Interview with Phillippe Diederich and Giveaway

fireToday we welcome Phillippe Diederich as he shares his newest book Playing for the Devil’s Fire which we reviewed here.


Thirteen-year-old Boli and his friends are deep in the middle of a game of marbles. An older boy named Mosca has won the prized Devil’s Fire marble. His pals are jealous and want to win it away from him. This is Izayoc, the place of tears, a small pueblo in a tiny valley west of Mexico City where nothing much happens. It’s a typical hot Sunday morning except that on the way to church someone discovers the severed head of Enrique Quintanilla propped on the ledge of one of the cement planters in the plaza and everything changes. Not apocalyptic changes, like phalanxes of men riding on horses with stingers for tails, but subtle ones: poor neighbors turning up with brand-new SUVs, pimpled teens with fancy girls hanging off them. Boli’s parents leave for Toluca and don’t arrive at their destination. No one will talk about it. A washed out masked wrestler turns up one day, a man only interested in finding his next meal. Boli hopes to inspire the luchador to set out with him to find his parents.

What would you like us to know about Playing for the Devil’s Fire?

I was attempting to write an entertaining story that also showed the problems rural Mexican’s are experiencing with the violence of the narcos and the corruption of officials. The one thing I didn’t want to do was preach to anyone. My hope is that the book is an engrossing read for young and old alike.

Your first novel Sofrito was for adults. What led you to writing for a younger audience? Were there major differences in your writing experience with a younger main character?

Sofrito was my first novel. The first draft was completed many years ago. That story was born of a nostalgia for Cuba where I have been spending a lot of time back inn the 1990s. Playing for the Devil’s Fire was born out of a similar nostalgia, but this time it was for Mexico, where I grew up. I was not really approaching the book as a young adult book. I was just writing a coming of age story in this violent and difficult scenario. One of the issues with a young main character, especially one that is the ‘voice’ of the novel, is that you have to temper your literary impulses. By this I mean that a 12 or 13 year old boy is not going to speak like a 40 something writer. You have to be absolutely faithful to your character and let him narrate the way he would narrate. In other words. I didn’t  write the book Boli, the main character of my story, did. I prepared for this by writing a number of coming of age stories before attempting the novel.

Your main character, Boli, is a reminder that children are resilient. I appreciated his ability to maintain hope in spite of the many horrors happening in his community and family. How did this character come about for you?

Like I said, I had written a number of short stories where I had sensitive and resilient characters in a world that does not appreciate that personality type. I also drew heavily on my own experiences, growing up in the outskirts of Mexico City with a band of boys running wild and without supervision. We were between ages 8 and 15. There are a lot of dynamics in a group like that. But Boli is his own self. As I developed the story he came alive and led the way. I always try and listen to my characters. Boli told me what to do.

Are there reflections of your own childhood hidden within the pages of the book?

As I mentioned above, some of the main character and the dynamics of the young people in the novel are rooted in part in my experiences growing up in Mexico. Just like the scene in the ravine and they find the wreck of an old car, I experienced that with my friends while exploring the ravines around our neighborhood. The fair, the poor neighborhoods, the dynamics of the Devil’s Fire marble, it all comes from something I experienced in my youth.

Are you still a lucha libre fan? Do you have an all-time favorite wrestler?

I am not longer a huge fan. But I like lucha. I don’t follow it. I like the small affairs in Mexico or even here in the states, when the luchadores are not big names and the ring is set up in a street fair or a small auditorium. It’s more intimate. I grew up with the lucha movies. And the scene where Lucio tells Boli that he met Mil Mascaras happened to me when I was on a tour of Churubusco studios with my father. It was pretty cool.

Did your life as a photographer help to prepare you as a writer?

I think it did. First of all I am told I write visually. And no doubt that comes from my experience as a photographer. Also, being a photojournalist allowed me to travel extensively and to meet people I would have otherwise not met. I was a very shy kid and even as a young photographer, I was petrified of approaching people I didn’t know, but I also believed in facing my fears. My work as a photojournalist allowed me to break that. It gave me license to walk up to people on a street corner and start talking to them, ask questions, learn what their situation was.

Which writers have inspired you?

I think John Steinbeck is my biggest inspiration. I find his work very humanistic. His empathy toward his characters is amazing. I think he inspires my stories and my characters. I also admire the work of Earnest Hemingway because of his style and he was probably the writer whose work brought me into reading a lot. I think that without For Whom The Bell Tolls, I would not be a writer because that book started me back on reading obsessively. There are a lot of other writers like Cormac McCarthy and Junot Diaz. I am very eclectic. I like good stories and writing that allows me to forget that I am reading a book.

Have you read any young adult books lately that you would recommend?

I read Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quinetro at the recommendation of my editor at Cinco Puntos Press. I think it’s a great book. Drown by Junot Diaz is not a young adult book, but it has a young protagonist in most of the stories and I think it is the kind of book young Latinos would enjoy. Anything by Sherman Alexie and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. I read those with my son and we were both very entertained.


Phillippe Diederich was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Mexico City and Miami. His parents were forced out of Haiti by the dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier in 1963. As a photojournalist, Diederich has traveled extensively through Mexico and witnessed the terrible tragedies of the Drug Wars.

To learn more, visit other stops on the blog tour:

Sept 1: The Pirate Tree review & interview

Sept 4: Guest Post for Clear Eyes, Full Shelves

Sept 5: Review, The Brain Lair

Sept 6: Rich in Color author interview (

September 7: Edi Campbell CrazyquiltEdi review (

September 8: Anastasia Suen, #KidLitBookoftheday (

September 9: Reading Through Life author highlight plus links to blog tour  (

Sept 9: Guest Post, The Brain Lair (

Sept. 12: Linda Washington (

Sept. 13: Excerpt, review and guest post at Mom Read It (

If you are interested in reading the book, you have an opportunity to win a copy. Only those with a U.S. mailing address are eligible for this drawing.

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Works by Gene Luen Yang

At the start of January, author and graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang was named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature! Here’s a look at some of his works:

118944American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

All Jin Wang wants is to fit in. When his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he’s the only Chinese American student at his school. Jocks and bullies pick on him constantly, and he has hardly any friends. Then, to make matters worse, he falls in love with an all-American girl…

Born to rule over all the monkeys in the world, the story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables. Adored by his subjects, master of the arts of kung-fu, he is the most powerful monkey on earth. But the Monkey King doesn’t want to be a monkey. He wants to be hailed as a god…

Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, and he’s ruining his cousin Danny’s life. Danny’s a popular kid at school, but every year Chin-Kee comes to visit, and every year Danny has to transfer to a new school to escape the shame. This year, though, things quickly go from bad to worse… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

16277248Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search, Part 1 by Gene Luen Yang, Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante DiMartino, Dave Marshall, Gurihiru

For years, fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra have burned with one question—what happened to Fire Lord Zuko’s mother? Finding a clue at last, Zuko enlists the aid of Team Avatar—and the most unlikely ally of all—to help uncover the biggest secret of his life. [Image and summary via Goodreads]




17210470Boxers (Boxers & Saints #1) by Gene Luen Yang

China, 1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants.

Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers–commoners trained in kung fu–who fight to free China from “foreign devils.” Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? [Image and summary via Goodreads]


9630403Level Up by Gene Luen Yang, Thien Pham

Dennis Ouyang has always struggled in the shadow of his parents’ expectations. His path is laid out for him: stay focused in high school, become a gastroenterologist. It may be hard work, but it isn’t complicated … until suddenly it is. Between his father’s death, his academic burnout, and his deep (and distracting) love of video games, Dennis is nowhere near where his family wanted him to be. In fact, he’s just been kicked out of college.

And that’s when things get … weird. Four adorable—and bossy–angels, straight out of a sappy greeting card, appear and take charge of Dennis’s life. And so Dennis finds himself herded back onto the straight and narrow: the path to gastroenterology. But nothing is ever what it seems when life, magic and video games collide. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

18465601The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, Sonny Liew, Chu Hing

The Shadow Hero is based on golden-age comic series The Green Turtle, whose hero solved crimes and fought injustice just like any other comics hero. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity…The Green Turtle was the first Asian American superhero. [Image and summary via Goodreads]




Which of these have you read? And what did you think?

Author Interview: Julie Chibarro

Into the Dangerous World
Today we welcome author Julie Chibarro to talk about her most recent book, Into the Dangerous World [reviewed on Rich in Color here].

Please tell us a little bit about Into the Dangerous World and what you learned while writing it.

There are so many ways to explain this story! Basically, it’s about 17-year-old Ror, an artist who grows up on a commune in the 1970s and 80s. Her father, also an artist, is the leader and her teacher. When he burns down the commune with himself inside, Ror’s life changes drastically. She, her mother, and her sister move into Manhattan. There, she meets Trey, the sexy and very talented leader of a graffiti crew called Noise Ink. She falls in love, gets into a heap of trouble, and starts to understand what it really means to be an artist.

I had very little idea of graffiti when I started writing this book. Friends from high school did it, but there wasn’t a whole lot I loved about it back then. I think my biggest lesson was getting into the artists’ heads and understanding why people paint on the street. Understanding that it’s a way to get work out there, a way to get your name known, especially for people who have no access to more traditional methods of art making or selling. It’s an act of rebellion, for many.

What led you to writing about Ror and her journey as an artist?

Ror sprung out of knowing many artists and having a whole lot of questions about visual art, like, why do you people do that thing in the first place? What’s the point, really, of art? As I wrote about all the avenues Ror tries out, I started to understand that she really doesn’t express herself well in words. She needs to draw to know what she feels.

What kind of research did you do and what kinds of experiences did you have as you dug into the world of graffiti?

I interviewed a lot of graffiti and street artists. Depending on their age, they had quite varying stories. The artists of the 1980s are different from those of the 1990s, for example. Street artists today often are asked or paid to do murals, which wasn’t a common experience in Ror’s time.

I found the illustrations added a lot of depth to my reading experience. They made me stop and think. I would drift away into the pictures. Was it easy to get the text and the illustrations to flow? What was the process like as you all worked together

I’m tremendously relieved you had that experience because, in fact, getting the drawings and text to meld was the hardest and most terrifying part for me. I worked closely with the artist JM Superville Sovak (who happens to be my husband), discussing every single one of the 130 drawings in the book. We had Excel spreadsheets and documents full of research and references – commercials and music videos and movies and art from 1984, things Ror would have been looking at so we could filter the world through her eyes and her time period. I’m so glad she came through for you!

The couple in the book come from different cultural and racial backgrounds. We’ve had a lot of discussion about diversity in children’s and young adult literature in the past few years. Were you attempting to be inclusive on purpose or was it less deliberate than that?

JM and I are a mixed race couple, so naturally, I was excited to write about a mixed race couple. When you’re in love with someone from another race, you get a closer look at what they go through – for me, I suddenly understood what it felt like to be suspiciously followed by store employees, or attacked by skinheads. I have always found racism shocking and superficial. For Ror and Trey, their love is based on their shared talent and circumstance, not their skin color. I felt it was important to explore that. I am relieved that there is a movement toward making young people’s literature more diverse. It’s sorely needed.

What advice would you give other writers about writing beyond their own culture?

Talk to people. Ask them lots of questions, allow yourself to be nosy, buy people drinks and chocolate. Find friendly people who warmly accept what you’re doing (this allowed me to infiltrate pretty far into these secret crews). Support them and their communities however you can. Writers work hard to get inside people’s heads – though there’s an atmosphere of political correctness, I would hope it wouldn’t deter writers from trying to enter other experiences or cultures from their own. We desperately need to see our world better reflected!

Thank you for the interview Julie!

Here’s the book trailer for Into the Dangerous World:

To learn more about Julie Chibarro and the illustrator, JM Superville Sovak, watch this Kidlit TV interview:

Author Interview: Erika Wurth


Today we are happy to welcome Erika Wurth, author of Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend. It’s a highly recommended book that we recently reviewed here recently. Erika teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and she’s been a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She’s Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised outside of Denver.

Summary via publisher: Margaritte is a sharp-tongued, drug-dealing, sixteen-year-old Native American floundering in a Colorado town crippled by poverty, unemployment, and drug abuse. She hates the burnout, futureless kids surrounding her and dreams that she and her unreliable new boyfriend can move far beyond the bright lights of Denver that float on the horizon before the daily suffocation of teen pregnancy eats her alive. Filled with complex characters overcoming and being overcome by circumstances of their surroundings, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend thoroughly shakes up cultural preconceptions of what it means to be Native American today.

Interview: From the first chapter, I cared about Margaritte. Though on the surface our lives look very different, I connected with her almost immediately and her voice drew me completely into the story. Could you tell us a little about how Margaritte came to life in your mind?

Marguerite is a compilation of my best friend growing up, my sister, me and many voices of the girls that I knew growing up right outside of Idaho Springs (I grew up right outside of Denver, between Evergreen and Idaho Springs and was bussed to school to Idaho Springs). I, like many kids, read (though I was kind of alone in my reading habits growing up) mainly genre fiction, in my case fantasy and some sci-fi and some horror – and a lot of it is written from third person omniscient perspective – so that’s what I wanted to write in initially. But Margaritte’s voice came over me one day, when I was 24 – and it became a short story of the same title (except I pushed Crazy and Horse together, because that’s what people had done to Lakota people that I had grown up with) and I realized later that many of the people that I grew up with have these really bombastic and unique ways of speaking that only first person point of view could capture.

Throughout the novel, characters are struggling as they face poverty, addictions, violence and questions of identity. Futility is a word that comes up, yet Margaritte and others are still able to maintain hope. That is what I will remember most about the book – that resiliency and hope for the future. Are you generally a person that sees the glass as half-full?

I’m not somebody who shies away from darkness but what I struggled with was trying to show something realistic while at the same time not reinforcing the idea that just because you’re not from a white middle-class suburban background or from a wealthier background, that you deserved the life you were born into.

Identity, stereotypes, and how people define themselves and others are important themes in the book. What led you to explore these themes?

I think that if you’re native and honestly in my opinion if you’re anything you’re forced to work out those things (even if you’re not conscious of this process), identity or stereotype every day. If you’re native though, people confront you very loudly and consistently with how you should look or where you should live or what your life should be like and so you end up having to talk about your identity. There’s tremendous energy around a fantasy pan-Indian Native American, some mythical creature who is really super authentic and whether you’re from a reservation or an area like mine where a lot of native people live I don’t think you’re going to fit into that fantasy. But at the same time our identities are so complicated that we end up in the position of being forced to think about things that your average American might not. For example I grew up with people who would say they were part Cherokee, loads of people who would say that, but there seemed to be absolutely no connection to anything that I would personally recognize as native and people who obviously clearly were. And for a non-native that would be all about looking Indian in a way that’s completely formed by American media. But for me it has almost nothing to do with that. And how do you explain that to an outsider?

I often wonder what authors think when their young adult book is labeled “gritty.” Was that a term you expected to see applied to Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend and how do you generally describe your book?

Actually, it’s the other way around, I have never had any attention to write young adult literature. But what’s strange to me is that when something is written by or about a white male who is straight, it’s coming-of-age, but if it’s written by a woman or person of color or a queer person it’s young adult. And honestly my work is gritty but when my work is labeled vulgar or on the other side Pollyanna simply because there is an incredibly lazy mis-reading of the end of the novel, I feel like this has a lot to do with the fact that my main character is a woman and a minority and a Native person and there’s a lot of preciousness around those things.

I’m looking forward to reading a lot more of your work. You’ve written an adult collection of poetry and had short stories, poems and essays published in many journals. Was this a one time deal with young adult fiction? What drew you to writing for young adults?

Like I said, I don’t really write young adult fiction and I have never had any intention to write young adult fiction and I don’t really consider the novel young adult per se. My press labeled it for me, as literary/young adult crossover. I think that’s because the protagonist is 16 and young people are reading in record numbers so if the protagonist is young it’s going to be labeled that way. One of the people who reviewed my novel, a woman named Debbie Reese, who is just incredibly smart, when I asked her about this label because this is a lot of what she does is look at young adult fiction for native people and about native people, said that she felt like young adults deserve literature too. So though I have no particular interest in writing for any age category specifically, if I think about who I would love part of my audience to be it would be young people who need to see stuff like this, a mirror they’re not getting back in anything else.

When talking about diverse literature, many people refer to books that are mirrors and windows. Have there been mirror and window books that impacted you as a young adult or shaped your writing journey?

That’s funny that you use that word mirror because I was just using it above. Yeah definitely, when I was younger I read sci-fi and fantasy almost exclusively like I said above, and some horror as well – and those escape portals were incredibly important for me. I loved Piers Anthony and I loved Stephen King and I’ve started reading sci-fi again and literary fantasy, like Lev Grossman, whose magician series I love more than I can even say. But the missing factor for me was definitely literature that was a bit more of a mirror, so when I started reading people like Sherman Alexie, Junot Diaz, Langston Hughes, Jhumpa Lahiri, Richard Wright and Sandra Cisneros that took me in the direction that I absolutely needed to go.

Is there anything else that you wished I had asked like what is your favorite comfort food or something equally non-bookish?

Well, I can say that I generally talk about a couple things, like how Idaho Springs where the novel is set, being a hard place for me growing up as the mullet was an incredibly popular fashion choice and it happened to not be my fashion choice. And the fact that I generally ate lunch under the display case, reading my Dragon books, to get away from the mullets – who made it clear that they did not like me. And another aside would be that because my mother was a dancer and because my dad was an engineer, I love ballet and I love the hard sciences. Those are things I think people wouldn’t expect, reading my work.

2015 Edwards Award Winner: Sharon M. Draper

Have you heard of the Margaret A. Edwards Award? It was established in 1988 and it

honors an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature. The annual award is administered by YALSA and sponsored by School Library Journal magazine. It recognizes an author’s work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world. (x)

Sharon DraperThe 2015 winner is Sharon M. Draper, an African-American writer. Draper has written books for children, tweens, and teens, plus books for educators and poetry collections. You can learn more about Draper and her work on her official website. Six of Draper’s young adult books—Tears of a Tiger, Forged By Fire, Darkness Before Dawn, The Battle of Jericho, November Blues, and Copper Sun—were named by the Edwards Award committee as her significant and lasting contributions. The committee chair praised Draper’s work: “Draper has imbued her characters with deeply human complexity and born witness to the universality of their experiences, sparking powerful conversations and building empathy among teen readers.”

stellaDraper’s most recent book, Stella By Starlight, was published earlier this year. (Review) If you haven’t already read one of Draper’s books, there’s still plenty of time to get a hold of one of them before the 2015 ALA Annual Conference, which will be held from June 26th to July 1st.

Interview with Coe Booth

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 3.16.19 PMWe welcome Coe Booth to the blog today. We featured her books here in September when her newest book, Kinda Like Brothers, had just been published. We appreciate this opportunity to learn a little more about her writing life.

What led you to writing stories featuring teens?

I’ve always wanted to write for teens. Even when I was in second grade I would write stories about fifteen year olds. Maybe I just couldn’t wait to become a teenager. Maybe I thought being a teenager meant automatic freedom. Well, live and learn!

As a writer, the teen years are full of inspiration. It’s the time of life when you’re in this in-between place, with so many conflicting feelings and desires, and so many fears and doubts, right when you’re being asked to make important decisions about your future. And then there are the relationships and all those firsts. It’s a very exciting time to write about.

The beauty of your realistic fiction is that it truly seems that these characters exist. How do you write them with such an authentic voice?

Thanks! I spend a lot of time trying to create believable characters, which is why I’m such a slow writer! I’ve always been fascinated with what drives people, how our thoughts and beliefs and experiences combine to make us our unique selves. That’s probably why I studied psychology, and it’s definitely why I write. It’s so much fun creating characters and then trying to figure out who they really are and how they got that way.

Before I started writing full-time, I counseled kids and families in crisis, which gave me a lot of insight into what people think and how they behave (and how often those two things seem to have no relation to one another!) When it comes to a character, I don’t really know her until I know what she thinks is missing from her life, what the hole is in her heart. Because then I know what she’s searching for, what’s driving her actions, even if she doesn’t make the connection. That’s when I get the aha moment!

When we featured you in an author spotlight, Lyn Miller-Lachmann commented, “I love Coe’s books and am especially impressed with how she made the transition from gritty YA novels to a sweet and inspiring, yet still realistic, MG.” Was it easy to make the transition to younger characters?

I thought writing for a younger audience would be a lot different than writing for teenagers. I actually thought it would be a little easier, but no, that turned out not to be true — at all! As I started writing Kinda Like Brothers and began figuring out the characters and their lives, I realized these characters had a lot of complexity, and writing about them wasn’t really much different than writing about older kids. But — and this is the tricky part — I had to figure out how to write about really heavy subjects in a way that younger kids would understand. So, in a way, writing a middle-grade novel adds another layer of challenge that’s not there with YA novels. It’s a fun challenge, though, and it’s something I’d definitely like to do again.

Are you planning to write more books set in Tyrell’s neighborhood?

I hope so! I really loved creating the neighborhood of Bronxwood and populating it with — well, interesting people. It’s been so much fun having characters carry over from one book to the other. Doing this also satisfies my curiosity about what certain characters are doing after the end of a book. So, yes, I’d definitely like to set another book in Bronxwood.

Who are some of your favorite YA authors?

That’s such a hard question — I have so many! I read everything by Rita Williams-Garcia, Matt de la Peña, Jacqueline Woodson, A.S. King, David Levithan (who’s also my editor!), E. Lockhart, and Libba Bray. These writers blow my mind with every new book!



If you haven’t had a chance to read one of her books yet, get on it. To learn more about Coe Booth and her books, visit her website.