Are You Afraid of the Dark? A Remy Lai Q & A and Excerpt Reveal from Ghost Book!
What was your first Remy Lai? I bet you remember. For me, it was Pie in the Sky, that magnificent little graphic novel about moving to a new country where you don’t speak the language and, naturally, bake cake after cake after cake. Mind you, I liked that book but the one closest to my heart was actually Fly on the Wall. The deceit! The betrayal! Oh man. I gotta reread that again. Or are you a dog person? Many are. Pawcasso proved to be irresistible to canine lovers everywhere.
Now let’s talk ghosts.
I’m serious! As you may or may not have heard, Remy Lai has a new GN out August 15th and it’s spooooky. No. Seriously. It is. There’s some freaky deaky stuff going on in this title and as someone who spent the better part of 1988 reading Apple paperbacks filled with ghosts I am HERE FOR IT!!
Here’s how the publisher described it to me:
“Inspired by Chinese mythology, this dark (yet resoundingly hopeful) tale about friendship, sacrifice, and the unseen world of ghosts is a dazzling heir to beloved Studio Ghibli classics. Two-time Newbery Honor winner Christina Soontornvat calls it “absolutely gorgeous and a completely unique adventure.” It’s the early-reader consensus that GHOST BOOK feels like a timeless piece of folklore—a moving, whimsical story set in the modern world.”
But before I show you a little excerpt from the book itself (squeee!!) let’s sit down and have a chat with Remy herself about where the heck this title originated:
Betsy Bird: Remy! Thank you so much for answering my questions today! GHOST BOOK is so strange, sad, sweet, and (forgive the phrase) haunting. It’s really not like anything I’ve seen before. It also marks a bit of a departure from your earlier works. Where did the book come from?
Remy Lai: It’s interesting you say that because Ghost Book feels closer to stories I grew up with. And I write a lot of fantasy (mostly contemporary fantasy), but it just so happened that my debut was a realistic contemporary. I’d have said in 2019 when PIE IN THE SKY came out that it was a departure for me!
For a long time, I had the characters July and William walking around in my head. All I knew was that they were friends, William is a ghost (or something like that), and that one would sacrifice for the other. Over the years, I tried fitting them into various stories but nothing fit. When I was working on PAWCASSO, I suddenly figured out the Hungry Ghost angle, and that’s when the story that would become GHOST BOOK fell into place.
BB: I love it when that happens. And some of the otherworldly characters in the book come across as particularly interesting. From Heibai Wuchang to Oxhead and Horseface to the Night Market itself. Do any of these have any antecedents in literature or other stories?
RL: Heibai Wuchang and Oxhead and Horseface are regular fixtures in Chinese mythology. But I do not know what their “correct” roles in the underworld are because I grew up in Asia, with so many different iterations, retellings, adaptations of Chinese myths. They were just a way of life. I feel no need to adhere strictly to the “correct” version (if there is one).
And night markets are so common in Asia that it felt natural to incorporate them into Ghost Book’s underworld.
BB: There is a bit of a reverse Orpheus and Eurydice component to this story. July is trying to find every possible angle to save William from death, after all, to the point where she’s willing to cross over (to an extent) for him. Was any of that on your mind as you wrote the book, or were there other specific stories that you thought of as you made it?
RL: Greek mythology is actually something I am not very familiar with in the sense that I know some stories, but I didn’t grow up with them. Orpheus and Eurydice did not cross my mind while I was writing GHOST BOOK. July crossing over is a fulfillment of the promise of the premise. Since the Hungry Ghost Month is about the gates of the underworld opening, it is probably criminal to not have the characters venture into said underworld. Plus, I get to draw this imaginary underworld—FUN!
BB: Very fun! Was there anything additional you wanted to include in the story or did you plan it all out to a tee from the start?
RL: I planned, and I planned, and I planned. Then my editor Brian Geffen cut, cut, cut. Hahaha. I exaggerate. The story started out more complex, but I knew from the start that I had to simplify it, because I only have so many pages in the graphic novel. And because complex doesn’t mean better. So I’m very grateful for my editor’s ruthless knife.
We did go back and forth on the ending—I wanted a much more tragic one; he is much kinder to readers. But ultimately I found an ending that we both love.
BB: You make a reference at the end of the book to the fact that you were a big fan of horror when you were younger. Are you still a bit of a horror fan? If so, what are some of your favorites?
RL: I LOVE horror. I am a bit more hesitant to watch horror movies now, because sometimes I’m too terrified to fall sleep, which is fine when I was a kid, but now, adulting dictates I should not miss out on sleep and be cranky all day.
As a kid, I loved Goosebumps and the Fear Street books. I also love horror movies—It, Pet Semetary, and The Ring just to name a few.
BB: Finally, what are you working on next?
RL: I recently finished work on my 2025 contemporary graphic novel CHICKENPOX, and my 2024 illustrated horror novel READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. GHOST BOOK is probably 5/10 on the scary factor (for kids’ books), and READ AT YOUR OWN RISK is 10/10.
I am currently working on my 2026 graphic novel ME AND MY PET DEMON.
Thank you so much for having me, Betsy!
BB: Thank YOU! Though now, I dunno. I want to read everything you have coming out! How can we possibly wait?
Indeed, we may not be able to see Remy’s upcoming books yet, but here’s a sneak peek at her book out this year. Bon appetite!
Big thanks to Kelsey Marrujo and the folks at the Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for putting this together. And thanks too to Remy for so patiently answering my questions. Ghost Book is on shelves everywhere August 15th. Perfect for fans of the creepy.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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