Interview with Kai Raine, author of These Lies That Live Between Us
Kai Raine is a writer and cognitive scientist, who believes in thinking outside the box and questioning assumptions. Kai reads and writes to experience lives and opinions and possibilities beyond her own. She has lived a relatively nomadic life, being born in the US, then growing up mostly in Japan, and spending most of her early adult life in Europe. She has a BA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and MScs from the University of Trento and the University of Osnabrück.
Welcome Kai, and thank you for being with us today. Why don’t you start by telling our readers a bit about yourself?
I’ve been in love with stories all my life. I always knew I wanted to write, and always did, but there was this understanding in my family that it could only ever be a hobby. I was well into my twenties before I realized that life is short and I should do what I feel I’m called to do. I’m a cognitive scientist and neuroscientist, and my life can be summarized as “inadvertently nomadic.” I grew up mostly in Japan.
What is These Lies That Live Between Us about?
It’s the story of three sisters, with complicated relationships and each with her own path to take. Their kingdom is about to go to war, and their lives are full of intrigue, action, adventure, forbidden magic and the like. But to me, it’s the story of sisters, growing up and coming to terms with a world that isn’t what they thought it was—and the pain and hurt that they’ve caused each other along the way.
What was your inspiration for writing this book?
When I was eleven or twelve, I used to “write songs” by writing my own lyrics to Japanese pop songs. One day, I thought to myself, “I should try writing a song all mine, tune and all.” I wrote this silly little song about how the princess of Hearts runs away from home and pretends to be a common girl. Along the way, she meets a dashing knight, who turns out to be the prince of Spades in disguise. Eventually she gets tired of living on the run and becomes a maid in the court of Diamonds. It bears very little resemblance to These Lies That Live Between Us, though you may be able to make out the skeleton of one of the storylines, if you squint hard enough.
that song became more songs, then became a middle-grade book. Eventually I
scrapped the manuscript entirely when I realized that my characters’
personalities didn’t match their motivations. I zoomed out my perspective a
little, and realized that part of my problem was that all my side characters
were just props. I started with the younger twin sisters of my original
protagonist. I gave them names and personalities, shifted around who did what
from my original storyline, and voila! Suddenly it was a much more interesting
story. That was about 12 years ago, and the true beginning of These Lies That Live Between Us.
What called you to write Young Adult Fantasy?
I love reading—and writing—because I believe that well-written fictional stories are the single most powerful tool we have to broaden our perspectives and see past our own assumptions. To me, fantasy and science fiction are the most powerful genres, because they can make us see things about our own world by showing us a world we don’t know, where we know our assumptions might not necessarily hold.
I think I write young adult books because changing perceptions and questioning my basic assumptions are things I was forced to live often as a teen—and it’s just a part of growing up, in a lot of ways. Writing YA is just the most natural way that I can express the characters and stories that I want to write.
How do you think writing for the YA crowd differs from writing for a more mature audience?
I don’t think it does, not really. I’ve heard people make a lot of generalized rules about writing for the YA crowd. First person perspective, one main protagonist per book (or one protagonist and one love interest), and no complicated story with multiple intertwining storylines, because it’s harder to identify with—these are all things I’ve been told about “how to write for the young adult.”
But when I was a teenager, I didn’t like first person perspective as a general rule. The most resonant book I read as a teen was The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which I read at age 14. I still remember it vividly—I still feel like I lived that book. It had multiple storylines, multiple protagonists, and at the end, there really isn’t a triumph, or a sense of who was fundamentally right or wrong. I loved Morgana, and I hated Gwenhwyfar, and I read every word. It moved me so deeply that most books felt lackluster by comparison for years afterward.
So, I write YA that appeals to me as I am now—and hope that it would also have appealed to the girl that I was.
How do you create your characters?
It depends. Usually the story just takes form in my head, and then I have to start writing it to get a sense of who the characters are. I write short stories and vignettes and even novellas about characters that never see the light of day—they’re just to get a sense of who I’m dealing with.
I’ve learned that writing, for me, is about letting go. It’s all there in my head, somewhere. If I get hung up on what I want, I can end up diminishing a character, and therefore the story.
Which character do you relate to most and why?
This is a difficult question, because what it really comes down to is when I focused on any given storyline.
I told my sister recently that there’s a lot of me in Stelle—but not me as I am now. Her anger, her frustration at a world that defines her in a way that doesn’t match her identity, her tendency to blame that anger and frustration on anyone and anything but herself—this is all a journey that I went through when I was younger. I wrote Stelle’s storyline all the way through for the first time about eight years ago, and largely based her on who I was eight years before that. At the time, I thought I’d give each sister a novel, so her story began with her frustration with Gwen from chapter 1, then followed her chapter after chapter as she travelled, settled in at Traveler’s Crossing, and eventually was found and had to flee into the Tor. Obviously, most of that didn’t make it into the final version of this story.
There’s a lot of me in Alderic too, who was the easiest character for me to write. It’s hard to articulate why, except to say that he’s the only character who I never had to struggle to understand. I especially feel kinship with the way he stumbles through very nuanced, politically charged interactions while remaining totally oblivious—but can look back at it later and say, Oh! I see what was going on there. In a way, he’s carries some of the naïve, innocent side of me, just as Stelle carries some of my angry, rebellious side.
Most recently, in the last couple years, a lot of me went into Gwen. I lost my mother in 2015, and in the wake of that, felt like I was losing all the rest of my family, too, as we all grieved in our own ways and drifted apart. I channeled a lot of that grief and loneliness into Gwen, and the way she feels after losing Stelle. So much, in fact, that when I went through during the last three edits, one thing I had to do was cut out a lot of the grieving process. It was cathartic for me to write it, and it gave me a better understanding of Gwen’s character, but it was not at all interesting to read.
What was your biggest challenge in writing These Lies That Live Between Us?
The beginning. I don’t have words for how difficult this was. I still look at the beginning and shake my head sometimes, because I know that it could have been much better. As it is, I get mixed comments. Some people have told me they love the beginning. Others have told me they had to push through the beginning to get to the meat of the story that made it worth it.
The problem with having this story in incubation for so many years is that I’ve lived with it for too long. I know these characters inside out. I can’t remember what it is to not know Gwen, and her codependent relationship with Stelle, and the court at Castle Dio, and both of their complicated relationships with Nicki.
So, trying to introduce Gwen and her dynamic with her sisters in a way that was compelling, but also provided all the information a reader might need to understand her—this was a struggle.What distinguishes These Lies That Live Between Us from other YA Fantasy?
Maybe the fact that it has so many point of view characters. I’ve had a lot of people balk at the number of point of view characters when they look at the table of contents. It does mean that in one of the storylines, there is a sort of detachment that you don’t often see in YA, since you’re watching events unfold through the perspectives of many different characters with minor roles in this story, rather than through the eyes of one main protagonist.
To me, it’s also distinguished by the fact that the sisters’ relationships are the central love story, rather than the romantic relationships.
What is it you hope readers take away from the story?
I’m a strong believer in the concept death of the author. Whatever readers take away, it’s theirs to take. But I’d love to hear what they do take away from it!
What do you like to do in your free time?
I don’t have a lot of free time these days. I try to make sure I exercise regularly, so I jog, hike, swim and play tennis. I love skiing, but I only go once every couple years, because it’s so expensive.
What do you like to read?
Almost anything! I like accessible non-fiction that teaches me things about the world I didn’t know, and I like character-driven fiction that makes me see people or the world in a way I didn’t before. I have a soft spot for fairy tale retellings. My review blog was originally started as a fairy tale retelling review blog, after one horrifying summer when I decided to order every single fairy tale retelling novel I could get through the interlibrary loan system. I had over a hundred books under my bed at one point.
What book has most influenced your life?
This is difficult, because so many books have had a huge influence on my life. I already spoke about The Mists of Avalon. If I had to pick something as the greatest influence, I would say the Moribito series by Nahoko Uehashi. My father bought me the third book in the series for my 10th birthday—probably because I was mostly reading for pleasure in English at the time, and he wanted to urge me to read in Japanese, too. I griped at him about buying me the third book in a series—he hadn’t realized that it was part of a series—so he got me the first book.
That book changed my life. For one thing, it became the catalyst that made me start devouring books for pleasure in Japanese as well as English. Before, I only read Japanese books for school. I read every novel Nahoko Uehashi ever wrote, and remained so obsessed with these books that when I was 16, I spent six months translating the novels into English for my mother. I translated up to the sixth out of the ten books in the Moribito series. I was even thinking I’d become a translator—it was already apparent that I wouldn’t be able to graduate from high school or get a GED, so I was looking at career options. I was already acting as a translator for Japanese visitors in the city where we lived in India, so it seemed like a good option.
But I wrote to the author and asked her if I could publish my translations—online if not in print—and she shot me down, no holds barred. Oh, she was nice about it, but there was this bit about how I was young, and should stay in school and leave these things to the professionals. I was crushed, and lost the will to do anything at all for some time after that. I haven’t translated a single novel since I got that letter.
Fortunately, by pure chance I applied to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and explained my situation, and they didn’t care that I didn’t have a high school diploma, and were willing to give me full financial aid (even if it was mostly loans)—so I wasn’t left bereft of a career as a result. Funnily enough, though, I did want to be an anthropologist for the longest time—in retrospect, probably because Uehashi is one. The only reason that wasn’t my major was because my change of major form got lost three times over the course of a year, at which point I really needed to be settled on a major.
Since then, the popularity of this series has continued to build over in Japan. My will to translate may have been broken, but my love for the series is completely intact. I’ve watched the anime—in fact, my sisters and I have dissected it for adaptation-derived plot-holes—as well as the live action TV drama they’ve been doing for the last several years. I’ve even tried in vain to get my hands on the radio drama that aired maybe ten years or so ago. I enjoy the adaptations, but never half as much as the books.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I’d tell her not to be afraid of being judged through her writing. I’d tell her not to be afraid of being judged in general, and to do what she loves and write.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing, or about life in general?
To not listen to advice. Everyone is different, and thinking about how you should be can be crippling, preventing you from finding who you are, and what works best for you. I’m paraphrasing something the author M. Pepper Langlinais said when I was interviewing her a few days ago.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
I second M’s advice from above, and advise not to listen to advice. But I also want to add: don’t overthink it—just write what comes naturally.
So, what’s next, do you have another project in the works?
Many! I’m working on a YA thriller called H-A-G-S (the trailer can be found here https://youtu.be/WvzcIFWXgYI), as well as the sequel to TLTLBU, which is presently titled Remind Us of the Truth. I’m also constantly churning out new short stories, whenever I get tired of the constant writing and rewriting and editing that comes with novel writing. One of these short stories, Nevena’s Silence, is a short prequel to TLTLBU—I’m hoping to see it published somewhere in the next few months!
Do you have a website or blog (or both) where readers can learn more about you and your works?
Where can readers connect with you on social media?
You can find me on Twitter http://twitter.com/raine_kai, Instagram http://instagram.com/kai_raine/ and Facebook http://facebook.com/rainekai/. You can also find me on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Kai-Raine/e/B078R2XZMR/ and Goodreads http://goodreads.com/author/show/6558055.Kai_Raine. I do have a Pinterest account, but I’m still trying to figure out how that works and may end up never using it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers today?
Thank you so much for your interest, and for reading this!
If you like the cover art of TLTLBU, you might be interested in this interview where I interviewed the artist http://storybooker.wordpress.com/2018/02/28/interview-kelly-tinker-artist-extraordinaire/! She and I were roommates in college, and I love her work. You can also find her on Instagram and follow her artist page on Facebook.