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1. Thirteen Scary YA Books: Diverse Edition

Thirteen Scary YA Books (diverse edition)
Halloween is right around the corner. There’s no better way to celebrate than by reading books that will scare you to pieces! Here’s a lucky thirteen list of our favorites (all featuring diverse characters or by diverse authors):

  1. Half WorldHalf World by Hiromi Goto – Melanie Tamaki lives with her mother in abject poverty. Then, her mother disappears. Melanie must journey to the mysterious Half World to save her.
  2. Vodnik by Bryce Moore – Sixteen-year-old Tomas moves back to Slovakia with his family and discovers the folktales of his childhood were more than just stories.
  3. The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa – Allie Sekemoto survives by scavenging for food by day. She hates the vampires who keep humans like cattle for their food. Until the day she dies and wakes up as a vampire.
  4. Liar by Justine Larbalestier – Micah is a liar; it’s the only thing she’ll tell you the truth about. But when her boyfriend Zach is murdered, the whole truth has to come out.
  5. Battle Royale by Koushan Takami – A group of junior high school students are sent to an island and forced to fight to the death until only one of them survives.
  6. Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall – Odilia and her sisters discover a Wolf Mark coverdead man’s body while swimming in the Rio Grande. They journey across Mexico to return his body in this Odyssey-inspired tale.
  7. Devil’s Kiss by Sarwat Chadda – Zombies, ghouls, and vampires all make appearances in the story of Bilquis SanGreal, the youngest and only female member of the Knights Templar.
  8. Panic by Sharon Draper – Diamond knows better than to get into a car with a stranger. But when the stranger offers her the chance to dance in a movie, Diamond makes a very wrong decision.
  9. Ten by Gretchen McNeil – Ten teens head to a secluded island for an exclusive party…until people start to die. A modern YA retelling of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.
  10. Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac – Inspired by the Abenaki skinwalker legend, this YA thriller is Burn Notice with werewolves.
  11. The Girl From The WellThe Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco – A dead girl roams the streets, hunting murders. A strange tattooed boy moves to the neighborhood with a deadly secret.
  12. 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad –  Three teenagers win the vacation of a lifetime: a week-long trip to the moon. But something sinister is waiting for them in the black vacuum of space.
  13. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake – Cas Lowood is a ghost hunter, called to Thunder Bay, Ontario to get rid of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, who has killed every person who has stepped foot in the house she haunts.

What else would you add to the list?


Filed under: Diversity in YA, Diversity, Race, and Representation, Lee & Low Likes, Tu Books Tagged: African/African American Interest, Asian/Asian American, Book Lists by Topic, diversity, halloween, Joseph Bruchac, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, list, Multiracial, Native American, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Teens/YA, Tu Books

3 Comments on Thirteen Scary YA Books: Diverse Edition, last added: 10/17/2014
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2. New Visions Award Reminder

New Visions Award sealWe’ve been excited to receive so many great manuscripts for our second annual New Visions Award! We just wanted to give you a reminder that the contest ends October 31, 2014, so get those manuscripts in! The New Visions Award, which was created in 2012, will be given to a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color. Established by Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW that publishes YA and middle grade science fiction and fantasy, the award is a fantastic chance for new authors of color to break into the world of publishing for young readers.

The New Visions Award is modeled after Lee & Low’s successful New Voices Award, which was established in 2000 and is given annually to a picture book written by an unpublished author of color. This award has led to the publication of several award-winning children’s books, including It Jes’ Happened by Don Tate and Bird by Zetta Elliott.

Details

The New Visions contest is open to writers of color who are residents of the United States and who have not previously had a middle grade or young adult novel published.

Manuscripts will be accepted now through October 31, 2014. The winner of the New Visions Award will receive a prize of $1000 and our standard publication contract. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500. For further details, including full eligibility and submission guidelines, please visit the New Visions Award page.

If you have any questions about submissions, eligibility, or anything else, feel free to drop them in the comments and we’ll try to answer them. And please spread the word to any aspiring authors you know who might be interested. We look forward to reading your entries!

Keep the manuscripts coming everyone!

Further reading:

New Visions Award: What Not to Do

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part I

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part II

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part III

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part IV

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part V: Diversity in Genre Fiction


Filed under: Awards, New Voices/New Visions Award, Tu Books Tagged: writers of color, writing award, writing contest

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3. Cover Reveal: Rose Eagle

Last fall, Tu Books released Killer of Enemies, a post-apocalyptic steampunk adventure by Joseph Bruchac. Readers were introduced to seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen, a kick-butt warrior who kills monsters to ensure the safety of her family.

Set to be released next month, Joseph Bruchac has written an e-novella that’s a prequel to Killer of Enemies, titled Rose Eagle.

Rose Eagle is set in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where readers are introduced to seventeen-year-old Rose Eagle of the Lakota tribe who is trying to find her place in a post-apocalyptic world.

Before the Silver Cloud, the Lakota were forced to work in the Deeps, mining for ore so that the Ones, the overlords, could continue their wars. But when the Cloud came and enveloped Earth, all electronics were shut off. Some miners were trapped in the deepest Deeps and suffocated, but the Lakota were warned to escape, and the upper Deeps became a place of refuge for them in a post-Cloud world.

In the midst of this chaos, Rose Eagle’s aunt has a dream: Rose will become a medicine woman, a healer. She sends Rose into the Black Hills on a quest to find healing for their people.

Gangly and soft-spoken, Rose is no warrior. She seeks medicine, not danger. Nevertheless, danger finds her, but love and healing soon follow. When Rose Eagle completes her quest, she may return with more than she ever thought she was looking for.

rose eagle coverThanks to the following blogs for participating in the Rose Eagle cover reveal:

Beyond Victoriana

Finding Wonderland

Rich in Color

We can’t wait to hear what you think of the cover!


Filed under: Book News, Cover Design, New Releases, Tu Books Tagged: black hills, cover reveal, dystopia, family, first love, friendship, genetic engineering, healer, healing, Joseph Bruchac, Killer of Enemies, lakota, medicine woman, mining, native americans, novella, rose eagle, science fiction, south dakota, steampunk

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4. Ask an Editor: Nailing the Story

In this series, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares advice for aspiring authors, especially those considering submitting to our New Visions Award

Last week on the blog, I talked about hooking the reader early and ways to write so you have that “zing” that captivates from the very beginning. This week, I wanted to go into more detail about the story and plot itself. When teaching at writing conferences, my first question to the audience is this:

 What is the most important thing about a multicultural book?

I let the audience respond for a little while, and many people have really good answers: getting the culture right, authenticity, understanding the character… these are all important things in diverse books.

But I think that the most important part of a diverse novel is the same thing that’s the most important thing about any novel: a good story. All of the other components of getting diversity right won’t matter if you don’t have a good story! And getting those details wrong affects how good the story is for me and for many readers.

So as we continue our series discussing things to keep in mind as you polish your New Visions Award manuscripts, let’s move the discussion on to how to write a good story, beyond just following the directions and getting a good hook in your first few pages. This week, we’ll focus on refining plot.

Here are a few of the kinds of comments readers might make if your plot isn’t quite there yet:

  • Part of story came out of nowhere (couldn’t see connection)
  • Too confusing
  • Confusing backstory
  • Plot not set up well enough in first 3 chapters
  • Bizarre plot
  • Confusing plot—jumped around too much
  • underdeveloped plot
  • Too complicated
  • Excessive detail/hard to keep track
  • Too hard to follow, not sure what world characters are in

We’ll look at pacing issues too, as they’re often related:

  • Chapters way too long
  • Pacing too slow (so slow hard to see where story is going)
  • Nothing gripped me
  • Too predictable

block quote 1Getting your plot and pacing right is a complicated matter. Just being able to see whether something is dragging too long or getting too convoluted can be hard when you’re talking about anywhere from fifty to a hundred thousand words, all in one long file. Entire books have been written on how to plot a good science fiction and fantasy book. More books have been written on how to plot a good mystery. If you need more in-depth work on this topic, refer to them (see the list at the end of this post).

So we won’t get too in depth here, but let’s cover a few points.

Know your target audience

When you’re writing for children, especially young children (middle grade, chapter books, and below), your plot should be much more linear than a plot for older readers who can hold several threads in their heads at once.

Teens are developmentally ready for more complications—many of them move up to adult novels during this age, after all—but YA as a category is generally simpler on plot structure than adult novels in the same genre. This is not to say the books are simple-minded. Just not as convoluted… usually. (This varies with the book—and how well the author can pull it off. Can you?)

But the difference between middle grade and YA is there for a reason—kids who are 7 or 8 or 9 years old and newly independent readers need plots that challenge them but don’t confuse them. And even adults get confused if so much is going on at once that we can’t keep things straight. Remember what we talked about last time regarding backstory—sometimes we don’t need to know everything all at once. What is the core of your story?

Linear plot

Note that “too complicated” is one of the main complaints of plot-related comments readers had while reading submissions to the last New Visions Award.

Don’t say, “But Writer Smith wrote The Curly-Eared Bunny’s Revenge for middle graders and it had TEN plot threads going at once!” Writer Smith may have done it successfully, but in general, there shouldn’t be more than one main plot and a small handful of subplots happening in a stand-alone novel for middle-grade readers.

If you intend your book to be the first in a series of seven or ten or a hundred books, you might have seeds in mind you’d like to plant for book seventy-two. Unless you’re contracted to write a hundred books, though, the phrase here to remember is stand-alone with series potential. Even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was pretty straightforward in its plotting—hinting at backstory, but not dumping backstory on readers in book one; setting the stage for potential conflicts down the road but not introducing them beforetime. Book 1 of Harry Potter really could have just stood on its own and never gone on to book 2. It wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying as having the full 7-book arc, but note how seamlessly details were woven in, not calling attention to themselves even though they’re setting the stage for something later. Everything serves the linear plot of the main arc of book 1’s story. We only realize later that those details were doing double duty.

Thus, when you’re writing for children and young adults, remember that a linear main plot is your priority, and that anything in the story that is not serving the main plot is up on the chopping block, only to be saved if it proves its service to the main plot is true.block quote 2Plotting affects pace

In genre fiction for young readers, pacing is always an issue. Pacing can get bogged down by too many subplots—the reader gets annoyed or bored when it takes forever to get back to the main thrust of the story when you’re wandering in the byways of the world you created.

Fantasy readers love worldbuilding (to be covered in another post), but when writing for young readers, make sure that worldbuilding serves as much to move the plot forward as to simply show off some cool worldbuilding. Keep it moving along.

Character affects plot

This was not a complaint from the last New Visions Award, but another thing to keep in mind when plotting is that as your rising action brings your character into new complications, the character’s personality will affect his or her choices—which will affect which direction the plot moves. We’ll discuss characterization more another day, but just keep in mind that the plot is dependent upon the choices of your characters and the people around them (whether antagonists or otherwise). Even in a plot that revolves around a force of nature (tornado stories, for example), who the character is (or is becoming) will determine whether the plot goes in one direction or another.

Find an organizational method that works for you

This is not a craft recommendation so much as a tool. Plotting a novel can get overwhelming. You need a method of keeping track of who is going where when, and why. There are multiple methods for doing this.

Scrivener doesn’t work for all writers, so it might not be your thing, but I recommend trying out its corkboard feature, which allows you to connect summaries of plot points on a virtual corkboard to chapters in your book. If you need to move a plot point, the chapter travels along for the ride.

An old-fashioned corkboard where you can note plot points and move them around might be just as easy as entering them in Scrivener, if you like the more tactile approach.

Another handy tool is Cheryl Klein’s Plot Checklist, which has a similar purpose: it makes the writer think about the reason each plot point is in the story, and whether those points serve the greater story.

Whether you use a physical corkboard, a white board, Scrivener, or a form of outlining, getting the plot points into a form where you can see everything happening at once can help you to see where things are getting gummed up.

Further resources

This post is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to plotting a book. Here are some books and essays that will be of use to the writer seeking to fix his or her plot problems. (Note that some of these resources will be more useful to some writers than others, and vice versa. Find what works for you.)

  • “Muddles, Morals, and Making It Through: Or Plots and Popularity,” by Cheryl Klein in her book of essays on writing and revising, Second Sight.
  • In the same book by Cheryl Klein, “Quartet: Plot” and her plot checklist.
  • The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson
  • I haven’t had experience with this resource, but writer friends suggest the 7-point plot ideas of Larry Brooks, which is covered both in a blog series and in his books

And remember!

 

keep calm and write on

Further Reading:

New Visions Award: What NOT to Do

Ask an Editor: Hooking the Reader Early

The New Visions Guidelines

Stacy Whitman photoStacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. 


Filed under: Awards, New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: fantasy, fantasy writing, New Visions Award, plotlines, sci-fi writing, science fiction, writing, writing 101, writing award, writing tips, young adult

1 Comments on Ask an Editor: Nailing the Story, last added: 8/11/2014
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5. Submit Your Novel to Our New Visions Award for New Authors of Color

New Visions Award seal

We are thrilled to announce that submissions for our second annual New Visions Award are now open! The New Visions Award, which was created in 2012, will be given to a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color. Established by Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW that publishes YA and middle grade science fiction and fantasy, the award is a fantastic chance for new authors of color to break into the world of publishing for young readers.

With the recent uproar over the lack of diversity at this year’s BookCon that led to the creation of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, to articles in the New York Times by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers addressing the lack of diversity in children’s books, it’s obvious that readers want to see more writers of color represented. It is our hope that the New Visions Award will help new authors begin long and successful careers and bring new perspectives and voices to the science fiction, fantasy, and mystery genres.

The New Visions Award is modeled after Lee & Low’s successful New Voices Award, which was established in 2000 and is given annually to a picture book written by an unpublished author of color. This award has led to the publication of several award-winning children’s books, including It Jes’ Happened by Don Tate and Bird by Zetta Elliott.

Details

The New Visions contest is open to writers of color who are residents of the United States and who have not previously had a middle grade or young adult novel published.

Manuscripts will be accepted now through October 31, 2014. The winner of the New Visions Award will receive a grant of $1000 and our standard publication contract. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500. For further details, including full eligibility and submission guidelines, please visit the New Visions Award page.

If you have any questions about submissions, eligibility, or anything else, feel free to drop them in the comments and we’ll try to answer them. And please spread the word to any aspiring authors you know who might be interested. We look forward to reading your entries!

Further reading:

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part I

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part II

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part III

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part IV

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part V: Diversity in Genre Fiction


Filed under: Awards, Diversity in YA, Diversity, Race, and Representation, New Voices/New Visions Award, Tu Books Tagged: diversity in writing, middle grade, middle grade writing, New Visions, science fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy, writing contest, young adult, young adult writing

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6. 20 YA Novels for Thinking Adults: A Diverse List

There has been a lot of controversy this week surrounding that now-infamous Slate article saying that adults should be embarrassed to read YA. Here at LEE & LOW, we couldn’t disagree more. We don’t think your enjoyment of a book should be limited by your age (or anything at all, really). YA novels are great. They can be entertaining, literary, thought-provoking, funny, sad, or all of the above at the same time.

There have been several excellent lists of YA recommendations floating around this week, so we thought we’d add our own. Here is a list (a diverse list, of course!) of YA novels that made us think, featuring some great books from LEE & LOW and some of our favorites from other publishers:

1. Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)

When Odilia and her four sisters find a dead body in the swimming hole, they embark on a hero’s journey to return the dead man to his family in Mexico. But returning home to Texas turns into an odyssey that would rival Homer’s original tale.

2. How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents by Julia Alvarez (Algonquin Books)

Uprooted from their family home in the Dominican Republic, the four Garcia sisters – Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia – arrive in New York City in 1960 to find a life far different from the genteel existence of maids, manicures, and extended family they left behind.

3. Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Lee & Low Books)Under the Mesquite

As the oldest of eight siblings, Lupita is used to taking the lead—and staying busy behind the scenes to help keep everyone together. But when she discovers Mami has been diagnosed with cancer, Lupita is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit Mexican American family.

4. Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas (Vintage)

Thirty years ago Piri Thomas made literary history with this lacerating, lyrical memoir of his coming of age on the streets of Spanish Harlem.

5. Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac (Tu Books)

This thriller is a totally new take on vampires and werewolves, featuring a Native American character and by a Native author.

6. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic)

A coming-of-age tale for young adults set in the trenches of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, this is the story of Perry, a Harlem teenager who volunteers for the service when his dream of attending college falls through.

7. Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac (Tu Books)

This postapocalyptic book with a steampunk twist was inspired by the real-life Apache warrior Lozen.

8. Drift by M.K. Hutchins (Tu Books)

Tenjat joins a dangerous defense to protect his island home from the monsters who threaten it in this fresh new high fantasy inspired by Maya and Indian folklore, by a talented debut author.

9. If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson  (Speak)

Both Elisha (Ellie) and Jeremiah (Miah) attend Percy Academy, a private school where neither quite fits in. Ellie is wrestling with family demons, and Miah is one of the few African American students. The two of them find each other, and fall in love — but they are hesitant to share their newfound The dead and the gonehappiness with their friends and families, who will not understand.

10. More Than This by Patrick Ness (Candlewick)

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies. Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive. How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place? As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

11. Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman (HarperTeen)

Shawn McDaniel is glued to his wheelchair, unable to move a muscle. His life is not what it may seem to anyone looking at him. Not even those who love him best have any idea what he is truly like.

12. The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer (HMH Books for Young Readers)

This harrowing companion novel to Life As We Knew It examines that book’s apocalyptic event–an asteroid hitting the moon, setting off a tailspin of horrific climate changes–as it unfolds in New York City, revealed through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Puerto Rican Alex Morales.

13. Farewell to Manzanar by James D. Houston and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston  (HMH Books for Young Readers)

This story follows Jeanne Wakatsuki, a seven-year-old child whose family is placed in the Manzanar internment camp during World War II.

14. The Tankborn series by Karen Sandler (Tu Books)

This thought-provoking dystopian trilogy with a hard science fiction edge deals with genetic engineering, slavery, and what it means to be human.

 

15. Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse)

Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she’s made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings.

16. If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth (Arthur A. Levine Books)

This wry and moving novel follows Lewis “Shoe” Blake, a teen living on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975.

17. Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

This YA novel follows three New York City teens during and after the September 11th attacks.In Darkness

18. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Simon & Schuster)

This beautiful story of love and friendship, which takes place in 1980s El Paso, follows two very different boys who form a special bond.

19. In Darkness by Nick Lake (Bloomsbury)

This complex YA novel, winner of the Printz Award, tells the parallel stories of Toussant L’Ouverture, the leader of Haiti’s slave revolt two hundred years ago, and modern day Haitian teen “Shorty,” buried in the rubble after Haiti’s earthquake.

20. The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Arthur A. Levine)

A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.

 


Filed under: Book Lists by Topic, Educator Resources Tagged: diverse YA, Teens/YA, Tu Books, young adult

3 Comments on 20 YA Novels for Thinking Adults: A Diverse List, last added: 6/16/2014
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7. Out today: Drift and Rebellion

Warm weather is finally here! Get those summer reading lists ready because we’re excited to announce the release of two new YA novels from our Tu Books imprint: Drift, a high fantasy adventure that takes place on the shores of Hell, and Rebellion, the thrilling final book in Karen Sandler’s Tankborn series.

drift, by m.k. hutchins

In Drift, Tenjat lives on the shores of Hell, an ocean filled with ravenous naga monsters. His island, a massive Turtle, is slowed by the people living on its back. Tenjat is poor as poor gets: poor enough, even, to condescend to the shame of marriage, so his children can help support him one day. But Tenjat has a plan to avoid this fate. He will join the Handlers, those who defend and rule the island. As an epic naga battle approaches, Tenjat’s training intensifies, but a long-hidden family secret—not to mention his own growing feelings for his trainer—put his plans in jeopardy, and might threaten the very survival of his island.

Read an excerpt. Learn more about Drift and author M.K. Hutchins here.

rebellion

In Rebellion, the Tankborn story comes to its thrilling conclusion as questions are answered after the devastating bomb blast that ended Awakening. Kayla has been brought to the headquarters of the organization that planted the bomb, and many others like it, in GEN food warehouses and homes. Her biological mother tells her that Devak is dead and that Kayla must join their terrorist group, which is ramping up for something big. Now Kayla must pretend to embrace this new role in an underground compound full of paranoia as she plots a way to escape and save her friends.

Read an excerpt. Learn more about the Tankborn trilogy and author Karen Sandler here.

Happy book birthday to our newest releases! You can purchase them on our website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local independent bookseller (if copies are not in stock, they can always order them for you). And of course, they’re also available as e-books.


Filed under: Book News, Diversity in YA, New Releases, Tu Books Tagged: diverse YA, drift, fantasy, Karen Sandler, m.k. hutchins, rebellion, Science Fiction/Fantasy, ya books, young adult

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8. book review: Drift

maintitle: Drift

author: M. K. Hutchins

date: Tu Books, May 2014

main character: Tenjat

M.K. Hutchins gave herself one helluva challenge of world building with this one. I think she’s taught me that when reading speculative fiction, it’s advisable to look for the author’s notes in order to better understand this new world and the premise upon which it is built. The island world of turtle’s she created really was well crafted and readers quickly become invested in it. I just couldn’t get past how and why a civilization would live on the backs of turtles but after reading her notes and understanding the mythology she used, I had a better understanding.

Tenjat and his father are described as having brown faces. Little other reference to skin color is provided, although some characters are describe as being shaded like the wood. There are distinct differences in the roles of men and women and the worst thing anyone can be called is ‘hub’, short for husband. This is because being a husband and having children selfishly weighs down the turtle. Tenjat wants to become a Handler so that he can better provide for his sister and himself. Just before entering the tree for his training, thoughts are planed that have Tenjat questioning everything he’s come to know. How will he find answers?

Hutchins writes a unique fantasy based in multiple mythologies in which she explores gender based roles, family structures, the environment and what we essentially believe about the cycle of life and death. I did eventually like this story. While reading, I had a difficult time getting a grasp on Eflet’s age (Eflet is his younger sister). I couldn’t figure out how they breathed underwater, either. Character development was lax, as is often the case in action driven stories. But, there are stregnths in Huthin’s writings. Layers of explanations for personal and societal battles are slowly peeled away as Tenjat begins to have things revealed to him. She does a good job of maintaining suspense.

Drift is a very unique book both in its plot and in its issues. The complexities hit me big time at the end and they have left me considering and questioning many things. A book that leaves you with many considerations is a good book!

M.K. Hutchins has had short fiction appear in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show and Daily Science Fiction. Drift is her debut novel.


Filed under: Book Reviews Tagged: speculative fiction, Tu Books

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9. M.K. Hutchins Blog Tour: On Mythology, Maya Culture, & More!

To celebrate the release of her debut novel Drift last week, author M.K. Hutchins has been stopping by blogs throughout the week to talk about her writing process, Maya culture, and more.

drift, m.k. hutchins

Here’s a bit about Drift:

There’s no place for love on the shores of hell.

Tenjat lives on the shores of Hell, an ocean filled with ravenous naga monsters. His island, a massive Turtle, is slowed by the people living on its back. Tenjat is poor as poor gets: poor enough, even, to condescend to the shame of marriage, so his children can help support him one day.

But Tenjat has a plan to avoid this fate. He will join the Handlers, those who defend and rule the island. Handlers never marry, and they can even provide for an additional family member. Against his sister’s wishes, Tenjat joins the Handlers. And just in time: the Handlers are ramping up for a dangerous battle against the naga monsters, and they need every fighter they can get.

As the naga battle approaches, Tenjat’s training intensifies, but a long-hidden family secret—not to mention his own growing feelings for Avi—put his plans in jeopardy, and might threaten the very survival of his island.

You can read sample chapters from Drift online hereKirkus Reviews has called it “totally fresh” and Sarah Beth Durst, author of Vessel and Conjured, has called it “a fantastic adventure set in a stunning, original world. . . . Some of the best worldbuilding I’ve ever read.”

M.K. Hutchins’ tour schedule is below, so if you haven’t picked up Drift or you have and loved it, check out the following blogs for some great insight and conversation into this fantastic world!

June 19: John Scalzi’s Whatever BlogM.K. Hutchins on worldbuilding and cultural ecology here

June 20: Supernatural Snark – M.K. Hutchins on being inspired by Maya mythology here.

June 23: It’s All About Books – M.K. Hutchins’ top 5 most influential books here.

June 25: Read Now Sleep Later - Check back for the link!

June 26: The Brain Lair - Check back for the link!

Still want to learn more about M.K. Hutchins and Drift? Check out her blog and follow her on Twitter!


Filed under: Book News, Diversity in YA, New Releases, Tu Books Tagged: blog tour, debut author, drift, fantasy, m.k. hutchins

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10. Ask an Editor: Worldbuilding in Speculative Fiction, Part II


Stacy Whitman photoStacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of 
Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. Parts of this blog post were originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

Last week, I discussed why worldbuilding in speculative fiction can be so challenging for authors. How do we introduce a completely new world without infodumping or confusing readers? I gave some examples of worldbuilding done well in popular YA science fiction and fantasy: The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Twilight. In all these cases, the starting point is in some way relatable, or there is something about the character (Tris, Katniss) that hooks the reader. First pages should be character- and plot-driven, and worldbuilding should support rather than dominate. That gives these books an easy entry point and wide appeal.

There are three primary approaches to worldbuilding:

Reader learns world alongside character

Readers of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Twilight figure out the world alongside the main character. Information is spooled out as the character learns it, so the reader doesn’t have to absorb everything at once. This is a low bar for entry, not requiring much synthesis of information. The character is almost a stand-in for the reader.

Exposition: questions raised, then answered

What about Hunger Games? Now it gets a little tougher. Suzanne Collins starts out with a perfectly relatable (if a tiny bit cliche) situation, the main character waking up and seeing her family. We get some exposition on Katniss’s family and the cat who hates her.

But it becomes non-cliche by page 2, when we learn about the Reaping. Ah! What’s the Reaping, you ask? We don’t know yet. Now the bar for entry is raised. There is a question, the answer for which you’re going to have to read further to find out. The infodumpage level is low, but there is still some exposition in the next few pages, letting us know that Katniss lives in a place called District 12, nicknamed the Seam, and that her town is enclosed by a fence that is sometimes electrified—and which is supposed to be electrified all the time.

Collins’s approach to spooling out a little information at a time is to explain each new term as she goes, but some readers think that feels unnatural in a first person voice because the narrator would already know these things, so why is she explaining them to the reader?

It depends on the story, in my opinion—Collins makes it work because of how she crafted Katniss’s voice. It is a very fine line to walk—I can’t tell you how many submissions I’ve received that start out with, “My name is X. I am Y years old. I live in a world that does Z,” an obvious example of how this approach becomes downright clumsy when not handled with Collins-esque finesse.

“Incluing”: questions raised, then reader infers answers bit by bit

Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, in which the reader is given clues to work out rather than having any new terms explained to them. This approach needs just as much, if not more, finesse. It’s a process that some readers who are new to speculative fiction might stumble over the most, which is why I think there’s so little of it in middle grade and YA fantasy and science fiction. I’ve seen it called “incluing,” which is a silly word, but I don’t know of another name for it and the description of incluing in that Wikipedia link is exactly the kind of worldbuilding I—as a lifelong fantasy fan—prefer to see in the beginning of a book, particularly one set in a world that has no connection to our own, or if it’s in the future of our world far enough into the future that the society is unrecognizable to us, such as the society in Tankborn. Karen Sandler does a wonderful job at incluing readers as we read chapter 1 of the first book in the Tankborn trilogy.

The prominent example I like to give writers for this kind of worldbuilding is from The Golden Compass. Check out the first paragraph of that book:

“Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen. The three great tables that ran the length of the hall were laid already, the silver and the glass catching what little light there was, and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests. Portraits of former Masters hung high up in the gloom along the walls. Lyra reached the dais and looked back at the open kitchen door, and, seeing no one, stepped up beside the high table.”

Pullman jumps right into the scene, with Lyra sneaking down the dining hall with her daemon. We’re hooked—she’s doing something sneaky, and we don’t know what. And we want to know. We don’t even know what the daemon physically looks like until paragraph 4, and even then we don’t know why he’s called a daemon or what makes a daemon special.

What is a daemon, anyway? We don’t know! In fact, this is one of the major conflicts of the book—we need to read more to find out about daemons, and further mysteries are revealed as we read that deepen our understanding of daemons and of Lyra’s world in general. As we discover more clues that intrigue us, we want to know more, and keep reading.

But the line between intriguing the reader and confusing the reader is very thin, and I would argue that for some readers it’s in a different place than for others. Those of us who are familiar with fantasy might be more willing to patiently wait for more information about daemons because we trust that this author will let us know what we need to know when the time is right. We know that they’re teasing us with this information so as not to overburden us within the first few pages of the book (or, in the case of The Golden Compass, because the reader can’t know what the majority of people in that world don’t know, either).

Tankborn coverIn situations in which you need to establish a world that’s entirely different from our own, I find that putting a character in a situation that’s somewhat familiar to the reader can help with establishing the unfamiliar. In Karen Sandler’s Tankborn, for example, Kayla has to watch her little brother instead of going to a street fair with her friends. While Kayla calls him her “nurture brother” instead of just her brother, it’s still a situation to which a lot of readers can relate, even if it is set on another planet and her brother is catching nasty arachnid-based sewer toads instead of familiar Earth frogs and toads.

M. K. Hutchins, author of Drift, approached it in a completely different way. She starts with a dangerous situation—a family on the run from authorities, splitting up. The mother, our main character Tenjat, and his sister Eflet are embarking on a terrible journey that’s almost certain death, setting off on a raft in the middle of the night into an ocean full of snake-like monsters, and leaving the family’s father and smallest brother behind to face unknown punishment. While perhaps no reader has been chased by authorities in the middle of the night, it is a dangerous situation and a parting of family—mixing the familiar (family) with the unfamiliar (a dangerous situation in a completely new setting).Drift

It’s the difference between showing and telling. Philip Pullman, Karen Sandler, and M. K. Hutchins all show us how their worlds works, rather than pausing to tell us how it works (“in this world, all people are born with an animal companion called a daemon”).

Telling can work, though, especially in small doses—Katniss’s voice is so conversational that the brief moments of telling in the first few pages of The Hunger Games work, particularly because Collins is mostly showing what Katniss is up to. The brief pauses to “infodump” feel like the reader is being told a story by a storyteller, like a friend telling a story over the kitchen table after a nice big meal would pause and explain something you didn’t understand (a friend who’s a very good storyteller). It’s an awareness of audience that most speculative fiction doesn’t have the luxury of.

Showing isn’t always better, and telling isn’t always bad, when done right and mixed in with showing. Whichever method you use, remember that sometimes readers will trip over new words so you need to give them as much context as possible without over-infodumping.

And here is where the art comes in. I can’t tell you what that balance is, but if you look at examples like the ones above, you’ll get a better feel for how much to reveal and how much to hold back in your first few pages—revealing enough to orient your reader and give them a sense of the differences of this world (while grounding them in something familiar like Lyra’s hallway or Katniss’s humble home) while seeking to avoid overburdening them with too much all at once.

What about you? How have you found the right balance of introducing your world without overburdening the reader? What books do you recommend that do this particularly well?

 


Filed under: Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: fantasy writing, science fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy, stacy whitman, Tu Books, worldbuilding, writing advice, writing resources, writing tips, young adult writing

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11. New Visions Award: What Not to Do

Stacy Whitman photoStacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. In this blog post, she discusses what she is—and is not—looking for from New Visions Award contest submissions.

This year is the second year we’ve held our New Visions Award, a writing contest seeking new writers of color for middle grade and young adult science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. Tu Books is a relatively new imprint, and so is our award, which is modeled after the New Voices Award, now in its 15th year of seeking submissions.

Much like the editors who are in charge of the New Voices Award for picture books, for the New Visions Award, I love seeing submissions that follow the submissions guidelines and stories that stand out from a crowd. I look for science fiction, fantasy, and mystery stories that understand the age group they’re targeted at, with strong characters, strong worldbuilding, and if there is a romance, I hope that it avoids cliches.

During the first New Visions Award, our readers made notes on the manuscripts explaining what they enjoyed and what made them stop reading, particularly the things that made them not want to read further than the sample chapters in the initial phase of the contest. For the next few weeks, I’ll delve a little further into those things that made readers stop reading, and then we’ll talk about making your writing have the zing that makes an editor want to read more.

Today, let’s cover the most obvious reasons a New Visions Award reader might stop reading immediately.

  • Main character isn’t a person of color
  • Unclear if main character is a person of color (& not made clear in any supporting materials)
  • Basic formatting rules ignored: single-spaced, no tabs, no paragraph breaks, rules of punctuation ignored to the point it was impossible to read the text
  • Chapters at times seemed to be combined to ensure more text would be read, which made them super long and terribly paced
  • Duplicate submission from the author (stopped reading the duplicate—of course we read the original!)
  • Already read as a regular submission and didn’t see any significant changes
  • Author not eligible (published previously in YA or MG, not a person of color, not based in the US)
  • Book was a picture book (this would be a New Voices submission, not a New Visions submission) or a short story (not long enough to be a novel)

The obvious solution to making sure your submission is right for this contest is to make sure to read the contest submission guidelines before sending your submission. If you are not a writer of color, or if you live in a country outside the US, we do want to read your manuscript, but not for this contest. Watch our regular submission guidelines for when we’ll open again to unsolicited submissions.

Make sure you format your manuscript in a way that it can be read. If you’re new to writing, be sure to have someone check it over for typos, correct grammar and spelling, correct punctuation, etc. We won’t reject your manuscript for a typo or two, but there is a point at which the story is no longer being communicated because the reader gets tripped up by the errors. Make sure your manuscript is as clean as you can make it.

Next time, we’ll talk about hooking the reader with your story. Happy writing!


Filed under: New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: formatting manuscripts, weneeddiversebooks, writing award, writing contest, writing tips

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12. Ask an Editor: Hooking the Reader Early

In this series, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares advice for aspiring authors, especially those considering submitting to our New Visions Award

Last week on the blog, I talked about the importance of following submission guidelines and basic manuscript format. This week, I wanted to go into more detail about why a reader might stop reading if they’re not hooked right away. Here are some comments I’ve heard our readers make about manuscripts that didn’t hook them:

  • Story does not captivate in first few chapters
  • Boring
  • Writing not strong, or not strong enough to hold a young reader’s (or teen’s) interest
  • Parts of the writing are very strange (not in a good way)
  • Sounded too artificial
  • Reminds me too much of something that’s really popular
  • Too Tolkienesque or reliant upon Western European fantasy tropes
  • Concept cliche

How do you get your writing to have that “zing” that captivates from the very beginning? This is a little tougher than just following the directions—this is much more personal to each reader and each writer.

Is your writing boring readers?

There are a couple different issues in the list above. Some readers lost interest simply because they were bored. If you find yourself telling readers of your book, “Don’t worry! It gets really good in chapter five!” consider whether you’re starting your book at the right moment in time. The phrase “late in, early out” is one to remember—perhaps you don’t need all the information that leads to the “really good” part. Or perhaps you need to revise to make that information more interesting and faster paced.

I don’t recommend simply dumping this information into a prologue. Many young readers skip prologues entirely, and many more readers will lose interest if your prologue is long and boring—it’s the same principle as saying “just wait till chapter five!”

If the information in your first few chapters are crucial, yet readers are getting bored by it, consider spooling that information out little by little over the course of the book. You need to find the balance between giving enough information for the reader to be intrigued and wanting to know more, without overburdening the reader with so much information that they become overwhelmed or bored.

been there done thatFor example, take the first few pages of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. On page 1, Taylor sets up the scene: it’s an ordinary day in Prague (interesting point number one: how many books are set in Prague?) and Karou is walking down the street toward school, minding her own business. It’s an active scene—something is happening—but it’s more about Karou’s internal mundane thoughts. However, it doesn’t stay mundane for long. By page 2, she’s been attacked.

But it’s not your average “you have to have an action scene in the first scene!” attack. The author plays with expectations, intriguing the reader and making you want to know what happens next. We get some ex-boyfriend banter (also against expectations) and the promise of interesting, embarrassing things to come by the end of the chapter.

It helps that the book is well written. But it’s more than good prose that hooks the reader here—she spools out just enough to let you know that this is a unique book, and that you want to know more. The next two chapters do the same thing, and bit by bit, the reader comes to know Karou’s intriguing magical background.

What she doesn’t do is infodump in a prologue or the first few chapters about Karou’s history, the history of the world, and the history of the strange beings who raised her. Save those details for when they matter.

Look at your favorite books and read like a writer. For hooking a reader, look in particular at excellent examples of the first five pages of a wide variety of books. There are many ways to effectively open a book, and you need to find the way that works for your story. Reading other books like a writer will help you to zoom in on ways to perfect your craft.read like a writer

Another great resource for writers trying to figure out how to hook readers is editor Cheryl Klein’s essay “The Rules of Engagement” in her book Second Sight. It’s no longer available online (and I don’t believe the book is in e-book form), but it’s worth the price of the book for her discussion of various ways to hook readers via character, insight, action, and other methods. (Bonus: you also then get access to all her other thoughts on writing and revision.)

Over-reliance on common tropes

Several readers commented that several books relied too much upon Western European fantasy tropes (elves, fairies, etc.). There are ways of hooking readers with familiar story elements, but often most high fantasy tales boil down to “my elves are better than yours.”

The Coldest Girl in ColdtownLook for new inspiration. (We’ll cover worldbuilding more in full in a few weeks.) But especially in the first few chapters of your book, avoid leading with ideas that have been-there-done that.

If your story concept relies on tried-and-true tropes, it’s not the end of the world. Take a look at books coming out now that are successfully changing the mold—books like The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, who has revamped (haha) the vampire genre, for example. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown updates the genre, makes vampires scary again. In what ways can you update and revamp the concepts in your book to hook readers?

The solution to your writing being “not strong enough”: practice 

The number one complaint as to why a reader wasn’t hooked was that the writing wasn’t good. Once you get past obvious grammar and punctuation mistakes, this comes down to a greater need to practice your craft. Write regularly—it doesn’t have to be every day, but do it consistently. If your problem is time, you might find useful this advice from New Voices Award winner Pamela Tuck on how to carve out time to write on a regular basis. She has ELEVEN children, who require a lot of time and attention, especially because she home-schools them.

The more you practice, the better you’ll get. And next week, we’ll begin to drill down on elements that you can work on in the whole book, such as voice.

Stacy Whitman photoStacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. 


Filed under: Awards, New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: ask an editor, how to, Laini Taylor, New Visions Award, Science Fiction/Fantasy, stacy whitman, Tu Books, writing advice

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13. Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part III

New Visions Award sealLast month we announced the finalists of our first New Visions Award, a new writing award for a debut author of color for a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novel. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting these talented finalists on our blog as they answer questions about what inspires them, the writing process, and more. Perhaps among these five finalists you’ll find your next favorite author!

Q: What has been your experience writing from a different cultural background that may be unfamiliar to most young readers? 

Ibi Zoboi, Haiti.

While most readers are familiar with Edwidge Danticat, there are, of course, other Haitian and non-Haitian writers telling stories about Haitian children. M. Sindy Felin’s Touching Snow was a National Book Award Finalist.  The recent winner of the Printz Award is In Darkness, a story about a Haitian boy during the earthquake written by Nick Lake. One of my favorite Haitian YA books is Taste of Salt by the late Frances Temple.

Haiti has an amazing literary tradition and under a brutal dictatorship, writers either risked their lives or were sent into exile. So, for me, writing about Haiti is very political.  Though, my stories are cloaked in a world of magic.  What better way to convey Haiti’s complex history and mythology than in a young adult fantasy novel?  This simply adds another layer of depth to what young readers already know about Haiti, or any given culture.  They must know that culture is multi-dimensional and is not regulated to the superficial “facts” in the media. This is why mythology breathes life into everything I write.  While the names and magical systems differ, there is an interconnecting power in world mythology that can resonate with any reader.

Ailynn Knox-Collins, Earth.

I’ve lived in six countries and been a citizen of three, so it’s hard to decide where my origins lie. I immersed myself into the language and culture of each of the lands that have housed me and made me feel welcome. Yet, I belong to none in particular. Many people live in a culture different from their ancestors or like me, have ancestors from all over. We learn to hang on to the crucial values and adapt to others within our environment.

As a child, for example, I learned to ‘chameleon’ my accent simply to fit in. I write to discover who I am and I believe I’m not alone in this journey. In my books, I place my characters in almost sterile environments just to see what happens, so what is truly important can bubble to the surface. It seems appropriate in my form of science fiction, where the story is set in space, and humanity must rebuild itself by deciding what to keep and what to leave behind. I pepper the stories with values and beliefs I’ve picked up on the way, hoping that many of these are universal, since in the end, we are all but citizens of this one tiny planet.

Valynne E. Maetani, Japan.

Though I am fourth-generation pure Japanese, there were many traditions that my family maintained.  As a child, I removed my shoes before I entered the house, ate certain kinds of foods on holidays, and threw salt over my shoulder on New Year’s Day. But I had no idea why we did the things we did. For me, writing about the Japanese culture has been a way of sharing and understanding the meaning and purpose behind the traditions.

I like writing for young adults because it’s an age where kids no longer do things just because their parents tell them to. It’s an age where they begin to question why on a much deeper level. In order for traditions to be preserved, I think it’s important to first understand the why and the rich history behind those traditions and second, important to share that knowledge with others.

Rahul Kanakia, India.

There is a lot of literature about the Indian diasporic experience. And, when I was around fourteen years old, I went through a phase where I read a fair amount of it.

And I hated it.

The standard Indian immigrant narrative is about the angst and the pain of being trapped between worlds. It is about attempting to assimilate and finding that assimilation was impossible. It is about attempting to recover an Indian cultural identity and finding that to be impossible as well. It is, fundamentally, about always feeling alone in the world. Kind of a grim future to outline for a fourteen year old who just wants to, you know, experience the world and make friends and write books and be happy.

So I try to write stories where Indian protagonists aren’t oppressed by their heritage. I think part of the reason I like writing science fiction is that in an SF novel, there’s always something else going on. You might be struggling to fit in…but you’re also struggling to fight off the zombie hordes.

Akwaeke Emezi, Nigeria + Malaysia.

My cultural background is blended- I was born in Nigeria and lived there until I left for college, so I identify very strongly with being Igbo. I was also raised with my mother’s Malaysian culture, so although I can’t cook Nigerian food to save my life, I tie my own saris, wear jade, and ritually stockpile Baba’s Curry Powder. However, moving to the States brought my nationality to the foreground as an immigrant, and that was when I realized how much growing up in Nigeria impacted my identity.

I deliberately reached for what felt like home and birthright while I was writing Somadina. I was born where my father was born and his father before him, so I constructed a fantasy world around Igbo culture and traditional religion. Other than Nnedi Okorafor’s delightful work, I hadn’t seen my culture represented in speculative fiction, so I saturated this story in it.

I also write from different points of myself outside of my ethnicities, but elements of my cultures often seep through in a name/food/phrase. After all, where I come from shapes who I am now, with half a body in the otherworld, stories coming through my teeth, and all.

Further Reading:

What brought our New Visions finalists to Tu Books and to the New Visions Award competition in particular?

Ailynn and Valynne answer

Ibi, Rahul, and Akwaeke answer


Filed under: Awards, Musings & Ponderings, Tu Books Tagged: cultural diversity, different cultures, diversity, New Visions Award, Power of Words, Race issues, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Teens/YA, Tu Books, writing, writing contests

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14. Cover Design 101: Hammer Of Witches, and the Pros of Illustrated Covers

We’re so excited about the upcoming release of our new YA historical fantasy Hammer of Witches! In this post, Tu Books Editorial Director Stacy Whitman discusses how she and the designer came up with the final cover:

Historical fantasy can be tough to market. You have to show that, despite being steeped in research and history, this is an exciting, awesome book. It should look different from all the contemporary books out there, but not old-fashioned. Because of the fantasy element, a photographic cover just couldn’t do this book justice, but for YA, illustration can be tough because you don’t want the illustration to make the book look like it’s for a younger audience. We needed an illustrator whose art had a more mature look, whose sensibility tended more toward something you’d see in the adult market than the middle grade market—and we found that illustrator in Andrew Maroriginal sketch for Hammer of Witches cover
Because the cover is illustrated, there’s a lot more leeway in terms of what we can pick to show. So we get to see an important moment in the story: a character moment where the main character, Baltasar, meets one of his primary companions throughout the book, Jinni (who is a half-genie). We know there’s magic happening–she’s floating, after all!–and we get to see how the author envisioned these characters rather than having to find a model whose looks fit the character or a stock photo that’s not quite right. We can also see that this is a historical setting from the view out the window, the characters’ clothing, and the items on the table. We even get some nice detailing in Jinni’s dress, and I love the expression on her face compared to Baltasar’s!

How did we choose this particular scene? The illustrator and designer both read the book, and we all actually came separately to the conclusion that this key scene had a lot of potential for illustration. Check out a few of the early sketches to peek in on the illustration process. First we had to choose what position the characters would be in, and then we had to figure out where the type could go in juxtaposition with the scene. How would the reader’s eye travel across the artwork and type together? Would this invite them in to the book to read to figure out what will happen?

sketch with typography options for Hammer of witches cover
The modern look of the typography ties it all together–this is a book for today, looking at this controversial time period through a different lens than the old stories. We looked at several font choices—as you can see from the thumbnail sketches, that font is not the one we ended up with on the final cover. Then the designer, Isaac Stewart, had to place the typography in a way that stood out without overwhelming the great artwork.

The end result: a cover that says “READ ME!” to anyone who sees this book.

Hammer of Witches cover
There’s been a lot of great buzz about Hammer of WitchesHere’s what people have been saying:
  • An engaging, magical adventure set against the historical backdrop of Columbus’ westward voyage.” —Kirkus Reviews
  • “Mlawski’s magical take on the exploration of the New World is a dazzling, richly imagined tale about history, legend, and the fantastic power of story.” —Diana Peterfreund, author of For Darkness Shows the Stars
  • Hammer of Witches is a historical revelation—an eye-opening magical carpet ride that takes the reader over the ocean and through the woods to an ancient time, full of beauty and grace, and the ever-present conflict between man’s spirituality and his natural brutality.” —Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Pura Belpre Award winner, Morris Award nominee and author of Summer of the Mariposas 
  • “A truly enjoyable energetic tale and an altogether original take on one of the most important events in human history—the first voyage of Columbus.” —Joseph Bruchac, author of Wolf Mark

Look for Hammer of Witches in April 2013! In the meantime, take a look at the cover design of our other upcoming YA title Awakening in Cover Design 101: The cover of Awakening.


Filed under: Art, Publishing 101, Tu Books Tagged: cover design, diversity, Hammer of Witches, illustration, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Spring 2013, Teens/YA, Tu Books

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15. Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part IV

New Visions Award sealIn January we announced the finalists of our first New Visions Award, a new writing award for a debut author of color for a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novel. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting these talented finalists on our blog as they answer questions about what inspires them, the writing process, and more. Perhaps among these five finalists you’ll find your next favorite author!

Previous posts by our New Visions finalists:

Q: What was your relationship to books and reading as a child or teenager?  In what ways did you see yourself represented in books?

Ailynn Knox-Collins

I was seven when I attended my first boarding school. Determined to hate the experience, I succeeded at being miserable. Over the next few years, I changed school six times. I was always the new kid, but I wasn’t the nice one. I got into fights, defied teachers and even started a gang to beat up boys (I didn’t actually beat up anyone). Adults whispered about me when they thought I wasn’t listening. I was the poor child whose parents were getting a divorce. Because of that, I got away with everything which just made me more miserable.

Then one day, a teacher introduced me to CS Lewis and his worlds brought a spark into my self-imposed misery. Books became my escape. I devoured every story, mostly fantasy at first. I began to write as well, putting myself in places where I could be somewhere or someone else. Meeting Austen, Hardy and the Bronte sisters began my love affair with classical English literature. Those were wonderful years. Finally, Asimov came along and that opened the world of science fiction to me. Life became hopeful even while aliens were invading and snatching bodies, because the heroes always triumphed. And that’s where I kept seeing myself, whether or not the characters looked like me or spoke like me. They came out on top at the end and in my darkest moments, that was what I needed the most.

Ibi Zoboi

I was one of those statistical kids who did not own books. My mother worked two jobs to send me to Catholic school and we lived in a part of Brooklyn where little girls did not skip to the library on their own.  We did own encyclopedias, though, but not novels and picture books.  This had more to do with culture rather than economics.  For students in Haiti, reading was more for rote memorization of textbooks. That’s what my mother made me do with the encyclopedias.

I was dealing with some q3serious identity issues by the time I got to high school.  We’d moved to suburban Queens and I went to a mostly white Catholic high school.  I desperately wanted mirror stories but I’d settled on having some sort of movie star idol instead.  Halle Berry was just starting out then and she had starred in the TV movie Alex Haley’s Queen.  That’s what led me to reading the actual book. Then I read Alex Haley’s Roots and looked for other titles in that section of my high school’s library—slave narratives (which at some point led me to Octavia Butler’s Kindred).  Then I got mad at the world and worked in a bookstore all throughout college and read everything I could afford on my employee discount (RIP Waldenbooks).

It all started with wanting to see an image of beauty and success that was real to me. Halle’s hair was short and she was black and she’d been a heroine. I don’t think I would’ve been so superficial if I’d seen some of those images in books as a child.

Rahul Kanakia

My mom gave me Isaac Asimov’s Foundation when I was around 10 years old. She’d first read it as a kid in Mumbai in the 1960s. I loved the book’s thought-provoking premise and epic scope and I knew that I wanted more of that. Until I went to college, I only read science fiction and fantasy novels: mostly hard science fiction, space operas, military SF, epic fantasy, and swords and sorcery.

All of these subgenres are largely comprised of adventure stories. They’re about heroes who triumph over tremendous obstacles. And, because I read hundreds and hundreds of these books, I wanted to grow up and become a hero. Many SF fans of color go through a period of disillusionment when they realize that the genre doesn’t care to represent them. That did not happen to me. For whatever reason, I had no trouble identifying with the square-jawed white protagonists.

My disillusionment arose when I realized that heroism is a bit of a sham. It doesn’t exist in real life. Or, at least, not in the way that they write about it in the stories. Of course, everyone realizes that eventually. And, after growing up, some people are still able to find value in the metaphor: the hero represents some spiritual transcendence or state of striving. But I was never able to get over my disappointment. To this day, I find it difficult to read a traditionally-structured SF novel.

Valynne E. Maetani

In the third grade, I skipped recess so that I could read a series of non-fiction books. Each detailed the life of someone famous in history. Only one of those books was about a woman: Marie Curie.quote2 Shewas smart and brave, and I wondered if I could ever be like her. Often, my father would surprise me with books. Each had strong female characters like those in Little Women or The Good Earth. In our Asian culture, where emotions are rarely exposed, this was his way of telling me that he believed I could be brave and strong like Madame Curie, the March women, or O-Lan.

At some point, I fell in love with mysteries, devouring Encyclopedia Brown and eventually books by Agatha Christie. Yet I realized there were rarely characters of color. So a few years ago I decided to write a book for my youngest sister’s eighteenth birthday. I had a vague idea of the storyline but knew it would be a mystery; the protagonist would be a strong young woman; and she and her family would be Japanese. What I wanted to share through my writing is that as much as we try to fit in with those around us, we will always be different. I realized, once I was older, that being different is the precise thing my friends loved about me and my family. At the heart of it, we are all humans at the mercy of human experiences, and our differences should be embraced and appreciated rather than dismissed.

Akwaeke Emezi

My relationship to reading has always been a huge part of my life and luckily, both my parents were avid readers who happily loaded me up with books. I read everything I could find; my favorites were authors like Lewis Carroll, Kipling, James Herriot, Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, etc. I also reaquote1 smalld several classics as a child/teen simply because they were in my house and I needed things to read: Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, The Odyssey, A Tale of Two Cities, etc. I remember reading Flowers in the Attic before I was ten…that was quite an experience!

I was always reading at the dinner table, at school while on break, by candlelight because the power was always out, in the bathroom- I was insatiable and churned through books quickly. We had an outdoor book market at the Post Office in my town in Nigeria, where you could bring second hand books and swap them out for more, which was a great resource.

As a child/teen, I always felt there was a place for me in all the books I read because that’s what fantasy and fiction had taught me, that I could belong anywhere because everything was possible.

Further Reading:

Meet Our New Visions Finalists I

Meet Our New Visions Finalists II

Meet Our New Visions Finalists III


Filed under: Awards, guest blogger, Musings & Ponderings, Tu Books Tagged: diversity, New Visions Award, Power of Words, promoting diversity, Race issues, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Teens/YA, writing contests

1 Comments on Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part IV, last added: 3/5/2013
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16. Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part V: Diversity in Genre Fiction

New Visions Award sealIn January we announced the finalists of our first New Visions Award, a new writing award for a debut author of color for a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novel. Over the last few weeks, we’ve highlighted these talented finalists on our blog as they answer questions about what inspires them, the writing process, and more. Perhaps among these five finalists you’ll find your next favorite author!

Previously, our New Visions finalists shared their experiences as young readers, and whether they saw themselves represented in books.

In this last post, they share their final thoughts on diversity in genre fiction for middle grade and young adult readers:

Ailynn Knox-Collins

I applaud the efforts that publishers like Tu Books are making to bring diversity into children’s lite  rature. I am humbled and grateful to have been given a small part to play here. I may not ever be published but I will always be writing and will most certainly be a reader for the rest of my life. As a teacher of children from all over the world, I am excited to introduce them to a new stage of diversity in books, where they may find themselves reflected in the stories.

From where I stand, the future of children's fiction is looking up.From where I stand, the future of children’s fiction is looking up. They will see more and more books where the covers feature people like them, of all races and creeds, beliefs and lifestyles. Everyone will have a chance to be a hero and every reader will find a place for themselves in the thrilling worlds of mystery, fantasy and science fiction. I can’t hide the huge smile on my face because the child in me is thrilled. I am so proud to be a part of this movement. I hope more writers of color will be encouraged to write from their cultural backgrounds and enrich the book world with new ideas. It wouldn’t surprise me that although the names and settings have been changed, in the end, we’ll discover that there is much that we share with each other; that we have more in common than we realize.

Valynne E. Maetani

Somewhere out there are children just like me. They use reading as a way to escape life’s obstacles. They enjoy being sucked into magical worlds that challenge their imaginations. Sometimes books help them realize their problems are not as bad as they seem. They realize through characters that difficulties are a part of the human experience, but there are others like them who feel and react the same way they do.

In other ways, those same children might be not like me. They are children who might know little about Japan and its foods or customs. They may not have any idea what’s it’s like to grow up Japanese-American or understand how deep-rooted our traditions are.

For all children, books are a way of making connections and allowing them to experience something new. Diversity in middle grade and young adult literature enriches the reading experience by increasing the breadth and depth of what our children have access to, and because of this, there is also an increased chance for children to connect and learn. Both characters and authors of color can provide an introduction to unique perspectives. I find that most intolerance stems from a lack of understanding, and books are one forum which can equip children with information. I’m not naïve enough to think diversity in genre fiction will change everything, but every time we connect with a child, we open doors, and that makes writing worth it.

Rahul Kanakia

In any discussion of diversity, the shadow constituency is white people. Obviously, it’s really nice for teens of color to see depictions of themselves in the media that they consume. But unless those depictions also appeal in some way to white people, then those depictions will not get the major play People don't consume media because it's good for them. They consume it because they want to be entertained.that they need in order to be published and widely distributed in a way that makes sure they get into the hands of people of color.

And, of course, we all know that it’s good for white people to see the diversity of the world. But that also doesn’t matter. People don’t consume media because it’s good for them. They consume it because they want to be entertained.

So the challenge is to create depictions of PoC that are also entertaining to white people. It’s hard. And it’s often a bit unsatisfying. Writing for an outsider audience means including explanations and “authentic” detail that insiders don’t necessarily need, or want, to see. And if you veer too much in that direction, then you alienate people of your own culture. And that alienation can often be good business, actually, because those people are actually just a tiny fraction of your audience and in terms of getting fame and book sales it makes a lot more sense to feed the preferences of a white audience that hungers for PoC characters who hang around in this tiny sweet spot where they’re alien enough to be picturesque but also relatable enough that they don’t pose a serious challenge to majority culture.

Akwaeke Emezi

I’m curious about what effect it would have had on me as a child and young adult to have had access to more fiction with characters that looked like me, or that came from cultures that I could have related to with more ease. I’ll never know, but I believe that kids nowadays should definitely have access to all that material and I am grateful for all those who are working to make this happen.

Disclaimer- I’m not very immersed in the writer world so this conversation is somewhat new to me. However, it seems to me that diversity in genre fiction (or the lack thereof) is essentially a race issue- who is considered the default race and the limited range of cultures, descriptions, etc that spring forth from that. It’s just not representative of the real world and it does people and children of color a disservice. Stories help people relate to whatever they’re reading about- I had no problem as a child believing that pixies lived in my compound or imagining that the tree in our backyard was The Faraway Tree even though all Enid Blyton characters were white. All children (all people, actually) would benefit greatly from having access to diverse fiction and being exposed to different cultures and people.

Ibi Zoboi

Culturally relevant stories will equip these students with the level of critical thinking skills the standards are asking of them.I teach in New York City public schools as a writer-in-residence.  So I have a pretty good idea of what inner city children and teens are dealing with in terms of literacy. These new Common Core Learning Standards are asking students to read broadly and deeply—more informational nonfiction texts.  And part of my job entails listening to teachers complain how this is a huge leap for many of their students. They’re being asked to argue these complex ideas and think critically, yet they have very little sense of themselves, their world and their place in it.

When I teach fiction in places like Brooklyn and the Bronx, I’d get so many blue-eyed, blonde-haired characters in these stories you’d think we were in Norman Rockwell’s America.  They’re emulating what they have to read. Reading the classics is a good thing. But culturally relevant stories will equip these students with the level of critical thinking skills the standards are asking of them.  A great number of sci-fi classics can be paired with well-written YA dystopian novels, for example.  And what if they can see themselves and their culture in these books?  Orwell’s 1984 then becomes that much more relevant.

Underrepresented students who experience school closures, substandard housing, and violence need to be able to think critically about a genre MG or YA novel and how it relates to them.  They need to see themselves taking center stage in heroic stories before they can begin to affect change in their own communities.

Further Reading:

Meet Our New Visions Finalists I: How we got involved in the New Visions Award

Meet Our New Visions Finalists II: How we got involved in the New Visions Award

Meet Our New Visions Finalists III: Writing for people of different backgrounds

Meet Our New Vision Finalists IV: Your relationship to books as a young reader


Filed under: guest blogger, Musings & Ponderings, Tu Books Tagged: diversity, New Visions Award, Power of Words, promoting diversity, Race issues, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Teens/YA, Tu Books, writing contests

3 Comments on Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part V: Diversity in Genre Fiction, last added: 3/14/2013
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17. How to Plot a Trilogy Part I: The Trouble With Trilogies

(cross-posted from Karen Sandler’s blog)

In two guest posts, Karen Sandler, author of Tankborn and the sequel, Awakening, shares her wisdom about how to plot a trilogy.

Part I: The Trouble With Trilogies

Back in my romance writing days, I didn’t write trilogies.  The love stories I wrote were one-offs. Although half of my Harlequin books were all set in the same small town of Hart Valley and had some overlapping characters, there weren’t any connections between the stories. There were two books I did for Harlequin that were part of the Fostering Family mini-series, where the second book picked up where the first left off. Characters from the first book were mentioned in the second, but the main story revolved around a new hero and heroine.

TankbornThen along came Tankborn. When I first wrote Tankborn, I had a hazy idea of possibly writing a trilogy. Then when I signed with my agents and we were getting the manuscript ready for submission, they suggested I write up short blurbs for a second and third book. When we sold to Lee and Low/Tu Books, the original contract was only for the one book, but we later sold them two other books to complete the trilogy.

So my foray into writing my first real trilogy actually commenced with the second Tankborn book. With book one, I was blissfully ignorant of how anything I wrote might have a ripple effect into books two and three. Although I’d still had that hazy idea of writing two more books, I completed Tankborn and saw it into print before I ever wrote word one of the second book, Awakening.

And that was when the hand-shackles went on. From the moment I started Awakening, I had to constantly keep in mind the Tankborn universe. The book was already printed, many, many people had already read it, and while most readers probably wouldn’t notice if some little detail wasn’t consistent, someone somewhere would.Tankborn: Awakening

So I certainly couldn’t change the planet my characters were on from Loka to somewhere else. I could not make the sky blue instead of green. There had to be two suns in the sky, not one. And seycats and droms had to have six legs, not four or eight. In other words, I couldn’t fudge or goof. The first book was already in print, there for anyone to refer to and point out my mistakes.

Still, as I wrote Awakening, I thought it was pretty cool having the Tankborn universe already defined. I didn’t have to re-invent the wheel. If I couldn’t remember whether seycats had stripes or spots, or just how tall a genetically engineered drom was, I had the best reference in the world–the first book.

So I finished Awakening feeling pretty good about things. My editor and I had a great round of developmental edits that strengthened all my characters and added some complexity to the plot. Then it was time for the copy editor.

That’s when the oopsies started. For instance, Risa, a very minor character in Tankborn, is a prominent secondary character throughout Awakening. As I fleshed out her character in the second book, I gave her red hair mixed with gray. I didn’t bother to check in Tankborn to see if I’d mentioned what color hair Risa had. But the copy editor did check. And pointed out that in Tankborn, Risa is described as having dark hair. For continuity’s sake, Risa’s hair couldn’t be red.

This may seem very minor (and it was for the most part). But I was a little sad at the necessity because Risa has a pet seycat (a wild feline indigenous to the planet Loka) and seycat coats are red (with black/grayish markings). I’d really liked the idea that Risa’s hair matched the seycat’s. That had to go away with the change of hair color, which required a bit more tweaking than a simple change from red to dark.

seycat, Tankborn

Sketch of a seycat

The second blooper was an incorrect character name. There’s an important character who plays a very minor role in Tankborn, a slightly more important role in Awakening, and will play a major role in the third book of the trilogy, Revolution. I used the wrong name for her throughout Awakening. I hadn’t remembered that one of the last changes we made in Tankborn before it went to print was to change that character’s name. Again, it was a good catch on the part of the copy editor that saved us from using the wrong name and really confusing readers.

Alas, there is an error/inconsistency that was my fault that sneaked its way into Tankborn. I only noticed it as I was working on Revolution. There’s a shrub on the planet Loka called a sticker bush. At least that’s what I was calling it all through Awakening, what I thought I’d called it in Tankborn. But it turns out that at some point, I decided to call the sticker bush a prickle bush instead. And I wasn’t even consistent at that, because while I call it a prickle bush twice in Tankborn, I call it a sticker bush once.

Sticker bush

Sticker bush, aka a prickle bush

So what to do? Prickle or sticker? I realized I liked sticker bush better and made an executive decision to call it that, inconsistency be damned.

Live and learn. Continuity in trilogies has proved to be a tricky business. I’ll have another chance to play around with this in my upcoming mystery series from Angry Robot/Exhibit A, which begins with Clean Burn. Since it’s not science fiction, it should be a piece of cake, right?

Right.

Thanks, Karen! Stay tuned next Tuesday for part II: Five Tips for Writing Trilogies.


Filed under: guest blogger, Publishing 101 Tagged: author advice, plotting, talking shop, Teens/YA, Tu Books, writing advice

2 Comments on How to Plot a Trilogy Part I: The Trouble With Trilogies, last added: 4/8/2013
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18. How to Plot a Trilogy: Five Tips for Writing Trilogies

We’ve invited Karen Sandler, author of Tankborn and the sequel, Awakening, to the blog to share her wisdom about how to plot a trilogy. In her first guest post last week, “The Trouble With Trilogies,” Karen shared the challenges she experienced while plotting the second two novels in her Tankborn series. Today she shares five useful tips for writers taking a stab at trilogies:

Tankborn

Awakening

Five Tips for Writing Trilogies

  1. Keep notes on the culture, including governmental structure, societal structure, flora and fauna, religion, and local calendar. You’ll want to refer to it often. 
  2. Draw a map and keep it up to date. In my case, the Tankborn series takes place on a planet called Loka, in which there are different regions called sectors. I added sector names to a map as the stories progressed. I had to keep track of the fact that, for example, Daki sector was northwest and Sona sector southeast. 

    The continent Svarga

    The continent Svarga

  3. Keep a list of character names. I didn’t do this as much as I should have, which meant I had to constantly search the previous manuscript for a particular name. 
  4. Keep track of your invented terminology and other names unique to your story. While some of this I scribbled in a folder (for example, the names of the trinity moons on Loka are Abrahm, Avish, and Ashiv), most of my invented words were incorporated in a glossary that appears in Awakening, the second book. I’ll keep adding to this for the third book, Revolution.
  5. In the end, sometimes you just have to let story take precedence over continuity. I know some readers will exclaim, “Wait, she never talked about this in Tankborn!” But some things are just too good to leave out even though I hadn’t thought of them while writing the first book. Nothing I have added directly contradicts the Tankborn world (GENs—genetically engineered nonhumans—aren’t suddenly being genned with wings, and Svarga’s Got Talent! isn’t suddenly the new hit TV show). The additional material fits the current society/culture, it just wasn’t highlighted before. 

    A drom

    A drom, one of the fictional animals that inhabits the Tankborn world

Further Reading

How to Plot a Trilogy Part I: The Trouble with Trilogies


Filed under: guest blogger, Publishing 101 Tagged: author advice, plotting, talking shop, Teens/YA, trilogies, Tu Books, writing advice, writing tips

1 Comments on How to Plot a Trilogy: Five Tips for Writing Trilogies, last added: 3/20/2013
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19. Cultural Travels in Korea

by Stacy Whitman, Publisher of Tu Books

I had two Korean roommates in college. Ever since then, I’ve said, “Someday I will learn Korean and visit Hyun Mi in Korea.” Last year, when I made new Korean friends here in New York City, I decided that “someday” needed to finally be today. I started to learn Korean from a book and a podcast, got addicted to Korean dramas, and this May, finally made that trip to Korea I’ve been meaning to make for over a decade.

On my way to Korea, I had a 7-hour layover in London, another place I’ve never seen in person before. I got to meet Cat Girl’s Day Off author Kimberly Pauley, who showed me 221B Baker St. and the whole area around Parliament—Big Ben, the London Eye, and Westminster Cathedral, for example (the outside—no time for the inside), and then we finished off our whirlwind tour with a full English breakfast.

Stacy Whitman in London

(center) Kimberly Pauley and Stacy Whitman at Paddington Station with Paddington Bear; other sights in London

Busan subway

A subway entrance in Busan, South Korea

I didn’t get to visit my old roommate, but I did visit my new friend from New York, who had moved back to Seoul. I stayed with her and her family in Mokdong, a suburb of Seoul, which I loved not only because I was visiting my friend, but also because I got to experience Korean culture from a closer point of view, not as a tourist in a hotel but as a guest. I got to do normal everyday things with my friend, like going to the grocery store and post office, to the bookstore and to the repair booth on the corner run by the ajussi who might know how to fix my purse (sadly, he didn’t have a good solution). I was greatly impressed with the public transportation system, which got me everywhere I needed to be, and often had malls in the stations!

I also met up with the Talk to Me in Korean crew (from whom I’m learning Korean), who happened to have a meetup when I was in Korea. Here I am with Hyunwoo Sun, the founder of Talk to Me in Korean, and his wife, Mi Kyung. A few of us went out for a kind of fusion chicken, the name of which I’ve forgotten, and then patbingsoo—sweet red beans over shaved ice—after the meetup of over a hundred TTMIK listeners.

Talk to Me in Korean group

Meet-up with Talk to Me in Korean teachers and students

I love Korean dramas, which are often historical, so of course I wanted to see places like National Treasure #1, the Namdaemung Gate (officially known as Sungnyemun), which burned down in 2008 and was just recently restored and reopened, and Gyeongbokgung Palace in the heart of Seoul. The folk museum was fascinating, letting me see Korean history in person—for example, they had a living replica of a Korean street that brought you forward in time from the Joseon era to the 1990s.

gyeongbokgung palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea

gyeongbokgung tour guide in hanbok

A tour guide at Gyeongbokgung Palace wearing a hanbok, a traditional Korean dress

A children's library

Outside the National Children’s Library in Gangnam, Seoul, South Korea

I also went to the Namdaemun Market, across from the gate, and had my first real Korean market experience, and found a stylish purse. I rode a bike along the Han River (and saw cleverly disguised trash/recycling cans), discovered the national children’s library in Gangnam, watched the changing of the guards at Gyeongbokgung Palace, stopped off for a chocobanana smoothie at Starbucks for a quick wifi fix, wandered around in a park filled with fortune teller booths, got makeup samples in Myeongdong, and found bargains in an underground shopping mall at the subway entrance. What I didn’t do was stalk a Korean drama star, though that was tempting. :)

cleverly disguised recycling bins

Cleverly disguised recycling

cheonggyecheon river

Cheonggyecheon River, Seoul, South Korea

Not too far from the palace was the Cheonggyecheon River, which is a reclaimed river that has been turned into a recreational area. It was my favorite area of Seoul—I loved to walk along it and returned three times while on my way to other places. The first time I discovered it (on the recommendation of Korean American library educator and friend Sarah Park Dahlen), it was decorated for Buddha’s Birthday, a national holiday in Korea. The next day, on Buddha’s Birthday, my Korean host and I went to the local Buddhist temple to discover how the holiday was celebrated among Buddhists, which neither of us are. That night, the Cheonggyecheon was all lit up in celebration.

Buddha's birthday

Stacy Whitman at the Buddhist temple in Mokdong, South Korea

cheonggyecheon at night

Cheonggyecheon River, Seoul, South Korea

busan buddhist temple

Beomosa Temple, Busan, South Korea

I spent a total of two weeks exploring Korea, the second week of which was spent climbing a mountain on Jeju Island, discovering a Buddhist temple and a famous beach and fish market in Busan, and staying in a hanok (traditional Korean house) in Jeonju—where I also happened upon a famous Joseon picnic spot (Omokdae Terrace, famous for a king having once picnicked there), a famous royal shrine, and a Confucian school where one of my favorite dramas was filmed, and where I saw a delightful sight, a class full of toddlers in hanbok, learning about their country’s history. Jeonju also is the home of a traditional Korean paper (hanji) museum, where they have a hands-on room where I made a sheet of hanji! Later I met the driver of a truck full of garlic, who insisted I take a picture of his truck.

confucian toddlers in hanbok

Schoolkids at Jeonjuhyanggyo Confucian School in Jeonju, South Korea

garlic truck

Truck full of garlic in Jeonju, South Korea

Then I rounded out the experience with my friend’s one-year-old’s birthday party in Seoul. (The first birthday is very important in Korean culture, a momentous occasion for which my friend and her husband rented hanbok to wear for family pictures, which I took for them.) However, I didn’t get to the top of 9 km-high Hallasan, the big mountain in Jeju (though I made it 7.5 km!), as I didn’t start early enough in the morning. I’ll just have to go back. Oh darn! (I did, however, get the rare opportunity to see a native deer.)

I ate loads of delicious Korean food, most of which was homemade by my host family, but I also discovered new foods like Jeju’s famous gogiguksu, a pork noodle dish very similar to good ramen. I also had the chance to try Koreans’ interpretation of Italian food, which is very popular—and was very tasty.

Korean food

(clockwise from upper left) Korean street food in Busan, kimbap in Seoul, pizza in a cone & smoothie in Jeonju, Italian food in Jeonju

And I took a break from my vacation one day to work, because you can’t publish diverse books and travel halfway around the world and not take the opportunity to meet publishers in the country you’re so interested in. An agent at the Eric Yang Agency was happy to introduce me to several Korean publishers, who were happy to introduce me to their books and to learn about mine. Here’s a picture of the mural in their lobby, a testament to the love of reading in Korean culture and a great riff on the famous photo.

Mural in Korean publishing house

Lunch atop a Skyscraper, now with books!

It was interesting to see how similar and yet different the two country’s publishing styles were—often, we publish similar books, yet we market them completely differently because Korean parents/readers and American parents/readers are looking for different marketing messages in the books they buy. Young adult literature as a category is still relatively new in Korea, particularly in fantasy (though the age category’s storytelling is strong in dramas and manhwa, the Korean form of manga)—the emphasis in Korean children’s book sections of the bookstore is very much on educational supplements. I look forward to someday bringing Korean YA and middle grade voices to a US audience looking for diversity and new stories.

* And it was a bear trying to pare down my pictures. If you’d like to see more, follow me on Tumblr, where I will eventually be posting more pictures a few at a time.


Filed under: Dear Readers, DiYA, Musings & Ponderings, Tu Books Tagged: Buddhism, Buddhist temple, Busan, Cat Girl's Day Off, Cheonggyecheon, Cheonggyecheon River, diversity, Eric Yang Agency, Gangnam, gyungbokgung palace, hanbok, hanok, hyunwoo Sun, Jeju Island, Jeonju, kimberly pauley, Korean, Korean food, Korean history, London, Mokdong, myeongdong, namdaemung gate, namdaemung market, publishing, seoul, South Korea, stacy whitman, Talk to Me in Korean, traveling, vacation

1 Comments on Cultural Travels in Korea, last added: 9/6/2013
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20. What Does a Monster Look Like?

S.P. GatesIn this guest post by author S.P. Gates, she shares how she pictures Zilombo, the monster from her new lower middle grade novel, The Monster in the Mudball, out next week from our Tu Books imprint.

Hi from England to my American readers!

Question: First of all, who is Zilombo?

Answer:  Zilombo is the monster in my book, The Monster in the Mudball. Here are a few things it says about her, in the book:

1.) Zilombo is very ancient, a mythical creature older than dinosaurs, an incredible mixture of many beasts.

2.) Every time she hatches out of her mudball, she looks different and has evolved  a new animal skill, usually to help her catch things to eat. When she hatches in England she can collapse her skeleton like a rat does and squeeze through the tiniest holes after her prey!

3.) She’s got teeth like a crocodile, skin like a hippo, a leap like a frog and swivel eyes like a chameleon. She’s got sharp talons, curled into leopard claws. She has the low jutting forehead of an ape and her nose is pulled forward into a muzzle, like a dog. She has rusty orange hair, that sticks up in a crest on her head Mohawk style, then bristles down her back like a lion’s mane.

4.) Oh, and (I forgot!) she has scaly chicken legs.

No wonder her name means “Beasts.”  Imagine a mixture of monsters from your worst nightmares and that’s Zilombo!

Every reader imagines her a bit differently because she’s a shape shifter, always changing. You never know what you’re going to get when she hatches out next. Here’s what I looked at, when I was trying to imagine her:

I looked at African masks, like this one:

Traditional dogon masques in Tirelli, Pays Dogon, Mali

Traditional dogon masques in Tirelli, Pays Dogon, Mali. Photograph by Ferdinand Reus, taken from Wikipedia Commons

I looked at dinosaur skeletons, like this deadly Deinonychus:

dromaeosaurid dinosaur Deinonychus

Skeleton of the dromaeosaurid dinosaur Deinonychus at Field Museum of Natural History, taken from Wikipedia Commons

I looked at photographs and video clips of lions, hippos, apes, all kinds of animals, and learned how they behave.

But everyone imagines Zilombo a bit differently.

My grown-up son Alex sometimes makes me models of the characters in my books.  I asked him to make me a model of Zilombo.  First he drew some ideas, like this ……

Zilombo sketch 1

…. and this ….

Zilombo sketch 2

…. and then he made a model ……….

Zilombo

Zilombo

a closer look at Zilombo

This is Alex’s Zilombo. The illustrator who worked on the cover of The Monster in the Mudball pictured her a little differently:

zilombo_sketch

zilombo

In the end, we ended up with a cover that shows off Zilombo’s silhouette and maintains her mystery:

zil_jacket_06

(the dragon is not Zilombo)

So, what does Zilombo look like? You tell me! Your Zilombo will be different from my Zilombo. And, the wonderful thing is, we’re all right!

How do you imagine Zilombo?


Filed under: Art, guest blogger Tagged: art, illustration, monsters, S.P. Gates, the monster in the mudball, Tu Books

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21. Scary New Releases: KILLER OF ENEMIES and THE MONSTER IN THE MUDBALL!

Just in time for Halloween, we’re excited to announce the release of two new novels from our science fiction and fantasy imprint, Tu BooksKiller of Enemies, a post-apocalyptic retelling of an Apache monster slayer legend by award-winning Native American author Joseph Bruchac, and The Monster in the Mudball, a hilarious supernatural mystery set in England.

Killer of Enemies coverIn Killer of Enemies, seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen hunts monsters to ensure the protection of her family from the Ones, maniacal warlords who rule in a post-apocalyptic Southwest. Fate has given Lozen a unique set of survival skills and magical abilities. Soon she realizes that with every monster she takes down, Lozen’s powers grow, and she connects those powers to an ancient legend of her people. It soon becomes clear to Lozen that she is not just a hired gun. As the legendary Killer of Enemies was in the ancient days of the Apache people, Lozen is meant to be a more than a hunter. Lozen is meant to be a hero.

Monster in the Mudball cover

In this Junior Library Guild selection, eleven-year-old Jin must run around the English town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne trying to track down a monster named Zilombo. Jin teams up with Chief Inspector of Ancient Artifacts A. J. Zauyamakanda, or Mizz Z, for short. Zilombo gains new, frightening powers every time she hatches. Now the monster is cleverer than ever before . . . and it appears that Jin’s baby brother has disappeared! Will Jin’s baby brother be next on Zilombo’s menu? As the monster’s powers continue to grow, Jin and Mizz Z must find a way to outsmart Zilombo!

Happy birthday to both titles! We can’t wait to hear what you think of them!

*Today marks the release of the hardcover versions of both titles. E-book versions are also available.


Filed under: Book News, New Release, Tu Books Tagged: Joseph Bruchac, Killer of Enemies, middle grade, New Release, S.P. Gates, the monster in the mudball, Tu Books, YA, young adult

1 Comments on Scary New Releases: KILLER OF ENEMIES and THE MONSTER IN THE MUDBALL!, last added: 9/19/2013
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22. Is My Character “Black Enough”? Advice on Writing Cross-Culturally

Stacy Whitman photoStacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. This blog post was originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

I recently got this question from a writer, who agreed that answering it on the blog would be useful:

My hero is a fifteen-year-old African American boy [in a science fiction story]. A few of my alpha readers (not all) have said that he doesn’t sound “black enough.” I purposely made him an Air Force brat who has lived in several different countries to avoid having to use cliche hood-terminology. I want him to be universal.

Do you have thoughts on this either way?

Is there a possibility that my potential readers could really be offended that a) I am “a white girl writing a book about black people” and b) that my character doesn’t sound black enough? I’ve looked through your blog and website and haven’t found anything specific to my needs on this particular question. Perhaps I missed it?

…should I use Ebonics or not use Ebonics?

First of all, black people—just as white people or Latino people—are a very diverse group of people. There are people who speak in Ebonics (which I believe would be more accurately referred to as BVE–Black Vernacular English) and people who speak plain old suburban English, people who speak with any of a variety of Southern accents and people who have Chicago accents, people who speak with French or Spanish accents (or who speak French or Spanish or an African language). So the question of whether a particular character in a particular situation sounds “black enough” is a complicated question, one that even the African American community can’t necessarily agree on. Within the community (and I say this because I asked a coworker who is African American, who can speak with more authority on the subject than I can) it’s often a question that draws on complicated factors, such as money, privilege, “selling out,” skin tone (relative darkness or lightness—literally, being “black enough”), and hair texture, which all relate to how much a part of which community a person might be.

The question, then, is fraught with loaded meaning not only to do with stereotypes, but also socioeconomic meanings. The question can also tend to be offensive because of that diversity and the loaded meaning the question carries.

Which leads me to the question of your alpha readers. What are their demographics? Is it a diverse group? What is their experience with the military? Is more than one of them African American? When writing cross-culturally, you’ll want to be sure that your beta readers include sufficient numbers of the member of the group you’re writing about. Every individual experience will be different—one person’s opinion on whether a character reads as African American will probaThe question is fraught with loaded meaning not only to do with stereotypes, but also socioeconomic meanings. The question can also be offensive because of that diversity and the loaded meaning the question carries.bly differ from another person’s, especially if their socioeconomic background and regional experiences are different. An African American from the St. Louis suburbs will have a different life experience than someone who grew up on a farm in Louisiana, whose experiences will probably be different from a kid who grew up in Harlem or someone else who grew up in Seattle.

If your local writing group isn’t very diverse, you might need to branch out for beta readers who you can rely on to comment on that particular element of your story—perhaps through an online writing group, perhaps through the SCBWI. You might even approach a local high school and ask if any of their students who come from a similar background to your character might be willing to give you feedback on your manuscript. Do you have connections with a local Air Force base? Perhaps you might network with people you know in the military to find someone who can give you feedback on that aspect of the character building.

To answer your other questions: it’s always possible that someone will be offended by a white person writing about a person of color, but generally, most readers I’ve talked to who care about diversity in fantasy and science fiction want that diversity to come from everyone, not just writers of color. This is why I emphasized alpha readers—it’s important to make sure that if you’re not from that background, you do your research (which it sounds like you have) and then run it past someone other than yourself who understands that culture or background (in this case, you’ve got two cultures going on: African American and military, particularly Air Force, which has a completely different culture than Army).

A few someones is even better, to ensure that you get different points of view and can mesh that feedback into something that works for your particular character, who will be an individual in his own right and not a representative of a group that plays into a stereotype.

Which leads into yourPeople often have different vocabularies when talking to different groups of people...Ask yourself, What's the context my character is in? next question: should you use Ebonics? And the answer to that is: I don’t know. Do African Americans in the military use Ebonics? Do only some of them, and does it depend on their family history/region of origin? Do their kids speak to each other in Ebonics? Or do they have their own way of speaking that’s particular to the Air Force community? (My uncle was in the Air Force and I have a couple cousins who might read this who may be able to answer that question; they’ve never spoken anything but “Midwestern” to me, but they might have spoken differently to their friends who were also Air Force brats.)

And that’s important too: people often have different vocabularies when talking to different groups of people. When my roommates from Georgia talked to their family, their accents became stronger. When I talk to my rural family, the word “crik” has been known to creep back into my lexicon. So ask yourself, “what’s the context my character is in?” as well.

And of course, that’s just me spouting off from the point of view of an editor. Here are some great answers we’ve gotten from readers:

Ari:

The question about Ebonics is just…. I don’t know. Being “black enough” does not mean you use Ebonics so that shoudln’t be the deciding factor. However, my guess is that as a “military brat” he wouldn’t use Ebonics. I know some African American people who were in the army and they don’t use it. But that’s the army, not the Air Force, so it could be different.

I would be offended if your black character never talked about certain issues we face like the subtle racisim, especially as a black guy. But since’s science fiction it may never come up, although if it starts out in the 21st century in America then the character should acknowledge the fact that he gets looks of suspicion in certain areas because he is an African American guy…

That is so true about how people speak differently wiith different groups of people. When my mother is back home down South, she regains her Southern accent. My father speaks Spanish with his relatives. I use a lot more slang/Ebonics with my African American friends and Latino friends. So that is a key factor. Something an African American person has to learn to do is be able to “speak two languages” in a way. Around white people and authority figures, most of us speak properly, no slang. But I know from what I’ve done myself and from what I’ve seen my parents and their friends do, when African Americans are just with each other, they loosen up and their is less of a concern for “speaking properly”

Cleve:

I’m an African American dad & writer, and my advice to the writer is to skip the ebonics. Not every African American speaks with ebonics, and I fear it may come off as condescending and offensive if you attempt to tell your story in such a way. “Not black enough,” is offensive as hell, wether voiced by black or white people. The character is African American, there’s nothing wrong with him sounding like an American. Period.

Doret:

I believe all writers can create believable characters of another race. But to do this writers must be familiar that race.

Should I use Ebonics or not use Ebonics? – that question makes me cringe. A White author asking this should really take a look at their character and ask themselves, what do I know that will give life to this character of another race.

If they still want to do it, research. Listen in on conversations. Read books by Black authors. Ask around find out which non Black authors have created believable Black characters and read those , also read the Black characters by non Black authors people found unrealistic.

AudryT:

IMO, your character needs to speak based on their influences, not on readers’ opinions of the world. Where do their parents come from? How do individuals from their parents’ backgrounds, childhood neighborhoods, and social class speak? How does that influence your character? Does your character have an opinion about how their parents speak and do they make conscious decisions about their own way of talking? How can you use the character’s voice and upbringing to flesh out the character better and further serve the plot of the novel?

Readers, feel free to chime in and help out writers who write cross-culturally: what other issues should they be aware of when writing African American characters?

Further reading: 10 Great Resources for Writing Cross-Culturally


Filed under: Publishing 101, Resources Tagged: African American, aspiring authors, author advice, diversity issues, Notes from the Editors, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Tu Books, writing advice, writing cross-culturally

10 Comments on Is My Character “Black Enough”? Advice on Writing Cross-Culturally, last added: 3/27/2014
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23. Ask an Editor: Villain POVs

Stacy Whitman photo

Stacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. This blog post was originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

I have to admit, I really hate reading villain POVs. There are so few villains that have any redeemable qualities, and especially starting a book out with the villain’s point of view when they’re murdering and/or plundering just makes me go, “Why do I want to read this book, again?”

This is actually one of the things I hated most about the famous adult fantasy series Wheel of Time, though I love the series in general: I hated the amount of time spent on this Forsaken’s love of naked mindless servants, and that Forsaken’s love of skinning people, or whatever. Yeah, yeah, I get it, they’re irredeemably evil. Get back to someone I’m actually ROOTING FOR, which is why I’m reading the book!

Vodnik sketch

Vodnik, the villain from Bryce Moore’s novel Vodnik

Sometimes it’s important to briefly show the villain’s point of view to convey to the reader some information that our hero doesn’t have, but I find more and more that my tolerance for even these kinds of scenes is thinning fast. Too often it’s a substitute for more subtle forms of suspense, laying clues that the reader could pick up if they were astute, the kind of clues that the main character should be putting together one by one to the point where when he or she finally figures it out. Then the reader slaps their own forehead and says, “I should have seen that coming!”

It’s a completely different matter, of course, when the whole point is for the “villain” to simply be someone on another side of an ideological or political divide where there are no true “bad guys.” Usually this happens in a book in which your narrators are unreliable, which can be very interesting. Often the villain is the hero in their own story, which is far more interesting than a “pure evil” villain—in Lord of the Rings, Sauron is much less interesting than Saruman. Sauron is the source of pure evil, but Saruman made a choice—he thinks, well, evil will win anyway, I might as well be on top in the new world order. There are complications to his motivations.

Tu Books author Bryce Moore (Vodnikrecently reviewed the first Captain America movie and had this to say about how a character becomes evil, which I think is apropos to this discussion:

Honestly, if writers spent as much time developing the origin and conflicted ethos of the villains of these movies, I think they’d all be doing us a favor. As it is, it’s like they have a bunch of slips of paper with different elements on them, then they draw them at random from a hat and run with it. Ambitious scientist. Misunderstood childhood. Picked on in school.

That’s not how evil works, folks. You don’t become evil because you get hit in the head and go crazy. You become evil by making decisions that seemed good at the time. Justified. Just like you become a hero by doing the same thing. A hero or a villain aren’t born. They’re made. That’s one of the things I really liked about Captain America. He’s heroic, no matter how buff or weak he is.

This is, perhaps, the best description of why villain POVs bug me so much: because they’re oversimplified, villainized. And for some stories, I think villainization works, but I don’t want to see that point of view, because it’s oversimplified and uninteresting. When it’s actually complicated and interesting, then it becomes less “the villain” and more nuanced—sometimes resulting in real evil (after all, I doubt Hitler was an evil baby; he made choices to become the monster he became) and sometimes resulting in a Democrat instead of a Republican or vice versa—ideological, political differences between (usually) relatively good people.

But there’s a line for me, generally the pillaging/raping/murdering/all manner of human rights abuses line, at which I’m sorry, I just don’t care about this guy’s point of view. The equivalent of this in middle grade books—where pillages/murders/rapes are (hopefully) fewer—or young adult books is the pure evil villain who’s just out to get the main character because the villain is black-hearted, mean, vile, what-have-you. Evil through and through, with no threads of humanity. (Though honestly if he’s killing people “for their own good” to protect a certain more nuanced human viewpoint, I generally still don’t want to see that from his POV.)

What’s the line for you? Do you like villain points of view? Do you feel they add depth to a story? At what point do you think a villain POV goes from adding nuance or advancing the plot to annoying?

Filed under: Publishing 101, Tu Books Tagged: ask an editor, fantasy writing, Notes from the Editors, writing advice, writing resources, writing tips

4 Comments on Ask an Editor: Villain POVs, last added: 4/21/2014
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24. Where are the people of color in dystopias?

Hannah GomezSarah Hannah Gómez has an MA in children’s literature and an MS in library and information science from Simmons College. Currently Guest bloggershe works as a school librarian in Northern California. An aspiring novelist and screenwriter, she is passionate about social issues in literature and social media engagement with books. She spends the rest of her free time singing, reading, and learning to run. Visit her blog at http://mclicious.org.

I was going to start this post with something pithy like, “How to survive the apocalypse: Be white. Or Morgan Freeman. Or, 2012 onwards, be a Kravitz!” I was going to tell you how dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction and film allow creators to act out a future and explore countless possibilities that could ruin or save the world. And that is kind of what’s happening, though it’s a lot more complicated than that…

Have you noticed that every movie trailer that talks about Earth after some catastrophic event displays a civilization of white people (and to have a future with no diversity, when there is so much right here on the ground today, is disingenuous, odd, and patently false.*Morgan Freeman) speaking American English? Sure, some of that is unavoidable and practical–you can’t make a movie about everyone and in every language at the same time–but it’s also ethnocentric and exceptionalist of us. Not to mention problematic in myriad ways, because the lack of diversity goes utterly unacknowledged.

Generally in dystopia, the reader understands everything about the society in the story as a copy of their own, except when the author specifically points out the rules that make it different. So to have a future with no diversity, when there is so much right here on the ground today, is disingenuous, odd, and patently false.*

As it’s the United States that is driving the current success of dystopian genre, let’s look specifically at o
ur diversity. White people will no longer be the majority within thirty years, says the Brookings Institution. And in the meantime, people of color are rising to positions of power (hey, Obama!) all over, and while we have a long way to go, old bastions of whiteness and power are being dismantled. While I can’t say this from experience, since I’m a woman of color, I can imagine that this is terrifying to people who are in a position to lose their power. If I were someone with lots of privilege and power, I would want to hold onto it, and it would be very nice to create a world in which I could.

If you look at it that way, you can see why it’s so popular to whitewash the future. A dystopian world is the ultimate controlled environment, so why not control the things you fear, like losing your power or sharing it with people different from you?

often these pretty girls are living the dystopian problems of actual teens today--just not white teensThe Hunger Games goes the route of having a nearly white world with the usual Noble Savage (Thresh) and Magical Negro (Rue) to guide and humanize the protagonist and ultimately sacrifice themselves for her. For all that it’s a classic that works very well, The Giver talks about how Jonas only begins to see color when he sees Fiona’s hair, but there is never any mention or questioning of skin tones and what they might mean, though all sorts of interesting “post-racial” ideas could come out of such a discovery. Countless other dystopias, like the Eve series, Crewel, and so many that have combined in my head, star pretty white girls who have the problems that come with having long, flowing hair and yet being physically strong and adorably unaware that everyone is in love with them.

Not only is this a tired trope overall, but often these pretty girls are living the dystopian problems of actual teens today–just not white teens—

Christina from Divergent

Christina from Divergent

so it seems a missed opportunity to do what dystopia does best: safely explore and criticize a contemporary problem in a made-up place. Adelice in Crewel is snatched from her family in order to be trained to be a useful member of society and told she can’t associate with her relatives anymore, which sounds like the experience many Native American children had in the twentieth century when they were sent to schools tasked with making them less “savage.” And before she’s whisked away, her parents encourage her to fail the test that ultimately makes her become a Spinster. I can see a lot of parallels with the way members of minority groups must carefully balance their membership in their ethnic group with their membership in their class group, especially if their socioeconomic class does not match the one traditionally associated with their ethnic group.

Otherwise harmless and fun books like The Neptune Project attempt to have a diverse supporting cast, but fail when examined beyond a superficial level. Sentences like “I realize that he looks Asian” are awkward and technically meaningless. Pointing out a specific characteristic first and foremost, while never starting off that way when meeting a new person who is white, perpetuates the assumption that white is the default, the “normal” from which all other humans deviate.

The 100

Image from The 100

Visual representation in films set in the future is also important, and in some ways improving. In Veronica Roth’s book Divergent, Tris’s best friend Christina is black, and she remained so in the film, where Zoë Kravitz played Christina alongside two other actors of color in significant speaking roles. The CW’s new TV show The 100, based on Kass Morgan’s book, has two black characters and other actors of color.**

However, in both worlds, everyone is essentially raceless. This could be considered progressive in some ways–they just live normal human lives, as people of color are sometimes observed to do in nature. But it is problematic in others. Does race really not impact these characters’ lives in any way? How can a society be at once so peaceful and advanced as to be post-racial and yet be so broken that it needs teenagers to dismantle its entire structure (Divergent) or rebuild its world (The 100)?

The 100 misses a huge opportunity to do more with race and ethnicity–its premise, that juvenile delinquents are sent to re-colonize Earth the way convicts were sent to Australia, could allow for an exploration of how incarcerated youth in our world today are disproportionately black and brown. Instead, nearly every member of the 100 is white.

I’m not saying there’s nothing good out there. The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson, is set in futuristic Brazil, stars teens and adultsThe Summer Prince of various shades of brown, is a veritable queer utopia, and allows both its characters and its readers to grapple with complex questions about technology and ethics without coming to one conclusion. But even after making the National Book Award longlist, it was ignored by ALA in all of its awards, and it’s not getting nearly the amount of recognition it should be getting, neither for its literary quality nor for its progressive strides.

Still, we seem to be on the cusp of something different when it comes to diversity in science fiction. Then again, The Cusp tends to be when people about to lose power get more aggressive about what they’re about to lose, so we could be on our way to much better or much worse. It will be interesting to watch. And read.

*However, were an author to acknowledge the blinding whiteness with a backstory about white supremacy where only the white people were allowed on the spaceship or inoculated against the great plague, that could be a fascinating read, actually.

**Though we’ll see if Henry Ian Cusick’s character ever gets to allude to the actor’s Latino heritage.

Looking for diversity in your dystopias? Try these:

Diverse Energies

The Tankborn trilogy

Killer of Enemies

Or check out this list of dystopias featuring diverse characters.


Filed under: guest blogger, Tu Books Tagged: diverse YA, dystopia, race in entertainment, race in TV, Race issues, Tu Books

2 Comments on Where are the people of color in dystopias?, last added: 5/8/2014
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25. Ask an Editor: Worldbuilding After the Apocalypse

Stacy Whitman photoStacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. This blog post was originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

Yesterday, Sarah Hannah Gómez wrote about people of color in dystopias. Today I thought we’d look at the post-apocalyptic genre (which overlaps with, but is not always the same as, dystopias) from the craft side. A while back, as I was going through submissions, a few thoughts formed for me about worldbuilding in the genre due to things I was seeing again and again. This isn’t by any means a comprehensive list of things to think about—just a few things that struck me as a pattern in some recent reads (and something I notice when it’s done well).

I guess everything I want to say actually falls under the old (and very useful) “show, don’t tell,” – which of course is relevant whether or not your novel is set after the apocalypse. So, here you go:

inverted pyramid

  • If you include newspaper clippings/stories as metatext to support the main narrative, make sure that it actually sounds like a news clipping. Use inverted pyramid structure, starting with the most important details and filling in backstory and history only once important details have been included. Who, what, why, where, when: these are the most important things to focus on in the first paragraph.

One of my first publishing-related jobs in college was as a newspaper reporter, and the end of my stories—even my feature stories—often got chopped off for space. In news writing, your lede has to be an actual lede, not an introductory sentence, and you don’t include common-knowledge information (stuff all the characters would know because they live in that world) as an infodump in the second paragraph.

  • Less is more in post-apocalyptic worldbuilding.

We usually don’t need to know every detail of the apocalypse in the first chapter, or even by the end of the book. In fact, it usually just slows down the reading and even occasionally turns off a reader to be reminded in every sentence just how bad the world is because of global warming’s effect a hundred years ago or because we ran out of fossil fuels or because a great plague hit the world three hundred years ago. These things are common knowledge to the characters—or perhaps they’re lost knowledge for the character, depending on how long ago the apocalypse happened and how much technology/media had broken down in the years since.

But generally letting the reader know exactly what happened within the first chapter or two turns into an infodump or an as-you-know-Bob. Actually, what you want to do is revealed in that last link—I didn’t know there was a name for it! Incluing, at least according to Wikipedia (which is of course so reliable, but let’s go with it for now unless someone knows of a more technical term), is what you really want to do.

  • Reel out worldbuilding details little by little, cluing the reader in to worldbuilding details as they need the information (or slightly before, so as not to be jarring).

The best incluing example, the one I always go back to, is the first page or so of The Golden Compass, in which Lyra is talking to her daemon as they spy on a conversation in another room. We have no idea what a daemon is, even the basic concept of what one looks like, within the first page—that’s something Philip Pullman spools out to us little by little, creating a mystery, through small, specific details, that hooks us enough to make us want to know more.

Joseph Bruchac does this well in the first few chapters of Killer of Enemies. We’re on a hunt with Lozen, and we learn about the Cloud and Gemods and the place she lives, Haven, little by little over the course of a few chapters. Her inner narrative is a good way to spool out details slowly, thought it only works if your character has the knowledge to share. worldbuilding block quote

These ideas are pretty basic, but so important in a good postapocalyptic tale, in my opinion. The only exceptions I can think of to sharing details of the apocalypse slowly, over time: zombie post-apocalypses, such as Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth (we know the cause of the apocalypse was zombies, because they’re everywhere; though we might not know the cause of zombies, we know the cause of the breakdown of society) and stories in which the apocalypse is currently happening, such as The Carbon Diaries (we see the breakdown of society through the main character’s eyes, and she has limited information)—though in either case infodumps still won’t be appreciated.

But in general for most post-apocalyptic tales, I argue that less is more when it comes to revealing the cause of society’s death and allowing it to be a mystery that the reader discovers along the journey. Sometimes that journey will be figuring out why their current society is a dystopia, and hence figuring out the cause of the apocalypse that triggered this new society (The Giver would be a classic example of that structure). But, as I mentioned above, post-apocalyptic and dystopia aren’t synonymous, so sometimes it’ll simply be common knowledge that Earth that Was died in some way so we had to set out for the stars, or that in the characters’ great-grandparents’ generation a great plague swept the earth (like in For Darkness Shows the Stars), or that global warming caused the world to become so flooded that people live on boats, fight over what little earth there is available on those boats, and evolve to grow gills and webbed feet.

Okay, Waterworld isn’t exactly the best example, but you could do worse for a short sweet example of how to worldbuild an apocalyptic backstory, even if the plot and characters weren’t all that successful . . .

Check out these titles from Tu Books that utilize the worldbuilding tips that Stacy talked about:

Diverse Energies
Killer of Enemies
The Tankborn trilogy (Tankborn, Awakeningand Rebellion)


Filed under: Tu Books Tagged: ask an editor, dystopias, post-apocalyptic world, post-apocalyptic YA, Tu Books, worldbuilding, writing, writing tips

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