Monthly Archives: May 2014

New Releases – May 2014

Shelter by Patricia H. Aust (Luminis Books)

Book Description: Miguel’s dad is at it again—physically abusing his mom and sister and terrorizing Miguel for no good reason. But when Miguel’s mom and sister, who have been whispering to one another for some time, decide to stand up to the abuse and decide to move to a women’s shelter, Miguel’s life begins to take turns he never expected. After the family moves out, it isn’t long before Miguel’s dad promises to change his ways before once again becoming abusive; leaving Miguel to summon the courage to stand up to the man he thought he loved. This emotional and stirring novel is told from the point of view of a young man who is torn between the love he feels for his abusive father and the responsibility to protect his family.

One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva (Farrar Straus and Giroux)

“Being forced to attend summer school becomes a blessing in disguise for 14-year-old Alek Khederian when it sparks a romance with an older boy named Ethan, who runs with a crowd of skateboarders and perceived burnouts. … Barakiva avoids stereotypes and clichés to create a sweet portrait of nascent adolescent love between two boys growing up and finding themselves (with some help from nearby New York City).” — Publishers Weekly

Remember Me by Melanie Batchelor (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Jamie Richards has lost a lot. Her father died four years ago and her mother is consumed by her career. Jamie finds an escape through her artistic passion and her first love—the one person who hasn’t abandoned her, Erica Sinclair.

Overwhelmed by their own harsh realities, Jamie and Erica create a world of their own in an abandoned park—a place they call “Wonderland.” Jamie idolizes Erica until the two grow closer, and she realizes that her ideal image of Erica is nothing shy of fiction. When cracks beneath the exterior become more prevalent, Jamie begins to question the love she thought she had for Erica, and if that love was ever reciprocated.

And then it happens. A shocking event occurs that changes Jamie and Erica’s relationship forever. Jamie knows that there’s no escaping this reality—she’ll have to find a way to move forward without hiding behind her sketchbook.

Truth or Dare (Rumor Central #4) by ReShonda Tate Billingsley (KTeen Dafina)

Book Description: Maya has no problem turning up the heat when she takes her show on the road for Spring Break in Cancun. On and off camera, the drama with her crew is chart-topping scandalous. And when a reckless bet Maya makes with Evian turns into a full-blown kidnapping crisis, Maya turns disaster into a major ratings win. But she’d better watch her back, because Evian is taking advantage of her moment in the spotlight and she just may push Maya out of the way for good. Maya will have to work all her skills and face some hard truths to save her credibility—and make sure the best gossip diva wins …

Call Me by My Name by John Ed Bradley (Atheneum)

“A friendship between two teens, one black and one white, emerges both because and in spite of racial change in a 1970s Louisiana town. … Bradley is an accomplished sportswriter and deftly evokes the cultural importance of small-town sports and how these communities experienced racial change in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Rodney and his family are richly drawn characters; indeed, narrator Rodney’s grappling with his ambivalence about race is especially well-done.” — Kirkus

Undone by Cat Clarke (Sourcebooks Fire)

Book Description: Jem Halliday is in love with her best friend. It doesn’t matter that Kai is gay, or that he’ll never look at her the way she looks at him. Jem is okay with that. But when Kai is outed online by one of their classmates, he does the unthinkable and commits suicide.

Jem is left to pick up the pieces of her broken life. Before he died, Kai left her twelve letters—one for each month of the year—and those letters are all Jem has left. That, and revenge.

Although Kai’s letters beg her not to investigate what happened, Jem can’t let it go. She needs to know who did this, and she’ll stop at nothing to find the person responsible for Kai’s death. One way or another, someone is going down. Someone is going to pay.

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles (Candlewick)

“Giles’s (Dark Song) background teaching special education students informs this blunt, honest, and absorbing story about two young women overcoming challenges that have less to do with their abilities to read or write than with how society views and treats them. In short, alternating chapters, the girls narrate in raw and distinct voices that capture their day-to-day hurdles, agony, and triumphs. The “found family” that builds slowly for Quincy, Biddy, and Elizabeth—with no shortage of misunderstandings, mistrust, or tears—is rewarding and powerful.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

While We Run by Karen Healey (Little, Brown)

“In the follow-up to When We Wake (2013), a diverse, skilled and politically committed group of teenagers fights a chillingly sinister government in a future Australia. … This is the best kind of speculative fiction, combining diverse, well-realized characters with thought-provoking dilemmas. Abdi’s strong voice and keen awareness of his own ability to manipulate situations provide a compelling window into a future world. Suspenseful, well-crafted and visionary.” — Kirkus, starred review

Portrait of Us by A. Destiny and Rhonda Helms (Simon Pulse)

Book Description: Corinne is looking forward to a perfect summer taking classes at a local art studio, where a famous artist-in-residence will be teaching. She’s always wanted to focus more on her art, and the related competition (and grand prize) would be a perfect way to end the summer.

Her dreams become muddled when she finds out she has to work with Matthew—the arrogant, annoying jock whose postmodern style seriously clashes with her classic aesthetic.

But what she expects to be a total nightmare turns out to be something different when she finds that maybe, just maybe, Matthew isn’t as bad as she thought. Underneath that jock exterior, he might be someone Corinne could tolerate. Or possibly even like.

The question is…does Matthew feel the same way? Or is this all just a summer fling?

Reborn by C.C. Hunter (St. Martin’s Griffin)

Book Description: For Della Tsang, Shadow Falls isn’t just a camp: it’s home.  As a vampire who’s just starting to come into her powers, it’s the one place she can finally be herself. But when a new evil threatens everyone she cares about, Della is determined to do everything she can to save them … even if it means teaming up with the one boy who can break her heart. In Reborn, return once again to C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls, a camp where supernatural teens learn to harness their powers and discover the magic of friendship and love.

The Screaming Divas by Suzanne Kamata (Merit/Adams Media)

“Rock music offers four teen girls a much-needed outlet and escape in mid–1980s South Carolina. The Screaming Divas are an unlikely ensemble. Brought together by Trudy, a magnet for trouble who is fresh out of juvie, the band also includes gorgeous Cassie, a former child-beauty-pageant queen; stoic Harumi, a classically trained violinist who had a meltdown at her Juilliard audition; and shy Esther, who harbors a secret crush on Cassie. The third-person narration rotates through the four members’ viewpoints to show what attracts each girl to the group.” — Kirkus

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour (Dutton)

“At age 18, Emi Price is making big strides toward a career in production design, with a rent-free Los Angeles apartment and an enviable and promising internship on a movie set. When Emi and her best friend Charlotte discover a letter written by a recently deceased film icon (think Clint Eastwood), it leads them to his unknown granddaughter, Ava. Emi is smitten, and as her life and career take ever more fortunate turns, her recently broken heart begins to heal with the hope of new love with Ava.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Guardian by Alex London (Philomel)

“It’s a grave new world when the revolution a reluctant hero inspired could mean the death of everyone he tried to save, including himself. … Proxy should be read first to fully comprehend this sequel’s complex conflict and characters. Though Book 1 established Syd’s homosexuality, he experienced only unrequited crushes. Here, Liam’s affection for Syd and Syd’s reluctance to perpetuate emotional attachment … is more foreground than back story. Don’t assume for a second that romance takes away from the volatile action and high-stakes tension. Corrupt powers, budding romance, an epidemic and grisly action synthesize to sate sci-fi fans.” — Kirkus

Frenemy of the People by Nora Olsen (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Clarissa and Lexie couldn’t be more different. Clarissa is a chirpy, optimistic do-gooder and a top rider on the school’s equestrian team. Lexie is an angry, punk rock activist and the only out lesbian at their school.

When Clarissa declares she’s bi and starts a Gay-Straight Alliance, she unwittingly presses all of Lexie’s buttons, so Lexie makes it her job to cut Clarissa down to size. But Lexie goes too far and finds herself an unwitting participant in Clarissa’s latest crusade. Both are surprised to find their mutual loathing turning to love.

A change in her family’s fortunes begins to unravel Clarissa’s seemingly perfect life, and the girls’ fledgling love is put to the test. Clarissa and Lexie each have what the other needs to save their relationship and the people they love from forces that could tear them all apart.

Girl in Reverse by Barbara Stuber (Margaret K. McElderry Books

“Ever since age four when Lily joined the Firestone household, where ‘hard topics are… wrapped in sandpaper and swallowed,’ she has wondered why her parents adopted her. When the advent of the Korean War exacerbates the barrage of ethnic slurs 17-year-old Lily, her school’s only Asian student, endures…she is increasingly less able to ‘make a joke of it,’ as her father advises. Lily’s determination to resist her tormenters sparks a search for her pre-adoption origins and core identity. … a remarkable journey of self-discovery, inner resilience, and the fragile, surprising, and exquisite complexity of family.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman (Nancy Paulsen Books)

“Flowing free verse tells the story of a teenage dancer in Chennai, India, who loses a leg and re-learns how to dance. … Veda’s no disabled saint; awkwardness and jealousy receive spot-on portrayals as she works to incorporate Hinduism and Buddhism, life experience and emotion into her dancing. When she does, her achievement is about being centered, not receiving accolades. A beautiful integration of art, religion, compassion and connection.” — Kirkus, starred review

Bad Luck Girl by Sarah Zettel (Random House)

“Calliope Margaret LeRoux deMinuit, half-human and half-Unseelie, Heir to the Midnight Throne, can save or destroy all of fairykind. Now that Callie and best friend Jack have rescued Callie’s parents, everything’s going to be just fine, right? Jack, Callie and her parents reach Depression-era Chicago, struggling against dangers both magical (cold iron, which has a worse effect on Callie’s Unseelie father, Daniel LeRoux, than on half-fairy Callie) and mundane (the racism of Jim Crow, which endangers dark-skinned Daniel more than light-skinned, half-white Callie). … Callie and Zettel bring this stellar trilogy to a satisfyingly sentimental conclusion.” — Kirkus, starred review

Diversity Links – May 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

#WeNeedDiverseBooks has been huge over the past month. Check out their official tumblr for all sorts of wonderful testimony from readers and writers from around the world, and take a gander at the amazing media coverage of the #WNDB campaign.

The finalists for the 2013 Bisexual Book Awards were announced, including eight YA books! The winners will be announced May 31.

DiYA co-founder Cindy Pon sold two new Chinese-inspired fantasy novels to Month9Books! The duology, beginning with Serpentine, is set in the kingdom of Xia, and will be published in September 2015.

Reading Diversity

Newbery Honor author Grace Lin notes that We Need Diverse Books and We Also Need People to Read Them.

Ciel Rouge has put together a giant list of 2014 YA Reads Written by Authors of Color.

Author Miriam Forster has put together a list of Asian fantasy novels by Asian and Asian American authors.

Book Riot has a list of 30 Diverse YA Titles To Get On Your Radar.

School Library Journal’s special diversity issue was released May 1. Catch up on all the articles here.

MTV has a list of 21 Diverse YA Books That Need To Be Movies — Now.

Writing Diversity

Author Lisa Yee offers A Rambling Rant on Race and Writing.

S.E. Sinkhorn of #WNDB and YA Flash has some advice for her fellow straight white writers on diversity.

And ICYMI, here’s DiYA cofounder Malinda Lo answering a frequently asked diversity question, Should white people write about people of color?

5 Things I Learned While Writing A DEATH-STRUCK YEAR

In A Death-Struck Year, 17-year-old Cleo Berry volunteers with the Red Cross in 1918 Portland, Oregon, during the deadly Spanish flu pandemic.

By Makiia Lucier

lucier-adeathstruckyear1. Sometimes, five drafts just doesn’t cut it.

A Death-Struck Year was the first book I’d ever written, and when I submitted an early draft to agents, I thought it was beautiful and perfect and that it would sell immediately. I was so proud of myself; I felt like Tom Hanks in Cast Away when he finally started that fire. But it was far from perfect. Before being sent off to the printers, the manuscript would have to go through six full rewrites and several additional copy edits. Even the original title, A Beautiful and Death-Struck Year, was chopped up. It was a shock, but now that I think on it, I’m glad I didn’t know in the beginning how much work was involved. A part of me wonders if I would have been too afraid to even start.

You can see a horrific, graphic example of an early draft here.

2. Patience really is a virtue.

There’s an incredible amount of waiting involved in the publishing business. Who knew? Certainly not me. Once you submit your queries and/or manuscripts to literary agents, you have to wait for their response. Later, when your agent submits to various publishing houses, there’s even more waiting. And every time you send a draft off to your editor, you have to bide your time, sometimes for weeks, sometimes more. There are many words I can use to describe my road to publication: thrilling, eye-opening, surreal, awesome. But speedy? Definitely not.

3. Stealth writing; I did what worked for me.

There are writers who are perfectly comfortable discussing every stage of their process in real time, but I’ve found that I’m not one of them. When I began writing Cleo’s story in the fall of 2010, I told no one except my husband and one friend. My daughter only found out because she lives with us; little pitchers have big ears, after all. I did it because I had never written a book before. I had no idea if I would finish the manuscript, let alone publish it. And much as I love them, I didn’t want to field questions from well-meaning family and friends — Did you find a publisher yet? When is your book coming out? If there was the slightest chance that I was going to fail, I wanted to do it as quietly as possible. Keeping my story close until it was finished is a decision I’m still happy with.

Author Makiia Lucier
Author Makiia Lucier

4. Research can be fun. No, really.

One of the great pleasures of writing A Death-Struck Year was in the amount of research required. Does that sound strange? It’s true. I think research plays a critical role in the creative process. You never know when some obscure historical fact will send your imagination spinning. An article about a theater being turned into an emergency hospital, for example, or an old photograph of a house with windows shaped like giant keyholes. But what I also learned is that I can get so caught up in the research, I put off the actual writing. It’s something I have to constantly work on, remembering that research is necessary and fascinating, but the only way to actually finish a book is to, you know, write it.

5. Public speaking will not kill you.

How does an introvert make peace with book publicity? School appearances, bookstore readings, webinars where hundreds of people have registered to hear you speak — these can be nerve-wracking for writers who, like myself, are largely solitary creatures.

What I’ve learned is that preparation is key. Several days before I was scheduled to appear before a group of students, I invited some friends over to the house, opened a bottle of wine (okay, two bottles) and practiced, practiced, practiced. A walk through does wonders for shaking off the jitters. Not all of them, of course. I think public speaking for me will always cause the occasional sleepless night and shaky voice and sweaty palm. But it does get easier as time goes on, the more you prepare, and it absolutely will not kill you.


Makiia Lucier grew up on the Pacific island of Guam, not too far from the equator. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and a master’s in library studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she studied literature for children. She’s had plenty of jobs, mostly in libraries, and currently resides in the small college town of Moscow, Idaho.

A Death-Struck Year is now available.

10 Asian Pacific American YA Authors to Know

Swati Avasthi

Melissa de la Cruz

Andrew Fukuda

Jenny Han

Malinda Lo

  • Author of Adaptation and Inheritance, William C. Morris Award finalist for Ash, and co-founder of Diversity in YA
  • malindalo.com | @malindalo | Tumblr

Ellen Oh

Cindy Pon

  • Author of Silver Phoenix, Fury of the Phoenix, the forthcoming Serpentine (Month9Books, 2015), and co-founder of Diversity in YA
  • cindypon.com | @cindypon | Tumblr

Padma Venkatraman

  • Author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning novels A Time to Dance, Climbing the Stairs, and Island’s End
  • padmasbooks.com

Gene Luen Yang

  • Author of the National Book Award finalist and LA Times Book Prize winner Boxers and Saints, the Printz Award-winning and National Book Award finalist American Born Chinese, and co-author of Dark Horse Comics’ Avatar: The Last Airbender
  • geneyang.com | @geneluenyang

Laurence Yep

  • Author of dozens of books for children and young adults including the Gold Mountain Chronicles, winner of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, and two-time Newbery Honor winner
  • Wikipedia page

5 Things I Learned While Writing A TIME TO DANCE

In A Time to Dance, a novel in verse set in contemporary India, a young dancer loses part of her right leg and re-learns how to dance.

By Padma Venkatraman

venkatraman-atimetodance1. Go “Method”

Veda, the protagonist of A Time to Dance, looks like me (she’s of Indian heritage too) — and doesn’t (she’s differently abled).  Yes, her “voice” often spoke in my head, but when she wasn’t haunting me, I wanted to do all I could to understand and empathize with her experience of losing a limb.

I invested in a pair of crutches and spent a good deal of time hobbling up and down the basement stairs on them, with one leg scrunched up. I even bound my leg loosely on some days so I would be forced to hop on one leg.

The inspiration for the gripping scene in “Nails and Spears” came one night after I’d spent a grueling day trying to make my way around the home on one leg without crutches (crawling, basically), and then forcibly sending my leg to “sleep” (because people I’d interviewed said phantom pain felt a little like pins and needles).

Going “Method” the way actors do, to “get into character” is painful and time consuming. But for me, for A Time to Dance, it was worth the pain.

2. Play Party Tricks

Or, maybe the real lesson here is read, read, read. As part of the background research for A Time to Dance, I read V. S. Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain. Ramachandran describes experiments you can do to experience something similar to an amputee feeling a “phantom limb.”

These experiments also work quite nicely as party tricks. For a while, whenever someone came home, I experimented (played this party trick) on them. I watched their expressions, noted their feelings, and of course made them do this experiment with me as the subject, too.

The end result? One of the women who’d had an amputation and kindly agreed to read my novel draft and give me feedback,  kept starting at my feet when I met her. Then suddenly burst out, “You’re two-legged! How did you know so well what it feels like to have Phantom pain?”

Is that a compliment, or what! I felt so honored and so humbled when she said that.

Author Padma Venkatraman
Author Padma Venkatraman

3. Interviewing is listening, not asking questions

As I wrote A Time to Dance, I interviewed numerous dancers, musicians, scientists, doctors, prosthetists (people who manufacture and fit patients with prostheses), and of course, people who had had amputations.

I started off with a sheet of questions, but soon realized that interviewing is not about asking the right questions. It’s about creating a bond of trust and then allowing the other person to open and up and listening, as well as you can, to what they share with you.

4. Be bold

Few novels explore a character’s spiritual awakening and growth — one of the main themes in A Time to Dance.

At first, this didn’t scare me at all. But sometime in the murky middle of writing the novel, I got cold feet for a while. Because I realized the reason why hardly any protagonist questions and learns about spirituality.

Writing about spirituality without religiosity is tough. It’s incredibly hard to write it well. What’s more, even if you do it well, it’s risky, because it’s not a fast-moving action-packed type of story, the kind of story most readers (young and old adults) gravitate towards, these days.

Luckily, I was strong enough to keep going and committed enough to Veda to tell that important aspect of the story. And one of the greatest rewards was the magnificent review a remarkably perceptive teen wrote of the novel, at LitUp reviews in which it’s clear that she loves the novel because of the depth it achieves through the exploration of spirituality.

5. Aspire to Achieve Agapé

Veda, in A Time to Dance, reconnects with the world after the tragedy in which she loses a limb. She becomes more compassionate and starts to share her gift with others as a dance teacher. She opens up enough to let romance into her life. And, as she grows, her love of dance deepens. She awakens to the power of her art and understands that dance isn’t about winning awards. Dance becomes, to her, a way to touch something spiritual.

I don’t write for external recognition and validation. But Veda isn’t a saint, and I’m no saint, either.

I’m ecstatic, elated, honored, humbled, pleased, proud, that A Time to Dance was released to starred reviews in Kirkus, Booklist, VOYA and SLJ. And what amazing reviews each of those was — I was moved to tears by each one of them.

And some of the other marvelous reviews the book got — online at LitUp reviews and in newspapers such as the Denver Post — also made me weep with joy. Because it feels like out there in the ether, there are some people who really, truly, “got” the book, and love my work.

But then, I keep reminding myself — and I hope I’ll never forget — that for me, as for Veda, art is and must remain a way to stay in touch with something above, beyond and vaster than my puny self.

I’m not sure I’ll ever lose the immense relief and gratification and sheer joy that I feel whenever my work is sincerely loved and praised. I even admit I yearn for even more recognition and even greater honors and awards than my work has already got.  I admit I think my work deserves and I hope it attains far higher levels of success, even though I feel incredibly grateful for all the blessings people have showered on me and my work thus far.

But, despite that rather materialistic craving that overcomes me every now and then, I know I need to nurture the deeper aspect of my love of writing.

Ultimately, I love writing the same way Veda loves dance. Writing is my art. Even if (heaven forbid) no one ever published my work again, I’d still keep on writing. Writing is my life.

So I never google myself or any of that. Instead, I try to stay centered, and write for and from that centeredness.

Because when I write, despite all I’ve said, I realize the books are like gifts given to me. I’m lucky I can transcribe the voices I hear in my head — and those voices aren’t “mine.” Stories possess me.  I don’t own the world of words.


A Time to Dance is now available. Find out more about Padma Venkatraman at her website.

On Knowing Your Own History

By Nina LaCour

Author Nina LaCour (Photo Credit: Kristyn Stroble)
Author Nina LaCour (Photo Credit: Kristyn Stroble)

When I was a kid making my way through the California public school system, I took great care in bubbling in the demographic information on our standardized test packets. For the race/ethnicity section, I filled in as many circles as applied. My mother’s best guess for her mother, who was orphaned as a child and died years before I was born, was British, so I filled in White for her. I filled in American Indian for my maternal grandfather, because my aunt, the genealogist of the family, had found her grandparents had roots in the Cherokee nation.

My father’s family was Creole, from Louisiana, a culture comprised of French, African and Native American. With White and American Indian already filled in, I added Black for them. I liked the look of those filled-in dots on the page, like little clues about where I came from.

***

My new novel, Everything Leads to You, is the story of an eighteen-year-old named Emi, an emerging production designer who gets swept up in a mystery that leads her to love.  Her father is white and a Pop Culture professor. Her mother is half-white and half-black, and a professor of Black Studies. Emi’s race is not an issue in the book; it’s one facet of who she is in the world, and having academics as parents is another. This also applies to Emi’s sexuality: it’s a lesbian love story, but the lesbianism is not an issue. It’s all about the love.

When I was working on the early drafts, I was thinking a lot about an NYT opinion article titled “As Black as You Wish to Be” and its relation to my own identity. In it, memoirist Thomas Chatterton Williams takes the historical concept that “one drop” of black blood makes a person black, and brings it into the present. Williams has a white mother and a black father. He is married to a white French woman. He states that when he has children, their black heritage may not be visible, and argues the following: “Mixed-race blacks have an ethical obligation to identify as black — and interracial couples share a similar moral imperative to inculcate certain ideas of black heritage and racial identity in their mixed-race children, regardless of how they look.”

Williams’ position struck me powerfully. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, four hundred miles away from my Creole family in Los Angeles and much farther than that from my mother’s family in Florida and North Carolina. In my daily life, I didn’t feel connected to any specific cultural or ethnic heritage. My dad made Creole food sometimes, gumbo and jambalaya, and sometimes we listened to the Neville Brothers. Otherwise, I only witnessed Creole culture when we traveled south for big family events, when my grandparents would reacquaint me with my elder relatives and I’d revel in their accents and expressions, their dark, soft faces and their reminiscences.

In some ways, I felt home among them.

But I also felt like an outsider.

In a recent conversation, my dad said that when he was younger he felt tied to his heritage, proud of it. He spoke of moving freely in and out of the houses of extended family and friends, of sprawling, weekly picnics in Griffith Park. He said he felt a part of something. When I think of the times I celebrated with all my great aunts and uncles and cousins, and the ladies of the family pulled out parasols and the men turned up the music, and the second line dance began—when I think of what it felt like to dance in that line surrounded by my family—I think I understand a little bit of what my dad must have felt.

***

lacour-everythingleadstoyouWhen working on my novel, I found an unplanned theme emerging. I’d be in the middle of a scene and a character would say something to the effect of how important it is to know your own history.

When thinking of my own history, I think of how census records for my dad’s parents read “Race: Negro,” of how my grandfather fought in the all-black troops in WWII, and how they left New Orleans for Los Angeles after the war in order to escape segregation and thereby have better job opportunities, and how my dad’s birth certificate’s race field says “Colored.”

I think about how my grandfather raised my dad to believe that he was black, until the Watts riots erupted in 1965 when my dad was eleven, and racial tensions ran so high in their Compton neighborhood that the disparity between identity and appearance became impossible to ignore.

I think about the night that Barack Obama was elected President, and how my dad cried, and then composed himself enough to tell us this story:

In around 1959, a traveling carnival visited Los Angeles. At that time his extended family and their friends, Creole people who had moved over a span of a few years in a mini-emigration from New Orleans, lived in a cluster, sharing households and occupying multiple units of apartment buildings. My dad’s grandfather usually stayed within their community, but they left the neighborhood one night to go to the carnival.

They parked several blocks away, and my four or five-year-old dad walked between his father and grandfather, holding their hands.

His grandfather was looking all around, taking in the scenery and the other fair-goers, until my dad felt something strange. His grandfather was shaking and his palms were sweating. My dad signaled to his dad that something was wrong.

“What is it?” his dad asked his grandfather. “What’s wrong?”

“We can’t go in there,” his grandfather said. “It’s not for us.”

My dad knew his grandfather to be a strong, unwavering man. He had never seen him afraid, but now he was trembling.

They stopped walking. His dad looked his grandfather in the eye.

“Dad,” his father said. “This is California. We can go wherever we want to go.”

***

Here is a sentence from Williams’ essay that haunts me:

[A]s I envision rearing my own kids with my blond-haired, blue-eyed wife, I’m afraid that when my future children — who may very well look white — contemplate themselves in the mirror, this same society, for the first time in its history, will encourage them not to recognize their grandfather’s face.

***

Black, White, American Indian. I can still see how those floating dots looked on the test packet and feel the satisfaction I found in coloring each of them in.

Passing as white, for me, is simple, and for most of my life that’s how I thought of myself, but it isn’t what I think anymore. I don’t consider myself black, either, but I agree with Williams, and with the characters in my book: it’s important to know your own history.

I am rarely asked to provide information on my cultural heritage anymore, but a year ago my wife and I had a baby, and a woman from the birth certificates office kept calling and dropping into my hospital room to see if we had chosen a name for our daughter. I had a complicated pregnancy and birth, and in the hazy days of recovery my wife and I took our time deciding. Finally, we had it, and after spelling it out for her, she asked what to put down on the long form under race.

“Oh,” I said.

I looked at my wife. She shrugged.

I hadn’t considered our daughter’s race, but she is fair-skinned with deep blue eyes and light hair.

“White, I guess?” I said.

“Anything else?” the woman asked.

I shook my head. And then when she was half way to the door I changed my mind.

“Actually,” I said. “Is Creole an option?”

She said yes.

We put that down, too.

The narrator in my book is much like me. People don’t register a specific ethnicity when they see her, but there is a lot of invisible history there.

No matter how many stories I’d heard about my heritage, how many photographs I’d seen of the darkly complexioned family members who came before me, when I looked in the mirror I saw straight brown hair and hazel eyes and fairly light skin. It was an article I read in the newspaper that made me reconsider how I see myself.

In a time when interracial families are more and more prevalent, more mixed-race children will choose, whether consciously or not, to remember who came before them, or to forget.

I choose to remember.


Nina LaCour is the author of the award-winning Hold Still and the widely acclaimed The Disenchantments. Formerly a bookseller and high school English teacher, she now writes and parents full time. A San Francisco Bay area native, Nina lives with her family in Oakland, California. Visit her website or follow her on Twitter @nina_lacour.

In Memory of Patricia Aust

For years, Miguel’s dad has been physically abusing his mom and sister and terrorizing Miguel for no good reason. What happens when his mother and sister decide to take a stand? Shelter is an emotional and stirring novel told from the point of view of a young man who is torn between the love he feels for his abusive father and the responsibility to protect his family.

By Laura Aust-Olkin

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My mother, Patricia Aust, passed away suddenly from cancer just after Shelter (Luminis Books, May 2014) was accepted for publication. In her memory fifty percent of all royalties from her book will be donated to the women’s shelter where she volunteered. In the months before her death she had been working on her autobiography. This is how she described the beginning of her lifelong calling to defend children in need:

I was always a feisty kid — active, curious, and bossy. And I was always interested in other kids and the adults in my world. My predisposition to help children, though, probably started in fourth grade, with Ivy. At least I think so because the incident still makes me mad and I still remember it exactly the same way every time I think about injustice.

Ivy was tall, slender, and the only African American student in our room. She wore clean, older clothes and her hair was a little messy. Sometimes we played together on the playground; sometimes we compared drawings we’d done when we had free time. I sat in the second desk of a middle row, and until this early fall day, directly behind Ivy. I was rushing to finish a written assignment when I became aware that she had been yanked out of her seat and our teacher was shaking her so hard that her head rolled back and forth on her shoulders.

I don’t know what her “crime” was, but thought the punishment unfair. Miss “Jones”, our teacher, had never before or after that day manhandled a student. These were not the days of “sue anyone who does you the least wrong” and African-American parents rarely dared to speak up. But to this day, I wonder if Miss “Jones” would have dared, even then, to treat me or any other white student in the class that way.

I was outraged. I stared at Miss “Jones” during and after the assault. She finally opened Ivy’s desk, gathered up her books, and said, “You will do better in the back, behind Ronnie.”

I never told anyone about this incident, but it remains in my head as the first cruelty I experienced that seemed to have something to do with the fact that a child was poor and not white.

My mother became a social worker and worked with children her whole adult life. After she retired from her job as a school social worker she volunteered counseling children at a domestic violence shelter. Many of the children at the shelter were Hispanic. She witnessed first-hand how domestic violence touched each member of the family — from the scared little children afraid to trust anyone to the mothers trying so hard not to return to their abusive husbands. Shelter was written for the teenage victims of domestic violence — for the boys who, without intervention, are destined to emulate their abusive fathers, and for the girls who face the prospect of falling into the same abusive situations simply because they don’t know anything else.

Author Patricia Aust
Author Patricia Aust

My mother wrote Shelter not only to encourage these at-risk teenagers to fight back against abuse but also to inspire people of all ages to support anyone they know who is a victim of abuse. My mother’s wish in writing Shelter was for no one, regardless of their color or race or financial circumstances, to ever accept that domestic violence is just a part of everyday life.

I remember being sixteen years old and witnessing my friend’s boyfriend grabbing her and twisting her arm so hard that she cried out in pain. I jumped in between them and yelled in the guy’s face, “Go ahead, if you want to hit someone, hit me! Find out what happens!” He let her go and he didn’t hit me. Instead, he walked away. I suppose my lack of fear came from the fact that mother told me that abusers are bullies and cowards-and I believed her. Of course he wouldn’t hit me. Stand up to a bully and they run away, right? When I told her what happened, I can’t say she was happy that I put myself in harm’s way, but I do know she was proud of me for standing up for my friend. She would have done the same thing.

Shelter is available available through Indiebound, and where books are sold.

How Do You Say Your Name?

By Mariko Tamaki

I grew up in Canada, in Toronto, which is a very multicultural city, in a house with a Caucasian mother and a Japanese (third generation Canadian) father.  Being Japanese wasn’t something we discussed; it was mostly something we ate.

Author Mariko Tamaki
Author Mariko Tamaki

Until I was in grade school, I didn’t actually know I was Japanese.  I just thought I had one parent with bigger eyebrows.  He was also my dad so I just thought it was a dad thing.

When I was in grade school, it started coming up.  I learned weird, vaguely racist, rhyming games in the schoolyard and brought them home, showing my mom how I could stretch my eyes.

“Look mom, I have Chinese eyes!”

In grade school, people started telling me I was Asian.  In fact, for a long time I thought “Eurasian” was just “you’re Asian,” because I heard it so often.

When I knew I was Japanese, finally, I looked for books about Japanese Canadian girls.  I got a book of Japanese folktales and, eventually, in high school, someone gave me Obasan by Joy Kogawa, a book about the internment of the Japanese Canadians during WWII. Which is a great book, but it was a little bit like, “here is your book.”

“This is it?”

“Yes.”

As a Japanese Canadian writer, I often get asked questions of how my race, and my background, have affected my writing.

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What happens one summer when Rose and her friend Windy befriend a local teen caught up in something bad — something life threatening?

The answer is, of course, it does.

My understanding of the importance of race, of diversity and representation, is absolutely influenced by my experiences growing up Japanese Canadian.

The simple answer of how being Japanese affects my writing is that as someone who is part of the diversity of people on this planet, I see a value in populating my books accordingly.

So just about everything I write has a person who is not white in it, in or close to center.

Beyond that, I would say that, race was a complicated thing for me and so it’s often a complicated thing for my characters.  Most of them deal with a whole mishmash of identity issues, the big identity question we all have to start tackling in grade school and wrestle with into [insert your age here].  They struggle with being different.  They struggle with things they are told to be but don’t feel like being.  With not knowing what else to be.

Race was something I was given that I never completely understood.  It is my theory that all the things we can’t take for granted, like race, like gender, like sexuality, become ripe subjects for art in later years.

It is the benefit we reap from years of frustration.

It’s a diversity of frustrations (because not everyone’s experience of race and culture is the same) that should be in more books more often.


Mariko Tamaki is a Canadian writer and performer. In addition to her celebrated graphic novel Skim, co-created with Jillian Tamaki, she has also published several works of prose fiction and nonfiction, including the young adult novel (You) Set Me on Fire. Mariko’s short film Happy 16th birthday Kevin premiered at the Inside Out Festival in Toronto in May 2013. Her most recent graphic novel is This One Summer, with Jillian Tamaki.

 

“Too Asian”: Time for Diversity?

By Joyce Chng

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In the beginning

Rider began with visuals in my head: a golden-furred pterosaur soaring overhead and a figure striding towards me, dressed in riding leathers and boots. As visuals go, this refused to budge and I found myself writing, first a short flash piece and then followed by longer chapters. A month was what it took for it to crystallize and take final form. The second and third books were written a few months later.

The series has pterosaur-like aliens who speak in images and colors. It also have a main character who is the descendent of Chinese colonists, a girl with a burning desire to be a Rider, like her older sister (oh, the sibling rivalry!). The world is a desert planet, terra-formed by the settlers. Yet the desert is slowly creeping back and reclaiming the land as its own. I first tested the ground with a raw draft on Smashwords and the response was generally good. They liked it! Even my older girl, my taste-test for all things YA, liked it and wanted more. Later, I pitched it to a local independent press, Math Paper Press, and Kenny Leck, the publisher, liked it too.

So, here we go: my first published YA SFF series in print. A series that resonated with me and my daughter liked. Yet, I found it an uphill task when Rider and Speaker went on Amazon. The uptake was slow and I was disappointed. Then the reviews came in. Mostly good, but some were really hurtful and surprising. One remark I got was that Rider was “too Asian” and I shouldn’t have mentioned so many Asian things like food and culture. One-star. The irony was that the person who wrote this review was also Chinese.

I found it shocking. We are all asking for diversity in MG and YA lit, but are our readers ready for it?  In a fast-changing world where privilege goes hand-in-hand with discrimination and bigotry, are we truly ready for a diverse YA lit-scape?

The Singapore market

Of note: I am Singaporean-Chinese, living in Singapore where the YA scene itself is slowly growing, but the readers still consume mostly US-centric YA books. Walk into a bookstore and it is all US-centric and dominated by the big publishing houses. You hardly see any local YA books there and even then, the local books are tucked in a small unnoticeable corner. Reception is cold and most of the time, it is not there. Mainly because, perhaps, Singapore is a small market.

The publishing houses that are putting out YA and MG books are a mixture of big and small presses. Marshall Cavendish, Epigram Books, Select Books and Math Paper Press. The MG books seem to be doing much better than YA books, simply because the marketing has been consistent and targeted at a sizable portion of the population: kids. YA, however, seems otherwise. This is not to say that there is no interest in YA books written by local authors. There are government-funded initiatives to encourage local aspiring YA writers. At the same time, there are self-published YA authors like Low Kay Hwa who rely on word of mouth and volunteers (i.e. local school kids!) to get people buying.

I always joke that Singapore bookstore chains are only known to carry textbooks and assessment books (books created specifically for home practice ) and any market-savvy writer would be smart enough to become a textbook or assessment book author. There is a great demand here, simply because well, Singapore is an exams-mad/academic-orientated country with parents wanting their kids to excel in school. Independent bookstores like Books Actually and big book chain name Kinokuniya though do carry more YA books, even by local authors, though Kino tends to put local books under the Singapore/local section.

Despite such challenges (!), there is some sign of interest in Singaporean and Southeast Asian YA/MG. We have the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, a conference where authors, agents and book publishers discuss issues in children’s fiction. We also now have a one-day conference targeted at young writers too, many of whom are also writing YA. I am cautiously hopeful to see these events bear fruit.

To the future and beyond

I really hope the Rider Trilogy will take off (no pun intended) and I am eternally optimistic, even if the task is challenging and sometimes emotionally draining.

The Rider Trilogy has its own page: http://awolfstale.wordpress.com/the-rider-trilogy-ya-sf/ (with buy links from Amazon and Gumroad).


imageJoyce Chng is Singaporean-Chinese and lives in Singapore. She writes science fiction, urban fantasy and YA. She can be found at A Wolf’s Tale, talking about writerly stuff and Life, and as @jolantru on Twitter.

Five Things I Learned While Writing PORTRAIT OF US

In the new summer romance Portrait of Us by A. Destiny and Rhonda Helms, art may be the common ground between opposites Corinne and Matthew.

By Rhonda Helms

destiny-portraitofus1. There is no singular “authentic” PoC (people of color) experience.

I know this sound ridiculously obvious…and it does to me now too, lol. But when I started this book, I was kind of afraid. After all, I’m a white woman. What do I know about writing a black teen girl? How can I go about making sure she felt…authentic? Luckily, authors like Malinda Lo gently pointed me toward some excellent reading on the topic of PoC authenticity. So I read and read. I devoured articles written by PoC who discussed their experiences, their frustrations, their needs. I absorbed their voices and their hurts and heard what it was like to be marginalized, judged, in situations I’ve never experienced before. As I read, I put aside my assumptions as best as I could, put aside what I thought I had to accomplish in this book, and just listened. And then, with all that filling my heart, I wrote Portrait of Us.

There is no one correct way to write a black girl, because there is no one “type” of any race. She can be smart or flaky. Fun-loving or serious. Deeply attached to her family or individualistic. Just like any other person on the face of the earth. We are all authentic because we are all real. So as I wrote, I kept my focus on making my heroine a fleshed-out person with her own hopes and dreams and fears. I hope that makes her authentic. She sure feels real to me. <3

2. I’m nervous about how the book will be received.

This is my first main-character-as-PoC book, and I’m a tiny bit scared that I’m going to let people down, that I’ll have gotten it “wrong” and offend readers. Despite the knowledge I gained from reading and listening to many kind and open PoC, I know that I’m still writing through a veil of white privilege and I can never understand their perspectives 100%. And though I’m making great strides to try to work beyond that, it’s hard to shake it off sometimes. Still, despite that nervousness (and the real probability that I have gotten something wrong), I’m so glad I wrote it — because I feel like the experience pushed me to be a better writer. And the next PoC book I write will too, and the one after that. Because writing is hard, and it should be. It should challenge us … and those around us.

At times like this, when I’m nervous about my work, I remind myself that my voice isn’t the important one here. There are so many incredible, talented PoC authors who are writing books that blow my mind, that push boundaries and open up worlds and perspectives. They reach and touch readers who need them the most — not just other PoC but people like me, who crave diversity. These authors are the ones who should be given all the praise for their efforts, because they’ve worked so tirelessly to diversify bookshelves. Yes, my work matters, of course, but the point is … their voice is key, and mine is there to help support them. Rock on, you guys.

Author Rhonda Helms
Author Rhonda Helms

3. The fellowship of authors is amazing.

There is this huge network of authors who support each other — bond over rejections, bemoan tight deadlines, stress over plot twists and writer’s block and covers and more. I’ve been a writer for a while, and every book I work on has been stronger because of the net of other authors around me. Not to mention how they help you promote your book for no other reason than to help out and be kind. What a wonderful support system. I am so grateful. <3

4. Art enriches lives beyond ways I never realized.

This book’s theme centers around art — what’s comfortable, what makes you nervous or feels odd or creeps you out. I’m growing to love art that challenges me to step out of my comfort zone, and I feel like my heroine was pushed out of hers too. While I wrote this book, I realized a lot of what she felt was similar to my views … I tend to prefer classical art with pictures I can “understand.” But the romantic interest in Portrait of Us is so different. He loves contemporary, controversial art. Writing him, listening to his voice, helped expand my world, helped expand my respect for people who create art I don’t understand.

5. The romantic declaration scene in a book gets me every. dang. time.

I love writing romance. There’s something so powerful about bringing people together, against the odds, seeing them fall in love bit by bit. For me, it all culminates in the big declaration of love. Seeing their walls dropped, them laying it all on the line and hoping against hope the other person feels the same way too … it’s almost like a high. I sigh and swoon every time I write it, and this book is no exception. My heroine is so strong and beautiful and smart, but she was scared to fall in love. It was a privilege writing her story.

Portrait of Us is now available. Find out more about Rhonda Helms at her website, or follow her on Twitter @rhelmsbooks.