Chat Over Chai: Interview with Lillie Lainoff, Author of One For All!

Welcome to another Chat Over Chai post!

One For All is a fresh, engaging retelling featuring a disabled protagonist, fencing, murder mystery and a fierce sisterhood. Lillie has written it in a way that I had no other choice but to binge read it, its a lovely, emotionally packed story of finding your place and people in the world. I’m so excited to have Lillie herself over for an interview on my blog today—about her research, the characters in One For All, and what the book means to her. I really hope this interview pushes the book up your TBR, it releases in 2 weeks!!

About the Book

An OwnVoices, gender-bent retelling of The Three Musketeers, in which a girl with a chronic illness trains as a Musketeer and uncovers secrets, sisterhood, and self-love.

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.

This debut novel is a fierce, whirlwind adventure about the depth of found family, the strength that goes beyond the body, and the determination it takes to fight for what you love.

Hi Lillie, welcome to the blog! Let’s start with a little self promo. Could you introduce One For All and tell us 3 reasons why you think people would love it?

Lillie: Thank you so much for having me! One for All is a gender-bent reimagining of The Three Musketeers, in which a girl with a chronic illness trains as a Musketeer and uncovers secrets, sisterhood, and self-love. Three reasons people will love it: OFA has found family, disability rep in a non-contemporary setting, and swords!

One For All is a feminist retelling of The Three Musketeers. What was the first spark that brought the idea of One For All to your mind? How has it evolved since then?

Lillie: I started writing One for All when I was on submission to editors with another book. It truly was one of those lightbulb moments that nonwriters think us writers have all the time. I opened a new notebook, titled the first page ONE FOR ALL, and started writing. The core of OFA hasn’t changed, even over all these years (and revisions)! It’s about heart, and learning to love yourself, and a fierce sisterhood that knows needing help isn’t weakness. 

I’m sure a lot of personal experiences were penned down in delivering the POTS rep. What makes you and Tania similar and different in that aspect?

art by Nicole Deal

Lillie: When I first started drafting One for All, I tried to keep Tania’s personality as distinct from mine as possible, since her experience with POTS was incredibly similar. However, over multiple rounds of edits, I discovered that Tania had become similar to me (especially teenage me) in ways that I hadn’t anticipated: her desire to be seen as who she is. Her determination. Even the way she fences!

One of my favourite things about One For All is the alternate historical setting of Paris (balls! elegant dresses! sword fights!) and how the mystery revolved around historical events. How did you approach the research for incorporating this time period into the novel?

Lillie: I knew that I wanted to write a version of 17th century Paris that was just a little off, that had a little fantasy, in line with Dumas’ depiction of Paris. So I did as much research as I could—I wanted any discrepancies in historical accuracy to be intentional, rather than due to a gap in my knowledge. I now know enough to fill an entire series of books set in my version of Paris in the late 1650s. Information on trade ports, on noble family surnames, on fashion styles and trends (and tips and tricks that were used to save money). The proper way to introduce members of the noblesse according to their specific titles. I even watched reenactments of court dances on Youtube so I would be able to describe the exact arm movements of my Musketeers during each measure of a song. 

So much research didn’t make it into the final version. I desperately want to write another novel set in the world I created, if only to be able to use more of my research!

Let’s talk a bit about fencing. Given your accomplishments in the sport, all duels and action descriptions in One For All are spot on! How fun was it to write these scenes with the full picture in mind?

Lillie: Thank you—and yes, it was so much fun! I don’t write in chronological order, so after I wrote the first scene, I skipped ahead to write a very important duel scene that occurs near the end of the novel (I can’t say more about it, because it’s a spoiler!) Looking back, I think I wrote most of the duel scenes very early in the drafting process. Some authors like to skip ahead to write first kiss scenes. I like to skip ahead to write scenes with swords.

The camaraderie in One For All is one of my favourite found families, it’s so sweet and fierce. To make this fun, describe each of them in a sentence from the perspective of one of the other girls in the sisterhood! 

Lillie:

On Tania:

Portia: “Questionable taste in men. Questionable taste in that she likes men, period.”
Aria: “Lets her emotions get the best of her… but she cares a lot and that is nice. Don’t tell her I said that!”
Théa: “NEW FRIEND YAY!”

art by Nicole Deal

On Théa:

Aria: “Sweet, but talks too much. If you hurt her, you die.” 

Portia: “What Aria said.” 

Tania: “She really likes to hug people? Is that what friends do? Hug each other all the time?”

art by Nicole Deal

On Portia:

Aria: *refuses to say anything and immediately leaves room for some reason*

Théa: “I want to be her when I grow up!”

Tania: “She is amazing and is not scary at all and I’m definitely not saying any of this because I’m afraid she’s reading these answers over my shoulder—oh hello Portia! No, I’m not doing anything important. Yes, I guess you can try to teach me how to properly use rouge again.”

art by Nicole Deal

On Aria:

Portia: “She’s just so good at everything? And it’s unfair? Why is someone that pretty allowed to be so good at everything? Beauty and talent should be equally distributed!”

Théa: “She never lets me do anything fun.” *pouts*

Tania: “Doesn’t open up much, but deep down she’s just a cinnamon roll… a stabby, murderous cinnamon roll.”

In a contemporary setting, what would be their favourite sport?

Lillie: Fencing, of course! 🙂

If you could match the personalities of Tania, Portia, Theà and Aria to your favourite books, which would they be?

Lillie: Oh my goodness, this is such a good question, and the hardest question I’ve been asked about One for All. 

Tania: Circe, with a little bit of Jane Eyre and Dealing with Dragons

Portia: Little Thieves mixed with And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges

Théa: Piranesi 

Aria: Anything by Lauren Groff, but especially The Monsters of Templeton and Matrix

Throughout One For All, there’s the theme of belonging, first when Tania leaves her mother for Paris and then about fitting in with the Order. What’s the one thing that made you feel like you belonged somewhere, just like Tania?

Lillie: My family and friends. The sisterhood in One for All is based on my real-life sisterhood which is full of strong, kind, fierce women who I have the honor to call my friends. They made me feel like I belonged when I first went to undergrad and felt very much out of place. 

Lastly, what have you learned from writing One For All and do you want readers to take away from it?

Lillie: When I first started writing One for All, I thought that I was already at a place where I accepted myself for who I was, chronic illness and all. I was wrong. Writing OFA opened up old wounds that had never healed properly and gave them the chance to start healing (which is still a work in progress). But writing OFA, writing Tania’s story of learning to love herself, was an act of teaching myself how to love myself. Finishing the book was me telling myself that I was worthy, just as I am. And the act of putting the book into the world is my way of telling readers that they are worthy, just the way they are.

Before we go…

Lillie: I’d love to take the opportunity to thank everyone who supported One for All before publication day, other than my agents/pub team: librarians, booksellers, bloggers, reviewers, early readers, etc. You have all made OFA into the little book that could. I will be forever grateful.

About the Author

Lillie Lainoff (author of forthcoming ONE FOR ALL) received her B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing and distinction within the major from Yale University. She currently lives in Norwich, and is getting her MA in Creative Writing Prose Fiction from the University of East Anglia.

Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry has been featured in The LA Review, The Washington Post Outlook, Today’s Parent, via the Disability Visibility Project, Washington City Paper, and The Yale Daily News, amongst other places. She’s received recognition from Glimmer Train and The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and won the 2019 LA Review Literary Award for Short Fiction. She was a featured Rooted in Rights disability activist, and is the founder of Disabled Kidlit Writers (FB).
As an undergraduate, Lillie was a member of Yale’s Varsity Fencing team. As a senior, she was one of the first physically disabled athletes to individually qualify for any NCAA Championship event, and helped her team to an end-of-season 10th place ranking by the National Coaches Poll. She still fences competitively and coaches. In 2017, she was named a recipient of the inaugural Spirit of Sport award by the US Fencing Association.

If you want to know more about her writing and what she’s currently working on, you can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

7 thoughts on “Chat Over Chai: Interview with Lillie Lainoff, Author of One For All!”

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