Some Thoughts with ... Hana Lee

15 May 2024

The Author/s

Hana Lee

Hana Lee

Hana Lee is a biracial Korean American fantasy author. By day, she makes her living as a software engineer. She's always loved the dark, the gothic, and the occult, so there's usually a picturesque ruin of some kind lurking in the background of her novels.

Her childhood was spent trekking across the United States, from Southern California to the Midwest and back to the West Coast again. She generally considers her hometown to be Portland, OR, mostly because it's home to her favorite bookstore (Powell's Books).

She graduated from Stanford University with her B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science in 2018. Her family includes a partner and two ridiculously fluffy cats. They live in sunny Mountain View, CA, a stone's throw from Google HQ.

The Interview

1.- Could you introduce yourself to Jamreads’ readers?
Hi! I’m Hana Lee, a debut author and software engineer. My first novel, Road to Ruin, was just recently published by Saga Press on May 14, 2024. I love anything science fiction or fantasy across a wide variety of narrative mediums, but I have a special soft spot for RPGs. I grew up with Final Fantasy VII and Bioware’s entire catalog, and recently I’ve been obsessed with Baldur’s Gate 3. Dark stories with magic and monsters are my jam.

2.- How did you start writing?
I started when I was very young. I think I was about seven years old when I wrote my first story longhand in a composition notebook at school. It was an adventure story about two wolf siblings in a fairytale setting, and that’s about all I remember. I kept writing original stories all the way into high school, where I discovered fanfiction and started writing that, too.
English has always been my best subject! But I hit a reading and writing slump in college while I was working toward my engineering degree, and didn’t start writing again until 2020. (Like a lot of other people, I found that a worldwide pandemic completely rewired my personal goals and priorities.)
In 2020, I wrote my first novel and began seriously working toward my childhood dream of becoming a published author.

3.- Could you tell us about the original idea behind Road to Ruin?
When I was still living at home, I used to tell my younger brothers bedtime stories. Most of the stories were your standard fantasy fare: princes and princesses, knights and wizards, that sort of thing. But I did have one unique idea that stuck in my head for a long time after I left home: knights who rode motorcycles instead of horses.
In 2015, I saw Mad Max: Fury Road three separate times in theaters and fell in love with the post-apocalyptic setting and high-octane vehicle chases. I still didn’t have a story in mind, just a general atmospheric vibe, but the ingredients were all there.
In 2021, with my first novel out on submission, I decided the next thing I wanted to write was a fun, escapist fantasy with a poly love triangle at its core. Mix in vibes from my favorite movie, a lifelong love for dinosaurs, and a decade-old idea about knights on motorcycles, and Road to Ruin was born!

4.- How would you describe the process of getting agented? 
I had a whirlwind querying journey. I wrote my first novel in a 3-week writing binge in late 2020, spent a few months revising, and then sent out a small batch of 5 queries to test the waters. To my shock, the very first agent I emailed requested my full manuscript within 48 hours. Then another full request came in soon after.
At that point, I panicked and pressed send on about 70 more queries. (Don’t do this!)
I had my first offer within 10 days of querying from the first agent I queried, along with four other offers. In the end, I signed with Paul Lucas of Janklow & Nesbit, my current agent. He’s been an enthusiastic champion of my books ever since!
The process of getting agented is different for everyone. Mine was quick and serendipitous, with plenty of excitement. I would describe my first experience with being on submission as the complete opposite. But that’s a story for another time.

5.- Which ideas influenced you to create the wastelands?
Mad Max: Fury Road was a huge influence. That big dust storm in the first half of the movie, with that pulse-pounding Junkie XL soundtrack, burrowed its way into my consciousness and took root. I wanted to write a setting with the same kind of mental soundtrack.
In my opinion, no fantasy setting is complete without its own megafauna. Instead of dragons, I populated my world with dinosaur-like creatures. I’ve always loved dinosaurs; I was a huge Land Before Time fan growing up.
The storms, the mana, and the Talented were all influenced by various SFF media I’ve loved over the years: the Lifestream in Final Fantasy VII, the season-one plotline of Legend of Korra, and Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives. Then, of course, as someone who lives in California in the 21st century, climate disaster is always on my mind. It’s especially fitting for the post-apocalyptic genre.

6.- Which aspects of Road to Ruin did you consider more tricky to write?
The most technically challenging aspect of writing Road to Ruin was handling characters who don’t speak each other’s language. I rely a great deal on dialogue in my writing, both to establish character and to move the plot along, so a language barrier doesn’t just make things hard on the characters–it makes things hard on me!
Telling a love story where the actual “falling-in-love” portion happened way in the past, before the events of the book, was also difficult. When Road to Ruin picks up, all three players in the love triangle have been pining for each other for years. Their feelings aren’t new, but their sudden proximity is. That was a challenging dynamic to put into prose.

7.- We are a few days from your debut, how do you feel about it?
As I’m typing this, it’s currently a couple of hours from midnight on my debut day. I’m excited! Definitely a bundle of nerves. I have a lot of events to keep me busy this week, but I’m hopeful I’ll have some time in between to savor the feeling of being a published author at long last.

8.- Which advice would you give to any aspiring writer?
Write what you love, and don’t worry if it feels like you’re writing the same thing over and over: the same genre, the same tropes, the same character archetypes, the same themes. Every writer has their fixations, and a reader who shares your fixations will be a fan for life.
Also, write for fun! I highly recommend fanfiction. It’s a great way to experiment with different styles and indulge yourself without the pressure of conforming to a market.

9.- Which three books would you take to a desert island?
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (I think I’d be able to relate to the protagonist a lot in that scenario!), The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (one of my favorite novels, plus it’s so long that it’s a bit like bringing 3 or 4 books), and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (it’s been my periodic comfort reread for many years–I think I’d need the coziness if I were stranded on a desert island!).

10.- What can we expect from Hana Lee in the future?
Well, there’s a sequel to Road to Ruin on the horizon! I hope I can share more details about it soon. In a more general sense, you can expect plenty of adventurous SFF with monsters, magic, and flawed queer protagonists. Probably a fair amount of romantic pining as well!