Welcome to You Heard Write! A place where writers and fans can hear from their favorite authors as they discuss aspects of the craft, up and coming publications, and personal experiences.
Today we welcome a very special guest, science fiction and fantasy author Yoon Ha Lee.
About the author:
A Korean-American sf/f writer who received a B.A. in math from Cornell University and an M.A. in math education from Stanford University, Yoon finds it a source of continual delight that math can be mined for story ideas. Yoon’s fiction has appeared in publications such as F&SF, Tor.com, and Clarkesworld Magazine, as well as several year’s best anthologies. He also is the author of two short story collections and six novels:
The Mercenaries of Empire series (Solaris Books 2016–2019)
The Vela (Serial Box 2019) *Co-authored with Becky Chambers, Rivers Soloman, and S.L. Huang
Dragon Pearl (Disney-Hyperion 2019)
CN: Themes play major roles in stories, both short publications and novels. What theme(s) tend to pop up in your work? Any you stay away from?
YHL: Military ethics, imperialism, colonialism show up in some form or
another in most of my works. I wish it were otherwise–these certainly
aren’t beach reading sorts of topics, and I know sometimes people just
want to read for escapism or light entertainment. I spent a few years
on military bases growing up, as my dad used to be a US Army surgeon,
and as for imperialism and colonialism, that was a historical background
I was always aware of through my own family’s entanglement with the
Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.
I don’t often write about romance or romantic love, not because these
aren’t worthy subjects but because I’m kind of inept at portraying those
kinds of relationships. I do enjoy reading romances from time to time,
CN: Your middle grade novel Dragon Pearl has space, pirates, spirit animals, and one of the coolest magic systems–fox-magic. When creating systems for magic, what tips can you give to writers who may be struggling with coming up with their own magic system within their created worlds?
YHL: In the case of Dragon Pearl, the fox magic is stolen directly from
Korean folklore, although I had to adapt it for the audience. The
gumiho (fox spirits) are known for, er, seducing men and eating their
livers, neither of which would have been appropriate in a kids’ book! I
gave my fox character Min an amped up version of those powers mainly
because one of the things about being a kid is that you have so little
power over what happens in your life. The fact that Min can do so many
magical things, from shapeshifting to influencing people’s minds, is
really a sort of power fantasy of the sort that I enjoyed when I was young.
For magic systems, I think there are two main approaches (and hybrids of
the two, of course). You can have a mechanistic, almost
laws-of-fantasy-physics approach with hard-and-fast rules and
consequences; Brandon Sanderson is one author who does this extremely
well. Or you can have magic that feeds more off mood and atmosphere
rather than strict rules, as with Lord Dunsany or Patricia McKillip.
CN: If you could go back in time and give your pre-published self one piece of advice, what would it be?
YHL: You’re going to laugh, but I would say exercise more! You only get one
body, and we don’t yet have the technology to order up replacement
bodies. Writing is a physical act, and it’s very easy to wreck your
wrists or your posture doing it.
CN: (Fun One) You’ve a clear interest in all things space and science fiction. If your fans paid for a “Send Yoon to the Moon” trip for you, what three books would you take with you to read in zero gravity?
YHL: Oh gosh, that’s hard. Right now, I would take Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan
Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky because my daughter told me how good it
is, Tillie Walden’s graphic novel On a Sunbeam, and Tracy Fullerton’s
Game Design Workshop–imagine the kinds of inspiration for games you
could get out in space!
CN: What can your fans expect from the next Yoon Ha Lee book(s)?
YHL: My current work in progress is Phoenix Extravagant, which is set in a
fantasy version of Korea during the Japanese occupation. In my
fake!Korea, the fake!Japanese use automata to control the populace, and
the automata are programmed by magical pigments that imbue them with
qualities such as courage or loyalty. The hero is a collaborationist
painter who not only finds the terrible secret of the automata but ends
up teaming up with a mecha dragon against the colonial government.
Myself and Yoon want to thank you all for stopping by You Heard Write! We hope you had as much fun reading the Q and A as we did ourselves, as well as furthering your knowledge on the craft of writing.
Don’t forget to follow Yoon Ha Lee on Twitter @motomaratai. You can also visit www.yoonhalee.com to stay up to date with his work!
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