Staying Awesome Interview Series: Laura Pohl

So. It’s been a hot minute since my last interview for the Staying Awesome series, which is why I’m super happy to feature this edition’s guest today. I met this brilliant woman via Twitter after discovering the online contest she’d organized for Latinxs writers! Thankfully, she agreed to let me poke her brain for a bit (and fangirl her brilliance).

Today’s interview features the one and only Laura Pohl!

 

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What makes Laura awesome?

  • She’s Latina, so yep. I’m biased. 🙂

  • She’s a writer and a Literature grad student at the University of São Paulo, Brazil.

  • She’s the creator of the Pitch América contest, where Latinx writers can pitch their manuscripts to agents seeking #ownvoices.

  • She works as a freelance beta reader for both manuscripts and query letters.

  • She’s a Slytherin like me! Yep. Biased again. 🙂

 

Okay, folks. Let’s get to know Laura a little more!

 

1) Not only are you a writer, you also offer editing and beta reading services to other writers! In what ways do you think your beta reading/editing experience informs your writing process and vice versa?

Beta reading definitely gives me a new perspective to my own work – it’s great to see how other writers do it, their process, how they craft the story. Writing can’t be done if you don’t read a lot, and sometimes reading manuscripts gives you a new insight on the process of book writing. I really do love editing and CPing, especially because you get to see a good book become a great book.

Sensitivity reading is a bit different – mostly you have to look out for aspects of representation. It’s a lot more tiring because more often than not, people write offensive things without realizing the stereotyping is harmful. Everyone is subject to this when writing about another culture, even myself. Which is why it’s so important to get sensitivity readers who can point those things for you. No one is exempt from writing harmful stereotypes, but the thing that you can do is try to fix this. It’s fascinating to do the work, and it helps me realize the mistakes I make in my own writing.

 

2) I must bow down to you for creating this month’s Pitch América contest! The contest’s website states the following: “With a focus on such a large group of people, we want to diversify and give opportunity to all Latinx writers who are looking to get published.” Can you talk about the decision to grant Latinx writers this amazing opportunity? Was it an aha! moment that hit you all of a sudden or did it develop through time?

It was a bit of an aha! moment, I admit. We had the #DVPit event created by Beth Phelan recently, which I thought was a great opportunity for shortening the gap we see for authors of color, but it was also a very wide event – it included POC, authors of color, authors of disability and LGBT. It’s great, but the feed was moving too fast and I felt like there were a lot of interesting pitches that didn’t get enough attention. LL McKinney created the WCNV contest, and I decided to follow up with #PitchAmérica. Being a Latina myself, I’m close to this project and I really want to see more representation in literature than what we have today. Latinx is also such a diverse group of people, englobing all of south and central America, with such different cultures and influences. I’d love to see more stories told by this people, and I feel like #PitchAmérica gives an extra opportunity to showcase these stories and make them shine.

 

 3) Like me, you identify as a feminist. I always love reaching out to women and girls who embrace the term, especially since it can mean different things to different people. How do you define feminism for yourself? In what ways does it shape the stories you choose to write?

I think the most important thing feminism has done for my writing is to broaden the idea that women can do anything – be heroes and villains, be good or bad. We’re so deeply stuck in the idea that women should be kind and forgiving that we often forget that in books, this doesn’t need to happen either. I can’t not write feminist heroes, women and girls who believe in the same ideals I do. For me, feminism is about intersectionality – if your feminism isn’t for everyone, for WOC, for Trans girls, for genderqueer individuals, for disabled people, then who is it for? Including everyone in my writing comes naturally because I have lived this reality my whole life, and when I write, I want to reflect the reality I live in.

A lot of times I struggled with this, especially because what we see in books is often white heterosexual cis characters, and for a long time in my life, I felt like other stories that featured huge families, LGBT characters just didn’t fit into my writing. It took me a long time until I could deconstruct my own internalized prejudices and finally write people who are more like me. Feminism helped with that – it let me know that I’m important, that my stories are important and there’s a place for them, too.

 


4) You mention in your Twitter bio that you “obsess frequently” about unlikable female characters. What are some of your absolute fave unlikable female characters? What do you think makes them unlikable? 

I read this definition about unlikable female characters that I absolutely agree with – they’re women who are unapologetically themselves. They don’t pretend to like something, they don’t pretend to fit inside the rules. They go after what they want. I guess that’s what makes them unlikable because they don’t fit the expectations of what they should be – they don’t apologize for who they are and what they want. They’re not necessarily kind, or motherly or compassionate, or any of those things that are supposed to “make a woman”.

Of course, defining it is very hard. Sansa Stark can be an unlikable female character, because she’s considered weak when you compare her against her sister. Sansa doesn’t fight, she doesn’t pick up a sword. But she resists, and that’s what I love the most about her. Her resilience, how she refuses to go down. It can be a character who’s too much of an asshole, or not feminine enough, or too much of a feminist, or anything at all. What I would say is this – it’s someone who refuses to apologize for who they are, or to conform to the norms of being just average.

That said, my favorite of favorites is Amy Dunn from Gone Girl. Talk about problematic. I absolutely love the way she was written, and how insane she is. I love Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass, who’s arrogant and vain. Scarlett O’Hara is a classic, and I want to shout my love for her from rooftops. Even Katniss Everdeen, who’s considered unlikable by so many because she has break downs and thinks of herself first. Even Cersei Lannister, who I have a love/hate relationship with. I love those women who are more than the usual stereotypes, who are allowed to be selfish and vain and arrogant and ruthless.

**Bonus question: Favorite Star Wars character? 

I both hate you and love you for this question! Han Solo was my first love. Anakin Skywalker is my problematic fave. Obi-Wan is the teacher I wish I had. Luke is the light that shines in the world. Leia and Rey are the women I wish I can one day become.

Thanks so much for this interview, Amparo! I really loved answering your questions.

 

Major epic huge THANK YOU to Laura for letting me interview her! Here’s where you can find her online:

Website / Twitter / Tumblr / Pinterest / Instagram / Facebook

 

 

 

Three Things I’m Stoked About This Summer

So. Summer has officially started for me. *flails*

There are three things I’m terribly excited about. They are the following:

A. Writing! 

I’ve put my current WIP on hold for the past month (!!!) because work work work, but now? I’m happy to get back into the thick of it and write/edit until I finish this first draft! Yes, I’m editing the first draft while I go. I’m actually quite thrilled about doing so. *checks for fever* I’m also super excited about a WIP I’ll be revisiting for an amazing opportunity I get to take part in later this year.

So that makes 1 summer + 2 WIPs = 1 happy me.

B. Relaxing!

Yep. I’m going to work extra hard at getting a first draft done before the summer ends, getting a few chapters done on another project, but I’ll also be cooling things down a bit. This includes spending time with family and friends, reading lots of books, catching up on Supernatural Season 11, finishing my re-watch of Once Upon A Time, and a (tourist-y) wish come true in July. This pleases me immensely.

C. FANGIRLING OVER THE FACT THAT THIS IS OUT IN THE WORLD:

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Y’all. If you’re attending ALAAC16 (or: American Library Association Annual Conference 2016), you can get your lucky little hands on this gem! My awesome friend and critique partner Karuna Riazi’s The Gauntlet is featured in this first look from her publisher, Salaam Reads. I CANNOT CONTAIN MY JOY. EVERYONE WILL GET TO READ HER MAGICAL WORDS AND PASS OUT FROM ALL THE AWESOMENESS. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. *dances until feet are raw* There’s also a sneak peek at Hena Khan’s Amina’s Voice, which I’m all sorts of desperate to devour, tbh. D-e-s-p-e-r-a-t-e.

Go get your copy, lovelies. You must.

My summer is looking good, if I may say so. Now I’m off to enjoy it.

Happy weekend!

On Recharging With A #FangirlTrip

So. I love things.

I love them so much that sometimes I throw myself headfirst into loving them.

Some of the things I love are TV shows. And fan conventions of said TV shows.

Which is why I went to a fan convention for one of my favorite TV shows, ONCE UPON A TIME, this past weekend.

I met a bunch of the show’s actors, including the Evil Queen herself, the amazing Lana Parrilla.

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we’re totally BFFs.

 

I squeed whenever I caught a glimpse of the awesome signs outside the theatre.
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I laughed and cheered and felt inspired during the Q&A panels.

I got to hang out with great people who love the same thing I do.

Oh, and I also ate a lot of Olive Garden food. A lot.

 

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chocolate caramel lasagna. i repeat, chocolate caramel lasagna.

 

This was supposed to be a great weekend as a geek, but it actually ended up being a great weekend as a geek and writer. The whole experience inspired me to keep working on my WIPs, to keep dreaming and hoping. And, most importantly, to live. That can sometimes get hard to do. Thankfully, I’ve totally recharged after this wonderful weekend. Now I’m going back to the daily grind (day job) while also fighting for my happiness and my art.

And yes, there are more #FangirlTrips in the near future, so more recharging is on the way! 😀

Staying Awesome Interview Series: Alice Fanchiang

It’s time for another post in my Staying Awesome Interview Series! Today I’m thrilled to feature someone I’ve long admired for her many, many talents, as well as for being one of the most passionate geeks I’ve ever known. I met her via Twitter a few years ago, and since then, we’ve been geeking out over tons of things like whoa.

Give it up for the wonderful Alice Fanchiang!

 

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What makes Alice awesome?

  • She’s a self-described “scribbler of thoughts, plots, and sometimes stories.”

  • She’s a poet! (and a damn good one). You can check out her poem, “Actaeon,” over at Strange Horizons!

  • Over at her Instagram accounts (@akangaru & @girlontheroam), she posts gorgeous photos of her favorite reads, the places she visits on her many travels, and to-die-for clothes.

  • She’s a Ravenclaw. (!!!)

  • Her history crush is Alexander Hamilton, y’all. Come on. Automatic cool points.

 

Now let’s get to know Alice better, shall we??

 

1) Let’s talk writing. Not only are you a writer of novels, you’re also a poet! Your poem “Actaeon” has been published in Strange Horizons (I must confess that I want to scribble verses from that poem and plaster them all over my house). How would you describe your writing process for novels vs. your writing process for poetry?

That is so ridiculously flattering. I don’t even know what to say! Thank you!

Confession, I’m terrible at writing novels. I have a hard time finishing anything, and that is both a mixture of procrastination and perfectionism. I am an unreformed edit-as-you-go person, which makes finishing novels very difficult because they’re long-form story-telling. So with regards to process, I will only say that I’m a pants-er (who is working on outlining) and am someone who tries very hard to keep the story moving forward because otherwise, I will be revising forever.

My poetry process, on the other hand, meshes better with my natural inclinations. Because it’s a much shorter form (at least the poems I write are), I can spend more time agonizing over individual words and lines. I can revise verses to my heart’s content and still make it to the end. The other thing is, when I write poems, I’m not usually focusing on a plot, per se. My intent is always to evoke a mood or a feeling, and I kind of let that guide the rest of the poem. Most of the time, I can’t tell you how a poem is going to end until I get there. I know, it sounds like a vague hand-wavey explanation, but it is what it is. They usually start because I have a distinct image and/or feeling in my head that I want to put on paper or a line or two come to me that I can’t stop thinking about, and it goes from there. For example, a semi-successful attempt to catch a meteor shower late one summer inspired a few lines about star-gazing and the slow tempo of summer nights, which eventually became a poem.

Sometimes, the poems are written very quickly, almost all at once. Other times, it happens over the course of a few days or weeks. Actaeon, for example, took 1.5 weeks to finish. I wrote 2 verses very quickly and continued working a few lines at a time over the next few days until I found the thread of the story and then got to the end. Then I had to give it space, revisit it, and then send it to someone else to look at.

So novel writing versus poetry writing for me is essentially discipline versus indulgence, haha. I feel like I need to exercise so much more control, thought, and planning for novel-writing, but for poetry, I kind of let myself just put lines on the page, be flowery and meandering and sometimes experimental, and see what happens.

2) Like me, you’re an unapologetic geek. You even state that your blog, Girl On The Roam, is about “embracing your geekery and having a sense of adventure.” What do you think is the most rewarding part about being a geek nowadays? On the flip side, what’s the most challenging?

I think it’s an *incredible* time to be a geek these days, partly because being a geek is kind of cool now. As such, there’s so much more being catered to our tastes – we get movies, books, clothes, toys, and the list goes on and on. Like it still kind of weirds me out that there is actual licensed Supernatural merch that you can buy in a physical store, but I remember when I got obsessed with it (I think the 2nd season had just concluded), there was nothing except fan-made stuff (and not much of that). The fandom was always there, but this was before the real rise of Tumblr and the sort of geek renaissance that is happening in the main stream. But I think really the most rewarding part about being a geek right now is the social media aspect of the internet – see, the rise of Tumblr – because it makes it so easy to find people who share your interests. It’s easier now than ever to find other geeks who aren’t afraid to say they’re geeks! For me, personally, Twitter has made it so easy to connect with fellow writers, book nerds, and geeks. I mean, we “met” through Twitter!

But the challenging aspect of being a geek now I think also has to do with its current popularity and the internet. The popularity of geek culture can make it easier to be dismissive of it, and more people want to sell you things. It’s kind of like drowning in riches. I’m not complaining, but I *am* saying that it can be easy to get burned out on something that you love or to fall out of love with it because of the burn out. The challenge when it comes to the internet is that the accessibility that makes it possible to connect with your people also opens you up to more of the uglier stuff that happens online – trolls and haters. I feel like the popularity of geek culture right now also brings out the people who will question how “true” a fan you are and who will want to make you feel unwelcome or inferior.

3) Speaking of adventure, you’re participating in an incredible series of blog posts about “nerd travel.” You’ve even Instagrammed amazing pics of you out and about sporting some spectacular clothes! Confession: I often daydream about going to places that only exist in the pages of a book. If you could road trip to any fictional location, which one would it be and why?

Hogwarts! I feel this is my immediate answer because it is magical and wonderful but generally without the really intense danger of other fictional worlds (as long as you’re not Harry Potter) and it has modern amenities that I’m unwilling to give up – like indoor plumbing and modern medicine, lol. I’m sorry to say, I’m kind of boringly practical about this stuff!

Though speaking of magical worlds within our world, I would love to visit the island of Thisby from Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races (so I can eat November cakes) or the magical forest Cabeswater from her Raven Cycle books. Maggie knows how to write such vivid settings; they feel so real.

Oh my god, and can we talk about V.E. Schwab’s parallel-universe Londons??? Specifically, I’d like to visit Red London because it’s so glamorous and vibrant. Plus magic. The others are scary and I don’t feel I need to visit Grey London, which is our 18th century London.

Also, though this isn’t a book-world, I feel like I’d be down to visit Star Wars’ galaxy far, far away – so long as the planet I’m visiting is not Tattooine or Jakku. Let’s go somewhere more habitable like Naboo or Coruscant maybe?

**Bonus question: which fictional character would you take along for the trip??

I can’t choose! Who would actually be useful/ look out for me on a road trip is probably the best answer to this question. I need to not pick my fictional crushes and pick like actually good trip-people. So let’s say Hermione Granger because Hermione will always know what to do and she’s a good friend. I’m also taking R2-D2 because the galaxy would’ve been doomed without R2’s consistent badassery and BB-8 because cuteness. Magic + tech, what could go wrong?

4) Could you please enlighten me on how your epic crush on Alexander Hamilton came to be??? Because yes.

I…don’t know really what to say. It began in high school AP U.S. History class, and I have kept him close to my heart since then. Obviously, the great love for him renewed itself last year when I saw Hamilton – which basically reaffirmed all the reasons I found him so compelling.

I think he caught my attention because I didn’t realize he had been *so* involved in the founding of the United States. Like most people, everything I knew about him revolved around the $10 and that one “Got Milk?” commercial about how he was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. But when we covered the Revolution up through the Critical Period of the U.S.’s early history, he kept popping up – and everywhere he was there was drama. He fought with practically every major player in the nation’s early history and had something to say about everything. My friends and I joked that Washington was like a long-suffering father trying to keep the children (Jefferson and Hamilton) from fighting all the time.

I think my friends and I joked too much about him (we had long-running inside jokes about his insistence on having a national bank), and I got attached and overly fond of this guy who I imagined to be high-strung and a little harried but who did not ever back down. (His nickname as a soldier was ‘The Little Lion.’)

Alexander Hamilton was so fascinating and endlessly amusing to me because he was kind of larger-than-life but also so very human – ridiculously talented and ambitious but also so flawed and full of contradictions. But I probably didn’t really fall for him until the summer of 2005, and I have this date because I bought the Ron Chernow Hamilton biography and started reading it while I was at a midnight release party at Borders (RIP!) for Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince. (And yes, I embarrassingly blurted this story to Lin-Manuel Miranda when I saw Hamilton at the Public. Luckily, he too is a Harry Potter fan and Sorted the Hamilton gang without prompting because he is ONE OF US! *happy tears*)

My friend and I each bought a copy of the biography, and in the weeks that followed – after we’d binge-read HP6, of course – we would call each other and giggle about the even *more* amazing facts we were learning about our favorite Founder – like how his contemporaries described him as having sparkling violet eyes and shapely legs and how he was more fluent in French than even Francophile Thomas Jefferson and that fluency made him fast and close friends with Lafayette. He was a firebrand, a flirt, a writer, an immigrant, a statesman, a soldier – so many things, and people either loved him or hated him. He was able to write in near-perfect paragraphs (give me this super power!), and he spoke for 6 hours at the Constitutional Convention and sort of misspelled “Pennsylvania” on the actual Constitution. He wrote the states names next to the signers’ signatures, and I say “sort of” because the argument is that spelling was more fluid back then, so maybe Pennsylvania was fine with just one ‘n,’ but I digress.

He and his story are just so compelling, and everyone is seeing that now thanks to LMM’s masterful musical. Obviously, so many other things make the musical the transcendent thing and cultural phenomenon that it is now, but its skeleton is Alexander Hamilton’s life story.

And let’s be real, if you look at American currency, he is definitely the hottest Founder to grace our bills – and the news just came in that the Treasury is officially keeping him on the $10. So huzzah!

I could go on because there’s a whole saga about me trying to visit his house (this sounds creepier than it should), but I think I’ll save the details of that for a blog post. 🙂

 

A ginormous thank you to Alice for letting me interview her!! Make sure you check her out online at the following links:

Blog / Twitter / Tumblr / Instagram / Snapchat: akangaru

On Peeta Mellark & Good Boys In Y.A.

Back in 2010, I wrote many blog posts. One of them was an open letter to good boys in Y.A. I remembered that post after buying and re-watching Mockingjay Pt. 2 , which features this dude:

 

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peeta mellark, good guy extraordinaire

 

I think Peeta Mellark is the epitome of a good guy. He’s kindhearted, loyal, and self-sacrificing. He’s in love with a girl who doesn’t know what she feels for him. Sometimes she pretends to like him because cameras are watching. Even though Peeta isn’t pleased with this, he doesn’t disrespect Katniss at all. He calls her out on what she’s doing, but he never treats her like he’s superior to her. Like he’s the one who should be rescuing her and dictating how their relationship should develop, both on and off-screen.

Peeta is a caretaker. He nurtures. He creates when everyone else destroys. He offers hope in a hopeless world.

There are lots of good, hopeful boys in Y.A. that make my heart sing with their goodness.

I’m always on the lookout for more.

Bring on those good boys, Y.A. authors. I’m ready to get to know (and learn from) them.

 

Staying Awesome Interview Series: Laura Montalvo

Welcome to another edition of the Staying Awesome Interview Series! Today is quite special because I’m featuring a friend. This lady and I have known each other for six years. (!!!)  We met in grad school as English majors, and since then, we’ve been gushing about our favorite books, movies, and T.V. shows.

Today I’d like to give a warm welcome to the awesome Laura Montalvo!

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What makes Laura awesome?

  • She’s an English teacher.

  • She’s also a Cast Member at the Disney Store.

  • Her vlog, Literally Booked, focuses on Y.A. and M.G. book reviews (but mostly Shadowhunters gushing at the moment) (especially Malec gushing) (my favorite kind of gushing).

  • She’s a cosplayer. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I get to find out which character she’s cosplaying as for our annual visits to PR Comic-Con.

 

Without further ado, here’s my interview with Laura!

 

1) You recently launched a book review vlog called Literally Booked. Tell me about the decision to start your vlog and what viewers can expect from your reviews.

Long ago, during the Twilight days, I used to have an entire channel dedicated to Twilight. The books, the movies, everything. It was quite popular and I enjoyed making videos, but unfortunately I made one too many fanvideos and my channel got shut down. It lives on only in infamy. Now that I’m teaching, I feel the need to spread the joy of reading once more, and what’s easier than a YouTube channel? Plus, filming is a lot of fun. That’s why I decided to get back on the Tube.

2) I remember meeting you inside a college classroom (oh, the old days…). We were both English grad students about to embark on a Shakespearean journey, but our friendship was born out of a shared love for young adult lit. When did you first discover your passion for Y.A.?

AH yes, ye old Shakespeare class. I’ve been reading Y.A. for as long as I can remember. Back in the day, they were just “children’s novels” and I would order them through those Scholastic catalogues we got at school. I think the first more mature book I read was Harry Potter in the 6th grade, and from then on, I was hooked on Y.A. I think because I read Y.A. as I was growing up, I felt more connected with the characters that experienced what I experienced, and now dealing with teens a teacher, I still feel connected to those characters.

3) Like me, your day job involves teaching English. Your students are in middle school and high school, though, which puts you in direct contact with teens. In your experience, what’s the most rewarding aspect of discussing literature with teens? Has there been a favorite book/short story among your students?

Being an ESL teacher is quite challenging because, though many of my students share my passion for reading, their difficulty with the language makes it harder for them to explore reading. However, there have been some joyful moments. For example, my rowdy eighth graders enjoyed The Diary of Anne Frank so much they watched the entire 3 hour movie in complete silence. Another joyous moment occurred when I brought in some Y.A. novels to give away to my students and they were gone in less than 5 minutes. There were more than 15 novels! That proves that they truly enjoy reading and I hope further on we can get into discussing more novels and stories in depth.

4) Besides working as an English teacher, you’re also a Disney Store Cast Member! What’s the best thing about being a CM? On the flip side, what’s the most challenging?

Being a CM is the most rewarding job. When I have bad days, I go into the store and feel immediately better. There’s always a joyful atmosphere among the CMs that is contagious and that’s what I love most about it. The flip side? I have none, really. This is my dream job and I’ve made so many wonderful connections, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

5) As if you weren’t cool enough, you cosplay at local fan conventions! You even gave a presentation on fandom at a pop culture conference we both participated in last year. I’m curious: what does fandom mean to you personally? How would you define it?

Fandom is a huge part of my life and I’m truly grateful for it. I can honestly say I’ve made all my close friends through fandom, whatever type it may be, because we’ve all connected because of interests and things we enjoy. I’m a single adult with a full-time job, so sometimes life can get kind of boring and lonely. But every night I get home to discuss the latest episode of Shadowhunters with friends, or RP online, or even just chat, and that makes it so much better. I know some people think fandoms are weird, but come on. Have you ever loved something so much you couldn’t stop talking about it? That’s fandom.

**Bonus question: which Hogwarts House have you been Sorted into??

I’m a Ravenclaw for sure! I’m not brave enough for Gryffindor!

 

Thanks so much to Laura for letting me interview her! You can find her online at the following spots:

TwitterVlog

Staying Awesome Interview Series: Kelly Jensen

Welcome to another entry in the Staying Awesome Interview Series! Today I’m super pumped to feature a woman I’ve admired for quite some time now, Kelly Jensen!

 

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What makes Kelly awesome?

Kelly Jensen is a former teen librarian who worked in several public libraries before pursuing a full-time career in writing and editing. Her current position is with Book Riot, the largest independent book website in North America, where she focuses on talking about young adult literature in all of its manifestations. Before becoming a fully-fledge adult-like person, she worked in the swanky Texas Legislative Library entering data into a computer while surrounded by important politicians, scooped gelato for hungry college students, and spent hours reading, annotating, and scanning small-town Texas newspapers into a giant searchable database.

Kelly lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three needy-but-awesome cats. In her free time, she does yoga, writes for her personal blog STACKED (stackedbooks.org), drinks a lot of tea, and enjoys disappearing for days reading good books. Her writing has been featured on The Huffington Post, at Rookie Magazine, The Horn Book, BlogHer, School Library Journal. She contributed an essay and a guide to teen sexuality in pop culture for Amber J. Keyser’s The V-Word: True Stories of First-Time Sex and is the author of the book It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader from VOYA Press.

Kelly was kind enough to let me pick her (amazing) brain. Check out her brilliance below!

 

1) Many young girls and women identify as feminists, including myself, but I find that others are hesitant when it comes to proclaiming themselves feminists. Some don’t even believe we need feminism and argue that equality has already been achieved. How do you define feminism for yourself? In what ways do you think a greater understanding and acceptance of feminism can be achieved?

You’ve pretty much nailed why I wanted to create a feminism anthology for teenagers in your question! I’m a big believer in the idea feminism is a movement full of facets and that every individual comes to it in their own way and uses feminism in a way that makes sense to them. Your feminism can and does evolve as you do; the more you learn, the more you accept some elements of feminism and the more you reject other notions of “feminism.”

My own definition of feminism is the same one Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so clearly states in “We Should All Be Feminists” — feminism is the social, political, and economic equality of all people. How we achieve that, though, I believe is entirely personal and individual and it’s through following our own paths through feminism we’re able to help the greater good achieve that equality. I reject the idea that there are right ways to be a feminist; some people perform feminism in quiet ways and others do it loudly. I believe that online social justice is as important and powerful as work done on the streets. Everyone comes where they’re comfortable and it makes a difference.

It’s through accepting other people’s ways of feminism I think we can better achieve acceptance of it. We also need to keep talking about feminism and what it looks like. One of my biggest hindrances to calling myself a feminist when I was younger came because I felt like an impostor; this is what I wrote about in my own piece for Feminism for the Real World. When we only ever see a movement as one thing — in feminism’s case, a loud, on-the-streets, vocal-in-all-spaces, marching-for-peace movement that’s popular in the media and in textbooks (if they mention feminism at all!) — we don’t show the spaces where people work behind the scenes or where they’re learning or listening and working to be better in quieter, but equally important, ways. A person marching in a reproductive rights rally on a college campus is as valid a feminist as an individual who stops using gendered slurs or transphobic language in their day-to-day communication and urges others to do the same. All of these things matter. They’re all facets.


 

2) Before you became an associate editor at Book Riot, you were already sharing your awesomeness with the world over at Stacked, a blog dedicated to book reviews, guest posts, and epic link roundups. Your book reviews have always fascinated me for their in-depth analysis on character development, particularly when it comes to books featuring girl narrators and stories of girlhood. What’s the most unapologetically feminist Y.A. book you’ve ever read and why?

Thank you! It’s such a nice compliment to hear this.

Funny story: if you go back into the early posts at STACKED, there are a series of pieces about a program I attended about the importance of getting guys to read. It moved me a lot — so much I did guy-focused programming for an entire summer at my library which was wildly successful and which earned me a little recognition from the local Rotary group.

The thing is, after I finished that program and began seeing more and more “guys only” kinds of programs and professional education movements in libraries, the angrier I got. Why were we not talking about girls? How come it was assumed girls were doing alright and didn’t need any special consideration? Not to mention, all of this falls into a gender binary and I don’t know about you, but my life has granted me a lot of wonderful genderqueer, trans, and questioning individuals who ALSO deserve to be considered as part of a community. The angrier I got, the more I wrote and the more I read. And the more I read and wrote, the more I discovered people who thought about this too. It led me to realizing this was incredibly important to me and I needed to keep talking about it. So I have and I will.

It would be impossible to name a single unapologetically feminist YA book. I’ve read so many, and I’ve been impressed and blown away not just by the stories themselves, but the reactions to them. People dislike feminism, or rather, they dislike female characters who step outside the box. Who aren’t willing to bend. Who don’t submit or fit within a neat label. In other words: readers dislike female characters that refuse to be one-dimensional.

A few of the most feminist YA titles I’ve read and would heartily recommend include: Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann, All The Rage by Courtney Summers, Bumped and Thumped by Megan McCafferty (criminally underrated science fiction dystopian satire), Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian, all of Sarah McCarry’s Metamorphosis trilogy (especially About A Girl, my favorite of the series), Pointe by Brandy Colbert. This is such a white list and part of that is purposeful — we have a real hole in intersectional feminism in YA. A big reason isn’t that the books aren’t being written but that the books about girls of color that sell so rarely look beyond their race as key to the story. That’s a weakness in publishing, not the books. Have you tried to find YA light reads featuring girls of color? Sit on that for a bit. The answer is that it’ll take you a long time to think of some. I keep meaning to read Love is the Drug and The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, which I keep being told are radically and amazingly feminist.


 

3) I can’t begin to tell you how desperate I am to read Feminism for the Real World, the anthology you edited that’s coming out in 2017! Tell me about your decision to make this anthology happen. Was there a specific aha! moment that led you to the anthology’s creation? Or have you always wanted to work on a project like this?

I don’t remember learning anything about feminism growing up. There weren’t any lessons in class, there weren’t any real books out there for teenagers, and the internet age wasn’t then what it is now.

When I got to college and met these incredibly outspoken feminists, I found myself turned off to the movement, in part because I didn’t understand it. But as I went through college and found myself writing and exploring very feminist issues in all of my work, I realized that feminism is wide, dynamic, and accommodating.

With the growth of feminist talk in the mainstream — from TIME Magazine’s attempt to “ban” the word in 2014 to the popular question “are you a feminist?” journalists ask of famous women — it felt like the right time to bring together a variety of voices, perspectives, and insights into what feminism means, what it looks like, and why it’s a movement that teenagers want to know and be involved in because it truly impacts their lives now and will impact it throughout their futures.

This is very much the book I would have wanted as a teenager to help me make sense of the idea and make me feel like my own feminism was not wrong.

I remember growing up and grappling with a lot of really big issues and finding my place in books. There was a nice guide to figuring out your religious beliefs or how you could mix and match them. There was a guide for how to handle your changing body. There were all kinds of useful books for teens on topics that mattered; this, I like to think, will fit into that realm — and hopefully it’ll reach teens in ways that I can’t even anticipate.

 

4) You mention in your Twitter bio that you’re a “reformed librarian.” What was the best part about working as a librarian? What was the worst?

I worked with teenagers, who are the BEST. I love teenagers, their energy, their enthusiasm, their attitudes. Deep down inside, even the most annoying teen who walks into the library wants to be accepted for who they are, right where they are. I always felt like it was a privilege to be a trusted adult in their lives and accept them right where they are. I had teens who’d come to book club so they could play with LEGOs and teens who’d come to those same book clubs to talk books. I let them do both, and both were so happy to be able to do that. I loved being an advocate and voice for those who are so rarely seen as worthy of that. Especially in a public space. We limit teens everywhere; my goal was — and still is through so many other ways — to give them space to grow and learn and have fun. They have the whole rest of their lives to be adults.

The worst part of librarianship was bureaucracy. Getting things done takes a long time in libraries, if it happens at all. Actually, the thing I disliked most was being a young woman in a public space where many felt they were able to comment on me to me. I had a man make a really inappropriate sex joke at me, had men inappropriately touch me without my permission, and men who would literally comment on my appearance to tell me if I looked better or worse one way or the other. It was always awkward and uncomfortable and I learned a lot about myself. I know some people would respond and react quickly, but as someone who feels like I always have to be a good kid, I never said what I wanted to, and I rarely reported their behavior. I wish, of course, I had. But I didn’t know. I just wanted to do well at my job, and part of that was dealing with that.


5) Do you see yourself writing fiction for teen girls down the line? (I personally think this needs to happen, Kelly. It just does).

Yep — I’m actually in the midst of working on a novel right now that I’m revising for my agent. I’ve been working on various novels for many years, but nothing quite stuck because I didn’t invest seriously in myself as a person with a career in writing and publishing for teens. But now I’m seeing it and wanting it. I’m lucky to have both critique partners, friends, and an agent who are encouraging it in ways that make me want to bring an A game.

If you’re curious, my work in progress is a novel about small towns, two girls who love one another madly, ghosts, and how we judge ourselves and others.

 

A huge thank you to Kelly for participating in this series!! Make sure to pick up Feminism for the Real World when it hits bookshelves in Spring 2017, and while you wait, go get It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader. You can find Kelly online over at the following links:

Twitter / Tumblr / Pinterest / Instagram / Goodreads

Staying Awesome Interview Series: Sarah Enni, Part II

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Welcome to Part II of my interview with Y.A. writer/creator of the First Draft podcast, the wonderful Sarah Enni! To read Part I, click here.

Today Sarah discusses all things writing and reading. Let’s bask in her brilliance, shall we? Off we go!

 

On Writing

1) Your website bio states that you write about “teenage punk bands, sad quarterbacks, and bank heists (for now).” I’m a total sucker for all three! What tends to strike you first: premise or character? Or does it vary from manuscript to manuscript?

Premise tends to come to me first, followed by setting. My books have been inspired by thoughts like, “What if Cupid was a real high schooler?” or “What would the book version of the Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse song ‘Valerie’ be about?” Then I write approximately three full drafts before I “get” my characters and what the book is REALLY about. (This is a time consuming process and I cannot in good faith recommend it, LOL.)

2) I’m a firm believer in what author Nova Ren Suma calls the Book Of Your Heart. There’s one particular story that speaks to every writer in a stronger, more personal way than the rest. The most truthful and important story in their creative arsenal. Have you written the Book Of Your Heart? If so, how would you describe the experience of bringing those words onto the page? If not, do you see yourself writing the Book Of Your Heart in the near future?

I sort of think every book needs to become the “book of my heart” to some extent in order for me to finish it! But there is one project I’ve been mulling over for five years (five years!), waiting for my skills to match the premise. I am so, so, so scared and excited to finally start that project – hopefully in the next year or so. It’s gonna be a doozy.

3) What are some of the most inspiring bits of writing advice you’ve collected in your journey so far? How has it helped you become a better writer?

Oh man – I have loved hearing what every single writer has to say about advice. The one thing that has stuck out to me most actually came from Tumblr’s Rachel Fershleiser, who isn’t a novelist but hangs out with and advocates for them all day. She said to remember that you’re an author, you’re not your book. It’s so challenging, but important, to remember that you are not actually your work. At some point, if other people are going to read what you write, you have to guard that separation to stay sane.

4) Can you share tidbits about your current project? (I’ll totally pay you in chocolate cake).

WHICH ONE?? Ha! I am working on three projects right now, at various stages. The one I’m going to get back to right after answering these interview questions is about teenaged criminals in an alternate London who are staging a vengeance heist. It’s steampunky and sassy and it’s been a joy to write (and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite…).

 

On Reading

1) I still remember the first time I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. To this day, it remains the book that led me to writing for publication. I’d started writing as a child, long before Harry came into my life, but those were Stories Just For Me (translation: they were atrocious). Which book(s) do you credit for sparking that desire to pursue a career as an author?

Twilight. Seriously. (Warning: this story is gonna get sad.) My dad died when I was 23 years old, and it was awful. I was about to get on a flight from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., where I lived at the time, and at the airport I picked up Twilight (this was just before the movie came out). I read it all in one red-eye flight, and then tore through the next three books, ecstatically grateful to have Forks to escape to. At some point while writing that series, I had the realization that this was something I could do. And losing my dad so young made me realize that if I wanted to do it, I’d better get started. I’ll forever love Twilight, without any irony, for that reason.

2) Do you have a favorite genre as a reader? Or do you pick your next reads based on premise and/or other things?

I was just thinking about this! I can be organized and structured in lots of areas of my life, but when it comes to what I read, chaos reigns. I read absolutely every genre, and every age group, and my house is packed with books that have been recommended or lent to me, or that I bought on a whim, or was sent by a publisher. (It’s crowded.) But when it comes to what I actually pick off the shelf and start — that’s all serendipity. It’s important for the right book to happen at the right time.

3) What’s the last book you read that made you wish you’d written it?

OH MY GOD. I’m going to say JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL by Susanna Clarke, because I adored that book, and never in one million bazillion years could I ever write it, or anything like it. But it was un-put-down-able in a way that is a rare gift.

4) First Draft was born out of an epic road trip across the U.S. If you could take a road trip across any fictional location in any book/book series, which one would it be? Why?

Middle Earth. I’d sing drinking songs at Rosie’s in The Shire, overstay my welcome in Rivendell, and probably spend the rest of my life in Rohan. (This is also cheating, since I did a three week road trip in New Zealand, which is essentially Middle Earth, and it’s the #1 place I’d return to if I had the time/money!)

 

A ginormous thank you to Sarah for being my first guest in this new series! Make sure to keep up with her online using the following links:

@sarahenni / @firstdraftpod

www.sarahenni.com

www.firstdraftpod.com

Staying Awesome Interview Series: Sarah Enni, Part I

I’m super stoked for this post, y’all. Not only am I kicking off a new interview series, which focuses on some of my favorite awesome people and what makes them so, my first featured writer is Sarah Enni!

 

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Why is Sarah awesome?

  • She writes Y.A. novels, which makes her automatically cool.
  • She’s a real life Lois Lane. Or as some Muggles would say, journalist (!!!).
  • She’s a member of YA HIGHWAY, a group of amazing YA/MG authors who share content about the craft of writing + the wide world of publishing + contests/giveaways.
  • She’s the creator of one of my absolute favorite podcasts, First Draft.

 

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In Part I of my interview with Sarah, she discusses All Things First Draft. Here’s what she had to say about a podcast that should be on everyone’s radar:

1) First Draft is stacked with awesome interviews featuring YA and MG authors, all of whom share their personal journeys toward publication and finding their truth as both artists and individuals. You’ve had to travel across the U.S. to interview them. Could you describe the experience of driving all over the country in search of these amazing talents?

The podcast did indeed begin with an epic road trip – from Washington, D.C. to Seattle, mostly along the southern route. I was already planning on driving across the country because I was getting a divorce, and was moving in with my mom temporarily in Seattle. I figured, why not make that road trip into something inspiring, for me and maybe others, too? So I started reaching out to basically every author I’d ever had a good interaction with, and built my road trip map from there! As you know, young adult and middle grade authors are some of the kindest, most generous people in the world, so tons of them said yes. At that point it was too late to turn back, and I’m so glad I didn’t! Once I started meeting with people, they would recommend their friends in the next town, and so on and so on, until I was back on the west coast.

2) Let’s talk prep. You’re a journalist by day, which explains why you rock so hard at interviews. How do you get ready for a sit-down with your podcast’s guests? Do you have any rituals to enter Maximum Podcast Awesomeness Mode?

Such a good question! There isn’t a ton of prep for the interviews, but that prep is incredibly important. I have a trusty notebook I carry with me everywhere, and I devote one page to jotting down questions. Usually I spend an hour or two familiarizing (or re-familiarizing) myself with the author’s works (looking on Goodreads, etc) and writing down any questions that come to mind, and noting themes that appear in multiple works. Then I Google the author and read previous interviews they’ve done. That’s so important – I try my very best to try asking questions the author hasn’t answered hundreds of times before. And finally I read back at least a few days into the author’s Twitter feed. If they recently sold a book, or talked about a favorite TV show, or came out in support of Donald Trump (!) I’d want to know that going in.

The research and prep really is my ritual for Podcast Awesomeness (haha), because it’s best to do that as close to the actual interview as possible. Keep it fresh! Also as I’m setting up the mic and getting ready to start the interview, I make sure the author knows what he or she is in for, what’s expected, and reassure them that I won’t immediately go home and put our unedited conversation on the web for the whole world to see. It’s best to start an interview when both people know the parameters, and understand that nothing unexpected is going to go down.

3) Aside from spending time with amazing authors, what’s one thing you love about working on the podcast? Have there been any unexpected benefits or challenges to launching it?

One of my main reasons for starting the podcast project was my long-held desire to be an NPR reporter. I had training and experience in print journalism, but no clue about audio reporting, editing, producing, or even knowledge of how to speak into a microphone. So I figured the best way to learn was to dive in with my own project and see what happened. The unexpected benefit has been learning so many new skills, including all the crazy back-end stuff that comes with hosting data on a server, working with wonky iTunes, and mastering (I hope) social media promotion.

It’s been challenging because it’s very time-consuming. Every podcast takes about two hours to record, and about six hours to edit. Then it’s about another two hours putting together all the content for Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, etc. And even then, I’m still lagging – I hate that I don’t have transcripts for every episode, to better serve audio impaired fans, for example. I sincerely hope the podcast can grow so I can get more time and resources to accommodate other things like that.

4) If you could interview an author from a different time period, who would it be? Why her or him? (Personally, I’d love to see Emily Brontë’s reaction when presented with a mic!).

Holy crap WHAT A GOOD QUESTION. Wouldn’t it be insane to meet Oscar Wilde at some Austrian castle and get lost in his labyrinth brain? Or what about Mary of Magdala, who wrote her own gospel?? That girl would have DIRT. And I’d love to hear her throw shade on the people who squirreled her gospel away for thousands of years.

YES YES TO BOTH OSCAR AND MARY. *loses mind*

Bonus question: you’ve previously mentioned your love of podcasts and how they inspired you to launch your own. Which ones are your go-to’s?

I could list great podcasts for AGES, so let me break down a few categories:

For writers:

– ScriptNotes (it’s about screenwriting, but has tons of great general tips on writing and storytelling)

– Sara Zarr’s This Creative Life (Sara interviews authors, and other artists too. It’s amazing how similar the challenges are for all creative professionals.)

For comedy nerds:

– Comedy Bang Bang

– How Did This Get Made

– Spontaneanation with Paul F Tompkins

– You Made It Weird

– WTF with Marc Maron

For everyone else:

– Switched On Pop

– Song Exploder

– Diane Rehm’s Friday News Roundup

– Pop Culture Happy Hour

– You Must Remember This

– Astonishing Legends

 

That’s it for Part I of my interview with Sarah Enni! Stay tuned for more with Sarah on her creative process as a writer and her favorite reads! In the meantime, make sure to check her out online:

@sarahenni / @firstdraftpod

www.sarahenni.com

www.firstdraftpod.com

critique partner + book deal announcement = *FLAILS*

So this was announced a few days ago:

 

Kaye's Book Deal!!

 

THAT’S RIGHT. One of the Iron Keys has a book deal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

My critique partner, Kaye (code name: Karuna Riazi), is going to be published. PUBLISHED. HER BOOK IS GOING TO BE A REAL BOOK AND YOU GET TO READ HER BRILLIANCE NEXT YEAR.

 

I am a pile of feels, y’all. The feels have overpowered me. I’m spending the rest of the day crying happy tears in honor of someone who deserves all the success in the universe. While I’m busy doing all of that, why don’t you go add The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand to Goodreads? Also, go send your congrats to Kaye on Twitter! This is a wonderful day for wonderful news.

 

*flails forever*