Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Janae Marks!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Janae Marks, the author of

FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON

Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime?

A crime he says he never committed.

Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge.

But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.

Let’s talk to this amazing author about her fantastic book!

This is Janae. Everyone say, “Hi, Janae!”

Janae Marks

© Jerri Graham Photography

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Janae! Tell us about yourself!

Thanks so much for having me! I am an author, wife, mom, book lover, and Hufflepuff! I have an MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in Writing for Children from The New School, and I also worked for a big five publisher for seven years. I grew up in the suburbs of New York City, but now I live in Connecticut with my husband and daughter. FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON is my debut novel.

What was the inspiration behind FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON?

I was inspired by current events. Back in 2014, I was obsessed with the first season of the podcast Serial, which told the story of a young man who’s serving a prison sentence for murder, but many believe could be innocent of the crime. I also watched the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer, which told a similar story. Both got me thinking about wrongful convictions, and how often they happen. I started researching the Innocence Project, an organization that helps overturn wrongful convictions. Since I write for kids, I started to wonder what it’s like to have a parent in prison, and what it would be like to find out that they might actually be innocent. From there, Zoe Washington was born.

What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book? (We love these stories here at Kick-butt Kidlit!) 

I love these stories, too! I can’t remember exactly what I was doing when the first offer came in. My agent emailed me and I immediately hopped on the phone with him to discuss it. But I was lucky in that my book ended up going to “auction” – multiple publishers wanted to buy it, so my agent gave them a date to submit their best offer. I remember exactly where I was when my agent called to share the results of the auction – in my car in a Panera Bread parking lot! I had just eaten lunch and was about to head home when I got the call. So I heard about the offers while sitting in the driver’s seat!

Oh, wow! Congratulations! Fielding multiple offers must have been so exciting!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON?

While researching the book, I learned a couple of interesting facts that made me want to tell this story even more:

1) 1 in every 27 children has a parent in prison.

2) Black people are 7 times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than white people.

I also learned a lot about baking while researching the baking scenes in the book. For example, while watching a TV show that went behind the scenes of a cupcake bakery, I discovered how they came up with new cupcake flavors.

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

Zoe’s friend Trevor is obsessed with chocolate, so it would be fun to send him and Zoe to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory from Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.

That sounds like a recipe for shenanigans for sure!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I actually started writing ZOE WASHINGTON as a young adult novel, with a teenage protagonist. But then one of my critique partners told me that it sounded more like a middle grade story. She was right! Once I started writing it as a middle grade, it came together much faster. I realized that Zoe made more sense as a twelve-year-old, when she could be more naive about the injustices within the prison system, and have more room to grow as a character.

Now that I’ve published a middle grade novel, I can’t wait to write more. I love writing about characters in this age group, and connecting to young readers, plus teachers and librarians.

Any hints about your next book project?

My next book is coming out in Fall 2021, and it features a new friendship, a mystery and a main character who’s super into movie scores. I can’t wait to share more about it soon!

Can’t wait!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

How long it took to get my agent and book deal. I expected to get both soon after graduating from my MFA program in 2010. But it took over seven more years! Talking to other authors, this is such a common experience. More often than not, publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.

What are you reading right now?

I recently finished reading early copies of two excellent middle grade debut novels, which both come out on March 24: THE DERBY DAREDEVILS: KENZIE KICKSTARTS A TEAM by Kit Rosewater, and MY LIFE AS A POTATO by Arianne Costner.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Keep going! As I said above, my publishing journey was long. But I kept writing because I truly believed that if I kept trying, one day I’d achieve this goal. I knew rejection is part of the process, and was determined to not let it get me down for too long. I’m so glad I never quit.

So true! And I know your readers are glad too!

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Janae!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON. It’s on shelves now!

FromTheDeskOfZoeWashington

Add FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON on Goodreads!

Connect with Janae on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website!

Click here and enter to win a copy of FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON!
Contest closes Friday, February 28th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

 

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Sarah Kapit!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Sarah Kapit, the author of

GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN!

Vivy Cohen wants to play baseball. Ever since her hero, Major League star pitcher VJ Capello, taught her how to throw a knuckleball at a family fun day for kids with autism, she’s been perfecting her pitch. And now she knows she’s ready to play on a real team. When her social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone she knows, she writes to VJ and tells him everything about how much she wants to pitch, and how her mom says she can’t because she’s a girl and because she has autism. And then two amazing things happen: Vivy meets a Little League coach who invites her to join his team, the Flying Squirrels. And VJ starts writing back.

Let’s talk to this excellent author about her awesome book!

This is Sarah. Everyone say, “Hi, Sarah!”

SarahKapit

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Sarah! Tell us about yourself!

I write middle-grade novels because I never quite outgrew being a kid. GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN! is my first published novel. In my past life, I earned a PhD in History from UCLA, where I studied the history of women and medicine. I currently live in Bellevue, Washington with my husband and our goofy orange cat.

Where did the idea for GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN! come from? 

Vivy was the result of a lot of different things coming together. First, I’ve long wanted to write about an autistic character. A lot of the existing books with autistic characters don’t really feel authentic to me, and I wanted to do better. So it was just a matter of finding the right story.

When I saw the trailer for the TV show PITCH I had an intensely emotional reaction. The show featured a woman pitcher who played for the San Diego Padres. Sadly, it was cancelled before its time. But for me as a woman baseball fan, it was just so moving to see a woman take the mound. I’ve long thought that the first woman to play in MLB might be a knuckleball pitcher. That’s because it’s a bit of a “trick” pitch that relies on finger movements rather than pure strength.

All of this came together to create the idea of an autistic girl knuckleball pitcher. Once I had Vivy in place the rest of it flowed quite naturally.

PITCH!!! Loved that show. It was DEFINITELY cancelled before its time. Glad to see threads of it living on in your book!

What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book? (We love these stories at Kick-butt Kidlit!)

I’m afraid that there isn’t anything terribly exciting about my story! Before I had an offer, I talked to my editor on the phone. We really clicked well and basically re-arranged the latter half of the book together. She told me that an offer was very likely so I was anxiously waiting for several days. Then I got an email from my agent informing me of the offer and it was pretty awesome. I was probably at home or at a coffee shop, so nothing out of the ordinary there.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on your book?

I didn’t have to do a ton of research for VIVY because I already knew about the main subjects so well. But I did discover a lot of interesting facts about the knuckleball:

1. One of the first pitchers to throw the knuckleball was Eddie Cicotte, who was later part of the 1919 White Sox team that threw the World Series. Unlike most of today’s knuckleballers, the knuckleball was only one of Cicotte’s pitches.

2. Pitchers who throw the knuckleball are super-hard-working. Most turn to the knuckleball only after something else in their baseball career went wrong. Tim Wakefield started out as a first baseman, but he couldn’t hit. He learned the knuckleball to have a shot at a career. R.A. Dickey found out after being drafted that he’s missing a ligament in his elbow, which would make traditional pitching impossible in the long-term. A lot of pitchers in this situation would have quit, but Dickey learned the knuckleball. These pitchers really had to show tenacity in order to get to where they are, which is definitely reflected in Vivy.

3. Despite the knuckleball’s reputation as a “trick” pitch, it is really, really hard to hit. Derek Jeter–a great hitter by any measure–could not hit the knuckleball.

Wow! Who knew the knuckleball was so cool? (Sarah and Vivy, that’s who.)

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

It’s cliched, but I’d love to see Vivy and her friend Alex go to Hogwarts. I think they’d both join the Hufflepuff Quidditch team. Her older brother Nate would play for Ravenclaw and they’d strike up a friendly rivalry.

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

The first novel I ever finished was a YA, but after writing that I realized that middle grade is a category that might suit my natural voice better. Maybe it’s just because my own middle school experiences still feel vivid to me, but it was easy to challenge all of the emotions of that age. I had so much fun with it that I didn’t look back.

Any hints about your next book project?

In all of my books I channel some aspect of my personality and experiences. I’m very excited about the next book because it’s all about one of the most fundamental experiences of my life: having a sister.

Love a sister story. 😀

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

The number of stages involved was definitely a bit of a surprise. You expect to just turn in a book and have it be done, but that actually happens many different times.

What are you reading right now?

In middle-grade, I just finished THE NEXT GREAT PAULIE FINKEL, which I absolutely loved. Such vivid characters and setting! I started A SONG FOR A WHALE and am loving that also.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?  

Things may not always work out exactly the way you want them to, but most of the time you can still end up exactly where you need to be.

What a great perspective to have!

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Sarah! 

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN!
It hits shelves on February 25th!

GetaGrip_cover

Add GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN! on Goodreads!

Connect with Sarah on Twitter or through her website!

Click here and enter to win a copy of GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN!
Contest closes Friday, February 14th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

 

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Lyla Lee!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Lyla Lee, the author of

MINDY KIM AND THE YUMMY SEAWEED BUSINESS

Mindy Kim just wants three things:
1. A puppy!
2. To fit in at her new school
3. For her dad to be happy again

But, getting all three of the things on her list is a lot trickier than she thought it would be. On her first day of school, Mindy’s school snack of dried seaweed isn’t exactly popular at the lunch table. Luckily, her new friend, Sally, makes the snacks seem totally delicious to Mindy’s new classmates, so they decide to start the Yummy Seaweed Business to try and raise money for that puppy!

When another student decides to try and sabotage their business, Mindy loses more than she bargained for—and wonders if she’ll ever fit in. Will Mindy be able to overcome her uncertainty and find the courage to be herself?

Let’s talk to this lovely author about her fabulous books!

This is Lyla. Everyone say, “Hi, Lyla!”

Lyla Lee

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Lyla! Tell us about yourself!

Hi! I’m Lyla. Although I currently live in Dallas, Texas, I was born in a small town in South Korea and have lived all over the US. My MG debut, Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business comes out in January 14, 2020 with Aladdin Books/Simon & Schuster, and my YA debut, I’ll Be the One comes out in June 2020 with Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins.

MINDY KIM AND THE YUMMY SEAWEED BUSINESS is the first book in your new chapter book series. Are you able to share a bit about the adventures you have planned for Mindy?

Sure! The second book, Mindy Kim and the Lunar New Year Parade actually comes out on the same day as the first book (1/14) so you won’t have to wait for the next installment in Mindy’s adventures. 😉 That book was an homage to the lunar new year celebrations that I had with my family while growing up. After that, Mindy goes on a lot of other fun adventures like getting a puppy (out in May 2020) and running for class president (out in Fall 2020)!

Oh, yay! Sounds like readers will get to have a ton of fun with Mindy this year!

If you had started a secret trading ring at school when you were a kid, what would you have traded in? Delicious snacks or something else?

Haha, the funny thing is that Mindy Kim #1 was actually based on a REAL snack trading ring that a friend and I started in elementary school. We traded seaweed snacks, just like Mindy, in exchange for different yummy snacks. We never did anything that got us in trouble for it, though. ^_^;

Ha! That’s awesome.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on MINDY KIM?

I love doing research for my books, and I’m always finding out new things while writing the Mindy Kim series. Three interesting things I’ve had to look up are: the smartest ways to train a dog, various ways to cook Korean food (although I love eating my mom’s cooking, unfortunately I only know how to make a few dishes), and the exact locations of various places from my childhood neighborhood in Florida (3rd grade me didn’t have access to Google maps, sadly).

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

I think Mindy would have so much fun with the books in the Magic Treehouse series! The adventures across time and space in those books were my favorite while I was growing up, and I’m sure Mindy would love them as well (as long as she gets to stop to pet cute dogs along the way).

That would be an epic crossover!

Why were you drawn to writing for kids?

I grew up reading kids’ books and even when I technically became “too old” to read kidlit, I never stopped reading them. I was also starved for representation in the books I read so writing diverse books for kids seemed like a natural calling for me.

Any hints about your next book project?

My YA, which debuts later this year, is about a bisexual plus sized Korean American girl who enters a K-pop competition! You can find out more about it on my website. https://lylaleebooks.com/books/

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

The #1 most surprising thing has definitely been the timing of everything. I went from not being able to get an agent and sell a book for ten years to selling not one but six books in the span of the same year or so. It’s been a wild ride for sure!

What are you reading right now?

A lot of my friends have books that either came out last year or are coming out this year so I’ve been reading my friends’ books! I’m reading BLOOD HEIR by my friend, Amelie Zhao, and also, DIAMOND CITY by Francesca Flores, which is out this month.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Remember to self-care because the publication journey is a marathon, not a race. I’m a bit of a workaholic, so I often overwork myself because there are so many things I want to do. In the past, I tended to not really take care of myself and that often led to not-so-good consequences like burnout, fatigue, etc. I really wish I’d learned to take care of myself sooner but I’m doing my best to do that now. Happy, healthy writers can write more words in the long-run!

That is EXCELLENT advice!

Thank you so much for joining us, Lyla! 

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, check out the MINDY KIM series.
The first two books are out now!

Mindy Kim

Add the MINDY KIM series on Goodreads!

Connect with Lyla on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of MINDY KIM AND THE YUMMY SEAWEED BUSINESS!
Contest closes Thursday, January 30th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

 

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Angela Dominguez!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Angela Dominguez, the author and illustrator behind many awesome titles, including the upcoming:

STELLA DIAZ NEVER GIVES UP

Stella gets a big surprise when her mom plans a trip to visit their family in Mexico! Stella loves marine animals, and she can’t wait to see the ocean for the first time . . . until she arrives and learns that the sea and its life forms are in danger due to pollution.

Stella wants to save the ocean, but she knows she can’t do it alone. It’s going to take a lot of work and help from old and new friends to make a difference, but Stella Díaz never gives up!

This is the second middle-grade novel from award-winning picture book author and illustrator Angela Dominguez. Based on the author’s experiences growing up Mexican-American, this infectiously charming character comes to life through relatable story-telling including simple Spanish vocabulary and adorable black-and-white art throughout.

Let’s talk to this awesome creator about her delightful book!

This is Angela. Everyone say, “Hi, Angela!”

Angela Dominguez.png

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Angela! Tell us about yourself!

Hi, everyone! My name is Angela Dominguez. I like to say that I’m a children’s book illustrator that became an author. Namely because I studied illustration in college and became an illustrator first before starting my writing career.

Like Stella, I was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States when I was less than two years old. I’m very proud of being Latina, and I love celebrating that in my books through either language or culture. I’ve worked on thirty plus books so far over my 12-year career.  I currently live in Virginia with my boyfriend and our rescue dog, Petunia.

Wow! Thirty books! That’s awesome! Let’s focus on your novels for a bit:
Stella Díaz Never Gives Up
is the sequel to Stella Díaz Has Something to Say.
Did you always have a sequel in mind while you worked on the first book?

A sequel was far from my mind. Truthfully, I never expected to write a middle grade novel not to mention multiple novels! I originally wrote Stella as a picture book, but it didn’t quite work for that format. After working on it as a picture book with an editor, it was rejected at acquisitions by their publisher.

At first, I felt defeated by the rejection and I put Stella aside. Then a small part of me, the part that couldn’t quit Stella, dared me to write Stella as a longer format and I quietly did.

I worked on it secretly for eight months with my agent who mentored me on my transition from picture book to chapter books. I injected my personal experiences with shyness and being a Mexican immigrant into the story. Once I had my new manuscript completed, I showed Stella to my now editor, Connie, over coffee. She loved Stella and her voice, but thought it needed to be three times the length in order for the story to fully work.

When I finished Stella Diaz Has Something to Say, I expected that to be the end of my wacky three-year adventure and middle grade novel career.

That didn’t last long. The problem is I fell in love with writing middle grade and middle grade literature. Then the same part of me that dared me to write it longer, dared me to write another. Even though I was intimidated about writing a second novel, I approached Connie with ideas of how to continue Stella’s story.  Thankfully, my publisher was supportive and they signed on to do Stella Díaz Never Gives up.

Lucky for us readers that you never gave up either!

You also did the illustrations for the novels which is very cool! How did you decide which scenes to illustrate?

With the first book, it was easy. Since I envisioned the original story as a picture book, I just used some of my sketches to create some of the illustrations and I filled in the rest.

With the second book, I wrote the text first, but made a little list of things I wanted to draw along the way. I wanted to make sure that the illustrations showed a range of Stella’s expressions and images that I found visually interesting especially sea creatures.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on Stella Díaz Never Gives Up?

Fun! Well, most of what I discovered relate to either aquatic creatures or the growing problem with ocean plastics.

For instance, did you know that sea turtles’ eggs are pure white and look like ping-pong balls?

Or did you know there is an island in the south Pacific called Henderson Island that is uninhabited by people, but is covered in plastic litter?

While the pollution facts are terribly upsetting, it’s also one of the big reasons I wanted to create the second book. We’re seeing a wave of young passionate activists and I wanted to encourage kids to stand up for what they care about just like Stella does in the second book. Hopefully some readers might become environmental activists or at least more eco-conscious.

I also discovered a fun fact about the Vietnamese language. Did you know that there isn’t a universal way to say hello in Vietnamese? You have to personalize it for each person depending on their age or gender. Languages are just so fascinating!!

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

Hmmm, good question!  I think Stella would enjoy hanging out with Matilda. Stella would love to hang out with another girl who loves reading and is perhaps more outwardly courageous. I also think she would be a good influence on Stella. I also could envision Stella hanging out with Monica Brown’s Lola Levine since she was a big inspiration to me. Oh, and Swiss Family Robinson because I adored that movie/book as a child. I bet Stella would love living in a tree house. I know I would.

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I think I’m too boring for Young Adult. Truthfully, it’s such a lovely age and my favorite audience to present to. It’s the age when you’re just starting to form your own opinions and see beyond your own corner of the world.

Any hints about your next book project?

I’m happy to say that there will be more Stella’s in the future. I’m working on a third and fourth. I’m also working on new picture books. One will be published in 2021. It’s called I Love You, Baby Burrito. I’m also working on a picture book idea that hopefully will be picked up. Fingers crossed.

We’ll keep our fingers crossed too!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

The fact that I’m writing so much is still surprising. I always loved stories growing up and I had a few teachers who encouraged me along the way. One of my favorite teachers in high school, Ms. Horn, even compared me to a young E.B. White. While I do not think I’m in the same stratosphere as E.B. White, that comment stuck with me. It gave me confidence especially since I struggled with speech as a child and felt insecure about my grammar.

I didn’t start writing professionally until 2011. With no new illustration projects in sight, I decided to be bold and try writing. I was also getting less excited about illustrating other people’s stories and wanted to tell my own stories. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made.

What are you reading right now?

For the past eight months, I’ve been judging a SCBWI book award with 2 other authors. I have read many books. A 199 books to be exact. It was an overwhelming process, but utterly inspiring and surprisingly emotional. I never expected to outwardly sob over books, but it speaks to the quality of books published in 2019.

In fairness to the judging, I’ll hold off on 2019 titles for right now. A few of my favorite books that I read prior to judging were The Poet X, Bob, The Parker Inheritance, and Be Prepared.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Be persistent and be able to take feedback. Persistence will help you carry on when you want to give up, are frustrated, or worse get rejected. You also have to be able to take feedback. If your story is not being acquired by publishers and you keep getting rejected, it means your story might not be working or be the right format yet. Pay attention to comments that you receive and be willing to make bold changes. You can always undo.

So very true!

Thank you for joining us, Angela! It was lovely chatting with you!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, check out STELLA DIAZ NEVER GIVES UP!
It hits shelves on January14th!

Stella Diaz.png

Add STELLA DIAZ NEVER GIVES UP on Goodreads!

Connect with Angela on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of STELLA DIAZ NEVER GIVES UP!
Contest closes on Saturday, January 11th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

 

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Bethany C. Morrow!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Bethany C. Morrow, the editor (and a contributing author) of

TAKE THE MIC: FICTIONAL STORIES OF EVERYDAY RESISTANCE

A young adult anthology featuring fictional stories of everyday resistance.

You might be the kind of person who stands up to online trolls.

Or who marches to protest injustice.

Perhaps you are #DisabledAndCute and dancing around your living room, alive and proud.

Or perhaps you are the trans mentor that you wish you had when you were younger.

Maybe you call out false allies, or stand up to loved ones.

Maybe you speak your truth and drop the mic, or maybe you take it with you when you leave.

This anthology features fictional stories–in poems, prose, and art–that reflect a slice of the varied and limitless ways that readers like you resist every day. TAKE THE MIC’s powerful collection of stories features work by literary luminaries and emerging talent alike, including Newbery-winner Jason Reynolds, New York Times bestseller Samira Ahmed, anthologist and contributor Bethany C. Morrow, Darcie Little Badger, Keah Brown, Laura Silverman, L.D. Lewis, Sofia Quintero, Ray Stoeve, Yamile Mendez, and Connie Sun, with cover and interior art by Richie Pope.

Let’s talk to this fantastic editor and author about this incredible book!

This is Bethany. Everyone say, “Hi, Bethany!”

Bethany C Morrow

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Bethany! Tell us about yourself!

I’m an author of adult and young adult fiction, ranging from speculative literary to contemporary fantasy to science fiction, always representing Black women as the central figures of our own stories, in any genre. I’ve been an anthologist/editor, as well, and sometimes write essays. I’ve just tried my hand at interviewing fellow authors, and enjoyed every minute!

Interviewing authors IS pretty fun! 😀

You are the editor of TAKE THE MIC: FICTIONAL STORIES OF EVERYDAY RESISTANCE. Where did the idea behind this anthology come from?

The rockstar known as Beth Phelan originally approached me about writing a pitch for a short story on resistance, in December 2016, I believe. I ended up talking to her at length, and expressed my passion for an anthology that would honor the everyday resistances being waged and survived by young marginalized people, not just the organized efforts involving protests, etc. Eventually, I not only wrote the short story, but was asked to come onboard as editor, as well.

How did you bring authors together for this project? What made them a good fit?

I went to authors from historically – and presently – underrepresented backgrounds/identities, and asked them to speak to the reality of everyday life they know well. Sometimes someone would be telling a story about something just incredulous that happened to them, and I’d slide into their DMs and ask if they’d be willing to write it into a short story or poem. I was honored to have Jason Reynolds and Samira Ahmed involved, but I was really passionate about being a platform for people who weren’t as widely known yet, and need to be!

I think that’s so great that you focused on lifting up newer voices as well.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on TAKE THE MIC?

The first is how gracious (!!) these authors were when it came to feedback and just vulnerability. I am still in awe of all of them.

The second thing was how bad my memory is. Almost every group email, I had to check the cover art to make sure I’d gotten everyone’s contact info on the email.

And the third isn’t really something new, just something that continues to disappoint and demonstrate how the power majority needs to really consider whether they’re ready to do the work. When a group of own voice narratives paint a similar picture of the oppressive and offensive nature of whiteness, that conglomerate power institution, it is disgusting to have that continuity disparaged or disbelieved. In the end, it doesn’t matter. The point of this anthology is that we do not require validation; we are free to speak the truth regardless.

Any tips for people who are interested in tackling short stories? 

Short stories, for me, start with understanding that it’s about more than a word count. That goes for novellas, and the like, as well. It isn’t just short. There should be an arc and a completion to it, a fullness, even when the end isn’t final.

Why were you drawn to writing young adult fiction?

I don’t really have a “why.” I don’t think it requires some particular stimuli or inspiration necessarily. It’s a very broad and satisfying category to write in, and I care very much about the audience.

Are you able to give us a hint about your next book project?

By the time you read this, you’ll have had an opportunity to see the cover reveal for my June 2020 release, A SONG BELOW WATER, as well as read a chapter excerpt!

It’s a gorgeous cover and the excerpt was fantastic. Can’t wait to read the whole book when it’s out!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

I really couldn’t put my finger on one.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve started and very much want to get back to: WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH and WARGIRLS.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

You’re not well-read if you only read white authors.

Yes. Absolutely.

Thank you so much for joining us, Bethany!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, check out TAKE THE MIC – it’s on shelves now!

Take the Mic.jpg

Add TAKE THE MIC on Goodreads!

Connect with Bethany on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of TAKE THE MIC!
Contest closes Wednesday, November 27th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Kyle Lukoff!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Kyle Lukoff, the author of

WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER

When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl. His parents gave him a pretty name, his room looked like a girl’s room, and he wore clothes that other girls liked wearing. After he realized he was a trans boy, Aidan and his parents fixed the parts of life that didn’t fit anymore, and he settled happily into his new life. Then Mom and Dad announce that they’re going to have another baby, and Aidan wants to do everything he can to make things right for his new sibling from the beginning–from choosing the perfect name to creating a beautiful room to picking out the cutest onesie.

But what does “making things right” actually mean? And what happens if he messes up? With a little help, Aidan comes to understand that mistakes can be fixed with honesty and communication, and that he already knows the most important thing about being a big brother: how to love with his whole self.

When Aidan Became a Brother is a heartwarming book that will resonate with transgender children, reassure any child concerned about becoming an older sibling, and celebrate the many transitions a family can experience.

Let’s talk to this awesome author about his amazing book!

This is Kyle. Everyone say, “Hi, Kyle!”

Kyle Lukoff

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Kyle! Tell us about yourself!

Thank you! I feel very welcomed. I’m joining you here as the author of A STORYTELLING OF RAVENS (illustrated by Natalie Nelson), WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER (illustrated by Kaylani Juanita), and the MAX AND FRIENDS series (illustrated by Luciano Lozano). I’m also an elementary school librarian, and have been working at the intersection of books and people for almost 20 years!

Yay! We love librarians here at Kick-butt!

Where did the idea for WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER come from?

A potato.

I mean, not really, but kind of really. I had been mulling over the prospect of writing a picture book about a trans boy for awhile, but couldn’t come up with any ideas that weren’t boring or reductive. And then one day I was home sick from work, making breakfast, and in the middle of grating a potato I had this vision in my head of a little trans boy showing off his newly-decorated bedroom. And the story grew from there.

What was it like working with the illustrator, Kaylani Juanita, and seeing your words come to life on the page? Any tips for other picture book writers starting out on a new partnership with an illustrator?

Here’s the thing about picture books: unless you illustrate it yourself, or are part of a package deal (spouses, siblings, etc.), or are far more famous and powerful than myself, the author has little to no control over the illustrator, or the illustrations! So I actually didn’t work directly with Kaylani at all. I did get to have a bit of input, because everyone wanted to make sure that the illustrations were accurate and respectful, but aside from a few details all of the illustrations are Kaylani’s own interpretation (with input from the editor and art director, of course).

Watching someone else bring my words to life is absolutely breathtaking. The experience is hard to describe, because as soon as I see the illustrations any of my blurry mental images are swept aside, and I can’t imagine the book existing any other way. The only advice I’d have to aspiring writers is trust that the editor and artist are as invested in the vision of this book as you are; and, if your visions vary, it will hopefully be only for the best. Letting go of the control of your work is hard, but the ability to do that will serve you well in traditional publishing.

Excellent advice!

Now, what were three interesting things you discovered while working on WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER?

I discovered that sometimes my instincts are worth trusting–I had been encouraged to give up on AIDAN, and refused.

I discovered that sometimes, if you’re lucky, after a lot of lousy drafts inspiration can actually strike, and the true story will reveal itself to you in a way that feels nothing short of miraculous.

I discovered that it’s worth pushing for what you believe in, and listening to advice on how best to deliver that message.

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

I want to see what Aidan would do with Harold’s purple crayon. Probably something extremely cool. I would also like him to hang out with Taylor from THE RABBIT LISTENED, I think they could build something amazing together, and also take care of each other when it doesn’t go well.

Why were you drawn to writing picture books?

My writing tends towards the spare, but hopefully not the sparse, and since picture books skew towards a low word count, that instinct is a helpful one. And I have a deep love for formalist poetry–sestinas, villanelles, sonnets. And picture books are very much like formalist poetry, with the added challenge of having to appeal to the kids being read to and the adults reading it. I love writing within rules and constraints, so picture books are a perfect fit.

Any hints about your next book project?

A GHOST. Maybe.

Oooh, intriguing!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

I keep telling myself that eventually I’ll feel like a real writer, but so far it hasn’t happened yet. I feel a little more like a real writer than I felt a few years ago, but it’s an extremely slow process and I’m constantly surprised that people I don’t know are reading my books.

What are you reading right now?

I’m answering these questions in a variety of drafts, and since I read approximately one book every 2-3 days, that answer has changed from “Line of Beauty” by Andrew Hollinghurst to a collection of very bleak short stories from Finland to re-reading one of my favorite books about food, “An Everlasting Meal” by Tamar Adler, with some other books in between.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

I am a huge, huge proponent of giving up on something that isn’t working. Almost every book I’ve successfully published is something that I gave up on at some point, and came back to on a whim. I also dropped out of law school (and am much happier as a librarian) and completely gave up on my dream of being a journalist (and now write fiction which is way less stressful, for me at least). Give up on things and see what comes next!

 So true! You never know where a new path will lead!

Thank you so much for joining us, Kyle!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, check out WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER!
It’s on shelves now!

When Aidan Became a Brother.png

Add WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER on Goodreads!

Connect with Kyle on Twitter or through his website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER!
Contest closes Friday, November 15th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!

 

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Jerry Craft!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Jerry Craft, creator of

NEW KID

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?

Let’s talk to this marvelous author about his excellent book!

This is Jerry. Everyone say, “Hi, Jerry!”

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Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Jerry! Tell us about yourself!

I was born in Harlem, grew up in near by Washington Heights and have wanted to be an artist as long as I can remember. I had trouble getting published, so I started my own publishing company  which I used to bring nearly three dozen books to life during a twenty-year span. In 2014 I illustrated The Zero Degree Zombie Zone for Scholastic. My biggest and best book, New Kid, was published in February of 2019 by HarperCollins.

AND recent winner of the Kirkus Prize! Congratulations!

Where did the idea for NEW KID come from?

It’s inspired by my life. Like me, the main character, Jordan Banks, wants to be an artist, but his mom sends his to a fancy private school instead of letting him go to the art school of his dreams. And like me, Jordan is also one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. It’s loosely based on my four years attending a private high school in the Riverdale section of New York City, as well as a lot of the experiences from my two sons going to a private school in Connecticut.

Who are some of your artistic influences?

Mainly cartoonists such as Charles Schulz, Morrie Turner and a lot of the Marvel Comics artists from the 70s and 80s. But I think the graphic novels that inspired me most when developing New Kid were Smile by Raina Telgemeier, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, and Stitches by David Small.

Why were you drawn to illustration?

Is that pun intentional? I think it is. I’ve just ALWAYS loved to draw. And the fact that I can make a living creating the books that I wished I had when I was a kid, has been an amazing experience.

To hear kids say that they’ve never finished a book before, but they’ve read New Kid multiple times is just amazing.

Graphic novels are such a cool art form and one that many kids are interested in both reading and creating. What’s your process when you dive into a new project? How do you decide what will be written narrative versus illustrated?

Well, the writing and development of the characters is the most important. And for me, humor also plays a big role. Without that, it’s just pretty pictures. Nice to look at, but not a book that a kid bonds with to the point of the book almost becoming a friend. If you look at the Wimpy Kid books, the art is fairly simple, but it’s the writing that has made it a universal hit.

The story arc is also crucial. What happens? As well as individual character arcs. Do they learn? Do they grow? Will they be better or worse as a result of what will happen to them?

I think creating a book that is almost like a friend is the dream! Great tips!

What were three things you discovered while working on NEW KID?

First, I am still amazed at how many rewrites it took to get it to the stage where it was ready to be published. Characters that were added. Characters that were removed. Scenes that were moved or deleted . . . Second, how long it took to illustrate. I think I drew at least 15 hours a day from January 2017 until February 2018. And I’m doing it all over again while working on the next two books.

Third, how important it is to have the right team around you. Everyone knows the creator’s names, but New Kid is the book that it is because of the help of my agent, my editor, my colorist, my proofreaders, my marketing team, my amazing PR people, my audio book crew . . .  And that’s before it even got to the reviewers, teachers, and librarians, and bookstore folks who have made it a success.

Any hints about your next book project?

New Kid two is called Class Act, and will follow Jordan, Drew, and Liam through their eight grade year. Or in their case “second form.” And most of the other main characters will return. I hope to be done by November of this year for a planned back to school release in 2020.

Oooh, can’t wait to check it out!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

Finally getting the opportunity to show what I can do. I’ve always wanted to create stories showing kids of color as just regular kids. Going to school, playing video games, having normal conversations. So I’m very grateful to HarperCollins for giving me a chance to show that there is indeed a need for stories with POC that are both happy and fun.

What are you reading right now?

I literally draw all day, so there’s not a lot of time for me to read. So I rely a lot on audio books. BUT, I did snag an advanced reader copy of Guts, which is Raina’s next graphic novel which will be released in September.  So I am setting aside time for that.

What’s your favorite piece of kick-butt advice?

I almost said “don’t give up!” But, that needs to go hand-in-hand with “constantly learning and improving.” You can’t just continue to do the same thing and expect different results. I think New Kid is the best thing I’ve ever done, but Class Act will be even better because of all the things I learned, and how I’ve grown, along the way.

So true! Thank you for a great chat, Jerry!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out NEW KID!
It’s on shelves now!

New Kid.png

Add NEW KID on Goodreads!

Connect with Jerry on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or through his website!

Click here to win a copy of NEW KID!
Contest closes Wednesday, October 30th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!

 

Jerry’s Full Bio:

JERRY CRAFT is an author and illustrator. New Kid is his middle grade graphic novel that has earned five starred reviews, including one from Booklist magazine, which called it “possibly one of the most important graphic novels of the year.” Kirkus Reviews called it “an engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America.”

He is the creator of Mama’s Boyz, a comic strip that was distributed by King Features Syndicate from 1995-2013, and won five African American Literary Awards. Jerry is a co-founder of the Schomburg’s Annual Black Comic Book Festival. He was born in Harlem and grew up in nearby Washington Heights. He is a graduate of The Fieldston School and received his B.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts.

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Debbie Ridpath Ohi!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Debbie Ridpath Ohi, illustrator of

I’M WORRIED!

A girl, a flamingo, and a worried potato star in the third book in New York Times bestselling author Michael Ian Black and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s series about feelings—and why they’re good, even when they feel bad.

Potato is worried. About everything.

Because anything might happen.

When he tells his friends, he expects them to comfort him by saying that everything will be okay. Except they don’t. Because it might not be, and that’s okay too. Still, there’s one thing they can promise for sure: no matter what happens…they will always be by his side.

Let’s talk to this fantastic creator about her amazing books!

This is Debbie. Everyone say, “Hi, Debbie!”

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Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Debbie! Tell us about yourself!

My name is Debbie Ridpath Ohi, and once upon a time I used to be a computer programmer/analyst. Now I write and illustrate children’s books for a living! I still pinch myself every so often, to make sure I’m not dreaming.

I’M WORRIED is your third collaboration with Michael Ian Black. What’s it like collaborating with an author on a story? What’s your favourite part of the process?

For picture books, or at least the ones I’ve worked on so far, I don’t really collaborate with the author during the creative process. The author works with our editor to polish the picture book manuscript, and I only tend to receive it when it’s ready for me to start illustrating. Sometimes after I start talking to my art director and editor about illustrations, we find that the text needs to be tweaked a bit. If that’s the case, this discussion is between the author and editor, not me and the author.

Not all publishers work like this, but this has been the case with the picture books I’ve worked on so far with Simon & Schuster, Random House and HarperCollins.

Depending on the book and situation, I will occasionally reach out to an author for some input. In an I’M WORRIED spread showing things that Potato is worried about, for example, I asked Michael Ian Black for some ideas and ended up incorporating a bunch of these into the illustration:

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Who are some of your artistic influences?

Just to name a few of my illustrator influences: William Steig, Bill Watterson, Jules Feiffer, Charles Schulz, Edward Gorey.

You also have written and illustrated a number of your own picture books. How is that experience different for you?

Yes, mainly because I felt more free to change things around as well as to experiment. I come from a writing background (I got my awesome agent because of my middle grade writing plus I worked for years as a nonfiction freelance writer) and have waaaaaaay too many story ideas for picture books and middle grade than my current work schedule can support. Oh, for Hermione’s Time Turner! I’m constantly striving to find the right balance between contracted book projects, work-related events and working on my own writing projects.

I will always enjoy illustrating other people’s stories (especially Michael Ian Black’s stories), but I am also finding myself yearning to get more of my own writing out there: picture books, chapter books, graphic novels and middle grade.

Oh, my goodness – the things we could get done with a Time Turner!!!

What artistic tool could you never live without?

My favorite sketching tool: Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.

I love the variable ink line! Learned about this from David Small at an SCBWI Los Angeles Illustrators’ Intensive session.

My current obsession, though: CRAYONS.

Why were you drawn to illustration?

I’ve always loved to draw.

As I grew up, I especially enjoyed making comics for myself, family and friends. I’ve always loved the challenge of conveying a narrative through sequential art.

I’m hoping to do graphic novels someday! I already have some ideas. One of the challenges is streamlining my process. One of the reasons I opted for sequential art format in my contribution to Colby Sharp’s THE CREATIVITY PROJECT is because I wanted to test this. What I found: my current process takes way too much time. I’ve been talking with other graphic novel illustrators about their process in hopes of improving mine.

Any hints about your next book project?

I’m having so much fun illustrating Linda Sue Park’s new picture book story, GURPLE & PREEN! It incorporates photographic elements (crayons!) as well as illustrative, and it’s been exciting to experiment with new techniques. This new book is scheduled to come out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2020.

I’m also working on a middle grade novel, and am also excited about my next illustration project: I’M HAPPY, the next picture book in the I’M… series written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by me (Simon & Schuster).

Exciting! Can’t wait to hear more!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

Like many in the industry, I consider myself an introvert. When I first began working on my middle grade novels, I remember thinking how I much I enjoyed that part of the creative process, and how terrified I was at the idea of having to go out and TALK to strangers (in the process of networking and promotion).

What I found, to my shock: that despite my utter conviction that I could never learn to do it and would always hate it, that I COULD learn how to get out there and meet people in person. It drives me a little crazy whenever people tell me how lucky I am, that I’m so natural at talking with people at work events, etc., because they don’t realize how scary it all was in the beginning, and how hard I’ve worked at improving. It’s still scary, and I continue to need improving! But it’s easier now, and I even (*gasp*) have fun doing it, especially when I’m talking to young readers.

To other introverts out there: I highly recommend QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN’T STOP TALKING by Susan Cain. I discovered her through this TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts

What are you reading right now?

I usually have a bunch of books on the go in various formats (print, digital, audio). Right now, it’s:

THE MAGPIE’S LIBRARY by Kate Blair (Cormorant Books)

TRACE by Pat Cummings (Harper)

M: THE MAN WHO BECAME CARAVAGGIO by Peter Robb (Henry Holt)

THE POPE’S DAUGHTER: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF FELICE DELLA ROVERE – by Caroline P Murphy (Oxford University Press)

The latter two are the result of a recent vacation in Rome. 🙂

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Resist comparing your own progress to others, especially on social media. Focus on enjoying your own journey at your own pace.

Also: if you are considering writing picture books for publication – READ MANY, MANY PICTURE BOOKS FIRST. So many new picture book writers assume that writing picture books is easy because they’re so short. Yes, it’s easy to write a picture book — the challenge is writing a picture book that will sell.

Both very excellent points! Thank you so much for joining us, Debbie!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out I’M WORRIED!
It’s on shelves now!

I'm Worried.png

Add I’M WORRIED on Goodreads!

Connect with Debbie on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website, blog, or
YouTube channel!

Click here to win a copy of I’M WORRIED!
Contest closes Saturday, October 19th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!

 

 

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Rebecca Donnelly!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Rebecca Donnelly, the author of

THE FRIENDSHIP LIE!

Cora Davis’s life is garbage. Literally. Her professor parents study what happens to trash after it gets thrown away, and Cora knows exactly how it feels–to be thrown away. Between her mom and dad separating and a fallout with her best friend, fifth grade for Cora has been a year of feeling like being tossed into the dumpster.

But Cora has learned a couple of things from her parents’ trash-tracking studies: Things don’t always go where they’re supposed to, and sometimes the things you thought you got rid of come back. And occasionally, one person’s trash is another’s treasure, which Cora and Sybella learn when they come across a diary detailing best-friendship problems. Told in two intertwining points of view, comes a warm, wry story of friendship, growing up, and being true to yourself.

Let’s talk to this awesome author about her incredible book!

This is Rebecca. Everyone say, “Hi, Rebecca!”

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Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Rebecca! Tell us about yourself!

Hi! I write middle grade and picture books, and I’m a children’s librarian. Those two careers go really well together, and I think doing one helps me get better at the other. I’ve been a librarian for about 12 years, and my first book, How to Stage a Catastrophe, came out in 2017. My second novel, The Friendship Lie, came out in August, and my first picture book, Cats Are a Liquid, comes out in October.

Where did the idea for THE FRIENDSHIP LIE come from?

Most of my middle grade fiction ideas start with an image or a first line. In this case, the line was “There was garbage in the bathtub again,” which presents an image that requires some explanation. That led to my MC’s dad being a garbologist (someone who studies garbage the way an archaeologist studies ancient civilizations—pretty similar, if you think about it), and from there came Cora and Sybella’s friendship problems, Cora’s parents’ divorce, and the kooky diary that helps the girls find their way again.

That’s a fantastic first line!

Friendship is at the heart of this book and it’s an important theme for many middle grade novels. What kind of friendship advice would you give to middle grade Rebecca?

Middle grade Rebecca was kind of a mess, friendship-ly speaking. I would tell her that it’s okay to want to be by yourself, but that doesn’t mean you always have to be by yourself. Friendship is worth it.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE FRIENDSHIP LIE?

I learned a lot about recycling! For example, did you know that the chasing arrows symbol on plastic bottles in the US doesn’t mean it can be recycled? The numbers are a code based on the type of plastic used. Tl;dr, check with your local waste hauler.

Also, I learned that in the adoption world, older dogs are known as “senior dogs,” which accords them a measure of respect, I feel.

And I learned that there really was an Earth Week in April 1974, at exactly the same time Nixon was feeling the pressure from Congress about Watergate. Coincidence?

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

Cora and Sybella would love to spend some time in a fantasy world like their own Aquafaba, and Kyle would go anywhere with dogs, so a book about merdogs would be ideal. But while they wait for that, they can hang out with the Vanderbeekers of 141st St from the wonderful series by Karina Yan Glaser. It’s got animals, crafts, snacks, domestic adventure—the kids would love it.

Oh, I think they could definitely get up to some shenanigans with the Vanderbeekers! 😀

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I was a big middle grade reader. YA wasn’t as available when I was a teen as it is now, so when I think about my favorite books from when I was younger, it’s middle grade. Writing middle grade is very introspective for me, because I can think back to what it felt like to be a kid and read that type of book.

Any hints about your next book project?

It’s nonfiction! My editor at Holt asked if I had ever thought about writing longer nonfiction (my first nonfiction picture book comes out next year) and my answer was basically, I have now! I wrote a proposal, which was accepted, and now I’m into the preliminary research phase, which is glorious. You have all the possibilities and none of the realities.

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

The pendulum swing between disappointment and elation. A canceled contract here, a new opportunity there. A bad review here, a…less bad review there. I wouldn’t say I’m used to it, but I’m learning to expect it as a regular feature of a creative career.

What are you reading right now?

Besides the reading I’m doing for my nonfiction project, I’ve recently picked up an adult mystery (my comfort reads) called A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee, set in Calcutta during the British Raj, and Tillie Walden’s YA graphic novel On a Sunbeam, set in space. With fish ships.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

When you feel down about any particular thing in your own career, try thinking like a librarian, by which I mean, look at the field of kidlit as a whole. There is incredible art being made every day. There are stories being told, and readers being created, and you have a role in that process. Even if you feel that you’re not moving forward, you can advance the field. You can be an advocate for kids and books. That’s part of the work, too. It’s crucial.

Yes! We’re all part of the big picture! I love that! Thanks for joining us, Rebecca!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THE FRIENDSHIP LIE!
It’s out now!

The Friendship Lie.jpg

Add THE FRIENDSHIP LIE on Goodreads!

Connect with Rebecca on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of THE FRIENDSHIP LIE!
Contest closes Saturday, September 14th at 11:59 pm EST.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Karuna Riazi!

Welcome back to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Karuna Riazi, the author of

THE BATTLE

The game begins again in this gripping follow-up to The Gauntlet that’s a futuristic middle eastern Zathura meets Ready Player One!

Four years after the events of The Gauntlet, the evil game Architect is back with a new partner-in-crime—The MasterMind—and the pair aim to get revenge on the Mirza clan. Together, they’ve rebuilt Paheli into a slick, mind-bending world with floating skyscrapers, flying rickshaws run by robots, and a digital funicular rail that doesn’t always take you exactly where you want to go.

Twelve-year-old Ahmad Mirza struggles to make friends at his new middle school, but when he’s paired with his classmate Winnie for a project, he is determined to impress her and make his very first friend. At home while they’re hard at work, a gift from big sister Farah—who is away at her first year in college—arrives. It’s a high-tech game called The Battle of Blood and Iron, a cross between a video game and board game, complete with virtual reality goggles. He thinks his sister has solved his friend problem—all kids love games. He convinces Winnie to play, but as soon as they unbox the game, time freezes all over New York City.

With time standing still and people frozen, all of humankind is at stake as Ahmad and Winnie face off with the MasterMind and the Architect, hoping to beat them at their own game before the evil plotters expand Paheli and take over the entire world.

Let’s talk to this amazing author about her fantastic book!

This is Karuna. Everyone say, “Hi, Karuna!”

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Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Karuna! Tell us about yourself!

Happy to be here! I’m Karuna Riazi, and I like to describe myself as a girl who drinks a lot of tea, reads a lot of books and wears a lot of hats! Those hats currently include grad student, middle school educator and author of middle grade and young adult speculative fiction – most notably, The Gauntlet (S&S/Salaam Reads, 2017) and The Battle (S&S/Salaam Reads, releasing this coming August 27)!

THE BATTLE is the sequel to your awesome middle grade debut, THE GAUNTLET.

For our aspiring authors at home, can you tell us a bit about what goes into writing a sequel? Did you always know there was going to be a book two? Did you plan ahead when you were writing book one?

The Battle honestly took a lot to build, particularly since my contract was originally for one book! My editor decided another one would be great thanks to the overwhelming and humbling outpouring of love for The Gauntlet from readers – thank you, guys! This was fabulous and a happy surprise for me, but also different from other authors who already have a two-book deal and are aware of what particular loopholes they need to leave in their first book.

I had room to work with based off the sprawling world that is Paheli and some mysteries that we agreed would be better to leave unsolved – just in case. Having a tenacious villain with a grudge also helped, too. I would say for any aspiring authors at home that my general perspective is to remember the words “just in case” and “standalone with series potential.” Don’t overthink it or plan too early but do set up the field if you want to return to that world!

If you were sucked into a game, who would you hope to have with you on your team and why?

If I were sucked into a game, I’d want to have my close friends and critique partners with me – in particular, if I could choose, Axie Oh (author of Rebel Seoul), Kat Cho (author of Wicked Fox) and Nafiza Azad (author of The Candle and the Flame). We put our heads together a lot to support each other and hash out problems, so I know that we work well together and that we’re all fierce, tough ladies who won’t go down without a fight!

That is a wicked good team! You would totally crush it!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE BATTLE?

Hmm, three interesting things. I learned that it actually takes a lot to translate the mechanics of a video game into words. You have to think of yourself in a game, rather than outside and manipulating the game – there goes all those, “He clicked,” or “She moved the joycon.”

I also learned that, when you’re writing a video game into a book, it’s just like research: you need to learn when to stop going further down the rabbit hole. The thing about video games, in comparison to books, is that you have limits on which pathways you can go down and how many side quests can be tossed in!

And, probably most interesting to me, I learned that I can absolutely write a sequel even if I feel like it’s killing me halfway through.

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

This is a good question, and I’m not entirely sure. Focusing on my protagonists…I think Farah would love to be somewhere else where she could be headlong in an adventure (and preferably by herself so she wouldn’t have to worry about Ahmad), so perhaps the world of The Westing Game, which is one of my forever favorites! I feel like Ahmad would rather stay home and relax after the adventure he’s had in The Battle, and hang out with his friend Winnie!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I love middle grade, since I was a middle schooler myself! There are a lot of things to love about the young adult category, but when I need comfort or reassurance in the worst way, it’s my middle grade favorites I head back to.

It’s often surprising to people that, after I tell them all this, I admit that the first words out of my mouth when Sona and Dhonielle (my bosses and the CEOs of diverse book packager Cake Literary) told me they thought The Gauntlet should be a middle grade title was “I can’t write middle grade.” I loved the category so, so much that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do justice to it in the way that my middle grade heroes (Kate DiCamillo, for instance, or Anne Ursu) could do it so well. But they urged me to reconsider as they thought I would have a great middle grade voice and, apparently, I do! I’m still not sure of it myself but kids do like The Gauntlet, which I find reassuring, and I’m continuing to work hard on writing middle grades that do my love of them justice.

Any hints about your next book project?

As soon as I find out, you’ll be the first to know! I’m currently in between contracts (and seeking representation) and trying to use this liberating, and frightening, blank space to write stories I can have fun with and be proud of. Stay tuned!

Can’t wait to hear more when you can share!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

I think being published with Salaam Reads, as one of the lead titles, has been one of the most surprising and wonderful aspects of this entire journey. Even in my wildest dreams as a teenager longing to be an author, I never would have imagined becoming one under the very first Muslim-focused imprint. To be part of something so historical and empowering for a marginalized community has been incredible and such an honor.

What are you reading right now?

I am currently reading a lot of picture books. It’s wonderful. I’m in heaven! (My recommendations if you want some happiness in your life: Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed and Mommy’s Khimar by Jamillah Thompkins-Bigelow – both Salaam Reads titles!)

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Do what is right for you, and put yourself first as a reader! Feel like writing longhand? Go for it! Want to write a thrilling supernatural novel full of vampires and werewolves? Knock yourself out! I’ve been reminding myself a lot, and been reminded by some fabulous authors and mentors, that writing should be fun and fulfilling and not torturous or you sloughing through a book because it’s what you think readers will want. Readers have fun when you, as a writer, have fun with your process and your story.

Yes, yes, yes! So true. Thank you so much for joining us, Karuna!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THE BATTLE!
It hits shelves on August 27th!

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Add THE BATTLE on Goodreads!

Connect with Karuna on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of THE BATTLE!
Contest closes Sunday, August 18th at 11:59 pm EST.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!