What made you decide to try your hand at writing young adult novels?
It was kind of an accident, actually. My first novel, Ash, was a retelling of Cinderella, and I wrote it without thinking about which market it would fall into. I wrote it primarily for me. When it came time to submit it to agents, I did my research and realized it fit best into YA. That’s how I landed here.
What inspires you to write?
So many things! I’m inspired by science, culture, music, the books I read and the TV shows I love. Inspiration is everywhere. For A Line in the Dark, I was particularly inspired by Tana French’s novel The Secret Place, which is about a murder that takes place at an Irish boarding school. I was riveted by the way she wrote police interviews, and I wanted to try writing some myself.
Making sure their collections include titles reflecting diversity in characters, authors, and topics is an important part of collection curation for librarians; our librarians will appreciate that you co-founded Diversity in YA. Could you talk a little about that?
Diversity in YA was a project that my friend and fellow author Cindy Pon dreamed up back in 2011 when we both had Asian-inspired fantasy novels publishing in the same month. We organized a national tour and followed that up with a website that was very active for several years. It’s no longer active, but I think Cindy and I, through Diversity in YA, made a significant contribution to the conversation on diversity in the YA community. Although DiYA is not the same as We Need Diverse Books, I also believe that DiYA — along with other longtime advocates in the industry — helped pave the way for WNDB, and I’m thrilled that WNDB has been so successful.
What do you hope readers get from your books?
I hope readers are entertained. I’m a storyteller, and I want to create stories that are deeply absorbing. I want them to be so drawn into the tale that they forget about the outside world, and instead spend several hours inside the heads of my characters. The fact that those characters are lesbian and bisexual teen girls is a subversive bonus.
Keeping in mind that we are a magazine for K-12 school librarians, is there anything you would like to add that we haven’t touched on?
I always want to stress to librarians that my books are not only for lesbian and bisexual teen girls, although I do think lesbian and bisexual readers might be especially interested in them. I think that with the rise of We Need Diverse Books, we’ve started to make clear that so-called “diverse” books can and should be read by everyone. It can be world-expanding and eye-opening to get to know someone different than you inside the pages of a book. It’s so limiting to think that books about marginalized people — whether they’re LGBT or people of color — are only for readers who match the identities of the characters.
I’m not saying that everyone will enjoy my books, but my thrillers are meant to be read by thriller fans; my fantasy novels by fantasy readers. I’m an Asian American lesbian, but I’ve read and enjoyed plenty of books about white, straight people. This can go the other way, too.
You can learn more about Lo and her books at https://www.malindalo.com/