Interview: LJ Alonge

Justin BlacktopEveryone, please welcome author LJ Alonge to Rich in Color!

LJ is the author of the Blacktop series, which centers on the lives of different teens and the troubles they face both on and off the basketball court. The first two books in the series are about Justin and Janae, and we’re excited to learn more about them.

If you’re looking for even more sports-themed YA books to add to your collection, consider sticking this series at the top of your to-read list!

What were you most excited about when writing the first two books in the Blacktop series?

I’m really, really excited to challenge the way we think about athletes. Our sports heroes are often made one-dimensional; if you’re a basketball player, fans typically don’t want you to be anything else. And because so many popular athletes are people of color, there’s an unspoken message about what it means to be black or brown: we’re only allowed to be one thing. If we love basketball, we’re not allowed to love philosophy because…that’s weird? The whole one-dimensional thing doesn’t make much sense. A few years ago, I remember people being shocked (shocked!) that LeBron James read books during the playoffs. But of course he reads books! He’s not a basketball-playing cyborg; he’s a person with a variety of interests.

So writing the first two books was so much fun because I got to write about kids we don’t normally think of as basketball players: gamers, extreme introverts, activists, suppliers of fake-magic, former child TV stars. I wanted to watch them bring all of their experiences and talents and weirdness to the court and write about what happened.

I saw on your Amazon profile that you’ve played—and learned a lot from—basketball. What did you pull from your own basketball experience for the Blacktop series?

A lot of times, games aren’t really about the final score. They’re about friendship or love or courage or forgiveness or even pettiness. Sometimes, you can have a whole conversation in a game and not say a word. When I was a kid, I’d play basketball with my dad on the weekends, and the games were never about winning or losing. If I was mad at him, I would take cheap shots at his ribs. If he was mad at me, he’d post me up really aggressively. But if we liked each other, we just fooled around. The game was just a conduit for our emotions.

Tell us more about Justin and Janae! What do you find most compelling about each of them?

It’s kind of funny that Justin and Janae end up on the same team because they are so, so different. It wouldn’t surprise me if they actually hated each other in some alternate universe. In Book 1, Justin’s just had a life-altering growth spurt. Normally, he’s a gamer and bookworm, happy to daydream at home, but now that he’s tall he wants a new identity. Except he has no idea what that identity should be. A basketball player? A “cool kid”? Savior of the neighborhood? I often found myself rooting for Justin, because he’s such a sweet kid, but then I’d get annoyed at how hard he was trying to be things he wasn’t. He’s kind of lost his sense of self, and he spends Book 1 trying to find it.

Janae BlacktopJanae couldn’t be more different. She knows exactly who she is (a bad-ass basketball player) and what she wants (to play college basketball). She’s dedicated her whole life to hoop and has gotten really good and beating boys who underestimate her. But one day her dreams are crushed, and she has to figure out what to do with her life. What will she do without basketball? I know so many people like Janae, who have their dreams dashed and then have to work to find a new dream. Sometimes I hated watching her go through all of her challenges, but I also liked watching her figure things out and become a better person.

I saw in your Penguin Teen interview that you are working on the next book in the series. Can you tell us a little more about Frank and the challenges he will face?

Frank’s always in some kind of trouble. Until recently, it’s been small stuff – tagging, cutting class, stealing. He’s often angry and he doesn’t know why. But he’s just gotten into some big trouble and, because the judge was lenient, Frank’s decided to clean up his act. Except everyday seems to present a new opportunity to slip back into his old, troublemaking self and he doesn’t know what to do. Meanwhile, he falls in love unexpectedly. Because he considers himself a lady’s man, he doesn’t know how to deal with all the emotions that come with love. It’s all new territory for Frank – being a good guy, being in love – and Book 3 is the story of him trying to navigate it.

What are some of your favorite sports-themed books and movies that you would recommend to teenagers?

Hoop Dreams – Maybe one of the best movies of all time, sports or not. It’s an eye-opening documentary about the struggle of two teenagers from Chicago who dream of becoming college basketball players. It was the first movie that showed me how hard it really is to “make it.”

When We Were Kings – I cry every time I watch this documentary. It’s the story of Muhammed Ali and George Foreman’s famous Rumble in the Jungle in 1978. I was 12 or 13 when I watched it, and besides learning about the fight, I learned elements of black history I never knew, like Ali’s activism, and James Brown’s music and even some of the political history of the Congo.

No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson – As a kid, Iverson was one of my favorite basketball players, but this documentary focuses on a fight he had in high school, before he became a global celebrity. It insightfully discusses race, class and the criminal justice system.

Do you think you will stick with sports-themed books or are you interested in experimenting with other genres?

Running out of space, but yes I plan to write other genres! I’m working on some short stories/novel about…I don’t really know what they’re about yet. Mostly immigration, family, love and loss. There’s probably gonna be fantasy in there, somehow. Basic story stuff, I guess.

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 came out this year?

Helen Oyeyemi’s What Is Not Your Is Not Yours and Mariko Tamaki’s Saving Montgomery Sole look amazing. I’m trying to get into fantasy, magical realism and the paranormal, so I’m pretty juiced about these. And Meg Medina’s Burn Baby Burn is set in NYC in the summer of 1977, and the idea of disco balls and bell bottoms on fire has me all kinds of excited.

FullSizeRenderLJ Alonge has played pick-up basketball in Oakland, Los Angeles, New York, Kenya, South Africa and Australia. Basketball’s always helped him learn about his community, settle conflicts, and make friends from all walks of life. He’s never intimidated by the guy wearing a headband and arm sleeve; those guys usually aren’t very good. As a kid, he dreamed of dunking from the free throw line. Now, his favorite thing to do is make bank shots. Don’t forget to call “bank!” You can connect with him on twitter @lanre_ak.


Interview with Kimberly Reid

Everyone, please welcome Kimberly Reid to Rich in Color! Kimberly’s new book, Perfect Liars, came out last week from Tu Books, and we’re very excited to chat with her about it. Perfect Liars sounds like a great summer read–is it on your to-read list yet?

Perfect LiarsAndrea Faraday is junior class valedictorian at the exclusive Woodruff School, where she was voted Most Likely to Do Everything Right. But looks can be deceiving. When her parents disappear, her life—and her Perfect Girl charade—begins to crumble, and her scheme to put things right just takes the situation from bad to so much worse. Pretty soon she’s struck up the world’s least likely friendship with the juvenile delinquents at Justice Academy, the last exit on the road to jail—and the first stop on the way out.

If she were telling it straight, friendship might not be the right word to describe their alliance, since Drea and her new associates could not be more different. She’s rich and privileged; they’re broke and, well, criminal. But Drea’s got a secret: she has more in common with the juvie kids than they’d ever suspect. When it turns out they share a common enemy, Drea suggests they join forces to set things right. Sometimes, to save the day, a good girl’s gotta be bad.

1. What were you most excited about when writing Perfect Liars? How is Perfect Liars different from your Langdon Prep series? What was your favorite part about each work?

I enjoyed writing a cast of ex-juvie kids deemed “bad” by society working together to save their tiny part of it by applying the very skills that earned them that status.

The Langdon Prep series and Perfect Liars both have strong female leads dealing with class, wealth and privilege, but from different sides. Chanti Evans in Langdon Prep has none of these things when she begins attending a school where everyone else does. It’s the reverse situation in Perfect Liars, where Andrea Faraday has is it all when she’s thrown together with kids who have nothing, not even their freedom in some cases. Drea and Chanti approach crime-solving and how they see the world from very different perspectives, though they ultimately want to help people who have less than they do.

In the Langdon Prep books, my favorite thing is Chanti—I love her ferocity, how protective she is of her friends, family, and neighborhood despite their faults. I love that she has moments of self-doubt as we all do, but she plows ahead, anyway. She has far more confidence than I did as a sixteen-year-old. My favorite thing about Perfect Liars was writing Drea’s crew of characters. They’re criminals, but they have moments when they want to do what’s right, even while the temptation to do bad is difficult to resist. I like the way a common enemy brings them together despite their differences. When I see readers use #squadgoals when discussing Perfect Liars, it makes me smile.

2. I saw on your Tu Books bio that your mother is a homicide detective and your husband runs a city courtroom. How did those things influence Perfect Liars?

So, so much. As a kid, I grew up around cops because my mother was a police officer. She later became an investigator for the district attorney’s office and eventually married my stepdad, a public defender, so the justice system—both the prosecution and defendant side of it—helped shape my perspective from a young age. The trend continued in my adulthood when I worked in the software business providing services to police departments. My husband worked for the police before moving to the courts. In fact, I was picking him up from work one day when I got the idea for Perfect Liars. I noticed all these teens hanging around his building. He told me there was an alternative high school housed in the justice center, that the juvie court judge was also the school’s co-principal, and that some of the kids had been through the detention system. I knew immediately this would be the setting of my next non-Langdon Prep book.

3. Andrea sounds like such an interesting protagonist! Can you tell us more about her? What did you enjoy most about writing her?

My favorite thing about Drea is how her new friends—though she’s initially reluctant to call them that—make her question her belief system and prejudices. She may be a brown girl, but her wealth and class afford her some privilege that the juvie kids don’t have, even Jason, the white boy in the crew, to some extent. These kids unknowingly teach her lessons that challenge her to change, and to realize she has more in common with them than she’s willing to admit.

4. I’m interested in learning more about the kids Andrea teams up with at the Justice Academy. Can you give us a sentence or two about each of them?

Gigi is wise beyond her years, brilliant with languages (she’s fluent in eleven of them), and could convince you the sky isn’t blue even while you’re staring at it. She knows her mind and will suffer no fools—she ain’t got time for that. Jason can hack anything tech but is clueless when it comes to people, or so it seems. His appearance can deceive—he’s the youngest of the crew and baby-faced, but is perpetually angry at the world because it has been hard on him and he resents that. Xavier is calm and always in control, even though he’s had more heartache in his seventeen years than anyone should. He’s very good at reading people and situations, but you can’t be fooled by his zen-like approach to life because he can also jack someone up if the situation calls for it.

5. What are some of your favorite books? Have any of them inspired or influenced your writing?

The minute I could string a sentence together, I began writing poems, and I still love poetry, but the first book I can remember reading that made me want to be a novelist is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I was about ten or eleven, and didn’t really understand all the themes, but despite it being set in the early twentieth century in a world that had nothing to do with me, and included the bigotry of the time, I connected to Francie Nolan. It impressed me that the author could do that, make up people that felt real enough that I was convinced I knew them, and I wanted to do that, too. In high school, I was influenced by John Steinbeck and Jane Austen—they may be part of the reason I tend to write about class so often. In college, I discovered the work of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Ernest Gaines. Favorite writers now include a range from Edwidge Danticat to Lee Childs to Chang Rae-Lee to Walter Mosley. I don’t think I write like any of them (I wish!), but they all inspire my writing because I want to write characters my readers connect with, and stories my readers thrill to, the way their characters and stories do for me.

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

I have a lot of YA on the list. Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee. Shiny Broken Pieces by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra. Even if the Stars Fall by Mia Garcia. Keep Me in Mind by Jaime Reed. Shame the Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. I’m looking forward to the third book in Joseph Bruchac’s Killer of Enemies series, Valynne Maetani’s next book, and The Hate U Give by Angela Thomas. Some of these may not be out until next year—I’m not sure—but I look forward to them all.

ReidKimberly Reid is the author of the Langdon Prep young adult mystery series starting with My Own Worst Frenemy, and the Colorado Book Award winning memoir No Place Safe. Most of Reid’s family is in the crime-fighting business—her mother was a homicide detective, and her husband runs a city courtroom—so she can’t help but write crime fiction, knowing she’ll never run out of stories. She currently lives near Denver, Colorado, but her roots are firmly planted in Georgia clay and she still calls Atlanta home.


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.


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.


Interview with Janie Chodosh


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.


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.

prophecy warrior

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?

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.