We’re celebrating here at Tu Books today, because one of our fall books, Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, has received a starred review from School Library Journal. Our first star as an imprint, in fact! Celebrate with us and get a peek at part of the review:
“Written in the style of magic realism, this is an enchanting look at Mexican mysticism, coupled with the realistic celebration of the true meaning of family. The sisters’ relationships are believably drawn, and the juxtaposition of modern realities and ancient Aztec mythology elucidates the importance of the spiritual side of life in Latin cultures. The plot is well paced, with the illicit nature of the girls’ entry into Mexico adding drama to their adventure. While some readers may find the interweaving of the magical elements somewhat unsettling at first, they are sure to be intrigued by both the unusual qualities of the mythical characters and the sense of adventure that lies behind every twist and turn of the girls’ revelatory journey. As with McCall’s Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low, 2011), this is a peek into Mexican American culture, but its ties to the supernatural add an interesting dimension.”
Are you starting off on your yearly Nanowrimo marathon? If so, perhaps you’re thinking about how to diversify your cast or settings. Preferably both, right? This month I’m working on at least one new diversity post, but I also thought perhaps a list of existing resources in one place would be useful. Most of these links, which I’ve been sharing via Twitter and Facebook as I find them, can also be found on the CBC Diversity Resources page, specifically on the resources for writers page, along with resources directed at other publishing professionals such as editors, sales and marketing, and booksellers. I’ve added a few more recent articles/sites that I’ve recently run into, as well.
This is kind of a hodgepodge of links, but I think it’ll help you have plenty to think about. If I run into anything more in the next couple of days, I’ll likely add it. Most of these links apply to writing cross-culturally, but as I like to remind people, this can mean anyone writing from a perspective not their own. I’ve talked to New York City-based writers who make assumptions about Iowans based on what they’ve seen on TV that I as a Midwesterner find unbelievable at best. I’ve known probably as many writers of color who want to write about different cultures that fascinate them as white writers who would like to write about people of color. In all of these cases, if you aren’t writing “what you know,” then research is involved. You have to know what questions to ask, what assumptions you’re making because of your own worldview that your character wouldn’t make. These resources will help you with that.
Though, beware, there’s a lot of info here. If you’re Nanoing, perhaps you might want to go with one at a time to leave yourself time to write!
Chimamanda Adichie’s transformative TED talk, The Dangers of a Single Story, shows us what happens when writers focus on only one kind of story, and how a multitude of voices from minority cultures need to be heard for that danger to pass away.
When writing cross-culturally, we need to remember whether we’re acting as an invader, a tourist, or a guest. Nisi Shawl addresses how to watch out for stereotypes, bad dialects, and other problematic portrayals of people of color.
A Tumblr that seeks to provide a visual representation of the everyday of microaggressions, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” Each event, observation and experience posted is not necessarily particularly striking in and of themselves. Often, they are never meant to hurt—acts done with little conscious awareness of their meanings and effects. Instead, their slow accumulation during a childhood and over a lifetime is in part what defines a marginalized experience, making explanation and communication with someone who does not share this identity particularly difficult.
Uma Krishnaswami on the use of parenthetic comma phrases to explain cultural details to the reader as if the reader were always an outsider to the culture. How else might these details be conveyed without alienating readers who come from that culture?
Peggy McIntosh provides a classic list of privileges which a white middle class woman enjoys that many of other socioeconomic statuses or races do not. An example for writers seeking to write from a perspective not their own to muse on their own privileges, whether similar or different, so they can see their blind spots.
Things I Don’t Have to Think about Today
In the same vein as the above, science fiction writer John Scalzi talks about “Things I Don’t Have to Think about Today” paired with his post on narrative usurpation, covering why he wrote “Things I Don’t Have to Think about Today.”
Uma Krishnaswami interviews Stacy Whitman about using cultural experts to read cross-cultural writing or to check details of a controversial or historical subject (even when the writer is of that culture).
This book by Joseph Shaules is directed to potential US expats living abroad helping them to think about cultural differences and ways to adapt to their new countries and enjoy the journey. But when read from the perspective of a writer, the questions Shaules raises can be applied to world building and culture building in writing.
My talk on the need for diversity in fantasy and science fiction (includes a resources for writers section in part 3).
The Language of the Night This book is unavailable electronically and also out of print, but if you can find Ursula K. Le Guin’s collection used or at your library, published by HarperCollins in 1978 and 1989, two excellent essays for writers on diversity are “American SF and the Other” and “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?”
ETA: Stephanie Kuehn over at YA Highway also interviewed me. Want to know how I became an editor? Read it all here!
And, best news of all, Tu’s spring books have gotten some really great blurbs.
On Kimberly Pauley’s Cat Girl’s Day Off:
“Cat Girl’s Day Off was such a fun, adventurous romp! I couldn’t stop reading it . . . with my cat.”—Alex Flinn, author of Beastly and Bewitching
“When I need to read something smart and funny and completely original, I turn to Kimberly Pauley. CAT GIRL’S DAY OFF is a manic, madcap adventure that satisfies from the first page to the last.”—Saundra Mitchell, author of Shadowed Summer and The Vespertine
And last but not least, on Bryce Moore’s Vodnik, #1 New York Times best-selling author Brandon Sanderson said:
“Vodnik is compelling, interesting, and darkly humorous. I think you’ll love it.”
Hey, remember how I published three books this fall? If you’re looking for great reads for the science fiction or fantasy buff in your life, you should remember Tu’s go some great books! Here are some links for you in case you need them, or go down to your local bookseller. If they don’t have the books in stock (B&N has Tankborn and Wolf Mark, but sometimes an indie might not), ask them to order them in! The more a book gets bought in a local indie, for example, the more they take notice and think maybe it should be on their shelves.
Things are looking up for Tyler Sato (literally!) as he and his friends scan the night sky for a star named for him by his Tokyo cousins in honor of his eleventh birthday. Ordinary stars tend to stay in one place, but Ty’s seems to be streaking directly toward Earth at an alarming rate. Soon the whole world is talking about TY SATO, the doomsday asteroid, and life is turned upside down for Ty Sato, the boy, who would rather be playing hoops in his best friend’s driveway.
Meanwhile, aboard a silver spaceship heading for Earth, M’Frozza, a girl with three eyes and five nose holes, is on a secret mission. M’Frozza is the captain of planet Mrendaria’s Galaxy Games team, and she is desperate to save her world from a dishonorable performance in the biggest sporting event in the universe.
What will happen when Ty meets M’Frozza? Get ready for the most important event in human history—it’ll be off the backboard, around the rim, and out of this world!
Best friends Kayla and Mishalla know they will be separated when the time comes for their Assignments. They are GENs, Genetically Engineered Non-humans, and in their strict caste system, GENs are at the bottom rung of society. High-status trueborns and working-class lowborns, born naturally of a mother, are free to choose their own lives. But GENs are gestated in a tank, sequestered in slums, and sent to work as slaves as soon as they reach age fifteen.
When Kayla is Assigned to care for Zul Manel, the patriarch of a trueborn family, she finds a host of secrets and surprises—not least of which is her unexpected friendship with Zul’s great-grandson. Meanwhile, the children that Mishalla is Assigned to care for are being stolen in the middle of the night. With the help of an intriguing lowborn boy, Mishalla begins to suspect that something horrible is happening to them.
After weeks of toiling in their Assignments, mystifying circumstances enable Kayla and Mishalla to reunite. Together they hatch a plan with their new friends to save the children who are disappearing. Yet can GENs really trust humans? Both girls must put their lives and hearts at risk to crack open a sinister conspiracy, one that may reveal secrets no one is ready to face.
Luke King knows a lot of things. Like four different ways to disarm an enemy before the attacker can take a breath. Like every detail of every book he’s ever read. And Luke knows enough—just enough—about what his father does as a black ops infiltrator to know which questions not to ask. Like why does his family move around so much?
Luke just hopes that this time his family is settled for a while. He’ll finally be able to have a normal life. He’ll be able to ask the girl he likes to take a ride with him on his motorcycle. He’ll hang out with his friends. He’ll be invisible—just as he wants.
But when his dad goes missing, Luke realizes that life will always be different for him. Suddenly he must avoid the kidnappers looking to use him as leverage against his father, while at the same time evading the attention of the school’s mysterious elite clique of Russian hipsters, who seem much too interested in Luke’s own personal secret. Faced with multiple challenges and his emerging paranormal identity, Luke must decide who to trust as he creates his own destiny.
And just a reminder that in the spring we’ll have two more great books for you to check out!
Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley
Never listen to a cat. That will only get you in trouble.
Actually, scratch that. Listening to cats is one thing, but really I should never listen to my best friend Oscar. It’s completely his fault (okay, and my aspiring actress friend Melly’s too) that I got caught up in this crazy celebrity-kidnapping mess.
If you had asked me, I would have thought it would be one of my super-Talented sisters who’d get caught up in crime fighting. I definitely never thought it would be me and my Talent trying to save the day. Usually, all you get out of conversations with cats is requests for tummy rubs and tuna.
Wait . . . I go back to what I said first: Never listen to a cat. Because when the trouble starts and the kitty litter hits the fan, trust me, you don’t want to be in the middle of it.
Vodnik by Bryce Moore
Teacups: great for tea. Really sucky as places-to-live-out-the-rest-of-your-eternal-existence. Very little elbow room, and the internet connection is notoriously slow. Plus, they’re a real pain in the butt to get out of, especially when you’ve gone non-corporeal.
When Tomas was six, someone—something—tried to drown him. And burn him to a crisp. Tomas survived, but whatever was trying to kill him freaked out his parents enough to convince them to move from Slovakia to the United States.
Now sixteen-year-old Tomas and his family are back in Slovakia, and that something still lurks somewhere. Nearby. Ready to drown him again and imprison his soul in a teacup.
Then there’s the fire víla, the water ghost, the pitchfork-happy city folk, and Death herself who are all after him.
All this sounds a bit comical, unless the one haunted by water ghosts and fire vílas or doing time in a cramped, internet-deprived teacup is you.
If Tomas wants to survive, he’ll have to embrace the meaning behind the Slovak proverb, So smrťou ešte nik zmluvu neurobil. With Death, nobody makes a pact.
Stacy Whitman at Lee & Low Books has acquired world rights to Guadalupe Garcia McCall‘s second YA novel, Six Little Sisters, scheduled for publication in fall 2012 under the Tu Books imprint. In this retelling of The Odyssey, Odilia and her five sisters embark on a quest to return a dead man to his family and must overcome monsters from Mexican folklore as they journey home.
I’m very excited about this one! Guadalupe’s writing is gorgeous. Her first book, Under the Mesquite, a realistic novel in verse, was published this fall by Lee & Low. (Though there was some confusion early on because it was the only L&L title alongside the Tu fall books on NetGalley, it is not a Tu book—I didn’t edit that one; that honor was my coworker Emily’s.) It’s gotten great reviews, including a starred review from Kirkus, and was included in the Kirkus Best Teen Books of the Year 2011 list. Six Little Sisters is slated to come out next fall.
I’ve been reading a number of highly anticipated sequels lately, as well as editing a sequel or two myself. It has me thinking about the best ways to reintroduce your reader to your characters and plot that they may have just read last week—or maybe it’s been more than a year. How do you avoid over-dumping on the re-reader without leaving the non-re-reader in the dusts of confusion?
One strategy I’ve seen in sequels for young readers, especially, is to just stop the action entirely at some point in the first chapter and explain what happened in the last book. It’s a trick I saw used a lot in series books for kids when I was a young reader obsessed with Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew books.
This doesn’t really work for me. Any stopping of the action for an infodump breaks the spell for me as a reader, taking me time to rebuild my suspension of disbelief. It worked to a point in those old series books because my library didn’t always have every single copy in order when I wanted them (not to mention they were missing several volumes), but especially if you’re not writing series books (as in, shared-world), it’s not the best strategy, in my opinion.
Then there’s the school of thought that just dumps you into the action of the new book. This can work, but it’s tricky. One book I read recently is a good example (no, I’m not going to tell you the name of it): I’m right there with the story until the character thinks of another character who she’s lost touch with. He’s not in any scene for the first quarter of the book, and I was racking my brain that whole time trying to remember which of two or three possibilities he could be, and that confusion wasn’t cleared up when he showed up in-scene. And it’s a confusion that I’m not sure the author could have anticipated. Maybe I should have glanced back at the previous book to remind myself. Was he a love interest? Was he a brother? Was he a potential love interest who turned out to be a brother? (Perhaps too much Star Wars in my diet?) I couldn’t remember until at least halfway through the book, and mostly because I picked up the last book and skimmed. This has happened to me a few times lately.
I think there are ways to help jog the reader’s memory without losing momentum or forcing the reader to go back to the previous book (some readers might not even have the previous book on hand—they might have borrowed it from the library or a friend). In my opinion, the best way to remind readers, whether they’ve just read a book and are launching into the sequel immediately or it’s been a year since they read the last book, is the same principle as getting your reader into a completely new world: through well-placed details planted with a deft touch.
Let’s look at the opening pages of Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, for an example. The first two paragraphs are right in the moment, Katniss thinking about what’s going on right now and what’s about to happen. We don’t get a direct reference to the Hunger Games until paragraph 3, but all along she’s talking about their outcome because that’s what life is for her now: reporters and camera crews, preparation for the Victory Tour, the dread she feels so much that it’s physically affecting her.
Then in paragraph 3 we get a quick review of book 1 with an in-scene rumination on how much she wants to forget the Hunger Games but isn’t allowed to because it suits the political purposes of the Capital. One paragraph, and it all matters to the current plot. She doesn’t stop the plot to explain what the Hunger Games were, just reminds the reader with a deft touch of the repercussions of all the events of book 1.
Then we’re on to the scene again, and the purpose of Katniss being in the woods: hunting for her best friend, Gale, who can’t be out in the woods as much anymore (and in the meantime, glancing off the subject of her mother and her sister, in context, discussing how life has changed for them since Katniss won the Games, how she doesn’t have to hunt for them to survive), and how Gale’s family is still living hand to mouth, why she’s the one hunting (Gale has gone to work in the coal mines), etc. The next couple of pages is kind of a “what’s happened since last time” catch-up combined with a few key details reminding us of events of book 1 or backstory while Katniss clears her snares, but woven in so that we know that she’s thinking about these things while she’s hunting. She’s got a lot of time for her mind to ruminate while she roams the woods, and these things matter to her now, right now while she’s going about her daily tasks, rather than the “stop and review” I was referring to above. It’s a subtle difference—and probably the conversational tone of the present tense of Catching Fire helps with that. It feels like Katniss is personally telling her story, so a few thoughts of the past that she’s currently thinking about work in a way that might feel odd in past tense.
I had another sequel in mind to use as an example, but it’s at home and I’m at the office and I’ve been drafting this post over the course of several days now. So I’ll go ahead and post this now, but maybe I’ll come back with that other book when I get home from the office, as a counterpoint. Catching Fire actually doesn’t do a whole lot of active reminding of what happened in the last book—as I said, it’s more of a “here’s what’s happened since last time” approach, using a hunting scene as a framework, that simultaneously reminds readers of characters and relationships, with a sentence or two here or there where necessary to remind readers of past events (like the sentence that notes that Gale’s mother lost her husband in the same mining accident in which Katniss lost her father). But not every book has as memorable a plot as The Hunger Games—not everything can be about kids being forced to kill other kids on reality TV—so there are some sequels in which a more active reminder is necessary. But these sequels still require a deft touch so as to avoid stopping the action. I believe the book I have at home does that, but I’ll have to go look at it to be sure. So, more later!
In celebration of my Simmons classmate Anna Staniszewski’s new book release, I thought perhaps we could make a list of children’s and young adult books by Simmons College children’s lit program alumnae. (The women’s college is open to guys in the grad programs, but I think most of the alums who have been published are women. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.)
I only know of a few, but I bet my Simmons friends out there can add to this list!