Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Author Interview (T2T): Y. S. Lee!

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!

1. What was the most interesting thing you did in order to do research for this book?

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.

3. You did your PhD work in Victorian literature and culture. Can you explain for my blog readers what about the Victorian era you find fascinating?

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.

5. Who are your favorite Victorian authors?

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.

7. What are some of your favorite YA novels?

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!


  1. thanks for the interview! my friend's been raving about this book for a while now even though she's still expecting it in the mail lol

  2. It's so cool that you got to work in London while working on this book. And omg I would pitch a tent in front of my bookstore if you ever wrote a book set in SE Asian during WWII. *____*


    it's still not thereeeeeeeeee *mopes sadly at my emo corner*

  3. An author in love with London -- a woman absolutely after my own heart! :) Really enjoyed the interview and your review of The Agency. I'll be looking for it!

  4. Great interview! I've been hearing great things about The Agency, and all of her ideas sound wonderful!

    Oh, I have an award for you here: Not-Really-Southern Vamp Chick

  5. Interesting interview. George Eliot is one of my favourite authors too.

  6. Steph, you're totally making me blush. Thank you for asking such fresh, interesting questions.

    @Ah Yuan: deal!

    @Meg: thank you! Honestly, I think there's something a little bit wrong with people who don't feel the romance of really old cities.

    @EVA SB: I read MIDDLEMARCH every five years or so and it's a different experience every time.

  7. MiddleMarch is on my list of books to read during the summer (when I have more time to devote to classics).

    Wonderful interview! Ah Yuan, I will camp out with you :) I too predict that Y.s. Lee will be around for a long time and I'm so glad Spy was made YA and the ages were lowered, I loved the banter between James & Mary and I could totally relate to Mary. That's so true that the Victorians changed our world, reading Spy has made me think and imagine their world a lot more lately. Thanks for making the Victorians 'in'!

  8. Great interview! I totally agree about the Victorian era and ours are so alike in the fact that they are changing so fast its hard to keep up. I so hope she does a series based on WW2! That would be awesome. As a history person thats my favorite part of history to study. I can't wait to read her book. Thanks for the great interview.


Hello! I'm so excited to read what you have to say. Due to high amounts of spam, I'm forced to disabled anonymous comments for the time being. Sorry for any inconvenience this causes, and I hope you can understand and still appreciate the content here!


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