Author Interview – M.A. and J.L. Powers

Today we welcome and M.A. and J.L. Powers to the blog. We appreciate their willingness to answer questions about Broken Circle, their writing life and more.

What was the inspiration for this world where souls are being shepherded after bodily
death?

M.A. Powers

M.A.: When I began thinking about personifications of death (such as the Grim Reaper) and what it would mean to shepherd the souls of the dead, the first image that popped into my mind was, of course, Charon poling clients across the river Styx in a flat-bottomed skiff. For the newly dead, the river Styx represents an insurmountable obstacle to the afterlife unless they are given, or pay for, help by a knowledgeable guide with a boat. This image turned into a conscious and subconscious working framework for our concept of Limbo, that unique place between life and death where a newly dead soul requires help to navigate.

Our Charon characters, Soul Guides, come from human families loosely based on the legends of supernatural personifications of death such as the Angel of Death, Grim Reaper, and Dullahan. Like Charon, they have special abilities to navigate Limbo and help the newly dead overcome their own personal Styx (an obstacle to accepting death). This “River Styx” for each person (“Limbo”) is developed subconsciously throughout their lifetime.

For us, the concept gave us a great vehicle to explore people’s fears, wants and desires and it is relatable because we all struggle to accept our own mortality. In this world, only someone who has completely accepted their own person, and has become friends with the concept of mortality, could cross Limbo without help from a guide. I feel, as humans, this is a very rare condition. Our refusal to accept death is a refusal to accept our own life and struggle.

The monster Adam repeatedly encounters is rather terrifying. I felt hints of La Llorona there. Was she an influence?

J.L. Powers

J.L.: I’m sure La Llorona was a subconscious influence. I don’t want to say too much about the similarities between La Llorona and the monster character in the book because it includes too many spoilers for readers who haven’t read the book yet. But let me just say that Matt and I grew up in El Paso, Texas, where the story of La Llorona is beloved and much told. As you know, I work at Cinco Puntos Press and our children’s picture book La Llorona is one of our best-selling books so the tale is something that is both extremely familiar and undoubtedly was an influence.

What was your favorite part about writing Broken Circle?

M.A.: First, my favorite part was writing with my sister who is a great idea generator and developer and could make my wild, and often pathetic, stab at writing dialogue pop!

Also, the laughter. We have a similar sense of humor and had laughing fits over parts of the book that may not seem funny to some readers.

Second, I was trained rigorously in biochemistry and genetics. My favorite part of
science was the intellectual pursuit of generating a hypothesis. Hypothesis is just a
fancy word for “scientific fiction production” and is the state of acquiring a handful of
seemingly unrelated and confusing facts and imagining a scenario where they do make sense. Furthermore, you have to propose tests that will confirm or reject this scenario. Although it did have its high points, I was not particularly fond of performing those tests because it was often repetitive and tedious for me.

Writing Broken Circle was a constant stream of generating hypotheses (In our case,
fiction based on world building rules instead of fiction based on a set of known facts)
and did not include any of the lab bench drudgery!

What does the collaboration process look like for you two?

M.A.: It’s a chaotic miasma of interruptions from our children and herky-jerky writing all dependent on babysitting schedules and poop. Yeah, when something smells funny, it’s time to stop writing and get out fresh pampers.

Our worst interruption was on a Skype call. I put my 9-month- old in the Bumbo on the table and turned my back to get the little table thing to snap her in when I heard a dull “THUNK” and then crying. She had launched herself out of the snug foam leg holes and off the table and was lying in a small heap of brown corduroy and pink onesie on our scratched hardwood floor.

Horrified, I scooped her up and yelled goodbye to Jessica as I rushed off to the emergency room, fearing I had irreparably broken my baby. My daughter was fine! In fact, she had stopped crying by the time I had put her in the car seat but I forged ahead, determined to do penance at the hospital by being “That Dad” who put his kid on the table and turned his back. Obviously, I needed a stiffer penance to get right with the god of muse. The book we were collaborating on at the time has yet to be finished. Karma?

Did you do any specific preparation before crafting the characters who are from cultural backgrounds that are different from your own?

J.L.: Over the years, I’ve become known for writing books about characters who are from cultural backgrounds that are different from my own. The process is similar each time. First of all, I should say that in most cases, it’s sort of organic. I don’t pull a culture from my hat and think, ‘Let me write about XYZ.’ For me, I am writing out of both my personal experiences with cultures I’ve lived within as well as professional knowledge. Just as an example, we have a Latina character in this book, Liliana La Muerte. As I said, Matt and I grew up in El Paso, Texas, which is 75% Latin@ and, specifically, Mexican and Mexican-American. We grew up in a neighborhood where we were the only white kids. In many ways, Mexican and Mexican-American culture is much more familiar to us and safe for us than the white American mainstream culture that we look like we’re supposed to be from. But of course, that level of familiarity doesn’t give us a pass. I try to do meticulous research: reading books and articles, talking to people, traveling as needed, immersing myself as much as possible so that I can present authentic and accurate characters, and asking other people from those cultures to read it and be brutally honest about errors….

Broken Circle is the beginning of a series. Are you able to share anything about the future books?

J.L.: That’s a scary question! We are working on Book 2, and I’m also starting to work on Book ½ (yes, there is a Book ½ in our series, just like the ½ chapters….). One thing you might be interested to know is that Book 2 starts almost at the same place where Book 1 leaves off, and it will end up in Chicago. So Chicago, here we come!

Also, we will explore the world of Limbo and Soul Guides a bit more in-depth as that has been one critique from readers—they’d like to have more information or world-building about those concepts. You’ve spoken, we’re listening, we’ll respond!

I think people should know that we planted some things in the first book that will emerge as bigger plot points in later books, but we tried to plant them in a way that people don’t notice them in the first book. So hopefully it’ll be this wonderful exploration over time….

You’re a blogger at The Pirate Tree. Could you share a little about that work and why you
are involved there?

J.L.: I helped to start The Pirate Tree with other like-minded authors who want to examine children’s literature positively from a social justice angle. This is a very broad mandate. A lot of times, people think that if you’re looking at social justice and children’s literature, you’re looking for issue-driven books. Not so! In fact, I definitely am not interested in books that appear preachy or have a moral attached. Any book can be examined for how it treats the human condition and how it analyzes society and the status quo. And good literature automatically does that. Our goal is to present and celebrate books that we think demonstrate a commitment to developing a more peaceful and just world.

In addition to being an author, you’ve also worked in publishing with Cinco Puntos Press and now you’re starting Catalyst Press. Can you tell us a little about that work and what keeps you working to publish the work of others?

J.L.: I started working with Cinco Puntos in 2002, if you can believe it! And I still work for Cinco Puntos Press. I absolutely love our books, which are some of the most important multicultural books being published today. We have been publishing diverse books since the 1980s—long before there was any kind of movement for it.

And I started Catalyst Press and Story Press Africa because I wanted to publish African writers and African-based literature. There’s a huge gap. Eventually, I want to branch out to publishing other indigenous literature from other parts of the world, but this is where I’m starting because of my own expertise—I have two graduate degrees in African history. And I can’t state often enough how much I love Africans and the continent of Africa….

I love to write, but I also love books altogether. I believe books change the world. So to me it is a supreme pleasure to be able to present important books to the world that might be overlooked by mainstream publishers.

You may find M.A. and J.L. Powers at www.powerssquared.com

M.A.  newborn – J.L. 2 1/2

Share

Author Interview: F.C. Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo has been on my radar for a while, and for good reason — it sounds, well, epic. And it turns out, it truly is! (Check out the RIC review here.) In this new YA book, one kickass Bay Area girl and the oh-so-glorious Monkey King are all that stands between humanity and the hordes of monsters that threaten to destroy the world. You definitely want to get this book… and today we welcome author F.C. Yee (@yeebookauthor) to Rich in Color for an interview!


I grew up reading about the Monkey King (shoutout to Laurence Yep!), and I imagine the ol’ rascal was a part of your life growing up as well. How did you settle on a story that brought Chinese mythology into the modern world?
 
The funny thing is, I did not grow up with Monkey King stories. My experience was much more like Genie’s, where I officially encountered him later in my teens. I’d been exposed to a lot of media that drew upon Journey to the West as an influence, but never seen or read any adaptations until the day I decided to sit down and read the translations of the original story.
I knew I wanted to write a story about discovering one’s own inner strength. But I also thought that an entertaining parallel would be the simultaneous discovery of this rich fictional universe by a character who didn’t know it was a part of their (personal) heritage all along. I settled on the portrayal that I did so that people originally unfamiliar with the Monkey King, like I was at one time, could be introduced in a fun way, while readers who would be very familiar with the source material could enjoy watching a surrogate learn the tale for the first time.
 
Sun Wukong is definitely becoming more human (and also more good-looking?) in recent movies. So, uh, did you start out intending Sun Wukong to be hot?
 
Yes. Without question. Full use of artistic license here.
 
Going off of that, can you talk a little bit about how you modernized the other figures of Chinese mythology, like trendy Guanyin with the pixie cut, into the book?
 
While I definitely wanted the humor of Sun Wukong acclimating into modern society in the book’s opening, I knew the joke could get old, especially if repeated through different characters. I decided it would provide a nice contrast against Quentin’s original strangeness and Genie’s further expectations of gods if the subsequent ones she met were already grounded. In the case of Guanyin specifically, it’s meant to show how she’s the most in tune with modern life and expectations, because she’s the one who does the most work on behalf of humanity.
One reader/online friend jokingly called the mythological figures in this book petty, which is absolutely accurate in retrospect, and one of the tools I used to modernize them.


A good chunk of the story is grounded in reality — especially Genie’s family situation and her uber competitive school life. (The competitive Bay Area school part hit a little too close to home for me, yikes.) Did you draw upon your own life for this, step into someone else’s shoes, or a little of both?
 
Both. I thought I grew up in a competitive academic environment in the East Coast, but in retrospect, knowing what some kids go through these days, it wasn’t that bad. I’m not sure what’s to be done about it – a high degree of academic competition might be an efficient method of operating for the system as a whole, but it’s punishing for the individual.
 
So Genie hates boba but loves coffee. Are you the same?
 
I love both boba AND coffee! I gave Genie that quirk regarding boba since it’s such a big part of Bay Area culture and liked the image of young Genie being grumpy that her friends want to keep meeting over a drink she didn’t like.

Is there a sequel on the horizon for The Epic Crush of Genie Lo?

There will be, in 2018.

Perfect… *rubs hands together gleefully* Finally, are there any YA books by/about people of color that you’re looking forward to? 
 
I’m perpetually confused over whether it’s being marketed as YA or not, but I’m looking forward to S.A. Chakraborty’s CITY OF BRASS. I also really want to read FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS by Julie C. Dao.

An awesome list. Thanks for stopping by! To those reading along, do yourself a favor and get a copy of The Epic Crush of Genie Lo ASAP because it’s just that awesome.
Share

Interview with Janelle Milanes + Giveaway

Everyone, please welcome debut author Janelle Milanes to Rich in Color! Janelle’s book, THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD, came out yesterday:

Victoria Cruz inhabits two worlds: In one, she is a rock star, thrashing the stage with her husky voice and purple-streaked hair. In the other, currently serving as her reality, Victoria is a shy teenager with overprotective Cuban parents, who sleepwalks through her life at the prestigious Evanston Academy. Unable to overcome the whole paralyzing-stage-fright thing, Victoria settles for living inside her fantasies, where nothing can go wrong and everything is set to her expertly crafted music playlists.

But after a chance encounter with an unattainably gorgeous boy named Strand, whose band seeks a lead singer, Victoria is tempted to turn her fevered daydreams into reality. To do that, she must confront her insecurities and break away from the treadmill that is her life. Suddenly, Victoria is faced with the choice of staying on the path she’s always known and straying off-course to find love, adventure, and danger.

From debut author Janelle Milanes comes a hilarious and heartfelt tale of the spectacular things that can happen when you go after what you really want.

We’re thrilled to have Janelle here to talk about her new book. Once you’ve finished reading the interview, don’t forget to enter the giveaway! It is open to both U.S. and international readers.


Both you and Victoria are Cuban-American. How have your experiences growing up as a second-generation Latina influenced Victoria’s character? What is her relationship like with her family?

There’s an added layer of pressure that I felt growing up as a second-generation Latina. In the book I wrote that you feel like you’re playing catch-up with everyone else, and I think that holds true. Because I didn’t necessarily start with the same advantages as a lot of my peers, my family made additional sacrifices so I could succeed in the future. In my case, I couldn’t help but feel the weight of those sacrifices in everything I did. There’s this idea that you have to do “better” than your parents, whatever that might mean. After all, if you waste your life away, what was the point? Why did they give up everything to come to this country? That was my mindset, at least, while I was growing up. It makes for a volatile, stressed out teenager. Victoria’s family didn’t just want her to meet the same expectations as the elite, they wanted her to surpass them.

Victoria clashes with her parents quite a bit throughout the story. It was important to me that I made her parents sympathetic and showed that their point of view was just as valid as Victoria’s. They expect things from their daughter, but they ultimately want her to find happiness. The problem is that Victoria and her parents have different, conflicting ideas of where happiness comes from. I think that’s a common immigrant mentality as well–the practical notion of happiness as stability. The problem is when stability becomes monotony, which it did for Victoria. She finds herself craving the opposite of what her parents feel is right for her.

Tell us more about Victoria’s school and why you decided to have her attend the Evanston Academy.

Evanston is made up of a very privileged, elite student body. These kids grew up with the assumption that they can do whatever they like in life–unlike Victoria, who doubts herself and her abilities at every turn. I wanted to turn up the pressure on poor Victoria as much as possible so she’s getting it not only from her family, but she’s surrounded by it all day every day.

Toward the end of high school, I was given the chance to attend a renowned college prep school on scholarship. I had always considered myself an intelligent person, but when I started this school I realized I was now playing in an entirely different league. I was coming in as a total rookie. From that point on, my life revolved around work and college. I worked my butt off to stay afloat and it took a toll on my emotional well-being, like it did for Victoria. It was challenging, but looking back, I’m grateful I had the chance to get that education. I can appreciate it in retrospect, as lost as I had felt in the moment.

Strand sounds like he could be a fun character. What can you tell us about him and his relationship to Victoria?

Victoria is immediately attracted to Strand as soon as she lays eyes on him. He’s such a departure from her carefully curated world and the people she’s used to being around. I think Victoria is intrigued by Strand because he appears to be the opposite of her shy, neurotic, sheltered self. She lacks the confidence to make a move on him, so she decides to wave him off as cocky and annoying instead. A lot of their story involves Strand chipping away at the wall she puts up between them. I had so much fun writing all their sexual tension that eventually gives way to a close, personal connection.

You have a Spotify playlist for THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD. What about the book did you want to capture in those songs? Which songs are your favorite?

It’s a rock-focused playlist because I liked the juxtaposition of this seemingly quiet girl who, on the inside, is all crashing drums and thrashing guitars. I put a lot of work into picking the songs that went into Victoria’s playlist. Every song fits the chapter with which it’s paired, so you have the option of listening along while you read.

My favorite songs would have to be Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl”, because it captures the idea of straddling two cultures and trying to fit this American ideal. The song also has a raw, authentic feel that I just love. I also have a fondness for “Debaser” by the Pixies. It’s so wild and nonsensical and fun.

If you could be in a rock band, which role would you want to have?

I can totally see the appeal of being a lead singer (assuming, in this hypothetical, that I could actually sing!) I am a bad ass lip syncher in the privacy of my bedroom. But if I’m being semi-realistic, I think I’d be better suited for something like bass guitar. I could be the mysterious bass player who’s in it purely for the music.

THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD is your debut novel. What has surprised you most about gearing up for your release date?

What’s surprised me most is how slow the publishing process moves. I wrote Victoria years ago at this point and have written two other unpublished books in the meantime (one of those will come out in 2018!) It feels strange to revisit these characters after having had so much time and distance from them. I didn’t realize how much I missed them!

What 2017 books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to reading? Which ones would you recommend to our followers?

A recent read I’d recommend is WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon. It’s a thoroughly charming romantic comedy about two Indian-American teens whose parents conspire to arrange their marriage. I also read all of Jenny Han’s books, because she’s fantastic.

As for books I’m looking forward to reading? So. Many. I’ve had very little time to read lately, but currently on my 2017 TBR list is THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK by Celia C. Pérez, STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman, and THE EDUCATION OF MARGOT SANCHEZ by Lilliam Rivera. Oh, and THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END by Adam Silvera. Oh, oh, and SAINTS AND MISFITS by S.K. Ali! Okay, I’ll stop now…

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD?

I hope readers will really connect to Victoria–particularly the daydreamers who spend a lot of time living in their imaginations. (Honestly, it’s usually more fun in there anyway.) But I do hope THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD will inspire people to pursue their happiness in the present moment while trusting that the future will take care of itself. It’s an important lesson, and one I’m still working on every day.


Janelle Milanes is originally from Miami, FL and received her BA in English Literature from Davidson College. A lifelong YA addict, she moved to New York for her first job as a children’s literature associate at Simon & Schuster.

For the past five years, Janelle has worked as a teacher and librarian throughout the New York City area. THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD is her first novel and reflects many of her own experiences growing up as a second-generation Latina in America.

Janelle currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two cats. Her favorite Disney princess is Belle, since she was also a big book nerd.

You can reach her on her website, Twitter, Goodreads, Tumblr, or Instagram.


Janelle has graciously offered a signed copy of THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD, plus an enamel vinyl record pin and print with the book title, to one our readers! You can enter the giveaway through the widget below. This giveaway is for both U.S. and international readers. It will end at midnight Eastern time on September 26.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Share

Interview: Mitali Perkins

We’re excited that Mitali Perkins was willing to answer a few questions for us. She’s likely to be busier than ever as her most recent book, You Bring the Distant Near recently made the longlist of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Congratulations Mitali and thanks so much for sharing with us.

You Bring the Distant Near
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers / Macmillan Publishers

Summary: This elegant young adult novel captures the immigrant experience for one Indian-American family with humor and heart. Told in alternating teen voices across three generations, You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture–for better or worse.

From a grandmother worried that her children are losing their Indian identity to a daughter wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair to a granddaughter social-activist fighting to preserve Bengali tigers, award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together the threads of a family growing into an American identity.

Here is a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.


You Bring the Distant Near shows three generations of a family. Did this multi-generational aspect create challenges as you wrote?

The challenge came in balancing the four younger voices, as one of the story’s main threads is the slow, healing change in the relationship between Ranee and the U.S.A. The blessing of writing fiction, however, is that you get to express multiple personalities, so all four girls are different versions of me, more or less.

What led you to write this story of family and identity?

This novel is my love letter to the country where my parents brought me when I was seven years old. It’s my celebration of being hyphenated, caught in that narrow place between cultures — something I’ve been exploring throughout my writing life. My personal need to be grateful for my U.S. citizenship and the “healing of my hyphen” (sounds weird, I know, sorry) converged with what I see as a national need for gratitude and healing.

There are five perspectives in this story. Did one of the characters resonate with you more than the others?

I am most like Sonia — a bookish introvert who loves to write and read and has wanted to champion the marginalized since I can remember.

You likely had your own struggles with identity as an immigrant teen. What or who helped you navigate that?

Reading was my lifeline. I started reading early and became an addict of story. To imagine other lives as a child is akin to learning a language early: you become fluent in learning to walk inside someone else’s skin. I’m so grateful for the libraries that fed my addiction when I couldn’t afford to buy books.

Have you always been a storyteller?

I’ve always been a story-lover. My father was a fantastic storyteller. He loved to make us laugh by playing with language. I’m still growing into that identity myself.

On your blog, I saw you have created a playlist for this novel. Are these songs you listened to while writing to step back in time or are they related to the story in some other way?

Most of the songs I compiled in the playlist are mentioned in the novel. The first one, “To Sir With Love,” is especially poignant to me and and my sisters as it would be to Sonia and Tara in the novel as I see it as a tribute to our wonderful Daddy, who is very much like the fictional father in YOU BRING THE DISTANT NEAR.

Mitali Perkins with her mother and sisters in front of the library after arriving in the 1970s. (photo provided by author)

Where to learn more about Mitali Perkins online: Author website, Blog, Twitter and Facebook.

Share

Interview with Axie Oh

Everyone, please welcome debut author Axie Oh to Rich in Color! We’re thrilled to have her here–I absolutely loved her novel, Rebel Seoul, and you can read my review here.

Rebel Seoul is one of the newest offerings from Tu Books, and you definitely need to check it out:

After a great war, the East Pacific is in ruins. In brutal Neo Seoul, where status comes from success in combat, ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the ranks of the academy. Abandoned as a kid in the slums of Old Seoul by his rebel father, Jaewon desires only to escape his past and prove himself a loyal soldier of the Neo State.

When Jaewon is recruited into the most lucrative weapons development division in Neo Seoul, he is eager to claim his best shot at military glory. But the mission becomes more complicated when he meets Tera, a test subject in the government’s supersoldier project. Tera was trained for one purpose: to pilot one of the lethal God Machines, massive robots for a never-ending war.

With secret orders to report on Tera, Jaewon becomes Tera’s partner, earning her reluctant respect. But as respect turns to love, Jaewon begins to question his loyalty to an oppressive regime that creates weapons out of humans. As the project prepares to go public amidst rumors of a rebellion, Jaewon must decide where he stands—as a soldier of the Neo State, or a rebel of the people.

Pacific Rim meets Korean action dramas in this mind-blowing, New Visions Award-winning science fiction debut.

I knew the moment I read the synopsis I would love it. Now on to the interview!


Rebel Seoul was one of the winners of the New Visions Award. Can you tell us more about why you decided to enter the contest and what it was like to work with the staff at Tu Books?

I first heard about the contest at ALA in 2014, where I was given a brochure at the Lee & Low booth. I had begun to query REBEL SEOUL (titled something else at the time), and was getting a lot of feedback along the lines of: “dystopia is dead.” This was before WNDB really took off, so I accepted this as fact (now, I would argue – yes, maybe there are a lot of books set in American dystopias with white protagonists, but very few with POC protagonists in a non-Western or even Western setting). When I got the brochure, I really loved Tu Books’ mission statement to diversify children’s literature. I was also inspired to write REBEL SEOUL in part after reading Cindy Pon’s short story “Blue Skies” in the Tu Books’ anthology DIVERSE ENERGIES. So when I sent in my cover letter with my application, I comped my book to that short story! Since winning, everyone at Tu Books has been super supportive and awesome. I’m really proud, honored and grateful to be a part of their list. P.S. Cindy wrote a beautiful blurb for REBEL SEOUL!

Science-fiction often gives an author the opportunity to extrapolate upon the present to reshape the world. What drew you to creating a militaristic world like Neo Seoul? What were your favorite parts about building this world?

This is exactly it – I extrapolated upon the present. In the world of REBEL SEOUL, Seoul is divided into Old Seoul and Neo Seoul, and I based that concept on Seoul’s present-day geography, as Seoul is naturally divided by the Han River. North of the Han River is Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace) and some of the older parts of the city and south of the Han River is the Gangnam district and some of the newer areas, hence Old and Neo (New). All the landmarks and districts are the same. Seoul has a very extensive subway system and lots of taxis and shopping areas and billboards, so I just made that all “futuristic.” Really, I did no world building. It’s all there already!

The militaristic world came from a childhood spent watching a lot of sci-fi anime, which oftentimes have plotlines of war or rebellion. Again, I extrapolated from the present, like the idea of mandatory military service, which is a requirement in South Korea for males. In my alt-future, it’s a requirement for all citizens.

My favorite parts of building this world were those moments when I could extrapolate from what already exists, where I could add in a scene that felt true to me that I hoped would resonate with others. One of my favorite scenes I put into the novel is when Jaewon goes through the funeral home of a hospital (funeral homes are often in hospitals in Seoul), and he comes across a mother mourning her son. The whole scene is something I’ve experienced in my own life during memorial services, and I wanted to show through the scene a love and reverence for the moment.

One of the things I really admired about Rebel Seoul was that the characters all had rich lives before the start of the story. Tell us more about Jaewon and Tera’s development as characters.

With Jaewon, I was inspired by Korean dramas. He’s pretty typical of protagonists in high school K-dramas, a loner with a heart of gold. I think the appeal of these characters is that we can trust and put our faith in them. Although they make mistakes and stumble, they never give up, and this gives us hope as viewers. I wanted to channel this feeling with Jaewon. I began with this character archetype and then layered him with a family, friends, history and dreams. As for Tera, her characterization came more from anime. She’s similar to a lot of characters in sci-fi/mecha anime, like Heero from Gundam Wing or Soma Peries from Gundam 00. She’s a government experiment, trained and manipulated since birth for a “greater purpose,” but coming into her own person, discovering her own dreams and desires.

Jaewon and Tera are one of my favorite battle couples in YA. Who are some of your favorite battle couples, romantic or not?

Minho and Thomas from THE MAZE RUNNER. I’ve only read the first book and seen the films, but I love their friendship, and how together they protect the group. Will & Lyra from His Dark Materials. I love them both so much as individuals. But together, they’re unbeatable. Not YA, but I love Relena & Heero from Gundam Wing. I love how they’re both strong individuals with their own goals and motivations, yet in times of vulnerability, seek each other for warmth and comfort.

Family, both biological and of the found/friendship/soulmate variety, had a huge impact on Jaewon and his motivations throughout the novel. Why did you place so much weight on these relationships in Rebel Seoul? What interested you in those types of stories?

Again, going back to K-dramas and anime, K-dramas often focus on family and close friendships, and anime on found families and soulmates. These are themes that come up in the media I love and consume, so it felt natural as I wrote the story to incorporate them into REBEL SEOUL. In general, I love all types of relationships – I didn’t specifically start off thinking, okay I’m going to have a bromance or a team of four very different individuals who come together as friends and partners – it just sort of happened! And K-dramas always have four main characters (two leads, two secondary leads), so that formation came naturally into my storytelling.

If you could pilot any giant robot (whether from Rebel Seoul or another fictional universe), which would it be and why?

Gundam Deathscythe Hell!!! This is the upgraded gundam Duo Maxwell pilots in Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, the animated film following the television series. It’s just so cool! It specializes in stealth and close combat. It wields a large SCYTHE and has bat wings and cloaking armor that allows it invisibility. Plus, I love Duo. I feel like if I took a “which gundam pilot are you” character quiz, I would get him.

What books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to this year? Or that have already come out this year?

It hasn’t come out yet, but I read and loved FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS by Julie C. Dao. It’s an exciting and thought-provoking villainess origin story inspired by the evil queen in Snow White and Chinese court dramas. Looking forward to: WARCROSS by Marie Lu, STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman & TRAIL OF LIGHTNING by Rebecca Roanhorse.

Some books I already read and loved: WANT by Cindy Pon, I BELIEVE IN A THING CALLED LOVE by Maurene Goo and THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO by F. C. Yee!

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about Rebel Seoul or your other work? What can we look forward to from you next?

Right now I’m working on a YA fantasy inspired by a Korean folktale. Fantasy with a dash of romance were always my favorite kinds of books as a teen (think: BEAUTY by Robin McKinley or HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones), so I’m indulging that love of mine, and combining it with the culture and myths that I grew up with!


Axie Oh is a first generation Korean American, born in NYC and raised in New Jersey. She studied Korean history and creative writing as an undergrad at the University of California – San Diego and holds an MFA from Lesley University in Writing for Young People. Her passions include K-pop, anime, stationery supplies, and milk tea. She currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada with her puppy, Toro.

You can find out more about her at her website or follow her on twitter.

Share

Interview with Abdi Nazemian

Today we welcome Abdi Nazemian to the blog. We’re excited to learn more about his new novel The Authentics, which was released earlier this month.

Summary: The Authentics is a fresh, funny, and insightful novel about culture, love, and family—the kind we are born into and the ones we create.

Daria Esfandyar is Iranian-American and proud of her heritage, unlike some of the “Nose Jobs” in the clique led by her former best friend, Heidi Javadi. Daria and her friends call themselves the Authentics, because they pride themselves on always keeping it real.

But in the course of researching a school project, Daria learns something shocking about her past, which launches her on a journey of self-discovery. It seems everyone is keeping secrets. And it’s getting harder to know who she even is any longer.

With infighting among the Authentics, her mother planning an over-the-top sweet sixteen party, and a romance that should be totally off limits, Daria doesn’t have time for this identity crisis. As everything in her life is spinning out of control—can she figure out how to stay true to herself?


How did you find your way to this story of family and identity?

I started my career as a screenwriter, and I still work in film and television. I love that medium, but one of the unfortunate realities of the business is that getting movies about Iranian characters made is extremely difficult. I’ve tried many times to write stories that explore my culture for the screen, and inevitably the conversation turns to the lack of bankable stars that could be cast in the roles. Take a look at some of the highest-profile movies about Iranians that Hollywood has made for a peek into this problem. Gael Garcia Bernal and Alfred Molina are Hollywood’s version of Iranians. Jake Gyllenhaal is their Prince of Persia. The argument for these decisions is that there are no Iranian stars, but how can there be if no one gives Iranian actors a chance? I’ve always loved books, and at some point in my screenwriting career, I had this epiphany that in the literary world, no one could tell me they needed a celebrity to publish my book. Then I discovered that writing novels was also a far more personal journey than screenwriting, and that liberated me to write stories that explored issues of family and identity that were (and still are) closest to me. For this particular story, it’s hard to pinpoint one thing that helped me find my way, but I think the biggest inspiration was my own children, who were born with the help of an incredible surrogate, and who are being raised in a very modern, very multicultural family. They were babies when this book began to take shape, but I projected forward to the kinds of questions they might have, and I began to write a fictional story inspired by those questions. And then, luckily, Daria took on a life of her own. She had a lot to say. And for the record, I have no secrets from my own children.

What did you like most about Daria?

I love so much about Daria, but perhaps what I love most is her passion. That passion is partly inspired by myself as an older teen (I was very outspoken about my views on right and wrong), but mostly inspired by many young people I know who are devoted to speaking out for what they believe in. Daria’s pride in her culture, her commitment to her friends, her patience and empathy for her family, are all offshoots of that passion. She is a deeply moral person, and wants to live a life of truth. Sometimes circumstances make that difficult, and that’s what the book explores, but Daria never strays far from her core desire to be honest and make moral decisions. I love that about her. Also, I love her capacity for forgiveness.

What forms of media were you most interested in when you were a teen? What kinds of stories got your attention?

Before my teen years, I was a huge reader (a lot of Ramona books, endless readings of Charlotte’s Web and an insatiable obsession with Archie Comics).  By the time I became a teenager, I developed a fascination with Old Hollywood. I watched old movies voraciously, everything from film noir to musicals to silent film. Those films transported me to a fantasy version of the world, which was very appealing to me as a kid who usually wanted to crawl out of his dark, gay skin. I read a lot back then, though YA wasn’t the thriving world it is now, and there were few diverse reads to be found. My favorite book as a teen was Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I worshipped it. And in my later teen years, I discovered James Baldwin, who remains my favorite author. His writing is ridiculously good, and perhaps sadly, more relevant than ever. If we all read his words and studied them, we’d probably live in a much more beautiful world.

Though this is your debut YA novel, you’re not new to writing. Did writing The Authentics have any unique challenges?

It absolutely did. First and foremost, this was my first young adult novel, and I love YA, so I wanted to enter this world with a story that would have an impact and feel honest. Also, this is a far more personal piece of writing than most of my screenwriting work. This is a chance for me to represent the people I love most: Iranian-American characters, LGBTQ people of color, young people questioning their identity, and struggling with how to define themselves in a world obsessed with labels. I am painfully aware of how rare depictions of minorities are in our stories, and so I felt an added responsibility here to get it right, and to make sure that all my love for these characters came through loud and clear.

Being authentic is obviously a focus in this story. What does it mean to you to be authentic? How does that look in everyday life?

The word “authentic” is thrown around so often these days that it starts to lose any real meaning. Sometimes it’s a badge of honor (that’s how Daria and her friends use it), and sometimes it is hurled as an accusation toward anyone or anything we think is false. I wanted to explore this subject matter because I feel passionately that there is more than one way to be authentic. To me, being authentic only means being true to oneself, and that looks different for every human being. That might be why the relationship between Daria and her ex-best-friend Heidi (who Daria calls a “Nose Job”) is one of my favorites in the book. Daria considers Heidi inauthentic for focusing so much on her appearance, while Heidi feels that she is authentic because she is projecting the person she wants to be. To me, both characters are authentic in their own way, and their journey is to see authenticity in someone who is different from them. I recently read this quote from one of my favorite singers, Lana Del Rey, who is constantly accused of being inauthentic, and she said a lot of smart things on the subject: “Of course. I’m always being myself. They don’t know what authentic is. If you think of all the music that came out until 2013, it was super straight and shiny. If that’s authentic to you, this is going to look like the opposite. I think that shit is stylized. Just because I do my hair big does not mean I’m a product. If anything, I’m doing my own hair.”

I just found and read Madonna’s picture book The Adventures of Abdi at my local library. Are you certain there’s no connection to you?

There are few things I want more in the world than to be connected to Madonna. I fell in love with her when her very first video was released, and made my parents take me to The Virgin Tour despite being way too young for it. Not long after that, I converted a room in our home into “The Madonna Room” (no, this is not a joke). You can imagine my extreme excitement when I saw that Madonna had released a book about the adventures of a boy named Abdi, who does look a little like me. Sadly, I have no proof that the character is connected to me, though I can confirm I knew some people who worked with Madonna at the time, and that she signed an autograph to me well before the book was released, so perhaps my name seeped into her subconscious somehow. A boy can hope.

What’s up next for you in writing? Are we likely to see more YA books from you?

I write both screenplays and novels. In my screenwriting life, I am currently adapting a phenomenal documentary called “Out of Iraq” into a narrative feature. It’s the story of two Iraqi men who fall in love against the backdrop of the Iraq War, and their struggle to be reunited when one moves to the United States and the other gets stuck in the bureaucracy of the immigration system. It’s an honor to adapt it. In my life as an author, I am committed to continuing to write young adult fiction. Writing “The Authentics” was so gratifying, and I have more stories to tell in this space. I’m about halfway done with my next book, so I shouldn’t say too much about it, but I can say that it is probably the most personal writing I’ve ever done, and that it tells the story of a love triangle between three teens who get caught up in the world of AIDS activism in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Is there anything you would like to tell our readers that I didn’t ask?

I’d like to say thank you to the young adult reading community for demanding diverse reads from publishers. Reading young adult fiction gives me so much hope for our future. I believe storytelling is our greatest tool for creating empathy, and seeing the way young people are demanding and consuming literature about characters who don’t look or think like them is so exciting to me. It’s easy to be pessimistic about the world, and seeing a book like The Hate U Give on the bestseller list makes me optimistic. Discovering there is a whole community of Iranian YA authors makes me optimistic. Reading YA books about cultures and experiences that were foreign to me gives me hope. And that’s all the result of readers creating demand for these stories. So, I’d like to just say thanks, and keep seeking out stories you may not think are for you.


Abdi Nazemian spent his childhood in a series of glamorous locations (Tehran, Paris, Toronto, New York), but could usually be found in his bedroom watching old movies and reading. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his two children and his fiancé.

Abdi has written four produced films: MENENDEZ: BLOOD BROTHERS (Lifetime, 2017), THE QUIET (Sony Pictures Classics, 2006), CELESTE IN THE CITY (ABC Family, 2004), and BEAUTIFUL GIRL (ABC FAMILY, 2003). He also wrote, directed and produced the short film REVOLUTION (2012). He is proud to say his words have been spoken by the likes of Carmela Soprano, The Nanny, and The Girl With The Most Cake.

Abdi’s first novel, THE WALK-IN CLOSET, was released in 2015 by Curtis Brown Unlimited, and was awarded Best Debut at the Lambda Literary Awards. His debut young adult novel, THE AUTHENTICS, was released on August 8, 2017 by Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins.

Share