Tag Archives: Mysteries and Thrillers

Writing Diversity in Dialogue

By Y. S. Lee

lee-rivalsinthecityOne of the delights of the written word is the power — in fact, the necessity — of creating your own mental pictures and soundtrack. Only you know just what the heroine looks like when she’s angry; only you know the precise music of her nemesis laughing. Setting plays a huge role, too: contemporary America vs. medieval France vs. a planet far, far away. As readers, we are our own casting directors, cinematographers, and composers. I’m here today to argue that we should be our own dialogue coaches, too.

As a genre, historical fiction — which I love, and which I write — is prone to spelling out accents. Often, it’s not enough to mention in passing that a character is a stableboy or a visiting German aristocrat; the characters’ words are spelled out so that we can see, on the page, just how outlandish their pronunciation is. And that’s not all. The real problem is that historical fiction is especially prone to spelling out lower-class accents.

See the bias here? Everybody has an accent; that much is obvious. But in novels where lower-class accents are spelled out, the upper-class accents are rendered in standard English spelling. The not-so-subtle subtext is that upper-class accents are “normal,” while lower-class accents deviate from an invisible, correct norm. Add to this the fact that working-class accents are most frequently used to provide comic relief or create pathos, and what we have is proud and unexamined social snobbery written openly on the page. We should be embarrassed. We should repudiate this. We should complain, bitterly, so that writers and editors re-think assumptions about class, accent, and the ways we report speech.

When I wrote the Agency novels, which are set in Victorian London, I solved the problem by representing dialect (irregular grammar) but not accent. I might write a character who says, “I don’t know who done it.” I might even write, “Dunno” instead of “Don’t know,” on the grounds that everybody, across the social spectrum, uses contractions in speech. But I assume that my readers can imagine what “I don’t know who done it” might sound like, spoken aloud. I won’t write, “I daown’t knaow ‘oo dunnit!” It’s patronizing, it’s ugly, and it’s an invitation to readers to feel superior to that character.

But whether they were mudlarks or monarchs, all these characters of mine were native speakers of English. When writing my new novel, Rivals in the City, I found that I had a fresh problem: how to write dialogue for a character who speaks imperfect English. A character, in fact, who spoke only Chinese until a couple of years prior to the action of the novel, and who speaks with a distinct Chinese accent.

I wasn’t going to fall into the trap of spelling out his pronunciation. Still, I felt stuck as to how to convey his accent. Stereotypes of Asian accents in English are usually patronizing and ugly. While French accents are heard as charming, and British accents register as classy, Asian accents are fodder for the unfunniest kinds of jokes. How many times have you heard a French or British person congratulated on speaking “without an accent”? Yeah. Asian accents are the stableboys of the accent hierarchy.

In the end, after a lot of deliberation, I wrote this Chinese character’s dialogue as I would that of any other. His vocabulary is more limited, because he’s relatively new to the language. Figures of speech perplex him. But for me, the clearest and most respectful way of signaling his difference was in giving him words, hearing him speak, and having him articulate his confusion and discomfort with London life in the year 1860. I think that was enough.

I’m curious, though: have you tried or run across other respectful, effective strategies for signaling difference through accent? I’d love to hear them. With any luck — because we’re going to keep reading and writing about diverse casts of characters, right? — this problem will be with us for a long time yet.

ysleeY. S. Lee is the author of the award-winning Agency novels (Candlewick Press), a quartet of mysteries featuring a mixed-race girl detective in Victorian London. She is obsessed with the gritty side of history and often blogs about it at www.yslee.com.

Rivals in the City is now available.

“The Third Twin” Is a Twisty YA Thriller with a Latina Protagonist

By Malinda Lo

omololu-thirdtwinUsually here at Diversity in YA we ask authors to guest blog about their own books, but today I’m doing something different for a special reason. My friend C. J. Omololu, author of the new book The Third Twin, is currently fighting stage four cancer. I’m not going to sugarcoat this: It’s serious. That’s why many of her friends and fans have banded together to help Cynthia (that’s C. J.) with the launch of The Third Twin, and that’s why I’m blogging about the novel here.

The Third Twin is the kind of diverse book I am always looking for: one in which the main character is of color (in this case she’s Latina) and yet the story doesn’t revolve around a racial or ethnic identity crisis. What’s even cooler in this case is that The Third Twin is a thriller that is totally about identity, but it’s not about someone struggling with racism or coming to terms with their ethnic background. It turns the identity tale inside out — as a good thriller should do. Let me tell you more about it.

In The Third Twin, identical twin sisters Lexi and Ava are totally different from one another: Lexi is an academic star and hopes to go to Stanford, while Ava’s all about having a good time with the right kind of guy. And then there’s Alicia — the sisters’ childhood imaginary friend who has turned into something much more dangerous … and fun. Lexi and Ava have been taking turns pretending to be carefree and self-confident Alicia, dating cute guys and never getting hurt, but one night while Lexi is on a date as Alicia, something goes really wrong. The next day, the boy “Alicia” went out with is discovered dead — murdered — and “Alicia” is the prime suspect.

Lexi and Ava start to notice some pretty odd things. “Alicia,” for example, seems to be doing things without either of their knowledge, and someone seems to be following and spying on them. It soon becomes clear that Lexi is going to have to figure out who killed Alicia’s last date, or else she’s going to end up taking the fall for her imaginary triplet sister.

Early on in the book you learn something that might make you wonder if Lexi and Ava really are Latina, but don’t worry — they are. I wouldn’t be blogging about this book on Diversity in YA if they weren’t. One thing I enjoyed about the way ethnicity is represented in The Third Twin is that it’s simply present, the way it is in reality. It’s not a big issue; it simply exists in everyday details that underscore the characters’ reality. This is the kind of “casual diversity” that is so important, because even though we need books that talk about race and racism, we also need books where characters of color can simply have the same kind of plot-driven adventures that white characters have all the time.

And The Third Twin was such a fun read: the kind you want to tear through in one sitting because the surprises just keep coming. It’s a story about the love between sisters despite their differences; it’s a story about finding romantic love in an unexpected place. It’s also chock full of page-turning reveals.

Several years ago I had brunch with Cynthia and several of our local young adult author friends, and at this brunch, Cynthia told us about the premise behind The Third Twin. (It takes a looong time for books to become reality!) I thought the twists she had come up with back then were fantastic, and I was so excited to read the finished product. Those twists? Still fantastic.

You can purchase a copy of The Third Twin here, or if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, come to the book launch on Tuesday, Feb. 24, at Montclair Presbyterian Church (5701 Thornhill Dr, Oakland, California 94611). Books will be on sale from A Great Good Place for Books.


Find out more about C. J. Omololu’s books at her website or follow her on twitter @cjomololu.

On Gender, Leslie Feinberg, and Liberation

Nora Olsen’s latest novel, Maxine Wore Black, is a retelling of Rebecca with a transgender lesbian main character.

By Nora Olsen

oldsen-maxineI was all fired up to write my guest blog post about gender diversity. Then on Monday (November 17) I learned that Leslie Feinberg has died. Leslie Feinberg wrote the legendary novel Stone Butch Blues as well as nonfiction about transgender topics, and was also an activist. Feinberg was only 65 years old and was taken from this world too soon. It’s a hard thing when our heroes die. Stone Butch Blues means a lot to me. I first read it in 2007 and it opened my eyes in a lot of ways. In the last two years I have given away literally hundreds of books as I try to create more space in my life and on my bookshelves, but Stone Butch Blues is one that I can never let go of. Feinberg’s death has made me feel very reflective. That’s a good thing, but not in a way that helps with a blog post. I don’t think there’s anything I can say about gender diversity that would be more helpful than, “Go read or re-read Stone Butch Blues.” But that word count is too low. So I will tell you about my favorite eatery, Village Yogurt in New York City. And it will all come back to Leslie Feinberg in the end.

I have been eating at Village Yogurt since it opened when I was six. The elderly owners, Mr. and Mrs. Kim, used to give me a cookie because I was so cute. Alas I am no longer that cute and I no longer get a cookie. Recently the place had a big makeover, and when I saw the new storefront my heart skipped a beat because I thought Village Yogurt had closed. But no. They still have the same headshots of not very famous people on the wall and the same 1970s foods on the menu. But now the place looks more contemporary and there are some new items on the menu. Mr. and Mrs. Kim retired or possibly moved into the kitchen, which is no longer visible to customers. Now surly, gum-snapping young people take the orders and mix up the shakes.

The one shake which has always been on the menu is called Special Shake. It is frozen yogurt, milk, honey, and wheat germ, which were all perceived as health foods in the 1970s. But now there are also non-dairy shakes which contain fruits, which are perceived as health foods today. My favorite has strawberry, banana, orange juice, protein, ginseng, and flax seed. It is called the He Man/Wonder Woman. In a way, I like this name because I loved both of those TV shows as a kid. I can’t tell you how many times I lifted a pencil over my head and shouted, “By the Power of Grayskull! I have the power!” and then pointed it at my cat Amber, hoping she would turn into a mighty battle cat. And even more times I wore my Wonder Woman underroos and spun around and around, just like Diana Prince does when she turns into Wonder Woman. But mostly I don’t like the name because you’re supposed to order “He Man” if you’re a man and “Wonder Woman” if you’re a woman.

Yes, really. That is what all the people do. Umm, it’s a drink. It doesn’t have a gender. And it has the same ingredients no matter who orders it. At every encounter with the He-Man/Wonder Woman I am confronted again with the knowledge that I live in a strange, mixed-up science fiction universe. Just as the characters in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series think radical cosmetic surgery is totes normal, just as the characters in Alex London’s Proxy series think it’s normal for poor people to take punishment for the rich, just as the people in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince think human sacrifice is completely regular, we have ideas about gender that are absolutely bananas. We have built incredibly complex rules that most people don’t even think about. And it’s all based on … nothing. Even if there really were only two genders, there’d be no need for all these taboos and barriers. But there aren’t.

Most of my books have been about gender in some way. In my first YA novel, The End: Five Queer Kids Save the World, one of my main characters was genderqueer, except that I had never heard the word genderqueer when I wrote the book. My second novel Swans & Klons was set in a world where there are no men. The protagonist of my most recent novel, Maxine Wore Black, is a young woman who is transgender and a lesbian. Most YA novels with transgender protagonists are focused on the character’s coming-out process and transition. You cannot say that theme has been done to death because there are only a handful of these books, unfortunately. But I decided to go down a different road, focusing instead on a troubled love interest, an untimely death, and a house haunted by tragedy. This is because Maxine Wore Black is a retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel Rebecca, so gothic thriller was the way to go. I wanted the fact that my main character, Jayla, is transgender to be an important part of who she is but not really a plot point.

When I write a story, I’m basically writing it for myself. Sure, there are a lot of other things to take into consideration like, who would want to publish this story? Has this story been told before? How might a young person feel when they read this story? Are the characters real or based on stereotypes or lazy thinking? But basically, the first person I’m trying to please is myself. I’ve written numerous times that I write so that QUILTBAG (LGBTQ) youth can see themselves reflected in the pages of a book and know that their experience counts. And that is true. But really? If I’m honest? It’s the part of me that is a queer teen that I am writing to.

I think this is probably true for many other writers too. So, you other writers, I have a tip for you. Write about gender. If you are writing a story set on another planet or in another world, you don’t have to make it so there are only two genders. That’s not even true right here at home on Planet Earth, so why would it be true on Xabulox–6? In addition, transgender people don’t have to be erased from fiction. They exist all over the place in real life and they can exist all over the place in the pages of your book if that’s what you want. Why am I telling you this? Is it to help your readers, the teens of today and the teens of tomorrow? No. This is about what your writing does for YOU.

Writing about gender is amazing because it makes you question everything you thought you knew about it. It changes you. And that’s a good thing! If you write a book about pirates and you are not already a pirate, it won’t make you a pirate. If you are writing about a Ghanaian math genius and you are not already a Ghanaian math genius, it won’t make you one. But if you are writing about defying the deeply ingrained gender rules and gender roles in our society, I bet money that would turn you into a gender warrior even if you are not already one. That might sound scary, but actually it is a really positive and fun development.

Leslie Feinberg said, “Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught.” When you begin to create that poem, you don’t know what you will discover about yourself. You may discover that the gender you’ve been assigned fits you like a glove, or that it does not. That knowledge will help you be the truest self you can be, which is as fulfilling as it gets. Somewhere along the way you discover that a person’s sex assigned at birth based on their anatomy does not necessarily dictate their gender. That knowledge liberates other people, and it liberates you too. If you begin to see that there are people all around you who do not fall into the gender binary and do not identify as male or female, that greater understanding of the world around you will help you make authentic connections in this life.

Leslie Feinberg also said, “More exists among human beings than can be answered by the simplistic question I’m hit with every day of my life: ‘Are you a man or a woman?’” If you can see people you encounter in social situations as person without feverishly needing to immediately classify them as man or woman, that knowledge will allow the door of your cage to swing open.

Nora Olsen was born and raised in New York City. Nora’s YA novels are Frenemy of the People, Swans & Klons, The End: Five Queer Kids Save The World, and Maxine Wore Black. Nora lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her girlfriend and their cat. You can learn more at http://noraolsen.com.

Maxine Wore Black is now available.

Nothing Just Happens to Be

By Kell Andrews

Diversity and being culturally generic

Deadwood, my middle-grade mystery, takes place in a diverse town, like communities I based it on and where I’ve always lived. Culture is not central to the story, which is about two seventh graders who must lift a curse on a tree to save their town from growing disaster, but I wanted to include diverse characters to reflect the reality I pictured.

Still, I was intimidated about writing someone from another culture, so I decided to hedge a little. When I began the novel, the main character of Martin had a Puerto Rican dad but was raised by his white mother and grandmother. I thought if he was raised in my own culture, I had the right to write him.

The story is not about the ethnic background, and it’s been said that Martin “just happens to be” Puerto Rican. But it didn’t just happen to him, just as my other main character, Hannah, doesn’t “just happen to be” white. I decided that these would be the characters, and I grew their voices, personalities, and backgrounds. It didn’t just happen.

As I wrote the story, my understanding of the character changed. Although Martin’s ethnic background isn’t central to the progression of the plot, I realized it IS central to Martin himself. He asserted himself and his identity as I wrote, so I changed his heritage to fit. His mother, grandmother, and aunt became Puerto Rican too, and that changed the threads of the story and his character. Martin holds his cultural identity very close, reflective of his feelings for his mother and abuelita.

There’s no such thing as culturally generic books, but we need them.

On May 1, 2014 right as #weneeddiversebooks was officially kicking off, SLJ published a list of Culturally Diverse Books Selected by SLJ’s Review Editors. SLJ wrote, “These books are those in which the main character(s) ‘just happen’ to be a member of a non-white, non-mainstream cultural group. These stories, rather than informing readers about individual cultures, emphasize cultural common ground.”

While culturally generic is not a term I love, it is established in literacy and education. Rudine Sims Bishop coined the term as part of a framework of multicultural literature for librarians and educators in Shadow and Substance: Afro-American Experience in Contemporary Children’s Literature (NCTE, 1982). The now-ubiquitious metphor of “windows and mirrors” is hers. She defined the categories of “culturally specific” — containing details that define the characters as members of a particular cultural group and “culturally generic” — representing a specific cultural group, but with little culturally specific information. (Companion Website for Elementary Children’s Literature: The Basics for Teachers and Parents, 2/e , Nancy A. Anderson)

But is The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata or Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina — two of SLJ’s listed titles — really culturally generic? Could these stories happen to any child, of any race? I don’t think so. If you put Summer in Medina’s book and Piddy in Kadohata’s, the stories would not be the same.  Summer and Piddy don’t “just happen to be” Japanese-American or Puerto Rican — it’s an essential part of their identity and the story. Good stories and characters are always specific.

But yes, as the “culturally generic” label indicates, these stories are supremely relatable for young readers. Readers of all kinds need diverse books because they are not windows or mirrors, but both at the same time. As KT Horning wrote in response to the SLJ list, characters by Kwame Alexander and Varian Johnson are viewed as culturally generic because they are writing from the inside: “more Us than Other.  They have invited readers to stand on their own bit of cultural common ground for a while.”

Much of the time, culture is the framework we live inside — we don’t always see it, but it doesn’t “just happen” to characters of color — or to white characters either. White is the default in the United States. It is almost always seen as culturally generic, but it isn’t. It’s the culture that many writers write and readers read within seeing it because it’s ground they’re standing on.

“Culturally generic” books — as problematic as the term is — do the same. They are the fantasies, mysteries, romances, coming of age, and science fiction books where readers can see diverse characters like and unlike themselves doing more than explore culture.  They expand the cultural common ground.

I wrote Martin as a skinny, wild-haired, Puerto Rican kid and Hannah as a tall, blonde, white one. Neither is culturally generic. Diversity in children’s books requires a decision by writers, readers, publishers, booksellers, and librarians to create and share books on that expanded common ground. Whether writers and readers experience diverse characters or only a homogenous world, it doesn’t “just happen.” It’s a decision.

Kell Andrews writes fiction for children and nonfiction for adults.. Her first novel, Deadwood (Spencer Hill Press), was published in 2014, and her short fiction will appear in an upcoming issue of Spider Magazine. A member of SCBWI, Kell holds a humanities degree from Johns Hopkins University and a master of liberal arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she now lives in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. You can contact Kell here, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

You can buy a copy of Deadwood here.

It’s a Technicolor World

By Gretchen McNeil

Sometimes I try to explain to people that where I grew up, I wasn’t necessarily the majority.

They tend to look at me funny, taking in my red hair, fair skin, and blue eyes.  I can see the skepticism, hear the derision in their voices when they ask the inevitable question: where did you grow up?

“A suburb of San Francisco.”

“But that’s in the U.S.”

Yes, yes it is.

Now look, I’m not going to pretend that I was the only white, Catholic kid in my Bay Area home town.  There were plenty of us.  But let me give you the ethnic breakdown of my tight group of friends senior year of high school:

  • 1 (one) white Catholic girl (that’s me!)
  • 3 (three) Chinese girls
  • 1 (one) Korean girl
  • 1 (one) half-Mexican, half-Scottish girl
  • 1 (one) half-Irish, half-Filipina girl
  • 1 (one) Pacific Islander girl
  • 1 (one) Vietnamese boy
  • 1 (one) white Jewish boy
  • 1 (one) white-ish boy (he always referred to himself as “white-ish” because he looks Caucasian but he’s one quarter Filipino and one sixteenth Native American, among a variety of others)

This is pretty typical of the area where I grew up, and I remember not realizing until much later – until I started auditioning for graduate schools across the country – that this kind of diversity was uncommon in other parts of the United States.  To me, it was status quo.  I never felt “different.”  I never felt “other.”  And I never felt “less than.”

Sadly, that’s not everyone’s experience.  Not everyone who is in the minority due to their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or even economic status feels included, and I try to be incredibly mindful of that in my writing.  I want to show a world that reflects my reality, and I can’t imagine writing a novel that didn’t reflect the diversity not only of my childhood, but of my daily existence as an adult.

In Possess I wrote a half-Chinese, half-Irish main character with a Hispanic gay best friend.  In Ten I wrote a multi-racial cast and an African American love interest.  Again in 3:59 I wrote a multi-racial cast.  And now in Get Even, I’ve written four main characters: two white girls, one Chinese girl, and one Hispanic girl.

Is it important to the plot that these characters are POC?  No.  My characters just are who they are.  Kitty Wei and Margot Mejia in Get Even aren’t characters of color for a reason.  They just are.  Because where I grew up, I didn’t see my friends in the same way I itemized it above.  They weren’t my Asian friend, or my half-Mexican friend.  They were just my friends.

Someday I hope that’s how we all see each other — where you notice the person before you notice the color of their skin.  We’re getting there in publishing, slowly, but it’s a long road to hoe.

Gretchen McNeil is the author of YA horror novels POSSESS, TEN, and 3:59, as well as the new mystery/suspense series Don’t Get Mad, beginning in 2014 with GET EVEN and continuing in 2015 with GET DIRTY, all with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins. Gretchen also contributed an essay to the Dear Teen Me anthology from Zest Books.

Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4’s Code Monkeys and she sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk. Gretchen blogs with The Enchanted Inkpot and was a founding member of the vlog group the YARebels. She is repped by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Get Even is now available.

Breaking Stereotypes About Young Hispanic Women

Susan Bradley’s YA mystery series is about Autumn Covarrubias, a green-eyed Nancy Drew who also happens to be Mexican.

By Susan Bradley

bradley-unraveledI sat across from the interviewer and stared at her in disbelief. She repeated her question, “Do you really consider yourself Hispanic?”

I was still very young and didn’t have the filters I have today. My reply was, “Um, both my parents were born in Mexico, 95% of my extended family lives in Mexico, I spoke Spanish before I spoke English, and I spent summers in Mexico with my grandparents. So hell yes, I consider myself Mexican.” I could tell she didn’t believe me.

So why I am telling this story? Sometimes people, like the interviewer above, have these preconceived ideas about what a Latina should look like. Beauties like Penelope Cruz, Selena Gomez, and Selma Hayek come to mind.

I don’t look like that. I do have the dark hair, but I have green eyes (a dominant gene in my Hispanic family) and fair skin. Not to mention, that my last name is Bradley — the surname of my Irish grandfather. He was my only grandparent who was not born in Mexico. He was a New Yorker that came to teach in Mexico and fell in love.

bradley-uncoveredEuropeans settled in Mexico just as they did in America. Those are some of my ancestors. In my young adult mysteries series, I purposely gave my main character, Autumn Covarrubias, green eyes. She is smart, feisty, and fiercely loyal to her family. It was paramount that I try to show different facets of the Hispanic community. She intends on putting her education and career first. Romance is second.

I didn’t purposely set out to write about a diverse character. I wanted to write about my experiences and show my community in a different light. There was not a Hispanic Nancy Drew-like character I could relate to, so I set out to write about a Mexican female sleuth — someone who would resonate with Latinas who love to read mysteries, like me. They deserve to see themselves on the page and know what is possible. Autumn is a gifted student and intends to be the first person in her family to go to college. Her parents support this dream 100% because they want what is best for their daughter and didn’t think that dream was possible for them.

In Unraveled, she solves her sister’s murder. In Uncovered, she helps the local police investigate a series of kidnappings that are part of an online survivor game. My goal in continuing to write about Autumn is to break some of the stereotypes surrounding young Hispanic women. I want to give them a heroine they can be proud to claim as their own.

susanbradleySusan Bradley grew up in South Texas, about ten miles from the U.S.-Mexican border. Her first young adult mystery, Unraveled, was published by Evernight Teen in 2013 and the sequel, Uncovered, is on sale now. Susan loves spending time with her daughter, estates sales, traveling, and discovering new books. She holds a MFA from Seton Hill University.

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 Tess Sharpe

Ask & Answer: Thrillers featuring diverse characters

Over on tumblrits-chinatown asked:

Do you have any recommendations for thrillers/suspense/noir books featuring diverse characters or written by diverse authors?

Not sure if you’re looking for only real-world thrillers, or if you’re OK with some sci-fi edge, so here are a few to start with:

Diverse main characters:

  • Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac (scifi/dystopian thriller)
  • Fake ID by Lamar Giles (real-world thriller)
  • The Living by Matt de la Peña (real-world thriller with dystopian edge)
  • Control by Lydia Kang (scifi/medical thriller)
  • Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn (sort of a psychological thriller)
  • Liar by Justine Larbalestier (suspense/thriller)
  • More Than This by Patrick Ness (dystopian-esque but hard to describe)
  • Coming out just one month from now on April 8, 2014, you can check out Far From You by Tess Sharpe (mystery/suspense)

Diverse supporting casts:

  • White CatRed Glove, and Black Heart by Holly Black (noir-ish urban fantasy with mystery elements)
  • The Diviners by Libba Bray (noir-ish horror thriller)
  • I Hunt Killers and Game by Barry Lyga (serial killer mystery/thriller)

Also you might want to check out our list of sci-fi thrillers by Asian writers!