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Summer Blog Blast Tour: Malinda Lo

I couldn’t be happier to be part of the crew launching the 2010 Summer Blog Blast Tour today with Malinda Lo, author of the much-praised Cinderella-retelling, Ash. I loved this book. Read my review here, and then come on back. The New York Times called it “somber and lovely,” and Kirkus blessed it with a starred review, saying it is “exquisite and pristine.” It happens to be up for a 2010 Lambda Literary Award. Bottom line? If you haven’t read it yet, you are in for a moody and magical treat. Save it for just the right moment. You will be enchanted and you will become an instant Malinda Lo fan. So aren’t you lucky that she’s right here with us today? Welcome Malinda!

What first interested you about the prospect of retelling such a classic story? What surprised you about the process? What proved to be more challenging or satisfying about re-imagining Cinderella than you had initially anticipated?

The first first thing that interested me in retelling a fairy tale was most likely reading Robin McKinley’s Beauty when I was a kid. That retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” showed me how wonderful a fairy tale retold can be. I wanted to retell “Cinderella” because it has always been my favorite fairy tale, but I had never read a retold version of it that I really enjoyed.

When I started thinking about how I would retell “Cinderella,” I thought it would be relatively simple because, well, I knew what happened! But the most surprising thing about retelling it was the realization that actually, no, I did not know what happened. Figuring out what happened — the plot — turned out to be the most challenging part of writing Ash.

One of the real pleasures for readers of your book, is the mood you create throughout – a little magic, a little darkness, romance and loneliness all mixed together. So here’s a million dollar question: how did you do that? On your website, you share a playlist that you listened to during the writing process. What else did you do to help you get into the right writing space as you worked on Ash?

I wrote Ash on and off over a period of eight years, so I did a lot of different things — I was always chasing that mood! Looking back on it, I think I was experimenting a lot with techniques that would put me in the right writing space. One of the things that definitely did help was music. I own every single Loreena McKennitt album now because listening to her brand of Celtic music was so helpful in getting myself into that Ash place! I also learned that I write better when I can do it for long stretches, as opposed to an hour at a time. So I began to block out four to eight-hour chunks of time to work.

Back then, I was working full-time but had a flexible schedule because I was a self-employed freelance writer. I scheduled every Friday afternoon and evening as Ash writing time, and I did this for a couple of years. It did mean I sacrificed part of my social life, but it was worth it. And honestly, you can do plenty of socializing on Saturday night!

There could be some potential readers out there who as soon as they hear the words “lesbian retelling of Cinderella” think that Ash will live happily ever after in the LGBT section of libraries or bookstores, and that if they aren’t LGBT themselves, this book might not be something they’d be interested in reading. Why do you think this story has broad appeal for teen readers?

You know, I get this question a lot, and I understand why. I would ask it, too. I don’t think that many minority writers would want to be ghettoized by having their books placed only in a special interest section. At the same time, I recognize that having those special interest sections was once a mark of progress. In the not-so-distant past, LGBT books weren’t even carried in most mainstream bookstores, much less in LGBT sections. So while I’m glad that Ash hasn’t been relegated to that dusty corner of the bookstore, at the same time, I feel like it’s a privilege for it to be categorized in the LGBT section. Many of the other books in that section paved the way for my book to be published, and I’m thankful for them.

Of course, I do hope that Ash has broad appeal. I can’t say for certain whether it does or not — I’m no Dan Brown or Stephenie Meyer! But I do think that Ash is a love story told in a fairly mainstream voice. Yes, Ash falls in love with another girl, but the gender of her love interest is almost incidental. The book isn’t about being gay or coming out; it’s about falling in love. Continue reading