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Let’s Talk About Sex…Positivity in YA, a guest post by Jenn Bennett

My latest YA contemporary, Serious Moonlight, is a book about Birdie and Daniel, two teens who meet one rainy afternoon in Seattle and impulsively decide to hook up. Unfortunately, the experience is bumbling and embarrassing. Birdie’s only solace is that she’ll never see him again, but alas, when she lands a job working the front desk at a historic hotel, Daniel is the hotel van driver. Awkward. Do they ignore each other? Pretend it never happened? What if they still like each other? What if they are both just bad at sex?

All of my YA contemporaries are romances; all of them include sex on the page. It’s by no means the driving force of my stories, which also include a lot of other big-ticket items—themes about non-traditional families, exploration of mental health issues, and the importance of self-expression. But when you write about two people falling in love, just like Real Life, that connection sometimes gets handsy.

Luckily for me, this is one of my favorite subjects to write about, because sex is such a complex and wonderous thing filled with weird emotions and meaningful conflict. How can something so simple go so wrong, so often? How can something so pleasurable be plagued with baggage, shame, and guilt?

I never once considered not including sex scenes in my YA books, nor did I want to “fade to black” during the kissing, or skim over the good parts. And by good parts, I don’t mean the actual sex—though that’s in there, too. (Three cheers for joyful female desire!) No, I mean the talking about it. Because my characters talk about sex a lot. They talk about birth control. Previous partners. Lack of experience. Pain. Rejection. Body image. Masturbation. Pregnancy.

My characters are curious. They ask permission and respect boundaries, but they also get confused and make mistakes. They know exactly what they want, and yet know nothing at all. Like all of us, really.

The subject of sex is strange when you’re a teen. It can be both alienating and blissful, both scary and alluring. It can change your life in terrifying ways (pregnancy, STDs) and in unexpected ways (establishing an intense, beautiful connection with another human). Sometimes it’s all of the above, and that’s a heady thing to explore when you’re trying to figure out who you are while also surviving the day-to-day pressures of finishing high school.

I’ve never once had a teen reader tell me they were upset with the sexual content in my books. Occasionally I see reviews from parents who like my books but warn other parents about “intimate situations,” like it’s something they can’t even bear to say out loud. It’s bizarre, really, that in America, sex is still one of the big taboos. We are A-Okay with violence in our fiction, on our televisions, in our streets. But when it comes to sex, we seem to be perpetually stuck in arrested development—censoring it, hiding it, shaming people who do it too much, laughing at people who don’t do it enough.

Sometimes writing these kinds of stories make me feel like everyone’s cool auntie, the person in who you feel safe confiding. My sister-in-law asked me if I thought it was okay if my nephew, who was twelve at the time, could read my YA. Was it? Did I want to be the person who taught this kid about sex? WAS THAT WEIRD? I recommended that she wait until the kid was thirteen, at least. I didn’t want to scar the kid, for the love of Pete. (Spoiler alert: he’s now almost fifteen and turned out just fine.)

Being a YA author comes with a certain amount of responsibility. I always tell my editor, when we’re both in doubt about a certain piece of dialogue or the direction a scene’s taking, that my personal philosophy as an author is much like a doctor’s oath: do no harm. That’s a lot of pressure, especially when I don’t have all the answers about sex, love, and relationships. But I think I’m okay with it. I do my best, and that’s all any of us can do.

Who knows? Maybe Birdie and Daniel’s journey in SERIOUS MOONLIGHT is not the experience you remember having with your first boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe you’ll judge Birdie for having sex with someone she didn’t know very well. Maybe you’ll empathize with her. Fiction is part escapism, part mirror…and sometimes, it’s rebuilding the world how it should be. To that end, I hope that teens (and adults!) reading Birdie and Daniel’s story will see two people on the page who make a few mistakes but eventually get to know each other, talk frankly about their hopes and fears, and eventually build a stronger, lasting connection.

And what could be more positive than that?

Meet Jenn Bennett

Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of several young adult books, including: ALEX, APPROXIMATELY; STARRY EYES; and SERIOUS MOONLIGHT. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won Romance Writers of America’s RITA® Award, and been included on Publishers Weekly Best Books annual list. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs. Find her online at Twitter: @Jenn_Benn, IG: @J3nn_Benn,and at her website http://www.jennbennett.net/

About SERIOUS MOONLIGHT

After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.

Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

ISBN-13: 9781534445284
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 04/16/2019


Kids Can Handle Big Decisions . . . If the Adults Get Out of the Way (But Also Don’t), a guest post by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

(CW: Assisted suicide.)

First, a million thanks to Teen Librarian Toolbox for hosting me. I appreciate your work so much!

(Important note: this blog post can’t tackle the social and legal issues around assisted suicide. Too much complexity for 900 words. We’re just gonna go with it.)

Lake Superior, Duluth, MN, where WRECK takes place. Photo credit: Kelly Tekler

Lake Superior, Duluth, MN, where WRECK takes place. Photo credit: Kelly Tekler

In Wreck, Tobin has a lot of choices to make—ones most high school juniors don’t generally make, thank goodness. She’s choosing what to do with her future, which is typical, but she also has to choose how to interact with her dad, Steve. Thanks to his ALS, which is complicated by frontotemporal dementia, he’s unpredictable on his best days and impossible on his worst. Is she going to be a crabby teenager, or will she show him compassion (or will she do both, which seems pretty traditional for a teenager, as well as what most humans would do)?

Eventually she also has to choose what to do (and how to feel) when Steve makes decisions about his own death. Steve’s choice is an awful thing for her to face—it’s an awful thing for a grown-up to face—but she legally becomes a criminal when she helps him carry out his wish to be free. That’s a heavy and unnecessary burden for a seventeen-year-old.

I can hear the outraged voices now: she’s too young for such a difficult choice! She can’t make such an adult decision! She has no idea what she’s doing!

Um. No, she’s not. Yes, she can. Yes, she does.

Yes, Tobin is young. No, human brains don’t mature until they’re in their mid-twenties. But Tobin understands a lot about two fundamental parts of being human: she knows about love, and she knows about loss.

Fundamentally, Tobin makes her decision to help her dad out of love, because they have loved each other fiercely for all of Tobin’s life, and she wants him to be out of both physical and mental pain. Her knowledge of loss is more of a mystery to the reader (and to her, really): she doesn’t acknowledge the large loss she’s already suffered, nor that it’s affected her in more ways than she’ll cop to. However, when it comes down to her decision to help Steve, she knows more than most of us because she’s lived with loss for much of her life. She knows she can cope.

Action figures are a part of WRECK, too!

Action figures are a part of WRECK, too!

What carries Tobin through all of her grief—including her decision—is the love of people older than her who help her make these big decisions. She has her great-uncle Paul, who clearly values her (and also understands loss), and she has Ike, a family friend who becomes a brother. Especially with Ike, Tobin can sort things out, feel her feelings, and figure out what’s next.

Tobin is also allowed to make decisions—which isn’t something all teens get to do. She isn’t forced into anything (with the exception of who will be her guardian, once Steve isn’t), and she isn’t sheltered from her dad’s choice. She has the knowledge she needs about the situation, and she responds to Steve out of love and understanding, rather than duty or a forced adherence to convention.

This is one of the ways kids become caring adults—first, they’re influenced by people who model both caring behavior and critical thinking, and second, they’re surrounded by safety. Tobin is safe to explore her thoughts and feelings with Steve, Paul, and Ike, and that safety allows her to come to her empathetic decision.

When I started writing for teens, I committed to giving my protagonists an older person they could rely on, because I had a couple in my high school years—a person who’s not a parent, usually. In Sky, Morgan has her grandma. In Beautiful Music, Gabe has his neighbor John. In Original Fake, Frankie has his boss and idol, Uncle Epic. Tobin has the same thing in Ike and Paul. Teenagers need to see evidence that not all grown-ups are assholes (if they are inclined to think they are), and that there are people interested in what they have to say. Some adults actually do recognize that yeah, teens are learning, but they’re pretty smart to start with.

If Tobin was a real person, she wouldn’t be able to recognize all the implications of her choice right away. A grown-up might not even be able to do that. But I don’t think she’d regret her choice, because she was helping someone she loves be free of pain. Hopefully Real Tobin would also have the support of those who love her, and they’d affirm her decision, even as they were sad about it. I know lots of teens and young adults who’ve been in really tough situations. Those who’ve come through it have been the ones with a circle of caring folks around them. Book Tobin does what she does, even though it will devastate her, because it’s the right thing to do, and because she’s got support.

There’s all the difference in the world between being forced into the fight and walking in with your head held high. Steve chooses. Tobin chooses. We all deserve that right.

Meet Kirstin Cronn-Mills

kirstinKirstin Cronn-Mills writes young adult novels and nonfiction for high school libraries. Her books have received both state and national recognition. She lives in southern Minnesota with her family, where she teaches and wishes she lived closer to Lake Superior.
Find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

About WRECK

wreckSometimes loss has its own timetable.

Set on the shores of Lake Superior, Wreck follows high school junior Tobin Oliver as she navigates her father’s diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Steve’s life as a paramedic and a runner comes to an abrupt halt just as Tobin is preparing her application for a scholarship to art school. With the help of Steve’s personal care assistant (and family friend) Ike, Tobin attends to both her photography and to Steve as his brain unexpectedly fails right along with his body.

Tobin struggles to find a “normal” life, especially as Steve makes choices about how his own will end, and though she fights hard, Tobin comes to realize that respecting her father’s decision is the ultimate act of love.

Wreck wrecked me. Kirstin Cronn-Mills has a singular way of getting inside characters heads and making their stories come to life. This book will make you cry.” —Bill Konigsberg, award-winning author of The Music of What Happens?

“A provocative, unflinching, and emotionally-complex deep dive into mortality and loss while Tobin and her father grapple with almost unfathomable decisions. A wrenching and empathetic look at the tumultuous waters and seemingly bottomless grief that can interrupt an otherwise placid life.” —Amanda MacGregor, Teen Librarian Toolbox

“This book has heart and empathy as vast and deep as the Great Lake on which it’s set.” —Geoff Herbach, award-winning author of Stupid Fast and Hooper

“Every so often a book comes along that is so sharp, so moving, so real, and so good, you want to press it into everyone’s hands and say, Read this! READ THIS!” —Courtney Summers, author of Cracked Up to Be, on Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

“A kind and satisfyingly executed portrait.” —Kirkus Reviews

ISBN-13: 9781510739031
Publisher: Sky Pony
Publication date: 04/16/2019

See Amanda’s review here

Monsters united can never be defeated: sentimental queer horror YA, a guest post by Hal Schrieve

The year I turned fourteen, I came out to my parents as transgender. In 2010, as a young teenager, with Gender Identity Disorder still written into the DSM as a disease, I knew that my eventual medical transition would require doctors’ notes and assessments in order to proceed. But my parents, wearing a look of inscrutable fear, initially took me to therapists with the stated hope that we as a family would work something out that didn’t involve me actually ever transitioning.

 

Eventually, all the doctors my parents took me to, even those most sympathetic to my parents, began to reach the consensus that I was in fact a transsexual. That, the doctors and therapists agreed, meant my parents had to move to the next healthy stage in raising a trans child: mourning my death.

 

This is standard advice, advice that the parents of trans children have gotten from well-meaning therapists for decades. My inexpert Cut Rite haircut, abbreviated name, the desire to to put testosterone into my body and surgically modify my chest, and, not least, my expression of my desire for romantic and sexual contact with gay men—meant that the child my parents had raised was dead. My parents had lost their shot at something. Therapists phrased it in different ways, describing the dead girl who I was not as a child of expectations, or dreams, as someone who had existed and as someone who had never existed. But again and again, the living teenager in front of my parents was ignored in favor of the theoretically dead girl I had replaced.  My parents were given permission to ignore my distress, the bullying I was facing, the discrimination I faced from my school, the lack of information I had about what my future might hold, so they could grieve and adapt slowly to life without their daughter—though I was alive, and their real daughter, my little sister, was right in front of them and living too. For a period of just over a year, and maybe long beyond that, I became undead, unknowable, invisible to the people who were supposed to protect me.

 

Caption: Intervening in each others' lives when we start believing we are dead or deserve death is more important than anything.

Intervening in each others’ lives when we start believing we are dead or deserve death is more important than anything.

 

Just as I died to my parents, my parents also disappeared to me. They were no longer role models, because they believed, at least for a while, that the me that existed should not exist. There were people who could see and understand me as alive, but they were not my parents. I still don’t know what I was to my parents during this time, exactly, but it’s safe to say I was something monstrous, a portent. For me, the result of being discussed and treated as dead was a temporary frozenness in my emotional development, a deep depression, and a lack of ability to fathom or connect to the cisgender and straight people around me. My sense of self esteem and empathy towards others ultimately grew enormously during my transition, but the things that prompted this had little to do with medical change in my own body. What replaced my family unit’s emotional ties was contact with punks and sex educators and old gay and trans people and young teens in my city and online who were like me and count see the beauty in one another. Over and over again, I watched small-town gay and trans people take care of each other, drive to one anothers’ houses late at night to intervene in suicide attempts, house each other, give one another jobs, get in professional hot water to protect each other, build up our mutual sense of safety in the face of horror. As my parents realized I was a monster, I was realizing I found their world monstrous.

I wanted to have a character like Mrs. Dunnigan, who sees and understands younger LGBT people who other adults fear.

I wanted to have a character like Mrs. Dunnigan, who sees and understands younger LGBT people who other adults fear.

 

I am white, which limits how I have been dehumanized in the settler-colonial state I was born in. My family is middle-class. My cognitive differences are such that I was never deemed disabled. I have a body which is able to navigate the ableist infrastructure of our society with relative ease. But I have always related to monsters. This is a trend, among queer people, even those of us who are lucky. We didn’t start it, though—monsters never start our own monstrosity.

 

 

I could theorize about when and how being gay or trans became a monstrous threat in European civilization, and others have certainly discussed how this belief was used as a tool of violent imperialism. But it would take a long time. Instead, here is a page from Alan Bray’s Homosexuality in Renaissance England.

I could theorize about when and how being gay or trans became a monstrous threat in European civilization, and others have certainly discussed how this belief was used as a tool of violent imperialism. But it would take a long time. Instead, here is a page from Alan Bray’s Homosexuality in Renaissance England.

 

 

I remember the first stories I ever wrote, at age four, being about Ursula from the Howard Ashman version of The Little Mermaid running away from persecutors, escaping and starting a new life at the bottom of a deep well. I didn’t know then that the original Hans Christian Andersen story, queer in its own way, regards the mermaid herself as a sort of monster, who nobly kills herself when she is wounded by her prince’s lack of ability to love her. I just knew I sympathized with something unlovable but charismatic, with tentacles, that shouldn’t have died. Further stories I wrote involved noble, ugly troll girls locked into mill-towers, werewolves on the lam, haggard witches and dwarves living under bridges and stealing scraps. I knew, reading fairy stories, that the witches, pirates, and dragons I read about rarely deserved persecution. When I read the story of St. George and the Dragon, the dragon was the only face I could compute as relatable. Nowadays, when I watch a horror movie about a traumatized ghost or psychic evil type monster wreaking havoc on a living straight white family, I only care about what happened to the vengeful spirit, and why it is so important to the filmmakers that the revenge be seen as more horrible than the original violence. I know that monsters are made, and that we usually are less scary than the people that made us. Traumatized people aren’t why the world is violent. Abusive people in power who want to stay in power and refuse to empathize or love others is why the world is violent.

 

The horror I see in the world is the systems of capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and ecological destruction designed to divide and alienate us from our friends, our lovers, our children, and break us up so we are easier to break. This horror can come even from systems that are supposedly designed to help us, like doctors. Too many of my friends have been told that their physical or mental pain is imaginary, or given up parts of their lives to afford medical care. My own life has been shaped less than others’ by psychiatrists and their edicts, but I spent all of my adolescent years concealing the distress and mental illness that i knew might stop them from writing essential letters or mean they would disclose something that would cause my parents to institutionalize me. I have been helped by psychiatry. But it’s a strained affection. The closest friends I have have been abused by family members, police, psychiatrists, teachers. My best friend when I was eighteen, a trans boy named Sebastian, was killed by a combination of all these actors. All of whom were ostensibly supposed to protect him.

 

 

My characters Aysel, Z and Tommy are the kids you don't want to talk to at school who have a hard time relating to other people but who feel things really deeply.

My characters Aysel, Z and Tommy are the kids you don’t want to talk to at school who have a hard time relating to other people but who feel things really deeply.

 

In Out of Salem, I want to talk about the way that queer people and many others are seen as monsters acting as a threat to violent systems of control; I want to express as fully as possible the hope I have that we are in fact a threat, that we can break impossibly huge violent systems through survival and solidarity and love. I wanted to talk about the numbing horror of experiencing the world as marginalized, and how that makes it harder to trust people or show love. You have to talk about that in order to speak of the ways that we can survive the horror story that is our whole world by sticking together. My characters Chad, Elaine, Mrs. Dunnigan, Mr. Weber, Z, Tommy, Azra and Aysel are all at least mostly able to see one another’s personhood and personal dignity, even if people like abusive uncles or hostile teachers are unable to. Solidarity and contact between peers kept me and my friends alive during my high school years, as well as contact with sympathetic adults who couldn’t do everything for us we needed but could act as a model of long-term endurance of a hostile world.

 

Stonewall Youth, an LGBT youth organization in Olympia WA, helped me survive high school. Here is me (burgundy blazer) at age 15 in 2012 on their Pride float.

Stonewall Youth, an LGBT youth organization in Olympia WA, helped me survive high school. Here is me (burgundy blazer) at age 15 in 2012 on their Pride float.

 

When you are gay and trans and young, or marginalized in other ways, sometimes seeing the survival of your elders—your real elders, who are monstrous like you— is powerful. Touching someone like you is healing. Holding onto each other is hard but it is the only thing I know is good to do, which can help us survive.

 

 

Meet Hal Shrieve

Image credit: Micah Brown

Image credit: Micah Brown

Hal Schrieve grew up in Olympia, Washington, and is competent at making risotto and setting up a tent. Xie has worked as an after-school group leader, a summer camp counselor, a flower seller, a tutor, a grocer, and a babysitter. Hir current ambition is to become a librarian, and xie works as a trainee children’s librarian at New York Public Library. Xie has a BA in history with a minor in English from University of Washington and studies library science at Queens College, New York. Xie lives in Brooklyn, New York, and hir poetry has appeared in Vetch magazine.

Out of Salem is hir first novel.

Social Media links:
@howlremus on Instagram
https://soundcloud.com/haltalksmonsters (podcast about monster movies)

 

 

 

About Out of Salem

out of salem2The best Teen Zombie Werewolf Witchy Faerie fantasy murder mystery you’ve ever read—by debut author, Hal Schrieve.

Genderqueer fourteen-year-old Z Chilworth has to adjust quickly to their new status as a zombie after waking from death from a car crash that killed their parents and sisters. Always a talented witch, Z now can barely perform magic and is rapidly decaying. Faced with rejection from their remaining family members and old friends, Z moves in with their mother’s friend, Mrs. Dunnigan, and befriends Aysel, a loud would-be-goth classmate who is, like Z, a loner. As Z struggles to find a way to repair the broken magical seal holding their body together, Aysel fears that her classmates will discover her status as an unregistered werewolf. When a local psychiatrist is murdered by what seems to be werewolves, the town of Salem, Oregon, becomes even more hostile to “monsters,” and Z and Aysel are driven together in an attempt to survive a place where most people wish that neither of them existed.
Rarely has a first-time author created characters of such immediacy and power as Z, Aysel, Tommy (suspected fey) and Elaine (also a werewolf), or a world that parallels our own so clearly and disturbingly.

ISBN-13: 9781609809010
Publisher: Seven Stories Press
Publication date: 03/26/2019

The Where of it All: Place and Story, a guest post by Kathi Appelt

underneathYears ago, when my novel The Underneath came out, one of the reviewers called it “Southern Gothic for the middle-grade set.” At first, I was a little on the crushed side, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realized that the reviewer actually got where I was coming from—they understood me as a person who dwelt on the beauty of extended syllables, who cools them down with iced tea from a jar, a person who was raised on William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. It shouldn’t have come as a big surprise that my voice was a reflection of that. I decided to own it.

 

 

 

And now, a little over ten years since the publication of that first novel, I have this new novel, Angel Thieves, that is also deeply ingrained in the place of it. Houston. Fourth largest city in the country, also the most diverse.

 

I really believe that the most important three things in our lives all start with the letter P. They are: People. Places. Pets.  They’re the “whirled P’s,” as my friend Liz Garton Scanlon calls them.  Our deepest loves, our most profound fears are found there. And they’re intertwined, woven together—whirled–in all the ways that generate stories. Try telling a tale without one of those three P’s.

 

For me, as much as I groove on my People and my six gifted and talented cats, Place is almost always where I begin when it comes to a story. You could say it’s the where of it all.

 

I don’t have to think for very long when I conjure up Houston. I remember the house where my sisters and I scrawled our names on the interior garage wall, and our big dog Sam watched over a batch of kittens after their mother was hit by a car. (Fyi, Sam was my role model for Ranger). I remember sitting behind a large window and watching the shingles blow off of the house across the street as Hurricane Carla’s winds shook every square inch of the city. I remember the drive-in movie theater called The Thunderbird, where I can still see Doris Day singing “Que Sera, Sera” from the fifty-foot tall screen.

 

Big, expansive Houston. It’s all sprawled out. And yet, it’s knitted together by those slow-moving bayous that flow right through her heart. 

 

But how did all of the stuff about this particular place play into my work? For one, it made me want to write a tale that was itself expansive, that spanned time periods and crossed borders. Likewise, it made me want to explore the indigenous plants and critters, including the mosquitoes who once spread one episode after another of yellow fever, each time reducing the population by dozens, hundreds.

 

This central wildness invited me to incorporate wildness into the very middle of my story, and that brought me the ocelot.  Like so many other species, they’re no longer extant in Houston. In her own way, because she was once native, she bridges the time spans of this story, from past to now, from dream to real.

 

To me, place also offers up its unique voices, what some call a sonic landscape. Houston has its own homegrown music. It’s a music mixed up by generations of freed Creoles with their German polka-playing neighbors, making Houston the birthplace of Zydeco. The sounds of an accordion, with its breath being squeezed in and out, the notes pushing and pulling against each other is pure Houston. I love the syncopation of it, the big mixture of joy and sorrow, all forced into those breathy notes. I kept Zydeco in my ear as I wrote, I looked for ways to push and pull the different threads of time and purpose, to squeeze the chapters when called for, to find some moments of joy and urgency and a deep sigh at the end.

 

There’s so much about Houston that calls to me, even though I haven’t lived there for some time. It feels ripe for Story. Not only that, but I come from seven generations of Houstonians. My roots are deep. I knew Houston. And yet, it wasn’t until I began to write that I felt like I was seeing the city clearly enough to set a story there.

 

We are always told to “write what you know.” There is a good amount of wisdom in that. But I also want to say, “write because you want to find out.” Years ago, I happened across the paintings of Houston artist John Biggers. One of them stood out to me. I was so struck by it, that I found that I couldn’t step away from it. Maybe I stood there for ten minutes. Maybe it was only ten seconds, but I’ve never forgotten it.

 

It was a painting set in the Fifth Ward, called “Shotguns,” for the style of houses that stand there, nothing at all like the Fifth Ward I thought I knew, a place considered at the time to be crime-ridden, run-down, the absolute poorest neighborhood in Houston. In this beauty of a painting, suddenly, I saw the Fifth Ward in such a different way. It wasn’t that Mr. Biggers denied the abject poverty. He didn’t. It wasn’t that he was trying to cover something over. He wasn’t. It was that he showed how a place occurs in layers. There was layer upon layer of the Fifth Ward, like looking into a receding wall of mirrors, or the striations of a canyon wall. Before this, I had only seen the surface of the Fifth Ward, an ugly, falling-down place, with trash-strewn yards and boarded up shanties. That was only one layer. And there was the message.

 

So this is, I think, what Place offers to us in matters of story: multiple layers that only that particular place can hold. For me Houston is a layer of rich black dirt, washing down from the Great Plains and piling up so that the azaleas blaze every March. It’s a layer of fog that streams up from the Gulf of Mexico and hides the skyscrapers, closes the airports. It’s a layer of animals and plants that came and went and might come again if we have enough heart for them. It’s a layer of flood after flood, always bracing for the next flood. Water, layers of water. It’s also a layer of families, including those that settled there long before the Europeans, long before the Mexicans and Texans, long before me. It’s layers of gospel and field songs and blues and Jim Crow and desegregation and Barbara Jordan. It’s layers written in twists and turns, like the Buffalo Bayou herself. Mother River. It’s seven generations of my family, many buried right along that bayou in the old Washington Cemetery.

 

It’s that Place.

 

So, I have told my students, and I will tell you, start with Place. Pull back the layers. Stand in the old cemeteries and ask your people to tell you their stories. Ask their neighbors to lend their voices. Ask the trees and the streetlamps and the nighthawks.

 

Ask that bayou. And then, let it be the where of it all.

 

 

Meet Kathi Appelt

Photo credit: Ken Appelt

Photo credit: Ken Appelt

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award–winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man SwampMaybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows. She has two grown children and lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband. Visit her at KathiAppelt.com.

 

Connect with Kathi online:

Twitter:  @kappelt

 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kathi.appelt.7

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/29011.Kathi_Appelt

Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/kathi5cats/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kathiappelt/

About Angel Thieves

angel thievesAn ocelot. A slave. An angel thief. 
Multiple perspectives spanning across time are united through themes of freedom, hope, and faith in a most unusual and epic novel from Newbery Honor–winning author and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt.

Sixteen-year-old Cade Curtis is an angel thief. After his mother’s family rejected him for being born out of wedlock, he and his dad moved to the apartment above a local antique shop. The only payment the owner Mrs. Walker requests: marble angels, stolen from graveyards, for her to sell for thousands of dollars to collectors. But there’s one angel that would be the last they’d ever need to steal; an angel, carved by a slave, with one hand open and one hand closed. If only Cade could find it…

Zorra, a young ocelot, watches the bayou rush past her yearningly. The poacher who captured and caged her has long since lost her, and Zorra is getting hungrier and thirstier by the day. Trapped, she only has the sounds of the bayou for comfort—but it tells her help will come soon.

Before Zorra, Achsah, a slave, watched the very same bayou with her two young daughters. After the death of her master, Achsah is free, but she’ll be damned if her daughters aren’t freed with her. All they need to do is find the church with an angel with one hand open and one hand closed…

In a masterful feat, National Book Award Honoree Kathi Appelt weaves together stories across time, connected by the bayou, an angel, and the universal desire to be free.

ISBN-13: 9781442421097
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Publication date: 03/12/2019

Writing with a Trigger Warning, a guest post by Victoria Lee

“Write what you know.” We get that advice a lot, as authors. Writing from experience builds deeper, more authentic stories. Sometimes it’s as easy as writing a known setting—for example, my debut novel, The Fever King, is set in a speculative version of my own hometown. Who is gonna know how to write Durham better than me?

 

But other times, writing what you know means writing narratives that are important…but really personal and really, really difficult. In some ways, we want the people who have lived these experiences to write them. On the other hand, writing about trauma and discrimination and mental illness can be incredibly triggering for the author themselves.

The author as a teen.

The author as a teen.

In my books—both The Fever King and in books I’m writing now, or have written in the past—I’ve wrestled with the push and pull of wanting to tell the hard story and wanting simultaneously to hide from it. It’s a very personal choice, deciding whether or not you’re ready to tell certain stories. Not just because they’ll be hard to write, but because if they ever get published, you’ll be asked to explain how those experiences relate to your own (c.f. the ever-present interview question: What inspired you to write this book?).

 

I survived sexual abuse as a child, and subsequent to that I dealt with a lot of mental health and substance use issues. It’s not uncommon among survivors—you want to splint the parts of you that feel broken with whatever materials you can reach. I wrote about both of these issues in my most recent books, and while in a lot of ways writing so frankly about these experiences was cathartic, other times it got difficult. I found myself having to take breaks after certain scenes. Oddly enough, it was never the scenes themselves that triggered me—it was the little details: describing a certain expression on an abuser’s face, or the way it feels to tell someone the truth and wonder if they see you differently now.

image004

But I keep writing these stories. I feel like I have to—like I’m contributing one particular facet of this experience to the conversation about mental health and survivorship, and in a lot of ways, the story I’m telling is the story I wish I’d had when I was a teen.

 

A critique partner once asked me if I ever planned to write about characters who weren’t survivors of some kind of trauma. I told her no. I’m not done telling survivors’ stories. Honestly, I don’t know that I’ll ever be done. Because if just one reader tells me my books made them feel seen, it’ll all have been worth it.

Meet Victoria Lee

Victoria Lee author photo (no credit)Victoria Lee is the author of The Fever King, which Skyscape will publish on March 1, 2019. She grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent twelve ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering that spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whiskey. Lee writes early in the morning and then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her border collie puppy and make her experiments work. She currently lives in PA with her partner. www.victorialeewrites.com

 

Follow her on Twitter: @sosaidvictoria, Instagram: @sosaidvictoria, and Facebook: @victorialeewrites

 

About THE FEVER KING

 

fever kingIn the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

ISBN-13: 9781542040402
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Publication date: 03/01/2019
Series: Feverwake Series #1

A Secret Corner, a guest post by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Tehlor Kay Mejia's debut novel.

Tehlor Kay Mejia’s debut novel.

It was before a girl treated my heart like a catch- and-release fish. Before newly-blue-haired courage sent me across a parking lot to compliment the patches she’d sewn on her jean jacket. It was before I felt like myself, the awkwardness of sixteen still sitting heavy on my skin, and the house was empty, and the library was open until nine.

 

Back then, the teen section was upstairs and in the back, away from the computer banks and the prying eyes of people my mom might know. I dropped my heavy backpack next to the chair in the corner every day while cooler kids got in cars to haunt the steps of pizza places and their parents’ business-trip-empty condos. I looked for books that looked like people might kiss in them.

 

I watched people more than I talked to them, the way their hair fell in these intentional looking waves, the way they seemed to know what to do with eyeliner. The way they just locked together, effortlessly, like there weren’t a million tiny miracles between not-holding-hands and holding hands. Not-kissing and kissing.

 

So far, none of those miracles had happened to me.

 

I was obsessed with kissing, because I’d never done it. Not unless you counted that awkward “see what this is all about” thing in the backyard with my best friend on my thirteenth birthday. But I didn’t. I was a lifetime from thirteen now, taller and weirder and quieter. I pined after boys I would never talk to from afar. I waited for my miracle.

 

In the library, I browsed the sparsely populated teen shelf looking for something I hadn’t already read on a hundred other nights like this one. But on this particular day, I found a book with a perfect cover. It was a sunshiney thing, the main image two hands with their fingers interlocked. It looked cheesy and summery and I wouldn’t have been caught dead reading it in front of my debate team friends – who were on an Ayn Rand kick – but in the secret corner of the library no one knew I was haunting, I let myself take it anyway.

 

That night, the librarian had to tap me on the shoulder to tell me they were closing. But by then I had read enough. Empress of the World was about a girl like me. Smart, awkward, a little thorny, so the world believed she was mostly friendless and unkissed by choice. I had read other books about girls like her, but those girls had kissed boys in the end and I had been fascinated but not always moved.

 

This time, the awkward girl did not grow closer to a popular boy who sees her beyond her glasses. This time, the awkward girl kissed a blonde, beautiful preacher’s daughter. A dancer who was a friend before she was more. I read it with my heart pounding, this sleepy summer camp book, and when I walked out into the world again, fluorescent lights turning off in my wake, the air felt different on my face.

 

It was a book I couldn’t have picked up at the bookstore. A book I wouldn’t have been brave enough to read on the bus, or the cafeteria, or the living room, or even my bedroom. It was a book I left behind, my library card unused in my wallet. But I came back to visit. I learned the code words in the cover copy like they were a secret language. I found other books like it, and in the safety of that secret library corner I read until the lines around me were a little darker, the colors inside them more filled in.

 

There was a long way to go before I’d cross that parking lot to tell a girl with a mohawk I liked her jean jacket. Before I’d stop feeling left out and unkissable and weird (let’s be honest, I still feel that way sometimes). There was a long way to go before I’d realize the things I was scribbling in my notebook margins were poetry, or that I’d collected enough of the secret code to write a book of my own.

 

But when I finally found I had enough, I went back to that corner. I sat in the chair where I’d discovered Nicola and Battle, and two hands intertwined on a cover that my friends would have teased me for reading. I thought about the holes I’d fallen into in those stories, the patchwork of myself I’d tried to make out of all their pieces. All the things that had been missing from them that I’d had to find myself out in the world.

 

There were so many people on my mind and in my heart when I wrote We Set the Dark on Fire, but first and foremost it will always be for that lonely, mixed up girl, looking for keywords in cover copy, jumping and hiding the book every time she heard feet on the library stairs.

 

The one who found a home in a library corner when the world wasn’t quite ready for her brand of magic.

 

The one who found her own words there.

 

 

Meet Tehlor Kay Mejia

tehlorTehlor Kay Mejia is an author and Oregon native in love with the alpine meadows and evergreen forests of her home state, where she lives with her daughter. We Set the Dark on Fire is her debut fantasy novel. She is active in the Latinx lit community, and passionate about representation for marginalized teens in media. Her short fiction appears in the All Out and Toil & Trouble anthologies from Inkyard Press, and her middle grade fantasy debut, Paola Santiago and the Drowned Palace, is forthcoming from Rick Riordan Presents/Disney Hyperion. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @tehlorkay.

 

 

 

About WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE

 

In this daring and romantic fantasy debut perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Latinx authors Zoraida Córdova and Anna-Marie McLemore, society wife-in-training Dani has a great awakening after being recruited by rebel spies and falling for her biggest rival.

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children. Both paths promise a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class.

Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society.

And school couldn’t prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio.

Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or will she give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

(SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE.)

 

ISBN-13: 9780062691316
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/26/2019

Written Across My Skin, a guest post by Lizzy Mason

(Content warning: self-harm and suicide/suicidal ideation)

 

Lizzy Mason's debut novel.

Lizzy Mason’s debut novel.

The first time I cut myself, I’d just watched a movie in which a girl tried to commit suicide with a disposable razor. I’d considered suicide before, but that night, I broke apart my own razor. Slicing the skin on my wrist with a thin, tiny blade hurt worse than I’d expected and it only left light red scratches. I put on long sleeves and went to bed. In the morning, little evidence of my suicide attempt remained.

 

The next time I was depressed, I cut myself again. And then again. I still thought about killing myself, but I liked the shallow cuts that hurt, but didn’t really bleed much. Every time I looked at them, I could see that the pain I was carrying inside was real. It was tangible. It was written across my skin.

 

Eventually, my parents took me to a psychiatrist. But he only sat with me for five minutes before diagnosing me with depressive disorder and giving me a prescription. This wasn’t my first psychiatrist or therapist—I’d been seeing psychiatrists, social workers, and therapists for years being tested, evaluated, even hypnotized—but this was the first time I’d been put on medication. I took it sporadically and without hope. And I still cut myself. I still wanted to cut myself.

 

I also started drinking and doing drugs. It was another way to self-harm. Because I didn’t know how else to show that I wasn’t happy, that I wanted desperately to be accepted. I felt so ashamed of who I was, so miserable in my own skin, and getting drunk and high was just another way to prove how worthless I was. Usually, I’d cut myself when I got home.

 

A few weeks into my junior year of high school, my parents were waiting for me when I came home from a party. They drug tested me and, shortly after, put me in rehab. It was outpatient, four days a week after school for three hours, and I was drug tested regularly.

 

One of the first things the counselors in rehab asked me to do was write my drug history. Despite only using for two years, when I handed it in, it was four single-spaced, typed pages. The counselors told me no one had ever written a narrative story for them the way I had. They usually received hand-written lists on torn notebook paper.

 

It was the first time I’d ever written about my depression, aside from really bad poetry, and it was a way to put everything that I’d been feeling into words. Instead of carving it into my skin.

 

Through four months of rehab and another five months group therapy, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings almost every night, I was forced to confront why I cut and drank and got high. Why I wanted to hurt myself. And I was surrounded by other people who knew exactly how I felt. I had never felt so seen.

 

Just like using, cutting was an addiction that I had to stop. And I had relapses. But if I cut myself, I had to admit it. I had to talk about what made me do it, why I felt the way I had, and how I felt afterward. I had to examine why I felt like hurting myself.

 

It’s now been more than ten years since the last time I cut myself, but I still think about doing it. Sometimes once a year, sometimes every week.  But I haven’t. And that’s the important thing.

 

Medication has been life changing. It took me too long, but I finally accepted that I need to take antidepressants and I see my psychiatrist regularly. I pay attention when I start to feel panicked or depressed and try to work through it instead of letting it overwhelm me. And I know that sometimes I’m going to overreact anyway. Sometimes I just need to cry.
And I’m open about my mental illnesses, especially with teens. I wrote about addiction in The Art of Losing, and how easily the things we love can slip away as a result of the mistakes we make, because teens especially need to see that self-harm is never truly only harmful to just one person. Drug and alcohol abuse can affect more than just the person using them.

 

But the story is also about accepting change, and believing that a different future is possible. Sometimes I still need that reminder too.

 

Meet Lizzy Mason

Photo credit: Meredith Rich

Photo credit: Meredith Rich

Lizzy Mason is the author of the YA novel The Art of Losing. She lives in Queens, New York, with her husband and cat in an apartment full of books. Find her online at www.LizzyMasonBooks.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @lizzymason21.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About THE ART OF LOSING by Lizzy Mason

The Art of Losing is a compelling debut that explores issues of addiction, sisterhood, and loss.

On one terrible night, 17-year-old Harley Langston’s life changes forever. At a party she discovers her boyfriend, Mike, hooking up with her younger sister, Audrey. Furious, she abandons them both. When Mike drunkenly attempts to drive Audrey home, he crashes and Audrey ends up in a coma. Now Harley is left with guilt, grief, pain and the undeniable truth that her now ex-boyfriend has a drinking problem. So it’s a surprise that she finds herself reconnecting with Raf, a neighbor and childhood friend who’s recently out of rehab and still wrestling with his own demons. At first Harley doesn’t want to get too close to him. But as her sister slowly recovers, Harley begins to see a path forward with Raf’s help that she never would have believed possible—one guided by honesty, forgiveness, and redemption.

(SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE.)

ISBN-13: 9781616959876
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/19/2019

How History (and Librarians) Inspire Freedom of the Press, a guest post by Mary Cronk Farrell

standingWhen I got my first real job as a broadcast journalist at age 21, I believed my work would contribute to the common good. I believed the stories I reported, first as a radio journalist and later in television news, would help people understand events in our local community more clearly, feel more empathy and maybe open their minds or change their hearts.

 

Was I too idealistic? Was believing that the news media played a crucial role, not just in preserving democracy, but also as a force for good in our lives nothing but a fanciful notion of a naïve do-gooder?

 

It certainly seems so today.

 

But in researching the stories of black women who risked their lives to serve their county in a segregated army during World War II, I discovered evidence of how a free press pushed our nation to progress toward equality, how newspaper stories about injustice inspired people to empathy, and how the press rallied citizens to demand fairness.

Ranks of the all-black #6888th Postal Battalion of Women’s Army Corps, 1945. (National Archives)

Ranks of the all-black #6888th Postal Battalion of Women’s Army Corps, 1945. (National Archives)

In the spring of 1945, black members of the Women’s Army Corps stationed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, had withstood all they could stand. Day after day they donned blue work uniforms and reported to Lowell Army hospital to wash dishes and scrub floors. White WACs at the same hospital wore white uniforms for jobs as lab technicians, nurse’s aides and assisting wounded soldiers write letters home.

Major Charity Adams inspects Women’s Army Corps ranks, February 1945. (National Archives)

Major Charity Adams inspects Women’s Army Corps ranks, February 1945. (National Archives)

Throughout World War II, complaints arose, and inspections verified that black WACs were too often assigned to menial jobs not prescribed for WACs. One inspection at Fort Breckinridge, Kentucky, found thirty black WACs working in the laundry, fifteen assigned to service jobs, including dishwashing at the base club, and five “well-educated negro women…administration school graduates…employed sweeping warehouse floors.”* At Fort Knox, Kentucky, black WACs worked in the kitchen, a white officer saying, “Most of these girls are much better off now than they were in civilian life.”*

 

At Fort Devens, the black women tried to work through the system, sending their complaints of discrimination up the chain of command to no avail. Alice E. Young, 23, had finished one year of nursing school while working as a student nurse in a Washington, D.C. hospital. She’d joined the army due to promises she’d be trained as a nurses’ aide and worked at Lovell awaiting a space in the training program.

 

But one day the commander of the hospital Colonel Walter M. Crandall toured her ward and saw Alice taking a white soldier’s temperature. “No colored WACs,” he announced, would take temperatures in his hospital. “They are here to scrub and wash floors, wash dishes and do all the dirty work.”**

 

Alice was demoted to hospital orderly, her hopes of going to med tech school dashed. She cleaned the hospital hallways and kitchen, washed dishes, cooked and served food and took out the garbage. Sixty percent of the black WACs at Lovell had similar duties.

Devens WACS Stage Sitdown, The Chicago Defender, March 24, 1945.

Devens WACS Stage Sitdown, The Chicago Defender, March 24, 1945.

They decided to strike. According to the New York Times, 96 black WACs initially refused orders to go to work due to discriminatory assignments. After several days, most eventually went back to work under threat of court martial for insubordination, a death penalty offense in wartime.

 

But Alice and three others who walked away from their posts at the hospital did not return and were court martialed. “These women made this gesture of protest in hope that someday their descendants might enjoy fully the rights and liberties promised to Americans,”** their attorney said.

 

Major news sources like the New York Times and Time Magazine covered the strike and the women’s trial, as well as small town newspapers like the Daily Sun in Lewiston, Maine, and African American newspapers across the country. When the army court convicted the four women and sentenced them to one year of hard labor with no pay and dishonorable discharge, the story received wide coverage.

Army Court Convicts 4 WACs of Disobeying Superior, The Washington Post, March 21, 1945.

Army Court Convicts 4 WACs of Disobeying Superior, The Washington Post, March 21, 1945.

Many Americans both white and black read about the unfairness the striking women had faced. They protested the harsh penalty by writing letters to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Secretary of War, Congress and editors of newspapers. Many called for punishment of Colonial Crandall, rather than the women.

 

The news stories and subsequent uproar by citizens made a difference. The War Department found a way to reverse the verdict on a technicality and reinstate Alice and the others to active duty. The Army did not investigate Colonel Crandall’s behavior, but he was relieved of his hospital command and pressured to retire. In addition, the army changed policies at Lovell Hospital prohibiting black WACs from being assigned to menial jobs not done by white WACs.

Headline, front page, The Afro American, Baltimore, MD, April 28, 1945.

Headline, front page, The Afro American, Baltimore, MD, April 28, 1945.

The pervasiveness of our news media today allows us to be even better informed than Americans during WWII, but it requires diligence and critical thinking due to the massive amounts of information at our fingertips, and the phenomenon of “fake news.”   Reporters Without Borders, an organization that tracks freedom of information, ranks the United States 45th out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index. We fall below a host of European countries and others around the world including Ghana, South Korea, Uruguay and South Africa.

 

With the news media’s ever-increasing focus on the sensational and the obvious partisanship of news outlets, I’ve become more jaded and I don’t regret I’ve left the business. But librarians inspire me to keep faith with my ideals. They’re on the front lines championing freedom of information and teaching students critical skills to assess the news they see. They inspire us all to work within our own spheres of influence to defend our freedom of the press which is critical to democracy and a powerful force for truth and justice.

 

* When the Nation was in Need: Blacks in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, by Martha S. Putney (Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2001)

**United States V. Morrison, Anna G, A., Green, Mary, E., Young Alice E., Murphy, Johnnie, A. (Proceedings of a General Court-Martial, Fort Devens, M.A., March 19, 1945)

 

Meet Mary Cronk Farrell

Mary Cronk Farrell 2015. (534x640)Mary Cronk Farrell, author of critically acclaimed and award-winning Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific, now releases the incredible story of how black women in the army helped change the course of World War II:  Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII (Abrams, January 2019).

 

Connect with Mary online: 

Website: www.MaryCronkFarrell.com

Blog: http://www.marycronkfarrell.net/blog

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Author-Mary-Cronk-Farrell-180125525368386/

Twitter: @MaryCronkFarrel

Instagram:  MaryCronkFarrell

 

About  Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII

standingStanding Up Against Hate tells the stories of the African American women who enlisted in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in World War II. They quickly discovered that they faced as many obstacles in the armed forces as they did in everyday life. However, they refused to back down. They interrupted careers and left family, friends, and loved ones to venture into unknown and sometimes dangerous territory. They survived racial prejudice and discrimination with dignity, succeeded in jobs women had never worked before, and made crucial contributions to the military war effort. The book centers around Charity Adams, who commanded the only black WAAC battalion sent overseas and became the highest ranking African American woman in the military by the end of the war. Along with Adams’s story are those of other black women who played a crucial role in integrating the armed forces. Their tales are both inspiring and heart-wrenching. The book includes a timeline, bibliography, and index.

(ISBN-13: 9781419731600 Publisher: ABRAMS Publication date: 01/08/2019)

SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE

 

WRITING YOUR OWN STORY (SORT OF), a guest post by Greg Howard

whispersLet me start by clearly stating that THE WHISPERS is first and foremost, a work of fiction. I’m reluctant to even call it semi-autobiographical. With that said, there’s no doubt that I left a lot of me on the page. Sort of.

 

When I first had the idea for this story, I thought a lot about my childhood—colorful family members, small towns in South Carolina where I grew up, the woods I explored with my buddies, those early school friends and bullies who leave a lifelong, indelible mark one’s psyche and memory. But I kept circling back a central missing puzzle piece of my youth—my mother.

 

 

My mother was a conspicuous and fundamental figure in my childhood even though she was absent for most of it. Why she wasn’t around isn’t as important as the fact that she was there in a monumental way in the beginning—when your attachments and developmental influences take root and form who you are as a person. She was a local beauty queen beloved by everyone, a steadfast pillar of the church community, a faithful wife and nurturing mother revered by other wives and mothers for her beauty inside and out. She was practically an angelic presence temporarily on loan from God to the good citizens of Georgetown, South Carolina. Or at least that’s how I remember it.

Greg's mother

Greg’s mother

 

As I grew older and wiser (sort of), the more I realized that my memories of my mother were a mix of the authentic and the imagined—some created from faded Polaroids, others from family lore, but only a scattering from actual events and real-life moments. That’s why I consider the mother in THE WHISPERS to be a tribute to my mother, but also a fully fictionalized character.

A young Greg and his sister

A young Greg and his sister

To my main character, Riley, his mother is virtually his entire world and when she goes missing, he’s not only completely lost without her, but obsessive about finding her and bringing her home. The world as Riley knows it simply doesn’t work without her. His dad grows isolated and distant, his brother retreats from the family, his grandparents are despondent, and as a mama’s boy who finds himself suddenly without a mama, Riley feels as alone and acutely isolated as I did at his age.

 

Growing up a self-aware queer kid the rural deep South only added to my seclusion. It was time when you didn’t talk about such things, neither at home or at school, and certainly not at church. Preachers told me I was going to hell without even realizing (I hope) the oppressive guilt and shame they were imposing on an already sensitive, fragile kid. Authority figures seemed to know without question or a second thought that I was not normal. I never found myself in television, movies, or books, but only ever saw a romantic construct of love represented between a man and a woman. Even at that young age, I felt erased from society and reality. Compound that with the absence of my mother and you have one deeply confused, broken and lonely little boy.

 

That was my story, but through writing THE WHISPERS, it became Riley’s.

 

Sprinkling the seasoning of my life into THE WHISPERS was deeply satisfying, incredibly cathartic, and at times particularly painful. From Grandma’s fruit salad recipe, to the Pentecostal corn choir, to missing family photo albums and boyhood crushes, to camping trips in the woods, childhood trauma, a country market, nightmares so vivid I remember them to this day, and even to the greatest dog in the history of dogs, Tucker—I lent it all to Riley. And it was interesting to see with those same story ingredients borrowed from my life, how drastically his path diverged from my own.

 

I used to think of THE WHISPERS as my own story. But the longer I’m away from it, the more I consider it Riley’s story. Those are now his adventures, hopes, pains, dreams, struggles and triumphs. But I’m delighted that my real-life memories served Riley well and found a safe and evergreen place to land. Riley’s was a more fantastical journey than mine, but imagination was important to us both. Imagination was the vehicle of our escape to an alternate world. One full of hope. And in that small yet significant way, Riley and I share this story.

 

When writing fiction, I don’t believe you can truly write your own story. At some point the characters hijack it and make it their own, and that’s okay. So, now I can say with definitive clarity that THE WHISPERS is my own story. Sort of.

 

Meet Greg Howard

Photo credit: Jamie Wright Images

Photo credit: Jamie Wright Images

Greg Howard grew up near the coast of South Carolina. His hometown of Georgetown is known as the “Ghost Capital of the South” (seriously…there’s a sign), and was always a great source of material for his overactive imagination. Raised in a staunchly religious home, Greg escaped into the arts: singing, playing piano, acting, writing songs, and making up stories. Currently, Greg resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his husband, Steve, and their three rescued fur babies Molly, Toby, and Riley.

 

 

 

 Connect with Greg online:

Twitter: @greghowardbooks

Instagram: @greghowardbooks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/greghowardbooks/

 

About THE WHISPERS

whispersA middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.

Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

(ISBN-13: 9780525517498 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/15/2019)

CHECK BACK ON 1/15/2019 FOR AMANDA’S REVIEW OF THE WHISPERS

Writing Outside Your Own Life (and Not Chickening Out), a guest post by Jacqueline West

collectorsAs an author, I make a lot of school visits. And at a lot of school visits, a student will hurry up to me before my talk starts, hand me a lanyard microphone—the kind that links with hearing aids— and disappear again. I’ll wear the microphone as I speak, remembering, every time I bump it with an overdramatic gesture (which happens not infrequently), that one person in the crowd is experiencing the moment just a bit differently than everyone else.

 

I’ve always been drawn to stories about people who see things that others don’t see, who notice things that others don’t notice. I didn’t realize it until just recently, but all the main characters in my novels—at least so far—have this in common. Olive in The Books of Elsewhere finds magic spectacles that bring paintings to life. Jaye in Dreamers Often Lie has brain trauma that brings on Shakespearean hallucinations. When I started writing The Collectors, I knew eleven-year-old Van would be one of those people too. I knew he would be an isolated kid, shuttled around the globe by his opera-singing mother, often lost in his own miniature, collectible world. I knew he would perceive things differently from the people around him. But it wasn’t until I was halfway through the book that I realized something huge: Van was hard of hearing. Suddenly, with that discovery, both the logic and the magic of the story fell into place.

 

My first instinct was to chicken straight out.

 

A story about deafness was not mine to tell. Deafness and hearing loss are not my personal experiences. There are no deaf or hard-of-hearing people in my immediate family. There are authors, like Cece Bell of El Deafo, who do have this background, and who have used it as material for recent, brilliant work. Of course, I write about characters whose lives are different from my own all the time—but this difference felt so foundational to my character’s experience, hoping that I could understand it well enough to use it in my own story seemed arrogant. Maybe even stupid.

 

My second instinct was to leave that element out of the story and just go on without it. But when I tried, I couldn’t get through a single scene. It felt like I had just met someone named Timothy and told him that I was going to call him Reginald instead. My characters wouldn’t go backward with me. They wouldn’t let me rip this vital thread out of the story. Van was hard of hearing. He just was. This was an important part of his life, and it had stemmed from the very heart of the story, and there was no way I could cut it out now without killing the whole thing.

 

So my third instinct was to give up on it completely. I would say goodbye to Van, a character I utterly loved, and goodbye to the magical world I had nearly finished building, and leave them on the shelf in my office that’s stuffed with other out-of-steam manuscripts. But days went by, and then weeks and months, and Van’s story refused to leave me alone. That’s when I started to hope that a fantasy about wishes and underground worlds and distractible talking squirrels—all experienced through the perspective of a boy with hearing aids—might be a story I was meant to tell. So I got help.

 

I read like crazy (I highly recommend What’s that Pig Outdoors? by Henry Kisor and Gerald Shea’s Song Without Words). I reached out to local DHH teachers, who let me visit with their students, interviewing them, shadowing them during their school day, peppering them with questions. (One of those teachers even read the whole manuscript for inaccuracies. Thanks again, Angela!) I met with a book club from a school for the Deaf, and with parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing kids. The generosity and insight of all these people were incredible. The things they shared with me combined with the Van who already existed in my imagination, giving him his own unique view of the world—a view that leads him into danger, wonder, and unexpected magic.

 

I was reminded of something important as I wrote this book: we all want to find ourselves in a story. When you ask people to share a tiny bit of themselves, so that you can weave it into a story that will resonate with others, they don’t usually say no. They say sure! And then they tell stories of their own. It’s such a gift—and it’s one that I hope I can pass along to every reader who opens a copy of The Collectors. That, and some dangerous wishes, and an underground collection, and a distractible talking squirrel. Hope you enjoy.

 

 

Meet Jacqueline West

JacquelineWest2.2017Jacqueline West is the author of the middle grade fantasy The Collectors, the YA novel Dreamers Often Lie, and the NYT-bestselling series The Books of Elsewhere. Her debut, The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One), garnered multiple starred reviews and state award nominations, was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start, and received the 2010 CYBILS award for fantasy/science fiction. Jacqueline lives amid the bluffs of Red Wing, Minnesota, surrounded by large piles of books and small piles of dog hair. Find Jacqueline online: www.jacquelinewest.com, Instagram: jacqueline.west.writes, and Facebook.

About THE COLLECTORS

Even the smallest wish can be dangerous. That’s why the Collectors are always keeping watch.

The Collectors sweeps readers into a hidden world where wishes are stolen and dreams have a price. Fast-paced, witty, and riveting, this contemporary fantasy adventure has magic woven through every page.

It’s the first book in a two-book series from Jacqueline West, the New York Times–bestselling author of The Books of Elsewhere series. For fans of Serafina and the Black Cloak, The Isle of the Lost, and The Secret Keepers.

Van has always been an outsider. Most people don’t notice him. But he notices them. And he notices the small trinkets they drop, or lose, or throw away—that’s why his collection is full of treasures. Then one day, Van notices a girl stealing pennies from a fountain, and everything changes. He follows the girl, Pebble, and uncovers an underground world full of wishes and the people who collect them. Apparently not all wishes are good and even good wishes often have unintended consequences—and the Collectors have made it their duty to protect us. But they aren’t the only ones who have their eyes on the world’s wishes—and they may not be the good guys, after all.

Jacqueline West, author of the New York Times–bestselling Books of Elsewhere series, draws readers into a story about friendship, magic, and the gray area between good and evil. The Collectors is for fans of Cassie Beasley’s Circus Mirandus and Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener.