Not Your Sidekick and Not Your Villain are two of the most charming superhero stories I’ve ever read, so I’m very excited to bring you this interview with their author, C.B. Lee!
Can you tell us a bit about your newest book, Not Your Villain?
Absolutely! So the second in the Sidekick Squad series follows Bells as he and his friends set out to find the Resistance and deal with the truths they uncovered in Not Your Sidekick. We actually start during the events of the first novel, but from Bells’ perspective so you get to see him go through Meta-Human Training and follow his journey as he becomes a hero and then gets framed as a villain. It’s a fun adventure with queer teens and I’m very excited about it.
With Not Your Villain, you switch perspectives from the prior book in the series to focus on Bells. Was writing him a different experience than writing Jess?
Jess and Bells have different experiences and perspectives for sure; while Jess takes this a little bit more at face value and Bells is more critical of things, but they both love their friends and family. It was also kind of a challenge writing from Bells perspective because he really cool! In Not Your Sidekick, there’s a moment where Jess is like, “Oh, Bells is just so cool,” when you first meet him, but I couldn’t do that in Bells’ head because he doesn’t think of himself that way, he just is, haha. It was fun to show how people see him through their interactions with him, so I hope that came across well!
What precautions do you take when writing characters whose identities you don’t share?
I would think about what kind of story you’re telling and be aware of your own experience. When you are writing outside your identity, keep in mind how you can respectfully portray this character and their community. There is a huge difference between writing characters with a specific background and experience and trying to write the experience and what it means to be that person in that community. For example, I wouldn’t personally tell the story or experience of something historical or culturally significant in a community, especially if there are already authors from those communities telling those stories already. I think it’s important to uplift voices who are working to tell their own stories, and be aware when writing characters about how you’re doing it, and do lots of research. I suggest finding people within the community and to ask for insight. There are a lot of great resources out there, and having that feedback and being open to work with the feedback and those critiques you get is helpful.
Where there any superhero stories that influenced this series?
Not directly, but I grew up with a lot of favorites and I’m a huge comic book fan. Some more of my favorite comic heroes growing up were the Teen Titans– Robin, Beast Boy, Raven, Cyborg and Starfire. I loved their dynamic and how they work together, with their different backgrounds and personalities and it was a great show with humor and heart. I also loved the Young Justice series, and as for books, I’m a huge fan of Miss Marvel, Silk, Green Lantern, and Miles Morales.
I think what’s really fun about superhero stories are that it allows you to explore identity and expectations, whether you have powers or otherwise, and it’s just really a bright and colorful world with lots of fantastic ideas so it’s a great place to be.
What are some of your favorite queer fantasy and science fiction stories?
I adored Malinda Lo’s Adaptation series, which has one of the best bisexual characters in SFF and a poly triad. Recently I loved FT Lukens’ Rules & Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic , which was just a fun modern take on magic and mayhem and the main character’s sarcastic voice is absolutely hilarious. Taylor Brooke’s Fortitude Smashed is also recent and tells a soulmate story in lush, beautiful prose and about falling in love and fate, and it was quite beautiful.
What are your current writing projects? Are there any other new releases we should be watching out for?
I’m currently working on a short story in the Sidekick Squad universe, as well as the third installment, Not Your Backup, which follows Emma’s perspective as she and her friends struggle to build the resistance to the corrupt government agency overruling heroes.
About the Author
C.B. Lee is a bisexual Chinese-Vietnamese American writer based in Los Angeles, California.
Not Your Sidekick was a 2017 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist in YA/Children’s Fiction and a 2017 Bisexual Book Awards Finalist in Speculative Fiction. Seven Tears at High Tide was the recipient of a Rainbow Award for Best Bisexual Fantasy Romance and also a finalist for the 2016 Bisexual Book Awards in the YA and Speculative Fiction categories.
CB has been featured at literary events such as the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Lambda Litfest’s Celebrating the Asian American LGBTQ+ Experience at the Chinese American Museum, YALLWEST and Pasadena Litfest as well as a guest at popular panels and discussions such as DragonCon’s “LGBTQIA in YA” , “BiScifi: Queer Heroes in Science Fiction and More”, “The Craft of Dystopia”, “Magic and Worldbuilding,”, WonderCon’s “Sisterhood of the Self-Sufficient,” Emerald City Comic Con’s “Diversity in Publishing,” and San Diego Comic Con’s “Super Asian America” and “Into the Fanzone!”