Skip to content

Tag: Author Interviews

2020 Nonfiction Award Winner: An Interview with Rex Ogle on Free Lunch

Rex Ogle won the 2020 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award for his moving debut, Free Lunch, published by Norton Young Readers.  In it, he tells the story of his first semester in sixth grade, living in chronic poverty with his younger brother, mother, and her boyfriend. He vividly describes the emotional and social toll of being in the free lunch program that semester, along with other struggles he faced during that time. Rex graciously agreed to our interview for The Hub, and I was honored to get the chance to interview him about this important book.

2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist Leslye Walton

Each year, YALSA’s Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. The award morris_seal_finwinner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

Tava lavenderoday’s interview is with finalist Leslye Walton, author of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. I was so excited to ask Leslye some questions about magic realism…and baked goods, thanks to one of my students!

If you haven’t read the book already, here is the publisher blurb:

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.

That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.

Congratulations on your Morris nomination! I absolutely loved your book. It was just beautiful! I (and my colleagues and students) were struck by the multigenerational story and how adult the voice seemed. It felt more mature and reflective than your average YA protagonist narrating from a more immediate and younger perspective. Did you always think you were writing YA? Or did you just write and see which publishers were interested?

Originally, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender wasn’t intended for the YA market. I felt the writing was too lyrical, too chalked full of metaphors for the typical teenaged reader. But after a long, tough road of going-nowhere, my agent, the luminous Bernadette Baker-Baughman, reminded me of all the beautiful, highly literary YA novels out there. After I stopped resisting, I think we sold the novel in a week. Ava Lavender certainly covers some dark and tragic themes—as do so many other great YA novels out there—but it’s also very much a young adult book, and looking back, I wish I had recognized that a bit earlier than I had.

2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist E. K. Johnston

Each year, YALSA’s Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. The award morris_seal_finwinner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

the story of owenE. K. Johnston is a 2015 Morris Award finalist for: The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim.

Owen is training to be a dragon slayer, a crucial job in a world where dragons bring death and destruction. With help from their friends and family, Owen and his bard Siobhan seek the source of a growing dragon threat.

Congratulations on being a finalist for the 2015 Morris Award! The idea behind the book – that species of dragons exist in our world because they are carbon eaters – is a different and unique take on the dragon trope in fantasy fiction. Yet it makes so much sense given our over-reliance on fossil fuels. What do you personally believe about the use and overuse of fossil fuels, and what practices do you follow, if any, in your own daily life to address this issue?

One common criticism of The Story of Owen is that human beings never developed alternative fuel sources despite the threat of dragon fire as a consequence for carbon emissions. I feel that we are dealing with something similar in the real world, though, without the dragons of course, in that we have been slow to develop the technology to efficiently use wind and solar power. Hopefully it won’t take something catastrophic to give us that final push. For my own part, I try to keep my carbon footprint as manageable as I can.

Are you a fan of alternate history books? If so, what other books would you recommend for teens?

I am a huge fan of alternate history! I couldn’t read any while I was writing my own, and that was terrible, because I missed them. I love Tessa Gratton’s UNITED STATES OF ASGARD and Holly Black’s CURSEWORKER trilogy. I am really like Maggie Stiefvater’s THE SCORPIO RACES, which shows that an alternate history can be quite small, and still super readable and relatable.

I know you’re a forensic archeologist but what is that exactly? Does your profession come into play in your writing?

Forensic [insert profession here] just means that you do your job, but with the idea of serving the law. So you can have forensic accountants and forensic dentists…and forensic archaeologists. I learned how to take archaeological principles and apply them to crime scenes (for evidence recovery and the like). It shows up in my books in strange places, but I was trained to research and account for detail, and I think that’s very helpful for writing.

2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist Isabel Quintero

Each year, YALSA’s Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

Isabel Quintero is a 2015 Morris Award finalist for Gabi, A Girl in Pieces:Gabi 2

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity. 

I am so happy you and your book are one of the Morris finalists! Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is one of the most realistic books I’ve read. It reflects what I saw as a teen and of teens I know, now. Was it your goal to give voice to Mexican-American teens?

I think it was my goal to present a different narrative of what it can mean to be Mexican-American. Living on the hyphen is a complex cultural existence at times, and we’re often pulled in many directions where allegiance is always demanded. It is a fractured state of being, though I don’t think it’s necessarily bad; at least the having multiple ways of looking at life-the Mexican and American/the male and female. Where that goes awry is when we want to make one way of approaching life, The One Way. That’s where things begin to disintegrate, loyalties are questioned, and patriarchies are born. Back to the narrative though, so many times in media and pop culture we get one narrative of what it means to be Latino/a, specifically in my case, Mexican or Mexican-American. And of course we need the subcategory, the hyphen; we can’t possibly be “real” Americans, and thus we need a story to go along with what makes us part of this country, but at the same time what makes us outsiders. The story of belonging, and not-belonging, that we’ve gotten is that we are housekeepers, landscapers, and migrant fieldworkers-all very necessary jobs to keep society moving, but yet always subservient roles in which we have very little opportunity for autonomy. That’s the story we’ve been given. We see this on big screens, small screens, and in books. And it’s romanticized too. Sure being a landowner, inheriting a farm that your great grandfather owned, has a bit of romance. But being a worker on that land from sun up to sun down, exposed to injury, violence, and rape-not so much. So with Gabi, I wanted to present a different story; one that is just as real, and just as American as that of a migrant farmworker. Because really, I believe those narratives and Gabi are stories of America, unhyphenated; and I wanted to give voice to those characters.

2015 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: An Interview with Finalist Shane Burcaw

yalsa nonfiction finalistThe YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

The five finalists for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction have been announced — and we’re featuring them here on The Hub. Today we bring you an interview with finalist Shane Burcaw, author of Laughing at My Nightmare, in which he writes about his experiences as a child and young adult with spinal muscular atrophy.


Photo courtesy of Shane Burcaw
Photo courtesy of Shane Burcaw

In your memoir, Laughing at My Nightmare, you write about your experience as a child and young adult with spinal muscular atrophy, taking us from your diagnosis at age two, through childhood, high school and college and up to the present.  Your book is wonderful, honest, funny, insightful — in short, I was impacted very definitely by what you wrote.  I wondered if you could share with Hub readers why you decided to write first your blog and then your book.

My reason for starting the blog was, on the surface, pretty lame. I was bored one summer afternoon and felt an urge to write. Looking back, I think I was battling a subconscious fear of being forgotten around that time in my life. I’ve been living with the reality that my disease will kill me someday since I discovered that truth in middle school, and leaving an impact on the world, making my time seem worthwhile, has always been crucially important to me. But none of that was at the forefront of my mind when I decided to write the first post. I just wanted to make people laugh. As the blog began to grow, and my followers climbed into the hundreds of thousands, I was in constant shock that people cared about what I had to say. Readers from all across the world were emailing me to thank me for inspiring them! That was never my purpose, but along the way I learned to accept that humor and positivity are powerful concepts, and I began to love that I could “help” people in that way. That’s where the book came from, wanting to take my story to the next level, wanting to share the benefits of laughter with the world.

An Interview with 2014 Morris Award Finalist Cat Winters

In the Shadow of the Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Continuing our author interviews of the 2014 Morris Award Finalists, we turn to Cat Winters, author of In the Shadow of the Blackbirds. Winters takes readers to deadly 1918, when the Spanish influenza spread rapidly across the globe even as World War I continued to rage. Sixteen year-old Mary Shelley Black has been send to live with her aunt in San Diego after her father is arrested for treason. The scene is inconceivable to contemporary teens; ordinary girls covering their faces gauze masks, ordinary boys returning from war with shredded minds and bodies. Winter’s use of historical photographs delivers an additional wallop to this powerful portrayal.

Congratulations! It’s quite an accomplishment to have your debut novel selected for the Morris Award.  In the Shadow of the Blackbirds is an excellent book on so many levels, most particularly the detailed historical setting. Is that where your inspiration for the book started, with the time period? Or was it something else?

Thank you so much! I was incredibly honored to learn In the Shadow of Blackbirds was selected as a Morris Award finalist. The news still feels surreal to me.

This book definitely started with the time period. Way back when I was twelve years old, I saw a Ripley’s Believe It or Not TV episode about the Cottingley Fairies, a real-life story of two English girls who fooled the world into believing they had photographed fairies during the tumultuous World War I period. Years later, I came across more Cottingley Fairy info, as well as the history of séances, in the 1997 Smithsonian magazine article “The Man Who Believed in Fairies,” by Tom Huntington. Ever since I read that article, I’ve been fascinated with the way WWI, the deadly Spanish influenza, and the Spiritualism craze intersected in 1918 to create a tense atmosphere of fear and paranoia. It took me quite a while to figure out how to successfully incorporate that history into a novel, but once I started focusing on the spirit photography fad of the era and decided to make my protagonist a sixteen-year-old girl, everything fell into place.

Why “Mary Shelley” Black? Is this a personal tribute to the author Mary Shelley?

Mary Shelley Black was always a strong, vivid character who first tried making her way into a couple other plot possibilities that never actually progressed beyond the idea stages. She seemed like a person whose name should start with an M, so I toyed with “Mary” and “Moira.” Once I decided she’d make the perfect narrator for In the Shadow of Blackbirds, she insisted on being called Mary Shelley Black. I know that explanation makes me sound a little like one of my spirit medium characters, but that’s truly how her name came about. I studied and loved Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a college undergrad, so once I knew I’d be writing from the point of view of a girl named after the author, I let a few other nods to the classic horror story slip into the book.

An Interview with 2014 Morris Award Finalist Stephanie Kuehn

Charm & StrangeWARNING: This book is not about what you are probably going to think it is about. That is pretty much all I can say about Stephanie Kuehn’s debut novel Charm & Strange without wandering into spoiler territory. Told in alternating chapters, the story goes back and forth between Win’s present in a New England boarding school and his past, when he was Drew. Bit by agonizing bit, the tragic series of events is revealed that led to this pivotal night in his life. I am extremely grateful to the Morris, because without it I might never have picked up this little gem of  a book that left me utterly wrecked–and was so worth it. As we continue our series highlighting the 2014 Morris Award finalists, here is my interview with Stephanie Kuehn (in case you were wondering, it’s pronounced keen).

 Where were you and what were you doing when you found out that Charm & Strange had been shortlisted for the Morris? How did you react?

Well, I’m in California, so it was early in the morning and I had just returned from dropping my kids off at school. My sweet and amazing editor at St. Martin’s, Sara Goodman, called to give me the news, and it was a complete shock. It was thrilling, but when I’m surprised, it takes me a while to absorb information, so I don’t think it hit me fully until later in the day. Luckily I already had plans to meet dear friend and author Kirsten Hubbard for coffee that afternoon and she celebrated with me. It was very special. I felt—and still feel—so thankful and honored.

An Interview with 2014 Morris Award Finalist Carrie Mesrobian

Sex & ViolenceAs one of the posts highlighting the 2014 Morris Award finalists, we are very excited to share an interview with Carrie Mesrobian. Her debut novel, Sex & Violence, is about a boy who has moved from school to school and never really developed close relationships with people, though he’s very good at identifying the girls who will say yes to sex without the burden of an emotional attachment he doesn’t have the time or inclination to form. After a brutal attack that leaves him physically and emotionally broken, he spends the the summer on a Minnesota lake getting to know his family, a girl he comes to see as a person and not just a conquest, and ultimately, himself.

First off, congratulations on Sex & Violence being named a William C. Morris Debut YA Award Finalist! Sex & Violence is a novel that I’ve continued to think about months after first reading it. I read that Sex & Violence was a working title that ended up sticking. Do you think the bold title has affected the way the book has been received? 

I think so. And this is a credit to my editor, Andrew Karre, because the title was his idea and, because I couldn’t think of anything better, I just stuck with it until I became accustomed to it. Recently, he and I were on a panel discussing sex in YA lit and someone asked a question about the title. Andrew explained that he feels that good titles set up expectations and reverberations in the minds of readers. While there are sexual and violent scenes in the book, the book is more about sex and violence as topics, not literal portrayals. And so that provides a kind of surprise to readers going in thinking one thing and getting another.

I think certainly some readers were probably turned-off or hesitant about picking up the book because of the title. And some readers felt the opposite. And still other readers thought it was a YA version of 50 Shades of Grey. Credit to Andrew Karre, again, because no matter what you did, the title made you contend with the book, right away.

M.T. Anderson Reflects on Where We Are, Years After His Iconic Book, Feed


I was lucky enough to meet M.T. Anderson, 2009 recipient of YALSA’s Best Books For Young Adults, this week at the library where I work.  He was gracious enough to grant an interview for The Hub.   With dystopian as the hot thing right now, I wanted to know where he thinks we are going, as readers, and how technology is changing us.

Science fiction often says more about the time period it was written than the imagined future society. What parallels do you see between our current social experience and your imagined world?

I wrote the book back in 2001, and, in my mind, it was actually already about the world I saw back then: a world where I didn’t even have to have a chip installed in my skull — I already heard the voice of advertising all the time, speaking in my thoughts and dreams.

Do you feel current technology is catching up with Feed?  For example, the way advertising is sent directly to us on our Facebook pages?                                                             

Technological experimentation is making “feeds” more possible every day, at a speed that I find somewhat surprising and disconcerting. For several years now, neuro-electrical scans have mapped what a buying frenzy looks like in the brain. And as of this year, we have managed to transfer movement impulses between humans over a cyberlink. We can force rats to “remember” impulses that they’ve never encountered before by digitally, and then neurologically, encoding those impulses. Intel says they want chips in consumers’ heads by 2020.  These products could soon be a reality.

Teens’ Top Ten: Five Questions for Katie McGarry

Photo Jul 03, 8 11 39 PMOver 32,000 teen readers cast their vote for the 2013 Teens’ Top Ten, and The Hub is celebrating their choices! Today we feature Katie McGarry, whose book Pushing the Limits is #4 on this year’s Teen’s Top Ten list.

Pushing the Limits

Pushing the Limits is the story of Echo. In one tragic night she went from popular girl to much-gossiped about outcast with weird scars on her arms. No one know what happened that night, not even Echo who just wants life to go back to normal. Any thoughts of normal go out the window when Echo meets Noah who is surprisingly understanding and has secrets of his own.

First of all, congratulations! I am not at all surprised you won since I can’t keep seem to keep any of your books on the shelves at the library or any of the eBooks checked in! I know a lot of my teens are happy that your characters aren’t from perfect homes, or have to struggle with things others take for granted. Is this something you wanted to tackle or did it just happen?

Thank you! This is such an unbelievable honor for me.

Yes, I definitely wanted to write characters who aren’t from perfect homes as well as characters who face difficult struggles.

When I was a teenager, things were tough at times. Not only was this true for me, but it was true for several of my friends. For a lot of us, we didn’t work because it was a great way to make extra cash, we worked because we needed money for the day to day stuff.

A lot of us faced some very real issues and at times, we felt alone in those struggles. Reading for me was a life preserver. When I was able to read about characters who faced adversity and they won—it gave me hope.