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Tag: William C. Morris Award

2016 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Kelly Loy Gilbert

conviction

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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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An Interview with Morris Finalist Elizabeth Ross, author of Belle Epoque

I am happy to continue our series of 2013 Morris Award finalist interviews with a chat with Elizabeth Ross, author Belle Epoque. Check out Alegria’s review of Belle Epoque, the story of a plain girl hired to become a beauty “foil” for an attractive society girl in 1880s Paris. Elizabeth was kind enough to answer some questions about her novel and even provided us with some pictures used in her research!

In Belle Epoque’s afterword, you mention that Emile Zola’s story ‘Les Repoussoirs’ in part inspired the story, but what made you want to set the book in this time? What do you think is so fascinating to many people of this time in history, and especially in Paris? I’m thinking the enduring love for the paintings of Toulouse Lautrec and other Post-Impressionists, and the continuing romance of the bohemian lifestyle. What is it about that time?

Salon at the Rue des Moulins, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
Salon at the Rue des Moulins, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

Paris at the end of the 19th century was a pivotal time in history. Technology, architecture, art and culture were exploding. It was the dawn of the modern age, where the ‘new’ was at odds with old ways of thinking in so many fields.

I’m glad you mentioned Toulouse Lautrec because his art was a huge inspiration for my repoussoirs. The world he painted and the Paris Zola wrote about show the ugly underbelly of a city that we usually associate with romance and luxury. These unbeautiful elements, such as extremes of class and gender inequality, helped augment the stakes and drama for my characters.

Lastly, setting my story in belle époque Paris meant I could examine lots of ideas about today’s society but disguise them in another place and time.

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