Author Interview with Vanessa Len {Only A Monster}

Hey everyone, today I’m thrilled to have a debut author guest on 24hr.YABookBlog Vanessa Len, who is here to talk about her forthcoming YA Contemporary Fantasy novel which releases later this month titled Only A Monster!

Here’s Vanessa introducing herself and sharing what ‘Only A Monster’ is all about:

Hi, I’m Vanessa Len, an Australian author and editor, and Only a Monster is my first novel. It’s about a monster girl whose summer is ruined when the cute guy at work turns out to be a monster slayer! It has enemy soulmates, time travel, families with powers, a monster POV, a Captain America-like hero antagonist, ruthless monster boys, a heist in a Monster Court, and a big guy with a cute dog!

Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind ‘Only A Monster’?

Vanessa: Only a Monster was inspired by that feeling when the hero of the story isn’t necessarily the hero of your story.

When I was growing up, there wasn’t a lot of representation of people who looked like me in the kinds of big blockbuster movies I loved.

I didn’t see myself represented in the heroes, but I did sometimes see myself represented in the ‘bad guys’. I would sometimes notice that nameless Asian characters would appear onscreen just for the fight scenes.

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 often find myself very aware of the few characters who look like me in books and onscreen, which often means being very aware of characters lying dead on the ground as the focus of the narrative moves away from them.

So Only a Monster was inspired by that feeling when a hero – maybe even a hero portrayed as decent and good by the narrative – is fighting against you rather than for you. My other main inspiration was that I wanted to explore a diaspora, biracial experience like my own. My main character Joan is 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. In the book, Joan has been partly raised by her monster family, but it isn’t until she enters the monster world that she understands some of the contexts around her family’s values and traditions.

After falling in love with both of your fantastic covers, I did a bit of research and discovered that your UK cover in particular features a Chop (a kind of seal or printing stamp), which plays a part in the story. I’m wondering if you’d be able to share more about the details presented on each cover, how they reflect the story within, and your thoughts when you saw them?

Vanessa: Thank you! I absolutely love all my covers! The UK cover was illustrated by a Malaysian artist named Kelly Chong, and designed by Lydia Blagden. It features a timepiece (to represent time travel), and a gold chop in the shape of a chimera. In the monster world, everyone has a chop – a personal stamp that they use as a signature. The one on the cover is given to Joan by her grandmother.

The US and Australian/New Zealand covers were illustrated by an Australian artist named Eevien Tan. The US cover was designed by Jessie Gang, and the Australian/New Zealand cover by Sandra Nobes. Eevien depicted Joan, and Holland House, which is an important setting in the book. On the cover the house is upside down to represent time travel. Eevien also included the symbol used to identify monster places – a sea serpent engulfing a sailing ship. 

What drew you to the subgenres of contemporary fantasy / urban fantasy for your story? & Anything in particular you enjoyed exploring the most about subgenres?

Vanessa: Only a Monster is an urban fantasy with time travel, so we begin in the contemporary world, and then travel back to the 1990s! I’ve always loved time travel, so it was really fun to create a hidden world where people routinely travel in time. And I chose London as the setting because I wanted to explore a diaspora experience in a big city. I was drawn to urban fantasy because I love stories that have a hidden world within our own world – one you could imagine inhabiting.

As a writer, are there any authors or novels that have inspired you?

Vanessa: I’m inspired by so many writers! Diana Wynne Jones had a way of writing fantasy with a conviction that I really aspire to. And I love Karen Joy Fowler’s writing style, and everything that Ted Chiang does!

Based on the promo I’ve seen, this book has lots of layers to look forward to: A magical underworld within London, Enemies-To-Lovers, rival families, & much more! Which element was your favorite to explore and why?

Vanessa: This is my first book, and I knew before I started that it would be a big project, and that I would be spending a lot of time on it. So before I started I made a big list of all my favourite things – enemies to lovers, time travel, families with powers, heists, people who turn out to be more than they seem … And then I drew on that list to create characters and a world. I really recommend that exercise for people who want to start writing a novel. It’s really fun to write a book full of the things that you love most.

With this novel being set in London, I’m wondering you can discuss more behind the history and locations you explore within the story? & Any research you did which helped to further develop the backdrop or setting?

Vanessa: I chose London as a setting because I wanted to write about a diaspora experience in a big city, and because London has a very long and documented history – which makes it a great time travel setting.

One of the elements of time travel that I love most is the poignancy of being able to visit people and places that have been lost. So I did a lot of research on the parts of London that no longer exist – or that only exist in remnants. Some of those settings are Holland House – which was destroyed in World War II; Whitehall Palace, which burned down; and the Thames Tunnel, which used to be a market, but is now used by trains.

To conclude, is there a particular quote you enjoyed writing the most & why?

Vanessa: Joan is guided into the monster world by Aaron Oliver, who is from an enemy monster family. He takes her to a place marked by a monster symbol that reminds Joan of old maps where uncharted territory is labelled: ‘Here be dragons’.

Aaron tells her: “Dragons need not fear other dragons.” I enjoyed writing that line because what Aaron says isn’t true, and Joan already knows it. Monsters are dangerous, even for other monsters!

Thanks to Vanessa for the fun interview! If you’d like to add ‘ONLY A MONSTER’ to your tbr or pre-order check out the links below!

Are you going to be reading ‘Only A Monster’? What are you most excited to explore or dive into when this debut hits shelves? 📚🖤


3 thoughts on “Author Interview with Vanessa Len {Only A Monster}

    1. Ahh excited to read your thoughts on it Andge! Yes, exactly I thought it was unexpected but made the story much more intriguing because you just dive into it. Thank you so much for reading 💕


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