Category Archives: Interviews

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

Interview With Everett Maroon

On reconceptualizing disability as a superpower, gender diversity, and queer history in the new YA time-travel novel, The Unintentional Time Traveler

By J.S. Kuiken

new-maroon-unintentionalThis week, Everett Maroon’s YA science fiction novel, The Unintentional Time Traveler, just hit real and virtual bookshelves. The novel, which will be the first of a trilogy, features a wonderfully diverse set of characters in terms of race, class, culture, gender, and sexuality. Everett is also the author of the memoir Bumbling Into Body Hair, and a miscellany of articles and short stories for queer and feminist publications such as Bitch Magazine, and The Collection: Short Stories from the Transgender Vanguard. He was also a Lambda Literary Fellow at the 2013 Emerging Writer’s Retreat, where I had the good fortune to meet him. Everett was kind enough to answer some questions I had about his journey to becoming a writer, and the choices he made in writing The Unintentional Time Traveler.

Jesse Kuiken: To start off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your history as a writer. How did you get started with writing and then publishing?

Everett Maroon: I began writing stories in the freezing front bedroom of my parents’ house in New Jersey, banging away on an old Royal typewriter. I had to wear a coat and a scarf and sometimes I’d see my breath but I took it as part of the process because one, I didn’t know any better, and two, I had a bit of an imagination and flair for drama. (Clearly.) I wrote stories about whatever interest I had at the moment—famous disasters, Abraham Lincoln, reincarnation—and I read nonstop, everything from Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and anything by Madeline L’Engle. I went through a few summer writing workshops and creative writing courses in college, and then I bought the whole story about needing to have a “secure” job and I gave up writing.

Author Everett Maroon

Author Everett Maroon

For twenty years I told myself I wasn’t any good at it anyway. I really let my inner critic really run the shop for a long time. Then I moved across the country away from everyone I knew, blew out my ACL so I was recovering at home, and the entire global economy collapsed, so my partner suggested I try getting back to writing. If there were ever a crappy but useful alignment of the planets, this was it. I started writing again and then all of the ideas and characters and stories I’d bottled up for two decades came tumbling back out. I got close to signing a deal with an agent a few times and then instead I found a start-up publisher who loved my memoir, and now I’ve got my debut young adult novel coming out.

I don’t want to make it sound like it was all easy, because it hasn’t been. I must have done fifteen revisions on the memoir and at least a dozen rejections from agents, but several of them had nice things to say about the story and my work, and I simply felt a push to keep going. I went to conferences and met other authors, talked to agents and editors, got to see up close how formulaic some of the publishing industry can be (we only take books about such-and-such), but was relieved to see that there are a lot of small houses and presses out there that crave experimental work, niche themes, genre crossovers, and the like. I told myself I wanted to be known as a passionate professional who was a team player and easy to work with, and I’m glad that this is now my reputation. Whew! But it’s a complicated, very dynamic industry and it takes almost as much energy to keep up with its chaos as to write new work.

JK: When you were writing this novel, did you know what ways queerness and trans-ness would be important to the narrative, or did those evolve as you wrote?

EM: I had two themes in my mind when I started writing—that I wanted to re-conceptualize disability as a superhuman power and that I wanted to humanize a process of thinking about gender identity for young readers. Growing up with epilepsy, I had many of my seizures during my sleep, so I would wake up in the hospital and it was almost like I’d teleported there, and I have wanted to write a story along those lines for a long time. I knew Jack would land in the body of a tomboy, and I wanted to make a statement about gender diversity by showing different ways of expressing gender. I hoped also that some people would find it difficult to say whether the main character is a boy or a girl at the end of the first book, and I also expect that readers will come away with a variety of interpretations about Jack/Jacqueline’s identity. I welcome that freedom from a book.

The queer aspects I hadn’t figured out before I started writing, but I was happy to put them in there because there is a difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, and I wanted to give young readers a text for exploring those differences. And then in the relationship with Jeannine I made sure I wasn’t heralding queer or straight relationships over each other. Teens get enough of hierarchies in their lives, enough rules and limitations. I wanted to provide them with the possibility of having relationships with people they feel connected to instead of based on what package those people have on their exterior.

JK: I’ve never read a time travel story which included such an innovative and fascinating twist as yours did when Jack changed to Jacqueline when he went back in time. Why choose the “sex switch” in particular for your protagonist?

EM: As plot is fueled by conflict, I needed to up the stakes for Jack right away. He can get lost in his own head so I wanted to see how he would react when he realized he was in a female body. Now instead of writing off his experience as a simple hallucination, he needs to ask himself some questions—if this is all in his mind, why conjure up a girl, is being Jacqueline a sign that this is all actually real? Originally I didn’t want the first book to answer whether the time travel was real or imagined, but my beta readers needed at least the hint of an answer, so I wrote that in. But the switch to a female body is a very workable pivot point for Jack in terms of believing in his own experience, in opening up his mind, and in complicating his feelings for Lucas, and it gives him another reason to be fascinated and invested in the earlier era.

JK: I really enjoyed and was surprised by the character of Jeannine. She was so cool and level-headed, even when there were major personal things going on in her life. How do you see Jeannine and her role, especially in context of some of the major tropes of young women and romance in young adult literature, ie, the “Bella syndrome” in Twilight, or the prevalence of (usually heterosexual) romantic plots for young women in YA literature? How does Jeannine, to your mind, challenge some of that?

EM: I like that you call this visage of women a trope, because it seems that way to me, too, especially in young adult fiction. I am much more interested in popular characters like Katniss Everdeen and Hermione Granger because they have so much more initiative and agency. And they’re more like the young women I knew in high school. Jeannine is smart and thoughtful. It was hard for me to leave her love for Jack unrequited—at least what we got to see of it in the book—because I wanted her to receive affection, not just send it out. But she is about so much more than romance, so I was more invested in showing other parts of her. And there’s so much in popular culture that sets up hierarchies among teens, but this fails to acknowledge that lots of young people have small friend circles of equals, so I wanted to show Jeannine as uninterested in those categories.

Also I wanted to make a statement about compassion and intelligence not being mutually exclusive conditions, as they’re often shown in dichotomies and often along gendered lines (women are compassionate, men are intelligent). Jeannine exhibits both, in the way she helps Jack work through his anxiety about whether he’s time traveling or not, the way she sets up the “headquarters” at her friend’s house, and so on. And I think it’s pretty darn impressive how she handles rejection like a boss. Jeannine is a bad ass.

JK: You made some fascinating choices for the character of Sanjay, who is Jack’s friend. Later in the novel, I really loved how Sanjay became involved in ACT UP and gay activism of the 1980’s. Queer people are often divorced from their own history. That is, our history is not represented in history classes, in television and film, and has often been erased or ignored. Queer people of color — folks like Sanjay — are doubly erased in terms of their queerness and their race. Why do you think it’s important that readers — especially queer young adults of all races — have access to and understand their own history, especially in regards to organizations like ACT UP and the AIDs crises?

EM: I love Sanjay, he’s a total rock star. For years I’ve been fascinated by our poor collective memory, especially in the context of communities on the margins of culture. As in, who gets to tell our stories and how they interpret the past have so much bearing on how/if we remember that past. There is so much today that came directly out of the struggle around AIDS and ACT UP, and I wanted to give young readers at least a mention of those things, which will take more space in the next books in this series. And I also am interested in making sure that the retelling of those histories—which are always contested—show the complexity and gravity of their time and are not some “easy” depiction of happy activists where the outcome is never in question. There’s no single narrative around AIDS that can get at all of the pieces that were in play in the 1980s and 90s, so I hope to see a multiplicity of stories in popular culture.

But especially we’re missing stories about AIDS, queerness, and race. Far too many of the most successful narratives about AIDS and gay history have been whitewashed, when in fact people of color not only have been a part of that history but they’ve helped shift it. ACT UP in particular has a strong history of participation of queers of color, so that was an intentional choice I made—what group could Sanjay find for his activism, I’d wondered. It was important to me to show Sanjay as actively working within a community of people on the margins for their own betterment, only a few years removed from being scared to come out. I’m grateful that he comes into his own in this novel.

JK: In reference to the question above: why do you think a time travel story like this is important and relevant to young adults and to the problem of queer people and people of color being erased from history?

EM: Certainly “queer” itself is located in a specific place and time. And of course those spatial and temporal locations are themselves under debate. It was Samuel Delany who told me that he and his friends used “queer” in the 1950s in New York City—I hadn’t realized it was a popular term even then. (Another reason we need to read works by people who were writing before our time!) But we’ve had same sex relationships and community for a long time, we’ve played with gender tropes and exhibited a variety of gender expression for a good while, and communities of color have created their own subcultures for years. None of these are recent developments. I would love for youth to ask themselves who came before them, can what they learn from our elders, what histories are out there? I want them to ask who Jacqueline was in 1911 and who else might have been around who realigned gender or sexuality in an earlier time. Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes gave us a gender non-conforming character who had a lesbian relationship in the 1930s South, but you’d never know it from the Hollywood movie version.

For all kinds of terrible and offensive reasons, these histories get buried and silenced in popular culture. And the narratives about people of color and queer people become reduced to stereotypes or unhelpful tropes, like the Middle Eastern terrorist and trans women as victims. But queer history is full of amazing stories, including the central moment at Stonewall, which had everything to do with gender nonconforming people of color resisting police harassment. And the early days of AIDS, while full of suffering are also about a marginalized community standing up for itself and demanding change. Rather than ask young readers to dig to uncover these narratives, I want to put them front and center. It’s not just that we “are” everywhere, it’s that we’ve been everywhere for quite a while. I hope that such realizations could help LGBT youth and youth of color feel a bit less isolated and alienated. Something like, “We’re here for you, and we love you for who you are. Hey, here’s a cool story.”

The Unintentional Time Traveler is now available. Find out more about Everett Maroon at his website or follow him on Twitter @EverettMaroon.

Each Person Contains Multitudes: T Cooper and Allison Glock-Cooper Interview Each Other

new-cooper-changersThis week marks the official release date for Changers Book One: Drew, the first of a four-volume series co-authored by T Cooper and Allison Glock-Cooper, published by Akashic Books. Changers is about a high school freshman named Ethan Miller who awakens one morning as a Drew Bohner, a girl. Ethan is a Changer, a member of a race who spends each year of high school as a different person.

T Cooper is the author of four novels for adults as well as the nonfiction Real Man Adventures. Allison Glock-Cooper is a journalist and the author of Beauty Before Comfort. We invited them to interview each other about writing their first young adult novel together.

T COOPER: Just to establish, I am your husband.

ALLISON GLOCK-COOPER: And I am your wife.

TC: And we wrote this book together.
AGC: Yes, we did.

TC: How would you say that went?

AGC: On the whole? Great. But it was not without challenges.

TC: I think I thought it went better than you did.

AGC: We are both passionate people, and we both had firm ideas about what our characters should and shouldn’t do. It was a little weird to have heated arguments over the dining table about whether or not our heroine Drew would want to go to prom and what might she wear to it, but it also felt good to work on something we both cared about deeply, exploring issues we believe are vital to insert into the current cultural conversation.

TC: You mean like issues around gender identity, sexual identity, tolerance, and empathy?

AGC: Yes! Also, the menace that is cheerleading.

TC: Weren’t you a cheerleader?

AGC: I was. But only for a year. And I was captain of the basketball team the same year. Clearly, I had some identity issues of my own. What about you?

TC: I was never a cheerleader.

Allison Glock-Cooper and T Cooper

Allison Glock-Cooper and T Cooper

AGC: I can’t really see you rocking the pleated skirt. Shouldn’t we talk more about the book? Like, what it’s about and why we wanted to write it in the first place?

TC: Yes, of course. I was distracted by thinking about you as a spirited, bouncing cheerleader. Moving on… Well, seeing as we have two young adult daughters of our own sharing a house and a life with us, I suppose we can’t help but come right up against how different it is growing up these days from when we were teens. How everything is on blast all the time, how hard it is for young people to navigate relationships when so much “relating” is conducted online, instead of face to face.

AGC: We were also interested in having a real dialogue about identity. We believe everybody is (or can be) everything. That each person contains multitudes, and it is in high school, especially, when we wrestle most acutely with which identity is going to surface and dominate. We thought it would make a fun read to take that psychological process and make it literal. Hence, our characters wake up each year of high school as someone completely different—gender-wise, race-wise, body-wise, etc. They are forced to “walk in another person’s shoes” for the year. To deal with how their outside appearances change the way they are treated and mistreated in the world. And they either grow—or don’t—from the experience. When you were in high school, did you want to be someone else?

TC: I think I must’ve, but I didn’t know that I could actually BE somebody else until at least a decade later. I have a question: do you think we would’ve fallen in love if we had met in high school?

AGC: I do, actually. Do you? (I’m guessing no.)

TC: Why would you guess No?! Just like our protagonist Drew (née Ethan), and who s/he’s going to turn into in the next three books, I believe I was the same person I am inside, just younger and dumber and decidedly less sure of who I was. But that wouldn’t change the almost magical, inexplicable and entirely inevitable thing that would’ve happened the minute I intersected with you in life. Whether 20 years ago or 5 years ago, I would’ve loved who you are, your “soul” or what-have-you, and I would know that I needed to spend my life with you no matter what. Duh.

AGC: I’m with you. I really do believe love and connection is about the soul, the interior. That the exterior can really muck things up sometimes. Not that I don’t like your exterior.

TC: Well, I am irresistibly handsome.

AGC: Indeed. But one of the things we play with in the book series is how love and friendship and those authentic soul connections transcend the physical. Which makes it sound really woo-woo, which it isn’t. It’s basically a love story where the main characters learn to love each other as several different people. Which, incidentally, is everyone’s story. I mean, over a lifetime, we all change so much. Do you agree?

TC: I do, and with teenagers, sometimes it’s that to the extreme, trying on different identities and running them up the flag pole with friends at school. This week I’m a nerd, this week a goth, next week I’m a break-dancer…

AGC:  They don’t call them that anymore.

TC: You know what I mean. Like, a beat-boxer or something.

AGC: I don’t think that’s what it’s called either.

TC: [beat-boxing] Bouncing cats, bouncing cats, bouncing cats

AGC: It seems like you are trying on a new identity right now.

TC: Why not?

AGC: Why not, indeed? You ready to go watch American Idol with the kids?

TC: I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by how many hours we have DVR-ed; I mean, how many years of alternately surprising or wacky auditions can we sit there and watch without wanting all of those hours of our lives back?

AGC: You love it. Don’t front. Last question: what would you say you learned from writing this book? And what do want readers to know most about the series?

TC: That’s two questions.

AGC: Ahem…

TC: I think I learned a thing or two about completely letting go of gender when conceiving of a narrator’s voice and developing it throughout the story. Ironically, I don’t think I’d thought of voice in those terms before—at least not so literally in terms of, This is for all intents and purposes a boy who is suddenly living in the body of a girl, and what would that transition look, sound and feel like? As for what I want readers to know about the series? I suppose if it makes even a few people think about love and gender in a different way, or makes someone think about things from other people’s perspectives before acting, then that’ll feel like a success. That sounds overly earnest, doesn’t it? Because I also want people to laugh at the book, because it’s supposed to be funny. What did you learn?

AGC: How good it feels to write something I’d want my kids to read. And how attached you can become to your characters. As a non-fiction writer, that was new for me. Inventing people and then bringing them to life was exhilarating. And they come to life so quickly. Before you know it, they are telling you what to say. (I realize now after typing that it makes me look slightly crazy.)

TC: No comment.

AGC: And that’s why we are still happily married.


Allison Glock-Cooper and T Cooper are the authors of Changers, a four-part YA book series debuting February 4, as well as the founders of Wearechangers.org, an Empathy Project aimed at teens and those who love them. More info can be found here: www.t-cooper.com and www.allisonglock.com.

Interview with Barry Goldblatt of BG Literary

By Cindy Pon

Literary agent Barry Goldblatt has represented many young adult authors including Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Lauren Myracle, and Libba Bray. He recently created the Angela Johnson Scholarship for the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults, which aims to support talented writers of color.

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Cindy Pon: I queried over a hundred agents back in 2008, and I’ll always remember your agency as one of the few that listed multicultural and/or diverse stories as something you were actively seeking. It certainly made a very positive impression on me. Why does diversity in children’s books matter to you, Barry?

Barry Goldblatt: To me, it’s quite simple: I don’t live in a monochrome world, so why should the stories I represent? The world is full of different stories, and as a reader I was always fascinated by reading about people and places that were different from me…and yet, oh so similar. I think good readers long for diverse experiences, and I also think that every reader deserves a chance to see themselves reflected in the pages of a book.

Cindy: How would you respond to aspiring writers who are afraid that including LGBT characters or characters of color in their book will make getting published more difficult?

Barry: I simply do not see that in my experience. I’ve never had a book rejected because of LGBT content, or because of the race or religion of characters in the story. In fact, quite the opposite experience, really: editors are readers at heart, and they’re eager to find a new story, a new approach, a new worldview.

That said, we obviously face difficulties in the marketing of said books, but I think many of those barriers are falling these days, and will continue to do so. If we keep providing great stories, the readers will come, and ultimately, all that will matter to them is that the face on the cover represents the character they love.

Cindy: You recently announced the creation of The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a partnership between your literary agency and the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Could you tell us more about this fantastic undertaking?

Barry: I have a long relationship with the wonderful MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts: I’ve represented a number of writers who have served as faculty there or who graduated from there. Their faculty is incredibly diverse, and it seems that would help attract a diverse student body, but when I visited recently as part of a alumni program, it was obvious to me that more was needed to accomplish that. So I proposed the scholarship, making it clear there were no strings attached: no recipient was required to submit their work to me or be represented by me. I just thought it was one small way I could put my money where my mouth is, to encourage writers who might not have even been aware of the program, or unable to afford it, to maybe come give it a try, and to help get their stories—from whatever background they’ve come from—get out into the world.

Cindy: And finally, are there any particular projects you are especially interested in representing right now?

Barry: I never know how to answer this question, because I really don’t know what I want until I read something that blows me away, and then of course I want that! In general, I’m looking for something brilliant, something that punches me in the mouth or the gut with an emotional wallop, or something that sneakily creeps up on my heart and squeezes. I want big stories of bravery and derring do, and I want small stories of love and compassion and understanding. All I ask, is that it grabs me and takes me somewhere else, somewhere new, somewhere unforgettable.

To learn more about the Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency, visit their website, bgliterary.com, or follow Barry on Twitter.

Interview with YALSA President Shannon Peterson

shannonpeterson-yalsaAfter our post on diversity in the Best Fiction for Young Adults lists, which are administered by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, YALSA’s president, Shannon Peterson, agreed to answer a few questions about BFYA. Be sure to also check out our interview with BFYA committee member Edith Campbell.

Diversity in YA: What do you believe is the purpose of the Best Fiction for Young Adults list, particularly in comparison to all the other lists and awards that are released every year by ALA’s various divisions?

Shannon Peterson: YALSA’s selection lists (including BFYA) are meant to support library workers in their collection development and reader’s advisory efforts with teens.

DiYA: According to the BFYA committee’s fuction statement, the titles on the BFYA list are “selected for their demonstrable or probable appeal to the personal reading tastes of the young adult.” Who is this “young adult”that the statement refers to?

SP: YALSA defines young adults as youth who are the between the ages of 12 and 18.

DiYA: Do you believe that the BFYA list should attempt to be more broadly inclusive of diversity, including race, sexual orientation, and disability? Why or why not?

SP: The BFYA committee should continue to select the best titles published in a given year with the end of goal of providing a collection development tool to be used by librarians in diverse communities. Thinking more broadly, it’s clearly important for the YA lit community (publishers, authors, and librarians) to continue to explore questions of what constitutes “diverse” for today’s teens, how/whether available titles and the characters therein are protrayed and written authentically, and if the market accurately reflects its readership.

DiYA: Do you have any thoughts on why the percentage of authors of color on the BFYA lists is so low?

SP: It would be interesting to determine the breakdown of diverse titles (however that is defined) that are actually published for young adults in a given year and anazlyze the data of whether/how any given “best of” lists reflect what is available in the market. Knowing that information would provide a more clear representation of how selection committees are actually faring with the titles that they are given.

DiYA: Do you think the BFYA should attempt to be more inclusive of authors of color? Why or why not?

SP: The volunteers who come together to create YALSA’s selection and award committees should always strive to identify the best titles related to the function of their list, whether that be finding the best titles for reluctant readers (Quick Picks), the best titles on a particular theme available in paperback (Popular Paperbacks), the best titles by debut authors (Morris), or the best teen literature in a given calendar year (Printz).  Given the ever increasing number of young adult titles published in a given year — roughly 4,000 annually —this is a challenging task. YALSA is always looking for better ways to help our volunteers sort through these thousands of titles so that they can identify the best potential candidates for lists and awards.

Shannon Peterson is currently serving as the 2013–2014 YALSA President. She is also a book selector, programmer, and youth advocate in her role as Youth Services Manager at Kitsap Regional Library. She can be reached atspeterson@krl.org or via her Twitter handle @Shantasmagoria.

Interview With Edith Campbell, BFYA Committee Member

Edith Campbell is a reference/instruction librarian at Indiana State University who blogs about books for teens of color at Crazy Quilt Edi and tweets @CrazyQuilts. She is also serving on this year’s Best Fiction for Young Adults committee, and agreed to answer a few questions for Diversity in YA about how she became involved with BFYA and how it all works.

Update 9/25/13: The responses Edith Campbell provided in the interview were hers and do not reflect opinions of YALSA or the BFYA committee.

Diversity in YA: How did you become involved with the BFYA committee, and why did you want to be on the committee?

Edith Campbell: I completed an online YALSA form last fall to volunteer for a variety of committees. I was interested in BFYA because I know there aren’t many librarians of color active on this or any selection committee. I wanted to be actively involved in creating opportunities for authors of color and not just complaining about it. I was asked to be part of a couple of other YALSA committees, but BFYA is so time consuming that it’s the only YALSA committee I’m on this year.

DiYA: According to the BFYA policies and procedures, anyone may nominate a work of YA fiction for BFYA. Then, a committee member must second this “field nomination” in order for the committee to actively consider it. Do you know about what proportion of nominated titles come from “the field”?

EC: Very few nominations come in as field nominations. I’d estimate fewer than a fifth.

DiYA: Can you take me through the procedures of what you’ve been doing while on this committee? For example, how do you decide which books to read? Do you communicate with your fellow committee members about what you’re reading over the course of the year?

EC: While we’re free to read any YA fiction that has been released during the appropriate part of the year, we’ve decided for each of us to address a particular genre. Some may focus on younger teens while others focus on mystery, romance or supernatural. That helps us tp be certain we’re addressing a wide range of reading interests. We’re sent a wide variety of books throughout the year. I sometimes select what to read from what I’ve been sent but we can also work through BFYA to request books. I notice we don’t seem to get many books from authors of color or that address diversity when it comes to religion, ethnicity or ability level and I often request those. Committee members do discuss our readings throughout the year.

DiYA: Who sends you these books to consider?

EC: We’re sent books by the publishers.

DiYA: Every year at ALA Midwinter there are sessions in which teen readers are invited to give their opinions on the BFYA nominations. What is the purpose of these sessions? Do the teens’ opinions have any bearing on the BFYA committee’s decisions?

EC: Teen interest plays a huge role in our selections. Many committee members are able to hear from teens in their own libraries, but we’re all able to hear from teens at midwinter and ALA in June. What these teens say is constantly referred to during our sessions. Teens opinions are extremely important to us.

DiYA: Does diversity (race, sexual orientation, disability) figure in your deliberations? Why or why not?

EC: I will not dislike a book because it lacks diversity. I don’t want authors thinking they need to force diversity (in any way) for a story to be well told. However, when there are characters of color present, when we’re reading about characters of different sexual orientations, different physical or mental abilities, I cannot help but consider how genuine these characters are. For a book to be good, characters have to be more than stereotypes. Their presence needs to have a real meaning in the story.

Then too, there needs to be an overall presence of diversity in the books we select. Librarians all over the country use this list to select books for teens in their libraries. That to me indicates a need for a very diverse list of books. So, yes, diversity does figure into my deliberations.

For more on the Best Fiction for Young Adults lists, read our analysis of diversity in the BFYA.

Interview with Eric Gansworth on “If I Ever Get Out of Here”

Diversity in YA: You’ve written several critically acclaimed novels for adults before, but this is your first novel for young adults. What inspired you to write this book?

Eric Gansworth: First, let me say thank you for taking the time to read this book and consider its themes and concerns. As often happens, several circumstances converging brought this book about. My fiction for adults involves younger life extensively, but always with distance, reflection. Young people’s literature advocate Debbie Reese and I gave conference keynotes together a few years ago, and as a result, we came to know of each other’s work more explicitly. Later, she introduced me to Cheryl Klein, Executive Editor at Arthur A. Levine. In our discussions of what made a great young adult novel, Cheryl noted a major difference between adult novels about youth and young adult novels is a sense of immediacy in the young adult novel’s scope. It was one of those moments of freedom for me, to understand I could write about young life without needing to set it up as a remembrance. I have no idea why I had to hear that specifically to understand its truth, but it was like magic for me.

Of my major conflicts at that age, the most dominant was the sense of culture shock. Our reservation school went through fifth grade, so other than our teachers, and a couple people who’d married into my family, I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t Indian until I was 11. I suspect that was true of my other 23 reservation classmates. Suddenly, that September, we were thrown into a school with 375 peers, most of whom were white and many of whom had some ill feelings toward the reservation’s inhabitants. A fiction writer needs to complicate characters’ lives, and that shift to junior high had been pretty complicating for me. It seemed like the perfect fictional situation, but I didn’t know exactly which aspect of that period to choose.

As often happens with me, a total fluke lighted the focusing fuse. Literary journal editors traditionally send contributors a copy of the issue their work is in. The contributor list in one journal I received contained the name of someone I’d gone to junior high with, a guy from a military family. Seeing that name, I had this sudden rush of memory. The important few non-Indian friends I’d had in junior high were military kids. The journal contributor turned out not to be my old friend, but thanks to Google Images, I did find him, immediately recognizing the boy I’d known in the man he’d become. He lived only a couple hours away. I eventually reached out and communicated with him, and he was very helpful in clarifying some details of his life as a military kid, but I was well on the way of developing the landscape I was going to dive into before I sent him an email. I didn’t want to be too locked into autobiographical details.

DiYA: Why did you decide to set the book in the 1970s?

EG: As a practical measure, I set much of my fiction in some frame parallel to my life. A lot of Extra Indians (my last novel for adults) occurs during the Vietnam War. Though the main characters are necessarily quite a bit older than I am, there is still a young character grounding it for me. I’m not sure why I tend to need that as a writer, but if it works…

In this case, I understood that a different era for a young adult novel might be an audience liability. I figured I’d write it true to my own era and attempt to update the setting when I was done. One central event was always going to be The Blizzard of ’77, a storm so notorious it seems to have saddled Buffalo with a permanent bad weather reputation. But I was willing to consider sacrificing that setting, if need be. Terrible storms still wreak havoc, despite all of our advances in the 35 years since this story’s era.

More than this singular weather event, though, I discovered that the kind of story I was telling demanded to exist in that time. Current technology and even current educational philosophy would have caused major headaches for the events I wanted Lewis to face. Things we take for granted, cell phones and the internet, just as ready examples, would have dramatically changed the novel’s landscape. The big decision to stick to the ‘70s came when I saw how large a role music was going to play in the novel. As it evolved, I understood I had to keep its setting despite the risks.

The 1970s was the great decade of the rock album as an artistic form. Artists had pioneered it with landmark albums in the 1960s, paving the way for bolder, more cohesive forms. The albums I grew up with were complete packages — with large format thematically sophisticated cover art, posters, stickers, lyric sheets, liner notes, all together presenting a synthesis of art, words and music. The physical form dictated tonal arcs. Because you had to flip the album to hear all of it, Side One and Side Two were carefully sequenced to complement each other. Even radio changed with the form’s dominance. FM stations began running “album oriented format,” in which DJs would play whole sides, dedicating resources because audiences wanted that full experience.

I’m not a music fogy — I love creating Playlists, and in the ’90s, I was a total Mix Tape Guy, sadly, like Ponytail Derek in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Just the same, even now, I still listen to full albums fairly often. I like to experience the complete artistic statement, and that inclination seems true of many people my age. I didn’t want this novel to lose the culture of “album love,” or “album worship.” The shared passion and discovery builds the friendship bridge for Lewis and George. It seems odd that this one thing was the deal breaker, but overhauling that fragile phase of their friendship would have been too major a risk if I’d set the novel now, in the era of individual song downloads and the option to “shuffle.”

DiYA: You’ve created artwork that riffs on famous album covers to accompany each part of the novel. For Part One, you’ve created art for a fictional album called If I Ever Get Out of Here that’s based on Paul McCartney’s album Band on the Run. What were you aiming to convey with this fictional album cover?

EG: Having had parallel careers as a professional writer and visual artist, I’ve been fortunate to have editors who’ve understood that these are complementary sides of my work. I love graphic design and illustration but that’s never really what I’m up to. I may love it so deeply in part because I am not skilled enough to do it. But my paintings often draw on the tropes of graphic design. For book images, I want parallel narratives for those readers who also have a visual sensibility. Because of that approach, the paintings in each book are in some way thematically bound to the narrative. That first painting for any book to a degree dictates the directions of the others. I tend not to examine the ideas’ origins until they’re a little stabilized, allowing my subconscious to work a bit before I intervene. For this book, I wanted to explore the ways music becomes a part of us. To present that, I recast all the human figures from the Wings album, assigning each member of the “band” a major character in the book. They were fudged a little, but not much. They were still escaping, as Wings and Co. had been, on the cover of Band on the Run. This desire for escape fit the theme of Part One. In this case, once in the spot light, they’ve recognized the formidable brick wall they were up against, so that worked for my narrative purposes.

The subconscious part of the process was revealed later to me by one of my first readers. One of the novel’s other “period correct” kid-culture icons is the series of “Wacky Packages” bubblegum stickers. They were super popular when I was in junior high, and I loved them, not so much for their grotesque humor (which, admittedly, I did love), but because they were my first real exposure to satire. They navigated social critique so keenly that immediately, you understood how regularly you were being played by consumer product advertising. I loved that you were laughing, and being informed at the same time.

When the paintings were done, one of my first readers looked and said, “so, the Part Division Paintings this time are like Wacky Packages of these albums?” I had not consciously planned that, but it was clear that I’d made exactly that decision on some unaware level early in designing the images that would represent the divisions. Mostly, they’re not satirical (though the last one probably is), but they are riffs, iconic images thematically recast and repurposed, maintaining enough integrity that viewers can recognize the origin and are invited to consider the transformation.

DiYA: If you could give one major pointer to writers who are interested in writing about American Indians, but who are not Native themselves, what would it be?

EG: Wow, that’s a tough one. I freely admit I’m maybe not the best person to answer that question. The simplistic pointer would be “please don’t,” but that would surely be hypocritical of me, as I’ve developed my share of white characters and female characters, and clearly, I have neither of those identities. In truth, though, I’m often puzzled by the compulsion of non-Indian writers to want to write about Indians. I write white characters because, let’s face it — no matter how Indian you are in America today, you can not avoid white people, even if you wanted to. And a contemporary realist novel in which women don’t appear would not acknowledge our world.

But if you’re not from an indigenous community, it would take a concerted effort for you even to find real Indian enclaves. It’s just not that common an experience in the broad landscape of this continent, sad to say. I suspect it’s nearly impossible for others to know us to the degree it might take to do characters justice. I’ve been moving in and out of the reservation world for a long time. I witness a lot of interactions. Even with people who’ve been long married into reservation families, a slightly different dynamic often occurs when they’re present as opposed to, let’s say, the exchanges at an “all Indian affair.”

The Indian communities I’ve experienced tend to be pretty insular places. Though I’m Onondaga and grew up at the Tuscarora Nation, fully immersed in a Territories culture, I can’t imagine narrative “tribe-hopping,” myself, say, writing with depth about Seneca characters, despite the fact that we’re culturally and geographically very closely related. I have a number of Seneca friends, but I wouldn’t presume to speak for their experiences. I think that’s a Seneca writer’s territory. This says nothing about the complex relationship of “oppressor wanting to write about the oppressed,” when white writers have the desire to compose Indian stories. Haven’t we had enough taken away from us that we could safely assume our stories should remain our own?

All those things said, if a writer were still compelled to write about Indian characters, I would suggest treating those characters as humans, with the range of qualities they might give any other character. When I see Indian characters in the work of non-Indian writers, the most common qualities I see are stereotypical. This isn’t news, naturally. Less often these days, they’re negative stereotypes, but a positive stereotype is still reductive and dehumanizing.

I, personally, have been described in writer profiles as: “proud, noble, stoic, meditative, environmentally sensitive, spiritual, mystical.” To the limited degree that I have a public persona, I do not put those qualities out there at all, and in some cases, those modifiers are wholly projections of someone else’s ideas concerning Indians. I’m human, with all the failings and indulgent behaviors other humans have. My friends can attest to this.

Just as an example of the ways I’m not that Indian stereotype would be the cars I have owned. My family couldn’t afford a car for most of my younger life. I had to walk, a lot, if I wanted to go anywhere, even to get to college on a daily basis. I didn’t bother getting my license until I was nearly twenty-one, as there was no point. That experience has colored my adulthood. Once I’d secured a decent job, I’ve consistently driven impractical performance cars, based solely on my passion, taste, and financial freedom. I’m not adverse to being environmentally conscious, but driving a Prius is not a major desire in my life. I remember the year they first arrived, and every Prius I saw was green. That kind of symbolism could not be accidental. Those cars seemed as much about making a statement as any other car. I choose to make a different statement. I’m not actively destructive, naturally, I’m not Big Industry, but I am an unrepentant pleasure consumer.

Are there Indian environmental activists? Of course, but it’s not a REQUIREMENT. And yet, some readers of this interview might be scandalized by these statements. “An Indian said these things???” That broad American idea that Indians are all environmentalists doesn’t necessarily even originate from within our communities. It’s some strange inadvertent legacy of those vintage “Keep America Beautiful” commercials with the crying fake Indian. You know, I’m not the guy throwing greasy McDonald’s bags out the car window, but neither am I the guy in beaded buckskin paddling my canoe around town. I am not apologizing to my hybrid-driving Whole Foods-shopping friends for the choices I make. Fortunately for me, they have senses of humor and find it amusing when they’ve seen me described in ways that totally contradict who they know me to be. In some ways, it’s given us safe doorways to talk about the narrow parameters of representation of Indians in the culture.

DiYA: Did you have a particular audience in mind when you wrote this book? Why or why not?

EG: I certainly hope it has broad appeal of course. That said, I knew right off that I’d hoped Indian kids would find it, particularly those in the first stages of the navigations between their communities and the broader world. There aren’t many stories of this sort out there, and I hope this offers a little variety, another take on the experience. Beyond that audience, though, when I started working on the novel, I discovered that I’d avoided drawing on my junior high experience in the twenty or so years I’ve been publishing fiction. That avoidance was a powerful window to my understanding of that era’s impact.

I hadn’t forgotten junior high — I explicitly did not want to go back there. Three years is such a short span in your life, and yet, junior high is where the first big life overhaul happens. Our more permanent interests emerge, we begin asserting individual tastes, our bodies change, and consequently, our relationships with others change — it’s like hunting for a series of treasure chests buried in a minefield, without having the benefit a map. Good or bad, those upheavals are major stressors that we often feel we’re facing alone.

The novel’s original title was a euphemism for lying, because I knew that evasiveness was a major source of tension Lewis was going to have to face. There are things at our cores that we can’t tell even our closest friends, and we have to endure them, alone. If there’s a particular broader audience that I hope finds this book, it is those people who have been there: young folks currently in the middle of that phase, and older ones for whom that isolation was profoundly challenging. I hope the novel does what books often have done for me, lets them feel a little less alone in the world. Thanks again for the opportunity to explore some of these ideas.

If I Ever Get Out of Here is now available. Find out more about Eric Gansworth at his website.

Interview with Kat Zhang

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Kat Zhang, author of What’s Left of Me, is about to kick off the Young Authors Give Back Tour with Erin Bowman, Susan Dennard and Sarah J. Maas. Unlike most book tours, this one incorporates writing workshops for young writers that are taught by authors who were first published at a young age. Kat (who got her first publishing contract at 19!) stopped by DiYA to share some of her experiences as a young author, and to tell us about the tour.

Diversity in YA: You sold your first book to a major publisher when you were only 19. What advice would you give to a young writer hoping to be published?

Kat Zhang: I’d say first—and I know this seems strange, given the circumstances—that there’s really no rush. It’s true that there seem to be more and more young writers getting published, and they’re publishing really wonderful work, but writing and publishing takes a different journey for everyone. Focus on your own, and try not to worry too much about being “behind” someone else.

That being said, my biggest advice for young writers would be to focus on their craft. If they haven’t actually finished a complete manuscript yet, do so—I started “writing novels” when I was 12 but didn’t actually finish one until I was 17, and it’s a huge difference. Not only are there so many things you learn while crafting a story in its entirety, but I felt differently about myself as a writer, as well. It’s a great achievement!

When you do feel ready to start searching for publication/representation, definitely do your research. There are tons of great resources online, and a wonderful community, as well. Learn everything you can, but try not to stress about it! Easy to say, hard to do ;)

DiYA: As an Asian American author, do you feel any pressure to write about Asian or Asian American characters? Why or why not?

KZ: I did way back when I first started out. As a girl, it seemed like every book I read by an Asian-American author was about the Asian-American experience, or history, or something similar. It actually frustrated me as a child, because I knew very early on that I wanted to be a writer, and I was afraid of being pigeon-holed before I even started.

Nowadays, having grown up a bit, and knowing more about the industry as a whole, I no longer feel pressure to write about Asian or Asian-American characters, but I also recognize the lack of such characters in YA fiction as a whole. Really, I’d like to write a book, or books, with Asian-American characters that 11-year-old me wouldn’t have taken one look at and immediately categorized in her head as “a book about being Asian,” but simply a book like any other that happens to have Asian characters who are affected by, but not defined by, their ethnicity.

DiYA: Your Young Authors Give Back tour is a little different from the typical book tour. What inspired the tour?

KZ: Erin, Sarah, Susan, and I all started out as younger writers who learned so much from more experience writers out there. We believe really strongly in giving back to the community of writers we’re apart of, and we started throwing around ideas of how we could accomplish that. Eventually, this developed into our current tour plan—we’re conducting free writing workshops to teens/young adults aged 13-22 in seven different cities. You can learn more at our tumblr :) http://youngauthorsgiveback.tumblr.com

Interview with Alvina Ling

Today I am pleased to welcome Alvina Ling, Editorial Director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, to Diversity in YA. Founded in 1837, Little, Brown is now a division of Hachette Book Group, one of the world’s largest publishers. LBYR is the publisher of many internationally bestselling books, including the Twilight and Gossip Girl series, as well as award-winning books about people of color and LGBT characters, including Grace Lin’s Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (edited by Alvina Ling) and Julie Anne Peters’ National Book Award Finalist Luna. (Full disclosure: I am also published by Little, Brown, but Alvina is not my editor.)

I asked Alvina about her thoughts on the state of diversity in publishing children’s and young adult books.

Malinda Lo: This is a question I also posed to Stacy Whitman, Editorial Director at Tu Books. While there have been New York Times children’s bestsellers that feature main characters of color (e.g., Rick Riordan’s Red Pyramid and Simone Elkeles’ Perfect Chemistry series), I think there is still a perception that books about minorities are a tough sell to New York publishing companies. What do you think?

Alvina Ling: Well, I think there’s a huge range between “a tough sell” and “a NY Times bestseller”! Plenty of books about and by minorities are profitable, although I do agree that there needs to be more on the NY Times bestseller list! I can’t speak for other publishers, but at LBYR, I’ve never heard this perception verbalized, and minority protagonists have never been a reason for turning a project down. In fact, I feel lucky to work at a company where books featuring a main character of color would actually be considered a selling handle.

But in general, the books I get on submission that feature minority main characters don’t tend to be the most commercial conceptually—they tend to be more “edgy” or issue-driven, or “quiet literary” books. They’re rarely the paranormal romances or MG action-adventure mysteries that are selling right now, and this may play a role in the perception that these books don’t sell. But, of course, it’s hard to say what the causal relationship is, if any. Regardless, I’d like to work towards eliminating this perception.

ML: There is also a perception out there that putting people of color on the cover of a book leads to lower sales, which implies that books about minorities are a tough sell to readers. What do you think?

AL: Covers are tough no matter what, and there are so many factors involved in publishing that it’s hard to say what makes a book not “work.” There are plenty of books with white people on the cover that also don’t sell!

I do think that the recent “whitewashing of covers” controversy has been productive in terms of opening up honest dialogue within the Design, Editorial, Marketing, Publicity, and Sales departments, and more. I believe this perception is already changing, and I think we’re going to see more and more people of color on books covers in the future.

In fact, for the upcoming YA novel Boy21 by Matthew Quick, the face of a black teen is featured prominently on the cover. There are two protagonists in the book, one white and one black, and the narrator of the book is white, and yet when two versions of the cover were shown at our jacket meeting, one with a white teen, the other with a black, it was the black teen that was unanimously chosen. I found that heartening.

ML: As Editorial Director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, you are one of the most prominent women of color working in children’s publishing today. How has your background influenced the way you acquire books, both in the past and now in your role of shaping the L,B list?

AL: Am I? Wow, I don’t know if anyone has stated my role this way before!

I think that every editor’s background influences the way the acquire books. Editors from the south are drawn to southern settings. Editors who grew up playing sports are more likely to be drawn to sport books. And editors who live in fantasy worlds (ha!) will be drawn to fantasy books. I’m drawn to books that reflect my experiences.

When I was first trying to break into the publishing industry, part of the reason I was interested in working in children’s publishing specifically was because children’s books were such an important part of my life, and also because I did feel that there was a lack of diversity in the books I was reading. I very very rarely saw Asian Americans in children’s literature, and the depictions I did see were mostly telling the immigrant story, which was not my experience.

Although it wasn’t my primary goal, I did want to acquire books that featured underrepresented characters. I wanted to acquire the type of books I wished had existed when I was a child, the type of books I thought other children would wish for. And I’m proud that I’ve been able to do just that so far! I’m proud of my diverse list.

As for how this influences me in my current role of helping shape the L,B MG and YA list, that remains to be seen! I’m still new to the position, but I do know that diversity is supremely important to me and to others at LBYR, and will no doubt inform how we do our jobs.

ML: Are there a few new/upcoming Little, Brown middle grade or young adult novels that feature diverse characters that you’d like to tell us about?

AL: I edited a debut YA coming out in February called DJ Rising by Love Maia. It’s about a half black, half Puerto Rican teen boy who dreams of becoming a professional DJ. It’s a wonderful, heartwarming read, by an author of color who I hope will have a bright future writing YA.

And as I mentioned above, Matthew Quick’s second YA novel, Boy21, is about the unlikely friendship of two teen boys, one black and one white.

Grace Lin has two MG novels coming out next year. Dumpling Days will be published in January—it’s a continuation of her books Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat. In this book, Pacy and her family travel to Taiwan for a month. Her second novel is Starry River of the Sky, and is a companion novel to her Newbery Honor-winning Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

And, of course, your new novel, Adaptation, will be out next fall!

ML: Where do you see the children’s and young adult book market going in the future with regard to multicultural and/or LGBT titles?

AL: I hope to see more books featuring diverse characters covering a diverse range of genres. I’d like to see more books like yours where the protagonist’s background does not inform the plot, necessarily. Books that feature diverse characters that are not simply about their diversity. The demographics of our country are rapidly changing—we are becoming a more multicultural population, and therefore I believe that books featuring multicultural and LGBT characters will continue to grow. We still have a long way to go before the media reflects our reality, but we’re making progress. I’m hopeful for the future!

Alvina Ling blogs regularly at Blue Rose Girls and at her personal blog, Bloomabilities. For more on Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, visit LB-Kids or LB-Teens.

Interview with Cassandra Clare

Cassandra Clare is the author of the bestselling Mortal Instruments trilogy, beginning with City of Bones, which introduced the half-angel Shadowhunters who keep the ordinary world safe from demons. Clare’s latest book, Clockwork Prince, is the second in a prequel trilogy, The Infernal Devices, set in Victorian London.

The first installment of this prequel trilogy, Clockwork Angel, brought us a new heroine, Tessa Gray, who learned that her brother was embroiled in some shadowy dealings that turned out to involve clockwork creatures and, of course, Shadowhunters. In this sequel, Tessa continues to unravel the mysteries of the Shadowhunter world, as well as deal with her feelings for two boys: the sarcastic but sexy Will, and the kind but sickly Jem — who is also half-Chinese.

I asked Cassie about her inspiration for Jem, the challenges of representing an Asian love interest on the book’s cover, and her secrets for creating sexy YA love interests.

Malinda Lo: What was your inspiration for Jem?

Cassandra Clare: I think, as with so many things when you’re writing,  Jem is a mash-up of ideas and archetypes that fascinate me. I knew from the get-go I didn’t want the whole cast of TID to be white, despite its setting. I’d been to an exhibition at the Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam showing paintings of Eurasian families — white men, Dutch and British, with their Indian, Indonesian, and Chinese wives, and their biriacial children. I became fascinated with the lives of those children, who really were caught between two worlds. I also knew I wanted to write about two boys, one physically broken but emotionally strong and the other emotionally broken but physically strong, and they became Will and Jem, Will being the latter and Jem the former.

I’ve also always been fascinated with the Keatsian figure of the beautiful, dying poet — coughing up blood into white lace handkerchiefs, the whole nine yards. In the nineteenth century, “consumption” was thought to make you more beautiful and creative even as it killed you — it would make your eyes bright from fever, flush your cheeks, and make you slender. It probably didn’t actually make anyone more creative but Keats was a very romanticized figure. But I didn’t want Jem to have TB — too mundane!

I also have a fascination with the Opium Wars and the fact that at one point, the British Empire was the biggest drug dealer in the world. So I decided that what Jem had was an addiction, rather than a disease, and that his forced addiction would parallel the history of opium in China and the fractured relationship of Britain and China. As for the violin playing, that was a nod to my favorite literary drug addict, Sherlock Holmes.

ML: What were the challenges, if any, in writing a half-Chinese character set in the 19th century?

CC: Well, you’re always worried you’re going to screw it up. And I’m sure I have in a myriad of ways! But I tried.

I knew sitting down to write Infernal Devices that there was going to be an enormous amount of research. I entered into this crazy project where for six months I didn’t read any books that weren’t either written during or set in the Victorian era, or somehow dealt with that period. I read whole slang dictionaries cover to cover, cookbooks, bought rare maps and prints.

The thing is that while there’s an enormous amount out there about Victorian London, it’s harder to track down sources about China at that time period, specifically Shanghai. Stella Dong’s Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City was helpful as was Maurice Collis’ Foreign Mud. I also dug up as much as I could in the way of contemporary resources and first-person accounts: The Shanghai Almanac and Miscellany published in 1856, by the North China Herald, gives exhaustive information for anyone living in Shanghai — including a list of all foreign residents in Shanghai, so if you wanted to know, for instance, who the silk inspector for Blenkin, Rawson and Co. in 1855 was it would tell you it was Edward Clarke and how to find him.

I also unearthed maps and sketches (a lot of them resembling this one and from about the same period) of Shanghai from The Map House in London, which is on Beauchamp Street and has everything. But it was a lot of work, and probably of what I learned, I only used about 10%, to fill in Jem’s background. But I felt like I needed to know it, so I could know him better.

ML: I don’t remember the last time I saw an Asian male on the cover of a YA novel — until Clockwork Prince. Can you tell us a little about the cover design process for Clockwork Prince?

CC: I believe that the cover of Betrayals by Lili St. Crow features three characters, one of whom is an Asian boy. That’s all I can think of but I’m not a cover expert; still, you hardly have to be one to see the lack of Asian male representation on YA covers.

As for the cover design process for Clockwork Prince — I knew it was going to be Jem on the cover. And while I had little input into my covers when I first started out, this is my sixth book with Simon and Schuster, and the cover design process involves me more now. I was upfront from the beginning that they were going to have to find a biracial model for Jem and that he was going to be hot.

I can see how that last bit might seem sort of silly but there is such an erasure of Asian men’s sexuality in media, and Jem, though a good, sweet person, is also supposed to be sexy and hot. (I mean surely I cannot be the only person into consumptive, brilliant musicians.) I went through modeling sites and found examples of gorgeous half-Asian male models and sent them on, and the photographer selected one whose look he liked.

I would say the only bump was that when they sent me the first set of comps, Jem was wearing a hat that was pulled down. I think the idea was to go for an insouciant look but it obscured the whole top half of his face. I was like, “No hat. I will die on the hill of this hat. We have to see his whole face.” I don’t know if they had to do reshoots or not, but the hat went.

ML: Magnus Bane is one of a very few bisexual male characters in YA (if not the only one), and he seems to have a very vocal fan base. Did you expect that? Why or why not?

CC: My best friend while I was growing up — she’s still my best friend — is bisexual, and while I don’t want to compare growing up with someone GLBT to being GLBT yourself, you do see what they experience, and feel that discrimination at a remove.

I always felt bisexuals were never given a real fair shake — I knew she felt excluded both when it came to the heteronormative straight community (“well, if you could date girls or boys, why not just date boys?”) and that the gay community was not as welcoming as she had hoped. So I thought, why not a bisexual  character who is proud of it and secure in it? (One sort of interesting note: Magnus wasn’t created initially for Alec to date — I knew Alec was gay, and Magnus was bi, but their relationship evolved very organically over the course of the series.)

And no, I never thought Alec or Magnus would be that popular; I think those are things you just don’t consider when you’re writing that first draft. Readers always surprise you.

ML: What advice would you give to the writer who is afraid to write beyond their own personal experience, whether it be in race, culture or sexual orientation?

CC: Research as much as you can. Learn as much as you can. Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward’s workshop on Writing the Other now has a companion book, and a good, honest, varied critique group is always helpful. Lastly, when your portrayal of those who are different from you, whether because of their race, sexuality, or anything else, is criticized, it can be hard to hear and spark a sense of defensiveness but the best thing to do is stay quiet and listen. And keep trying harder.

ML: All of your books contain plenty of smoldering romance, and arguably you are the queen of bad boys in YA. :) Do you have any tips for creating a really sexy love interest? (Good abs?)

CC: Well, abs of steel are always helpful! Honestly I think there are two things that are key to a sexy love interest: the first is that they should be good at what they do. There is little sexier than watching someone excel at something they do extraordinarily well — the difference between a bad boy is that they know they do it really well and that it’s turning you on; the good boys don’t. And there should be a dash of vulnerability. Your boy doesn’t have to be tormented but the girl or boy who he loves has to be able to get under his skin and pierce that armor, or it’s no fun. :)

Clockwork Prince hits store shelves tomorrow, on Dec. 6. Find out more about Cassandra Clare on her website, tumblr, or twitter.