Better Know an Author: Laura Lam

This month’s featured author is the lovely Laura Lam, the brilliant mind behind several SFF series with queer main characters, spanning both YA and Adult categories. If you haven’t already read her work, now’s the time to learn more about it and pick it up!

It’s been quite the busy year for you! Multiple releases, loads of events across Europe… If you stand back for a second and take a breath to think about it, what’s been your favorite bookish moment of the year so far?

It has been an uncommonly busy year! I’ll never have this many releases in so short a space of time, I don’t think, as a few were due to delays as a result of changing publishers. I think my favourite bookish moment was going to Dutch Comic Con in Utrecht, the Netherlands. It was my first convention as an invited guest, and I also got to meet Gates McFadden (Doctor Beverly Crusher from Star Trek TNG). I gave her a copy of False Hearts and she ended up reading it, liking it, and now she follows me on Twitter. Win! It was also just a nice, friendly con and me, Zen Cho, and Vic James were all really well treated by The American Book Center, who helped organize our events.

You got your start with your Micah Grey trilogy, which was pretty unlike anything publishing had seen at the time, and also had a bit of a bumpy publication process. For those who don’t know about the process of getting all three books into the world, can you share that experience? And what was the reception to the series like from readers?

Micah Grey stars an intersex, bisexual, genderfluid lead. Back in 2012, there was fewer books that investigated the gender binary—in just a few years we now have so much more, and that’s brilliant! Most of them are still in contemporary YA, whereas the Micah Grey books are gaslight fantasy in a secondary world. I wrote it, not really thinking about how it might be hard to get published. I was very lucky in that it sold to the first and only publisher who saw it—Angry Robot Books, who were just about to start Strange Chemistry, the YA imprint. Pantomime came out a year later in 2013, and it had really nice reviews and a decent amount of buzz. I wrote the second book, Shadowplay, which came out in 2014, but a few weeks after it was released, my trilogy was cancelled and I was pretty devastated.

I’d always thought that the hardest part of writing was finishing the book, then getting a book out there. But actually, staying published and being able to have regular releases is a much greater challenge. I’d wondered if that was it. If I’d wasted my shot. I kept getting lovely messages from readers, many of whom were queer and/or investigating their own gender identity, and each one made me burst into tears as I was so sad because I didn’t know if the series would be finished. I kept trying to write it, but I was still heartbroken. I figured at some point I’d self-publish.

So I wrote something else—False Hearts. And I threw everything I had into it. It’s more violent so I channelled that frustration. It sold, and then my agent was like “well before you self-publish, let’s see if Tor UK want your trilogy too.” Turns out they did. I cried so, so many tears when I found out. It’d been like I’d been holding my breath for almost two years at that point. Now all three books are out and I’m just very grateful. I had to fight for it, but it was worth fighting for.

You’ve since jumped from YA to Adult, and fantasy to sci-fi, with your Pacifica series, beginning with False Hearts. Do you find your heart is in any one category and/or genre, or do you see yourself continuing to jump around, and why?

False Hearts was freeing because it was so very different to what I’d written before. I used to think I’d be rubbish at writing science fiction and thought my heart would always be with fantasy, but it turns out I was wrong and I love both equally. They each have different rewards and challenges. I don’t think I’ll ever write the same genre forever. I have ideas for more science fiction, a science fantasy duology, a time travel historical fantasy, and a book that’s not science fiction or fantasy at all. I like to keep trying new things.

Bisexual representation is something I think we can all agree is lacking in genre fiction, but definitely not in your books! Can you share a little bit about your bisexual characters, and how their sexuality fits into their worlds?

Pretty much all of my protagonists are bi. Micah Grey is bi, and so is his love interest, Drystan. Taema and Tila from False Hearts are bi. Carina’s love interest in Shattered Minds is a trans man, and though I don’t state her sexuality outright, I don’t think she’s straight. I am not sure if I know how to write a 100% straight protagonist. *shrug*

In Micah Grey, the world is very repressed and Victorian-inspired, so there is more hesitation and secrecy around sexuality there. In Pacifica, the world of False Hearts and Shattered Minds, it’s about 100 years in the future, and I made the deliberate choice to have all forms of sexuality and gender identity be no big deal whatsoever. There’s still some bigoted people, sure, but they’re fairly few and far between. It was nice write that. While there’s many things about that world I wouldn’t want to actually come true, I do hope that does.

You publish in both the US and UK, which means different pub dates, different covers…it almost looks like two totally different experiences. How do you balance doing promo and having publishers on both sides of the pond?

Only False Hearts and Shattered Minds have two different publishers. Micah Grey at the moment, only has a UK publisher but they distribute copies to the US, hence the slight delayed release of them (so there was time to ship). Balancing the promotion is definitely hard. Usually I end up doing two blog tours. I’m not able to get out to the states very often, though I’m going out this August and will be doing at least one event at Borderlands. I’m glad I have a presence on both sides of the pond, both where I grew up and where I live now.

In addition to your full-length novels, you’ve also published short fiction. What can you share about it?

I wrote the Vestigial Tales, which are prequel short stories and novellas in the same world, to teach myself how to self-publish back when I thought that was the way it was going to go. Writing them also helped me keep the love for that series alive as I recovered and wasn’t sure what the heck was going on with my career. They’re all prequels set in the same world. “The Snake Charm” is about one of the secondary characters, Drystan, in the Circus of Magic before Micah joins. “The Fisherman’s Net” is a short fable about a mermaid and the dangers of greed. “The Tarot Reader” is another character, Cyan’s, story in the circus she worked in before she’s introduced in Shadowplay, book two. “The Card Sharp” is another story about Drystan, about him being a Lerium drug addict and card sharp before joining the Circus of Magic. “The Mechanical Minotaur” I released this year, and it’s sort of like a non-racist Indian in the Cupboard meets Boy Cinderella, and doesn’t really feature any characters from the main series (but is still best read after Masquerade as a cap to the series).

Friends helped me edit, another friend made the covers (Dianna Walla, who was my childhood pen pal!), and I formatted them myself. The first Vestigial Tale is permanently free if anyone wants to check it out and it can be read before Pantomime.

On your blog, you share monthly posts about what books you’ve just read. What have your favorites been so far this year, and what are you really looking forward to for the remainder of 2017?

I try to read about 100 books a year, though I don’t always make it. I feel like reading a lot is a valuable part of market research. Plus it’s just really good for my soul.

Some of my favourites this year:

  • Duke of Shadows – Meredith Duran
  • Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Tiny Pretty Things – Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra
  • The Seafarer’s Kiss – Julia Ember
  • Nasty Women – edited by 404 ink (disclaimer: I do have a story in this)
  • The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
  • A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal – Meredith Duran
  • Parable of the Talents & Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler
  • The Space Between the Stars – Anne Corlett
  • Assassin’s Fate – Robin Hobb
  • The Radium Girls – Kate Moore

I’m very bad at planning what I’m going to read over the rest of the year. I know I really want to read Want by Cindy Pon! I’m also searching for a first person past tense book with an unreliable narrator to use for my First Person Module I teach at Napier, so next I’m reading His Bloody Murder by Graeme Macrae Burnet and The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp.

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ media that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

I internalised a lot of the biphobic things I saw in media. I thought I couldn’t be bi because I’ve only dated my boyfriend/now husband. The number one thing that annoys me is when they dance around saying bisexual. Certain people don’t want to put labels, and that’s fine, but every time I see a character who is clearly by say “oh I don’t like labels,” I do grind my teeth a little. I put “I’m bi” in False Hearts and have had almost 20 people email me thanking me for putting those two letters of B and I in a book, so I don’t think I’m the only one who feels the frustration. I want to see bi characters who are just as awesome and interesting as any other character.

What’s up next for you?

Who knows? That sounds flippant, but I’m in that awkward in between stage where I’ve finished my current contract but can’t quite pitch for more just yet as they’re waiting for False Hearts paperbacks sales (so buying a copy would be loooovely if the premise interests you!). I’m editing two books and hoping I can sell them in autumn.

*****

Photo credit: Elizabeth May

Originally from sunny California, Laura Lam now lives in cloudy Scotland. Lam is the author of BBC Radio 2 Book Club section False Hearts, the companion novel Shattered Minds, as well as the award-winning Micah Grey series PantomimeShadowplay, and Masquerade. Her short fiction and essays have also appeared in anthologies such as Nasty WomenSolaris Rising 3, Cranky Ladies of History, and more.  She lectures part-time at Napier University in Edinburgh on the Creative Writing MA.

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