Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Lydia Kang

Lydia Kang is an author of young adult fiction, poetry, and narrative non-fiction. She graduated from Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine, completing her residency and chief residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. She is a practicing physician who has gained a reputation for helping fellow writers achieve medical accuracy in fiction.

Kang's new novel is Opium and Absinthe.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title Opium and Absinthe came to my mind fairly fast. The problem was--I didn't know exactly how absinthe played into the story. I was very much affected by Francis Ford Coppola's cinematic version of Dracula in the 1990s, and there was a scene between Mina and the Count drinking absinthe in a salon. It's not in the original text by Bram Stoker. But I was sort of obsessed with this spirit. First, there was the entire ritual of drinking absinthe, which seemed lovely. Then, its history among the literati and artists of the time. Also, its purported hallucinogenic qualities (it's not) and it's illegal status for some time. I just knew I wanted to include it, and so, I made it happen.

As for opium, I had researched the usage of opium during this time period for my nonfiction book, Quackery (co-written with Nate Pedersen). Not many people know that injectable morphine was really only available to the wealthy, and that it was often abused by rich, white women at the time. I wanted a character who would fall into this trap of addiction so people could see exactly how and why it could happen and be sympathetic to a character that, for many good reasons, made a lot of mistakes.

What's in a name?

My main character's name is Mathilda Pembroke, but she goes by Tillie. Throughout the novel, her name is used in both ways. But I used it as a very clear metaphor for her needing to express her individuality and her independence when it comes to demanding to be called by the name she wants--Tillie.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

Very! I didn't like historical novels as a kid. I didn't like history. I think my teen self would say--really? Why do you love history? It's so boring! And I would reply, "Don't ignore me when I say this, but when you're my age, you'll really love it. Seeing the world through an historical lens is fantastic and fun. Also, what you get out of it is all yours. It's not reliant on a graded exam." But my teen self would have already glazed over at this point, so she'll have to realize this on her own!

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are the worst, because so much rides on that first page and first sentence. If you get it wrong, you won't hook your reader, and game over for the rest of the novel. I probably equally change endings and beginnings, to tell the truth. About half the time, the ending I've mapped out doesn't work and I redo it as I'm writing it. As for beginnings, if I find it boring, I know it's not going to work for anyone else either!

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Tillie is one of those people who would be looking up etymologies, writing nonfiction novels, and losing hours upon hours learning about obscure facts on obscure things. We have a lot in common.
Visit Lydia Kang's website, blog, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Opium and Absinthe.

--Marshal Zeringue