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Author Interview: S.J. Lee Chats about Of Friction

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Get ready to learn more about the book Of Friction in this discussion with sapphic author S.J. Lee.

Join us for an exclusive peek behind the scenes as we quiz S.J. Lee about Of Friction, writing, reading, and more.

This book is part of the Speculative Fiction category in the 2024 IHS Reading Challenge.

Why did you write Of Friction?

This book was a product of many factors: coping with the transition from a year-long assignment in Iraq, realizing I’ve had one too many near-death incidents and wanting to finally put a 15+ year story that has only lived in my head onto paper, and more. I also wanted to see better representation in the genres I enjoy.

Who is your favorite character in the book?

I feel like I should say Sam, my MC dealing with her identity crisis and emotions, but after my fantastic audiobook narrator brought my characters to life, my favorite has to be Kai. She’s one of the side characters who is a bit too diplomatic and hopeful in a world of violence and hostility. I consider myself a realist (which probably just means pessimist), and even though I’d probably find Kai annoying if she were my real-life squadmate, she has something that needs to be protected.

What was the biggest challenge writing this book?

Trying to balance the story between plot and character. I wanted to build something that didn’t focus on “chosen ones.” Of Friction and the next two books are focused on “side characters” who are just trying to manage as the world deteriorates around them. The challenge was keeping it interesting and engaging.

How much research did you need to do for Of Friction?

“Write what you know” or something like it. A lot of the tactics, vernacular, location knowledge, and language comes from my own career and experiences. I did a bit of research on climate issues, additional military and special forces structures (thank you, colleagues), etc. The great thing about speculative fiction and an unspecified future is that I can suspend some belief in certain areas.

If you’re planning a sequel, can you share a tiny bit about your plans for it?

My debut and first book of the Altered Earth series focuses on identity and perspectives (no villains believe they are the bad guys…). The second book will focus on how fear and anger affect people.

What is your writing process like?

I pretend I’m a plotter and then pants it from there. I wish I could be better about plotting, but the characters like to do their own thing.

Where do you usually write, and what do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?

I tend to move around in my apartment with my laptop and I absolutely need my noise-canceling headphones to pump out mood music. As a gamer, I am very fortunate to have an elaborate “battlestation” so when I get tired of my laptop, I switch over. The major downside of that is I tend to get distracted and procrastinate by…playing games.

What’s your favorite writing snack or drink?

I am not a healthy person when I am writing. I’ll swing between not eating or drinking to GIVE ME ALL THE FLAMING HOT CHEETOS AND COKE ZEROS.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given about writing, and by whom?

Not by anyone in particular, but “comparison is the thief of joy” and “perfection is the enemy of good/done/productivity, etc.” I still struggle a lot with imposter syndrome, but at some point, you just have to let things go. Art is subjective and nothing will ever be perfect.

When you’re writing an emotional or difficult scene, how do you set the mood?

Music music music. I personally cannot write or focus with lyrical music and I have always been an original soundtrack enthusiast. I’ll put an emotional track on and let it just play on repeat. HUGE fan of Hans Zimmer, Gustavo Santaolalla, Alexandre Desplat, Jóhann Jóhannsson (RIP), Ludwig Göransson, and more.

Have you ever cried when writing an emotional scene?

No. Ha… Does that say something about me?

Do you feel bad putting your characters through the wringer?

To add to the above question: No, again. Mostly. I did feel a small tinge of guilt in writing two particular scenes in Book 2 (and outlining in Book 3), but they’re necessary. My characters just can’t catch a break. Sorry, not sorry. I hope I’m not anyone’s main character…

What type of books do you enjoy reading the most?

I gravitate toward speculative fiction and soft science fiction because it is the genre where I could balance the suspension of belief (escaping reality) while also still grounding myself – if that makes sense. I enjoy fantasy every now and then, but only if it’s on the more realistic side. I’ve just never latched onto magic, fae, elves, etc. in the same way my eyes sometimes glaze over with space operas and hard sci-fi. I grew up reading Roald Dahl, Michael Chricton, J.K. Rowling (problematic now, I know, but I can’t deny the influence Harry Potter had on my adolescence), K.A. Applegate, Orson Scott Card, etc. and now I enjoy books by Pierce Brown, Martha Wells, Dennis E. Taylor, etc.

Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?

Probably any of the books by the mentioned authors above, but in all honesty, I never thought I’d be a writer or an author. The real reason I started writing was a guilty pleasure sapphic web series that a friend recommended me. I hated that I enjoyed it, mostly because the writing made me physically cringe. I even watched it with headphones so my wife didn’t have to witness it. I thought, f#@& it. I can write better than this. And then I wrote a screenplay in nine days, didn’t feel satisfied with the world building, and novelized it.

Meet S.J. Lee

S.J. Lee is a foreign service specialist by day, gamer, photographer, and writer by night. She has worked and lived in Iraq, Mexico, Chile, India, Brazil, and Guyana, and currently resides in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area with her spouse and rescued street-dog.

Visit S.J.’s Website

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