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1. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. Your Tu Books holiday book-buying guide

Hanukkah is in full swing, and Christmas is right around the corner. Thinking about getting a book for that teen or kid in your life? Or for the adult YA reader in your life (you are welcome in this no-judgement zone; we love YA too!). Don’t forget to include Tu Books in those plans! Here are a few examples of people you’re looking to find a gift for.

For the reader looking for comedy (sometimes light, sometimes a little morbid):

Cat Girl's Day OffGalaxyGames-FinalFront

For the teen looking for something with an edge:

Diverse EnergiesWolf Mark front cover FINALTankborn-Cover-Final

For the middle-grade reader or young teen looking for a “clean” read:

Summer of the MariposasCat Girl's Day OffGalaxyGames-FinalFront

For fans of folklore and fairy tales:

Summer of the Mariposas

For fans of science fiction, especially technology and space-related:

Tankborn-Cover-FinalGalaxyGames-FinalFront

For fans of Twilight:

Wolf Mark front cover FINAL

For fans of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Chicago:

Cat Girl's Day Off

 

Got any other kinds of readers in your life that need a Tu Book recommendation? Ask away in the comments!

Originally published at Stacy Whitman's Grimoire. You can comment here or there.

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8. Cover Design 101: The cover of Awakening

We’re getting close to the release of Awakening, the upcoming sequel to the YA science fiction dystopia Tankborn from our Tu Books imprint! Awakening continues the story of Kayla and Mishalla, two teen GENs (genetically engineered nonhumans) fighting for freedom and equality:

 

Awakening cover

Last week, we were lucky to get some help revealing the cover of Awakening from some great book blogs:

Pretty in Fiction

Speculating on Spec Fic

Live to Read

A Reader of Fictions

This week, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares the process of creating the cover:

Those who know Tankborn well will know that there’s something different about the girl on the cover of Awakening compared to the girl on the cover of Tankborn (aside from the fact that they’re two different people and, yes, represent two different characters). I’m not sure I should give it away, actually! But I’ll give you a hint: look at where the GEN tattoo falls in both covers:

TankbornAwakening cover 

But let’s start from the beginning. First, talking about Awakening will require a few Tankborn spoilers, so those who are spoiler-averse: beware!

As you can see from the early proposed concepts, we had a few possibilities to choose from:

Pages from Awakening covers-3-1

Pages from Awakening covers-4-1

Pages from Awakening covers-2-1

Pages from Awakening covers

But which one best represented the book? To make a decision, we had to dig into the essence of Awakening.

In Tankborn, Kayla was recruited by a group of trueborns and lowborns quietly working against GEN oppression. In Awakening, Kayla starts to chafe at the slightly more gentle bonds this organization puts upon her—she wants to control her own destiny. But while she works towards freedom (and a chance at love with Devak, a trueborn), a deadly disease is spreading among GENs–which is especially curious considering that GENs are people who are genetically engineered not to get sick. On her travels for the Kinship–while also avoiding bombs set in GEN housing and warehouses by a mysterious group that only identifies themselves with the grafitti “F.H.E.”–Kayla meets a couple other GEN girls who are connected to this disease, one of whom is rumored to be able to heal whomever she touches.

Some early concepts, like the ones above, included one piece of Awakening or another, but a couple looked too modern-day urban or romance genre (didn’t quite set themselves apart as futuristic science fiction); another didn’t get the full message of the book across in a way I felt the other concepts did; another felt like it was actually better held back for the cover of Revolution, the third book in this trilogy (so now you have a hint as to what book 3 may look like!).

In combining the concepts, the designer, Einav Aviram, did a great job of showing what this book is all about in one great cover: the grafitti (Freedom, Humanity, Equality), the mysterious GEN girl who can heal whoever she touches, the dawning of Kayla’s stand for her rights–all coming together.

I should also say, of course, that we were happy for another chance to put a person of color on a cover. Whitewashing of YA covers is still, unfortunately, a common occurrence, and one of the things we try to do at Tu Books is showcase our characters of color on the cover whenever possible, whenever the design allows it.

So there you go, dear readers. What do you think?

Further reading:

Design 101: How a Book Cover Gets Made, Part I

Design 101: How a Book Cover Gets Made, Part II


Filed under: Art, Publishing 101, Tu Books Tagged: African/African American Interest, cover design, diversity, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Teens/YA, Tu Books, whitewashing

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9. Meet Our New Visions Finalists

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 brought you to Tu Books and to the New Visions Award competition in particular?

Ailynn Knox-Collins. Redmond, WA:

I came across Tu Books when I bid on a copy of Tankborn for a charitable cause. Soon after, I had the good fortune to sit next to the writer, Karen Sandler, at an SCBWI conference in LA. I was delighted to find an imprint that is dedicated to putting books out there that are written by and feature characters of color.

Why is it important, you say, that there be this need to highlight multi-ethnic writers and stories? Because to me the world is colorful and always has been, but many of the books I love haven’t always reflected it. Too much of my own childhood was spent thinking that to be a hero or heroine, I had to look a certain way, and mostly not like me. Yet, when I look at the amazing people in the world I grew up in, they came from all sorts of backgrounds, colors and cultures.

So I had to be a part of this endeavor and I congratulate Tu Books on their first ever New Visions Award. I submitted my science fiction story and (wow!) now I’m a finalist. The other finalists are remarkable writers from excitingly varied backgrounds. I am honored to be in this group with them.

I’m a person of mixed ethnicity. My Chinese mother married an Englishman at a time when that act alone could get you disowned by your quotefamily. I grew up in several countries from England to Singapore. As a child I had my hair stroked by strangers (“Interesting color.”), my nose pinched (“Your ‘bridge’ is so high” or “flat” depending on the country) and my eyes commented on (“Ooh! Double lids.”). I got used to being asked, “What are you?” and my answer eventually became a feisty, “Human!”

When I began writing seriously a decade ago, my fictional worlds reflected how I see the real world. My characters naturally look like people I’ve encountered in my life, and they are of all colors. In GENERATION ZERO, my entry to the New Visions Award, everyone happens to be of mixed ethnicity for a horrid, sinister reason — “Mixed breeds are sturdier, like mongrel dogs”. Strangely, someone actually said that to me long ago. Astonishing, isn’t it?

I am so excited to play a small part in bringing attention to something that has been close to my heart for so long. I fell in love with books the day a teacher sat our class under the shade of a giant Raintree and read to us from CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I longed to be one of the Pevensies, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that they, and many subsequent heroines I loved, looked nothing like me. I did my best to ignore descriptions, but I couldn’t help feeling left out. If, as a writer, I can make one child imagine herself the heroine of a story, and know that nothing, especially not the color of her skin, can stop her from achieving her dreams, then I will be satisfied and incredibly humbled.

Well done, Tu Books for your vision and congratulations to all the finalists of the New Visions Award.

Ailynn Knox-Collins is a mother and teacher, as well as a ‘crazy dog lady’ with four great rescues who slobber all over the furniture (well, what else is it for anyway). She is an unashamed Trekkie and is learning to speak Klingon to add to the other 6 languages she  already speaks. She loves to read everything and has been inspired to write science fiction so that young people today can experience the same wonder she did growing up. Please visit her at www.taknoxcollins.wordpress.com  and follow her on Twitter @talkc 

Valynne E. Maetani, Salt Lake City, UT

Initially, I heard about Tu Books when it was still Tu Publishing, and I was ecstatic about its mission . . .  and a little dismayed that I didn’t think my book qualified for submission.  At the time, I thought they were only interested in fantasy and sci-fi.  While my book had a fantasy fairy-tale element, it would definitely be classified as a mystery.

Imagine how excited I was when I heard about the New Visions Award given to a fantasy, sci-fi, or mystery novel.  Unfortunately, it was three weeks before the submission deadline.  With so little time and a manuscript in dire need of revisions, I realized I couldn’t make it.  block quote

Determined to support their mission, I told myself I would send a manuscript in through their regular submission process at some later date.

But then someone replied to the announcement for the award with the following response:  “I was slightly concerned to see that this publisher was seeking submissions for a contest, but only from writers ‘of color’ . . . It appears that the means to the laudable end of  ‘true diversity’ in YA/MG lit is more submissions by ‘authors of color.’”  The person went on to ask why it mattered if the writer was “white.”  S/he suggested they get rid of the term “of color” from all the fine print of their website.

I am the first to say that I have read many wonderful books, with diverse characters, written by authors who are not “of color”—books that were meaningful and shed light on different cultures such as The Good Earth by Pearl Buck or Under the Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisbury.   But to me, underrepresented voices are just as important.  This award matters.  I am a Japanese-American writer, who grew up in Utah, surrounded by people who looked nothing like me, reading books about people who looked nothing like me.  I am an author of color.  Our voices matter.

And so I worked hard to get my chapters ready for submission.

I truly appreciate that Tu Books seeks to encourage diversity in children’s literature as well as diversity in the authors who write these books.  I am humbled and awed by the talent of the other New Visions Award finalists, and I am proud to have my name listed with theirs.

Valynne E. Maetani received a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.  She has managed script editing for stories for disadvantaged youth and has edited several screenplays, including My Little War in Juarez, the winner of the 2010 Creative World Award. She can be found at www.valynne.com and on Twitter @valynnemaetani

Stay tuned tomorrow for part II as we hear from our other three finalists!


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

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10. Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part II

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 brought you to Tu Books and to the New Visions Award competition in particular?

Rahul Kanakia, Baltimore, MD:
My novel has a number of autobiographical elements. I mean, obviously, I didn’t grow up in a plague-wracked authoritarian dystopia, but I did share many of the troubles and experiences of the character in my novel. I went to Catholic school and I was confused regarding my sexual orientation and I had body image issues. And when I started the first draft of my very first YA novel, all of that came out of me in a crazy rush. Nothing was filtered. Everything was on the paper. Never before nor since have I experienced that kind of pure mind to keyboard translation.

quote 2Except for one thing. The protagonist of that first draft was white. That’s because (kind of funnily, since I’m currently enrolled in an MFA program that’s more-or-less devoted to the creation of fine literature), I’m relentlessly commercial. I can’t ever get up the motivation to write something that I don’t think will sell. And, you know, I believed it was possible to sell a YA novel with a queer protagonist. And I believe it’s possible to sell a YA novel with a protagonist of color. There are (a few) examples of both of those things. But I just was not at all sure that it was possible to sell a YA novel with a protagonist who was both. Somehow, the intersection felt too narrow. I don’t know. Perhaps I was the unimaginative one there. Perhaps I didn’t give the publishing industry enough credit. But before I could even start to write that book, I felt like I had to choose one identity and discard another.

Fast forward a year. I’d had a story appear in Tu Books’ Diverse Energies anthology of YA dystopian fiction. And, because of that, I got forwarded an email where Tu called for submissions to their first contest: they actually wanted novels about people of color. I had this YA novel, which still hadn’t really been marketed to publishers, and, after thinking about it for awhile, I decided to go back in and rewrite it to fit the vision that I hadn’t originally been courageous enough to realize. Because of this contest, my novel exists in a form that it wouldn’t have otherwise had: I was able to overcome that mental block and write that book about a queer Indian kid that I always should have been writing.

I think that’s the benefit of having a publisher for books about and by people of color. It doesn’t only publish diverse and inclusive books…it also widens the entire marketplace. Just knowing that there is a potential home for books that explore all kinds of PoC experiences will do a lot to foster the writing of more and broader types of books.

Rahul Kanakia is a science fiction writer who has sold stories to Clarkesworld, the Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex, Nature, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He currently lives in Baltimore, where he is enrolled in the Master of the Fine Arts program in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. If you want to know more about him then please visit his blog at http://www.blotter-paper.com or follow him on Twitter at @rahkan 

Ibi Zoboi, Brooklyn, NY

I’ve known about Tu Books since its Kickstarter campaign.  I did get a little teary-eyed watching that video because a whole world had opened up for me.  Not just for me as a writer, but for me as a reader, educator, and parent.  I was probably one of Tu Books’ first contributors, having prematurely sent an unpolished manuscript.  I’ve been at this writing thing for quite some time—submitting, revising, re-submitting—all while reading the online conversations around diversity in children’s books.  There were some good discussions but they were just that—discussions.  I was doing my part as a writer by working on my craft and submitting work.  What were agents and editors on the other side of the gate doing to actually shift the dynamics and raise the number of books published for children of color?

Lee & Low Books was one answer.  Tu Books was even better by filling the humungous need for genre MG & YA books featuring characters of color.  This was actually doing something!  The New Visions Award was a huge clarion call for us writers of color to step forward and shout like the Whos in Whoville, “We are here!”

I would’ve been first in line sending my manuscript off by Owl Post Express the day the contest was announced, but I’d just gotten into an MFA program and was at the mercy of my adviser.  I planned to work on my manuscript the whole semester and if she said that it needed work, I wasn’t applying.  I’d made a commitment to really learn the craft and wouldn’t dare send out work that wasn’t ready (I’d done that too often).  But she told me, “Get your application in yesterday!” And “yesterday” ended up being almost at the last minute on the heels of Hurricane Sandy.

I’d agonized over whether a story about a Haitian girl was good enough, whether I should send one about a regular black American girl instead and not dig so deep into culture and mythology.  It’s one thing to write fantasy as a person of color, it’s another thing to write as an immigrant and pull from your own culture to tell a story that can resonate with anyone.

There are lots of us writing, and it would be such a disservice to children who are desperately in need of mirrors and windows to not provide resources for writers of color to hone their craft. Prizes, awards, grant money, scholarships—just about anything that would close the gap in some way.  Yep, the New Visions Award is one step towards that, and SCBWI did something similar with their On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award.  Hopefully, with time, more avenues will open up.

And yes, congratulations fellow Whos!  I’m honored to be a finalist and in such great company.

Ibi Zoboi’s short stories have been anthologized in The Caribbean Writer, Dark Matter 2,  and Haiti Noir edited by Edwidge Danticat, among others.  She’s received grants in Writing from the Brooklyn Arts Council and is studying Writing for Children & Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.  She’s a mom of three, married to a visual artist, and teaches writing in New York City public schools. You can find her at www.ibizoboi.com.

Akwaeke Zara Emezi, Brooklyn, NY

I came across Tu Books by chance, while going through the contest listings on the Poets & Writers website. The New Visions Award struck me because of how specific its guidelines were, and as a writer of color, I leapt at the opportunity to be part of something geared specifically towards children of color. I’m the Igbo and Tamil child of a Nigerian man and a Malaysian woman, and I grew up in Nigeria, straddling cultures like most mixed kids do, marked as ‘half-caste’ and essentially a foreigner in my home community. Finding places where I belong has always been important to me.  quote 4

Both my parents loved reading and made sure I had a constant supply of books as a child growing up in Aba. Most of these books were written by authors such as Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis, and they all featured white children as the characters. Therefore, when I started writing books as a child (here’s one of them), all the people I created in my make believe worlds were also white and with Western names, even though I was born and raised in a deeply Igbo region of Nigeria. The books I’d read were the usual portal into other realities, which I ruthlessly applied to my childhood, convinced that pixies lived in the patch of grass in front of our house and that fairies filled my bedroom, entertained by my sister and I playing. It was easier to fit into these imaginary places.

My love for speculative fiction developed from this, and the chance to develop a fantasy world for the New Visions Award was a perfect match for me. I actually wrote Somadina specifically for this award after I found out about it, penning down a few chapters to meet the submission deadline and drawing heavily from Igbo culture and history to craft a world that I would have liked a portal to myself. I wrote with young adults in mind and worried that perhaps some elements of the story would be a little too dark, but I kept reminding myself that the reality for many young adults of color is that they are likely to personally witness or experience the ‘dark’ themes that are present in my narrative. I had to stay true to the story and tell it the way it was insisting on being told.

All in all, I’m deeply honoured to be a finalist with all these other amazing writers, and extremely grateful to Tu Books for its existence and for this opportunity.

Akwaeke Zara Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil writer who was born and raised in the south of Nigeria. She started writing at five and in the succinct words of her seven year old self- “Her ambition is to be a world famous writer and artist. She has a family of 5 and loves art and books. Her hobby is writing.” Akwaeke now lives in Brooklyn and can be found online at www.azemezi.com.

Meet Our Other Two New Vision Finalists


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

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11. 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

3 Comments on Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part III, last added: 3/1/2013
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12. 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

2 Comments on Cover Design 101: Hammer Of Witches, and the Pros of Illustrated Covers, last added: 2/28/2013
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13. 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

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14. 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

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15. Cover reveal: DIVERSE ENERGIES

For a long time we’ve been talking about our upcoming anthology, Diverse Energies, and I am thrilled to be able to share the cover with all of you at last!

Diverse Energies is a YA anthology of dystopian stories with a focus on diversity, and features stories by several award-winning speculative fiction writers including Ursula K. Le Guin, Paolo Bacigalupi, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, and Greg van Eekhout. So, without further ado:

Diverse Energies Cover

Tu Books Editorial Director Stacy Whitman, on the cover:

The hanging letters came first in the concepts. I had already decided that the hanging letters were great, but it took us a while to settle on just the right image. This was a stock photo I happened across while looking for scenes of urban blight. It’s actually a reclaimed industrial space in Italy, which was turned into a park, but two things drew me to it: the way the lines would contrast with the letters in our design, and how much high energy the color of the light possessed. The energy of the colors matched the contrasting hope and darkness of the stories in this book.

The title Diverse Energies comes from a quotation from John F. Kennedy that inspired the anthology: “No one can doubt that the wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men.”

Look out for Diverse Energies this October! Until then, you can learn more about it here, and stay tuned to the blog for more sneak peeks to come.


Filed under: Book News, Musings & Ponderings, Publishing 101 Tagged: cover design, diversity, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Teens/YA, Tu Books

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16. Announcing the New Visions Award!

New Visions SealCalling all aspiring authors! We are thrilled to announce the establishment of the New Visions Award, which will be given to a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color. Established by Lee & Low’s fantasy, science fiction and mystery imprint, Tu Books, the award is a fantastic chance for new authors of color to break into the world of speculative fiction, a genre that would benefit greatly from more diversity.

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 Bird by Zetta Elliott and Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds by Paula Yoo. Paula shares her experience of winning:

Winning the 2003 Lee & Low NEW VOICES Award was an incredible honor. It not only jump-started my book writing career, but it also provided a wider audience with the story of my non-fiction book’s subject – Dr. Sammy Lee, the first Asian American to win a Gold Medal at the Olympics.

It is our hope that the New Visions Award will help new authors begin long and successful careers writing speculative fiction, and will bring new stories to readers of the science fiction, fantasy, and mystery genres.

Manuscripts will be accepted now through October 30, 2012. 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 grant of $500. For further details, including eligibility guidelines 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!


Filed under: Awards, Tu Books Tagged: diversity, New Visions Award, New Voices Award, promoting diversity, Tu Books

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17. Bryce Moore’s Guide to Slovakia, Part I: Castles

In this guest post by Vodník author Bryce Moore, Bryce shares his favorite things to see, do, and eat when visiting Slovakia.

When I was asked to write a brief guest blog post about traveling to Slovakia, the first question that popped into my head was, “How do I keep it brief?” I’ve been to the country many times, and I absolutely adore it. There’s so much to see and do—although there are some things you have to watch out for if you’re not accompanied by a native Slovak speaker.

First off, let me say that this is just really for western Slovakia. I have yet to be over to the eastern half of the country, and I don’t know much about it. In many ways (from what I’ve been told, at least) the eastern and western sides are like two different places. Eastern Slovakia has a much bigger influence from Hungary. Western Slovakia is influenced by Austria and the Czech Republic. Surprising, in a country that’s significantly smaller than West Virginia. But then again, it’s Europe. Things work differently over there.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let me dig right into the meat of the topic: why should someone want to go to Slovakia? A better question would be why wouldn’t someone want to go to Slovakia? It’s a beautiful country, filled with mountains in the north, plains in the south, and rolling hillsides in between. It’s got dense forests, wild rivers, and some of the most awesome castles you can think of. The food is fantastic, the people are friendly, and it’s an area most Americans haven’t even heard of. (Seriously. Try writing a book that takes place in Slovakia, and see how many people ask you where that is again.)

(Oh–and one final note before I begin. A lot of these Slovak words should have diacritic marks in them to be spelled properly. I’m leaving them out for ease of typing and web browser compatibility. Click through to the links to see the proper spelling.)

First up, let’s take a look at some of the castles:

Hands down, the most elegant one is Bojnice. It’s a gorgeous, completely restored castle, inside and out. From what I was told when I toured it the first time, it was used by some of Disney’s Imagineers as part of the basis for Cinderella’s castle, and I believe it. The town also has a zoo, if you’re looking to spend the day.

Bojnice castle

Bojnice castle

Orava Castle is much more along the lines of a fortress. Towering over the Orava river, it’s built in three distinct levels, each with their own fortifications. It’s also fully restored, and was even used as the shooting site for some of Nosferatu, one of the most famous vampire movies ever made. Really impressive, although a bit of a drive to see it. Did I mention it’s rumored to be haunted?

Orava Castle

Orava Castle

Cachtice is the ruins of the old home of Elizabeth Bathory, the Countess of Blood. She was found guilty of killing local villagers (some claim hundreds) and bathing in their blood or torturing them. Real pleasant woman. And she was walled into her castle chambers as punishment for her crimes. She was the basis for some of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the castle ruins themselves were used in some of the movie Dragonheart, with Dennis Quaid. Creepy place, but beautiful views.

Cachtice Castle

Cachtice Castle

Finally, I have to put in a huge plug for Trencin Castle, although I suppose the entirety of Vodník is really a great ad for the castle and city, too. It’s one of the best castles I’ve ever been to, and they have regular events in the evening over the summers, as well as week-long festivals in the city and up at the castle, recreating everything from medieval jousts to Roman gladiator matches. And my brother-in-law stars in a few of them! One of the advantages of having a brother-in-law who’s part of a historical reenactment group is you get to play dress up at the castle when you come to visit. Here I am in a lord’s outfit, complete with sword:

Bryce Moore

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II of Bryce’s Guide to Slovakia where he talks about the most important part of travel – the food!


Filed under: Musings & Ponderings, Resources, Tu Books Tagged: Science Fiction/Fantasy, Slovakia, Travel, Tu Books, vacation, Vodnik

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18. Bryce Moore’s Guide to Slovakia, Part II

In this guest post by Vodník author Bryce Moore, Bryce continues to share his favorite things to see, do, and eat when visiting Slovakia.

What to See

In my last post, I gave a rundown of some of Slovakia’s best castles. But Slovakia’s more than just castles:

Bratislava is the capital of the country. It’s a gorgeous old city, and it’s only 45 minutes away from Vienna–they make excellent cities to tour together. Bratislava has much of the same refined culture that you see in Vienna, but it’s at a fraction of the price. (I once went to the state opera and got box seats for $4. Prices have gone up significantly since then, or course.) Check out the markets in the old square, where craftsmen from around the area come together each day to sell their wares. Great stuff.

Tatra Mountains, Slovakia

Tatra Mountains, Slovakia

Banska Stiavnica is a fascinating old mining city. It’s a drive to get there, but once you arrive, you find a city that’s essentially been left alone for the last few hundred years. (One of the tragedies of many places in Slovakia is that Communists made it a point to tear down or change a lot of the historical landmarks. Banska Stiavnica must not have been deemed important enough to warrant Communist attention.) It’s got mines that are over 700 years old, a series of reservoirs, fantastic old churches–and some of the steepest hills I’ve walked up and down. Bring your hiking shoes! (And make sure to check out the Chateau in St. Anton, a town right next to the city. It’s honestly better than any of the attractions I went to in Vienna. Much more authentic—it really gives you a sense of how the Hapsburgs lived.

If you’re more into nature and the outdoors, head north into the Tatra Mountains. Great skiing, rugged mountains, beautiful streams. You’re set no matter when you visit. Just be ready for not a lot of civilization, and a whole lot of green.

Or, to see how life used to be in Slovakia a long time ago, check out Cicmany. Practically the whole village is an example of folk architecture.

What to Eat

Sausage

If you’re anything like me, no trip is complete without sampling all the goodies you can get your hands on. Slovakia has plenty of great things to eat. One of the most traditional dishes is halusky–basically potato dumplings with cheese and bacon sauce. Absolute heaven. Their bread is fantastic–go into any bakery and just get a sampling of all they’ve got in there. (Better not be on a carb diet!) I’m also a huge fan of their bacon and spiced sausages. Then again, I’m a fan of bacon and spiced sausages, period. For sweets, try wafer cookies and, of course, ice cream. European ice cream blows American ice cream away. Much richer and smoother.

What to Remember

That’s a quick rundown of some of the highlights. To end, I just wanted to add a few cautions. First up, English isn’t spoken as much as you’d like it to be in the country. A lot of the youth speak it (though they’re naturally a bit intimidated at times, talking to native speakers), but many of the tours will be Slovak-only. They do offer English translations of the tours, typically on pieces of paper you can take around with you to read while the tour is going on, but be prepared to be confused sometimes. That said, most Slovaks I’ve met are very welcoming, and more than happy to work with you to help you get what you want or get to where you want to go.

Bratislava

Bratislava

Second, the country’s infrastructure is not yet up to par with what you might be used to here in the States. The highways don’t connect everywhere yet, and many times, the only way you can get somewhere is by taking smaller roads. Then again, the public transportation is great. You don’t need a car in Slovakia. You can take the bus or train most places you want to go. In fact, public transportation is often a great idea from a financial perspective, too, since gas is really expensive – somewhere around $9/gallon.

If you’re flying into the country, your best bet is Bratislava airport, or perhaps Vienna. You can also fly into Prague and drive, but that’s a good three or four hour trip. Slovakia is part of the EU, so they use the Euro. While most of Europe is pretty expensive compared to America, Slovakia’s prices are still very reasonable these days.

And . . . that about sums it up. I love the country, and I hope more people discover it soon. If you’re going and have some specific questions, shoot me an email or send a tweet my way at @bmoorebooks. I’m happy to help how I can. And if you want a better idea of what it’s like living in Slovakia from an American perspective, give Vodník a read through.

Happy trails!


Filed under: Holidays, Musings & Ponderings, Tu Books Tagged: Science Fiction/Fantasy, Slovakia, Travel, Tu Books, Vodnik

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19. On living a “simple” life

How many times have I heard people call living on a farm or living in the past “simple”? Ursula K. Le Guin has a point here, in a quote from “Solitude,” her story in Diverse Energies:

Our daily life in the auntring was repetitive. On the ship, later, I learned that people who live in artificially complicated situations call such a life “simple.” I never knew anybody, anywhere I have been who found life simple. I think a life or a time looks simple when you leave out the details, the way a planet looks smooth, from orbit.

There’s more where that came from in the anthology! You can pre-order it now online (Amazon, Barnes & Noble) or look for it when it comes out in October.

Originally published at Stacy Whitman's Grimoire. You can comment here or there.

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20. Diverse Dystopias: A Book List

In honor of the upcoming release of our new YA anthology, Diverse Energies, we thought we’d put together a list of dystopias with diversity. For the purposes of this list, our definition of diversity is: 1.) A book with a main character of color (not just secondary characters), or 2.) A book written by an author of color. Of course, all types of diversity are worth celebrating, so if you know of other diverse dystopias (with, for example, LGBT diversity) please share them in the comments as well.

Note: I have not personally read all of these books, but have tried to confirm the inclusion of diverse main characters whenever possible. However, mistakes are bound to be made, so if you’ve read something and don’t think it belongs on this list, please let us know. Likewise if we’ve missed something that should be here.

If you’re a visual learner, the whole thing is on Pinterest:

Diverse Dystopias book list

And now, onward:

Above World, by Jenn Reese: (middle grade) In this dystopia, overcrowding has led humans to adapt so that they can live under the ocean or on mountains.

The Boy at the End of the World, by Greg van Eekhout: (middle grade) In this dystopia, the last boy on earth teams up with an overprotective broken robot to survive.

Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami: (YA) This novel, first published in Japan, has the same premise as The Hunger Games, and many have wondered if that book was inspired by it in some way.

Black Hole Sun, by David Macinnis Gill: (YA) A science fiction dystopia set on a terraformed Mars.

Diverse Energies, by 11 speculative fiction authors: (YA)This anthology features dystopian stories that all feature diverse main characters. Contributing authors include Paolo Bacigalupi, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Coming in September 2012.

Dualed, by Elsie Chapman: (YA) A dystopia coming in February 2013. The author is a woman of color, but I’m not sure about the main character. If you’ve read it, feel free to comment.

Extras, by Scott Westerfeld: (YA) The fourth installment in Westerfeld’s “Uglies” series takes place in what was once Japan.

The Forgetting Curve (Memento Nora #2), by Angie Smibert: (YA) Dystopia where memories can be erased with a single pill.

For the Win, by Cory Doctorow: (YA) Science fiction dystopia focused on a group of young gamers from around the world who begin to organize.

The “Galahad” Series, by Dom Testa: (YA) In this post-apocalyptic series, a crew of teens must colonize a distant planet when a virus infects all those on Earth who are over 18.

The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer: (YA) This dystopia about the struggle between science and humanity won both a Newbery Award Honor and a Printz Award Honor when it was released in 2003.

The Immortal Rules, by Julie Kagawa: (YA) This dystopia is set in a future world where vampires reign.

Legend, by Marie Lu: (YA) In this dystopia, the western US has become the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors.

Noughts & Crosses, by Malorie Blackman: (YA) This dystopia is a look at racism and prejudice in an alternate society ruled by the Crosses, the dark-skinned ruling class.

Partials, by Dan Wells: (YA) This science fiction dystopia takes place after a weaponized virus has all but extinguished humanity. Mixed-race MC.

Rot & Ruin, by Jonathan Maberry: (YA) This post-apocalyptic zombie novel has dystopian elements, along with a main character who is half Japanese.

Shadows Cast by Stars, by Catherine Knutsson: (YA) This dystopian tale features a main character of aboriginal heritage.

Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi: (YA) Dystopia about a girl whose touch can kill. The author is a woman of color.

Ship Breakerby Paolo Bacigalupi: (YA) This Printz Award-winning dystopia is set in America’s Gulf Coast region, which has been ravaged by hurricanes.

Stormdancer, by Jay Kristoff: (YA) This novel set in an alternate Japan may be more steampunk than dystopia, but has some dystopian elements as well.

Tankborn, by Karen Sandler: (YA) This science fiction dystopia is set on the planet Loka, where a strict caste system separates trueborns from Genetically Engineered Non-humans.

What’s Left of Me, by Kat Zhang: (YA) A dystopia about two souls in one body. Coming in September 2012.

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler: (adult) A dystopia about a society plagued by social chaos and violence.

Smoketown, by Tenea D. Johnson: (adult) This dystopian science fiction novel takes place in Appalachia, now a tropical environment in post-climate-change US.

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi: (adult) Another science fiction dystopia from the author of Ship Breaker. This one is for adults and takes place in future-Thailand.

Further Reading:

YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels with Protagonists of Color

Multicultural Science Fiction and Fantasy (middle grade and YA)

Diversity in YA (no longer active, but still a good resource)

More fun booklists about diversity


Filed under: Book Lists, Curriculum Corner Tagged: Book Lists, diversity, dystopia, Multiracial, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Teens/YA, Tu Books, Why I Love Librarians

4 Comments on Diverse Dystopias: A Book List, last added: 9/19/2012
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21. Brooklyn Book Festival

A few of us made it out for the Brooklyn Book Festival this weekend, so I thought I’d share a few shots of the event. It was a bright, beautiful fall day, and it was great to see so many people come out to celebrate reading (a record 40,000, according to this article).

Joseph Bruchac, author of Wolf MarkBuffalo Song, and several other titles, was on a panel about sports stories for boys with Jon Scieszka and Gordon Korman, moderated  by Lisa Yee. They were hilarious!

Brooklyn Book Fest 1

From L: Lisa Yee, Jon Scieszka, Joseph Bruchac, and Gordon Korman

When asked to tell one truth and one lie about himself, Joseph Bruchac offered these two facts:

A.) He once wrestled alligators in high school in upstate NY.

B.) He goes into jails to read/write with criminals, including serial killers.

So, which is true?

Brooklyn Book Fest 2

The audience guesses were about 50-50, but it turns out that Joe DOES work with a program that brings authors into jails to read and write with inmates. He actually was a wrestler and was asked to wrestle alligators in high school, but turned down the offer because, in his words, “I liked all ten of my fingers.”

Brooklyn Book Fest 3

Here’s Tu Books Editorial Director Stacy Whitman (right) with Nora de Hoyos Comstock (center) from Las Comadres, along with an author.

[Sidenote: Las Comadres Para Las Americas is a national organization that connects Latina women. And if you happen to be in the NYC area, their Comadres y compadres Writer's Conference is taking place on October 6 - and our very own Stacy Whitman will be there critiquing manuscripts. If you're an aspiring author, it's a great chance to get feedback on your work.]

From the looks of it, Bird illustrator Shadra Strickland had a pretty good time at the Brooklyn Book Festival this year too. All in all, a lovely day!


Filed under: Musings & Ponderings, Tu Books Tagged: Brooklyn Book Festival, events, Joseph Bruchac, las comadres para las americas, stacy whitman

1 Comments on Brooklyn Book Festival, last added: 10/12/2012
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22. Hurricane update: New Visions Award deadline extension

If you’ve been stuck at home from the hurricane and spending your time polishing your young adult novel, good news: due to Hurricane Sandy, we will be extending the deadline for our first annual New Visions Award. Entries should now be postmarked by November 14.

The New Visions Award will be given to a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery manuscript by a writer of color who has not previously had a middle grade or young adult novel published. See the full submissions requirements and guidelines.

The new deadline will apply to all submissions, not just those from areas that were affected directly from Hurricane Sandy. Please spread the word to any aspiring authors you know who may be interested in submitting. If you have any questions, post ‘em in the comments below and we will try to answer them.

Meanwhile, our office is still closed until power returns. So, if you’ve been trying to reach us and having problems, hang in there – hopefully we’ll be back up and running soon! Our thoughts are with those who were hit by the worst of this storm.

 


Filed under: Awards, Tu Books Tagged: awards, New Visions Award, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Teens/YA, Tu Books, writing

3 Comments on Hurricane update: New Visions Award deadline extension, last added: 11/5/2012
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23. Hurricane Sandy Update: We’re Here

Hi all, just a quick note to let you know everything’s back up and running here at the Lee & Low offices following last week’s blackout. We were very lucky: not only is our office building okay, but no one on the Lee & Low staff suffered any real damage – just a few days without power. Our thoughts are with everyone both here and in the Caribbean whose homes were destroyed by Sandy.

If you want to help with the recovery efforts and are looking for a place to start, the NYC Service website has a list of organizations working around the region that need help, and you can find information here on how to help in New Jersey. There are also individual organizations, like the Ali Forney Center which provides housing for homeless LGBT youth, whose facilities have been destroyed. If you have another favorite organization in the region in need of help, let us know and we’ll add it to the list.

Meanwhile, just a reminder, if you missed it last week: We’ve extended the deadline for our New Visions Award, so manuscripts must now be postmarked by November 14. We’re looking forward to reading some great entries – perhaps even a few that were originally handwritten by candlelight during a weather-related blackout?

 


Filed under: Book News Tagged: New Visions Award, Tu Books

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24. What is dystopia? A chat with Diverse Energies authors

Before Thanksgiving we had a great chat on Twitter with some of the contributing authors from our new dystopian anthology, Diverse Energies. Authors Cindy Pon, Malinda Lo, Ken Liu, Rahul Kanakia, Rajan Khannaand K. Tempest Bradford joined us to answer some questions about their stories, dystopia, world-building, and more:

In one or two sentences, can you describe the dystopian worlds you’ve written about in Diverse Energies?

Diverse Energies

Malinda Lo: “The dystopian world in my story ‘Good Girl’ is a postapocalyptic NYC that politically resembles Communist China.”

Rahul Kanakia: “My story is set in a world where wealthy people have retreated into virtual reality and allowed the world to collapse. Also, there are pesticide-resistant bedbugs.”

Cindy Pon: “‘How had we drifted so far on what it meant to be human?‘ from my story sort of encapsulates it, in a world divided.”

Rajan Khanna: “Mine takes place in a world where an empire similar to the British Empire at its height uses child labor for mining.”

Ken Liu: “‘Pattern Recognition’ is about a school where children are safe. But only later do the children find out its real purpose.”

How did you decide on the specific settings where your stories take place?

Ken Liu: “My story took inspiration from a paper on human-powered computing & news about labor practices of Taiwanese manufacturers.”

Malinda Lo: “I wanted to write a story in a Big City that could be isolated in a disaster, and NYC fit well. As events have shown!”

Rajan Khanna: “I was inspired partly by a story about young kids in South Asia who ruin their bodies to make soccer balls.”

Cindy Pon: “The idea of setting it in Taipei came immediately. I was born there but left at age 6. So many memories are sensory based of Taipei. The city comes at all senses all the time.”

True or false: We are living in a dystopia.

Ken Liu: “I think far more of this planet’s population lives in a dystopia than most of us in the US are willing to acknowledge.”

Rajan Khanna: “I think from a teen standpoint, the world can often seem like a dystopia.”

K. Tempest Bradford: “Some people live in what others would see as a dystopia. It’s often a matter of perspective.”

Are oppressive governments a key part of dystopias?

Rajan Khanna: “For me, I associate that kind of oppression with dystopias. And I think that restriction of freedoms works as a YA theme.”

Malinda Lo: “My idea of ‘dystopian’ is firmly rooted in family stories/experience. I always think of oppressive governments first.”

Ken Liu: “I try to make my dystopias not about the government. I think other things are far more frightening than governments. . . . I think governments are often merely a symptom, not a cause. At least, not the cause.”

If not, are there elements that every dystopia needs?

Since these are short stories, any tips on how to build a world in very few pages?

Malinda Lo: “I think in short stories, world building must be done with some shorthand tricks. Can be hard. Shorthand tricks I like for worldbuilding in stories: food, names, twist on real-world setting that’s easily recognized. I cheated in the story by setting it in post-apoc NYC. Easy to “get”!”

Rahul Kanakia: “Most SF takes place in archetypical worlds: the Orwellian world; the gritty Blade Runner world, etc. The trick is knowing what mental image your reader starts the story with, and knowing how to deviate from that image. Most stories aren’t building worlds; they’re combining worlds that the readers have already ‘seen.’”

What is your favorite short story?

K. Tempest Bradford: “‘Even the Queen’ by Connie Willis. Far future story about menstruation (or lack thereof).”

Rajan Khanna: “‘There Will Come Soft Rains’ by Ray Bradbury.”

Rahul Kanakia: “Jorge Luis Borges’ ‘Library of Babel.’ Not sure the Diverse Energies readers will like it; when I made my students read it, they hated it. More apt example: ‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,’ by Le Guin.”

Malinda Lo: “Probably ‘The Bloody Chamber’ by Angela Carter.”

Cindy Pon: “Oh gosh. One of Stephen King’s I’m sure.”

You can read the whole chat on Storify.


Filed under: BookTalk, Musings & Ponderings, Publishing 101 Tagged: author advice, diverse energies, dystopia, Science Fiction/Fantasy, speculative fiction authors, Teens/YA, Tu Books

0 Comments on What is dystopia? A chat with Diverse Energies authors as of 12/1/2012 4:13:00 PM
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25. Guadalupe Garcia McCall gets a visitor from beyond

A guest post by Summer of the Mariposas author Guadalupe Garcia McCall.

I’ve been travelling to the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas a lot these days, visiting with some wonderful librarians, sharing my story with some amazing students, and just enjoying the adventures this burgeoning writing life is affording me.

Road trips have always been a meditative time for me, a time to be thankful for the blessings in my life and ponder the rest. I listen to the silence of the road, look at the scenery, and engage in prayer. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about being an author and wondering if this is going to be my next career, if I will be fortunate enough to have more books published. Not that I am doubting myself, no, it is more that I am feeling so privileged I don’t want to lose myself in the awesomeness of it all. I don’t want to let it go to my head. I want to always remain true to myself, my culture, and my faith.The Gravesite of Don Pedrito Jaramillo

Last week, as we were en route to Edinburg, I was looking out of my car window, asking for a sign, when quite literally there it was, a sign—a small billboard on the side of the road indicating the location of The Shrine of Don Pedrito Jaramillo, a Texas historical landmark.

Don Pedrito was a curandero, a healer, who was buried on the outskirts of Falfurrias, Texas in 1907. He came from Jalisco, Mexico, and got so sick he couldn’t sleep for days. He cured himself by applying mud to his injured nose and was finally able to get some much needed rest. It was while he slept that God spoke to him and told him he had to help heal the sick. Tales of his miraculous healings abound within the Hispanic community, and so I told my husband we absolutely had to stop.

Prayers at The Shrine of Don Pedrito JaramilloSo we visited the shrine and a sweet lady helped me pick the perfect candle, la vela de Santa Lucia—for personal elucidation. I lit my candle, gave thanks for this wonderful new writing career, and prayed for guidance and clarity as I embark on this path. That’s when it happened: I received a visit from a most unexpected guest.

It occurred just as I was about to get back in my car, when my husband stopped me and said, “Be careful, you almost closed the door on that butterfly.” I looked at the door’s edge, and there she was, a lovely mariposa. Not just any mariposa, but a brown winged, dark-speckled, many-eyed mariposa. A visitor with a message to deliver.

A Lovely Mariposa

The Aztecs believed that mariposas were the souls of their loved ones come back to visit them, to bring tidings of hope, and to reassure them that life, however brief, is beautiful. I firmly believe that mariposa was the spirit of my mother who came to remind me that she is with me on this journey, that her loving eyes are always upon me. That I have nothing to worry about because I am being taken care of—that she along with many others are “looking out” for me.

My lovely visitor crawled onto my hand, walked up my sleeve, and just sat there, splaying and displaying her brown, many-eyed wings, as I spoke to her. Some minutes later, she sat politely by while I pulled out my phone and took four close-ups of her. Then, when I thanked her for her unexpected, but much welcomed visit, she let go of the fabric of my jacket and just flew away—reminding me that life is an adventure and I should spread my wings and brave the wind with courage and conviction as I rejoice in the abundance of my blessings.


Filed under: Musings & Ponderings Tagged: guadalupe garcia mccall, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, Summer of the Mariposas, Teens/YA, Tu Books

2 Comments on Guadalupe Garcia McCall gets a visitor from beyond, last added: 1/2/2013
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