I’ve just met an incurable romantic!

Belinda Missen author
Belinda Missen author

Welcome, Belinda, it’s lovely to meet you. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Opening with the tough questions! What do I think people ought to know? Well, I suppose they ought to know that my books are lovely, will leave you feeling fuzzy, and feeling good and, now that I’ve been unleashed on the world, there’s no stopping me.

Seriously, though, I’m a mid-thirties (still clutching that demographic) girl who loves the love. I bake and cook and wrangle my cats, and my husband is pretty awesome, too.

Baking! Anytime you want to drop something by… Hehe! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

There’s on particular scene I love in An Impossible Thing Called Love where William and Emmy explore London together. They tend to do a lot of that, but there’s one moment I especially love where they’re wandering about the Tower Bridge together, talking about the building, the sites around them, and generally enjoying one of their first bits of togetherness in a few years.

An Impossible Thing Called Love
An Impossible Thing Called Love by Belinda Missen

If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

I’ll still with William for this one (An Impossible Thing Called Love). He’d probably laugh, tell you you’re wrong, and continue on his merry way. I mean, he’s still loud enough in my head that he could get a sequel, so I’m quite sure he’d never believe you.

I think I’d like a sequel with the gorgeous William… Oh, let’s get back to the questions! Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that? 

There’s been so many over the years. As a child, I read a lot of Roald Dahl. I was fascinated with The Witches for a while and borrowed that whenever I could. Baby-Sitters Club books also featured in my childhood. I think my teen years involved quite a bit of science-fiction (Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park in particular).

As an adult, I moved into light-hearted rom-coms and women’s fiction. I think I started putting some serious thought into writing when I stumbled onto Mhairi McFarlane and Lindsey Kelk, and I thought of how much I’d love to produce something so fun.

Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Please start writing now. Write and work hard. It will be okay.

I think it will be more than OK! What’s next for you in the world of writing?

I have a lovely little Christmas novella due out in November, titled One Week ‘til Christmas. It’s gorgeous, and is about Isobel and Tom. Isobel finds herself in London just before Christmas as a political reporter. As an odd-job, she’s sent to interview Tom. They form a bond, and explore London together in the week Isobel has left in London.

That sounds like a perfect holiday read. And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

Oh, I’d have to say Emmy – because I’m a little in love with William (can you tell?).

Yes I can tell! Thank you so much Emmy – I mean Belinda – for having this week’s Last Word!

 

Belinda’s Links:

www.belindamissen.com

Twitter: @belinda_missen

Instagram: @belinda_missen

Facebook.com/BelindaMissen

Amazon Author page (with buy links):

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Belinda-Missen/e/B00UWR51MS