Ask the Author: Lillie Lainoff
What would you like your readers to know about you?
I knew I wanted to be an author at age five. I’m legitimately living out my childhood dream. I grew up under the impression that everyone had something they were truly passionate about, their life’s work, a passion they felt bone deep. It was only later that I realized this wasn’t the case – that in fact, I’m incredibly lucky. Not only to have found writing, but to have found it so young.
Within YA, I write a lot of different genres. While One for All can be classified as retelling/historical fiction/fantasy, the novel I signed with my agents for is speculative fiction. I have three WIPs, two of which are fantasy; the other is contemporary.
Outside of YA, I write general literary fiction (both short stories and novels), non-fiction (personal essays and op-eds, although I’m starting the process of finding potential places to submit my academic work), and even some poetry.
I’m currently studying at University of East Anglia for my postgrad degree in creative writing prose fiction.
When I’m not writing, I’m fencing. I started at age nine and was competing the following year. I was recruited and fenced for Yale – my senior year, I was one of the first physically disabled athletes in any sport to individually qualify for NCAA Championships. I still fence and coach.
I’m also the founder and creator of Disabled Kidlit Writers, a group that celebrated its anniversary at the end of July (aka Disability Pride Month!)
What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?
One for All (FSG, Winter 2022) is an ownvoices (chronic illness/disability), gender-bent retelling of The Three Musketeers set in 17th century Paris, a few years in the wake of La Fronde (comes from the French word “a sling,” a series of civil wars from 1648 to 1653).
Tania has two constants in her life: fencing with her father and the dizziness that consumes her. The only child to a former Musketeer/now recluse, she trains despite knowing that her skills won’t amount to anything. She is a girl, and a sick one at that. No one wants a sick girl for a bride. Or, for that matter, a Musketeer.
When her father dies suddenly, she is sent to what she thinks is a prestigious preparatory academy for soon-to-be brides. Her mother hopes that this training will allow suitors to overlook her daughter’s condition – and Tania’s attendance was her father’s dying wish. Heartbroken at the loss of her father and his posthumous betrayal (in effect forcing her into the very life he taught her to reject), Tania sets off for Paris.
However, what she thinks is a preparatory academy for burgeoning brides is anything but. There are other ways to continue her father’s legacy than marrying into a marriage of convenience. Under the tutelage of Madame de Treville she, Portia, Théa, and Aria will be trained as the newest kind of Musketeer. One that is underestimated. One that wears breeches and dueling swords under layers of silken petticoats.
Together, four young women will learn what it means to forge their own destinies – all while protecting King, country, and each other. The Paris social season has never been this deadly.
As far as themes go, One for All is first and foremost about self-acceptance, about knowing that you are enough. Tania struggles with knowing that needing help isn’t a weakness due to the ableism she’s faced/continues to face.
While writing One for All I also wanted to explore power dynamics, consent, femininity as a weapon, and the way chronic illness complicates traditional expectations of womanhood.
What has been your inspiration for writing it?
Fencing fostered my love of The Three Musketeers – we watched Man in the Iron Mask every single summer at camp, along with Pirates of the Caribbean, the Princess Bride, etc.
The sport took on extra meaning, however, when I developed Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS for short). POTS is an autonomic nervous system disorder characterized by extreme drops in blood pressure upon standing and a drastic increase in heart rate. In other words, my body has a difficult time getting blood back up to my heart.
After my diagnosis, I sat on the sidelines, dizzy, and watched my teammates fence. My coach gave me lessons in a rolling desk chair.
Every bout I won, every point I scored, every time I stood on the fencing strip, it felt like a victory against POTS. It still does.
It’s tricky to untangle my fencing from my writing. Fencing instilled within me a confidence that helps me experiment with genre and structure and different POVs. Writing taught me observation, which in turn helped me develop analytical skills that I can apply to fencing bouts just as easily as to texts.
The best part of One for All is that I don’t have to untangle the two. My fencing and my writing are both essential. Tania’s struggle fencing with POTS is reminiscent of my own. She lives in 17th century France, but she has so much of me in her. Of any character I’ve ever written, she is the closest to me.
And I desperately wanted to give teenage Lillie the representation she needed. When I was a teen, sick and dealing with a brand-new diagnosis, I sought out comfort in books. But there was no one like me in their pages – in the rare case of representation, characters like me were flat, plot devices, killed off to teach the main character the impermanence of life, etc. So I wrote my way into the narrative. It is too late for teenage Lillie to have the representation she needed, the representation that would’ve made her feel less alone, less ashamed of her body. But it isn’t too late for teenagers today.
What was your favorite part of your scene or your book to write?
I absolutely love writing duel scenes, fight scenes, any scene where I get to use my fencing knowledge.
There’s one duel scene in particular near the end of the book that’s a major spoiler, but it was by far my favorite duel to write. In fact, it was one of the first scenes I wrote when I started drafting OFA.
Additionally, there was such a joy (accompanied by fear) in writing an ownvoices narrative. I drew directly from my own experience on countless levels. It sounds maudlin to say I loved writing all the scenes in OFA, but it’s true.
What books or authors inspired you to become an author?
As a child: The Harry Potter series (specifically, Hermione Granger) and Dealing with Dragons.
My favorite book when I was really young was a picture book called Sing, Sophie, Sing! Fun story: My parents were deciding between “Sophie” and “Lillie,” right up until I was born. In the hospital I didn’t cry for a minute or so, which made everyone worried. And then I let out the loudest screeching wail. And I carried on like this, to a point when the doctor looked to my parents and shook his head. “That,” he said, “is no Sophie.”
For YA: I adore Six of Crows (the first time I saw disability rep in a non-contemporary YA book), Legendborn, anything by Rory Power, the Stalking Jack the Ripper series. For adult: Freshwater, Jane Eyre, The Monsters of Templeton, Circe… two books I read recently I loved are Writers & Lovers, and Godshot.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
Find a support system, one with multiple members. My mother has always been my first reader for everything, but when I need to vent about the drudgery of edits, the frustration of symptoms interfering with my drafting, I talk with my friends who are also writers.
For disabled authors who write kidlit: if you are searching for community support and are on Facebook, please come join Disabled Kidlit Writers! We have more than 200 members, and it’s a great place to ask advice about any aspect of writing/the publishing industry, and to celebrate group member successes.
One for All’s goodreads page is here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/51238708-one-for-all
My website: http://www.lillielainoff.com/