Monthly Archives: April 2011

Diversity Tour is 1 week away!

Can you believe we are only one week away from the kickoff of the Diversity Tour? We can’t either! And we have some important last-minute developments to tell you about.

  • The fabulous Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief of The Horn Book, will be moderating our Boston-area event at the Cambridge Public Library on May 12 at 7 p.m.
  • The awesome Sarah Rees Brennan, author of The Demon’s Lexicon trilogy, will be raffling off a set of books by all the authors at the Boston-area event. That means one lucky winner will get free books by Holly Black, Sarah Rees Brennan, Deva Fagan, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, and Francisco X. Stork. Details here.
  • On Wednesday, May 4th, Diversity in YA will be the featured topic at the weekly YALITCHAT on Twitter! Several DIYA authors will be on hand to talk about writing diverse characters in YA fiction, including Malinda LoDia ReevesBethany HegedusNeesha MemingerKekla Magoon, and (maybe) Cindy Pon. If you’ve never been to a YALITCHAT, go here for details.
  • Our Chicago event on May 10th (Barbara’s Books, 1218 S. Halsted St., Chicago) will now be from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m., due to a scheduling conflict at the bookstore. So, please try to come at 5:30, as we will have to relinquish our space at the bookstore on time.

And last but not least, Malinda created a video in which she counts down the top five reasons you should come to the Diversity Tour (zombies and unicorns included, of course). Check it out:

All the details of the tour can be found at We hope to see you in the real world next week!

May’s New Books

Every month we feature all the new middle grade and young adult releases that include diversity. May 2011 brings us five middle grade and eight young adult novels, including the second book in Rick Riordan’s bestselling Kane Chronicles series starring biracial siblings Carter and Sadie Kane, The Throne of Fire.

By “diversity” we mean: (1) main characters or major secondary characters (e.g., a love interest or best friend kind of character) who are of color or are LGBT; or (2) written by a person of color or LGBT author. Unfortunately due to time constraints we are unable to include each book’s summary, but we encourage you to click on the book covers to be taken to Indie Bound, where you can read a description of the book.


Middle Grade


Young Adult

Writing Sympathetic (Gay) Characters

If you’re an author, how do make and keep your main character sympathetic?

You could write a whole book on this very topic — in fact, many have. I confess, I find it a fascinating one, mostly because it was exactly this idea of “likable” protagonists that made me start writing fiction in the first place.

Some writers reject the whole notion that main characters must be sympathetic (and to a degree, I would agree: jerks and anti-heroes absolutely have their place in the world, in certain kinds of stories).

But when I started writing back in the 80s and early 90s, I found myself completely frustrated by the main characters in so many books I was reading, especially the gay books. I was looking for characters I could relate to, and too many of the ones I was reading were way too whiny and self-destructive for my taste.

My partner and I used to joke that there was a name for the genre: *sshole fiction.

This, of course, was the trend in literary fiction at the time. To be considered “serious,” you had to shock people with just how miserable, jerky, and/or self-destructive your characters were. That meant you were really baring your soul and being “truthful.” (That hasn’t really changed in literary fiction — it’s just that literary fiction has become even more irrelevant than before.)

And with regard to the gay books, I think it was partly a generational thing. The generation of gay and bi men before me went through some pretty serious sh*t. If anyone deserved to be wounded, they did. I know it’s a triumph that many of them survived at all. They were revealing their truths.

The thing is, I didn’t think these books were very truthful to me and my generation, not in the city I was living in. I think they over-emphasized the negativity and the self-destruction.

I was working with gay teens at the time — in 1990, I helped found one of the nation’s very first support groups for GLBTQ youth in my hometown in Washington State. And these books just didn’t seem to describe the kids I was working with either.

Sure, some of those kids had some really serious issues — from suicide attempts to HIV infections, I dealt with it all.

But I worked with hundreds of kids, and the truth is, I found most of them to be generally optimistic and mostly well-adjusted. In general, they had a “positive” energy, not a “negative” one — exactly the opposite of what I was reading in all these gay books (it goes without saying that there were virtually no actual gay teen books at the time).

More than anything, those kids and I laughed a lot — which, even now, is not what you think about when you think about GLBTQ teens, and it really wasn’t what you thought about back then, especially at the height of the AIDS crisis.

My theory has long been that we adults remember all the pain and angst of being a teenager, but for some reason, we forget all the fun. In my experience, the teen years are all about extremes — the bad and the good. I was closeted the summer of my eighteenth year, but I still don’t think I’ve ever been happier than those afternoons I spent driving around with my high school buddies, shooting skyrockets from the back of Scott’s pick-up truck (stupidly — don’t try this at home).

And let’s face it: the idea of a closeted gay kid showering with a bunch of hot high school jocks is kind of funny, at least from a certain point-of-view. So that’s where I chose to open my first book, Geography Club, the first scene of which I wrote in 1989.

Anyway, I tried really, really hard to reign in the angst and doom-and-gloom and self-destruction. Then in 1999, I was lucky enough to land an editor (Stephen Fraser at HarperCollins, now an agent at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency) who had me reign it in even further.

I don’t know how much credit I can take for this, and I’m desperately hoping this whole post doesn’t come across as massively self-important. But I was determined that my story be a positive one and that my characters be likable and relatable — flawed, sure, but ultimately decent.

Mostly, I just didn’t want them to be *ssholes.

What advice would I give to other authors seeking to do the same thing? External obstacles are generally more sympathetic than internal or self-created ones — especially if it seems like the character isn’t interested in dealing with his or her internal problems. Pessimism and nihilism get old fast, and almost everyone recoils from whininess. Active is way more sympathetic than passive.

And I hesitate to say this, but … there’s probably some truth to the idea that characters in books can only be as sympathetic as their authors. It’s a good thing that Bret Easton Ellis writes mostly satires about self-absorbed *ssholes because, based on his recent essay in Newsweek about Charlie Sheen and his Tweets about Glee, it seems pretty clear that that’s what he himself is.

Did I “sell out” in order to attract mainstream attention for my gay book? Did I deliberately set out to make my books “accessible” to straight folks? I’m sure Bret Easton Ellis would think so (and I know that’s how some others saw it). But that’s not the way I saw it (at all).

The way I saw it then and still see it now, I was: (a) just reflecting my own sensibility, which has the aforementioned low tolerance for whininess, and (b) reflecting a very real “reality” about gay people: as a community, the ice was starting to melt. We had been stuck in place, both internally and externally. But that was changing. Our biggest problem had been internal: we didn’t even like ourselves enough to come out and ask for acceptance! But now we were emerging from our respective self-destructive ruts. It was finally possible to take on the external obstacles. We weren’t powerless victims anymore — and most of us didn’t want to read about characters who came across as powerless victims any longer, even if the characters were supposed to be ironic or nostalgic or “real.”

And I the fact is, I don’t think I was crazy in my thinking. Geography Club sold a hell of a lot of copies — and it seems to me that the non-angst-y, non-tragic, non-whiny feel I was going for is now pretty much the standard sensibility in both GLTBQ teen and adult gay lit. 

As for *sshole fiction? Well, when was the last time you read a Bret Easton Ellis novel?

What’s the lesson in all this? A writer must absolutely always strive to tell the truth. But the most important truths, the ones that will really get you noticed, are often the ones that no one else is telling.


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Brent Hartinger is the author of a number of novels for children and teenagers, including Geography Club; two sequels called The Order of the Poison Oak and Split Screen; The Last Chance Texaco; Grand & Humble; Project Sweet Life; and most recently, Shadow Walkers (Flux, 2011). Mr. Hartinger’s many writing honors include being named the winner of the Lambda Book Award, the Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award, a GLAAD Media Award, the National Best Book Award, and a Book Sense Pick (four times). He founded and now edits the fantasy-themed website,[/author_info] [/author]

Interview with Holly Black

Today we are happy to welcome the wonderful Holly Black, author of the Curse Workers series, which launched in 2010 with White Cat and continues this month with the newly released Red Glove. Holly is also the author of the Modern Faerie Tales series (Tithe, Valiant, Ironside) and the bestselling Spiderwick Chronicles, with illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi.

Malinda Lo: White Cat and Red Glove, on the surface, are about a very cool mafia-like magical world, but there is a deeper metaphor woven throughout that focuses on difference. The fight for curse workers’ rights has allusions to not only civil rights struggles but the current battles over immigration and citizenship. The books are complex puzzle boxes that must have required a lot of forethought when it comes to plotting, but how did you manage the metaphor? Did you plan that just as carefully, or did it emerge sort of naturally?

Holly Black: I like the way you ask about “managing the metaphor” because I think the tricky thing about fantasy is that issues in the magical world should  ideally both remind us of issues in our world, but not parallel one thing so closely that it appears to be merely that thing in disguise.  I tried hard to use a variety of allusions — the worker camps in the Curse Workers world are informed by the Japanese-American internment that happened in the wake of Pearl Harbor, but much of the language that my worker rights activists use more closely parallel gay and lesbian civil rights battles.  And, of course, in a totally different way, the way the mob has come to control magic parallels Prohibition.  So there’s a lot of different material to work with — some which emerged naturally and some which was planned from the beginning — and all of it has to be managed.

ML: Speaking of puzzle boxes, I was just amazed by how everything fit together in Red Glove (and White Cat). How did you do it? Do you have a giant storyboard? Do you outline like crazy? What’s your secret?

HB: Thank you!  These books involve the most outlining I have ever done.  What I do is separate out the different plotlines and then try and focus on how they can inform one another, so that the secondary plots fold back in to the main one.  And since I knew from the start how the relationship between Cassel and Lila would go, that’s been a touchstone for me in figuring out all the rest.

ML: You’ve included nonwhite and nonstraight characters in your books since your first novel, Tithe. To me, this seems like a natural choice, but there are so many fantasy novels without one single nonwhite (not to mention nonstraight) character. Why are your books so inclusive?

HB: I wish I could say that it was a conscious decision on my part, but it really wasn’t.  My husband’s not white, both my critique partners for Tithe weren’t straight, and my editor was neither white nor straight, so I think my default was a world full of the people I knew and cared about.

There’s an interview with Joss Whedon where he’s asked why he writes about strong female characters and his answer, famously, is because we’re still asking that question.  I’m really looking forward to the Diversity Tour, where the conversation can assume a desire for inclusivity.

ML: What advice would you give to a writer who wants to incorporate diversity in their novel, but isn’t a person of color or LGBT themselves, and is afraid of messing up?

HB: As someone who is not a person of color and who worries about messing up myself, I am probably the last person who should be giving anyone advice.  But I think that we as writers have an obligation to tell the truth about the world — and diverse world is a true world.  I also think that we have to be conscious of which stories are ours to tell, which stories we have points of identification with and which stories we need to do more work if we want tell responsibly.  There is a very well respected workshop on “writing the other,” run by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward; resources exist to bridge those gaps in our knowledge and experience.  We have to be thoughtful, but we have to try.

For more on Holly Black, visit her website. She will be joining the Diversity in YA tour at our Boston event on May 12, and again in San Diego this fall!

Diversity in YA is coming to Chicago!

We are so excited to announce the addition of a tour signing stop in Chicago! Many of you have asked for a Chicago stop and we worked hard to make it happen.

We’ll be signing at Barbara’s Bookstore at 1218 South Halsted Street in Chicago on Tuesday, May 10 at 6 p.m. We’re thrilled to have Nnedi Okorafor (Akata Witch) and Claudia Guadalupe Martinez (The Smell of Old Lady Perfume) along with Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo for the event.

In addition, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (8th Grade Superzero) will be joining us at the New York City signing on May 14 at Books of Wonder. This fantastic panel will be moderated by Cheryl Klein, Senior Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books.

Please check out our updated Author Bios and Tour pages for additional information. We hope to see you in May!

Concubines, Eunuchs and Fury

“There are thousands of other women to choose from. You understand me? And this court runs on ambition alone.” — Zhong Ye from Fury of the Phoenix

Much of Fury of the Phoenix takes place in the inner court of the Palace of Fragrant Dreams, where the concubines reside, inspired by the actual concubine quarters of ancient China. When I was revising the novel with my editor, she actually crossed out “thousands” once and wrote “hundreds?” above it. Toward the end of the Chinese dynasties, some emperors did choose to have fewer concubines in their harems, but for much of history, the Son of Heaven did indeed have thousands of women at his beck and call. Not only was a large harem a symbol of power and status, but it was encouraged that the Emperor sleep with ten to twelve different women each day for optimal health and spiritual benefits.

The palace women came from all walks of life, some given by noble families (both Chinese and foreign) for political motivations and to secure royal favors. Some girls were simply plucked from the cities and countryside by scouts for their beauty or their dancing, singing or acrobatic talents. The best looking were kept in the actual harems, while others were sent to training centers to further improve their artistic talents. The rest were assigned to menial tasks around the palace, so that wherever the emperor went and looked, his eyes would fall on young nubile women.

There was a strict hierarchy among the Emperor’s consorts, from the Empress to concubines ranging from the first grade to the eighth and beyond. Each with imperial emblems for their clothing to specify their rank. There were so many concubines, that actually seeing the Emperor, much less sleeping with him, was a slim chance for most of these women. The women fortunate enough to be chosen were checked for concealed weapons, given a silver ring to identify them, then wrapped in silk, and carried to the Emperor over the shoulder of eunuch. If a concubine was lucky enough to become pregnant (an instant rise in status within the harem), she would be given a gold ring to wear.

Given these dynamics, you can imagine the jealousies, intrigue, plotting and struggle to power within the concubine quarters in the Imperial Palace.

“The Emperor had rolled off Mei Gui, and she rose to pour him a cup of wine. Zhong Ye hoped she would be with child after a few more visits. When the concubine returned to the massive bed, the Emperor was already snoring. She stood at his side, her expression unreadable. He wondered what she felt, what she thought. Her sole purpose in life was to please the Emperor, hope that she made herself alluring enough to catch his eye, to be bedded by him, to have strong sons. She and Zhong Ye both had sacrificed themselves in different ways to gain the Son of Heaven’s favor.” — Fury of the Phoenix

Although most eunuchs were purchased from their families as young boys, castrated then drafted to work in the palace, a select few (such as Zhong Ye in my novel) chose to give up their manhood at a later age for a chance to enter the Imperial Palace, with hopes of rising in rank. But as with the concubines, only the most clever, smart, resourceful, charming and conniving manage in a household of thousands. Li Lien-Ying was one such eunuch, who presented himself for castration and work in the palace at sixteen. He then charmed and ingratiated himself with Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi, so that by the time he was forty, he was one of the most powerful figures within the court. Chief Eunuch Li went on to sell official posts and was believed to have poisoned the Empress Dowager’s rival on her behalf.

These were just a few tidbits from the fascinating history of what went on in the Imperial Palace of China. I did draw inspiration from the research but couldn’t use everything, as much of it was “stranger than fiction” and would have made my story more sensational than I intended! Still, I truly enjoyed the setting and writing that storyline from Zhong Ye’s point of view. It was certainly an unusual choice, having a teen eunuch who was the villain from the first novel, tell his story. But I thought it was essential for Fury of the Phoenix and made sense. And for me, as the author, the most important thing is being true to your characters and their stories.

Hidden Power: The Palace Eunuchs of Imperial China by Mary. M. Anderson and Daughter of Heaven by Nigel Cawthorne were used as references in this post.


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]my debut, SILVER PHOENIX : Beyond the Kingdom of Xia was released on APRIL 28, 2009. it’s a young adult fantasy inspired by ancient china published by greenwillow books, an imprint of harpercollins. the sequel, FURY OF THE PHOENIX will be released 3/29/2011. a children’s picture book with my chinese brush art is also in the works! My website is[/author_info] [/author]