Book Party – Minecraft: The Crash

July 9, 2018

Gold and red balloons

Any time is a good time for a book party. Add gaming into it and you’re about to add joy to a young reader’s life when you join us in celebrating the latest from BBS’s own Tracey Baptiste.

Minecraft Cover

When Bianca Marshall, an avid Minecraft enthusiast wakes in the hospital, almost paralyzed by injuries from a car crash, she finds herself drawn into a new VR version of Minecraft which promises her control over  a world at the very moment she’s lost control over the real one. Is her best friend Lonnie in there with her too? And can Bianca help him to return to reality with her? The road to recovery may not be without its own dangers! (High Middle Grade/Young Adult)

Tracey, what was the best part about writing this book?

The best thing about writing this book was working with my son, who was 10 when I started doing the outline. He’d come home from school and look at the wall in my office where I plot. We had a system using sticky notes. The red ones were questions for him. So he’d take a look at the wall, tell me if I was going okay, and answer the questions. When I started drafting, he’d get home from school and read two chapters and give me handwritten notes on the manuscript. I got him credit as a consultant on the copyright page. He earned it.

Read this mini-cerpt:

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

I was getting used to moving around in the game. There was one thing that I really wanted to try. Flying. From the top of the hill, I jumped twice, expecting my avatar to soar into the sky. Instead, I tumbled down a few blocks. Must be survival mode and not creative, I thought. I climbed back up and looked around. On the other side of the hill, in the distance, was a eld of brown. A desert biome, I guessed. There didn’t seem to be any villagers or buildings, so I turned and went north, following the curve of the river. I ran past mobs of pigs and sheep, clumps of trees, and elds of owers. Much farther away, things turned green. Swampy. I’d have time to explore all of that later. What I wanted was to check out the village on the other side of the river. So I turned my gaze, and the entire world turned beneath me, pointing me in the di‐ rection of the village near my home base.

Running in the game felt amazing. The world whizzed by me, and the exhilaration of being able to sprint around was intoxicating. I could almost pretend that they were really my legs pumping beneath me, sending me ying through the Technicolor scenery. “Optical illusion,” I said out loud. I knew I was really lying in bed in a hospital room, and the entire world around me was a projection of light that extended only as far as the goggles did. It wasn’t real. None of it.

Buy Minecraft: The Crash

Barnes & Noble


Direct from the publisher: Penguin Random House


Want to know more? Check out this podcast

Check Your Respect

May 7, 2018

I’ve never understood how people can cheer for adults playing professional sports and still form their mouths to question why someone would pursue the creative arts professionally. Athletes literally play a game for a living, but we question dancers? Artists? Writers?

Has capitalism gotten us so twisted that we only covet careers that bring us riches?

Maybe it’s not for me to understand. But, so it’s clear, in my house we respect the Arts as a profession.

My great uncle, Bernard Addison, was a professional jazz musician. He, like many musicians, made a living playing music. That was his real job. Because you don’t recognize his name like you might Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong, means little. Do you know many doctors beyond your own? Doubtful. Yet, many physicians are out there curing and caring for folks every day. Fame has nothing to do with success.

I am a professional writer. J.K. Rowling I’m not. But with six books under my belt, I think it’s fair to say I could quit my “day” job if I wanted. In time! Despite the number of folks who may not have heard of me, my books are in bookstores and libraries across the nation. Their existence proves my ability to actually make money from this discipline. And I think both my agent and editor would be quite perplexed by those who don’t see writing as a viable career. As would my many author friends who rely on writing as their sole income.

Side Note: Of the Arts, writing seems to be the only one that everyone waves off as easy. Anyone with that belief, come holler at me for a little lesson in “Fear of the Blank Page.” Healthy fear. Respectful fear. But still, fear. If you’re absent of that, good luck writing for a living.

But I digress.

Here’s the crux of my annoyance with people’s utter disrespect for the professional arts:

My teen daughter wants to be a professional Ballet dancer, one day. This is something she’s made clear was her aspiration since about age 10. It is neither a passing fancy or a frivolous dream that her father and I are indulging until she settles on a “real” career.  The reaction people have when they hear that usually verges immediately on – poor dear, let me tell you why that’s such a bad idea.  Or – it’s such a long shot, I hope she has a back up plan.

Okay. Here’s what you should not do when talking to her or me about her desired career:

  • Tell her how hard it is

She knows this. Have you ever danced on your toes for six hours a day all summer while your friends sleep in? Well, she has. Pursuing Ballet is a grind. Technique is key and Ballet teachers are dedicated to the body form being classically correct. When she’s not studying for school or sneaking in a little social time for friends, she’s at dance. She and our entire family sacrifice for her to study Ballet. She knows hard.

  • Remind her how competitive it is

Is pursuing any job not? Are there not often hundreds of applicants seeking a single open position in a company? Ballet is no different. There are hundreds of Ballet companies out there. Just because you may know of only the bigs – American Ballet Company or New York City Ballet – doesn’t mean the others don’t exist. If she can’t find a single position within the many Ballet companies here in the U.S. or abroad – EVER- that would be an amazing feat.

  • Go on about how little dancers make

If she wanted to be rich she would have never chosen Ballet. If she’s okay with a life with little to no frills, then you should be okay with it too.

  • Justify your comments as if you’re just trying to make sure she knows what she’s in for

You’re assuming neither she, I or her father understand what’s involved with pursuing a career where subjectivity reigns. That’s insulting. You’re assuming she’s not doing her own homework by talking to her teachers or reading resources on life in that profession. You’re assuming your comments will somehow deter what’s in her heart.

My daughter is a beautiful dancer with a mother who continues to actively navigate the subjectivity of publishing. It’s not easy, but it’s damned sure not impossible. Don’t think we don’t have conversations about this all the time. She has a mentor who is clear on the rejection ahead. But also, a staunch cheerleader who knows what it’s like to have Art in you that you’re compelled to put out in the world.

Understand, we do this because we have to. Art is breathing for the artist. Please stop smothering us with your fears and concerns. Negative energy is the artist’s natural enemy. We have enough self doubt to fill a stadium. Don’t push yours on us.

Root for us.

Support our work.

Tell others about the artists you know.

We put beauty into the world. That’s never a bad thing.

Day 28.5: YA Panel Part 2

March 1, 2018

We’re pretending that it’s Leap Year by offering day two of our YA Panel with authors Justina Ireland (Dread Nation), Brandy Colbert (Little & Lion) and Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles). Check out the convo as they discuss being vocal on social media and getting on their soap boxes.

BBS: All of you are active on social media. Is anyone ever afraid to be as honest as they are about publishing, politics and culture because it may impact their relationship with publishers, gatekeepers or readers?

littlelion_brandycolbert__spanBrandy: I’m definitely the least outspoken online from this group. But everyone who’s met me knows I will say anything in person.

Dhonielle: I used to be afraid and I never really go in unless you make me BIG MAD. Now, I don’t care as much. I’m like…I’m little and y ‘all think I’m cute and that you can come at me – so nah, sometimes you need a reminder. I will clap back!

Brandy: I just feel like conversations online lose a lot of nuance and it can be hard to read tone and intention.

Justina: I think we need both types, though. I mean, Brandy is going to get invited to places I won’t because people won’t see her as a threat and then she can let me know what’s what when she’s there.

Brandy: Ooh, good point! And I don’t do it purposely to avoid publisher/gatekeeper backlash. But I know I’m better in person.

BBS:  Dhonielle, your clap backs always make me smile because you definitely don’t look like you’d come for someone. Then you do and it’s like – yessss!

Justina: My editor and publisher know what I’m about and I told them that nothing was going to change.  I do give my editor a courtesy heads up when I’m about to go in on a Harper book, though. Just so he knows to expect the hate mail.

Brandy: I think it’s ultimately good to be outspoken, but then I always say that whatever you need to know about my thoughts is in my books. And if you need to know more, catch me on a panel or in person somewhere.

Justina: Great point.

BBS: How about the flip side…do you believe being vocal is something readers are going to come to expect from authors, particularly YA authors? Are the days where keeping your own views separate from your body of work gone?

Justina: Oh, most definitely.

Brandy: That’s a great question. I do at least try to re-tweet people I respect and admire who are more eloquent or educated about a topic. So then anyone who comes to my feed knows, for example, that I fully support Colin Kaepernick and his protests.

Dread nationJustina: I think that with social media such an integral part of life, people assume you are for the same things they are for unless you speak up. For better or worse. So, I fully expect young readers to reach out to their favorite authors when they read something that offends them and go “WTF?” And I think that is the changing face of critique.

There’s a section of the population that wants the media they consume to be from people who uphold their values. Authors are going to have to learn to cocoon themselves or accept being more involved in reader response.

Brandy: But then my question is if you cover these topics thoroughly and make your opinion known in your books, is it okay to let other people have the mic online? I do struggle with that as an intensely private person. But I still want it known what I’m about.

Justina: Oh, definitely. It think it takes all kinds.

BBS:  Where your book topics are concerned, I can see that.  But I’ve seen both Justina and Dhonielle speak out on other topics that wouldn’t necessarily be anything related to what they write. Many authors, now, are so vocal about the political climate. Or feminism.  Things that are controversial and have clear “sides.”

Brandy: Those are the conversations I’m having with friends and colleagues but sometimes it just seems like an echo chamber. And I wonder, do we *really* need my voice added to this right now?

Justina: Yeah, I struggle with this because even though I’m vocal online, I’m also very private.  I never name my kid or husband, and I mostly talk about stuff that has little to do with my day to day life. But I also think it’s important to look at something and say “That’s not okay, and here’s why.” In publishing, that does tend to be an echo chamber.

I mostly am there to make sure the well meaning white liberals in publishing don’t get too comfortable.

Brandy: And we love ya for it.

BBS: What “soap box” are you on related to publishing, the YA community, librarianship/teachers or anything else connected to getting more of our books out there and recognized?

The-Belles-High-Res (1)Dhonielle: I wanna be on the Tell The Truth soap box.

Justina: Go in!

Dhonielle: We have spent so much time catering to white folks feelings and I’m done with that part of the program.

Brandy: I’m on the All of our Stories Matter soapbox.  That’s All of our BLACK Stories Matter, in case that wasn’t clear. I sometimes feel the YA community gets a little too comfortable with *only* promoting stories of black pain. And that makes me extremely uncomfortable.

Dhonielle: Preach!

BBS: Someone else said that recently and it just really hit me that a lot of our books ARE about pain.

Brandy: Yes! And my books fit that mold, to some degree. But it seems like some gatekeepers and readers are only comfortable reading books about black people that take them completely out of their neighborhood or comfort zone instead of confronting, say, the liberal racism in their own backyards.

Dhonielle: Preach, Brandy!

BBS: There’s a difference in exploiting that narrative and trying to help kids find a way through what are real experiences in a community. Yes?

Brandy: Exactly. The exploitation is the key difference.

Justina: I’m on the For Us By Us soap box.

Brandy: FUBU!!

Justina: BRINGING IT BACK!  That includes promoting and supporting younger Black authors and aspiring Black authors. I would also like to see less stories about Black pain and how awful it is to be Black in general, but I think it’s going to be a while before we get there.

BBS: Well here’s hoping that’s not the case! It was my pleasure to bring these ladies to this year’s 28 Days Later spotlights. If anything said here can help make the publishing journey and overall publishing experience better for writers of color, then I’ve done my job.

Day 28: YA Panel

February 28, 2018

As the sole resident YA author on the BBS team, I’m often consulted about potential candidates to cover for 28 Days Later.  Having returned to the campaign after a very long hiatus, the sound my colleagues heard when asking that question was akin to *crickets.* Not because I’m unaware of the authors out there, but because there aren’t nearly as many as there should be 10 years after somewhat of an explosion of Black YA authors. Nearly everyone I suggested, BBS had already covered.  Why hadn’t the explosion continued? How could I not find five solidly under-the-radar YA authors?

As I looked around, I realized a few things 1) Those of us who debuted 10 years ago are now writing MG and 2) Today’s YA is a bit edgier, a true reflection of our fragile social times, and so…go back to number one.

Out of this conundrum, a fantastic idea presented itself – chat with YA authors who were 28 Days Later “Alum” and put publishing under the microscope. On top of the chat being more fun than I’ve had in a long time, it was insightful. Treat yourself to today’s spotlight: an industry chat with authors Justina Ireland (Dread Nation), Brandy Colbert (Little & Lion) and Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles).

BBS: Finish this thought – “Before I was published, I thought YA was missing…”

brandy_n5d7247Brandy:  Before I was published, I thought YA was missing black people, in general. But especially black people with agency, who weren’t reduced to stereotypes by authors who were writing outside of their experience.

I grew up in a very white community and probably 100% of the books on my shelf were by and about white people, so I’m not sure I noticed. Which is sad to think about now. I started writing when I was seven years old, and that also affected my stories, which were all about white people. I felt that I was meant to be a writer but I didn’t think anyone wanted to read about black people.

Justina:  Like Brandy, I didn’t really notice how white books were, because I kind of thought it was just that all of the Black kids were in books I didn’t want to read (Like Sounder, Roll of Thunder). It was until I got older that I realized Black characters existed, just in a very narrow range. As I scooted over to the adult section I found books about Black people…in the African American literature section.

BBS:  The narrow range is important to note because not existing was issue one and then existing only in one frame was the other.  

Brandy Yes, exactly! I remember the first time I saw the African American section in a bookstore. It was a very strange feeling. Like, yay! But also—why do we have to be shelved in a different section entirely?

Dhonielle: Before I was published, I thought YA was missing stories of brown kids and magic, Brown kids falling in love, fantasies that featured non-western worlds.

BBS:  So, now what? Because whether it’s sexuality, mental illness, racism and zombies, or the power of beauty in society – looking at today’s landscape, through the three of your books alone, makes it clear that a broad variety of books featuring characters of color are here. 

Justina: Exactly, and that’s awesome. And now we need people to show up and buy them.

Brandy: Yes, indeed. And we need to allow Black/POC creators to publish a wide range of books and not pigeonhole us into certain categories or celebrate a certain type of narrative over another.

DhonielleDhonielle:  Now, it’s times for marginalized and black content creators to get the same roll outs that white women have gotten for decades for their books. Tours, big marketing campaigns. Our books deserve a shot at big audiences.

Justina: Seriously though: THUG by Angie Thomas has opened the door for a lot of other authors also writing gritty contemporary YA. Imagine what Dhonielle’s book could do for Fantasy or Brandy to do for intersectional contemporary or mine for whatever Dread Nation is this week.  I think it’s horror this week. And of course I’m talking about Black authors, since this isn’t a problem for white authors.

BBS: My next question came about specifically because Dhonielle is a sensitivity reader (SR). In the Vulture article about her work as a SR, she hit on a lot of great points.  One being that the most important piece of the conversation revolves around the number of white authors writing about characters of color.  Are we reaching a point where publishers are starting to overthink sensitivity reads? How do we refocus the discussion on what Dhonielle believes is the important piece of the conversation?

Brandy: I’m not actively doing sensitivity reads but I find the whole topic fascinating. I had a LOT of reads from friends on Little & Lion because I wrote outside of my experience for so much of it.

Justina: So, I do sensitivity reads and I had to back away for awhile because of everything D said in that article. But I stopped doing the reads because I started to feel like I was helping other folks tell my story and that pissed me off.

Dhonielle: Sensitivity reads are a bandaid.

Brandy: Yup. I just wish there were more of our stories being told by us so there was less of a need for sensitivity reads to begin with.

Justina IrelandJustina: Exactly! Because if there was, editors would know what a good story looks like because they’ve had a sampling, instead of the one or two books from the prior year. But we also need ownvoices books that meet the basic elements of craft. There are a lot of ownvoices books that are getting rushed through editorial that are just not going to help, and that’s unfortunate.

Dhonielle: I agree, Justina.

BBS: Own voices shouldn’t be a fad. My concern is this type of thing becomes a campaign. We have far too much catching up to do for it to be that.

Justina: Exactly.

Brandy: Yes!

Dhonielle: We can have mediocrity from every group, because gods knows so many mediocre white folks get published every day, but we need marginalized folks to win the marathon and not the sprint.

Justina: My fear is that if they finish poorly in the sprint they’ll never even get to run in the marathon.

Brandy: And a lot of it seems like back-patting, so publishers can feel like they’re doing their part to participate in the “diversity movement” instead of seeking out stories they actually believe in and authors they want to nurture through a successful career.

BBS:  But what’s great about right now – with just the three of you – finally we’re in a moment where more than one of us is winning!  That’s a big step.

Brandy:  It is! I still remember getting my first contract and being like, But they’re just gonna let me publish this book about a black girl who looks and acts a lot like me? And that’s it??

BBS:  Pay it forward – shout out two or three YA authors who are either an up and coming author, someone unsung or someone who has been dormant and deserves a fresh look by readers. Extra points if that author hasn’t already been covered by BBS.

Justina: There’s a lot of exciting YA by Black authors this year. [Goes on to name authors being covered in 2018 28 Days Later and those we’ve already covered. The struggle was real!] Kosoko Jackson will have a book out here in a minute. His book is slated for late 2019, I think.

Brandy: I’m a big fan of Tiffany Jackson’s work. And I’ve been reading Janice Lynn Mather’s Learning to Breathe, which is an extraordinary debut that comes out in June, and I can’t wait for everyone to read it.

Dhonielle: Sarah RaughleyRebecca Barrow. JA Reynolds – not to be confused with Jason. *laughter* I dropped in non-US based Black authors. They need a little shine. Sarah Raughley is from Canada. Rebecca Barrow is in the UK.

Brandy: It is interesting seeing how much the landscape has changed since we were first published a few years ago. I think black-authored debuts are much more accepted and celebrated. Oh and I just saw a cover reveal for a new debut: Dana L. Davis, Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now.

Justina: Yes! That’s a great cover.

Dhonielle: I need them [Kosoko and Dana] on my radar.

BBS: Good stuff. The fact that I’m able to only get a few names new to me shows that it’s not as many of us out there doing YA as it should be. 


Come back, tomorrow, for part two of our chat where the authors discuss author social media etiquette in the age of outrage and tell us what soap box they’re on.


Day 27: Gilbert Robertson IV

February 27, 2018

It is so impressive to know that Gilbert “Gil” Robertson earned a B.A. in Political Science from Cal State Los Angeles and is a professional member of the National Press Club, National Association of Black Journalists, The Recording Academy, The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the Motion Picture Association of America. He is also a national lecturer who speaks on such issues as fostering diverse representation in the entertainment industry, as well as personal and communal development.
It is even more impressive to know that through it all, he never lost his desire to write. His path to children’s literature is incredible. So today, The Brown Bookshelf is honored to highlight:


The Journey

My childhood dream was to be an author. I wrote essays, short stories and plays as a kid, which I would share with my parents and their friends. So, I was motivated early to pursue this path. As I began my adult life following college I was perplexed as to how I could achieve this dream, and so I became an A&E (Arts & Entertainment) freelance journalist armed with a plan that I would create a profile that I could leverage to enter publishing. Over time I established a reputation as a go-to journalist for publications seeking A-list talent and my byline became well-known in the industry. My life as an A&E journalist soon took over my life and I spent the next decade pursuing goals within that career space. However, my passion for writing books gradually rebooted, which lead me to expand my career to include work as an author.

My first book, Writing as A Tool of Empowerment, came about solely because of the notoriety that I had established as an A&E journalist. My profile had risen to point where the public began to take note of my work. I sought to exploit that exposure by first doing a series of lectures via the Learning Annex, which lead me to finally writing my first book. After successful engaging an audience with that project, I began to pursue other opportunities as an author, which led me to assemble the anthology Not in My Family: AIDS in the African American Community. The success of the project finally opened a path of opportunity for me to pursue my dream of being an author.

The Back Story

My previous projects were targeted to adult readers and I wanted to “shift-gears” with a book that would speak to young adult readers. Barack Obama’s presidency represented such a pivotal point in history that I thought should be examined for young readers. I became fascinated by others political “firsts” and so I outlined a book proposal that would highlight the men and women behind these accomplishments. I really wanted to partner with a black publisher and immediately set about putting together a proposal that I sent directly to Wade Hudson at Just Us Books. Thankfully, he recognized my vision and we struck a deal and the process of writing the project began.

The Inspiration

I’ve always been a tremendous fan of Children’s books because of the influence those projects potentially have for their target audience. When you write for adults is basically like “preaching to the choir”. Whatever you write appeals to a certain type of reader who shares or is open to your perspectives and interests. For me, writing for children presents an opportunity to introduce new ideas and concept to an unfiltered mind. It’s an audience who are still forming their thoughts and opinions about life. So, writing for them presents amazing challenges and responsibilities. Partnering with Cheryl and Wade Hudson was another inspiration for me in that I have long admired how they blazed a for books targeting black children.

The Process

Because I live in LA and Atlanta and travel a lot in between, I usually write early morning, but sometimes may start writing after dinner and continue well into night. I always begin with a starting concept, which I outline and start work from that point. I also write in block periods – that is, I may write on consecutive mornings or nights and then break for a week or two before revisiting the copy. This helps me view the material from a different light and perspective.


Continue to stand tall, Gil Robertson, IV. We at the Brown Bookshelf are proud of you, and thank you for your contribution to children’s literature.

Please visit Gil at his website:


Day 26: Quvenzhané Wallis

February 26, 2018

Quvenzhane Wallis

At the age of 5, Quvenzhané Wallis secured her first acting role as Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Her spectacular performance in the film earned her the distinction of being the Academy Awards’ youngest nominee ever for Best Actress (the third youngest among all categories), and the first African-American child actor to be nominated for an Oscar. Since then, Wallis has appeared in several other projects, including Trolls (as the voice of Harper); Beyoncé’s musical film, Lemonade; and the movie remake of Annie, starring as its title character and earning herself a Golden Globe Best Actress nomination for a Motion Picture Comedy or Musical.

Remembering the emotions she’d experienced during her first Academy Awards show at the age of nine, Wallis was inspired to write a picture book based on that special evening. The delightful A Night Out with Mama (beautifully illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton, published by Simon & Schuster) is a meaningful tale of superlative achievement existing in tandem with normalcy–the kind of normalcy that a loving, supportive, keep-you-grounded type of family is wont to provide. In addition to A Night Out with Mama, Wallis has also created the “Shai & Emmie Star in…” chapter book series (with Nancy Ohlin, illustrated by Sharee Miller, published by S&S). Series titles include Break an Egg!, Dancy Pants!, and the forthcoming, To the Rescue!.

Fourteen year-old Wallis took a few moments to answer some rapid-fire questions for The Brown Bookshelf. We present her responses below and celebrate her contributions to children’s literature on day 26 of 28 Days Later!


BBS:  Name some artists–children’s book writers, illustrators, actors, musicians, etc.–whose work inspires you.

QW:  For children’s book writers, I like Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl.

For illustrators, I like Vanessa Brantley Newton and Sharee Miller. I chose to use them as the illustrators for my books because I think their pictures help the reader see the author’s thoughts.

For actress, Zendaya. For actor, Jamie Foxx. For musician, Beyoncè.


BBS: What’s your writing process? How do you work? 

QW:  My process is that I think of the concept first, and then I outline. I figure out the story and then I assign the characters names.


BBS:  Name an author or illustrator of color that you believe is a rising star. 

QW:  Poet Morgan Parker.


BBS:  Describe the impact you think the children’s book industry can have on young people.

QW:  I think children’s book publishing is very important because books and reading are the foundation for building imaginations.

Quvenzhané-Wallis-book signing night out w mama

Day 25: Tami Charles

February 25, 2018

Tami Charles describes herself as a “former teacher. Wannabe chef. Debut author.” We here at the Brown Bookshelf just know her as awesome. She was also in a R&B group (and I really, really want to know which one), and has serious love for empanadas.

We’ve got love for empanadas too, but we’re really excited about her debut novel, LIKE VANESSA, that will be published next month (pre-order now!), and her picture book, FREEDOM SOUP, out in 2019. Tami is dynamic, talented, and so much fun — we’re so glad to welcome her to The Brown Bookshelf.

The Journey

I’ve been writing since I was a child. I was also an avid reader and devoured books by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Lois Lowry. (Anastasia Krupnik was my friend in my head!) And while I loved these authors and their books, the truth was that none of the signature characters looked like me, nor did I find myself in their stories. It wasn’t until I became a teacher that I discovered the wonderful, diverse books of today. I would have begged for the books of Meg Medina, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Kwame Alexander as a child! As a teacher, I enjoyed sharing diverse books with my students, but as a woman whose childhood dreams never took flight, I was itching to reignite my passion.

The Backstory

My debut novel, LIKE VANESSA, is set in Newark, New Jersey, 1983. Though I was very young at the time, I clearly remember a moment in history that impacted my understanding of beauty and its representation in mainstream society. On September 17, 1983, Vanessa Williams was crowned Miss America. As in the most beautiful and talented girl in these great United States. And get this. . .her skin was brown. . .like mine and every other girl who watched Miss America faithfully, hoping and praying to see someone like them win.

Vanessa Williams’s victory wasn’t about some sparkly crown or a bad-to-the-bone dress. This was a win for all of us. A seat at the table. A moment that manifested into the reality that beauty is not, nor will it ever be, one-size-fits-all.

The Inspiration

The Process

For me, everything begins and ends with music. My tastes vary widely. I can go from Vivaldi to the Notorious B.I.G. and not bat an eyelash. The music drives my writing. My writing day begins early at 4:30 a.m. when the house is sleeping and no one is begging me for a snack. It’s my best time to spill out my thoughts.

First drafts are typically horrible. Seriously, every sentence begins with “I.” But I’m okay with that. I just need to keep going until I can type those two magical words: The end.

Then, I celebrate round one and gear up for round two. More music, better craft, and a little dancing in between.

I write from home while my son is at school. Once school dismisses, the writer hat comes off and I return to my favorite job of all: mom.

The Buzz

“Charles evades the clichés and imbues Vanessa with an inner life that’s so real and personal, it’s hard to deny the charm, heartbreak, and triumph of her story.”
— (Booklist, starred review)

“Like Vanessa is an emotionally potent, engaging young adult story with a heroine whom it is impossible not to root for.”
— (Foreword, starred review)

“This debut is a treasure: a gift to every middle school girl who ever felt unpretty, unloved, and trapped by her circumstances.”
–(Kirkus, starred review)

Twitter: @TamiWritesStuff
Insta: @tamiwrites