Just launched in September of 2012, Strange Chemistry is a global imprint dedicated to the best in modern young adult science fiction, fantasy and everything in between.
Check out the their website at strangechemistrybooks.com for more information about their titles- perfect for your YA fantasy and steampunk fans.
Today, let’s meet Laura Lam, the Strange Chemistry author of Pantomime, perfect for fans of Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy and and Tamora Pierce’s “Torall” novels–with the circus setting of Water for Elephants, this book is certain to have something for every reader.
1. To start off gently, who is Laura Lam?
I’m an ex-pat Californian living in Scotland. I moved here three years ago and I still miss the sunshine, especially in these winter months where the sun is gone by 4 pm. I (unsurprisingly) like to read and write, and I also try to travel as much as I can, as the world is full of stories.
2. Tell us a little about Pantomime! How would you introduce it to a new reader?
Pantomime is a YA fantasy set in a circus in an alternate world called Ellada, which has a Victorian feel. Mysterious blue Penglass domes twine through the city, and the rich use advanced and possibly magic technology called Vestige from a past civilisation. It follows two alternating viewpoints. The first is Micah Grey, a runaway who joins R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic as a general lackey and aerialist’s apprentice. The second is the unfortunately named Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, who is the daughter of a noble family in the city of Sicion. Her mother wishes for her to be their perfect little daughter, but that’s not who she is. These two viewpoints intertwine and the reader finds out what Gene and Micah have in common. Pantomime follows Micah as he tries to find acceptance in the circus and escape his past, Gene as she realises that a lot of what she has known about herself is a lie, and that the secrets of Ellada and its Penglass and Vestige are starting to unravel.
3. Where did you draw your inspiration for writing Pantomime?
For the characters: I’m a huge proponent of diversity in YA literature, and so in Pantomime you will find people of different backgrounds, races, and sexualities. Micah Grey evolved from an idea I had in 2007, which I then researched, left to gestate, and then wrote most of a book with him as an adult. That novel kept sputtering, so I decided to write a “short story” about Micah Grey joining the circus as a teenager. Needless to say, I got a little carried away.
For the world: I’ve always been interested in the Victorian era, but noticed there weren’t that many secondary worlds that flirted with Victorian social etiquette—most of it was alternate history of our world. The world of Ellada has advanced, possibly magical artefacts left behind by the mysterious and vanished Alder, which is far more advanced than their level of technology. When it breaks, there’s no way to fix it. Ellada has always had the most Vestige, especially weapons, which allowed them to become an empire. But now, a lot of Vestige is breaking, and I wanted to explore that dynamic of a slowly decaying empire that needs to adapt to survive—and fast.
4. What novels – past and present – have most influenced your writing?
Robin Hobb is a great influence. I’ve read her dozens of times and she’s still my go-to author when I’m in a reading rut. I love her world-building, her prose, and her characters. Other teenage influences were Lynn Flewelling, Tamora Pierce, and Mercedes Lackey. I used to gobble their books.
I read across all genres, and plenty of novels still influence me today. Gene Wolfe and his exploration of a Dying Earth, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman for her wonderful prose, Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series and his rich world of Camorr, and Laini Taylor of Daughter of Smoke and Bone fame for her wild inventiveness and imagination. Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus was of course an influence as well, as well as Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.
5. How do you approach your writing? Any particular techniques that work for you?
This is what I do. It might work for you, or it might not. Every writer is different. I write almost every day if I can, even if I’m tired and don’t want to. Usually once I start, I find my stride. I plan a lot so I don’t go off the rails. I listen to my intuition, whether that meant to stop drafting and write more planning notes, or to stop and edit, or to push through the difficult scene until I find what works. I try to keep it fun and exciting—the more exciting it is for me to write, then the more exciting it should hopefully be for my readers.
6. What is your opinion of the YA category, and do you think Pantomime is a good fit?
I love YA, but I think a lot of people are hung up on the categorisation. YA is aimed at teens, but more and more adults read it as well. I think YA is so popular just now because it focuses on so many big, first emotions—first kiss, first love, first heartbreak, and figuring out where you stand and what you believe as you transition from child to adult.
In that respect, Pantomime fits very well into the YA field. It’s about being true to yourself and figuring out who you are, especially when society keeps telling you that you should be something different. It’s about learning how secrets can hurt and cause more damage than telling the truth ever could. At the same time, when I wrote it, I had no idea if it was YA or adult. I wrote the story I had to tell, and I’d like to think both teens and adults alike will enjoy it.
7. What projects are you currently working on?
The sequel to Pantomime is currently with my agent, awaiting revisions. In the meantime I’m playing around with another YA fantasy—this time a gothic ghost story with a twist set in the Bohemian Forest. I have other projects bubbling away in the background as well.
8. What are you most looking forward to in the next 12 months?
Walking into a bookstore and seeing Pantomime on the shelf. That will be incredible and a dream come true.