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Interview with P. Djèlí Clark, 2019 Alex Award Winner

The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. For more information about the award and previous winners, check out the Alex Awards page on the YALSA website.

 P. Djèlí Clark wrote The Black God’s Drums, Published by, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, a division of Macmillan. Creeper has her sights on leaving the streets of New Orleans and starting a new adventure on an airship. But first she will need to partner with the reluctant Captain Ann-Marie to save a kidnapped Haitian scientist and stop the use of a dangerous weapon. Wildly original with spy nuns and sky pirates, this steampunk alternate history is a winning adventure.

Becky Reiser, 2019 Alex Award committee member, interviewed P. Djèlí Clark about his book. The recorded interview is available below.

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Interview with David Small, 2019 Alex Award Winner

The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. For more information about the award and previous winners, check out the Alex Awards page on the YALSA website.

David Small wrote and illustrated Home After Dark, published by Liveright, an imprint of W.W. Norton & Company. After his mother abandons them, his father uproots thirteen-year-old Russell Pruitt to a rundown town in 1950s California. Russell tries to fit in while navigating a landscape of homophobic bullies and a serial animal killer.  David Small’s storytelling and lush illustrations capture all the uncertainties of adolescence in this coming of age story.

Becky Reiser, 2019 Alex Award committee member, interviewed David Small about his book.

Your graphic novel Home After Dark,chronicles the 50s-era adolescence of Russell Pruitt. Although it less common to hear about a teen running away with his bike today, do you feel there are parallels to teens coming of age in 2019?
Yes, I do think there are parallels. After all, the process of the body’s hormonal development, the growth patterns of our brains haven’t changed. I’m quite sure kids now process things as they always have; there are just so many new things to process and a new rapidity to it all. We’re all on a roller-coaster of informational overload, but with teens, there is a rush to grow up, and they have the Web, with exposure to matters that are both critical and intangible. There is always, with teenagers, an incentive to seem mature about things which they aren’t even genuinely curious about until certain hormones kick in. There is a sophistication in our youth that wasn’t there in the 50’s, or at least a veneer of it. The overlay of irony and sarcasm which permeates everything nowadays gives kids an air of urbanity, though I’m sure it’s no more than a surface impression.

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Interview with Jonathan Evison, 2019 Alex Award Winner

The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. For more information about the award and previous winners, check out the Alex Awards page on the YALSA website.

Jonathan Evison is the author of Lawn Boy, published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing. Twenty-something Mike Muñoz is passionate about the art of landscaping–a fresh cut lawn and a creative topiary. Caught between taking care of his mother and brother and trying to strike out on his own, Mike is not-so-patiently waiting for a lucky break. His struggle is familiar and heartbreaking, and it’s impossible not to root for him as he chases the elusive American Dream.

Becky Reiser, 2019 Alex Award committee member, interviewed Jonathan Evison about his book.

First, of all, I really enjoyed Lawn Boy! Where did you get the idea for Mike Muñoz to work as a “landscape artist”? Was it important that he had a job doing manual labor?
I’ve always wanted to write a novel about class in America, and ultimately I decided I wanted to write it from the perspective of a laborer. Among the many jobs I worked before I managed to scratch out a living as a novelist was landscaper. For years I worked in wealthy people’s yards and became very familiar with the dynamic between the haves and the have-nots. Like Mike, I was raised by a single mom; a working class kid in an otherwise affluent community. I started working under the table when I was ten years old, bussing tables at a restaurant called Jon Patrick’s in Pioneer Square in Seattle, where my waitress sister paid me out of her tips. So most of my life I’ve been serving people one way or another. All those years laboring, I always tried to nurture my creative aspirations, though I didn’t have much of a support system in place. So, I guess more than anything I drew heavily from personal experience in writing Mike.

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#ALAMW19 Recap: Interviewing Don Brown, author of The Unwanted, 2019 Nonfiction Award Winner

If you were living in a refugee camp and met a non-refugee stranger in need, would you be willing to give them the coat off your back? What if you were thousands of miles away from home, and that was the only coat that you owned? During his time at the Syrian refugee camps in Greece, this is the selflessness and generosity that Don Brown and his family experienced from the refugees there. In his book, The Unwanted: Stories of Syrian Refugees, the 2019 YALSA Nonfiction Award Winner, Brown (the book’s writer and illustrator) imparts this message, that Syrian refugees are ordinary individuals placed in extraordinary circumstances, forced to make terrifying decisions but maintaining their humanity, generosity, and kindness.

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One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Elizabeth Wein

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

There’s something about Elizabeth Wein’s writing that makes me cry.  I know I’m not the only one who did ugly crying over Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, and I remember it happening more than once as I worked my way through her Arthurian/Askumite cycle, especially during the trials and tribulations of the singular Telemakos.  (And can I take a moment here to beg you, if you have not had the pleasure of reading these books, please do yourself a favor and dive in.  You will not be sorry, I promise.)  So when I confess that I’m currently sitting in the cafe I work in while my daughter is at school crying over this interview, wondering what it is about Elizabeth Wein’s writing that brings me to tears so easily, I’m hoping and guessing I’m not alone.  There’s just something about her blunt, honest, openhearted approach to the dark parts of life that gets me in the gut; I’m reduced to tears in about ten seconds (or five sentences,  whichever comes first.) 

Elizabeth’s generosity in answering my questions and her willingness to share both some really difficult experiences and the insights gained from them is pretty stunning, frankly.  Thank you, Elizabeth, for talking with me–it was a privilege.

Always Something There to Remind Me

Elizabeth Wein
Elizabeth Wein

Please describe your teenage self.

I really kind of hate to think about my teenage self. I was such a weirdo.

I had a good excuse. My single-parent mother died in a car accident at the age of 35 when I was fourteen. In the same accident my brother Jared, who was three years younger than me and very close to me, was so severely brain-damaged that he was in a coma for a year (more than 30 years later, he is diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic and requires constant nursing care). My younger sister and I were also involved in the accident but were uninjured. Afterward we moved in with my mother’s parents, who raised us.

I dealt with this tragedy in a number of ways, all pretty cerebral. Initially, I escaped into the fantasy world of The Lord of the Rings. I read it about twenty times in the space of a couple of years (I don’t know how; I read a lot of other things, too, and I can’t imagine where I got the time). Then I discovered King Arthur. Oh, I discovered Shakespeare, too. I did a LOT of reading. I also had this notion that everyone expected my schoolwork to deteriorate with grief, so I set out with a fierce determination to prove this wrong.

Because of the relocation to my grandparents, I had to switch schools at the beginning of high school, and this was really the event that saved my butt. I ended up going to Harrisburg Academy, an independent school in Harrisburg, PA, where I made some of the best friends I’ve ever known and undoubtedly was taught by the best teachers I’ve ever had (and that includes those I knew in college and graduate school).

I’ve spent a couple of paragraphs describing the background of my teen years but haven’t really told you anything about me. I spent much of my life in a dream world of nostalgia (for the nuclear family unit of my exotic early childhood in Jamaica and England) and creative stories–I was constantly making up my own stories, and it was at this time that I invented the characters and plot which eventually became my first novel, The Winter Prince (now available as an e-book from Open Road Media.)

I used to organize my friends into costumed adventures such as playing at defusing bombs during the London Blitz. My best friend and I memorized the last scene of Hamlet and acted it out, interminably, in my handkerchief-sized back yard, using broomstick handles as swords and enlisting the small girl from next door to play the minor roles. We’d read aloud to each other from The Once and Future King (T.H.White) and The Thirteen Clocks (James Thurber). I was obsessed with The Empire Strikes Back (I was 15 when it was first released); I saw it in the cinema 13 times in 1980, and used to hike around in the woods in my Luke Skywalker costume pretending I was a Jedi in training on Dagobah. But my biggest crush was not any media star but the early 20th century English poet Rupert Brooke, and I memorized just about his entire life’s work and wrote longing poetry in his name.

I drew pretty heavily on the somewhat loopy side of my own teen self in creating the backstory for the first narrator of Code Name Verity; and I drew on the more literary side in creating the heroine of Rose Under Fire.

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Transgender Characters in Teen Literature: An Interview with Author Ellen Wittlinger

ParrotfishYALSA’s Young Adult Library Services Journal recently featured a list of titles featuring transgender teens, including the book Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger. The books tells the story of Grady, a high school student who identifies as a male and the difficulties and support he faces at school and home. The story is told with humor, warmth, and a deep respect for the courage Grady displays in forging his identity. I was lucky to ask Ellen Wittlinger a few questions.

I think to some degree, defining your identity and constructing your self is a part of any adolescent experience, and makes stories about transgender characters relatable. How did you think about the process of constructing a gender identity for Grady in Parrotfish?  In general, how do you as a writer signify gender identities in your characters? How does the gender identity of a character affect the way you think about them as you are creating them?

I’m going to answer your first two questions together because my answer is pretty much the same for both. How does the gender identity of a character affect the way I think about them? It doesn’t necessarily. The way I begin to think about a character is to imagine who they are at their core, their center. I think everyone is pretty similar deep down, no matter what their gender, race, religion, or ethnicity happens to be. I look for the place in which we’re all human–that’s where to begin building the character. In other words, I don’t begin with the differences, but with the similarities we all share, things like, our hope for a good life, our fear of death, our need for love. The big things.


Author Interview: John Corey Whaley

John Corey WhaleyJohn Corey Whaley grew up in the small town of Springhill, Louisiana, where he learned to be sarcastic and to tell stories. He has a B.A. in English from Louisiana Tech University, as well as an M.A in Secondary English Education. He started writing stories about aliens and underwater civilizations when he was around ten or eleven, but now writes realistic YA fiction (which sometimes includes zombies…). He taught public school for five years and spent much of that time daydreaming about being a full-time writer … and dodging his students’ crafty projectiles. He is terrible at most sports, but is an avid kayaker and bongo player. He is obsessed with movies, music, and traveling to new places. He is an incredibly picky eater and has never been punched in the face, though he has come quite close. His favorite word is defenestration, which is the inspiration for his second book. Where Things Come Back is his first novel.

I had the pleasure of meeting Whaley at an event for debut authors at ALA Annual in New Orleans. His shy smile and humble description of his first book immediately won over the librarians in the room. I knew I had to read his book, Where Things Come Back, which was described as a story about a small town overtaken by enthusiasm from the discovery of a long lost bird, and one teenager trying to survive. Now that Where Things Come Back has been named a Morris Award Finalist, it is all time that we know John Corey Whaley a little better.

One of my favorite things about Where Things Come Back is how real the characters and Lily, Arkansas felt. I have heard you say that some of the characters, especially Cullen and Gabriel, each have pieces of your teenage self, and that Lily is based on your own small town. What was 17-year-old John Corey Whaley like? Could he imagine being a famous writer?

Seventeen-year-old Corey Whaley was pretty cynical and definitely had a lot of issues with his small town. I was funny, though, and I used my humor to survive the boredom—putting on skits in school talent shows with my best friends and taking frequent road trips to Shreveport (an hour away) to see movies and eat at decent restaurants. Could I imagine being a famous writer at 17? I remember wanting it so badly and knowing, somehow, that I’d eventually finish writing a novel and do whatever I could to get it out there. I never expected it all to happen the way it has though, to suddenly have people respecting my work and saying such nice, thoughtful things about it. It’s been too awesome to describe, really.


31 Days of Authors : How do you kill a Survivor?

Teen Read Week is officially October 16th through 22nd, but here at The Hub, we’re celebrating all month long with 31 Days of Authors. On each day in October, we’ll bring you author interviews and profiles and reflections on what YALSA-recognized books have meant to us.

Author, musician, *and* she has cool shades.

Amanda Havard is the debut author of The Survivors, a YA series that gives a new twist to the paranormal genre. During the height of the Salem witch trials, twenty-six children accused of witchcraft are taken into the woods to die. But fourteen of them don’t die. They can’t die. And then they discover their mysterious powers…Fast forward a few hundred years and Sadie, a descendant of the original Survivors, is trying to find her place in the modern, human world. Of course, when you’re strong, fast, telepathic and immortal, it’s hard to fit in. Amanda joins us today to tell us more about this intriguing new series!

Many paranormal romances are written from the point of view of a human protagonist drawn into the supernatural world by their love for an alluring, non-human character. The Survivors focuses instead on the point of view of a non-human character attracted to both the human and paranormal worlds. What prompted this choice?

What a great question. This concept is actually what made me decide to write a paranormal romance series in the first place. I completely understand (and love) the purpose behind the idea of a human being drawn to a non-human. It’s a fantasy we can dream about within all the touches of the reality we’re living.

But I wanted to do something else. I wanted us to think from the side of the paranormal, think from the point of view of someone who is having to strongly evaluate these human world and the non-human world, as it were. I think we, as paranormal/fantasy/supernatural fans, are inherently drawn to the non-human world in our characters. But have we really thought about what it would mean to be caught up in those worlds? Have we thought of all that goes along with it? I wanted to give you—and perhaps selfishly, think as—a character who was having to deal with these questions in a very real, often painful way. We know what draws us to their world, but what would draw them to ours?

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