Former Entertainment Weekly writer Stephan Lee is currently associate director of branded entertainment and innovation at Bustle and is at work on his second YA novel, a sequel to K-Pop Confidential. His book charts the ups and downs in the life of a trainee competing for the chance to debut in a major Seoul-based K-Pop group—and the stakes of remaining true to herself in the process.

In this interview, Lee talks about his entry into the world of K-Pop and the trip to Seoul to report on the Korean entertainment industry that helped to inspire this book, as well as the pitfalls of the term “idol factory” when referring to the trainee system that groups undergo before debuting. He emphasizes the importance of always seeing these processes through his protagonist’s eyes, with her unique blend of wit, humor, and outspokenness. From grappling with the importance of synchronized dancing to writing her own songs, Candace may just be the beginning of her journey, both with K-Pop and her own sense of self. As Lee puts it, this book is about “learning to speak up for what’s right” despite the consequences, whereas the second book reflects those moments when “words are not enough” and more drastic actions become necessary.

Lee’s book forges powerful friendships between Candace and her team members, all fighting to debut together, as well as with her friends back home, whose encouragement and humor help prompt her to take on this challenge. From the Kirkus review: “Lee’s fun-filled, fast-paced K-pop romp reads like a reality show competition while cleverly touching on issues of racism, feminism, unfair beauty expectations and labor practices, classism and class struggles, and immigration and privilege....A thoughtful portrayal of determined multinational teens balancing authenticity with pursuing their dreams.”