Ben Hatke on Visual Storytelling, Fairytales, and Genre-Blending

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Ben Hatke’s Mighty Jack duology takes readers on a wild adventure inspired by the fairytale character who climbs beanstalks and slays giants. The series comes to a close this fall with Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, which follows Jack and Lilly as they travel to a different realm to rescue Jack’s sister Maddy. We had the chance to chat with Hatke and ask him about his obsession with goblins, his thoughts on genre-blending, and more. Here’s what he had to say.

Reader beware: Minor spoilers ahead.

Bookish: In writing your series, which elements of “Jack and the Giant Killer” did you want to preserve and which did you want to get rid of?

Ben Hatke: I really just took the original concept—a young person trades something the family needs for some seeds—and ran with it. Some elements I kept, some elements I discarded. It was all a balancing act between the structure of the earlier tellings and the world that I wanted to build. The elements that I added tend to be things from my own life. Jack’s house, for instance, is modeled almost exactly after my own house. The treasure in the older stories becomes, in my tale, buried Civil War gold, because that’s the history of the Shenandoah Valley.

In the second book, they travel to a realm that has been usurped by giants. There are still fairytale elements, but I really just threw everything in a science fiction blender and focussed more on a good story than sticking to “Jack the Giant Killer.”

Bookish: In this series, you blend fantasy and science fiction without drawing a hard line between the two. Do you feel the two should be less separated in fiction?

BH: Well, I’m certainly not one for hard lines in general fiction. I think the line between science fiction and fantasy is more more about flavor than ingredients. I’d draw a sharper line between sci-fi/fantasy on one hand and speculative fiction on the other. In spec-fic you’re more concerned with spinning out an idea than with telling a good yarn (though you can certainly do both at once). That’s a difference in ingredients more than flavor. Anyway, the edges of genres are delightfully fuzzy and I always hesitate to define them.

Bookish: You’ve been working on this series since 2006—which character has changed the most?

BH: Oh, Maddy for sure. She started out as a goofy six-year-old. She had pigtails! It was just awful. She’s a much more fleshed out character now.

Bookish: You’ve said stories are the language of humankind, which is a beautiful sentiment because it isn’t limiting. Stories can be told in any language. They can be heard, read, seen, or felt. How does that idea connect to Maddy, who barely speaks at all and sometimes simply has speech bubbles appear with strange symbols in them?

BH: Stories are how we make sense of the world. The stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell others help us explain ourselves to ourselves. We look at people in airports or on the street and say “I wonder what her story is” or “What’s that guy’s story?”

Visual stories transcend language. Silent films were amazing at this, and comics are too.

I’m intensely interested in storytelling through body language and Maddy, beyond my love for her as a character, always reminds me to tell without words.

Bookish: In the original tale, Jack is on his own, and your Jack declines help at first. But ultimately, this is the story of three characters who work together to save the day. Why did you want to have a larger cast surrounding Jack?

BH: Oh yes. Jack needs his friends! He needs them even, and most especially, when he doesn’t think he does. And really, the relationships in this book were much more interesting to me than the adventure. Or, rather, they’re all of a piece. In the first book Jack is really pulled in different directions emotionally. He’s pulled between his mom on the one hand, who wants him to be responsible. And there’s Maddy, on the other hand, who clearly benefits from the garden, despite the danger. Then there’s Lilly, this new outside influence. Lilly is a call to adventure. It’s all very confusing for poor Jack.

The second book is a more straightforward rescue mission, but it tests those bonds (I think) (I hope). In the second book Jack has sorted himself out a little more and has a single minded drive to bring his sister home. We do end up delving a lot more into Lilly and who she is and what she’s about.

Bookish: In this book, Lilly is crowned king, not queen. Was that an important distinction for you to make?

BH: It was the work of a moment, really. And it’s hard to talk about without going deeper into spoiler territory. The Goblin King wants to marry her and make her his queen. Instead Lilly fights and kills him. It didn’t seem quite right to me that she would still become the queen.

There’s a deeper discussion, of course, about the way we use gender in language, but I’m going to dodge that one for the moment.

Bookish: You’re very drawn (no pun intended) to goblins and seem set on redeeming their less-than-stellar public image in your works. What’s the allure?

BH: Yeah, what’s the deal with me and goblins? I’m still figuring that out! I like drawing goblins. I like thinking about goblins. I like the fact that they are little and weak and they only become formidable when they work together. I have this feeling that there’s a little bit of goblin in all of us. It’s that part of us that is grubby and small and awkward and also sort of owns it.

I really like goblins.

Bookish: If you were a mythical creature from one of your books, what would you be?

BH: Hard to say. I think I’ll let others decide.

Bookish: The machinery and pipes infringing on this formerly-green world reminded me of similar elements from the Lord of the Rings series. Can you tell us about why you wanted those two contrasting images?

BH: Like so many others, I’m deeply influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories. If you read those books early they never leave you. But beyond that, I think that this juxtaposition of the industrial and the organic is part of our modern consciousness now. It’s part of our story.

It’s an instantly relatable image, and it seemed to fit the story I was trying to tell. In that in-between realm, it’s the green growing things that make the links between the worlds. And the industrial encroachment is what breaks down those bonds and isolates the worlds.

…It’s a little heavy handed, maybe. In retrospect.

Bookish: There’s a lot of fun crossover in this series for fans of Little Robot and Zita the Spacegirl. Is this an inside nod to fans or a hint at a larger crossover?

BH: Some of those are just little winks, others are maybe a hint of things to come…

Bookish: Perhaps my most important question: Where can I find the seed packet that will give me one of those adorable little onion-heads?

BH: I’ve been scouring the flea markets, believe me. Let me know if you find anything!

Ben Hatke is the author and illustrator of the New York Times–bestselling Zita the Spacegirl trilogy, the picture books Julia’s House for Lost Creatures and Nobody Likes a Goblin, and the graphic novels Little Robot and Mighty Jack. He lives and works in the Shenandoah Valley with his wife and their boisterous pack of daughters.

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E. Lockhart on Antiheroes, Action Movies, and Genuine Fraud

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Young adult readers who want a twisty tale that keeps them guessing won’t want to miss E. Lockhart’s Genuine Fraud. The novel starts with its protagonist on the run and slowly moves backwards to reveal an antihero who is always a step ahead of everyone around her. To celebrate the book’s publication, we chatted with Lockhart about the book’s narrative structure, the difference between villains and antiheroes, and action movies.

Bookish: Genuine Fraud moves backwards in time, slowly revealing Jule’s past and motivations. How did this format affect your writing and plotting process?

E. Lockhart: I love to write challenging structures. Many of my books play with narrative devices of one kind of another. We Were Liars has the two intersecting timelines with fairytale interstitials. For Genuine Fraud, I wrote the plot out forward in distinct beats, then reversed it. Then I rewrote it to make sense going backwards, which was quite a lot of rewriting.  Then I wrote the story going forward and revised it going backwards.

Bookish: One of the common themes in the book is that Jule is underestimated. She’s seen as being harmless, “just” a teenage girl, when in fact she’s strong, intelligent, and generally always two steps ahead of everyone around her. What inspired this theme?

EL: I always felt underestimated, both as a kid and as an adult. It’s a complicated and angry feeling that’s hard to act on. I think a lot of women feel this way.

Bookish: There’s an ongoing question in the book about whether a person is as bad as their worst actions. Jule could be easily viewed as an irredeemable character because of her actions. What do you think of her? Is she as bad as what she’s done?

EL: I love her because she represents what I might be capable of, laid bare. To me, she’s humanity. That’s why we love antiheroes—it’s not that we love to hate them; we love to hate villains. With antiheroes, it’s that we love the release of seeing them act out what’s inside us all.

Bookish: Friendship seems like the wrong word for what Imogen and Jule have; rather they seem inescapably drawn to each other. What elements were important to you when shaping their dynamic?

EL: They look enough alike to share a passport, but that’s not their only connection. They’re both wrenching themselves away from their families of origin in dramatic ways.  They want to make new lives. They’re searching for new ways to define themselves in relation to men, to their bodies, to education, and to the world, generally.

Bookish: Jule views herself as an action hero, and she invents an origin story to fit her narrative. When her true origins are revealed, we learn that the reality she’s pulled herself out of is quite impressive. But for her it wasn’t enough. Why not?

EL: I often write about the desire to live a Big Life. To make a mark. Superhero stories and action movies tap into that desire, and that’s why I love them. So many stories about women in those action and superhero genres are written by men. Jule wants not only to live a big life, but to be the author of her own narrative.

Bookish: Jule references Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, a sociology book that says people behave differently based on who they are around or the situation they are in. What were the challenges of writing a character who was constantly aware of her behavior and intentionally seeking to change it based on her situation?

EL: I think that mindset is something of a norm for anyone who isn’t a member of the dominant culture, and in the USA that includes anyone who isn’t a cisgendered white hetero Christian male. Jule is an exaggeration and dramatization of that experience for someone of her background.

Bookish: In your dedication, you write “Here is my heart with all its ugly tangles and splendid fury.” Those are powerful words. Can you share what this book means to you?

EL: It’s a very honest book, even though nothing in it ever actually happened. I took dark parts of myself and tried to share them in an entertaining way.

Bookish: Jule believes that there are powers that live in our bodies that never leave us. What are your powers?

EL: Jule is referencing things like playing the piano or martial arts—training to a point of mastery gives you access to a power that can stay with you your whole life. Me, I touch-type about 90 words a minute. Not a very sexy power, but I use it every day and it makes my life infinitely easier.

E. Lockhart wrote the New York Times bestseller We Were Liars and the upcoming Genuine Fraud, a psychological thriller. Her other books include Fly on the WallDramaramaThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and the Ruby Oliver Quartet, which includes The Boyfriend ListThe Boy BookThe Treasure Map of Boys, and Real Live Boyfriends. She also wrote How to Be Bad with Sarah Mlynowski and Lauren Myracle. Visit her online at emilylockhart.com, and follow her on Twitter at @elockhart.

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Leigh Bardugo on Wonder Woman: “I Just Want to See Her Smash the Patriarchy”

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

The summer of 2017 turned Bookish’s editor into a ride-or-die Diana fan, and Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer played a significant role in that transformation. The novel tells Wonder Woman’s origin story, introducing readers to a young girl eager to prove herself and earn her place on Themyscira. She’s given the opportunity to do just that when she encounters Alia, a teenage girl and the personification of the Warbringer, destined to bring the world to blood and ruin. We had the chance to catch up with Bardugo at BookExpo America to talk about female friendships, writing kindness, and why the world needs Wonder Woman now more than ever.

Bookish: Diana is a hero in every way, but a lot of the characters in your other novels exist in a gray area. What was it like to write a character who is so defined by her desire to always do good?

Leigh Bardugo: It was an absolute joy. I was really worried when I went in because it was so essential to me that Diana not seem false and not be presented as a paragon. Just because you’re good and kind doesn’t mean you don’t have flaws or weaknesses or fears or that sometimes you don’t make poor choices, which she does.

When I wrote Six of Crows, depending on what section I was working on, sometimes I’d come out of Kaz’s POV and I would just be exhausted and sad and worried about humanity. Then I would write Diana and I would think, “All right, maybe we’re all going to be okay.” There’s a level of optimism that goes along with her character, and kindness. To me, it’s more about her being kind and compassionate than just being good. That is actually much more wonderful to write than I expected.

Bookish: When writing Diana’s origin story, what was one element of her original tales that you were excited to play with and one element that you decided to get rid of?

LB: I loved writing about the Amazons and putting my own spin on the mythology of Themyscira. I’ll admit I didn’t have any interest in writing about Steve Trevor. I was really charmed by his portrayal in the film, but I wanted this story to focus on the women.

Bookish: Diana, Nim, and Alia are a fantastic trio. They not only celebrate the importance of female friendships, but they showcase that there are many ways to be strong. How did you go about crafting their dynamic?

LB: I’ve written a short story set in our world, but this was very different for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about the way those relationships would be forged and how they would function. In crafting these characters, I was trying to keep them as authentic as possible. I had some wonderful readers who really helped me to work through some of the trickier issues they were dealing with.

It was important to me that even though Diana is the hero of the story, that Alia was a hero too. I wanted all of them to have opportunities to show what they’re made of and to show that feminism doesn’t belong to one person. Feminism doesn’t belong to one kind of person and adventure doesn’t belong to one kind of person. Magic, superpowers, all of those stories don’t belong to one kind of person.

I’m honestly a little heartbroken that I’m never going to write about these characters again. I’m not used to that. I’m used to writing a series or at least being able to say, “Well, maybe I’ll make it a series later.” Leaving them behind is so hard. There are so many stories for that group of characters that I would love to tell.

Bookish: The novel is infused with a lot of humor, both wit and physical comedy—Diana tossing the Lasso of Truth in a Duane Reade bag really sticks out to me. As a writer, how do you find that balance between comedy and the chaos of the world ending?

LB: I think if you only give the reader angst and intensity, the negative emotions start to lose their impact. The reader becomes desensitized. But if I’ve made you laugh and gotten you to let down your guard, it’s going to hurt that much more when I break your heart. (That sound you hear is me cackling.) The balance is one that really emerges in revision, fine-tuning the emotional turns and language so that the funny and tragic moments all get their due.

Bookish: We’re in a moment when Wonder Woman, as a character, is going through a period of rebirth. For years the name seemed to evoke the idea of a woman who manages to juggle a lot of responsibilities, rather than the heroine herself. What do you think it is about her story or about this period in history that is bringing her back into focus?

LB: Maybe because we need her. Maybe because we need her and because this is a great time to see a woman in an action film. We’ve seen more and more of that, and I would love to see even more diverse women in those roles, not just white women. But I think we also need a story of a woman who comes from Themyscira, who comes from a place where peace is a value, who comes from a place where compassion and kindness are values and where being strong is awesome and kicking ass is a delight. I love writing it so much, but those fundamental principles matter so much more now. And we’re all much more aware of that. I don’t know why, because we’ve all been waiting so long.

I wrote an essay about this for Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life. I loved Wonder Woman as a kid and I stopped loving her as I got older and began to understand who I was as a girl and as a woman in the world. It wasn’t until later that I came back to her. I feel like in some ways all of us are reclaiming her and saying “I don’t care if she’s wearing straps. I don’t care if she’s wearing heels. I just want to see her smash the patriarchy.”

Bookish: Mortal women have a chance to join the Amazons if they call out the name of a goddess in their last moments. Do you know who you’d cry out for?

LB: Hera, Athena, Demeter, Artemis, Hestia, and Aphrodite. They’re my pantheon. But I don’t belong on Themyscira. Too much cardio.

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of Six of CrowsCrooked Kingdom, and the Shadow and Bone Trilogy. She is the first author in the DC Icons Series, where the DC Comics super hero icons are written by megastar young adult authors. Forthcoming books include Batman by Marie Lu, Catwoman by Sarah J. Maas, and Superman by Matt de la Peña.

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Daniel Handler on Romance, Sexuality, and Getting Over Quotation Marks

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

You may know Daniel Handler by another name: Lemony Snicket, the author of the Series of Unfortunate Events books. When he isn’t writing about the Baudelaire siblings, Handler is penning adult and young adult novels under his given name. We were lucky enough to catch up with Handler at BookExpo America to chat with him about his new novel, All the Dirty PartsIn it, a high schooler named Cole experiences firsthand the complexity of the “uncomplicated” relationship. Check out our conversation with Handler below.

Bookish: This story is, as the title suggests, is a love story in pieces—what the reader has is literally all the dirty parts. How do you think the story would have been different if the other parts had been included?

Daniel Handler: Well, I don’t think it’s possible to write the whole story of everything, and part of what this book came out of was the way in which sexuality is ignored or pushed aside in so much literature. And that’s a really big part of it—it’s part of the anxiety, and the desire, and the joy, and the anger and sorrow of young relationships. Not that we grow out of it later or anything.

When I wrote Why We Broke Up, it was the first time when I went out to talk about the book that there was a big gender imbalance in my audience. It had always been kind of 50-50, and this time it was like 95% women. And that’s also, in adolescence, when many boys fall off of pleasure reading altogether. I did not fall off of pleasure reading when I was in adolescence. I started looking at what I read, what I really liked, and I saw that it had a really strong sexual streak in it. It was high-minded literature, but like, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a really powerful work when you’re 15. If you go back and read it, you realize that it’s full of threesomes, and you just think about what was interesting to you. So I was thinking about what segment of the population was falling off of reading.

That was a long way of not answering the question. How would it be different? It’d be longer.

Bookish: All the Dirty Parts is being billed as a companion novel to Why We Broke Up. Could you talk about how you see these two novels as being in conversation with each other?

DH: I think that Why We Broke Up is extremely romantic, and comes to sexuality through romance and that All the Dirty Parts is kind of the opposite—it comes to romance through sexuality. Certainly you can look at that as being gendered—that’s part of our own gender dysfunction around relationships, particularly when we’re young: Boys need to be nice to girls in order to get laid, and girls need to give it up to be girlfriends. So I thought about the ways those overlap: boys’ desire for romance and girls’ desire for sexuality, and how both those things are divisive.

Bookish: All the Dirty Parts reminded me of Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. Both are explicit books about men whose lives are more or less ruled by sex. What drew you to this form as a vehicle for the story?

DH: It was actually the form that I found when I started thinking about books that are more fragmentary by Mary Robison, and Jenny Offill, and Maggie Nelson, and all these writers who are doing things in little, small parts. I got interested in that, and that kind of matching, not only the way sex can work in the imagination, but also the kind of fragmented, text-based conversations. It began to seem like the right vehicle to write a book in which those issues could be explored.

Why We Broke Up, for instance, is a long, written letter. That’s a very romantic idea, but it’s not realistic that you’d write a book-length letter to your ex-boyfriend. It’s not feasible.

I did a bunch of things I never thought I would do. I thought I would never write a fragmentary book. I like it a lot but I didn’t think it was my jam. I used to rant against books that had no quotation marks in them—I was kind of like, “Sorry, that’s how we do things.” But the way so many people communicate now, between talking and talking on the phone and emailing and texting and whatever else—it’s all kind of in the loam and I didn’t want to make any kind of division within that. In the book you often can’t tell when the characters are in the same room and when they’re not, and I like that.

Bookish: In this book, as in your Series of Unfortunate Events books, adults are unhelpful at best. The effect is that the younger characters are the only ones whose motives and actions make sense. Can you talk about why you write younger and older characters so differently?

DH: I think I’ve always done that. In my first book, The Basic Eight, there’s a high school girl and her parents are completely absent from the book and horrible things are happening. I think that it’s a major part of adolescence, that compartmentalization. You go to school or wherever you go and you’re in this huge thing that’s happening with people your own age and then you go home, and you’re a kid. I think even now that I’m a parent of an adolescent, and I meet so many parents of adolescents, I see that same division going on all the time. Even if you’re really close and you sit around the breakfast table and you talk about things, there’s still a whole world that’s happening that’s completely out of your hands. I eavesdrop on a lot of teenagers on public transportation and I have such a memory of being on the same public transportation–I grew up in San Francisco and I live there–literally the same buses, and I don’t remember anyone older than I am ever being on those buses and now, sure enough, I’m completely invisible when I’m there.

Bookish: You write in the book, about uncomplicated sex, that if you can’t see the complication, you’re probably it. This seems like the central realization for Cole over the course of the novel, and it emerges slowly. Why do you think this is such an important epiphany for him?

DH: Because I think the sex in his world is being un-compartmentalized. It has nothing to do with his friends, even as one of his friends becomes sexually involved with him. It has nothing to do with the way he spends his time—it’s something that he sneaks off to do. To realize that it’s all part of the world that we’re in is a big maturation process.

Bookish: This book subverts the trope that women are the ones to “catch feelings” in a relationship—in your book, it’s the male partner who does. Why did you make that decision?

DH: It just seemed like the way the story was heading, I guess. I like to be surprised when I’m reading a book, so when I’m writing a book, I think about what would be surprising. I try to avoid the pitfalls of cliché and particularly with gender, it’s so easy to see when you’re planning a book how deep those clichés are and how easy it is to fall into them.

Bookish: What’s next for you?

DH: I have a picture book coming out in the fall. And then I’m finishing an adult novel and a Snicket book, so I’ll continue to keep one foot on each side of the seesaw I guess.

Daniel Handler is the author of six novels. As Lemony Snicket, he is responsible for numerous books for children. His books have sold more than 70 million copies and have been translated into 40 languages, and have been adapted for screen and stage. His first play, Imaginary Comforts, or The Story of the Ghost of the Dead Rabbit, will be produced this fall at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. He lives in San Francisco with the illustrator Lisa Brown, to whom he is married and with whom he has collaborated on several books, and one son.

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Cover Design 101: Behind the Scenes of Scott Westerfeld’s Spill Zone Cover

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but we think the same can be said of publishing graphic novels. Spill Zone was written by Scott Westerfeld and the art was created by Alex Puvilland. Once the book was ready for publication, an entire team stepped in to create the cover and jacket. Andrew Arnold, the associate art director at the graphic novel publisher First Second, was part of that team. Here, he takes readers behind the scenes and shares the secrets of cover design.

Click each image for a closer look at the design!

Hello, comics fans! Here at First Second, we take a lot of pride in creating thoughtful and beautifully packaged books. One of our biggest design challenges is creating the cover, and the jacket for Spill Zone was no exception. Here’s an inside look at how this cover came to life, from its earliest stages to the final printed book.

Spill Zone was one of the first projects on my plate when I joined the First Second team last summer. The first thing I did to familiarize myself with the project was read the book, and wow, what a treat that was. Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland have created an incredibly rich world that feels movie-ready. It’s a sci-fi adventure, but also has some dark and twisted elements, and we wanted to make sure the cover conveyed both of those facets.

The process began with several thumbnails from Alex, artist extraordinaire, who had come up with some pretty thought-provoking and eye-catching sketches. At this stage, we like to say that nothing is off-limits. I often find that only a small portion of what we look at during this stage makes it onto the final book. It’s pretty fun to look back at an artist’s initial sketches to see what was originally on the table!

After Mark Siegel (First Second’s editorial director), Danielle Ceccolini (First Second’s designer), and I processed Alex’s thumbnails, we decided that the more graphic approaches were working better than the more illustrative ones.

Once we were all in agreement on the general direction, Alex started to think about the background art and color palette.

As the overall design started coming together, we began to focus in on the details. In the previous stage, we liked what Alex did with the environment, but wanted to see if he could tone it down a little. Sometimes, less is more.

We started to get pretty excited about where it was headed, so we gave Alex the green light to move to pencils, and very soon thereafter, inks.

Once the inks were in, we started exploring the color palette a little further. A good chunk of this story takes place in a radioactive-colored world, so a lot of these early explorations focus on that.

As we got closer and closer to a palette we liked, we delved into a variety of title treatments.

And before you know it, we had ourselves a final cover!

Once the cover is resolved, we start thinking about the rest of the jacket. How will the back cover interact with the front? How can we create an effective spine, with such a tiny piece of real estate? How can the flaps inform the reader with descriptive copy, but still look good?

And then there’s the pre-printed case design! This is the art you see under the jacket, which is glued to the book board.

As all of these elements were being finalized, we were simultaneously communicating with our production team to determine what printing materials and techniques would work best with the design. This includes paper stock, special inks, embossing plates, and lamination. For Spill Zone, we decided that metallic stock was a must-have, not only because it looked good with the art, but it made a direct reference to the radioactive element. Our senior production manager, Alexa Villanueva, worked closely with the printer to make sure the proofing process moved along smoothly. At this stage, we made any last minute text corrections and color adjustments, and made sure all the special effects and materials were printing properly.

From start to finish, this project took several months, but when the books arrived I could hardly contain my excitement. Collaborating with this wonderful group of bookmakers was an incredible experience, and I can’t wait to relive it with their next book, Spill Zone: The Broken Vow.

Andrew Arnold is one of the co-authors of the Adventures in Cartooning series and moonlights [during the day] as a book designer for a children’s book publisher. His work has appeared in several publications, including Nickelodeon MagazineCambridge University Press, and Roaring Brook Press. Originally from Houston, TX, Andrew currently lives in New York City.

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Signs It’s Time To Say “Boy, Bye”

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Heather Demetrios’ latest young adult novel explores one girl’s realization that her boyfriend’s behavior has turned from attentive to abusive. Demetrios was in a similar relationship herself and knows just how common the problem is. Here, she shares warning signs that can help readers to recognize abusive behavior.

Most of the female readers I talk to who’ve read my new book, Bad Romance, tell me that the topic hits really close to home. I’m not surprised: One in three teens is affected by dating violence. Almost every single woman I know has been touched in some way by the epidemic. After spending over two years in my own bad romance, I’m pretty good at recognizing the signs. If you go to the book’s website, you’ll find tons of resources, including a quiz that will help you see if you’re in a healthy relationship or not.

In Bad Romance, my main character, Grace, falls for a boy who is charming and sweet, manipulative and cruel. She doesn’t realize that he’s bad news right away, and once she does wizen up, she’s in too deep. Here are some of the things that she gets woke about by the end of the book:

Put-downs
This is one of the ways that abusers control their significant others. My boyfriend told me I wasn’t as “deep” as him, that I was a “wet blanket.” He knew just how to hit me where it hurt. Making critical comments about your personality, appearance, intelligence, or beliefs is a major sign of abusive relationships. It might seem harmless, but over time these comments can lead to suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and generally crap self-worth.

Controlling behavior
This was something it took me a long time to notice. At first I thought my boyfriend just really loved me and wanted to be with me. Eventually I began to see that it was about power. He would insist on being given priority over my friends, control the guys I could talk to, and say which schools I applied to. Control also often turns to obsession: My boyfriend would watch me sleep at night and insist on reading my diary. He wanted me to account for my schedule, wanted to know who I ate lunch with, and who drove me home after rehearsal.

Jealousy
This one is huge. It can be so hard to see jealousy for what it is because it almost seems romantic, right? He loves you so much that he can’t bear to see you even talking to another guy because he’s so afraid of losing you. It’s the whole Edward and Bella thing. My boyfriend made a rule that we weren’t allowed to hug someone of the opposite sex. He would spy on me at work to make sure I wasn’t flirting with other guys. He brought a baseball bat on campus so that he could beat the shit out of a boy who liked me (thankfully, I was able to convince him this was a bad idea). This jealousy started out small, but grew over time. A little bit of jealousy here and there is nothing to worry about, but if jealousy plays a big role in your relationship, this is for sure something to look at. You’ve gotta watch this sign like a hawk.

Threats
This is where it starts to get serious. “I’ll kill myself if you break up with me.” “I’ll kill you if you break up with me.” “I’m going to kick his ass if I see you talking to him again.” “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have sex/go out/do these drugs with me.” If any of this sounds remotely familiar, run like hell in the opposite direction. This isn’t love—it’s about power and that other person’s severe psychological problems.

Isolation
When I first started going out with my boyfriend, I had a huge group of friends and was very social. By the end, I’d dropped several friends, had major fights with my closest one (to the point that we weren’t speaking for months), pretty much left my church, and was ditching classes I loved because my boyfriend wanted to see more of me. I had never felt so alone in my life. It felt like no one could possibly understand what I was going through. When anyone tried to tell me I should break up with him, I built a wall between us—or my boyfriend did it for me. It was a very us-against-the-world mentality, and it was lonely and terrifying.

Manipulation
It’s hard to know when you’re being manipulated, and it usually takes a long time to get hip to how your partner is manipulating you. Usually this looks like making you feel bad if you want to do something with your friends or you want to do an activity that takes you away from your partner. Abusers might make you feel like you’re in the wrong when you confront them about something or convince you that you’re imagining things when they give you the cold shoulder or punish you in some way. This always looks like your boyfriend or girlfriend not taking personal responsibility for their own feelings and actions: They will make it seem like their reactions are normal, and that they’re only acting this way because you did X or said Y. Start paying attention, especially when you know they did something uncool, confront them, and then you wind up apologizing. This is a total mind game and it’s crazy-making.

These are just a few of the signs of an abusive relationship. If you even think you might be in a bad romance, please reach out to someone you trust. Tell them what’s going on. Don’t go through this alone. You need friends, a teacher, a sibling, or a cool aunt or parent to help you through. I promise that you will find the right person someday—someone who treats you with the love and respect you deserve.

Editor’s Note: If you or anyone you know needs help further identifying or escaping from an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) or chat with them online.

Heather Demetrios is the author of several critically acclaimed novels including Something Real and I’ll Meet You There. She is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she isn’t traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, she lives with her husband in New York City. Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home.

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NetGalley Author Interview: Gabe Hudson

Watch our author video interview, “15 minutes with… Gabe Hudson,” now! Here, we talk about his debut novel, Gork, The Teenage Dragon, staying in the science fiction genre and where the world of Gork is going next! You don’t want to miss this interview brought to you by NetGalley, Meryl Moss Media and BookTrib.com.

Gork, the Teenage Dragon

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Pub Date: July 11, 2017
Sci Fi & Fantasy, Teens & YA
Published by Knopf

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Gork isn’t like the other dragons at WarWings Military Academy. He has a gigantic heart, two-inch horns, and an occasional problem with fainting. His nickname is Weak Sauce and his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious—the lowest in his class. But he is determined not to let any of this hold him back as he embarks on the most important mission of his life: tonight, on the eve of his high school graduation, he must ask a female dragon to be his queen. If she says yes, they’ll go off to conquer a foreign planet together. If she says no, Gork becomes a slave.

Vying with Jocks, Nerds, Mutants, and Multi-Dimensioners to find his mate, Gork encounters an unforgettable cast of friends and foes, including Dr. Terrible, the mad scientist; Fribby, a robot dragon obsessed with death; and Metheldra, a healer specializing in acupuncture with swords. But finally it is Gork’s biggest perceived weakness, his huge heart, that will guide him through his epic quest and help him reach his ultimate destination: planet Earth.

A love story, a fantasy, and a coming-of-age story, Gork the Teenage Dragon is a wildly comic, beautifully imagined, and deeply heartfelt debut novel that shows us just how human a dragon can be.

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Marcus Sedgwick on Borders, Ageless Characters, and Saint Death

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Whether you’re new to Marcus Sedgwick or a longtime fan of his work, you’ve likely heard the buzz around his newest novel, Saint Death. It tells the story of Arturo, a young man living near the US-Mexico border. When an old friend shows up, begging for help after stealing from a violent gang, Arturo must decide if he’ll risk his own life to save his friend’s. All the while, the boys are watched by Saint Death. Here, Sedgwick chats with Bookish about his new novel, mortality, and choices.

Bookish: Can you take us through the research process for this book? Did you know much about Juárez before you decided to start writing about it?

Marcus Sedgwick: Although the book is set in Mexico, the idea behind it began when I saw firsthand migrants and refugees on the French coast, trying to get into the United Kingdom. A long series of reasons (which you can read in full here) made me realize that the story I wanted to tell would be better played out on the Mexico-US border. I knew a bit about Mexico; I knew very little about Juárez aside from where it was. So there was a lot of research for the book. I relied a lot on a friend of mine, a young Mexican academic and writer, who had first introduced me to the emerging folk saint: Santa Muerte. Obviously, I read a stack of books, not just about Mexico but countries to the south, and accounts of the US side of the border too. There were newspapers and magazine articles, not just about Juárez, but about things like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Santa Muerte, and so on.

It quickly became apparent, however, that some very basic facts were hard to come by–the reason being that the non-Mexican press doesn’t report from on the ground in a place like Juárez, and the Mexican press is unable to, because to do so will very often cost the journalist his or her life. Upsetting a narco-lord is a dangerous thing to do. Even to find out which cartel is currently “in charge” of Juárez was tricky–I found some answers by following a number of (anonymous) blogs by people living either side of the border. After about 18 months, I was finally able to make a trip to the city, and visit both Juárez and Anapra (the township just to the northwest of the city, where the book begins) in the care of two very different guides. Both were from the city: I spent some time with an oldish guy called Sergio and then, later, a younger man called Roberto. Each had a very different view of what was happening in Juárez; but it was Sergio’s testimony that I found closer to reality. I could go on, but this is getting long…

Bookish: Can you talk about your decision to write the novel in the Spanish style, using em dashes instead of quotation marks, and Spanish punctuation? As a writer, was it challenging to adapt to a new style?

MS: I wanted to signal to the English-speaking reader in a subtle(ish!) way that we’re in a Spanish-speaking world. Conversely, I didn’t want to italicize the words of Spanish that I include in the book, because this is Arturo and Faustino’s world, and Spanish is their language. But here’s the thing: All of fiction is artificial. People sometimes make the mistake (I think) of believing that realistic fiction is in some way actually real. What fiction has to do is tell the truth, but everything about a novel is actually a construct of some kind, especially dialogue. So in Saint Death I use a false construct of dialogue that is designed to suggest (paradoxically) both familiarity and otherness at the same time.

Bookish: The word “our” is used frequently in the prose, written to include the reader in this journey. It’s our town, our heartache, our fate. Why did you make that choice?

MS: Yes, you’re absolutely right, it’s a deliberate choice to include the reader in the world. One of the thoughts in the book is the belief that no matter how much we might be tempted to see the world as them and us, it’s just not true. Call it globalization or internationalism, the world we live in now is a connected one, and all our actions affect everyone, ultimately. This is why I chose the preface for the book, taken from a book by Charles Bowden: “This book is about other stories, that occur over there, across the river. The comfortable way to deal with these stories is to say they are about them. The way to understand these stories is to say they are about us.”

Bookish: In some ways, this book is about choices: What do we do at the crossroads, for ourselves or for others? It’s also about inevitability: “Don’t worry where you’re going; you will die where you have to.” What was the hardest thing about balancing these two elements?

MS: Yes, you’re right, both these things were in my mind as I wrote, but I like to balance opposites in my books, so it wasn’t too hard to do. One of the things that lies underneath lots of my books is trying to show that life is full of opposites–and that very often sanity lies in the position of balance, rather than extremes. As you say, there’s also the concept in the book of bridges–both literally (in terms of the border crossings) but also metaphorically– representing those moments when we move from one thing to another. The book features some thoughts of Carl Jung (hidden in the character of Carlos)–Jung saw the number five as symbolizing the bridge. Five is halfway from one to nine, after all, so I used the number five a lot in the book. Jung also wrote a lot about transformations, so there are many oppositional transformations depicted, most notably in the chapter called “Arturo’s Dream.”

Bookish: We never find out exactly how old Arturo is. He shows incredible maturity at points, but then we’re reminded through other characters that he is young, not a kid, not quite a man yet. Why did you choose to not disclose his age?

MS: I have always resisted the belief that we need to give a precise age to our characters. Obviously sometimes it’s necessary, but mostly I don’t think it is. I could write an essay about this deceptively simple question, but I’ll try to keep it short! For one thing, it’s not necessary to know exactly how old Arturo, Faustino, and Eva are; we know they’re young people, not little kids, on the way to being adults. There’s a concept called “masking” in the comic book world which argues that an illustrative style that shows characters’ faces more simply (and less “realistically”) enables the reader to project themselves into the shoes of those characters. In addition, I don’t think someone’s age is the most interesting thing about them, it’s enough to have a rough idea. In the same way, I rarely give much physical description of how my characters look–how someone looks is again (very often) the least interesting thing about them. What makes people people, and what makes characters become real, is seeing what they think, what they say, how they interact with others, and so on. In Arturo’s case, I often find young people in difficult situations show unbelievable maturity—because they have to—but then again, he is still just a kid, after all.

Bookish: Santa Muerte never speaks or takes corporeal form, but she is a character in this book—one that is awed, feared, and respected. Were there challenges to writing characters, like Arturo, who are constantly aware of their own mortality?

MS: There’s a long relationship with Death in Mexico, stretching way back to the form of worship of the Aztecs and so on. In the modern world, we have the Days of the Dead, the worship of Santa Muerte (small but rising rapidly) and the image of Catrina (depictions of a pretty, skull-faced lady). Some people argued that it’s because Mexican people are less afraid of Death, some that it’s because they’re more afraid of Death. Whatever the truth of that, it’s certainly the case that Mexico has a more open dialogue with Death than many other cultures. So I found it “fun” (because I like thinking about Death) to have my characters pondering mortality, which is a common enough thing in a violent world, as well as having Santa Muerte drifting in and out of the book, and their lives. By the way, if you want the best account of this subject, I recommend Death and the Idea of Mexico by Claudio Lomnitz.

Bookish: This novel tackles a number of complicated topics (everything from American-funded cartels to immigration to environmental change), but it never feels overstuffed. How did you go about weaving these together without overwhelming the story or the reader?

MS: It was important to me that the book was more than just a tragedy set on the border. I wanted the reader to have a sense at least of the context of events which is causing problems in these areas, because I want the reader to get the sense that we will be seeing many more such flashpoints around the world (and often close to home) unless we start to take a radically different view of how the world should be composed. In order to do that successfully in a traditional manner, I would have had to write a book that was five times as long, and which probably very few people would have read. Instead I used a sort of Greek chorus of small (less than one page) chapters, which are interspersed between the main chapters of the book: These offer a range of views about all sorts of things that have and are affecting the borderland.

Bookish: We see two figures being referred to as kings in this book: Jesus and Arturo. Is that because you see Arturo as a Christ-figure or more because Jesus represents the humanity in God?

MS: I had a long conversation with someone about this when the book first appeared in the UK. Her view was that the book could either be read as a condemnation of the idea of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, or, in fact, an endorsement of it. I agree with her view. I called Arturo the King because of the decisions he is faced with taking, but I cannot say more without giving away very large spoilers!

Bookish: Siggy says to Arturo at one point, “You are at the hardest point of all. You are not a kid. You are not a man. You are somewhere in the middle.” What do you think it is that makes life so difficult when you’re at that point?

MS: Being a teenager is a pretty intense experience for most people. For some it’s a breeze, yes, but for many more people it’s a crazy time in which your body changes, your mind changes, in which you almost literally become a new person. It’s also accompanied by lots of new thoughts and experiences: things like sex, thoughts about mortality maybe. This time of life is that bridge I was talking about earlier—it’s the bridge between childhood and adulthood. And the kind of adult we become is very dependent on how we survived our teenage years. I believe many adults neglect that fact, intentionally or otherwise, but if we are really to understand who we are as adults, we can do no better than see how we got there.

Bookish: The book explores one of the reasons for the refugee crisis, while also explaining that natural disasters (resulting from climate change) will cause more displacement in the future. What is a resource that you recommend for readers wanting to educate themselves about these problems, and get involved in finding solutions?

MS: I guess I’m not alone in feeling that the world is in an especially fine mess at the moment. It can feel hopeless and as a result, it can feel depressing. But I think that ironically it also means we are in a time when it might be possible to change things. If you look at how close the elections in the US and the UK last year were, how close the French election is turning out to be, a couple of percent either way can make all the difference. Even if you’re not old enough to vote yet, you can have conversations with people who are; engage them, debate with them. I think part of the reason we’ve come to this place is that too many people haven’t been engaged with politics (in the broadest sense of the word). Now, we’re seeing a rise in membership and grassroots funding of organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), to give just one example; an example that shows that people are realizing not only that we have to try and make a difference, but that we can, too. To do that, we have to educate ourselves: read quality newspapers and join organizations like Amnesty International, and so help them raise funds; or in the case of climate change, follow the work that NASA has been doing. There are lots of good sources for news about the climate and theirs is among the best.

Marcus Sedgwick was born and raised in Kent in South East England, but now lives in the French Alps. His books have won and been shortlisted for many awards; most notably, he has been shortlisted for Britain’s Carnegie Medal six times, has received two Printz Honors, for Revolver and Ghosts of Heaven, and in 2013 won the Printz Award for Midwinterblood.

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NetGalley Author Interview: Sara Ella

Watch our author video interview, “15 minutes with… Sara Ella,” now! Here, we talk about her latest release in The Unblemished Trilogy, Unraveling, world building and how she got so attached to stories with a HEA (Happily Ever After)! You don’t want to miss this interview brought to you by NetGalley, Meryl Moss Media and BookTrib.com.

Unraveling

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Pub Date: July 11, 2017
Teens & YA
Published by Thomas Nelson

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What happens when happily ever after starts to unravel?

Eliyana Ember doesn’t believe in true love. Not anymore. After defeating her grandfather and saving the Second Reflection, El only trusts what’s right in front of her. The tangible. The real. Not some unexplained Kiss of Infinity she once shared with the ghost of a boy she’s trying to forget. She has more important things to worry about—like becoming queen of the Second Reflection, a role she is so not prepared to fill.

Now that the Verity is intertwined with her soul and Joshua’s finally by her side, El is ready to learn more about her mysterious birth land, the land she now rules. So why does she feel like something—or someone—is missing?

When the thresholds begin to drain and the Callings, those powerful magical gifts, begin to fail, El wonders if her link to Ky Rhyen may have something to do with it. For light and darkness cannot coexist. She needs answers before the Callings disappear altogether. Can El find a way to sever her connection to Ky and save the Reflections—and keep herself from falling for him in the process?

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Exclusive Interview with Jeff Giles

We’re excited to share this special Q&A with Jeff Giles about his book, The Edge of Everything, and something exciting he’s doing with Quarterly:

This quarter’s box is curated by Jeff Giles, featuring an exclusive, annotated copy of The Edge of Everything, an action-packed fantastical thriller. Also find in the box two more books, handpicked by Giles that inspired him as an author, plus awesome bookish goods — perfect for YA book lovers. (Psst: Act fast, subscribe by January 27th to get this box and use the discount mentioned below.)

NetGalley Author Interview

The Edge of Everything

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Pub Date: Jan 31, 2017
Teens & YA
Published by Bloomsbury USA Children's Books

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into writing?

I grew up in Massachusetts in a pretty loud, unhappy family, so I spent a lot of time holed up in my room with my baseball cards and my guitar and my fantasy novels. I wasn’t much of a baseball player, and I was really bad at guitar (I still play and I’m STILL bad, actually). So I guess what I’m saying is: writing was the only thing I loved that I didn’t suck at. I tried writing all kinds of things when I was young: plays, song lyrics, short stories, poems. By the time I went to college, I’d decided to try being a journalist. My dream was that I’d write articles for a living until I wrote a novel good enough to be published. That took MANY more years than I thought it would!

What is your favorite novel of all time?

Please don’t make me answer this! It’s too hard to choose!

Let me try this: My favorite YA novel right this second is Still Life with Tornado (A.S. King).
My favorite novel to recommend to “grown-ups” is Bel Canto (Ann Patchett). My favorite funny novel is Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Maria Semple). My favorite weird novel is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami). My favorite sci fi novel is Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro).

In your opinion, has there ever been a movie that is better than the book?

I know this will be controversial, but I actually think there are a lot. It usually happens with action and suspense, because those genres are just MADE for the big screen. One really old example is “Jaws.” I’m sure the novel was a fun summer read, but Steven Spielberg’s movie was the first blockbuster and changed Hollywood forever. I won’t say that Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” movies are BETTER than the Tolkien novels—mostly because I don’t want all your subscribers to hate me—but I do think they’re every bit as good, and maybe even more exciting.

Which three authors would you invite to a dinner party?

J.K. Rowling, because obviously! Charles Dickens, because J.K. Rowling would love to meet him, I bet. And E.M. Forester, because I love his novels—and I think Dickens would feel bad if he were the only dead guy there.

Your debut novel, The Edge of Everything, has a leading female protagonist, how did you get into character and develop her voice throughout the novel?

I began writing the novel while I was living in Brooklyn, and I finished it after we’d moved to Montana, so Zoe is sort of a combination of what I love most about both places: the funny-smart/take-no-crap NYC thing mixed with the outdoorsy, self-reliant western thing. More importantly, my daughter is a big reader, and I knew she’d read the novel some day. There is NO WAY she would approve of a female character who wasn’t tough and brave and badass. Zoe sort of has my sense of humor, but she’s cooler than me in every other way.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

Tons! Try to write on a regular schedule. Turn off the WiFi or you won’t get anything done. Read everything you write out loud—both to yourself and others. There’s no better way to tell if something flows and makes sense and if you’re proud of it. Remember that absolutely everyone writes a lot of bad stuff on the way to writing good stuff. Make sure there are enough snacks in the house.

What was the thought process behind curating your Literary YA Box?

I had so much fun! I wanted to share books about girls with real purpose—and who were in the midst of figuring out who they were. Then I picked some cool odds and ends to make the whole reading experience a little brighter, warmer and more special.

Click here to get Jeff Giles’ Literary YA Box, complete with an exclusive, annotated copy of The Edge of Everything! (Plus! As a NetGalley member, you get an exclusive 10% discount! Just enter the code: NETGALLEY10 at checkout.)

What is your favorite thing that you have received in the mail?

I sent an advance copy of The Edge of Everything on a little “tour” of other YA authors, and they all wrote and doodled all over it and told me what they liked best. One friend, the middle grade author Melanie Conklin, even drew a great picture of my leading man X’s tattooed arm. It was the first piece of fan art I ever got, and it really made me glow.

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