Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Questions, Anyone? a guest post by Neal Shusterman

When I have speaking engagements, even virtual ones, I like to do all questions-and-answers.  Sometimes it panics the more control-oriented administrators.  They’re terrified that their students will ask something inappropriate or won’t ask anything at all.  Never happens.  And even when someone in the audience asks something meant to rattle me, it doesn’t work—because I love thinking on my feet.

            Q: “How come so many people vomit in your book?”

             A: “Well, if you were going through what the characters go through, you’d hurl, too.” 

            Q: “How many licks does it take to get the center of a Tootsie Pop?”

            A: “Three.  And here’s why three is such an important number in storytelling…”

            Q: “Mr. Shusterman, what planet are you from?” 

            A: “A planet that your puny human telescopes have yet to discover.”

The thing about relating to an audience is that if you talk at them, they get this passive, glazed-over look.  They might engage, but only as a recipient, not as a participant.  I would rather get a slew of “What’s your favorite color” questions than spend an hour giving a lecture.  Invariably the questions I am asked are the things I would talk about anyway, but at least now the audience owns the answers.

A book is exactly the same.  Reading a book can be a passive experience or an active one.  An author can spoon-feed a story, a message, a moral—as if the author knows all the answers and has deigned to impart their wisdom to the masses.

Or an author can make the reader uncomfortable by offering questions with no easy answers.  Moral ambiguity; unintended consequences of our most noble actions; characters who face impossible choices but must decide anyway.  Because if you make the readers work for it, they will own the answers they find.

To me that is what writing is all about.  Not being afraid to ask hard questions.  Now don’t get me wrong—I am afraid.  In fact I’m terrified when I ask the hard questions, perseverating on all the things that can go wrong in the asking–especially now, when everyone on all sides of every issue is furious, and just looking for a reason to criticize.

And so what do I do?  Like an idiot, I throw into the raging inferno this Molotov cocktail called Game ChangerWhy would I write a book that peers into so many open wounds in society?  What would possess me to do such a thing, knowing that we’re all working our last nerve?

This might sound like a writerly BS answer, but it’s the truth:  I could not NOT write it.  Once the idea (and terror) took hold, I felt that I would be cheating if I didn’t write it. I would be a fraud, because I didn’t have the courage to tell the story that was screaming at me.  That is, after all, what I always tell students: I only write stories that scream at me and demand to be told.  So if I demanded that this story shut the hell up, I’d be a hypocrite.

Why was the story screaming?  That comes back to a question that I always get asked—more often from adults than from kids.  “What do you want readers to take away from your books?”  The answer to that is always the same.

Perspective. 

If there’s one belief that infuses everything that I write, it’s that perspective is the only way we’ll ever come close to answering the hard questions.  The more angles from which we can view a problem, the more likely we’re going to have the epiphanies and find the inspiration we need to solve it.

Have you ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect?  All about illusory superiority, self-awareness, and meta-cognition.  In a nutshell, the two titular social psychologists postulated and proved that the less of an expert you are, the more of an expert you believe you are.   In other words, ignorance fuels itself, and the only way to deprive it of an energy source is through greater and greater perspective. It’s an ironic truth: the more you realize you don’t know, the more you actually do.  

Game Changer is all about a character learning empathy and killing the fuel source of his own ignorance.  The story is told from the point of view of a fairly oblivious white male heterosexual teen—but in the course of the story, he’s going to have all his notions of the world, and of himself, challenged.  He’s going to have a crash course in racism, sexism, homophobia, and privilege through a series of alternate realities that give him perspectives he could never have otherwise experienced.

 Now, before you go saying, “Great, another straight-white-male-hero-who-saves-the-world story,” I want to make it clear that my goal was to do precisely the opposite.  This is a story about that all-too-familiar character learning that he’s not the hero he thought he was, and, in fact, the only reason the world needs saving is because of his own actions… and inaction.   He can’t fix everything.  The best he can possibly do is find a place to start.

I set out to model how to accept personal and social responsibility, even when it’s painful.  Accountability is not something that just happens.  You have to grow into it—and resistance to accountability can often happen because someone doesn’t know how to get there.

It is always my hope that my stories will reach those who need to read them and offer them perspective they didn’t know they were missing. They say you don’t know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.  As a writer, I want to take that even further.  It’s more than just walking in someone’s shoes—it’s also understanding the reason for the journey.  I want to show readers what it means to be the road.

And if that leads to more questions than answers, then I’ve done my job! 

Meet the author

Photo credit: Gaby Gerster

Neal Shusterman is the New York Times best-selling author of over thirty novels for children, teens, and adults. He won the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for Challenger Deep-and his novel, Scythe, was a 2017 Michael L. Printz Honor book-and is in development with Universal Studios as a feature film. His novel, Unwind, has become part of the literary canon in many school districts across the country-and has won more than thirty domestic and international awards. He co-wrote his most recent novel, Dry, with his son Jarrod, and in addition to being on numerous award lists, Dry is currently in development with Paramount Pictures. His upcoming novel, Game Changer, is in development with Netflix as a TV series, and he is co-writing the pilot episode.

Shusterman has also received awards from organizations such as the International Reading Association, and the American Library Association, and has garnered a myriad of state and local awards across the country. His talents range from film directing, to writing music and stage plays, and has even tried his hand at creating games.

Shusterman has earned a reputation as a storyteller and dynamic speaker. As a speaker, he is in constant demand at schools and conferences. Degrees in both psychology and drama give him a unique approach to writing, and his novels always deal with topics that appeal to adults as well as teens, weaving true-to-life characters into sensitive and riveting issues, and binding it all together with a unique and entertaining sense of humor. Neal lives in California but spends much of his time travelling the world speaking and signing books for readers.

Website: http://www.storyman.com

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

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NealShusterman

About Game Changer

All it takes is one hit on the football field, and suddenly Ash’s life doesn’t look quite the way he remembers it.

Impossible though it seems, he’s been hit into another dimension—and keeps on bouncing through worlds that are almost-but-not-really his own.

The changes start small, but they quickly spiral out of control as Ash slides into universes where he has everything he’s ever wanted, universes where society is stuck in the past…universes where he finds himself looking at life through entirely different eyes.

And if he isn’t careful, the world he’s learning to see more clearly could blink out of existence…

This high-concept novel from the National Book Award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author of the Arc of a Scythe series tackles the most urgent themes of our time, making this a must-buy for readers who are starting to ask big questions about their own role in the universe.

ISBN-13: 9780061998676
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/09/2021
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

The Beautiful Agony of a Slow Burn, a guest post by Rachel Lynn Solomon

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I love kissing scenes. But what I love even more than a kissing scene is making the reader think they’re getting a kissing scene—only to rip it away at the last minute.

In a romance novel, a slow burn is a relationship that builds and builds as the tension simmers, until it reaches a wonderful, fiery crescendo. A good slow burn should be torturous, and the payoff should make all that waiting worth it.  

In my YA romantic comedy Today Tonight Tomorrow, the characters don’t kiss until around the 90 percent mark. I was so eager to get there, but because the book takes place over 24 hours, I didn’t want it to peak too soon. It was my first slow burn, and now that I’ve written a few more for future books, I wanted to share what I’ve learned along the way.

The Buildup

Wherever your two romantic leads start, there’s something preventing them from beginning a relationship. Maybe it’s circumstance, maybe they don’t know each other well enough, maybe they don’t know how the other feels, or maybe they hate each other, which is the case in Today Tonight Tomorrow—or at least, they think they hate each other.

Regardless of trope, here are some ways to linger in the slow part of a slow burn:

  • Emotional connection. What do these characters have in common? What do they talk about? How do they push and challenge each other? What do they admire about each other? This might also include a “they’re not that bad” moment—when the protagonist realizes that their budding love interest may have some redeeming qualities after all.
  • Physical touch. Maybe their hands brush, or one of them playfully nudges the other, or one of them sits just a little too close. Is it accidental? Who knows, but wondering about it is definitely something that will make your main character suffer!
  • Questioning. This is when the main character is trying to puzzle out their feelings for the other person. How are they trying to defend their new emotions to themselves or to their friends? I especially love when they try to explain away their feelings—I’m not blushing, it’s just warm in here.
  • Proximity. Maybe they’re forced together or maybe they just keep running into each other, but close proximity is going to take all that great physical and emotional tension and dial it up to a hundred. 

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The Almost

So all of those ingredients are simmering—emotional connection, physical touch, questioning, and proximity—and now it’s time to bring them to a rolling boil. This takes time, time, and you guessed it, more time. There’s no “right” point in 1a YA or adult romance novel for the couple to finally get together, but if it’s a slow burn, it’s probably going to be at least after the midpoint.

You can, however, tease your reader. Put the characters in those close proximity situations, get them hyped on oxytocin, bring their faces together until their lips almost touch—but then something stops them. It doesn’t need to be something tangible that interrupts them; maybe it’s the protagonist convincing themselves that this other person isn’t right for them and they shouldn’t be kissing them. Whatever it is, it should serve to drag out the burn.

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The Payoff

In a slow burn, it’s not when the pot boils over that the characters finally get to kiss and confess their feelings—it’s the moment right before the smoke alarm goes off.

And in my favorite slow burns, it’s usually not just a quick peck, either. They don’t need to jump right to ripping off their clothes, but if we’ve spent 300 pages waiting for these people to kiss, we’ve earned more than a couple sentences.

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I’m a fan of all kinds of romance in YA, but I continue to be drawn to the slow burn because it’s just so satisfying when the characters finally figure things out. In Today Tonight Tomorrow, though the characters uncover their true feelings for each other over the course of 24 hours, their romance has been simmering for much, much longer—and I hope that payoff is as thrilling to read as it was for me to write.

Meet Rachel Lynn Solomon

Rachel Lynn Solomon is the author of You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, Our Year of Maybe, and Today Tonight Tomorrow. She is a Seattle native who loves rainy days, her tiny dog, tap dancing, old movies, red lipstick, and books with flawed, complicated characters. Learn more at RachelSolomonBooks.com.

Her local indie bookstore is Third Place Books.

About Today Tonight Tomorrow

Today Tonight Tomorrow | Book by Rachel Lynn Solomon | Official ...

The Hating Game meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by way of Morgan Matson in this unforgettable romantic comedy about two rival overachievers whose relationship completely transforms over the course of twenty-four hours.

Today, she hates him.

It’s the last day of senior year. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair have been bitter rivals for all of high school, clashing on test scores, student council elections, and even gym class pull-up contests. While Rowan, who secretly wants to write romance novels, is anxious about the future, she’d love to beat her infuriating nemesis one last time.

Tonight, she puts up with him.

When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan has only one chance at victory: Howl, a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle, a farewell tour of the city she loves. But after learning a group of seniors is out to get them, she and Neil reluctantly decide to team up until they’re the last players left—and then they’ll destroy each other.

As Rowan spends more time with Neil, she realizes he’s much more than the awkward linguistics nerd she’s sparred with for the past four years. And, perhaps, this boy she claims to despise might actually be the boy of her dreams.

Tomorrow…maybe she’s already fallen for him.

ISBN-13: 9781534440241
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 07/28/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

‘You wrote an action-thriller?’ a guest post by Tiffany Rosenhan

Girl from Nowhere

You wrote an action-thriller?’

Emphasis on YOU. As in me. Yes, I wrote an action thriller. And, yes, I’m surprised as YOU are.

Most summer days you can find me wearing a broderie dress and espadrilles, frolicking through the mountainous fields behind my Utah home, my four daughters traipsing behind me with ribbons in their hair and jubilantly singing Do-Re-Mi. . . okay this is more a fantasy of how I wish my real life was. But, you get the picture. More importantly, I get the picture.

Perhaps because most would consider me, um . . . ‘girly’ . . . no one anticipated that I would write an action-spy-thriller.

Perhaps.

I suppose I could speculate the myriad reasons why I’m met with such astonishment when people read my book, but perhaps it all circles into a vortex of simple human contradictions. We – humans – are all contradictions, are we not?

I equally love sewing doll clothes and reading monotonous descriptions of tactical warfare. I am presently (and contentedly!) a stay home mother and a political scientist who once set out to join either the Foreign Service or the Central Intelligence Agency.  I am both unabashedly feminine and feminist. I love Ann Brashares and John Le Carre!

And of this I am certain: we must stop suggesting that these characteristics can’t all coexist.

We can write in any genre we choose to, even if it doesn’t fit the pattern of who people think we are. Who we think we are.

Like every other female I know, I am a contradiction (though my identical twin sister and I are certain that in the original division of us, some traits were unequally distributed) and I hope, in writing the character of Sophia Hepworth that the following comes across emphatically: women have many, varied, oft-conflicting, interests!

I loved writing GIRL FROM NOWHERE, because not only did it offer me a reasonable opportunity to research and study so many of these interests at once, it also offered me a story that could weld them together, particularly those which are far removed from my daily life (car chases anyone?).

Creating GIRL FROM NOWHERE was akin to writing a fantasy novel, except here the elements of fantasy take shape in a hyper-reality of our own world. The spy world became a fantasy.

I’ve been fascinated by both spy craft and military history since early elementary school. Once, at my grandparent’s house in California, I spotted a tattered black and white magazine cover, depicting a photograph of two soldiers crawling ashore Guadalcanal under raging enemy fire. ‘Who are they?’ I asked my grandfather. “Marines,” he said. He then looked down, tapped his crooked forefinger to the face of the soldier in the foreground, and said, “That’s me.”

My grandfather – A Marine. The word alone impressed me. It still does. I was too young then to associate anything other than prestige with the word; it would be years before I heard about, and studied, PTSD.

However, if that photograph sparked my curiosity with military history and tradecraft, another sparked my fascination with the world. Most summers my twin sister and I would visit’s my father’s family’s farm in Ohio. Here, we would stay with my grandmother and she would instruct us to either read, explore, embroider, cook, clean, or play outside. There was an old television set, but I remember it only being turned on once, during a storm. She’d been a public school teacher before settling down to raise six children, and remained a voracious reader. Her house had many books.

My favorites included a collection of 1960’s encyclopedias. I was fascinated by the vintage pictures: vibrant toucans in Central America, zebras and antelope in Sub-Saharan Africa, Soviet women wearing traditional folk dress hanging laundry outside their cottages. . . It was the caption of this last photograph that caught my attention. It explained that these women resided in a country called Czechoslovakia, which according to my grandmother, had recently stopped existing. I couldn’t process. How does a country simply cease to exist? Does it disappear? Did it fall into the center of the earth? How? I did not, could not, understand.

On that rainy afternoon in the mid 1990’s, Czechoslovakia introduced me to the global trifecta: politics, diplomacy, and geography. Though I’ve since learned how a country actually ceases to exist, I’ve never stopped learning about the many reasons why.

So if these photographs sparked my curiosity about several topics that vein through GIRL FROM NOWHERE – geography, tradecraft, nature etc. – then motherhood ignited my willpower, and granted me the time, to write it all down.

From the moment Sophia Hepworth first took shape in my sub-conscious, I knew who I wanted her to become. And who I would not allow her to become. (Because, unlike with my children, I possess this power!) She would be skilled. Disciplined. Knowledgeable. Brave. She would also be an actual teenage girl. Hormonal. Frustrated. Moody. Prone to split-second-poor-judgement decisions. More than any other character trait I wanted to give Sophia, I wanted to ensure she remained just a regular (though super-skilled!) teenage girl entangled in a complicated life.

Therefore, in order to turn GIRL FROM NOWHERE into an actual manuscript, I needed facts. I read everything I could find that incorporated even a fragment of a location, skill, or event that interested me. I scoured encyclopedias, Wikipedia, and the library. I wanted to know everything I could about everything.

Which in case you are wondering, is impossible.

Yet, I loved this part of the process.

So, why did I write GIRL FROM NOWHERE as a thriller? Why not something more literary that offered a broader template to include more of the miscellaneous fruits of my laborious research?

I suppose my simplest answer is that I wrote exactly the type of book I like to read. I prefer fiction that is entertaining, informative, intriguing, and/or enthralling.

I like to be swept away, mesmerized by a plot so finely threaded through the narrative that I can scarcely pry away my eyes.

Yet, as all contradictory people might say, I also love literary fiction, epic historical tales, fantasy, and even memoirs. I’ve even been reading the Icelandic Sagas for a few days (years).

Above all else, I appreciate a well-paced story. And I knew, despite the enormous amount of effort it took to turn GIRL FROM NOWHERE from moderate ‘coming of age’ story into an ‘action-thriller’, it was the right decision.

I do actually wear sundresses and straw hats in summer; I do create whimsical tea parties for my daughters on rainy afternoons; I do pick wildflowers to assemble midsummer crowns.

Therefore, I do understand the contradiction. I am not necessarily qualified to write about avalanches, weapons or international espionage. Perhaps I should be writing and illustrating a children’s book of fairy tales instead. Perhaps I might!

However, becoming a published author has freed me from having to explain myself to myself.   

When people ask ‘Why did you write a thriller?’

I now like to answer, ‘Why not me?’

Meet Tiffany Rosenhan

Tiffany Rosenhan is the granddaughter of Oscar-winning screen siren, Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon). She has a degree in political science and four young daughters, and often travels the world with her family and husband, who is a critical care physician. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. This is her debut novel. https://tiffanyrosenhan.com

About Girl from Nowhere

Girl from Nowhere

Red Sparrow meets One of Us Is Lying in this action-packed, romance-filled YA debut about a girl trying to outrun her past.

Ninety-four countries. Thirty-one schools. Two bullets. Now it’s over . . . or so she thinks.

Sophia Hepworth has spent her life all over the world—moving quickly, never staying in one place for too long. She knows to always look over her shoulder, to be able to fight to survive at a moment’s notice. She has trained to be ready for anything.

Except this. Suddenly it’s over. Now Sophia is expected to attend high school in a sleepy Montana town. She is told to forget the past, but she’s haunted by it. As hard as she tries to be like her new friends and live a normal life, she can’t shake the feeling that this new normal won’t last.

Then comes strong and silent Aksel, whose skills match Sophia’s, and who seems to know more about her than he’s letting on . . .

What if everything Sophia thought she knew about her past is a lie?

Cinematic and breathtaking, Tiffany Rosenhan’s debut stars a fierce heroine who will risk everything to save the life she has built for herself.

ISBN-13: 9781547603039
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 07/21/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

A Banjo as a Bridge, a guest post by Erica Waters

I first got the idea for Ghost Wood Song, my debut YA novel about a girl with a ghost-raising fiddle, from a spooky experience of my own. I was home alone, writing in my attic office, when I heard a banjo playing below. I crept down the stairs with all my senses tingling, but the music stopped. The room was empty and still, and my banjo rested innocently against a wall, perfectly silent. I chalked the phantom music up to vibrations in the banjo’s resonator and went back to work.

However, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of a ghost playing a musical instrument. What might he want to communicate? Could music be a bridge between the living and the dead? If so, would that bridge be safe to cross?

I was already deeply interested in bluegrass and folk music, so I knew I could write a story about ghosts set against those musical traditions. But I needed a character to bring the music to life. And out of the blue, she introduced herself to me. Her name was Shady Grove, named after my favorite Appalachian folk song. Her father had died and she was grieving and missing the music he’d taught her to love. But one day she heard his fiddle crying in the pine woods and believed he was calling to her.

Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters

That fiddle became my bridge—an instrument that when played just right could call up ghosts and let them take a solid form, speak, even touch the ones they loved. It was temporary and dangerous, but it was a small form of resurrection. However, the real bridge wasn’t the fiddle itself but the music that Shady played.

Bluegrass tunes, murder ballads, classic country, gospel hymns.

It was music that I had grown up on in rural Florida but had forgotten until I moved to Nashville and started going to bluegrass joints and shows at the Ryman Auditorium. All these songs came back to me—ones that my grandfather had played on tape decks, that my father sang while he drove. It was intimately familiar to me and yet felt brand new. These songs connected me to a past that felt like such a part of me but also fractured, painful, irretrievable.

As I wrote, I was flooded with a longing for home and family, even though those things are deeply complicated for me. But the music that shaped Shady’s story cracked me open too, and something that felt miraculous happened: I found my writerly self. Suddenly, I knew what I wanted to write and who I wanted to be as a writer. My writing had context, atmosphere, and voice. It was compelling. It was original. Finally, I wasn’t trying to reinvent myself from scratch; rather, I was returning to myself.

Shady’s music became a bridge for me. To the dead, yes. To a home I thought I’d left behind, yes. But most of all it connected me to myself and my own voice.

So maybe there really was a ghost playing that neglected banjo in the corner. Maybe the phantom music was my own personal fiddle crying in the pines. At any rate, it brought me here. It brought me home.

You can buy a copy of Ghost Wood Song at Nashville’s beloved indie bookstore, Parnassus Books: https://www.parnassusbooks.net/ericawaters.

Meet Erica Waters

Photo Credit: Amelia J. Moore

Erica Waters writes young adult fantasy with a Southern Gothic feel. She’s originally from the pine woods of rural Florida but has made her home in Nashville, TN with her spouse and two scruffy little rescue dogs. Ghost Wood Song is her debut novel. You can visit her online at ericawaters.com and connect with her on twitter and Instagram.

Links:

Book: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062894229/ghost-wood-song/

Website: https://ericawaters.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ELWaters

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

Cover Design Credit:

Jacket art: Alix Northrup
Jacket design: Jenna Stempel-Lobell

About Ghost Wood Song

Ghost Wood Song

Sawkill Girls meets Beautiful Creatures in this lush and eerie debut, where the boundary between reality and nightmares is as thin as the veil between the living and the dead.

If I could have a fiddle made of Daddy’s bones, I’d play it. I’d learn all the secrets he kept.

Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness.

But when her brother is accused of murder, she can’t let the dead keep their secrets.

In order to clear his name, she’s going to have to make those ghosts sing.

Family secrets, a gorgeously resonant LGBTQ love triangle, and just the right amount of creepiness make this young adult debut a haunting and hopeful story about facing everything that haunts us in the dark.

ISBN-13: 9780062894229
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/21/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Writing Your (Hidden) Self, a guest post by Jessica Pennington

I write romance. I write kissing books. I write love stories.

I don’t know how many times I gave those answers—at book launches and conventions, festivals, and family functions—before I realized it wasn’t the most accurate description of my work. Yes, my stories are full of sweet book boyfriends and swoony kisses. There are nights under the stars getting to know someone new, and long, painful discussions with former first-loves. And they are most definitely the type of books you see being read poolside or at the lake. But that’s not the only thing all of my books have in common.

As authors, many of us set out to write a book and have a map of where it will go. We have character sketches, plot points, beginnings and endings in mind. Some authors don’t, but for now let’s just say a lot of us do. Personally, I can’t even start a project until I have at least a general idea of where I’m headed. Of course, even for plotters, stories change along the way; characters reveal themselves to us, or a really great scene can steal the show and send us in an entirely different direction. Still, as the author, we have ultimate control of the story and the words we put on the page.

Despite that illusion of control, it took me two published books and five years to figure out what I was actually writing. My debut, Love Songs & Other Lies is about two teens who are unexpectedly trapped with their ex on a battle of the bands tour bus, but it’s also about a girl who doesn’t know how to share her feelings, even with those closest to her, except in the form of song lyrics. And it’s about caring for someone so much that you accept less than you deserve, just to preserve the relationship.

When Summer Ends is about two teens forced to work together when each of their summer plans fall apart, but it’s also about a girl who has planned her future so carefully, that she can’t see the problems—or fresh new potential—in her present.     

And by the time I wrote Meet Me At Midnight, I already knew it wasn’t just going to be about two teens forced to vacation together while torturing one another with yearly pranks, until they’re forced to call a truce and work together. It’s also about a girl who is emotionally guarded, and finds control in her life by meticulously organizing and planning things.

It may have taken me two-hundred-thousand written words to figure it out, but I finally did: I write stories about girls like me. Not thirty-seven-year-old me, of course (wow, what a disappointing YA novel that would be) or even the teen girl I saw myself as at the time, but the teen girl I didn’t realize I was until I started writing parts of myself into my stories.

As authors, we’re always hearing about how books affect readers, but one thing I’ve thought about a lot while stuck in my house for the last three months, is just how much writing my books has affected me. It’s funny how looking at your life from the outside can show you a new perspective, even fifteen years later.

I didn’t realize how dysfunctional one of my high school friendships was, until I tried putting it on the page in Love Songs & Other Lies. The friend I read in that first draft was not the one I remembered, but it was accurate. So I re-wrote that character into the friend I wish I’d had—the person that would have been what I actually needed in high school. Olivia in When Summer Ends is stripped of her carefully laid plans and shown that flipping a coin and living life by chance isn’t the great disaster she would have thought. I gave my social anxiety to Sidney in Meet Me At Midnight, and forced her not only to acknowledge it, but to find someone who held her hand and loved her through it.

Today, when I describe my books, I still say I write romance, but more importantly, I write books about girls like me: Type-A, focused, self-conscious, anxious, driven, emotionally guarded, a little too serious sometimes, and absolutely worthy of love. I write teen girls who need to make some mistakes to realize not all mistakes are bad. And I hope that readers will see my characters bruised-but-not-broken (and in love) and they’ll discover some things about themselves, too—hopefully twenty years earlier than I did.

Meet Jessica Pennington

Jessica Pennington is the author of contemporary romance novels for young adults (and the young at heart), including Meet Me At Midnight, When Summer Ends, and Love Songs & Other Lies. A self-proclaimed “professional romantic,” she has spent the last fifteen years immersed in love–first as a wedding planner and now a novelist. Jessica lives in a Michigan beach town suspiciously similar to the one in her novels, with her husband and son.

Find Jessica on IG @jessicapennington and Twitter @jessnpennington

Sign up for her monthly newsletter The EpistolarYAn here: http://itsjess.com/newsletter/

Website: www.itsjess.com

Jessica’s local indie bookstore is Forever Books.

About MEET ME AT MIDNIGHT

Meet Me at Midnight

They have a love-hate relationship with summer.

Sidney and Asher should have clicked. Two star swimmers forced to spend their summers on a lake together sounds like the perfect match. But it’s the same every year—in between cookouts and boat rides and family-imposed bonfires, Sidney and Asher spend the dog days of summer finding the ultimate ways to prank each other. And now, after their senior year, they’re determined to make it the most epic summer yet.

But their plans are thrown in sudden jeopardy when their feud causes their families to be kicked out of their beloved lake houses. Once in their new accommodations, Sidney expects the prank war to continue as usual. But then she gets a note—Meet me at midnight. And Asher has a proposition for her: join forces for one last summer of epic pranks, against a shared enemy—the woman who kicked them out.

Their truce should make things simpler, but six years of tormenting one another isn’t so easy to ignore. Kind of like the undeniable attraction growing between them.

ISBN-13: 9781250187666
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Past as Present, Present as Past, a guest post by J. Anderson Coats

When I was fifteen, I got busted sneaking into a university library.

The security gate slowed me down, but I looked enough like a college student with my backpack and ratty jeans that I breezed right through—past the information desk, up the stairs, and deep into the stacks.

Ten minutes later, a librarian found me sitting on a stepstool in the medieval history section with a book open on my knees. She asked to see my student ID, and when I told her I’d left it at home, she said I’d have to leave.

“But I’m researching my novel,” I protested, “and you have books here that I can’t get anywhere else.”

She raised one eyebrow in a pointed oh really sort of way.

“No, see, I’ll show you.” I reached into my backpack, pulled out a folder, and fanned out my notes, along with a half-finished chart detailing the particulars of medieval criminal law for a scene in my sprawling, extensively researched but somehow still deeply inaccurate historical novel set in the thirteenth century about a Scottish girl who found herself in Wales and had to figure out her place in the community. A girl who’d had bad things happen to her, but was slowly—slowly—finding her way forward.

“I’m not here to make trouble,” I insisted. “I just need these books.”

The librarian was quiet for a long moment. Then she said, “Today only. It can’t happen again. That’s what interlibrary loan is for. Got it?”

I stayed till the building closed.

By seventeen I’d filled five binders with collected research that fueled six complete novels, including the one about the Scottish girl that ended up at an opulent 400K words. My research into the middle ages had long since expanded beyond any particular novel, though. I wanted to know just for the knowing.

Each binder was rigorously subdivided, organized, tabbed, and coded— region, topic, subtopic, chronological date. I collected maps, drawings, family trees, and accounts, and I made hundreds of charts, graphs, lists, and sketches. No one taught me to do this. Hardly anyone knew about it. But I could and did spend hours paging through what I’d made. Adding. Updating. Minutely rearranging.

I liked worlds I could control.

My interest in the past made me incomprehensible to most kids my age. I liked how they kept a cautious distance, not quite sure how to make fun of me if I already knew I was a freak. I liked how knowing uncommon, arcane things gave me power over almost any interaction I was likely to have. My charts and lists made me feel unusual, mysterious, and untouchable.

Becoming anything is hard. Rebuilding when the pieces are shattered so small is a whole different way of becoming.

I am thirteen. It’s my first week of middle school, and the boy I’m made to sit next to in art class is explaining in vivid detail how he’s going to trap me in the bathroom and feel me up. His language is emotionless and precise. He makes eye contact in the kind of intense, disturbing way that makes me certain he means it.

“I may not stop there,” he says. “I haven’t decided yet.”

The art teacher doesn’t look up from his newspaper. He refuses to let me change seats. He tells me to sit down and do my assignment and stop trying to get attention.

“You won’t know exactly when it’ll happen,” the boy goes on. “It’ll be the best thing that ever happens to a pig like you, though.”

I am thirteen, and I have no idea how to make him leave me alone. The guidance counselor gives me a secret, girls-only smile and says, “It’s probably because he likes you.” My mom reminds me that bullies will find another target if you ignore them.

I am thirteen, and I have no idea how to make them listen. How to make them understand what it costs me to walk into that classroom. Sit in that seat. Let it all happen.

Things just get worse.

Four of my binders have survived. They have endured two transcontinental moves and countless hours of flipping. They have almost—but not quite—been entirely supplanted by the internet.

The best part of the binders now is turning the pages one by one, remembering how each new entry, each photocopied map or genealogy table laboriously typed into some early version of Word is one more step I took out of the darkness.  

It was stories that finally coaxed me to breathe and look up, and because the present was so bleak, I looked to the past, because the past is nothing but stories we tell ourselves to make sense of things that happened.

The binders were a way to step into that past and make it my own. They were a way to imagine a future with something like potential, then construct one through fiction. To that end, I collected everything for my binders, even things I didn’t need at the moment. My research books came from libraries across the country through the magic of interlibrary loan, and I knew I might never have access to them again, so nothing was beneath my notice.

The whispers of Spindle and Dagger are here. Another story about a girl who’d had bad things happen to her, who could slowly—slowly—find her way forward. Tucked away amid the maps and charts, waiting till I was ready to come full circle.

Meet J. Anderson Coats

J. Anderson Coats has received two Junior Library Guild awards, two Washington State Book Awards, and earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, the Horn Book Review, and Shelf Awareness. Her newest books are Spindle and Dagger, a YA set in medieval Wales that deals with power dynamics and complicated relationships, and The Green Children of Woolpit, a creepy middle-grade fantasy inspired by real historical events. She is also the author of R is for Rebel, The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming, The Wicked and the Just, and the forthcoming middle-grade fantasy, The Night Ride (2021).

Social:

Web: http://www.jandersoncoats.com/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jandersoncoats

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jandersoncoats/?hl

Buy Links

https://bookshop.org/books/spindle-and-dagger/9781536207774

https://www.mercerislandbooks.com/book/9781536207774

https://www.eagleharborbooks.com/book/9781536207774

https://www.elliottbaybook.com/book/9781536207774

https://www.secretgardenbooks.com/book/9781536207774

About Spindle and Dagger

This rich literary novel follows Elen, who must live a precarious lie in order to survive among the medieval Welsh warband that killed her family.

Wales, 1109. Three years ago, a warband raided Elen’s home. Her baby sister could not escape the flames. Her older sister fought back and almost killed the warband’s leader, Owain ap Cadwgan, before being killed herself. Despite Elen’s own sexual assault at the hands of the raiders, she saw a chance to live and took it. She healed Owain’s wound and spun a lie: Owain ap Cadwgan, son of the king of Powys, cannot be killed, not by blade nor blow nor poison. Owain ap Cadwgan has the protection of Saint Elen, as long as he keeps her namesake safe from harm and near him always.

For three years, Elen has had plenty of food, clothes to wear, and a bed to sleep in that she shares with the man who brought that warband to her door. Then Owain abducts Nest, the wife of a Norman lord, and her three children, triggering full-out war. As war rages, and her careful lies threaten to unravel, Elen begins to look to Nest and see a different life — if she can decide, once and for all, where her loyalties lie. J. Anderson Coats’s evocative prose immerses the reader in a dark but ultimately affirming tale of power and survival.

ISBN-13: 9781536207774
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 03/10/2020
Age Range: 16 – 17 Years

On Being Old and New, a guest post by Amanda Sellet

In the game of Chutes and Ladders that is publishing, some squares are hard to avoid. “Oops, Your Plot Has a Soggy Middle” for one, or “Womp Womp, Another Form Rejection.”

Other hazards are more personal, lining the unique path each of us takes toward the endgame of A Published Book. For me, one of those was the author photo. 

Plot twist: I’ll be 49 when my debut novel releases this May. Although I long since bade adieu to the fantasy of making a 40 Under 40 list, as a YA author I am conscious of writing for young people when I am … less than young myself.

This is not just a surface-level issue, regrets about skin elasticity aside. The whole idea of being a “debut” implies dewy newness, an awkward fit when your lived experience as a Gen X teen qualifies as historical fiction. My pop culture references are from a different century. Far from being a digital native, I grew up blissfully free from the panopticon of social media. In my day (gather round, kids!), colleges sent acceptance letters by mail, on actual paper – and once enrolled, you were almost certainly indoctrinated into the wrong wave of feminism.

Yet surely something has been gained along with the crow’s feet? For perspective, I surveyed several fellow debuts about stepping onto the kidlit stage as a non-ingenue.  

Home and Away

Although our own childhoods are disappearing in the rearview mirror, many of us live and/or work with kids every day. As parents and teachers, we have a front-row seat for the fears, fandoms, and (in the case of MG readers) fart jokes that drive today’s youth.

“My 12-year-old son is my biggest writing influence. I craft all my stories for him,” said Adrianna Cuevas. The author of THE TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ, out July 31, also taught Spanish and ESOL to her target audience for sixteen years.

“It’s much easier to have an authentic MG voice when you’re constantly communicating with your intended readers,” agreed Tanya Guerrero, a writer and parent whose first book, HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, released March 31. Guerrero’s prior career developing K-12 educational materials also underscored the importance of representation and diversity in writing for kids.

Work Experience

In some cases, an author’s non-writing career doubled as research for their book.

“I spend a lot of time with young women who are recovering from terrible experiences in school mathematics,” said Amy Noelle Parks, a professor of Mathematics Education at Michigan State University. Her debut, THE QUANTUM WEIRDNESS OF THE ALMOST KISS (out January 5, 2021), offers a different vision: a boarding school full of young women who love math and science.

Betty Culley’s work as a pediatric hospice nurse directly informed her debut novel-in-verse THREE THINGS I KNOW ARE TRUE, which Culley described as, “a book I couldn’t have written before then.”  

For Alex Richards, author of the July release ACCIDENTAL, her previous job in TV production “helped bring me out of my shell, talking to strangers, digging deep to find the heart of a story, etc.”

Life Lessons

Off-the-job training can also have a profound influence on writing practice.

“I have two kids, a precocious nine-year-old and a severely autistic non-verbal eleven-year-old who needs 24/7 care, which my husband and I share,” explained Jamie Pacton, author of the May release THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY. “Being these particular children’s mother has taught me a lot about long games in life and writing; how to find joy in small things; it’s grown my patience and helped me think about the struggles other people face, even with small things like communicating basic needs.”

Age can also bring a new sense of determination. After years of working in practical (read: more likely to pay) fields like teaching and journalism, Cathleen Barnhart, author of the recent MG release THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS DO, made a now-or-never decision. “I had a bit of an emotional freak-out and decided that I needed to walk the writer walk, even if I never published anything. I had to own being a writer.”

For many members of the over 40 club, the passing of time also means greater freedom from expectations. Why write literary short stories when you love middle grade, or try to follow the market if your heart isn’t in dystopian YA?

“The writing I did in my 20s and 30s was largely professional,” said Cuevas, “completely devoid of fart and poop jokes. The horror! I was also writing to satisfy my audience, which often led to inauthenticity. Now, I feel secure enough to write stories I enjoy. I don’t think ‘younger me’ would’ve had the courage to do that.”

On Roads Not Taken

The writing landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade. Pacton pointed out how much easier it is to find information about the industry now, not to mention the online access points of pitch contests and social media.

On the other hand, there are only so many hours in a day. Parks was getting a Ph.D. while raising a family; Culley wrote her first novel at 18 then went back to school to finish her degree, followed by years spent homeschooling her children while working nights as a labor and delivery nurse.

“Sometimes I regret that I didn’t ‘honor the gift’ during those years,” Culley said, “but the work I did and the life I lived made me the writer I am now.”

Fortunately for all of us, writing isn’t as physically demanding as gymnastics or even opera. Plenty of writers keep working many, many decades past their teen years.

“One thing publishing at this point in my life has done is help me realize that you have lots of time,” said Parks. “Just because you can’t do everything all at once, doesn’t mean you can’t do it all eventually.”

However old you are, fellow writers, take heart. Age has its compensations.

As for the author photo, I hear they have these things called filters nowadays.

Buy BY THE BOOK and other fine titles by authors of all ages from Amanda’s local indie The Raven Book Store: https://www.ravenbookstore.com/

Meet Amanda Sellet

Amanda Sellet had a previous career in journalism, during which she wrote book reviews for The Washington Post, personal essays for NPR, and music and movie coverage for VH1. She has an M.A. in Cinema Studies from NYU. After a mostly coastal childhood, she now lives in Kansas with her husband, daughter, and cats.

Find her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/amandajsellet

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

Web site: https://www.amandasellet.com/

About BY THE BOOK

In this clever YA rom-com debut perfect for fans of Kasie West and Ashley Poston, a teen obsessed with nineteenth-century literature tries to cull advice on life and love from her favorite classic heroines to disastrous results—especially when she falls for the school’s resident Lothario.

Mary Porter-Malcolm has prepared for high school in the one way she knows how: an extensive review of classic literature to help navigate the friendships, romantic liaisons, and overall drama she has come to expect from such an “esteemed” institution. When some new friends seem in danger of falling for the same tricks employed since the days of Austen and Tolstoy, Mary swoops in to create the Scoundrel Survival Guide, using archetypes of literature’s debonair bad boys to signal red flags. But despite her best efforts, she soon finds herself unable to listen to her own good advice and falling for a supposed cad—the same one she warned her friends away from. Without a convenient rain-swept moor to flee to, Mary is forced to admit that real life doesn’t follow the same rules as fiction and that if she wants a happy ending, she’s going to have to write it herself. 

ISBN-13: 9780358156611
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 05/12/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Write What You Know, a guest post by Loriel Ryon

I almost didn’t write this post.

As I’ve grown and changed, my thoughts and understandings of my identity and what that means have evolved a lot over the years. Being a writer means looking into yourself, pulling apart the pieces of what made you, and writing that. So when I started writing, my heritage and cultural upbringing kept coming up. How could it not? When I think back to my childhood years, my family and my traditions were so important to that time. But identity is complicated. Especially when you come from a blended family. And when that family breaks apart, identity gets even more complicated. My understanding of myself and my identity will probably change again. And again. But for now, this is where I am.

Because as the old saying goes: write what you know.

And this is what I know.

I grew up on bluegrass music and pumpkin empanadas. Pig pickins’ and the best southern fried chicken. Jackie Horner pies for birthdays, luminarias and tamales at Christmas, and cascarones at Easter. My childhood was a blend of my parents’ upbringings and traditions: my father, an Irish-English American Catholic southern boy, born and raised in North Carolina; and my mother, a Mexican American Catholic born and raised in south Texas. Their traditions were different from each other, but somehow, they found a way to raise me, my brother, and my sister with a blend of the two.

Sure, my mom loved to tell the story where she asked my dad right after they got married to get tortillas from the grocery store and he brought back corn tortillas in a can. (I’m not kidding. It was a family joke for a LOOONG time.) My grandad would tell us stories about how he wasn’t allowed at the school dance because he was Mexican and had to wait outside. I’m pretty sure my mom had never even heard of bluegrass music until she met my dad.

Spanish was spoken in our house (and it was basic Spanish at best), but not because my mom grew up speaking it. My grandparents didn’t teach their children Spanish. They wanted them to blend in and not rock the boat. Both my parents learned in school and college, and once us kids had learned how to spell, they’d switch to Spanish to keep us from knowing what they were talking about.

The other important thing to know is my parents didn’t stay married. And while that was a very tough thing to go through as a kid, it also really shifted my adult understanding of identity and heritage. Without my blended family intact, which traditions would stay? Would some fall away? How would we raise our own kids when the time came?

The other thing is while my siblings and I have our mother’s dark hair and eyes, our light skin coupled with our English last name affords a lot of privileges that other members in our family don’t have. By looking at us, you can’t really “tell” our heritage and with that comes the doubts.

If I look white and I don’t speak Spanish, can I be Mexican American? If I have a white last name, can I be Mexican American? If every time I tell someone that I’m part Mexican American and they say, “Well, you don’t look it…”, then maybe I’m not.

Questions about my identity carried with me all the way to my debut, INTO THE TALL, TALL GRASS. It’s a story about a girl and her sister, both of mixed heritage, as they go on a journey through the desert to save their grandmother’s life. I’d never read a story about a girl of mixed heritage like me. I stubbornly plowed forward, following the advice: write what you know. But even so, I was riddled with doubts. Because when you are straddling the in-between you never quite feel like you are enough. It is a constant battle between hoping you aren’t a fraud to trying to get things perfectly right. Would kids want to read about a girl like me? Would I do the story justice? Was it okay for me to write a story like this? But my Spanish isn’t very good…

I remember when Aida Salazar reached out and asked if I’d like to be part of the Las Musas group, a collective of Latinx authors who support one another. I almost told her no. I stressed over it. How was I going to tell Aida Salazar (who’s book I absolutely admired and adored) that she’d made a mistake? It wasn’t because I didn’t want to be a part of the group. I really did. It was because I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt like I wasn’t Latinx enough to be in the group, and I finally found the courage and told her so.

And Aida, the always wise, said to me, “There’s no one way to be Latinx.”

And with those simple words, my view of my identity shifted again. When the doubts come rolling in, I repeat those words to myself. And while I may not get everything perfectly right and I’m sure to make mistakes along the way, I realize my unique viewpoint does matter. Just because it’s not quite like everyone else’s doesn’t mean it’s wrong or not enough. It’s just…mine.

And that is what I know.

For now.

Meet Loriel Ryon

Loriel Ryon is an author of middle grade fiction. She spent her childhood with her nose in a book, reading in restaurants, on the school bus, and during every family vacation. Her upbringing in a mixed-heritage military family inspires much of her writing about that wonderfully complicated time between childhood and adulthood. Also a nurse, she lives in the magical New Mexico desert with her husband and two daughters. Her debut middle grade novel, INTO THE TALL, TALL GRASS is out now.

Social Media

Twitter/Instagram/Facebook: @Lorielryon

Website: Lorielryon.com

About Into the Tall, Tall Grass

A girl journeys across her family’s land to save her grandmother’s life in this captivating and magical debut that’s perfect for fans of The Thing About Jellyfish.

Yolanda Rodríguez-O’Connell has a secret. All the members of her family have a magical gift—all, that is, except for Yolanda. Still, it’s something she can never talk about, or the townsfolk will call her family brujas—witches. When her grandmother, Wela, falls into an unexplained sleep, Yolanda is scared. Her father is off fighting in a faraway war, her mother died long ago, and Yolanda has isolated herself from her best friend and twin sister. If she loses her grandmother, who will she have left?

When a strange grass emerges in the desert behind their house, Wela miraculously wakes, begging Yolanda to take her to the lone pecan tree left on their land. Determined not to lose her, Yolanda sets out on this journey with her sister, her ex-best friend, and a boy who has a crush on her. But what is the mysterious box that her grandmother needs to find? And how will going to the pecan tree make everything all right? Along the way, Yolanda discovers long-buried secrets that have made their family gift a family curse. But she also finds the healing power of the magic all around her, which just might promise a new beginning.

ISBN-13: 9781534449671
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 10 – 18 Years

Fiction Revelations: How Writing a Book about Witches and Murder Got Me My OCD diagnosis, a guest post by E. Latimer

The problems began in kindergarten.

Near the start of the year, I apparently got myself locked in the school bathroom, my five-year-old self fumbling with a sticky door that wouldn’t come unlatched. I don’t remember this event, but I do remember what came after. This experience seemed to break something in my brain. I spent the next year simultaneously terrified to go into those bathrooms, and totally convinced I had to go.

Over the following days and weeks, this fixation became absolute. No matter how much or how little water I would drink, it was a constant thought in the back of my mind. It became so bad that my parents took me in for “explorative surgery” to see if something was physically wrong with me.

There was nothing.

In my early teens, this strange, embarrassing obsession began to fade. But my relief was short-lived. Rather than disappearing altogether, the intense focus seemed to shift. Now, instead of constantly wondering if I really had to go, or it was just my imagination, I was suddenly fixated on my breathing instead.

Multiple times throughout the day I would notice it and begin to “accidentally” regulate my own breathing. I would worry I wasn’t breathing deeply enough, I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I was overcome by the idea that I kept noticing my breath, that I would never stop noticing.

Whenever I tried to tell my parents, none of my explanations made sense. No, I wasn’t worried I’d stop breathing, not exactly. Yes, I knew I was still actually breathing because I’d be passed out if I wasn’t. Yes, I knew it was all ridiculous.

The “breathing thing” as I called it, continued on into adulthood. Eventually I went to a doctor, who gave me nasal spray. Then another doctor, who told me it was GAD. Then a psychologist, and then another. More GAD diagnosis. Nothing really made sense, and finally, I simply gave up.

Sometimes the obsession would retreat for a while, and I’d feel almost normal. I’d go for months like that, thinking I was okay. And then something would trigger it, and it was back into another endless cycle of obsession. It ate up weeks of my life, including an entire vacation at a beautiful resort, where I spent seven full days trapped in my own head, wrestling with this obsession (I hardly remember anything about that trip).

Each time I’d think about trying to get help for it, I’d remember the doctors and psychologists I’d already seen, and how hard it was to explain this, and I’d give up all over again.

Then, a little over two years ago, I was talking to a good friend, L.D. Crichton, author of All Our Broken Pieces, and she mentioned that the book she was currently writing was something she was very emotionally attached to, that she was putting all her fear and worries and anxiety onto those pages, and it was an incredible feeling.

It felt like something in me woke up at that moment, a strange, intense kind of need, and all I could think was, I want that.

But I wasn’t sure how to do that. I’m a fantasy writer. I write about magic. Wizards and witches and portraits that come alive and try to murder people. Where in this type of work, did mental health fit?

The book I was working on in that moment was about rival covens in Ireland. It was about witches, yes, but it was set in contemporary times, which made me think, why not? Why couldn’t I put all my mental health struggles into my main character? The anxiety, the doctors, the psychologists, the frustrations of not feeling like your diagnosis matches.

And so I did.

The process was intense, to say the least. It was simultaneously relieving and triggering. I would write for long hours and then have to take breaks for a few days, just to pull myself out of my own head. But once it was all done and on the page, it felt like a triumph. Like I had overcome my anxiety and triggers and written this book, and that was truly a feat.

But as I finished, and began to read it over with revisions in mind, there was something else aside from my triumph I was feeling, a kind of growing certainty that I’d never had before. Rereading bits of the narrative, my character’s thoughts and feelings, made it clearer than it had ever been. The doctors had been wrong. The psychologists had been wrong. This was not panic disorder, or general anxiety disorder, or PPD, as one psychologist tried to diagnose me with after the birth of my child. None of those things fit. None of them made sense. I had been talking to one professional after another, but none of them had listened. Not really.

After this realization, I dove into research with a newly found fire. Article after article, online forums and facebook pages and twitter threads. I searched all the keywords I could possibly think of. And finally I hit on something that seemed to match. Something that described me with alarming accuracy.

Determined, I went hunting through psychologists, and found one who specialized in OCD. An expert in this specific area.

It took one session with him. A short initial interview, and an on paper test that I ticked off—yes, yes, yes, yes, all of the above—and that…was that.

Somatic OCD. A subtype of OCD focused on autonomic, or non-conscious body processes and functions.

I stumbled out into the bright sunshine after the session, a little stunned. It felt surreal, having lived with this since the age of five, and just now finally getting confirmation that yes, I was right. Yes, I wasn’t overreacting or imagining things. I felt complete and utter relief.

I would feel other things later. Anger, that I’d lost so much time to this obsession. Hurt, that I’d never been able to articulate myself properly to my family. Indignation, that our mental health system had allowed me and so many others to slip through the cracks…

But I think I’ve finally settled in a good place. Witches of Ash and Ruin not only helped me get my diagnosis, I can now use it to connect with readers like me. People who are struggling to understand what’s happening to them. People who aren’t aware that OCD can look radically different in different people. And people who are just hungry to see themselves in a fantasy novel, which many of us with mental illnesses never get to experience.

And  I will forever be grateful to the writing experience that led me here. I finally have help. Confidence. Clarity. It just took twenty-seven years and a book about murderous Irish Gods and sapphic witches in order to get here.

Meet E. Latimer

photo credit: Becky Forsayeth

E. Latimer is a fantasy writer from Victoria, BC. Her middle grade novel, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray was published by Tundra Books, and was nominated for the Red Maple Fiction Award.

In her spare time, she writes books, makes silly vlogs with the Word Nerds about writing, and reads excessively.

Her latest novel, Witches of Ash and Ruin, was released March 3rd from Little Brown.

Find out more at http://www.elatimer.com/

About Witches of Ash and Ruin

Modern witchcraft blends with ancient Celtic mythology in an epic clash of witches and gods, perfect for fans of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy and CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA.

Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is struggling to cope with her somatic OCD; the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town; and the return of her long-absent mother, who barely seems like a parent. But all that really matters to her is ascending and finally, finally becoming a full witch-plans that are complicated when another coven, rumored to have a sordid history with black magic, arrives in town with premonitions of death. Dayna immediately finds herself at odds with the bewitchingly frustrating Meiner King, the granddaughter of their coven leader.

And then a witch turns up murdered at a local sacred site, along with the blood symbol of the Butcher of Manchester-an infamous serial killer whose trail has long gone cold. The killer’s motives are enmeshed in a complex web of witches and gods, and Dayna and Meiner soon find themselves at the center of it all. If they don’t stop the Butcher, one of them will be next.

With razor-sharp prose and achingly real characters, E. Latimer crafts a sweeping, mesmerizing story of dark magic and brutal mythology set against a backdrop of contemporary Ireland that’s impossible to put down.

ISBN-13: 9781368052252
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 03/03/2020
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years