Hey, little foxes! Welcome to another installment of 5 Questions with Kristyn. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Stephanie Ahn, author of The Harrietta Lee series!
Harrietta Lee has a friend who can see the future, and she’s just gone missing.
She’s not the only one. There are too many disappearances to count, and Harry can’t be everywhere at once–which is why she’s enlisting the help of a fumbling, fedora-clad detective, a programmer who moonlights as a DJ, and your friendly neighborhood demon, Lilith.
Well, “help” is a relative term…Goodreads
On Twitter, we briefly talked about how hard it is to unlearn “white as the default.” What was your aha moment? What made you realize you could write someone like yourself?
When I was in middle school, I posted some of my writing on Wattpad. As was customary for that site, I chose celebrities as “face claims” for my characters: Dakota Fanning, Bonnie Wright, and Ellen Page. That was the moment. I stared at the graphic I had made to upload on Wattpad, thinking, none of these girls look like me. The glass shattered, and I quickly lost interest in my current writing projects.
It still took a while for me to write a Korean protagonist. I turned to video games first; I got sucked into The Secret World, a game that utilizes Seoul, my family home, as a hub city. The game’s version looks nothing like the part of Seoul I know, but the existing lore allowed me to create a Korean avatar whom I really, truly believed belonged in this universe. And as I got into video games, I got back into art, and back into storytelling. That’s when I, as a high schooler, started writing my first book with a bumbling, gay, artsy-fartsy Korean-American protagonist.
That book never lived past Chapter Three, but I still remember it fondly as my first project with a protagonist who looks like me. And once I crossed that boundary, it felt natural to make everyone else in the story non-white as well; I’m still learning the nuances of writing side characters who aren’t of my own ethnicity, but I’d rather backtrack on a few mistakes than stop learning altogether.
How did you come up with the idea for Deadline?
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with urban fantasy; the genre has so much potential, yet so many of its most talked-about examples revolve around the violence of anti-fun, anti-queer, anti-treating-nonhumans-with-dignity white men (e.g. The Dresden Files, Supernatural). It’s not necessarily better when a white woman is in the lead, because then all the ambient misogynistic violence just zeroes in on her (e.g. Witchblade). And as much as I love the way Hellblazer has become explicitly queer and diverse in recent adaptations, the original run leaned heavily on shock value generated by violence against minorities.
I don’t necessarily hate the examples I listed. Some of them I hold very close to my heart because they were with me at the worst times of my life. But it’s draining, you know? Loving something that keeps hurting you. So, I conjured up a safe haven within the hostile landscape, or rather, a safe person: a hedonistic, masochistic, reckless disaster of a witch who’d much rather get naked with demons than shoot them. She was my escape within an already-escapist genre.
I’ve always been weak for the trench-coated gumshoe look, and that’s part of why I dressed Harrietta in it. But I think I was also trying to give her armor, some uniform that would confuse people into thinking, “Well, if she’s not a gritty wizard but also not a titty cop, we don’t have a script for the horrible things we expect to be done to her.”
Also, I used her to write about vampire sex. Gotta chase your dreams, right?
Last month, you released Bloodbath, the sequel to Deadline. What can you tell us about the sequel?
DEADLINE was airier and more lighthearted; by its very premise, BLOODBATH is a much rougher ride. I titled it the way I did because there’s more action and, well, blood. But at its heart, the book is about looking for your best friend and hoping she’s not dead. I can dress that up with humor and magic all I want, but there is a fear at the core of that experience that makes me glad I finished the book and don’t have to write about it anymore.
Funnily enough, I wrote the two books concurrently, and for a while, I didn’t know which one I’d finish first. The plot of DEADLINE was a haphazard experiment, one I thought of as a prologue to the series as a whole; meanwhile, the schemes in BLOODBATH are meaty and twisty enough that I had to draw up spreadsheets so as not to trip into plot holes.
I guess that’s how Book #2 ended up over twice as long as Book #1? That was a surprise, even for me. Especially for me.
You are an author and a college student. That seems like it could be a lot to handle. How do you juggle being an author and a student?
Sometimes I can only finish schoolwork by using it to procrastinate on my writing. Or, I’ll write a chapter three hours before a paper is due—there is no in-between. That’s my balancing act, I suppose, jumping from one end of the see-saw to the other with such panicked efficiency that I somehow stay standing. Honestly, I have no clue how this is going to go for the next few years; it seems that the more concrete my plan for writing Harrietta Lee becomes, the less I know about my plans for “real life.”
I think it’s my age more than college itself that affects my writing career. I’m firmly entrenched in the “you’re a student, not a real adult” stage, and I still don’t know who I am—emotionally, spiritually, whatever. Every time I publish a book, I’m going to be unrecognizable from the person who wrote the last one. That’s a bit frightening, isn’t it?
Besides writing, what do you like to do for fun?
I’m a sucker for video games with in-depth character customization, and the last book I read was IMPOSTER SYNDROME by Mishell Baker. I do a lot of drawing, which I show on my Twitter and on my website—maybe that doesn’t quite count as “besides writing,” because I mostly draw my own characters? I also paint my own book covers with @Inkworx_design as my co-artist.
Knitting and crocheting are the old standbys I sporadically return to; last winter, I buzzed off all my hair and immediately started making hats to compensate for the missing warmth. I now sit on a throne of hats, scarves, gloves, and stuffed penis pillows—I lost steam before I got to the vulva pillows, but I’m sure I’ll find motivation next season!
About the Author
Stephanie Ahn is a newly debuted author and full-time college student who tends to write about young-ish adults just trying to get by in life. Wonder where she got that idea?