Interview: Lyla Lee on Her YA Rom-Com, I’ll Be the One

I’m constantly chasing books that give me that cozy, wrapped-up-in-a-blanket feeling. The latest read to achieve this: I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee (out now). The rom-com follows Skye Shin as she auditions on a televised completion looking for its next K-pop star. Skye knows she has what it takes to succeed—despite what her mom, one of the judges, and anyone else who believes in fat-phobic beauty standards may think. And with the help of a few friends she makes during the competition, including the super cute Henry Cho, Skye is not backing down from her dream. Below, Lee shares more on inspiration, representation, and K-pop faves.


What was the inspiration for I’ll Be the One?

I was inspired to write I’ll Be the One by my own experiences, as well as, the experiences of my family and friends. Although I myself don’t have any experiences in the K-pop industry (the closest I got to that life was middle school a cappella/pop choir), I have friends and family who were/are in the industry and won competitions similar to the one in my book. I also really wanted to write a book about a bisexual Korean American teen because it’s the type of representation I desperately needed as a teen (and later, an adult) reader who often felt hurt by either the lack of or misrepresentation of queer Asian characters in YA.

I’ll Be the One had some really great conversations surrounding body shaming and beauty expectations that society puts on women. What inspired you to tackle these
important topics?

Many Asian cultures’ standards of weight are very different from American ones. Even though I would have never been considered plus sized in the U.S., I was routinely fat shamed while growing up. My friends, family, and I were also exposed to a really toxic culture in both Asia and America where diet teas, fad diets, and media portrayals of women made us feel bad about our bodies, so I really wanted to write a book about a plus-sized Korean American teen who is happy with herself, just the way she is now, and gets what she wants in life AND gets the guy without having to change what she looks like.

Also in the book, there’s this really great moment when Skye is excited to see Tiffany and Lana as a couple because she hasn’t met any other queer Asian girls. Can you talk a little bit about why it was important to you to include this moment in the story?

A lot of Asian cultures tend to be a bit conservative, so growing up, Inever even thought it could be possible for me to be queer. Based on the experiences of myself and my other POC friends, I think a lot of cultures share this belief that queerness is a “white people” thing, and I for sure grew up hearing similar things. Thus, I didn’t know I was queer until I was 20 and coming to terms with my own identity was pretty confusing and even painful at times. I didn’t have my own community of queer friends until I was way past my teen years, so I really wanted to give Skye the community I wished I had as a teen. I wanted to give her a supportive, positive group of fellow queer Asian girls that would help her feel less alone because they could relate with her and vice versa. 

We’re going to see #QueenSkye in a movie! Do you have a dream casting or Skye or Henry? Or a scene you hope makes it into in the film?

I think I’m in a rather unique situation where, even though I’m an author getting her book adapted now, I was once on the other side of Hollywood working as an intern for tv/film development companies to adapt books and scripts. As a result, I know just how little control writers typically have with casting and how up in the air everything can be when it comes to casting. So I don’t really have any sort of dream cast…my only hope is that the film features a lot of young Asian/Asian American actors since I know how hard it is to make it as an Asian creative in Hollywood.

I read that you’ve been a fan of K-pop since the ’90s! Can you share the story of when you first fell in love with K-pop?

Haha, the first statement makes me sound so old! I guess I am. I was born in Korea around the time K-pop first started becoming a thing, so I really can’t pinpoint when exactly I fell in love with K-pop since it’s pretty much been part of my life from Day 1. K-pop was playing on the car radio while I was going places in Korea with my parents when I was four or five. It was there when I became an avid DBSK fan in middle school, and it was there when I rediscovered my love for K-pop through teaching myself BTS, NCT-127, and EXID choreographies after college. I’ve changed a lot over the last few decades and so has K-pop!

Three words to describe what you’re writing next?

K-dramas, sapphic, and romance!


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