Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of your historical novel, Opium and Absinthe, through Lake Union! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Lydia Kang: Thank you! The book is about a young woman named Tillie Pembroke who tries to solve the mysterious slaying of her sister, only it’s no ordinary murder—her sister appears to be the victim of a vampire slaying. Readers will get a glimpse of Gilded Age New York City, understand Tillie’s personal struggle with morphine addiction, meet Nellie Bly (the famous female investigative reporter), and rub elbows with the newsies running about the city.
BD: The novel deftly weaves various genres together, including occult mystery and historical fiction. What can you share with us about your creative process in intertwining these genres into your narrative thread, and what have been some of your creative influences?
LK: It’s really a muddy method. I have these different ideas and research historical time periods to find a place where everything works okay. Then, I start with the end of the book (in my mind) and work my way backwards to outline the story, so I know how to weave in red herrings and suspicious characters along the way. And the whole time I’m writing, I’m checking to make sure I’m developing my characters with increasing complexity as the pages go on.
As far as creative influences, my writing friends probably are a huge part of my process, because they help me think through tough parts, or let me bounce weird ideas off them to make sure they work. SF Kosa (who also writes as Sarah Fine) is a dear friend of mine, and is a brilliant writer and a gifted editor. She helps me all the time.
Other creative influences come from my research in the realm of nonfiction. Several of the ideas for this book came while writing Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, which is co-written with my friend, Nate Pedersen.
BD: Given your work as a practicing physician, how do you feel that this experience impacts you as a writer, as well as the stories that you tell?
LK: The great thing about being a physician is that it’s easier for me to come up with medical mystery aspects (anatomical issues, pharmacological twists, poisonings, sci-fi medical concepts). But it also enables me to have a particular insight into patient care on both sides of the experience. Most of us have been patients or had a family member sick, but not all of us have been on the side of the healthcare practitioner, as well. Tapping into all of that helps when writing these stories.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Opium and Absinthe’ story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
LK: I like to write a story that will entertain people, puzzle them, and make them look at things a little differently. It’s fun to trick readers into thinking they know who the bad guy is, because if they’re wrong, later they can think through why. Why did I judge this person to be this way? Reading mysteries is a great way of looking at yourself in the mirror and confronting your biases. We are all subject to biases, and not all good. We should always challenge them, because they shape our world and significantly impact how we treat other people.
Another thing I wanted to do in Opium and Absinthe was to let readers into the world of a person suffering from addiction. They may find that it’s perhaps not what they think it’s going to be. Addiction hits all levels of society. Tillie is young, wealthy, and smart. She breaks her collarbone in the first chapter and then suffers a terrible emotional loss. I could personally imagine making all the same choices she did, good and bad. Addiction is an incredibly complicated disease, and hopefully people will see this and empathize with Tillie’s struggle.
BD: What makes Lake Union the perfect home for Opium and Absinthe?
LK: Lake Union has been such a fantastic supporter of my books. My stories are quirky, and they’re not just one thing. They’re medical mysteries, they’re historical, they’re sometimes romances. I write young adult, and many of my YA readers cross over to reading these, as well. I’m so grateful that Lake Union appreciates that complexity and celebrates it, instead of asking me to stick my book into one neat category. Lake Union also supports the fact that I write all over the place with other publishers. I’ve written young adult (sci-fi and fantasy), as well as adult nonfiction, and they fully support that I have this rainbow of books that complement each other.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
LK: I am currently writing a nonfiction book called Patient Zero, with Workman Publishing. It’s a follow-up book to Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, and will touch on the many index patients of epidemics and pandemics throughout history, as well as many of the historical medical subjects that have made tackling these diseases possible, such as germ theory and the history of autopsies.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Opium and Absinthe and your other work?
LK: My website (LydiaKang.com) keeps up to date on book news, events, and appearances. Since I write all over the place, the news is all over the place, too! But you can find updates on Opium and Absinthe, including guest posts and interviews there, as well.