Today we’re revealing the cover for Malinda Lo’s A Scatter of Light–AND giving you a sneak peek interview with the author!
Award-winning author Malinda Lo returns to the Bay Area with another masterful coming-of-queer-age story, this time set against the backdrop of the first major Supreme Court decisions legalizing gay marriage. And almost sixty years after the end of Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Lo’s new novel also offers a glimpse into Lily and Kath’s lives since 1955.
Aria Tang West was looking forward to a summer on Martha’s Vineyard with her best friends—one last round of sand and sun before college. But after a graduation party goes wrong, Aria’s parents exile her to California to stay with her grandmother, artist Joan West. Aria expects boredom, but what she finds is Steph Nichols, her grandmother’s gardener. Soon, Aria is second-guessing who she is and what she wants to be, and a summer that once seemed lost becomes unforgettable—for Aria, her family, and the working-class queer community Steph introduces her to. It’s the kind of summer that changes a life forever.
Scroll down to see the cover and read an interview with Malinda Lo!
Design: Anna Booth.
Artist: Feifei Ruan (IG: @ruan0v0)
Andrew Karre, executive editor at Dutton: Hi Malinda! Thanks for taking the time to talk about A SCATTER OF LIGHT. This is your seventh novel and the third book I’ve had the pleasure to edit and publish, but it’s actually the first manuscript you ever sent me (almost eight years ago now). You wrote, revised, and published books in two different genres between the earliest draft of A SCATTER OF LIGHT and its final form. Can you tell us a little about the experience of this long period of development as a writer?
Malinda Lo: A SCATTER OF LIGHT has certainly had the most convoluted journey to publication of all my books. When it didn’t sell way back in 2014, I was pretty depressed about it at first. I tried to shelve it (in my mind and in my office), but it kept coming back to me, and I can see how it affected both A LINE IN THE DARK, which I wrote immediately after SCATTER, and LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB.
When I was writing TELEGRAPH CLUB, it became clear to me that it was connected to SCATTER via the main character, Aria. Both Lily and Aria are Chinese American girls who are obsessed with astronomy and space, and both are experiencing first same-sex relationships. Because of the different time periods of these books, though, these common threads are expressed in very different ways.
Also, by the time I started seriously revising SCATTER in 2020, the experiences of writing LINE and TELEGRAPH CLUB changed the way I write, and I hope made me a better writer. I tried to bring that to SCATTER.
AK: One of the many delights of working on LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB was watching the story grow as you integrated the adult point-of-view characters. A SCATTER OF LIGHT is in first person and entirely from Aria’s point of view, but once again you used one of the adults in her life extensively. To me, Joan West—Aria’s grandmother—is quite different from the adults in TELEGRAPH CLUB, but no less indispensable, both for Aria and for Steph. Can you talk a little about writing these older characters in coming-of-age stories?
ML: Adults have such a profound influence and power over teens in real life. It has always seemed a little odd to me that in young adult books in general, adults are usually ignored. I understand why that’s the case, but I think it’s more realistic to include adults, and I always have included them in my books to some degree. TELEGRAPH CLUB was the first time I was able to do that from the adults’ perspective, which I really enjoyed, because I felt that it showed the broader context of Lily’s world.
The way that Joan is included is more traditionally YA. She’s a mentor and has conversations about life with Aria, but I hope she’s a fully developed character in her own right. I tried to show Aria realizing that her grandmother has a whole adult life outside of what Aria herself knows.
AK: Lily Hu’s 1950s Chinatown was not something you lived through, of course, but the recent past that Aria Tang West experiences is a different matter. To me 2013 feels like a different historical period in some ways, but at the same time I know we both can remember it well. I know you actually started this book around the time it’s set, but you did major revision work as late as 2021. Was that a challenge? Does this book feel like it straddles pure historical and contemporary now?
ML: I think that when we decided to purposely set it in 2013, and not just in a vague “contemporary” time period, it actually helped me to make decisions about what to write. I had to look things up to situate scenes in the real 2013. It made me realize how weird it is to write a book that is not set in an actual year. The events that are happening around us in time make such a huge difference in our daily decisions. I’m not sure if I can ever write another book that’s not set in a real year.
I think that right now, SCATTER does straddle historical and contemporary, but in only a few years, it will become a historical!
AK: And finally, I’m always curious about research and inspiration, but I think it’s particularly relevant with this book, where five important characters are artists of one kind or another, each at different stages of their development. Can you share anything about the inspirations for Steph, Joan, and Aria’s parents? What’s it like as an artist to try to conjure the work of artists in other mediums?
ML: I’m lucky to come from a family of artists, so I had some personal experience to draw from, although the characters aren’t based on any of my real-life family. (I swear!) My grandmother was a writer, and I think that Aria’s relationship with Joan was inspired at first by my relationship with my grandmother, but Joan is not like my real grandmother at all. I think Joan is a bit like my high school English teacher combined with the way I imagine I would be if I were a 70-year-old abstract artist. So, in other words: Joan is herself!
Similarly, my mother is a musician, but she’s a pianist and not an opera singer. I have an uncle who was an opera singer, and my mom had musician friends I met when I was a kid. All of these people contributed to the character of Aria’s mom, who is also herself. Aria’s dad, a writer, is probably inspired by the many writers I know, as well as my friends who are parents.
I think Steph, who’s trying to make it as a singer, is actually a romanticized portrait of the kind of person a young queer woman like Aria would fall for. She resembles a stereotype, because that’s how Aria sees her. I’m sure Steph was inspired by several people I’ve known, although she’s not exactly like anyone real. The process of characterization takes so many little bits of real life and combines them in a mysterious subconscious process to create, hopefully, a three-dimensional, fictional human being.
Writing about all these artists has made me realize that I want to try other mediums too. I’ve dabbled in painting and photography as a hobby, and I’d really like to do some paper crafts as well. Someday I hope I’ll have time to do it.