An Interview with 2014 Morris Award Finalist Cat Winters

In the Shadow of the Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Continuing our author interviews of the 2014 Morris Award Finalists, we turn to Cat Winters, author of In the Shadow of the Blackbirds. Winters takes readers to deadly 1918, when the Spanish influenza spread rapidly across the globe even as World War I continued to rage. Sixteen year-old Mary Shelley Black has been send to live with her aunt in San Diego after her father is arrested for treason. The scene is inconceivable to contemporary teens; ordinary girls covering their faces gauze masks, ordinary boys returning from war with shredded minds and bodies. Winter’s use of historical photographs delivers an additional wallop to this powerful portrayal.

Congratulations! It’s quite an accomplishment to have your debut novel selected for the Morris Award.  In the Shadow of the Blackbirds is an excellent book on so many levels, most particularly the detailed historical setting. Is that where your inspiration for the book started, with the time period? Or was it something else?

Thank you so much! I was incredibly honored to learn In the Shadow of Blackbirds was selected as a Morris Award finalist. The news still feels surreal to me.

This book definitely started with the time period. Way back when I was twelve years old, I saw a Ripley’s Believe It or Not TV episode about the Cottingley Fairies, a real-life story of two English girls who fooled the world into believing they had photographed fairies during the tumultuous World War I period. Years later, I came across more Cottingley Fairy info, as well as the history of séances, in the 1997 Smithsonian magazine article “The Man Who Believed in Fairies,” by Tom Huntington. Ever since I read that article, I’ve been fascinated with the way WWI, the deadly Spanish influenza, and the Spiritualism craze intersected in 1918 to create a tense atmosphere of fear and paranoia. It took me quite a while to figure out how to successfully incorporate that history into a novel, but once I started focusing on the spirit photography fad of the era and decided to make my protagonist a sixteen-year-old girl, everything fell into place.

Why “Mary Shelley” Black? Is this a personal tribute to the author Mary Shelley?

Mary Shelley Black was always a strong, vivid character who first tried making her way into a couple other plot possibilities that never actually progressed beyond the idea stages. She seemed like a person whose name should start with an M, so I toyed with “Mary” and “Moira.” Once I decided she’d make the perfect narrator for In the Shadow of Blackbirds, she insisted on being called Mary Shelley Black. I know that explanation makes me sound a little like one of my spirit medium characters, but that’s truly how her name came about. I studied and loved Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a college undergrad, so once I knew I’d be writing from the point of view of a girl named after the author, I let a few other nods to the classic horror story slip into the book.

Continue reading An Interview with 2014 Morris Award Finalist Cat Winters

A New Year, A New You? Cloning in YA Fiction

Whenever I read about cloning I think about my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, the one about the Duplicator.

Watterson, Bill. Calvin and Hobbes.
Watterson, Bill. Calvin and Hobbes.

For those of you not familiar, Calvin–a bit of a stinker even on his best behavior–decides to create a cloning machine so that his clone can do all the work Calvin doesn’t want to do. Things backfire a bit and Calvin ends up with multiple clones just as  naughty as him.

The story of Calvin’s duplicator machine simplifies ethical and logistical questions of human cloning such as: What purpose does cloning serve and who or what entity gets to control it? Where does the clone end and the human begin? Is a clone the “same” as the original?

Here are some YA books about cloning and genetic engineering to help you ponder:

replicaReplica by Jenna Black (#1 in the Replica Trilogy)

This one is for you sci-fi/dystopian/murder mystery fans. Nadia and Nathaniel have it all figured out: he’s the heir to the only human cloning corporation in the Corporate States, very rich, and a bit of a spoiled brat; Nadia is Nate’s best friend and also his betrothed, and happy to sacrifice any romantic notions of love to satisfy her family’s financial and social needs. But their perfect world is shattered when Nate is murdered and replaced by his cloned replica, and Nadia and the new Nate are determined to discover the mystery behind Nate’s murder.  Lots of plot twists, folks.

Continue reading A New Year, A New You? Cloning in YA Fiction

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Elizabeth Wein

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

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

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

Always Something There to Remind Me

Elizabeth Wein
Elizabeth Wein

Please describe your teenage self.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Elizabeth Wein

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Charles de Lint

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

One of the first names that came to mind when I was concocting this interview series was Charles de Lint, probably because (in addition to being one of my favorite writers of all time) back when I was a teen myself, his books sort of saved me.  I was still in high school but not living at home when I stumbled across Moonheart, then his stories in the Bordertown anthologies, Greenmantle and Yarrow, and the two books that became Jack of Kinrowan, and those stories opened new worlds to me, new ways of thinking, in the way really extraordinary books are wont to do.  Few authors have been as formative for me, both as a reader (my devotion to mythic fiction and urban fantasy post-Moonheart has never wavered) and as a human being, as Charles de Lint.  The ideas I found on the streets of Newford resonated profoundly and I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say that they not only guided me through some rough times, but introduced me to concepts that still influence me today.

Which is all to say that conducting this interview was a real privilege.  True to form, Charles’ answers are thoughtful and thought-provoking, so I hope you’ll load up one of the demo songs on his website if you don’t have his Old Blue Truck album already, and settle in for a grand read.  Thank you, Charles, for taking the time to talk with me, and for your honest, insightful, and generous answers.

Always Something There to Remind Me

CdL running the raft
Charles de Lint

Please describe your teenage self.

I was a misfit, but I think most teenagers feel that way.  I don’t care if you were a popular jock or the kid who spent his lunch hours in a stairwell reading a book, we all seem to have dealt with insecurities of one kind or another throughout our high school years. 

What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?

The first thing I can remember wanting to be (after the usual cowboy, fireman, etc., when I was quite small) was the person who collected animals for zoos.  This came from reading Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals and the books that followed that autobiography.  The desire lasted only until I realized that animals were being pulled out of their natural habitats and stuck in cages to be peered at and prodded by people.  Now, granted, Durrell went on to do excellent work in the preservation of endangered animals with his own zoo, but for me, the shine was pretty well off by that point.

In my early teens I knew what I wanted to be was a musician, and from the time I was fifteen I went on to teach myself how to play numerous instruments, then began playing with other people, eventually getting gigs and the like.

At the same time I was writing constantly–mostly poetry ranging from the sort of bastard Middle English that William Morris wrote, through free-verse beat poetry, to songs, rhyming verse and haiku. 

Back then I never even considered writing a career option.  I just liked the play of words. I was certainly interested in story, but the stories I was telling then were in narrative verse and prose poems, short and succinct, except for one novel-length poem written in narrative couplets. Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Charles de Lint

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with David Levithan

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

I’m pretty sure the first book I read that was written by David Levithan was Boy Meets Boy, though it might have been The Realm of Possibility since I was, as is often the case, late to the party.  I say “written by” because of course I’d been reading books published and edited by him for years.  (He’s the founding editor of Scholastic’s PUSH imprint, and edits and publishes authors like Suzanne Collins, Maggie Stiefvater, Garth Nix, Alice Hoffman, M. T. Anderson, and Cecil Castellucci.)  I know I quickly rounded up at least four or five “written by” novels as soon as I finished Boy Meets Boy and spent a wonderful couple of weeks catching up, and and afterwards I made sure that I kept up with each new book that came out, which, honestly, is no small feat when you’re talking about David Levithan.  I mean, in the last year (almost to the day) he’s given us Every Day, which comes out in paperback on September 10th, and its digital-only companion, Six Earlier Days; Invisibility, a collaboration with Andrea Cremer; and Two Boys Kissing (out this very week) about which David says, “In honor of its release, and tying very much to its themes, I will be giving two dollars for each copy sold in the first three weeks to The Trevor Project, an amazing organization that supports queer youth. So buy early and buy often and help me support an amazing cause.”

Thank you, David, for taking the time to talk with me about your teen years, your work as an editor, and your fantastic books.

Always Something There to Remind Me

Photo by Jake Hamilton
Photo by Jake Hamilton

Please describe your teenage self.

Bookish, happy, well adjusted.  Not a large leap from my current self.

What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?

I knew words would be involved in some way, but had to figure out which way.  (In the end, I feel like I chose them all, or at least a few variations.)  If you’d asked me in high school, I probably would have guessed I would have become a journalist or an editor.  I wouldn’t have been surprised at being a novelist, but I definitely would have been impressed that I’d managed to finish something.

What were your high school years like?

I was at Millburn High School in Millburn, NJ, and I liked it.  There was a lot of pressure to get into a good college, but at some point I came to peace with the fact that I was never going to be in the top ten in my class (amusingly, I ended up at #11), so I didn’t devote my life to my homework.  I did, however, devote much of my life to my friends; for most of high school, it was a core group of about seven girls and me, and then senior year it was my two closest best friends (who were sophomores)–we called ourselves Siberia, which is really all you need to know.  Only in this case, Siberia was located very close to the mall, and everyone else.  Oh, and I was reading all the time.  I wrote authors’ names on my jeans.  I was that cool.

Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with David Levithan

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Elizabeth Knox

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel like I should mention right up front that I was a member of the 2008 Michael L. Printz Award committee that selected Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamquake as an Honor Book. And while committee deliberations are always confidential, I think it’s okay for me to say that Dreamquake was one of my bleed on the table, do-or-die books that year, a book that, for me, came out of nowhere, a book I ended up loving So Much that my amazing committee let me keep the “official” copy with the shiny sticker on it.

When I started Dreamquake I was unfamiliar with its author, and I didn’t realize it was actually a sequel until I was almost done, so I was beyond thrilled to find not only an additional Southland tale, Dreamhunter, but a number of other (adult) titles to savor. Her third young adult novel, Mortal Fire, was published just last month to widespread critical acclaim and is absolutely one of my favorite books of the year. If you haven’t had the pleasure, read it immediately, and then check out the short story “A Visit to the House on Terminal Hill” and the various blog posts Elizabeth wrote to accompany publication. Thank you, Elizabeth, for taking the time to talk with me, for your thoughtful answers, and for sending such excellent photographs to accompany this interview.

Always Something There to Remind Me

elizabeth knoxPlease describe your teenage self.

I was small, flat-chested, fiery, forceful, and exacting. Depending on how I dressed I could pass as a 13-year-old boy or 20-year-old ballerina (which was useful for getting into R-rated films). I was a burdened teenager. I had to look after too many people.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

I decided at 16 that I wanted to be a novelist. It wasn’t so much wanting to “be a writer” as to spend my life telling stories and walking around hand-in-hand with some narrative. Why I knew that’s what I wanted had more to do with the long and involved narrative game I played with my sisters and a friend than with any relationship I had with books. The game was a detailed, immersive, adventurous other life we had. I spent as much time as I possibly could being other people — people with more control over their very exciting lives.

Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Elizabeth Knox

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Malinda Lo

This is the third interview in a series; check out the previous interviews with Melina Marchetta and David Maciniss Gill.

I love unique riffs on fairy tales, and when I heard about Ash I was totally excited. This is partly because Cinderella is one of my least favorite fairy tales and I’m always hoping for a retelling that transforms the story elements I dislike, that redeems the too-familiar plot points and often-stagnant setting, and that offers a new twist or memorable characters. Malinda Lo’s Ash and its companion novel Huntress certainly didn’t disappoint. And then came Adaptation, a contemporary science fiction novel (the first in a series) that hits all my freaky conspiracy theories and aliens buttons perfectly.

While waiting for the sequel, Inheritance to be released this September, I’ve spent a lot of time over at Diversity in YA, the site Lo and author Cindy Pon created to explore and “celebrate young adult books about all kinds of diversity, from race to sexual orientation to gender identity and disability.” If you haven’t yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. (And if you’re going to be at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in Chicago this weekend, make sure you add the APALA President’s Program, “Pushing the Boundaries: Presentation and Representation of LGBTQ Members of/by Asian/Pacific American Writers” to your schedule!)

Thank you so much, Malinda, for talking with me!

Always Something There to Remind Me

mlo2_bypattynason_hiPlease describe your teenage self.

Exploding with feelings. Suffocated.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a writer because I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It’s the one thing that has been a constant my entire life, so there is no why; it simply is.

What were your high school years like?

I went to high school in Lafayette, Colorado. I did not enjoy myself there, and while I somehow have become an author of young adult novels, it’s certainly not because I loved being a teenager. I remember yearning impatiently for adulthood. I could not wait to get out of high school and start my life as an adult.

What were some of your passions during that time?

Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Malinda Lo

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with David Macinnis Gill

This is the second interview in a series; check out the first interview with Melina Marchetta.

I was on my way to the American Library Association’s Annual Conference, and everyone seemed to be buzzing about this book called Soul Enchilada, which had been nominated for YALSA’s 2010 Best Books for Young Adults list. I bumped it to the top of the to-read pile, devoured it in huge chunks over a long weekend, and then spent a lot of time talking about why there should be a sequel (which — despite a lot of good textual reasons — basically boiled down to “because I want one!”). I loved the multicultural setting and characters, the witty dialogue, the over-the-top plot machinations, and the sly Biblical references and Faustian deal-with-the-devil twists. So when Black Hole Sun appeared a year later, I was thrilled.

There’s not nearly enough straight-up science fiction for teens (yes, there’s some — I wrote about it earlier, and other Hub bloggers wrote about it here, here, and here.), but the Sun books (Black Hole Sun, Invisible Sun, and the recently-released Shadow on the Sun) are an awesome addition. I mean, supercharged old-school Mars setting? Inventive technology and killer wildlife? Messy planetary politics? Messier interpersonal dynamics? Yes, please! Thank you David, for agreeing to talk with me about your teen years and about your books.

Always Something There to Remind Me

GillDavidMacinnis ap1 cPlease describe your teenage self.

Comic book nerd. Movie buff. TV sitcom aficionado. Avid reader. Closet novelist. Quiet. Completely without fashion sense. Wickedly funny if you were close enough to hear me.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

Since I was six, I dreamed of being one thing: a professional baseball player. Sadly, a profound lack of talent and athleticism led me to fall back on the one gift I do have, the ability to tell lies freely and with great abandon, also known as writing fiction.

What were your high school years like?

Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with David Macinnis Gill

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Melina Marchetta

Authors are often asked where they get their ideas from, and most have a ready answer to that ubiquitous question. I’ve always wondered, though, not where their ideas come from, but how they became the people who had them. It seems like the teen years are almost universally formative, whether they’re dismal, euphoric, or something in between, which is what brings me to this interview, the first in a series where we get to find out a little bit about the teenage experiences of YA writers. Each interview will follow the same basic pattern: a set list of teen-centric questions, a handful of questions specific to the author, and finally an author-to-author question where the current author asks a question of the next author in the series. Because I am a true child of the 80’s, because my teen years were definitely formative, and because I don’t think you ever really get over the music of your youth, I’ve given each section of these interviews an awesome 80’s song title to differentiate between the types of questions.

To paraphrase Love & Rockets, I think you have to believe in where you’re going, but not lose your yesterdays, and I’m supremely grateful that so many extraordinary authors have agreed to share their experiences with us.

MelinaMarchetta_photoby_JamesBrickwoodThe first Melina Marchetta book I read was Saving Francesca, just after it was published in the U.S. I remember liking it very, very much and mentally adding her to the list of authors to watch. Years later I picked up Jellicoe Road, a book I might have missed due solely to my own fickle reading habits, but which I grabbed after it received the 2009 Printz Award. (As a member of the 2008 Printz committee I was super curious about their choices, and boy did they make some brilliant ones!) I tore through Jellicoe Road, mad to learn its secrets and put all the pieces together, then immediately started over so I could really appreciate how masterfully it was crafted. And then came Finnikin of the Rock and I was basically head over heels in love, not to mention in awe of her ability to move so seamlessly from contemporary fiction to epic fantasy. A lifelong, dedicated fantasy reader, I inhaled the Lumatere Chronicles, including the companion story, “Ferragost,” and have been talking about them incessantly ever since. So you can imagine my excitement and gratitude when Melina graciously agreed to open this interview series for the Hub. Thank you so much, Melina!

Always Something There to Remind Me

Please describe your teenage self.

A good observer of the world, but definitely a wallflower.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Melina Marchetta

Welcome to The Hub

Welcome to The Hub, YALSA’s new blog specifically dedicated to young adult literature!  For over 50 years YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association) has been supporting and connecting librarians who work with teens.  Over the years being a librarian and being a library user has changed in ways people could never have imagined.  Reading itself has changed!

We embrace the fact that reading can mean reading a traditional book in a new format (iPad, Kindle, etc.) or reading a story written in an untraditional way (for example, entirely in text messages).  And we especially embrace that the internet connects millions of readers every day and provides thousands of ways for people to share their thoughts about what they’re reading, log what they read, connect with authors, become an author, and more.

We hope you’ll visit The Hub daily for a peek into what the online world is saying about YA books.  You’ll find fresh original writing about what teens are reading, book reviews, introductions to other YA lit blogs, podcasts, videos, and more.

Thanks for stopping by and connecting with us!

Sarah Debraski
Blog Manager