Friday, June 16, 2017

Writing for Change: Rachel Lynn Solomon Speaks

2017 remains a year with a particularly charged political atmosphere, and I've found myself drawn to those like myself for whom current events can not be extricated with their work.

Today I've invited Rachel Lynn Solomon, author of You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone (Simon Pulse, 1/2/18), to share with us the ways in which the political climate has shaped her writing. Take it away, Rachel!


I never thought I'd see a swastika outside a World War II movie. In fact, I avoid books and films about WWII partially for this reason. When I was young, my parents filled my bookshelves with Holocaust literature. I never grew desensitized -- I don't think that's possible -- but I did grow weary. It was too much. Too much hate for a child to try to process. Too many questions without answers.

In the days and weeks after the election, I saw them. Swastikas. Not in my neighborhood, but in news stories, scrawled across brick walls and painted on synagogue doors. It seemed the election had given racists, bigots, misogynists, and anti-Semites permission to go public with their hate.

My first revisions for YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE were due a few weeks after the election. On November 9, I couldn't get out of bed. I'd cried myself to sleep the night before. Finally, finally, I forced myself to brush my teeth, let my dog drag me onto a walk, wept with a friend into coffee mugs. I signed up for monthly donations to the ADL, CAIR, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, numerous others. I started calling my representative and senators.

Then I opened my book, and I turned my rage into words.

YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE is my fifth completed novel. Strangely, it's also my first book with Jewish characters. I figured I never read books about Jews that weren't about the Holocaust, that those kinds of books didn't really exist. It seemed as though there was no way to write about our rich traditions, beautiful languages, and cultural history without it being wrapped up in tragedy. Characters in YA novels celebrated Christmas. I did not. That's just how it was -- despite how Other it always made me feel.

When I began drafting YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE about four years ago, I wanted it to feel more personal than any of my other books. My characters, I decided, had to be practicing Jews. Through the revision process, YMMWIG grew into even more of a challenge to the current administration. The book is unapologetically feminist, sex-positive, liberal, and Jewish. My characters pray, observe Shabbat, and speak Hebrew with their Israeli mother.

Eight months after the election, I am still in mourning for our country. I am still fighting back in small, perhaps not always visible ways. And while I still struggle with Holocaust literature, what I've learned in recent years is that tragedy is not our only story as Jewish people. I want more stories about Jews in the modern world, about JDS and JCC and B'nai B'rith and Birthright. About the holidays we observe. About the feeling you get when you meet another Jewish person and you feel in your bones that you understand each other on some deep level. Klal yisrael, a phrase I include in my debut: we are all connected.

And there is the story about my relationship with Judaism, too -- one I am still figuring out how to tell. One day, I'll get there.

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Rachel Lynn Solomon is the author of the contemporary YA novel You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone (Simon Pulse, 1/2/18), available for preorder now. A former journalist, Rachel currently works in education and loves tap dancing, red lipstick, and new wave music. You can find her on Twitter @rlynn_solomon and online at rachelsolomonbooks.com.

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Thanks so much, Rachel! For more in the Writing for Change series, check out posts with Kelly Loy Gilbert and Tanaz Bhathena.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Writing for Change: Tanaz Bhathena Speaks

In 2017, news headlines are hard to ignore. I can't remember a time in my life where politics have been so center stage in my mind. As writers, we have our own unique role to play as we struggle to reflect truth in our prose.

Today, I have Tanaz Bhathena, author of A Girl Like That (releases 2018), here to tell us how the political climate has shaped her work. Take it away, Tanaz!

Finding Hope in Darkness

I abhorred reading about politics as a teen. Yet, oddly enough, I've always liked books that have had a political backdrop. In school, I was the kid most likely to check out Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey along with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter from the library and enjoy both for how they reflected our world in different settings.

While reading the news often filled me with despair, fiction lifted my heart, giving me glimpses into human beings and their failings and also their innate capacity for goodness. I eventually began to follow politics more closely to see how it impacted people and their lives.

When I first started writing my book in 2006, I did a great deal of research--not only about the politics but also the history of Saudi Arabia. A part of me still wholeheartedly believes in people and their capacity for goodness--so much that I wondered if some of the themes I would be exploring would still be relevant when this book finally got published. Here's the thing though: People are slow to change, even when it is for the better.

In 2017, debates still break out worldwide over regulating women's bodies and consent. Wars are fought over race and religion. Domestic and sexual abuse are still problems and so are bullying and mental health.

I initially wrote A Girl Like That with an adult audience in mind. There was swearing (a whole lot of it that has now been cut). There were adult perspectives alongside the teenage ones. In the end, though, no adult publisher wanted it. It was too dark, they said. "Do the two main characters have to be dead at the beginning? Can you change that?" they asked me.

When I finally did sign a contract with a young adult publisher, these voices still echoed in my head. Will teens want to read this book? I wondered. Will they find it too dark or too issue-heavy?

But then I remembered the teen who hated the darkness of our world and found hope in even darker novels.

As Madeline L'Engle once said, "You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."

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Tanaz Bhathena was born in Mumbai and raised in Riyadh, Jeddah and Toronto. Her short stories have appeared in various journals, including Blackbird, Witness and Room Magazine. A Girl Like That is her first novel, available for preorder now. You can learn more at tanazbhathena.com.


Thanks so much, Tanaz. For more in the Writing for Change series, check out the posts with Kelly Loy Gilbert and Rachel Lynn Solomon.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Writing for Change: Kelly Loy Gilbert Speaks

With the intensity of the 2016 election, something amazing arose: millions of people are now engaging in politics in ways they never had before. Town halls are packed, phone lines are jammed. And we writers have a unique role to play. 

On that note, Kelly Loy Gilbert, author of Conviction, is here to discuss how the political climate has shaped her work. Take it away, Kelly!

I've been working on my current novel (forthcoming from Disney-Hyperion), which is about Asian Americans and immigration, long enough to have happily changed plotlines after the DREAM Act went into effect--and then been at a complete loss after the election this past November. As a writer of contemporary fiction, everything felt different: was I suddenly writing a dystopian novel?

I have always believed in the importance of the story as a means of demanding empathy, and I feel that now more than ever. I'm always conscious that I write for young people, many of whom are politically voiceless and yet still affected by this administration's policies, disregard for all norms and decency, and extreme endangering of POC/queer/disabled people, among others.

Sometimes stories feel useless, or at least like such small weapons against everything happening, and I think it's easy to get discouraged. But I think of the young people who don't fit the mold of what the administration believes a person should be and do and who have that message reinforced daily. I think of the people whose bodies and families are under threat. I think of the ugliness that's been given a national platform. And I hope, if nothing else, those young people will know that the literary community is behind them, that we see them and won't look away from what's happening.

I don't believe we can separate politics from anything we do, and I feel that acutely in my stories. Writing is a calling. May we ever answer it.

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Kelly Loy Gilbert is the author of Conviction, a 2016 Morris Award Finalist and Children's Choice Book Award Winner. She lives in the SF Bay Area. You can follow her on twitter at @KellyLoyGilbert and on tumblr.


Thanks so much, Kelly. For more in the Writing for Change series, check out the posts with Tanaz Bhathena and Rachel Lynn Solomon.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Writing My Resistance: New Blog Design & Logo

I know so many writers who have had trouble getting words on the page since the election.  Honestly, when it seems as if the world is imploding around us, our own dreams and passions can feel like an indulgence. But that's simply not true.
 
Books create empathy. 
Books open doors to new worlds and new ideas.  
Books are powerful. 

It's clearer than ever that our world needs that. So we must write. And our responsibilities as writers of young adult fiction have grown with the rise of hatred and xenophobia around us. If we can instill a greater understanding of the world at large, we can create better leaders tomorrow.

As a writer with no book deal in hand (yet!), I wasn't keen on expending a lot of resources on a fancy design. But I decided that a new logo with a strong message could be a powerful reminder to myself about why I do what I do.  I wanted it to reflect my commitment to writing as a means of making positive change.

So I called up Vin, founder of Fabler & Design (and my sister). I said, "Hey, do you think you can make me a logo that is beautiful and elegantly captures the theme 'Writing my Resistance'? Oh, and on top of that, can you bring in elements of my Indian identity?"

I was inspired in part by the Shepard Fairey resistance posters that have been everywhere. I love how he has so easily captured patriotism and diversity together. But what he makes look effortless is no easy feat, so I knew that Vin had her work cut out for her.

Her first idea was beautiful, incorporating the Hindu Goddess Saraswati as a muse. Yet I had trouble easily translating it into the theme. We tried adding more elements to make the messaging clearer, but the added complexity was only making it more muddled. We decided to take a step back and try a simpler approach.

The header above is what Vin came up with on the second try. It captures everything I wanted to convey, with elegance and simplicity. I love how fierce the girl looks and how words flow seamlessly out of her head. (I wish my novels came out so easily.) We chose quotes by writers and leaders that honed in on the themes of books as weapons, writing as a means of identity, and the importance of taking a stand.

Take a closer look. I hope it inspires other readers, writers, and dreamers out there. I know it will keep me pushing along on this journey!

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If you like the design and you want to make a change to your own site, please contact Vin at Fabler & Design. Her current pricing for a new custom art logo is only $295, and as you can see, it can transform even a simple blogger account.