Author Crush Friday with Lydia Kang
Glitter girls, you have pressing questions for your favorite authors and we have their answers. Welcome to our weekly segment, Author Crush Fridays.
We love asking questions and we love the answers from some of our favorite authors. Today we’re talking to Lydia Kang, who is the author of the powerful and diverse YA, The November Girl (November 7, 2017; Entangled Teen). Thank you for talking to us today, Lydia! We’re honored!
GLITTER: How much of The November Girl based on any fairy-tale or folklore? Where did the idea of The November Girl come from?
LYDIA: The idea came from a song I’ve loved since I was a little girl, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot. It’s about a terrible shipwreck on Lake Superior, and mentions a particularly wicked November storm called the Witch of November. These “witches” sink more ships in the month of November than any other time of the year. I’ve been haunted and fascinated by the idea of a real life witch, and why she would be obsessed with killing. Also, I’ve had a long-distance crush on Lake Superior and always wanted to write a book in that setting.
GLITTER: Describe The November Girl in 140 characters or less.
LYDIA: Swoony, shipwrecky romance in which a biracial teen battles nature & self on remote island.
GLITTER: What one question sparked the plot for The November Girl?
LYDIA: What would you do if you got the chance to live inside a real-life fairy tale, but realized that it still didn’t solve all your problems?
GLITTER: Tell us 5 random facts about yourself.
LYDIA: When I was a kid, I made book of potions I was planning on selling at a stand, instead of lemonade.
I have one tattoo. I would love to get more but I keep chickening out.
I have a pet leech.
I have never broken a bone in my body (*knocks on wood*)
I used to sing feminist acapella.
GLITTER: Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer.
LYDIA: I only started writing in 2008. Back then, it was essays and poetry and the subject matter was what I knew—patient care (I’m a doctor too) and life in general. In 2009, I dove into YA fiction and gave myself one month to write the book (which I did, totally sleep-depriving myself) and gave myself one summer to get an agent (ha!). Four months later and a lot of rejections but some positive responses, I moved onto writing another book. And another. My third one, CONTROL, snagged an agent and got me my first book deal. The whole process took about two years, and a steep learning curve of writing.
Since then, I’ve had four different publishers, because not every book you write fits the publishing house you’re with at the moment. I think it took me a really long to start writing (I started at age 37) because I didn’t think I had “permission” to write seriously, because I already had a career and didn’t major in English, or get an MFA. On the other hand, I’m also really thankful for all those experiences that got me to that point. So if you asked me if I could do it differently, I’d say no.
GLITTER: In The November Girl, what was your favorite chapter/scene to write and why?
LYDIA: My favorite chapters are the first two, each from Anda’s and Hector’s POV. I loved watching their personalities and characters emerge as I wrote them. Hector is all practicality and raw survivalism; Anda is weird, weird, weird. I adored writing that juxtaposition.
GLITTER: How much of your book is immersed in real-life experiences?
LYDIA: Hector is half-Black, half Korean. I understood what it was like to grow up and not really feel like Korea was your home, and yet feeling like you didn’t belong right here in your own country. Kids would look at me and try so hard to categorize me. Japanese? Chinese? Christian? Jewish? What? So I did explore that disorienting sensation of not belonging anywhere, as an Asian in America. I also drew on some of my own experiences visiting Korea both as a young child, and as a young adult as well.
GLITTER: How important are diverse books?
LYDIA: Very. I grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, Judy Blume, Madaleine L’Engle, and Roald Dahl. So when I started writing, I wrote from a white character’s POV. It was what I knew, and what I thought was wanted. It’s taken me a while to get comfortable writing as a person of color, with main characters that aren’t always white. It’s actually very difficult for me. I can’t help but think that, as a child, if I’d been immersed in books with characters that were more like me, I wouldn’t feel so angst-ridden about writing POC characters. So I’m really glad that young people now have increasingly varied options in reading books with characters like themselves, plus a huge spectrum of experiences outside themselves. We cannot have enough diversity in books. It adds to our collective intelligence, experience, and empathy as humans.
GLITTER: Do you have any crazy writing rituals?
LYDIA: My hands have to be clean. If there is a speck of stickiness or anything—I have to wash them. And I can’t write on a hint of an empty stomach. The second my blood sugar goes below normal I jump out of my chair for food. Also, I have a lot of tchotchkes around my writing areas. Jasper, agates, paperweights…I like having trinkets around to inspire me. I have to have a ring on my right fourth finger. It’s my writing ring. Is that enough weird? LOL.
GLITTER: What is the one piece of advice you can offer new authors?
LYDIA: Read a lot in the area you’re writing in. It makes my blood boil when someone tells me, “Oh, I’m writing YA too.” And I ask them if they have any favorite books and they can’t name any, or they say “Oh, haha, I don’t read YA.” Also, be as open as possible to learning to improve your craft. That means absorbing some painful feedback. And finally, learn as quickly as you can the difference between good feedback and cruelty. Some people just want to bring you down; a good crit partner tells you how to improve while boosting up your hope that you’re going in the right direction.
GLITTER: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
LYDIA: I think I’ve given myself the toughest criticism. Nothing is more horrible than hearing someone say “This writing sucks.” When I’m drafting, my inner critic say that all the time and it’s devastating. My friends help get me through those tough times.
The best compliment was when someone tweeted that The November Girl was so good that I should teach a master class in narrative voice! (Thanks Ashley Hearn!)
GLITTER: What are you working on now?
LYDIA: I am currently in the process of revising CYCLO (name will be changing!), my sci-fi Korean girl on a dying spaceship novel, out in October 2018, also with Entangled Teen. I love this book so much, and I’ve always wanted to write a spaceship story!
Lydia Kang is an author of young adult fiction, poetry, and narrative non-fiction. She graduated from Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine, completing her residency and chief residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. She is a practicing physician who has gained a reputation for helping fellow writers achieve medical accuracy in fiction. Her poetry and non-fiction have been published in JAMA, The Annals of Internal Medicine, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Journal of General Internal Medicine, and Great Weather for Media. She believes in science and knocking on wood, and currently lives in Omaha with her husband and three children.