Five Questions for Remy Lai

In Ghost Book (Holt, 8–12 years), July Chen can communicate with the wandering soul of William Xiao, a boy who is in a coma. This middle-grade graphic novel takes them on an adventure through the Hungry Ghost Festival, with high emotional stakes but plenty of fun to be had along the way.

1. How did you approach putting your own spin on existing Chinese mythology?

RL: I grew up mainly with Asian mythologies, and those stories are now bent and twisted after years of swirling around in my brain. I had no compunction adapting them to serve the story of July and William. For example, in Ghost Book, a red thread tethers William's soul to his body, but in Chinese mythology, this red thread typically ties lovers together.

2. This isn’t the first time you’ve written a funny book that also deals with themes of grief. How do you balance humor with more serious emotions?

RL: I very much appreciate books and films that have funny moments when they're dealing with more serious emotions. Those moments allow the tension to be released, then be built back up toward the story's climax. I use characters who are funny. There are so many different types of humor — from the bumbling dolts that are Horseface and Oxhead, to the more witty puns that July uses. Of course, a graphic novel also provides ample opportunities for visual comedy. And I love when characters bond through banter — it's a special thing to find someone whose wavelength matches yours.

3. Ever had an experience you thought might’ve been a haunting? If not, would you like to?

RL: Rumor has it that one of the rooms in my childhood home was haunted — that was why our parents didn't let my siblings and me use it, and it was reserved for courageous guests. My siblings and I overheard (snooped on) a guest telling our dad about the ghost he met in that room. But I prefer to experience such horror safely — vicariously through books or films.

4. How do you decide whether a book will be a graphic novel or a graphic novel–prose hybrid?

RL: You can adapt stories to different formats. Usually the story changes somewhat because you have to play to the different strengths of the format you choose. So I try to focus on the heart of the story and determine which format is best for bringing that out.

5. If you drank Transforming Soup, what would you want to transform into?

RL: Turning into a dragon would be super fun — fire and flight. But I might choose to be a dog and go exploring with my dogs. They always look like they're having the time of their lives. And finally, I'll discover why they love to roll in poop.

From the October 2023 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in writing for children from Simmons University. She has served on the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and Sydney Taylor Book Award committees, and is serving on the 2025 Walter Dean Myers Award committee.

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