Friday, February 27, 2015

Jasmine's launch party 002

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for Jasmine Warga's debut novel MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES. It was held at a local Barnes & Noble that Jasmine frequented as a teen herself. Throughout the evening, the crowd kept growing and growing, filling the room with family, friends, and fans. The event coordinator later revealed that this was their largest turnout ever!

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Jasmine (left) speaking with a young fan who approached her before the event.
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Me (left), Jasmine, and fellow Cincinnati author Kate Hattemer.
Other writer-friends in attendance included Emery Lord, Becky Albertalli, and Adam Silvera.
Jasmine's launch party 006 Jasmine's launch party 005
The growing crowd. This is maybe 1/2 to 2/3 of its final size? It was standing room only!

With a book as thoughtful and heartfelt as MHAOBH, it's no surprise that people were lining up to listen to what Jasmine had to say. Here are a few highlights from her brief talk and the Q&A session afterward:

Jasmine's launch party 008• Jasmine didn't specifically decide to write a Young Adult story. She just followed the voice of the protagonist that came into her head, who happened to be 16. There is also an immediacy of emotion when you're a teenager, which Jasmine enjoys and thought would work well for the story she needed to tell.

• Jasmine used humor to make the sad/hard things in her story more accessible to readers. She herself has always been drawn to black comedy. Furthermore: "When I was a teen, I read really really dark stuff -- so this seems light compared to that!"

• One audience member asked, "Did you ever want to write [Aysel] out of being suicidal?" Jasmine considered this for a moment, then responded that because of her affection for Aysel, of course she wanted to rescue and protect her protagonist. But even stronger than that feeling was Jasmine's resolve to portray Aysel authentically, which meant letting her stumble and suffer. Jasmine added, "As a society we really stigmatize depression -- and [we have] this fear that if we talk about depression, we're going to make it contagious." Part of her motivation with MHAOBH was to debunk that myth and foster that important conversation.

• In terms of her working style, Jasmine prefers not to plot because she writes to discover, and she uses the sense of mystery to carry her through the process. She also likes to jot story notes on her phone. When asked if she was working on a second book, she said yes and added, "If anyone is passing this on to my agent or editor, it's going really well!"

• Jasmine's dad really wanted her to be a doctor. "But I think this turned out all right," she joked.

• Even though she followed her own heart instead of her father's, Jasmine did worry that her dream of being an author was "too big." She credits her husband for having faith and encouraging her even when she wavered and considered doing something more stable.

I have many other notes from the night, but I think you get the gist. Jasmine was the perfect combination of funny and insightful -- just like her book.

Interestingly, the most obvious element of diversity -- Aysel's Turkish heritage -- was not a focal point of the conversation. As we discussed in our YA Diversity Book Club chat, that's actually a good thing in this case, because it signals how organic that element was to the character and story. Race doesn't stick out -- and doesn't need to -- here. It just is.

For more on MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES, be sure to check out all of our features:

The group's discussion of MHAOBH at Teen Lit Rocks
The Q&A with Jasmine Warga at Gone Pecan
"I Will Follow You into the Dark: Mental Illness in YA" at the Reading Date

PS: Guess who sold out this entire stack of books?

Jasmine's launch party 001

Jasmine's launch party 012

Do you have a post about MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES? Link up here!


Next month we're reading BLACK DOVE WHITE RAVEN by Elizabeth Wein. Please feel free to join us! You can also see the full archive of YADBC posts and our #YADiversityBookClub tweets.

Sunday, February 22, 2015
Once upon a time, I was a student of English Literature. And in my studies (and even before that) I read and analysed good examples of literary theory and device. The purpose was not to limit the texts that I was exposed to, but to see what has been done in the past and then to relate to what is considered good practice in modern literature. It was a foundation of critique.

Some of these texts were universally hated*, even though they were necessary for study. I don't love ANIMAL FARM, for instance, but it is a good example of allegory. Similarly, I don't know many people who re-read HEART OF DARKNESS for fun, you know? But there's some reason we study it. I can't remember. That's how much that book has impacted my cognitive life. It's created a giant BLANK in my memory.

However, what has fascinated me more than the texts that people hate to read (and study) are those that are universally loved*. Shakespeare, Milton, Atwood, Morrison, King, Tolkien, Dahl, Martin, Rowling...Rowell.

During the breaks in lectures on William Blake (a favourite*), my fellow students would be murmuring about Bridget Jones or gasp Harry Potter. I was serious, back then. I was building a foundation of critique. I wouldn't be caught dead with romance or a children's book. And yet...

Popularity is captivating. Compelling. We wants it.

I read them in secret.

So whether my professors liked it or not, Popular Fiction went into the mortar. I would argue that it made my foundations stronger. Because while we need books that are good examples, that nourish our thinking minds, we need books that elicit emotion (no matter how base), help us escape, show us paths that aren't always apparent. To entertain. To illuminate with flights of fancy within the safety of a construct.

More and more these days, I feel that literature is in need of some "levellers." Forget award winners, bestsellers and classics and give me a book that: speaks to our times, our experience, a book that entertains, is weird, unprecedented, absolutely obvious, makes me think and see the world differently.

I wish this for writers.

Be brave.

Forget the lists. Forget the awards. Forget popularity. Tell us a story. Your best story. And you will be read.





*up for debate, obvs.
Thursday, February 12, 2015


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Margot at Epic Reads created a book tag on YouTube.


This week a couple of us made a video response. Take a look!


Watch the original video:

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What is your favorite book you've read in one sitting?

Sarah: I can't remember the last book that I read in one go! Jane Eyre.

Kristan: Hmm, I can't remember the last book I read in one sitting either. Honestly I think that's more a testament to how fractured our daily lives/attention can be, versus the quality of what I've been reading.

Anyway, the last book I devoured in 1 or 2 days was BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE by Maggie Stiefvater. She sucked me into her world, and I never wanted to leave!

Ingrid: Omigosh, what I would give for the luxury of time to read a whole book in one sitting! I used to do that a lot as a teenager, but the closest thing lately would be when I re-read (or actually, re-skimmed) THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh a few weeks ago. Love that book!

Stephanie: I have never read a book in one sitting. Not ever. I always think you guys must be crazy, or else superhuman readers, when you say you read something in one sitting, or even in one day. (Hence my reason for wanting to ask this question.)

I think the last book I read in less than 24 hours was Mockingjay.

Can you read a book in one sitting? When was the last time you burned through a book in a day?
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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.


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on the shelf

The Bitter Kingdom
Wild Awake
The Raven Boys
Mind Games
Eleanor and Park
The Shattered Mountain
The Shadow Cats
Transparent
Froi of the Exiles
Days of Blood & Starlight
Every Day
Jellicoe Road
Finnikin of the Rock
Guitar Notes
The Dead-Tossed Waves
The Crown of Embers
New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
Bitterblue
The Fault in Our Stars
Pretties


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