QSFer C.B. Lee has a new FF YA superhero romance out:
Welcome to Andover, where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain.
On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, whom Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.
Today I’m excited to be interviewing C.B. Lee, author of Not Your Sidekick.
Hi C.B., thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your current book.
Hello, I’m so excited to be here today! Thank you for interviewing me. I’m a bisexual writer who grew up in California. My current novel is Not Your Sidekick, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic Nevada and is about a girl who gets an internship with a supervillain and ends up working with her crush and uncovering an unsettling truth about her world. I hope people will enjoy reading it! I definitely enjoyed writing this story— there’s action and adventure and plenty of romance with robots and superheroes and more!
1) What is the most important thing about your subject/genre that people need to know?
That young adult fiction is important, and I feel like often novels that are popular and enjoyed by young people are often discounted as inconsequential, that it’s not “real” fiction. There’s a lot of this attitude in society today, actually, that devalues things that are aimed at young people or is enjoyed by them, and it’s a shame because I’ve found the most riveting novels in the genre, novels that are unafraid of dealing with heavy topics, novels that take exciting and new ways to look at old tropes, novels that challenge the status quo of literature all the time. Young adult fiction are the stories that the youth of tomorrow grow up on, the type of stories we remember as adults.
2) Tell us something no one knows about your characters.
Jess and Abby both have a lot of my personal insecurities and flaws tucked into different aspects of their personalities. For Jess, a lot of what she struggles with are her parents (and her own) expectations of success. I’ve always faced what I thought was a lot of pressure from my parents, to succeed in school, go to a great college, have a great career, etc, etc, and it’s been a big part of how its shaped my life journey. I’ve had to learn a lot about defining success in my own way and I wanted to give that to Jess. Abby on the other hand, has a very driven personality and actually seems to be succeeding on the surface, juggling multiple leadership positions, sports, and a job while still in high school. This was very reflective of my own high school experience and as we learn more about Abby as the series goes on, we’ll get to see how this affects her and how she learns about her own limits.
3) How did you become involved in the subject/theme of this work?
I love hiking and travelling; one of my favorite places is Red Rock Canyon National Park, Nevada. It’s a landscape of extremes; red sandstone and vivid orange striations, blue sky and Joshua trees and cacti dotting the landscape. I love the area, imagined that it would look very similar to itself in a post-apocalyptic world, and wanted to write a story there.
4) Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than any others? Love? Action? Romance? Tragedy?
The hardest for me is probably any type of angst or very heavy emotional scenes; particularly because I do write with emotion. I draw a lot on personal experiences to write, and I have to put myself directly into what the character is feeling, so often times my own mood will be directly affected. It’s really difficult if I’m not up for feeling that way, but I try my best.
5) What famous person (living or dead) would you like to meet and why?
I’d love to meet Cheng Shih, who died in 1804. She was the most famous and successful Chinese pirate who ever lived, and I think she’d have some amazing stories about what her life was like— she commanded over 300 ships and anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 pirates and was feared and respected throughout the Qing Dynasty. Cheng was also one of the few pirates who retired from piracy and lived to old age; I just think she’d be incredibly interesting to talk to about not just Chinese culture but the clash of the other rising empires at the time, and what it was like living as a woman in that era.
After dinner, Jess expects Claudia to hang out with her parents, or maybe reconnect with some of her friends in the area, but instead she pulls Jess aside.
“So, I heard from Mom and Dad, that like—oh, happy birthday, by the way—” Claudia says, like an afterthought. There’s a holo of them as children behind them: Claudia, a happy teenager, standing next to a young Jess holding baby Brendan. “—that you’re not gonna present with any powers. And that’s okay, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I know you really wanna do the hero thing, and I came up with a great idea.”
“You could be my sidekick! Okay, usually hero support requires that the sidekick presents with at least a D-class power, but I think if you wanna hang back in the lab, you can totally help with the tech side of things, maybe monitor the holofeeds and work with the communications team? I had to pull a lot of strings. And you can totally meet Captain Orion too! In person! Isn’t that great? You could start with us as soon as your spring quarter—it could be like an internship! Mom mentioned you were looking for a job, right, some time ago?”
A few weeks ago this idea might be interesting, but now to be asked to be in her sister’s shadow yet again, it’s just… patronizing.
She has a job now where she’s important and needed. M needs her. Master Mischief and Mistress Mischief need her.
“Thanks,” Jess says. “But I’m gonna have to pass. I have a job already.”
* * *
“Pretty sure the comic artists were all inspired by actual events.” Abby shows Jess how all the comics start with the “origin:” Lieutenant Orion finding Gravitus at the scene, Gravitus creating a natural firebreak with his earth powers, and Orion flying firefighters to safety. “There aren’t holos of these things anymore, though, not of Gravitus being heroic. I mean, there is a record of this particular fire and Lieutenant. Orion being there, but—”
“They wrote Gravitus out of it,” Jess says.
Abby leans close. Their shoulders touch. Abby’s close enough for Jess to smell her shampoo—apple and cinnamon.
Abby looks up and their eyes meet; Jess is too afraid to look away, too nervous to move closer. She hangs in the moment, wondering, wondering. It’s the worst part about being attracted to girls—she doesn’t know how to flirt. Will Abby think she’s just being friendly? Should she just say it? But then if she says something, their whole friendship will change, and they only just started being close. And Jess likes that a lot. The chances that Abby is straight are high, and asking might ruin everything.
Abby’s eyelashes and eyebrows are a darker red than her hair, and there’s a faint scar running down her left cheek. Jess takes in all the details of her face so she can look back on this moment and remember—one time Abby Jones was on my bed and was this close, close enough to kiss—
C.B. Lee is a bisexual writer, rock climber, and pinniped enthusiast from Southern California. A first-generation Asian American, she is passionate about working in communities of color and empowering youth to be inspired to write characters and stories of their own. Lee’s debut novel Seven Tears at High Tide was published by Duet Books in 2015 and named a finalist in the Bisexual Books Awards. This summer, C.B. was named to Lambda Literary’s Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices.