4) How long does it take you on average to write a novel?
This really depends on whether the book is under contract or not and where I’m at with my teaching work and life things. Overall, I’d say an average timeline from really digging into an idea, to planning, to drafting, and then revising is a 2-4 month process. With that said, sometimes it’s much quicker and sometimes I linger in a story or end up writing something else along the way. Over the years, I’ve definitely gotten faster with drafting novels and so much of that comes down to the time and detail I put into the planning stages.
5) Have you done any formal or informal training, such as writer’s workshops or creative writing programs?
I have both a BA and MA in English LIterature, and I teach writing at the college level for my day job, so I have had lots of training as a writer and writing teacher. However, many of the writing workshops I took in college just crushed me. Really, they were brutal. So much of what I’ve learned about writing novels has come from reading widely, including non-fiction books and craft books, taking workshops offered by authors at conferences or online, and just writing and revising my own books.
6) What advice would you give to a teen that wants to write?
Go for it! Don’t let fear of failure stop you from writing, just get some words on the page. Then, put some more words on there, and then do it again. You’ll be surprised by how a small amount of consistency in a writing practice– even 20 minutes a day– can build to great things.
I’d also recommend reading the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, as a wonderful, encouraging guide to a creative life.
And lastly, I’d say don’t be afraid to plan, outline, write a messy draft, and then revise it extensively. The more time you put into these stages, the more time and heartache you’ll save yourself in drafting and revisions.
7) There’s been a lot of buzz recently about #booktok’s impact on the publishing industry, especially when it comes to YA. Has #booktok’s influence changed your personal experience with publishing? Have there been noticeable changes with your new works compared to when Kit was published?
I love BookTok so much! At first I was very intimidated by making videos about my books, but over the last year, it’s really grown to be one of my favorite social media platforms. It offers a fun way to talk about lots of things within my books– I’ve made videos about The Absinthe Underground’s historical inspirations, how its cover came to be, what kinds of cats are in the book, and so much more. There’s such a vibrant, active community of diverse readers on TikTok, and I love being there to not only interact with them about my books, but also to talk about some books I love too. It allows me space to be both a reader and author, which is so nice.
I’m not sure what impact of BookTok will have on my publishing journey– I’d love to have a book go viral there, but that’s such a longshot thing. I will say that I think a lot more people are hearing about my books from BookTok, as opposed to 2020 when Kit came out. At the time of writing this, more than two weeks away from the launch of The Absinthe Underground, the hashtag #theabsintheunderground has had over 200,000 views, which is incredible and so exciting!
8) Let’s talk launch parties! Kit came out in 2020 and you had an at-home launch. Vermilion you had your first in-person launch party at Boswell Books in Milwaukee. Did it feel more real having an in-person launch party? Did it feel real the first time you sold out your advance? Sold foreign language rights? Received a physical, finished copy? What made you say, “Whoa, I finally made it?”
Hooray for launch parties! I’ve always treated a book launching as an excuse for a party, and I’m so excited for the launch of The Absinthe Underground! With the help of my local indie, A Room of One’s Own in Madison, WI and the Queer Joy Book Club there, we are having quite a party. There will even be a costume contest sponsored by the head of the book club, who’s coming to the event in a green fairy costume like the one on my book cover.
To the other questions- it doesn’t necessarily feel more real to have an in-person launch, and I’m so grateful I got to celebrate Kit with my family at home in 2020 and do so many virtual events that year. With that said, I am grateful to have had an in-person launch for The Vermilion Emporium and The Absinthe Underground. Although I’m still very Covid cautious, I love meeting readers, answering questions about my books, and generally nerding out about books with like-minded people.
And I’m not sure I’ll ever feel like I really made it as an author, but I’m just delighted to be on this journey and see what each new book brings.
9) I get the impression that the writing community is very supportive of each other and I often recognize a lot of the names listed in acknowledgements. How do authors find their cohorts?
I love my author friends so much, and many of them have become dear friends in all areas of my life, which is such a gift. I met one of my best friends, historical author Noelle Salazar at a conference back in 2013, when I sat down next to her and we bonded over bagels, being new writers, and our nervousness at meeting agents and editors. Many of my other author friends came from the amazing Pitch Wars community that I was a mentee for in 2015 and then a co-mentor with my dear friend MK England in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Beyond that, I currently play D&D with a bunch of other authors, which is so fun.
To the question about how to find author cohorts: I think there are many ways to do so including online events, conferences, book events, just chatting with people online who seem bookish and share your writing/author aspirations. We’re so lucky to have online avenues for communication and I think this helps make the author journey so much less lonely.
10) What’s left on your author bucket list?
Oh gosh, it’s an ever-moving line, right? I’ve hit so many author bucket list items– some of which I still can’t talk about publicly– but others which have been wildly unexpected, like selling lots of foreign rights in many countries; seeing fan art and costumes from my books; winning awards for my writing; earning out advances; and, getting to write some of the books that I’ve had in my head for a long, long time.
With that said, these are a few things still on my author bucket list: hitting a bestseller list someday; having a few of my MG books published (fun fact– I started my publishing journey in Pitch Wars 2015 with a MG book that got me my first agent, but ultimately didn’t sell); seeing one of my books made into a TV show or film; and, getting one of my books into one of the big book boxes or Reese’s book club…
But, with all that said, I’m also very delighted by where my career has taken me and I can’t wait to see what the future holds! :-)
1) Jamie, let’s chat about your books as a whole. You’ve written in a few different genres–contemporary, fantasy, romance–which is your favorite? Do you find it difficult to write across genres or do the stories kind of tell themselves?
I feel so lucky to have published across many genres (and there are more new and exciting things in different genres and age ranges in my publishing pipeline!). I don’t find it difficult to write in different genres– a story is a story and characters are characters be they in worlds with dragons or worlds with cell phones– and I think if you keep that in mind, it’s very possible to move among genres as a writer as the stories and your own interest takes you. I love all my books, but fantasy is forever and always my first love. All of the new projects I’m working on are fantasy ones, and I just thrive on creating new worlds, magic systems, and figuring out how it all works together and then plopping characters into those worlds and seeing what happens.
2) What was your favorite book as a teen?
I read a lot of very serious adult books as a literary-minded teen– (I remember devouring Anna Karenina by the ocean one summer, for goodness sake, lol.) But I also absolutely loved romance novels and some of the early YA-ish books that were publishing in the late 90s. Things like Homecoming by Cythia Vogit and all of Mercedes Lackey’s fantasy books. My absolute favorite book as a teen wasBy the Sword by Mercedes Lackey, which is about a fierce, sword-wielding woman in a magical world, and if you’re read my debut, The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweety, you can see why this book was entirely my jam as a teen.
3) What makes Absinthe Underground so special to you?
The Absinthe Underground is a story that’s particularly close to my heart. Here are 10 reasons why:
*I carried this story for more than a decade— from when I first got the hint of an idea at an art exhibit in 2012 to now. I carried this story for more than a decade—
*It’s a cozy, tender novel about two best friends who are (secretly) in love with each other and will do anything— even go to Fae— to protect the girl they love.
*It’s full of cats. Really, there are so many cats! (7 in one apartment alone!)
*It’s a love letter to all the queer people in history who have had to love each other secretly, and it’s a story of hope for queer kids now that’s full of joy and possibility.
*It’s the “The Were Roommates…” trope writ large with a hearty dose of magic, danger, dragons, Fae queens, and much more.
*It’s about overcoming fear and the freedom that’s waiting on the other side of that journey.
*It’s full of Fae magic and a portal fantasy about a lush Fae world!
*It’s got a decadent, Belle Époque night club like the Moulin Rogue, which is full of artists, writers, and dancers, and many other people drawn from history.
*It’s also got a green fairy who’s hanging out in our world, who is terrifying and beautiful in equal measure.
*It’s an absolute romp of a book with poster and museum thefts, a heist in Fae, magical traps, and much more.
The Margaret A. Edwards Award, established in 1988, honors an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature. The annual award is administered by YALSA and sponsored by School Library Journal magazine. It recognizes an author’s work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world.
The 2021 recipient is Kekla Magoon for X: A Novel co-written by Ilyasah Shabazz and published by Candlewick Press; How it Went Down published by Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group; The Rock and the River and Fire in the Streets both published by Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. Kekla Magoon will be honored at YALSA’s 2021 YA Services Symposium, which is to take place November 3-5, 2021 in Reno, NV, where she will be presented with a citation and cash prize of $2,000.
THE HUB: The Edwards award is unique in that it highlights not just the author (YOU!) but also a specific body of work from that author. What do you think made these titles stand out to the selection committee?
MAGOON: The connection, in my mind, is that all these titles focus on civil rights and social justice, either in a historical or contemporary context. These books were also often the first of their kind, or the first to tackle a particular narrative or topic, such as featuring Black Panther Party history in The Rock and the River, or addressing the frequent, tragic, often-controversial shootings of Black people in How it Went Down. Though there have since been other books on these topics, the committee seemed to recognize that these books arrived early in the conversation and continue to inspire discussion and dialogue among readers.
THE HUB: If an author’s books are like beloved children, which of your “shy” children do you wish would get more attention?
Each year, a committee of thoughtful and diligent YALSA members reads dozens of titles to determine the winner of the Michael L. Printz award for literary excellence in young adult literature. The committee also selects honor titles, a small group of exemplary books that merit special recognition. In 2021, the committee selected Traci Chee’s We Are Not Free to receive this honor designation, and this multi-vocal novel about the incarceration of Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor is worthy of every accolade it has received.
We are so grateful for Traci’s words and her wisdom, and most especially, for her time, given so generously for this interview. If you have not yet read We Are NotFree, perhaps this interview will convince you to move it up the TBR pile! And if you are a fan of audiobooks, the full-cast recording of this one is tremendous.
THE HUB: Besides being an important part of United States history, the events you explore in We Are Not Free are part of your family’s history. Would you describe your research process and how you balanced the external research with the personal stories from your family?
CHEE: For the first twelve years of my life, I wasn’t really aware that this had happened — I just didn’t know about it. And then, when I was twelve, my grandfather was awarded an honorary diploma from this school in San Francisco where he would have graduated if he hadn’t been evicted and incarcerated. That event put the incarceration in my mind as a thing that had happened in history and also a thing that happened to my family. But even then my family didn’t really talk about it very much. It was still something they played really close to their chest.
So, after that initial seed, I started reading novels like Journey to Topaz or Farewell to Manzanar, so I had this little bit of exposure through fiction, and then, I started hearing family stories here and there about what they had gone through in the camps. For example, there’s that moment in We Are Not Free where Yuki is shouted out of the ice cream parlor, and that is inspired by something that happened to my great-uncle when he was 8. So, I was gathering these things, and then in 2007 my mom and my aunt took me on a pilgrimage to Topaz, the incarceration camp site where my grandparents were. We drove all the way across the Nevada desert to this middle of nowhere, high desert location, and I got to stand at the old cement foundations where the barracks had been, where my grandparents had lived when they were 13 and 16. I got to look at the original barbed wire fences that had enclosed them, and it was a hugely powerful experience. That moment was when I really understood, as best I could without having experienced it myself, how harrowing it must have been to have been uprooted from San Francisco, which is so different from high desert Utah, and then to be plopped down there in what felt like a foreign country.
Each year, a committee of thoughtful and diligent YALSA members reads dozens of titles to determine the winner of the Michael L. Printz award for literary excellence in young adult literature. The committee also selects honor titles, a small group of exemplary books that merit special recognition. In 2021, the committee selected Eric Gansworth’s Apple (Skin to the Core) to receive this honor designation, noting the complexity and nuance of his verse memoir for young adults. In his speech at the Printz Celebration event, Gansworth explains that he is not usually someone who cries, noting that even tears of joy are too risky “because you are letting people know what you value, letting them know what they could steal if they wanted to hurt you.” Even so, he acknowledges, tears ran down his cheeks when he learned of the Printz honor.
An enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, Gansworth grew up on the Rez – Tuscarora Nation near Niagara Falls, New York. His work explores issues of identity and culture as well as music, art, and relationships. Gansworth is also an accomplished artist and teacher, and we are so thankful that he has agreed to this interview.
THE HUB: Hello and thank you so much for sparing the time for this email interview. It means so much!
GANSWORTH: Hello! Wow, complex and wide range of questions! Thank you for taking the time to go in for the deep cuts here. Sometimes I end up learning about the work even after it’s published by some of the responses, and these are ambitious and interesting. I’ll apologize up front. I’m not very good at short answers. I believe rich questions deserve full answers.
THE HUB: Let’s start with the title: Apple (Skin to the Core) and the layers of meaning it inhabits. Was this an easy title to land on, or did it go through many iterations?
GANSWORTH: It was kind of agonizing (he said, melodramatically). This book has taken on many forms over the decade it was in development, but one thing had stayed the same. It was always going to be called The Apple Years. I’d never even given it a second thought. But it was also, for much of that gestation, a very different looking book, for an adult audience. When the discussions began about it evolving into a memoir in verse for young adults, a form I was unfamiliar with, there was great resistance from publishing professionals who assumed such a title would seem too geezerly, too much a “back in my day” kind of title. I could appreciate that, immediately, but I was definitely stuck, because that title was entrenched in my imagination. I was really not happy with anything I came up with. Rez Humor has a heavy pun dynamic, which is why I loved The Apple Years so much, and none of the other punny titles had the same pay off. This one dropped in, almost at the deadline for a final title. It looks good on paper, and resonates, but it doesn’t really roll off the tongue. I feared people might want to just call the book Apple, which has happened in some quarters. My poetry titles have tended to be cumbersome, so it fits that pattern, I suppose.
THE HUB: Obviously, rock music plays a significant role in shaping this book, most notably The Beatles. Why them? What makes these four white dudes from England an apt symbol for a book by and about Native life?
GANSWORTH: I have found it strange to discover that some people are not music people. That seems sort of like saying “I’m not really an oxygen person” to me, in part, because the Rez, as far as I can tell, has kind of a universal love for music. Not always the same music, of course, but as an art form, it is essential. In a lot of ways, the presence of The Beatles and their music is more symbolic. I needed some versatile images to sneak into some of my ideas, and they happened to be symbols I know extremely well.
Our first treaty with European invaders was the Two Row. It was a non-interference treaty, two parallel rows of beads, symbolizing two vessels traveling side by side, peacefully. One great thing about the treaty belts is that they have multiple interpretive threads and the focus is the interpreter’s prerogative. One thread has to do with the water in between. The two vessels traveling side by side inevitably leave wakes, and each wake mingles with the other and influences the paths. Much of my career has been about the ways indigenous cultures influence popular culture and vice versa.
There is a chronic tendency to want to keep us frozen in some fabricated amalgam of historic Indian identity, so I like to look for unexpected communications. My siblings are a lot older than I am, so I was always influenced by their interests. My first singles were “Daydream Believer/Goin’ Down” by The Monkees, and “Hey Jude/Revolution” by The Beatles, when I was three. It’s long been acknowledged that the British invasion was largely a British interpretation of an American music form, an outgrowth of primarily African American forms, with some significant early indigenous threads as well. Link Wray’s “Rumble” is a cornerstone of early American rock. Even if you don’t know it, those early British Invasion acts did. But their form is their form. It doesn’t sound like American rock at the time. The Beatles, The Stones, et al, loved the forms and internalized them, so their sound became its own thing in synthesis.
If I Ever Get Out of Here, the work where they first show up in a major way, was my tenth book, so they were absent from a lot of my work. I began really taking a deep dive into the wrestling match between group identity and individual identity in that novel, something almost any community-based Indian has to engage. I had the sudden insight that the same tension was a major part of The Beatles’ life stories. There are only two left, and it is still pop-newsworthy when Paul and Ringo play together. For a certain demographic, The Beatles being together seems the only natural state. And that strong group identity is a big part of many community-affiliated indigenous lives. Once I started considering The Beatles as one of my tools, I understood how much there was to say. Because they were also constantly experimenting and growing, they also had a rich trove of material to mine metaphorically.
THE HUB: One of my favorite poems in this collection is “Naming Ceremony,” especially as it grapples with the way we receive names and cast off names throughout our lives. There are those names we fear we might lose and those “given in innocence” that turn on you. Why is naming so central to our ability to tell our stories?
GANSWORTH: Thank you. I enjoyed pushing the limits with that poem. I’m glad the pay-off was worthwhile. This is another of those peculiar collisions that offers so many lenses, and I really wanted to consider as many facets as was possible. People seem very interested in this idea of “The Indian Name.” I mean, isn’t that the origin of the title of Dances with Wolves? Isn’t that the “Indian Name” the white guy gets? It was so weird to see that film proclaimed as a major landmark in indigenous cinema when its narrative was clearly about a white guy with Indians in the background.
And I’m probably guilty of that naming preoccupation to some degree, myself. It was important for me to go through ceremony and finally have a name, but I was still nervous about the process. You’re supposed to do it in your first year and I was fifty. I had 49 years of absence weighing on me, and I probably still wouldn’t have done it without the active help of my niece and my sister. There is also the weight of all the children who were forced to boarding schools who lost their original names, and the reality that my family’s last name was arbitrarily changed by the reservation school teacher in 1870 because she didn’t think it sounded American enough.
On the other hand, many nicknames are unflattering in some fashion, certainly in American culture. A lot of the Rez communities reject their members’ legal names and use nicknames as a matter of course. Some are behavior-curbing names, some are puns, and some are total flukes. There’s no real pattern and I love the inventiveness but must acknowledge that some people find their nicknames painful and that I have probably been a participant in causing that pain. I tend to feel that being a writer of realist narratives, I have to acknowledge my complicity in some things, like adopting nicknames that I knew I would not have wanted, myself.
THE HUB: The concept of metamorphosis turns up over and over in this book. What is it about those transformations or partial mutations that resonate for you?
GANSWORTH: The thing I love about a great metaphor is that it sort of works like a pedal effect on a guitar amp, or that game, Post Office, where things start off as one entity and, through repetition, become something else. Most metamorphoses we experience have some environmental trigger, like the Brood X cicadas in the news right now. They awake after seventeen years because of environmental triggers. I live in the region so toxic with chemicals that its state essentially initiated the SuperFund designation. I suspect I am going through undesirable metamorphoses even now, at the DNA level. But through a different lens, I remember the major change of growing up in one way of life, involving a close community, where you knew most of the families, the adults, the older kids, your own peers, and then at 11, being thrown into a giant middle school where we weren’t just meeting 300 new, primarily white peers. We were meeting 300 new peers from a significantly different culture, with a different worldview. They might know two or three neighbors, depending on whether those neighbors had kids their age. Their idea of community was fundamentally different.
Your choices, being faced with that new world, are change or be crushed, or be defiant. Defiance always bites me in the ass. Maybe it does everyone, and others don’t mind the bite as much. So you change, and generally speaking, metamorphosis is not a two-way street. And of course, people going through puberty are keenly aware of metamorphosis. It’s one of the times in our lives where change is largely inescapable. And puberty is simultaneously fascinating and mortifying, as an experience. If any phase of life is Kafkaesque, it is the overhaul of puberty. Like Gregor Samsa, you wake up one morning and your voice is different, your body has changed and some people respond to your new evolution poorly. Still, you have no choice. You have to adapt.
THE HUB: I love the phrase “live up to the joy” (found in the poem “From Iron Man to Skywalker: 4. Devourer of Worlds”). What does that phrase mean for you now as an adult looking back, especially as one who grew up in a community where another baby might bring complications and difficulties as much as it might invoke joy?
GANSWORTH: I had to look that up, to see the context. This book went through many, well, metamorphoses. Yeah, so, certainly our cultural narratives signal a specific kind of delight a baby is supposed to bring. There are whole industries built around the idea of sharing the joy, but when you meet the parents of infants, and even children beyond, they’re often frazzled and worn out, but they never want to admit that. It’s sort of a taboo. And if you’re born into a family that already has financial challenges, the introduction of one more mouth could, in real ways, take a household one step closer to disaster.
One thing I really loved about dragging the Fantastic Four into this book, even beyond their echo of the Beatles, the “Fab Four,” is that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (and Steve Ditko, and the other Marvel creators) were willing to let their characters’ lives get messy and evolve. They were probably closer to soap operas for boys that even if they weren’t willing to admit it, the boys were invested in. Two of the Four get married and because they’ve been mutated, things get complicated when they end up conceiving a child. It’s not in the poem but Old School Marvel nerds know that in fact, the baby they deliver does cause major problems that even the Fantastic Four, with all their resources, can’t find a reasonable way to resolve. Things don’t always go well for Franklin Richards, though everyone is overjoyed when he’s born. His fate is a ghost on this poem.
THE HUB: The structure of this book is unique and complicated, which is, I think, one of its great strengths. How did it come to be?
GANSWORTH: It started as an idea for a series of paintings, really. My work often cross-pollinates, so I trust one form to communicate with others regularly. I’d been regularly using the profile image from the Indian Head nickel from early in my career, and I was startled to discover, revisiting some research, that it was an image plagued with stereotypes. The engraver found no single indigenous model who looked “Indian enough” for his purposes, so he harvested different stereotypical features from four models and combined them into one Uber-Indian. When I read that, I was re-immersing myself in The Beatles catalogue, and noting how early on, their look was cultivated to be a single entity. And studying the album art, of course, you see them wanting to become individuals, but still creating this unrivaled body of work as a group. They wanted autonomy, in the creation of Apple Records, but they were also longing to own their individual desires and interests. I thought I’d recreate each of their Apple era album covers in some kind of indigenous coding. I decided to cast Abbey Road as four rapidly changing “looks” from phases of my own young adult identity: Rez High School Kid, Rez Beginning College Kid, College Guy in Professional Uniform, and then the radical leap into adulthood, years later, for the last one. The setting is mostly Dog Street, where I grew up, but the final disruptive panel is city life. That sort of set the template for the way to imagine the paintings, and they then dictated a specific arc of my life: Grandparents and family before me; young life; the end of high school and beginning college, and then adulthood beyond. They neatly fit Apple Records, The White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be. I obviously had to change to The Red Album, and Get Back was the original title for Let It Be, and the artwork was supposed to mimic their first album. The phrase “Get Back,” means something entirely different from “Let It Be.” Sometimes the world gives you a gift and all you have to do is embrace it.
THE HUB: There are several elements of repetition throughout, whether it is repeated lines within an individual poems, or the section where facing pages have different poems with the same title. How do you see that repetition working for your book, and for your readers?
GANSWORTH: Though it looks entirely different from the first or even the fifth version, the lynchpin for this work was the Dog Street/Abbey Road section. I knew I wanted to go back to the challenge of rhyme and rhythm and traditional forms, poetry forms I wrote a lot in, when I was sixteen-twenty. But I also wanted the liberty of free verse to cover the year I formally changed from high school kid to adult, moving out. I loved the opportunity to visit the same moment in different forms, facing one another. It was like talking to two people who’d been at the same party who tell you entirely different accounts based on who they are and what they look at. I want people to think about the ways they remember things.
I loved the challenge, but I wanted it to be something for readers too. It was kind of a litmus test. A lot of people hated that section in development. If an editor’s first question was “how committed are you to this mirror thing,” I knew we were not likely to work together. I have also always loved in the Abbey Road medley, how a sliver of “You Never Give Me Your Money” just appears spontaneously and magically in “Carry That Weight,” and then disappears again. I guess that’s an early Easter Egg. I like Easter Eggs, but only if they contribute meaningfully, so when I’ve included an echo, I’m offering something to the dedicated reader with a good memory. There is something happening in that bridge.
THE HUB: I was thrilled (and surprised!) to find a Lynda Barry face smiling out of one your early collages and then to find the poem dedicated to her. For those unfamiliar with her, what would you want your readers to know about Lynda Barry?
GANSWORTH: That she is a stealthy and loving genius. Although now that she’s won a MacArthur “Genius Grant,” maybe more people will see that. She is a multimedia comics creator. I keep deleting and rewriting this because, to use a fancy term she would hate, she is sui generis, a category of one. In recent years, she’s been publishing books with methods encouraging others to find their inner artists, especially people who don’t believe they have one.
For a long time, her work was in four panel, b&w comics (often in regional arts newspapers). Her mastery of economy never fails to amaze me in its simultaneous heartbreak and hilarity. She most often chronicled the adolescent lives of cousins, the children of two volatile women and frequently absent men. A lot of comics involving kids are either kind of twee, or overly smarty pants, where the kids are unlikely precocious drivers of their own destinies. That power never spoke to me. The realities of Lynda’s characters was an immense gift. I had never really valued the riches of my own life events until I read the insights (and sometimes they are strictly mood insights) that she was able to capture in this brief snapshots of Marlys, Arna, Freddie, Maybonne and Arnold. She is truly the gift that keeps giving.
THE HUB: Another important theme is the tension between things being lost and things being found (or ownership of things being claimed). What is it about this push-pull that speaks to you?
GANSWORTH: I want to blame the loss of my family’s generations-long home to fire, when I was 29, where our accumulated history went up in flames in an hour, including most of our family photos and my first ever painting (a large mural on my bedroom wall–which I’ve subsequently discovered I’ve lost the only photos of). I celebrate the “find” with the advent of ebay. The tension of loss and reclamation is also a microcosm of indigenous history post contact. I know some people want to put a positive spin on the boarding schools, but the reality is their sole purpose was to wipe out indigenous cultures in children, by removing them from parents and environments where their cultures thrived. The belief was that if they were kept away long enough, they wouldn’t be able to re-find their way home. Three of my grandparents were boarding school survivors and they gave us, the future generations, the gift of making it back. We have had the opportunity to try to rebuild as communities, but it is a challenge not without complications.
And on the personal front, the truth is our house was often chaotic, and cherished objects of mine vanished regularly from my life for as long as I can remember. I am naturally a pack rat and still own some things I had when I was three. I have spent an irresponsible amount of money tracking down replacements of things I’d lost, and things I would have never owned but desired. On my desk is a ridiculous, almost life sized (waist up) fiberglass Batman figure, that was part of a children’s ride, outside of stores usually, where you put a quarter in, and climb in the Batboat and ride with Batman. There was briefly one on Main Street in Niagara Falls when I was a little kid. If you would have told pre-school me that I would one day own the kind of Batman I was riding with, even at four, I would not have been gullible enough to believe you. I knew the limitations of our life. Yet, here it is, on my desk as I write. Maybe we come to love some things because we know others will be lost and we have to find ways to cope with being those new people. Maybe those attainable objects are like life jackets on the river of loss, helping you look for the shore of reclamation. Those two extremes are the tension poles for my life’s highwire act.
THE HUB: You’ve created art across genres, in different media, and for different ages. What made YA the right audience for this title?
GANSWORTH: I suppose I write for me in high school. I was introspective, already knew the ramifications of loss, deeply, and was eager to contemplate what adulthood might bring. There wasn’t much in the way of YA when I was young. The Outsiders was the only YA novel I knew formally. I began to recognize style early. I read workmanlike horror movie novelizations, but also picked up novels that peers were reading. Some popular novels were so atrociously written, I went back to the novelizations. Their goal was to help you relive the movies and the prose was generic but not terrible like the novels some peers loved. When I finally discovered work that spoke to me, its scope held a breadth of experience. It’s been noted that a lot of people who became readers because of Stephen King did so in adolescence. For me, it was his second novel, ‘Salem’s Lot. The character, Mark, the young man in high school (or maybe middle school?) has a rich and complex inner life, in the same way the adult protagonist Ben, a writer in his thirties, does. Mark’s desires and interests are treated with the same respect as the adult characters’ concerns. I could identify with Mark’s world and aspire to the life of Ben.
The only poetic forms that spoke to me were reflective rock lyrics. “Yesterday,” made me immensely sad, even when I was five, when my lamented yesterday was the year before I started school. My family laughed that even then, I gravitated to songs like Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days.” The surviving photos of my childhood confirm that I was a serious, melancholy kid. I spent much of my first five years with my grandfather, and then he died and my life changed, both at home and in beginning kindergarten. I knew what serious loss meant. I know for some young people, it’s not cool to associate with your family, or even to think about the future. Maybe this work will offer a chance to reconsider, or maybe it’s for young people like the young man I was: considering my childhood meaningfully but also wondering what came next. Who was I going to be and what bearing did my past have on that trajectory? That seems like a lens respectful of a young person’s concerns. I wanted someone to affirm that the worries that kept me up nights were real, and to offer some hope for a metamorphosis that suited the person I wanted to become. Maybe this book will be a necessary lighthouse for those young people, if that’s what they’re looking for.
Each year, the Alex Award committee works to select ten titles published for adult readers that might have special appeal to young adults, ages 12-18. One of the 2021 selections is Plain Bad Heroines by emily m. danforth.
Plain Bad Heroines is a stunning piece of fiction. Like the finest of pastries, each layer is carefully crafted and just as delightful to bite into. The story centers around Brookhants School for Girls, and the narrative oscillates between the turn of the twentieth century and the present day. In 1902, the world was abuzz around young Mary MacLane and her memoir The Story of Mary MacLane, which unabashedly addressed MacLane’s sexuality and feminism. The story focuses on what happens when the girls (and their teachers) at Brookhants take up MacLane’s book, and the tragic events behind Brookhants’ closing. It also spins around the present day story of another young writer, Merritt Emmons, who has retold the Brookhants story, and it tracks the happenings surrounding the movie being made of Merritt’s book. Everything is haunted, everyone is in love and queer, and everything about this book will surprise and impress you.
Author emily m. danforth graciously agreed to share some thoughts, and we are so grateful for her time and for her work.
THE HUB: The Alex Award is a longtime favorite because it recognizes the transitional or fluid quality of both young adult readers and also of literature. What has it meant to you that your book was highlighted in this way? What do you think makes your book attractive to teen readers?
DANFORTH: It’s such an honor! I feel really lucky and proud to have Plain Bad Heroines recognized in such excellent company. I always try look for the Alex Award winners, every year—in part because I’ve enjoyed so many of the novels recognized by this award in the past.
I think maybe the blending of genre with the contemporary queer Hollywood/celesbian storyline about twenty-somethings might be of particular appeal to teenage readers. Also, possibly the tongue-in-cheek narration, illustrations, and nested plot. There are a number of disparate elements in this novel that speak to many kinds of readers: fans of Gothic Fiction and horror; fans of Sapphic romance; readers of metafiction and historical fiction.
Each year, the Alex Award committee works to select ten titles published for adult readers that might have special appeal to young adults, ages 12-18. One of the 2021 selections is Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi.
RiotBaby is a slim novel, but it is loaded with powerful references, images, and questions centered around Ella and her younger brother, Kev, born during the 1992 riots in L.A. following the acquittal of the officers involved in the beating of Rodney King. Employing plenty of magical realism, Onyebuchi builds fully-fleshed characters with the barest of strokes – an art and a magic all its own. As Ella grapples with her Thing (unexplained powers that she works to harness through the book) and Kev grapples with the distance between who he is and who the world thinks he will be, we see through them glimpses of our past and visions of a possible future, one where freedom means something for all.
This book will leave readers reeling (in the best ways), and this incredible interview with author Tochi Onyebuchi is likely to do the same. We are indebted to Tochi for his words and work.
THE HUB: A drumbeat making itself heard underneath the whole book is anger – who feels it, who’s allowed to show it, how it might manifest. And in your acknowledgments, you write of the gift you received from N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, saying “I did not know how to write angry, the type of angry that still leaves room for love.” What does anger offer you as a writer? And what do you hope it offers your readers?
Each year, the Alex Award committee works to select ten titles published for adult readers that might have special appeal to young adults, ages 12-18. One of the 2021 selections is The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.
The House in the Cerulean Sea is brilliant and gentle, the narrative slipping on like a well-worn sweater while performing a certain magic that makes it all feel fresh. The story focuses on Linus Baker, longtime employee of the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. His job as a caseworker sends him into orphanages designed for the care and keeping of these children with unusual or fantastic gifts, and his judgment on those facilities determines whether they stay in operation or not. He lives alone with his cat, Calliope, and suffers the constant rain and near-daily harangues from his neighbor until one day, he is unexpectedly chosen to go on a month-long observational visit to an orphanage shrouded in secrets. Home to the most dangerous, highly classified magical children, this orphanage is run by the mysterious Arthus Parnassus. As Linus gets to know Arthur and these remarkable children, everything begins to change.
The book is a delight, and we are grateful to Klune for this thoughtful and inspiring interview!
THE HUB: This book defies classification! Published as an adult title, winning an Alex Award for YA crossover appeal, it could also easily fit on middle grades shelves next to Harry Potter or the Penderwicks or the Melendy quartet from Elizabeth Enright. Why do you think this book works across so many ages?
KLUNE: I think there’s something not only topical about the story, but also universal in its messaging. Fantasy is often filled with grimdark stories (absolutely nothing wrong with that!), and we don’t get to see a lot of “happy” fantasy these days. I wanted to write a story that reminded me of the cozy fantasies I read as a kid, books that not only made me happy, but allowed me to believe everything could be okay. Hope can often seem like it’s in short supply these days, and while a novel like The House in the Cerulean Sea won’t fix the world’s problems, I hope it can at least serve as a small reminder that we are capable of so much when we stand for what we believe in and lift each other up.
April is creeping out, which means the end of National Poetry Month, but that does not mean you should stop reading, writing, and celebrating poetry! To keep you inspired, we are thrilled to share this conversation with perennial favorite and poet extraordinaire, Nikki Grimes. Her memoir-in-verse Ordinary Hazards was a 2020 Printz honor title,and her newest release is sure to cement her status as one of our finest poet-teachers! Thanks so much to Nikki for taking the time to share her thoughts and words with us.
THE HUB: Your latest book Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance is an anthology, a history lesson, and a collection of new original work all aimed at celebrating women’s voices. In the introduction, you note how often women have gotten lost in history until someone (like you!) recovers their stories and shares their words or ideas. How did you go about discovering and recovering these poets? Where did you look? How did you find them?
The William C. Morris Award is awarded each year to a debut YA publication. After considering the wealth of excellence each year, the committee selects 5 finalists, announced in December. From these, the winner is chosen (2021: Kyrie McCauley’s If These Wings Could Fly) though all of the finalists demonstrate unique greatness in every page. You can watch the 2021 Morris Award Celebration event, where each of the finalists offered some amazing reflections on their work and these times.
In It Sounded Better in My Head, author Nina Kenwood provides a glimpse into that tenuous stretch of time between finishing school and making University departures that is common to so many teens. Kenwood, writing from Australia, is able to shine a light on the unique aspects of the Australian system while tapping into the universal experiences of those late teenage years. From social anxieties to relationship questions, family turmoil and looming adulthood, It Sounded Better in My Head covers a lot of ground. We are thankful to Nina for taking the time to answer some questions and for her remarkable book!
THE HUB: Since a ton of our readers likely aren’t familiar with the Australian Educational System, perhaps we should start there. The book opens just as Natalie and her friends have finished their final final exams, which I understand is part of the placement process for University. Would you explain that system a bit more? Help us know where Natalie is in life?