What does it mean to you to see a collection like A Thousand Beginnings and Endings out in the world?
This is an anthology I would have treasured as a teen. I hungered for books that reflected characters like me, and when I couldn’t find them, I was left with the painful certainty that people like me didn’t belong in sweeping fairy tales or fantasy quests or science fiction adventures. As a result, I went through some pretty rough identity issues! But having something like this would have gone a long way towards dismantling some of that, and I’m so grateful that it’s available now, not only for teens who might be going through the same issues but also to be read simply for the pure joy of something different from the default.
Your story, “Steel Skin,” is a fabulous futuristic re-telling of a Hmong folktale. What role did Hmong folktales play in your childhood? Who shared these stories with you?
Thank you! Folktales and storytelling in general were my favorite parts of our culture as a child (and now!). We didn’t have a written language until around 60 years ago, so our stories were told through oral traditions and through beautifully stitched story cloths called paj ntaub. Because I couldn’t remember anything of where I was born, these stories were my primary way of connecting to my roots. Like I said above, I went through rough identity issues, which included wanting to distance myself from my skin color and my culture, but the folktales were one of the few things I wholly embraced because they spoke to the fantasy lover in me. Although my mother told us stories, most of what I know was told to me by my brothers. Since we did have a written language by the time I came around, I was also given a booklet of common Hmong folktales–that’s where I was first introduced to the Woman and the Tiger, which is what inspired “Steel Skin.”
Which books did you connect with as a teen and which YA books have you connected with recently?
As a teen, I read a lot of horror and romance, which you might not expect given I don’t write either genres and they’re both pretty different in terms of common tropes 😛 It resulted in some curious early stories about teens falling in love and then getting viciously murdered by vengeful ghosts. Nowadays, I’m obsessed with the Grishaverse books by Leigh Bardugo and The Cruel Prince series by Holly Black. I also recently read The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan, which I adored, The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, and Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse.
When did your obsession with unicorns begin and how does it affect your daily life?
This is such a great question, haha. The obsession began back in my teens actually! I just thought they were gorgeous and represented everything I loved about fantasy. To delve even deeper than that, they became the embodiment of everything I yearned for that I couldn’t have–magic and adventure, yes, but also inextricably tied to those identity issues I mentioned earlier that keep cropping up in these answers lol. Nowadays, though, I love them for more fun reasons, which is because they’re glorious and majestic and can stab people with their faces. Fortunately, the obsession didn’t get in the way of my daily life 😛
If you could write anywhere for a week, where would you go?
Scotland. It’s the one place I’ve always wanted to go, ever since I was little. It’s a beautiful country with a lot of history that I used to study when ‘historian’ was one of the careers I was considering (aside from author, of course).