• Sarah Nestler

Interview with Lori M. Lee

Updated: Aug 17

Brief Bio: Lori M. Lee is the author of Forest of Souls, first in the Shamanborn series, as well as Gates of Thread and Stone and The Infinite. She’s also a contributor to the anthologies A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and Color Outside the Lines. She considers herself a unicorn aficionado, enjoys marathoning TV shows, and loves to write about magic, manipulation, and family. Forest of Souls is set to release on June 23, 2020.

What does “diversity” in books mean to you as both a writer and a reader?

As part of the diaspora, I very much needed to see myself in the books I loved when I was growing up. The stories we consume during those formative years can play an immense role in shaping how we see ourselves and how we see the world around us. So when I create Asian-coded characters within fantasy landscapes that aren’t specifically Asian-inspired, my hope is that young readers will accept the truth that marginalized people belong in fantasy stories just as much as anyone else. And that marginalized readers will feel a little more at home in spaces that haven’t always welcomed them.

As a reader, I look for books that reflect the world as it is, and not as it has been inaccurately portrayed for too long—that is, books that aren’t just the same-old white, straight, cis default. I also focus on reading books by marginalized authors as well, because supporting diversity has to be about supporting diverse creators.

What book did you first see yourself and your experiences represented, and how did that feel?

You know, I don’t know haha. There was a long period in my life where I barely read or wrote anything that wasn’t school-assigned. Then, it wasn’t until college when I got into fanfiction that I gradually shed the self-hatred I’d carried with me from childhood and instead began to embrace, and even take pride in, my Asian heritage. So while that transformation wasn’t because of a book, it WAS still because of stories!

After that, I don’t think it was until Legend by Marie Lu when I genuinely felt that it was okay to write Asian protagonists in mainstream fiction. I mean, it was always okay but it wasn’t something widely accepted by publishing yet, because publishing was still a bit of a hot mess diversity-wise. But once I allowed myself the freedom to write characters who looked like me? Wow did it feel amazing.

How has being part of a particular identity group shaped your writing process?

I often hear from fellow Asian Americans about how their parents disapproved of their writing dreams, and I was really fortunate in that my writing was something my mom and my siblings always supported. But I often felt an unspoken pressure to write about Hmong history, and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted fantasy and adventure and magic. And admittedly, I also wanted to ignore the entire part of me that was Hmong because I’d internalized the wildly harmful notion fed to me by all the media around me—that to be me meant I couldn’t have any of those things.

Characters who looked like me didn’t get the happily ever afters or the calls to action or horses riding into the sunset. So I wrote exclusively about white characters because I didn’t know I could do anything else. Finally giving myself permission to write stories that felt truer to who I am and my background has been like relearning, or maybe unlearning, the entire process. Everything I write now feels a bit like trying to find the ways in which these two sides of me—American and Hmong—intertwine and overlap, because they’re not mutually exclusive.

What are some diverse identities and experiences your book explores?

There are certainly racial tensions between the shamans, the humans, and the shadowblessed, the third race in the book. But in terms of an internal arc, something Sirscha struggles with in the book is her desire to be recognized. Not in any grand sense of earning honor and glory, but simply acknowledgment that she belongs and that she has value.

Which character in your book do you connect with most? Why?

Definitely Sirscha. She’s fighting desperately for acceptance and validation, and looking for it everywhere except within herself, which I think are things teenagers often struggle with. I certainly did, although I’m not entirely sure I knew it at the time!

What type of reaction are you hoping your readers will have to your book?

Ultimately, I just want readers to fall into Sirscha’s world for a few hours and feel like the characters and the world are something they would want to return to. Everyone has their own taste, though, so if nothing else, I hope they’re entertained :)

What’s next for you? Do you have another book you’re working on?

I just turned in the sequel to Forest of Souls, so you can expect to see that hit shelves next year! I’m also working on another project I can’t announce yet but that I’m having so much fun with. Please keep an eye out for that soon!

Thank you to Lori for being so willing and helpful in answering the questions I had.

If you want to check out Lori's website and preorder her book, click HERE!

You can look forward to more author interviews soon.

Tags: #interview #lorimlee #author #book #forestofsouls

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