Interview with Christi J. Whitney

Today on the blog, I’m interviewing Christi J. Whitney a YA author with a successful series on the market. I’ll post links so you can all go follow her after the interview. I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I have. 

Justine: Hello, and welcome back to my blog! The last time you appeared on my site, it was in the form of an author spotlight, two years ago, and your last book release had been Book 2 of your Romany Outcasts series. Since then, Book 3 was released. Tell us more about that book. 

Christi: Yes, it has been a couple of years! Well, the third book in the trilogy is titled MIDNIGHT. It finishes out the story arc of Sebastian Grey and Josephine Romany, and it continues immediately after SHADOW.  Although I had originally envisioned The Romany Outcasts Series to be four books, my publisher wanted a trilogy, so I did a lot of editing and rethinking the storyline to bring everything to a satisfactory close in MIDNIGHT. I had the least amount of time to write this book, as I was under a deadline, so it was certainly a challenge, but I am pleased with how it turned out. MIDNIGHT differs from the other two books, in that a good majority of the novel is told from Josephine’s point of view, so we are able to get a more in-depth look into her life and emotions than I was able to present in GREY and SHADOW.

Justine: How did it feel to bring that era to a close?

Christi: Although my plan for four books had to change when I sold my book series to HarperCollins, I still have the outline for book four, and I do have plans to write it in the future. I don’t know what that will look like as of yet. It might be something I self-publish; but I love these characters so much, and I really want the chance to do a little more with them.

Justine: On my blog, we’ve been talking a lot about writing what you know. You don’t have to get super personal with this, but are there any aspects of your story which came from personal experience?  

Christi: Oh, there were definitely several aspects of my story that came from personal experience. At the time I began writing GREY (the first book in the series) I was teaching and directing theatre full time at a local high school. I modeled many of my characters directly from students that were in my program. In fact, my students were the ones who encouraged me to turn this story idea I had into a full novel, and a few of them even volunteered to read my chapters and give feedback as I wrote them. The Gypsy Ink Tattoo Parlor and the guys that worked there were also modeled after things and people I knew in real life. And finally, I gleamed the idea of the Romani characters from some of my own family history.

Justine: What are you currently working on? 

Christi: I have a completed novel called BLEEDER that I am currently shopping around. BLEEDER is also YA, but with a bit more urban fantasy and science fiction bent to it. The story takes place in a small coastal town in Georgia and deals with different dimensions, strange creatures, and a girl with unusual gifts. As to what I’m writing at the moment…I’m about half-way through a first draft of an untitled novel that I would categorize as light science fiction. The characters are fun, and I’m have a blast writing the dialogue in this novel.

Justine: Oh, BLEEDER sounds interesting. And I can’t wait until you’re ready to share more about that light sci-fi. On a different note, I see you like to Cosplay! A fellow geek like me. 🙂 Please, please, PLEASE share your favorite cosplay with us. Pictures or it didn’t happen. 😉 

Christi and friend as Sven and Kristoff from Frozen

Christi: I’m so pleased you asked me this! Yes, I definitely like to cosplay, and I am a huge geek. If it’s fantasy or science-fiction related, I probably love it (unless I am simply not familiar with it). And I do enjoy cosplaying characters that I really adore. I think my very first cosplay (years ago) was Jack Sparrow. Since then, I’ve done everything from dwarves from the Hobbit, Frozen, Alice in Wonderland, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, X-Men, and How to Train Your Dragon.

Christi as Nightcrawler from X-Men

My most recent favorite cosplay, however, has to be Professor Snape from the Harry Potter series. The Professor has been an unexpected, but wonderful experience for me.

Christi as Professor Snape from Harry Potter

About a year ago, I made a profile on  the Musical.ly app as a way to try and connect with readers. But I decided to sort of give it variety by posting a mixture of book/writing things with some cosplay. Not long after, Musical.ly became TikTok, and I began getting a lot of traffic for my Professor Snape cosplay. Fast forward a few months later, and it’s become a crazy thing! I’ve connected with so many readers and have been able to talk so much about writing and books…but it’s really all because of my cosplay. So I owe the professor quite a bit of love. I have a few cosplay pictures here, but if you’d like to see more of Snape, you are welcome to check out my TikTok page (christij.whitney)

Justine: Those are SO COOL. You just made the geek in me very happy. So, you clearly have a flare for the dramatic, between teaching theatre and cosplaying. What led you on the path to becoming a writer? 

Christi: My path to becoming a writer began, as many paths do, when I was a child. The first true fantasy book I ever remember reading was The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. It opened up a door to me that I didn’t know existed. I would write little short stories and create characters in fantasy worlds similar to Narnia. By the time I was in middle school. I was writing quite a lot, but I had no confidence, and I refused to show anything I’d written to anyone. It all stayed carefully hidden in journals and folders. In high school, I was bitten by the theatre bug, and I went to college to become a theatre teacher. I spent many years doing that, but the stage became my way of creating stories, so my writing took a back seat. Then, one Christmas break, several years into teaching, I began having these ideas for a story pop into my head. I shared them with some of my students, and they convinced me to write it down. So I put on my dusty writing cap and began. It was a big learning process, especially because I was learning towards young adult fiction. I had to learn how to pace my writing and how to balance description and dialogue. Despite having an English degree, I felt like a complete writing novice. But I attended classes, joined SCBWI, found a critique group…and I got better at my craft.

Justine: I love it. What inspires you?

Christi: Gosh, everything! I get a lot of inspiration from film and television shows, and also from books. Theatre is inspiring because I love the process of creating characters and fleshing them out. Teaching novels to students does the same thing. I could discuss plot, characters, and motivation all day. As I said, I’m a huge geek, so I look to all kinds of fantasy lore to spark something fresh in my brain.

Justine: If you could pick the brain of any writer, which would you choose?

Christi: I have so many writers I adore, and they come from different places and times. I’d certainly love to pick the brains of some of the giants — Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. But I also wouldn’t mind sitting down with some of the great YA authors currently out there, like Cassandra Clare and definitely J.K. Rowling…I’d also love picking the brain of Jack Thorne and John Tiffany (who helped Rowling writing the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child).

Justine: If your geeky self could choose any imaginary world to live in, where would you go and why? 

Christi:  It is so difficult for me to chose the fantasy world I’d best like to live in. I suppose it depends on what type of character I was able to be in those worlds. I will always adore Narnia, but I would want to be some magical creature there. I would love to travel with the Doctor in the universe of Doctor Who (even if that’s more science fiction), but if I had to only choose one…maybe the Wizarding World…I’d love to be a Hogwarts professor like Snape or McGonagall. 

Justine: And now it’s time for our rapid fire Q&A segment!

Q: Favorite writing instrument? 
A: Computer

Q: Plotter or Pantser? 
A: Both

Q: Chocolate, Vanilla, or other?
A: Toffee

Q: Sweet or savory? 
A: Savory

Q: Favorite book? 
A: The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

Q: Dream vacation?
A: The U.K.

Q: Dogs or Cats?
A: Dog

Thank you so much for joining us, Christi! If you want to follow Christi on the web, you can check her out at the following links:

Website: http://christijwhitney.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christijwhitney/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChristiWhitney
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/christijwhitney/


HUGE NEWS! PUBLICATION NOTICE: The Order of the Key is back from the dead!

A while back I wrote that I’d shelved my first novel, The Order of the Key. It was an important decision I needed to make as I moved forward with writing a different story. However, I had never truly given up on Jacklyn and Kyp, the main characters of my inaugural tale.

Jacklyn Madison Character Aesthetic

Though nearly every person I spoke to told me that YA Urban Fantasy was dead, or that I had missed the market on my story, I refused to let go, and continued quietly submitting the story to small publishers, eagerly looking to find a forever home for my plucky cast of characters.

Kyp Franklin Character Aesthetic

Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ve found that home. I have signed with Black Rose Writing, and together, we will be bringing you a newer, even stronger version of The Order of the Key in July 2020!

Everybody, pterodactyl screech with me!

Thank you all for your unwavering support! I can’t wait to bring you all along on this new journey with me.

Interview with Lina Rehal

Today on the blog, I’m interviewing Lena Rehal, an author of “seasoned” contemporary romance. Lina has many books and essays released, and I’ll post links so you can all go follow her after the interview. I hope you enjoy getting to know Lina as much as I have. 

Justine: When we first spoke, you described your stories as “seasoned” contemporary romance? Can you explain what that means to you and why you decided to write in that specific category of the genre?

Lina: Seasoned romance is becoming more popular. It’s defined as stories with heroines/heroes being 30 and up. To me, seasoned means a bit older than that. My characters are usually late forties/early fifties with an older couple in some sort of sub-plot. It’s easier for me to relate to this age group. I like stories with second chances at love. It’s what I like to read and what I like to write about.

Justine: On my blog, we’ve been talking a lot about writing what you know, and I see that you stand by this idea as well. You don’t have to get super personal with this, but which of your books feels like it’s steeped the most in your experiences, whether it’s setting, character, careers, etc.

Lina: I’d have to say LOVING DANIEL. Although Grace Madden isn’t really like me, she is a romance writer. The significance of the yellow roses in the story came from my love of yellow roses. Part of the book is set in Ogunquit, Maine where Aidan takes her for a day. Ogunquit is one of my favorite places. I have tons of pictures from various trips there with my husband. In fact, the cover is a photo I took myself of a spot in Perkins Cove that we like, which also had significance in the story.

I sprinkle a little of the places I know and visit often in all my books. In LASTING IMPRESSIONS, Dylan and Valerie spend a weekend in North Conway, New Hampshire, another one of my favorite vacation spots.

Even in my first romance story, OCTOBER IN NEW YORK, Gwendolyn and Thomas watched fireworks over Boston Harbor from a hotel at the airport. I was able to describe it well, because I’ve done it. I guess my settings reflect the most of my experiences in each of my books. I like bringing people to my favorite places with words.

Justine: You discuss your muse on your website—do you have any writing rituals that help to make your muse cooperate?

Lina: I often write big chunks of a story in my head. By letting a storyline percolate for days or even weeks, it gets my muse ready for action when I sit down to put words to paper. This is when the story seems to write itself. I love it. Some good ideas come to me while I’m driving. I’m not crazy about this, as I can forget it before I get home. Other times, when I’m stuck, I switch to another book I’m working on or story. It gets the process in motion again.

Justine: I see you like to write a lot about nostalgia. Current fiction trends, on TV and in movies especially, seem to be leaning toward nostalgia for the 80’s, while yours goes a little further back in time. What is it about nostalgia that you feel makes it so popular?

Lina: Most people love to reminisce. I think they like looking back and remembering a time when life was simpler for them. I’m a baby-boomer. I grew up in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I don’t think there’s been another era like it.

My first book, CAROUSEL KISSES, is a collection of nostalgic stories and personal essays about the days of lemonade stands, amusement parks, penny arcades, the big silver screen, drive-in movies, corner drugstores with soda fountains, five and ten cent stores and penny candy. The book has been popular, not only with baby boomers, but with people of all ages.

Justine: What led you on the path to becoming a writer?

Lina: My first published piece was in a small yearbook in the 5th grade. I still cherish that book with the faded mimeographed pages. That may be what got me started. That and my love of telling stories.

Justine: What inspires you?

Lina: I love this question. Authors are inspired by so many things. Mostly, our surroundings. We observe people. We eavesdrop on conversations in restaurants, coffee shops, elevators and in line at the movies and the supermarket. Sometimes it can be the least little thing that hits me and I’m itching to turn it into a story. I tell people to be careful what they say when they are having a quiet, intimate dinner or talking on their cell phone in public. Something they say could end up in a book.

Justine: It’s so true! We’re always listening. If you could pick the brain of any writer, which would you choose?

Lina: Nora Roberts. She’s my favorite. Love her romance books. I’ve read most of them.

Justine: Tell us about your most recent release.

Lina: Lasting Impressions is book two of my Tucker’s Landing Series. Dylan Granger is the newest resident in this lovely coastal town. He gets more than he bargained for when he buys an old waterfront estate. The handsome architect’s plans for the property put him at odds with the neighbors. Valerie Fitzgerald, a real estate broker he’s never met, has a personal grudge against him and leads the crusade.

Fate throws them together in an unexpected encounter on White Stone Beach. Dylan hides his identity from her when he realizes who she is and leaves abruptly. When they meet again, his identity becomes apparent. So does their mutual attraction for one another. They later become trapped overnight in his home during a terrible storm. A little candlelight and cognac help get them through a power failure.

It took me about a year to write this one. I put it aside for almost another year. I just wasn’t ready to finalize it. Kept putting it off. I wrote JILLIE & SAM in the meantime. Then, finally, I pulled it back out, made the necessary changes and finished the process to self-publication.

Justine: That sounds really great. Oddly, I’ve just picked up a book I started and couldn’t finish. I’m revisiting it now and I’m excited to finish it, but it took a year to get there. 

Now for our quick fire question segment:

Q: Favorite writing instrument?

A: Desktop

Q: Plotter or Pantser?

A: Pantster

Q: Chocolate, Vanilla, or other?

A: Vanilla spice

Q: Sweet or savory?

A: Savory

Q: Favorite book?

A: Scarlett

Q: Dream vacation?

A: Disneyworld!

Q: Dogs or Cats?

A: Cats

Justine: Thank you so much for joining us today, Lina. If you are interested in following Lina on her writing journey, please follow her at the social media links posted below. 

Websites: www.linarehal.com

www.thefuzzypinkmuse.com

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B008L5FNPS

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thefuzzypinkmuse/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CarouselKisses

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lina-rehal-28249214/

Guest Post: What is Authorgraph?

Today on the blog, author C.S. Woolley is here to spread awareness about a very cool service available to authors and readers alike. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please welcome Ms. Woolley to the blog!


What is Authorgraph?

By C.S. Woolley

Being able to get books signed by your favourite author is something that is truly special, and the rise of e-books seems to be making that harder – or is it? As you may have guessed, e-books, especially kindle books can now be signed by the author. No, you don’t need to get a collection of Sharpie autographs on the back of your e-reader. Instead,  you can use Authorgraph to do it for you.

So what is Authorgraph?

I’m glad you asked! Authorgraph  is a completely free service for both authors and readers to use. What it does is allows authors to register on the site with their book catalogue and in turn allows readers to request autographs from their favourite authors. So it doesn’t matter where in the world the author or reader are, a signed book is only a click or two away.

How do I use Authorgraph?

As the service is free, it’s a relatively simple process. You need to sign up before you can start getting Authorgraphs, and you can do this by either filling out the form or choosing to connect to the service through Twitter.  If you use the form option to register, you’ll need to verify your account using the link in the email that is sent out and off you go. If you use Twitter, you’ll need to add a few personal details in your account section before you can start. But it is a relatively straight forward and quick process.

In order to get an Authorgraph, the author must be registered on the site, so this can mean that some of your favourite authors might be missing, but you can always send them a message and get them to sign up so you can get their autographs.

To help guide you through the user process for readers, here is a step-by-step guide with some screenshots.

First you find the author or the book that you want to get authorgraphed by using the search bar at the top of the page. Once you’ve found the book, then you simply click on request authorgraph! It takes one click and a screen will pop up.

The  pop up screen gives you the option of sending a message to the author as part of the authorgraph request. You might have a question you want answered or a dedication that you want included with the authorgraph, or you may want to tell the author about how much you enjoyed the book or have a story to share with them about how reading their book changed your life. You just type whatever you like in the message box and click add message. Alternatively, you may just be happy with the authorgraph, if so, then just click skip.

If everything has gone smoothly, the next screen you will see is the confirmation that your request has been sent. Then it’s up to the author to fulfil the request. Once it has been, you’ll get a message that it’s arrived and you can view your Authorgraph. Some will be flat signatures, others will appear before your eyes as though the author is signing it for you at that very moment.

What if I am an author and want to register on Authorgraph?

It’s free for any author to register on Authorgraph and the process is the same as the process for signing up as a reader. Once you have verified your email with the site,  you can view your author page. On the top right nav bar of any screen is the option to add books.

All you need to do is put in the ASIN of the book you want to add. You can do this for multiple books. It takes a minimum of a few hours for your books to be added, so don’t worry if they aren’t there straight away. You can only add them one at a time though.

Once you’ve got your books uploaded, you can choose how you are going to sign your authorgraph. You can use a signature that is generated by the site or use their drawing tool. The drawing tool is a little hard to deal with if you don’t have a digital pen or aren’t used to using your finger or a mouse to sign things online. Because of this, if you aren’t confident with using the drawing tool, you may want to stick with the site generated signature.

If you do brave the drawing tool, then when the signature is opened, it will be revealed to the reader as though you are writing it for them then and there.

The other nice option that Authorgraph has, is it allows you to send personalised messages along with your Authorgraph, even if they haven’t requested something. It’s a chance for your to hone your standard inscription i.e. Stan Lee had  “To x “Excelsior! Your friend, Stan Lee” as his standard inscription.

Once you’ve fulfilled the order, you can see the Authorgraphs you’ve sent under “Your Requests” on the drop down menu, under your profile icon. Similar for readers, you can see all your Authorgraphs under “Your Collection.”

And that’s all there is to it. Authorgraph is a great tool that allows authors and readers to bridge the distance gap and lets readers get autographs without having to wait for hours in long lines. Plus, authors don’t have to get hand cramps signing books all day. It also lets readers see all the books that the favourite authors have published in one easy place, and you can see if there are any missing from your collection that you may want to add.

I started using Authorgraph in 2016 and think it is one of the best services out there for readers and authors alike, and is one of the more underrated tools.

****

C.S. Woolley (Caroline Sarah Woolley) was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire and raised in the nearby town of Wilmslow. From an early age she discovered she had a flair and passion for writing. She currently lives with her partner, Matt, and their two cats in Christchurch, New Zealand.

She has published many books in her mystery series Nicolette Mace: The Raven Siren, as well as a series of adapted classics for Foxton Books, and a series of modernised Shakespeare and workbooks to help with GCSEs. Her upcoming series include Alpha Sigma, The Children of Danelaw, Dark Hearts, and The Children of Ribe Story Books. C.S has taken part in charity projects that produced content for Standing by the Watchtower: Volume 1 & Volume 2, Indie Visible Volume 1 and the 12 Days of Christmas in Stickleback Hollow. C.S has also acted in several plays and films including Weekend (2011). She loves horse riding, including show jumping and cross country, Formula 1, tennis, free climbing, singing, boxing, dancing, playing guitar, cricket and is also an avid PC and console gamer.

For more information please visit: http://www.mightierthanthesworduk.com

or follow on:

Facebook: facebook.com/AuthorC.S.Woolley/

Twitter: @TheCSWoolley

Instagram: @thecswoolley

Writing What You Know

CraftQuest’s latest video is up! In this one, we’re discussing the how to use the age old writing advice, Write What You Know, pointing out pitfalls and misconceptions and generally having fun. Let us know how you like our new format, and definitely stick around for the bloopers at the end.

Guest Blog: Fact and Fiction–Pulling it Together

Today, I have another writing friend here to give everyone a new perspective on research. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the post. Please welcome Morgan Smith to the blog!


Fact and Fiction – Pulling it Together
By Morgan Smith

I have said from the very start of my writing career that I don’t do “writing advice.”

That was kind of a lie, because now I’m going to tell you about the terrible, dangerous nexus between all those carefully garnered facts and writing fiction.

Beware, beware: because the days/weeks/months you’ve spent organizing all those incredible details into easily-accessible files can trip you up.

It’s called the info-dump for a reason: it will appear like giant walls of text: blow-by-blow summaries of exactly how the monetary system in your world/14th century France works; recipe-by-recipe descriptions of forty-seven different kinds of food served at a medieval banquet; long political diatribes detailing the exact relationship of one peerage to another in a semi-feudal society.

You must resist. You must. Plenty of authors don’t, and while there are readers who like a fictional story to read like a high school text book–I’m not saying there aren’t–the vast majority of readers are looking for something that takes them out of themselves, without the destination being a classroom. Most readers are, in the end, looking to escape, and nowhere is this more true than in fantasy fiction.

You, as the writer definitely need to know and care about every bit of this. You need to know your world inside and out. It’s really the only reliable way to make sure your world holds together as tightly as the Great Wall of China.

But the hook in this enormous net of factoid fish is that your readers really do not care.

They don’t need to know those details and frankly, they don’t want to. There is nothing that will stop a reader faster than stepping outside the story to deliver a History 101 lecture on currency exchange in the fictional 1200’s.

 But then, why bother doing all that work?

 And this is where the authorial magic trick occurs.

When you know your stuff, it shows. You only need the most minimal of details to make your reader feel that they are in good hands–because for some reason, when you really, really know your apples, you don’t need to deliver all those details.

It all somehow magically bleeds through in the way the prose gets out. The reader senses that there is authority there without the writer having to prove it by listing all the minutiae out. They can feel the reality, BECAUSE you aren’t spending 20,000 words showing them the skeleton underneath the flesh.

And they will rave about your world-building, even though you have only twitched the curtain aside for a microsecond, and given them the merest glimpse of the mechanics. They’ll feel it, and they’ll know it, and they will sink deeper into the story, never daring to let go.

And that’s a reader worth having.


Morgan Smith is a former goatherd, a textiles geek, and occasionally an archaeologist. She is also the author of several fantasy novels including “The Shades of Winter”, “Casting in Stone”, and “A Spell in the Country”, a romantic fantasy called “The Mourning Rose”, and a memoir about growing up hippie in the 60s. Her life is held together by caffeine, cigarettes, and cheap granola bars, and she will drop everything to go anywhere, on the flimsiest of pretexts.

Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/morgansmithauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/morganauthor1

Blog: https://morgansmithauthor.wordpress.com

Website: https://theaverrainecycle.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/welcome-to-averraine/

Published:

Casting in Stone Book 1 of The Averraine Cycle

They said ill winds blew at her back. They said she was cursed: a hex, and a jinx. And it was true: everywhere she went, no matter what she did, misfortune seemed to follow in her wake. But that, of course, wasn’t the worst of it.

A Spell in the Country Book 2 of The Averraine Cycle

What if you weren’t “The Chosen One” but still had to try to save the world?
https://www.amazon.com/Spell-Country-Book-Averraine-Cycle-ebook-dp-B07VJB8XFY

The Shades of Winter A Novel of Averraine

An aging band of sea raiders set out on one last voyage of revenge, and get a whole lot more than they bargained for.

The Mourning Rose

Manners meet magic in this tale where curses mix with curtseys, and Charm takes on a whole new dimension. 

Flashbacks (an unreliable memoir of the ‘60s)

A collection of memories about growing up hippie in Toronto, during one of the most interesting periods of the 20th century. Not to mention the sex, drugs and rock and roll…

Guest Post: What’s So Important About Diversity Anyway?

Don’t stab me. I swear, this is a pro-diversity post. Today, my friend Jennifer L. Gadd is making a guest appearance to tell us why diversity in books is so important in her and every classroom. I firmly believe her opinions to be dead on, and can’t wait to hear your responses. Her post begins below.


What’s So Important About Diversity Anyway?

By Jennifer L. Gadd

Disclaimer: I am an old white lady. This blog belongs to a white lady. We’re doing our bit to bring this important point home. 

The bulletin board in Jennifer L. Gadd’s classroom

Let me start out by making everybody angry. I’m one of those author-by-night, English teacher-by-day people. My classroom library has over 2300 books in it. You know what I did at the beginning of this school year? I culled over 200 books. They’re currently sitting in boxes taking up a lot of space in my very small Toyota Yaris.

Do you want to know what I pitched? The Little House on the Prairie. Caddie Woodlawn. The Cay. The Indian in the Cupboard. Indian Captive. The Secret Garden. Peter Pan. The Slave Dancer. To Kill a Freakin’ Mockingbird. A lot of other classics. Your childhood favorite, no doubt. And mine.

Sorry, not sorry. Here’s the cold, hard truth. Every single one of these classics contains stereotypical portrayals of marginalized people—maybe even slurs. They are, not to put too fine a point on it, racist.

But wait, you say, they are a product of their times! Okay, Karen. Slavery and displacement and criminalization of sexual expression were also products of their times, and we’re trying really hard not to tolerate them anymore. But wait, you say, these are classics! So we do things simply because we’ve always done them that way? Is that a Keurig on your counter or a percolator, Kevin? But wait, you say, they have historical value! No, they don’t really. We have better historical interpretation now. And as Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”

So let’s just move past all the excuses white folks give to enforce and enshrine their own literary canon. Anybody can read anything they want in the privacy of their own homes, so if you want to read TKAM for the 835th time, I will not try to stop you.

Maybe though, you’d be interested in reading something new. If you follow YA lit on social media, you might have seen the #ownvoices hashtag and wondered what that was about. #ownvoices is a long-overdue movement in literature: books by authors from marginalized people telling their own stories. No longer are people whose voices have not been heard content to allow white writers to interpret their stories for them. Happily, this movement is also proving to be highly profitable, so traditional publishing is ready and willing to make their buck by signing African-American, Latinx, Asian, Muslim, LGBTQA+, disabled, neurodivergent, and other authors they wouldn’t have given a second glance a few years ago.

Everyone benefits.

I think back to my own education in the Sixties and Seventies in southeast Texas. I was privileged to have Beezus Quimby and Meg March to show me ways to be a big sister. I had Kit Tyler and Nancy Drew as models for how to be the plucky and intrepid heroine of my own life. And I imagine my Latinx and African-American classmates checking out books in that very same library at Brookside Elementary, almost all of them about white children, written by white authors. Or perhaps worse, books about Latinx and African-American children, written by white authors. Never seeing themselves or their actual lives reflected back to them in the stories that were available for them to read. Never seeing people like themselves showing what they could become. I think about the queer and neurodivergent kids who had zero representation in stories to show them they were not alone or weird, forced to keep themselves hidden and unknown to others to escape ridicule or even danger. How did they survive without books that were for them?

#Ownvoices books also benefit white kids. We live in a diverse world that gets smaller every passing day. The interpersonal skills needed to be successful now include an ability to dialog, work with, and–to a degree–understand people from diverse backgrounds. Any child reading an engaging and engrossing story develops empathy and deepens their understanding of those who are different. I fail to see a downside to that. There is absolutely no reason a white kid cannot relate to an African-American or LGBTQA+ protagonist. Girls have been reading books with male protagonists since, oh, Beowulf and before, and never mind children of color. Not only is it okay to read books about people who aren’t exactly like you, but it’s also good for you!

Many of the recently published #ownvoices stories have an added benefit. When people tell their own stories, the stories are not simply about their marginalization or their trauma. #Ownvoices books get to be about authentic lives. This allows readers to see deeper than and beyond the escape from slavery or persecution or the rescue from the “thug” life or the coming out or the “inspiration porn” as a character adjusts to disability. Readers see people who aren’t like themselves as people just living their real lives, not serving as plot points.

The book I’m currently reading in my classroom is Dread Nation: Rise Up by Justina Ireland. In this post-apocalyptic story set in postbellum Baltimore, the Civil War has ended, not because of any decisive military victory, but because of the rising of the dead. In these post-Civil War times, it is the former slaves who are trained and given employment as attendants who protect rich white folks from the shamblers. The protagonist, a black girl named Jane, is the daughter of the white woman who owns the plantation on which she was born. In Ireland’s story, steeped in a rich background of authentic American racial history and the fantastical overtones of a post-apocalyptic nightmare, we are given a black female protagonist facing a zombie apocalypse. How often do you see that?

These are the kinds of stories my students want to read—and believe me when I tell you that they do want to read. They want to read engaging, well told stories in which they can see themselves represented in history, adventure, world affairs, and EVERYWHERE. Authors such as Ireland, Jason Reynolds, Marie Lu, Christine Day, Tom Ryan, Meg Medina, Joseph Bruchac, Kwame Alexander, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, S.K. Ali, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Sandhya Menon, Meredith Russo, Tomi Adeyemi, Alex Gino, Taherah Mafi, Ibi Zoboi, Samira Ahmed, and so many others offer fresh new stories that haven’t been told before. I’ve cleared some space on my classroom library shelves for them because kids these days are ready to devour them.

And so can we. We just have to stop clutching our pearls, put down our beloved, but problematic, childhood classics for just a little while, and read them.


Jennifer L. Gadd is the author of Cat Moon, the first in The Were-Children paranormal series, The Second Battle, and other books for young adults and children. In her day job, she is the reading interventionist at an urban middle school in Kansas City, Kansas.