Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Five Tips for Writing On the Road

It's summer, and for most of us, that means hitting the beach, exploring the country, or piling into the car for a road trip. I'm a big fan of taking it easy, but as a writer with a deadline, sometimes I don't get to take a break just because I'm on vacation. Writing without a reliable Wi-Fi connection or a quiet spot to sneak away can be a challenge, so here are five tips I've discovered to keep those creative juices flowing while out on the road.

 Always keep a small pen and pad with you:
This one is helpful even if the traveling you’re doing is to the grocery store. You never know when you’ll get an idea, and a lot of times the back of a receipt isn’t going to cut it. Luckily, there are lots of great options for tiny notebooks and micro-pens, perfect for purses, pockets, and morning runs. My favorites? Ditch the expensive and over-done Moleskine for some beautiful notebooks from Muji. They come in a variety of sizes and are cheap enough that you'll want to get one for your car, your purse, your kitchen drawer, your bedside table...

 If you travel a lot, consider investing in a tablet:
For longer trips or if you don’t travel too often, carrying a laptop isn’t usually a problem. But if you’re a frequent traveler trying to keep things light, a tablet can be a lifesaver. As for options, the iPad is, of course, the Cadillac of tablets, but I'd recommend shopping around. During the last Black Friday sale, I snagged a deal on a Microsoft Surface, and I love it. It comes with Office pre-loaded, has a great cloud storage program to sync your work with your home computer, and unlike a lot of tablets, it has a great type keyboard with moveable keys that feels almost as good as a regular laptop.

 How to keep changes consistent, even when working on separate files:
Of course, working on a tablet or any computer other than your regular one means sometimes you can run into problems keeping edits and revisions consistent. You can copy-paste changes from the new document to the original, but there’s always a risk that you’ll miss a change or that the new document has some weird formatting you don’t want. There are a couple work-arounds:
1. Consider the cloud: All Microsoft tablets come with OneDrive, which will automatically sync files for any computer linked to your OneDrive account, but also Google has some great free software that allows you to access documents from anywhere online. Part backup service, part online library, Google Drive will automatically backup selected files on your hard drive, allowing you—or anyone else you choose—to view and/or work on the document. This is especially helpful if you’re working on anything collaborative, but it’s also great when you’re on the road. Just open the latest version of your document and get working—all changes will be automatically saved and ready for you when you’re back home. 

2. Sometimes, though, you can’t get online, and then you’re stuck with a totally new version of your document saved on another hard drive. You can make changes in “track changes” to be more aware of your edits, but if you didn’t remember to track changes or just didn’t want to, there’s an easy way to see all the changes in a new document. Open Word, and click on the “Review” tab. Click on “Compare” and then “Compare two versions of a document.” When prompted, click on the original document and the revised document. A new document will open, showing all the changes between the two. Super helpful when there are a few different versions of your manuscript floating around.

 Take time to stop working:
One of the nicest things about traveling is that you’re usually in a state of suspended animation. You’re in between places, you’re moving but staying still, and laptops and notebooks aside, it’s usually not the most work-friendly environment. The nice thing about this is that it can force you to take time to stop, look out the window, and think. You can’t go online (unless you’re in one of those fancy wi-fi enabled planes, trains, or buses), and there’s not much else to do but sit and be quiet. Take advantage of that time. Listen to some music or close your eyes. Think about the people around you, where they might be going, what they might be thinking. I’ll be the first to admit that traveling is hectic and exhausting, but it’s also one of the few times when your mind has the freedom to wander (mostly) uninterrupted. Take advantage of that.

 Giant headphones can be lifesavers:
Back when I worked in radio, I learned about the magic of gigantic, really nice headphones. Not only do they make audio sound uh-maz-ing, but even unplugged they make fantastic noise-cancellers, insulating your little eardrums from the outside world. They might be a little harder to transport than sleek, skimpy earbuds, but they’ll pay you back in blocking out crying babies and argumentative phone calls. My favorite (and the ones I, uh, “liberated” from my old job) is the Sony MDR7506. It's the industry standard, and I promise, you won’t find any nicer.

Happy writing, and get out there and enjoy the sunshine! (if, y'know, that's your thing)

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Four Letter Word - One Writer's Opinion

This week, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth was pulled from the summer reading list of the Cape Henlopen, Delaware's ninth grade class. The reason cited by the school board was excessive use of foul language. The fact that the book is a LGBT coming of age story may have factored in to it as well, but that's not the issue I want to address in this post.

Cussing. Let's face it. Most of you have done it. Most of you will do it again. The first time you cussed may have been as a grade schooler. And you were either met with snickers (from your classmates), or a finger pointed to the office (from your teacher), or some form of punishment from your parent. Hopefully, in that moment, you learned something. You learned about when it was okay to let an expletive fly and when it wasn't.

Here's the truth. I love a good f-bomb. It feels kind of like power on my tongue. I wasn't raised to cuss. I never heard my mother utter a four letter word until I was in my thirties, and it shocked me. My father was a recreational sailor and donned the mantle of sailor mouth like a privilege. But only on the boat. That was his safe place. And when I crewed for him, I didn't leave cussing like his shoulder parrot. I knew those words were for the boat. And only for my father. Not for me.

Now, I'm a high school teacher. I do not cuss at work. Ever. (unless you count, "Oh Mother Biscuit Eater!") But at home, talking to good friends, yeah, I'm going to let the potty mouth fly from time to time. The thing is, I know when it's okay, and when it's not. Because I was made aware of the words, saw the impact of the words, and was guided to make smart choices.

The point of this? Cursing in books is okay. Your kids are going to learn those words in movies, out on the street, in the classroom. It might be the man who stubs his toe as he jogs past your kid playing in the front yard and let's a big one fly.

In books, curse words are used as character development. In No Place To Fall, Amber's world is gritty. She rarely cusses, but when she does it's never to her parents, it's never at school, but in self-reflective moments, or when she's talking to her best friend or her sister. It is a real part of this fictional character.

In another book I'm writing, I have a Latina girl being raised by devout, Catholic parents and she never curses. It's not okay for her. Which is right for THAT character.

I just a read a cute fantasy, Between by Megan Whitmer, where the main character, to avoid paying into her mother's swear jar, has come up with all sorts of adorable substitutes. It worked swimmingly for THAT character. But would that have worked for my back-in-the-holler Amber whose brother in law is a drug dealer? No way. Not real.

And here's the other thing, like ANY controversial issue in young adult literature, a novel is a safe place to explore the rights and wrongs of things. Just because a teenager reads an f-bomb on the page doesn't mean they're going to re-enact it on the stage of life. Their stage is no doubt very different than the fictional character they're reading about.

Trust young readers. You made it through, didn't you? Let them find their way.

Friday, July 25, 2014

No Two Books Are Written the Same Way-- and That's a Good Thing

by Shallee McArthur

Like Kris, I've been absent from the blog for a while, and like Kris, I apologize. Also like Kris, most of my absence has to do with writing. Specifically, writing a new book.

And I swear, it almost killed my sanity.

Writing the "next book" after selling one is a harrowing experience in and of itself-- constant questions of whether it's good enough, whether people will like it, whether or not you're just a one-hit-wonder with no real talent. I think I started about four different books before scrapping them because my confidence was wavering. When I finally hit upon the idea I was determined to write, it did not at all go the way I'd planned.

You see, I have a process. Or so I thought. While writing The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, I had a specific schedule, a specific way I wrote, specific writing techniques I used, and I thought this next book would be the same. Newsflash: no two books are written the same way.

This book was so different than anything I've tried before. It uses different writing techniques. It's even a different genre than what I'm used to writing. It deals with complicated character issues, literary references I had to look up, complex plot elements I had to research, and on and on. I had to do a lot of reading and movie-watching in this genre to make sure I was getting the right feel without falling into cliches. There were personal issues I struggled with at the core of the idea. I started the book three different times as completely different stories based on the same idea before finding the right one. Basically, I picked the most hellish idea possible for my sophomore novel effort, and everything about it was completely different than the way things had gone with my previous book.

Just for kicks, here's a brief look at timelines for comparison.

The Unhappening of Genesis Lee:
Pre-planning-- 6-ish months while primarily working on another story
First draft-- 6 weeks
Revisions-- 1 year

New Book:
Pre-planning-- 2-ish months full time as the primary story
First draft-- 6 months
Revisions-- 6 weeks (so far)

But here's the interesting thing. Even though I've gone through a totally different process and timeline with this book...I finished it, or at least a few drafts of it. And it's good. This book needed something different than my last one, and all that time spent finagling with the idea and wrestling with the first draft meant it was the most solid first draft I've ever written, and my revisions are flowing quickly and easily.

It can be panic-inducing, realizing that just because you've written one book doesn't mean you're going to know exactly how to write the next one. Each book is a totally different adventure and experience. And it should be. Stories come alive because of the way they are written, and if you want to breathe life into a lot of different stories, it's going to be different every time. It isn't any easier to write another book just because you've written one already. Oh, you learn--your craft gets better through experience, there's no doubt about it. But the art part of it, the act of throwing a part of your soul onto the page in the form of something that hopefully resembles a story--that's hard and different every single time.

It's scary. It's exhausting. It's exhilarating. And it's why I love writing.

Shallee McArthur originally wanted to be a scientist, until she realized what she liked best about science was twisting it into fiction. She earned a degree in English and creative writing from Brigham Young University so she could do just that. When she's not writing books, she's attempting to raise her son and daughter as proper sci fi and fantasy geeks. Her other adventures have included wrangling a group of volunteers in Ghana, changing her hairstyle way too often, and marrying a fellow nerd. She lives in Utah with her husband and two children. Her YA sci fi, THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE, debuts Nov. 4, 2014.

Monday, July 21, 2014

How I Wrote My Novel

by Kristine Carlson Asselin

Hi, Kris here. I’ve been absent from the blog for a while. I want to apologize to the rest of the Fall Fourteeners, and thank them for all of their posts and hard work.

I have a good excuse. I’ve been writing. Writing, revising, repeat. And now my draft is with my editor. And the design team is working on my cover. And I’m starting to freak out…just a little.
Because my book is digital, the lead time is shorter. So this thing is really coming out in the fall. And it’s not quite done yet. Did I mention freaking out a bit?

As I think about marketing and brand and promotion and strategy, I’ve been pondering the creative process. My editor bought this particular book from a two paragraph pitch. She had read a full-length MS that she passed on, but liked my writing and asked for something else—and fell in love with my new pitch. 

This novel literally didn’t exist last fall. And now it does. It exists. It’s real and my characters are real and I love them.

But it all feels a little surreal, to be honest. The novel on the shelf was written over the course of seven years. Compare that to seven months, and you’ll see why I’m freaking out. 

The first novel was the starter. My master class. The thing on which I learned how to write fiction. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I was able to turn that into a new manuscript so quickly. And of course I knew I could do it. (Fake it, ‘til you make it, right?)
But wow. This thing exists.

Now that I’ve ranted all about freaking out, I thought I’d tell you how I wrote it.

Step one: After getting the go-ahead, I wrote 50K words in November 2013. NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated).  Fast drafting rocks. Turn off the inner editor and just write. As much as you can. As fast as you can.

Step two: On December 1, 2013, I immediately deleted more than 15K words. These were the ones that were back story or not important—they helped inform my characters, but they weren’t necessary words for the plot. Watching that word count drop hurt my heart!

Step three: I put the MS aside in December for the holidays. In the days after Christmas, I read it again. Contemplating. I might have done a scene inventory at this point. I sent my editor the first three chapters in January to make sure I was on the right track.

Step four: What’s missing? Definitely scene inventory now.

Step five: I sent the MS to a trusted beta reader who gave me some great suggestions about plot and how I had too many plot lines. I cut 15K words. Again. Ugh.

Step six: Bulk up plot lines that I wanted to keep. Read the MS again for consistency.

Step seven: Ask another beta reader to review. Make appropriate edits

Step eight: Send to editor

Keep in mind, it’s not done yet. I still have the editorial letter and the copy edits to go. But this gives you an idea of my process from the start of the writing to getting it on the editor’s desk.

I’m so excited to share it with the world!

Any Way You Slice It comes out in late fall 2014 from Bloomsbury Spark. If you’d like to put it on your “to read” list, it’s on Goodreads here: Any Way You Slice It

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hold on Tight and Enjoy the Ride!

large coaster

by Amy Finnegan

Imagine yourself on a roller coaster—not some wimpy one with a few repetitive twists and turns, but an unpredictable, double-looped, eighty-mile-an-hour roller coaster. Having fun yet? Great!

Now . . . remove all safety devices. Lap belt, gone. Shoulder bars, gone. In fact, you don’t even have handles to hold on to. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t like that ride.

flying coaster people
I’m convinced that this is what my publishing experience would feel like without my agent. She keeps my head, arms, hands, feet, and legs inside the vehicle at all times. She does all she can to make the ride an enjoyable one. Sure, I might scream my lungs out sometimes and think I’ll never make it off this crazy ride alive, but in the end, I’ll jump out of the cart and race back to the end of the line to do it all over again.

But only because I feel like my agent will keep me from serious harm.

Yep, I’m a play it safe sort of girl. I love the thrill of a fast, bumpy ride, but I want to know that in the end, it will be all right. Having an agent is about even more than that though.

Through a series of fortunate and unusual events, I was able to get an offer for my debut novel without an agent. But I took the advice of several wise friends who told me I should try to acquire one anyway, and thank heaven I listened!

My agent not only negotiated better terms for my contract, but she was also able to explain what the contract terms even meant. I would’ve had no idea what I was signing without her. Boilerplate contracts don’t have to be predatory—though some of them are, so author beware—to make you regret the terms later. A good agent protects you from agreeing to unreasonable clauses. He or she will also work to make sure your terms are the very best they can be.

initial here
And even after my contract was agreed upon via email and phone calls, my agent went back through it word by word to ensure that everything that had been discussed was carried through. I could barely comprehend what the papers were saying to begin with, so I certainly wouldn’t have known if the contract had been amended correctly or not. I would’ve just signed it (because, OMG! I have a contract from a major publisher in my hands!!!).

Once the editing process began, I loved having my agent copied on the emails. I’ve been lucky because my editor shared my same vision for the novel, but I know—for sure—that my agent would have had my back if I had needed to fight for something in my novel that my editor and I strongly disagreed over. And if the novel would’ve been better my editor’s way, my agent would’ve been a second voice to guide me in my editor’s direction. And it would’ve been a lot easier for me to make a significant change.

Also, just weeks after turning in my revision based on editorial notes, my editor left for another house. I was heartbroken. I was afraid of being “orphaned.” But both my agent and my new editor made it an easy transition, preventing my novel from slipping through the cracks. I’ve been very well taken care of.

Had I not been . . . guess who would’ve made the important phone call to The Boss? Not me, that’s for sure, because I have a difficult time going after what I want. But my agent would’ve been all over that like ants on a watermelon.

It’s also a comfort to know that my agent is copied on all of my emails involving the sales and marketing side of publishing. For example, she watched over and participated in the creation of my cover and jacket copy. There was a lot of back and forth about both of these important steps, and she was there for all of it.

She’s also told me when it was time to ease off and trust my editor and publisher with particular tasks. She’s told me when I should feel comfortable asking for a bit more support. I trust her implicitly.

She also trusts me. She lets me make the final decisions. She recognizes that this is my career, and my dream, and my name going on the cover of my books. She’s my biggest cheerleader and champion.

Another thing I love is that she doesn’t push me to just “pump out books.” She recognizes that there are other important facets in my life that I often need to pay more attention to (my three kids, in particular). I’m also not the most productive author in the world because I’m an incredibly cautious writer. I need a story to truly feel right to me before I share it with anyone else. That’s just how I work. But my agent doesn’t see me as just another cash cow on her bestseller-producing ranch, and that allows me to give the best of myself, not just the most of myself (which hopefully won’t end up in the dairy section).

I know this sounds like the most shameless commercial ever for my agent Erin Murphy, because she really is the best agent on this entire planet, but last I heard, she isn't taking on new clients for a while. My actual purpose for writing this is to give those of you who are questioning whether or not you should pursue an agent, a very strong nudge in that direction.

I used to think that having an agent was all about negotiating a deal—which just about any agent can manage—but I now understand that it’s much more about having someone by my side during the entire publishing process.

My best tip for seeking out an awesome agent of your own is to research them like crazy. Get to know their personalities through social media, check out the types of books they represent—do you like them too? And above all things, listen to how other authors talk about their agents. (By far the most common thing I hear published authors complain about is their agent’s lack of enthusiasm or interest in them. Emails aren’t answered, concerns aren’t addressed, and personalities clash.) Pay close attention when authors are raving about their agents in more private situations. Get the name of their agent and begin your research! There are a lot of great agents out there, and one of them surely has YOU on their wish list. Get to know them, and then submit when you feel you’ve found a good fit.

Then hold on tight and enjoy the ride!

IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes her own stories because she enjoys falling in love over and over again, and thinks everyone deserves a happy ending. She likes to travel the world—usually to locations where her favorite books take place—and owes her unquenchable thirst for reading to Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, came about after hearing several years of behind-the-scenes stories from her industry veteran brother. She’s also been lucky enough to visit dozens of film sets and sit in on major productions such as Parks and Recreation and Parenthood. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, or Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

On Negative Reviews

Recently, I received my first negative review of Survival Colony 9. Not negative as in, “Reading this book will induce vomiting.” But negative as in, “This book isn’t very good.” The best you could say about the review is that the reviewer got my name right.

If you’re going to write books, you’re going to get negative reviews. Take a look at the online reviews for any book you love. Any book that’s a bestseller. A Newbery medalist. An acknowledged classic. It’s a sure thing someone out there hated it. Usually lots of someones.

So the question isn’t, “Will I get negative reviews?” The question is, “How will I respond when I do?”

There are lots of options, ranging from despair to disregard. Some writers send nasty letters to their reviewers. Those writers, in my opinion, need to get a grip.

I've learned to live with negative reviews. When I was writing academic books in years past, I got plenty of them. (And academic reviews can be really nasty and personal--no cuss words, but lots of snide innuendo and invective.) If you’re fearful of receiving a negative review or struggling because you did receive one, here’s what I’d tell you:

  • First, remember that all reviews help spread the word about your book. In my case, the review I’m referring to appeared in a journal widely read by teachers, librarians, and others. Some of them might be turned off by the review. Others, however, will decide that my book sounds interesting and seek it out. It’s far better to be reviewed negatively than not at all.
  • Second, remember that all reviews reflect individual opinions, regardless of where they’re published. Sure, if a less-than-glowing review appears in the New York Times, you might feel as if the entire journalistic establishment hates your book. But in reality, that’s only a single reader, the same as the single reader on Goodreads who loves your book. (And if you apply point #1 above, you should be ecstatic that the Times is reviewing you, no matter what the review says!)
  • Third and by far most important, remember why you became a writer in the first place. Did you do so because you wanted to be universally adored? Because you wanted to make millions? If you did, I can’t help you. But if, like most of us, you became a writer because you love writing, because you want to connect with individual readers, because you dream of holding a book in your hands that you yourself wrote—well, then, a negative review doesn’t take any of that away. Not one bit. A negative review can hurt you as a writer only if you lose sight of why you’re a writer. And if you lose sight of that, you probably shouldn’t be writing anymore.

So to all my future negative reviewers, I have this to say: thank you for reading my book. Thank you for sharing your honest opinion.

And now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to get back to writing.

Joshua David Bellin's debut, the YA science fiction adventure SURVIVAL COLONY 9, comes out September 23, 2014 from Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster). You can connect with Josh via Twitter @TheYAGuy, on Facebook, or via his website. His launch party's already planned, so if you're going to be in the Pittsburgh area on September 23, please drop by! Though his writing gets reviewed negatively from time to time, most people who meet him give him a thumbs up as a person.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”

I really wanted to write something worthwhile today, like a wrenching personal essay that plumbs the dark, spider-webby recesses of my soul (but not in a narcissistic way, oh no, in a way that reveals something profound about the human condition, etc. etc.), or a brilliant yet hip and laugh-out-loud analysis of the publishing industry and where we'll be five years from now and all the new ways authors will be getting screwed.

That was my intention when I woke up this morning. But then I realized I had absolutely nothing to say on either of those subjects that anyone would want to read. So let's talk about zombies instead.

Still with me?

I've been thinking about zombies even more than usual lately because I'm just about to finish The Enemy by the wonderful Charlie Higson and I'm so happy there's five more in this series I could just weep tears of blood. It's set in post-apoc London (zombie royals!), a year or so after anyone over the age of fourteen has gone barking. Technically, the grown-ups are just "infected" but since they're pretty mindless, eat children, and are actually rotting I'm going to go ahead and include them in the zombie genre.

Things I like about this book: anyone can die, anyone.  It's the Walking Dead of YA zombie fiction. Higson ruthlessly offs main characters left and right, so the tension by the end is sky-high. Which leads me to the other thing I like: there is no main main character. The narrative POV meanders among a wide cast, but they're all distinct and three-dimensional. The dialogue is super sharp and so not like reading dialogue. It's like listening to your friends talk.

So as I run out to buy book two, here are a few more recs for your summer zombie reading list:

Jonathan Maberry's Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay, Flesh & Bone. Because it has great characters and is surprisingly compassionate towards the poor zoms and who they used to be.

Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Dead-Tossed Waves, The Dark and Hollow Places. CAUTION: Do not read this series unless you don't mind an extra-large helping of teen angst/navel-gazing. But they're also moody and atmospheric and generally creepy as hell.

Bethany Wiggins' Stung. Okay, there's no zombies, per se, but Level Tens are even scarier.

And of course...Jane Austin and Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This needs no explanation. Think of it as a twofer.

*FYI, my book, which lacks zombies but does have freaky mutants, will be out later this year. Sad story short, my first publisher, Strange Chemistry, folded in June. News to come shortly on the release date, bear with me...For now, you can check out more stuff like the trailer and whatnot on my website.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Full Jacket Reveal! - The Islands at the End of the World

Cover reveals are all the rage these days, but we at are very excited to reveal the entire jacket for Austin Aslan's debut novel, THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, which will hit shelves exactly one month from today on August 5!

We've seen Austin's stunning cover, designed by Alison Impey at Random House, but here's the world's first look at the entire jacket: the cover, the author bio, blurbs, book summary, excerpt, and even the bar code!

We'll try to let the breathtaking full jacket speak for itself, so don't take our word for it, jump down to the bottom of this post at any time to see what we're so excited about. For those of you who prefer a nice slow tease before getting to the main attraction, here are a few words from Austin himself on how this jacket came to be:

"I've always loved the cover. I'm forever grateful to my editor Wendy Lamb for seeking my advice on how the cover should feel. She didn't have to do that, and she didn't have to listen even after she sought my thoughts. I was thrilled to share my design preferences and dislikes with the team at Random, and even more thrilled to discover how much they honored my ideas in the final product. I'm a writer, though; not a graphic artist. So I tried to give some ideas and then stay out of the way. Alison produced a wonderful cover that went far above and beyond any of the basic ideas I was able to articulate.

We locked onto the excerpt on the back very early on. This passage was one of five or six small excerpts we brainstormed, but the winner was clearly the frontrunner right from the start, a really great way to draw readers into the story, with just enough tension and intrigue and oozing the voice of the main character, sixteen-year-old Leilani.

I had nothing to do with the writing of the summary on the flap, but it's perfect, and I'm so thrilled with it. I have to say, it's such a strange feeling as a debut author to see this kind of evidence that others have read and understood your book so well that they're able to summarize it better than I can myself!

And the blurbs, what can I say? It's a giant honor to know that Graham Salisbury not only liked my book and found it plausible, but that he was enthusiastic enough about it to put his name on the front cover! His name will be a huge plus, especially on the Hawaiian Islands, where his incredible island writings are well known and where his award-winning novel UNDER THE BLOOD RED SUN will soon be released as a movie. New York Times Bestseller Aprilynne Pike is a fellow Arizona author who agreed to read and blurb the book after meeting me at a number of local events. I wish I could share her full blurb, which was so enthusiastic and glowing that I walked on air for a full week after seeing it!

Process-wise, one more note of interest: all of these cover elements come together fairly early in the book birthing process. It was after this cover had already gone to press that the first two starred industry reviews came in. Quotes from Kirkus and School Library Journal may be included on later printings of the book, but arrived too late for the initial launch. I'm guessing this is pretty common. Hence subsequent printings of novels often have new design elements added to them. But they're not really missed here, anyway. This jacket has plenty going for it as is, IMHO."

There you have it. More could be said, but why would we waste further words when a picture counts for 10,000? Enjoy checking out the full cover for ISLANDS below. Please leave a comment and tell us what you think.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Do I have a right to write about diversity?

by Austin Aslan
The Islands at the End of the World
Random House | Wendy Lamb Books
Available on August 5, 2014

I’ve sat with two major challenges in writing THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, and using the voice of a female protagonist was not one of them. Believe it or not, that came pretty easy for me. The biggest challenge for me was feeling comfortable and legitimate in writing about a Hawaiian main character and crafting a story deeply-rooted in Hawaiian cultures and traditions, even though I’m haole (white) and don’t come from the islands. I’m not Hawaiian, and there’s two problems with that.
The obvious problem is that I don’t “know” the culture. There’s a lot to learn and I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface. I’ll never be an expert, though the book has to feel authentic not only to general readers, but to islanders, as well. The more complex problem is that, as an outsider, I struggle with claiming the right to tell a story set in Hawaii. I’m not only writing as a half Hawaiian when I’m not one. I’m also writing about thorny scenarios involving “sovereign nation” perspectives, and one of my bad guys is pure Hawaiian (though most of my Hawaiian characters are very noble, and I try to make all of my characters, regardless of race, as three-dimensional as possible). This issue has a lot of complexity around it, and I’m most comfortable approaching it with a great deal of humility.

I have a lot of questions about diversity in YA. I've written a book about an epileptic, half-Hawaiian, teenage, girl (four things that I am not). I have no idea what kind of blowback I'm going to get for that down the road, at panels, in industry reviews, media interviews, book readings, on twitter, etc. I was very aware of all this as I wrote, and stayed away from a fully-Hawaiian main character on purpose. A very good decision. But I do still wonder about the difference between diversity in YA in terms of main characters and in terms of authors. Is the conversation about having more authors that are non-white (we should have more, and encourage more, and support more people of color and from different walks of life to write and to write to underrepresented audiences) or is it about having more diversity in main characters? I think there’s a lot of potential for a white author to get into hot water writing as a non-white main character, and I'm sure readers are wary and they're wary for good reason--I don't think many authors pull this off, and when they don't pull it off, it's because they weren't writing humbly with this sensitivity in mind. I spent seven years as a community organizer in inner city Sacramento working with underrepresented neighborhoods and schools, and I received a lot of training and I was fortunate enough to go through a lot of re-programming. I was never really aware of race (which most white people think is the right place to be). But many underrepped groups are never NOT aware of race. And without proper guidance and training white people often have the wrong reaction to this. Anyway, sometimes good training doesn't matter. My neighbor (MY NEIGHBOR, I KNOW) is Leslie Silko. (LESLIE SILKO, I know! McArthur Genius awardee and celebrated author...look her up.) She was excited to read my book, and she did. She really liked it and told me I was a great writer (I SWOONED. LESLIE SILKO LIKED MY BOOK!) but told me she couldn't blurb it for me because I used native Hawaiian words in my text, and SHE would get blowback if she endorsed my book. So, yeah, there will always be critics.

Again, I think the question isn't "Am I allowed to write from the perspective of another race?" Ultimately, I think that any author has the right to tell any story they want to. The better question is: can I "get away" with it? Will my effort be respected? Will the people whose voice I'm trying to assume authenticate my attempt or not? I hope the answer for me is yes but I’ll have to wait until the book comes out to see how it is received in different circles. If it worked, I will be thrilled to have added to a cannon of more diverse YA. Everyone is looking for the next non-white Katniss. I don't know, maybe my character Leilani can fill that role for a time, until she's supplanted by a full minority character written by an author who can more accurately represent her authentic experience. I'll celebrate that moment, for sure!

But at the very least I feel that I’ve approached this dynamic with awareness, humility, honesty, and good faith.