Roselle Lim was born in the Philippines and immigrated to Canada as a child. She lived in north Scarborough in a diverse, Asian neighbourhood. She found her love of writing by listening to her lola (paternal grandmother’s) stories about Filipino folktales. Growing up in a household where Chinese superstition mingled with Filipino Catholicism, Roselle Lim devoured books about mythology, which shaped the fantasies in her novels. Her new book Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is out now. Please enjoy my interview with Roselle Lim.
How would you describe your occupation?
I sit on a couch with an iPad on my lap, cupping my forehead, and staring at a blinking cursor. I spend more time deleting the words on the screen than writing them. It’s a slow process: every sentence must feel right before I can move forward.
You’ve just come to the end of that process, so tell me about your new book…
Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune encapsulates the complications of mother-daughter relationships, the meaning of family and community, the power of food, and the magic in the ordinary.
What is something about you that people might find surprising?
I learned English from watching WWF wrestlers on TV in the Philippines. Hulk Hogan, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, and Andre the Giant were my English teachers.
What are you reading at the moment and what made you want to read it?
I’m reading an advanced reader copy of The Chai Factor by Farah Heron, which I’m very excited about because it is by a fellow woman of colour author in Toronto whose experience is similar to but unique from my own.
What was your favorite book as a child and why?
The Witches by Roald Dahl. It was delightfully hilarious and wicked at the same time. The book taught me the lesson that grownups aren’t always right.
Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?
It was a fan fiction of a cartoon on TV. My grandmother had started me on comics/graphic novels of telenovelas in Manila so it seemed natural to be inspired by what I had consumed.
What was the last book you purchased, and why did you buy it?
Daisy and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid because it came highly recommended from friends. I was also curious to see what the source material is like before the screen adaptation is made.
For someone starting out as a writer, which three books would you make required reading and why?
On Writing by Stephen King, to learn the power of sparse efficient prose.
Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development by K.M. Weiland, to better understand character motivations and how they drive the plot.
Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark, for a checklist of reminders to consider while drafting/revising.
What book have you found most inspiring, what effect did it have on you?
Circe by Madeline Miller. This book’s beautiful prose inspired me to write better and to work harder on my craft.
What’s the most obscure book you own; how did you discover it?
The Favorite Tales of Brothers Grimm illustrated by Mercer Mayer. I happened upon this at my library as a child. The illustrations are so haunting and exquisite that they stayed with me into adulthood. After years of searching, I managed to buy a copy through an online auction.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang. This is her sophomore novel and it captures the immigrant experience with her expert flair as the Queen of Romance.
What is your proudest achievement?
Getting my novel on the shelf! As an immigrant whose native languages were not English, I faced long odds in making it this far. I was told “no” most of my life. The rejections were hard, and I stopped writing a few times because I felt I would never succeed. But my passion for telling stories didn’t allow me to stay away. I looked back on those rejections and extracted something positive, which I used to push me to become the writer and person I am today.
Can you talk us through your writing process, from the first spark of an idea, to having your first completed draft?
The idea comes first and it worms its way into my consciousness, then into my subconscious. I allow it to pester me until its voice gets so loud that I have to pay attention. Once I’ve acknowledged its presence, the idea needs to marinate for a while in order to evolve into a premise, then a plot, characters, etc. I tend to have many premises, but thinking of all the other elements is painstaking. I take a long time drafting because I edit as I write, but I find it produces a cleaner draft.
If you were trying to impress a visitor, which book that you own would you leave on the coffee table?
Valentino: Themes and Variation by Pamela Golbin. He is one of my favorite fashion designers and gives a comprehensive insight into what I love aesthetically.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring writer?
First: find critique partners who excel in your weakness. They will help you with your flaws. Second: if you find yourself stuck, it’s wise to take breaks. A break allows your subconscious to work at the issue and find the most creative solutions.
If an alien landed in your garden; which three books would you gift them to showcase humanity in the best possible way?
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, and The Little Prince by Antoine de Sainte-Exupery. Even though these are classified as children’s books, they are a great introduction to many facets of humanity: kindness from the first, gentleness from the second, and resilience from the third.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Which books on your shelf are you most excited about reading next and why?
I’m excited about reading Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. This sounds refreshing and its royals element: irresistible. I’m also looking forward to Have a Little Faith in Me by Sonia Hartl. This book is going to be hilarious and so irreverent.
Image credit of Roselle Lim: Shelley Smith