I’m weird about pain. I’ve ignored broken bones and I wasn’t upset when I once accidentally stabbed through my hand with a crafting knife, but I will whine all day if I have a sinus headache.
When I was younger I wanted to be an animator.
I decided who I wanted to marry in 7th grade and never changed my mind. We started dating when I was 19, and now we’ve been married almost 10 years! My wife is also my editor!
I’ve heard that you’re fond of comic books and cartoons. What would you recommend – maybe you can give us two or three of each?
Cartoons: Steven Universe, My Hero Academia, The Prince of Egypt
Comics: The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ & Amal, Hawkeye, A Bride’s Story
If you could be genetically altered into a superhero, what superpowers would you want to receive and why?
The superpower I most want in the world actually isn’t genetic- it’s Allspeak- ala Thor. The ability to speak, read and understand any language. I get by in life mostly via being able to talk my way into and out of things, so language barriers are a real drag.
What first inspired you to start writing, and what keeps you motivated to continue writing?
Like so many authors today, I started out with fanfiction years ago. There were characters I liked and wanted to play with, and there were stories I wanted that I knew I wasn’t going to get from the cannon of those shows. Eventually, I turned to original fiction because I couldn’t push the pre-existing characters from other properties all the way into the narratives I wanted to explore.
What are the three most significant lessons you learned about the whole writing, editing and publishing process?
I was fortunate in this respect- by the time I first started writing my wife and one of my best friends had MFAs in writing. So I had guides from the start helping me avoid some of the most common pitfalls. I would take away:
1) You have to learn how your brain wants to write. I have memory problems, so that affects my writing. My process has turned into writing two chapter, then going back to the start and editing my way back up to where I left off before I add the next two. That’s how I remember what’s going on in the story. Every brain is different, and tailoring writing process to your brain just makes sense.
2) Community helps. Even when nobody’s read your story yet, having people you can bounce ideas off of is a HUGE benefit. Also sometimes they may bring you tea out of pity.
3) You can do a lot of writing without writing. My writing process includes taking walks, taking online quizzes, making mood boards, listening to music, and even trying to encapsulate my characters as cheesecake or tea flavors. It helps me see things from multiple angles, which helps me round out their characters. You still have to sit down and write eventually, but I find these “distractions” help me keep up my motivation and stay in love with my characters.
Do you have other stories and/or writing projects you’re currently working on? Can you tell us something about them?
Right now I’m completely devoted to Secondhand Origin Stories sequel, although once in a while I do get together with some friends to work on writing a webcomic that will launch far in the future. It uses vampires to explore the history of queer folks in Minneapolis/St Paul. That one is a lot of grief, loss, community, and identity.
I love Secondhand Origin Stories for reasons that are too many to count! But I’d say that one of them would be the incredibly diverse cast of characters. What does diversity in Young Adult literature (or maybe even fiction in general) mean to you?
So, I’ll be honest, there was a time when peoples cries of “representation matters” had me rolling my eyes. After all, I grew up without any meaningful representation, and I turned out ok, right?
Until Steven Universe aired, and suddenly I had more representation that spoke to me personally than ever before.
Have you ever not noticed how starving you were till you smelled food? That was Steven Universe for me. Suddenly I realized how hungry I’d been for these stories–and that I’d been hungry for them for a very, very long time. I realized how sad the crumbs I’d been living off of really were, and I wanted more. And once I realized how wonderful representation is, I wanted that amazing seen feeling for everybody! So I prove what I can, and that which I can’t provide, I try to promote. Being seen in your stories is a life-changing experience.
Can you tell us about how the story first started? What inspired you to write about teenage superheroes and their families?
The inspirations for this story are scattered across my life. The earliest one I can think of was watching Buffy as a teen, and reflecting how unsustainable that lifestyle was. Even with super healing, the mind and body can only take so much over the course of years. There has to be a limit.
Also, I had an urge to see heroes facing down the foes that I consider most dangerous- institutional racism, ableism, homophobia. The abuses of our criminal justice system. The people really killing us wear suits and uniforms, not capes.
But If I lay all my cards on the table, I actually started writing the story after watching a particularly badly written made-for-tv kids cartoon about the children of the Avengers. I was stuck on the couch with a bad cold and my NyQuil-infused brain got so mad about how sloppily the family dynamics were written (I was finishing a Masters Degree in family therapy at the time). I started thinking about all the much more interesting stories you could tell about the children of superheroes. This was the result.
Which character do you consider your favorite, and which character did you have the most difficulty with?
My favorite is whoever’s point of view I was most recently writing. Sorry, that really is the best I can do.
I was surprised that Yael was the hardest. Yael is agender, like I am, and loves to draw, like I do, and so I thought xe’d be easy to write. But Yael also has a very different approach to anger and morality than I do, so xyr headspace was a little tricky for me.
It is impossible to miss the way you’ve interwoven themes of government corruption, racism, and marginalization into your story. Do you think the way they’ve been written in Secondhand Origin Stories can be likened to our current social and political climate? How should young adults in real life respond to these issues?
Secondhand Origin Stories is very directly about current social issues. Except that the current US administration keeps one-upping me for evil government behavior, which has made things difficult.
As for advice on how young adults should respond- I wish I had more to offer. We’re all just trying to get by, these days. I guess if I were to advise, I would say to be as kind as you can afford to be, and re-evaluate what you can afford regularly. I would also advise anyone to remember that digging our way out of this isn’t a sprint. It isn’t even a marathon. It’s a relay, and you need to remember that you have a team and work with them.
What were some of the big challenges in writing this book?
I started writing it thinking I knew these characters. I had a plan! But the romance ended up with a different couple, Yael’s whole character arc got reworked, and Martin ended up taking a much more central role than I’d planned. For me, I had to let that all happen, but it was tough to keep up with!
What scene or part of the story did you enjoy writing the most?
Probably the poker game and the grocery store. I have a great weakness for slow, domestic moments where characters can just be themselves and respond to their emotions more than external threats. But Issac’s, shall we say, “attempt” was also really fun because I like any time I can make readers sit with a particular feeling for a while.
Also, the smooches.
What main messages is Secondhand Origin Stories trying to instill in its readers?
I didn’t really set out to instill any particular message. It’s more of a meandering exploration of themes and problems than a particular suggestion.
I won’t lie. The ending of Secondhand Origin Stories managed to make me tear up a little (for reasons I won’t fully disclose in this interview). When can we expect the sequel and what can we expect in it – or more like, what are we allowed to know?
I have no idea when you can expect a sequel, sorry! We’ve just adopted a baby in January, so I’m working on how to balance parenting, day job, and writing. I will say, the more copies I sell of SHOS, the more time I can afford to spend writing the sequel and the faster it’ll get done.
I’m a little hesitant to disclose too much about the sequel because the first book changed so much from outline to final draft. But I will say it’s going to pick up a few months after SHOS left off, it’ll address some dangling threads left by book 1. It’s going to delve into the history of American eugenics and how the principles of eugenics are still alive and well in our medical and governmental systems today.
What is your favorite quote from Secondhand Origin Stories?
“There was something about queer kids that seemed to make them cluster together, without even meaning to. Without even knowing. It was something she’d learned to trust. It helped.”
This isn’t a question, but again, I just want to say thank you very much – both for agreeing to be interviewed by me and for letting me organize this blog tour! It’s been really fun and rewarding, and I’m hoping the #SHOSPH blog tour has somehow helped you and your book. You are phenomenal!
BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE
23 April (Monday)
- Secondhand Origin Stories blog tour launch
- Excerpt from Stuffed Shelves
- Feature post from The Backwards Bookshelf
- Feature post from Candid Ceillie
- Review from The Backwards Bookshelf
- Review from Crimson Blogs
- Review from Samantha House
24 April (Tuesday)
- Excerpt from Not Just Fiction
- Excerpt from Utopia State of Mind
- Feature post from Unputdownable Books
- Review from That Bookshelf Bitch
- Review from Bookish and Awesome
- Review from Cliste Bella
- Review from wallflower’s plight
25 April (Wednesday)
- Excerpt from BookMyHart
- Excerpt from The Nerdy Elite
- Review from Candid Ceillie
- Review from F A N N A
- Review from forthenovellovers
- Review from Igniting Pages
- Review from Spines In a Line
26 April (Thursday)
- Excerpt from Provocatrix
- Review from Bookish Wanderess
- Review from bookishwisps
- Review from Flying Paperbacks
- Review from TheHufflepuffNerdette
- Review from My Reading List
- Review from Unputdownable Books
27 April (Friday)
- Author interview on That Bookshelf Bitch
- Excerpt from Afire Pages
- Feature post from Cliste Bella
- Review from The Book Maiden
- Review from The Little Miss Bookworm
- Review from Reader Fox and a Box of Books
- Review from The Youngvamp’s Haven
MORE ABOUT THE BOOK
Opal has been planning to go to Chicago and join the Midwest’s superhero team, the Sentinels, since she was a little kid. That dream took on a more urgent tone when her superpowered dad was unjustly arrested for protecting a neighbor from an abusive situation. Now, she wants to be a superhero not only to protect people, but to get a platform to tell the world about the injustices of the Altered Persons Bureau, the government agency for everything relating to superpowers.
But just after Opal’s high school graduation, a supervillain with a jet and unclear motives attacks the downtown home of the Sentinels, and when Opal arrives, she finds a family on the brink of breaking apart. She meets a boy who’s been developing secret (and illegal) brain-altering nanites right under the Sentinel’s noses, another teenage superhero-hopeful who looks suspiciously like a long-dead supervillain, and the completely un-superpowered daughter of the Sentinels’ leader. Can four teens on the fringes of the superhero world handle the corruption, danger, and family secrets they’ve unearthed?
MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After about a decade of drawing comics independently or with small presses, Lee started writing prose out of a combination of peer pressure and spite, then continued out of attachment to their favorite made-up people. They live in Minnesota even though it is clearly not a habitat humans were ever meant to endure, with their lovely wife/editor, the world’s most perfect baby, and books in every room of the house.
If you like categories, they’re an ENFJ Slytherin Leo. If you’re looking for demographics they’re an agender bisexual with a couple of disabilities. If you’re into lists of likes: Lee loves comics, classical art, round animals, tattoos, opera, ogling the shiner sciences, and queer stuff.