The AfterEllen.com Book Club selection for October was Inheritance, the sequel to Malinda Lo’s 2012 sci-fi thriller, Adaptation. Lo was gracious enough to talk with us about some questions we had after finishing both books. I combined a few readers’ questions along with a couple of my own. Beware, ye who have not read either novel: there are some spoilers ahead!
AfterEllen.com: Why did you decide to make Reese (the protagonist of Adaptation/Inheritance) a bisexual character?
Malinda Lo: It’s pretty simple; I wanted to write about a bisexual character. The main character Ash, in my first novel, was really kind of bisexual, but it wasn’t overt in the text because there is no bisexuality or homosexuality in her world. I wanted to write a book in which a character was bisexual in the way we understand it in our real world.
AE: Did you feel any apprehension about the polyamory that you included at the end of Inheritance? I feel like it’s one of the first positive depictions of polyamory I have seen in YA, ever.
ML: I did wonder if it would be a bad idea from a marketing standpoint, but it didn’t bother me much because I knew it was the only right ending. I knew going into it that it would be difficult for some readers because not everyone is willing to give polyamory a chance—even in fiction.
AE: Have you actually received any weirdness about it since its publication?
ML: Although I don’t read my reviews, I have heard that yes, some readers don’t buy the ending. I know that some of that is due to my writing skill (or lack thereof), but I also think that when it comes to certain things like polyamory, a reader’s real-life beliefs also play a big role in how they receive the story. I mean, you have to be open to the idea of polyamory (at least in theory) in order to buy the ending. If you’re not open to it, the ending won’t work for you. I get that.
But overall, the response has been pretty positive, at least with regard to the poly aspect. The aspect that has gotten me the most weirdness has been the fact that Reese is bisexual. Some of the feedback I’ve gotten has really saddened me because they seem to be biphobic reactions from lesbians. That’s really depressing to me. There’s nothing wrong with being bisexual, and it’s not a threat to being a lesbian. We can coexist. I’d say that’s one of the primary points of these books.
AE: Right. That reaction is so disappointing, and the reason why bisexual characters like Reese are so important. In brighter topics: one reader wondered if Daniela Torres was written as an homage to Gina Torres, specifically her character on Firefly, as they seem to look and act similar.
ML: That’s a fascinating question! I have to say no, because in my head Daniela Torres looks nothing like Gina Torres—in fact I hadn’t connected the two until I saw this question. I have a very clear idea of what Daniela Torres looks like, and she’s way more like a Michelle Rodriguez, honestly. And come to think of it, I think she’s a lot more like the characters Michelle Rodriguez has played than the character Gina Torres played in Firefly. I thought Gina’s character was pretty kind; direct but kind. I don’t think Daniela’s much of a nice guy.
Of course, I did enjoy Firefly, so maybe that’s where I came up with the name. You never know! As a writer I feel like I absorb a lot of influences from all sorts of sources, and they filter through my writing in ways I’d never expect.
AE: Was there anything specific that inspired you to create the world of the Imria? How different was it writing science fiction in comparison to the fantasy of your first two novels?
ML: I think the process of inventing a new culture and world is pretty similar across fantasy and science fiction. Sure, one genre has more technology, but the other one has more magic. They both need to operate according to rules that make some sort of sense. And at their heart, scifi and fantasy are both about people, not gadgets or spells, so the most important world-building element is who those people are.
When I began to think about the Imria and their world, I thought first about their culture: What makes them Imrian? One thing was their ability to share consciousness; another was the fact that they have lifespans of two to three hundred years. When I began to think about Imrian culture, I considered how those long lifespans and that shared consciousness would shape their relationships and their identities. The Imria weren’t inspired by any particular Earthbound culture, because we are not like Imrians in those areas. They were really inspired by my thinking about these two specific elements of identity that humans don’t have.
AE: Do you have a favorite spot where you write?
ML: Usually I write in my office with the door closed. I’m not a social writer; if people are around, even at a cafe, I’m distracted. Sometimes I’ll sit in one corner of the couch with a blanket and my laptop, but I can only do that when I have the house to myself.
AE: Can you give us any hints as to what you’re working on next? Whatever it is, will it also include queer characters?
ML: I have a few things in the works, so I can’t really say much about them. They’re all very different from what I’ve written before! The only thing I can promise is that they all have queer women in them. Someday I’ll probably write a book about straight people, but that idea hasn’t come to me yet.