Interview with Janie Chodosh

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Janie Chodosh was kind enough to answer a few questions about her debut novel Death Spiral: A Faith Flores Science Mystery (read the review here).

What was the best part of writing Death Spiral?
Frankly, the best part of writing Death Spiral was all of it. Seriously. I loved developing the characters and learning more about each of them as I delved into each new draft. I loved learning how to plot a mystery, and I loved working with my husband, Callum, to come up with the science. Callum is a geneticist and has vast experience in the field, so he helped me to understand the content.

Did you learn anything about yourself or your writing process as you were writing your novel?
I learned that I could sit for many hours at a time and obsess about the smallest details of sentence structure, plot, or anything related to writing my book. I tend to have a “busy” personality.  Sitting still and focusing has never been my strong point. So learning that I could truly focus for six or seven hours at a time was a break through and a fantastic discovery.

Are you working on a sequel? If so, are you able to share a bit about it?
Death Spiral is part one in a three book series. I am currently working on book two. The books are not sequels; however, I do think it will help to read the books in order. In book two, Faith continues her arc of self-discovery. One of the main things I am exploring in book two is Faith’s ethnic identity. In Death Spiral Faith does not know the biological roots of her non-white half. She finds this out in book two, and she also learns of family members that she did not know she had. So, along with a new mystery, Faith is exploring questions of identity, culture, ethnicity, and family.

Your main character is not sure about her ethnic identity though it seems she may be Latina. Was the ambiguity a deliberate decision?
Yes, the ambiguity was a deliberate decision. I wanted Faith to feel a bit like a chameleon and to be unsure of her ethnicity. I wanted her to feel like an outsider in her own skin, meaning she really has no idea who her father is and where she comes from on his side. She likes to imagine his ethnic roots, and therefore imagine her own, but she really has no idea. This not knowing builds a certain amount of narrative tension. In book two, Faith finds out that her father was Mexican, and suddenly a Mexican identity is foisted on her, but how does one suddenly “become” something they have no experience with?  Is it in your blood? Do you have to pass a test? These are questions Faith will explore and which will contribute to her development and arc as the protagonist of the series.

Do you think you will stick with mysteries or are you interested in experimenting with other genres?
For now I am sticking with mysteries as I see Faith through two more books. I love writing mysteries, but I did not set out specifically to be mystery writer, so I do plan on getting back to my other young adult and middle grade stories. I like to write humor. I also have a non-mystery YA story brewing that stems from my volunteer work at a homeless shelter.

Who or what has influenced your writing the most?
The main thing that has influenced my writing is my emotional life. I tend to empathize with everything and everyone and, having an active imagination, I spend a lot of time creating backstory for people. Writing has helped me make sense of my emotional universe. I am able to create characters and let them embody various feelings from depression and anxiety to great joy and inspiration, all of which I have experienced at one time or another.  In terms of who has inspired my writing, it is hard to say initially where that inspiration came from, but in recent years I have read tons of young adult fiction. Many great authors I have read inspire me: KL Going, John Green, Libba Bray to name a few. 

Do you have any writing rituals?
Before I write I like to organize or clean something! I guess it is a metaphor for clearing away clutter in my mind. 

What do you do for fun?
I love outdoor activities from bird watching and quiet hikes to rock climbing and cycling. I worked as a naturalist for many years and my love of the natural world is a huge part of my existence. I also love to travel, read, play with my nine-year-old daughter who makes up fabulous games, and play the violin (though I am not that good!)

What has been your most interesting or bizarre job outside of writing? 
Although not the most bizarre in the job description, what transpired was a very bizarre experience. During graduate school I worked as a naturalist for an elder hostel program. Okay. Big deal. The thing was, though, it was the first program for this organization, and the person running it was in Australia. So for one week not only was I chief naturalist, but I was wolf “expert,” tour guide, toilet paper go-getter, meal planner, van driver among other things.  It was an interesting experience that I will just say did not leave all the participants happy.

What have been some of your recent diverse reads?
In terms of YA, I just read Fake ID by Lamar Giles, which was a great mystery and featured a young African American boy as the protagonist. Lauren Myracle’s Shine, about a hate crime against a young gay man, was an incredible story. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, about two young gay boys is a poignant read. In terms of adult literature, I love Junot Diaz. I am just beginning his book of short stories, and I heard him speak the other night. I have recently been very into Edwidge Danticat. Currently I am reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and I recently finished listening to The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. I love anything by Isabelle Allende.

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To learn more about Janie and her writing, please visit her website.

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Interview: Ellen Oh

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to ask Ellen Oh a few questions about her books Prophecy and its sequel Warrior. Prophecy is a fantastic Korean-inspired fantasy with an awesome female heroine (read the review here!). Warrior will be released on December 31st, 2013.

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What inspired you to write a Korean style fantasy?

It started with Genghis Khan. Back in the year 2000, Genghis Khan was named Man of the Millennium by Time magazine. I remember buying that issue and reading all about him and thinking how cool it was that an Asian man was considered the most influential man of the millennium. So I went and bought a bunch of biographies on Genghis and I just fell in love with all the Asian history I learned. It made me crave more information. But it was actually really hard to find a lot of books on ancient Korea. And there was hardly any fiction novels at all other than Linda Sue Park’s classic novel A Single Shard. This is really the reason I began writing again (I hadn’t written creatively since college.) I just felt that all these amazing historical facts would make for a great novel.

How did you go about researching for Prophecy and Warrior?

The great thing about being a faculty member of a university is that you have all the university’s library services at your disposal. I’ve pretty much researched everything I could get my hands on about Asian mythology, shamanism, Korean legends, even architecture and pottery. It’s fascinating stuff. I used a lot of legends and myths of Korea. One of the most famous legend is the story of the Rock of the Falling Flowers. It is a cliff in the old Paekche kingdom where 3,000 court ladies leapt to their deaths when faced with the invading Tang and Shilla army. Their colorful hanboks made them look like falling flowers – hence the name. I also use the myth of the 8 Heavenly Maidens and then twisted it to suit my needs. Usually, the folktales have the Heavenly Maidens descending to earth and bathing in a pool and some poor woodcutter comes and steals one of their clothes. Without her clothes the heavenly maiden cannot return home and is forced to marry the woodcutter. Well I never liked that myth. As far as I’m concerned, that poor woodcutter is a stalker/peeping tom/kidnapper. So I changed that myth to make my Heavenly Maidens strong and with an important purpose in life. I think research is really my favorite part of writing the Prophecy Series and I’ve been so fortunate to have been able to do something I love and get it published by a great house like HarperTeen.

Kira is supported by her tiger spirit. Are there or will there be other chracters with animal spirits, or is she unique?

She is definitely unique. But I’ve been toying with the idea of having other characters with animal spirits. It would be a play off of the twelve animal horoscopes. I don’t know if it will make it into the series, but it is something that I’ve been working on as a side project.

A lot of YA lit has a heavy focus on romantic love, but not on familial love. What made you choose to give Kira so many brothers and cousins?

I think family is definitely an important focus of my books. Family is the support base for most people. Whether it is brothers and sisters, cousins, friends, etc. The bonds that form family are incredibly important and I feel they should always be celebrated and remembered. It was a very conscious decision on my part to have Kira come from a strong family support group. Because that is true love. I know that some people are disappointed in how light romance is in the Prophecy series, but romance was never the focus of Kira’s story.

Jindo is pretty much my favorite, so I have to ask — What type of dog does Jindo resemble? Do you have a dog?
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Source: http://jindoranch.com/gallery
Jindo is a Jindo, a very special breed of dog from the Island of Jindo in South Korea. They are known for loyalty and are considered a national treasure of Korea. When I was thinking of naming Taejo’s best friend, I thought “what would I name a dog I just got from this far off island of Jindo… hey Jindo is a cool sounding name. I’ll just name him Jindo!” :o) As for me, well I had a dog growing up, a german shepherd that I loved, but my husband and oldest are dreadfully allergic to animals (not just the fur but the saliva) so it hasn’t been possible… yet.

I love the introduction of more mythical creatures in Warrior — like the Dokkaebi, Kumiho, and so on. Will there be more to follow?

Yes, definitely. The Asian mythology was one of my favorite parts of researching for this series. There are quite a few creatures that are very distinctly Asian and are very different from what we normally see in Western mythology. But I have to say that the Dokkaebi and the Kumiho were my favorite characters to write about. They were so fun!

Finally: If you had to choose, who do you think would make a better avatar in the Last Airbender/Legend of Korra series — Kira or Korra?

Oh, tough question! I do love the Korra series but I don’t think I could answer that particular question. But how about this – If both Kira and Korra lost all their magical powers, who would be the stronger fighter? And I would say Kira, because her skills have never been completely dependent on magic but her own strength and power.

ellen_145Originally from NYC, Ellen Oh is an adjunct college instructor and former entertainment lawyer with an insatiable curiosity for ancient Asian history. She also loves martial arts films, K-pop, K-dramas, cooking shows, and is a rabid fan of The Last Airbender and the Legend of Korra series. Ellen lives in Bethesda, Maryland with her husband and three daughters and has yet to satisfy her quest for a decent bagel.

 

 

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Interview: Kimberly Pauley

cat girl's day offKimberly Pauley, the author of Cat Girl’s Day Off (which I reviewed here) as well as several other hilarious books in the Sucks to Be Me series, was kind enough to answer a few questions for Rich in Color this week.

In Cat Girl’s Day Off, Natalie’s Talent is given away by the title — she’s definitely a cat girl. What made you decide on cats as Natalie’s Talent? Do you own any cats?

I’ve always had cats — at least, until we moved over to the UK about three years ago. We are currently pet-less. We had to leave behind our cat Gracie with my mother, as Grace was too ill too travel so far (or go through quarantine!). Sadly, Grace has since passed away from cancer.

I wanted the Talent to be the main character talking to some small furry creature and it had to be one that was common enough to be around everywhere. That left pretty much dogs, cats, or squirrels. Or, I guess I could have done birds, but cats were my favorite and, honestly, they are inherently snarkier than dogs. I needed an animal with a mind of it’s own and cats definitely have that!

Natalie’s friends and family are just as colorful and quirky as the cats. If everyone had Natalie’s Talent, do you think they would get along with the cats?

Oscar definitely would and probably Melly too. I’m not sure about Nat’s mother, as she is very strong willed and so are cats…there would be a lot of conflict there, I think.

How did you choose Natalie’s ethnicity?

I am half-Chinese and I always knew I wanted Nat to be half-Chinese as well. It was nice to be able to use some of my own experiences growing up and I consciously wanted the book to be multicultural (but not in an in-your-face kind of way — it doesn’t really matter that she’s half-Chinese to the story). Her last name (Ng) is actually from my aunt’s family, though our family name was Lee. That’s just such a common name that I thought it would be nice to go for something a little less common and potentially tongue-twisting for non-Asians (though, honestly, I don’t understand why people mispronounce it…it’s only got two letters!).

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Interview with Sarah Rees Brennan

UntoldPlease welcome Sarah Rees Brennan to Rich in Color! Untold, the second book in the Lynburn Legacy series, is out today, and we are excited to have Sarah on our blog to talk about diversity in young adult literature. Sarah has also provided us with a ton of great resources on diversity that you should check out.


Why is diversity in young adult fiction important to you?

Caring about diversity seems to me like the absolute bare minimum standard of decency.

I remember when I was still in school, I went to a gathering of people in my city, an informal fantasy nerds book group. So, we were all talking about books, and the subject of this one book series with a gay romance in it arose, and I began to tear it to pieces: I thought it was terribly written, I had to let everybody know how just so, so bad it was. And a girl who I hadn’t met before that day looked me dead in the eyes and said: “Those books saved my life.”

I sat there and stared at her, until I found my voice and said: “Wow, I’m so sorry, I was being an asshole.” She was very nice about it: she went “Eh, yeah” and then I asked her for some book recommendations and she asked me for some.

I was describing Unspoken to another writer, and I won’t say who they were but they are New York Times bestselling, and she reacted to the diverse elements of it saying “I wouldn’t do that: you can’t afford to do that with the sales of your last series, you can do those things after you’re successful” and I couldn’t help but remember that girl saying “Those books saved my life” and feel sick that anyone would ever say that. So I wrote the book the way I planned. I’m not saying I did a good job, or even a sufficient job, and it’s no excuse for the things I got wrong, but I did always remember that even doing what I’d thought was a lousy job, those books helped people by having representation. There’s no excuse for not trying.

I’m worried this story makes me sound self-congratulatory or big-headed: I don’t mean it that way. Nobody should ever be congratulated for having basic empathy. It’s normal to want to throw up if someone says something terrible to you. Other authors do a much better job of writing diversely than me–still more other authors, who don’t get the chance to be published because of institutional prejudice, would do a much better job than me. I’m just using the story to illustrate why I think diversity should be important to everyone. I just want to write good stories–and that means stories that are inclusive–and try not to be an irredeemable jerk. (Sometimes I fail at both those things.)

YA readers deserve it, too. The readers of YA tend, pretty naturally, to be younger than the readers of other genres. (Though older YA readers are v. welcome too!) It’s because of younger people who are actively engaged with social justice and working toward social change that the general attitude toward gay marriage has been altered. The 18-29 age bracket (in which I am myself, just ;)) is 81% in favour of gay marriage, and in response all the other age brackets have become increasingly in favour too.

It doesn’t mean that the fight for gay rights is over, or even a tenth of the way there, but it does show the effect of people talking of, fighting toward and believing in change.

Those same people are reading YA, and talking about its lacks, and doing so with energy, knowing that they matter and their opinions matter, and that they can be world-changing. Readers change how you write: readers asked me why the hero of my first book was a boy, and that and other reader responses made me sure that when I wrote a trilogy centred on one character, I wanted to centre it on a girl of colour. Books for these readers have been getting better, and should be getting better still.

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Interview: Kat Zhang

what's left of me
Kat Zhang, the author of What’s Left of Me (a book you should totally read!), was kind enough to answer a few questions for us this week —
The idea of two souls in one body is a fascinating one. What gave you the idea to create an alternate universe where this was the norm?

I don’t really have a super interesting story to tell about how I came up with the idea for WHAT’S LEFT OF ME, unfortunately. I wish I did! Really, though, I just started wondering one day–everyone has a bit of an internal monologue going at times; what if that little voice in the back of your head was a real person? What would it be like to live trapped in your own body? That was how the idea for Eva began, and the rest of the story grew around her.

There are a number of siblings in What’s Left of Me. Would you consider siblinghood a central relationship in What’s Left of Me?
I think so. I know my editor has said that it was one of the things that really drew her to the story. I’ve always been really interested in relationships–not just romantic ones, which are the ones most popularly explored in fiction–but the special, unique relationships that human beings can form with each other (or sometimes with animals or even inanimate objects!).
In WHAT’S LEFT OF ME, there are two kinds of sibling relationships–that between “normal” siblings, and that between the two souls that share a body. Funnily enough, I don’t think I based the latter off my idea of “real” sibling relationships (though many people do say it reminded them of such!).
It’s always said that authors are also great readers. So — any book recommendations? Who are some of your favorite authors? 
I’m sadly not as prolific a reader as I wish I were. The funny thing about publishing is that it often keeps you so busy (especially if you also have another job/school/ etc), that your reading time shrivels up! I tend to stick to recommending the classics of my childhood–things like THE GOLDEN COMPASS, and ENDER’S GAME, and SABRIEL 🙂 I have favorite books more than favorite authors.
So you just got back from the Young Authors Give Back Tour. Sounds fun, but what’s it all about? 
It was a lot of fun! Basically, Erin Bowman, Susan Dennard, Sarah Maas, and I traveled for 2.5 weeks all along the North East, starting in NYC for BEA and ending at Anderson’s in Chicago. We hit 7 cities along the way. The special thing about the tour was that we wanted to do something more than the usual book signing/panel stuff, so in each city, we also gave free writing workshops to people aged 13-22 (in general…some others slipped in ;P). It was a fantastic experience working with so many young writers!
Final question: Are you ready for the release of Once We Were?
Definitely! It’s nerve-wracking, too, because it’s the first book I wrote on deadline, and the first book of its kind that I’ve ever written (and really, just only the 3rd book in general I’ve ever finished). But I’m very excited for everyone else to read it, too!
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katKat Zhang spent most of her childhood tramping through a world weaved from her favorite stories and games. When she and her best friend weren’t riding magic horses or talking to trees, they were writing adaptations of plays for their stuffed animals (what would The Wizard of Oz have been like if the Cowardly Lion were replaced by a Loquacious Lamb?). This may or may not explain many of Kat’s quirks today.
[Author photo and bio via Goodreads]
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Meet Meg Medina

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In May, Jessica reviewed Meg Medina’s most recent novel Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Recently, I was able to interview Meg via Skype to discuss that book and more. I’m thankful that she graciously shared a bit of her writing life with us.

What brought you to writing for young people?

I have written for adults and I don’t rule it out completely that I will someday find a story that is more suited to adults, but in one way or another my life has pointed me in the direction of children. I’ve spent a lot of time working with young people of all ages as a teacher, mother and volunteer. There is also something really wonderful about writing for young people. I consider it an honor. You’re learning about everything including yourself at that age and it’s a wonderful thing to be able to stay connected to that piece of yourself. I sort of picture myself in a cave with a lantern and I’m walking through and I just hold it up. I can’t solve anybody’s issues. I can’t make dark things go away, but I can shine a light and I can certainly help someone feel less isolated by the issues of growing up – the problems of growing up.

Also, when I write for young children, when I do a picture book — that is just joyous. Because it’s poetry really — a big story in a small number of words. It’s image. It’s emotion. And it’s the joyous part of being young that I like to capture.

I read an interview you did with School Library Journal and you mentioned that Yaqui Delgado was based on something in your past. Could you share a little about that?

I went to a middle school in New York and one morning a girl in a rabbit fur coat approached me and said someone told her they were going to kick my ass. I said, “Who’s that?” I had no idea. It was this very fierce girl — a Latin girl like me and not like me. What followed was two of the longest years of my life because I was really afraid to go to school. Afraid to go the bathroom. Afraid to be in the hall and run into one of her cronies or her. She never did savage me the way it happens in the novel for Piddy, but that feeling of dread and the way fear and being picked on can really destroy your sense of self, that is very true. And that is what happened to me. I started to make really terrible choices. I started to harden myself, to speak coarsely, to hang out with extremely questionable people, to do really unsafe things. In retrospect, they were really not healthy things for any young woman to be doing. It took years for me to feel better. It just seeped throughout all of middle school into high school. When we are in high school there’s a lot to be angry about. This just compounded it and it took a long time to feel better.

Are you part of a writing group?

Usually I write by myself and I work with my editor, Kate Fletcher pretty closely. I will write something and I have one or two trusted readers who are friends and authors. They give me their feedback, but really, once you have a close relationship with an editor at whatever your publishing house you land, in some ways it’s an audience of one. It’s a conversation between you and your editor of this work. The hard thing about a writing group sometimes is that it’s many voices & many opinions and not all equally great. That’s just the way it is. So I’m careful about that. It’s very easy to be blown off course.

Looking at your books, it seems like family is pretty important to you. I was just curious if any of your family members are kind of peeking out from some of your books.

They’re bleeding all over the pages. It’s bad for them really. Their lives and identities have been stolen. I take pieces of family of friends etc. I shamelessly melt them down to my purposes. I combine them with others and I create what I want. That’s how I really operate.

The most visible is Tia Isa Wants a Car, which is a picture book. There is a Tia Isa. She did buy the first family car. She lives with me. She lives downstairs. She, as in the book, she wanted to buy the car and no one in the family thought that she should because she was very nervous not necessarily a quick learner and we were all sure we were gonna die in the car. But she got secret lessons with a bilingual driving instructor and came home one day with this big Buick Wildcat and that car sort of liberated us. We could go anywhere we wanted to go after that. I had no notion I would write about Tia Isa, but when I sat down to write, the line that came to me was “Tia Isa wants a car” and it became a story of a little girl and her aunt conspiring to buy the family car. It’s about the whole notion of the person least likely, the least one among us, told she can’t do something, who does it anyway. That was a good lesson in life that my aunt provided for me and so it was wonderful to be able to honor her with that book. Now, of course, she’s very bossy, like she’ll look at the illustrations and she’ll say things like, “They didn’t get my hair right.”

There have been a lot of articles recently (CBC Diversity, Lee & Low, Betsy Bird) about the state of multicultural publishing. Do you have ideas or suggestions about how teachers, librarians, and/or bloggers can help change this?

I think it’s important, that the books offer the world of the multicultural child, showing the idiosyncracies of their culture as just a natural fact of life as the book examines the normal problems of growing up. It’s really just another lens, but at its core it still has to be a good story about the normal problems of growing up. Wanting friends, difficulty with friends, facing adult problems for the first time, falling in love, distancing from your family you know, all of those tried and true universal things, but superimposed with the lens of a Latino family or an Asian family or any culture but really staying true to what it is to be a child at whatever age teenage, preschool etc. That’s my core belief.

I think it’s important for schools and community libraries and so on to move beyond the notion of using books during Spanish Heritage Month, Cinco de Mayo or El Dia de los Niños. That’s a great time to use papel picado and piñatas, but we’re beyond this. It needs to be literature that is part of literature all the way around. When you are talking about a unit like girls on adventures, you might pick up my book Milagros or Maragarita Engle’s book Hurricane Dancers.

I also like to see partnerships with Latino authors and illustrators. One of the joys of coming to the table now, is there are so many wonderful Latino authors and illustrators making really compelling work and they are very community oriented and interested in youth, in creating a sense of pride, creating habits of reading and increasing literacy in the families and in the communities. They’re willing to come to schools, to skype, to do community shows of illustrations. I have found them to be a wonderful family of people. I would encourage librarians to reach out to Latino authors and illustrators in whatever way you can to come to your school – to visit your school to be part of the conversation. It’s a great idea. Our children need to see these examples of men and women being successful in many fields including the fields of art and literature. I wish sometimes that we would take a bigger view of what we bring to our children in what we call education. Part of education of course, is helping kids to see the possibilities for themselves.

Can you explain your Girls of Summer Program?

My friend Gigi Amateau is a Candlewick author too. Often we have strong girls in our books. Our daughters were getting ready to graduate and we started talking about how books helped us raise them and helped us as mothers and helped them as girls. So just very casually we wondered if we could come up with 18 books that we think are really amazing books for strong girls – and we could. We started talking about them passionately and then we decided to make it a blog. One thing led to another and we’re now in the third year of Girls of Summer. It’s basically this blog where every year we pick 18 of our favorite books for strong girls. We do it for picture books all the way to YA and every Friday we have one of the authors come and do a Q & A with us.

The Richmond Public library has these wonderful librarians. They promote the list and we have our Girls of Summer live launch party there. We bring two of the authors from the list to do a live Q & A. We give the whole list to two lucky winners, an elementary winner and a middle/high school winner. We also have other goofy give-aways like flip-flops and sunscreen — very necessary. The library funded free ice-cream for all of the girls. We had between 180 and 195 people. Mothers, daughters, teachers, librarians and girls of every age and every color and every ethnicity all in celebration of books that in turn celebrate what it is to go from being a little girl to a young woman who can determine what she wants for herself. It’s a beautiful thing. I love that project. I love that it helps the city library. I love that it helps girls in the community. I love that I get to work closely with my friend Gigi. It’s all good. There’s no downside to it, except maybe the work. There’s a lot of work and a lot of reading involved, but it’s all good.

What are you doing when you aren’t writing and working on The Girls of Summer?

This morning I am doing research for a new novel set in New York City in the late 70s during the time that Son of Sam was murdering girls. Isn’t that a cheery thought? I am just pulling together information.

Meg also added that she spends a lot of time with her family.

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To learn more about Meg, her books, and The Girls of Summer, please visit her website.

Photo credit Petite Shards Productions

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