Laura G. Interviews Elizabeth Lim, author of SPIN THE DAWN

Article by laura g

LAURA G: The trope of girl-dressed-as-boy has historical precedence from Shakespeare to Tolkien. Usually the crossdressing heroine makes her choice after suffocating under the pressures of being a woman: marriage, etiquette, etc. The same is certainly true of Maia who dreams of becoming a tailor yet is held back by her gender. Why did you choose to incorporate this into your story? Why do you think it’s a theme we return to time and again?

ELIZABETH LIM: Before becoming an author, I wanted to become a film composer, and I’d been told repeatedly during my studies how difficult it would be for me, a woman, to find work in the industry. I was determined to prove everyone wrong, and for a good ten years, I strived toward the goal by writing as much music as I could. In the end, film scoring wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned it to be, but my grit and ambition had shaped me, as well as the challenges and frustrations I had met. These all inspired the backbone of Maia Tamarin’s character and story. Given that her world is placed in the distant past, I chose to have her overcome her society’s challenges by disguising herself as her brother so she could pursue her dream. 

LG: There are many references to classical fairy tales, among them one of my personal favorites, Thousandfur. When the book was initially coming together, did you plan on using fairy tale to tell the story, or did the references work their way in later on in the process?

EL: Both! I had a few fairy tales that inspired me from the beginning, namely Thousandfur and The Cowherd and the Weaver, but when I first began drafting Spin the Dawn, I wasn’t sure whether I could work in threads from each story. But later in the process, references to a number of my fairy tales organically made their way into my manuscript, and it’d be a fun exercise for me to go through the story and count how many there are!  

LG: Before Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, fairy tales were shared orally. By the end of the book we realize (and I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler) Maia is telling her story to her family. For me it was a very powerful choice to let Maia be in charge of her narrative, especially when so few women of color have agency over their own stories. Why did you choose to tell the story in this way?

EL: Yes, for me showing that Maia has taken charge of her narrative was an important choice because it also shows how much her character has grown and changed since the beginning of Spin the Dawn. It’s also a means of reflection for Maia; she goes from someone who used to listen to stories to the storyteller herself, which I’m quite proud of. And lastly, family is an important theme in Spin the Dawn, and I wanted to begin and end with scenes of Maia and her family to show not only how much she loves them, but also what she is willing to sacrifice for them. 

LG: The craft of tailoring is obviously very important to the story, especially the styles and techniques mastered on the Asian continent. You describe it in such detail, did you go into the book with knowledge about the trade or was there a large amount of research?

EL: Thank you! I have to confess I had some help: I grew up with a seamstress grandmother and a mother who’s quite talented with the needle. I also consulted a few friends with backgrounds in Chinese embroidery and certainly made use of my local libraries!

LG: As with the tailoring, Chinese culture and tradition is very prevalent in the book. What are the advantages and challenges of creating a fantasy setting rooted in such a distinctive culture?

EL: The advantage is that it’s my culture, so I know it well and feel comfortable writing a world inspired by it. The challenge is almost a complete contradiction of what I just said: I’m constantly second-guessing myself. It was a choice for me not to use any Chinese names in Spin the Dawn and to create a world that is inspired by Chinese culture and tradition, rather than one that is more faithfully rooted in it. Yet at the same time, while I working on the book, I constantly grappled with how true I felt I “needed” to stay to history: I vividly remember worrying for hours that there was no knitting in Ancient China—among other things! But in the end, I have to remind myself that my book is not a textbook or meant to teach someone about my culture: it’s a fantasy that draws on my Chinese heritage, and one I hope will speak to readers across all backgrounds.

LG: And finally, is there anything that I didn’t ask that you’d like to talk about? Any fun facts you’d like to share with your readers?

EL: The idea of the magic scissors was partially inspired by a movie I grew up watching called The Polar Bear King. It’s a retelling of the Norwegian fairytale East of the Sun, and in it the princess is gifted a pair of magical scissors that she and her children use to save her husband from an evil troll princess.


SPIN THE DAWN is out July, 9, 2019!

Spin the Dawn (The Blood of Stars #1) Cover Image
$21.99
ISBN: 9780525647003
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Knopf Books for Young Readers - July 9th, 2019

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