Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Meera Trehan!

It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Meera Trehan, the author of

THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN

This inventive debut combines the pleasures of a thriller, a school story, and a real estate listing in its witty and insightful exploration of what it means to be—and lose—a friend.

Sam and Asha. Asha and Sam. A perfect pair of friends whose differences complement well, and whose main similarity, autism, means they understand each other. They are a fixture, an established thing, just as Donnybrooke, the mansion that sits on the highest hill in Coreville, is the acknowledged best house in town—and Asha’s dream home. But when Sam is accepted into elite Castleton Academy, leaving Asha to navigate public middle school alone, she begins to wonder if the things she is certain about are so fixed after all. Because soon Sam is spending time with Prestyn, Asha’s tormentor whose family also happens to own Donnybrooke, and who have forbidden Asha from setting foot inside.

Told from the points of view of Asha, Sam, and Donnybrooke itself, this remarkable debut explores themes of prejudice and classism as it delves into the mysteries of what makes a person a friend and a house a home.

Let’s talk to this incredible author about her excellent book!
This is Meera. Everyone say, “Hi, Meera!”

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

I’m Meera Trehan, and my debut middle grade is THE VIEW FROM THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN. I’m represented by Molly Ker Hawn at The Bent Agency which, as you know, makes me Very Lucky.

Very Lucky Indeed! (*Note: I [Casey Lyall, Kick-butt Kidlit Interviewer] am also represented by Molly Ker Hawn and can verify the above statement as true facts.)

What was the inspiration behind THE VIEW FROM THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN?

I was inspired to find answers to my own questions as a parent: What do we tell kids we value—kindness, caring—and what do we show them we value—social status, conventional achievement? How does the near universal desire to make our kids happy sometimes lead to so much unhappiness? Also, I was thinking about subtle and not-so subtle form of ableism. I was also thinking about how the forces that can makes friendships fray as kids get older, and all the emotions and questions I’ve had when some of my own friendships have faded.

Eventually, characters and something of a plot came in, and after multiple drafts that coalesced into this book. My publisher has described it as part thriller, part friendship story and part real estate listing, and while I absolutely love that description, I didn’t know that is what the book would become when I first sat down to write.

How did you tackle writing from multiple points of view in this book – especially when one was from the house itself!

This was my first time writing from multiple views—I tried to trust my instincts and remind myself I could always fix things later. The voices of the character of Asha and the over-the-top house, Donnybrooke, came to me early in the process. Writing Donnybrooke was a ton of fun—it was making me laugh, so I just went with it, knowing I could always revise. (And I did. A lot.). Writing from a non-human point of view was actually very liberating—it allowed me to say things and explore themes that just wouldn’t have worked if Donnybrooke had been a person. I did a couple drafts with just Asha and Donnybrooke, but the story felt thin. So then I started writing things from Sam’s point of view to understand the story better, and it became clear that he was such an integral part of it that we needed his voice too.

After I had a solid draft with all three POVs, I made a careful chapter by chapter outline, detailing who would be narrating which events. (There had been a fair amount of overlap as I just tried to pin down each voice). I then did another draft where I wrote one POV at a time to make sure each had its own distinctive voice and arc. And then I revised the story as a whole some more! I suppose it was a lot of work, but I think novels always are—it’s just a question of what kind of work. And this was work that let me tell the story I wanted to tell.

Love behind the scenes tidbits like this! What a smart way to work through the process!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE VIEW FROM THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN?

Here are three that you can find in my book:

In a medieval European castle, you wanted to have your well inside the castle walls so that your enemies couldn’t poison your drinking supply. I learned this (and many other facts) from David Macauley’s classic book, CASTLE.

I discovered that one version of the Castleton coat-of-arms has three twisted snakes on it. Castleton Academy is the name of the snobbish private school Sam attends, and when I saw that snake coat-of-arms, I had to work it in the story.

And finally, I discovered more types of weathervanes than I’d ever imagined, though I knew as soon as I saw it that the eagle-and-fish weathervane would be the one on top of Donnybrooke.

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

I would transport Asha to GREENGLASS HOUSE by Kate Milford. I think she would love the smuggler’s inn and also Milo and Meddy. I would transport Sam into COSMOS by Carl Sagan; Sam would have a blast not just being immersed in space, but also updating the book with the knowledge we’ve learned since it’s been published. I’m sure Donnybrooke would love to be transported into the pages of Architectural Digest magazine, but that might be too much for its ego.

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

The simple answer is that those are the stories I think of. But I think the reasons for that are those middle grade years are a time where there’s so much change, where everything that once seemed settled is now in flux, where there’s intense questioning—and that gives me a lot to write about. I particularly like to explore how friendships and family shape people, and middle grade feels like it’s made for that. And for me, the key elements of a story are honesty and hope, and I think describes middle grade at its best.

I also like that middle grade is such a broad category in terms of tone, length, and genre. As an author, I feel like there’s space for me to experiment in middle grade craft-wise, and I love to see how other authors chose to tell their stories. Finally, I remember so clearly what it was like to be a kid, and I really like kids, so to be able to write for them is wonderful. You have to have a good story that will keep the pages turning, and that is something I appreciate.

Yes! Love that there’s so much room to explore in middle grade.

Any hints about your next book project?

It’s a middle grade fantasy with a lot of snow. When I started drafting, I was in serious denial that I was writing a fantasy—my logic was that since I didn’t know how to write a fantasy, this book I’m writing couldn’t possibly be a fantasy. It just happened to have a little magic in it. Eventually, I realized that maybe I should re-examine my initial premise, lol.

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

When I started I wasn’t really thinking about the writing community, and how important the writer friends I made would be to my journey. This is an incredible community—generous, supportive, and kind—and I’ve made some very close friends who have cheered me on through all of the ups and downs.

I’ve also really lucked out working with Walker/Candlewick. My cover and book design are amazing (thank you Nicole Miles and Maya Tatsukawa!); my editor, Susan Van Metre is so thoughtful and precise; my publicist Karen Walsh is so helpful and responsive. Really everyone I’ve worked with has just been great. When I was writing I was so focused on my words, and not the team that would turn the story into a beautiful book. Seeing what it has become has been the best kind of surprise.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished ELATSOE by Darcie Little Badger. Highly recommend! It’s a real page-turner, deliciously creepy, satisfying, and ultimately thought-provoking. It is filled with a larger symbolism that only adds to the terrific story. Also, ghost dog!

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

Really, I have two pieces: My first is my meta-advice on advice, which is not all advice applies to everyone. There are so many ways to write a book, and so many paths to get there. If you very my advice stressful or invalidating, please feel free to ignore it! I say this because so many times when I was starting out, I would get very stressed by advice, particularly from agents or editors, that I had to do things in a certain way that I knew wouldn’t work for me. It took me some time to trust in my own process.

All that said, my biggest piece of advice is to give yourself time. There are many things that really help my writing process: reading widely inside the age categories and genres I write in, reading widely outside of them, working on craft at the line level, building a writing community and finding critique partners, doing side writing and other exercises to get to know my characters and story, using visuals like maps to understand my setting, doing research to get the details right, taking long breaks between drafts so that I can better approach my work as a reader . . . the list goes on and on.

But here’s the thing: I didn’t do all these things in weeks or even months. It took years and years, and even though I didn’t want it to take that long to be published, my writing is much better for having that time. It takes most writers a long time, and it is completely okay if it is taking you a long time too. Just try to have fun with the process, and don’t be hard on yourself if some days are not good or you need a break. There are so many ways to build your craft!

Absolutely!

Thank you so much for joining us, Meera!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out
THE VIEW FROM THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN!
It’s on shelves now!

Add THE VIEW FROM THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN on Goodreads!

Connect with Meera on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THE VIEW FROM THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN!
Contest closes Friday, May 13th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Waka T. Brown!

Hello, friends! Welcome to our first interview of 2022!

Find a comfy seat and relax because it’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Waka T. Brown, the author of

DREAM, ANNIE, DREAM

As the daughter of immigrants who came to America for a better life, Annie Inoue was raised to dream big. And at the start of seventh grade, she’s channeling that irrepressible hope into becoming the lead in her school play.

So when Annie lands an impressive role in the production of The King and I, she’s thrilled . . . until she starts to hear grumbles from her mostly white classmates that she only got the part because it’s an Asian play with Asian characters. Is this all people see when they see her? Is this the only kind of success they’ll let her have–one that they can tear down or use race to belittle?

Disheartened but determined, Annie channels her hurt into a new dream: showing everyone what she’s made of.

Waka T. Brown, author of While I Was Away, delivers an uplifting coming-of-age story about a Japanese American girl’s fight to make space for herself in a world that claims to celebrate everyone’s differences but doesn’t always follow through.

Let’s talk to this splendid author about her wonderful book!
This is Waka. Everyone say, “Hi, Waka!”

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

I’ve loved stories forever, but my first foray into writing was in screenplays. I received a lot of “encouraging rejections” for them over the years—which kept me going—but I never had a feature picked up. A few years ago, I had a 10-minute short film produced, but that was also around the time I decided to write While I Was Away, which resulted in my participation in Pitch Wars, then finding my agent, and then landing my first book deal. I also have three boys, a husband, and a naughty but loveable pup, and live with them in the Portland, Oregon area.

Cool! Always love to meet a fellow Pitch Wars alum!

What was the inspiration behind DREAM, ANNIE, DREAM?

My first book While I Was Away explored my experiences in Japan as a Japanese American. While Dream, Annie, Dream is fiction, in some ways it’s the flip side of the coin to my first novel, in that it explores what it was like to be one of the only Japanese Americans in Topeka, Kansas during a time where there was a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment (related to trade friction) throughout the United States.

Even though it’s a story that takes place in the 1980s, I found that there were a lot of parallels with what is still happening today in terms of microaggressions and misunderstandings about what is good/bad representation. As with many current events, the roots of what is happening can be found in history and so that is how the idea for Dream, Annie, Dream was born.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on DREAM, ANNIE, DREAM?

I loved conducting my research for Dream, Annie, Dream! I have many friends who are children of first-generation Asian immigrants, and through them I learned a lot of their parents’ stories and how they ended up in the United States. Some were similar to my own parents’ path; some were quite different and really quite surprising! But the majority of them were able to immigrate here due to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, something that I had never learned about growing up.

I had also read the TIME Magazine article about “Those Asian American Whiz Kids” when it was first published in 1987, but when I went back and read it again for my research, it was fascinating to revisit how Asian Americans were perceived at that time (and how little has changed).

In addition, it was interesting to delve more deeply into how Asians were portrayed in film, the prevalence of casting non-Asian actors in Asian roles, and to analyze some of the problematic themes in the musical The King and I.

For our aspiring writers out there, what do you think are some of the key elements to capturing that ‘just right’ middle grade voice?

Since I came from screenwriting, when I first wrote While I Was Away, I basically gave myself a crash course in middle grade writing through reading a whole bunch of middle grade books, and it was so much fun. Reading these recently published middle grade novels reminded me of why I fell in love with stories as a kid, and it was like I was playing catch up in the best sort of way. Also, I had very kind mentors and more experienced authors offering me writing tips along the way. Finally, my two younger boys are squarely in middle grade territory, and they often regale me with some very eye-opening facts about kids their age!

Oh, excellent! That must have been informative AND entertaining! 😀

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

Hmm… this is a hard one. Part of me would like to transport Annie into a contemporary novel in which characters are used to and welcome diversity, but another part of me would like to transport her back to Prince Edward Island where she could be friends with Anne Shirley. They’re both dreamers, feel like they don’t quite fit in, and don’t let much stand in their way. I loved Anne of Green Gables when I was a little girl and identified with her a lot even though I’m not a red-haired orphan living in the late 1800s. I really hope all kids will find some aspect of Annie Inoue’s story to identify with in the same way.

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

Middle grade is such an honest but intense age in which kids are navigating that transition from childhood—from a time in which parents are their world—into one in which they have more choices and can be more independent. In hindsight, it was also one of the most difficult times for me growing up (and I know for many other people!) so, if there’s anything my words can do to make the time a little easier to get through, that makes me happy.

Any hints about your next book project?

Well, the book I’m currently working on is The Very Unfortunate Wish of Melony Yoshimura (Summer 2023) which is a contemporary re-telling of the Japanese folktale “The Melon Princess and the Amanjaku.” It’s a bit different from my first two books in that it’s contemporary magical realism. But, like my first two stories, at its center is a spirited, imperfect girl trying to find her way.

Sounds amazing! Looking forward to it!

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

I guess that I can write? Over the years I’ve received so many rejections, and while some have been kind and encouraging, I think subconsciously part of me believed maybe I was receiving all these rejections because I just couldn’t write. Also, when I read other authors’ works, I’m constantly in awe of their prose, creativity, etc. so you could say I have a healthy (unhealthy?) dose of imposter syndrome. So, it’s been surprising in the best way when people reach out and let me know that they’ve enjoyed my stories. It’s something that I always hoped for, and it’s still hard for me to believe sometimes that I’m a published author.

What are you reading right now?

I’m about to dive into Axie Oh’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea.

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

I think all of us experience those times where we encounter obstacles in our writing, whether it’s a plot hole, or we’re just floundering around in the mucky middle, and we just feel “stuck.” So, my favorite advice that I’ve received is so simple, but deserves repeating—“You can fix it later.” Just keep on writing and know that the magic often happens in the revisions.

YES! Such an important thing to remember. Well said.

Thank you for joining us, Waka!

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

Add DREAM, ANNIE, DREAM to Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of DREAM, ANNIE, DREAM!
Contest closes Friday, April 22nd at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Chad Lucas!

It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Chad Lucas, the author of

THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE

Brian has always been anxious, whether at home, or in class, or on the basketball court. His dad tries to get him to stand up for himself and his mom helps as much as she can, but after he and his brother are placed in foster care, Brian starts having panic attacks. And he doesn’t know if things will ever be “normal” again . . . Ezra’s always been popular. He’s friends with most of the kids on his basketball team—even Brian, who usually keeps to himself. But now, some of his friends have been acting differently, and Brian seems to be pulling away. Ezra wants to help, but he worries if he’s too nice to Brian, his friends will realize that he has a crush on him . . .
But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra has no choice but to take the leap and reach out. Both boys have to decide if they’re willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they’d rather hide. But if they can be brave, they might just find the best in themselves—and each other.

Let’s talk to this fantastic author about his wonderful book!
This is Chad. Everyone say, “Hi, Chad!”

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

Hi, and thanks for having me! I’ve been writing in one form or another for most of my life, including a decade as a newspaper reporter, but I’ve always been passionate about writing for kids. My debut middle grade novel, THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE, came out in May. I live in beautiful Nova Scotia with my family, I love the ocean, and I drink an awful lot of tea while I’m writing.

Ah, yes – I often measure how much writing had been done by how much tea has been had. 😂

What was the inspiration behind THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE?

I can’t really point to one defining moment or source. I borrowed loosely—very loosely—from some of my own experiences as a kid, but it’s not an autobiographical book. I drew mostly on the scary questions that most of us ask ourselves at different points: “Should I let anyone know what’s really going on inside my brain? Is it safe? Will it make things better or worse?” Brian and Ezra both wrestle with different versions of this same dilemma, and the story evolved as I got to know them both.

What are your favourite ways to infuse a character’s voice into a novel? 

This book is written in alternating first-person chapters, so I incorporated some of Brian and Ezra’s personalities into how I wrote their chapters to make them sound distinct. Brian tends to second-guess himself and jump to worst-case scenarios, so some of his chapters have sections called Brian versus Brian where he argues with himself, or lists with increasingly catastrophic possibilities. Ezra’s more outgoing, so I included some text conversations with his friends in his chapters. For me, playing with format is a fun way to reflect a character’s voice and how they experience the world.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE?

– I learned where books on beekeeping are shelved in the library. (638.1!)
– I listened to several songs about werewolves to consider what would make Ezra’s all-werewolf playlist. (My favourite—and Ezra’s too—is “Wolf Like Me” by TV on the Radio.)
– I rewatched highlights from Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals. (Kevin Durant was the hero or the villain, depending on your perspective. Ezra’s friend Ty is sure he’s the villain.)

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

I love so many great middle grade books that this was a surprisingly hard question to choose one answer. But I think Brian and Ezra would both find their place in Culeco Academy of the Arts, the delightfully odd school in Carlos Hernandez’s SAL AND GABI BREAK THE UNIVERSE. It’s a wonderfully accepting environment for weirdos.

That’s a great choice!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I really like this age. I get to hang out with middle graders often, as a parent and a basketball coach, and they’re always cracking me up. It’s also an age when they’re beginning to think about big topics like who they are, what they care about, and what they believe about the world. The possibilities of writing for this age are endless.

Any hints about your next book project?

Thankfully I can do more than hint! My next middle grade book is called LET THE MONSTER OUT and it releases in May 2022. It’s the story of a Black boy named Quentin “Bones” Malone who moves to a small town where strange things start happening: his mom and other adults go through zombie-like personality changes, and kids experience each other’s nightmares. Bones and his new friends have to figure out what’s going on—and confront their own fears—before something sinister takes over the whole town. This was a very different book to write and I’m looking forward to having it out in the world.

Sounds awesome!

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

It probably sounds corny to say that the best surprise has been the friends I’ve made along the way, but it’s true! Getting to know other writers has made a big difference. Publishing can be such a roller coaster, and it’s been so helpful to have people who understand the journey. And cheering on each other’s successes is just the best feeling.

What are you reading right now?

My youngest son and I are reading BLACK BOY JOY, edited by Kwame Mbalia, and it’s a delightful anthology that makes me wish (again) that we had more short story collections for middle graders. And I just finished the audiobook of WEIRD KID by Greg Van Eekhout, about a seventh grader who’s secretly a blob of interstellar goo. It’s one of the funniest books I’ve read all year.

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

I think one of the most important skills for any writer to learn is the fine art of receiving feedback. Taking good advice is essential—you won’t go far if you’re convinced your prose is flawless and above editing. But not all advice is good advice, and so much in publishing is subjective. In my querying years, I once got two rejections on the same day from two agents who gave completely opposite feedback. One said I was over-explaining in my dialogue, and the other insisted I was leaving too much unsaid! So my kick-butt advice is: seek out feedback, and hone your instincts. Both are important in helping you make your stories stronger.  

Absolutely.

Thank you for joining us, Chad!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE!
It’s on shelves now!

Add THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE on Goodreads!

Connect with Chad on Twitter, Instagram, or through his website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE!
Contest closes Friday, November 26th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Jenni L. Walsh!

It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Jenni L. Walsh, the author of

BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES

Sybil Ludington believes in the legend of fireflies—they appear when you need them most. But it’s not until her family is thrust into the dangers of the Revolutionary War, and into George Washington’s spy ring, that Sybil experiences firefly magic for herself—guiding her through the darkness, empowering her to figure out who she’s supposed to be and how strong she really is—as she delivers her imperative message and warns against a British attack.

BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES is the captivating tale of a young girl’s journey as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a spy, and eventually a war hero, completing a midnight ride that cements her place in history as the “female Paul Revere.”

Let’s talk to this lovely author about her excellent book!
This is Jenni. Everyone say, “Hi, Jenni!”

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Jenni! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

Thank you for having me! I’m coming to you from outside of Philadelphia, where we’ve just gotten our first bit of frost and my kids are already multiple pages into their lists for Santa. When I’m not wrangling said kids, I’m usually found at my desk. By the Light of Fireflies is my eighth book and I’m thankful for my job every single day.

What was the inspiration behind BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES?

It was truly an honor to write this novel about Sybil Ludington, a little known Revolutionary War heroine. She’s often known as the “female Paul Revere” but she rode twice as far, was half Paul Revere’s age, and completed her own midnight ride all by herself. *Mic drop*

This feat was so spectacular and unbelievable that some people believe her ride was nothing more than a story. But I believe that Sybil accomplished something magical, just like the Sybil in my story believes in the magic of fireflies, and that on April 26, 1777 she truly made a daring ride to warn of an attack by the British.

I also had the opportunity to expand on Sybil’s story. She was more than the “female Paul Revere.” Sybil was a spy (yes, for George Washington!), a sister (sooo many siblings), a daughter, a friend, and someone who broke the mold for young girls of her time. I hope you enjoy Sybil’s story as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Wow! It sounds like she was an incredible person!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES?  

As mentioned, Sybil was involved in George Washignton’s spy ring and learning more about the spying techniques, such as how to make invisible ink and their system of sending/receiving codes was quite interesting. Something else interesting I unearthed is that fireflies (I know many of us also call them lightning bugs) are neither a bug or a fly. They’re actually beetles. Talk about being mis-characteristized! 

Beetles?! Who knew?

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

I present Sybil as a young woman who pushes the gender boundaries of her time. I think she’d enjoy being in a contemporary novel where she’s more free to be who she wants to be. In a historical setting, I could see Sybil enjoying playing the part of Pinkerton agent Kate Warne’s niece in The Detective’s Assistant.

Let’s talk book research! You’ve written quite a bit of historical fiction. What are your best tips for keeping your research organized? And how do you know when it’s time to stop researching and start writing?

I’ve recently begun writing in Scrivener and it’s been life changing. I used to have multiple word documents–novel timeline, era timeline, notes, deleted content, chapter summaries–that I’d jump between. Now it’s all in one place and it’s a beautiful thing. I usually research until I have a general sense of the who, what, where, when, how of my story. By this point, I’ve usually found my voice and I’m eager to use it. I do quite a bit of research as I’m writing, too.

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I write for both adults and children. Adult books are sometimes twice as long as middle grade books. But what I love about middle grade novels is that you aren’t getting any less of a story. It’s just that middle grade novels pack a punch in fewer pages.

So true!

Any hints about your next book project?

I’ll give a huge hint! My next book is called Over and Out and it will be released in March of 2022 🙂 It’s the story of a young girl named Sophie who was born, raised, and who feels trapped on the east side of the Berlin Wall. Sophie has always dreamed of more for herself than East Berlin can give her. She wants to be an inventor. So, naturally, Sophie and her best friend try to invent a way over and out.

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

Well, I never had aspirations to be a novelist. As a child, I enjoyed reading and I enjoyed writing, but that was the extent of it. But then my life winded me to a time and place where the thought of writing a novel was put in my head. It’s been about ten years and I’ve never looked back.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve just begun an audiobook of The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (an adult book). The story’s still building, but so far I can say the narrator is excellent!

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

Keep going. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep doing. My journey hasn’t always been easy, but if I would’ve given up (and boy did I have that thought once or twice), then By the Light of Fireflies never would’ve come to be, and I really love this book! 

I hope everyone takes that advice to heart!

Thank you for joining us, Jenni!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES!
It’s on shelves now!

Add BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES!
Contest closes Wednesday, November 10th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Mark Oshiro!

It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Mark Oshiro, the author of

THE INSIDERS

Three kids who don’t belong. A room that shouldn’t exist. A year that will change everything.

San Francisco and Orangevale may be in the same state, but for Héctor Muñoz, they might as well be a million miles apart. Back home, being gay didn’t mean feeling different. At Héctor’s new school, he couldn’t feel more alone.

Most days, Héctor just wishes he could disappear. And he does. Right into the janitor’s closet. (Yes, he sees the irony.) But one day, when the door closes behind him, Héctor discovers he’s stumbled into a room that shouldn’t be possible. A room that connects him with two new friends from different corners of the country—and opens the door to a life-changing year full of magic, friendship, and adventure.

Let’s talk to this wonderful author about their fantastic book!
This is Mark. Everyone say, “Hi, Mark!”

Photo Credit: Zoraida Córdova

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Mark! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

I’m Mark Oshiro, a kidlit author of both young adult and middle grade. I’ve written Anger is a GiftEach of Us a Desert, and my upcoming MG debut, The Insiders. When I’m not writing, I’m usually doing something outdoors, petting a dog, or on a rollercoaster. 

What was the inspiration behind THE INSIDERS? 

The origins of this book come from the very first manuscript I ever completed, back when I was a freshman in college. It was roundly rejected by everyone I sent it to. (I also didn’t understand that maybe you should send it to agents ONLY, and I definitely printed it out and sent THE WHOLE THING to a bunch of editors. I held on to a copy of it all these years and revisited it when I was looking at old projects for inspiration! The idea itself was pretty simple: I wanted to write a story with a gay Latino as the protagonist, and I had this idea of him finding a magical closet that took him on adventures. It was a way for me to reclaim the notion of being “in the closet.”

Oh, wow! I love that you never gave up on the story!

This is your first middle grade novel (yay!) after starting in YA. Why were you drawn to writing for a younger age level?

I wanted to challenge myself, first of all. I’ve read a lot of middle grade over the years and respected how difficult it seemed to write for that age level. I’m happy to report that it was indeed a challenge! But much like my inspiration for writing young adult fiction, I needed the kind of literature coming out now when I was a kid. I write with that mindset: there’s always a queer kid of color out there who needs to feel a little less alone.

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

First thing—and this is kinda cheesy—I learned that I could write middle grade! I honestly wasn’t sure I could when I started, but I’m glad I did after having written and published two other books. 

Second thing: There’s a joke about Capri Sun that’s probably my favorite silly moment in the book, and it caused me to seek out Capri Sun again, and that drink STILL slaps. And there are so many more flavors now! 

Third Thing: I still don’t know how time works. In literally every story I’ve ever written that takes place over more than a couple days, my copyeditors have all found incredibly bizarre mistakes concerning the progression of the days of the week. In an early draft of Anger, I fully skipped Wednesday every week; in Desert, I once had a day passing in four hours; and in The Insiders, my copyeditor pointed out that my protagonist couldn’t count days at ALL. I believe all of this says more about me than anything else.

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

I’m cheating because it’s not out yet and none of you can read it yet, but the world of The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton. It’s the start of a middle grade fantasy series, and Dhonielle has so cleverly re-thought the tradition of a magical school, and I am certain the characters of The Insiders would thrive there. 

AH! So jealous that you’ve read it! So excited for when it’s out next year!

For our writer friends reading this, what are your best writer’s block busting tips?

I stop writing and go do literally anything else that isn’t writing. Push-ups, a bike ride, a hike, an hour of video games, chores around the house—all of it gets my brain focusing on other things and usually shakes something free in my mind. It’s also possible that writer’s block is happening because you need to refill your creative well or take a break. I know we’re all stressed and overworked right now, and the best thing I’ve learned in the last couple years is that I have to take time off or burnout will take control of me.

Any hints about your next book project? 

So, I’ve been frighteningly prolific since I finish writing the first draft of The Insiders at the end of February 2020. Publishing is weird in that we’re often working on projects that are years out from release. I’ve actually finished three books since then, and they’re all in various stages of editing right now. I have two books out next year. Both are middle grade! One is a big ol’ secret, and the other is my second book for Harper Collins. It’s not a sequel to The Insiders, but another speculative fiction standalone about regret, time travel, and the most annoying magical companion of all time. I also have a third YA out in the near future, and it’s a contemporary thriller about a cult. 

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

The support of educators and students. I grew up believing that books taught in school had to have been out for a billion years, that they had to be “classics,” and that generally speaking, only old and/or dead white men were used in that setting. I have lost count of the number of classrooms, schools, educational programs, reading clubs, book clubs, and literacy programs have used my YA books in an educational setting. Like… I’m also slightly sorry that my book made some kids do homework, but I’m still SHOOK. I never expected it in my wildest dreams, and I’m so thankful. 

What are you reading right now?

Actually… nothing. Which is okay! I just got off deadline a couple days before this interview when I turned in a rewrite of my next MG book for Harper Collins. So I am currently on a (brief) word break while I reset my brain. I’ve got my fourth book of the year (I am not exaggerating that, HELP) due in November and have to start it soon!

That IS okay! It’s important to remember to take breaks!

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

Don’t compare yourself to anyone but yourself. I say that in terms of being an author AND being a person. There is a vast difference between what is presented to the world and what is actually happening, and there is much we don’t see—in art, in humanity—that affects the presentation. When it comes to writing, I compare my current works with what I’ve done before, since I want to continue growing in my craft, but I do the best I can not to compare what I do with what others are. 

Yes. Exactly this!

Thank you so much for joining us, Mark!

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

Add THE INSIDERS to Goodreads!

Connect with Mark on Twitter, Instagram, or through their website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THE INSIDERS!
Contest ends Friday, September 24th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Jessica Vitalis!

It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Jessica Vitalis, the author of

THE WOLF’S CURSE

Twelve-year-old Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he witnessed a Great White Wolf steal his grandpapá’s soul, preventing it from reaching the Sea-in-the-Sky and sailing into eternity. When the superstitious residents of Bouge-by-the-Sea accuse the boy of crying wolf, he joins forces with another orphan to prove his innocence. They navigate their shared grief in a journey that ultimately reveals life-changing truths about the wolf––and death.

Let’s talk to this wonderful author about her excellent book!
This is Jessica. Everyone say, “Hi, Jessica!”

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Jessica! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

Thank you for having me! I’m a Columbia MBA-wielding children’s author with a passion for dark, magical stories. I’m also a mother of two teen girls and the keeper of two adorable (but mischievous) cats as well as one sweet dog. As an American expat living in Canada, I spend most of the time I’m not writing trying to stay warm.

What was the inspiration behind THE WOLF’S CURSE?

I was standing in front of my bookshelves, casting about for inspiration, when I noticed my worn copy of THE BOOK THIEF. I wondered what kind of story would emerge if I tried writing a book with Death as the narrator. And so THE WOLF’S CURSE was born!

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

I was sitting at my computer when a notification of a new email from my agent flashed across my screen. I’d only been on submission for three weeks, and after several years on submission for various projects with my previous agent, I didn’t expect any news for several weeks, if not months. I opened the email and discovered not only that it was a very attractive offer from one of my dream publishers, but that they’d offered a two-book deal. I started shrieking and (ugly) crying; my daughters heard the commotion and ran in the room. I read them the email and the three of us danced and cried for the next several minutes while I tried to calm down enough to call my agent and hold a (semi) rational conversation. You can read the full story of how I got my agent and two-book deal (and see the photo my daughter snapped when she first ran into the room) here.

That photo is the BEST! Love the joy on your face!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE WOLF’S CURSE?

The most interesting discovery is that the attitudes and rituals surrounding death look different all around the world. For example, a traditional practice among Buddhists in Tibet is Sky Burials, where bodies are placed at the tops of high peaks in order to feed vultures as part of the food chain. The Tinguian people of the Philippines wash their loved ones bodies, dress them in finery, and seat them at the front of the house for up to several weeks. The realization that there are many different ways to grieve and honor the dead opened a door that allowed me to develop my own rituals for THE WOLF’S CURSE.

The second thing I learned while writing THE WOLF’S CURSE is that, despite my best intentions, my stories are probably always going to combine elements of dark and light. I’d written five full manuscripts before this novel, and they were all fairly heavy. When I decided to write a book with Death (or a death-like character) as the narrator, I decided I would have fun with it—I thought perhaps I’d write an adventure or even a comedy. Although there are elements of adventure and humor in the story that emerged, no one will ever accuse me of having written a comedy!

Finally, I learned a lot about wolves, including the fact that although they have a reputation for being independent (hence the term “lone wolf”), they are actually pack animals and extremely loyal. Did you know they often mate for life?

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

What a fun question! Both Gauge and Roux are interested in seeing the world, so they’d probably enjoy leaving their French-inspired medieval/renaissance lives and exploring the modern world. I think they would get along with Kitty from Yvette Clark’s GLITTER GETS EVERYWHERE, so perhaps they could tag along with her in both London and New York?

That sounds like an adventure and a half!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

My first attempt at a novel was a memoir and my second was a young adult novel. At the same time, I was exploring picture books. My critique partners kept telling me that my picture book attempts all sounded like the first chapters of middle grade novels. It wasn’t until I finished David Almond’s KIT’S WILDERNESS that I realized middle grade was the perfect fit for the stories I wanted to tell. 

Any hints about your next book project?

The only thing I can say at this point is that the premise is both the exact opposite of, and a perfect complement to, THE WOLF’S CURSE!

Ooooh! Can’t wait to hear more!

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

How long it’s taken; I wrote six books over the course of thirteen years before landing my first book deal!

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Heather Kassner’s THE PLENTIFUL DARKNESS (so gorgeous and creepy and heartfelt!), and I’m getting ready to start THE MANY MEANINGS OF MEILAN by Andrea Wang. 

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

Never give up!

NEVER EVER!

Thank you so much for joining us, Jessica!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THE WOLF’S CURSE!
It hits shelves on September 21st!

Add THE WOLF’S CURSE to Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of THE WOLF’S CURSE!
Contest ends Friday, September 10th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Sarah Moon!

It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Sarah Moon, the author of

MIDDLETOWN

Thirteen-year-old Eli likes baggy clothes, baseball caps, and one girl in particular. Her seventeen-year-old sister Anna is more traditionally feminine; she loves boys and staying out late. They are sisters, and they are also the only family each can count on. Their dad has long been out of the picture, and their mom lives at the mercy of her next drink. When their mom lands herself in enforced rehab, Anna and Eli are left to fend for themselves. With no legal guardian to keep them out of foster care, they take matters into their own hands: Anna masquerades as Aunt Lisa, and together she and Eli hoard whatever money they can find. But their plans begin to unravel as quickly as they were made, and they are always way too close to getting caught.

Eli and Anna have each gotten used to telling lies as a means of survival, but as they navigate a world without their mother, they must learn how to accept help, and let other people in.

Let’s talk to this awesome author about her wonderful book!
This is Sarah. Everyone say, “Hi, Sarah!”

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Sarah! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

Thank you so much for this! Things to know about me — I’m a teacher in Brooklyn, I just finished my 17th year teaching. I have a hilarious, brilliant, opinionated four year old and a wonderful, patient wife. I am an extremely amateur knitter and I love reality tv. 

What was the inspiration behind MIDDLETOWN?

I wrote MIDDLETOWN for my sister. I am the youngest of three, and my sister and I were the ones who were home once our parents got divorced. We were 12  and 15 and found ourselves alone, together, a lot. While our lives couldn’t have looked less like Eli and Anna’s, I remember feeling like it was just her and me in our little lifeboat, and so no matter how different we were from each other or how much we fought, we were always going to have to figure out how to keep the boat from tipping over. We’re still like that, I think, all these years later.

The other thing I wanted to write about was being a queer kid in a small town, which was very much my experience. It’s odd — the book is really, really different from my life, but it’s also probably the most autobiographical thing I’ll ever write.

Two sisters, Eli and Anna, are at the heart of this book. What do you think are some key factors in writing realistic sibling relationships?

Ha! I’ve never thought about that. I think it’s about doing something that’s almost impossible to do as a sibling — seeing each person as a whole and also as a part. There’s who Eli is, there’s who Anna is, and there’s who they are to each other. The parts that they show to each other, the parts they try (and fail) to hide from each other, the parts that hurt each other, and the parts that make the other person who she is. We’ll get into this more later, but I have a real *thing* about the complexities of the lives of young people, and so I think that, for me, that extends to their relationships. Nobody is just one thing, not to themselves, and not to anybody else, either. I wanted their relationship to be just as layered as the sisters themselves.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on MIDDLETOWN?

How many Middletowns there are! I thought they were all in the northeast, but I was wrong. I also learned, as I always do when trying to write a book, that I avoid conflict on that page just as much as I avoid it in life and I always have to go back and force myself to make the characters have  the conversation they are/I am avoiding. I learned that it is indeed possible to write a book during a pandemic with a toddler, though I’m not super sure I’d like to learn that again.

Oof! That definitely sounds like a lesson that would last a lifetime!

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

Anna gets sent to I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER to learn that she’s not as alone as she thinks she is, and Eli gets sent to I FELT A FUNERAL IN MY BRAIN for exactly the same reason. 

MIDDLETOWN is a middle grade novel that also feels like it could be a bridge into YA. What drew you to writing for this age group?

Sooooo, I didn’t really understand that if you write a book with an 8th grade protagonist, then it’s going to be middle grade (despite the fact that I’ve done this twice now), so there’s that. But the truth is that, while I love the high schoolers that I work with, my heart is always with middle schoolers. Throughout my teaching life, even when I’m working with older kids, I always find a way to connect with middle schoolers because they are my bread and butter. They are hilarious, honest and figuring out themselves in a way that is both excruciating and exhilarating. I invited Kacen Callender to speak at my school last year, and one thing that they said that struck a particular chord is that we write for the age group where we experienced our first trauma. I’d never thought about it like that, and I also haven’t been able to get it out of my head, so that’s probably a factor for me, too. It wasn’t easy growing up queer in my town, I came out when I was 14. I will probably always write for queer 14 year olds, just like I will probably always teach to the queer 14 year old in any classroom I’m in. 

Any hints about your next book project?

A few things! A proper middle grade that takes place at Family Week in Provincetown, and a time-hopping love story, both of which may orr may not include a plethora of queer 14 year olds. 

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

Everything about my publishing journey has been surprising and unlikely, and also in some ways very predictable because it’s very much a result of growing up as the child of a writer. The most surprising part of my publishing journey still is the moment that my heart leapt out of my chest because The Arthur A. Levine, who had just published the anthology I’d co-edited with Celeste Lecesne of the Trevor Project, told me that I should send him what I would be working on next. But the only reason that happened was because I met Celeste when I was a 12 year old kid on my bike in Provincetown because he and my mother worked together at the Fine Arts Work Center, and so it was that I ran into him again 15 years later outside of a theater in New York and said, hey, I have this idea for a book, and six months later, I was sitting in The Arthur A. Levine’s office with my jaw on the floor. I try to be very upfront about both the unlikeliness of my story and the ways in which the industry is greased for a story like mine.

Oh, wow! That’s amazing!

What are you reading right now?

I’m always reading too many books. Blackout (six powerhouses in one book — each page is a gift); All Adults Here (all things Emma Straub always); Time to Stir (a book about the Columbia strike in 1968, see aforementioned time-hopping love story), and While Justice Sleeps (a political thriller from the political genius of Stacey Abrams? Yes, please). 

Just finished BLACKOUT over here and love, love, loved it!

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

When I was 16 and woebegone about my wish to write but my deep, deep doubts about having any talent at all, my stepmother asked me, “Do you know what you have to do to be a writer?” I said, “No,” quite plaintively. She said, “You have to write.” I think about that every day.

That is totally it.

Thank you so much for joining us, Sarah!

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

Add MIDDLETOWN on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of MIDDLETOWN!
Contest ends Friday, August 13th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Rajani LaRocca!

Welcome Back to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Rajani LaRocca, the author of

RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE

Reha feels torn between two worlds: school, where she’s the only Indian American student, and home, with her family’s traditions and holidays. But Reha’s parents don’t understand why she’s conflicted—they only notice when Reha doesn’t meet their strict expectations. Reha feels disconnected from her mother, or Amma, although their names are linked—Reha means “star” and Punam means “moon”—but they are a universe apart.

Then Reha finds out that her Amma is sick. Really sick.

Reha, who dreams of becoming a doctor even though she can’t stomach the sight of blood, is determined to make her Amma well again. She’ll be the perfect daughter, if it means saving her Amma’s life.

Let’s talk to this fantastic author about her amazing book!
This is Rajani. Everyone say, “Hi, Rajani!”

Welcome back to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Rajani! Why don’t we start with some introductions for our new readers – tell us about yourself!

Hi Casey! It’s so great to be back here! I was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now I live in the Boston area, where I practice medicine and write books for kids! I’ve always been an omnivorous reader, and now I’m an omnivorous writer of novels and picture books, fiction and nonfiction, in poetry and prose.

What was the inspiration behind RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE?

RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE is a novel in verse set in 1983 about 13-year-old Reha, who feels torn between the worlds of her immigrant parents and her friends at school. But then her mother is diagnosed with leukemia, and her life turns upside down. Reha becomes convinced that if she can just be the perfect daughter, the daughter her parents want her to be, she can somehow save her mother’s life.

The idea for RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE started as a metaphor: the metaphor of blood, and all that it means in terms of biology, family, and community. While the plot of the book is fictional, many of the emotions in it are ones I experienced as a kid growing up as the child of Indian immigrants.

RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE is a novel in verse. What was the creative process for that like? Was it very different from your other novels? What kind of challenges did you run into? 

Because RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE is very interiorly focused and emotional, I thought that verse would be the perfect way to write it. However, I didn’t know if I could write a novel in verse. So I read every novel in verse for young readers that I could get my hands on, and just tried.

I spent a long time thinking about this book before I wrote any of it. I had a rough outline, but then I just sat down and wrote poems. The first poem I wrote became a kind of “keystone” poem that became the central poem of this book — and in the final book, it’s just about at the halfway point.

Then, instead of scenes and chapters, I thought of each poem as a snapshot—of a single moment, or a single thought, image, or concept. I wrote poem after poem, and I sometimes wrote them in pairs when a piece of imagery changed over the course of the novel. I found myself dictating into my phone on my commute and waking in the middle of the night to jot notes. Before writing, and while writing, I listened to a never-ending playlist from 1983-1984, and I created my own playlist for songs I featured in the book—because Reha loves pop music as much as I did when I was her age. Unlike my prose novels, where I usually write scenes and chapters in order, I wrote the poems for RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE in any order I wanted, and figured out the “right” order to put them in during revision.

Here’s a link to the RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE playlist: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5XAcxzLHYS4Y4gLAgHZeLK?si=50c9baec83784a7d

Oh, wow! What a fascinating process! And a playlist is always fun! 😀

You also have another middle grade novel that just came out last month! MUCH ADO ABOUT BASEBALL is the companion novel to your debut, MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM. What was it like continuing with a new story in the same book world you’d created? Did you always know that you were going to write a follow-up book? Since it’s a companion novel, will readers get to see much of the characters from the first book?

I really enjoyed returning to the magical world of MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM! MUCH ADO ABOUT BASEBALL is set in the same town (Comity, MA) during the same summer as the first book but follows a different set of characters — both human and magical. A few of the characters from MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM are mentioned, but we don’t see any of them in this book. I came up with the idea for this book a long time ago, but it took me a while to figure out what exactly the story should be and how it should be told.

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

It might be fun to see the regular kids from Comity plopped into one of Shakespeare’s plays—perhaps A Midsummer Night’s Dream—and see what happens!

That sounds like a recipe for shenanigans!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

The middle grade years are such an incredible time in kids’ lives, when they are still close to their families but are also forming important friendships and becoming more autonomous, as well as learning about what they are interested in and thinking about what values they hold dearest. Middle grade readers are smart and care about fairness and justice. They love to have fun. And they still believe in magic.

The books I remember the best, the ones that made the biggest difference in my life, were ones I read during my middle grade years. And I’m so humbled and honored to be writing books for middle grade readers today.

Any hints about your next book project?

I have three more books coming this year—all picture books. WHERE THREE OCEANS MEET, coming August 24 from Abrams, is about a girl who travels with her mother and grandmother to the tip of India, and what she learns along the way about the love and strength mothers and daughters share. MY LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK ABOUT KAMALA HARRIS, a picture book biography of our amazing vice president, releases August 31. And THE SECRET CODE INSIDE YOU comes out September 14 from Little Bee Books. It’s a nonfiction book told in rhyming verse that explains the basics of genetics, but also touches on how our choices also make us who we are.

In terms of middle grade, my next MG novel is coming fall 2022 from Quill Tree/HarperCollins. It’s a dual-POV book about identical twin sisters who grow apart but find their way back to each other through music.

So exciting! Can’t wait for more Rajani books!

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

I never expected to meet some of my best friends in my 40s and beyond…but I have, thanks to writing.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a lot of adult mysteries and YA fantasy.

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

Be kind to yourself. There are times when the writing flows, and times when it doesn’t. Sometimes you have to push through even when the writing is hard. But sometimes it’s a signal that you need a break.

A very important reminder!

Thank you so much for joining us, Rajani!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE (and MUCH ADO ABOUT BASEBALL)! They’re both on shelves now!

Add RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE and MUCH ADO ABOUT BASEBALL on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE!
Contest ends Friday, July 30th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!


Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Chrystal D. Giles!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kid-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Chrystal D. Giles, the author of

TAKE BACK THE BLOCK

Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That–and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games–is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.

But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are supposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it . . . before it’s too late?

Let’s talk to this fabulous author about her splendid book!
This is Chrystal. Everyone say, “Hi, Chrystal!”

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Chrystal! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

Hi, thanks so much for having me! I’m a children’s book author, I’ve written some picture books and poetry, but my heart is in middle-grade fiction. My debut novel is a middle-grade contemporary realistic story called TAKE BACK THE BLOCK.

I’ve also had a fairly extensive career in accounting and finance but I can truly say writing for young people is so much more fun! I live outside Charlotte, NC with my husband and son.

What was the inspiration behind TAKE BACK THE BLOCK?

This story was directly inspired by my hometown, Charlotte, NC. My city, like many cities across the nation, is experiencing gentrification and the displacement of marginalized people. Years ago, I started to notice whole communities being wiped away, I really became troubled by the thought of what happens to the children and families when these neighborhoods are transformed.

I couldn’t get that worry out of my mind so I decided to write a story that centered on the up-close view of a community fighting to remain whole.

What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book?

I was at my day job when the first offer rolled in. My agent was kind of expecting an offer from an editor who had loved the book. Just a few days after receiving the manuscript, that editor had sent an email swooning over a scene. I was ecstatic and overwhelmed and happy to have an official offer.

As the week went on, we got some other interest so my agent set an auction for the next week. Ultimately, three editors made offers and I ended with a two-book deal.

Oh, that’s so exciting! Yay for more Chrystal books!

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

  1. I learned about the history of my hometown, and more importantly, the historical Black Americans who’d done so much for it and its residents.
  2. How much I love young people’s style and fashion sense. I wanted my main character, Wes, to be style-obsessed so I made sure to pay attention to how young people dress and the impact of sneaker culture on this generation of kids.
  3. The more detail you put into your story, the more relatable is it to readers. I think new writers tend to skip details that don’t seem interesting in their own minds, I sure used to. But really it’s those specific things that readers relate to most.

Do YOU have a favourite pair of sneakers? If so, which ones?

Just like my main character Wes, I am a lover of Nike AirMax. I don’t have a favorite pair (as I have many, too many) but I am partial to the AirMax 90 style.

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I have such clear memories of sitting alone reading stacks and stacks of books as a girl around the age of ten. In some ways, books were my first friends. I want to write stories for the kids who are looking for themselves and their world in a book. I also write for the kids are who just starting to get interested in the lives of their neighbors and people who have stories different from their own experiences. Middle-grade is the perfect entry point for those explorations.

So true. This is why middle grade is the best!

Any hints about your next book project?

My next project is another middle-grade contemporary novel. I’m in the process of editing it now and the horror stories of publishing your second book are true. I absolutely love the book but the stress of editing during a pandemic all while debuting (during a pandemic) have been a true test.

Readers can expect the new book late 2022 or early 2023.

Seriously. Everyone who debuted/released books during the pandemic is a total super star. I am in awe of anyone who managed to tackle any words this past year.

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

Honestly, that people are reading and relating to my book. I know that must sound pretty simplistic, but really I am constantly surprised (and flattered) every time I’m tagged in a post or see a picture of someone holding my book.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished, THE SHAPE OF THUNDER by Jasmine Warga, last week. It was so good and I still think about it at least once a day.

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

Write the story only you can tell.

Absolutely.

Thank you so much for joining us, Chrystal!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out TAKE BACK THE BLOCK!
It’s on shelves now!

Add TAKE BACK THE BLOCK on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of TAKE BACK THE BLOCK!
Contest ends Friday, July 16th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Shakirah Bourne!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Shakirah Bourne, the author of

JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA

Eleven-year-old Josephine knows that no one is good enough for her daddy. That’s why she makes a habit of scaring his new girlfriends away. She’s desperate to make it onto her school’s cricket team because she’ll get to play her favorite sport AND use the cricket matches to distract Daddy from dating.

But when Coach Broomes announces that girls can’t try out for the team, the frustrated Josephine cuts into a powerful silk cotton tree and accidentally summons a bigger problem into her life . . .

The next day, Daddy brings home a new catch, a beautiful woman named Mariss. And unlike the other girlfriends, this one doesn’t scare easily. Josephine knows there’s something fishy about Mariss but she never expected her to be a vengeful sea creature eager to take her place as her father’s first love! Can Josephine convince her friends to help her and use her cricket skills to save Daddy from Mariss’s clutches before it’s too late?

Let’s talk to this magnificent author about her incredible book!
This is Shakirah. Everyone say, “Hi, Shakirah!”

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

Hi Casey! I’m so excited to chat with you today. I’m a Barbadian author, still residing in the lovely island of Barbados. My background is in filmmaking, adult literary fiction, playwriting and much more–I love creating stories and experimenting with many different narrative styles. I eventually found my way to writing kidlit in 2017 and my debut middle grade contemporary fantasy, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA, comes out with Scholastic on July 6th 2021.

What was the inspiration behind JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA?

I decided to enter a writing competition called BURT Award for Caribbean YA Literature, three weeks before the deadline. I had to decide on a story idea quickly, and the first idea that came to mind was inspired by a story I read in English class when I was twelve years old, about a fisherman who became obsessed with a mermaid. 

Though villagers warned him to stay away, he visited her by the river everyday. At night, she took over his dreams; he stopped caring for his family and himself, and one day, villagers found his clothing on the riverbank, and neither he nor the mermaid were ever seen again.

I always wondered what could have happened to them. Who was that mermaid? What if the fisherman’s daughter tried to find him?  JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA became my answer to those questions. I have always had a love for fantastical tales, and this story gave me the opportunity to delve further into Caribbean folklore and create a modern day adaptation set in Barbados.  

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA?

1. I discovered that I can write a book in a short timeframe. In only twenty-one days, I planned a book, wrote the first draft while crying, and still had a few days to spare to re-read and edit before the deadline. I haven’t finished a book so quickly since then.

2. I discovered a passion for writing kidlit. In my adult short fiction I would write stories from the perspective of children, mainly to expose hypocrisy or show irony, but I never thought about writing books specifically targeting kids until the BURT competition. There is a significant lack of Caribbean middle grade books, and I can’t think of even one traditionally published middle grade novel set in Barbados, so now I’m on a mission to encourage and inspire as many Caribbean/Bajan writers as I can to explore this genre. 

3. I discovered even more connections between Caribbean and African mythology in my research, especially with regards to sea spirits and sea goddesses. I started to think more about the history of my antagonist and during revisions, I started to empathize with her and see her point of view. It sparked an idea for a sequel, which I pitched to my editor, who loved it too! Now JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE HEARTMAN is coming out in 2023.

Oh, wow! That’s impressive that you were able to write your first draft so quickly! And so excited to hear about the upcoming sequel!

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

In thinking about the answer to this, I realized that I have read a lot of traumatic and dystopian novels, and there’s no way I’d subject Josephine and Ahkai to such angst (yes, I know they have to battle a sea spirit but that’s not the point). I think I’d let them go book-hopping in some Enid Blyton stories, and add Black representation in those books. They’d have a lot of fun solving mysteries with the Famous Five or Secret Seven, and Josephine and Elizabeth would wreak havoc with elaborate practical jokes in The Naughtiest Girl in School series. 

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I didn’t realize I was writing middle grade at all. When I first queried this book, I claimed that it was Young Adult, and then had to learn the differences between the two. In retrospect, I’ve always been drawn to telling stories through the eyes of 11-13 years olds since this is an important period of transition for kids. This is the time they start questioning their place in their family and other groups; they are curious, and willing to go on adventures, and are quite frank and honest in their observations. I find examining people and setting through this perspective very fascinating, and it lends well to humour through self-reflection and also of the behavior of friends, family and the wider community. 

It really is one of the best ages to write for!

Let’s talk about writing style! When you start a new story – do you plot it out or are you a pantser? What are some of your favourite methods for tackling writer’s block?  

I am a Plotster (who leans more to the plotter side). I like to know the beginning, turning point one & two, midpoint and ending of a story before I start writing. I plan as much as possible because I find that writer’s block occurs when I don’t understand the story or know where it’s going. However, my outline is for peace of mind and it’s just a guide. I still leave room for characters to surprise me and I am flexible enough to include new scenes or other plot elements that appear during the writing process. 

I find the best way to tackle writer’s block is to stop thinking about the story. I either read a book or watch a series, and it’s guaranteed that I’ll be inspired again by a scene, a line of dialogue or even an interesting location. 

Yes! Stepping away is sometimes the best thing you can do. And high fives to a fellow Plotser! 😀

Any hints about your next book project?

Yes! It’s called DUPPY ISLAND and it’s coming out in 2022. It’s about a young filmmaker who follows her family to a silent retreat on a mysterious island to get footage of a rare butterfly, and discovers that the island is haunted by faceless children. It’s inspired again by Caribbean folklore–a douen is a child who has died before they’re baptized. 

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

I am constantly learning about publishing challenges and obstacles, especially for marginalized authors. However, a really surprising and delightful part of the journey is connecting with other debut authors, and realizing that some of your new favorite writers are now your peers. I did not expect to suddenly have access to so many amazing books and people.

What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading and enjoying:

The Last Shadow Warrior by Sam Subity

The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold

Where The Are Monsters by Breanne Mc Ivor

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

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit” – Richard Bach

This is my favourite piece of advice to encourage people to keep going, keep learning, keep improving and to never give up on their dreams.

Always, always, always!

Thank you so much for joining us, Shakirah!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA!
It hits shelves on July 6th!

Add JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA!
Contest ends Friday, July 2nd at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!