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1. Guest Post: Cyndy Etler on Joining the Sorority

By Cyndy Etler
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I’m not a fangirl. I don’t know celebrity names. I don’t ask the hairdresser to make me look Kardashian. Also I don’t diet, buy $30 lip gloss, or wear Lululemon to the organic grocery store.

I read; I write. That’s what I do; that’s what I think about. Reading and writing.

In today’s YouTube-tutorial, boutique-fitness-studio, must-have eyebrow-mascara culture, being a reader/writer can make a girl feel almost…like she’s not that much of a girl, you know? Funny, then, that I’m being embraced by a sorority.

Rush began 30 years ago, in elementary school. With Blubber. Poor girl, going to school knowing the others were laughing at her! God, could I relate. In our beach games, my sister was Bo Derek. I was Sea Cow.

And then Deenie—are you kidding me? She had to wear a brace to school and have everyone stare, same way everyone stared at me, with my step-brother in his clacking leg brace? Judy Blume was my first real sister, tapping my soul with her magic pen, letting me know that I wasn’t the only one.

Next it was Sweet Valley High, that literary candy that spilled from the pen of Francine Pascal. Peeling back the macaroon-colored cover of a SVH book, I was a new girl. A thin, blond, convertible-driving California girl. Mini-skirts and pom-poms! SVH was my first, my best drug. Francine Pascal was sister #2.

Then I found salvation: Alice Walker. Maya Angelou. Toni Morrison. Women writing characters with the honesty, humor, and heart that was missing from my life. Their worlds were my nirvana. In my reader’s mind, at least, I had a place where everything made sense. And I had people: my three newest sisters, and their heavenly cast of characters.

When I got older it was Dangerous Minds. First the movie, showing me my future: a take-no-prisoners high school teacher finding kin in her alternative-class students. Which led me to the books. And the author, the teacher, the revolutionary: LouAnne Johnson.

Then I was on to Crank: part fiction, part poetry, part muscle-car, all real. Like its author, Ellen Hopkins: badass, trailblazer, and modern day Anat, goddess of love and war.

LouAnne and Ellen were the sisters who gave me the key. They invited me into the House of YA Lady Lit; they showed me my seat at the table. Looking around and pinching myself, I noticed I’d started to glow. Like, from the inside.

And it dawned on me: it wasn’t the blubber. It wasn’t the skin color. It wasn’t the pom-poms, or the street cred, or the eyebrow mascara. It was—it is—the words.

It’s the words and the beating heart behind them.

As I settle into my purple satin seat cushion here in the House of YALL, trading books and tweets with award-winning authors, I am stunned and elated and almost unbearably grateful.

To Ellen Hopkins. To LouAnne Johnson. To Jenni Fagan and Cynthia Leitich Smith and Marieke Nijcamp.

To all of my sisters in heart and word, as we work to save kids’ souls, one book at a time.

Cynsational Notes

Cyndy Etler is the author of The Dead Inside (Sourcebooks Fire, April 2017), a YA memoir about the sixteen months she spent, as a teen, in a “tough love” facility described by the ACLU as “a concentration camp for throwaway teens.”

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2. Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: Where Does LGBTQ YA Go From Here?

By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Amy Rose Capetta writing
While the goal of this blog series is to celebrate LGBTQ YA, there’s so much more room for growth.

It might seem like LGBTQ YA books are hitting new heights, when in reality they’re only beginning to find their audience.

In the words of Alex London, author of Proxy (Speak, 2015):

"The challenge remains getting books with overtly queer themes and characters in front of all sorts of readers. I've been lucky to have had my first YA included on many state reading lists, which brings it into schools and I've been lucky with some of my middle grade books to have the support of Scholastic Book Fairs--another route into the schools.
"But for kids without active librarians who seek out and promote LGBTQ books, those books might never find their way into the reading life of young people, straight or queer.
"You can't read a book you've never seen or heard of, so exposure and access remain the greatest challenges...as for all books, really.
"We've a long way yet to go, but it's a positive development that queer books are finally competing in the same marketplace as books without queer elements."

I asked Dahlia Adler, the founder of LGBTQ Reads, about the gap that seems to exist between LGBTQ books and readers.

"I think it's really, really important that people who have access to those readers - parents, teachers, booksellers, librarians - make it their business to have even just a bare bones rec list of LGBTQ YA handy.
"I've seen some people make amazing resources for that, like bookmarks with recommendations printed right on them that can easily be distributed, and that's a huge help. Things like that, that help get the word out, are gonna be hugely important.

"It's also tricky because you have this real divide in LGBTQ YA marketing - some of it is glaringly queer, and sometimes the queerness is completely hidden.
"And the fact is, we need both. If I could give every LGBTQ YA two different covers and blurbs, I totally would. Because it's important for there to be books that are easily identifiable both so kids can find them or, if they can't take any books home, to at least see themselves in the covers and blurbs.
"But there are also kids who really want to read these books but can't safely buy or borrow them if they're obviously queer. And that's a very, very tricky thing."

When I asked Vee Signorelli of The Gay YA the same question, they said:

"There are so many teens desperately seeking representation, and yet somehow, the connection never gets made that those books are out there…

"I think maybe one reason there's so much disconnect is that, even though there are all these amazing #ownvoices books being penned, the ones that still reach peak heights of attention are almost all written by straight, cis authors…
"So I guess I'd love to see those big name authors of LGBTQIA+ YA have a thorough knowledge of other books and use their platforms to promote them.

"One of the major angles missing right now is TUMBLR. Tumblr is where the teens are that are desperately seeking representation, and taking it in any form they can find.
"I once ran across a post in which someone talked about how they were crossing out the pronouns of one of the characters in a book and replacing them with she/her so that it would make it about an F/F couple. And my heart just broke a little.

"I think there’s also a lot that needs to be done in libraries and schools. The library I work at has kept our LGBTQIA+ display up, and those books are flying in and out like nobody’s business."


I asked authors if they had any messages that they wish could reach readers, publishers, librarians, booksellers and/or educators who want to support LGBTQ YA. Audrey Coulthurst, who wrote Of Fire and Stars (Balzer + Bray, 2016), said:

"It’s heartening to see the growing enthusiasm for LGBTQ YA and the efforts bloggers, publishers, librarians, booksellers, and educators are making to help increase visibility…
"The thing I would love most is for event organizers to try to focus less on putting together 'diversity' panels, and more on creating inclusive panels.
"Why not include SFF LGBTQ books on a broader fantasy panel about worldbuilding? Or LGBTQ romances on sex in YA panels?
"Being inclusive of LGBTQ books allows us to have deeper conversations and showcase broader perspectives, directly furthering the movement for better representation by reaching readers who might not already be aware of the push for that.
"I’d love to see a shift from acknowledging (but compartmentalizing) marginalized groups toward complete inclusivity.

"Also, the YA community is so fantastic and full of passion, which is one of the things I love best about it. One evergreen reminder is that the best way to make sure your favorite authors continue writing is to support them with your dollar. That doesn’t always mean it has to come right out of your pocket either!
"Ways you can support authors:
Audrey Coulthurst
  • Buy their books (for yourself or as a gift). 
  • Request their books at your local library.
  • Discourage people from pirating books or selling ARCs. This makes authors sad (and penniless). 
  • Leave reviews on retail sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
  • Spread the word on social media.
  • Tell your friends about books you love."

The word absolutely needs to spread about the books that are out there.

Not all marketing budgets are created equal, and word of mouth is still one of the biggest factors in how all books, especially LGBTQ ones, reach their audiences.

That means we all have power in the publishing industry--to spread the word, to share books we love as widely as possible. In some ways, it’s a simple equation. The more LGBTQ books we buy, the more there will be.

There are also libraries to consider. Cori McCarthy and I looked for recipients for our Rainbow Boxes (a charitable initiative, connecting LGBTQIA fiction with readers across the U.S.), we chose many small community libraries because we knew that in many cases limited budgets meant they could only afford a handful of titles, the most visible and bestselling YA--which often leaves out #ownvoices LGBTQ books.

In other cases, organizations that raised money for library spending budgets wouldn’t allow the money to be spent on LGBTQ books.

If you don’t see LGBTQ books at your local library, talk to your librarian. Consider requesting titles or even donating books to the collection.

Talking to Becky Albertalli, author of Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (Balzer + Bray, 2015), she pointed out some other factors at work:

"The most exciting part about writing and publishing LGBTQ YA has been, hands down, hearing from readers. I get the most beautiful emails from teens (and adults!) at different stages of the coming out process, and I feel so privileged to be a part of that moment.
"Interestingly, I haven't encountered as many challenges as I anticipated. The one recurring frustration has been with a small subset of middle school librarians who feel that Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is inappropriate for their students.
"I 100% understand this judgment call, if they're concerned about cursing and adult language, but these libraries often feature comparable heterosexual titles. It's deeply upsetting that Simon's (very innocent!) love story is seen as less appropriate for middle school than hetero love stories with equal or more sexual content.

"I think the most important message I'd like to share is for librarians. I've been seeing really wonderful LGBTQ YA collections in so many library systems, but I'm not sure there's enough discussion around the importance of including electronic copies in public library collections.
"Having physical copies of LGBTQ YA on library and bookstore shelves is incredibly important as well, and it sends a powerful message to teens encountering these collections - but digital copies are often safer and more practical for LGBTQ teens, particularly in certain regions of the country."

Malinda Lo, author of Ash (Little, Brown, 2009) and Huntress (Little Brown, 2011), points out that when it comes to YA books that do include sexual content, there are even more barriers:

Guest Post: E.M. Kokie on Radical
"I'm excited that the publishing industry is now more willing to publish these stories, but I also know that the struggle is not over. There are still limitations to the experiences that publishers are supportive of portraying in YA books.
"For example, straightforward representations of sexuality remain taboo for many, which is why I'm also very excited by E.M. Kokie's fall novel, Radical (Candlewick, 2016), which delivers one of the most realistic sex scenes involving two girls I've ever read in YA.
"Teens and sexuality push a lot of buttons in adult gatekeepers, and that's one barrier that is still pretty high for representations of queer teens.
"However, now that so many more people in the industry are talking about representation, and with so many more authors writing these stories, I hope that it's only a matter of time before barriers like this are also overturned."

While some areas of representation are flourishing, others are still barely included in YA. There are a very small number of books about intersex characters and characters on the asexuality spectrum.

There are also strikingly few characters with nonbinary gender identities.

When I asked Bill Konigsberg, author of The Porcupine of Truth (Arthur A. Levine, 2015), what he’s excited about in LGBTQ YA, and what he wants to see more of, he said:

"I went on a road trip last fall to talk to LGBTQ youth across the south and Midwest about suicide and depression. It was an amazing, exhausting trip, and in the end I think I learned more than I taught.
"One thing that was especially valuable to me as a writer and as a human being was to learn about how pervasive gender fluidity is for this youngest generation. I don't think I really understood when I set out on my journey the entire spectrum of the transgender experience, and I got educated!
"I think it's extremely clear that what we are beginning to see on the shelves are books with gender-fluid characters, and that this needs to continue to grow as an area.
"I have a feeling that this young generation is going to change the world with its exploration of gender."

When I asked Marieke Nijkamp, author of This is Where it Ends (Sourcebooks, 2016), the same question, she said:

"I want to see more queer characters of color, disabled queer characters, reliqueer characters.
"I want more ace/aro rep. I want questioning characters. I want explicit rep of all orientations.
"I want to see the entire gender spectrum reflected in YA and I want to see those intersections too. (And all across genres, too!)

"I love seeing how our stories branch out. I love seeing increasingly more support and excitement for queer YA. I think we're making massive steps right now. But I'm a very hungry caterpillar. I want more." 

More seems to be one of the most important words to take from this conversation. We need more books, more representation, more people supporting inclusive fiction in more ways, both old and new.

Before the series ends, I want to share Vee Signorelli ’s story of how they started The Gay YA.

It shows how far LGBTQ YA has come in five years--and how amazingly important these stories really are.

"In May of 2011, Jessica Verday put up a post explaining why she’d pulled out of the Wicked Pretty Things anthology: one of the editors said they would not include her piece unless she changed her m/m pairing to an m/f one.
"Book Twitter exploded with criticism of the straight-washing, and support for LGBTQIA+ characters. A #YesGayYA hashtag was formed, and other authors began sharing similar experiences of straight-washing.
"It became very apparent that there was a huge problem going on behind the scenes in publishing.
"It wasn’t necessarily straight up homophobia fueling it-- it was more the (faulty) belief that it wouldn’t sell.
"My older sister and I both saw the same thing: tons of people calling out for representation, with no way to reach the ears of publishing, and no plans to build any sort of coalition to keep the energy going.
"We were only sixteen and twelve at the time, but it wasn’t even really a question in our minds: we knew how to do websites, and we knew social media.

"We both identified as straight at the time (ha ha), and we really knew nothing about the LGBTQ community. But, we had the time and the passion and the knowledge of websites to be able to do it. Then, due to life and health issues, we had to drop off for awhile. My sister started college, and it sort of looked like it would never get started back up again.

"And then I turned fifteen and entered into what I affectionately refer to as “the year of hell.” (TW for suicidal ideation) I was suicidal, and full of self hatred, and I didn't know why. And then I realized I was queer and trans.
"I went through a lot of therapy, and that was really what stopped me from killing myself.
"But the thing that actually made me start wanting to live, the thing that made me think I might have a possible future ahead of me, was queer and trans fiction. Primarily, Far From You by Tess Sharpe (Disney-Hyperion, 2014), Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff (Carolrhoda, 2011), and The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan (Knopf, 2004).
"Those books meant so much to me. But, I knew from spending half of my life on tumblr that year, that most teens desperately seeking representation did not know about these kinds of books were out there.
"In a way, these books saved my life. I knew they could save other lives as well."

Vee chose to restart The Gay YA, and it’s become one of the most important sources online for LGBTQ fiction and community. Please take a look at the work being done there, as well as at LGBTQ Reads, Diversity in YA and Lee Wind's blog, I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?

Amy Rose signs Echo After Echo (Candlewick, 2017) contract
As a queer person, I know that the years ahead are going to be difficult. I have sat with this reality every day, and one of the few things that offer me hope right now are stories.

We will need YA books more than ever, as a source of catharsis and beauty, of comfort and resistance. This moment is more than just a trend in publishing--it’s a rare and necessary chance for LGBTQ people to share their truth with each other, and the rest of the world.

If you believe that these books are important, that LGBTQ young people are important, please do what you can to support these stories. And if you already do--thank you, thank you, thank you.

And keep watching for the next step from Rainbow Boxes! We’ll announce a new way that you can help spread the love for LGBTQ fiction in early 2017.

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels: Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (out now from HMH), and Echo After Echo (Candlewick, 2017), a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway.

She is on the writing team for the second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.

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3. Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: LGBTQ YA Genre Fiction

By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

One of the standout differences in the LGBTQ offerings in 2016, as opposed to previous years, is a boost in genre fiction.

While I love reading LGBTQ books of all kinds, in my truest and nerdiest heart, I’m a lifelong reader and devoted writer of genre fiction.

Stories with marginalized main characters tend to take a particular route through the publishing world--starting with “issue” books, expanding into a broader range of contemporary fiction, and finally arriving at genre fiction.

My first two published novels--Entangled (2013) and Unmade (2016)(both Houghton Mifflin Harcourt--are space opera and feature a f/f romance between two secondary characters.

The farther into the series I got, the more I knew that my heart was completely wound up in the story of those girls. I knew what I wanted to do--what I needed to do--write about queer characters in the kind of stories I love best.

Unfortunately, I could think of few traditionally published YA novels that fit into the categories I wanted to write.

I threw myself into the work, focused on crafting the best stories I could, and tried to cloak my worries in stubborn optimism. I’m beyond happy to say that my 2017 novel coming out from Candlewick is a mystery novel with a queer love story at its heart.

I know that I’ve been lucky. I have so many other stories to tell, as do so many LGBTQ authors. But the readers are what I keep coming back to.

Every time I find a new, beautifully crafted world with LGBTQ characters in it, that world changes mine a little bit. And if I’d had those books as a young reader--it would have changed everything.

One of the authors I looked up to as proof that LGBTQ YA genre fiction was possible is Malinda Lo.

Her science fiction fantasy (SFF) books featuring queer girls are among the handful published before 2016, including Ash (Little, Brown, 2009), a lush and lyrical retelling of Cinderella.

When I asked Malinda about her own favorites of new and upcoming books, she said:

"In November, Audrey Coulthurst's fantasy novel Of Fire and Stars (Balzer + Bray) [came] out.
"An early version of this book was Audrey's submission to Lambda*, and when I first read it I honestly wasn't sure if I trusted my own assessment of it because it checked so many of my personal reading faves. I was almost afraid it wasn't real!
"It's a high fantasy about two princesses who fall in love with each other against the backdrop of political intrigue and one girl's growing knowledge of her own magical talents.
"It also involves (to my eternal delight) plenty of romantic horseback riding lessons. Ever since reading Robin McKinley's novels as a teen, this has been one of my absolutely most favorite tropes in fantasy.
"And Of Fire and Stars is also such a delicious, slow-burning romance. Anyone who enjoys romances should love this book."

I had the opportunity to talk to Audrey Coulthurst as well, and ask her what she loves about writing genre fiction.

Audrey Coulthurst
"Perhaps the best thing about writing genre fiction is how boundless the opportunities are; writers of SFF are not obligated to create worlds that have the same social structures or prejudices that are present in ours.
"As a teen it would have been very meaningful to me to find a fantasy book that felt familiar in the ways I loved—the medievalesque setting, magic, and political intrigue—but also showed me that it was possible for a girl to fall for another girl in that imaginary world.
"Desire for that kind of book is what inspired me to write Of Fire and Stars.

"There still are not a ton of LGBTQ books in YA SFF, but that means a lot of opportunity exists for writers. I can’t wait to see what new releases arrive in the coming years.
"What I would love is not necessarily to focus on creating a SFF LGBTQ YA category, or expanding LGBTQ YA to include SFF, but for characters of all gender identities and sexual orientations to be present on the page in many different kinds of stories and for those to be accepted as part of the broader canon."

In the spirit of adding LGBTQ books to the broader canon, here are some excellent reads that will be at home in any collection.

Readers who loves high fantasy will no doubt embrace Of Fire and Stars, while those who enjoy high-paced adventures with pirates and sea monsters will delight in The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie (Flux, 2016). Fans of myth retellings in contemporary settings, should run out and immediately read About a Girl by Sarah McCarry (St. Martin's Griffin, 2015).

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks, 2016) is a rich fantasy starring a bisexual Latina bruja. The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow (McElderry, 2015, 2016) features deftly written dystopian politics and a beautiful queer romance. Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (Duet) is an exciting new addition to the YA superhero genre. Christopher Barzak’s Wonders of the Invisible World (Knopf, 2015, 2016) is a beautifully written contemporary novel that weaves in fantastical elements. Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick) is a fantastic sci-fi novel with a nonbinary main character.

While these novels will appeal to anyone who loves great storytelling, for queer readers, the expansion into genre fiction is positive for so many reasons.

As Corinne Duyvis, the author of the excellent YA fantasy novel Otherbound (Amulet, 2014), puts it:

"The delight of these books is that queer readers can see themselves in the same adventures that cishet readers can. Too often, queer characters only get stories about being queer, and aren't allowed much of an identity or adventures beyond that.
"While we need issue books, we also need more. Some readers want an escape from the real world. Some want to be empowered in a supernatural fashion. Some just love reading about dragons and are tired of being excluded from all the exciting dragon stories, damn it.

"You can't say it's 'representation' when it only exists within a very narrow kind of narrative, often dictated by cishet people. Representation means representation everywhere."

And she points out that queer readers aren’t the only ones who benefit.

"Queer genre books are also essential for cishet readers. Many who might not pick up a 'queer book' will still be exposed to queer characters that way. It helps normalize our existence.
"It's been proven in studies that exposure to positive representation of queer characters/people can actively increase acceptance, so it's important that books of all kinds accurately reflect our reality and the queer people in it.

"Finally, because these books often aren't about being queer, the flap copy often doesn't mention this aspect of the characters.
"This can be negative, since it makes the books harder for queer readers to find, but also positive, since it makes the books safer to read for teens whose parents who might not want them reading queer books."

It’s important to remember that just because a book has an LGBTQ main character, that shouldn’t be seen as limiting its readership to queer readers--any more than a book with a straight main character would be limited to straight readers. LGBTQ books shouldn’t be treated as “niche” or special interest.

When I asked Alex London, the author of dystopian YA novel Proxy (Speak, 2015), what he was most excited about in LGBTQ YA, he said:

"For me, I thought the most exciting part of publishing LGBTQ YA would be connecting with the young LGBTQ readers who were hungry for the kinds of adventure stories I write, where traditionally LGBTQ characters have been lacking.
"And the response has been touching and uplifting and inspiring (and sometimes, although rarely, heartbreaking--a book can provide some armor but it can't rescue a kid from homophobia and bigotry, especially when it comes from their parents and community).
"However, the LGBTQ response has not been the most exciting part for me. I have really delighted in the response from cis het kids and teens who are mostly willing to engage with queer heroes like they engage with any other character. They want someone they can root for and thrill with and if that character is queer, so be it.
"I've loved the anxious emails from straight readers pleading for one of the gay boys I've written to find a boyfriend. I love the emails from straight readers asking how to be better allies to their queer friends.
"Essentially, I've been thrilled that my books have acted as mirrors and windows, but most thrilled that, for some, the books have been, as [YA Goddess] Teri Lesesne puts it, '...doors books that offer them a sense of how to be powerful change agents.'"

Another highlight of my talk with Alex was his explanation of the delights of writing genre fiction.

"Writing genre, I think, frees up a part of my imagination to imagine sexual and gender identity politics beyond what our society currently can.
"I think sci fi and fantasy are freeing in that way, although I think we could all push these boundaries farther than we do.
"I love what Ursula K. Le Guin writes about the power of fantasy and sci fi not to offer prescriptions or predictions, but to dislodge the imagination from thinking that the way things are is the way they have to be. Imagining other possible realities, from our relationship to economics, our understanding of the natural world, or the bonds that connect us to each other and to our bodies--those are the joys of genre.
"I think genre fiction has the unique ability of queering our minds anyway, so it seemed natural to me to write queer characters within it."

This is one of my favorite elements of genre fiction--the expansion of possibility. The inclusion of a wider range of stories, worlds, people, and the ways they might live.

Seeing beyond our own time, place, and circumstances can be truly mind-expanding and life-changing.

As Lindsay Smith, author of the forthcoming A Darkly Beating Heart (Roaring Brook, 2016), reminds us, historical fiction is another genre we can look to for stories of LGBTQ characters who have grappled with different realities.

"My first published LGBTQ stories have been historical (“City of Angels,” in the A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls, edited by Jessica Spotswood (Candlewick, 2016)) and time-travel-y (A Darkly Beating Heart).
"I’ve always loved historical fiction, and taking into account the social pressures and situations LGBTQ characters faced in different places and periods provides an interesting challenge.
"I think across the board people assume things were always worse in the past, but there are so many more stories to be told."

Even with the recent increase in genre fiction, there are still relatively few LGBTQ YA historical fiction titles. A recently announced anthology, All Out, edited by Saundra Mitchell (Harlequin Teen, 2018) features LGBTQ historical fiction short stories from a number of incredible authors. This is a good one to pre-order and put on the to-be-read list now.

I’d like to share some closing thoughts from Tristina Wright, author of the forthcoming 27 Hours, a thrilling sci-fi novel which features a main cast of queer characters that span many identities.

When I asked her what she values most about writing genre fiction, she said:

Tristina Wright
"Giving us the spotlight to be the hero, to solve the puzzle, to slay the monster, to get the romance, to do and to be instead of furthering a straight character's journey.
"Genre can reflect the hope and optimism for the future. It can reflect the universe we want. It can contain the people around us, but in better versions.
"We can write a world where horrible things happen, but homophobia isn't one of them. Some will laugh and insist that's not realistic but, then again, neither are dragons."

Thank you for checking out this post--it’s part three of a four-part series.

Check back for the final installment, about the future of LGBTQ YA, challenges that still need to be met, and where we go from here!

Notes from Amy Rose

*Lambda Literary holds a yearly retreat for emerging LGBTQ writers, where they are mentored by experienced professionals in the field.

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels: Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (out now from HMH), and Echo After Echo (Candlewick, 2017), a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway.

(See New Voice Amy Rose Capetta on Entangled from Cynsations.)

She is on the writing team for the second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.

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4. Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: Intersectionality in LGBTQ YA

By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Rainbow Boxes is a charitable initiative to connect LGBTQIA fiction with readers across the United States.

When Cori McCarthy and I did our research for Rainbow Boxes (AKA the most fun research--it mainly consisted of reading every LGBTQ YA book we could find), we were able to assemble a box of books that featured characters with a range of identities.

But if we’d tried to fill another box…it would have been much more difficult. And we were only looking for fifteen titles!

That was in 2015, and there are many exciting new additions to the list of titles this year, but this is one of the biggest places where LGBTQ YA needs to grow. The authors and LGBTQ YA advocates I interviewed seemed to be on the same page--almost every single one mentioned it.

Dahlia Adler, who runs the website LGBTQ Reads and keeps track of the books coming out, said:

"Most of all, I really, really want to see more intersectionality - more queer kids of color and more disabled queer kids. The numbers on these are still really sadly low."

Her book, Under the Lights: A Daylight Falls Novel (Spencer Hill, 2015), features a Korean-American lesbian main character, and is one of a small number of f/f books that fall in the category of delightful fluffy reads featuring queer girls.

When I spoke with Anna-Marie McLemore, author of When the Moon Was Ours (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Griffin, 2016), she gave a similar answer--with an exclamation point.

"More intersectional stories! I’m excited to see all stories with respectful representation of LGBTQ characters, but especially ones that have queer characters who are also of color, who also have disabilities, and so many more intersecting identities."

When I asked her about the exciting parts and the challenges of writing LGBTQ YA, Anna-Marie said:

"My agent, editor, and publishing house have been tremendously supportive of me writing When the Moon Was Ours. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared to write queer and transgender main characters. I was already writing characters of color, and I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do both.
"I’m queer, and I’m married to a transguy, but I felt like I had to keep that part of my identity off the page.
"But I’m glad I had people around me who encouraged me to write the story that was in me, to write characters who are of color and also LGBTQ.

"I have heard authors talk about pressure to limit themselves to one marginalization per character. Hopefully that is changing, but wherever it remains the case, it creates a situation where queer characters must always be white, neurotypical, and able-bodied, among other things.
"It also limits the potential for multiple LGBTQIA identities (eg queer intersex people, gay or bisexual people on the asexuality spectrum.)
"This is not a question of 'checking boxes' when it comes to diversity, but rather reflecting a wider range of lived experience."

As author Tristina Wright puts it:

Tristina Wright
"Intersections exist.
"Someone can be Black, bisexual, have anxiety, and come from a single parent home.
"Someone can be Muslim, gay, OCD, and a twin.
"Someone can be Latinx, genderfluid, depressed, and stutter.
"Someone can be Biracial, pansexual, use a wheelchair, and Deaf.
"There are intersections upon intersections and when people protest this point, they reinforce the idea that there's a default setting of white/straight/cisgender/abled and anything away from that is Other."

Tristina’s debut novel, 27 Hours, coming Fall 2017 from Entangled Teen, features characters of many backgrounds and identities. Here’s how Tristina describes the intersectional identities of her characters:

4 alternating POVs
1. Male, biracial (Indian/Nigerian), bisexual, PTSD
2. Female, biracial (Cuban/Greek), pansexual, Deaf
3. Male, white, gay, adopted
4. Male, white, asexual, has two moms
+ 2 ensemble characters
5. Female, transgender, Latinx, bisexual
6. Male, gay, Caribbean, missing two fingers (from birth)

Sometimes, in the case of fantasy and sci-fi novels, intersections don’t have exact real-world correlation.

In the authors’ own words, here are the identities in Malinda Lo’s Huntress (Little, Brown, 2011):

"Huntress is set in a Chinese-inspired world, so the characters are both non-white and queer. I wouldn't describe them as Chinese, because it's a secondary fantasy world. 'Non-white' is probably best."

And Corinne DuyvisOtherbound (Amulet, 2014):

"Nolan is Mexican-American and disabled. Amara is bisexual, disabled, and a woman of color. As she lives in a fantasy world, the bisexuality is unlabeled and her ethnicity has no real-world analog."


Recent titles that include main characters with intersectional identities are More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015), which features a gay male Puerto Rican main character, Far From You by Tess Sharpe (Disney-Hyperion, 2015), which has a disabled bisexual girl protagonist, Proxy by Alex London (Philomel, 2013), with a gay male person-of-color protagonist, Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (Duet) with Chinese-Vietnamese American bisexual girl protagonist, and Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks, 2016) about a bisexual Latina protagonist.

I spoke with Kekla Magoon, author of 37 Things I Love (in No Particular Order)(Henry Holt, 2012), about the intersectionality in her book.

"I didn't make a big point about identity in 37 Things I Love, but I pictured the cast of that book as relatively diverse.
"Ellis is biracial (black dad/white mom) and Cara is also biracial (white/Asian). Ellis will likely identify as bisexual when she is older, though at the moment she is at the beginning of her journey to discover her sexual self. Cara identifies as a lesbian and is more secure in her identity on a lot of levels.
"The text contains a couple of hints toward Ellis's racial identity, but fewer to indicate Cara's, and while it's clear from the novel action that the girls are interested in each other romantically, they don't fully name their respective identities.
"For me as a writer, the important thing at the time was to write a story that included a biracial, bisexual protagonist without drawing too much attention to the fact. I hoped that leaving it less clearly defined would allow space for readers to draw the characters however they see fit.

Kekla Magoon
"I'm not sure if I would make the same choices about representing the identities in that book if I was writing and publishing it today. [37 Things was sold in 2010 and published in 2012.]
"I've changed as a writer, and the industry has evolved in what it is ready to accept.
"At the time, I felt a little bit subversive in sliding this book out, and it flew largely under the radar.
"People had come to expect 'black' books from me, based on my previous work, so to write a 'gay' book felt a bit sneaky. Which, I suppose, parallels my interest in being more subtle about the characters' identities too.
"On the one hand, maybe I could've served the need for 'diverse YA' better if I had landed harder on those descriptions. On the other hand, it didn't feel as germane to the story I was trying to tell at the time, and in the long run don't want any book to have to stand alone as one or the other ('black' vs. 'gay').
"Just as much, I don't want my book to be labeled as even more narrowly as a 'black LGBTQ' book, either. I would like to be able to stop pressing the point that it's okay for a single book to cover lots of identity territory without being pigeonholed or assumed to be directed to a limited audience."

It’s extremely important that books that deal with characters of intersecting identities are treated as part of YA literature as a whole, and not a special interest category.

These books are part of what makes YA exciting, truthful, and worthwhile to readers whose real lives encompass so many identities.

For a parting thought, here’s Vee Signorelli, co-founder of The Gay YA, on what they’re excited about:

"There's this amazing energy about LGBTQIA+ right now. I don't know how else to explain it. It's really new and current and vibrant. Like… it’s really beginning to feel like anything is possible.

"That said, we have a long way to go, especially in terms of intersectional representation.
"Sometimes it’s easy to think we’ve come super far, only to get a tumblr ask for an autistic queer character, or a black gay teen, or a trans girl who ends up in a happy relationship with another girl, and you’re like… that... doesn’t exist."

As writers, readers, publishers, booksellers, educators, librarians, and lovers of books, let’s all do what we can so that in a few years, we can look back and see a vast improvement in the number of intersectional books--so many that we can’t possibly list all of the titles, so many that no book request goes unfilled.

This post is part two in a four-part series. Tomorrow, we'll reflect on genre fiction.

Amy Rose Notes


Check out Diversity in YA from Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon. Peek: "We celebrate young adult books about all kinds of diversity, from race to sexual orientation to gender identity and disability. Our goal is to bring attention to books and authors that might fall outside the mainstream, and to bring the margin to the center."

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels: Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (out now from HMH), and Echo After Echo, a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway (coming in 2017 from Candlewick).

She is on the writing team for the second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.

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5. Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: Celebrating LGBTQ YA

Rainbow Boxes co-founders Cori & Amy Rose
By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In 2015, it seemed like there was a slowly growing list of excellent YA books with central LGBTQ main characters--but there were clearly still barriers making it difficult for readers, especially teen readers, to find them.

Fellow YA author Cori McCarthy* and I created Rainbow Boxes to help bridge that gap, to directly connect LGBTQ YA to young readers.

We raised funds that allowed us to send a box of fifteen YA titles to LGBTQ centers and community libraries in all 50 states.

Rainbow Boxes co-founder Cori McCarthy in our living room--with hundreds of LGBTQ books!

Then 2016 happened.

Looking forward at the beginning of this year, I saw new LGBTQ YA titles everywhere--seemingly more in a single year than we had seen in the past five put together.

Looking back now, while the publishing landscape has indeed changed in 2016, so has the world.**

Amy Rose, Cynthia & Sara Kocek
When I first talked to Cynthia Leitich Smith about this blog series, I hoped it would be a celebration of great LGBTQ YA: a call to uplift the excellent books that are being published while we continue to work for a wider range of stories and representation.

Now this series feels more urgently important than ever. In the coming years, LGBTQ people, especially young ones, will need stories. They will need adventure and friendship and truth and love, messiness and beauty, fluff and darkness, a place to see their humanity fully explored, even as other people seek to deny it.

Straight and cisgendered people need these stories, too. Without them, there will be no truthful narratives that push against the limited, distorted, and stereotyped portrayals of the past.

Amy Rose, Adam & Cori
The work is underway. Minds and hearts are changing. LGBTQ teenagers are brave and amazing. But there is still so much we can do. I’d like to start by waving my rainbow flag as hard as I can to celebrate some of the wonderful successes in LGBTQ YA.

Books about gay teenage boys have increasingly been enjoying mainstream success levels. Some of the breakouts include New York Times bestselling More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015), named as “mandatory reading” and selected as an Editor’s Choice by the NYT.

David Levithan’s many books about gay teenagers, which have been published for over a decade, are considered a YA staple.

Wildly popular Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray, 2015) won the coveted Morris Award for debut authors.

Books about queer girls have not enjoyed the same levels of visibility, but there are signs that might be changing. In 2016, Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Griffin, 2016) was long-listed for National Book Award, Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Balzer + Bray, 2012) was announced as an upcoming movie adaptation, and Marieke Nijkamp’s This is Where it Ends (Sourcebooks, 2016) hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list--and stayed on the list week after week.

I asked Marieke: how does it feel to have a #1 NYT bestselling title featuring queer girl main characters? What does it mean for you as a writer? As a queer person? She said:

"It means the world to me. One of the reasons why I started writing was to give a voice and stories to readers who struggled to find themselves in books.
"Like I did, growing up. And as it is, nothing fills my heart more than hearing from those exact readers, who recognize themselves--if only a little--in TIWIE.

"Of course I hoped and dreamed my stories would resonate, but to hear those reactions and to see this queer book of mine do so well...
"It's far beyond even my wildest dreams. It's out of this world. I'm so incredibly grateful for it, and I hope I can pay it forward."

I talked to Anna-Marie McLemore about how she sees the field changing. Her first book, The Weight of Feathers, came out last fall. Her second book, When The Moon Was Ours, features a queer girl and trans boy as main characters, and people of color compose the main casts of both books. She said:

"I have a lot of hope for the future of inclusive literature. We still have a long way to go, but thanks to the conversations taking place, many of them fostered by leaders like those of We Need Diverse Books, we’re moving forward."

I asked the same question to Malinda Lo, a well-known author in the LGBTQ community, whose books include Huntress (Little, Brown, 2011) and Adaptation (Little, Brown, 2012). She said:

"When my first novel, Ash (Little, Brown), was published in 2009, very little YA was published that included queer characters who did not have to struggle with coming out. This has changed significantly in the last seven years.
"This change certainly wasn't driven only by my books, because other authors had also been moving in this direction, but I think my books did contribute to the growing normalization of queer characters in YA.
"In other words, you can have a queer character in a book, but it doesn't always have to be about being queer. It can be about falling in love, or saving a kingdom, or simply coming of age, with sexual orientation one issue of many that a character engages with.
"I am really encouraged by this, because the struggle for LGBT rights and acceptance does not end with coming out; it begins there. We can only be full human beings when the whole of our lives and experiences count."

This was a common refrain when I talked to authors. There will always be a place for coming out stories, and a need for excellent books that struggle with the varied and changing realities of coming out. (I’d love to see more books that deal with the fact that coming out isn’t always a binary experience dividing life neatly into “before” and “after”.)

But focusing on coming out as the only important narrative results in a limited literature that reduces LGBTQ people to a single experience.

I asked Kekla Magoon, author of 37 Things I Love (in No Particular Order)(Henry Holt, 2012) what she’s excited about in the field and how she sees it changing.

"It's exciting to contribute to the growing offering of books that deal with sexuality in big and small ways while intersecting with other storylines and multiple layers of character development.
"Around the time I sold 37 Things I Love (2010) and the time it came out (2012), people had begun talking about the need for more books that dealt with LGBTQ characters doing things other than coming out, and the need for books that showed LGBTQ characters of color.
"The need still exists for those books, but it seems as though the conversation has intensified, and is beginning to result in changes. There are more LGBTQ books now than there used to be, and that the door to the industry is cracking open even further now, as we collectively deepen our understanding of identity and intersectionality."

When I asked Corinne Duyvis, author of Otherbound (Amulet, 2014), what she’s excited about in LGBTQ YA, she said:

"I'm very excited to be seeing more #ownvoices*** books hit the shelves. The more the better!
"After all, no two people's experiences are the same. The more different voices we have, the more we can show the wealth and breadth of experiences of queer characters--and the less pressure there is on individual authors to 'speak for' queer YA.
"They can just be honest about that one character's experiences instead of being put into the position of representing an entire group.

"I would very much like to see more trans representation both on the pages and behind the scenes. There are still a lot of experiences out there that aren't being written about very much, whether in terms of trans identity or the various angles of intersectionality.
"It's essential that we listen, that we actively seek out and welcome trans voices, and that we do whatever we can to make the industry--and the world--more trans-friendly."

2015-16 saw the publication of a small number of #ownvoices books about trans characters--such as If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (Flatrion) and George by Alex Gino (Scholastic) in the middle grade category.

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick) is an excellent sci-fi novel about a nonbinary character.

There is still such a long way to go. Trans characters are consistently underrepresented in LGBTQ fiction.

While celebrating how far LGBTQ YA has come, it’s important that we pay attention to areas where representation is seriously lagging. Almost every single person I interviewed for this blog series cited the need for more #ownvoices trans YA.

Vee Signorelli, the co-founder of The Gay YA, is currently running Trans Awareness Week. Please check out their work, starting with this post.

When I asked Vee about the delights and challenges of running a site that covers LGBTQ YA, they said:

"I’ve gotten to connect with other literary trans people. That… has meant so much to me. The literary community loves to herald any one trans person as the one and only, when in fact, there are many of us here, and that is unhelpfully isolating.
"There is something amazing about creating, theorizing, and working things through in community. Especially when you’re all part of such a marginalized identity that has been used and misrepresented, in culture, and in YA. There’s so much you’re able to reclaim.

"One of the absolute delights is how wonderful, strong, and vibrant the entire community is. Sometimes I get up in my head about the administration work, and I start freaking out about everything I have to do… and then I put something out to the community, like a call for submissions or volunteers, or opinions on a certain book, or anything and they are just there.
"I’m repeatedly amazed by everything the community does to keep this going."

Community is one of the most important words we can keep in mind, and foster moving forward.

Whether you’re a reader, a librarian, a teacher, a writer, a member of the publishing industry, a bookseller, there are things that all of us can do to keep this surge in LGBTQ YA going strong. And we can all work to make the YA book community a truly inclusive space.

One of the most obvious and wonderful is to enjoy and share the great books that are being published, so I want to leave you today with recommendations for new and upcoming books from Dahlia Adler, who runs LGBTQ Reads, and Vee Signorelli of The Gay YA.

These two websites are some of the most helpful resources and positive spaces for LGBTQ fiction, and I would greatly encourage anyone who doesn’t already check them out regularly to do so. (After adding these books to your TBR, of course.)

Dahlia said:
"I’m really, really into Jaye Robin Brown's Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit (HarperTeen, 2016). I think it does a really beautiful job with queerness and religion, and it's also just fun and cute and sexy and everything you want f/f YA to be.
"Anna-Marie McLemore's When the Moon Was Ours is not only remarkably beautiful in itself and its style, but in its representations of sexual orientation and gender identity and intersectionality.
"And for some books I think are just great that center queer characters but not queerness, check out Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks, 2016), A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith (Roaring Brook, 2016), As I Descended by Robin Talley (HarperTeen, 2016), and Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig  (Feiwel & Friends, 2016).
"One I haven't read but am super excited about is Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (Duet, 2016) - it sounds like so much fun.

"Beyond 2016, I can already definitely recommend History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen), How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (Katherine Tegen, 2017) -- I loved all of them and I'm positive many readers will too!"
Vee said:
"Queens of Geek by Jenn Wilde (Swoon) and Meg & Linus by Hanna Nowinksi (Swoon) are two of my new all time favorite books. I’m also psyched to read Dreadnought by April Daniels (Diversion)(an #ownvoices YA featuring a trans girl), Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (Little, Brown), 27 Hours by Tristina Wright (Entangled Teen), and It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura (HarperTeen)."

This post is the first in a four-part series. Please come back for part two--I’ll be talking about LGBTQ YA genre fiction!

Notes from Amy Rose

Rainbow Boxes co-founders and YA authors Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta
*Yes, Cori McCarthy is also my girlfriend. Thank you for scrolling all the way down here to confirm this happy fact.

**Please note that all interviews were given before November, which means all answers are reflective of a pre-election cultural landscape.

***If you’re not familiar with the term/hashtag "#ownvoices," please check out #ownvoices, where Corinne Duyvis, who coined the term, explains what it means. 

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels: Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (both Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and Echo After Echo (Candlewick, 2017), a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway.

She is on the writing team for the second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.

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6. Author-Illustrator Interview: Ambelin Kwaymullina on Justice, Hope & Her Creative Family

Sample chapter from Candlewick Press
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The second of a four-installment dialogue with Ambelin and Cynthia.  

Our focus is on the creative life and process, speculative fiction, diversity, privilege, indigenous literature, and books for young readers.

Yesterday, Ambelin spoke on ethics, the writing process and own voices.

We have children’s-YA literature and the law in common. That’s actually a pretty common combination here in the states. Why do you think there are so many people involved in both?

Well, I’ve had some of my law students suggest the law is so horribly dry that it drives people to being creative in order to escape its clutches (these are generally the students who are studying law because their parents thought it was a good idea).

But for me at least, I think the reason I studied law and the reason I write are the same. In both realms, I am seeking justice – and justice, in Aboriginal societies, generally equates to balance, not just between human beings but between all forms of life (and everything lives).

I write speculative fiction because I want to write about the possibility of defeating injustice; to write about the terrible things that were (and are) while imagining what could be.

The oppressive law I wrote about in the Tribe series divides people into three categories: those without an ability (Citizens); those with an ability (Illegals); and those whose ability is considered benign (Exempts).

This is not an invented law. It is based on the Western Australian Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act 1944, a piece of legislation that purported to offer Aboriginal people ‘citizenship’ by exempting us from racially-based restrictions that only applied to my ancestors in the first place because they were Aboriginal.

In the Tribe series, this law is ultimately defeated by an alliance of the marginalised and the privileged, and by a heroine whose power is to identify and sustain the connections between all life.

And in writing of connections, I am writing of something that is central to the law in Aboriginal legal systems where (at its broadest) law is the processes of living in the world that sustain the world.

You clearly articulate the impact of white privilege on writing and writers, noting the negative impact on the work of Native voices and POC voices. What would you say to those Native and POC writers who may find themselves angry, frustrated, hurt or discouraged by these dynamics?

First: it’s not you. Exclusion is not something you are inventing in your head and you are neither unlucky nor unworthy.

It helps in this context to form connections with other Indigenous writers as well as with writers of colour, LGBTI writers, and writers with a disability.

You are likely to hear stories of authors getting similar comments across different contexts (e.g: you’re not writing to the Indigenous experience … this story is too Asian … gay books don’t sell … we’ve already published a ‘disability book’ this year).

It matters to have a network of people with whom to share both the good and bad experiences; and perhaps most importantly, to understand that you are not alone.

Second, never forget how to laugh. Some of the comments I’ve listed above have been part of the experience of other writers that they’ve laughed about with me – not because these comments are not discriminatory and hurtful, but because laughter has always been one of the ways in which marginalised peoples have dealt with pain.

Third, define success in your own terms. We all know what ‘success’ is supposed to be in literary industry terms: book sales and/or critical acclaim (preferably both). I’m not saying we shouldn’t aspire to that. But I also think that if marginalised writers define our success solely in the terms set by an industry that consistently privileges white, straight, cis-gendered people who don’t have a disability, we are also buying into an underlying lie.

The lie is that if we can just prove we are good enough we will be treated equally. But once equality has to be earned, it is no longer equality.

So I think it’s important that each of us define success according to what matters to us – and for me, it’s being a person that my ancestors would be proud of.

Book sales wouldn’t overly interest them. But honouring who they were, and who I am; treating cultural knowledge with respect; helping other Indigenous writers whenever and wherever I can – these are the kinds of things they’d be concerned about.

Fourth: be hopeful. I am. I locate my hope in people, and there are many, many people working towards a world in which all voices have an equal opportunity to speak and all stories are equally heard.

I think change will come, and in the meantime, I’m proud to be a part of a global community of voices, marginalised and privilege alike, that are speaking out for justice.

While you don’t feel it’s appropriate for non-Indigenous writers to reflect your community in first person or deep third, you are open to them writing secondary characters. Why does your opinion differ depending on how centered the character’s perspective is in the story?

Ambelin's desk
I don’t think it’s appropriate for non-Indigenous people to speak as if they are Indigenous, especially given the operation of privilege which means that non-Indigenous voices will be heard in a way that Indigenous voices are not.

For me, writing from an ‘outsider’ perspective (so not in first or deep third) is to respect boundaries; to accept there are limits on what we can know of others and how we should represent others in our own work.

When I write of experiences of marginalisation not my own, I do it from an outsider perspective – reflecting that this is much as I can understand and that understanding may of course be wrong; I am not suggesting that I know what it is to see the world from an ‘insider’ view of a group to which I don’t belong. I think the spaces must be created for everyone to speak to their own worlds, and I want to be part of making those spaces a reality.

What advice do you have for non-Indigenous writers in crafting those secondary characters?

I think something you’ve said is the best place to start – you’ve spoken of the need for writers to read 100 books by Indigenous people before writing about us.

I agree. No one should be writing an Indigenous character without being familiar with Indigenous stories (not the ones told about us but the ones told by us).

It’s also important to ensure that any stories people are reading are ethically published because there is a vast body of Indigenous stories that were taken by anthropologists and others and are now in the public domain without the informed consent (or sometimes even the knowledge) of the Indigenous peoples concerned.

The easiest way to check that a story is appropriately published is to see who holds the copyright; where Indigenous peoples hold copyright in their own stories it is at least some indication that they control the text.

In addition to reading stories, I’d say, become familiar with representation issues. Engage with the online dialogue happening around representation and children’s literature as it relates to Indigenous peoples. There are no shortage of voices speaking in this space.

And finally: words spoken about marginalised peoples have a weight and a cost. But if you are not a member of that group, then it’s a weight that you don’t carry and a cost that you don’t pay.

So don’t measure the impact of your words by how they will be read by people like you. Measure them by how they’ll be read by the people you’re writing about.

How did you learn your craft as a writer and illustrator?

By doing! I have no formal training in writing or illustration. But nor do a lot of Australian Indigenous writers and illustrators, and we have been storytellers for thousands of years.

So to learn craft I look to the work of Indigenous writers and artists, both within Australia and elsewhere, as well as to the ancient teachings of my people.

What inspired you to direct your talents toward creating stories for young readers?

In my YA series, I was writing about a superhero, so it had to be about a teenager. I don’t believe grown ups have it in us to save the world, because we are spectacularly failing to do so.

But in the young I see all the hope for the future – they are more interconnected, quick to embrace new ideas, and passionate about fighting anything they perceive as an injustice.

They’re also more honest, especially the children for whom I write picture books. When they like a book, they write me lovely letters telling me how they sleep with the book under their pillow and begging me to write more. When they don’t like it they’re equally forthright.

People ask sometimes whether its difficult as an author to deal with bad reviews, to which I say: try writing for six-year-olds. Every once in a while, children send me letters about one or the other of my picture books that begin something like this: “My teacher made me read your book. I didn’t like it.”

I’ve had a few of these letters that went on for ten pages or more, and since that length is like War and Peace from a six-year-old, it means I’ve had kids hate my work enough to send me the child equivalent of Tolstoy.

Adverse reviews from grown-ups are nothing in comparison.

What was your initial inspiration for The Tribe series?

Sample chapter from Candlewick Press
My brother Blaze. He came up to me one day and said, “I’ve got an awesome title for a book. It’s called The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf.”

I said, “That’s a pretty good title – what’s the story?’

To which Blaze replied, “Oh, there’s no story. Just the name, and I can’t be bothered writing it so I’m giving to you.”

Having bestowed the title of the novel upon me, he wandered off, leaving me to start thinking about the story. (And for anyone who’s read any of the Tribe series, the character of Jaz is very like my brother Blaze).

What were the challenges—literary, research, psychological and logistical—of bringing the stories to life?

I think the primary challenge is this: in so many ways, I wasn’t writing fiction. A post-apocalyptic world is not a fantasy for Indigenous peoples; the colonial apocalypse has already happened and much of The Tribe series is drawn from Australian colonial history.

Much of it too is drawn from the experiences of my ancestors and that is why hope runs so strongly through the narrative. They held on to hope through hard, cruel times when all their choices were taken away from them.

Indigenous peoples are so often spoken of as victims and I certainly don’t wish to minimise the suffering and the multi-generational trauma inflicted upon us by the colonial project. But the very fact that the Indigenous peoples of the world survived determined efforts to destroy us demonstrates our great strength.

I think the ability to hold onto hope is part of that strength and its something I try to honour.

You’ve created several picture books with Sally Morgan. Could you tell us about your work together?

Ambelin with her creative family
So, Sally is my mum. I’ve also done books with my two brothers, Blaze and Zeke, and the four of us have written together as a family. We’re all authors and artists, and we always give each other an honest opinion – sometimes this results in one of us storming off (usually me or Zeke, we’re both excellent stormers).

Generally, once we’ve had a chance to think about the criticism we come creeping sheepishly back and agree that yes, actually, that particular portion of the narrative (which we were previously so proud of) does indeed need more work.

I think from the outside our working process probably looks chaotic; we all talk at the same time and over each other; generally, the person with the best story gets to hold the floor until they get boring and someone else interrupts. If you want a place in the conversation in my family, you have to be prepared to earn it.

What can your readers look forward to next?

I’m working on three YA novels right now, but the one I’ll finish first is a book I’m writing with my brother Zeke.

It’s a mystery with fantasy elements that’s told from the perspective of three Indigenous female protagonists. It’s been a difficult book to write in places because terrible things happen in it, but its ultimately a story about the power of young Indigenous women and how they find their way home.

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7. Book Trailer: Teen Frankenstein by Chandler Baker

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Teen Frankenstein by Chandler Baker (Feiwel & Friends, 2016). From the promotional copy:

High school meets classic horror in Teen Frankenstein, Chandler Baker's modern re-imagining of Mary Shelley's gothic novel.

It was a dark and stormy night when Tor Frankenstein accidentally hits someone with her car. And kills him. 

But, all is not lost―Tor, being the scientific genius she is, brings him back to life...

Thus begins a twisty, turn-y take on a familiar tale, set in the town of Hollow Pines, Texas, where high school is truly horrifying.

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8. Author Interview: Monique Gray Smith on My Heart Fills With Happiness & Advice for Beginning Writers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Today I'm honored to feature Monique Gray Smith, "a mixed heritage woman of Cree, Lakota, and Scottish descent" and the author one of my favorite new titles--my official go-to gift book for 2016.

What put you on the path to writing for young readers?

I never set out to write for young readers and to be honest, I never saw myself as a writer.

When Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience first came out, it was marketed to adults, but then it won the Canadian Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature.

This award sends 2500 copies of the winning book to schools and programs across the country, and all of a sudden, Tilly was in the hands of young people, in schools, classrooms and friendship centres and it became a YA book.

Congratulations on the release of one of my favorite new titles, My Heart Fills with Happiness, illustrated by Julie Flett (Orca, 2016)! What was your original inspiration for this title?

Thank you for your kind words about My Heart Fills. Working with Julie was a true privilege. We spoke on many occasions about the message and illustrations; it was a beautiful collaboration.

My Heart Fills with Happiness was inspired when I was facilitating a workshop on our history and resilience at an Aboriginal Head Start program.

At lunch, the children joined us and I witnessed a Kookum (Grandma) sitting in her chair and her grandson came running over to her. He stood in front of her and she took his face in his hands and his whole body changed. His shoulders went back, his chin came up and his eyes lit up.

What I saw was the way she looked at him with such love filled his heart with happiness. This got me thinking about what fills my heart and our hearts as human beings. A couple weeks later, I was visiting with five of my dear friends and as we were talking, the book came.

Literally, in one quick write, it was done. Only one line has been changed. My next children's book, called You Hold Me Up has also been inspired by Aboriginal Head Start. This is such a powerful program in our country and now has been running across our country for over 20 years and has 50,000 graduates. Culture and Language as well as Family Involvement are two of the six components of this program and as a result it is a significant aspect to the healing of Residential Schools in Canada.

What were the challenges between spark and publication, and what lessons were learned along the way?

This book was a gift from the Ancestors, I know that with every fibre of my being, Cynthia.

Her first book!
As I said above, there was only one line change and in the end there were three publishing companies that wanted to purchase it.

There were some miscommunications with the design between myself and Orca Publishing and as a result I think we have both learned the importance of ensuring connection throughout the project.

I know that this is a new way of relationships between author and publisher, but in these times of reconciliation, it is critical we work together instead of the publisher having all the power and decision making.

What did Julie Flett’s illustrations bring to your text? (Full disclosure: I'm a fan.)

Oh Julie! As I said above, it was a privilege to collaborate with Julie. When Orca informed me it was going to be Julie Flett illustrating My Heart Fills with Happiness I literally did a happy dance in my office. Not only do I admire Julie's contribution to literature; both as an author and illustrator, but I also have profound respect for her as a human being.

I think Julie's illustrations bring the words alive. The way she was able to capture the tender nuances on facial expressions and body postures is precious!

And the cover, I have had numerous girls say to me, "look, that's me on the cover." I think that says it all! When a child sees themselves on the pages it is incredibly affirming for them and in some ways, their right to be seen.

We all need to be seen and heard, but for generations literature has not only not seen us as Indigenous people, but especially not Indigenous women and girls.

Let me simply say, Julie's illustrations make this book what it is!

You also are the author of Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience (Sononis, 2013). Could you tell us a little about this book?

Tilly is loosely based on my life through Tilly's journey and the characters she meets they tell aspects of our history as Indigenous people in Canada. It weaves together some of our traditional teachings, culture and ways of being.

It also speaks to my personal journey of alcoholism and recovery and the beautiful relationship Tilly has with her alcohol & drug counsellor, Bea.

How have you grown as writer over time? 

Oh yes, I am still growing...and to be honest, hope to never stop growing. I am not a trained writer, so I need exceptional editing support.

One of the aspects where I feel I have grown the most is being willing to let the story flow through me.

I used to want to interrupt and pause the story, but now I close my eyes and type away or I share what I'm thinking into my phone. Especially dialogue between characters, that seems to come to me in the place between wakefulness and sleep.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Pay attention. Notice your surroundings, the mannerisms of individuals, the ways people speak, how the light looks on the land at different times.

I'd also say, put yourself out there: let others read your work, send it in to contests, send it to publishers. And remember, you will get on of three responses. Yes. Not yet. Or I have something even better in mind.

View of Gonzales Bay from Monique's office
How about Native American/First Nations authors?

Our people are craving to read our stories and stories that they can see themselves and their lived experiences in. Write them, share them. And if writing them isn't necessarily comfortable, talk them.

On most phones, there is the microphone app on email, if you record your story and then send it to yourself by email it will come as text and voila, you have your first draft.

I would also remind you of the importance of ceremony when writing. I find it helps ground me and opens me for the story to come through me. Offerings of gratitude help me every single day, not only when I am writing, but every day.

I would also say read as much as you can and raise up and talk about those you are reading.

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9. In Memory: Lois Duncan

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Lois Duncan, died in June while Cynsations was on summer hiatus.

Lois Duncan Obituary: Bestselling author of fiction for young adults, including the thriller I Know What You Did Last Summer by Julia Eccleshare from The Guardian. Peek: "She was born Lois Duncan Steinmetz in Philadelphia, and grew up in Sarasota, Florida. Lois wanted to be a writer from childhood, and submitted her first typed manuscript to Ladies’ Home Journal when she was 10."

Obituary: Lois Duncan by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "After attending Duke University for a year... She entered her YA project Debutante Hill in Dodd, Mead & Company’s Seventeenth Summer Literary Contest and earned the grand prize: $1000 and a book contract."

Lois Duncan, 82, Dies; Author Knew What You Did Last Summer by Daniel E. Slotnik from The New York Times. Peek: "Though her books had their share of violence, Ms. Duncan said she was 'utterly horrified' when she saw the [1997] film adaptation of “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” which...turned her novel, about a group of teenagers desperately trying to conceal an accidental killing, into a horror tale in which the same teenagers are systematically dispatched by their hook-wielding victim." Note: To clarify, I heard Lois speak about this at an SCBWI conference. It wasn't the violence per se but rather the way it was trivialized for cheap thrills. Her novel had a strong moral center that was absent from its film adaptation.

I Know What I Read That Summer by Carmen Maria Machado from The New Yorker. Peek: "Her prose is unfussy and clean. She centered her books on young women, and her writing considers themes that have come to obsess me as an adult: gendered violence, psychological manipulation, the vulnerability of outsiders."

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10. Guest Post: E.M. Kokie on Hands-On Research & Getting Out of Your Character's Way

By E.M. Kokie
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

From the flap copy of Radical by E.M. Kokie (Candlewick, 2016):

Preppers. Survivalists. Bex prefers to think of herself as a realist who plans to survive, but regardless of labels, they’re all sure of the same thing: a crisis is coming. 

And when it does, Bex will be ready. She’s planned exactly what to pack, she knows how to handle a gun, and she’ll drag her family to safety by force if necessary. 

When her older brother discovers Clearview, a group that takes survival just as seriously as she does, Bex is intrigued. While outsiders might think they’re a delusional doomsday group, she knows there’s nothing crazy about being prepared. But Bex isn’t prepared for Lucy, who is soft and beautiful and hates guns. 

As her brother’s involvement with some of the members of Clearview grows increasingly alarming and all the pieces of Bex’s life become more difficult to juggle, Bex has to figure out where her loyalties really lie. In a gripping new novel, E. M. Kokie questions our assumptions about family, trust, and what it really takes to survive.

Determined to survive the crisis she’s sure is imminent, Bex is at a loss when her world collapses in the one way she hasn’t planned for.

Before writing Radical, I had never touched a gun. I had never wanted to touch a gun.

But in the early drafts I was struggling to get to the heart of my main character Bex. Then I realized I hadn't really thought about how Bex would feel about guns. It was a blind spot caused by my own discomfort with guns. Once I had that realization I could see all the ways I didn't yet know Bex.

Bex wouldn't just shoot or possess guns. She would have spent most of her life shooting them. They would be part of her family tradition, part of her social life, and part of her identity. She would love her guns. She would be proficient. She would be responsible in their care and maintenance.

In order to understand Bex, and to write her with any kind of accuracy and credibility, I needed to understand guns.

I started with online and print research -- reading about different kinds of guns, popular makes and models, shooting ranges and training programs, and eventually gun laws and the tradition of gun ownership within families and communities.

Then I moved on to watching online videos about everything from training techniques and amateur shooting videos, to videos about comparing models, and cleaning and maintaining firearms. I was fascinated by the many videos of girls and women shooting guns, and handling knives, bows and arrows, and other weapons.

But reading and video research could only take me so far. I needed to understand the tactile and visceral details of how a gun felt in my hand, the heft, and texture, and kickback. The tang in the air after shooting. The smell and feel of cleaning different models. I needed to have a vocabulary and understanding that gave her character depth and provided context for the plot.

But I also needed to get inside of how she would feel, physically and emotionally, about her guns and while she was shooting.

For Bex, shooting guns would be about more than fun or competition or even defense. It is part of who she is.

I was lucky to connect with some people who let me shoot their guns on their property, in an outdoor setting with a dirt berm and a pond, much as I pictured Bex and her brother shooting in their woods.

We started with a small, light gun that even felt small in my hand, and then worked up to larger and more powerful firearms. Then I got a crash course in cleaning and maintenance, sitting on the side of a porch, much as Bex does in the book.

I left with all these sensory details, insights into how shooting could be fun and cause a sense of competition or accomplishment, and bruises in several places.

Even the ride out to the shooting site on a homemade cart attached to an ATV unexpectedly informed the setting and context for my story.

During the writing process, I also reached out to some firearms experts online to answer questions and to seek input for crafting certain plot elements and scenes. And once Radical was in the last stages of the editorial phase, my publisher hired one of those experts to perform a content read to make sure we got the details right.

The research didn't change my mind about my own potential gun ownership, or how I would feel about having a gun in my home. But it did help me better understand Bex and her world, and, hopefully, helped me craft more organic and believable characters and scenes.



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11. Best Young Adult Books with Rachel Caine, Author of Midnight Bites

We're living in a golden age of great fiction ... so many beautiful works being published every month, and it's become a real paradise for readers, whatever they like to read.

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12. Best Selling Young Adult Books | April 2016

This is a solid list that we're not budging on from last month! Our hand-picked list from the Best Selling Young Adult books listed on The New York Times includes both Glass Sword and Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard.

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13. Guest Post: Alan Cumyn on Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend

Find Alan on Facebook and @acumyn
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome, Alan Cumyn! What was your initial inspiration for Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend (Atheneum, 2016)?

There’s a short answer and a long one. The short: in January 2012, popular YA author Libba Bray gave a speech to over a hundred writers at Vermont College of Fine Arts in which she brought us through the ups and downs of her writing career.

Three times in the course of an hour she said, “Don’t go writing your hot pterodactyl boyfriend novel.” She meant that we shouldn’t slavishly follow the trends. But I was struck by the phrase.

When I approached her afterwards and said that I was getting an idea, she encouraged me to follow up, and a little later the whole first chapter, in which the pterodactyl, Pyke, arrives at Vista View High in a calamitous fashion – by landing unceremoniously on the cross-country running champion, Jocelyne Legault – more or less fell out on the page for me.

The longer answer takes me back more than ten years when I was riding a train from Toronto to Ottawa. I had been at some publishing event or other, and was full of the possibility of new stories.

The train rounded a bend and Lake Ontario came into sight. On a rock by the shore a great blue heron, which looked like an ancient creature, pierced me with his gaze. It was the oddest feeling – I felt locked in direct communication with an intelligence not only from another species, but from a vastly different time.

Seconds later the landscape changed, the heron was gone, but I pulled out my pad and scribbled furiously for several pages about a heron who is able to change into a man at will, and who wanders into the big city from time to time almost as a vacation from his usual existence.

After a time I stopped writing because I realized I didn’t know enough about herons to proceed. Over the years, I worked on several versions of this story, and got sidetracked with an interest in Kafka, whose "The Metamorphosis" (1915) famously envisioned a man who wakes up one morning transformed into a bug. I was drawn to the idea of introducing something startlingly unreal and fantastical, but continuing the rest of the story in as realistic a fashion as possible. I was also, like so many others, attracted by the dreamlike nature of Kafka’s writing.

The story morphed and became at least two entirely different novel-length manuscripts that sputtered for various reasons and never quite worked. And then: “Don’t go writing your hot pterodactyl boyfriend novel.” I was seized with yet another possibility to work with some of the same ideas and influences, and perhaps not take it so seriously this time.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

U.S. cover art
That first chapter poured out of me within a day or two of hearing Libba Bray speak in January 2012. I sent a full draft to my agent, Ellen Levine, in late December 2013, so it took me about two years to write much of the manuscript.

During most of that time I told nobody what I was working on. I like the freedom to go wherever I want on the page and to fail privately in ridiculous ways if need be.

After that strong opening chapter fell out, I slowly went over that material again and again for clues about how the story must proceed with these characters in the situation they find themselves in.

Before showing the draft to Ellen, of course, I got feedback from my wife Suzanne, and from friends and family, and made it as strong as I could.

Ellen contacted me enthusiastically in February 2014 and I worked on some more revisions for her. She sent it out to publishers in March and, although a lot of editors passed on it, we did get offers in April, with Caitlyn Dlouhy at Atheneum winning out.

I was way up north in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada at the time as writer-in-residence at Berton House when the phone line to New York started to burn up. It was exciting and strange, to be so far away and yet to have such interest suddenly welling up about my unusual pterodactyl novel. (Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend, it turns out, is the first novel of mine to be published simultaneously in Canada, the United States, the U.K. and elsewhere.)

U.K. cover art
I got a chance to meet Caitlyn in New York in July 2014, and U.K. editors in September. When I was in New York I also spent time at the Museum of Natural History which just happened to be showing a major exhibit on pterodactyls!

Some of the latest research changed the way I thought about the physicality of Pyke, and made it into the book. A lot of the revisions for Caitlyn involved strengthening middle parts of the story and ending it in a way that stayed true to the characters, and to the strangeness of the whole telling.

Again – I kept going back to the beginning for inspiration. The manuscript was pretty well finalized by April 2015, and I was reviewing galleys in October.

There wasn’t a major crisis or anything, no pitched battles, but Caitlyn and I did have strong discussions about all the characters and themes.

I take it for granted that my creations will feel real to me, but it’s lovely when an editor so fully immerses herself as well.

What were the challenges (literary, research, emotional, logistical) in bringing the story to life?

Nothing about this story was straightforward. On the opening page, Pyke appears as a speck in the sky, and by the end of that chapter he is the first inter-species transfer student in the history of Vista View High.

The initial challenge – how do the students accept him as anything but a monster come to eat the school? – I skirted in my first draft by summarizing the changes in a paragraph or two. It was only fairly late in revision that I realized I needed to show in scene those crucial minutes after Pyke has landed on Jocelyne and then carried her to the school nurse for attention.

Pyke is not the main character, of course – the story actually belongs to the student body chair, Shiels Krane, an A-type leader whose well-ordered plans for her graduation year have nothing to do with dealing with a pterodactyl who steals everyone’s heart, including her own.

In that way I was able to shift the question about believability – if Shiels buys into it, then it’s easier for the reader to believe, too. I did do a lot of background reading on pterodactyls, but in my mind I was treating Pyke as the ultimate bad-boy boyfriend, and that’s part of the fun of the story, watching characters adapt to a ridiculous situation that turns normal and then actually seems familiar.

We do it all the time in real life, just not with pterodactyls! So often writing fiction convincingly is a matter of taking care of the tiny details, making those seem lifelike, so that the huge lies one tells hardly stand out at all.

What made you commit to the writing life? What did you sacrifice for it?

I was very lucky to attend a graduate writing program when I was young, only 24, at the University of Windsor, where my mentor, Alistair MacLeod, happened to be a brilliant writer and terrific teacher. Without that early formation, I’m not sure I would’ve stuck with it, given all the difficulties I had initially in publishing anything at all.

It took me seven years of strong effort after graduation to get a single short story accepted in a literary journal (for which I was paid $50). My first three novel manuscripts were rejected before the fourth was accepted, and even that one sat in the publisher’s office for over a year before I got a yes.

Along the way I decided I was not going to be the sort of writer who lives in a tiny room in the YMCA, turning his back on life so that he might have time to write. I have worked at a number of full-time jobs that, fortunately, also fed my sense of life and society, and so nurtured my writing as well.

But if I hadn’t married and had children, I doubt I would have written for younger audiences. I faced a really tough decision at around age 40 when the excellent government job I had (as a writer and researcher on international human rights for the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada) seemed to be too much to handle on top of novel writing as well.

Some of my adult novels were suddenly doing well, and I had to make a choice. It was a big gulp – our children were young, Suzanne had just started a doctorate program, and there was no extra money in case things went badly. So with family support I sacrificed the security of a regular paycheck, but was fortunate enough to have waited until my art was strong enough to withstand the pressures of such a decision.

It was the right thing to do, and I haven’t really looked back, especially since part-time teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Arts allows me to use my skills, and helps keep the wolf from the door during the inevitable down times in a writing and publishing life.

What about the business of publishing do you wish you could change?

I would love it if editors were not so extraordinarily busy, if they could somehow always keep a sense of the leisure of reading while opening up a new manuscript.

Editors often have crushing workloads and it means “quiet” stories often don’t have a chance to get their attention, they’ve got too many submissions to wade through before going back to their email backlog etc.

I know, it’ll never happen, and the really good editors do find ways to let themselves fall into a story when they read, no matter what their to-do list looks like. But I do think a lot of fine writing is overlooked because of the craziness of today’s schedules.

Cynsational Notes

Alan is the faculty chair of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. See also Video Interview with Alan Cumyn from Indigo Teeen.


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14. Best Young Adult Books with Deirdre Riordan Hall, Author of Pearl

During her teens, Deirdre Riordan Hall, author of PEARL, traveled throughout the United States and Europe, developing a love for stories and a desire to connect with worlds imagined or real on the page.

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15. Author Interview: Martine Leavitt on Calvin

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From Macmillan: "Martine Leavitt has written several award-winning novels for young adults, including My Book of Life by Angel (FSG, 2012), which garnered five starred reviews and was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist; Keturah and Lord Death (Boyds Mills, 2012), a finalist for the National Book Award; and Heck Superhero (Boyds Mills, 2014), a finalist for the Governor General's Award. She lives in Alberta, Canada."

Congratulations on the release of Calvin (FSG, 2015)! Could you tell us about the book?

Thank you, Cynthia! It is the story of a seventeen-year-old boy who has a schizophrenic episode in school. He can hear the voice of a tiger named Hobbes.

He decides that Bill Watterson could cure him of his mental illness if he would draw one more comic strip, Calvin healthy and without Hobbes. He gets it into his head that he can make Watterson draw this comic if he goes on a pilgrimage to show his true intent and devotion.

He decides to walk across Lake Erie in winter – a deadly thing to attempt.

Why did you write Calvin?

A single neuron in the back of my brain pulsed with sadness for many years, perhaps all my conscious life, because there is such a thing as mental illness. Then one day it touched me, a form of mental unwellness, and it touched my family. Now I was sorry for myself as well as those who suffered with worse than I. Self-pity, sadly, has always been a motivating factor in my life.

Anyway, that single neuron pulsed away even more persistently, hoping for something, the way we send radio waves into space hoping to contact life on other planets.

One day as I was rereading my Calvin and Hobbes collection, it occurred to a single neuron in the front of my brain that Calvin, in the wrong hands, could be thought of as a maladaptive daydreamer, or as schizophrenic. That neuron in the front of my brain made instant contact with the lonely neuron in the back of my brain, and it was like Adam touching the finger of God in the Sistine Chapel.



Okay, it wasn’t that grand, but you get the idea. A sort of electronic storm was fired up between the two neurons, and they went on like that in their little electronic way for a while. Not enough to make a book quite yet, but something was happening.

And then I read online about a man named Dave Voelker who walked across frozen Lake Erie (to a place near Cleveland, where Watterson was once reported to live – coincidence? I think not), and I suddenly had a story wishing to be told. And that is why I wrote Calvin.

This is your tenth book. Does it get easier?

You would think, wouldn’t you. But in fact, no. Every book is a new adventure is insecurity and inadequacy. Every book asks something of you that no other book has asked.



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16. Best Books of 2015

So many books, so little time! Here are some of the books that I really enjoyed in 2015, listed alphabetically by title. Click on the titles to read my reviews:

Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman
All the Rage by Courtney Summers
Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden
A Deafening Silence in Heaven by Thomas E. Sniegoski
Edgewater by Courtney Sheinmel
The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Sounds Like Me: My Life (so far) in Song by Sara Bareilles
Tin Men by Christopher Golden
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten


Check out my full list: Best Books of 2015 - as posted at my blog, Bildungsroman.


What were some of your favorite books from 2015? Leave the titles in the comments below!


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17. Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon | Book Review

Nicola Yoon’s debut novel, Everything, Everything, is a must-read, inviting a broad spectrum of audiences, from preteens to the older generations.

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18. Shalanda Stanley, Author of Drowning Is Inevitable | Selfie and a Shelfie

Shalanda Stanley grew up in Louisiana and earned her BA in creative writing at Florida State University. She’s an assistant professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where she also lives with her family.

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19. Best Selling Young Adult Books | October 2015

This month, the best selling young adult titles include books by super-talents Neil Gaiman, Chris Riddell, Rainbow Rowell and Sarah Dessen.

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20. Vanishing Girls, by Lauren Oliver | Book Review

Lauren Oliver, author of the Delirium trilogy, Before I Fall and Liesl & Po, has created a tense psychological thriller in Vanishing Girls.

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21. Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh is now solidly one of my all-time favourites. Wow…just…how do I even sum up my love for it?! It’s beautiful and visually delicious and the characters were absolute perfection. BLURB Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old […]

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22. Soulprint, by Megan Miranda | Book Review

SOULPRINT is a fantastic modern thriller by Megan Miranda. Miranda has previously published three novels, including FRACTURE, HYSTERIA and VENGEANCE.

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23. Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell | Book Review

Author Rainbow Rowell has brought fanfiction to life in her 2015 novel, Carry On.

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24. Best Selling Young Adult Books | December 2015

Our hand-picked list from the Best Selling Young Adult list from The New York Times remains the same this month. The best selling young adult titles include books by super-talents Rainbow Rowell and Marie Lu.

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25. Made You Up, by Francesca Zappia | Book Review

Made You Up is Francesca Zappia’s debut novel and features a new kind of heroine that readers are sure to find interesting.

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