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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Vanessa Lanang talks about the inspiration behind her new YA fantasy novel Fireheart.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Vanessa Lanang about her life and career, what inspired her to write her new YA fantasy novel, Fireheart, and her creative writing process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Vanessa Lanang. I’m a Los Angeles-based Filipino-American author and editor for an independent press. I have a great passion for books and love helping authors revise their own stories.
When I’m not reading books and manuscripts or writing my own, I can often be found playing tennis, spending time with my family, or working on something creative like baking or crafts.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
At a young age, I used to clip the pictures out of the Sunday comics, glue them onto paper, and write my own stories. In high school, I’d written several longer forms of fiction but never thought about publishing them; they were stories inspired by books I read. I think the groundwork was there to write a novel—I just had to take that first step toward publication and figure out how to do it.
When did you take a step to start writing?
In early 2010, I joined my first writer’s group. That was my first endeavor of completing a manuscript over 50k with the intention of finding an agent. I had a lot to learn. I didn’t know much about plotting a book or story structure, and I soon found out that it helps in revision if you have a road map to start. That first project got shelved, and I toyed around with a few ideas that never got completed.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
My most current book, Fireheart, a YA fantasy, took a couple of years from start to finish. I started writing it around 2017. I shopped for an agent, with much interest, but without an offer. And after several query rejections (possibly close to 100), I decided to let it rest and move on to another project. Later, in 2021, I made a connection with a new publisher, and they loved the story. Fireheart finally found its home with Winding Road Stories in 2022.
What made you want to write Fireheart?
I fell in love with fantasy in a roundabout kind of way. Growing up, I read a lot of horror, and as dystopian and paranormal stories hit mainstream YA, I moved onto those and then found myself reading fantasy. I love the idea of creating a world that doesn’t exist, that potentially serves the plot, and throw in some dragons—who wouldn’t want to write fantasy? For me, I liked the idea of being able to use two worlds (magical and non-magical) to explore finding identity, especially growing up, I grew up in two different cultures. I also feel that this is a relatable theme for both teens and adults: this universal search to find where we belong and not feel alone because of our differences.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Fireheart?
I’m a slow writer. When looking at a blank document, drafting can be a bit daunting for me. I tend to self-edit when I write, which makes for a great first draft, but it often takes me 6+ months to write the initial draft of a book. I have grown to love the editing process more than drafting; I guess that helps since giving feedback on authors’ manuscripts are part of my job. And being a parent with a busy schedule can be challenging; writing time isn’t always available.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
I wanted to write a story that I could’ve seen myself in as a teenager. Growing up, I didn’t see many BIPOC characters in books I read, and I think, to some extent, that’s true today. I also wanted to create a character that has similar qualities as I do, but one that was braver and willing to take more risks in their teen journey. I was much more introverted in my teen years.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question. But I would say the antagonist represents the expectations we put on ourselves and this drive to excel and rise to the top, but at any cost possible. Of course, in the book, it’s an external factor, but the reader gets to see a story of magical folklore in Fireheart about what happens when you go too far.
What is the inciting incident of Fireheart?
While on a training mission in a nearby village, the main character, Kaliyah, breaks the school protocol and slays a dragon—a very punishable action.
What is the main conflict of Fireheart?
Externally, the main conflict is the discovery of the Drakon Akademie’s corruption and Kaliyah’s expedition to get help for her fellow students. Internally, she’s seeking revenge on the dragon that took her mother’s life when she was a child.
Did you plot Fireheart in advance or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I’m definitely a plotter. I use beatsheets and outlining, as well as character sheets and visual boards on Pinterest to keep track of everything.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Fireheart need?
I have a few trusted author friends that I ask to read my work for feedback. Before I found a place with my current publisher, I’d had another publisher ask me for a ‘revise and resubmit,’ so this manuscript had gone through a major revision in addition to several drafts. By the time I’d gone to edits for publication, all the developmental edits were out of the way, and the focus was line edits.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Just write it. No matter how intimidating it may feel or how unsure you are of where to start, put your fingers on the keyboard and put the words down. Writing is editing; you’ll go through your work and make changes so many times, but you can’t get there until you write it.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
Earlier this month, my next project was announced on Publisher’s Marketplace. It’s a co-authored project for an adult contemporary romance pitched as How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days meets Bend It Like Beckham that releases in Spring 2024. And I’m outlining a YA horror mini-series for later next year.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
So far, yes! But I feel like I’m just getting started despite deciding to work towards publication almost a decade ago. With my first full-length book published and more in the works, I still feel like I have a lot of room for growth as a writer.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Twitter (X): @vanessalanang
Fireheart is available in hardcover, paperback and ebook.
BookFunnel: https://buy.bookfunnel.com/ashbrj1cij (ebook sale)
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