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A Case for More Girls’ Sports Teams in YA, a guest post by Emma Kress

While sports books featuring boys have been on shelves for decades, those depicting girls as equally committed and serious about their sport could fit on a much smaller set of shelves. As an English teacher, I taught many female students who were deeply dedicated to their sports, and yet I had few books to place in their hands when they were looking for a book to act as a mirror, rather than a window.

That said, there were a few. When I first started writing Dangerous Play back in 2014, there were several wonderful books featuring sporty girls: Dairy Queen (2006), by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, remains one of my favorite books about a girl athlete; and Miranda Kenneally started publishing books about girl athletes back in 2011. But my athletic girl students wanted more.

Thankfully, this is changing.

Now, there are several wonderful books featuring devoted girl athletes. Just this year, we can add young-adult debuts like Holly Green’s In the Same Boat, Sajni Patel’s The Knockout, and Mariko Turk’s The Other Side of Perfect to our shelves. And last year, I was blown away by Yamile Saied Mendez’s Furia, Sarah Henning’s Throw Like A Girl, and Jennifer Iacopelli’s Break the Fall.

Thrillingly, there are more athletic books featuring non-binary characters too. Check out contemporary young-adult debuts The Passing Playbook, by Isaac Fitzsimmons, and May the Best Man Win, by ZR Ellor.

It’s all the more important that these feminist athletic books exist because in the past, toxic masculinity was as much a part of sports culture as cleats and sneakers. In so many movies and books, not only was there no space left on the page for the serious girl athlete, but we had to swallow casual misogyny along with our Gatorade. Thankfully, that’s changing. Still, there’s more to do.

In the future, I hope we see more books that feature not just female athletes, but diverse teams of athletic girls working together to achieve their goals. Because while the number of books about athletic girls has increased, few depict girls’ sports teams.

After having written Dangerous Play, which seeks to represent a diverse sports team environment, I think it’s safe to say choosing to focus on a single athletic girl rather than a full sports team might be a matter of writerly sanity. Dangerous Play has a 26+-person cast and phew, it was difficult to juggle that many characters let alone develop them.

And yet, I think it’s important to shine a light on the special and intense friendships that can happen on a competitive sports team, especially for girls. I can list dozens of movies that celebrate bromances on the ice, court, or field. I love sports team movies like Miracle, Remember the Titans, Hoosiers, and Friday Night Lights. I cheer louder at that final underdog victory because of those engaging friendships. But where are our movies celebrating underdog girls’ sports teams and their powerful friendships?

A League of Their Own is pretty much it. Bend It Like Beckham is wonderful, but only depicts the friendship of two members of the team. Ditto for Bring It On. And while I love A League of Their Own, it came out twenty-nine years ago. In this age of real-life GOATs (Greatest Of All Time athletes) like Simone Biles, Lindsay Vonn, Lisa Leslie, Serena Williams, and the entire US Women’s National Soccer Team we can do better. We need to do better.

Solidarity and sisterhood are critical parts of my feminism. And, while I adore a good romance, I think for most teens, romantic relationships aren’t the defining relationships of their teen years—friendships are. And friendships can be so much more complex and intense when we place them inside the pressure cooker of a competitive and grueling sport.

Athletes on school teams practice several hours every day during the season. Pre-season is filled with pick-up games, demanding tryouts, and “two-a-day” practices. Then, there are the long road trips on stinky school buses. Anyone who has participated in a school play or spent long hours in a newspaper or yearbook office knows the sort of friendships that can bloom during those endless nights. There’s something about those long hours that fosters inside jokes and shorthand slang, made-up dances and elaborate handshakes. There’s an everyday intimacy that develops: you know what someone looks like when they fail a test or forget to eat; you know how they like to sit and the words they overuse. When this shared time is over a shared passion, real intimacy and trust develop. Sports only heightens these connections. Team athletes see each other at their most physically powerful and most physically vulnerable. When they work together to beat the odds, stretch their limits, and claim that trophy, they create a world in which they are all the main characters. They create a world in which power and victory are shared.

I believe that for feminism to move forward, we must be intersectional. What better way to examine intersectional feminist friendships than through a sports team? Let’s see girls of color, trans girls, body-positive girls, queer girls, and girls from varied socio-economic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds on the same teams. If we want to see a future of greater equality and empathy, we need to give the teen girls of today books in which they see groups of diverse girls laughing together, crying together, and working together toward a common goal. If we want to see a future of greater equality and empathy, perhaps we might start by imagining worlds in which the glory is shared.

After all, girl power is best with friends.

Meet the Author

Photo credit: Erin Summerill

Emma Kress is a long-time educator and 2014 finalist for NY State Teacher of the Year. She’s a graduate of Vassar College, Columbia University’s Teachers College, and the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her family in Saratoga Springs, NY. Dangerous Play is her debut novel. You can find her on Twitter and TikTok @emma_kress and Instagram @kress.emma, or at www.emmakress.com

About Dangerous Play

Designer: Aurora Parlagreco; Artist: Laura Callaghan

A fierce team of girls takes back the night in this propulsive, electrifying, and high-stakes YA debut from Emma Kress

Zoe Alamandar has one goal: win the State Field Hockey Championships and earn a scholarship that will get her the hell out of Central New York. She and her co-captain Ava Cervantes have assembled a fierce team of dedicated girls who will work hard and play by the rules.

But after Zoe is sexually assaulted at a party, she finds a new goal: make sure no girl feels unsafe again. Zoe and her teammates decide to stop playing by the rules and take justice into their own hands. Soon, their suburban town has a team of superheroes meting out punishments, but one night of vigilantism may cost Zoe her team, the championship, her scholarship, and her future.

Perfect for fans who loved the female friendships of Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie and the bite of Courtney Summer’s Sadie.

ISBN-13: 9781250750488
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Confessions of a Binge Reader (and Writer), a guest post by Marilyn Kaye

I started reading at a very young age. At home, or maybe in kindergarten, I learned the alphabet. Immediately, I started sounding out words wherever I saw them—on cereal boxes, on signs, in newspapers. Even if I didn’t understand the words, I could say them or just hear them in my head, and that gave me satisfaction.

On the first day of first grade, the teacher handed out copies of Fun with Dick and Jane. Since I was short, I was in the first row so I received my book right away. Immediately, I opened it and began to read. By the time the last student in the class got a book, I’d finished mine. When I realized that we’d be looking at this book for weeks to come, I got very depressed. Dick and Jane were not a lot of fun.

Fortunately, there were children’s books at home. I’m not sure where they came from—looking back, I think they might have been my mother’s since they were published in the 1930s. There were several volumes of ‘The Bobbsey Twins’, which I devoured. Nan, Bert, Flossie, and Freddie may not have been the most finely developed characters, but at that point in time I didn’t have high expectations or demands. At least, unlike Dick and Jane, they spoke in sentences of more than three words. And there were the ‘Honey Bunch’ books, about a little girl with curly blonde hair who got into adventures with her friend Norman. The Bobbseys and Honey Bunch were my introduction to series books.

As my reading skills developed, I moved up to ‘Nancy Drew’ and ‘The Dana Girls.’ It wasn’t until many years later, in library school, that I learned about the Stratemeyer Syndicate which had created some of the series that I loved. I learned that Laura Lee Hope and Carolyn Keene weren’t real writers, just pseudonyms, that the characters in the books and the plots were created by the syndicate who then hired free-lance writers to actually compose the stories. But even if I had known this at the time, it wouldn’t have bothered me. I was now addicted to series, and I didn’t care who wrote them.

As a child, I was taken to the public library regularly, and there I discovered more ‘upscale’ series, like the ‘Little House’ books and ‘Betsy-Tacy.’ And there was Beany Malone, Cherry Ames, Sue Barton, Rosamund du Jardin’s ‘Pam and Penny.’ I’d get very excited when I found a new series, and I was insistent on reading the books in the right order. I remember the time I was returning Heavens to Betsy to the library, and the next book in the series, Betsy in Spite of Herself, was not on the shelf. There was the title that came after that one, Betsy Was a Junior, but I couldn’t bring myself to jump ahead.

Then there were the supermarket books! I called them that because that was where I found them, on a rack next to magazines at the check-out counter. I would plead with my mother until she gave in and bought me the latest Donna Parker or Trixie Belden.

Of course, I read books that weren’t in series, and I loved the great writers of the period—Elizabeth Enright, Eleanor Estes, Edward Eager. I suppose Estes’ ‘Moffats’ could be considered a mini-series, and Enright’s ‘Melendy’ books too. And I utterly adored books by Noel Streatfeild. Because each had the word ‘shoes’ in the title, I thought they might be a series. They weren’t—the US publisher had changed the original British titles to capitalize on the popularity of the first book available in the US, Ballet Shoes. At first I was disappointed because I wanted to read more about the Ballet Shoes characters, but I recovered because all the books were so good.

Why did I love series books?  I think it was partly because I never wanted a story to end completely.  Even if a book had a satisfying resolution, I wanted to know what the characters did next. And then there was the ease and pleasure of jumping into a new book with an awareness of its inhabitants. It was nice having a new story with familiar characters.

So it was only natural for me that when I began to write, I wrote series. I set my first series in a summer camp (“Camp Sunnyside Friends”), because I wanted an environment where a group of girls would be essentially on their own. There were 21 books in the series. In “Replica,” 24 books, I created a girl who discovers that she’s a genetically modified clone, who can do almost anything better than anyone else but has to keep this a secret since she was rescued as an infant from a nefarious plot to form a new improved race of people. In “Gifted”, there were nine characters whose gifts were not academic superiority, but extraordinary skills like mind-reading and seeing the future. This was supposed to be a limited series of nine books, one for each character, but unfortunately, despite good reviews and decent sales, the publisher cancelled it after six books. I still get email from readers demanding the last three books, and I dream of the publisher deciding to re-release them with all nine books.

There were other series: “Out of This World,” “Three of a Kind,” “Video High,” “Club Paradise.” Between these, I wrote single titles, but I always wanted to get back to a series. And now I have “The Spyglass Sisterhood.

What I love about this series is that I have four girls who have no exceptional talents or mysterious gifts. I wanted to explore the unique personalities and feelings of these girls who neither stand out or fit in, the kind of girls we all knew in middle school (or maybe we were those girls). I wanted characters who weren’t obviously fascinating, like a genetically enhanced clone or a mind-reader, but characters who were amazingly interesting once you got to know them.

And while there’s nothing supernatural about these girls, there’s a little magic in the stories. It’s in a telescope, a spyglass that sits in the turret of one girl’s home, and it shows more than any telescope can normally show. What the girls must figure out is what the visions really mean, and what—if anything—they should do about what they see.

All four girls are in every book, but each has her own book from her exclusive point of view. Each girl has the opportunity to reveal herself more deeply, and also provide the reader with her own perception of the others, so we get to know all of them better.

As a writer, I think I’m feeling closer to these characters than I’ve ever felt to other characters in my books. They’re very real to me, and I find them almost developing on their own. I don’t know if this series will continue as long as some of my other series have, but I certainly hope so. Mainly, because I’ll have a very hard time saying goodbye to them.

Meet the author

Marilyn Kaye was born in New Britain, Connecticut and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. She has a B.A. and Master’s in Library Science from Emory University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, where she studied children’s and young adult literature with Zena Sutherland. She was an associate professor in library science at St. John’s University for 23 years, and has written over 120 books for children and young adults. The Spyglass Sisterhood is Marylin’s first series with Holiday Holiday. She can be found on Facebook and as ‘MarilynKayeParis’ on Instagram.

I’m With the (Vampire) Band, a guest post by Marlene Perez

Writers have always found inspiration from a multitude of sources. For me, television, books, and music sparked my imagination. My taste in music was as deeply personal as the kinds of books I read. For me, the two have been intertwined since childhood and I still hang out in my room listening to my vinyl record collection and reading. Or writing.

I created a playlist for every manuscript I’ve written. Sometimes, I listened to the songs before I wrote, which would bring me into the world more quickly somehow. Other times, I would listen as I wrote, feeling the emotional highs and lows the music evoked. My Dead Is series even featured a jukebox that provides clues to the mystery through song titles, so those playlists always included the clue songs.

The titles of my new teen vampire trilogy, THE AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY, I’M WITH THE BANNED, and A SUCKER FOR YOU, were all riffs on song titles. It wasn’t too surprising then that the vampires in the books were musicians. In THE AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY, the main character, Tansy Mariotti, went to a party with her two friends to listen to a band, but got more than she bargained for. Spoiler alert, Tansy hadn’t expected the band, even though they were called The Drainers, to be a group of bloodsucking fiends.

Writing about vampires can be challenging because of the depth and breadth of the vampire canon. From Dracula to Twilight, authors have written about every kind of vampire under the sun, even vampires who can actually spend time in those golden rays without turning to ash. As I was figuring out what kind of vampire I wanted to inhabit my fictional world, it sometimes seemed like everything had been done, even vampires in a band. In Anne Rice’s novel Queen of the Damned, the vampire Lestat joined a rock band, and his song woke the queen of all vampires, and boy was she cranky.

Stories of real-life musicians and how they treated their fans were the inspiration for The Drainers, my fictional vampire band. In some cases, it was almost unbelievable the way certain rock legends treated their fans. If you type in the name of your favorite artist and the word “groupies” into a search engine, you might find some disturbing stuff. But fair warning, it made it impossible for me to listen to their music the same way. In my trilogy, the vampires were bloodthirsty creatures, willing to use their power to compel their fans to give them their blood. It’s no wonder Tansy wanted to stake them.

Like many writers of paranormal fiction, I was a huge fan of (most seasons) of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What’s not to love about a kickass yet vulnerable main character, her loyal friends, and her hot vampire love interest? Not to mention the live music at The Bronze. I found the whole Spike/Buffy pairing incredibly squicky and not just because I was Team Angel. Despite some shortcomings (Spike, Riley, and what we later learned about the treatment of cast members), I admired the overall tone of the show. Buffy the Vampire Slayer mixed humor with more serious themes, such as friendship, consent, and death. The show inspired the snark meets dark tone of the Afterlife trilogy as well as Tansy’s weapon of choice for fighting vampires.

One of my favorite vampire novels was Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Sunshine was a post-apocalyptic novel where vampires were out in the open, instead of part of some secret, hidden world. The world of Sunshine held a variety of paranormal creatures, including vampires, witches, and werewolves. Robin McKinley took a common “rule” about vampires, the inability to withstand the sun, and made it her own. Sunshine helped me to think about what strengths and weaknesses my vampires had. Would they be creatures of the night or able to glitter in the sun? How can you fight a vampire? How can you kill a vampire?

Tansy learns the answers to some of these questions in the first book, but in I’M WITH THE BANNED, the second book in the Afterlife trilogy (October 5, 2021), she and her friends had a whole new paranormal creature to figure out. They had to discover who was murdering werewolves before someone sets off a vampire-werewolf war.

And finally, in A SUCKER FOR YOU (TBD 2022), somehow Tansy found herself in a van full of werewolves heading to Vegas to stop an elopement and just maybe prevent the end of the world. And a certain band might be headlining in Vegas.

If you want to spend a few hours reading and listening, pick up a copy of THE AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY or I’M WITH THE BANNED and check out the playlists for the books. You can find them here on Spotify.

THE AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY

I’M WITH THE BANNED, Part 1

Meet the author

Marlene Perez is the author of books for children and adults, including the best-selling DEAD IS series for teens. DEAD IS THE NEW BLACK was named an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers as well as an ALA Popular Paperback. DEAD IS JUST A RUMOR was on VOYA’s Best Science Fiction, Horror, & Fantasy List.  Her novels have been featured in Girl’s Life, Seventeen, and Cosmopolitan. The first book in her new teen vampire trilogy THE AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY is out now and the second book I’M WITH THE BANNED, will release October 5, 2021.

She grew up in Story City, Iowa and is the youngest of twelve children. She lives in Orange County, California with her husband and children.

Find me on social media.

www.marleneperez.com

https://www.instagram.com/marperezauthor/

https://twitter.com/MarPerez

About I’m with the Banned

I never wanted to be a vampire queen.

But on the bright (if not sunny) side of the debacle, I’ve got a super-hot new boyfriend. And he just might be the perfect guy.

Well, if the perfect guy ghosts you for a month and then comes back to school with a new look, a pack of friends, and a secret. But we have bigger problems.

The Drainers are back. They’re singing a different song, but have they really changed?

Even worse, werewolves’ hearts are being ripped from their bodies—which is putting the people I love in danger. I need to figure out who is behind the murders before there’s an all-out vampire werewolf war.

No one is going to mess with my friends, even the ones who like to get wild and howl at the moon.

Sometimes, all a girl can do is grab her tiara and start kicking some supernatural ass…

The Afterlife series is best enjoyed in order.
Reading Order:
Book #1 The Afterlife of the Party
Book #2 I’m with the Banned

ISBN-13: 9781649370099
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 10/05/2021
Series: Afterlife #2
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Life as a Literary Agent and an Author: The Good and the Bad and Everything in Between, a guest post by Katelyn Detweiler

Sometimes, on especially chaotic and sleep deprived days, I can’t help but to question my life decisions—specifically, the choice to be both a literary agent and an author, to surround myself with manuscripts and words and publishing all day every day, weekdays and weekends, daytime and nighttime. (Working fulltime from home with a two-year-old wild child, I should add!) The words, the sentences, one long paragraph after another… they’re always there. Inescapable. It’s a lot, to take what is one of your greatest passions—books, stories, writing—and turn it into not just one job, but two. At this point in life, I maybe read one book a year purely for pleasure, two if I’m lucky, and even then, my brain is stubbornly in editorial mode as I go along. What notes would I have had, if the book was one of my authors’ projects? What could have made this character stronger, that theme clearer? Is this scene necessary? Is that idea overstated? 

So yes, as I said… it’s a lot. But there’s a reason I made the decision to submerge myself daily in words, a veritable waterfall of them, and a reason I still stand by that choice at the end of every single day—and wouldn’t change a thing, not really, not ever. The truth is, I live for these words. To create my own, but much more than that, to watch so many other writers create, too. To walk alongside authors on their grand writing journeys, helping to take dreams and turn them into realities. Honestly, it never gets old. Particularly The Phone Call, telling a writer their manuscript will someday be an actual published book on people’s shelves. (Admittedly, sometimes I weep as much as they do!) But I’m here for every part of it, the good and the bad and all the daily in between. 

I was an agent first and foremost. I graduated from Penn State with an English degree and my eyes set on publishing, and nothing else. No Plan B. I started in the marketing department of Macmillan Children’s, a great way to get a broad perspective on all the many roles in publishing, and then soon moved to the agenting side. I wanted to be more hands-on with authors, more hands-on with text. While I’d always dabbled in my own writing from an early age, I liked the prospect of it more than the actual craft. Besides, it was scary enough to move from my small town in Pennsylvania to work in New York City publishing—that was a gigantic enough dream on its own. It felt too absurd to think I could be an author, too. That felt like saying I wanted to be a rock star or a princess. Impossible.

But then a few years into agenting, I had an idea. A pregnant teen virgin in our day and age. What would her parents say, her best friends, her boyfriend? I had the idea, and that idea was outrageously stubborn. The idea screamed YOU MUST WRITE ME, and so one day, I sat down and I did. I wrote paragraphs that became pages that eventually, somehow, magically became a full manuscript. And then my amazing boss Jill Grinberg read it and said she’d… be my agent. Boss/agent/mentor/friend all rolled up into one. It was a dream I never would have dared to have for myself. The project sold—IMMACULATE, and an unwritten companion novel—and I became two things: agent and author.

Four books in, I still mostly identify myself as agent. When people ask what I do, that’s what I say. The natural instinct. Usually my husband or mom or someone else will chime in that I’m also an author. Oh, right. It’s not that I forget, but it’s also not what I spend every day focusing on. Being present and available for my authors is priority number one, work-wise. It drives and defines most of my weekdays, sunup to sundown, when I’m not building LEGO trucks or cleaning up smoothie puddles or combating epic toddler bedtime battles. Agenting makes it possible to write, and writing “on the side”—in whatever slivers of free time I can find—makes writing still feel like a hobby. Or hobby-adjacent, at least, even if it’s not always necessarily for joy. There are joyful days, sure. But I wouldn’t say I write because it fills me with joy. I write because once I started, nearly a decade ago now, I couldn’t stop. 

I always say when I’m talking to prospective clients that writing has made me a better agent. And I believe it’s true, wholeheartedly. I’ve been on the other side of the process—the editorial letters, the copy edits, the cover debates, the push for more promotion and support. I’ve been at a big publisher, I’ve been at an indie. I’ve lived and breathed the rollercoaster of birthing a book baby four times over, the many highs and the many lows. 

No matter how much you know, though, from either side of the lane, publishing a book never gets less scary. THE PEOPLE WE CHOOSE, my latest novel, was no exception. In fact, it was probably the trickiest one yet. The one I needed to sit on the most, taking time—years, really—to fully think through my idea and my goals before writing a single word. The hardest one to plot out once I started, and the hardest one to edit, time and time again, to make sure I got it right and did the message justice. It’s not a straightforward story—a girl who, upon turning eighteen, discovers that her sperm donor is the father of her next-door neighbor turned recent love interest. It’s a complicated exploration of family and how we love, who we love. The different kinds of love, and how love can shift and evolve over time. 

Most days I feel like agenting and authoring combined has given me a thicker skin—I love my clients’ projects deeply and wholly, so every rejection is personal, even if I didn’t write the words myself. There’s been a lot of rejection over the years, because the truth is, more projects than not aren’t sold at auction. There’s one perfect editor, one love match, and that’s okay. It only takes one. But that means for every YES, there might be fifteen, twenty, twenty-five (or more!) NOs. Publishing is not for the faint of heart. Not as an author, and not as an agent. Rejection, criticism, disappointment, it’s all part of the process. For my books just as much as for my authors’ books. I’m still human, though. Bad reviews sting, a particularly blunt rejection hurts. Seeing more of it, experiencing rejection in some form or another on a weekly if not daily basis, helps put it into perspective, though: publishing is maddeningly subjective. But true talent rises up. Great stories find their way.

I’ve rambled now, haven’t I? I set out to write about pros and cons of being in both lanes, but really this has become a messy love letter to words and stories. Books are (aside from my family, of course) my Great Love in this life. There’s no other way for me. No other path. 

The days are long, but they’re the best possible days. Now excuse me while I go make another cup of coffee.

Meet the author

Katelyn Detweiler is the author of several books for young adults, including The Undoing of Thistle Tate and The People We Choose. She is also a literary agent and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

About The People We Choose

When 17-year-old Calliope meets her new neighbor Max, their connection is instantaneous, but the revelation of her sperm donor’s identity changes everything.

Calliope Silversmith has always had just two friends in her small Pennsylvania town, Ginger and Noah, and she’s fine with that. She’s never wanted anything more than her best friends, her moms, their house in the woods, and their family-run yoga studio—except maybe knowing who her sperm donor is. Her curiosity has been building for years, and she can finally find out this summer when she turns eighteen.

Then Max and his family move into the house across the woods from Calliope, and she immediately feels a special connection with her new neighbor, one that feels different than just friendship. The stability of her longtime trio wavers over the next few weeks as she and Max start to spend more time together.

But when Calliope makes contact with her sperm donor she learns a surprising truth: her donor is Max’s father. How is this even possible?

As she and Max struggle to redefine their friendship now that they know they’re half-siblings, Calliope realizes she has much to gain by recognizing and accepting that family is both the one she has been born into, and the one she chooses to make.

Perfect for readers looking for stories about family dynamics and fans of The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend.

ISBN-13: 9780823446643
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Ballet and Rock & Roll – and Writing Beyond What You Know, a guest post by Brianna Bourne

The first time I saw Swan Lake, I was eleven, sitting in the front row watching a red velvet curtain rise on darkness. A single beam of light revealed a blanket of what looked like snow on the stage. But it wasn’t snow—it was dry ice. The swans were folded over, hidden beneath it. As they rose up, the dry ice poured toward me, racing over the lip of the stage to cool my face like a breath of night.

A group of birds flying in the air

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(Swan Lake by Birmingham Royal Ballet. Image: Andrew Ross)

I didn’t know then that I’d one day work backstage for major ballet companies—that I’d be the one wearing a headset and calling the cues for the dry ice machine to turn on, for the lights to change, for the curtain to rise.

And I didn’t know that a few years after that, I’d publish a book with a main character who was an elite ballet dancer.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the old writing adage, “Write what you know.” On one hand, writing what you know can be a wonderful thing. There’s something so compelling about a story that peels back the curtain on a specialist hobby or profession. It’s pure magic when I read about a character who is an elite gymnast or a champion canoeist or a country music singer, and by the time I’ve turned the last page, I feel like I’m the gymnast or the racer or the singer.

Do I know ballet? Sure. I know the terminology, I can (very crudely) replicate a pas de chat or a penché, and I’ve been known to do a few chaînés if I find myself in a large empty room. When I wasn’t on tour, I spent forty hours a week in a rehearsal studio with jaw-droppingly talented dancers.

But I’m not a ballerina, by any stretch of the imagination. But that’s what writing is, right? A stretch of the imagination.

I certainly stretched the limits of “Write what you know” when I turned my love of 80s rock into my second main character’s talent/passion. For years as I drafted and revised, every car ride was filled with the electric, hair-raising energy of Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, Dokken, Scorpions. I loved every second of that very serious book research.

A group of people posing for the camera

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(Guns N’ Roses)

“He was a punk, she did ballet” might have been enough to carry a lighter contemporary YA romance, but I blew the lid off writing what I knew when I decided my book would follow the last girl and boy in the world after they wake up to a silent, empty city.

But even that, somehow, felt like writing what I knew: I remember once, when I was sixteen or seventeen, I woke up long past noon to find my house empty. It was unnaturally quiet, and even the angle of the sun pouring in through the windows unsettled me. It turned out that my mom wasn’t far—out in the backyard having an argument with the A/C unit—but for a few heart-stopping minutes, it felt deeply wrong.

At their core, stories are a cookie-crumb trail of emotions. And we are all intimately familiar with the kaleidoscope of human emotion. Fear, love, hope, intrigue, skepticism, desperation, embarrassment—we are each witness to thousands of moments daily that make micro-impacts on our feelings. And that’s where I find myself writing what I know: in those moments where we get a concentrated dose of an emotion so pure it makes our breath catch.

I’m not an elite ballet dancer, and I’m not a rock musician. I haven’t woken up alone in an empty world. But I am a writer. And it’s my job to imagine situations and settings, to climb into a character’s body and mind and heart, and then somehow shape all of that into words on a page. Words that can miraculously transfer those tiny, concentrated moments of emotion to someone else.

So I’ll keep writing what I know—and what I don’t know. One day, maybe I’ll have a clearer answer on whether “Write what you know” is good writing advice.

But that day is not today.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Barnaby Aldrick

When Brianna Bourne is not writing, she works as a stage manager for ballet companies around the world. Originally from Texas, Brianna grew up in Indonesia and Egypt and now lives in England with her rock musician husband and their two daughters. You & Me At the End of the World is her debut novel. You can find out more about her on her website, and she can be followed on Twitter and Instagram.

About You & Me at the End of the World

This is no ordinary apocalypse…

Hannah Ashton wakes up to silence. The entire city around her is empty, except for one other person: Leo Sterling. Leo might be the hottest boy ever (and not just because he’s the only one left), but he’s also too charming, too selfish, and too much of a disaster for his own good, let alone Hannah’s.

Stuck with only each other, they explore a world with no parents, no friends, and no school and realize that they can be themselves instead of playing the parts everyone expects of them. Hannah doesn’t have to be just an overachieving, music-box-perfect ballerina, and Leo can be more than a slacker, 80s-glam-metal-obsessed guitarist. Leo is a burst of honesty and fun that draws Hannah out, and Hannah’s got Leo thinking about someone other than himself for the first time.

Together, they search for answers amid crushing isolation. But while their empty world may appear harmless . . . it’s not. Because nothing is quite as it seems, and if Hannah and Leo don’t figure out what’s going on, they might just be torn apart forever.

ISBN-13: 9781338712636
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 07/20/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Collaboration is the Key: Notes from Co-Writing an Early Chapter Book Series, a guest post by Laura Brown and Elly Kramer

Although many great reads are penned by a single author, collaboration has been key to our writing process. We both got our start in children’s educational television where there is often a writer’s room. Under the leadership of a show’s creator(s), team members contribute ideas about character, setting, and story, and often provide notes at every stage in the scripting process. Because of this background, collaboration felt like the natural way to write an early chapter book series, too.

Educators and business leaders have emphasized the importance of collaboration for some time now. 21st Century learning identifies collaboration as one of the primary learning and innovation skills for the future (P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning). According to research from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (2018), more than 80 percent of mid to large size employers prioritize collaboration skills in new hires.  Here’s the story of how our collaboration came to be and the benefits it has afforded us.

A partnership is formed

Like so many great partnerships, ours was formed in the ladies room!  We were in Toronto, participating in a writer’s room for a new television series. Elly was serving as Development Executive and Laura was Curriculum and Research Director. But we both secretly wanted to write scripts, too. When we ended up together in the ladies room, Elly popped the question, “Do you want to write scripts with me?” The answer was “Yes!” and the deal was sealed.  

Inspiration for Trillium Sisters

After we had written four scripts together, we started to explore other ideas. Elly had always wanted to write about families. It felt like a universally appealing starting point.  Although every family is different, we all have one! Plus, we know how important and grounding family is for  our readers.

We both were excited, too, to explore what we call modern princess magic –strong girls solving their own problems. But we wanted there to be strong men and boys, too, all working together to raise each other up. That’s why we created a family with three sisters and a little brother headed by a nurturing father.

When Laura went skiing in Colorado, she found a world for this family. She was enjoying a gentle run down the mountain when she came upon a beautiful stand of Douglas Firs.  She found herself imagining who might live beyond those trees. Perhaps there was a village where people lived in treehouses, ziplined to work, and felt completely connected to the animals and nature on the mountain. Laura wanted every child to experience this beautiful alpine world. When she returned and told Elly about the setting, Elly was just as excited. With the world, characters and major themes settled, we began to brainstorm story ideas.

The Nitty Gritty: How We Write Together

Crafting an entire book series is different, of course, than writing a script. Through trial and error, we’ve found a process that preserves the benefits of co-writing but also ensures efficiency and consistency in the writing.

First, we brainstorm story ideas together. Because we live far apart, this often involves a zoom meeting and huge steaming cups of coffee. But it’s a lot of fun, probably our favorite part of the process.

Once we find an idea we both love, we outline the story together. This is a long process and involves a great deal of revision. When we feel we have the main beats of the story, one of us then takes primary responsibility for writing the book. This works well because we’re writing a series. We each take primary writing responsibility for half the books. While one person writes, the other acts like an editor, reading and revising what’s produced. The editor might punch up the dialogue, suggest a plot turn, or help the primary author get “unstuck” when she reaches an unexpected obstacle.

What We’ve Learned

As we reflect on what has and hasn’t worked well, there are some clear takeaways. First, choose your partner(s) thoughtfully. The most helpful partners have strengths that don’t duplicate but complement your own.  Second, speak your thoughts aloud. Your partner can’t guess what you’re thinking! Share the half-baked idea you just can’t get out of your head. Research shows discussion helps collaborators find connections among seemingly disparate ideas (Sparks, 2017). Also, remember to tell your partner what’s important to you and discuss conflicts as soon as they arise. And finally, be sure to ‘Yes and’ your partner. ‘Yes anding’ means accepting what someone says and then building on it. We have found ‘yes and’ leads to hidden gems that might not be apparent in the original idea.

Our book series, Trillium Sisters, is about three sisters who are learning to work together and find greater strength through teamwork. That’s what we’ve been doing, too, in our collaborative writing. Our partnership has helped us to be more creative and accountable. Most importantly though, we’ve enjoyed the writing more because it’s a shared experience. We wish you and your students happy and fruitful writing collaborations.

References

P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning. A network of battelleforkids. Framework brief. Retrieved from: https://www.battelleforkids.org/networks/p21/frameworks-resources

Sparks, S.D. (2017). Children must be taught to collaborate, studies say. Education Week. Retrieved from: https://www.edweek.org/leadership/children-must-be-taught-to-collaborate-studies-say/2017/05

Watson, C.E. and McConnell, K.D. (2018). What really matters for employment? Association of American Colleges and Universities Liberal Education, 104(4). Retrieved from: https://www.aacu.org/liberaleducation/2018/fall/watson_mcconnell

Meet the authors

Trillium Sisters is co-written by educational television veterans, Laura Brown and Elly Kramer. You can follow them on instagram at @laurabrownauthor and @ellykramerauthor.

Laura, an educational psychologist, has served as Content Expert or Curriculum Director on over 50 children’s television series at Nick Jr., Disney Junior, Netflix, Spin Master Entertainment and many others worldwide. She is currently Curriculum Director at WarnerMedia Preschool/Cartoonito. Laura resides in Northern New Jersey, but in another life she would gladly live in a treehouse in the forest.

Elly is a senior creative executive with over 19 years of experience leading the development of innovative content. She is currently Head of Animation for Imagine Entertainment’s Kids and Family division. Previously, she was VP of Production and Development with Nickelodeon. A lifelong New Yorker, Elly currently resides in Los Angeles.

When Our Heroes Fail Us: The inspiration behind “The Verdigris Pawn,” a guest post by Alysa Wishingrad

When I was in fourth grade my family moved from the city to the suburbs. As the new kid in town, I had a few friends, but I was also terribly teased and taunted. It was not an easy transition, and I relied on those older and wise than me to help get me through.

One day when we were all trickling back into the classroom from recess, some of the other kids began laughing and pointing at my back. I reached around and could feel the edges of a piece of paper stuck to my shirt, but I couldn’t reach it. So, I went to the teacher, the one person in the room I thought I could trust above all others and asked if there was anything on my shirt.

She replied, “No.” 

Moments later a friend came back into the room and pulled a KICK ME sign off the back of my shirt.

Now, I can’t know why that teacher did what she did. Was she truly being cruel? Maybe she was distracted, somehow didn’t see it, or perhaps this is a false memory. But even if my recollections of the details aren’t accurate, the feeling of having someone who I’d placed my implicit trust in, who I’d thought of as a hero failing– and perhaps even betraying—me was powerful.

A very sad future author in 4th grade

Since then, I’ve had several mentors, professors, and teachers who saw what I was capable of and worked tirelessly to help me come to see it too. They were transformative guides whose influence is woven deeply into who I am and how I strive to move through the world.

But like my 4th grade teacher there have been those who failed me. There were the mentors who turned out to be empty shirts, more interested in self-aggrandizing and collecting acolytes than in teaching or inspiring. There have been those in the public realm who I considered heroes that were unworthy of my admiration. But as painful as it can be to see through your heroes, there’s an important lesson to be learned, one that I set out to explore in my debut middle-grade novel, The Verdigris Pawn.

Tea, work and a massage ball to work the kinks out

In The Verdigris Pawn, Beau and Nate go searching for a hero. Someone who can lead the revolution the Land is so desperately in need of. 

Beau, heir to the despotic leader of the Land, has been raised isolated, cut off from everyone but his tutors and the occasional audience with his father. He knows nothing about the desperate lives the people of the Land lead until he meets Cressi, a clever and wise servant girl with a hidden talent. Cressi sees a strength and courage in Beau and tries to convince him to take up the mantel of power to right the wrongs of his family. But Beau doesn’t believe himself capable of leading anyone.

Nate, an orphan raised in the cruel and hostile environment of Mastery House, has been trying for years to run off to join the rebels. But much like Beau, he’s been conditioned from an early age to look for the leaders, to be a soldier not a commander.

Together they risk everything to find a hero, the one person who can right all the wrongs perpetuated by Beau’s father, a man so feared people only dare refer to him as Himself.

But along the way they learn that not everyone and everything is as it seems. Charlatans and pretenders lurk around every corner professing to hold the key to freedom and happiness when, in truth, their sole interest is in shining their reputation and lining their pockets.

When our role models fail us, we’re left stunned, disillusioned, and questioning ourselves. If this person that I put so much faith in turned out to be a bad actor, what does that say about me? How did I not see them for what they are?

When Beau and Nate realize that their hero is not who or what they thought, they initially have very different reactions. One chooses to try and ignore it, to hold fast to the ideal he held in his head. The other simply thinks he chose the wrong hero and now he must go find the right one.

Encourage kids from an early age to be the hero of their own stories

At that point in the story, neither boy is willing to recognize that they’re the heroes they’ve been looking for.

It’s hard to give up the notion that there’s someone out there with all the answers, someone who can save us. But even when there is that reliable leader, that stalwart of character and purpose, the truth is, none of us can afford to relinquish our power to anyone else. We do a great disservice to both ourselves and the collective by minimizing our ability to have a meaningful impact.

A heroine I can whole heartedly support.
Fun Fact: Lady Liberty, who is made of bronze, is … verdigris!

Beau and Nate learn this lesson the hard way. Had they listened to Cressi early on instead of chasing after a hero, desperate to find the answer outside themselves, they might have saved themselves a whole lot of trouble. She saw their gifts from the beginning, knew what they were capable of. In many ways she was the most meaningful mentor they had—the one who sought to inspire them to find the greatness within rather than emulate someone else. But as in both stories and life, self-discovery is a journey, one that’s shaped by the mentors—both the good and the deeply flawed–we meet along the way.

Meet the author

Alysa Wishingrad once had a whole different career working in theater, tv, and film, but nothing could be better or more exciting than writing stories and crafting worlds for middle-grade readers. 8–12-year-olds are some of the smartest, most open, and inquisitive people around. She’s dedicated to writing stories that help them hold onto that magic as they grow up.

Alysa’s favorite stories are those that meld the historical with the fantastic, and that find ways to shine a light on both the things that divide and unite us all.

When she’s not writing she’s probably out walking her two very demanding rescue dogs, or she might be trying to figure out what to make for dinner – again! – for her family. But, if she’s very lucky, she’s out at the theater getting lost in a wonderful story.

THE VERDIGRIS PAWN is her debut novel and is available now from HarperCollins.

Visit her at www.alysawishingrad.com

On Twitter @agwishingrad

On Instagram @alysawishingradwrites

About The Verdigris Pawn

A JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD GOLD STANDARD SELECTION! 

A boy who underestimates his power . . .

A girl with a gift long thought lost . . .

A Land ready for revolution . . .

The heir to the Land should be strong. Fierce. Ruthless. At least, that’s what Beau’s father has been telling him his whole life, since Beau is the exact opposite of what the heir should be. With little control over his future, Beau is kept locked away, just another pawn in his father’s quest for ultimate power.

That is, until Beau meets a girl who shows him the secrets his father has kept hidden. For the first time, Beau begins to question everything he’s ever been told and sets off in search of a rebel who might hold the key to setting things right. 

Teaming up with a fiery runaway boy, their mission quickly turns into something far greater as sinister forces long lurking in the shadows prepare to make their final move—no matter what the cost. But it just might be Beau who wields the power he seeks . . . if he can go from pawn to player before the Land tears itself apart.

ISBN-13: 9780062908056
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/13/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Down the Rabbit Hole: Writing Novels from a Librarian’s Perspective, a guest post by Bryce Moore

As an academic librarian, I have taught thousands of students how to research. It’s to the point that I could probably teach that class in my sleep, going on about how to find books and articles, how to know which research tools to use and when. Often, the students I’m teaching show little interest in the subject matter. Research is something they view as a distasteful necessity of their schooling. A hoop they need to jump through, paper after paper, so they can fulfill the requirements of their classes.

What I try to stress to them (hopefully successfully, more often than not) is that research is something we all do every day, whether we’re trying to decide what car to buy, what movie to see, or checking to see just how bad a sore throat has to get before we should see a doctor. Even the act of asking friends for advice is a sort of research project. You find different sources, you evaluate them for their reliability in the specific context, you synthesize the responses, and you make a decision.

Writing historical novels is no different, at least as far as the preparation is concerned. I started writing The Perfect Place to Die with only the premise in mind: in search of her sister, a teenage girl goes undercover in H.H. Holmes’ infamous “Murder Castle.” I’d read Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, and the setting and characters were fascinating. I was eager to see what I could do with it as a YA thriller.

Photograph of the infamous “Murder Castle” (known at the time as the World’s Fair Hotel) 

But when it came time to actually write the book, I discovered working within the constraints of history complicates matters in ways I hadn’t anticipated. For example, I’ve been to Chicago multiple times (go to ALA long enough, and that’s inevitable), so I assumed I’d be able to insert details about the city without much trouble. Except every time I went to write about something, I had to first check to see if it existed back in 1893. Almost without fail, it didn’t.

Even writing simple scenes took time and research. Etta, the main character, comes into Chicago by train. I assumed Chicago would have one central train station. Instead, it had several. I had to poke around to find out which train station would have been the one that a passenger from Utah would arrive in. Then I had to find out what it looked like. It was one rabbit hole after another.

Thankfully, the internet has made much of that type of factual research simpler these days. (Especially since I was doing some of this work in the middle of a pandemic.) I know Wikipedia can get a bad rap with some reference librarians, but when it comes to non-controversial topics like Chicago train stations of yore, it’s a great way to draw on the knowledge of people who know much more than I do about a subject. It gives you enough context to know where you should head to continue the research trail.

For the record, there was no train that went straight from Utah to Chicago at that point in time. I found that out by looking at old train maps online at the Library of Congress. Etta could have traveled to Kansas City and then switched trains to come into one of the stations on the western side of Chicago. None of that ended up mattering, however, since the scene I wrote based on that research got cut from the final draft.

A drawing of Union Station in Chicago from 1885. 

That highlights one of the pitfalls of a librarian doing research for a novel. Too often, I can lose myself in the hunt for a piece of information. There are always more details to fill in—more specifics to nail down. It would be easy to spend hours of extra time nosing through websites and books I’ve interlibrary loaned, and those would be hours I really enjoyed. But at some point, I have to leave the rabbit holes and get to the actual writing.

On the other hand, that research can also make writing the novel easier. Through it, I gained a better appreciation of the sort of experiences Etta would have had, which let me understand who she would be as a character, and how she would have viewed the world. Her sister had disappeared in Chicago, but Etta couldn’t know where or why. If she had that sort of proof, bringing the law into play would have been the easy out, and that wasn’t a solution I wanted available to her. Instead, I had to have Etta find her sister’s trail on her own. Through my research, I found certain aspects of the plot falling into place on their own.

In the end, research led to more writing, which in turn led to more research. And while librarianship has made me more susceptible to getting distracted by rabbit holes, it’s also made it much easier for me to come out of those holes with a rabbit in hand.

Meet the author

Bryce Moore is the author of The Memory Thief and Vodník. When he’s not authoring, he’s a librarian in Western Maine and a past president of the Maine Library Association. And when he’s not up to his nose in library work, he’s watching movies, playing board games, and paying ridiculous amounts of money feeding his Magic the Gathering addiction. Check out his daily blog for writing tips, movie reviews, and general rantings over at brycemoore.com.

Check out this link to a free discussion guide for the book!

About The Perfect Place to Die

Stalking Jack the Ripper meets Devil in the White City in this terrifying historical fiction debut about one of the world’s most notorious serial killers.

In order to save her sister, Zuretta takes a job at an infamous house of horrors—but she might never escape.

Zuretta never thought she’d encounter a monster. She had resigned herself to a quiet life in Utah. But when her younger sister, Ruby, travels to Chicago during the World’s Fair, and disappears, Zuretta leaves home to find her.

But 1890s Chicago is more dangerous and chaotic than she imagined. She doesn’t know where to start until she learns of her sister’s last place of employment…a mysterious hotel known as The Castle.

Zuretta takes a job there hoping to learn more. And before long she realizes the hotel isn’t what it seems. Women disappear at an alarming rate, she hears crying from the walls, and terrifying whispers follow her at night. In the end, she finds herself up against one of the most infamous mass murderers in American history—and his custom-built death trap.

With real, terrifying quotes in front of each chapter, strong female characters, and unbearable suspense, The Perfect Place to Die is perfect for fans of true crime, horror, and the Stalking Jack the Ripper series.

ISBN-13: 9781728229119
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

TLT TURNS TEN: Ten Great Guest Posts

This week Teen Librarian Toolbox turns 10. TEN! To celebrate, I’ve got lots of ten-themed posts coming. Up today: ten great guest posts. We are lucky that we get so many wonderful guest posts from authors, teachers, and librarians. From our yearlong projects to reading lists to posts related to authors’ new books, there’s always something great being shared by others on our blog. You can search the blog for guest posts and catch up on some that you may have missed! Meanwhile, here are snippets of and links to ten that have stuck with me.

Continuing Anti-Racist Work in Publishing in the Wake of the George Floyd Protests, a guest post by Roseanne A. Brown

From the post:

Being anti-racist is going to take more than a few weeks of hyping certain books and creating aesthetic Instagram posts. It’s going to take a fundamental shifting in the way we all view and interact with the world. It’s going to take interrogating the way each and everyone of us has allowed the structures of this industry to function unjustly for so long.

The work does not and cannot end with buying a copy of a Black author’s book or even blacking out an entire bestseller list, though that is an excellent start. The work will end when Black and other marginalized voices are no longer working in this industry at a structural disadvantage. And it’s going to take every single one of us at every level of the publishing hierarchy to make sure this change stays for good.

We all need to keep showing up for Black voices and Black lives, even when it’s no longer on trend to do so.

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.

MHYALit: This Book Will Save Your Life, a guest post by author Kathleen Glasgow

“Mommy,” I said, my voice sounding strange and far from me. “If you don’t take me to the hospital, right now, I am going to kill myself.”  I was sixteen. I meant it.

What followed was my mother slipping into robot-mode. She made calls, she smoked cigarettes, she argued with my father on the phone, and by the end of the day I was a new patient at small and somewhat seedy psychiatric hospital.  I was lumped in with adults. There was no separation by disorder, age, or “problem.” As one of my new colleagues put it during a dinner of slimy green beans and something resembling partially-heated Salisbury Steak, “We all fucking crazy in the same fucking crazy salad. You the tomato, she’s the lettuce, I’m the damn dressing.”

I had never felt so safe in my entire life.

When I was younger, growing up in a house filled with violence and fear, I found my solace in books. I read and re-read books obsessively, looking for anything that could lift me away from the darkness of my daily life. I should have been a prime candidate for fantasy or science fiction, but that wasn’t my thing. I latched onto anything that even vaguely resembled what was happening in my life and at that time, the queen of all things realistic was Judy Blume. Being bullied at school? Blubber became my tome. Having body and anxiety problems? Deenie. Curious about sex? The holy grail was, of course, Forever.  Fuck the whole tesseract business (though that was cool, too): I latched onto A Wrinkle in Time for Meg Murry, the lonely outcast.

When I found my mother’s 1954 copy of The Catcher in the Rye, though, Holden Caulfield spoke to me like no one else had. Here was someone who was clearly depressed, suicidal, afraid  of the world, afraid of himself. I still have that book. I still reread that book, every year, because it was the first book that taught me that I was not alone. I saw myself in Holden. It was a salve, a balm, for a long time.

SJYALit: Breaking Taboos, Telling Secrets, a conversation between Isabel Quintero and Elana K. Arnold

Elana: Isabel, I think it’s interesting that both of our titles–GABI: A GIRL IN PIECES, and WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF–hone in on how girls are dissected by themselves, by their families, by their friends and their boyfriends, by society. Why is it, do you think, that girls are such consumable products?

Isabel: Well, I think it has to do with the fact that we live in a capitalist patriarchy where we are taught that everything is consumable. Women are often not seen as autonomous, young women especially and girls less so. We are always thought of in relation to someone else, defined by what our purpose is in that relationship–daughter, sister, mother, girlfriend, mistress, wife, and so on. Those roles are seen as both consumable and disposable. And because we are often not seen as autonomous, as having our own worth, that seems to translate into our voices, our bodies, our time, being assumed to be in the service of others–for pleasure, reassurance, guidance, emotional support, nurturing, etc–and for their consumption.

Nina is girlfriend until Seth decides she is not, and doesn’t even tell her. Nina’s dad had one wife and disposed of her and then took on Nina’s mom. And in my book, Gabi’s mom feels Gabi should look a certain way because she needs to fill the role of desirable young woman to eventually become wife. Is she concerned that Gabi should go to college? Yes, but being desirable seems to take precedence sometimes.

Some of it may be rooted in fear. I know that one of my mom’s biggest fears is that I end up alone. And it has been this way since I was a teenager–being married was a top priority. Now that I am no longer with husband, I find that she still worries about that. But this goes back to having worth attached to how much we are worth to others–or, in other words, how much they can take.

FSYALit: From Rejection to Reconciliation: Changing Notions of Faith and Spirituality in LGBTQ YA, a guest post by Rob Bittner

I have been keeping an eye on books featuring queer characters in religious contexts for the last decade. When I was in my undergrad, I started on a directed study on books with LGBTQ content. My supervisor asked me about the direction in which I was hoping to go, and at the time I wasn’t entirely sure. Looking back at my own past and my history as a gay man within the Christian church, I wondered how, if at all, such experiences were being discussed in books for young readers. Keep in mind that only ten years ago, it was still difficult to find much in the way of LGBTQ literature for YA audiences, so trying to find religious representation within that limited subgenre felt at first like an impossible task. It certainly took a lot of effort to find materials, but I came across a few examples, and some from larger publishers, too. I discussed a number of these in more detail in my previous postHere are some main points to refresh your memory:

  • Early LGBTQ YA tends to frame Christianity (or any major religion really) as the enemy, often in the form of a religious leader preaching fire and brimstone for any and all non-normative genders and sexualities (Nothing Pink, Desire Lines);
  • Queer teens often sent away to camps for degayification (Caught in the Crossfire, Thinking Straight, The Miseducation of Cameron Post);
  • Earlier narratives often include long and didactic passages with characters debating scripture in an effort to show which side is right (Nothing Pink, The God Box, Gravity);
  • The novels were basically able to be split into two categories: novels of reconciliation (characters are able to reconcile queerness and spirituality, though not very often), and novels of abandonment (characters have to abandon either their faith or their sexuality in order to survive, and this is the more common trope.)

Coming of Age and the Reality of Others, a guest post by Sara Zarr

Is what we call “love” the experience of people being who we need them to be, and meeting our needs and expectations? Or is it accepting those closest to us in spite of their limitations and mistakes? Does the latter type of love have its limits and, if so, where are those limits? These aren’t questions that most adults I know have resolved, but we start becoming aware of them in our adolescent transition from childhood towards adulthood.

The context of Murdoch’s quote is an essay attempting to answer the question, “What is art?” She’s joining Tolstoy, Kant, and others in an ongoing conversation around this question, and for her, love and art and morality are all bound together in this issue of reality in a broader sense.

Personally, my allegiance in writing has always been to reality–which I don’t mean in a genre sense, as fantastical stories can have an allegiance to truth and realism can be false. What I mean is that I try to see things as they are and write about them from that clarity of vision. Murdoch writes, “We may fail to see the individual because we are completely enclosed in a fantasy world of our own into which we try to draw things from outside, not grasping their reality and independence, making them into dream objects of our own. … Love [is] an exercise of the imagination.”

MHYALit: On Medication, a guest post by author Emery Lord

Let’s get the personal info out of the way: I have been healthy on and off medication; I have been unhealthy on and off medication. I have chosen medication, and not medication. Because my health is a dynamic relationship—me and my mind and body, it means changing my approach sometimes. And so I certainly don’t think there is a universal right or wrong way to treat mental illness. Just right for you.

While I was researching When We Collided, one of the first questions I asked a doctor was if teens failing/refusing to take prescribed medication is as prevalent as it seems? (The refusal to take medicine or having very negative feelings toward medication is a frequent storyline in young adult media.) Yes, she said. But not just mental health medication. A very common ER issue is diabetic teens who simply don’t monitor their blood sugar.

This stuck in my mind. I always thought teens not taking their anti-depressants or anti-psychotics was due to the stigma of mental illness. It’s a stigma that is scaffolded by movies and TV shows that portray medication almost exclusively as something that dampens your creativity and joie de vivre. And does that happen? Sure, to some people. But others will tell you that medication let them access their creativity and joie de vivre again. (I, for example, would say that.)

So, is it that there’s a stigma for anything outside “healthy” range? Or maybe it’s about acceptance? Is it that we haven’t fully accepted that something—anything—is wrong enough to need correction? Or even if we know medication might help—we so badly don’t want to need them?

Girl, You Crack Me Up! Funny Female Authors in Middle Grade Fiction, a conversation with authors Jessica Kim and Arianne Costner

What about you? Did you ever feel intimidated trying to write a funny book?

J: I didn’t necessarily feel intimidated while writing the book, because funny books are the only ones I know how to write, but when I was promoting my book, I noticed I was often the only woman on the funny book panels. What’s that all about? I really hope that changes quickly because the world is missing out on some awesome hilarious-girl content! Speaking of which, can you share your process of creating humor? How did you know a joke was landing?

A: I tested most of the quips on my husband, and he is very honest–brutally honest, sometimes, but that’s why he’s helpful! I also did lots of good old Youtube and Google searches about creating humor and humorous scenarios. We are so lucky to have a world of resources at our fingertips! And of course, I read other books for inspiration. Speaking of which, I’m curious: Who are some of your favorite funny female authors?

J: I’m a big fan of Dusti Bowling, Remy Lai, Lisa Yee, and Booki Vivat. They crack me up. What about yours?

A: First of all, YOU obviously haha. I also love Niki Lenz and all of the authors you mentioned above! If we are going to kick it old school, Judy Blume is fantastic. I grew up reading her Fudge series. Louise Rennison is a crack up and a total inspiration! And, of course, Renee Watson is an icon. Since it’s April Fools Day, I have to finish by asking: What was your favorite April Fools joke you’ve played?

MHYALit: It’s Okay Not to Be Okay, a guest post by author Claire Legrand

In fifth grade, I had my first anxiety attack.

I don’t remember what prompted me to ask my teacher if I could use the restroom, but I remember huddling in the stall, hunched over on the toilet, as nausea seized my tiny ten-year-old body. My skin broke out in sick chills. I scratched my arms and legs until they were covered in red marks.

My thoughts raced with fear; I could not quiet my brain. I tried going to the bathroom, I tried throwing up. Nothing helped. I simply sat there and endured it until I felt well enough to go back to class.

Part of me was terrified by what had just happened. But I rallied and got through the day, dismissing that scary moment in the bathroom as . . . something. I had no idea what to call it.

I decided I was fine. I was still breathing, still standing.

I was fine. (I wasn’t fine.)

Historical Fiction in the Making, a guest post by Rita Williams-Garcia

Every novel relies on some research.  A historical novel isn’t reliable without research and A SITTING IN ST. JAMES, demanded total immersion.  I came to this story as a complete outsider.  I was neither white, nor of French descent, nor Louisiana Creole.  To gain the confidence of my readers, I took a year off from writing to do nothing but research: dig, read, uncover, and lastly, vet!  Instead of researching while I wrote, I used the writing hiatus to hunker down in specific subjects: French Revolution, Haitian Revolution, Louisiana history, Louisiana Creole culture and language, sugar cane planting and production, West Point history and culture, mid-19th century portrait painting, among other subjects.

I filled up on mid-nineteenth century literature, to include French, Louisiana Creole and American readings.  I combed through archives of narratives of survivors of slavery for testimonies of freed people from Louisiana.  One gem I found helpful was a collection of Caribbean and Louisiana Creole proverbs from LacFadio Hearn’s GOMBO ZH’BES (green gumbo).  I could see the smirks, the humor, and attitudes of the people. I got a taste of their lives and daily concerns. 

The Music that Heals Us, a guest post by Jennie Wexler

Boxes of vinyl records sat untouched in my parents’ storage room, begging to take their rightful place on a decades-old turntable covered in a thin layer of dust. During my last visit, I asked my father if I could take a couple of albums, hoping to display my favorites on shelves in my own home. I thumbed through a box, my eyes landing on instantly recognizable artwork. All four Beatles dressed in colorful costumes behind a large bass drum bearing the words, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band. Licensed to Ill’s rear end of a jet plane crash daring us to take a ride with the Beastie Boys. Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchel, and Noel Redding on the other end of a fish-eye lens asking us, Are You Experienced? Tommy. Led Zeppelin IV. Dark Side of the Moon.

I wanted them all.

It wasn’t right – iconic masterpieces lying dormant in a cold storage room. Music that was meant to be consumed as a story. Not a single track, but a cohesive album of notes and chords that all belonged together, that built upon one another. As my fingers ran along the edges of each album, long-forgotten memories bubbled to the surface of my mind.

“Who is this?” my father asked, his green eyes flicking to me in the rearview mirror, as the opening notes of Strawberry Fields Forever poured out of the speakers and filled our 1984 Toyota. When I was a little girl, my father turned long car rides into musical quizzes, knowledge that would imprint on my developing brain and stay with me throughout adulthood.

“The Beatles,” my tiny five-year-old voice proclaimed, pride swelling in my chest. I didn’t know a lot, but I knew music and more importantly, I felt a sense of awe as I listened. My father ensured I was immersed in the sounds of the sixties and seventies, the pure rock that came out of those decades. He owned guitars and amps, picks lying haphazardly around our house, ready to be put to use whenever the mood struck. He strummed while I sang Can’t Find My Way Home, one of our favorite songs, the memory still vivid today, a blanket wrapped tightly around my shoulders. Whenever I hear that Blind Faith tune, it feels like home, safe, a hug from my father. When you share an intense love for a song with someone, it’s an unspoken bond, a knowing of what speaks to both of your hearts.

When I entered high school, music became more than a cool riff or relatable lyrics. It was a lifeline. Two months into my freshman year, a car accident claimed the life of my friend at just fifteen years old. Everything I understood to be true was shattered in one phone call and I struggled to understand the concept of gone. My grief was unshakeable, heavy, and relentless. I don’t know if it was my father’s intention to ease my pain or just a way for him to connect to his shell of a daughter, but one day he brought home a CD for me – Help! by The Beatles. We owned it on vinyl, but he knew I only consumed music on my CD player, and he wanted me to have my own copy. The next week he came home with Revolver. The week after that was Rubber Soul. A new Beatles CD appeared every week until I had a complete collection. Every week I climbed an inch further out of my grief, the music breathing life back into my colorless world.

I began writing WHERE IT ALL LANDS as a way to process the grief from my teenage years that still grabbed hold of me unexpectedly, even as I became an adult and started my own family. I wanted to write the story I needed in high school – a story that could help a teen cope with an upheaval in their lives. Losing a young peer is not only devastating, it’s shocking. For years I’ve unsuccessfully attempted to untangle my complicated feelings about loss. Writing WHERE IT ALL LANDS was another attempt, another way to try to heal. All three main characters share an intense love of music and they depend on their favorite songs to guide them through difficult times. For me, like the characters in WHERE IT ALL LANDS, music is the one constant throughout my life that has comforted me and helped me find meaning in the face of tragedy.

Today, music still guides me. My father’s vinyl records are displayed in my office, the same songs, like dependable old friends, continuing to inspire me after so many years. Every song tells a story, and every piece of music is a time machine – a way to remind me of a forgotten moment or a hug from my father just when I need one. But music isn’t my only salve. Writing, reading, and art are the tools that help me chip away at life’s unanswered questions. Just like me, I hope teens today can pick up a book, stare at a piece of art, or listen to their favorite songs when they need to make sense of their complicated worlds.

Meet the author

Jennie Wexler spent the first part of her career producing and writing scripts for television shows appearing on VH1, Bravo, and The Travel Channel. Jennie’s debut novel, WHERE IT ALL LANDS, will be released from Wednesday Books on July 6th, 2021. She is an SCBWI member and lives in New Jersey with her husband, son, and Havanese puppy. You can follow her on twitter @jenwex or on IG @jenniewexler.

About Where It All Lands

Sliding Doors-esque novel that reveals how our choices define us and how no matter the road, love can find its way.

Stevie Rosenstein has never made a true friend. Never fallen in love. Moved from city to city by her father’s unrelenting job, it’s too hard to care for someone. Trust in anything. The pain of leaving always hurts too much. But she’ll soon learn to trust, to love.

Twice.

Drew and Shane have been best friends through everything. The painful death of Shane’s dad. The bitter separation of Drew’s parents. Through sleepaway camps and family heartache, basketball games and immeasurable loss, they’ve always been there for each other.

When Stevie meets Drew and Shane, life should go on as normal.

But a simple coin toss alters the course of their year in profound and unexpected ways.

Told in dual timelines, debut author Jennie Wexler’s Where It All Lands delivers a heartbreaking and hopeful novel about missed opportunities, second chances, and all the paths that lead us to where we are.

ISBN-13: 9781250750044
Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years