Tag Archives: Fantasy

A Guide to Writing Non-Commercial YA Fantasy

By Cindy Pon

pon-serpentineMaybe the title of this post is a little tongue-in-cheek, but not entirely.

When I was pitching my debut novel, Silver Phoenix, in 2008, one of the first editors I met at a local conference read twelve pages and said two things that stuck with me. First: This reads like Crouching Tiger crossed with The Joy Luck Club. Why is it fantasy? Second: Asian fantasy doesn’t sell.

My internal thought to the first was: But doesn’t Crouching Tiger have fantastical elements? And why is he saying it like this is a bad thing? My thought to the second was: Oh.

I immigrated to the United States from Taiwan when I was six years old, which means I learned English as a second language. I remember vividly my first grade teacher having to write my name onto the chalkboard because I didn’t know the alphabet. I remember staying home to work on my English while I watched the neighborhood kids play outside. So, when sometime in the third grade I began reading—and reading a lot—it seemed as if magical worlds had been opened to me. I had worked so hard to gain access to these story treasures!

I fell in love with books, and fantasy was one of my favorite genres. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized I had never seen a character who looked like me in any of the fantasy novels I had read. That’s why I wrote Silver Phoenix.

It was incredibly disheartening to be told by the first professional editor I’d met as a budding writer: Don’t bother. No one wants this.

Well, Silver Phoenix did sell to Greenwillow Books, and it was published in 2009, a difficult time in publishing, and an even more challenging one for debut authors. That year, my novel was the only Asian-inspired YA fantasy released by a major publisher, and now, six years later, I can still count on one hand the number that are released any given year. There have been strides, but not many.

When I began writing Serpentine, which was published on Sept. 8, I knew it was a risk. I was writing another fantasy set in my fictitious Kingdom of Xia when the sales numbers for my other books had not been strong. But if you know me personally, you know that no one tells me what to or not to do, and I am a stubborn-headed goat. When I do find a story idea, I always write that novel. Serpentine was on submission for two years, with a handful of editors giving very positive feedback, but asking to see something “entirely different” from me instead.

I was ready to self-publish when Serpentine and its sequel were acquired by Month9Books, and it has been a fantastic journey with this amazing small press. But those two years on submission gave me time to realize all the things that made Serpentine “not commercial” by the standards of what is popular in YA fantasy’s current market.

1. “Too many Asians”

My novels feature casts that are almost entirely Asian, which is very rarely seen in YA books. I’ve also come to realize that the setting itself, inspired by ancient China, is severely othered by the average Western reader, even those who are enthusiastic fantasy readers. Ancient China is more foreign and seen as less commercial than Mars or the moon.

2. “Always the handmaid, never the princess”

I’m very familiar with fantasy’s love for royalty, the princes and princesses who must be smart, brave, and persevere to save their kingdoms. I have read and loved many of these fantasy stories, but have never been drawn to writing them myself. My heroines have always been underdogs, and it is no different in Serpentine. Orphaned at birth, the main character Skybright has been a handmaid and companion to her mistress her entire life. She is pragmatic and hardworking, until one night she wakes to find the lower half of her body has morphed into a long serpentine coil. This changes what she thought she knew about herself and her life forever.

3. “Sisters before misters”

I knew from the outset that I wanted a strong female friendship to be the focus of Serpentine. It was something that was lacking in my Phoenix novels, but also, it was a tribute to all the fabulous women friends I have in my own life, who have boosted and encouraged me in my writing career. And although there is a strong romance between Skybright and a boy she meets, I do believe the core of the story is the friendship between Skybright and Zhen Ni.

4. “Different but not that different”

I think the true irony is that I always think I am writing to market. Shapeshifters are a popular staple in fantasy, both urban and traditional, and are part of the mythos and lore of many cultures worldwide. But one of my critique readers found the idea of a serpent demon heroine “gross”, and an editor said that despite my beautiful storytelling, a half serpent with a forked tongue would be a “tough sell” to the YA readership. Well, damn. Why can I never just fit nicely in the YA Fantasy Expectations Box? I blame my fascination with the idea of monstrous beauties, as well as the Greek mythology of Medusa, who was a beautiful woman herself before she was changed into a monster.

As for whether or not Asian fantasy sells, I think that it can, if these titles are given the same strong publicity and marketing push as other Western-inspired YA fantasies. I have yet to see this happen, and when there is strong buzz from the big publishers, it has often been for an Asian-inspired fantasy written by a white author.

So I’m especially grateful that Serpentine has had the chance to enter the world—and that the reception, so far, has been so welcoming. And if you decide to take a chance with a non-commercial YA fantasy, reader, I hope you enjoy Serpentine.

cindyponauthorcolor2Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, was released in April 2011. Serpentine, the first title in her next Xia duology, is a Junior Library Guild selection for Fall 2015. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Visit her website at www.cindypon.com.

Signed/personalized copies of Serpentine may be purchased from Mysterious Galaxy Books, and if you do so by Sept. 12, you will receive a brush art card (with art by Cindy Pon) with the book.


Don’t forget! You can enter to win Serpentine and four other wonderful YA SFF novels at our Fantasy & Science Fiction Month giveaway (deadline Oct. 6).

DiYA’s Fantasy & Science Fiction Month Giveaway


This month (well, roughly — we mean Sept. 7 – Oct. 7, 2015) we are doing something special here at Diversity in YA: focusing on fantasy and science fiction with main characters who are non-white, LGBTQ, and/or disabled. What does it mean to have diversity in fantasy and science fiction? How do you do that in a secondary world fantasy that isn’t set in our real world, or in a novel that’s set in the future on a distant planet? Some authors this month will be writing about these questions, and others will be sharing the stories of how they came to write their fantasy and science fiction novels.

To kick it all off, we’re starting with a giveaway of five new and upcoming YA fantasy and science fiction novels that present worlds filled with diversity:

Here are the giveaway rules:

  • Five winners will be drawn; each will receive one book.
  • Winners must have a U.S. mailing address; we are unable to ship internationally.
  • Each person can have one free entry.
  • Teachers and librarians are allowed an extra entry.
  • Additional entries are available if you’d like to signal boost. (And thanks!)
  • The deadline to enter is Oct. 6, 2015. Winners will be contacted shortly afterward.

To enter, fill out this Rafflecopter form: (Note: If you’re reading this on Tumblr it may not show up on your dashboard. Go here instead.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck and we hope you’ll enjoy our journey into fantasy and science fiction!

Not Her Kind

By Valerie Tejeda

tejeda-hollywoodI remember it like it was yesterday- the huge blue sky, the sun beating on my skin, and trees as far as the eye can see. I was on a family vacation in one of the most beautiful cities in the midwest. At only ten-years-old, I hadn’t traveled much outside of California so I was overly excited about driving from city to city in an RV with my family and some family friends.

After over a day of driving, we finally arrived at one of our destinations and I couldn’t have been more eager to explore the stunning grounds. We came across a small ice cream shop and all the parents agreed it was the perfect place to stop for a snack.

I was obsessed with mint chocolate chip at the moment, so naturally, I didn’t protest.

The shop was adorable with white windows and a light blue trim. With my friend right behind me, I opened the door to the shop and suddenly, the store went quiet. I’m talking, quiet to the point where you could literally hear a pin drop. To my surprise, everyone in the shop was staring at me and I remember quickly looking down.

I made my way up to the counter where there was a tall, blonde woman standing behind it, who looked to be in her forties. Her face was cold as stone, and she looked rather unhappy for a woman who was working in a ice cream shop.

“What are you going to get?” I whispered to my friend.

“Rocky road,” she quickly said, which wasn’t surprising because this was always her flavor of choice.

I nodded and inched closer to the counter, figuring I would take the initiative and order first. “Could I please have two scoops of mint chocolate chip in a cone?“ I said. I was always taught to say please and thank you to everyone, so ordering ice cream was no exception.

The woman immediately turned away, as though I was not even speaking to her. I tried again. “Excuse me miss? Could I please get two scoops of the mint chip ice cream in a cone?” Again nothing.

I looked around the store and everyone had their faces down. No one would look at me.

As my confusion began to grow, the ice cream clerk brushed over me and looked at my friend (who also had blonde hair and blue eyes) and asked her what kind of ice cream she wanted. My friend was quiet and before she could say a word, her mother walked through the door.

“Girls, have you ordered?” my friend’s mom asked.

“Um. I did, but I don’t think she heard me,” I reasoned before trying again. “May I have two scoops of mint chocolate chip please?” Again, no response from the woman who still wouldn’t look at me.

“Ma’am,” my friend’s mom said. “Can you please get her some mint chocolate chip?” Now, the woman ignored her.

“Excuse me, why won’t you get her ice cream?”

The ice cream clerk huffed. “Look. We don’t serve her kind here,” she snapped.

My friend’s mom literally took a step back. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Latinos or Indians.”

What she said hit me like a ton of bricks. Growing up in a family with mixed ethnicities was just a normal part of life living in Southern California. I’m half Latina, and also North African and Jewish and luckily, living in Los Angeles I never really experienced much racism because the city was so diverse.

But this incident in the midwest stuck with me, and I remember getting home from that vacation and wanting to lose myself in books, TV, and movies, desperately looking for characters like me. But the thing was, I couldn’t find any, and after being treated poorly on vacation, this lack of representation made me feel like something was wrong with me.

Everything sort of spiraled downhill from there. I remember many nights crying to my mom, asking her, “Why don’t I have blonde hair and blue eyes?” She would always tell me that my dark hair and dark eyes made me beautiful, but I didn’t believe her.

I remember spending many of my early teen years trying to get my hair lighter by spraying on lemon juice and laying out in the sun. My hair ended up turning a dreadful color of orange but as long as it wasn’t dark brown I was happy. I also made sure to put on the highest SPF when I did spend time in the sun, to make sure my skin did not become any darker. I even started to tell people I was “Italian, not Latina,” whenever anyone would ask me.

But after all those years of not being able to accept who I was, something truly amazing happened – Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, Eva Longoria, and Shakira all started to make waves in entertainment. Believe it or not, seeing these Latinas killing it in the entertainment industry helped me to become more confident in who I was. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder, if I would’ve seen diverse characters in books after the incident on vacation, would it have affected me as much?

When I started to write my debut novel Hollywood With Hunter it was a no-brainer to have diverse characters from all walks of life and to have my main character Latina. This was non-negotiable for me.

The whole reason I stuck to my guns and fought so hard for diversity is because I wrote the character that I believe I needed as a child and teenager, especially after getting treated like a nobody on vacation.

The need for diverse books is vital, and this is why I will always keep writing them.

Valerie Tejeda
Valerie Tejeda

Valerie Tejeda is an entertainment journalist and author who spends her days reporting on books, television, and all things pertaining to pop culture, and spends her nights writing novels for teens. Her stories have appeared on a variety of different publications, including: Vanity Fair, MTV, The Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, Latina, Yahoo! Shine, Cosmopolitan, and more. Hollywood Witch Hunter is her YA debut.

Hollywood Witch Hunter is available for purchase.

With No Map and a Flimsy Parachute

By Sarah Fine

fine-ofdreamsOf Dreams and Rust is a sequel (and the conclusion of a duology), but I will tell you right now that it was a little tougher for me than the other sequels I’ve written. See, Of Metal and Wishes is a retelling—The Phantom of the Opera, set in a meat factory—and with retellings, you already have a bit of a road map when you sit down to write. But … there really is no official part deux to The Phantom of the Opera (yeah, I know there’s a sequel to the musical, but have you seen it? I haven’t.) So, after lovingly crafting that first book with parallels to the original, writing this sequel was kinda like launching the story into open air.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what I did to Wen, the protagonist of this series. While the first book takes place in a slaughterhouse that acts as a crucible for class and ethnic inequality and tension, this second book offers up the entire society and a formidable landscape (one that’s inspired by the Xinjiang region). Lots of ground to cover and no road map. Lots of cliffs and crevasses, both literal and emotional. Lots of ambiguity and no easy choices.

In Of Metal and Wishes, Wen sees herself nestled warm in the belly of a beast she never truly recognized until she rubbed up against people she’d only known as vague stereotypes, and she realized that if you are close to someone, it’s hard to see them as anything but a fellow human being—but if you aren’t, it’s often too easy to view them with far less complexity (and then dismiss or persecute them). In Of Dreams and Rust, Wen’s in the arena with this beast, trying to avoid its stomping feet. She’s driven by her love for Melik, a boy from a different ethnic group with a long history of oppression at the hands of Wen’s, but as she’s reunited with him, a completely different realization dawns—that even when you experience someone’s humanity with great intimacy, you can still make mistaken assumptions based on deeply ingrained lessons about the value of one belief over another, one characteristic or quality over another. Wen doesn’t know where she’s going to land. Until I’d written the last page of the book, I wasn’t sure, either.

As a member of a multicultural family and someone who has been in a cross-cultural relationship for seventeen years, I’ve inadvertently initiated and witnessed some of those misunderstandings and stumbles. I studied cultural differences in emotion expression and socialization in my early professional life, and in my personal life I’ve had to negotiate them moment by moment. One is a lot more visceral than the other. One provided at least the illusion of an organized path—and the other is like jumping into open air.

Once I’d written Of Dreams and Rust and the freefall was over, I hoped the story had captured some of that heart-level striving and bumbling and pushing onward. And with the book’s release on August 4th, I feel like I’m launching it back into the wide open air once again—but this time my readers get to decide where it lands.

Sarah Fine is the author of several books for young adults, including the Guards of the Shadowlands series (Skyscape), Scan and Burn (with co-author Walter Jury; Putnam), Of Metal and Wishes and its sequel, Of Dreams and Rust (McElderry), and the upcoming YA fantasy, The Impostor Queen (January 2016; McElderry). She is also the author of the adult urban fantasy series Servants of Fate (47North). When she’s not writing, she’s working as a psychologist, but she promises she isn’t psychoanalyzing you right now.

Of Dreams and Rust is available for purchase.

The Never Forgotten Regret

By Amber Lough

lough-theblindwishWe all have regrets. Some are small, such as eating that extra slice or two of pie. Some are medium, such as slipping $20 from our parents’ wallet. And some are gargantuan. I don’t need to list those for you, because those are the ones that never leave the echo chamber of your mind. Those are the ones that cycle, fore and back, in your consciousness. Rarely forgiven. Never forgotten.

I wrote The Blind Wish when I was going through a period of my life in which I was making one of those gargantuan mistakes. I will not say what that was, but I will admit that it affected how I wrote and the themes that weighed on me every day when I sat down to write. It filtered into my plotting, into my drafts, and like a virus, worked its way into each building block of that novel—each word.

To say writing that novel was “hard” is like saying that climbing Mt. Everest requires “a bit of extra mountain gear.” I was crackling along the edges and all I wanted was to give up. Give up the book, give up a writing career, give up my friends, family, and give up my life.

I was halfway through writing the first draft when I checked myself into a mental health hospital. And that was before I made my biggest regret. Or was it? Sometimes, when we look back at an awful decision, we wonder: which step was the wrong one? When did I cross that line? Was there a moment when I should have turned another way?

If I had a time machine, when would I go back and make that correction?

And if I did, would I have learned anything?

That’s one of the main themes in The Blind Wish, and it’s there for a reason. In both of my Jinni Wars books, one of the characters is impulsive. She acts before she thinks. She is self-centered. She is the darker part of us built for survival. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

Many reviewers commented on Zayele in The Fire Wish. They dislike her for what she did to Najwa. She’s a fault-filled character, and many readers don’t want to see the world through her lens. But she is real, because people are this way. And it has taken me nearly a lifetime to acknowledge that I am this way—sometimes—but it doesn’t describe all that I am. A person can be self-centered and impulsive, but it does not mean they are only self-centered. When that person’s survival is threatened, she will turn inward. She is the one who survives a desert island at the expense of others—and often realizes her mistake too late.

They say writing your second novel is much more difficult than writing the first. It was true for me for many reasons. I was no longer as naïve about writing careers, I had far less time to write it than the first book, and my own life was teetering on the edge of a cliff.

But I did it. And like Zayele in both of these books, I crawled out of my own self-made destruction. I crawled out by my own two hands (and a bit of help from my friends).

If you do read these books, think about your darker impulses. Think about how you have changed others’ lives with the choices—good, bad, and gray—that you have made. I think about these things every day when I see The Blind Wish’s cover on my phone screen. It’s a reminder of what I did, and how I survived.

And though my regrets are heavy, they make everything that is good shine brighter. They make me who I am, and at the moment, I can accept this. I may not like myself all the time, but I will use that bit of Zayele that I have in me to keep me alive when the days are dark. That part of me is selfish, but it will survive when the softer, kinder part of me—the Najwa part—wants to flee all that is hard and cold.


Amber Lough is the author of The Fire Wish. She is a lover of foreign words and cultures, nearly forgotten folktales, and groups of three. She spent much of her childhood in Japan and Bahrain. Later, she returned to the Middle East as an air force intelligence officer, deployed for eight months in Bagdhad. She lives in Germany with her scientist husband and two impish children. For a pronunciation guide, a cast of characters, and more, please visit www.amberlough.com. Follow Amber on Twitter at @amberlough.

The Blind Wish is available for purchase.

For All the Girls Who are Part Monster

By Sarah McCarry

mccarry-aboutagirlWhat I remember about being seventeen and right at the edge of the life that was waiting for me is hard to put into words. I was smart and mean and funny and brave; I thought I was very tough, and very brilliant, and I was, though not at all in the ways I assumed. Some writers talk about the book of their heart; all three of my books live close to that synecdochic muscle, but Tally, the narrator of About A Girl, is a love letter to that girl I used to be. Cocky and sharp and un-humble, fierce and fearless and a little unkind, finding her way in the world and a way to seeing outside herself: not humility, which I (still) think is overrated, but compassion, which is a lifetime in the learning, and in short enough supply in the world we’re tasked with living in. Tally is clever in a way I never was, the language of mathematics as natural to her as the language of dreams is, and was, to me, but out of all the girls I’ve written, she’s closest to all the girls I’ve loved.

People always accuse women of writing autobiography, as if our imaginations are too tiny to conjure up stories we haven’t lived: I can tell you now that none of what happens to Tally ever happened to me. Like Tally, I’ve longed after the secrets of the universe, though she’d scoff and then some at my sad insistence on tarot decks and astrology charts. I’ve danced in the woods and fallen in love with witches and monsters, but none of them were three thousand years old; I’ve drunk at Kate’s bar in a town that’s real, but it was staffed by ordinary people instead of old gods. My parents are still-married Republicans, not a queer painter and her poet best friend and his husband and a long-dead siren. I failed physics—on purpose, in protest, but still.

But that lick of fire that runs through her, that arrogance and joy and wild-burning light, that faith in her own self, her own questions, her own leap and her own quest: that was mine, and though it’s tempered now by a lot of lessons and a lot of living, Tally’s voice sings in me still. May you love her as much as I do, and may you be reminded of the genius that lives in you, too.

sarahmccarrySarah McCarry (www.therejectionist.com / @therejectionist) is the author of the novels All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings, and About A Girl, and the editor and publisher of the chapbook series Guillotine.

About a Girl is available for purchase.

An Unexpected Climb

By Amanda Sun

sun-stormIt’s summer in Japan, and the buzz of the cicadas cuts through the muggy heat that sticks to your skin. Thanks to a writer’s grant, I’m in Shizuoka, living in the setting of The Paper Gods as I finish the final draft of Storm. Every day is filled with details, wandering through Sunpu Park or the tunnels of Shizuoka Station, checking what kind of flowers and bushes grow at Toro Iseki or what kind of charms adorn high school students’ bags these days. Today I’m a tourist in the pages of my own books—I’m visiting Sengen Shrine, just west of the fictional Suntaba High where Tomo, Katie and their friends go to school.

Sengen is a beautiful shrine complex, complete with gardens, bright red bridges over silent ponds, carved golden dragons looming over entranceways, and shrine maidens selling good luck charms. But there’s a steep stairway set into the mountain that I can’t resist, even in this heat—I have to see where it goes, to see what’s at the top.


By the eighth stair I’m sweating, but I make my way up those stone steps to another set of shrine buildings. And then the dirt path wraps around the side to more stairs, and I just have to see where they lead as well.


Before I know it, I’m at the very top of a trail through the green hills that border Shizuoka City, and I’m looking down on the breathtaking view of houses and stores, the greenness of Nihondaira Mountain and its strawberry farms looming back at me from the other edge near Suruga Bay.


Writing a trilogy is a lot like that visit to Sengen Shrine. Some of the grounds are easier to walk and observe than others. Some take more exploring and more sweat. But I needed to see where Tomo and Katie’s story went. I wanted to bring my love of Japan and its culture to readers, to make them see what we had in common at the heart of all of us. I wanted to write a variety of characters that challenge us to think harder about how we view those different from us. I had to follow each step up that mountain until there was a complete view laid out in front of me, no matter how many tears or how much sweat went into that climb.

Writing isn’t always easy—most of the time it’s hard, and there’s no way around it but to go one stone stair at a time. And there’s nothing more wonderful than when you’ve reached the end of that journey, when you can finally catch your breath and look over everything you’ve written and know that you tried your best to tell the story in a way that captured everything it made you feel.

sun-guestpost-photo4When I climbed down those steep steps, I met an elderly man who was walking through the shrine gardens. We got to talking about the weather, and why I was there at Sengen Shrine. And then he reached into his pocket and placed a candy in my hands, wishing me a wonderful day. The brown sugar candy was sweet and delicious after that hike up the mountainside, and the wrapper came with an inscribed message – otsukaresama, which carries the meaning, “you’ve worked hard.”

There’s something bittersweet about walking away from a trilogy that you’ve finished. But I hope that with the conclusion of Katie and Tomo’s story in Storm, readers will all feel that same sense of wonder in coming down off that mountainside with a new view and experience, that they will be challenged to look at characters, and each other, complexly. For the journeys you take in your reading and writing, and in life, I hope you remember to take a moment and tell yourself: otsukaresama.


Amanda Sun is the author of The Paper Gods, a YA Fantasy series set in Japan and published by Harlequin Teen. The first two books, INK and RAIN, are Aurora Award nominees and Junior Library Guild selections. She has a new YA Fantasy coming in May 2016, HEIR TO THE SKY, about monster hunters and floating continents. When not reading or writing, Sun is also an avid cosplayer. Find her on Twitter at @Amanda_Sun and get free Paper Gods novellas at AmandaSunBooks.com.

Storm is available for purchase here.

SHADOWSHAPER and the Power of Art

By Daniel José Older

digest-older-shadowshaperHere’s a phrase you’ll hear often in conversations about gentrification: “First, the artists moved in.” It’s a tiny, complicated sentence amidst a gigantic, complicated topic (which I wrote more about here). But embedded in it, you’ll find one of the central acts of erasure at the heart of gentrification itself. When people say this, they really mean the white artists came first, but the white goes unmentioned because, like whiteness itself, it’s presumed, normalized: the fallback category. (See also: writers only pointing out a character’s race when they’re not white.) The problem with saying  “First, the artists moved in,” is that it’s not true. There have always been artists in the America’s low-income neighborhoods, and hopefully there always will be. But they haven’t always been white and their art hasn’t always been the kind that galleries and art critics deem worthy of a pedestal.

The pages of Shadowshaper, my first YA novel, are filled with musicians and rappers, poets, painters, storytellers, journalists — all folks who get erased when we talk about a glorified first wave of white artists entering the hood like they’re some kind of daring explorers in the wilderness.

Sierra Santiago is just trying to pain a mural on the wall of one of those brand new, wildly out of place looking buildings on a block otherwise full of brownstones. A tear drips down the face of a fading mural adjacent to the one she’s painting, a memorial to a friend of her family’s. Then chaos erupts when a guy that was supposed to be dead shows up at the first party of the summer while Sierra’s trying to recruit her friend Robbie to help her unravel the mystery of the crying painting and her grandfather’s connection to a mysterious group called the shadowshapers.

Shadowshaper is about artists and the power of art. Amidst rapidly changing neighborhoods, police violence, and literary erasure, the painting a face on a wall, the act of remembrance, is truly a form of resistance. In the struggle to reclaim her own heritage, Sierra must find her voice. This is the first great adventure of every artist, but it’s an adventure that society glorifies or demonizes differently along coded race and gender lines. We find our voices as individuals and collectively, and once we find them, we must learn how to lift them — over the din and tangle of oppression and the industry and the market and bad advice about what will sell and what won’t sell — and say something difficult and true. In writing Sierra’s journey to finding her voice, I ended up finding my own.

Photo credit: Kevin Kane

Daniel José Older is the author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc Books and the Young Adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015). His first collection of short stories, Salsa Nocturna and the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, which he co-edited, are available from Crossed Genres Publications. You can find Daniel’s thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as an NYC paramedic and hear his music at ghoststar.net/ and @djolder on twitter and youtube.

Shadowshaper is available for purchase here

Moving Beyond “Pretty”

By Jaclyn Dolamore

dolamore-glitteringshadowsIn 2009, by some odd coincidence, I ended up reading four books almost in a row with a character who was missing a hand. Each of these characters was in some way cool or charismatic…and they were all male. I found myself trying to recall if I had ever seen a fictional female with a missing hand, and at that time, I couldn’t think of a single one. I chalked this up to my general theory that fictional women just don’t get to be interesting in as many different ways as fictional men do, and thought, “Maybe someday I’ll write a cool one-handed girl,” in the vague way writers file away a lot of random ideas.

Fast forward several years, and the plot to my work-in-progress, Glittering Shadows, had taken various twists and turns and one of my female characters, um, kinda needed to lose a hand. While this might have been a decision purely based on plot, I nevertheless wanted to take it very seriously and write it as accurately as possible, so one of the things I did was to research prosthetics.

All the male characters I read about in 2009 had a hook, and it was usually described as being sharp and weapon-like, such as you see on fiction’s most famous one-handed character, Captain Hook. My series is set in a world based firmly on Europe between World Wars, so the technology needed to match the era. My research showed that the standard prosthetic for a missing hand—both at that time, and often still today—is indeed a hook, but not a sharp pirate hook. It is, in fact, a split hook that can open and close to grasp things, and is operated by a motion of the opposite shoulder through the use of bands.

I have to confess, when I first read about this, I felt a protective pang for my character. This didn’t sound…pretty, like a delicate Victorian prosthetic hand someone would post on Pinterest. This had all the romance of a medical supply store, with a dash of action movie bad guy. I didn’t want to do this to her! It makes me squirm to admit this was my vision. And yet, I had no idea this thought was lurking in the depths of my mind until I started thinking in the context of one of my own characters. This is actually one of the things I most LOVE about writing diverse fiction—it brings buried biases and stereotypes to the surface like bubbles—and often, they’re just as easy to pop with some real information.

My second thought, of course, went straight back to the same thought I had in 2009: the very fact that my gut reaction was “that isn’t pretty” is why I needed to write it. Because girls so often have to stay pretty, while at the same time, entertainment often reinforces that disabilities aren’t pretty. Why shouldn’t girls get to be both disabled and glam? Why should female characters be protected? And how do real girls with only one hand feel when their portrayals in fiction are largely male pirates and villains?

When I started watching YouTube videos demonstrating prosthetic hooks, I realized they didn’t really look like I expected either. They were more graceful, more capable of precision than I had imagined. I stopped cringing on my character’s behalf and started drawing sketches of her dressed to the nines. As, in the book, she grows to like her own reflection again, so did I shed some of my own conceptions of disability and beauty, and in a larger sense, of what women are allowed to be.

Jaclyn Dolamore spent her childhood reading as many books as she could lug home from the library and playing elaborate pretend games. She has a passion for history, thrift stores, vintage dresses, and local food. She lives with her partner Dade and three weird cats in a Victorian house in western Maryland. Visit her online at http://www.jaclyndolamore.com/.

Glittering Shadows is available for purchase.

Cover reveal: SERPENTINE by Cindy Pon

We are soooo excited to help reveal, in conjunction with Month9Books, the cover for DiYA co-founder Cindy Pon’s next YA fantasy, Serpentine, which will be published Sept. 8, 2015!

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!


SERPENTINE is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology.

Lush with details from Chinese folklore, SERPENTINE tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.

When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.

“Vivid worldbuilding, incendiary romance, heart-pounding action, and characters that will win you over–I highly recommend Serpentine.” ~ Cinda Williams Chima, best-selling author of the Seven Realms and Heir Chronicles fantasy novels

Serpentine is unique and surprising, with a beautifully-drawn fantasy world that sucked me right in! I love Skybright’s transformative power, and how she learns to take charge of it.” ~Kristin Cashore, NYT Bestseller of the Graceling Realm Series

Serpentine’s world oozes with lush details and rich lore, and the characters crackle with life. This is one story that you’ll want to lose yourself in.” ~ Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of Legend and The Young Elites


cindypon2015Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, was released in April 2011. Serpentine, the first title in her next Xia duology, will be published by Month9Books in September 2015. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Visit her website at www.cindypon.com.

Connect with the author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr | Goodreads


Month9Books is giving away 1 digital copy of Serpentine. The giveaway is open internationally, and a winner will be drawn May 29, 2015. Enter the giveaway below or at Rafflecopter.

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