I’m a long-time nerd, traveler, and architecture enthusiast who worked as an assistant English teacher in Tokyo for three years before pursuing my MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Central Florida. I can typically be found absorbed in books, games, or manga, or else obsessing over said books, games, and manga. A Soldier and a Liar is my debut novel.
How did you become an author?
The short answer is by spending a lot of time banging my head against my keyboard trying to get the words to go, replacing my blood with coffee, and having way too much anxiety to be healthy. But for real, the process was a bit complicated. I wrote six books before A Soldier and a Liar, none of which I was in love with after I’d written those final ending words. But there were a lot of things I loved about Book 5. So I took those characters and the original superpowers concept, almost completely changed the world and story, and remade that into a draft that would eventually become my forthcoming novel. Looking back, it’s funny what stayed and what ultimately had to be tossed. All my drafts pre-publication were written in four alternating points of view. Now? The final has two.
At first, I tried the traditional route of querying agents off and on for a few years. But when probably around a hundred agents didn’t show any interest in my novel after two years, I was about ready to put it aside. I thought maybe this just wasn’t a story that anyone else would care about. It broke my heart to even consider. Around this time, a friend told me about Swoon Reads, an imprint of Macmillan that ran as a crowd-sourcing site for potential publication.
I figured I had nothing to lose by sharing my book. I thought I could use this as a chance to get helpful feedback on what about the book was so broken that no one was interested in it, then maybe try to fix it and try querying again. I never imagined I’d get The Call four months later. Needless to say, I was over the moon.
When did you realize writing was something you wanted to do professionally?
Writing is something I’ve enjoyed since I was in elementary school, but I don’t think I considered really becoming A Serious Writer Who Actually Publishes until my first year of high school. I did National Novel Writing Month (in which you write 50,000 words in November) with a friend for the first time that year, and when we both successfully finished, it felt like a door had opened for me. That book—and the several that followed—weren’t good, but they taught me so much about writing and made me feel like anything was possible. This was a thing I could actually do, and not just dream of. Since then, it’s pretty much been my life’s mission to see my books on shelves.
How did you come up with the concept for A Soldier and A Liar?
It started around when superhero movies were getting big. I don’t know if it was necessarily one movie that did it (or if it was, I can’t remember anymore), but I watched a lot of them and one day thought, “Huh. I really want to write a book with superpowers. But instead of all the characters being really good people, what if they were all a little warped somehow because of these powers? What if there’s no clear answer to whether they’re necessarily ‘good’ or ‘bad?’” Not all of my characters ended up being that morally gray (there’s one in particular who’s just got a heart of gold and wears it on his sleeve), but it was fun to experiment with in the initial drafting stages. I was also rereading Hamlet around that time and fell in love with the deceptive, cunning aspect of Hamlet’s character. And thus, my main character Lai Cathwell was born.
Which character is the easiest to write for? And which is the hardest?
Lai is definitely the easiest for me to write, for sure. She was the first character I thought of for this story, and while so many of the other characters have changed over the years and countless drafts, she’s mostly remained the same: cunning, confident, and determined. And while these aren’t necessarily traits I associate with myself (except for that last one), they are so fun to write into a character. Lai just does what she wants and it’s really great to write.
As for the hardest, I’d say probably Erik. He’s always so suspicious of everything that sometimes it can be hard for me to motivate him to do something he needs to for the sake of the story because his skeptical nature gets in the way. I love him to death, but sometimes I just wanted to shake him and say, “Can you stop being so skeptical for like two seconds and just do the thing already??” But yeah. He’s great. Mostly.
Who is your favorite author? Favorite books?
Picking just one is hard! I have so many authors and books I love for different reasons. I adore Maggie Stiefvater’s magical prose and Marissa Meyer’s complex stories and the beautiful worlds in Nahoko Uehashi’s novels. My all-time favorite series will probably always be the original Seven Realms quartet by Cinda Williams Chima. Between its multi-faceted characters confronting issues of identity, political intrigue, well-developed romance, and intense action, Seven Realms has definitely set the standard for the kind of writing I both admire and aspire to.
What is your greatest challenge as an author?
For me, it’s writing individual voices for characters. I looove writing multiple POVs, but I’m always just a couple of lines away from making them sound like the same person. When I sit down to write, I have to really ask myself: Is this how Jay would say this, or have I spent too much time in Lai’s head? Would Al really notice all the exits in a room first, or is that more something down Lai’s alley? It definitely takes a lot of thought when I’m switching heads to keep everyone sounding distinct. So, yeah, definitely my biggest writing struggle. But I have some really great editors who’ve been helping me with this, so I’m looking at it as more of a challenge to improve my craft than anything!
Are there any fantasy books from your own childhood/teenage years that are still special to you?
Oh gosh, there are so many! Harry Potter goes without saying. When I was in elementary and early middle school, I devoured the Redwall series; that one’ll always have a very special place in my heart. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series when I was in middle and high school, and honestly, even now. I thought the original quintet was such a masterpiece of characters, plot, and complex, evolving relationships. And then just about all of Tamora Pierce’s books; I couldn’t read them fast enough when I was in high school, but I especially loved the Trickster’s Choice duology. What can I say? I’m weak for cunning, strong-willed female protagonists!
There are so many others, but I feel like these are the ones that helped me grow as both a reader and a writer. And if anyone ever came to love Lai the way I love Trickster’s Choice’s Aly—well, I would probably die on the spot. I think it’s so important to show girls who aren’t just inherently good and always kind, because when that’s most of what I read growing up, I felt like something was missing. I wanted to read about girls who didn’t always make the right choices, whose motives were a little more complicated than just wanting to save the world, who couldn’t be neatly labeled as the good guy. And, frankly, I’ve always wanted to read more about girls who kick ass without needing anyone to come to their rescue. So it’d mean the world to me if a teenager picked up A Soldier and a Liar and could gain joy from reading about a main character like that.
INTERVIEW : YA SH3LF