As the Gaithersburg Book Festival gets under way Saturday morning, one of the event's returning authors is still in high school.
North Potomac's Alice Yanhong Lu, a Wootton High School student, is a finalist in the book festival's short story contest for a second consecutive year.
Lu, who finished third in last year's short story contest, was selected out of a pool of 141 applicants to be one of the 13 finalists for the festival's second annual high school contest.
Gaithersburg Patch: You're participating in your second consecutive short story contest following your third place finish last year. What's your inspiration for writing and why did you decide to get involved in the Gaithersburg Book Festival's short story contest?
Alice Yanhong Lu: My inspiration for writing is my imagination. Since I learned English when I was 5, I've loved stories. I grew up with books — from second grade to ninth grade, every day I carried a different book (or two or three) in my backpack. I’ve always daydreamed a lot and constantly make up characters and worlds inside of my head. My childhood pastime was sketching warrior weapons and mapping fantasy kingdoms.
When I was 8 or 9, I became serious about writing and published my first expository article. Since then, I have published a string of book reviews, essays, artwork, short stories and poems. I’m currently a senior contributor on the Creative Kids magazine editorial staff. My biggest project yet, in progress for about five years now, has been the writing — and hopefully the publication — of my first novel. I decided to get involved in the Gaithersburg Short Story Festival because I thought it was an excellent opportunity for me to exercise my writing skills, express my creativity, and participate in a competition. I loved the idea of beginning a story with one given sentence.
Gaithersburg Patch: One of the contest's rules is that your story must start with one of three specific lines. You chose "Lots of people have heard of love at first sight, but this was something else entirely." Why the theme of love at first site over a miracle or a riot?
Alice Yanhong Lu: I chose the theme of love over a miracle or a riot because it felt right for my story, which is science fiction. Despite the constantly changing modes of communication, love, as a human emotion, has always contained a potential to connect with listeners and readers on a personal level. It is the binding thread of humanity. I want to someday become a writer capable of channeling atmospheres of thought and perspective through words. I think starting out with a raw emotion helps me weave the science fiction threads into a complete picture.
Gaithersburg Patch: Coupled with the required first line, you used science fiction as a genre for your story, "Isika". Why use a robot as the main character in your love story?
Alice Yanhong Lu: The main character of "Isika" is a robot simply because she represents the shreds of humanity left in a desolate world. Although she was programmed for a different cause as an artificial being, she gains humanity by her own means and therefore a depth of existence. She is a mass-produced artificial labor product, but she overcomes her creation as something more, something that her creators — despite skill, intelligence, innovation and even kindness — cannot comprehend.
Gaithersburg Patch: What are some of the themes and messages you're trying to convey through your story, "Isika"?
Alice Yanhong Lu: I'm very interested in genetics, bioengineering, medical advances and environmental preservation. But as humans gain the expansive ability to alter the core of our origins, we must face devastating choices and make sacrifices. Although the future of technology holds vast and endless possibilities for the world, there is a chance that gradually we will have to make amends and sacrifices, one by one, losing more and more for artificial gains until we can no longer realize what we have lost.
One theme I want to convey through my story, “Isika”, is the value of individuality. In a sense, the mass-produced robots of the futuristic setting represent conformity. We see conformity everywhere – in a school, in a workplace, in society. But the distinctiveness of each individual holds the key to humanity and raw emotions. We need to treasure what we as individuals and as a society have already and work to preserve the diversity.
Another underlying message revolves around the idea of time. As mortals, humans can only hope to gain spiritual understanding in one very short lifetime. Although the character in "Isika" has forever to live and humans have artificially expanded lifetimes, time is not an issue but rather how each moment is spent.
Gaithersburg Patch: What would you say to help convince a young author like yourself to participate in the Gaithersburg Book Festival's short story contest? What have you most enjoyed about the experience over the last two years?
Alice Yanhong Lu: To any young author who is considering participating in the Gaithersburg Book Festival’s short story contest, I would say, go for it! Creative writing is an excellent outlet for personal expression and involves so much freedom. And what’s more, you don’t have to start out with a blank page and face writer’s block — you are given a choice of three starting sentences for your selection.
I would also say to not procrastinate and postpone the writing, because during my first year participating, I procrastinated and had to write the story in 10 minutes the day before! It really made the experience less fun. But this year, I blocked out winter break for writing and had time to polish my short story, which made the process much more fulfilling — so the writing process was probably the best part of participation.
Editor's Note: Be sure to read our Q&A's from earlier this week previewing the Gaithersburg Book Festival: