Today I am honoured to welcome Vanessa Len over on Misty Realms!
Vanessa is the incredible author of Only a Monster AKA one of my new favourite books!! It has monsters, time travel, soulmates and more </3
I asked Vanessa some questions I had in mind and she gave some amazing answers to them, let’s get started!
About the Book
Title: Only a Monster
Author: Vanessa Len
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary
Publication Date: 22nd February, 2022
It should have been the perfect summer. Sent to stay with her late mother’s eccentric family in London, sixteen-year-old Joan is determined to enjoy herself. She loves her nerdy job at the historic Holland House, and when her super cute co-worker Nick asks her on a date, it feels like everything is falling into place.
But she soon learns the truth. Her family aren’t just eccentric: they’re monsters, with terrifying, hidden powers. And Nick isn’t just a cute boy: he’s a legendary monster slayer, who will do anything to bring them down.
As she battles Nick, Joan is forced to work with the beautiful and ruthless Aaron Oliver, heir to a monster family that hates her own. She’ll have to embrace her own monstrousness if she is to save herself, and her family. Because in this story . . .
. . . she is not the hero.
Interview with Vanessa Len
Hi Vanessa! Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing journey till now.
Hi! I’m a writer and educational editor from Melbourne, Australia.
Only a Monster is my first novel, and it began at a dinner with some friends. It turned out that we had all been thinking about writing novels, and we made a pact to do it. Only a Monster is the fourth published novels to have come out of that dinner!
I’d written short stories, but nothing novel length, so at the beginning the biggest challenge was trying to figure out how to write a novel. I found myself googling things like ‘How long is a chapter?’ And ‘How do you create a character?’ And ‘What happens next in my plot?’ (Sadly, Google didn’t have an answer for that last one!)
It was a steep learning curve. I read a lot of craft books about how to write a novel, but in the end I found that the best way to learn was to read and to watch TV shows and movies – to see how other people tell stories. I analysed ways to create characters, set up twists, structure scenes, and more. And I wanted to write a book that was fun to read, so I was really interested in the mechanics of ‘page-turniness’ (how some books are able to hold the reader’s attention so that they don’t get bored).
When I finished the book, I wanted to try publishing it ‘traditionally’, which means selling the rights to publishers rather than publishing the book yourself. One way to do that is to find a literary agent to represent you. I was lucky that my amazing agent, Tracey, read the manuscript and liked it. She is based in the US, but she and her husband Josh represent lots of young adult novelists in Melbourne, so they have a great understanding of working with international authors.
Pitch your debut novel, Only a Monster, in a short sentence.
Only a Monster is about a monster girl whose summer is ruined when the cute guy at work turns out to be a monster slayer!
What was your favourite thing about writing Only a Monster?
I really love learning new skills, so I loved learning how to write a novel; how to set up twists; how to hold a reader’s attention. One thing that I found challenging (in an enjoyable way) was writing time travel. Sometimes it felt like I was having to solve a riddle with every paragraph (for example, how to maintain momentum without always being able to rely on time jeopardy; and how to create time jeopardy in a sub-genre that doesn’t naturally allow it).
Do any of the characters or themes present in Only a Monster resonate with some of your own? If so, how was that writing experience for you?
In Only a Monster, my main character Joan discovers that she isn’t the hero of the story – she’s a monster.
The premise was inspired by that feeling when the hero of the story isn’t the hero of your story. When I was growing up, there wasn’t a lot of representation of people who looked like me on film and TV. I didn’t see myself represented in the heroes, but I did sometimes see myself represented in ‘bad guys’ – nameless Asian characters who would show up for fight scenes, only to get killed by the hero.
I have a line in the book about how in movies, the camera follows the hero after the bad guys have been killed. But I know that in my own experience, I find myself very aware of the few people who look like me in books and onscreen, which often means being very aware of people lying dead on the ground as the focus of the narrative moves away from them. I really wanted to write a story about how it feels when the hero isn’t on your side. How it feels when the hero kills people who look like you and your family.
The story branched quite a lot from there (it’s not a neat metaphor by any means!), but that feeling was the original inspiration.
The other part of the inspiration was exploring a diaspora, biracial experience like my own. My main character Joan is biracial – half-English and half-Chinese, as well as being half-monster and half-human. I wanted to depict the experience of being immersed in cultures, while also being removed from the original contexts of those cultures.
Did you listen to any songs while drafting Only a Monster? If so, do you have a perfect song/ playlist in mind?
For some reason, I find it hard to write with music in the background – even if it’s quiet and instrumental. It seems to block the creative part of my mind – I don’t know why! But sometimes I listen to music to get into the right mindset beforehand. For Only a Monster, I listened to Jordin Sparks’ Battlefield a lot!
*Interviewer’s Note: One of my best friends loved Only a Monster so much that they made a playlist for it! You can listen if you want!!
Do you have a favourite aspect you really enjoyed writing about or touching upon in Only a Monster?
Before I started the book, I made a list of all my favourite things: time travel; enemies to lovers; big paradigm shift moments; characters who reveal themselves to be more than they seem … Then I created the world and characters out of all those elements, so in a way, Only a Monster was built out of all my favourite things!
*Interviewer’s Note: One of my favourite aspects in Only a Monster was time travel. And Joan travels to the 90s!! So the outfit she wears was inspired by Liv Tyler’s outfit from Empire Records!
I really loved Joan and Aaron as characters, how would you describe them in four words?
Thank you! I think that Joan and Aaron have a lot in common, although they don’t know it when they first meet. They’re both very loyal to their families; and both naturally lawful (although they have very different ideas of ‘lawful’).
I would describe Joan as: loyal, tenacious, resourceful and clever; and Aaron as: loyal, law-abiding, guarded, and sharp-edged.
What do you hope readers take away from Only a Monster?
I hope Only a Monster leaves readers thinking about what makes people heroes and monsters. I’d love readers to look at hero narratives in a different way afterwards, and to sometimes notice the people lying dead on the ground when the camera moves away.
Can you give us any hints about the next book? I’m quite literally dying to know!! 😭
Good question! I can give a hint about one of the big secrets of the series.
In book 1, we learn a monster children’s chant that ends with ‘… only the Lius remember’.
In Book 2, we find out that there’s more to that chant than we knew; the Lius have a secret version of it with extra line at the end that describes something specific that they remember – something that all of the families once knew.
That was it! Thank you so much for your time, Vanessa. Is there anything you would like to add?
Thank you so much for asking such great questions, Kashvi!!
Vanessa Len is an Australian author of Chinese-Malaysian and Maltese heritage. An educational editor, she has worked on everything from language learning programs to STEM resources, to professional learning for teachers. Vanessa is a graduate of the Clarion Workshop in San Diego, and she lives in Melbourne.
Are you excited for Only a Monster? What are the things you’re most excited for reading in Only a Monster? Drop them in the comments below!
Thank you so much Vanessa for taking your time to do this interview for Misty Realms, I had a wonderful time chatting about Only a Monster!!