Earlier today I posted my review of the fabulous YA historical fiction mystery novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee. Now, Ying has graciously stopped by my blog today as part of a Traveling to Teens tour and answered some questions for you! Welcome, Ying!
I moved to London! When I was researching my PhD thesis, I spent 6 months living in Bloomsbury and working at the British Library. It was then that I fell in love with the city. I used to get up early on weekend mornings so that I could walk the neighbourhoods while they were uncrowded. Victorian London still exists, absolutely.
2. You mentioned in an interview with Sophie of So Many Books, So Little Time that, as a teen, you were "suspicious" of YA fiction. How, then, did you come to write YA?
It was a complete fluke. I first wrote an adult mystery novel set in Victorian London complete with Lascars, smugglers and stench. However, it took my agent to point out that it was really a coming-of-age novel; she suggested that I rework it as a YA novel. It seemed daunting, at first; I didn’t think I had anything to say to teen readers. But when I thought about it, I realized that 1) my agent was absolutely right, and 2) I didn’t have to use a special tone or vocabulary in a YA novel. Ultimately, I ended up cutting about 30,000 words and changing Mary’s and James’s ages, but the substance of the original novel is all there.
I love how simultaneously near and far it is to our present culture. We tend to hear a lot about how fast everything is changing: how you can’t keep up with technology, how the world is shrinking as a result, and how completely unrecognizable our world will be in twenty years. Well, the Victorians had very much the same experience. They invented huge factories, ocean steamers, train travel, the camera, moving pictures… things that radically changed their culture and that are still very much with us.
4. Oh wow, that's such a new and cool way to think about the Victorians! What is the most memorable thing that a reader has said to you since SPY was released?
May I include 2 things? First, a couple of blog reviewers noticed that SPY pokes fun at mystery novels in general; I’m ridiculously excited that people got my meta-narrative jokes! And it’s ridiculously satisfying to hear that reading SPY made someone miss lunch/late for a ballet lesson/forget to call her grandmother. I’m a catatonic reader, and am so pleased to induce catatonia in others.
George Eliot, George Eliot, George Eliot! Also Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the Brontës. I don’t know that I really like Dickens’s novels, but I find them fascinating.
6. What are some of your non-reading- and writing-related hobbies?
Yoga, cooking, and watching really bad action flicks.
You can’t go wrong with Madeleine L’Engle. I also thought highly of Veronica Bennett’s ANGELMONSTER, Marie-Louise Jensen’s THE LADY IN THE TOWER, and quite wish I’d written Lisa Mantchev’s EYES LIKE STARS.
8. Beyond the Agency trilogy, what other eras/subjects/ideas would you like to write about?
I’ve been thinking about the Second World War recently, and its impact on Southeast Asian countries. I have a couple of fantasy-esque ideas for books that I’m not sure what to do with yet. And I’m far from done with the nineteenth century!
Thanks so much for your answers, Ying! I predict that she's an author who will be around for a long time to come. Can I haz the next two books in The Agency trilogy now, please? Not to mention those story ideas of hers! Pleeease please check this book out when you get the chance! Oh, wait, look...
Want to read this book? Ying is currently holding an "If I Were a Spy" contest over at her website. Enter there for a chance to win a signed copy of A Spy in the House along with a t-shirt!
For a schedule of blog stops on this tour for A Spy in the House, check out the Traveling to Teens Weebly or Ying's website!