“The Second-Last Client” opened with a delightful scramble and hush, ushering in the speculative elements from the first paragraph and carrying them to the end. What inspired this particular apocalyptic visit to a coffee shop of Seedworld 722.11.15?
It’s sort of in the nature of an homage to the local Starbucks. My husband takes me there sometimes when I get stuck on, err, writing, and then we sit there as I drink hot chocolate with peppermint syrup or a chai latte, and I tell him what my problem is and he offers a fix, which I then proceed to ignore. The shelf where you can take a book and leave a book is at that Starbucks, or at least it used to be; I haven’t been there in a while.
As for apocalypses, I always think of the fourth season of the TV show Angel, which had a lot of fiery imagery.
I loved the blend of details as the story unfolded: whiskey-colored lights, a don’t-notice-me shroud, the casual intimacy of the bookshelves, a human-shaped shell to accommodate Rawk’s need for a perch, the taste of the first girl they kissed. You have a knack for weaving such details throughout your works, creating worlds without overwhelming the narrative. How conscious are you of such descriptions when writing? Are they facets of your first drafts or do you refine and embellish them during later edits?
I consciously sprinkle them throughout the rough drafts, because inventing such details is one of the joys of writing. It’s actually a problem sometimes because I will sit there embellishing the world instead of getting on with the plot, so I have to rein in my tendencies sometimes!
In any case, one of the best lessons I received about writing was the importance of specificity. I learned it from one of my high school English teachers, Mr. Byrd. He taught us that a single well-chosen, slantwise detail can be more evocative than paragraphs of generic description, and I have tried to take that lesson to heart ever since.
There is a certain magic (as it were) to the world of stories, the immersive thrill of a first read, the comfort of rereading, the rush of creating something that might otherwise never exist if it were not for a writer’s imagination. Here is a story that speaks to this magic and is, in and of itself, part of the meta. When you were a child, did you feel something of that magic when you opened a book? How did any such feelings translate into the incantations of writing?
Oh, definitely. I read C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia in third grade, and I actually spent time checking all the closets in my home and at my grandmother’s house to see if they opened up to other worlds. Sadly, they never did. But for all the stories I’ve read about people from our world visiting the worlds of books, I haven’t read as many stories about the characters and their own existence and thoughts.
If you were a character in a story faced with the challenge presented to the woman in red, would you leave or would you stay?
Honestly, if my loved ones were staying, I’d stay with them too. If they left, I would leave too. I’d rather be with my family and friends, whatever our fate.
I am always amazed when I learn of your latest endeavor. Music, writing, art, game design. What’s next for Yoon Ha Lee? Are there any new challenges on the horizon?
I’m learning cartooning! It’s a fun way to combine drawing and storytelling (and bad humor, since right now I’m mostly doing one-panel gags). I’m working up to a twenty-two-page comic; I already have the script and I’m working on the layout thumbnails. Totally recommend this as a hobby if you like to draw at all! And by “draw” I include stick figures, as xkcd’s Randall Munroe has so brilliantly proven.
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