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Author Spotlight: Justina Chen talks Lovely, Dark, and Deep + GIVEAWAY!


I'm thrilled to be hosting the lovely Justina Chen the blog today! Her brand new book, LOVELY, DARK, AND DEEP hits shelves today, so be sure to reach out and wish her the happiest of book birthdays!

Justina's debut novel, NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (AND A FEW WHITE LIES), won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Youth Literature, and her novel NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL was named one of the Best Books of the Year by Kirkus Reviews and was a finalist for nine state book awards. Justina is also the co-founder of Chen & Cragen and a story strategist to leaders.

And now, here's my chat with Justina!

Hi, Justina! Welcome and congrats on Lovely, Dark, and Deep. Can you share a little about the story and what inspired it?

So what would you do if the sun became your enemy? That’s what happens to Viola Li after she develops a sudden and extreme case of photosensitivity—an inexplicable allergy to the sun. Thanks to her crisis-manager parents, she doesn’t just have to cocoon herself in layers of clothes and wear a hat the size of a spaceship. She has to stay away from all hint of light. Say goodbye to windows and running outdoors and her dream of being an investigative journalist.

Even so.

Viola is determined to live a normal life, especially after she meets Josh. He’s funny, talented Thor look-alike who carries his own mysterious grief. But the intensity of their romance makes Viola take more and more risks—and when a rebellion against her overprotective parents backfires dangerously, she must find her way to a life—and love—as deep and lovely as her dreams.

When I received a call from Scholastic with this kernel of an idea—a girl who becomes allergic to the sun—I saw the entire story almost instantly. And I knew I had to write about deliberate and defiant joy—that blooms insistently even in the darkest situation.

In the novel, Viola Li develops an extreme case of photosensitivity. What was your research process like?

As with NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL where my main character has a birthmark on her face, I feel a real responsibility to depict the medical condition and treatment correctly.

So I started with an interview with one of the premiere dermatologists in Seattle who shared a few medical conditions that might cause or result in severe photosensitivity. I followed up with my own intense research, including reaching out to one of the leading researchers on Viola’s particular condition. As well, my best friend lives with photosensitivity and was able to verify the emotional journey. And finally, my publisher reached out to two dermatologists who reviewed the book in its entirety for medical accuracy—from diagnosis to symptoms to treatment.

What is your favorite thing about Viola?

I love this young woman’s fierce attitude. She can be so absolutely sassy—even after life has devastated her plans for the future.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing Lovely, Dark, and Deep teach you?

The power of attitude is everything. We can’t control so much of what life throws at us: finding yourself suddenly single or suddenly sick. Reading headlines and feeling your heart shatter. Watching what’s happening to our planet. Yet what we can control is our attitude: are we going to be bitter or get better? Are we going to wallow in tragedy or work to triumph? Our response, our attitude—that, we get to choose.

What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?

Life has intervened in the most joyous way—getting remarried, blending a new family, moving homes, and going on an epic honeymoon to Botswana all in the last five months. For me, right at this very moment, I’m finding it extremely difficult to eke out the mental and creative space to write.

Yet I’m practicing self-compassion and reminding myself there are seasons in life. And this one, I want to experience fully since I waited so long to fall in love. So for now, I’m incubating my project, but at some point—soon!—I will have to take my own advice in Point Number 7 below, put real time in my chair, and write my heart out.

What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?

I’m totally and completely infatuated with the Netflix series: ABSTRACT. I love, love, love learning about other people’s creative process, whether they are stage designers or photographers. How do they approach their craft? How do they express their ideas? How do they pick themselves up after so-called failure? How do they keep learning and growing and challenging themselves?.

And finally, what’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned so far in your publishing career?

There is no substitute for putting time in your chair. You can do all the research you want. You can talk all you want about your novel, your characters, your plot. But it all comes down to sitting and writing. This is advice I need to take myself right now.

If LOVELY, DARK, AND DEEP sounds like something you would be interested in, I have great news! Justina has provided a signed ARC (advanced reader copy) and a cute little tealight for me to send to one lucky reader!


  • RT this tweet.

  • Leave a comment on the blog post

Do both and get 2 entries! I'll pick a winner at 12:00 pm ET on Thursday, August 2, 2018. US only.

Many thanks go out to Justina for taking the time to tell us more about LOVELY, DARK, AND DEEP, as well as providing these incredible goodies for a giveaway! Be sure to add her beautiful book about determination to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy RIGHT NOW from retail sites such as Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Or you can always request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!

For more information, be sure to follow Justina on Twitter and visit her full author website at

And, as always,


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