Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Q&A with Liana Tang




Liana Tang is the author, with Kylie Wang, of the new young adult novel Stuck in Her Head. A 17-year-old writer from Hong Kong, Tang is enrolled at the University of Toronto.


Q: What inspired the two of you to write Stuck in Her Head, and how did you create your characters Emma and Naomi?


A: I was dissatisfied with many YA books growing up since I felt a disconnection between what I read and my personal experiences.


Thus, I initially pitched to Kylie, a writer friend I met in primary school, the turning point of the novel and some of the themes I wanted to tackle. Since publishing a book would help with our college applications, it led to the creation of Stuck in Her Head


The most obvious way to tackle themes is to create character foils.


Emma is supposed to be this passionate amateur who has her eyes on the stars, yet she doesn’t have the same unfair advantages that a piano prodigy like Naomi is born with. On the other hand, Naomi represents this "self-made" success who is dissatisfied with her talents and doesn’t know what she wants to do in life.


Both of them are jealous of each other for different reasons, yet they don't realise the other is feeling the same way. We believe it could be very relatable for a lot of people, especially teens.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Yeah, but the ending changed several times. Originally, Emma was supposed to move away to Britain after everything that happened. However, we altered it because we thought it'd be too unrealistic after all the changes we made to other parts of the book.


The novel is almost barely recognisable from its first draft, but the spirit and the premise remain the same.


Q: How did the two of you collaborate on the book?


A: Lots and lots of Discord calls.


We have a PowerPoint slide to outline the story beats for the book after lengthy pitch sessions. I was assigned to write Emma’s first draft, while Kylie wrote Naomi’s. The quality and who does what really don’t matter, as we just need to have something on the page, and it’s just easier if we divide the labour this way.


Afterwards, we both held more calls to assign different editing responsibilities. We talked about what scenes we needed to delete, what scenes we needed to rewrite, rinse, and repeat until we were satisfied with our drafts.


Then, we submit to beta readers for one last round of feedback before we start querying together.


Q: How was the novel's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The title has multiple meanings. Firstly, the idiom "stuck in one's head" can be applied to music when a tune is constantly repeating in your mind. Secondly, it applies to the pining aspect of the novel.


Thirdly, it's supposed to symbolise how the two girls are so "stuck in her head" that they can't see each other for who they really are, only who they want each other to be.


Fun fact: We had a brainstorming session about titles, and some of the titles eventually made their way as chapter titles instead!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm currently reading graphic novels like Leigh Barudgo’s Demon in the Woods or Squire by Nadia Shammas since I’m planning to publish one in the near future.


I’m really excited about the project since I believe there’s a lot of commercial potential while offering commentary about issues I care about, like complicity within institutions of power, from multiple perspectives.


The project also helps to develop my visual vocabulary since I want to write for films and TV shows.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I recently got hired by a film company as a screenwriter and marketing advisor since I learned a lot of valuable skills, such as long-term collaboration and marketing, as a result of this project. I’m really excited since I want to work in the entertainment industry in the future and amplify historically underrepresented voices in the media.


Also, one of the main reasons I wrote the book is because I struggle a lot with mental illness. I’ve dealt with depression, suicidality, binge eating disorders, and different forms of PTSD.


Sometimes, when you’re in a bad situation and have no means of escape, you’ll learn to survive, hope, and make yourself into someone since no one is coming to save you. Even though the book is not about my trauma, I hope it can at least comfort someone who is going through an uncertain time.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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