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Rainbow Rowell Interview & Giveaway

by Carrie - 9 Comment(s)

fangirl

2013 was Rainbow Rowell's year, with not one but two YA novels getting some major buzz. Eleanor & Park reminded John Green what it was like to fall in love with a book, and made quite a few of the year-end "best of 2013" lists. For my money, her second book, Fangirl, was even better - but I guess you'll have to read them both and decide for yourself. Read on for our interview with my new favourite author, Rainbow Rowell, and leave your name & contact info in the comments for a chance to win your very own copy of Fangirl!

Q: I wanted to start by just telling you how very much I loved Fangirl – as soon as I was done I wanted to start reading it again! It’s been a long time since I felt as connected to a character as I did to Cather. How much of Cath did you pull from your own experience?

A: Thank you so much!

There’s a lot of me in Cath. I was also terrified to leave home for college. I had decided not to, actually – then a friend from high school said she’d be my roommate. Cath’s social anxiety, her fear of change, her desire to escape into fiction – those are all mine.

And of all my characters, Cath is closest to who I am as a writer. We both love to write dialogue. We both worry that we won’t have anything new to say. And we both crave collaboration.

Q: You’ve said on your blog and in interviews that you always create a playlist when you start writing a book – what’s the connection between your music and your writing?

A: The playlists help me stay emotionally consistent when I write. Sometimes I use a specific song to help keep me inside a scene, even if it takes a few days or weeks to write it. The song becomes an emotional anchor for me.

Also, I build the playlists as I write – and I usually make one for each main character – so I’m always thinking about the emotional arc of story as I go along.

You can see all of my Eleanor & Park playlists on my blog! I’ll be posting Fangirl playlists soon.

Q: There’s this great line in Fangirl: “Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity” (p.396) – is that what it’s like for you? Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

A: Thank you. That is what it’s like for me. Exactly. Pretty much everything Cath says about writing is how I feel, too.

I have to really focus when I write. For four to six hours at a time, for four to six days in a row. I don’t like to have any other commitments on those days, if I can help it. My goal is to submerge myself in the story and stay there as long I can without coming up for air.

rainbow rowell

I’ve written all of my books so far in coffee shops, but I’m trying to write at home now that my kids are in school all day.

Q: Your first book, Attachments, was published as an adult book, and Eleanor & Park and Fangirl are both YA; was it a conscious decision for you to write YA, or is that just where those stories seemed to belong?

A: It wasn’t a conscious decision. When I started Eleanor & Park, I didn’t even realize I was writing a YA novel; it was just, “This is the story I want to tell.” I was a bit more savvy when I wrote Fangirl. By that time, I’d sold Eleanor & Park as YA, and I was working with a YA editor.

I love writing books about teenagers – and I love that teenagers are finding my books. (I really love the YA community.) But I don’t shift my approach to the story based on who might read it. It’s always: Get inside the characters’ heads, try to make it feel real.

Q: It seems to me that the reaction to Eleanor & Park has been all about extremes – John Green loved it (seriously, how much did you freak out when you heard that JOHN GREEN loved your book?!), and then there were the parents who hated it enough to get you banned from a planned author reading (and they’re still trying to get it banned from the area libraries, AND punish the librarians who recommended it – and you – in the first place). What do you think it is that makes people react so strongly to this story?

A: That’s a good question – and I’m not sure I can answer it. I mean, I was feeling extreme things when I was writing Eleanor & Park. The story definitely came out of me in an extreme way. (I felt gripped by it.) But it was still a huge surprise when people responded so passionately to the book. I never would have predicted that.

As for what happened to the book in Minnesota, I hate to give too much weight to that controversy. The negative response there came from one child’s parent. That parent was able to rally support and eventually influence the school and county boards -- but it was such an unusual and unprecedented response to the book.

Q: You have a new book, Landline, coming out this spring – can you tell us a bit about it?

A: Yes! I’m very excited about Landline. It’s another adult book (not YA) and it comes out in July 2014 from St. Martin's Press. Here’s the pitch:

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if they never got married at all?

You can see the cover for Landline here.

Q: Apart from your own work, what books or authors would you recommend to a YA reader?

A: I really love Cynthia Voigt. I read Homecoming in college, then inhaled everything she'd written about the Tillerman family. (There's a Dicey Tillerman reference in Eleanor & Park.)

I also love The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and The Magicians by Lev Grossman . . . . Those books are hard to categorize, but I think you could call them YA.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is my favorite YA love story. Where She Went by Gayle Forman was impossible for me to put down. And Will Grayson Will Grayson (David Levithan/John Green) has my favorite YA character – Tiny Cooper.

eleanor & park dicey's songgraveyard bookthe magiciansanna and the french kisswhere she wentwill grayson

This contest is now closed - congratulations to our winner, Rina!

Gene Luen Yang: Interview & Giveaway, Part Two

by Carrie - 0 Comment(s)

boxers & saintsThis is the second part of our interview with Gene Luen Yang - be sure to read Part One.

We're giving away two sets of Boxers & Saints! Just leave your name & contact info in the comments by October 14th to be entered in the draw (we won't publish personal information), or email teenservices@calgarypubliclibrary.com.

Gene Luen Yang is a Chinese-American graphic novelist whose books deal with themes of identity, belonging, and cultural expectations, and often use humour to deal with dark subjects and themes. He has won the Printz award and multiple Eisner awards, and if that's not reason enough to read his work, you also have my personal recommendation - it's great! Pick up American Born Chinese, The Eternal Smile, Prime Baby, Level Up, or Animal Crackers, then read this interview and his newest work, a two-part story called Boxers & Saints.

Q: You have drawn your own work and also worked with other great artists like Derek Kirk Kim and Thien Pham – what kind of process do you go through when writing a graphic novel on your own, and how does that change with a collaborative effort?

A: When you write and draw your own book, you’re in full control. Every line of dialog and every line of drawing comes from you. There’s something very satisfying about that.

When you work with someone else, you lose some of that control, but hopefully you’re trading that control for something more. My drawing style is pretty limited. I’m not that great of an illustrator. There are certain stories in my head that I simply wouldn’t be able to draw adequately. By working with another cartoonist, those stories get expressed more successfully.

Both Derek and Thien have brilliant, unique storytelling voices. They both do write and draw comics on their own. I learned a ton by working with them.

All that said, even the books that I do “on my own” are collaborations. Lark Pien colored both American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints. Her colors are an important part of the storytelling. I also got editorial input on both projects. I worked with designers at First Second, Danica Novgorodoff and Colleen AF Venable, to put the books together.

Q: As a librarian I sometimes have to defend graphic novels, usually to parents who think they aren’t “real” books; do you ever encounter that attitude, and how do you answer that criticism?

A: Yes, I’ve encountered that. My own parents thought like that when I was a kid. That attitude seems less and less prevalent these days. Parents seem to worry more about YouTube and the X-Box now.

I can understand where they’re coming from. I love prose too. I don’t want the prose novel to go away.

Words and pictures are often seen as competing forces, but it doesn’t have to be like that. One doesn’t have to lose for the other to win. Paul Levitz, former head guy at DC Comics, once told me about a study that found American comic book readers read six more prose novels per year than the average American. Comic book readers are readers, period. When you love one kind of book, you tend to love all kinds of books. Comics can support prose, and vice versa.

Q: Your books often deal with themes of identity, belonging, and cultural expectations, whether it’s fitting in as a minority (American Born Chinese), dealing with loneliness (Prime Baby), or balancing the lives we want with the lives our parents want for us (Level Up). Of course these issues are all very relevant to a YA audience – did you set out to write for teens, or did the stories you write just naturally fall there?

A: I started in the world of independent comics, which is very different from the book market. It’s changing now, but when I first started, people in comics didn’t think about age demographics all that much. I just tried to make comics that I would want to read.

After signing on with First Second Books, my comics were placed in the Young Adult category. I think I belong here. It feels right. I taught high school for a number of years. This seems to be the audience I most easily connect with.

Q: Apart from your own work, what books or authors would you recommend to a YA reader?

A: I mentioned Derek Kirk Kim already. He and Les McClaine are doing this great series called Tune. It’s sci-fi meets rom-com meets prison drama. It’s hysterically funny, but it’s also an insightful examination of the loneliness of the creative life.

For slightly younger readers, I’d recommend Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl series. Gorgeous cartooning.

I recently read The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson. I really enjoyed it. I especially connected with it because I’m a cartoonist. I mean, chalk drawings that come to life, that can actually fight like Pokemon! What’s not to love?

tunesame differencezita the spacegirlrithmatistavatar

Gene Luen Yang: Interview & Giveaway, Part One

by Carrie - 0 Comment(s)

We're giving away two sets of Boxers & Saints! Just leave your name & contact info in the comments by October 14th to be entered in the draw (we won't publish personal information), or email teenservices@calgarypubliclibrary.com.

boxers

Gene Luen Yang is a Chinese-American graphic novelist whose books deal with themes of identity, belonging, and cultural expectations, and often use humour to deal with dark subjects and themes. He has won the Printz award and multiple Eisner awards, and if that's not reason enough to read his work, you also have my personal recommendation - it's great! Pick up American Born Chinese, The Eternal Smile, Prime Baby, Level Up, or Animal Crackers, then read this interview and his newest work, a two-part story called Boxers & Saints.

Q: We’re so excited about your latest project, Boxers & Saints – could you tell us a little about what inspired it?

A: I first became interested in the Boxer Rebellion in 2000, when Pope John Paul II canonized 120 Chinese saints. I grew up in a Chinese American Catholic community in the San Francisco Bay Area. Naturally, my home church was incredibly excited by the announcement. When I looked into the lives of these new saints, I discovered that many of them had been martyred during the Boxer Rebellion.

The more I looked into the Boxer Rebellion, the more fascinated I became. The war externalizes a conflict that I think many Asian Christians and Christians of Asian descent feel – a conflict between Eastern culture and Western religion.

Q: Boxers & Saints tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion from two opposing viewpoints; why did you choose to publish it as a two-volume set, instead of in one combined volume?saints

A: One of the reasons I was attracted to the Boxer Rebellion in the first place was that I felt so ambivalent about it. Who were the good guys and who were the bad guys? I couldn’t decide, so I wrote and drew two books from two opposing viewpoints.

Separating the two stories into two physically distinct books forced me to think through each as a complete narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. I hope that each volume can stand on its own. I also hope readers who choose to read both will get something out of the dialog between the two.

Q: As a Catholic yourself, was it difficult to write from the point of view of someone trying to drive out the “foreign devils”, and the "secondary devils" who were Chinese Christians?

A: The “foreign devils” were the European missionaries, merchants, and soldiers. Chinese Christians were considered the “secondary devils”, folks who had succumbed to the foreign devils’ lies.

As I’ve said, my primary reaction to the Boxer Rebellion is ambivalence. I can see myself on either side of the conflict. I sympathize with both the Boxers and their Chinese Christian opponents. I think they had similar motivations. Both sides wanted to keep their identities intact. The Boxers were angry at the way the foreign powers tore down traditional Chinese culture. The Christians died because they wanted to remain true to the identities they’d built for themselves, identities that drew from both Eastern and Western influences.

Q: You have talked on your blog about the similarities between Chinese opera for the boxers and our own modern day pop culture (I adored your Chinese Opera Avengers – in fact, your Thor is my desktop background right now!), and how those inspirations – whether gods or superheroes – can be a source of strength. Can you tell us a bit more about this idea?

A: The Boxers were poor, starving Chinese teenagers, mostly boys, who were deeply embarrassed by the European incursions onto Chinese soil. To deal with this sense of powerlessness in their lives, they did what today’s teenagers do: They looked to the pop culture that surrounded them for empowerment.

Back then, there were these traveling acting troupes that went from village to village performing snippets of classical Chinese opera. Opera was the Boxers’ pop culture. It was their television, their movies, their comic books. Like American superheroes, the gods of the opera wore colorful costumes, had magic powers, and fought otherworldly battles.

Like modern day cosplayers, these teenagers wanted to become their heroes. They came up with this mystical ritual that they believed would call the gods down from the heavens. The gods would grant them superpowers. Then armed with these superpowers, the Boxers ran through the countryside fighting European soldiers, missionaries, and Chinese Christians.

Stories help us make sense of our lives. They let one generation to communicate with the next. They give us examples to either follow or shun.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this interview early next week!

american born chineseeternal smileprime babylevel upanimal crackers

Win a signed copy of Brandon Sanderson's new book!

by Carrie - 4 Comment(s)

The RithmatistPart One of this interview was posted last week.

Brandon Sanderson is an award-winning author renowned for the intricate and immersive worlds he creates, and for his highly detailed systems of magic. Recently, he has brought those talents to YA with the publication of his first teen novel, The Rithmatist.

Brandon kindly answered our questions AND sent us two signed copies of his book to give away! Leave your name and contact info in the comments to enter the draw (we won’t publish your details). The answers below were transcribed from audio recorded for this interview.

Q: There were some very intriguing loose ends in this book, especially surrounding Joel; I feel as though there is much more to learn about his father and about Rithmatics in general. When can we expect to see the next Rithmatist novel?

A: I’m glad you enjoyed the book so much. I am working on a sequel. I’ve actually started the outline for it, but it’s hard to promise when it will come out. Ideally I like to release books one year apart, which is what I’m shooting for, but I have to write the book first.

I’m going to take us to a new location for the second book and there’s going to be lots of fun involved. Joel and Melody are going to train as a team where they’ll have to learn to work together, and it won’t be easy on either one of them.

Q: OK, as a (non-evil) librarian I have to ask this – what’s with all the nasty librarians in your books? In Rithmatist we have Ms. Torrent, who is your stereotypical disapproving shushing type, and in the Alcatraz books, they’re downright evil! Did these characters come from encounters with real-life awful librarians? I hope not!

A: I actually have quite an affection for librarians. I created the one in The Rithmatist simply because I needed to make that particular scene more interesting. I look for ways to create and enhance conflict as I write, and that scene needed to be harder for the characters.

The librarians in Alcatraz, of course, were all tongue-in-cheek. I wrote those books because I realized that if there really were a secret society that controlled the world, it would be because they controlled all the information. The idea of librarians secretly controlling the world just made me laugh. But there are plenty of good librarians in the Alcatraz books—okay, we’ve only seen one!—but there are more coming.

Q:. Apart from your own work, what books or authors would you recommend to a YA reader?

A: I’ve already mentioned a bunch of my favourites, but I could go on! I’m quite fond of Westerfeld’s work. I think it’s quite marvellous. I’ve read Terry Pratchett’s teen books. If you’ve only read his adult work, you’re really missing out. He is quite good. I’ve also enjoyed James Dashner’s and Eva Ibbotson’s books. I also recommend anything by Diana Wynne Jones.

I got into a lot of the YA classics in the late 90s, well after everyone else had been into them. Things like The Giver by Lois Lowry and Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen. Jane Yolen has long been one of my favourite writers. There’s just a lot of exciting things happening in YA, and I feel inspired by a lot of the works by those authors I’ve mentioned.

Remember to leave your name and contact info in the comments for a chance to win a signed copy of The Rithmatist!

Win a Signed Copy of The Rithmatist!

by Carrie - 2 Comment(s)

Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson is an award-winning author renowned for the intricate and immersive worlds he creates, and for his highly detailed systems of magic. Recently, he has brought those talents to YA with the publication of his first teen novel, The Rithmatist.

Brandon kindly answered our questions AND sent us two signed copies of his book to give away! Leave your name and contact info in the comments to enter the draw (we won’t publish your details). The answers below were transcribed from audio recorded for this interview.

Q: This is your first teen novel, although you are well known for your adult science fiction and the Alcatraz series for middle grade readers. What motivated you to write for a YA audience?

A: I do read quite a bit of YA fiction. In fact, during the era when I was trying to break into publishing—the late 90s and early 2000s—a lot of the really exciting things in sci-fi and fantasy were happening in YA and middle grade. Garth Nix, J.K. Rowling, Diana Wynne Jones and others created some wonderfully imaginative writing during this time.

alcatraz versus the evil librariansI dipped my toes into middle grade with my Alcatraz series soon after I got published. I hadn’t written a YA before, but I wanted to—for the same reason I write epic fantasy: there are awesome things I can do in in epic fantasy that I can’t do in other genres. And there are awesome things I can do in teen fiction that I don’t feel I can get away with in the same way in adult fiction.

Science fiction and fantasy have a very fascinating connection with YA fiction. If you look at some of the series I loved as a youth—the Wheel of Time, Shannara, and the Eddings books, for example—these have enormous teen crossover. In fact, when you get to something like the Eddings books, you’ve got to wonder if they would’ve been shelved in the teen section in a later era.

Back up even further to the juveniles that were written by Heinlein and others, and we see that teen fiction has been an integral part of science fiction and fantasy. Some of the early fantasy writings—things like Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and C.S. Lewis’s works—were foundational in how the fantasy genre came to be.

So YA feels like a very natural thing for me to be writing because I enjoy it and I respect what it has done for the genres.

way of kingsQ: I imagine this is a bit like asking a parent to pick a favourite child, but your projects have varied from standalone fantasy (Elantris, Warbreaker), to epic series set in intricate worlds (Mistborn), to novellas (Legion), to writing for children and teens (Alcatraz, The Rithmatist), to finishing Robert Jordan’s iconic Wheel of Time series – which of these projects did you find most difficult, and which was most rewarding?

A: When I’m done with one project, I want to do something very different to refresh myself. This is the reason I write such varied things. It keeps me excited as a writer because each project has its own measure of things that interest me and obstacles that challenge me.

The most difficult project was finishing the Wheel of Time. Stepping into someone else’s shoes—particularly someone I respected so much—and taking over a long-running series was a real challenge. Writing those books was the hardest thing I’ve done so far in my career.

The most rewarding project was the release of The Way of Kings. It was my pet project. I’d worked on it in one form or another basically since I was a teen. Finally being able to release that in its finished form was a very fulfilling experience as an artist.

Q: In The Rithmatist, the female protagonist, Melody, has been chosen as a Rithmatist, which is a great honour but also something that she really struggles with. I think that many youth feel this kind of pressure - to be special, or to excel at something that they didn’t necessarily choose - and then feel as though they aren’t measuring up. Was it a conscious decision to have Melody deal with that issue, or a natural extension of her character?

A: This part of Melody’s character was intentional. Being a square peg in a round hole and parental and societal expectations are things I think about a lot. Your teen years are when these things come crashing down around you. Often books have a character who is the chosen one, who is naturally gifted and talented, but what happens if you get chosen and whoever chose you was wrong, and you just aren’t any good at it? That was an interesting conflict that felt very real to life. When I figured out this aspect of Melody, she really came to life as a character.

Remember to leave your name and contact info in the comments for a chance to win a signed copy of The Rithmatist, and check back next week for the second part of this interview!