Malinda Lo was my editor years ago when I first began writing for AfterEllen.com. Though she was one of the most intelligent, accessible and reliable editors I had ever worked with, I knew not to contact her on Fridays because that was the day she was “working on her book.” As it turns out, those Fridays paid off and resulted in her ingenious debut novel, Ash, a queer retelling of the classic fairytale Cinderella.
Lo was born in China and moved to Colorado as a child. She is the former managing editor of AfterEllen.com and was a recipient of a Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for Excellence in LGBT journalism by the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association. Ash was recently selected for the Fall 2009 Kids’ Indie List, received a starred review in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly said, “Lo offers an important twist on a classic story that will appeal to a wide readership, especially those looking for a girl romance.”
We spoke with Lo about Ash, her next book project and how working at AfterEllen.com inspired her writing.
AfterEllen.com: Congratulations on the publication of Ash and on getting married. It’s been a busy year for you!
Malinda Lo: I am busy … It’s been overwhelming.
AE: But all good.
ML: All good.
Malinda being interviewed about Ash by a local CBS affiliate
AE: Let’s talk about Ash. How were you first inspired to write this story?
ML: I first began thinking about the book nine years ago, in September 2001. I actually always wanted to write a retelling of Cinderella because as a kid I loved the fairytale. One of my favorite writers, Robin Mckinley, retold Beauty and the Beast and Sleeping Beauty, but she never did Cinderella. I wanted to write the book that I always wanted to read so that is where I got the inspiration to write Ash.
AE: Did the timing have anything specifically to do with September Eleventh?
ML: You know, I wrote about this in my journal. I was very direct and I was very affected by that because I lived in New York before 2001. At that time, I was living in California, but I had lived in New York for two years. I lived in Battery Park City for one year and I used to ride the train from the World Trade Center everyday to work. I remember watching the images on TV of the firemen going into the Trade Center and the pictures of the 9 West store with all these ashes all over it. It completely floored me because I used to go to that shop all the time.
AE: Is that connected to Aisling’s name Ash?
ML: That’s true. I didn’t actually mean to do that. But it affected me a lot and I started to think about what I was doing with my life. I was in graduate school at the time and it was really not my favorite thing in the world. I’d always wanted to be a writer and I had written fiction as a teen. I wrote three fantasy novels when I was in high school and then I didn’t write fiction for a long time. I was trying to do other stuff, but none of it ever really fulfilled me.
AE: What were you studying in graduate school?
ML: I was in social and cultural anthropology, in a PhD program. When I started doing research on Ash I went to the library and [studied] folklore. I definitely approached the book from an anthropological perspective.
AE: There are several variations of Cinderella — from antiquity to, I was surprised to learn, a Japanese version where Cinderella escapes her evil stepmother with the help of Buddhist nuns and joins a convent. Did a particular version inspire you?
ML: This is kind of dorky, but I loved the Drew Barrymore movie version Ever After. [Laughs]. Cinderella in that movie is actually very self-reliant. She’s really into politics. I haven’t read any retellings in book forms that spoke to me.