#ALAMW19 Recap: Interviewing Adib Khorram, author of Darius the Great is Not Okay, 2019 Morris Award Winner

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram follows Darius Kellner, tea afficionado, fractional Persian, and dedicated Trekkie as he travels to Yazd with his family to meet his maternal grandparents for the first time. Darius doesn’t know what his relatives will think of his limited Farsi or his medication and he isn’t sure what he’ll think of Iran. No one is more shocked than Darius when exploring Yazd and learning about his namesake with his new friend Sohrab finally give Darius permission to be entirely himself. Darius the Great is Not Okay is the winner of YALSA’s 2019 Morris Award. Today I’m thrilled to have Adib Khorram here to answer some questions about his debut novel.

Congratulations on Darius the Great is Not Okay’s selection as a 2019 Morris Award finalist! Where were you when you heard? Who was the first person you told about the big news?

Adib Khorram (AK): Thank you very much indeed! I was doing the dishes when I got the call from my editor—and the first person I told was my agent. (I think the text of the email just read AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!) Continue reading #ALAMW19 Recap: Interviewing Adib Khorram, author of Darius the Great is Not Okay, 2019 Morris Award Winner

2018 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with S. K. Ali

S. K. Ali  is a finalist for the 2018 William C. Morris YA Debut Award for her novel Saints and Misfits. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018.

 

Smart, funny, and incredibly hard-working Janna Yusuf, an Arab American hijabi teen, is dealing with the usual teen issues of crushes, family, and friends. She finds her life thrown into personal upheaval after she is sexually assaulted by the seemingly devout cousin of her close friend, someone revered at her local Mosque. She grapples with the challenge of coming forward about the assault and not sure who or whether she can tell. She starts relying on unlikely friends, and finds the strength to stand up for herself. Continue reading 2018 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with S. K. Ali

2018 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Akemi Dawn Bowman on Starfish

cover of Starfish by Akemi Dawn BowmanStarfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman is the powerful and sometimes heartbreaking story of Kiko, a half-Japanese teen who hopes that her artistic talent will help her escape her toxic home life with her white mother who is alternately neglectful and abusive. After Kiko’s dream art school rejects her, she is forced to consider other options. When she reunites with her childhood friend Jamie and embarks on a completely unexpected journey with him, Kiko starts to realize that sometimes second choices can lead to second chances. Starfish is a finalist for YALSA’s 2018 Morris Award. Today I’m thrilled to have Akemi Dawn Bowman here to answer some questions about her debut novel.

Congratulations on Starfish’s selection as a 2018 Morris Award finalist! Where were you when you heard the news? Who was the first person you told about the big news?

Akemi Dawn Bowman (ADB): Thank you so much! I was sitting on the couch with my three-year-old when I read the email. It had actually been sent hours before, but we had been out all day and I wasn’t checking my phone. When I finally did, I had all these messages from my editor and agent. I totally started crying and jumping around the living room, and then my three-year-old asked what was wrong. When I told her my book had been nominated for an award, she looked very unimpressed and said, “That’s not a good thing to cry about.” But my husband got home about fifteen minutes later, and his response was a lot more enthusiastic. And then I had to keep it a secret until they announced it publicly a few days later!


Your debut novel follows Kiko’s journey both literally across the country and figuratively as she tries to figure out how to break away from her toxic home life. What was the inspiration for this novel? What was the first thing you learned as an author about Kiko?

ADB: Starfish is very much the book I needed as a teen. I wanted to write a story that would’ve made me feel like I wasn’t alone—a story that would’ve made me feel like everything was going to be okay. I really wanted that for other readers, because hope is such an important part of healing.

I think the first thing I learned about Kiko was how resilient she was without even realizing it. She has no idea how strong her heart is, because it’s covered in bruises and scars and it constantly aches. And part of her journey is realizing that she has the strength to do things on her own—to make changes on her own—and I could see that in her early on, but she needed thirty chapters or so to figure it out for herself.

Art plays a huge role in Starfish as Kiko describes her paintings and sketches to readers (and dreams of attending art school). Kiko also interacts with other artists including Jamie who is a photographer when they meet again at the start of the novel. I loved these extremely visual and evocative moments in a prose novel. Did you turn to any pieces of art for inspiration while writing this novel? Who are some of your favorite artists? Does Kiko share your artistic tastes?

ADB: None of the artwork Kiko creates was inspired by any specific piece of art. It’s sort of the style that exists in my imagination (and also stays there, because I am laughably bad at drawing and even worse at painting). So I think it’s fair to say our tastes are similar, even if our talent for art is at opposite ends of the scale. But with Hiroshi, his style was inspired by my love of pop surrealism and artists like Mark Ryden and Anne Angelshaug.

Starfish is filled with a lot of empowering moments as Kiko begins to gain confidence and learns about her own resilience and strength. Did you have a favorite scene to write in this novel? Is there one you are excited for readers to discover?

ADB: I really enjoyed writing all the early scenes with Kiko and Jamie. The romance in Starfish very much takes a backseat to Kiko’s journey of self-acceptance and finding a way to move forward, but it’s still such an important part of her growth. Because one of the things Kiko worries about as a biracial teen is that she’s “too Asian” for people to find her beautiful or desirable. She had a couple of bad experiences where people told her they weren’t “into Asian girls,” and it really affected the way she saw herself. And it’s something that hits so close to home for me, because that way of thinking is so difficult to unlearn. I wanted Kiko to have unmistakable proof that the feelings she had for Jamie were mutual, and to show that his affections for Kiko had zero to do with her being half-Japanese. Writing their scenes brought me a lot of joy, because I was letting Kiko essentially unlearn these fears she had about the way others see her. And as for a scene I’m most excited for readers to discover, it would probably be the scene where the meaning of “starfish” is revealed. It’s a pivotal moment for Kiko, and I think it’s the point where she really starts to look at the future differently.

There’s no right or wrong way to write a novel, but there’s lots of advice to be had. What’s the best piece of writing advice you received when you were starting out? Now that your debut is out in the world, do you have any advice that you would share with aspiring authors?

To always be writing the next book. And it’s the same advice I would give aspiring authors now. Because there is so much in this business that will be completely out of your control. But that next book? It’s the one thing you have complete control over. In a lot of ways, the “next book” is my anchor. It keeps me from getting completely lost in the excitement, anxiety, and terror that comes with getting an agent/getting a book deal/seeing your first trade reviews/etc, etc. So ignore the noise, stay focused, and work on the next book.

Thank you to Akemi for taking the time to answer my questions about Starfish. Be sure to watch for the Youth Media Awards ceremony at 8 a.m. MT on Feb. 12, 20l8 to see which Morris Award finalist will be selected as this year’s winner.

— Emma Carbone, currently reading Warcross by Marie Lu

Interview with Alex Award winner Ryan North

I didn’t read too many Young Adult books as a teenager because I was a fool and thought I was better than them. Obviously, the joke is on me because YA books are incredible and that’s basically all I read these days. But this is one of the reasons why I love the Alex Awards. Sometimes teens just fit better with adult books and I love that YALSA supports those teens. Maybe they’ll even come to revisit young adult books in their adulthood just like me. So when we Hub writers were offered the chance to interview Alex Award winners, I jumped at the chance. When I heard Ryan North was one of the interviewees, I LEAPT at the chance.

Image via Goodreads

If you don’t know Ryan North’s work you should get on that yesterday. North is the writer of the hilarious Dinosaur Comics as well as the Harvey and Eisner award winning writer of the Adventure Time comics. North is no stranger to the Youth Media Awards as his Adventure Time comics as well as his Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comics have won entry to the Great Graphic Novels for teens lists in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Most recently his “chooseable path adventure” Romeo and/or Juliet won an Alex Award in 2017. I was able to chat with Ryan via email. Check it out!

Anna Tschetter: You’ve done “chooseable path adventure books” with To Be or Not to Be and now Romeo and/or Juliet and even your Adventure Time comic. Did you read a lot of the classic “Choose your Own Adventure” books as a kid (or a grownup in preparation to write your versions?)

Ryan North: I did! I loved them as a kid and could not understand why adults weren’t reading them. They’re books where YOU get to decide what happens next: what is not to like?  When 30 years later I realized that if I wanted to see these books I guess I should write them myself, I had two advantage, I think: there’s not a lot of books written in the CYOA style for adults, and I could write my book on a computer.  Earlier non-linear narratives tended to be of the “put pieces of paper on a pinboard and connect strings between them for choices”, which obviously limits the scale of stories you can tell, but I could use software to keep track of all the different paths and how they interact with each other – and that really freed me up to try all sorts of new things.

Just as an example: there’s a page early on in the book where you choose your character: Romeo or Juliet.  But then if you play through the book as either of these characters and follow a certain path to its conclusion, you unlock a third playable character: Rosaline!  We figured out how to have unlockable characters in books.  Normally that’s tricky, since you can’t change the state of the book, but what I realized was that you can always change the state of the reader.  So the book tells you a secret for how to unlock Rosaline, and then on your next playthough, when you get to the character select page – which hasn’t changed, obviously – you can now see a way to play as Rosaline.  It’s a neat trick, and I was really happy that we were able to get it to work so well! Continue reading Interview with Alex Award winner Ryan North

2017 Alex Awards Winners: An Interview with Sarah Beth Durst on The Queen of Blood

cover art for The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth DurstThe Queen of Blood is the first book in Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia series and one of the winner’s of YALSA’s 2017 Alex Awards. Today I’m thrilled to have Sarah Beth Durst here on the Hub to answer some questions about the book.

Congratulations on The Queen of Blood’s selection as a 2017 Alex Award finalist! Where were you when you heard the news? Who was the first person you told about your win?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): Thank you so much!!!

Shortly after I heard the news, I called my mom.

Me:  “My book won the Alex Award!”

My mom: “My dog was attacked by three coyotes.  I chased them off.”

Me:  “We had very different mornings.”

She began her day to the sound of her dog yelping.  Looking out the window, she saw three coyotes had pinned him to the ground out beside the well.  She ran outside — without any kind of anything to defend herself — and shouted at the coyotes.  Scared them off.  The dog was fine.

I began my day to the sound of the garbage truck rumbling one street over.  Looking out the window, I saw the truck hadn’t reached my street yet.  I ran around the house — without any kind of anything to defend myself — trying to empty all the trash cans and toss out anything suspiciously green and fuzzy in the kitchen before the garbage truck reached my street.  And as I was scurrying around, I was checking my email on my phone, because multitasking.  I saw an email from one of my editors that read, “Congratulations on the Alex!!!  Just heard the news!!”

I was floored.  It’s a moment I’ll never forget (though I did, in the moment, forget all about the garbage truck!).  I’ve wanted to be a writer my entire life, and to have librarians (the ultimate book experts) essentially say, “We like your book, and we think other people will too.”…  Really, it means the world to me.  I am so honored and grateful and thrilled! Continue reading 2017 Alex Awards Winners: An Interview with Sarah Beth Durst on The Queen of Blood

2017 Nonfiction Award Finalist: An Interview with Linda Barrett Osborne on This Land Is Our Land

In the introduction to This Land is Our Land, Linda Barrett Osborne writes how she hopes her book acts as a conversation starter for such an important part of American history. Not only does she successfully cover the vast topic of immigration in this finalist for YALSA’s 2017 Nonfiction Award, but after reading This Land is Our Land, I was certainly eager for our conversation.

How do you think the topic of immigration can be addressed for different age groups?

Almost any age group can start with finding out their own family backgrounds. Then students can share their histories with their classmates and see how many places people come from in a class. From middle school on, students can talk about what they hear in the media. Do they think the stories/treatments of immigrants are fair? On the other hand, is it a problem to accommodate many new immigrants each year? After discussing how Americans have always been ambivalent about new immigrants, see if they are surprised that our doubts and objections stretch back to the beginnings of settlement in America. How would they wish their families had been treated? How would they like some or all first generation immigrants to be treated? Continue reading 2017 Nonfiction Award Finalist: An Interview with Linda Barrett Osborne on This Land Is Our Land

2017 Nonfiction Award Finalists: An Interview with Pamela S. Turner and Gareth Hinds on Samurai Rising

cover art for Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune is the true story of one of Japan’s greatest samurai warriors and a finalist for YALSA’s 2017 Nonfiction Award. Today I’m thrilled to have the book’s author Pamela S. Turner and illustrator Gareth Hinds here to answer some questions about the book.

Congratulations on Samurai Rising‘s selection as a 2017 Nonfiction Award finalist! Where were each of you when you heard the news? Who was the first person you told about the big news?

Pamela S. Turner (PST): The big news (yay!) arrived one morning via an email from Donna Spurlock, the marketing director at Charlesbridge Publishing. I told my dogs right away but they were notably unimpressed.

Gareth Hinds (GH): I was at a school visit in Vermont when I got the news. They let us know a couple of days before the public announcement, so I was only allowed to tell my wife.

Pamela, what was the inspiration for Samurai Rising? In some ways this story could have focused on numerous samurai, including several of Yoshitsune’s relatives, how did you know you had found your next protagonist in Yoshitsune?

PST: I lived in Japan for six years during the 1990s and during that time read The Tale of the Heike. Yoshitsune impressed me because his tale is so much like King Arthur’s or Luke Skywalker’s: all are heirs to a great tradition, yet raised in obscurity; all become  a hero, yet discover that their greatest enemy is a member of their own family. But Yoshitsune’s story is true.

I never considered writing about anyone else from that time period. Despite Yoshitsune’s faults I find him a deeply sympathetic character. According to the standards of his time and culture Yoshitsune did everything he was supposed to do and yet was betrayed in the most cynical fashion. His military accomplishments had a deep and lasting impact on Japanese history; his personal tragedy had a deep and lasting impact on Japanese art and literature. If you go to my website at http://www.pamelasturner.com/resources/yoshitsune_world.html, you can see some examples of how Yoshitsune’s life has inspired generation after generation of writers and artists.

Continue reading 2017 Nonfiction Award Finalists: An Interview with Pamela S. Turner and Gareth Hinds on Samurai Rising

An Interview With 2017 Morris Award Finalist, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

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Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is a finalist for the 2017 William C. Morris award. Her book, The Smell Of Other People’s Houses, is told in four points of view of teens living in Alaska in the 1970s. Their individual stories weave together in a satisfying ending that will give readers a sense of another time and culture.

Your background is writing news for radio.  How is your writing process different than when you wrote for news? The biggest difference is not having a daily deadline. Working on something for years rather than days is a totally different thing and I think it takes practice transitioning from one to the other. I still write though, as if each chapter is its own story and use a lot of the skills I used when writing a four minute radio piece. I miss interviewing people and using their own voices, which now feels like cheating after having to create characters out of thin air. (Although I did mine some of my past interviewees for personality traits for my characters.)

It feels like the four point of view characters each represent a different feel or culture of Alaska.  What do you want the reader to learn from this? Yes, I think you’re right about that. Alaska is a huge place and each region has its own feel, including differences in climate and culture, so it’s difficult for any one book about Alaska to portray the entire state. I chose to focus on the places that I lived throughout my life and depict those places through the kinds of people I knew and had close experiences with. I’ve heard so many different takeaways from readers about what they got (or didn’t get) from this way of telling the story. I just wanted to show how hard it is to generalize the Alaska way of life. Alaska is many things to many people and all of it is true. Continue reading An Interview With 2017 Morris Award Finalist, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

2017 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Jeff Zentner

Jeff Zentner is a finalist for the 2017 William C. Morris Award YA Debut Award, which will be presented at the ALA Midwinter Youth Media Awards on Monday, January 23, 2017.

The Serpent King is about three teenaged outcasts in the small town of Forrestville, Tennessee, who are seniors  in high school trying to overcome their family’s histories and expectations to make their own choices for how they want to live their lives.

Congratulations on being a Morris Award finalist. What was your reaction when you got the news?

Great surprise! I actually found out on twitter from a librarian who’s totally unconnected with my publishing network (editor, agent, etc.) from whom I normally learn information like this. And my first reaction was “oh man, I hope this guy isn’t pulling my chain.

The difficult relationships between fathers and sons and the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons is a major part of the book. Did you have a difficult relationship with your father? How autobiographical is your book?

I had and have a great relationship with my dad, so those parts of the story aren’t autobiographical. I did grow up in a strict religious faith that often left me feeling alienated and isolated from my peers at school, like Dill. But, like Dill, I managed to make a few very great friends who were my lifeline.

I was heartbroken over the fate of one of the characters and actually burst into tears while reading your book on a train. You didn’t pull any punches here and it’s an honest and sometimes unflinching look at these three characters’ lives. Were you worried that readers would be angry about what happens to one of the characters?

I honestly didn’t think beforehand that I was capable of writing a character that people would feel deeply enough to be angry with me about. I discovered that I was from my first reader, my buddy Jarrod. I gave him my manuscript to read and sort of forgot that he was reading it until one day I got a text from him that simply said: “You [expletive] [expletive].” I was like “??????” and he texted back “[Character name].” It makes me very happy that readers are forging a connection with these characters, even if I have to endure occasional wrath.

Religion, especially Pentecostalism isn’t a religion that I’m very familiar with – especially the unusual practice of snake handling. It’s certainly not something that’s explored in YA fiction very often. What made you include this? Do you have personal experience with unusual worship practices?

I wanted to explore the effects of struggling inside with a strange faith that outsiders don’t understand—a faith that isolates you socially to begin with and even more when decide you have to find your own. I also wanted to include a religious tradition specific to the American South, which is the place I write about. Finally, I loved how the practices of snake handling and drinking poisonous things functioned on a metaphorical and symbolic level in my main character’s story arc. I do have personal experience with unusual worship practices, so I was on comfortable ground. Continue reading 2017 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Jeff Zentner

2017 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Sonia Patel

Sonia Patel is a finalist for the 2017 William C. Morris YA Debut Award for her novel Rani Patel in Full Effect. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017.

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Rani Patel in Full Effect grabs the mic to tell a story of hip hop, healing, and the path to self-understanding. Set in the 1990s, Rani, a 16-year-old Gujarati Indian teenager, is growing up on the remote Hawaiian island of Moloka’i and is isolated from her peers. She also has a very complicated relationship with her parents to say the least. Her mother doesn’t seem to see her, and when her father gets a new girlfriend, things come out for Rani about her relationship with him that she hasn’t been to admit to herself. Her father’s betrayal has her feeling like widow, in a bold stroke, and like widows in India are often made to do, she shaves off her hair. Rani finds solace and power in writing slam poetry taking on the patriarchy in the island’s underground hip-hop scene as MC Sutra. She soon attracts the attention of the swoony Mark, who is much older than Rani. Even though there is plenty to warn her against him, she falls head over heels. This could easily be the undoing of Rani, but through pain and art, Rani is able to connect with parts of herself lost and unknown.

Sonia Patel is a Gujarati American and the daughter of immigrant parents. She lives in Hawaii where she works as a psychiatrist working mainly with teens and their families. You can follow her on her website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

Congratulations on your first novel and being selected as a Finalist for the William C. Morris Award for debut authors!

Thank you so much for reaching out! I am honored and grateful for being a Morris Award finalist and for the opportunity to be interviewed for the YALSA Hub! Continue reading 2017 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Sonia Patel