What to Do After Your Debut? Keep Writing, Of Course!

The 2021 Morris Award Finalists (shown above) were announced in December, and the winner will be revealed at the ALA Youth Media Awards on January 25. First granted in 2009, the William C. Morris YA Debut Award recognizes the most impressive debut published in Young Adult Literature each year.

With more than a decade of winners to look back on, let’s see which of our former debuts are still impressing readers today.

2010’s Morris Award went to L. K. Madigan’s Flash Burnout. Tragically, the author passed away just a year after receiving the award. The rest of the finalists from that year, however, have continued to contribute to YA in significant ways, perhaps none more notably that Nina LaCour, who went on to win the 2018 Printz Award for We Are Okay. LaCour’s latest novel, Watch Over Me, has been nominated for the 2021 Best Fiction for Young Adults Selected List.

In fact, several names on the 2021 BFYA nominations list were originally finalists for the Morris Award, including 2015’s Jessie Ann Foley, 2016’s Anna-Marie McLemore, 2018’s Nic Stone, and David Yoon in 2020.

Last year’s winner, Ben Phillippe, has been nominated. Both the winner of the 2019 Morris Award and one of its finalists have companion books that were nominated — Adib Khorram with Darius the Great Deserves Better and Tomi Adeyemi with Children of Virtue and Vengeance. And Becky Albertalli, the winner in 2016, is enjoying praise this year for Yes No Maybe So, cowritten with Aisha Saeed.

What about books out in 2021? Morris Award recipients have those, too!

Just released is Concrete Rose, 2018 Morris Award winner Angie Thomas’s follow up to The Hate U Give.

And out in August is In the Wild Light from 2017 Morris Award winner Jeff Zentner.

In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

The moral of the story is this: no matter which finalist is chosen in 2021, we will look forward to reading them for years to come.

2016 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Kelly Loy Gilbert

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Kelly Loy Gilbert is a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

Conviction is the story of Braden, a teen baseball phenom who has to contend with not just his father’s expectations for sports stardom, but his estranged brother, and his looming testimony in his father’s trial for the murder of a police officer.

Kelly, congratulations on your Morris nomination for Conviction! When did you start writing or know you wanted to be a writer? 

Thank you!  It’s such an honor, especially to be in the company of Anna-Marie McLemore, Becky Albertalli, Leah Thomas and Stephanie Oakes, extremely talented women (and lovely people) who’ve written truly incredible books that are all must-reads. I got to read both Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Weight of Feathers before they came out, and I remember thinking to myself, oh man, 2015 is going to be a banner year for YA if there ever was one. (And I really think it was!)

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I’ve been able to read, and the first ‘novel’ I ever wrote was in third grade–I wrote it in my favorite fine-tipped turquoise Crayola marker, and it was concerned primarily with the bedroom of my main character–thinly-disguised wish fulfillment, of course (a canopy bed! A fish tank! An art corner with tons of supplies!). And then I wrote all through my school years, mostly novels (well, “novels”) but occasionally short stories, too.

As someone who is familiar with conservative/evangelical Christianity, I thought you portrayed the nuances of that sub-culture very well. Can you tell us a little bit about writing either from a similar background or research that you did?

This shirt makes an appearance in Conviction.
This shirt makes an appearance in Conviction

I definitely think ‘conservative/evangelical Christianity’ has its own culture and speaks its own language, and it’s one I’ve always felt fluent in–I grew up going mostly to a very pentecostal church in the late 90s/early 2000s, the heyday of Christian phenomena like True Love Waits and Christian boy bands and, like, shirts like this “His Way” shirt. I think the landscape of American Christianity is changing a lot and is much more varied and diverse now, and I know personally faith (which is still a huge part of my life) looks different to me now than it used to. There are many wonderful things from my church growing up that I hope I always hold onto, but at the same time I don’t necessarily believe a lot of the things I did then, and sometimes now I feel like the longer I believe the more questions I have. My current pastor said once that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, but certainty, and that really resonated with me in a way I think I would’ve dismissed entirely when I was younger.

But for Conviction I wanted to return to that particular sort of faith where everything feels black and white and certain, because I also remember what it felt like to believe that rightness mattered so much, that your highest duty to God was to fall always on the correct side of things. It was important to me to write a story that dealt with faith in a way that felt honest and complicated and nuanced, and so I wanted Braden to have to grapple with what it was like to experience a true crisis of faith–to find that nothing in the world was what he’d always taken for granted, and to have to figure out where that left him. I love reading about people’s journeys and experiences with their respective beliefs, and I’ve read a lot of honest, raw stories about people who left their faith, but (at least when I thought about books I’d read about young people) I didn’t feel like I’d read as many about people whose faith in its current form became untenable and yet they still found shards to cling to and rebuild into something else. And Braden’s faith is really real and defining to him, even if it’s built on certain questionable foundations, and so I didn’t think that ultimately it would be something he’d walk away from entirely; I felt it would be something he’d always have to come to terms with.

Another of the things that I found Conviction does really well is show the truth behind the carefully constructed facade of many families. Braden’s family has many dysfunctions –  violence, abuse, lies, bigotry – and Braden struggles to see and understand all of them. What promoted you to write about such heavy topics?

You know, it’s funny, I didn’t actually set out to write many of those from the beginning, but as I was getting deeper and deeper into the characters and asking why each one was the way they were, thinking about their backgrounds and their world views, a lot of those things came up (and then I think a lot of them are inextricably tied together–abuse and a cycle of violence, et cetera). And many things, particularly many of the family’s secrets, were discoveries along the way.

But I think also, because I was writing about a young person, I was interested in that shift when you start to see your parents as people rather than just your parents, and I wanted to explore that in a character who has everything riding on telling himself the same narrative he always has. Continue reading 2016 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Kelly Loy Gilbert

2016 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Stephanie Oakes

Stephanie Oakes is a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award. The award winner will be oOOeM1xi_400x400announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Jan. 11, 2016.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is the powerful story of a teenager without hands, who has spent years of her life in a strict cult. She recounts her horrific life as a cult member as she’s behind bars; including the events that led up to the night a fire destroyed the cult’s encampment and resulted in the Prophet’s death.

The Sacred LivesCongratulations on being selected as a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award Were you surprised to find out you’d been selected?

I was completely surprised! I knew what an incredible year for debuts it had been, and I thought there was no way my book would be in the running. It was such a great feeling to get that call!

There have been several recent YA books that contain elements of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s fairytale Girl Without Hands. I read that author Rosamund Hodge spoke to you about it when she was writing her book Crimson Bound. Why did you decide to write a retelling of that particular tale?

Yes, Rosamund and I chatted about research while she was working on Crimson Bound—that was a fun connection to make. I just loved the story of the fairy tale so much. It was incredibly rich, while at the same time, there were great swathes of the original story that were pretty blank, so there was room to play around with characters, their motivations, and the setting.

It has a rather timeless feel to it yet I believe it’s supposed to be somewhat contemporary. What time period or year is it set in?

It’s set in modern times. I’m a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, but I hadn’t ever read a retelling in a modern setting, so I wanted to give that a try.

The book’s first words are chilling, “I am a blood –soaked girl.” By starting it with Minnow’s brutal act of violence, it really draws the reader in. Was that always the way you’d intended for readers to be introduced to Minnow?

This book underwent so many revisions and rewrites that the beginning changed more times than I can remember. When I first wrote that line, I think it showed up around the third or fourth chapter, but gradually I realized that opening Minnow’s story on that scene was a real hook, so I shuffled it to the front.

Continue reading 2016 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Stephanie Oakes

2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist Len Vlahos

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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.

Today we bring you an interview with Len Vlahos, a 2015 Morris Award finalist for The Scar Boys.

I listened to the audio book edition of Scar Boys, narrated Lincoln Hoppe.  Had you listened to him on another audiobook?  What made you choose him to be the voice of Harbinger “Harry” Jones?

I was so excited when I learned the Random House had acquired the rights to do the audiobook of The Scar Boys, but I was also mystified. I knew nothing about how the process worked. The producer, Kelly Gildea, sent me clips of four possible narrators. The production team had their eye on one in particular, but he sounded too old to me. I knew as soon as I heard Lincoln’s voice that he was Harry. Plus, he’d read King Dork by Frank Portman and absolutely nailed that.  (I should also note that I got to play guitar for the audiobook, which was a great experience.)

What music are you listening to right now?

Right this very second? The tapping of keys on my ancient Macbook. But in general, lately I’ve been playing Roxy Music’s Manifesto, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, and Jackson Browne’s Solo Acoustic Vol 1. (In fact, your question made me stop what I was doing, pull out the Bose Speakers, launch Spotify, and put on some Jackson Browne.)

Were there any songs you wanted to use as chapter titles that didn’t make it to the final novel?

Actually, the original manuscScreen Shot 2015-01-16 at 10.16.00 AMript did not use song titles as chapter heads; it used snippets of lyrics. So, for example, the chapter that currently starts with “Bad Brain (written by Dee Dee Ramone, Joey Ramone, Johnny Ramone, and Marky Ramone, and performed by the Ramones)” originally started with “Gives me the shots, gives me the pills, got me takin’ this junk, against my will…”—New York Dolls Only, it turns out that pesky US copyright law doesn’t allow you to use a snippet of a poem or lyric in a work of commercial fiction without first getting permission. I tried to clear permission, but no one wrote me back. This part of Fair Use law — the copyright law governing use of others’ intellectual property — is actually a bit of a gray area, but it made my publisher nervous, so I changed all the chapter heads to song titles (which can;t be protected with copyright). I spent two weeks searching for appropriate titles that we recorded before 1987. It was a challenge but fun.

If money and copyright were not issues, would you have included all the songs from the titles with the audiobook or as part of a cd soundtrack or downloaded playlist?

Egmont made a Spotify playlist of the chapter heads: Scar Boys 

And yes, I would love it if they were in the audio book. However, those songs were chosen for the textual content. To get a better sense of what I really listen to, check out the playlist I made for my book tour.

I admit I judged this book.  I had an expectation that was far exceeded.  I loved the pervasive misery, the subplots of sadness like ;  reading The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Mrs. Mac dying so unexpectedly of cancer, Mr. K’s patient commits suicide, Richie’s accident, and even Harry’s dad loosing his job. Do you see yourself as an optimist, pessimist or realist?  What do you see for your future?

Oh man, what a question. :-) Okay, if we were playing truth or dare and you asked this question, I would have to tell you that outwardly I’m all pessimist, and inside I’m all optimist. I’m a consummate dreamer, My future? I see hard work, happy kids, and fresh air.

Be warned, by the way, Scar Girl — the sequel scheduled to publish in late August — is a lot darker than The Scar Boys. 

I spent way too much time thinking about the lost dog the family finds near a lighthouse while on vacation. I wanted a lot of things for Harry but I felt especially determined that he keep the dog. The impact of this scene changed when I reread it.  Instead of focusing on the dog, I was fixated on Harry’s dad and their terrible encounter. His dad’s quote “pain and stress can hijack a man’s soul and twist it out of shape” made me see how strong Harry was.  I didn’t think Harry’s soul was mangled from his accident. I felt an intense understanding of both characters at this exact scene. Did you write this scene in particular to help us understand forgiveness? 

Great question! There were a lot of things going on in this scene. First, when my family drove across country when I was six years old (I have an older brother and sister, and all five of us were crammed in a Plymouth sedan for three weeks), we found an abandoned dog at a rest stop in Texas. My dad really did throw his back out trying to coax the dog into our car so we could bring him to a shelter.

Second, I was paying homage to Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. There’s a pivotal scene early in that book where the dad accidentally makes fun of his daughter’s stutter. It’s a powerful scene that has always stayed with me, and I was thinking of that when Harry’s father let’s his most horrible of insults slip.

Finally, I was thinking about ways of showing how Harry’s armor became hardened and how it shaped him as a person. That said, Harry doesn’t really come to understand the concept of forgiveness until he figures out how to forgive himself, which is kind of what happens with his story arc. (Whoops! Spoiler!)

Do you have a favorite music video that inspired your work? Or do you have a favorite video that was inspired by your work that we could share on The Hub?

I can’t say that any one music video inspired The Scar Boys, but I will share some video clips of students that were brave enough to play guitar and/or sing at my book events. It made the entire experience so wonderfully special. 

Now that Scar Boys has two awesome covers, do you love them both equally or do you have a favorite?  How involved are you in designing the covers?

Indies Asked to Choose Scar Boys Cover Design
Indies Asked to Choose Scar Boys Cover Design

Publishers have the decision making power over book covers, and I have been really fortunate that Egmont has included me at every step of the process. And really, there have been four covers.  There were two proposed covers for the advanced reader’s copy, which was changed for the hardcover. I kind of love them all equally. Designers are amazing people. It’s a talent I just don’t have. Finally, we just revealed the cover for Scar Girl

Pretty cool, huh?

Yes, Len, yes you are.

-Laura C. Perenic is currently reading Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach

2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist Jessie Ann Foley

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.

Jessie Ann Foley is a finalist for the 2015 Morris Award. Her book, The Carnival At Bray, is the story of Maggie. Her mother’s latest marriage takes moves her and her sister to Ireland. It is a beautiful story about love, music and struggling with the hard choices. 

What kind of research did you do on being a teen in Ireland?

As a high school teacher, my whole life feels like teen research! But the Ireland aspect was a bit trickier. The Carnival at Bray was originally a short story that I wrote after visiting a carnival fairground in County Wicklow in 2010. I’m Irish-American, but as Maggie learns in the first chapter, that identity can have very little to do with what it means to be actually Irish, and if I had known then that I was setting myself up for the task of expanding it into an entire novel set in Ireland, I might have made things easier for myself and kept Maggie in Chicago. But then, I guess she would never have met Eoin.

My husband, who is from County Kerry, was a huge help to me in writing the novel. I pestered him with constant, nitpicky questions relating to word choice, slang, and authentic details. And if there was a passage that contained lots of dialogue—Eoin’s long monologue about his mother comes to mind—my husband would read it aloud and help me figure out what needed tweaking. I was so nervous for him to read the first draft of the book, because I knew I was going to make ridiculous mistakes. But he was polite enough not to make fun of me.

How did music inspire Maggie’s story? Did you have a playlist you listened to while writing this book?

One of my favorite parts about writing is how the story can surprise you: you think it’s going to be about one thing, but then you start to discover it’s about something else. I didn’t know that my novel was going to be about music when I started writing it. But as Uncle Kevin developed into an important character, the musical angle grew with him. I had so much fun going back and listening to all my 90’s music–some of those albums I hadn’t listened to for years. I listened to a lot of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, the Lemonheads, Smashing Pumpkins, and of course, Nirvana. I listened many times to the live album of the Rome concert that is portrayed in the book. It all definitely brought me back–the music of your youth seems to have that power. I barely remember my first kiss. But I’ll never forget the first time I heard Pearl Jam. Continue reading 2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist Jessie Ann Foley

Where Are They Now? Morris Award Finalists & Winners

yalsa morris winnerHave you ever wondered what YALSA’s Morris Award winning authors have been up to today since they were recognized for their first novels? Well then, this post is the one for you.

For a little background, YALSA has been giving out the Morris award since 2009, which honors debut young adult authors with impressive new voices. This post is not intended to be a comprehensive list of  what all of the finalists and winners have been up to, but it’ll give you an idea of what some of our Morris winners and finalists have been writing since winning their awards. (Be sure to take a look at the full list of Morris winners and finalists.)

Then: 2009 Awards 

  • 2009 Winner – A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
  • 2009 Finalist  – Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Continue reading Where Are They Now? Morris Award Finalists & Winners

ALA Midwinter 2014: YALSA’s Morris/Nonfiction Award Program & Presentation

morris_nonfiction_program_alamw2014The morning of Monday, January 28th, at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia was filled with excitement. Right on the heels of the ALA Youth Media Awards came YALSA’s Morris/Nonfiction Program & Presentation, and the whole room was abuzz to celebrate this year’s finalists and winners of the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and the Award for Excellent in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

Emceed by YALSA President Shannon Peterson, the program began with the Morris Award winner and finalists, introduced by Dorcas Wong, 2014 Morris Award Committee Chair.

Sex & ViolenceCarrie Mesrobian, author of Morris finalist Sex and Violence, gave a heartfelt speech recounting the significance of libraries in her formative years. She was an avid library user during her youth, but never interacted with librarians as a teen. Despite this, she said, “No matter that I never spoke to a single librarian, the librarians kept the shelves stocked… Librarians regularly and reliably provided me with the books I needed.” And for that, she said, she is “forever grateful.”

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad PoetsEvan Roskos, author of Morris finalist Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, had everyone in stitches by observing that being honored for the Morris is a truly a once in a lifetime opportunity because, well… he can only debut once. He then told a story about how his book empowered a teen reader to get help for their mental health concerns. Of course, the inspiring nature of this anecdote turned to hilarity as he observed that “Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets actually caused someone to seek therapy.” He concluded by sharing his four-year-old son’s reaction to seeing his book cover. “Daddy, YOU wrote Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus?” This author is just as hilarious and thoughtful as his book. Continue reading ALA Midwinter 2014: YALSA’s Morris/Nonfiction Award Program & Presentation

2014 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge Final Check In

yalsa morris nonfiction seals

This is it! There are less than 24 hours until the Youth Media Awards at the American Library Association Midwinter conference. (Watch the livestream here.) Tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM Eastern, everyone will find out which book won the 2014 Morris Award and which won the 2014 Excellence in Nonfiction Award. (Among other awards.) Did you read all the nominated titles? Congratulations! Please fill out the form below and give yourself a big pat on the back. If you didn’t read as many as you hoped to, that’s OK! You can still read them after tomorrow.

And keep your eyes on The Hub where we will soon announce the 2014 Hub Reading Challenge, encompassing all of YALSA’s 2014 award winning books and finalists, as well as top ten lists, the Schneider Family Book Award and the Stonewall Book Award.
Happy Almost Youth Media Awards Day, everyone! It’s our own Librarian Oscars! Can’t wait to hear about (and read) the winners.

~Geri Diorio, currently reading Ninety Percent of Everything by Rose George

Morris Award Finalist: Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

Carrie Mesrobian is a finalist for the 2014 William C. Morris Award for her debut novel, Sex & Violence.  The award Photo Dec 03, 4 17 40 PMhonors previously unpublished authors with the year’s best books for young adults.

Evan Carter has moved around from one town to another his entire teenaged life. His father, a Ph.D in math and computer science, is hired by clients all over the country and he drags Evan along. Not since Evan’s mom died when Evan was 11 has his dad really been present in Evan’s life in any sense. Evan, nearly 18, is used to his dad’s distance because he’s got other preoccupations – girls. Even though he might be the new guy at all his schools, he’s never had any trouble meeting and hooking up with them. He even has a strategy and can profile a girl as “The Girl Who Would Say Yes.” That’s worked well for him until he hooks up with the wrong girl named Collette at his Charlotte, NC school and finds himself nearly killed after her ex-boyfriend and another guy savagely assault him in the school’s communal showers. Afterward, Evan and his father move to the family lake in rural Pearl Lake, Minnesota so Evan can recover from a multitude of injuries, including a broken nose & ribs, hearing loss in his left ear and the removal of his ruptured spleen.

During the spring and summer at the lake he has the chance to hang out with other local teens his age. They are celebrating their last summer before college doing “last things” they haven’t done before. Evan tries to fit in with them and pretend everything’s okay but he’s quiet and withdrawn and is suffering from PTSD. Therapy helps but he’s still unable to shower inside so the lake becomes his nightly bathtub. He’s also obsessed with having short hair since when he was beaten up it was long and easy for his attackers to grab. Continue reading Morris Award Finalist: Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

Morris Award Finalist: Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Charm & StrangeStephanie Kuehn is a finalist for the 2014 William C. Morris Award with her debut novel, Charm & Strange.  The award honors previously unpublished authors with the year’s best books for young adults.

This story is about the struggle of Andrew Winston Winters and will keep you guessing to the end.  We know his family suffered a tragedy and that he was somehow involved.  His brother and sister are dead and he was shipped off to a boarding school.  Before the traumatic event he was known as Drew.  After that he goes by his middle name, Win.  Win excels in science.  The title gets its name from both the names of quarks and how people see Win.  Some find him charming, but most will agree he is strange.

The story is told in alternating chapters in the present and the past.  The present is “matter” and the past is “anti-matter.”  Kuehn does an excellent job weaving the details of Win’s current war within himself while giving us clues to his past.  Win has some serious anger issues and is prone to violence.  In one instance, he takes it out on a boy who beats him at tennis.  Win’s family is full of secrets that will have the reader wondering whether they have supernatural powers or issues with abuse.  Win has problems with his roommate.  Kuehn weaves the details of their relationship as she develops both characters.

It is too simple to call this a werewolf book.  The book is beautifully written.  I read through the book quickly because I had to know what happens next.  Readers who like more cerebral supernatural fantasy will eat this one up.

-Kris Hickey, currently reading Labor Day by Joyce Maynard