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My debut novel is coming out…in the middle of a global pandemic, a guest post by Liz Lawson

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I have been rotating in and out of depression since all of this started a month ago. I’m sure I am not alone in this. The world right now is… heavy. So, so heavy. And I, like so many people, feel helpless, confused, fearful…a rotating kaleidoscope of emotions that are mostly negative.

I want to be clear: this isn’t a call for pity. Far from it. My depression (for the most part) wasn’t because of personal issues. It was because… you know… the world. The world that is both showing how pained it can become and how much its people are willing and able to come together for each other. There is so much trauma right now happening, but there are also daily stories of people coming together, supporting local businesses to the best of their ability, doing small favors for elderly or high-risk neighbors and family. I have several friends who are likely going to give birth this month. New life is still happening, all around us.

But, last weekend I was sad. Very very sad. About why this all happened and what is happening right now and what might happen in the future. Just like so many of you are. Just like most of us. All the uncertainty is so hard to grapple with and live inside. My ability to handle it changes with every passing hour.

And, last weekend, my author copies arrived. Of my debut, my debut that I had worked on for YEARS and years (that is honestly some thirty-three years in the making).

All of them showed up yesterday.

I opened the box and bawled. It wasn’t a joyous bawl. It wasn’t excited or proud or anything that I’d imagined. I bawled because it was yet another (tiny) reminder of what has been taken from us. I was sad. So, so sad.

So I did what I do when I’m sad. I talked to people. My husband. My family. My friends. And talked. And talked some more.

And, finally, I was reminded – hours (and hours and an entire nighttime) later, what I had forgotten: That we are in this together. That feeling joy in the midst of enormously painful, world changing situations isn’t selfish.

It is COURAGEOUS.

I was reminded that a human being can both be very, very sad about one thing and feel happy, too. That feelings can exist simultaneously. That it is okay (actually, healthy) for them to. It is human. What we are experiencing right now is HUMAN. Our grief and our happiness and the hope that still exists in the world—that is what makes all of us uniquely human.

In THE LUCKY ONES, my characters grapple with similar emotional upheaval. May lost her brother in a school shooting a year prior to the opening of the book, and she is still in pain. She is struggling and pushing back against a world that let her down so completely. But, through meeting Zach and through the help of her friends, she learns that she can still feel hope. That not only can she feel it—that it is OKAY for her to feel. She gives herself permission to feel both the negatives and the positives of our world.

Please know that if you are sad, you are not alone. If you are depressed, yup, same here. If you are feeling joy – that is okay too.

We are in this together.

Pre-order THE LUCKY ONES from Skylight Books in Los Angeles.

Meet Liz Lawson

Photo credit: Jenn KL Photography

Liz Lawson has been writing for most of her life in one way or another. She has her Masters in Communications with a Concentration in Rhetoric from Villanova University, and has written for a variety of publications including PASTE MAGAZINE. When she’s not writing, she works as a music supervisor for film & television. Liz resides in Los Angeles, CA, where she lives with an adorable toddler, a fantastic husband, and two VERY bratty cats. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @lzlwsn.

About The Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson

For fans of Thirteen Reasons WhyThis Is How It Ends, and All the Bright Places, comes a new novel about life after. How do you put yourself back together when it seems like you’ve lost it all?

May is a survivor. But she doesn’t feel like one. She feels angry. And lost. And alone. Eleven months after the school shooting that killed her twin brother, May still doesn’t know why she was the only one to walk out of the band room that day. No one gets what she went through—no one saw and heard what she did. No one can possibly understand how it feels to be her.

Zach lost his old life when his mother decided to defend the shooter. His girlfriend dumped him, his friends bailed, and now he spends his time hanging out with his little sister…and the one faithful friend who stuck around. His best friend is needy and demanding, but he won’t let Zach disappear into himself. Which is how Zach ends up at band practice that night. The same night May goes with her best friend to audition for a new band.

Which is how May meets Zach. And how Zach meets May. And how both might figure out that surviving could be an option after all.

ISBN-13: 9780593118498
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

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

Hey all! I am Arianne Costner, author of MY LIFE AS A POTATO. Fun fact: This post also includes pictures of Jessica and I jumping out of an airplane!

And I am Jessica Kim, author of STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG. Isn’t it wild that our debut books are out there in the world now? Feels like just yesterday when we met for the first time. 

A: It does! I remember meeting up over the summer with some other writer friends. We were excited because our books have one thing in common–they’re both marketed as humorous. We realized that we both have a love for comedy and want to see more of it, especially written by females. We’ve done lots of fun things together since then–even skydiving! I’ll attach a pic of that below! So I’ll kick this convo off and ask you, Jessica: Why is writing comedy important to you?

J: Personally, funny books are the ones I like to read the most. I tend to gravitate toward people who have a good sense of humor, so it makes sense that the characters I end up loving are also the ones who can make me laugh. 

I think comedy is especially important during tough times, too. It can give readers an escape when things are too serious or scary outside. Sometimes, laughter is the best medicine, right? 

I also think it’s important that girls see funny books written by other girls, because the comedy genre is pretty male-dominated. Why do you think that is, anyway? 

A: I’m not sure! In trade reviews (and non-trade reviews alike,) I’ve been compared to authors like Jeff Kinney, Gordon Korman, Lincoln Pierce, and Chris Grabenstein. It’s flattering of course because I LOVE these guys! But it’s interesting that I’ve never been compared to a female author–not that I’ve seen, anyway. This could be because I have a boy main character, and books with boy MCs are often written by males. It’s glaring, though, that there aren’t as many females thriving in this space of “goofy” middle school stories. 

Honestly, it’s been a little intimidating. At times I’ve worried that kids would see my name on a book and decide it wasn’t going to be as funny. Earlier on, I even considered going by A.L. Costner to keep my gender ambiguous, but then I thought, you know what? No way! Girls need to see female authors write books like this! Besides, kids today are very keen and I never want to underestimate them. 

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?

J: Well, this didn’t happen on April Fool’s Day, but once my friends and I mixed some spicy wasabi into our friend’s green tea ice cream while she was in the restroom. We thought it’d be hilarious but then she started coughing and her eyes started watering and she turned bright red and I was afraid we were going to have to call an ambulance. I’ve been wary of playing pranks of anyone ever since. Though I did see this hilarious thing on the internet where someone scratched creepy messages onto some bananas (like: I know what you did or HELP or DO NOT EAT etc) for unsuspecting grocery buyers to discover as the bananas brown a few days later. I’d never do that though! What about you?

A: Oh, the banana thing sounds hilarious! We are all a little wary around produce right now haha, so maybe not the best prank for this year! Growing up, my siblings and I would TP my parent’s bedroom on April Fool’s Day. That wouldn’t go over well these days, amiright?

J: With toilet paper being such a scarce commodity these days, it may be more of a favor than a prank. In any case, I hope you have a delightful April Fool’s Day and thanks so much for chatting with me. And also thanks to those who listened in on our conversation! We hope you’ll check out our books linked below.

Signing off!

Arianne and Jessica

And as promised, here are pictures of Jessica and I jumping out of an airplane. Have a great April Fool’s Day, everyone!

Meet Arianne Costner

Arianne Costner lives in the middle of the desert with her husband and three children. She is a former English teacher who believes that writers should crack up at their own jokes. When she isn’t writing, she can be found playing the piano and composing music. Her favorite kind of potato is the tater tot, with mashed potatoes coming in close second—as long as they’re not gluey.

Arianne’s twitter: @ariannecostner Arianne’s IG: @authorariannecostner.   website: ariannecostner.com 

Meet Jessica Kim

Jessica Kim writes about Asian American girls dfinding their way in the world. Before she was an author, Jessica studied education at UC Berkeley and spent ten years teaching third, fourth, and fifth grades in public schools. Like Yumi, Jessica lives with her family in Southern California and can’t get enough Hot Cheetos, stand-up comedy, BTS, and Korean barbecue.

Jessica’s twitter: @jesskimwrites IG:  @jesskimwrites. website: jesskimwrites.com

About My Life as a Potato by Arianne Costner

For anyone who has ever felt like a potato in middle school, this hilarious story about a boy forced to become the dorkiest school mascot ever will have readers cheering!

Ben Hardy believes he’s cursed by potatoes. And now he’s moved to Idaho, where the school’s mascot is Steve the Spud! Yeah, this cannot be good.

After accidentally causing the mascot to sprain an ankle, Ben is sentenced to Spud duty for the final basketball games of the year. But if the other kids know he’s the Spud, his plans for popularity are likely to be a big dud! Ben doesn’t want to let the team down, so he lies to his friends to keep it a secret. No one will know it’s him under the potato suit . . . right?

Life as a potato is all about not getting mashed! With laugh-out-loud illustrations throughout, hand to fans of James Patterson, Gordan Korman, Jeff Kinney, and Chris Grabenstein!

ISBN-13: 9780593118665
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Arianne’s local indie is Red Rock Books (order from here to get a signed book of MY LIFE AS A POTATO).   

About Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim

One lie snowballs into a full-blown double life in this irresistible story about an aspiring stand-up comedian.

On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.

Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura—and Yumi doesn’t correct them.

As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.

ISBN-13: 9780525554974
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/17/2020
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years

Jessica’s local indie is

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore (order from here and get a signed nameplate along with STAND UP,  YUMI CHUNG! ).

Turner Syndrome and Representation, a guest post by Sarah Allen

I was born XO, which does not stand for hugs and kisses.

Lots of things became chaotic when I was born. I had something called omphalocele, which means my intestines were sticking out through a hole in my stomach where my belly button should have been. I was rushed to surgery before my mom was able to hold me. In the NICU, recovering from surgery number one, doctors discovered that there was another problem, one even more life-threatening. There was a constriction in my aortic valve, causing my heart to pump so hard it was growing way beyond safe size. This meant another surgery.

Oddly enough, it was something as simple as my uniquely puffy hands and feet that tipped one of my many incredible doctors off to the real underlying cause of all the medical drama. They ran some tests and confirmed the doctor’s suspicion. My dramatic entry into the world was the result of a genetic disorder called Turner syndrome.

An average person is born with 46 chromosomes. In girls, two of those chromosomes are XX. Not in girls with Turner syndrome. Turner syndrome means you are born with only one X instead of two. A missing X, for a total of 45 chromosomes.

XO.

There are a few core things that come with having Turner syndrome. Short stature is one, and I took growth hormone shots starting at age eight that helped me reach my happy five-foot-four. Another aspect is infertility. Many also deal with heart or kidney problems, some vision or hearing loss, and physical characteristics such as low-set ears, wide neck, and barrel-shaped ribs. It can also come accompanied by learning disabilities such as Non-verbal Learning Disorder.

Here’s the thing, though. With some support and determination, there’s nothing in this unique set of challenges to stop a Turners girl from living a normal, happy, even thrilling life of her choosing. My parents signed me up for the best school they could find, and put me in extracurriculars the same as all my other siblings. They expected self-sufficiency and hard work, and I learned from them that nothing could stop me from achieving what I wanted in my life. (Like publishing a book, maybe?)

But here’s the other thing: I never once saw myself represented in the books I read, or in any other media for that matter. I loved spunky girls like Ramona and Anne Shirley, but none of the characters ever looked quite like me, or was thinking about the uncommon challenges I was facing.

To be honest, this is not terribly surprising. Only 1 in 2500 girls is born XO. Only 1-2% of embryos with monosomy X are even carried to term, resulting in 10-20% of all miscarriages. But I knew girls like me were out there. In my gut I believed our stories mattered just like anyone else’s.

It took several other novels and help from professors in my MFA program at Brigham Young University, but I finally felt ready to tell a story about a girl with Turner syndrome.

And this is how Libby and WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF was born. I didn’t see my physical story, my body, represented in any of the books I read. Honestly, I felt like a pretty normal kid, a pretty normal person, and I would have given anything to find a book that told me, yeah, I was. I wanted to offer that to other readers.

STARS is about a girl who loves with everything she has, and never stops trying to help the most important people in her life despite her challenges. STARS is about the value inherent in every individual, no matter their circumstances or limitations, full stop. I wanted to reflect that individual worth to anyone who happened to pick up my book, no matter who they are, where they live, or what they look like.

C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know that we are not alone.” This has always been my writing mantra. I wrote this book for the girls like me, and for any kid who feels themselves on the fringes of “normal.” I wrote it as a celebration of weirdness and individuality. I want every reader who picks up this book to leave assured of one important thing: you are what stars are made of.

Sarah grew up in Utah and currently lives in the Pacific Northwest. Like Libby in WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF, she was born with Turner syndrome. She has an MFA from Brigham Young University, and in her spare time can be found writing poetry and watching David Attenborough documentaries or Pixar movies. She is a hardcore fan of golden retrievers, leather jackets, and Colin Firth.

WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
FSG Books for Young Readers
On Sale: 03/31/2020
ISBN: 9780374313197
Ages 10-14

Sarah would love it if you could support her indie, Third Place Books, which is offering signed copies of WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF.

The Healing Power of Fiction, a guest post by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

I am passionate and outspoken about authentic, non-stereotyped mental health representation in young adult literature. To explain why, let me tell you story.

When I was diagnosed with trauma-induced, severe obsessive compulsive disorder and PTSD, my husband and I confided in our immediate family. Here are some of their initial responses:

“Just think about happy things. You can do it!”

Blank stares and silence.

“You’re going to hurt the baby!” (I was carrying our first child at the time.)

“What you went through was for the best, in the long term. You’re lucky.” 

About a month later, a family member took me out to lunch. As I sat in the restaurant, barely holding myself together, she told me: “It’s time to stop this now. You have to snap of it.”

Let me translate that from the point of view of an individual suffering with mental health: You are behaving this way on purpose. You’re choosing to be miserable all the time. If you were stronger, you wouldn’t be like this.”

Although I still haven’t completely recovered from the emotional damage that statement caused, my relative is far from alone in that view. Her Appalachian culture (the culture I grew up in as well) instills a “yank yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality almost from birth. Mental strength is a prized (and expected) attribute. If you’re not in tip top mental shape all the time, you bury that fact where it will never see the light of day because it’s a source of shame not only for you, but for your entire family.

Again, such mentality is not unique to Appalachian culture. Similar ideas cross myriad backgrounds, cultures, and socio-economic classes: that only “weak” or “insane” people suffer with mental health; that mental health struggles are imagined and not actually real; that medication to treat them is somehow shameful whereas medication for physical illnesses is a no-brainer.

After the disappointing reactions from my family, I tried one more lifeline: a close friend who was almost a second mom to me. And though she looked sad, she also looked bewildered, like I had spoken a different language. “Tell me what you need,” she said, trying to be helpful. And I know she was genuine, that she was asking because she truly didn’t know.

It turns out, people in crisis can rarely articulate what they need, but I didn’t know that at the time. Instead I felt stupid for not knowing and guilty for making her feel awkward. I left as soon as I could.   

Suffice it to say, I didn’t tell anyone else what was happening with me. If family members and a trusted confident couldn’t handle it, I reasoned my peers would probably ditch me immediately. Even with a diagnosis, it took a long time to get me on the correct treatment plan, so I spiraled into a very dark place. I couldn’t touch the dog I used to snuggle with every day because my brain told me he might carry germs that could hurt my unborn baby. I couldn’t use a public bathroom. I couldn’t handle raw meat anymore because what if I didn’t wash my hands well enough and I made someone sick? I checked and rechecked and checked again that the stove was off…and then I wasn’t sure if I’d checked. And once—one of my most vivid memories from that time—I literally couldn’t stop washing my hands and arms and had to call my husband downstairs to help me turn off the water.

I was terrified of getting out of bed each day because of all the triggers I’d endure while awake. I put all of my suffering focus into graduate school (it was low-residency, thank goodness, so mostly online) and I stopped hanging out with friends. 

One day, one of them asked me to grab tea with her, and because I hadn’t seen her in a while and was determined to overcome my horrible disease by sheer force of will, I agreed. As we sat sipping our drinks, she gently told me she knew something was wrong. That I could talk to her. I was mortified. I’d tried so hard to hide all my symptoms, to appear normal. But I couldn’t do it any longer. Everything spilled out—the trauma, the diagnosis, the way I couldn’t control the wild, spinning thoughts in my head that made me feel like I was slowly losing my mind.

As much as the “snap out of it” reaction is seared into my memory, so too is my friend’s response. She didn’t tell me I could fend off OCD with positive thoughts. She hugged me so that I felt in my bones she would never abandon me in this; she would never run away from this ugliness. She cried with me, right there in public. It was the first time someone (apart from my husband) didn’t imply that my OCD was in some shape or form my fault.

It is not an overstatement to say that proper treatment (for me, serotonin and cognitive behavioral therapy), both of which I never would have received or accepted without the support of important friends, saved my life.

I’m a writer, so as I began to heal, I knew that in order to process what I’d been through, I had to write about it—not the actual, real life details of my personal situation, but the feelings and emotions the experience brought out: the utter despair that I’d somehow brought this on myself and would never again be okay. That I wasn’t trying hard enough to get better. That despite having loving people around me like my husband, I was totally, horrifyingly alone.

I also wanted to explore the kind of friendship that could pull a person through such a hellish experience, and how such a friendship is established.

The Edge of Anything is the book I’d longed for during my own darkest days. It tells the dual narrative of two teenagers—one a shy photographer unknowingly suffering a mental health crisis, the other a popular volleyball star with her own devastating secret—and the unexpected friendship that saves them both. 

The book stars teenagers because I’m a young adult author, but also because teenagers are one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to mental health. Sadly, according to recent statistics, one out of every five teenagers suffer from at least one mental health disorder per year[i], and the rate of depression in adolescents aged 12-17 has increased 63 percent since 2013[ii]. What’s more, seven-in-ten teens see anxiety and depression as “major problems among their peers.”[iii] When I think about how difficult it was for me, as an adult with health care and a supportive spouse, to figure out what was happening and find a health care specialist who understood what I was going through, the thought of undergoing a similar experience as a teen is devastating.

Today, I can tell people I have OCD. More than once someone has confided in me about their own struggles (or those of someone they care about) and I’ve been able to help them a tiny bit on their journey. Because communication matters. It can change and save lives.

It’s my hope that The Edge of Anything will function in a similar way for readers, both those all-too-familiar with mental health struggles and those with no personal experience. No one needs to be told life isn’t fair. But I think we do all need to hear that sometimes we are not okay, and that itself is okay and not something that should shame or devalue a person. We are all loveable and beautiful—just as we are, even if we are undergoing a serious, behavior-altering health condition. And we all need to hear that there’s hope.


[i] https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/mental-health/adolescent-mental-health-basics/index.html

[ii] https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/teen-depression-study/

[iii] https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/02/20/most-u-s-teens-see-anxiety-and-depression-as-a-major-problem-among-their-peers/

Meet Nora Shalaway Carpenter

A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, Nora Shalaway Carpenter is the author of THE EDGE OF ANYTHING, contributing editor of RURAL VOICES: 15 AUTHORS CHALLENGE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT SMALL-TOWN AMERICA (Candlewick, Oct 13, 2020), and author of the picture book YOGA FROG (Running Press). Originally from rural West Virginia, she currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, three young children, and the world’s most patient dog and cat. Learn more at noracarpenterwrites.com, @noracarpenterwrites on Instagram, and @norawritesbooks on Twitter.

Nora’s local indie is Malaprop’s Books in Asheville, NC. Order her book there!

About The Edge of Anything

A vibrant #ownvoices debut YA novel about grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.

Len is a loner teen photographer haunted by a past that’s stagnated her work and left her terrified she’s losing her mind. Sage is a high school volleyball star desperate to find a way around her sudden medical disqualification. Both girls need college scholarships. After a chance encounter, the two develop an unlikely friendship that enables them to begin facing their inner demons.

But both Len and Sage are keeping secrets that, left hidden, could cost them everything, maybe even their lives.

Set in the North Carolina mountains, this dynamic #ownvoices novel explores grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.

ISBN-13: 9780762467587
Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Writing on Wheels, a guest post by Kit Rosewater

I wasn’t an athletic kid.

That’s what I said to people if they asked what I was into. I said I was a theatre geek, a book nerd, one of those kids who only worked out when lifting a stack of books or swinging around a fake plastic sword.

Those were lies, of course, though I didn’t quite realize it at the time.

As a younger kid—think elementary school age—I actually loved being athletic. I won medals at the annual “jog-a-thons” my school held in second and third grade. When I read books like Bridge to Terabithia, I related hardcore to Jesse’s dreams of winning his classmates’ unofficial morning race. I rode bikes on mountain trails with my much more experienced older cousin and had the scars from falling over and over to prove it. But more than any other activity, I loved roller skating at the YMCA with my sister every day after school in fourth and fifth grade.   

We would snap our fingers and shake our hips whenever Will Smith’s jam “Getting’ Jiggly Wit It” came over the speakers. We learned how to crouch low to gather speed, cross one skate over the other, skate backward, the whole caboodle. Those were some of the best afternoons of my childhood.

I don’t remember when the transition happened between me loving both the arts and sports to me thinking I had to choose between one or the other. I suspect it had to do with that phenomenon a lot of middle school kids face, where they feel like they need to fit into a label… or else they won’t fit in anywhere. 

In sixth grade the whole grade level had to perform two weeks’ worth of physical ability tests for our PE groups. Out of groups A (for the super sporty kids), B (the pretty sporty kids), C (the kids with nothing special going on), and D (the kids who needed serious coordination help) … I got placed in C. 

Whelp, guess I’m not an athlete, I thought. 

I tucked my skates, helmet, and knee and elbow pads away onto a high shelf in the garage. I picked up my books and busied myself with other creative, artsy activities. 

As I grew up in middle school, then high school, then college, my labels grew and solidified around me. Every time I felt breathless on a run with friends, or missed a basket when shooting hoops at the park, I hid behind my self-imposed label. 

“I’m not athletic!” I would whine. And then I’d shuffle off before someone could challenge what that kind of declaration even meant.

For years I learned how to push myself in reading and critical thinking. I grew in my craft as a writer. I found out that just because I was interested in something (like being an author), that didn’t mean I was inherently good at it. I had to work really hard at every stage, but I slowly learned that with enough practice, patience, perseverance, I could figure out how to steadily improve in anything I set my mind to. 

Fast forward to early 2017, when I had just moved to Austin, Texas and was playing host to friends from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Under an Austin page of events, I found two roller derby leagues operating with open bouts (roller derby games) outsiders could buy tickets to go see.

From the moment those derby teams hit the track, I was hooked

I had never seen such diversity in a team of players before. Suddenly it didn’t seem to matter how tall or short you were, how much you weighed, how muscular your arms were… anyone could be lacing up and rolling onto the rink. I could be lacing up! Roller derby had taken everything I thought I knew about sports and the types of people who called themselves “all-stars” and turned it all upside down. I had to know more.

Meanwhile, I was still waist-deep in my efforts to become an author. I was working on a different project that had started to lose its shiny appeal. My agent and I discussed setting that project aside and trying something new. This time as I mulled over ideas, I turned over my childhood memories and experiences like stones. I tapped on them, wondering which ones were duds and which were geodes, full of glimmering possibility. 

I remembered how much I had loved running, and biking, and most of all—skating—when I was a kid. 

I finally decided not to choose between labels anymore. I had found my next big project. 

If young readers take any one point away from The Derby Daredevils series, I hope it’s that they realize they don’t need to choose what kind of person they are. After reading Book 1, they might want to lace up their own pair of skates. Or not! Whatever they choose to be into and excited about, there’s plenty of room for them to explore lots of activities and interests and hobbies. Being good or not so good at something right away doesn’t determine how much we get to love it. We can be book nerds and runners, theatre geeks and MVPs…

…readers and daredevils. 

Meet Kit Rosewater

Kit Rosewater writes books for children. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her spouse and a border collie who takes up most of the bed. Before she was an author, Kit taught middle school theatre and high school English, then worked as a children’s bookseller. She has a master’s degree in Children’s Literature from Hollins University. Books 1 & 2 of her debut middle grade series The Derby Daredevils roll out in Spring and Fall 2020 through Abrams. Catch her online at kitrosewater.com or @kitrosewater.

About The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team

The first in a highly-illustrated middle grade series that celebrates new friendships, first crushes, and getting out of your comfort zone. 

Best friends Kenzie “Kenzilla” Ellington and Shelly “Bomb Shell” Baum are counting down the days to their roller derby debut. It looks like their dream is coming true when Austin’s city league announces a junior league. But there’s a catch. To try out together, the Dynamic Duo will have to form a team of five players… in just one week! 

As they start convincing other girls that roller derby is the coolest thing on wheels, Kenzie has second thoughts. Why is Shelly acting like everyone’s best friend? Isn’t she supposed to be Kenzie’s best friend? And things get really awkward when Shelly recruits Kenzie’s neighbor (and secret crush!) for the team.

With lots of humor and an authentic middle grade voice, the first book of this empowering series follows Kenzie, Shelly, and the rest of the Derby Daredevils as they learn how to fall—and get back up again.

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4079-4
Illustrator: Sophie Escabasse

Publisher: Abrams Books
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Kit would love if it you would support one of two independent bookstores in this tough time for everyone: Bookworks of Albuquerque or Bookpeople of Austin, TX.

The Bad Man With the Nice Smile, a guest post by Victoria Lee

Content warning: discussion of sexual assault, rape, child abuse, and gaslighting.

In September 2019, Netflix released a new miniseries, Unbelievable. The show followed the true story of a young girl who claimed a stranger broke into her house at night and raped her. But when she reports what happened to the police, parts of her story don’t seem to match up. As the series unfolds, we become aware of all the ways the system—but also the girl’s friends and family—have become biased against her. She’s a resident in a group home, a former delinquent, a foster child with a history of acting out, who had made accusations of abuse before. Everyone seems to assume that she is lying for attention.

As you might have predicted by now, she wasn’t lying. But by the time her attacker was caught and brought to justice, the damage was done; the girl had already been abandoned by everyone she should have been able to trust, just because she didn’t match the vision of what a “real” victim looked like in their heads.

The idea of real victims is a pervasive and pernicious one. Turn on the news and you’ll hear a litany of all the things that real victims do: they wear the right clothes, they don’t go out at night, they report the crime to the police and they don’t wait to do it, they have never made these kinds of allegations before. We are told these things even though victims cannot control the behavior of their aggressors, even though being in foster care or having mental illness or having been previously victimized all substantially increase your likelihood of experiencing future violence. Even though externalizing behaviors like drug use and acting out are often symptoms of having survived abuse.

As a child, I was sexually abused for four years, from ages twelve to sixteen. The perpetrator—although maybe I should say the molester or the rapist or the abuser, all of which are less sanitized and therefore strike me as more accurate—was a close friend of the family. He was my neighbor, my triathlon coach, a man so enmeshed in our lives that I described him to other people as my uncle because any lesser word seemed inadequate to describe the relationship he had with my family. He was in his early thirties and looked like Orlando Bloom and every single one of my friends who came over to the house commented on how ungodly hot he was.

When I was thirteen, I even wrote a character in one of my stories to look just like Brian. (We will call him Brian, because that is, in fact, his actual name. F you, Brian.) The character was the love interest, and was also the protagonist’s teacher. As you can see, already I knew that my job as victim was to romanticize such things. That was the only way to survive.

Brian was not a man in the bushes, was not unshaven in a stained wifebeater; he had no substance abuse problems that I was aware of; he was just a guy. A tall, athletic, well-educated, charismatic, attractive guy. Kids loved him, and he loved kids. Me, on the other hand…I couldn’t be a victim.

I was not what a victim looked like. I was a problem child. I spent too much time on the internet, and listened to angry music, and skipped class and stole my parents’ credit card and shoplifted and screamed at teachers and once threatened to kill a boy who touched me wrong. I was the girl that other girls weren’t allowed to be friends with. I was the girl they prayed for at night. I was the girl who wore boys’ clothes, all black, and kissed other girls and insisted it wasn’t a phase.

Therefore, I was not believed. Not by my family, not by my therapist. I was believed by the crisis team that was called in to evaluate me when the staff at the psychiatric hospital I was later admitted to following a suicide attempt suspected abuse. But at that point the damage was done—I swore to the crisis team that nothing had happened, their suspicions were unfounded, anything I had to say to keep the past buried. I couldn’t deal with being told, once again, that I wasn’t a victim.

Eventually, other girls came forward about my abuser, and he was charged by the state, and ultimately convicted. But this isn’t the kind of trauma you move past. Not just the trauma of the abuse, but the trauma of being told you’re too villainous to ever be victim.

This is why I wrote The Fever King and The Electric Heir. In the series, Dara and Noam both experience abuse in different ways. Dara was physically and sexually abused by a father figure, whereas Noam became enmeshed in an unhealthy, manipulative, exploitative relationship with a much older and much more powerful mentor figure. Both characters are, ultimately, abused by the same man, but their experiences of that abuse are different. The books follow how each character comes to terms with what happened to him, and begins the process of healing. Their abuser, like mine, was charismatic and respected and good-looking—he wasn’t the rapist hiding in the bushes or the drunk frat bro, he was a pillar of the community. When people look for the bad guy, they aren’t looking for Brian. They aren’t looking for Calix Lehrer.

That’s why it was so important to me to write about abusers who don’t fit our vivid stereotype of what an abuser ought to look like—that makes it more difficult to recognize abusers in the real world. And equally so, not all victim/survivors fit the same mold. Some survivors withdraw from the world and become quiet and nervous and fear sex. Other survivors lash out, angry, furious, willing to burn down anything that tries to hurt them again. And still others seem oddly unbothered by what happened to them, numb to the pain or burying it so deep they no longer feel it anymore.

All of these reactions—and others—are okay. The only “right” way to respond to trauma is the way that helps you survive.

I don’t think that good and varied representation of victim/survivors and abusers in literature is a panacea. Abusers are very skilled, after all, at gaslighting their victims (and everyone else). But wide representation of survivors and perpetrators is one step toward chipping away their power and undermining the stories they try to tell about villains and victims and heroes.

Meet Victoria Lee

Victoria Lee 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 Pennsylvania with her partner.

www.victorialeewrites.com Facebook: @victorialeewrites, @amazonpublishing Instagram: @sosaidvictoria, @amazonpublishing, Twitter: @sosaidvictoria, @amazonpub

About The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee

In the sequel to The Fever King, Noam Álvaro seeks to end tyranny before he becomes a tyrant himself.

Six months after Noam Álvaro helped overthrow the despotic government of Carolinia, the Atlantians have gained citizenship, and Lehrer is chancellor. But despite Lehrer’s image as a progressive humanitarian leader, Noam has finally remembered the truth that Lehrer forced him to forget—that Lehrer is responsible for the deadly magic infection that ravaged Carolinia.

Now that Noam remembers the full extent of Lehrer’s crimes, he’s determined to use his influence with Lehrer to bring him down for good. If Lehrer realizes Noam has evaded his control—and that Noam is plotting against him—Noam’s dead. So he must keep playing the role of Lehrer’s protégé until he can steal enough vaccine to stop the virus.

Meanwhile Dara Shirazi returns to Carolinia, his magic stripped by the same vaccine that saved his life. But Dara’s attempts to ally himself with Noam prove that their methods for defeating Lehrer are violently misaligned. Dara fears Noam has only gotten himself more deeply entangled in Lehrer’s web. Sooner or later, playing double agent might cost Noam his life.

ISBN-13: 9781542005074
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Publication date: 03/17/2020
Series: Feverwake Series #2

Ages 14-17

How Running a Marathon Helped Me Write My Debut Novel, a guest post by Sarah Watson

Writing often feels like an impossible journey. I’ve heard people say it’s a lot like running a marathon. It’s not. A marathon is a lot easier. Like, a lot easier. Which is probably why I’ve run so many of them.

I signed up for my first marathon when I was twenty-five. I was trying to make it as a television writer and my dream was starting to feel impossible. I’d gotten rejection after rejection and hit wall after wall. I’m a type-A person, so it was incredibly humbling for me to set a goal, work harder than I ever had in my entire life, and still not be able to achieve it. I thought about giving up.

But I decided to sign up for a marathon instead.  

Even at the time, I think part of me probably knew that I was only doing it because I was so desperate to succeed at something. Anything. I just needed to set a goal and meet it. But the training turned out to be more brutal than I expected. I hit walls. I cried. Everything hurt. I thought about giving up. I really believe I would have, except that I was running with a group of girlfriends, and they wouldn’t let me. Most of them had run marathons before and they knew what the journey was like. They also knew what victory felt like on the other side. So they guided me, coached me, pushed me (sometimes literally), and refused to listen when I said I needed to stop. They shouted encouraging things at me, sometimes rather forcefully, and told me I could do it. It turned out they were right. I crossed the finish line that year. I’d never felt prouder in my entire life.

I also never doubted my journey as a writer again.

Running has been a constant metaphor in my (now successful, well, mostly successful) television career. It’s also been an incredible escape and a wonderful chance to stay connected to my girlfriends. So I suppose it makes sense that the idea for my debut novel, Most Likely, came from running.  

I hadn’t run a marathon in years and wasn’t even running regularly anymore when my friend told me that it was time to sign up for our last marathon. Apparently during one of our first races together she’d said something about how she wanted to run her final marathon when she turned forty. She claims I enthusiastically told her I would do it with her. I have no recollection of this. (Though frankly I would argue that anything said during a 26.2-mile run is not legally binding anyway.) But that’s the thing about friends, when they tell you that you’re going to do something, you do it.

We persuaded another friend to join us and we started training. We always talk while we run. About our relationships, our careers, our struggles. During the really long runs we sort through our problems. We find solutions for some of them; other problems don’t have solutions. For those we simply listen. We laugh. We cry. Then we laugh some more.

I loved running with my friends again. But my body was starting to hurt. Running a marathon at forty is nothing like running a marathon at twenty-five. As our mileage climbed higher and higher, my doubts got bigger and bigger. The week before our eighteen-mile training run I was scared—really scared—that I wouldn’t be able to do it. My friends told me the same thing they always did; that I could.

That eighteen-miler turned out to be one of the best runs of my entire life. As we ran those miles and talked and talked, an idea popped into my head about a group of friends who push each other to go farther, to dream bigger, and to be the best possible versions of themselves. That idea turned into my book.

Most Likely follows the high school days of a future female president. But really, it’s a simple story about female friendship. It all goes back to what I realized on that eighteen-mile day. Running is great and crossing the finish line really is an incredible feeling. But the reason I love running—truly love it—is because of the women running on either side of me.

Meet Sarah Watson

Sarah Watson is the creator of the hit TV series The Bold Type, which the New York Times described as “Sex and the Single Girl for millennials.” Previously she was a writer and executive producer of the critically acclaimed NBC drama Parenthood. She lives in Santa Monica, California. Most Likely is her debut novel.

About Most Likely

From the creator of the hit TV series The Bold Type comes an empowering and heartfelt novel about a future female president’s senior year of high school.

Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha (listed in alphabetical order out of fairness) have been friends since kindergarten. Now they’re in their senior year, facing their biggest fears about growing up and growing apart. But there’s more than just college on the horizon. One of these girls is destined to become the president of the United States. The mystery, of course, is which girl gets the gig.

Is it Ava, the picture-perfect artist who’s secretly struggling to figure out where she belongs? Or could it be CJ, the one who’s got everything figured out…except how to fix her terrible SAT scores? Maybe it’s Jordan, the group’s resident journalist, who knows she’s ready for more than their small Ohio suburb can offer. And don’t overlook Martha, who will have to overcome all the obstacles that stand in the way of her dreams.

This is the story of four best friends who have one another’s backs through every new love, breakup, stumble, and success—proving that great friendships can help young women achieve anything…even a seat in the Oval Office.

ISBN-13: 9780316454834
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 03/10/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

The Pros & Perils of Sequels, a guest post by Alexandra Monir

We’ve all heard of it: sequel-itis. For an author, the word conjures up sweat-inducing nightmares of delivering a Book Two that doesn’t live up to the first, and for readers, it’s the memory of the disappointed sting when you finish a book you’ve been waiting forever for, only to feel “meh” at the end of it. Let me tell you, the prospect of either scenario makes sequels so nerve-wracking to publish! But on the opposite end of the spectrum, sequels can be some of the most fulfilling books to write—and read—because they allow you to return to the characters and world you’ve fallen in love with and take their story to new heights.

The Final Six (Book one)

I did quite a bit of re-reading of my favorite sequels in preparation for writing my own, The Life Below, and it helped me uncover the difference between a meh sequel and a great one.

The Life Below (Book two)

In my (humble!) opinion, it’s all about landing in that sweet spot where Book Two continues with all the ingredients that made the first book special—so as a reader, it feels like coming home—while simultaneously pushing forward with new themes, settings, and conflicts, so that the series truly grows.

The most striking example of this is the Harry Potter series. I don’t think anyone who read Sorcerer’s Stone could have predicted how layered and rich the story would become by the time Book 3 rolled around, and once Harry ages into his teens and we’re following him on a darker adventure, the growth in J.K. Rowling’s writing and storytelling is exponential! But at the same time, whenever I started a new Potter book, no matter how much heavier the themes or higher the stakes, I always felt that warm, fuzzy feeling of returning to my happy place in the Wizarding World. By keeping the world and characters familiar, we readers were able to grow with Rowling and the story, without even consciously realizing it! That is something I aspire to in my own writing, and a number of other authors have achieved it beautifully, too.

Another particularly great example is One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake. This sequel manages to be even more action-packed than Three Dark Crowns, and as much as I adored the first book, this was that magical sequel that I loved even more.The pacing moves at a thrilling speed, while also accomplishing really powerful character development. The queen who was fragile at the end of Book One is now fierce and lethal. Another queen discovers entirely new powers that upend everything she believed about herself and her destiny. The way these characters evolve is truly #SequelGoals, and the combination of their growth, the heightened stakes and the epic action are what make this sequel stand out above others.

One other instance where I enjoyed the sequel even more than the first book is Catching Fire in the Hunger Games series. By bringing us back into the Games for the Victors’ Tour, we return to a terrifyingly familiar environment—but with new characters and stakes that make it feel fresh, instead of a retread of the first book. Then there’s the deepening of the book’s relationships and Katniss Everdeen’s major leap forward as a character, transforming from a survivor into a leader, and suddenly you have a sequel that’s even better than the first.

I think an excellent Book Two is the magic ingredient that separates an okay or good series from a truly great one, and it’s no surprise the three series I mentioned above are so wildly popular, considering how fantastic their sequels are! What are some of your favorite sequels? Let me know in the comments!

Meet Alexandra Monir

Alexandra Monir is an Iranian-American author and recording artist. She is the author of the hit novel The Final Six as well as four other published young adult novels, including the bestselling time-travel romance Timeless. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California. To learn more about Alexandra, visit her online at www.alexandramonir.com.

About THE LIFE BELOW

Perfect for fans of The Illuminae Files and The 100, in this heart-racing sequel to The Final Six the teen astronauts must figure out the truth about Europa before it’s too late.

It was hard enough for Naomi to leave Leo, a fellow Final Six contestant, behind on a dying Earth. Now she doesn’t know who to trust.

The International Space Training Camp continues to dodge every question about its past failed mission, and Naomi is suspicious that not everything is as it seems on her own mission to Europa. With just one shot at Jupiter’s moon, Naomi is determined to find out if there is dangerous alien life on Europa before she and her crew get there. 

Leo, back on Earth, has been working with renegade scientist Dr. Greta Wagner, who promises to fly him to space where he can dock with Naomi’s ship. And if Wagner’s hypothesis is right, it isn’t a possibility of coming in contact with extraterrestrial life on Europa—it’s a definite, and it’s up to Leo to find and warn Naomi and the crew.

With questions piling up, everything gets more dangerous the closer that the mission gets to Europa. A storm threatens to interfere with Leo’s takeoff, a deadly entity makes itself known to the Final Six, and all questions the ISTC has been avoiding about the previous mission get answered in a terrifying way.

If the dream was to establish a new world for humans on Europa…the Final Six are about to enter a nightmare.

SEE KAREN’S REVIEW HERE

ISBN-13: 9780062658975
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/18/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

When Fairy Tales Meet Filipino Legends: The Stories That Shaped My Childhood, a guest post by Rin Chupeco

When I was a kid, I was convinced that fairy tales were an actual part of world history.

I wasn’t all that bright as a child.

It might surprise a lot of people who aren’t familiar with the Philippines or Filipino culture, but many of us grew up knowing Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Red Riding Hood before we learned about most Filipino myths and folklore. A lot of Filipinos understand and speak English, and the biggest bookstore chains back then carried English books front and center. It didn’t help that American movies were also popular here, and so Disney’s versions of classic fairytales were huge influences in our lives as well.

I didn’t learn about Maria Makiling until I was in middle grade as part of our school curriculum. It was her story that fascinated me the most among the other legends we were taught. Most stories surrounding her were not only always vague, but the telling varied from region to region. In all of them she was a mountain goddess who frequently takes the form of a beautiful young woman, who was kind and brought good harvest to the villages near her mountain. According to the myth – and here is where it starts changing – she fell in love with a handsome Filipino youth who either was eventually betrayed and killed by her American and Spanish suitors, or who had betrayed her himself, or who had unintentionally broke her trust due to some unfortunate miscommunication. The results were always the same; she would wreak her vengeance on the foreigners before vanishing back into her mountains, bringing with her the mountain harvest and luck that she had once bestowed on the villagers, never to be seen again.

We still consider Mt. Makiling a bespelled, enchanted place. Travelers who get lost there are said to have been bewitched by the goddess, and must go through certain rituals to ask her forgiveness, so the fog can lift and they can find their way home.

Journey to the West

It had always felt strange growing up with an assortment of fairytales with me never noticing the distinctions between tales until I was older. I’d assumed, in my naivete, that since it was easy enough for Western stories to reach the Philippines, that the reverse was the same. But soon enough, I was invested in other tales as well: Chinese wuxia legends, like The Romance of the Three Kingdoms or The Investiture of the Gods or The Journey to the West. Along with Japanese ghost stories and powerful Meiji swords forged by Muramasa and Masamune, as well as the strange European tales of sentient armor and strange curses surrounding the border at the end of the world.

Legendary Japanese swordsmiths Masamune and Muramasa

There was also the fact that I was in many ways often treated like an outsider, which I suppose is the curse of all those with biracial identities. I was too Filipino to be Chinese, too Chinese to be Filipino, and still too foreign for everyone else. I think that was the reason why I took very quickly to fairytales; most carried with them a strong sense of culture, of knowing where they came from. And that was something I wished I had.

That was the mindset I was on when I first started writing Wicked As You Wish. I wanted to take all the fairytales that I loved and make them a unifying factor in the story. And while my Filipina teen, Tala, and her Filipino family and culture drives the book, I made the conscious decision not to make it the only fairytale in the book, because it wouldn’t be my personal, authentic experience otherwise. I wanted to celebrate the outsiders, the people who grew up with varying cultures and influences and who sometimes felt like there wasn’t any place they completely belong. And I wanted to create a world in my book that reflected that wild mishmash and weird whimsies, where it feels like anything was possible.

Meet Rin Chupeco

Photo Credit: Eugene Siytiu

Despite uncanny resemblances to Japanese revenants, Rin Chupeco has always maintained her sense of humor. Raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. She’s been a technical writer and a travel blogger but now makes things up for a living. She is the author of The Girl from the WellThe Suffering, The Bone Witch trilogy, and the A Hundred Named for Magic trilogy. Connect with Rin at rinchupeco.com.

Links:

Author website – https://www.rinchupeco.com/

Author twitter – https://twitter.com/RinChupeco

Author Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/rinchupeco/

Sourcebooks Fire Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/sourcebooksfire/

Wicked As You Wish Preorder – https://books.sourcebooks.com/wickedasyouwish-preorder/

About WICKED AS YOU WISH

An unforgettable alternative history fairytale series from the author of The Bone Witch trilogy about found family, modern day magic, and finding the place you belong.

Many years ago, the magical Kingdom of Avalon was left desolate and encased in ice when the evil Snow Queen waged war on the powerful country. Its former citizens are now refugees in a world mostly devoid of magic. Which is why the crown prince and his protectors are stuck in…Arizona.

Prince Alexei, the sole survivor of the Avalon royal family, is in hiding in a town so boring, magic doesn’t even work there. Few know his secret identity, but his friend Tala is one of them. Tala doesn’t mind—she has secrets of her own. Namely, that she’s a spellbreaker, someone who negates magic.

Then hope for their abandoned homeland reignites when a famous creature of legend, and Avalon’s most powerful weapon, the Firebird, appears for the first time in decades. Alex and Tala unite with a ragtag group of new friends to journey back to Avalon for a showdown that will change the world as they know it.

ISBN-13: 9781492672661
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 03/03/2020
Series: A Hundred Names for Magic Series #1
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Four Little Words – Changing the Narrative, a guest post by Abigail Hing Wen

As a student rising through elementary and middle school in Ohio, I’d always wanted to join one of the amazing productions put on every year by the high school theater group. A part of me worried that my Asian Americanness would get in the way. After all, there were no Asian Americans in Oklahoma! or Guys and Dolls. Would casting me detract from authenticity? Could the directors overlook my Asian Americanness so that in spite of my face, I could join the chorus?

Abigail in dance squad.

My freshman year, I auditioned for the fall play. When the cast list posted, I wasn’t on it. But freshman were rarely cast for any roles but the chorus, and with the winter came a special class of one-act plays, directed by seniors. They were smaller and less prestigious; an opportunity for freshman, though still difficult to land.

During auditions, the seniors sat in the front row of the auditorium while we hopefuls huddled on the floor before them. They challenged us: how far would you go? would you run naked across the stage?

I can’t remember my answer, but I remember the attitude that dominated that room: whatever they threw at us—a crazy dance routine, a passionate stage kiss—we were game.

I auditioned along with dozens of other hopefuls.

When the cast list posted, I pressed forward with the mob, anxiously scanned the list, read deeper and deeper—and there I was!

In a one-act play called “Four Little Words,” I had been cast as the Sixth Actress of seven actresses.

When I arrived for rehearsal, I could scarcely contain my excitement. Two senior guys were directing. There were about a dozen of us actors—I had joined an exclusive little club.

Eagerly, I flipped through the thin blue booklet we were given, searching for my role. It was a story of a director trying to cast for the role of a maid who only had four words in the whole play: “Your taxicab is waiting.”

He proceeded to audition one egotistical actress after another. Each prima donna embellished on the four little words, refusing to stay in character, while he grew more and more despairing, exhausted by these women who wouldn’t shut up.

Meanwhile, the sixth actress—me—sat at the end of the line without speaking. The seventh actress burst onto the scene, large than life.

And then when the director was about to tear out his hair, my character finally spoke.

“Vosh naya. Skoogoo. Urr-urr. Saltzey. Kcki-icki skaya. Woozey.”[1]

The office boy turned to the director and said, “Gee, boss! She can’t talk English!”

The poor exhausted director came to life.

“She’s hired!” he cried. “I never want to hear English again!”

I was suddenly, intensely aware I was the only minority in that auditorium. The words weren’t even a real foreign language. They were a made up language, the kind of talk random people occasionally babbled at me when they passed me on the street.

I had been cast not despite my Asian Americanness, not even for it, but because of the perception of it.

Abigail in show choir.

In the weeks that followed, I never breathed a word about the play’s contents to my parents or my friends. I told my parents they didn’t need to attend, though, since I missed the bus for practices, my mom dutifully picked me up late after school every day.

We actresses sat in a row each rehearsal. I sat in silence, my head bowed, as my role called for, until the cue for my four little words. Each time I spoke those lines, I died a little with the shame of it. But I’d been cast. I got a role when so many others didn’t. I’d agreed with all the other hopefuls that I was game for anything. How could I rock the boat now and appear ungrateful?

“Is that Chinese?” the fifth actress asked me one afternoon.

I was born in the United States. English was the only language I spoke at home. I had studied French for two years and that was my second language. When people complemented me on my excellent English skills, it had been a point of soreness, but also irrational pride.

I don’t remember what I answered. But I remember the feeling.

I started leaving rehearsals early. One time, I skipped, making some excuse. The next day, after I recited my lines, the fifth actress said to me, “You know, Bob (not his real name, but the one-act’s real-life director) played your role yesterday and he was hilarious. Why don’t you ham it up more?”

Until I wrote this piece and my critique partner pointed it out, I didn’t recognize that the hamming up of the role was probably a racist caricature, as much as the role itself was. Instead, I felt like a failure. Of course Bob was hilarious. And I couldn’t be. For so many reasons I couldn’t in that role.

A good friend, one of three other Chinese Americans in the grades above me, came to the one-acts. I didn’t know he was in the audience until he came up afterwards and congratulated me with a huge grin.

Not until three years later, when he and I were both students at Harvard, that I confessed how ashamed I’d felt to play it.

“I was actually really mad when I saw the show,” he admitted.

Why had we never talked about it? Why didn’t I have more self-confidence to refuse the role? I doubt it even went on my college application. It was something I endured and buried away. I simply didn’t know better. Those student directors and the supervising theater directors and faculty may not have realized what they were doing, although I think they did in hindsight—I walked in on an argument in which the director was trying to convince the play’s leading man to take his bow with me on his arms and he was refusing. Not wanting to be the cause of a fuss, I quickly offered to take my bow with the other actresses.

As I’ve explored film options for Loveboat, Taipei, I’ve had the opportunity to meet Asian American producers who have struggled to get their work made in the United States or to gain traction in Hollywood. They have been told there are not enough qualified Asian American actors.

“That’s because they don’t have a chance to practice,” one discouraged director told me. “They’re not cast as leads in high school plays or musicals.” And in an already fiercely competitive market, with so few roles for Asian Americans, what actor could go into it with any real hope?

But I am also told there is incredible talent out there. I’m running into it. My hope for a Loveboat, Taipei film someday is that its cast of over 30 Asian American characters will open up opportunities for this talent to come forward and shine on the screen. I want to see new stars discovered, and to see them move into other lead roles in Hollywood in which race doesn’t matter.

With Crazy Rich Asians, Always Be My Maybe, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Farewell and Ghost Bride, we are starting to see changes. We still have a ways to go, but I am honored and grateful to be playing a part in this new world.

Meet Abigail Hing Wen

Photo credit: Olga Pichkova

Abigail Hing Wen holds a BA from Harvard and a JD from Columbia. She also earned her Master of Fine Arts in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Like Ever, she is obsessed with musicals. When she’s not writing stories or listening to her favorite score, she is busy working in venture capital and artificial intelligence in Silicon Valley, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Loveboat, Taipei is her first novel. Visit AbigailHingWen.com.

About Loveboat, Taipei

Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen, and praised as “an intense rush of rebellion and romance” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Garber, this romantic and layered Own Voices debut from Abigail Hing Wen is a dazzling, fun-filled romp.

“Our cousins have done this program,” Sophie whispers. “Best kept secret. Zerosupervision.

And just like that, Ever Wong’s summer takes an unexpected turnGone is Chien Tan, the strict educational program in Taiwan that Ever was expecting. In its place, she finds Loveboat: a summer-long free-for-all where hookups abound, adults turn a blind eye, snake-blood sake flows abundantly, and the nightlife runs nonstop.

But not every student is quite what they seem:

Ever is working toward becoming a doctor but nurses a secret passion for dance.

Rick Woo is the Yale-bound child prodigy bane of Ever’s existence whose perfection hides a secret.

Boy-crazy, fashion-obsessed Sophie Ha turns out to have more to her than meets the eye.

And under sexy Xavier Yeh’s shell is buried a shameful truth he’ll never admit.

When these students’ lives collide, it’s guaranteed to be a summer Ever will never forget.

ISBN-13: 9780062957276
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/07/2020