Happy book day to Chel Hylott and Chelsea Lim with their book, Undergrowth. It features Los Angeles overrun by murderous vines and a treacherous jungle, a strained father-daughter relationship, an f/f romance, and those good, found family feels. Read on below to learn more about the origins of this story and this pair’s writing process.
Where did the idea of a sentient rain forest destroying Los Angeles come from?
We wanted a green apocalypse. Sometimes a lot of the post-apocalyptic scenery you see in media are barren wastelands, and we wanted something equally dangerous but different. Besides, a lot of people are just so far removed from nature that this thing that should be comforting to us, this place that is so much about life cycles, is actually a big unknown.
What was your favorite scene or moment to write?
Chel: Scenes with Mariam and Malik were always great to write, because they love each other so much, yet their relationship is fraught with all this father-daughter angst.
Chelsea: I really loved just describing the rain forest itself, because it got to be alive in so many interesting ways. But also, writing Hana was an absolute joy.
I really enjoyed how the family in the forest came together. Were there any specifics inspirations for individuals or the dynamic as a whole?
Our found-families inspired the dynamic. We really wanted to write a group of people who don’t necessarily seem like they fit together, but end up being inseparable.
How much research did you do to bring this setting to life? Is there anything that didn’t quite make it on the page?
Because one of us lives in LA, most of the research we did was into the different characters backgrounds. We hired some sensitivity readers and asked some friends for help with that one. As for what didn’t make it into the page, we did have an extra kid character, but he was cut pretty early. Also, there were some reunions with family outside of LA that didn’t make it either, because ultimately the story is about the family they make, not the family they lost.
On Writing Together
What brought you two together to tell this story?
We both were part of an online writing community and we enjoyed the other’s stories. We decided we wanted to do something together, and brainstormed, and two months later, we had a finished rough draft.
What are some joys and challenges that came from this collaboration?
Chel: Before this collaboration, I had never finished a long form fiction piece, but working with Chelsea, we finished the first draft in two months. We just clicked creatively, and it was so easy. More than that, it was fun! I know that for some people, writing is a solitary profession, but for me it’s always been a collaboration. Roleplays, brainstorming, I write at my best when I have other people’s input. Even so, I had to let ego go a lot. We have different strengths as writers, and while these strengths compliment each other, it would be a blow to my confidence seeing something I thought was written well that Chelsea would go in and make more eloquent, more evocative. I got over it after the first day, and I like to think it’s taught me a thing or two about humility.
Chelsea: I agree. Coming up with ideas together is such a rewarding process. And for me, collaborating with Chel helped me let go of some of my writing anxieties. When I’m writing alone, I tend to get hung up on single sentences or phrases, but you can’t do that when you’re working with a partner! Chel has an amazing ability to just keep writing, and I really appreciate learning how to do that from her.
What are some books you’d recommend that read like Undergrowth?
The theme of found family can be found in a lot of books, and our irreverent tone throughout is also not uncommon. That being said, it’s been a bit of a crazy few weeks and we can’t really pinpoint anything that reads like Undergrowth. It’s not that it’s not out there, it’s that we’re drawing a blank.
What are books that currently out or upcoming that you’re excited about?
Chel: In no particular order, I am excited about Tomi Adeyami’s Children of Virtue and Vengeance, Holly Black’s Queen of Nothing, Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea, and Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High. I don’t get to read a lot with working full time and writing whenever I can, so some of these books are already out.
Chelsea: In the plants are creepy genre: The Need by Helen Phillips. In the speculative fiction, climate apocalypse genre: Jeff Vandermeer’s Dead Astronauts.
Undergrowth is out today from NineStar Press! Get your copy here.
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