Aimee Lim Takes Readers to the Chinese Underworld in 'The Spindle of Fate'

SLJ spoke with the former library associate (and Jeopardy champion!) about fate, craft, and affirming childhood's complex emotions.

In her middle grade debut, Aimee Lim introduces readers to 12-year-old Evie Mei Huang and her incredible discoveries about herself and her mother as she travails the Chinese netherworld to bring her home. SLJ spoke with the former library associate (and Jeopardy champion!) about fate, craft, and affirming childhood's complex emotions.

In your novel, the protagonist embarks on a fantastical adventure in Dìyù, the Chinese underworld, while grappling with losing her mother. What inspired you to delve into fantasy for your debut?

Photo by Thomas Le

As a kid, many of my favorite books were fantasy. I was obsessed with Greek mythology, so Percy Jackson was obviously a huge [inspiration] (I had the original cover of The Lightning Thief!), and another personal favorite of mine was Michael Buckley's "The Sisters Grimm" series, which takes a similarly modern, exciting, but also hilarious and irreverent approach to fairy tales. So writing a contemporary middle grade fantasy based on my own cultural background and Chinese mythology feels like a very natural turn of events for me.

What has this writing experience been like for you, and what has been your favorite part of the process?

The Spindle of Fate was written in collaboration with Cake Creative Kitchen, which is a book packager founded by Dhonielle Clayton (The Marvellers and "The Belles") that focuses on diverse, high concept kidlit. The process was a little unusual as it was submitted to publishers on proposal with the first 70 pages. I wrote the rest after it sold to Macmillan, which was probably my favorite part of the writing process: It took me a long time to get the beginning of the book, which sets up Evie and her family and the Guilds, just right; but once she gets to Dìyù, I could just have fun with it. I loved creating my version of the Chinese netherworld, which is outrageously horrible but also morbidly funny, and I had a ton of fun with the action scenes when things go from hellish to worse—but I also loved writing the quieter, more emotional character moments as Evie gets closer to the end of her journey.

The craft of sewing plays a major part in the novel, from the tailor shop belonging to Evie's family to the weaving guild her mother was a part of. What inspired you to include this craft and art form in your story?

I really wish I could say it’s because I sew or make my own clothes, but sadly no! Evie’s mom’s magic was originally inspired by the concept of the red thread of fate in Chinese folklore, which is tied around the ankles or fingers of destined lovers. That eventually grew into the title The Spindle of Fate, which can spin new threads of fate and thus change a person’s destiny, but the famous red thread does still play a role in the story. But more broadly, I’m fascinated by traditional art forms and handicrafts, as well as the challenges they often face surviving in, and adapting to, the modern world. That influenced the portrayal of the Guilds as a whole—I thought of them as essentially cultural preservation societies, but for traditional magical crafts.

The Spindle of Fate has laugh-out-loud moments alongside tender explorations of Evie’s heartache as she navigates grief and her complex relationship with her mom. What is one thing you hope readers can find in your book?

First of all, I wanted to write a fun and exciting adventure that kids would enjoy the same way I loved my favorite books as a young reader, so if readers are entertained by the action or Evie’s sense of humor, that’s already a win for me. Beyond that, I did hope that readers would find the explorations of Evie’s complicated feelings about her grief and her mom to feel honest. I think adults tend to romanticize childhood as an emotionally simpler time, but kids also have complicated inner lives and complex emotions about the people they love, even if they might not have the language for it yet. I tried to write something that felt true to that. Evie’s emotional journey is very specific to her in a lot of ways—one of the things she struggles with is that her grief doesn’t look like, say, her little sister’s—but I hoped that letting her inner struggle be as honest as I could might open up space for kids to be able to explore and acknowledge those more complicated feelings.

There are so many unique characters in the book, a personal favorite being Evie's best friend Thida. Who was your favorite character to write, and is there a character you feel closest to?

First, I’m happy to hear that you liked Thida! So here’s some trivia about her: Thida is Burmese American, and my parents are of Chinese descent but were born and grew up in Myanmar. So her background is also a nod to my family heritage. Also, her name means “cool water,” and since Myanmar is a tropical country, “cool” in this context has a very positive connotation—a mother’s love, for example, will be described as “cool” rather than “warm.” I didn’t know this until my dad read the book and told me, so it wasn’t intentional, but I think it fits Thida’s personality (stoic, blunt, but supportive) perfectly!

The most fun character to write was Kevin Chengsson, who is from the Warriors Guild and accompanies Evie into Dìyù. He’s a hopeless romantic who’s equally hopeless at fighting and has a ludicrous backstory that was basically written for my own amusement, but he’s also surprisingly soulful and more aware and resourceful than he initially seems.

The character I feel closest to is probably Evie. I don’t think we’re very similar (she’s way cooler than me, for one thing, and also Evie scoffs at try-hards and I am/was very much a try-hard), but I did look back on myself at her age to get into a 12-year-old headspace. Evie’s disdain for adults saying things like “Your mom’s in a better place now,” as well as her tendency to argue with the demons, were inspired by parts of my own personality as a skeptical and argumentative kid.

What will be your next project, and can we expect to see Evie again soon? 

The sequel to The Spindle of Fate, so yes!

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing