Axie Oh's 'Rogue Heart'

On the Why We Write podcast: Axie Oh tells us about her new young adult sci-fi novel, set in Neo Beijing circa 2201

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Episode notes

Axie Oh is a first-generation Korean American, born in NYC and raised in New Jersey. She studied Korean history and creative writing as an undergrad at the University of California – San Diego and holds an MFA from Lesley University in Writing for Young People. Her passions include K-pop, anime, stationery supplies, and milk tea. She resides in Las Vegas, Nevada. Check out her books, Rebel Seoul and Rogue Heart.

In today's interview, she speaks with Sara Farizan, author of If You Could Be Mine, Here to Stay, and Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel. Check out our interview with Sara from Season 1.

Check out all our episodes on our podcast page or just go ahead and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play or Spotify.

  • Transcript

    Announcer: This is Why We Write, a podcast of Lesley University. Each week, we bring you conversations with authors in the Lesley community to talk about books, writing, and the writing life. Today we've got a conversation with two of our YA writing alumnae, Sara Farizan and Axie Oh. Sara is the author of, If You Could Be Mine and Here To Stay and she was in a Why We Write episode last season. Today, she and Axie talk about speculative fiction, sci-fi, diversity in books and more, plus of course Axie's K-Pop inspired book, Rebel Seoul and the sequel Rogue Heart which is out this month. Without further ado, here is the show.

    Sara Farizan: Hi Lesley University fans, I'm Sara Farizan. I'm a graduate of Lesley University's creative MFA writing program. If you'd like to learn about me, there is another episode. It's okay. I talk about kayaking and writing and stuff, but today I have the great pleasure to speak with another Lesley MFA alum, Axie Oh, who has a new book called, Rogue Heart. Axie's first book, Rebel Seoul, came out in 2017 and it's just an amazing, creative, futuristic world.

    The New York Times book review called Rebel Seoul "moody, explodey fun" which I can't agree more, it was that for sure. It got starred reviews from ALA book list and Cindy Pon, the author of Want and Serpentine, said of Rebel Seoul, "Oh, it definitely weaves a high-tech world contrasted with the old and traditional. A thrilling and wonderfully layered debut." She also won the New Visions award and Rogue Heart is within the Rebel Seoul universe. Axie, welcome.

    Axie Oh: Hi.

    Sara: It's so nice to speak with you one on one because we've met briefly but we've never actually sat down and chatted, like writer stuff. You have said that you didn't necessarily see yourself as a writer until you went to a book signing. I was wondering if you could talk about that signing or when you were like, " Okay, this is what I want to do."

    Axie: I saw you at McNally Jackson, book signing.

    Sara: Oh, wow.

    Axie: Yes, I lived there for a year after graduating from UCSD, and then I went to-- I don't know if it was a launch or if it was just a signing but you were there with two other authors, you were talking about your latest novel and you were talking about how you worked with your teachers, your mentors at Lesley University and how that was so impactful for you. [laughs]

    Sara: That's really crazy.

    Axie: Yes, so in general it's always these author events that were really inspiring for me, that included that one, that you were at.

    Sara: Oh, wow.

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: That was a New York City-- I was on tour for If You Could Be Mine in 2013.

    Speaker 3: That is a really crazy and heartwarming story because I think as writers we spend a lot of time alone or like, you're unable to see your words impact someone so it's nice to hear things like that.

    Axie: Going back to what you were saying, in college I went to a book signing at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego.

    Sara: Yes, sure.

    Axie: I went to UCSD, University of California San Diego and I was a history and literature writing double major. I went to a signing and I think [unintelligible 00:03:36] because again, there were a bunch of authors and one of the authors was actually Cindy Pon.

    Sara: Oh, wow.

    Axie: Who--

    Sara: Who blurbed your first book, yes.

    Axie: Yes. That was the first time I ever met her and she was there for, I think, her first book, Silver Phoenix which is a YA fantasy. It was the first time I ever saw an Asian-American author on a panel or in person who was writing in the genre I loved to read, YA. This was in 2000-- I don't even know. College.

    Sara: [laughs]

    Axie: Between the years 2008 and 2012. Yes, it was really inspiring to me. Before then, I wrote mostly narrative non-fiction, so a lot of stories about my childhood, stories about my life, [unintelligible 00:04:29] fiction and also reviews. I would write short fiction on the side for fun because I always loved to read and I always loved storytelling. That was the first time I thought, "Oh, wait. This could be a thing you can do. You can write full-length novels and be an author." Yes, that was the first time, and then-- Because I saw Cindy Pon. Thanks, Cindy.

    Sara: [laughs] I think a lot of us have to thank Cindy Pon.

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: For me, I thank Melinda Lowe a lot. It's so weird that she's a friend now.

    Axie: Awesome.

    Sara: It's very strange to meet people who opened up worlds to you that you didn't realize, and then be like, "Oh, we're peers now" kind of.

    Axie: Yes. [laughs]

    Sara: I mean, Melinda is way cooler than I am but still.

    Axie: Likewise with Cindy.

    Sara: Yes. Well, they've been in the game longer.

    Axie: Yes. [laughs]

    Sara: Wait till one day some upstart will be like, "Yes, you guys were okay." I don't read a lot of-- I don't even know what to call what genre your book because it's at one part sci-fi, it's one part futuristic, just not dystopia but kind of 1984. It has elements of Pacific Rim, I got elements of X-Men with the simulations and the genetic makeup of the-- I don't want to give too much away for people who haven't read Rebel Seoul.

    It was interesting in that your world building, there are things that feel familiar but it's all its own. I just was like, "How does someone build up a world like this and have it all in your head?", but then you are really good at giving snippets of the world so that it doesn't overwhelm the reader. It made it so that everything seemed very seamless. Did you work on that when you were in Lesley or did you kind of already know how to do that and work on other things?

    Axie: Interestingly, I wasn't allowed to work on Rebel Seoul at Lesley University.

    Sara: Well, never mind.

    [laughter]

    Axie: Only because it was under a contract. It was two books. My editor-- I had a great talk with my mentor at the time who was Susan Goodman, who is amazing.

    Sara: She is great.

    Axie: She's very competent. We had [unintelligible 00:06:55] and she said, "You know, I want you to listen to your editor over me for this project because that's already under contract. I want to work with you where I can tell you-- I can really instruct you and give you feedback. We can't work on this project because obviously, you have two voices then." She thought I should listen to my editor over her for that project.

    That was actually an interesting challenge because I was revising Rebel Seoul but also working on the project that I entered the program with, which is a completely different YA fantasy which I worked on a different project. I was doing both, but it worked out. They're such vastly different stories with different characters and different worlds, so I was able to keep them separate.

    Sara: In the Rebel Seoul universe, did you know that you were going to expand upon it and that there would be multiple books or did you think Rebel Seoul is just one, and then, "I'm gonna work on other stuff"?

    Axie: Yes. Rebel Seoul was [unintelligible 00:08:04] back in 2015. I think [unintelligible 00:08:05] 2015, and it was written as a stand-alone. It wasn't written with it in mind that there would be a sequel. I had secondary characters that I was like, "Oh, it would be really fun if they had a spin-off book", also a companion novel but I didn't write it thinking that there has to be one.

    Sara: I think that's smart for people who do write fantasy or sci-fi. I think the idea is, "Oh, I'm going to have this massive trilogy." Right?

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: It's important just to focus on the one book and make it the best thing, and then expand from there.

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: Yes.

    Axie: In general, even with trilogies, even if they have a cliffhanger, I feel like a story should have a middle, beginning and end and it should be satisfying all alone. I believe that just in general. In 2015, a lot happened because I had won the New Visions award and I had gotten into Lesley. I knew that the next two years would be Lesley program and the book would come out in 2017, which is also the year I graduated. A lot happened in 2017.

    [laughter]

    Axie: That was really exciting, and then it wasn't until after Rebel Seoul came out and this is September 2017 when in the winter, my publishing house came to me and they asked if I was interested in writing or proposing a companion novel or a book set in the same world just different characters. They specifically wanted that and so, I did a whole proposal with my agent, who I signed with while I was at Lesley, on the fantasy that I was working on, for the other project.

    Sara: Oh, wow. Oh, great.

    Axie: Yes, and so we did a proposal where I wrote what the book would be about. It was actually pretty close to what that was, and then a pitch, and then a list of characters and the setting. They took it to acquisitions, and then the publishing house bought it. That happened after the book came out. That was cool, I didn't expect that. It was fun.

    It was very great for my career to do because I didn't have the second book [inaudible 00:10:18] lined up for, so that was great for 2019. I feel like some books come out, for a series, right after the other, but mine came out 2019, or it's coming out, just two years after.

    Sara: That gives you more time to really sit with what you've done. I think sometimes when it's like, "Okay, we want the next book in like a year." You're like, "I don't know that that's going to do service to the characters or the readers." You know?

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: Sometimes, there are some books where you can be like, "I think there's a little rush towards the end here," and I don't blame them. You know?

    Axie: Yes. [laughs]

    Sara: I didn't feel that at all with Rogue Heart. Actually, I was really thrilled because Ama in Rebel Seoul was my favorite character.

    Axie: Yay.

    Sara: When I got to Rogue Heart, I was like, "Oh good, phew."

    [laughter]

    Sara: She just had such a wonderful innocence about her and a tragic backstory. I don't want to get too far ahead because I want people to read Rogue Heart as well.

    In Rebel Seoul, you start with a male protagonist, Jaewon. He gave me very James Dean vibes.

    Axie: Yes. [laughs]

    Sara: He was a loner, his parents are out of the picture. He used to be in a gang. It's 2199. He's really good at fighting, but he has a heart of gold. [laughs]

    Axie: Yes. [laughs]

    Sara: You're very good at doing that at the beginning where sometimes it's hard to write a character that readers will root for, within an economy of language. Right?

    Axie: Yes, yes.

    Sara: You don't have to spend all this time being like, "Isn't he great? Don't you like him?" Where you can do it in a few scenes, like him ordering food from a food cart and his exchanges with people in old Seoul versus  Neo Seoul because the city is constructed, and there's the old world and the new world. What I do like about speculative fiction and sci-fi, and fantasy is that you end up talking about a lot of real-world topics. In a way that's not like “The More You Know” NBC special.

    Axie: [laughs]

    Sara: I think I have a tendency to do that. It's minor contemporary books. It's tough but you do it so well. The book, I think, explored a lot about class and a lot about the love of country and duty versus the love of people in your life and a lot of what is expected of us versus what do we really deserve and should go after. You do it under the pretense of, this is a post-war and war continuing world and situation in 2199. Good job. [laughs]

    Axie: Thank you.

    [laughter]

    Sara: You're welcome. Can you speak on that? You do this in the acknowledgments too, where you talk about how this is just an imaginary, "This is what I think," but you're bringing in a lot of real-world current stuff. How do you manage to do that while keeping it in the future?

    Axie: It's interesting because sometimes people ask about building questions on panels I sit on. A lot of the times, the answer is a lot of the stuff already exists in Korea, I just make it sci-fi.

    Sara: [laughs] Yeah.

    Axie: Let's say, the sky train, just because the subway system in Korea is amazing, so I just put it in the sky. A lot of the technological stuff like the idea of simulation, Korea's gaming culture is huge. They have TV channels just for watching people play video games. They have places called PC bangs which are like rooms-- Not really, but cafes of just tons of computers that people sit with their headphones and they're playing video games, and they can get food delivered to them. They just [inaudible 00:14:33] in there, like hours just playing video games.

    Sara: There's one in Allston Village now actually.

    Axie: [laughs] Oh.

    Sara: In Boston. Yes.

    Axie: Wow, yes. They have tons of those in Seoul right now. A lot of what I was doing was the taking-- Even conscription in Korea is required from men.

    Sara: A lot of countries-- Like the military-- There's the mandatory military service.

    Axie: Yes. I just made it men and women in the future. I did that for a lot of the book, where it was just taking what already exists and just making it into sci-fi. Then, a lot of the cultural stuff is stuff that I've just witnessed in my life experience, like the whole interaction he has with [unintelligible 00:15:27]. He's always making fun of her, but also being very respectful and she feeds him. That's totally a thing where, you see that in K-drama, [unintelligible 00:15:39] when I go to Korea or K-Town LA where the older women love the younger-- Or the older man or whatever.

    The younger person is more respectful. There's a whole teasing thing, I love all that. Then, a lot of them, that smaller stuff, I think is from the history major in college. I was actually a history major with a specific focus on East Asian history, so I studied a lot of Korean, Chinese, Japanese history. A lot of the book is based off of the idea-- I was studying colonialism in Korea, Japanese colonialism in Korea, which was from 1910 to 1945. After World War Two is when we got independence.

    Because I was studying that in college, that was a huge thing that I was thinking about my ancestors and just thinking about the idea of reading because during that time period, Koreans were not allowed to read and write in Korean. They had to write in Japanese, and all that kind of stuff. I wanted to bring that into a futuristic book, to explore that idea of losing your sense of country, losing your sense of nationhood, and the idea of regaining it, and that's a positive thing. [inaudible 00:17:14]

    Sara: Yes. Also, Jaewon does that too, not just in the larger structure of the government and the futuristic situation he's in, but also in his own personal stuff. Being like, "I used to be in this gang, now I'm not. What does that mean? I'm now in this Academy where I'm basically learning how to be a soldier to better my situation." He's very good at it but like, "Do I actually want to do this?" You know?

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: There is a love story I don't want to give away for those who haven't read. I liked it. I dug it.

    Axie: [laughs]

    Sara: I read straight people. I can do it.

    [laughter]

    Sara: No, it was a really lovely emotional future. Also, when you mentioned the tech and how you're-- I got this from both books is that the tech reminded me of the tech in Black Mirror, where it's the future, but it's not that far away. You know?

    Axie: Okay.

    Sara: Particularly in Rogue Heart, the travel guide.

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: I was like, "I think that's on the way, but I want it now."

    Axie: [laughs]

    Sara: For those who haven't read, you will in October, Rogue Heart, go get it. It's like a language basically system, that even if you don't speak Chinese or you don't speak Korean or you don't speak Japanese, you can use the travel guide and communicate with someone which I feel like-- I think that's coming. Right?

    Axie: That would be amazing. [laughs]

    Sara: That would be great. This is the tech that yes, when it gets to 2021 in Rogue Heart-- When it gets to 2201, I want that tech now and not in 2201. It wasn't stuff that was so far. Maybe the God machines in Rebel Seoul were a little far, but that was the only tech that I was like, "That seems-- I don't know that we're there yet."

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: Can you talk about the God machines and where that influence came from or where that idea came from? Explain it to the audience who hasn't read. I don't know what they're waiting on but you know--

    Axie: [laughs] God machines are giant robots that are human-piloted, so people sit inside the machine, the cockpit of the machine and control it. They're large humanoid machines and they have arms and legs, and they can hold large weapons. It totally sounds like Japanese anime, manga which is-- They have a full genre called mecha anime. One of the shows I really loved when I was a child was the Gundam series, specifically Gundam Wing which was a full mecha series about five boys who piloted Gundams, which were giant machines and they were tasked with saving the world kind of thing. I loved that. That's what I watched in middle school which-- Pacific Rim, I'm pretty sure Guillermo del Toro is-- He was influenced by the whole mecha genre for sure. When we picked the books, we pictured it as Pacific Rim meets K-dramas because we weren't sure people would know what Gundam was but everyone probably knows what Pacific Rim is.

    Sara: [laughs]

    Axie: It's similar because there's no giant monsters and it's not two pilots, it's one pilot.

    Sara: Okay.

    Axie: That's where the influence was, from anime.

    Sara: Yes. There's a lot of, in your bio, there's a lot of love for anime. There's a lot of love for manga. There's a lot of love for K-pop. There's a lot of love for K-dramas and all that comes through in the book. It's been interesting to see Korean culture really come to the forefront, at least in the States you can see a lot of it. When I watched the American Music Awards and I didn't know who BTS was and I was like, "What is happening?" Everyone knew all the words in the audience. It was like a Beatles sort of thing, and I felt old.

    Axie: [laughs]

    Sara: I was like, "Oh finally, a boy band that can dance again." You know?

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: We've been missing that. I just think it's nice to be-- I don't know. I don't know if you feel this way but maybe 15 years ago, I could not conceive of teens here, like American teens, reading books about characters that were like Jaewon or like characters in my books. It's been nice to be like, "That was a myth," and that's not true.

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: How have you felt about being a voice for books and characters that we maybe haven't seen as much of?

    Axie: I feel great.

    [laughter]

    Sara: Good answer. I just think it's-- Because I get, I don't know. There is this, I'm very happy to be on a diversity panel, very happy to talk about that but it's really nice to be like, "Oh, I'm just on a genre panel." You know?

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: [laughs] There is something about being like, "Okay, we're getting past the, 'How do you write characters like that?'" and be like, "I don't know. Be a person of the world."

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: It's nice to get away from that and just be asked questions of craft. I don't know if you've really-- When you've been promoting or touring or getting to do stuff and talk about the book, do you think there's less and less like, "Hey, let's talk about this," versus like, "Let's talk about how cool your book is"?

    Axie: Definitely, especially between-- I feel like I came in in the middle of mini diverse books in 2017. Mini diverse books, I think, picked up off the ground in 2015, 2016.

    Sara: I think 2015 was when they got the big, national push. There was that hashtag.

    Axie: Yes. I think that made a huge difference in not just the book world but then, also in movies and films but now in 2019, for sure most of the time when I'm asked to be on a panel lately, has been on just genre panels. I have done Asian-American panels which I'm fine with. I love the Asian-American panels. [laughs]

    Sara: Yes, it's nice to be on the panel with people you're like, "Oh, hey. How's it going?"

    [laughter]

    Sara: We have something in common. Yes. It is nice to be like you're not-- I don't know. For a long time, especially in the publication, it felt like, "I'm the only one in the village," and then now it's like, "Oh, there are all these different people," and it's really great. It's nice. Anyway, continue about being on genre panels versus--

    Axie: The first panel I ever was on was a diversity panel. That was so much pressure on my panel to let me talk about diversity in my book, specifically just because I felt like I had to represent my entire culture. [laughs]

    Sara: I felt that way too, yes.

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: Now I'm like, "No, there's no way that's possible and there are other people writing books," which is--

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: I felt the weight on my shoulders, when you are writing about a specific culture that maybe people have misconceptions about or don't know that much about.

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: It's like, "This story is not the only one," right?

    Axie: Yes. [laughs]

    Sara: I'm not going to get everything right, so yes.

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: It's nice to hear that because I felt that way too, yes.

    Axie: I remember being on one panel where someone in the audience asked me what I thought about North Korea.

    Sara: Oh, god.

    Axie: Yes. I was shocked. I was like, "This is a panel about science fiction-"

    Sara: [laughs]

    Axie: "- and he's asking about North Korea." I don't remember this person. I know he was a man.

    Sara: [laughs]

    Axie: Then, Cindy Conner was on the same panel as me and she's like, "She's not going to answer that question." [laughs] That was maybe my second panel ever and Cindy-- I was like, "Yay." [laughs]

    Sara: It's nice that people who have come before and [crosstalk]--

    Axie: Things like that, and it's like, "Huh." There's interesting things where it's like-- I present myself as a Korean-American woman, I have to know everything about Korean culture, Korean politics. I just want to write my fun, sci-fi novel that does have some historical influences, cultural influences but it's also not the entire history and culture of my people also. [laughs]

    Sara: Please read it in the textbooks.

    [laughter]

    Sara: I don't think people always ask with malice.

    Axie: No.

    Sara: It's just like they see the news, but it is like-- I don't know. It's disappointing and I think it'll get away from that as the years go on.

    Axie: Yes. Yes.

    Sara: For those people who have read Rebel Seoul, and now they will after this podcast because we've sold it real hard, can you pitch to people Rogue Heart that's coming out by the time this podcast is out? Basically, we focus on Ama from Rebel Seoul-

    Axie: Ama, yes.

    Sara: - who was my favorite character, so if you have a pitch--

    Axie: She was mine too. [laughs]

    Sara: Oh, good. Well, I'm glad because you wrote a whole book about her.

    [laughter]

    Axie: I would hope so.

    Sara: I think too it's like when people say, "Write what you know," I think what they really mean is, "Write what you love." Right?

    Axie: Yes, yes.

    Sara: You end up knowing the things you love pretty well.

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: and I felt that was your work. Anyway, so Rogue Heart, go for it.

    Axie: Rogue Heart is a series after Rebel Seoul where there was a huge battle--

    Sara: In 2201.

    [laughter]

    Axie: In 2201, and Ama is in hiding in Neo Beijing because she's in China and she is under-- Not undercover, she's in hiding with a whole different identity because she-- Which you found out in the first book that she's a government experiment and she's a telepath, so she can read people's minds. What happens is, she gets recruited by a Chinese rebel group called PHNX, and they want her help to take down some important government officials and stuff, cool espionage stuff.

    As the book [unintelligible 00:28:57] covert operation, the last target is a character in the first book, Alex who is now the commander of a base. Her job is to infiltrate the base and give back information to the rebellion and she had a previous relationship with Alex in the first book because they were in love, but then he betrayed her.

    Sara: He's the director's son. [crosstalk]

    Axie: Yes, in the first book.

    Sara: The director is basically this-- I don't want to say dictator, but he's-- [crosstalk]

    Axie: Yes. He's like an authoritarian figure back in Seoul and so, her job is to infiltrate Alex's base and to do that, she tricks his mind so he doesn't see her for who she is. It's really fun, angsty lessons, spy, espionage sort of things in the book. Also, giant robots, God machines. As there should be, always.

    Sara: What's not to love with giant robots?

    Axie: [laughs]

    Sara: You should just be like, "Giant robots." They should be like, "Okay, I'm in."

    Axie: All right, okay.

    [laughter]

    Axie: It was a really fun book to write. I have really wanted to make something that was very different. The first book was same style, same settings, same cool futuristic world in Asia but different voice, very different journey. I'm someone who can't write the same book. That's why I'm like, "Oh, it would be so hard to write a first-person story of a trilogy." I feel like, "Oh my god."

    [laughter]

    Axie: First person is different because you can explore all these different characters. All multi point of view and [unintelligible 00:30:46] but if it's just a single point of view in the first person for three books, I'm always like, "Wow, that's so impressive." I don't know how they do that. I was really obsessed with the characters in the world.

    Sara: When you were at Lesley, you were working on a fantasy book.

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: Do you think that in your want to never write the same book, it's a completely different-- You can't say much about it if it's-- I don't know what you're going to--

    [laughter]

    Sara: If you're working on it now?

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: Okay.

    Axie: Yes. It's interesting because at Lesley, every semester was something different. The first semester was on fantasy. Second semester was on a horror novel with Tracey Baptiste, which was super fun.

    Sara: Oh, great.

    Axie: Yes. The third semester was on a different fantasy, historical fantasy with Micky Knudsen, Michelle Knudsen, who wrote Evil Librarian. That was also really fun. Then, the fourth one I worked with faculty, Susan Goodman.

    Sara: You were busy working on lots of things?

    Axie: Yes, yes.

    Sara: Which I think is good for people to know. I basically worked on two projects and those were my first two books-

    Axie: Oh, yes. Amazing, yes.

    Sara: -but there are people who I think come in and maybe they don't know what they want to do necessarily.

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: Yes, and there's lots to explore.

    Axie: Yes. My mindset for that was to try to work on a whole different project so I could learn as much as I could from these mentors, with the limited time we had. I totally think it makes sense to work on one project the whole way through, which a lot of people did. Then, their books were brilliant by the end. That makes a lot of sense to me too. A good friend of mine, actually, her name's Candice [unintelligible 00:32:49].

    Sara: Oh, yes.

    Axie: I love Candice. Her novel, she worked on that novel or book [unintelligible 00:32:58], and then it's coming out with Penguin in 2021. So excited for her. She worked on that project and it was amazing.

    Sara: I heard her read a part of it as a graduation reading. I was like, "Oh, man." This was before she got signed but I was like, "That is really--" At Lesley, guys. Just saying.

    Axie: At Lesley.

    [laughter]

    Sara: If you were to tell someone who was thinking about joining an MFA program, what would you tell them? It is an expense and some people, they're at different phases of life. That doesn't necessarily mean, "Come to grad school and you'll get a deal right away."

    Axie: No.

    Sara: What would you say about the experience to someone who's thinking about it?

    Axie: I get people asking about the MFA program. I've had friends who've gone to different MFA programs and Lesley also. I just tell them why I went and if that resonates with them then great, but if it doesn't then that's fine, as long as they know why they're going.

    Sara: Right.

    Axie: I'm someone who always excels. Not excels, but I learn best in academic settings and I really cared about improving my craft in a very focused, regimental way, because I am very chaotic, I am very disorganized. I wanted to go to a program where I would have great mentorship, where I would be forced to learn, constantly be challenged. Also, the community which we talked about in your book signing, 2013 book signing.

    [laughter]

    Axie: It was just really a feeling of community, mentorship was a huge reason for me to go. The year I went, we had two new mentors. It was Michelle-- No, no. Who was it? Okay, I don't remember. The year I went, [unintelligible 00:35:07] was going.

    [laughter]

    Axie: [unintelligible 00:35:10]. Then I think the year after, we got two more new mentors, Tracey Baptiste and Michelle Knudsen, which was amazing; more female mentors, female writers. I was very excited about that. For me, the other mentors are, people who are like David Elliot, who's amazing. Chris [unintelligible 00:35:31] is amazing. The faculty who was very enticing to me.

    Also, the idea of working in multiple genres. Not just YA, but you also work with screen writers, fiction writers, non-fiction, poets, and I just love the idea, that community where it was just the love of writing but it wasn't too centered on one genre because I always want to learn. In writing YA, it's great to read otherwise with it's also good to learn and read and write other genres too to help your craft. All of that was appealing to me. It was the [unintelligible 00:36:14] of my life. I had just quit my job in New York City.

    [laughter]

    Axie: Moving back to Las Vegas, where I grew up. It was a lot of good timing for me.

    Sara: That's right. It all worked out, so good job. [laughs]

    Axie: Yes, I think so. [laughs] Thank you for your signing when I was with you in your book club when you read from your books. I got your book there, signed. [laughs]

    Sara: I remember.

    Axie: Do you really?

    Sara: I do, because now it's coming back. I do remember.

    Axie: I was with my cousin--

    Sara: I didn't think that was the reason. I think everyone has the reason in them, they just need a push. You know?

    Axie: Yes. That helps my essay.

    [laughter]

    Axie: You have to write an essay to get into Lesley, and I totally listed you. I made it into a story, like I was [unintelligible 00:37:18]

    [laughter]

    Sara: Oh, man. That puts gas in the emotional tank, for sure. Thank you, Axie.

    Axie: Yes, so good. Thank you. [laughs]

    Sara: Oh, no, thank you. Thank Lesley for the both of us. Yes.

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: There were two last things, I guess, I wanted to say. One was you mentioned the instructors and working with people. It was nice that you got something from everybody. Everybody had something different to give. Can you speak a little about that like, "Okay, I'm going to Chris for this or Tracy for this or Jason for this," and how that helps your work?

    Axie: Besides the classes which were amazing and the mentorship, one-on-one, as you know, the faculty [unintelligible 00:38:17] goes out just after work for meals or drinks, and it's a great time to talk and just chat. Even though actually I never directly mentored by Chris and Jason because I wasn't writing contemporary, I was writing mostly fantasy at the time, all of their wisdom-- I still got so much of their wisdom because of those after-school activities.

    Sara: [laughs]

    Axie: They would just drop knowledge. They would just give us publishing tips and give us insider stuff about their life and their work. It was just so inspiring to hear about the difficulties but also the great things that come with it. After work, when I did go to my ALA with ALA, Annual Library Association conference.

    Sara: I saw the video on YouTube with Kat Cho. I watched it.

    Axie: [laughs] Oh, yes. She's my cousin.

    Sara: Is she really?

    Axie: She's my- wait- my first cousin. [unintelligible 00:39:22]

    Sara: No wonder you're both so cool. Kat Cho, for those that you don't know, is another young adult writer who did not go to Lesley but is still cool.

    Axie: She did not go to Lesley.

    Sara: She has a book called The Wicked Fox which you could check out.

    Axie: She went with me to this conference. Tracey Baptiste was there, Jason was there. It was so great to see my mentors at an actual event after graduation. Wait, was it? Okay. Was it before graduation? [laughs]

    Sara: In any case, now you're peers. Right?

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: You're all there to talk as established writers and--

    Axie: Yes, that was really cool. That was really cool but in general, yes, at the program, any of the mentors were just available to talk and chat about anything. They're very open. It was very inspiring. Also, I learned so much from them just about the writer life that you don't necessarily get necessarily in all programs. I feel like a lot of the time, you're taught a lot of the craft, but not necessarily what it's like to be a writer afterwards. It's great to have mentors who were so open to us about it.

    Sara: It's not all roses and glamour, I think. You know?

    Axie: No, it's not. [laughs]

    Sara: It's not. [laughs] It's like, "Okay. What can I compromise on and what can I--?"

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: It's tough. Not so tough, it's not coalmining but I don't think it's as glamorous as people might think. You know?

    Axie: Yes, yes. We talked a little bit about what it's like post-publishing because post-publishing, you have to think about your sales, you have to think about other projects that aren't necessarily in the same genre. I've done a lot of different projects but I looked at different things that weren't necessarily what I thought of writing in the beginning. Right? Like short stories, like anthologies, like [unintelligible 00:41:33] but I always thought that. I thought about that.

    Sara: [laughs] Yes, like how can you keep it going basically?

    Axie: Yes, how can you keep it going or not just writing in the genre you're writing in. Maybe write adult, maybe writing [unintelligible 00:41:50], that kind of stuff. Knowing that it's also the dream but it's also business. It's also how to have career longevity, all that kind of thing for you. Something to think about, I feel like, until you've published your first book. I don't know.

    Sara: It's interesting to see that you've done the full circle thing in a short amount of time. I mean, it's been a long time but for most people, you'd be like, "Wow." In that span of entering a graduate program, and then having that full circle moment of, "My mentors are also my peers." You know?

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: It's pretty cool.

    Axie: Yes. I felt it was like, "[unintelligible 00:42:36]."

    [laughter]

    Sara: There are young people out there and older people. All types of people who will feel the same about you when Rogue Heart comes out like, "Oh, yes. It's the new Rebel Seoul book."

    Axie: [laughs]

    Sara: Which is great.

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: Axie, you did mention that you love Miyazaki. Your favorite Miyazaki film?

    Axie: My favorite is probably Spirited Away. My nostalgic favorite that I've probably seen the most times, My Neighbor Totoro.

    Sara: That's a great movie.

    Axie: My favorite heroine is Nausicaä from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

    Sara: [laughs] Okay.

    Axie: My favorite, I guess, is Spirited Away because I just think that's such a great movie. I think it's so well done. I love it from beginning to end. I love all of them beginning to end but I feel I have different types of favorites.

    Sara: That would probably be another podcast episode just to talk about this film.

    Axie: Yes. How about you? What's your favorite?

    Sara: I like My Neighbor Totoro and I can't get too much into-- I don't like fantasy that happens in another realm. Right? I like when fantastical things happen in a contemporary setting so that's why I like superhero stuff. It's the city but there's something weird going on. That's why--

    Axie: Like Kiki?

    Sara: Yes, yes. Kiki's Delivery Service. I liked that.

    Axie: Kiki is so good.

    Sara: I couldn't get Howl's Moving Castle even though it's beautiful. I was like, "I don't. I'm out."

    Axie: It's so good. [laughs]

    Sara: [laughs] I know but I just couldn't do it. I was like, "It's really nice to look at but I just--" The fire is talking to her, I don't know.

    Axie: [unintelligible 00:44:25]

    [laughter]

    Sara: Yes. Is there anything you're working on that you can tell us about, or no?

    Axie: Um...

    Sara: It's okay if no.

    Axie: No. Yes.

    Sara: Okay. All right.

    Axie: [laughs]

    Sara: No, you're working and that's what's important.

    Axie: Yes. Yes.

    Sara: Is there a way for people who are big fans and enjoyed this podcast to find you online?

    Axie: Yes. At my website axieoh.com. A-X-I-E-O-H.com has all my links to all my social media but also more on--

    Sara: It's been a real pleasure to actually have a sit-down conversation with you. I can't wait till we do it face-to-face.

    Axie: Yes.

    Sara: I just want to congratulate you on all your success and--

    Axie: Thank you. Likewise.

    Sara: Oh, I'm okay. Yes.

    [laughter]

    Axie: Yes, okay.

    Sara: Yes, I'm all right. It's been nice to have this connection with you in ways that I didn't always realize, and then that hopefully, there'll be more students who will have the same connection.

    Axie: I'm very excited for all of your future projects, all of mine and my classmates at Lesley, and all the students to come. I'm very excited.

    Sara: Get Rogue Heart out October 2019. October 8th. Do it now. Check it out. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

    Axie: Thank you.

    Announcer: Thank you for listening to While you Write. For more information on Axie Oh as well as Sara's episode from last season, head over to our podcast episode page at lesley.edu/podcast. To make sure you never miss an episode, you can subscribe on Apple podcast, Spotify or the podcast app of your choice. We'll see you next week.