Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
I love having old friends of the Pond visiting us again! In July last year, I had the delight of having Lillie Lainoff visit us to talk about her favourite sword-wielding girls in fiction and history! At the time, her stabby YA debut, One for All was releasing in a distant seven months. Fast forward to today, and One for All releases in just a little under two weeks! So, I am so thrilled and happy to have Lillie Lainoff visiting us again today, this time for an author interview that I loved.
Since Lillie’s last visit at the Pond (and she visits us once more as a fearsome swan wielding a rapier!), I’ve had the privilege of reading One for All early and – friends, it is a phenomenal book. Mystery, action, and female friendships stronger than anything in the world, One for All is a refreshing and empowering The Three Musketeers retelling set in 1650s France. Moreover, I can tell that this is going to be a book that means so much to disabled readers, especially those with POTS.
With One for All releasing soon – March 8th! – I’m excited to share my interview with Lillie. I hope it gets you excited for the book! And in case you haven’t come across One for All, here’s a quick look at the book.
One For All by Lillie Lainoff
Tania de Batz is most herself with a sword in her hand. Everyone in town thinks her near-constant dizziness makes her weak, nothing but “a sick girl”; even her mother is desperate to marry her off for security. But Tania wants to be strong, independent, a fencer like her father—a former Musketeer and her greatest champion.
Then Papa is brutally, mysteriously murdered. His dying wish? For Tania to attend finishing school. But L’Académie des Mariées, Tania realizes, is no finishing school. It’s a secret training ground for a new kind of Musketeer: women who are socialites on the surface, but strap daggers under their skirts, seduce men into giving up dangerous secrets, and protect France from downfall. And they don’t shy away from a swordfight.
With her newfound sisters at her side, Tania feels for the first time like she has a purpose, like she belongs. But then she meets Étienne, her first target in uncovering a potential assassination plot. He’s kind, charming, and breathlessly attractive—and he might have information about what really happened to her father. Torn between duty and dizzying emotion, Tania will have to lean on her friends, listen to her own body, and decide where her loyalties lie…or risk losing everything she’s ever wanted.
Author Interview: Lillie Lainoff
CW: Welcome back to the Pond, Lillie! It’s so awesome to have you visit us again; it was great to have you last time sharing a list of sword-wielding girls in fiction and I’m excited that we are doing an interview this time. For our friends out there who may only be meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your favourite book of all time?
Lillie: Thank you so much for having me—I’m thrilled to be back! I’m Lillie, a writer and fencer from Washington, D.C. I’m the founder of Disabled Kidlit Writers and recently received my MA in Creative Writing Prose Fiction from the University of East Anglia. I was also one of the first physically disabled athletes to individually qualify for any NCAA Championship event.
And I’m not sure I could pick only one favorite book… the book I loved most as a teenager was Jane Eyre (I still do love it, but now I’m more aware of its problems and am able to read it critically.) Some of my other favorite books are Circe by Madeline Miller, Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff (truly anything that Lauren Groff writes), Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, and Writers & Lovers by Lily King (also, anything by Lily King). Some recent favorites include Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan and The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean.
CW: One for All, your gender-bent Three Musketeers retelling YA debut releases on the 8th of March – so soon! Can you give us a rundown of what your book is about, and what readers can look forward to in One for All?
Lillie: Yes, I can hardly believe it’s so soon! One for All is a gender-bent retelling of The Three Musketeers, in which a girl with a chronic illness (POTS) trains as a Musketeer and uncovers secrets, sisterhood, and self-love—that’s the official tagline. The unofficial tagline is sisterhood of the *stab stab.* Because OFA has a lot of swords, a lot of girls, and a lot of girls with swords. Plus found family, dueling in ballgowns, seduction as spying, French puns, a slightly fantastical version of 17th century France… and maybe even romance!
CW: You have been a huge advocate for disability representation in children’s literature, and you’re the creator of Disabled Kidlit Writers! Could you share with us what disability representation means to you personally, and how this led you to create a group for disabled writers?
Lillie: When I was a teenager and just diagnosed with POTS, I thought it was something I needed to hide. When I left home for college, I told myself I would keep my chronic illness a secret, because no one would want to be friends with a sick girl. No guy would want to date a sick girl. Looking back on how teenage Lillie felt about herself, I’m horrified. A lot of teenagers have things they don’t like about themselves, don’t feel comfortable in their own skin, but to have that profound sense of shame and isolation? I spent so much time reading books when I was at my most sick, but because there were no characters like me, I internalized that to mean that people like me weren’t capable or worthy of being their own heroes. I can’t travel back in time to hand ONE FOR ALL to my teenage self, but current teenagers (and adults) will have access to much needed representation.
As far as Disabled Kidlit Writers is concerned, it was a group I thought someone else might create. Disabled writer friends and I would talk about how necessary a group like DKW was—we needed a place to ask questions specific to being disabled kidlit writers. Publishing has a real transparency problem (in that they have no transparency), so a lot of disabled writers (me included) felt like they were the only ones receiving ableist rejections, or were the only ones who were writing really slowly because they were in the middle of a chronic illness flare, etc. And it got to the point where I’d received yet another rejection for ONE FOR ALL that amounted to: “love the writing, love the story, love the author, but we don’t think there is a market for this,” or “we don’t think there’s enough readership” (around 60% of the editor passes on OFA were variations on this), and I thought to myself, screw it. I didn’t have name recognition, I didn’t have a book deal, but I did/do have a ferocious pride in being a disabled writer, and sheer rage for how we have been treated by publishing as a whole. So, I taught myself how to create and moderate a FB group. I expected we might have twenty or thirty writers. Now we have over 380. It’s been such an honor to be the founder/moderator. The group is filled with incredible people and writers, both bestsellers and those who are just starting out.
CW: One for All is such a stellar book and I absolutely loved it! The action, the mystery, and my gorgeous Musketeer girls! What was the ‘spark’ for One for All? What drew you into retelling The Three Musketeers in particular?
Lillie: Every year at fencing summer camp, we watched Man in the Iron Mask during lunch. I think it might’ve been my first introduction to the Musketeers! And it had such a huge impact on me, while at the same time I wondered where the women with swords were? Reimagining The Three Musketeers gave me an opportunity to take a novel that (not necessarily through the fault of Dumas) has become a paragon of a very specific kind of masculinity—swashbuckling, sleeping with lots of women, and various debauchery in general—and put a spin on it, while also getting to write about one of my favorite things: fencing.
CW: Like Tania, you are also a badass fencer! Can you tell us more about your career as a fencer, and how your expertise in fencing influenced One for All? And do you have any tips for writers out there on how to write a good sword-fighting scene?
Lillie: I started fencing when I was nine, but I was the only girl in my class. I hoped to start competing and knew I needed to have the opportunity to practice with other girls. So I switched fencing clubs (and had to switch swords/switch to saber). I started competing when I was ten: super youth circuits, North American Cups, Junior Olympics (JOs started when I was 13.) I was ranked in the top ten of my age category nationally, which would have put me in contention for the youth USA team/allowed me to fence at Worlds. But then I developed POTS. To keep things concise: my national ranking plummeted, then became non-existent. I kept on competing though, and while my results were nowhere near what they used to be (I even fainted at a tournament,) I slowly found a way to fence while being dizzy and barely being able to see and hear. My coach developed ‘Green Fencing’ for me (which is fencing that conserves energy). I changed my fencing style. So, by the time that the college recruitment process started, I was lucky enough to be recruited to Yale. I was never meant to be a team star, rather a solid teammate who could win some bouts and help my team win meets. I suffered a back injury my sophomore year, one that I still struggle with, that put my ability to fence in jeopardy yet again. But, my senior year, I became one of the first physically disabled athletes to individually qualify for any NCAA Championship.
After college and before I started my MA, I coached at my old fencing club (mostly kids ages 8-13).
I haven’t had the opportunity to coach since the start of the pandemic (or fence, for that matter—it’s the longest I’ve gone without fencing since I started the sport). I miss it very much.
I don’t think I could’ve written OFA, at least not with any accuracy, without my background in fencing. Every fencing scene was a joy to write.
And I have so many tips! I used to run a thread on Fridays called #FencingFriday, in which I went over how to write accurate duel scenes/common pitfalls I see writers fall into, like inaccurate word choice (ex. Please stop using ‘lunge’ within the context of anything other than an attack), awkward sentence-level writing (ex. Use more short and sharp sentences, because a reader is not going to spend time reading an extra long sentence in the middle of a tense fight scene), incorrect weapon location (ex. no one is casually resting a sharp sword on their shoulder if they don’t want to die!), etc. All the #FencingFriday threads should still be accessible on twitter!
Note from CW: You can find one of Lillie’s #FencingFriday threads here, and another here.
CW: The protagonist of One for All, Tania, has POTS, though the term or diagnosis of POTS as we know it today didn’t exist in 1650’s France. How did you approach writing about Tania’s disability from a historical lens? What research or personal experiences did you draw from to portray not only Tania’s experience of it, but how she was perceived?
Lillie: Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) was first diagnosed in 1993, but there were patients with POTS symptoms much earlier. From early examples like “Soldier’s Heart Syndrome” diagnosed after the American Civil War, POTS and POTS-like cases certainly predate the early ’90s. It’s impossible to know how many patients suffered from POTS in the past centuries… especially when you think about the long history of society dismissing women’s
health complaints as hysteria, since POTS is most often diagnosed in young women. Girls like Tania were everywhere, are everywhere, even if they aren’t in textbook pages. Tania having POTS, as a girl in a fictionalized version of seventeenth-century France, is the least fantastical element of One for All.
Tania can’t represent every single person with POTS, since the experience of dysautonomia is not a monolith, but I did make sure that Tania’s experience closely mirrored my own. So many of Tania’s insecurities were the insecurities I had as a teenager, albeit in a historical context.
There are a number of pretty horrible, ableist things said to Tania in the book, and I think a lot of nondisabled early readers have been willing to accept that language as realistic since OFA happens in a historical setting—however, the reality is that disabled people today are still treated like how Tania is within the pages of OFA.
CW: I’d really love to take a moment to celebrate you, because I know how important One for All is to you. What are you most proud of in your author journey so far?
Lillie: Aww, thank you! There are so many moments. The first letter I received from someone with POTS telling me how much OFA meant/means to them. Having disabled authors tell me that OFA’s deal gave them courage to start querying, or to write a novel that reflected their experiences with disability. Most recently, learning that OFA was going into a second print run. So many people have worked so hard to make that happen. It truly is the little book that could.
CW: Thank you so much for visiting us, Lillie! It was lovely to have you back. My last question is one I love to ask all of our friends of the Pond: What is a food that reminds you of ‘home’ – wherever or whoever that may be?
Lillie: Mac and cheese. My mom’s secret recipe involves at least four different kinds of cheese. It is so good that my fencing club still begs me to bring in a tray of it, even though the last time I brought it was three years ago. Much like the Musketeers, “Lillie’s mac and cheese” has taken on its own mythos!
About the Author
Lillie Lainoff is a current MA student in Creative Writing Prose Fiction at the University of East Anglia. A former Div I fencer and NCAA Championship competitor for Yale, she is the founder of Disabled Kidlit Writers. She is the winner of the 2019 LA Review Literary Award for Short Fiction. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post Outlook, Washington City Paper, and via the Disability Visibility Project, amongst other places. One for All, her debut novel, will be published by FSG in 2022. More of her work is online at http://www.lillielainoff.com/, and @lillielainoff on Twitter and Instagram.