5 Things I Learned While Writing “There Will Come a Time”

In Carrie Arcos’s new novel There Will Come a Time, Mark, a Filipino American teen, struggles with grief after the death of his twin sister.

By Carrie Arcos

arcos-therewillcome1. I can write under a deadline.

Writing There Will Come a Time was such a different experience than writing my first book, Out of Reach. With my first, I had all the time in the world because I was writing it for myself, and secretly hoping to publish it. I took my time, sent it to beta readers, and made sure it was as good as I could get it before I started sending it off to agents. Once I signed with my agent, she and I did another revision together before it was bought and then there were the revisions after that.

I sold There Will Come a Time on a proposal with the first three chapters and a synopsis. When it was bought, I had only four months to complete it. I said yes, of course, but inside I wondered if I could produce something as good as my first book this way. What helped was having the synopsis, the blueprint for me to follow. I am happy to say that I’m just as proud of my second book as my first. I also now have the confidence to know that I can write just as well under a deadline.

2. I’m stronger than I thought.

In the midst of writing the first draft of this book, a strange thing happened to me. The whole right side of my body went numb. It was a kind of numb like someone was cutting off my circulation. I was referred to a neurologist and after a series of tests, including a spinal tap that went wrong and sent me to the ER, I was given the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. This was shocking and upsetting. It brought up a tremendous amount of fear and dread for my future. I researched and educated myself on the disease, and have come to feel differently about it now. In those early months, however, I wanted to retreat into my room and lie down in the fetal position.

But I had this deadline. I was deeply involved writing a story of a boy who was grieving the loss of his twin sister. Even though our circumstances were different, I think I was able to write about grief in a more intimate way because of the grief I was experiencing. I felt a little bit like I was in the maze with Mark and we were trying to find our way out together.

I learned that courage comes from facing things that scare you. And that strength, rather than being a huge powerful force, is more like a quiet flame. It builds the more you fan and tend to it.

Author Carrie Arcos

Author Carrie Arcos

3. I can get in the head of a 17-year-old Filipino boy.

When friends learned that I was writing a story from the perspective of a seventeen year old musician, Filipino, skater boy, they looked at me a little oddly. I know they were thinking, what could a white woman my age know about that? This is the awesome thing about being a writer. I can get inside the head of anyone I want. How do I do this? Research. It’s how authors can write about the 1600’s or about the criminal justice system or about 1976. Male authors have been writing female characters for years, so I didn’t even think anything about it. I had a story to tell. I wanted to tell it.

A former student, and a boy who used to skate down my street every day without a helmet or pads inspired Mark’s character. He was also inspired by my hometown, Eagle Rock. I wanted the story to reflect the environment of my own kids and my own friendships. To write Mark, I asked questions, hung out with teens, and spoke to friends who were from his cultural background, since it was outside of my own.

While researching, I was saddened to learn that I could not find a single YA book with a Filipino protagonist. There are two collections of short stories from Filipino authors writing about their own youth, but this was all I could find. This sealed the deal for me that I needed to tell Mark’s story.

On a side note, I did a school visit at a suburban Southern California school this year. Stepping onto campus, I was surprised to see that the student population was so diverse in that it felt more like an urban school. (Or maybe this highlights my own ignorance at assuming suburban schools are full of mainly white teenagers.) When I told the librarian what my second book was about, she was happy because of Mark’s ethnicity, the school had a high Filipino population, and that it was what she called a “normal” book. I asked her what she meant and she said that she has a hard time finding books with POC characters that aren’t set in urban environments and about all of the difficult trappings of that kind of setting. She used to subscribe to a series of urban tales, but stopped. Her kids could not relate and didn’t want to read those books, but they also longed to see themselves in what they read.

4. It does not get easier the more books you write.

I thought that the more books I wrote, the easier it would become. I’d write faster and be more prolific. I would have a system or something. I’d know what I was doing. Though there is truth that there’s confidence that builds with the more writing you do, it has not made the process any easier. I read somewhere once that of course it shouldn’t be easier because each book is being written for the first time. Each book will have its own challenges and hiccups. What I do know is that I can finish writing a book because I now at the time of writing this have finished four books. So I have learned to trust the process and work through my doubts or the sections that just don’t seem to be working. I know if I keep going, I will find the story. I will finish.

5. I write novels best with a loose outline.

When I say loose, I really mean loose. I am not one of those who outlines chapter by chapter. I usually begin playing around with a character’s voice and then I get the story. I’ve written a novel not knowing the story at all and meandered around until I found it. I’ve also written with a general outline where more of the plot has been thought through and mapped out. Both require time, it’s just with one there’s more time upfront. I would like it if I could write all my books with the loose outline approach. Having an outline definitely helped me keep my deadlines with There Will Come a Time.

There Will Come a Time is now available. Find out more about Carrie Arcos at her website, or follow her on Twitter or Tumblr.

Want More Diversity in Your YA? Here’s How You Can Help

Within the last few weeks, the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and CNN have all published articles examining the lack of diversity in children’s and young adult literature — and next month, School Library Journal plans to publish an entire issue devoted to diversity. While all this mainstream interest in diversity is to be applauded for bringing more people into the ongoing conversation about diversity, they still largely fail to tackle the problem of how we can change the status quo.

We at Diversity in YA obviously don’t have all the answers, and we aren’t the first people to talk about these issues. This conversation has been going on for decades. What we do have are ideas for how you can change the status quo right now. If you’re an ordinary reader, you don’t have to wait to show your support for books that show the world as it is. Here are five ways you can help make positive change right now:

1. Look for diversity.

Make a conscious effort to seek out books to read that feature characters of color, LGBT characters, and/or disabled characters. They may not be front-and-center at your local Barnes & Noble; you may have to look around a bit or go online to find them.

2. Support diversity.

Support the diverse books that are published today by buying them, by checking them out at your library, or by requesting that your library buy them.

3. Recommend diversity.

If you use Goodreads, Facebook, social media, or have a blog, talk up the books you love that happen to have diverse characters. Tell your friends! Word of mouth is still key in bringing awareness to books. And remember: You don’t need to recommend them solely for their diversity — they’re great books to enjoy, plain and simple.

4. Talk up diversity.

When discussions around diversity in literature occur online, join in the conversation if you can to express that you do want more diverse books to read and that the issue is important to you.

5. Don’t give up.

There will always be people who dismiss “diversity” as meaningless. They are the reason we must keep fighting for representation. We’re all in this together.

Want a list of diverse YA books you can get started reading right now? Here are a dozen YA books of all kinds (contemporary, fantasy, sci-fi, mystery — something for everyone!) that happen to have characters of color, LGBT characters, and/or disabled characters. (Descriptions are from WorldCat.)

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5 Things I Learned While Writing POINTE

In Brandy Colbert’s Pointe, 17-year-old elite ballet dancer Theo Cartwright deals with the return of her childhood best friend, who was kidnapped four years earlier.

By Brandy Colbert

Author Brandy Colbert

Author Brandy Colbert

1. Sometimes you have to give up control.

I have a career in magazine journalism, so I’m used to intense deadlines and having my worked edited before it’s published. In the last few years, I’ve transitioned to the copyediting side, and I’m the last person to see the text before the pages are shipped to the printer each week. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I also have quite a bit of control over the process. Working with a book editor was a whole new game. Fiction is much more personal to me. While the words come from me either way, with fiction I’m creating a whole new world, so I’m much more attached to the situations and characters in that world. I revised Pointe with my editor for many, many months, and we collaborated very well, but sometimes I’d get stuck on a certain word or scene I wanted to remain, when they actually weren’t moving the story forward. It was hard to see the big picture when I was in the thick of revisions, and I had to plead a good case if I went against a suggested edit that would significantly change the story. Now I look back at certain scenes we lengthened or shortened or omitted altogether, and I’m happy I was able to give up that control and listen. My book is much better for it.

2. Honesty is the best policy.

I’ve always liked edgy fiction, but I was too scared to write it at first. Frightened. I thought people wouldn’t be able to separate the author from the work, or that writing “unlikeable” characters would be the death of my career that hadn’t even started. The truth is, writing honest characters with honest motivations is what helped me find my voice. My characters may not always make the best decisions, but they’re the right decisions for those characters at that time. It means I get to know them inside and out—what they’ll do when life is great in their world, or how they’ll react when faced with some of their darkest moments. To me, not being an honest writer means I’m being a lazy writer, and my stories deserve so much more than that.

3. People might not think you got it right—even if you’re a person of color.

colbert-pointeThere’s a lot of talk about diversity in children’s lit these days, and it’s a conversation that we need to keep having until we start seeing more diverse books on the shelves. Along with these conversations comes the fear that authors who write diverse characters (particularly those who are writing outside of their experience) are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Well, yes. But being a person of color doesn’t mean readers will automatically get on board with what I’ve written. My main character, Theo, grows up in a way that resembles some of my own upbringing—she has a stable home life, she’s active in the arts, and she lives in a predominantly white, Midwestern suburb where few people look like her. Theo’s story is part of the black experience, but it’s not the black experience. Just as someone in the black community could totally relate to her, someone else could think I got the character completely wrong. Additionally, one of her best friends is Mexican-American, and while I’ve had several Mexican-American friends, acquaintances, and neighbors over the years, I don’t know if I got his character right. I drew from my experiences with another culture, and tried to remain authentic and respectful to the character and his background. All I can do is hope I got it right for someone.

4. Trust the people who got you this far.

Publishing is a delightful, thrilling, scary business. The highs are extraordinarily high, and the lows can be utterly depressing. I wrote three books before Pointe, and saw lots of rejection in those four years I was seeking representation for my work. When I got The Call from my now-agent, we easily chatted on the phone for over an hour, and I knew she was the right agent for me. When I saw the pre-offer ideas my now-editor had for my book, I knew she was the right editor for Pointe. I’m fairly pragmatic, especially when it comes to business, but it’s harder to remain rational when it comes to publishing. Writing a book is so personal, and that means everything based around it can seem very personal. Emotions run high. My agent and editor take extremely good care of me, but sometimes they have to tell me things I don’t want to hear. And sometimes, that is a real bitter pill. But the thing is, they’ve been doing this a lot longer than me; they’ve seen just about every possible scenario in this business that I’m just starting out in. I admire the fact that they tell me the things I need to hear, things that make me a better writer, person, and professional. Attempting to establish a writing career is just a little bit nuts in itself, and I feel incredibly grateful to have found people I respect and trust to guide me along.

5. It’s not a race. No, really.

My book sold in October 2011 and is being published in April 2014. A lot can happen in two and a half years. I went through countless editorial letters. I threw out whole drafts and completely started over. I saw all of my friends who’d sold their first books around the same time as me start to get their covers, their release dates, their blurbs—and I was still stuck in content edits, wondering if my book would ever be finished. I cried over line edits. My agent repeatedly (and kindly) told me that things could and would start happening for me when the book was finished, that I had to do the work first. So I did it. I worked harder on that book than I’ve ever worked on anything in my life. Then I was finished and—I missed working on the book! But my agent was right. As soon as I turned in that final draft, things started happening. I think a lot about all the work that went into Pointe back when it was just a document I was sending to my editor. My publishing journey was longer than most people’s I know, but every part of this process has been a dream for me. Do the work, indeed.

Brandy Colbert lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her first novel, Pointe, is now available. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr.

Interview With Tess Sharpe

By Malinda Lo

sharpe-farfromyouLast summer I was honored to have Tess Sharpe in my writing workshop at the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Emerging Writers Retreat. From the moment I read her submission to the workshop, I could tell that she was a writer to watch — and guess what? Her debut novel, Far From You, a mystery about a girl investigating the death of her best friend, comes out this week from Disney Hyperion.

I loved Far From You for Tess’s lovely writing, the beautifully described landscape of Northern California, and the fact that protagonist, Sophie Winters, is bisexual and disabled — but those identities don’t define or limit her. I asked Tess to answer a few questions about her debut and the novel itself.

Malinda Lo: How would you, personally, describe Far From You to potential readers? Don’t worry about writing breathless cover copy! Just tell us how you conceptualize your book.

Tess Sharpe: I’d say Far From You is a love story tied in a murder mystery bow.

ML: This is your debut novel — congratulations! What was your publication process like?

TS: It was such a great learning experience. I love revision, so being able to work closely with my editor was fantastic. And Hyperion and Indigo, my British publisher, have the most amazing, creative people. I loved working with and learning from them.

My road to publication was either very long or short, depending on how you look at it. I’d been writing with the goal to be published for seven years and had gone through five other projects before I wrote Far From You. In retrospect, I’m so grateful those other books never went anywhere, because even though I learned a lot by writing them, this was the right one.

ML: Far From You isn’t told in a linear fashion; the story jumps around in time to reveal the mystery. I thought you did a great job with this storytelling technique, and I wondered how you arrived at telling the story this way? It’s so hard to do!

Author Tess Sharpe

Author Tess Sharpe

TS: Thanks! It is hard, though I make lots of rules so I can rein myself in and not go too crazy.

I’m a big fan of messing with story structure, which probably comes from being a theatre kid. But once I’d plotted the book, the choice of structure really came down to Mina. I realized this was the only way to show her many sides—her sweetness and ruthlessness, the fear the drives her choices, the depth of her secretive nature and how it affects each of the characters, whether they know it or not. At least half of the story had to be in the past to reveal the complicated bond she and Sophie share.

ML: Sophie, the main character in Far From You, is bisexual, disabled, and she’s also a recovering addict. These three characteristics could overwhelm almost any fictional character by taking over the plot entirely, and yet the way you wrote Sophie, they simply became part of her as a three-dimensional human being. How did Sophie come into existence? Was she fully formed from the beginning or did she come to you more gradually?

TS: Oh, that’s so nice of you to say! Sophie came to me fully formed, but I definitely had moments, when writing her, where I thought, “Tess, you are heaping way too much on this girl.”

But then I thought about my teen years, my friends, the students I had when I taught acting, and the dizzying amount of good and bad everyone went through. I have a friend who calls the teen years an iceberg experience: what’s on the surface, what we see, is only a sliver of what’s actually going on in a teen’s life. There can be a lot of heavy stuff going on underneath a happy façade. And that’s what I tried to keep in mind when writing all the teen characters, because I am not terribly nice to them!

ML: And now for a spoilery question. Turn back if you don’t want to know!  Continue reading

Is it still a dystopia if it’s really happening?

By Alexandra Duncan

Recently, I was discussing the difference between dystopian fiction and post-apocalyptica with some friends and fellow writers. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell which category a book maps most closely to because writers purposefully genre-bend or blur the boundaries. Sometimes a book ends up being labeled one thing or another for marketing purposes or we have to pick one thing to call a book for brevity’s sake. Sometimes a book is simply mislabeled.

The librarian in me is fascinated by this taxonomy and wants to spend her afternoon making Venn diagrams. What’s that? No Venn diagrams? Not even a small one? Ugh, okay.

So, what makes something dystopian rather than post-apocalyptic?  Usually in order for a society to become a dystopia, its creators have to have started out with the intention that it would be a utopia — a perfect world that circumvents the messy everyday problems we suffer from, like war, heartbreak, and the danger of free will. And then something has to go horribly, catastrophically wrong with that utopia. It has to fail and become a nightmare version of what its creators intended — a dystopia — usually through order being valued above all else. They’re often meant to be a warning about what we might become. Think George Orwell’s 1984 or Ally Condie’s Matched.

Sometimes, though, an aspect of a book will map so closely to reality that I find myself questioning whether the book should really be called dystopian, or if it’s something else altogether. For example, my own novel, Salvage, which occasionally ends up labeled as dystopian, includes both a polygamist society where teenage girls are married off to older men and a whole city of people who earn their livelihood by harvesting recyclable refuse from a floating trash dump in the Pacific Ocean. Both of these situations exist in the real world. Teenage girls are forced in polygamist marriages with older men. People really do live in trash dumps and try to make a living picking through garbage and recyclables.

Garbage dump outside Managua, Nicaragua – 1999. I was there with a group of other teenagers from the non-profit Witness for Peace.

These situations aren’t the result of a utopian experiment gone wrong, they’re part of the chaotic, ugly nature of the world. They’re not a nightmare scenario we’re being warned against, they’re the everyday reality for millions of people worldwide. They’re the result of entropy, not order.

That leads me down a frightening path, because entropy and chaos are the defining characteristics of the post-apocalyptic novel. In post-apocalyptica, people’s lives aren’t planned to a stifling degree, as they are in dystopias. They have to fight to survive from one moment to the next, with no sense of security, no plan for the future. And if those things are as true of the real world as they are of books like Mindy McGinnis’s Not a Drop to Drink or Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, does that make the real world post-apocalyptic?

I was reading a blog post by Victoria Law recently that posed an interesting question – Why would readers want to escape to a world that so closely mirrors the injustices and horrors they face in everyday life? If, for example, people live lives that resemble a dystopian novel (constantly being stopped and asked for identification by police) or a post-apocalyptic novel (living in constant deprivation of food, water, medical care, etc.), what purpose does reading about a similar world serve? It’s certainly not escape. It’s not a warning about what could be. It’s a reflection of reality.

I don’t believe there are easy answers to the problems most people in the world face on a daily basis. I spent a long time as a teenager and young adult wishing I could fix everything and stop all the world’s suffering, only to end up too emotionally exhausted to really be of help to anyone. What I’ve come to believe is that all of us can do small things in our everyday lives to make the world better. (See this page on my web site for ideas.) As for writers, if we remember that some people are actually living our worst nightmares, it gives us a chance not simply to provide the lucky among us with a metaphor and a warning, but to give voice to the people whose lives our stories reflect. It gives us the chance to let other people know they’re not alone. It allows us to mirror the problems of reality in a new way — a way that might just lead to people changing their minds and then changing the world.

Alexandra Duncan is a writer and librarian. Her first novel, Salvage, is due to be released by Greenwillow Books on April 1, 2014. Her short stories have been featured in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy. She loves anything that gets her hands dirty – pie-baking, leatherworking, gardening, drawing, and rolling sushi, to name a few. You can find her online at Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook and her web site.

New Releases – March 2014

The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu (Running Press Kids)

“In her first novel, Andreu examines immigration from a distinctive angle through the story of Monserrat Thalia, aka M.T., whose family illegally immigrated to New Jersey from Argentina when she was a baby. Now it’s her senior year, and the bright future she’s imagined for herself is threatened by her abusive, embittered father, who’s determined to return to their homeland. … M.T’s immediate, jaundiced, and worldly perspective is eye-opening and wrenching, particularly when it comes to how she weighs her own worth as a human being.” — Publishers Weekly

Lost Girl Found by Leah Bassoff and Laura DeLuca (Groundwood Books)

Much ink has been worthily spent calling attention to the harrowing experiences of the Lost Boys of Sudan. So what of the girls? Addressing a severe imbalance in the amount of attention paid to girls and women victimized in Sudan’s long civil war, the co-authors (one of whom has worked in East Africa) offer a fictional memoir. … Readers will come away with clear pictures of gender roles in Poni’s culture as well as the South Sudan conflict’s devastating physical and psychological effects. Two afterwords and a substantial bibliography (largely on the Lost Boys, perforce) will serve those who want to know more. Moving and necessary.” — Kirkus

Resistance by Jenna Black (Tor Teen)

Book Description: Resistance is the second installment in acclaimed author Jenna Black’s YA SF romance series. Nate Hayes is a Replica. The real Nate was viciously murdered, but thanks to Paxco’s groundbreaking human replication technology, a duplicate was created that holds all of the personality and the memories of the original. Or…almost all. Nate’s backup didn’t extend to the days preceding his murder, leaving him searching for answers about who would kill him, and why. Now, after weeks spent attempting to solve his own murder with the help of his best friend and betrothed, Nadia Lake, Nate has found the answers he was seeking…and he doesn’t like what he’s discovered. The original Nate was killed because he knew a secret that could change everything. Thanks to Nadia’s quick thinking, the two of them hold the cards now—or think they do. Unfortunately, neither of them fully understands just how deep the conspiracy runs.

Returning to Shore by Corinne Demas (Carolrhoda Lab)

“In this coming-of-age novel, Clare must also decide how she feels about her father’s identity, especially when faced with friends’ homophobia. A quiet, thoughtful story for sophisticated readers.” — Booklist

The Sowing by Steven dos Santos (Flux)

Book Description: Lucian “Lucky” Spark leads a double life. By day, he trains to become one of the Establishment elite. At night, he sabotages his oppressors from within, seeking to avenge the murder of his love, Digory Tycho, and rescue his imprisoned brother. But when he embarks on a risky plot to assassinate members of the Establishment hierarchy, Lucky is thrust into the war between the Establishment and the rebellion, where the lines between friend and foe are blurred beyond recognition. His only chance for survival lies in facing the secrets of the Sowing, a mystery rooted in the ashes of the apocalyptic past that threatens to destroy Lucky’s last hope for the future.

Silver People: Voices From the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

“In melodic verses, Engle offers the voices of three [Panama Canal] workers…Taken together, they provide an illuminating picture of the ecological sacrifices and human costs behind a historical feat generally depicted as a triumph.”
—Horn Book Magazine

Gilded by Christina Farley (Skyscape)

Book Description: Sixteen-year-old Jae Hwa Lee is a Korean-American girl with a black belt, a deadly proclivity with steel-tipped arrows, and a chip on her shoulder the size of Korea itself. When her widowed dad uproots her to Seoul from her home in L.A., Jae thinks her biggest challenges will be fitting in to a new school and dealing with her dismissive Korean grandfather. Then she discovers that a Korean demi-god, Haemosu, has been stealing the soul of the oldest daughter of each generation in her family for centuries. And she’s next.

Dangerous by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury)

“Her middle name may be Danger, but Maisie “Danger” Brown doesn’t seem a likely action heroine. She is a homeschooled half-Latina science geek with a special love for physics and astronomy, and she has an artificial arm. When she wins a contest to go to astronaut camp with other teens, her life changes dramatically. … This fast-paced science fiction novel with echoes of the “Fantastic Four” comics doesn’t let up for a moment. Maisie is a strong, smart heroine with a wry sense of humor, and readers will be rooting for her to save the world. A must-read for fans of superhero adventures.” — School Library Journal

Alpha Goddess by Amalie Howard (Skyhorse Publishing)

Book Description: In Serjana Caelum’s world, gods exist. So do goddesses. Sera knows this because she is one of them. A secret long concealed by her parents, Sera is Lakshmi reborn, the human avatar of an immortal Indian goddess rumored to control all the planes of existence. Marked by the sigils of both heaven and hell, Sera’s avatar is meant to bring balance to the mortal world, but all she creates is chaos. A chaos that Azrath, the Asura Lord of Death, hopes to use to unleash hell on earth.

Torn between reconciling her past and present, Sera must figure out how to stop Azrath before the Mortal Realm is destroyed. But trust doesn’t come easy in a world fissured by lies and betrayal. Her best friend Kyle is hiding his own dark secrets, and her mysterious new neighbor, Devendra, seems to know a lot more than he’s telling. Struggling between her opposing halves and her attraction to the boys tied to each of them, Sera must become the goddess she was meant to be, or risk failing, which means sacrificing the world she was born to protect.

Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland (Simon & Schuster)

“A reluctant Harpy discovers her destiny in an elaborate Greek-mythology–based fantasy. … Zephyr’s narration hooks readers with snappy, hilarious one-liners. A dark, slyly funny read.” — Kirkus

The Violet Hour by Whitney A. Miller (Flux)

Book Description: Some call VisionCrest the pinnacle of religious enlightenment. Others call it a powerful cult. For seventeen years, Harlow Wintergreen has called it her life. As the adopted daughter of VisionCrest’s patriarch, Harlow is expected to be perfect at all times. The other Ministry teens must see her as a paragon of integrity. The world must see her as a future leader. Despite the constant scrutiny, Harlow has managed to keep a dark and dangerous secret, even from her best friend and the boy she loves. She hears a voice in her head that seems to have a mind of its own, plaguing her with violent and bloody visions. It commands her to kill. And the urge to obey is getting harder and harder to control …

Black Sheep by Na’ima B. Robert (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)

Book Description: Sparks fly when sixteen-year-old Dwayne meets high-flying, university-bound Misha. To Misha, it feels like true love, but her mom is adamant that Dwayne is bad news and forbids her to see him. When Misha decides to follow her heart, the web of secrets and lies begins to tighten, for Dwayne is not quite who he says he is. And as he struggles to turn his life around while hiding his darker side from Misha, his ties with Trigger, Jukkie, and the rest of his boys draw him deeper and deeper into gang violence, more serious and bloody than any he has ever seen. One night, Dwayne’s two lives collide, with devastating consequences.

Because of Her by KE Payne (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: For seventeen-year-old Tabitha “Tabby” Morton, life sucks. Big time. Forced to move to London thanks to her father’s new job, she has to leave her friends, school, and, most importantly, her girlfriend Amy, far behind. To make matters worse, Tabby’s parents enroll her in the exclusive Queen Victoria Independent School for Girls, hoping that it will finally make a lady of her.

But Tabby has other ideas. Loathing her new school, Tabby fights against everything and everyone, causing relations with her parents to hit rock bottom. But when the beautiful and beguiling Eden Palmer walks into her classroom one day and catches her eye, Tabby begins to wonder if life there might not be so bad after all.

When Amy drops a bombshell about their relationship following a disastrous visit, Tabby starts to see the need for new direction in her life. Fighting her own personal battles, Eden brings the possibility of change for them both. Gradually, Tabby starts to turn her life around-and it’s all because of her.

The Unwanted by Jeffrey Ricker (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Jamie Thomas has enough trouble on his hands trying to get through junior year of high school without being pulverized by Billy Stratton, his bully and tormentor. But the mother he was always told was dead is actually alive-and she’s an Amazon! Sixteen years after she left him on his father’s doorstep, she’s back… and needs Jamie’s help. A curse has caused the ancient tribe of warrior women to give birth to nothing but boys, dooming them to extinction-until prophecy reveals that salvation lies with one of the offspring they abandoned. Putting his life on the line, Jamie must find the courage to confront the wrath of an angry god to save a society that rejected him.

Ruins by Dan Wells (Balzer + Bray)

“Wells concludes his post-apocalyptic, action-packed trilogy with a literal bang and a lot of blood. Believable characters face tough moral choices, and though the end is tidy, the twists and treachery that get readers there are all the fun. It’s enjoyable alone but best read after the first two. Science (fiction) at the end of the world done right.” — Kirkus

Drama Queens in the House by Julie Williams (Roaring Brook)

“Williams (Escaping Tornado Season) puts her theater background to good use in this novel about a biracial girl struggling to find her footing in life. … family drama keeps getting in the way, including her father’s affair-turned-committed-relationship with a man, her ‘religious fanatic’ aunt Loretta’s obsession with Arma-geddon, and her mother’s refusal to talk about her collapsing marriage.” — Publishers Weekly

Diversity in Publishers Weekly’s 2013 Young Adult Bestsellers

By Malinda Lo

On March 14, 2014, Publishers Weekly released its annual accounting of children’s bestsellers for the previous year. Continuing Diversity in YA’s efforts to analyze diversity in the book market, I’ve taken a look at the 2013 figures to determine how characters of color, LGBT characters, disabled characters, and authors of color are represented in these bestselling titles.

In comparison to 2012 (you can read those results here), there was a tiny uptick in 2013 in terms of overall numbers of titles that incorporate characters of color, LGBT and/or disabled characters, but that increase is due to errors I made in calculating diversity in the 2012 list. Last year was my first attempt to count diversity in bestsellers, and I missed the House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast (published by St. Martin’s Press), whose main character, Zoey Redbird, is part-Cherokee. I also missed Michael Grant’s Gone series; I explain more about that series later in this post.

Additionally, last year I did not count Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue as including a disabled character because I thought Lowry’s Giver Quartet was middle grade. While the series was originally published as middle grade, in recent years the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has repositioned the series as young adult. (See the search results at Edelweiss, where the 2002 publication is categorized for ages 8–12, whereas the 2012 reprint is for ages 12 and up.) This clearly indicates that “young adult” is a marketing category, but because I rely on publishers to categorize their own books, I have to follow my own rule. That means this year, Gathering Blue and the other books in the Giver Quartet count as YA.

What this means is that the number of diverse YA titles — when diverse means main characters of color, LGBT and/or disabled main characters — has remained flat. There has been no improvement overall.

Before I continue to the rest of the analysis, first I’ll define my terms and explain some background information. If you’re not interested in this you can skip down to the next section, Overall Diversity in Publishers Weekly’s 2013 YA Bestsellers. Continue reading

Diversity Links – March 2014

We link to a lot of things over on Tumblr, but in case you missed them, here they are rounded up for you all in one place:

Diversity News

YA author Meg Medina (Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass) is profiled as one of CNN’s 10 Visionary Women.

The Lambda Literary Awards have announced their finalists for 2014, including these 11 titles in the LGBT Children’s/Young Adult category.

According to People magazine, Oklahoma teens Katie Hill and Arin Andrews, who are transgender and were in a relationship with each other during their transitions, will share their stories in two memoirs to be published Sept. 30, 2014, by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Last week a bunch of upcoming YA covers featuring Asian characters were revealed.

Reading Diversity

Walter Dean Myers asks “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” for the New York Times.

Christopher Myers writes about “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature” for the New York Times.

At the Pirate Tree, author E.M. Kokie interviews Susan Kuklin about her new book, Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2.

Lynn Miller-Lachmann interviews author Maria E. Andreu about her new novel, The Secret Side of Empty, about an undocumented high school senior from Argentina, for CBC Diversity.

Literature OUT Loud: A Guide to Young Adult Literature for Trans Teens, a book list from librarian Jackson Radish.

Here’s a list of 100+ Asian speculative fiction authors, including those who write young adult.

YA Interrobang offers a list of 10 YA books with Native American protagonists.

Writing Diversity

Author Diana López on Migas, Confetti, and Martha Stewart (Latin@s in Kid Lit), or how she decides which cultural details to explain and which ones to allow the reader to figure out.

Malinda Lo on writing dialogue about race, and why it’s often awkward.

Supporting Diversity

Emerging from a monthlong discussion about diversity in children’s literature on the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s mailing list, here are several suggestions on how you (yes, you!) can support and spread the word about diversity in children’s and YA books.

Author Meg Medina offers her suggestions for what you should do if you want more diverse literature.

Tu Books has a great list of places (bookstores, publishers, etc.) where you can find and buy diverse books for young readers.

There’s More to Making Non-Sexist Art Than Not Being Sexist, just as there’s more to incorporating diversity than not being racist.

Last but not least…

Don’t forget to enter our massive anniversary giveaway of 55+ diverse YA books! The deadline is March 31, 2014.

Don’t Be Afraid

By Christina Farley


When I first read the Korean myth of Haemosu and Princess Yuhwa, the story spoke to me and I knew their story had to be told. But there was that hesitation. Could I write a story based on a culture that was not my own? There is definitely the fear of not getting it right and falling short of the bar.

There are legitimate concerns about misrepresenting a culture and transferring one’s own culture into the story. But the story wouldn’t leave me and I knew I needed to write it.

In order to write Gilded correctly, I need to be aware of common pitfalls that writers face when writing outside of their cultural background. Here are some obstacles I faced and how I dealt with them.

1. Authenticity

I didn’t grow up in a Korean home, which was my weakness in tackling this story. But I was lucky to have lived in Seoul, Korea for eight years and be immersed in the culture. I also taught and mentored Korean-American students so I was able to be a part of their lives and see the struggles that they went through. I took my experiences with them and wove them into the story.

Tip: I suggest interviewing teens from the ethnic background you are writing from, hanging out with them, and being a part of that culture for a time period. Those details will show in your work. Don’t write from the culture from afar, be a part of it. Live it.

2. Accuracy

Again there was the fear that I would mess something up in the story. Every little detail needed to be correct in order to be true to my readers. To help me with this, I wrote many of the scenes in their actual locations so all I had to do was look around me and write what I saw, smelled, and felt. The extremes I went to making sure GILDED was accurate was a bit over-the-top even to the point of making sure the seat colors on the train were the correct color. I relied heavily on experts in Korean culture and history and had the manuscript fact checked by Chanwoo Park of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea.

Tip: Perhaps you don’t have the privilege of living in the location that you are writing about. If that’s the case, I suggest watching videos on YouTube, conducting interviews and reading firsthand accounts. I feel strongly that you should make every effort possible to make sure your story is as accurate as humanly possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek advice from those who are from the culture you are writing about.

3.  Passion

Without passion, without a love for the culture that you are writing about, your story will be dull and uninspiring. You must LOVE that culture as if it’s your own. You must be able to embrace all the good and the bad and then draw from those emotions in the book. While living in Korea, I completely fell in love with the country, the people and the customs. It’s my hope that my readers will come away from reading GILDED with a love for Korea and a desire to visit it.

Tip: Write what you love. If you don’t love that culture or that ethnic background, don’t write about it.

4.  Purpose

You must know why you are writing this book. Just to write a book with a multicultural bent in hopes to sell isn’t going to cut it. When writing GILDED I knew most of my American students had no clue about Korean culture. Meanwhile I wanted the students I taught in Korea to have a story where the main character was someone from their ethnicity. My purpose was for my readers to fall in love with Korea as I had and then to want more.

Tip:  Knowing the purpose of your story will help focus your writing. Determine what your aspirations are for your book and the reasons you are writing it. Your story will flow from there.

Not being part of a culture or ethnicity should not be a barrier to write a story, but it does create challenges.  A writer must always view the creation through the lens of a person from that culture.  Telling stories always has been and still is an essential part of every culture. If a story calls at your heart, it needs to be written. So don’t be afraid to listen to its call.

CHRISTINA FARLEY, author of Gilded was born and raised in upstate New York. As a child, she loved to explore, which later inspired her to jump on a plane and travel the world. She taught at international schools in Asia for ten years, eight of which were in the mysterious and beautiful city of Seoul, Korea that became the setting of Gilded. Currently she lives in Clermont, FL with her husband and two sons—that is until the travel itch whisks her off to a new unknown. Gilded is her first novel. For more details, check out her website at www.christinafarley.com. Christina holds a master’s degree in education and has taught for eighteen years. She is represented by Jeff Ourvan of Jennifer Lyons Literary.

The Diversity Dilemma

By Amalie Howard


Author Amalie Howard

I’m what society calls a Person of Color. I literally just learned that term. I’m a POC. Kind of sounds like a Prisoner of War or a Point of Contact. Maybe that’s what it feels like—as if I’m being tagged, placed in a box and categorized for future reference.

I grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, twin islands in the Caribbean, where people of color are the majority. However, I had a healthy awareness of the color of my skin because the culture of my country was so polarized between browns and blacks especially post-colonization. Color was extremely divisive—in politics, in the economy, in schools, in geography. I suspect that this of course was a remnant of our tumultuous history, i.e., black slaves and Indian indentured laborers brought to work the plantations during the early days of colonization. Notwithstanding those divides, my best friend in my first year of high school (Trinidad follows the British educational system so high school starts at eleven years old) was a girl of African descent, and we remain good friends today. I attribute that to my parents, who taught us that color was never a basis by which to judge someone else—it was about who they were on the inside. The fact that we travelled often as a family also gave me a great foundation for appreciating other colors and cultures early on.

However, this “color appreciation” got sorely tested in college when I attended Colby College in Maine at seventeen. Not only was I a student of color in a predominantly white school, I stuck out like a sore thumb, and I found myself hiding like one. I had no idea who I was—I felt like a stranger in my own skin, the very same skin I had known for seventeen years. In a country with a cultural history very unlike Trinidad, color polarization was based on black and white, not black and brown. I didn’t fit in anywhere. I wasn’t white. I wasn’t black. I was something else— the box on those social information forms called other.

Identity crises suck. And I was stuck in a pretty bad one. I changed my name from my middle name back to my first name, which was more Indian. I dressed like a lumberjack. And I ate like one, too. I’m not sure what I was trying to do—maybe become invisible and more visible at the same time. I wanted to fit in, but I didn’t want to be seen.

I’m of East Indian descent on my father’s side and Middle Eastern/East Indian/French descent on my mother’s. How’s that for a diverse ethnic mix? I grew up in a multicultural, multi-religious, multilingual home. Most would consider that as an incredibly cool background, but the truth was, it made it even harder to figure out who I was. I was confused, and for a long time, I tried to fit in, pretending to be someone I was not. It took a while, but eventually, I had to figure out who I was before I could stand on my own to accept and value my differences. I had to understand what being brown meant. And to tell you the truth, I’m still learning what that means.

As a Person/Author of Color, there’s an expectation that you’re going to write a book about a person of color or about different cultures. Hence the title of this post—the diversity dilemma. When I wrote my first book, a fantasy story about a witch, my agent got a lot of feedback from editors saying, “why doesn’t she write a book about her background and her culture? It’s so interesting.” The thing is I wasn’t ready to write that kind of book. Yes, I do incorporate a lot of my background in my stories, but I’m not going to write a book about Indo-Caribbean culture because that’s what is expected of me. I grew up reading fantasy and sci-fi because that’s what I loved. My favorite book as a child was Grimm’s Fairy Tales—I loved how dark they were and the feeling of being drawn into some fantastic universe. I devoured C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Greek mythology, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. And most of the protagonists in these books were white or their skin color wasn’t defined. That made no difference to me—it didn’t impact my reading experience (or make me think about skin color) one bit. It was all about the story.

That said, as an older reader, I can be quite conscious of color when it’s in a novel, especially if it is used in an authentic and judicious fashion. I don’t appreciate if it’s in there for gratuitous commercial reasons or a marketing ploy to hit a diversity target—the, “hey, let’s pop in the gay, black best friend because it will diversify our market.” The people you’re trying to reach see right through that—it’s gimmicky. For me, it has to be real and applicable to the story that is being told. It has to be meaningful.

howard-alphagoddessWhen I wrote Alpha Goddess, I knew it was going to be a different kind of story that heavily leveraged my Indian background. I wanted to bring something fresh to the table—something that hadn’t been written about, but would appeal to YA readers. As a child in a Hindu household, I was lucky to grow up with a different kind of mythology, one steeped in East Indian culture. Inspired by another tale of star-crossed love—the epic tale of Rama and Sita—I decided to focus on that mythology as the foundation for my story. Known as the Ramayana, it is a timeless Indian love story in which prince Rama and his wife Sita were tricked from the throne and sent into exile, where Sita was stolen away by a ten-headed demon, Ravana, who tried to convince her to marry him. However, her love Rama came to save her, battling the demon to the death with the help of the monkey-king, Hanuman. My retelling begins with a fictional account of how Rama and Sita find each other in another future lifetime—this time within the world of Alpha Goddess in a contemporary setting. I wanted to remain true to several key elements of the Hindu mythology, but I also wanted to use my creative license to really make this story my own.

With Alpha Goddess, it isn’t just the skin color of the protagonists that makes it different or diverse, or even that a Person of Color wrote it—it’s also because it brings a whole new cultural mythology to the YA table. At the end of the day, my hope is that Alpha Goddess will make readers curious to learn more about actual Hindu mythology. If that means that they do an online search for the story of Rama and Sita, or seek out more information on Indian gods and goddesses, then I have accomplished my goal. Part of reading is knowledge—introducing readers to new ideas and new cultures. We live in a world that is becoming smaller by the day … why not learn more about the people surrounding you?

I think diversity in YA is becoming more and more widespread, especially given the popularity of the genre. Authors are looking for ways to give YA fiction more depth and breadth. YA, like its constantly evolving audience, seems to be more amenable to exploring and embracing distinctive characters or storylines, and authors are responding to that. I think we as human beings are inherently complex, and we are an incredibly diverse species. Why shouldn’t we embrace all facets of ourselves and incorporate that into YA, or any fiction, for that matter? A huge part of reading is education. We live to learn, to expand our minds, and to appreciate our differences. Books are only one medium to bring us closer together. And as an AOC (Author of Color), I intend to do everything possible to make that happen.

Alpha Goddess is now available. Find out more about Amalie Howard at her website or follow her on Twitter @amaliehoward.