Friday, July 29, 2011

Glida Joyce: The Bone of the Holy - Jennifer Allison

Gilda Joyce: The Bone of the Holy by Jennifer Allison
After Gilda's mother returns from a trip to St. Augustine, Fl. she's acting strange. Gilda uses are investigative talents to learn about her mother's engagement. The wedding is going to be in St. Augustine, a city with a long history of ghost connections. Glida is excited about the ghost tours but not the quick wedding. Her feeling of unease continues the house of her soon to be step father is haunted. Gilda keeps seeing glimpses of a woman in white.

The more time Glida spends studying ghosts the easier it is for her to feel their presence. In St. Augustine, Glida meets 12 yr old Darla, who has a natural talent to communicate with ghost. Darla wants nothing to do them. Gilda helps Darla establish boundaries and control the fear. Gilda enlists Darla's assistant to solve the mystery of the woman in white.

This is the fifth book in the Gilda Joyce series,I loved it as such as the others. The author simply brings it every single time, like a professional. The Bones of the Holy had a nice edge of darkness to it and the mystery is well thought out. This can be read and enjoyed as a stand alone. However, I highly recommand starting from the beginning.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Zapato Power - Jacqueline Jules, Miguel Benitez

Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Springs Into Action by Jacqueline Jules illus by Miguel Benitez
Freddie's adventures thanks to his custom made super fast sneakers continues in this second installment. Freddie is always ready to use his Zapato power to help someone in the neighborhood. Though if Freddie can't learn how to slow down at school his secret identity will be revealed. He tells Mr. Vaslov the man who created the sneakers about the problem. Mr. Vaslov quickly begins working on a solution.

This is a great early chapter series. I love Freddie Ramos and the community the author is building around him. The story moves at a great pace and there's a lot of action. Benitez illustrations are wonderful. I love that Freddie's superhero tag line, Zoom Zoom Zapato, it's big bold and pops out. The illustrator also puts a lot of detail into his characters facial expressions.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Frankie Pickle and The Mathematical Menace - Eric Wright

Frankie Pickle and The Mathematical Menace by Eric Wright
Frankie Pickle has a big imagination but he's not so good at math. While taking a math quiz, Frankie begins to draw number monsters.

Maybe if he skipped ahead the next problem would be easier to solve. It wasn't. This one was even scarier. In fact if Frankie turned his head sideways, the number three kind of looked like fangs. He drew a pair of wings on it. Now it was a vampire bat He added horns and claws and spiked tails to the other numbers.

Frankie fails the quiz. He has the weekend to study for a make up quiz. Frankie's family is keeping him busy and secretly teaching him math can be fun. Frankie Pickle is a great character. This is the third book in the series. It's as good as the first one. One of the best things is it's visual appeal. Wright's illustrations are wonderful. Simply a well done early chapter book.

This would be a great recommendation fans of The Lunch Lady series by Krosoczka and are looking for something longer.

Monday, July 25, 2011

WildCat Fireflies - Amber Kizer

WildCat Fireflies by Amber Kizer
This was one sequel I was very much looking forward to. The story begins where Meridian left off. Meridian and Tens have hit the road in search of more fenestra, who help people pass over. They are the angel link for the dying. Meridian is a fenestra, Tens is her protector. Meridian and Tens are searching for a young Fenestra who is being tracked by the Nocti. After endless days on the road the two find themselves in Carmel, Indiana.

Parallel to their story is Juliet's the girl they are looking for, she lives at Dunklebarger Rehabilitation Center. A poorly run institition for elderly and children's ages 6- 16. I could easily see the darkness surrounding Juliet and threating to kill her Fenestra spirit.

"Someone, something, else manipulated the greed and carless ambition of the headmistress to put handpicked children into the presence of death. Juliet Ambrose was approaching the end of her time at Dunklebarger. She remembered nothing from before her arrival there around her sixth birthday. Told by the headmistress that she was unwanted, neglected, and unloved, Juliet accepted abuse while trying to save those around her."

Fenestra's come into their full power when they turn 16. Meridian and Tens must find Juliet before her next birthday.

Every chapter is leading the reader towards something else. Yes, I know that sounds very basic but I consider it a skill. This is one of the few YA novels that over 500 pages that I didn't think was too long. Many times novels of this length have round about filler chapters, where the story simply stops moving. With sequels there's always the risk of author spending the first 50-100 pages summarizing the first book.

Kizer does none of this, I love how well this story moves. Many elements I enjoyed the first time around are back, including Meridian's inner dialogue. She and Tens work very well together. I like that they are unsure of themselves when it comes to this Fenestra vs Nocti battle and can admit it. Its nice to watch Meridian and Tens learn as they go and not magically understand everything. The author once created some very nice secondary characters. I truly appreciate the slow build of Meridian and Tens new found friends that are willing to stand up against the Nocti with them. I am just loving this series.

WildCat Firefiles can be read first but I highly recommend starting with Meridian, which is out in paperback.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How to Work/How to shop at a Liquidated Borders

On St. Patrick Day that the Borders I worked at was notified it would be a part of the second round of closings. Here is a quick how to for Borders employees and customers

How to Work at a Liquidated Borders
The free Wi-Fi should already be off. If its not do it NOW

Once the cafe is no more, I highly recommend closing the bathrooms as soon as possible. Unfortunately a few nasty people ruin it for all. Our bathrooms closed after a customer thought they were Jackson Pollack. The bathroom walls was the canvas and their feces was their medium of choice.

Get the chairs off the floor as soon as you can.

Enjoy not having to sell BR+, ereaders or make items anymore. Work will be fun and stress free again.

Avoid anyone with a list. Stay far away from the vultures. They are easy to spot. 1. You've never seen them before 2. They don't know where anything is. 3. They ask when will the next mark down be.

Though helping customers is optional, do still be kind to your regulars and the nice customers. They should see your best one last time.

Treat customers with the respect they give you.

Make up fun games with your co-workers to pass the time.

One our games was find the stash. When the store closed, while doing our best to clean up we'd remove the books that were hidden away, to be purchased at the next mark down. In it's place went a nice note, like try again. Good times.

Don't work too hard

How to Shop at a Liquidated Borders
Do not try to engage employees in a long conversation about what happened to Borders

Do not ask employees what will they be doing next. It's a very rude, intrusive and none of your business.

Do not ask when the next mark down will be. The employees don't know and even if they did they wouldn't tell you.

If the discount isn't high enough don't tell the employees because they won't care.

Be prepared to help yourself

Do not call to check on an item

If you want the employees to be nice you must be nice in return. No more of that I can be rude because I am customer spending money. Those days are over.

Do not poke the bear or the soon to be umemployed because they will happily return the favor.

Do not ask when the last day will be.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mismanagement Killed Borders

After doing 4 interviews last week as a part of the Summer Blog Blast Tour, I had planned to get back to reviewing. I even have a few saved in draft and ready go, which is not the norm. Though I had to take moment and talk about Borders Books going out of business. I thought I would do such a post in May when the Borders I worked at in Atlanta for over 10 years closed. But when the doors shut for the last time, I just didn't feel the need. Maybe it was the last round of drinks with co-workers turned friends, or maybe I just needed the distance, and not to be reminded of how much I gave and how little I received in return.

When Borders filed Chapter 11, customers kept on asking why is Borders is trouble? For many the simplest answer would be ebooks. While increase in digital reading definitely played a part it's was mismanagement that killed Borders. If you really want to know what's going on with Borders I highly recommend Borders Live Journal Recently someone posted Borders CEO going all the way back to 1999. Out of the 5 CEO's none had any experience in the book industry. They all staffed Ann Arbor with people that had little to no experience with books. This inexperience showed in their buying habits, discount program, endless section reorganization. I could go on but I won't. Any former Borders employees feel free to add to the list in the comments. I will focus my attention on the three stated

1. No Regional buyers,cost Borders a lot of money. Certain authors and books sell better in different markets. And surprise surprise Southern authors are very popular in Atlanta. Unfortunately our first draw for many best selling Southern authors like Fannie Flagg and Pat Conroy was around 10. Same as the other markets and not nearly enough to get us through a weekend. It was embarrassing to have tell a customer on Friday that we are sold out of the new Flagg, that was released on Tuesday. Coming up with excuses to cover poor corporate buying habits didn't feel any better.

Not having regional buyers also meant losing summer reading sales. All summer reading list have universal authors, like Bronte, Morrison, Twain, and Wright. Beyond the classic authors all lists are regionally inclined and that's were the money is. A customer can stop at any bookstore to buy Bronte. Parents are more then willing to return to bookstore if the store stocked hard to find summer reading titles.

I handled the summer reading list for the last five years. I was lucky enough to have managers who allowed me to get as much as I could in. Our selection was very good, not as good as I would've liked to be but it was the best in the Atlanta area.

There was a time when a store had three chances to get the product in the customers hand. With the Internet and ebooks, its down to one for bookstores. If the item a customers wants is not in stock the first time, they may try back. If its not in the second time the sale is lost. Customers simply have too many options. Not having regional buyers to capitalize on the wants and needs of customers in every market hurt.

2. Coupons - Borders discount program with the coupons was atrocious from the very beginning. Initially there was only one Borders rewards card. It was free and customers were enticed to come back with coupons. Which sounds like a great plan, customers save and store makes money. Its a win/win. Wrong. 25% 30%, and 33% discounts were being sent out every three days. Every so often there was a 40% coupon. Books have a very small mark up. So Borders was barely breaking even with the 33% discount and losing money with the 40% discount

The logic beyond the coupons was that customer who saved would buy more. There were a handful that did. Though in real world beyond the corporate data analysis and sales projections there was more coupon abuse then additional sales. On the store level everyone knew that coupon saturation was a very serious and costly issue but upper management refused to listen.

The abuse could've been maintained or even eliminated if the coupons were place on the Borders Reward cards rather then requiring customers to print them. Many customers would print out stacks of single use only coupons to use on all of their purchases. If it was a 40% coupons many were willing to drive to other Borders to use the coupon more then once.

I really can't fault customers for second infraction. A company that doesn't manage their discounts in a correct manner should expect to be taken advantage of. But the customers printing out stacks of coupons made me sick because based on the rules for usage, they were very much in the wrong. These needless, never pretty run ins with coupon abusers could've been avoided if the coupons were simply tracked on the Borders Rewards Card.

3.Reorganization, The company spent a lot of money on "experts" who would figure out the best way to lay out the store that would result in more sales. The children's department had some of the most changes. Though one thing stayed the same customers found it confusing. Librarians and teachers were always baffled by it, all I could do was shake my head and walk away. I really want to know which expert was responsible for superface outs.

I don't have a picture *, so I will do my best to describe a superface out. At any bookstore you'll usually see 5 or more copies of a single title faced out, drawing attention to the book and the section. A superface out came together with a large quantity, at least 10. 3 copies would be placed down flat on the shelf spine out, 5 would be placed top of the three, and the remaining copies would be put to the left of the faced out copies. Yes someone was paid to come up with that bright idea and yes it looked as silly as it sounds. It was supposed to give the illusion of more books. Though it didn't work and thankfully didn't stay around for too long. Corporate invested so much time and money into various relays to the point of no financial gain.

I never could figure out what was up with Ron Marshall and all those training videos that he insisted on starring in. They were just awful and what a waste of money.

I can't end this without saying free Wi-Fi, is an awful, non money making idea. People would come in seven days a week to use the Wi- Fi and not buy anything. There was very very very small percentage of customers that didn't take advantage. Overall Borders was a study hall/ conference room/office for many thanks to the free Wi Fi

There's a huge misconception that booksellers who work at chains are in it for the money. That is so far from true. We did it or do it because we love books. Everyone at the Borders I worked at was very knowledgeable. We could've held our own against any Indie.

The way Borders handled being in Chapter 11 (no recovery changes were implemented, still gave out 40% coupons) this closing was inevitable and I am glad to see it finally come to an end.

Though I am very sad that a lot of hard working people on the store level will be unemployed including many of my friends that transferred to another store. The only upside is no bonuses will be paid out to upper management.

Come back tomorrow for How to Work/How to Shop at a Liquidated Borders.

* if any Borders employees have a pic of a superface out please place the link in the comments. Thanks

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Interview with Stacy Whitman (2011 SBBT, Day 5)

One thing I was really looking forward to this year was Tu Books, a new Lee and Low imprint that focuses on diversity for young readers in Fantasy, Science Fiction and Mystery genre. Stacy Whitman is the editorial director and founder of Tu Books. Even though Whitman's busy starting up a new imprint she still found the time to answer a few questions.

Hi, Stacy and welcome. Can you please tell us a little about your history in the publishing industry? And the beginnings of Tu Books?

Thanks! I am a farm girl, actually--grew up on a farm in Illinois raising horses and rabbits. Fast forwarding a bit, I got my master's in children's literature from Simmons College, and have worked at a newspaper, a trade magazine, an educational publisher, and Wizards of the Coast's Mirrorstone imprint for young readers, and was a freelancer when I started Tu Books

In 2009, as a result of the big #racefail discussion and while considering how we might be able to read books from Japan that hadn't been translated into English yet, a friend and I had an idea of filling a gap in children's and YA fantasy. We started playing with numbers, putting together a business plan--almost as a joke, though the more I looked at the numbers and the need, the more serious I became about it. My friend decided it wasn't for her, but I stayed with it, continuing to meet with our Small Business Administration counselor and starting a fundraiser on in hopes of raising enough money to approach a bank for a small business loan.

Meanwhile, at Lee & Low Books, they were considering how they might reach older readers, and when they saw all the excitement online that our Kickstarter campaign was attracting, publisher Jason Low got in touch and suggested that perhaps we might have similar goals. I joined Lee & Low early in 2010 and have been working on launching Tu ever since--our first books come out this fall!

I am a big fan of Lee & Low Books. How has the transition been after they acquired Tu?

Being with Lee & Low has been the perfect opportunity. Rather than having to create my own marketing, sales, and distribution plans and networks, Lee & Low already has a great reputation as a publisher of award-winning, diverse books for children. The people I work with get it, and their excitement to branch out into science fiction, fantasy, and mystery for older readers has been a huge support to me. And the best part of all, instead of the two books I'd initially been looking to publish in the first year, we plan for six books a year, with three our first season. I have all the support I need, including an intern who helps to read submissions, to enable me to make this work.

How big or small (since size is relative) is the Tu staff? And how diverse is it?

As you probably know, Lee & Low Books was founded by two Chinese American businessmen who saw that children's books needed more diversity. The company has been dedicated to diversity from day one. Our publisher, company president, and staff hail from a wide variety of ethnicities.

Tu's editorial staff is pretty small! I'm actually the only full-time editor, so being a white woman of Swedish-Irish-Scottish-English-German-Prussian descent, not much diversity there (I represent the farm-girl, rural perspective!). I have an intern who reads for me, freelancers who give feedback on manuscripts before acquisitions, and copyeditors and proofreaders who go over manuscripts before they're finalized in design. These women are from a variety of diverse backgrounds and their points of view are always helpful in asking questions I might have not thought to ask.

We also consult cultural experts to read manuscripts and give us feedback on blind spots we might be missing. Everyone at Lee & Low is dedicated to diversity in children's literature, so we all share a common mission both for Tu's books and for the Lee & Low and Bebop titles.

I love the covers of the three inaugural Tu titles, Tankborn by Karen Sandler, Wolf Mark by Joesph Bruchac and Galaxy Games by Greg R. Fishbone. The covers have a lot of eye appeal and fit the premise of their stories.

What is the cover process like? Do you use test groups?

Once the designer has read the book and I've given them suggestions from myself and the author, the process starts with the designer presenting me with sketches or mock-ups of cover concepts. If the cover is illustrated, of course, the artist might be involved with sketches. I run the concepts that I like most past several people in the office, including our publisher--who is very involved with Tu decision-making--and marketing people, and I consider all feedback.

Occasionally I might informally show a cover to a few teens with whom I work at a tutoring group in Harlem, but it's nothing official. It's nice to know, though, for example, that they all *loved* the cover of Tankborn. "That's a book that I would totally read," one said. That made me feel like we're on target. I've toyed with the idea of official test groups, and it may be something we'll consider in the future.

When will the Tankborn, Wolf Mark, and Galaxy Games be up on Tu Books website? Will excerpts be included? Where and when will Tu Books be available?

They're up now! Here are the links
Galaxy Games, Tankborn and Wolf Mark

And yes, there will be excerpts as well. All three books are available for pre-order at both Amazon and, and they'll be available in stores and online come September. They're listed as "out of stock" on the website right now, of course, because they won't be released until September, but once the release day arrives, you can order them online or find them in a bookstore near you.

The past few years there have been more middle grade and young adult fantasy novels with diverse cast. Though the number of authors of color writing fantasy is still very low. First things first, I want a good story. Period. Though I'd be lying if I said I didn't pay attention to how many middle grade and young adult authors of color are being published.

I've read some great novels with female leads written by men but I wouldn't want to be limited to female characters created by male authors. There is power in creation and everyone has a right to it.

Has Tu been doing anything to encourage authors of color to submit their work?

I've really been appreciating the recent uptick in diversity as well. Though of course the question is, are we doing much better now than we were twenty years ago? According to the CCBC, the actual numbers have held steady for over a decade. I'm glad to see more POC starring in their own stories rather than being relegated to sidekicks, but of course there's always more we could be doing. And you're right, part of doing better would be publishing more authors of color.

We've been working to reach out to a variety of writing societies for POC, such as the Carl Brandon Society, which is an African American science fiction and fantasy writers' society. I also try to encourage authors of color via calls for submission to general writing societies like SFWA and SCBWI, and in my talks on diversity at writing conferences--I try to address both encouraging authors of color to write fantasy/SF (or submit those manuscripts they might have put aside thinking there was no market for a POC main character in fantasy) and encouraging white writers to diversify their writing in a way that doesn't appropriate from other cultures.

Not to mention in my own personal networking on Twitter (@stacylwhitman), my blog, and so forth. But I'm also always looking for new places to send calls for submission, and would love suggestions for places I might have missed, particularly bloggers and online communities of writers that I might not know about.

Will Tu do its own version of the Lee and Low's New Voices Award?

I hope so! We haven't discussed it, but I think it's a good idea. We've just been focused on launching the actual imprint for now. Perhaps sometime in the future it could happen, but we don't have plans for it right now.

How does an editor edit cross-culturally?

Being an editor is kind of like being a lifelong student. You learn to look things up, to think about what you're reading critically, to figure out what you don't know and to ask questions. And there's a general awareness of diversity issues at play as I edit, things I've learned from talking about diversity issues with authors and readers online for several years and and from years of living with roommates from around the world and from different U.S. ethnicities. This awareness helps me have cultural perspective on a manuscript, to have a sort of rubric of questions I might ask a manuscript to meet in its own way (though each story is different). I try to get a sense of whether issues of privilege and racism are being played with in a way that enlightens rather than pains the reader (well, other than in ways that literarily *should* pain the reader, such as in a dystopia!). I hope I'm asking questions of authors that help them avoid pitfalls and blind spots.

But I don't think of myself as the expert--my role is to facilitate a good story and make sure that the cultural content works, up to the limits of my understanding, but I also rely on authors to have done their research and/or to speak from personal experience in their own culture. I also, as noted above, rely on cultural experts to help us fill in the gaps where the author's research might have fallen short, especially for writers who are writing cross-culturally, who may miss nuances even if they've lived in a culture as a Guest (see Nisi Shawl's excellent article delineating the theory of Invaders, Tourists, and Guests here.

If I'm an expert at anything, I hope it's an expert at asking questions that the author can translate into crafting a better book.

How has Tu Books reception been?

At ALA last month in New Orleans (the American Library Association annual conference), and the reception from librarians, I'm told, was *wonderful*. People were so excited about it--both people who knew Lee & Low and were excited for the expansion, and people who love fantasy and science fiction and were excited about the diversity of characters and stories. I'm starting to see reviews online of the ARCs that were given out at Armchair BEA, as well, and so far I'm seeing so many positive things. It's reaffirming.

Many people got behind Tu before it was acquired by Lee and Low, proving that diversity is needed and wanted. What can people do to help Tu become a viable imprint?

Keep an eye out for our books this fall. Ask your local independent bookstore to consider stocking our books, and support them by buying books from them. And if you got an ARC, please consider posting a review if you liked the books, even if it's just a mention in your Facebook profile. Any word of mouth will help! Tell all your friends about it! Ask your library to order our books for their shelves, and recommend that your friends check it out from the library if they can't afford to buy books. Suggest the books to teachers for whom the books might be appropriate--sometimes fantasy and science fiction is the best way to reach reluctant readers, and they might even find ways to use the books in the classroom that meet science, history, culture, or other standards.

Also, encourage writers of color to consider submitting to us if they have a book that might fit our mission.

And hey, young writers of color: Keep writing! We need your stories! As I read the other day--and I'm sorry I don't have an attribution for it--there have been societies who got along without the wheel, but there have never been societies who didn't have stories. What are your stories? What folklore, fairy tales, ghost stories, etc. can you draw upon for a fantasy story? Where will kids like you be in 100, 200, 400 years? What if a mystery happened in your neighborhood? There are so many possibilities, so many stories waiting to be told, and I look forward to reading them.

What if a teacher wants to order a class set?

All they'd need to do is to call our office see ordering information here on our website and ask for the Sales Department, who will be glad to assist you.

Stacy, Thanks so much for your time and goodluck with Tu Books

Be sure to check out the other Day 5 interviews

Genevieve Valentine @ Shaken & Stirred
Alyssa B. Sheinmel @ A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Matthew Cody and Aaron Starmer @ Mother Reader

The full roundup of this weeks SBBT interviews is here

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summer Blog Blast Tour - Day 4

Check out the SBBT Day 4 interviews
Tessa Gratton @Writing & Ruminating
Micol Ostow @ A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Maria Padian @Bildungsroman
Genevieve Cote @Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Vera Brosgol @ Iectitans

A full roundup can always be found here

Interview with Ashley Hope Perez (2011 SBBT, Day 3)

When I started What Can't Wait, right away I knew the author was giving me much more then what I expected. It's a well told story that I couldn't help but love. I am very excited to have the opportunity to interview Ashley Hope Perez for the 2011 Summer Blog Blast Tour.

Hi, Ashley, Can you tell us a little about yourself? And What Can't Wait

Gladly! I’m a writer and reader first and foremost. This role currently plays out in lots of different ways—reading board books in Spanish with my one-year-old son, Liam Miguel, writing YA novels, working as a PhD student in comparative literature (newly ABD!), and teaching literature to undergrads. I L.O.V.E.teaching. I’ve worked with students in elementary bilingual programs and a Montessori school; I also taught high school English in Houston for three years. Now I teach college literature classes. I’m still in contact with many amazing students and committed to being an advocate for teens, especially young people for whom college is a new and foreign experience.

What Can’t Wait is about Marisa Moreno, a bright teen who has to figure out
what to do with her future—and how to do it when everyone in her family hasother ideas for her. What Can’t Wait is the novel my students in Houston asked for—one that was hopeful but that didn’t sugarcoat their experiences. Meet some of my students here.

From the beginning Marisa's voice and family dynamic are on full display. Did you think it was important for readers to connect with Marisa early on?

Every writer wants readers to connect to her characters early and deeply. The difference in What Can’t Wait, though, is that Marisa’s family is much more present and prominent from the start, whereas in many YA novels, family is more background than core to the story. Marisa’s parents, siblings, and niece are often a source of challenge and frustration that drive the plot, but they also can be a surprising (if inconsistent) source of support and inspiration. One of my big goals with the book was to explore how dramatically my students’ lives and prospects were intertwined with those of their families.

I loved the fact that Marisa wasn't waiting to be saved and there wasn't an adult there to make every okay. Marisa's AP calculus teacher was nice and supportive but couldn't fully grasp her family’s situation.

Did the calculus teacher's role in Marisa life change as the story developed?

I definitely wanted to avoid the “teacher steps in and saves the day” trope, so as I was writing, I found myself paying attention both to how Marisa’s teacher could be a facilitator of her success and an additional source of frustration. There was definitely some back and forth as I explored that relationship.

And as far as not grasping Marisa’s situation, Ms. Ford is totally me during my first year of teaching (of course, I was teaching English, not math). There were many, many times that I failed to ask my students what was going on in their lives so that we could figure out how they could take care of urgent needs and accomplish ambitious learning goals.

The machismo of Marisa's father further complicates her family obligations. If Marisa's older brother, Gustavo, had college aspirations do you think the father would've been okay with that?

Hmm. It’s hard to say. The father might have objected, but I think it would have been easier for Gustavo to defy their father without causing an explosive reaction. In a household like Marisa’s, there’s an unspoken rule where by young adult males are relatively free to do as the please where as young women—even once they graduate—are still seen as under their parents’ (or their father’s)control.

I've read several places that you wrote What Can't Wait for your students. Did you let any of them read early drafts?

If so what was one critique that helped make the story even better?

Many of my students read and commented on the draft. One of my students actually came to a book signing with a copy of the original manuscript I gave her to read. She had saved it for four years.

I wish now that I had had as much foresight; I would love to have all the sticky notes my students gave me with their reactions to particular scenes. One piece of feedback I remember was that Alan should be good but not too good—that he still needed to be human.

I loved Marissa and Alan together. Both had a grounded human, not perfect quailty about them.

Before What Can't Wait was acquired by Carolrhoda Books, what type of responses or feedback did you receive from other publishers?

While my agent was shopping the novel around, he did send the responses onto me, but this is the kind of thing that you pretty much scrub from your brain once you do get a book deal. From what I remember, the responses pretty much boiled down to different versions of “there’s something strong here, but it’s not for us.”

Sometimes that was because the editor felt that the book would be competing with one she already had on her list. Other times the response was more idiosyncratic, as with one editor who felt the portrayal of Marisa’s family was too harsh compared to her sense of the Latino community.

For the record, one of the most frustrating responses to What Can’t Wait is this “but that’s not what Latino life is really like” reaction. Of course Marisa’s family doesn’t stand for all Latino experience, but neither is it outside the realm of what some of my students lived with. Marisa’s family is her family, plain and simple, and every family has its own quirks and demons. I guess it irks me mostof all because no one expects the home life of one white protag to stand for all Caucasians. I’m grateful that this reaction is relatively rare.

When you started your novel did you realize how underrepresented YA Latino authors were?

Yes and no. Because I started writing YA while I was still teaching high-school English, what I was most aware of was that there was a certain kind of book that my students wanted but weren’t finding. So I guess you could say I was first aware of a relative lack of diversity on the bookshelf. It wasn’t that there were no books about Latinos, but much of what was available didn’t resonate with my students. I wrote all about what it meant for me to tap into my students’experiences in this Diversity in YA post.

Name four must-read YA novels by Latino authors.

Only four?! How about 10? I absolutely love Ball Don’t Lie and MexicanWhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña; the voice in these novels is stunning, and I especially loved the grit and verve of Ball Don’t Lie. Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s Haters is lighter fare—chick lit with a paranormal twist and some hilarious characters. Benjamin Alire-Sáenz’s Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood is also a wonderful read. And although I haven’t read it yet, I’ve been dying to check out René Saldaña’s new novel, A Good Long Way.

For slightly younger readers, I love The Circuit by Francisco Jiménez and Trino’s Choice by Diane Gonzales Bertrand.

And to finish off with three top recommendations of books by Latino authors that aren’t actually marketed as YA but would appeal to teens: Ana Castillo’s experimental novel, The Mixquiahuala Letters; Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban; and Tomás Rivera’s And the Earth Did Not Devour Him.

You've taught an undergraduate vampire literature class and one on WomenWriters of the Caribbean. On a literary spectrum these classes have some serious distance between them.

What attracted you to both? And why do you love reading and teaching a wide range of fiction?

The class on Caribbean lit was one very close to my own reading interests, which is why I taught it. But I also like to design and teach courses that have surprises for me, too, which is why I decided to develop the vampire lit course. The idea came out of a conversation with some students about what kind of comparative literature course they wished they could take.

We decided that it would be worth going back to early vampire literature—starting with Goethe’s poem “The Bride of Corinth”—to develop an understanding of all the varied ways vampires can function in literature. We discovered a fascinating range of ways that vampires connected to sexuality, race, social protest, discourses on science and progress,and religion, to name just a few themes.

Can you tell us a little about your next novel, The Knife and the Butterfly?

While it’s also set in Houston, The Knife and the Butterfly plunges into an even grittier world than readers encounter in What Can’t Wait. It follows two teenagers through the aftermath of a deadly gang fight.

Lexi is a troubled girl from a working class background who hangs with a gang for protection. Azael is a romantic drifter who finds family in MS-13 after essentially being orphaned by his mom’s death and his dad’s deportation to El Salvador. Lexi and Azael live in a violent world governed by complex loyalties that land them in deeper trouble than they ever imagined possible. After the fight,they each must face the truth of what happened, and that truth eventually draws them together in a surprising yet powerful way

I wish I could tantalize you with one of the wonderful covers the design team at Carolrhoda has worked up, but they are still top-secret!

I love sneak peaks but rules are rules. Though I am glad you didn't stop at four. Ashley, thanks so much for your time and for writing one of my favorite YA debuts of the year.

Be sure to check out the other Day 3 interviews
Sarah Stevenson @Chasing Ray
Emily Howse @A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich @ Hip Writer Mama

The Full SBBT round up can always be found here

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Interview with Neesha Meminger (2011 SBBT, Day 2)

The first time I heard about Jazz in Love, was after author B.A Binns mentioned getting Meminger's newest release at a conference. I went into google overdrive trying to find out more about Jazz in Love. I loved Jazz and her friends. When I finished I wanted to know about this self published novel that should've found a home.

Hi, Neesha and welcome. Can you tell us a little about Jazz in Love?

Jazz In Love is a story about 17-year-old Jasbir, a.k.a. Jazz, who loves reading romance novels and loves the idea of love and romance. The only problem is that, in her strict household, love are romance are not allowed--at least for Jazz. When Jazz is caught hugging a male friend good-bye, her parents freak out and set a guided dating plan in motion with the intention of finding Jazz an appropriate, *suitable* boyfriend who, they hope, will become her future husband. Of course, Jazz has other plans..

I loved Jazz's voice and I liked the fact that she wasn't struggling with her identity. Was this a conscious decision?

Yes. I wanted to tell the story of a South Asian teen who wasn't angsting about being different. She doesn't feel like an outsider, she's not confused about who she is, and she doesn't feel bad about herself in terms of her racial or ethnic identity. She's struggling with things like dating, beauty, her parents not understanding her, figuring out her friendships, figuring out guys, understanding her own budding sexuality...things that *all* teenagers are dealing with. But I wanted this particular story to have Jazz's unique fingerprint on it - it's a story that only Jazz can tell and there's nothing like it out there. That's what makes it unique, but also universal.

It's not often that I can visualize some of the secondary characters holding down their own story lines and becoming the main character. With Jazz in Love there are at least three.

If you could write a novel featuring one of these characters: Mit, Auntie Kinder, or Cindy, which one would it be and why? ( It took everything in me not to include Jeeves).

Ha! I actually would love to write Jeeves's story. He's such a great guy and I really wanted Jazz to end up with him. But she's not an easy gal to pin down and had ideas of her own. In terms of another character's story, I'm actually in the process of revising my next novel - a story about one of the secondary characters from Jazz in Love - it's going to be Pammi's story, Auntie Kinder's daughter. She has superpowers ;).

More Pammi is a very nice surprise and superpowers would be awesome. Jazz's (don't tell her parents) relationship with Tyler R. leads to an unexpected dark encounter.

Why does Jazz, a smart and well aware girl, try to rationalize Tyler R.'s actions in this situation?

I think far too many girls (and women, for that matter) make excuses for boys and men who sometimes exhibit questionable behaviour. Maybe these girls and women want to hold on to their idealized image of their boyfriend or partner, maybe they convince themselves to see the situation through their partner's eyes (in which case the partner's actions always make sense), maybe they just want to keep being "in love"... I don't know. I'm sure there are many answers, but I know that smart girls fall for shady/disrespectful/not-good-for-them partners *all* the time, and find ways to stay with them in spite of advice/warnings from family and friends.

Except for the whole guided dating plan, Jazz gets along very well with her parents. They're strict with high expectations but both seem very nice and don't come across as cruel (or give off a Tiger Mother vibe).

Having daughters of your own, do you relate more to Jazz or her parents?

Oy. This is a tough question. I relate to both, really. I remember, very well, what it was like to be a girl like Jazz. I remember having my first painful crush and not being able to share my feelings or questions or doubts or pain with *anyone*. And at the same time, I know what I know now after having lived through all those feelings and questions and doubts and pain, and made it through to the other side. I've learned some things.

Realized a lot about human nature and making decisions and facing consequences. And I've seen others who didn't make it as intact as I did. So I understand Jazz's parents, too. I understand their desire to protect their daughter and their desire to hold on to a language, and culture and traditions, they see slipping through their fingers.

So, a little of both - or a lot of both. With my own daughters, it's a mix of understanding what they're going through and guiding them through it; listening and helping without being overbearing; being firm when it's called for, but being gentle, too. It's a tough balance and it's about trust and having faith in your gut instincts. On both the parents' end *and* Jazz's end!

I love to laugh it out with fun YA. Unfortunately, it's not easy finding such books starring characters of color. So, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Jazz in Love wasn't all serious and that there was a light and fun aspect to it as well.

A few months back I found the first two Bindi Babes books by Dhami at the library. I ran through that trilogy like candy.

What would it take to see a Jazz in Love sequel?

First of all, I LOVED the Bindi Babes books!! Those books by Narinder Dhami were part of the inspiration for Jazz in Love. I thought they were such fun and they contained cultural references that were specific to ME. Imagine that?! Actually seeing yourself in a mainstream representation?

I decided I wanted to do that, too. I wanted to write a story that would make teens of colour laugh and relate and delight in seeing themselves within the pages of a novel. So far, the response has been great :).

But to answer your question - when I first wrote Jazz in Love, I had two other books in mind: Jazz in India, and Jazz in College. I was all set to write them when Pammi's story just tore through me. I had to put everything aside to tell her story. I'm in the process of revising that tale now, but at some point I would love to get back to Jazz.

Jazz in love has been getting good blogger reviews. I am hoping that publishers are paying attention and will think twice before rejecting an author of colors works because it doesn't fit into their limited idea of what the market can handle.

How many houses did you submit Jazz in Love to before you said enough?

Thank you! I am thrilled with the reviews Jazz in Love has been getting. It was recently picked as a best YA selection by the Pennsylvania School Librarians' Association and was listed as a recommended summer read by Bookslut. I can't tell you how excited I was by those honours!

My agent and I sent Jazz out "widely" - which means it went to a lot of publishers. Sadly, that was in 2008, during the major crash in publishing and a lot of great novels fell through the cracks then. Jazz was one of them. And now, with publishers being so risk-averse and e-publishing taking off the way it has, things are really in flux in the publishing world.

Changes are happening so quickly and in such unpredictable directions, none of us can say for sure what's going to happen next. But I do hope that some of these changes allow more diverse voices to find their audiences and to "prove" that there is a vast and untapped readership out there for all kinds of stories.

I am bit jealous that you got to meet author Melina Marchetta. Have you had a chance to read her work ?

Melina is a warm and wonderful person with a crapload of talent. Looking For Alibrandi has to be one of my absolute favourites.

Will you have time to watch the new season So You Think You Can Dance ? I know your a fan.

I am so watching it right now

Where can people buy Jazz in Love? What if a teacher wants a classroom set?

People can buy Jazz in Love at any online retailer, or they can order it through their favourite local bookseller. It's also available as an ebook through Smashwords, Kindle, Barnes & Noble, the Apple iPad store and anywhere else ebooks are sold. And I am currently working on the audio book for both Jazz in Love and Shine, Coconut Moon.

If a teacher wants a classroom set, s/he may contact me directly, or order through Ingram or Baker & Taylor. They could also go through their bookseller of choice.

Neesha, thanks so much for your time and another great novel.

Be Sure to Check out the other Day 2 Interviews

Sean Beaudoin @Chasing Ray

Rachel Karns @ Bildungsroman

Monday, July 11, 2011

Interview with Jack Ferraiolo (2011 SBBT, Day 1)

I discovered Jack Ferraiolo's first novel by chance. It was one of those pass-a-book-by-an-author-who-I’ve-never-heard-of-but-I-can't-help-but-stop moments, and I was right to stop. I loved The Big Splash, the author's 2008 debut. When I found out Ferraiolo had a new book coming out this year I was very excited. I wanted to know more about the author but asking a lot of questions could be weird unless its an interview.

Hi, Ferraiolo and welcome. Please tell us a little about yourself and Sidekicks?

I grew up in Southern Connecticut (which gives mea bit of a split personality, since Connecticut is New England as interpreted by New York). I now live in Massachusetts with my wife and two kids, where I write and develop animated tv shows. I co-created the PBS show WordGirl, and won an Emmy for being the head writer for the first season

As for Sidekicks…well, that’s kind of my love letter comic books. I LOVED Batman as a kid. Loved him. I had the plastic Batman Halloween costume (with utility belt!!!),and I wore that sucker out. It was a little embarrassing when I started to outgrow the size requirements (I looked like a miniature, over-the-hill, maybe-you-should-hit-the-gym-a-little-more version of Batman), but I didn’t care. I was Batman!!

As for Robin… well…as he got a little older in the seventies (DC even sent him to college), the little, green bikini briefs no longer seemed appropriate. Even as a ten-year-old, I always wondered if he felt a little—oh I don’t know – exposed…running around the city, trying to catch thieves and murderers in nothing more than a pair of green jockey shorts.

Which leads us to Sidekicks…

It's the story of Scott Hutchinson, a.k.a. Bright Boy, sidekick to New York City’s own superhero, the dark and mysterious Phantom Justice. Bright Boy has one major problem at the moment: He’s been Bright Boy since he was eight years old. He’s now thirteen, and still forced to wear the same costume – little, red cape and bright yellow tights (with bright orange accents). These tights leave very little to the imagination. When Bright Boy saves a very attractive woman from falling off the side of a building, he loses a very embarrassing battle to puberty…

How do you think working in animated television influenced your writing books for young readers?

It influenced me in a huge way…in a sense that if I hadn’t been writing for tv, and I hadn’t actually finished writing something (and seen it actually get made), I might never have even started a book. The thing is, I never really wanted to be a writer growing up. I was a reluctant reader/writer who couldn’t sit in a chair long enough to finish reading or writing something (unless it was a comic book…or The Great Brain series….loved those…)

I never consider writing for kids any different than writing for adults; my voice and sensibility remain the same. I always try to amuse myself first(as I feel like my sensibility hasn’t changed all that much from when I was a kid…I just have less hair…)

Pre teen boy, yellow tights, close contact to an attractive women. Bright Boy's embarrassing moment caught on tape was inevitable yet I didn't see it coming since there aren't a lot of YA novels that broach the subject of preteen male hormonal excitement.

Why do you think that is?

It’s an odd, little gray area…if not handled correctly, it can become like a scene from one of those bad 80’s movies (like “Losin’ It!”). There’s a belief, I think, that it’s somehow “sexualizes” a moment, and if handled improperly, it can be verrrry inappropriate (especially when you consider the ages of the characters). But speaking as a “survivor” of such incidents, “preteen male hormonal excitement” is as normal as breathing. It’s going to happen (usually at the worst possible time), and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.

Sex isn’t really the point…it’s that feeling of a lack of control over your own body. It’s mortifying. The only thing on your mind at that moment is, “How do I stop this?!?” even though you know there’s absolutely nothing you can do. That’s the truth of the situation. But again, if handled improperly it can become doofy and slapstick… or worse, suggestive in all the wrong ways.

There are some very funny scenes in Sidekicks from the hero/ villian scripted banter, to Phantom Justice taking himself too seriously. I laughed out loud a lot.

There's a fine line between funny and just a bit over the top.When writing for laughs how do you know when to say enough?

Well, everyone has a different line. It’s all about personal taste, and how that gets translated through tone and voice. I have a certain comic sensibility… I tend to err on the side of subtlety (some people call it “dry”… Others may call it “not funny”). I’d rather a joke not go far enough than go too far and wear out its welcome. I know what I find funny, and what I roll my eyes at, and I learned from watching a lot of movies. Early Mel Brooks, Airplane!, Police Squad/NakedGun… It also helps having a few people you trust give your stuff a read-through…

Sidekicks has a lot of boy appeal, it's funny and action filled. And you easily slip in a love interest and a little romance like a ninja without wanting to make your core audience say eww.

How did you make that work?

I’m not sure Sidekicks isn’t going to make the audience say eww… Look, they can deny it all they want, but most boys are romantics at heart. Look at comic books, movies,books geared towards boys…Guys want to be the hero…but not only that, they want that awesome girl from school to SEE them be a hero. Even better, they’d like to save that awesome girl from certain doom, and then have that awesome girl pine for them. If that isn’t one of the top-ten boy fantasies, then Spider-man wouldn’t have made a kajillion dollars…

One thing I loved, the It girl had some slick moves of her own and didn't have to be saved.

I love cover. It was interesting to read Chad W. Beckerman, talk about the process of developing the
cover for Sidekicks.

Are you kept in the cover loop?

I am. Chad Beckerman (the art director at Amulet) is awesome at keeping me involved in the process. But ultimately, it’s his vision, hard work (and the work of the talented artists he picks…Greg Horn for The Big Splash paperback cover; Joshua Middleton for the Sidekick cover) that produces the results…

Do you plan on writing a sequel to Big Splash?

Editing my first draft right now! It’s called The Quick Fix and it’s coming out in the fall of 2012

What are some of your favorite comic books?

Oh man…I’ll try to keep it brief … Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, of course.Batman: Year One. The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, Daredevil: Born Again,Some of the new JLA stuff, Joss Whedon had a great, limited run on X-men. Grant Morrison’s Batman run has been great. The Walking Dead series. I loved James O’Barr’s The Crow series. Marvels by Alex Ross. Anything by Brian K.Vaughan (no surprise there…) Love the classic Avengers stuff, and LOVE the whole Marvel “What if…” series (old and new). I can pretty much pick up any comic, starring any character,and get sucked in…I’m a sucker that way…

Jack thanks so much for your time and another great novel. I will be on the look out for The Quick Fix in 2012.

Be sure to check out the other SBBT Day 1 interviews

Tara Altebrando @ Chasing Ray
Shirley Vernick @ Bildungsroman
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen @ Writing & Ruminating

Sunday, July 10, 2011

2011 Summer Blog Blast Tour

Over at Chasing Ray, Colleen has posted the 2011 SBBT Tour Schedule. I am glad to have the opportunity to participate again. Also I can't wait to read the other interviews and discover a few new authors.

Tara Altebrando (Chasing Ray)
Shirley Vernick (Bildungsroman)
Jack Ferraiolo (The Happy Nappy Bookseller)
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen (Writing & Ruminating)

Sean Beaudoin (Chasing Ray)
Neesha Meminger (The Happy Nappy Bookseller)
Rachel Karns (Bildungsroman)

Sarah Stevenson (Chasing Ray)
Emily Howse (A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy)
Ashley Hope-Perez (The Happy Nappy Bookseller)
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (Hip Writer Mama)

Tessa Gratton (Writing & Ruminating)
Micol Ostow (A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy)
Maria Padian (Bildungsroman)
Genevieve Cote (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast)

Genevieve Valentine (Shaken & Stirred)
Stacy Whitman (The Happy Nappy Bookseller)
Alyssa B. Sheinmel (A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy)
Matthew Cody and Aaron Starmer (Mother Reader)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Subway Girl by P.J. Converse

Subway Girl by P.J. Converse.
The best part of Simon's day is riding the train and the possibly seeing his crush. Simon's classmates call the mysterious girl -subway girl. Many of the guys try to guess at her story. Simon keeps is distance from his classmates and his feelings to himself.

One day Simon gets into a conversation with Amy, his crush. When they start talking Simon wishes his English was better. Amy has recently moved to Hong Kong and though she's Chinese doesn't speak much of the language. Simon is in the very last English level at school. The two manage to make the conversation work.

The chapters are split between Simon and Amy. The characters felt underdevolped, Simon was the strongest of the two. Overall Subway Girl felt flat. Simon and Amy's stories weren't cohesive. It was as if the chapters were put together as opposed to written together. The secondary characters were simply there and didn't add to story.

Friday, July 1, 2011

On Sale Now : New Releases

New Releases for the Month of July that feature characters of color or a diverse cast.
Good Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth by Joan Shoettler illus by Jessica Lanan

Nikki and Deja: Election Madness by Karen English illus. by Laura Freeman

Tomas and the Magic Race Cars by Ramon Mesa Ledesma

Dancing Home by Alma Flor Ada

Vanished by Sheela Char - (A great debut, will review soon)

The Detention Club by David Yoo

Addie on the Inside by James Howe

Cleared for Takeoff by Julia Devillers

I Thought My Soul Would Rise And Fly by Joyce Hansen

Lunch Box Dream by Tony Abbott

Sylvia & Aki by Winifred Conkling

Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams

Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy by Bil Wright

Stolen Girl by Yxta Maya Murray

Dreams of Significant Girls by Christina Gracia

Silhouetted by the Blue by Traci. L. Jones

Mayhem by Artist Arthur

Boyfriend Season by Kelli London

The Bestest Ramadan Ever by Medeia Sharif

Wildcat Fireflies by Amber Kizer (Just as good as book one. Love this series)

WildeFire by Karsten Knight (A great debut, will review soon)