I'm so excited to be chatting with Lyla Lee, author of I'll Be The One, today. Her K-Pop competition based book is a fascinating, heartwarming read and is also tons of fun. You don't have to have an existing knowledge of K-Pop to get in on the fun. If you haven't had a chance to read Lyla's book, you can find my review here, and if you want to get a copy of your own, I'd love it if you'd consider using the blog's Bookshop store*.
I hope you enjoy our conversation! Share it with your friends who also loved I'll Be The One.
1. I’ll Be The One centers around an LA based K-Pop competition. What was it like to come up with each of the different rounds? How did you go about structuring the competition?
I based the competition in I'll Be the One on real K-pop competitions that I watched as a teen as well as the ones that my family members and family friends entered in the past. I researched the structures of several other reality TV competition shows from South Korea and the US to come up with the one in my book.
2. I’ve read that you were already a major K-Pop fan by the time you wrote the book, but it’s such an intense, layered world that you probably had to do extra research to write about it with authority. How did you go about your research? Do you have any tips for those writing contemporary who realize they might need to do research?
The majority of my research was done "organically," since I've been a lifelong fan of K-pop since it first began in the 90s. Since I was little, and while I lived in South Korea as well as various parts of the United States, I grew up listening to K-pop. More recently, though, I definitely did more focused, intentional research about the industry by reading articles, teaching myself K-pop dances, and interviewing a family friend in Seoul who currently works in the industry. Research is definitely a huge and often challenging part of writing contemporary, and is something I still struggle today with my current projects. I guess my advice would be to write a contemporary book about a topic you love so the research is fun rather than boring and difficult.
3. Over the course of the book, Skye makes a lot of new friends with Lana, Tiffany, and Henry. It seems like they’re some of her first close friends who are Korean and they are also all part of the LGBTQ community like Skye. It seems like she doesn’t realize how awesome and empowering it is to find a community like her until she gets it. Was it important to you to build that community for Skye? What do you think Skye gained from her new friends?
Building a community like that for Skye was definitely important to me since it's something I would have loved as a teen. In reality, I only found such a community later, in my twenties, and it helped me feel less alone. I think that's exactly what Skye gained from her new friends: the knowledge that she is not alone and that there are other people like her.
4. You mention in the acknowledgements that you aren’t plus sized and share the resources you used to help voice that experience. A lot of her thoughts about herself and the ones that come from her mom are universally relatable. What drew you to that element of the story? How did you make sure that the representation was sensitive and accurate? Did you take any extra steps beyond your usual research and revision patterns?
I wanted to address the incredibly fatphobic nature of Asian communities in both the United States and other parts of the world. Even though I'm not plus sized, I grew up being fat-shamed and thus spent so many years subscribing to often very unhealthy practices to meet cultural expectations. I heard similar stories from countless friends of all sizes...a phenomenon that I found was so sad and thus wanted to address. It was only until I was in my mid-20s that I learned to love myself, and I wanted teens today to read my book so that they know they can achieve their dreams no matter what they look like or who they love. In order to better represent the plus sized experience, I listened to countless hours of podcasts and books hosted/written by plus sized women and had the help of sensitivity readers who spoke about their own experiences. I was also lucky enough to receive feedback from plus sized individuals within my publishing company as well. The book went through several revision rounds to better the representation.
5. I absolutely loved the book, and I can’t wait to read whatever you do next. Do you have any new projects that you can talk about?
Next year, I have four more books coming out for Mindy Kim, my series for younger readers. In terms of YA, though, my next project releases in Winter 2022 (it got delayed because of COVID-19 related reasons). I can't say much about it yet but I can say that it is set in Seoul, centers around an f/f couple, and is about my other life-long obsession (besides K-pop): K-dramas.
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