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The Strength in Family Stories, a guest post by Alda P. Dobbs

I didn’t have much as a kid – no roller skates, no video game console; no summer trips to Disneyland, or winter outings to the ski slopes. What I did have, though, was a collection of family stories that had been handed down from my mother and grandmother. They were stories rich with history, stories of survival, and stories that opened doors I’d never imagined. Hearing these stories in my youth and telling them became part of me, my identity, so much so that I considered becoming a writer.  However, since English was my second language, I found that math and science came easier in school, and so I put away my dreams of being a writer and studied to become an engineer instead.

Thirty years later I decided to chase my dream of being a writer and to finally tell the stories that had fascinated me as a child. But when I sat down in front of my blank screen with fingers itching to type away, I couldn’t bring myself to press the first key. I had unanswered questions. Had the events of my old family stories truly happened? Had the truth behind one of my favorite tales, the one about my great-grandmother escaping the Mexican Revolution, been stretched to give her story an edge? At first, sensing the daunting research effort required to confirm the family tale, I wanted to dismiss the whole thing. I told myself that stories from a different time and culture would not appeal to a young American audience.

But this story spoke to me. It nagged me and begged to be told. Before typing the first word, I raised my sleeves and dug into every book I could find, and every story that had been passed down through the generations to me about the Mexican Revolution. I had to be certain my great-grandmother’s tale of survival was true.

 Alda’s great-grandmother, Juanita Martinez

The story took place during the bloodiest year of the Mexican Revolution – 1913. My great-grandmother was nine years old when the Federales attacked her village, forcing her, her father, two younger siblings, and two cousins to cross the scorching desert by foot all the way to the United States border. Once at the international bridge, their entry into the new country across the Rio Grande was denied, along with hundreds of other refugees. I recall listening to my great-grandmother’s story, mesmerized, especially by the part about when they learned the Federales were on their way to the border town to slaughter the refugees for not having joined their army. My grandmother would go on to tell me of the panic her mother had described when the rush of mounted Federales approached the border town’s small hills. Every man, woman, and child made a run for the bridge, only to find its gates shut. My great-grandmother would recall the fright in her father’s eyes as well as the feeling of being overjoyed when the American soldiers swung the gates open. She’d always describe the story so well, I felt as if I too had run across that same bridge. My grandmother would always remind us of the immense gratitude my great-grandmother felt toward the United States for having given her family refuge.

After months of reading over forty books on the Mexican Revolution and sorting through hundreds of old newspapers and photographs, I found an article that reported my great-grandmother’s story exactly as she’d told it. Except it wasn’t hundreds of people who’d tried to run across the bridge like she’d stated, it was thousands. Over six thousand, in fact. Everything else, the desperation, the pleading, and the rage of the Federales, was exactly as she’d recounted it.

Family stories like my great-grandmother’s, along with Mexican folk music, called polka-corridos, taught me to understand the various roles women played in the revolution, bringing me closer to my roots and shaping the way I saw myself and the women in my family. The Mexican Revolution was a fight for land and freedom, but the women in it also fought for their rights. Back then, women and children lived in a society wrought by racism, classism, sexism, and violence. But with the revolution came changes in how women saw themselves and their purpose in the war. There were soldaderas, women who followed their soldier husbands or family members into battle, making sure they were fed and cared for. There were soldadas, women warriors, who picked up arms and joined the federal government or fought as a rebel, with some rebel women attaining ranks as high as general. Many women, however, were like Petra and her family – either too old or too young to fight in the revolution. Their strife was different. They faced persecution, forced conscription, famine, and the destructive effects of traveling in  desert. Their goal  was survival and the peace offered north of the Rio Grande River. Unfortunately, many young women in Latin America continue to have childhoods like Petra’s. They face violent drug wars, poverty, and illiteracy, while gender and socioeconomic barriers continue to exclude them from many opportunities.

Although my grandmother and great-grandmother are no longer living, writing and publishing my book, Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna, has brought me closer to them than ever before. I believe it’s because I’ve retold their stories. I’ve collected fragments of their histories and assembled them, making me feel whole and better understanding myself. I now understand how these horrific events shaped my culture and my views and changed the landscape of two nations forever. 

Family stories carry rhythms filled with echoes from the past. I’ve learned that these rhythms are better appreciated when they come from family stories rather than history books. When we listen to a family story, its personal connections make us more sensitive and attuned to its rhythms. This helps us develop empathy towards other cultures, other histories, and even our own past. It leads us to know and understand ourselves better in the present. By strengthening our connection with our ancestors, we make way for our humanity to flourish and touch others in our present and in our future.

There’s nothing like a family story to shed light on the perils and trials of our ancestors. My own history, like many others’, is not taught in school nor in books, and it’s our duty to reach into the past and bring out its wisdom and strength and pass it on to the next generation. There’s much to be learned from the adversities and afflictions our ancestors endured and overcame. This knowledge empowers us when we realize we too carry the same bravery, strength, and resilience to face current challenges and misfortunes. It is our responsibility to teach our children that the light of our ancestors shines within us all, and if we pay attention, it’ll guide us to build new histories with a brighter tomorrow.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Kathleen O. Ryan

Alda P. Dobbs is the author of the upcoming novel Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. She was born in a small town in northern Mexico but moved to San Antonio, Texas as a child. Alda studied physics and worked as an engineer before pursuing her love of storytelling. She’s as passionate about connecting children to their past, their communities, different cultures and nature as she is about writing. Alda lives with her husband and two children outside Houston, Texas.

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About Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

Based on a true story, the tale of one girl’s perilous journey to cross the U.S. border and lead her family to safety during the Mexican Revolution

It is 1913, and twelve-year-old Petra Luna’s mama has died while the Revolution rages in Mexico. Before her papa is dragged away by soldiers, Petra vows to him that she will care for the family she has left—her abuelita, little sister Amelia, and baby brother Luisito—until they can be reunited. They flee north through the unforgiving desert as their town burns, searching for safe harbor in a world that offers none.

Each night when Petra closes her eyes, she holds her dreams close, especially her long-held desire to learn to read. Abuelita calls these barefoot dreams: “They’re like us barefoot peasants and indios—they’re not meant to go far.” But Petra refuses to listen. Through battlefields and deserts, hunger and fear, Petra will stop at nothing to keep her family safe and lead them to a better life across the U.S. border—a life where her barefoot dreams could finally become reality.

ISBN-13: 9781728234656
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The Ways Stories Find Us, a guest post by Lesa Cline-Ransome

“Where do you find your stories?” It’s a question asked of every author at every conference, panel, and nearly every interview. The real question is, do authors find stories, or do stories find authors? 

I imagine some of us, like archaeologists on an excavation, head out digging for stories, unearthing layers until we uncover the treasures we were searching for buried beneath the surface. But others, like me, let the stories find us. 

The task is no less easy. It requires preparation. Patience. A keen ear. Trust. 

As a young girl, my neighborhood friends and I in Malden, Massachusetts spent our summer nights playing hide and seek until the streetlights came on. As the counting began, we ran and hid in backyards, behind houses and tall bushes, quietly fending off mosquitos hoping not to be caught. But if we were successful in securing too good of a hiding place, and we were alone for too long, we secretly hoped to be caught. There was a joy in being found, of being reunited with friends. This is how it feels when the right stories find their way to you. A lot like a celebration. 

Stories can find us in the ways we least expect them to. As writers, we let them in, one by one, filtered through our life experiences, interests, and curiosities. 

I have written nearly twenty-five books for young readers and rarely have any of them begun with me at a desk thinking of topics and subjects I’d like to tackle. 

A taxicab hailed on a New York City street stops to pick up an editor on her way to the office and the driver listens to a public radio interview of a journalist who wrote a recently published adult biography on one of the first black female White House correspondents Ethel Payne during the editor’s brief ride. When she arrives at her desk she writes to me in an email, “Have you ever heard of Ethel Payne?” No, I have not, I reply, but I look her up, wanting to know more and in reading Ethel Payne’s story, I recall my youthful dreams of becoming a journalist and just like that, the picture book biography, The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne is born.  

Attendees at the Plum Creek Literacy Festival in Seward, Nebraska

At a literary conference in Seward, Nebraska, I sit across from Steve Sheinkin, one of my favorite authors. The author next to me has a line about a mile long, and mine, not so much. Finally, I gather up the nerve to go over and introduce myself to Steve. I fumble a fangirl hello and look down to see one of his titles, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. Hmmm. I think to myself. Why have I never heard about this? I manage to ask him to sign a copy and devour the book on the flight home. And there the story sits, quietly. Waiting. Until I begin writing my debut middle grade novel, Finding Langston where I insert a reference to the Port Chicago Disaster as part of a secondary character named Clem’s storyline. One year later my editor discusses with me the idea of expanding the story of Clem’s character into a novel all his own in the final book of the Finding Langston trilogy. “Maybe you could explore more of the Port Chicago Disaster,” she suggests. What my editor doesn’t know is that that story has already found me. 

And so Being Clem, the story of Clem, emerges from a chance meeting in Seward, Nebraska years earlier. And in it we see Clem and his family struggle as they come to grips with the death of his fictionalized sailor father, Clemson Thurber killed during the tragic naval base explosion that killed over 200 black servicemen during WWII.

A nagging toothache reluctantly lands me in my dentist’s chair where in his attempts to soothe my dentophobia, my kindly dentist tells me a story to calm my jittery nerves. My dentist is a fan of nonfiction and shares the account of a strange story of a failed entrepreneur named Frederik Tudor who thought he could finally get rich by harvesting the ice from Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, packing it onboard a ship and selling it in India. “Aren’t you from Massachusetts?” he asks. I am from Massachusetts, but all I knew about Walden Pond was the story of the poet Henry David Thoreau, who sought a life of solitude in the woods of Concord, I tell him through a mouth full of gauze. “Well, Henry David Thoreau watched him harvest the ice,” my dentist continues in between his drilling, just steps away from his cabin and recorded it in his diary. My dentophobia disappears in my thoughts of a story of two men, one pond, and how it drew them together for very different reasons. And there in my dentist’s chair another story finds me and will make its way to bookstores as Of Walden Pond: Henry David Thoreau, Frederic Tudor, and the Pond Between in the fall of 2022.

The author’s mother, Ernestine Cline

Because much of my spare time is spent in the company of books, that is where my stories and I have made our acquaintance. I grew up with a mother who was an avid reader and often needed to be reminded she had children who wouldn’t mind having a hot dinner every now and again. She would reluctantly put down her book and throw something together so we could eat. I couldn’t imagine then what those pages held that so transfixed her that she couldn’t remember our grumbling stomachs. But now, when I look up to see that I have missed subway stops, appointments, and portions of my day because the time has simply disappeared in the pages of a book, I think of my mother. But it is in these moments, I am allowing the stories to come.

I could almost hear the voices calling from the stoop of 4501 Wabash Avenue on Chicago’s Southside for my book Finding Langston and feel the hard backed seats Ruth Ellen and her parents sat in bound for New York City in my book Overground Railroad in the instant I opened Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Story of America’s Epic Migration. Reading Wilkerson’s real-life portrayals of subjects whose journeys north and west were prompted by fear and racism, determination and hope inspired the worlds through which young Langston and Ruth Ellen see the world as passengers on the journeys of the adults in their lives. 

It is often said that you need to be in the right place at the right time. In a taxicab, a dentist chair, a literary conference in Nebraska, a quiet place with a good book. And that is a large part of having stories find you. It is making space for the crucial moment when that piece of a story intersects with some part of you—your history, a memory, an experience, an untapped passion—and you know in that moment, there’s something here. 

But being in the right place at the right time is just one part of creating a story that is authentic to you. That is the seed. Next comes the planting in an environment enriched with strong characters, setting, plot and dialogue. Carefully using your craft to remain true to the stories that are begging to be told, engagingly and honestly, the way only you can tell them. 

Meet the author

Photo credit: John Halpern

Lesa Cline-Ransome is the author of more than twenty books for young readers, including Just a Lucky So and So (2016), Before She Was Harriet (2017), and Underground Railroad (2020).  Her Finding Langston Trilogy consists of Finding Langston (2018), Leaving Lymon (2020)and Being Clem(2021). Lesa’s work has received a plethora of honors, including dozens of starred reviews, NAACP Image Award nominations, Coretta Scott King Honors, and Christopher Award. Many titles have been named to ALA Notable Books and Bank Street Best Children’s Books lists. She lives in upstate New York. www.lesaclineransome.com

Twitter and Instagram – @lclineransome

About Being Clem

The final novel in the award-winning Finding Langston trilogy from Coretta Scott King Author Honoree and Scott O’Dell Award medalist Lesa Cline-Ransome.

Clem can make anybody, even his grumpy older sisters, smile with his jokes. But when his family receives news that his father has died in the infamous Port Chicago disaster, everything begins to fall apart. Clem’s mother is forced to work long, tough hours as a maid for a wealthy white family. Soon Clem can barely recognize his home—and himself. Can he live up to his father’s legacy?

In her award-winning trilogy, Lesa Cline-Ransome masterfully recreates mid-twentieth century America through the eyes of three boys: Langston, Lymon, and, now, Clem. Exploring the impact of the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, Jim Crow laws, and much more, Lesa’s work manages at once to be both an intimate portrait of each boy and his family as well as a landscape of American history.

ISBN-13: 9780823446049
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Series: The Finding Langston Trilogy #3
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Writing What Haunts You, a guest post by Anuradha Rajurkar and the Class of 2kBooks

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at,
what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.
-Joan Didion

Often, the germ of an idea for a story materializes from themes that haunt us for years, though we may not realize it at first. Writing helps us explore our deepest fears, our burning questions, and can ultimately serve as the beating heart of our stories. My debut, AMERICAN BETIYA, for example, explores cultural conflict within our most intimate relationships—a theme that rose from having grown up in predominantly white spaces as the daughter of first-generation Asian immigrant parents. I was initially drawn to the idea of the many ways teens are often under close scrutiny, despite the fact that our identities at that stage are still very much under construction—and how these pressures can lead to escapism in various forms. But soon, my writing delved deep into issues that only later did I realize had haunted me for decades.

I asked my fellow Class of 2k Books authors to share what issues just wouldn’t let go, leading to the writing of their debuts. Their answers were as thoughtful and compelling as their novels…

Megan Freeman: I certainly never imagined that ALONE, my book about surviving in total isolation, would come out during a pandemic. Yikes. But the idea of being isolated from other people has always fascinated/haunted me. I love the movie CASTAWAY and I was fascinated by books like ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS and MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN and HATCHET. I used to think being in prison and forcibly kept away from my family would be the worst thing I could imagine, but then one day I thought about people who go into witness protection programs and can never see their friends or family ever again, and that seemed even worse. Clearly, my connections to loved ones are central to some sense of security, and the threat of losing that connection is rich fodder for my creative imagination. 

Sam Taylor: After grad school, I worked at a job with some people who turned out to be very corrupt. It was a really thorny situation; I often had no idea how to fix matters at work, or what was the right thing to do. I turned to writing in the evenings as a way to vent out my feelings. I needed a story that captured the dilemma of wanting to make situations better, but not knowing how to do that. I wanted to explore the struggle of every option coming with steep cost–because the right choice often doesn’t come without a price. I wanted to show unlikely allies coming together, as I experienced during my own situation. Most of all, I wanted to show my characters overcoming the seemingly impossible odds stacked against them.

Jessica S. Olson: It’s a funny thing, because I didn’t realize what it was that drove me to write this story until well after it was finished. All I knew was that I connected deeply to the Phantom character in the Phantom of the Opera, and I wanted to tell a version of his story and explore what could drive someone to such a dark, lonely place. It wasn’t until later on that I realized that the reason I’d been so passionate about his story was because I identified with him. I was born with a medical eye condition that affects my appearance, and I grew up being bullied and teased and treated as “other” because of it. There were many times when I wished I could hide from a world that felt very cruel–and so I saw myself in the Phantom. I understood how it felt to be ostracized for your appearance and how desperate the desire can sometimes be to be loved for the aspects of us that aren’t readily apparent at first glance. Telling a female Phantom’s story meant drawing on my own experiences, my own anger, my own hope, and asking the world to look beyond someone’s face when deciding whether they’re valid or whether they deserve love.

Xiran Jay Zhao: My book IRON WIDOW, a Pacific Rim meets THE HANDMAID’S TALE reimagining of the only female emperor in Chinese history, is basically 400 pages of female rage. Around the time I wrote it, I kept hearing about women’s rights backsliding in so many places. I also happened to be taking 4 university courses in different subjects ranging from political science to gerontology, yet all 4 had info on how women are disproportionately expected to take on certain burdens and responsibilities, yet get no proper credit or recognition for them. Work that is traditionally more female-dominated is consistently overlooked and undervalued compared to work that is traditionally more male-dominated. I wrote Iron Widow not only to vent my rage through the character of Zetian, but to explore the kind of societal pressures that force girls to doubt their own worth and accept this kind of thankless work.

Anuradha D. Rajurkar:

Judging from these thoughts from my fellow Class of 2kbooks authors, it seems that some of the most impactful stories are born from themes that have haunted our minds for years. Since high school, I personally was so affected by the idea that the way we see ourselves is often at odds with how others see us. For me, researching and writing AMERICAN BETIYA helped reveal the ways microaggressions, cultural fetishization, and racial gaslighting occur with regularity—even in our closest relationships. And because trust is foundational in these relationships, it’s easy to overlook their signs. Writing my debut helped me acknowledge the silences we’ve been taught to hold, and that our friendships, family and internal strength can line the path to our empowerment.

Don’t be afraid to write what haunts you. It might just be what sets you free.

Buy links and more

Order ALONE by Megan Freeman
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Order WE ARE THE FIRE by Sam Taylor
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Order SING ME FORGOTTEN by Jessica S. Olson
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Pre-order IRON WIDOW
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Order AMERICAN BETIYA

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The Made-up Parts Have the Most For-reals in Them, a guest post by Grant Farley

The house is a “tall-skinny” built in a slightly hilly area overlooking LA harbor, a hodgepodge neighborhood of houses built and rebuilt on half-lots first planned for beach combers and dock workers in the 1920’s. It is where my wife and our son and I have lived since he was born seventeen years ago, and it is where we are now, like you, hunkered down during this time of Covid. Within this house lurk mysterious triangles. This blog is about one such mystery. 

“It’s cool how the old man never butts into the tale, instead lets me tell it to the end. If there is an end. It takes a good listener to make a story whole, and he has a deep-down way of listening.”

The first point of the triangle: My writing space is an enclosed balcony off the back of the upper story. A roll-top desk and a shelf fill it. The desk was my father’s before me and my grandfather’s before him. Ink stains and coffee rings and scratches and a trace of airplane glue connect the three of us. A triangle, I suppose, but not the one for us now. I wrote Bones of a Saint from this desk. I still can’t free myself from R.J. whispering some tale in my ear, as though his voice has permeated this wood.

“My all-time most favorite tale was selling toes. Not my own, of course. I sold my brother Charley’s toes.”

Those were the first words he spoke for Bones of a Saint. Now I gaze over the top of the desk out to the harbor, a more industrial panorama than romantic vista, but the freighters and cranes remind me to stop gazing off at the ocean and get the hell back to work. At my back is the “guest bedroom.” Since there haven’t been guests for over a year, and my dresser has migrated here, stacks of notes and drafts teeter amid piles of clothes. The door is now closed, as is the door to our bedroom, but I can hear my wife’s full laugh from the second point of the triangle, drowning out even R.J.’s insistent whisper.

“Mr. Sanders, with his Canterbury Tales, he taught me about pilgrims that lived in a past that went back hundreds and hundreds of years. And Father Speckler, with his New Testament, he preached about a future that won’t come until forever and ever, amen. Neither way does any good now, against the Blackjacks. All I can do is live in the here and now.” 

The second point of the triangle: Our bedroom is now half-converted to her classroom, and even through two doors I hear her online students engaged in an animated discussion of a favorite novel. My wife is a high school English teacher. A very good teacher. Is it weird to say that part of why I fell in love with her was the way she throws herself into her teaching and her students? Her students used to call her Ms. Frizzle. I’m pretty sure it was a compliment. Most of the time. I fantasize about her teaching Bones of a Saint. When Covid struck, with little space in our house, we moved my dresser from our bedroom into “the guest room” and ordered a desk that we put together in our bedroom, and her classroom was born. At least she has a large window overlooking a hill with the sun streaming in the afternoon. Still, there have been many times when I have had to helplessly watch her cry from exhaustion or frustration or anger. Now I hear her call, “David!” That’s our son. He is in her class and must be in big trouble. “David, you get on this zoom, now!” Boy, is he in trouble. This brings us to the third part of our triangle.

“My scary stories are make-believe. They help my sibs escape the for-real scary. A whole flying saucer full of bloodsucking aliens is nothing compared to a single Blackjack.”

The third point of the triangle: Downstairs, directly below my alcove, lurks the dark reaches of David’s room. During Covid, it has evolved into more of a burrow. I dare not describe its depths. However, a beacon of hope rises in the form of two shiny trombones, secure on stands precisely parallel to one another rising out of that bleakness. Outwardly, since the Covid, he appears quite content with his world being reduced to a microcosm. Somewhere inside he must be hurting, but I can’t reach it. He is a senior, a band geek and an aspiring jazz “trom-boner.” He was proud of being chosen section leader for the low brass and looked forward to all the competitions, marching in the Rose Bowl Parade one last time, and performing in the All City Jazz Band at the Hollywood Bowl. He has been consumed with his college apps, mostly music auditions on YouTube and zoom interviews. Never once has he complained about his Covid situation. Well, maybe a flicker of worry, since his parents are ancient and there looms danger.  

Abuelita grabs a chair and sits down facing us and puts the glass on the window ledge and lets out this sigh like she’s too old and tired to put up with my mierda… Her tales are about funny people, the earth and the sky, animals that talk and even witches, what she calls brujas. Manny does his best squeezing them into English for me.”

“Sorry.” David has come upstairs and is talking through her door.  “I overslept.” All the kids whose faces must be on that zoom are his classmates, and I find myself on his side. Yes, be defiant. His footsteps echo down the stairwell, and I’m relieved my wife has let it drop, as I imagine him sheepishly signing on to the zoom amid a wall of faces. Is this oversleeping a small chink in his armor, or am I overthinking it? He is, after all, a world class sleeper. He has a list of books he likes, when pressed to read. But he doesn’t share his parents’ passion for reading. Still, he is that third point on the triangle, the student reader wedged between the writer and the teacher. He has read fragments of drafts from Bones. I imagine him opening the real book someday and reading the dedication.

“Father Speckler announced that there wouldn’t be no more Bible Story Time. Instead, we’d have Science Project Demonstrations. Trust a Jesuit to bust Bible Story Time for something like Science Project Demonstrations.”

So there you have the three points of one human triangle. Bones of a Saint is a tale of survival through story, with the countless triangles that implies. Survival as in, this tale just might postpone a boy’s death. Or this tale may lead to an old man’s redemption. And that story, why that story may help vanquish a hundred-year-old evil. During our time of Covid, rather than point out that tales are trivial compared to the travails of our times, the disease has done just the opposite. How many times have we come to the end of a zoom or a phone call, even one that’s mostly business, and especially if it’s one that involves sadness, and someone will ask, “Did you see The Queen’s Gambit on NETFLIX?” “Have you read The Nickle Boys yet?” “What’s your favorite audiobook lately?” “Can you believe what he just tweeted?” “You gotta look at this Youtube.” These may be different media, but they are all tales.  Imagine surviving the last year without any stories to sustain us, to connect us through myriad triangles.   

“There’s something clear and hard way deep inside the old man, like that creepy old body is just a shell he’ll toss away any time he feels like it. I sit back listening, wondering if he’ll die with the next word or just rattle on with his tale into forever.”

Join Grant Farley, in conversation with Michael Cart, for an engaging discussion on Bones of a Saint, writing, and YA literature this Friday, March 19 at 6 pm PST in a virtual event with Vroman’s Bookstore. Sign up here.

Meet the author

Grant Farley, born in North Hollywood CA, is a former teacher, full-time writer and lighthouse enthusiast. While writing and raising a family, he has also taught at a Santa Monica alternative school, a barrio junior high, and a Marine Science magnet in San Pedro. At this very moment you may spot him in his alcove overlooking Los Angeles Harbor, huddled over his grandfather’s roll top, a Springer Spaniel at his feet as he pounds away at his next writing project—a fantasy novel inspired by his love of Celtic lore, his cynicism of mystic triangles, and his experiences working in an antique light house. Bones of a Saint is his debut novel.

ABOUT BONES OF A SAINT

“A compelling, unforgettable reading experience that is brilliantly executed.” Booklist, Starred Review

“[A]n atmospheric read . . . Pulls you forward toward an ending that is like the sting of a scorpion.” —Newbery winner Jack Gantos

Set in Northern California in the late ’70s, this timeless coming-of-age story examines the nature of evil, the art of storytelling, and the possibility of redemption.

Fifteen-year-old RJ Armante has never known a life outside his deadend hometown of Arcangel, CA. The Blackjacks rule as they have for generations, luring the poorest kids into their monopoly on petty crime. For years, they’ve left RJ alone, but now they have a job for him: prey upon an old loner in town.

In spite of the danger, RJ begins to resist. He fights not only for himself, but for his younger brother, Charley, whose disability has always made RJ feel extra protective of him. For Roxanne, the girl he can’t reach, and the kids in his crew who have nothing to live for. Even for the old loner, who has secrets of his own. If RJ is to break from the Blackjacks’ hold, all of Arcangel must be free of its past.

ISBN-13: 9781641291170
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/16/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

A Life Already Saved: The Power Librarians Hold, a guest post by B. B. Alston

I was the quiet kid with the big imagination. I lived inside my head so much that often times people would be talking to me and I hadn’t heard a single word. When you grow up in situations where you don’t have a whole lot, where every day looks like the one before it and you stop hoping things will change, because they never do, sometimes retreating into yourself is the key to surviving. Because in your head there’s no one looking down on you and there aren’t any limits. The world can become more. As much as you need it to be. More fantastic. More incredible. More exciting than what you’re used to. And then I found a library.

First my elementary school library where the teacher who noticed that I couldn’t even afford to buy one book at the book fair handed me a copy of Where the Wild Things Are and even though I was older than the target age, much older, I can remember having that “Oh” moment. That moment that said for as hard as I had imagined to that point, I had not come close to conceiving creatures so wild as Maurice Sendak. It said to me that I could borrow the imaginations of others and exist in worlds I couldn’t even fathom yet. And I longed to feel that feeling, that “wild rumpus” in my heart and mind. To have my imagination so thoroughly expanded as that.

B. B. Alston in elementary school

And then that same librarian handed me Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In fact, she had set it aside for me knowing I would come back eager for more. And in Charlie I found somebody I could wholly relate to because he was a kid who did not have much and yet he still hoped for grandness in his life. He dared to hope. There is a certain audacity that comes with hope, especially in bad times because you are essentially saying to your surroundings that you no longer see them. You are daring to see something else, a different place and circumstance even as your current circumstance laughs in your face. And when Charlie learned about that golden ticket, he went for it. And that told me that I could try too. That I should try.

I grew up. Went to college. Flunked out. Got married. Worked minimum wage jobs. Went back to college. I kept reading. And one day a friend I knew handed me Twilight. I was the typical guy about it, and like so many who bag on it and say it’s beneath them for this reason or that…I ended up reading all four books. I bought them the day they released. I had passionate discussions with my future wife about why Team Jacob was Team Settling. And it was sometime while reading those books, and defending those books, that it occurred to me that the most important job of a storyteller isn’t flowery words or perfect grammar. It’s to make the reader feel something. I looked back on all the books I’d loved and that idea seemed to check out.

And for the very first time, I thought, well maybe I could do that. I was certainly no wordsmith but I felt like I had read enough to be able to communicate what I was feeling onto the page and maybe just maybe have the reader feel it, too. I wrote an awful book, and then several more. They exist on shredded notebooks and files on my computer named “Kill it With Fire.” But I kept writing because once upon a time I had read a book that sparked my imagination, and another that taught me to dare to dream. And so I kept writing.

Eventually I’d be sitting down watching a movie I’d watched countless times before. Men in Black. And out of the blue I thought, well what if it wasn’t just aliens, what if all supernatural creatures existed? Not long after, this twelve-year-old girl with a big curly afro jumped into my head and told me in no uncertain terms that this was her story. I debated whether it really was her story because I had never read a fantasy book about a Black kid and was that even allowed? And even if it was allowed, who would want to read about a Black kid like me?

Somehow I found myself back at the Richland Public Library with my mom, and the librarian kept going on about this book she loved. It was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. But all of their copies were checked out. So I went to Amazon and read all of the praise and the great reviews. When I went to check out, it said people who buy this book also buy Dear Martin by Nic Stone. So I bought that, too. I devoured those books because for the first time I was reading about Black kids, and I knew the lingo, and the inside jokes, and they spoke the thoughts I was having every time I saw an unarmed Black person shot on the news. Every aspect of me was covered. And I had another “Oh” moment because I realized that I could leave in all the parts of myself I was taking out. It was freeing and thrilling and the next thing I knew I had written a book that got a book deal, and a movie deal, and would be published in 25 countries around the world. And I’m still reading.

I write this not to say that you as a teen librarian could hand a book to a future author but that, far more importantly, you could be handing some kid their survival. Their confidence. Their dream. I’m asking you to reach out and engage with that shy kid, that person who looks like they shouldn’t even be there, that kid who clearly would rather be anyplace else in the world. Because you have the power to change lives. To save lives. And I don’t say that to be hyperbolic, I say it as someone whose life was impacted most profoundly from people sharing with me a book they thought I might like. I say it as a life already saved.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Joshua Aaron Photography

B.B. Alston started writing in middle school, entertaining his classmates with horror stories starring the whole class where not everyone survived! After several years of trying to break into publishing, he had just been accepted into a biomedical graduate program when a chance entry into a twitter pitch contest led to his signing with TBA, 20+ book deals worldwide, and even a film deal. When not writing, he can be found eating too many sweets and exploring country roads to see where they lead.

B.B. was inspired to write AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS because he couldn’t find any fantasy stories featuring Black kids when he was growing up. He hopes to show kids that though you might look different, or feel different, whatever the reason, your uniqueness needn’t only be a source of fear and insecurity. There is great strength and joy to be found in simply accepting yourself for who you are. Because once you do so, you’ll be unstoppable. Learn more at https://www.bbalston.com and follow on social on Twitter @bb_alston and Instagram @bb_alston

B.B. recommends buying your books from The Book Dispensary.

About Amari and the Night Brothers

(check out Amanda’s review here.)

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

ISBN-13: 9780062975164
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/19/2021
Series: Supernatural Investigations , #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years