Author Spotlight: Liana Liu talks Shadow Girl
Liana Liu is on the blog today with her YA paranormal, SHADOW GIRL, which was released just yesterday (and sounds amazing!!!!!). Check out this Gothic-lovers-dream description from Goodreads below:
The house on Arrow Island is full of mystery. Yet when Mei arrives, she can’t help feeling relieved. She’s happy to spend the summer in an actual mansion tutoring a rich man’s daughter if it means a break from her normal life—her needy mother, her delinquent brother, their tiny apartment in the city. And Ella Morison seems like an easy charge, sweet and well behaved. What Mei doesn’t know is that something is very wrong in the Morison household. Though she tries to focus on her duties, Mei becomes increasingly distracted by the family’s problems and her own complicated feelings for Ella’s brother, Henry. But most disturbing of all are the unexplained noises she hears at night—the howling and thumping and cries. Mei is a sensible girl. She isn’t superstitious; she doesn’t believe in ghosts. Yet she can’t shake her fear that there is danger lurking in the shadows of this beautiful house, a darkness that could destroy the family inside and out… and Mei along with them.
Hi, Liana! Welcome and congrats on the release of Shadow Girl. Can you tell us a little about the story and the inspiration behind it?
Shadow Girl is a coming-of-age story about a Chinese-American girl who is spending her summer working as an academic tutor for a wealthy family on a mysterious island.
When I was a teenager, I often struggled with my racial identity. I experienced plenty of overt racism, name-calling and insults and creepy exotifying come-ons, but what was most confusing to me was the more subtle stereotyping. In some ways it was easier for me to dismiss racist jerks than to accept that people—sometimes well-meaning people—would perceive me a certain way based on my ethnicity. They might assume I was quiet and good at math and hard-working and well-behaved and interested in hearing that their brother’s wife was from Singapore. And though I was some of those things, I definitely wasn’t all of them (certainly not quiet!). It made me feel both extremely visible and invisible at the same time.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve stopped letting other people’s perceptions bother me as much, but I’ve always wanted to write about this visible-invisible feeling. For a long time, I didn’t know how to approach it. I didn’t want the focus to be on culture clashes or racist attacks—that had already been done, beautifully and powerfully, by many others. I didn’t want to be didactic or judgmental. I just wanted to express the pervasive sense of otherness I’d felt throughout my teen years and sometimes still today.
I’ve always loved English governess novels and gothic romances, like Jane Eyre and Rebecca. When I thought of using those stories as a framework for my own story, it was a revelation. Those books were about young women redefining themselves in a world designed to keep them in their place—an unobtrusive in-between place. Seen but not heard. Visible yet invisible. It was the perfect foundation.
There’s lots of mystery woven into Mei’s story. How do you go about laying the breadcrumbs that will eventually add up to bigger plot revelations? Is there a lot of outlining involved?
Oh gosh, so much outlining! This was the first book I’ve written with a deadline and so my agents advised me to begin with an outline. So I did. Then I wrote a draft. Then another outline. Then another draft. I’m not usually an outliner, but in this case it was helpful. There are so many moving parts in this story that it was necessary to plan it out.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
I have a few unfinished novels in my documents folder and they’re all about the same length—80 pages—because, I’ve realized, that’s when I reached the middle. When I start working on a book, I usually know the beginning and have a sense of the end. But the middle, who knows what happens in the middle? Sometimes I can figure it out, but sometimes I just. Can’t. And then I have to face the fact that this book I’ve spent so much time and thought and energy on might not be a book. I think it’s an essential skill for a writer, and a human, to be able to let go of something if it’s not working, no matter how much you may love it or have invested in it. It’s hard, and you can/should grieve, but who knows what magic the future might hold?
Which Shadow Girl character was your favorite to write, and why?
I hadn’t realized this until you asked it, but I loved writing the brother character. Andy doesn’t appear that often in the book, but he is going through some major changes and struggles of his own. I feel like I could write a whole book about him—maybe I will!
I love the creepy Arrow Island setting you created. Did you do any research on haunted mansions?
I did lots of reading, but I was too much of a scaredy-cat to do any visiting!
What has been your most rewarding experience as an author?
I just love it when readers tell me they were touched by my work. When I was a kid, books were my escape and comfort and joy, so it makes me really happy that my books can be that for others.
Paranormal mysteries are rife with tension. Do you have any tips for keeping readers on the edge of their seats?
In my research of haunted houses, I found that hauntings were usually entwined with human pain and fear and trauma. Maybe that’s why I’m most interested in writing the paranormal as a reflection of whatever characters are facing in the “normal” world. When we are confronted by things we didn’t believe were possible, it can break us wide open, showing us the truth about our inner fears and demons—and what’s scarier than that?
What are you reading, or otherwise currently obsessed with?
A couple of years ago, I read and loved Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, and when I heard they were adapting it for TV I thought they would never pull it off. But they pulled it off! The series is about a young woman accused of murder in the 1800’s, but it’s less a whodunit than an exploration of gender and storytelling. It’s so powerful. I’ve been recommending it to everyone (you can watch it on NetFlix).
And finally, with two books under your belt, what’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned so far in your publishing career?
The process of every book I’ve written (technically three, my first one is unpublished), has been wildly different. The first draft of my first novel went really slowly, line by painstaking line. The Memory Key leapt out of me—I finished the first draft in two months. The process of writing Shadow Girl was somewhere in between. At times it was slow and painstaking; other times it went so fast it felt like flying. And so I find it helpful to remember that when you start something new, even if you’re an experienced writer, you’re still a beginner at the project you just started. So it’s totally okay to have no idea what you’re doing—it’s expected!
Many thanks go out to Liana for taking the time to tell us more about Shadow Girl, as well sharing her experience and advice—especially the sage reminder that every time we start something new (even if we're experienced writers) we're still beginners when it comes to that project. So true!
Be sure to add Shadow Girl to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy RIGHT NOW from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or request it at your local indie. And for more, check out Liana's website at lianaliu.com.
And, as always,