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 10: L.L. McKinney

February 10, 2018

BladeSoBlack_CVRThere have been days where I’ve literally felt like grabbing my favorite snack and watch L.L. McKinney go after folks on Twitter who seem to have made it a part-time job to come for her and her views.  I was excited to talk about how much the Twitterverse has changed since she joined the platform in 2009.  Specifically related to books and  publishing industry talk.

BBS: How different is ElleonWords 2017 than ElleonWords 2009?

She is less naïve about what it takes to be a writer in this world and this industry that, to be frank, doesn’t want to see Black Women succeed at anything. Not really. She is more outspoken, she goes after what she wants, she lets nothing stand in her way. She’s honestly a bit angrier, but it’s more a fire that drives her than some unwieldy emotion that makes her irrational.

Contrary to popular belief—and what the stereotypes would like you to think—this rightful, valid, vindicated anger makes her more focused, on the bigger picture and her place in it, her goals, her dreams, and her willingness to do what it takes to reach them and bring along whoever else she can.

She is older, wiser, a bit more weary and battle-worn, but far more experienced and ready. But even with all that, she’s no match for ElleOnWords 2025, can’t wait to meet that woman.

BBS: Are you ever concerned that being outspoken will adversely affect your publishing path?

No. Not anymore. I mean, I was. I think a lot of people start off that way. We’re fed this lie that standing up for ourselves, for our humanity and that of others, will somehow damage us, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Of course there are instances where speaking up and speaking out does result in pushback or being exiled from certain circles, kept from reaching certain plateaus, but in the age of social media, things are changing.

There are people who would certainly like to see my outspokenness have a negative impact on my career, who have tried to facilitate that impact themselves, but I’ve surrounded myself with people who’ve got my back the same way I have theirs. And my Granny instilled in all of her grandchildren the understanding that we don’t have to fight our own battles. Woe to those who unjustly and unfairly attack a child of the most high, and I stand on that and other aspects of my faith.

BBS: Can authors be their authentic self on social media (standing by their causes) and separate that from their work? Should they expect librarians, teachers, and parents to compartmentalize and separate the author’s views from the books?

I don’t think so, no, because who you are influences your work. It comes out on the page, whether you mean to or not, that’s just a part of the creative process. And not just for writing, but also for music, for visual art. You can hear, feel, see the differences in an artist’s energy from when they were composing whatever piece you’re interacting with. An author’s racism, phobia, sexism, etc., will be present. Whether people will be aware enough to pick up on it is a different story.

And that segues into another issue with trying to separate the art from the artist in such a way. I’m not saying that if a writer creates a bigot as a main or side character that they themselves are automatically one as well, but that we all have our biases, some more apparent than others. Say you do have an author who is racist, based on their personal statements and opinions, but they are continually rewarded just because they can write a “good” book. We as individuals and as a society need to decide our limits on what is or isn’t acceptable. By separating the racist writer’s work from their actions in order to support said work, you’re still supporting a racist. There’s no way around that, try as people might.

It’s like with everything happening in the Me Too movement, I don’t give a damn about the “positive contributions” these abusers have made, it doesn’t make them less of an abuser and they should be held accountable as such. Full stop.

BBS: What motivates you to implement initiatives like PitchSlam and WCNV? Do you believe remaining active in uplifting other authors and/or helping future writers hone their craft is simply part of the package, these days? 

I didn’t get to where I am without help from others, that is fact. For all my ability and hard work—and I’d like say I’m not light on either—there were still people in place, people who I’m blessed to know, who helped guide my path to lead to this point. There are people who’ve been with me since the beginning, people who were there but aren’t now, and people who are here now but weren’t before. I owe them, and I’m thankful to God for putting them in my life to help shape all of this. They gave to me when they didn’t have to. They didn’t get anything for helping me, but they did anyway. It’s helped open doors that, otherwise, would’ve remained closed because, again, Black Women.

If I can help someone similarly, I want to. I need to. It’s my duty. Lift as you climb, you know. Not everyone sees it that way, not everyone works for this. Some folk end up afflicted with Highlander syndrome, there can be only one, and the systems in place help facilitate this. That’s one of the reasons I push these types of initiatives because One is a lie, but it’s also boring as hell.

I like to think I’ll remain active in enterprises like PitchSlam and WCNV. I certainly aim to, but life has a way of being life. I will continuing helping future writers no matter what, though. If these particular avenues cease to provide those opportunities I’ll look for them or create them elsewhere.

BBS: There is a lot of excitement for A Blade So Black. It’s been promoted as a re-telling of Alice in Wonderland. Tell me more about it.

Alice is the first time I dared to write myself, to write what I’d been looking for in books my whole life. I love science fiction and fantasy. Love, love, love, it’s my escape. Other worlds and realms or secret ones parallel to ours are great for escaping. But I never saw myself in those stories. I was starved of that representation, so malnourished that, even when presented with the opportunity to feed myself, I didn’t. The first books I wrote were about white boys. I loved those stories, still do, I’ll probably revisit them, but Alice . . . I awakened in her narrative in a way I never was able to before.

As far as inspiration, it literally started with a What If. What if Buffy fell down the rabbit hole instead of Alice? Well, she’d killed shit, right? So that’s where it all began. I loved slayer type characters, monster hunters, vanquishing evil in the veiled corners of our world. Alice was everything I wanted to be but never saw for myself in the books that peppered my childhood. And she was in my head, it was exciting. And I looked at my niece, she was barely one at the time, and I promised her with my whole heart that if she grew up to be a geek like her aunty—who dreamed of dragons and far away lands, who hunted for magic in the shadows, who wanted to be the fierce warrior saving the day—she wouldn’t go wanting of seeing herself in what she loved.


The Buzz on A Blade So Black

See an excerpt from Entertainment Weekly


The journey 

It’s been a long one. If I remember correctly, I first started writing A BLADE SO BLACK maybe five to six years ago. It took roughly a year to finish the story and polish it. Then it was another year of querying. I’d queried two other books prior, one having received an offer of representation then some interest from editors but that went no where. I want to say it was just under three years after starting that Alice was repped. A few months of polishing and then she was off on submission. It would be two years before she found a home.

There were a few almosts, editors who really enjoyed my writing but didn’t connect with the character, some requests for revisions and resubmissions. It was difficult, people saying they loved the story, they thought it was great, but they didn’t want her. That connecting thing really bothered me, because I’d heard the same thing while querying. In fact, I’d watered down Alice as a result. She was too . . . I was gonna say niche, but I’ll just tell it like it is, she was too Black, but not in a stereotypical way media likes to portray Blackness. It wasn’t “marketable” Blackness. Ridiculous, I know.

It wasn’t until the story landed in the hands of a woman of color, my now editor Rhoda Belleza, that things clicked. We talked about a lot of things in that first phone call, but there’s one thing I remember clearly. She said something to the affect of she didn’t know how much of Alice’s essence I had taken out of the story, but she could sort of tell there’s was more at one point. She didn’t know how political I was ready to be, because simply being Black in America and telling my story is a political act, and she was ready to go as far into that as I wanted, or didn’t want. It was up to me and she wanted to support my narrative.

A Blade So Black in the author’s words: 

A BLADE SO BLACK is about dealing with trauma of all types, about finding yourself again and how you go about that, and about literally slaying what scares you. Alice fights Nightmares, which are physical manifestations of humanity’s fears. She’s for real out here killing creatures that grow out of what scares us. The story is about a girl who’s hurt and angry about various circumstances, both in her personal life struggles and in the world around her, and her coping mechanism just happens to be saving that very world that frightens her, that doesn’t seem to give a damn about her sometimes. Most of the time. It’s about standing up for yourself and being there for others. It’s about making mistakes and being okay with that. It’s about a lot more, you can find out in September.

State of the Industry

Has there been progress? Yes. Absolutely, there are women of color and Indigenous Women, Black Women especially, who’ve been doing this work and pushing this industry forward for decades. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Titans who shaped the landscape. They’ve done so much, and the only thing that could even begin to measure how much they put into this is how much pushback they and their ideals received. The strides the industry has made as a result are present, but they’re not enough. They don’t even come close to being halfway to even beginning to start to be enough.

I mentioned Highlander syndrome earlier, and it stretches beyond writers to stories. The industry is still very clearly invested in Black stories that satisfy the white gaze and it’s demand to be entertained by our collective anguish. It’s like you said, we don’t get to have the Gossip Girl, the Harry Potter, the romance, the happily ever after. Black narratives are equated with the struggle, as if our pain is the only vessel through which we can be empathized with. We’re denied pretty much every other type of narrative. We can’t be Buffy, but we can be Buffy’s magical negro for a few episodes before getting killed off. We can’t do the saving, but boy can we be saved. They can save us so good.

There is progress, but it is slow. Too slow. And I’m not interested in hearing the tired excuses about discussions happening behind the scenes and back channel talks. I’m done listening to “publishing is slow.” That slowness is out of tradition and by choice, not any sort of necessity. Have patience, we’re told. Change takes time. Time was given by those who came before is. The cost was presented and has been met. Now it’s time for publishing to pay what you owe.

 


Day 3: Nic Stone

February 3, 2018

Nic StoneAs I rejoin my Brown Bookshelf colleagues in the trenches of 28 Days Later, I’m elated with today’s YA authors. They’re vocal in a new way and their books reflect a time period where young people are witness to divisive political rhetoric that has remained at its height since President Obama took office a life time ago.

Many of the stories are also borne out of an increase in police shootings of Black people and the writer’s innate need to process, through their characters. Nic Stone has hit the scene with a powerful debut, Dear Martin, a heart wrenching story that follows the journey of a high school senior who attempts to understand the present through letters to a heroic advocate of the past.

The Backstory

So YA didn’t really become a *thing* until I wasn’t one anymore, but it grew in popularity just as I was beginning to understand my own adolescence. I’ve always been an avid reader and consumed a lot of lit fic… but then my boss came into work one day red-eyed and shook. He was reading The Hunger Games. I blew through that, Veronica Roth’s Divergent/Insurgent, and Lauren Oliver’s Delirium/Pandemonium. Then I picked up a John Green book, and it was all over. I’d recently had a baby and had some time on my hands since I wasn’t working a day job anymore, so I decided to try and write a book with a teen protagonist dealing with teen mess. And it was flaming garbage. But the fire was lit.

Dear Martin, was a response to three things: the myriad shooting deaths of unarmed African American teenagers since 2012, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to these deaths, and the invocation of Dr. King in opposition to this movement—which didn’t sit right with me knowing what I knew about Dr. King and his M.O. So I decided to explore current events through the lens of his teachings to see what would happen. I have two little boys, so it’s really my ode to them and my way of figuring out how to approach the stuff I’ll eventually have to teach them about being black and male in America.

DEAR MARTIN_05.03.17Dear Martin Nuggets of Wisdom

BBS: My oldest daughter (who is 23 now) used to actively avoid reading books or watching movies about slavery or the civil rights because of the anger it evoked. And I’d always tell her – that anger has a purpose. Don’t run from it. Dear Martin very much feels exactly like what comes of using that anger or confusion. What nugget(s) of wisdom do you believe Dear Martin offers readers about how to dialogue about race relations (or any tough topic) in such a divisive environment?

Wait though—you have a 23 year old?! #BlackDontCrackFaReal  (*insert me cheesing*)

Moving on: I feel your daughter though. I didn’t want to write Dear Martin. It took me over a year to watch Twelve Years a Slave, and I still haven’t seen Get Out or Roots. I like… can’t. And it’s not just the anger for me. It’s the helplessness. The eight weeks I spent working on the initial draft of Dear Martin were probably the most fraught of my life. And while you’re right, the anger can be directed toward something constructive, James Baldwin’s words will never cease to echo in my head: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

I should probably answer the question now, huh?

What I hope Dear Martin does is show the importance of considering multiple viewpoints. It’s VITAL to stay open to being wrong. ALL of us. There are no easy answers or cookie cutter solutions. The goal of dialogue should be greater understanding of one another I think.

“Defending” YA

BBS: You and I had an interesting exchange on Twitter with Liara Tamani (Feb 26 BBS spotlight) about teen sex, not so long ago. What’s your general message to the pearl clutchers and their efforts to censor fiction for young readers?

You know what, I’m going to let Dumbledore answer this one: “You cannot know how age thinks and feels but old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.” **gently sets the mic down**

Real talk though: I think if adults would get off their high horses and pick up a YA book from time to time, they’d be reminded of EXACTLY what it’s like to be young—of their own youth and all the angst and emotion and passion and wildness it almost certainly contained—and they’d stop being so damn judgey all the time. Adult hubris is something else, man.

YA Death Row

BBS: I LOVE the concept of YA Death Row. It reinforces how far things have come since my and BBS’s debut in 2007. Each of you, in your own way, are changing the YA game. There’s this level of activism and speaking out that makes it clear that today’s Black kidlit authors are not going to let the old rules of publishing dictate their future. Who knighted you guys that? And how are you all using your connection to one another to mold the landscape and/or nurture other up and coming writers?

What’s funny is the whole thing was birthed out of Dhonielle Clayton and me picking at Scholastic editor Matt Ringler—who edits GOOSEBUMPS, yo! He totally introduced us to R.L. Stine, too. #childhooddreamrealized—while he was in the middle of a live Twitter chat. One thing led to another, and next thing you know, we’re talking about 90’s rap and Death Row records, then graphic designer Jess Andree jumped in there and made the image for us. The image includes Dhonielle Clayton, Angie Thomas, Suge Knight (LOL), myself and L.L. McKinney on the top row, then Lamar Giles, Matt Ringler, Justina Ireland, Tochi Onyebuchi, and Jason Reynolds.

And honestly we just support each other. We all write very different things, so we boost each other in our respective genres. It’s lit!

The Buzz about Dear Martin

“This hard-hitting book delivers a visceral portrait of a young man reckoning with the ugly, persistent violence of social injustice.” – Publishers Weekly

“Stands apart in a literature that too often finds it hard to look hard truths in the face.” Kirkus Reviews 


Nicola Yoon on #BlackGirlMagic, How Love Changes Everything, and Showing the Possibilities

June 6, 2017

credit: Sonya Sones

Nicola Yoon is the #1 NYT bestselling author of Everything, Everything, which is now a major motion picture, and The Sun Is Also a Star, a National Book Award finalist, Michael L. Printz Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King New Talent Award winner. She grew up in Jamaica and Brooklyn, and lives in Los Angeles with her family.

We featured Nicola back in 2016; a LOT has happened since. We caught up with her for an update. Welcome back, Nicola!

You’ve mentioned that you wrote Everything, Everything because you wanted your daughter to see herself reflected in media. Can you share some of the responses you’ve gotten from readers, and now from those who’ve seen the film?

The response from readers has just been incredible and, not gonna lie, some of them have made me cry. Every day — every single day — I get at least one email from a reader or a viewer telling me how much it means to them at Maddy is a person of color. When my little girl first met Amandla Stenberg on the set of the movie, the first thing she said to me is “she looks just like me.” She said it again when she saw the movie at the Los Angeles premiere. I’ll never be able to put into words how much those moments have meant to me.

In an interview about Everything, Everything, you said that “I didn’t want her to be in a prison as much as yearning for something more, something different.” Why was that important to you? What was the process of getting that concept on paper?

One of the themes I was exploring with the book was the ways in which love changes you. Love is a force. Sometimes it changes you for the better. Sometimes for the worse. In the book, Maddy is very happy with her life before she meets Olly. After she meets and falls in love Olly, she begins to look at the world anew. I think one of the things that love does is open you up to the world and make you more vulnerable. The ways in which we respond to that vulnerability is something I was interested in exploring.

What were some of the challenges for you in the process of seeing the story move from the page to the screen? What surprised you? And what was your cameo experience like?

In the beginning it’s a little hard to let go of your characters, but that went away quickly for me. One of the best moments I had was when I was reading a revision of the script that had a scene that wasn’t in the book. I loved the scene so much that I wished I’d written it. That moment made me happy because both the script and the movie are new pieces of art. Now there are more stories about Maddy and Olly out in the world.

The cameo experience was so great! We are “family on the beach” in one of the Hawaii scenes. It’s about three seconds of me, my husband, and my daughter splashing in the waves in the background. Funnily, the scene took 45 minutes to film because my daughter kept pointing at the drone camera that filmed it so we had to do take after take :)

Congratulations on the success of The Sun is Also A Star! Where did that story start? How was the writing process similar to or different from working on Everything, Everything? What did you feel that you learned and incorporated into Sun? Now that you’re a page-to-screen vet, what are you most looking forward to in the filmmaking process?

Thank you so much! It really started for me from the Carl Sagan quote -— “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” I wanted to tell a love story about two people, but I wanted to include the universe of things that made it possible for the two people to fall in love. I’m really looking forward to the adaptation process. Tracy Oliver is writing the script as we speak!

What does the phrase #BlackGirlMagic mean to you? Where do you see or use that idea in your own work?

It means that black girls are allowed the full range of the human experience. In our current media we see so many stereotyped notions what it means to be black. One of the things I want to do in my work is to push back against those ideas. Black girls can be anyone and love anyone. We are allowed to be the main character.

We are allowed to be smart and beautiful and funny and soft and strong and vulnerable and geeky. We are allowed to be.

In The Sun Is Also A Star, you incorporate issues surrounding immigration, and mentioned in an interview that you’d love to see the immigration conversation “start from a place of empathy.” How do you think your readers can make that happen? How do you think that reading can promote empathy?

I think that books promote empathy. It’s hard to spend 400 pages in the lives of characters without seeing their humanity and coming to a place of understanding.

Like those who’ve come before us, our children, our readers, we’re living in challenging times. Do you think that’s reflected in the work that you do? In the stories that you tell? In the way that you work? How?

I think the times have always been challenging. One of the most powerful things that books can do is give us hope show us what is possible not only for ourselves, but for other people.

What do you think are the keys to writing successful YA romance? What are some of your favorites?

I love when characters fall in love with each other’s ideas of the world. I love when you can see that they are making each other grow and think and explore the world in new ways. Also, a good kissing scene is not to be underestimated. :) One of my all time favorites is I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

Thanks so much, Nicola! We can’t wait to see what’s next. Visit Nicola Yoon online for news and updates.


Day 16: TONYA CHERIE HEGAMIN

February 16, 2015

tonya hegamin author photoWhen we put out the nominations call for this year’s 28 Days Later Campaign, there was one name that flooded the comments section more than any other: Tonya Cherie Hegamin.

Hegamin began life as a resident of Westchester, PA, but later relocated to Rochester, NY. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children from the New School University in 2003. As an Assistant Professor at the City University of New York, Medgar Evers College, Hegamin currently teaches Children’s Literature, Fiction Writing, and Composition. In 2010, her picture book, Most Loved in All the World, won the NYPL’s Ezra Jack Keats award. She is also the author of three young adult novels: M+O 4EVR, Pemba’s Song, and her most recent, Willow (Candlewick Press, 2014).

Hegamin’s passion for young people extends beyond the literary; she has served thousands of young people as a crisis counselor, rights advocate, and sexual health educator as well. On day 16, The Brown Bookshelf shines its spotlight on author Tonya Cherie Hegamin.

 

Inspiration

I’ve always been inspired by Virginia Hamilton—she was the model for successful black women in the publishing world for a big chunk of time and I think she will always be a writer who I strive to emulate in terms of depth and most loved in all the worldbreadth of work. Her husband, Arnold Adoff has been another mentor/inspiration to me since my first picture book, Most Loved In All the World. He’s the one I’ve turned to again and again not just for his experience the industry, but for his commitment to the expression of language. His ear for word craft is impeccable, and he is still the best person to talk to when I question being a writer. My other inspiration is E.B. Lewis. He would listen to me read drafts of Willow for hours on the phone while he was painting. He was the first person to believe in that book when it was only twenty five pages and he wouldn’t let me quit. I am so grateful to him for that! My other inspiration is Tove Jansson. Although she is completely different from me as a writer, I’ve read almost all of her work (Moomins and her adult writing) and I am in awe in how she constructs story in such a care-free way. She and her partner, graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä were out and proud before lesbianism was acceptable in public; they both were courageous and powerful artistic humans who never let anyone change them.

 

The Process

Willow sprouted from a lot of my research for M+O 4Evr and Pemba’s Song. I found books (like Slaves Without Masters by Ira Berlin) about those who “managed themselves” while the master was gone, and even those who feared leaving their sheltered lives in the South. I also read a great book called Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad by Betty DeRamus. I researched historical figures like Mary A. Shadd who wrote A Plea for Emigration (she grew up and was educated in Delaware and Pennsylvania, but led a campaign urging former slaves to Canada for freedom). Then I researched accounts of freed men and women who would travel south to help others over the Mason Dixon line and escape enslavement. Finally, in my own family history we have more than one account of my enslaved ancestors being related to their owners. One great-great-grandmother even sued her white father after the Civil War!  The question of what would make someone stay and willingly subjugate themselves and what would motivate one to leave a seemingly ‘comfortable’ life that rendered you powerless was always in my mind. It became a perfect storm of “what if” that all writers chase for a good book.

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Under The Radar

I’d have to say that even more than people who are being “traditionally” published, I believe my students’ writing is the best undiscovered talent I know. Many of my students are writing amazing fiction and creative non-fiction that is so raw and fresh. They are living the world that others are being paid gobs of money to write about. I had a student who wrote a children’s book about a boy with Autism who makes a friend who doesn’t care what other people say. She wrote it so she could share it with the kids she teaches. Another student wrote about a dystopia where kids who are dynamic because of their differences were the only ones who could survive. They write for the joy of it and the need to set their hearts free. I hope they all continue to hone their craft, if simply to create stories that aren’t being told, and sharing it with kids who aren’t being remembered by the industry.

 

State of the Industry

Perhaps you detect the cynicism in my tone? I do believe that the children’s book industry is saturated with people who churn out the same stuff (I might also be one of them). I don’t think it’s because we writers can’t think of anything new, it’s just that what is marketable and what we really need are two different things. Although I see the merit of the intentions of the Common Core pedagogy, I also know that there will be another educational evolution in the next few years and our ideas about literacy and books for young people will shift yet again, hopefully ever for the better. I think that the future of diversity is inclusion; diversity is quantitative, inclusion is qualitative. We have to take personal steps to stop labeling people as different and embrace them for who they are. The industry is concerned with numbers, not hugs. Companies only shift marketing practices for new demographics when there’s a profit. The more we each demand to be recognized and included there is always possibility for positive change.

 

For more information on Tonya Cherie Hegamin, please visit her website.


Day 21: Nalo Hopkinson

February 21, 2013

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From her bio at Simon & Schuster: Nalo Hopkinson is the award-winning author of numerous novels and short stories for adults. She was born in Jamaica, and lived in Trinidad and Guyana before moving to Canada at sixteen.

Her novels, such as Brown Girl in the Ring and The Salt Roads, and other writing often draw on Caribbean history, culture, and language. Ms. Hopkinson is one of the founding members of the Carl Brandon Society, an organization that helps “build further awareness of race and ethnicity in speculative literature and related fields.”

The first chapter of The Chaos, her forthcoming young adult novel, can be read online. From the book description:

“Sixteen-year-old Scotch struggles to fit in—at home she’s the perfect daughter, at school she’s provocatively sassy, and thanks to her mixed heritage, she doesn’t feel she belongs with the Caribbeans, whites, or blacks. And even more troubling, lately her skin is becoming covered in a sticky black substance that can’t be removed. While trying to cope with this creepiness, she goes out with her brother—and he disappears. A mysterious bubble of light just swallows him up, and Scotch has no idea how to find him. Soon, the Chaos that has claimed her brother affects the city at large, until it seems like everyone is turning into crazy creatures. Scotch needs to get to the bottom of this supernatural situation ASAP before the Chaos consumes everything she’s ever known—and she knows that the black shadowy entity that’s begun trailing her every move is probably not going to help.

For her adult work, Hopkinson has received Honourable Mention in Cuba’s “Casa de las Americas” literary prize. She is a recipient of the Warner Aspect First Novel Award, the Ontario Arts Council Foundation Award for emerging writers, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Locus Award for Best New Writer, the World Fantasy Award, the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, the Aurora Award, and the Gaylactic Spectrum Award.

The Chaos must be characterized by the same literary excellence, as it has received the following reviews already:

“Noted for her fantasy and science fiction for adults, Hopkinson jumps triumphantly to teen literature. . . . Rich in voice, humor and dazzling imagery, studded with edgy ideas and wildly original, this multicultural mashup—like its heroine—defies category.”–Kirkus Reviews, *STARRED

For more about Ms. Hopkinson, visit her online.


Day 29: Meet The BBS – Paula Chase Hyman

February 29, 2012

Day 29 is like being atop a mountain and looking out on the lay of the land, which are 28 great spotlights and knowing that readers and those who influence readers have the work of 28 more creative authors to consume. Pride and satisfaction are understatements to describe how that makes me feel.

But, making sure The Brown Bookshelf and 28 Days Later goes off like a well-oiled machine can be challenging. What gets lost in the mix is that we, the BBS members, are all authors as well. So thanks to Leap Year, we’re able to remind not only our visitors of that…but ourselves, as well. Promoting others and yourself, simultaneously, not such an easy thing.

So here I go…

The Journey After the Journey

You can check the About Us page or my bio to find out a bit more about me. What’s less known is what happened after my Del Rio Bay series was published.  Kensington published the five-book series between 2007 and 2009. My initial goal was to get the characters to graduation. Instead, the series ends at the end of their junior year. I still have readers write me and say – Noooo what happens next?! Tell me there’s another book coming. And those emails never fail to make me smile. I love that readers have bonded with Mina and the clique. But the will of the readers  is not always that of the industry.
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The series continues to  live on in libraries, in the online marketplace and wherever readers can get their hands on it. Meanwhile, I’m trying to find my way back to writing regularly.  From the time my series launched until now, writing has always been something that has to take place in between my full-time job and managing a busy family. So one day, my current Work-in-Progress will see the light of day. And if this article, about teens and ebooks, is right – sooner rather than later because ebooks opens up the opportunity for me to try free e-novellas etc…So watch out for me, I’ll be back in “print,” no matter the form.

The Buzz

The Del Rio Bay series was among the first contemporary YA books featuring a multi-cultural cast where the storyline wasn’t strictly revolved around race. I’m proud to say that because of books like mine Nikki Carter and Ni-Ni Simone were able to publish their YA books. The DRB series proved readers, of any race, were looking for books that portrayed a more diverse community. And it proved that readers of color were hungry for books that went beyond historical fiction.

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