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!
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]

Two New Releases

MarchMarch (Book One) by John Robert Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Illustrated by Nate Powell

Top Shelf Productions is proud to present the first volume of MARCH, a graphic novel trilogy co-authored by Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) and Andrew Aydin, with art by Nate Powell (a New York Times bestseller, Eisner Award winner, and finalist for the LA Times Book Prize).

MARCH is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights (including his key roles in the historic 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Selma-Montgomery March), meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation.

In MARCH, a true American icon teams up with one of America’s most acclaimed graphic novelists. Together, they bring to life one of our nation’s most historic moments, a period both shameful and inspiring, and a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations.

winds of salemWinds of Salem (The Beauchamp Family #3) by Melissa de la Cruz

Modern-day witch Freya Beauchamp is cast back in time to 1692 amongst the Salem Witch Trials by an enemy spell, as her present-day family attempts to reopen the passages of time to bring her home. Moving between past and present, Winds of Salem’s dizzying plot twists and page-turning suspense is sure to bewitch fans old and new.

[Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: The Bitter Kingdom

Title: Bitter Kingdom
Author: Rae Carson
Genre: Epic/Heroic Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 433
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Review Copy: Edelweiss Digital ARC
Availability: August 27, 2013

Summary: The epic conclusion to Rae Carson’s Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she’s never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads.

Background Info: If you haven’t started this series, here is a video that will give you an overview of the first book and the general direction of the series.

Review: In the first book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Elisa is a tentative sixteen year old trying to figure out how to be “the chosen one” for her people and wondering if she’s up to the task. There is also a significant amount of romance involved. In The Crown of Embers, Elisa’s confidence increases as she takes on more leadership and continues to grow into her responsibilities, her abilities and her relationships. Finally, in The Bitter Kingdom, Elisa’s country has been brought to the brink of a civil war. Within the conflict, Elisa has the opportunity to show her many facets: Queen, Godstone bearer, the chosen one, sorcerer, woman, friend, lover, and horse thief. By the way, that last one is not really something Elisa enjoys since horses are one of her fears, but she will do whatever it takes to achieve her goals.

Elisa has many talents, but she is not perfect by any means. She makes plenty of mistakes along the way – typically due to her impatience. Fortunately, she loves to learn and most importantly she has a close circle of companions who watch out for her and help keep her on track. What really stands out in all three books is the relationships both romantic and otherwise. Elisa and her travel companions trust each other to the point that they have meaningful conversations that are open and painfully honest at times. Over time, Mara, Elisa’s handmaiden, becomes much more than a servant. They become confidants. This is a tight-knit group, but they are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of those around them and they don’t just ignore a misstep. Hector, the man Elisa loves, is not above questioning Elisa when he fears her impulses are in control. They also show their faith in each other, pointing out and applauding strengths.

Though the adventures and discussions are often serious, Carson also allows room for humor. Elisa does sarcasm well and there are even some awkward and funny moments amid the romance. Speaking of romance…wow! I can’t tell much for fear of spoiling things, but if you have read the first two, you know that Carson writes romance beautifully. She balances very realistic situations and concerns with a healthy dose of sensuality. What sets her apart is how she manages to do this without making it all about sex. The focus remains firmly on developing the whole relationship. The physical aspect of the relationship is certainly significant, but it does not overwhelm the other parts.

Unlike some trilogies, this series started out very good and then each book was better than the last. The Bitter Kingdom is a fast paced adventure with chases, fights, sorcery, erupting volcanos, and much more. Rae Carson shared intriguing characters that draw readers into the story and keep them wanting more.

Recommendation: If you have already read the first two books, you will want to get this as soon as it is available on August 27th. If you haven’t, you need to grab The Girl of Fire and Thorns to go ahead and get started. Probably you should just get all three because you are likely to want to read them in quick succession. For fantasy lovers, this is a must read.




Cover Reveal: Killer of Enemies

Killer of EnemiesTake a first look at the cover of Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac, one of Tu Book’s upcoming fall titles!

This is not a once upon a time story.

Years ago, seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen and her family lived in a world of haves and have-nots. There were the Ones—people so augmented with technology and genetic enhancements that they were barely human—and there was everyone else who served them.

Then the Cloud came, and everything changed. Tech stopped working. The world plunged back into a new steam age. The Ones’ pets—genetically engineered monsters—turned on them and are now loose on the world.

Fate has given seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen a unique set of survival skills and magical abilities that she uses to take down monsters for the remaining Ones, who have kidnapped her family.

But with every monster she kills, Lozen’s powers grow, and she connects those powers to an ancient legend of her people. It soon becomes clear to Lozen that she is meant to be a more than a hired-gun hunter.

Lozen is meant to be a hero.

Doesn’t this sound like a blast? I’m excited to get my hands on this book!

Publishing Diverse Books Isn’t About Meeting Quotas

Please welcome Stacy L. Whitman to Rich in Color! Stacy is the publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books that publishes fantasy, science fiction, and mystery for children and young adults. She has agreed to stop by the blog today to talk about why she publishes diverse books and what she’s looking for.

In the years since I started Tu Books in 2009, I’ve had many conversations about why diversity is so important in genre fiction and in fiction for young people. Many times, especially when talking to people who are steeped in fantasy/SF fandom who haven’t had much opportunity to really think about why diversity is important to young readers, I’ve heard comments such as “But speculative fiction is diverse. It’s all about diversity and understanding the Other.” I’ve also been told that we shouldn’t be looking to meet quotas.

Wolf MarkBut publishing diverse books isn’t about meeting quotas, much as we use the stark numbers to show how little things have changed over the years. It’s not about hitting a certain number so much as acknowledging how badly we’re doing at reflecting the real diversity out there in the world, right now. And while speculative fiction really has always been about meeting the Other, it hasn’t always been about understanding the Other (we are getting better at this part, I think). My frustration as a lifelong fan, however, is that although we have plenty of orcs and elves and aliens in spec fic filling symbolic diverse roles, we don’t always do that well on human diversity. Instead, white humans stand for the default “human” role in far too many of our stories.

I publish diverse books because I feel like we’re missing out on (literally) a whole world of awesome stories that have been ignored for far too long: stories in which people of color star as heroes of their own tales, stories in which the worldbuilding and the cultures and the characterization are at once both completely new compared to what’s already out there in the mainstream, and familiar because of our common humanity. I’m looking for stories inspired by folklore that hasn’t been seen enough in the U.S. mainstream and stories that extrapolate another culture’s worldview into the future. I’m looking for fantasy creatures that are not another reincarnation of the British tradition that Tolkien made famous.

This is not to say that I am not looking for stories starring non-humans, though as of now I haven’t quite found a story starring elves or aliens that has quite been the right fit for me. Some have come close; some haven’t. But when it comes to submissions, I look first and foremost for story. Is it a story I love, that I’ll be excited to work on for the next two to three years? Because that’s how long it takes to put a book out, and if I am bored from the first read, I’ll be even more bored in the second, third, and fourth reads.

TankbornPart of the excitement comes from meeting a world that, as a white American of mostly Swedish/German/British/Irish descent, I haven’t seen before. When I first read Tankborn as a submission in 2010, its universe was completely new in the dystopian genre. It’s both hard science fiction and a dystopian tale at once, and it deals deftly yet head-on with the kinds of class and race issues that dystopian stories hint at but don’t always take on boldly, and at the same time it feels like the real future in its technology and language evolution and biology of a new planet.

Not that a world needs to be completely new to me to catch my attention. Sometimes all it takes is one small twist, such as the Chicago I know twisted to become a world in which people have Talents, such as blending into one’s surroundings, moving things with one’s mind, or talking to cats. What matters in each story is that it move me—because it’s so dramatic, or so funny, or so full of action, or perhaps all of the above wrapped in complicated worldbuilding that the author ties together with a neat bow.

But because I’m looking for such a large number of factors to come together in one book, sometimes it’s hard to find exactly what I’m looking for. For example, I’d love to see more submissions in which the main character is African American or of some other African descent, in which the character’s slice of contemporary culture is a strong part of the worldbuilding. Tankborn stars a girl who is of African descent genetically, but it’s set so far in the future and on a world in which the culture is derived from the Indian caste system, so we still don’t have a book from Tu that reflects contemporary African American readers in a way I’d like.

Galaxy GamesI’d also like to see more optimistic forward-looking science fiction. Dystopias are on the wane, and I’d like to see more science fiction in the vein of our launch title Galaxy Games, in which a boy is recruited to play in a galactic competition much like the Olympics. I’m not looking for more sports-related titles per se, just more books with that kind of forward-looking excitement, the idea that the future for people of color will look just as bright as Gene Rodenberry once envisioned it.

I’ve also been on the hunt for years for an Asian-set steampunk. The Victorian era happened all over the world. I’d love to see a take on the vision of steampunk from the point of view of a citizen of the British colonies all over the world, particularly somewhere like India or Hong Kong (or even in the minority communities of the UK, the way Y.S. Lee did so well in the mystery series The Agency). Let’s look at the past with a new lens, as well, especially in this genre that captures the imagination so enticingly.

I’m looking in particular for more authors of color, as well, because part of our mission as a company is to nurture new authors of color. We were very excited to acquire our first New Visions Award winner earlier this year, and we’ll be announcing the opening of our 2nd annual New Visions contest in the coming months. (I say 2nd annual, but this contest will not be exactly annual due to the amount of reading required of our committee. It will probably be held roughly every year and a half for the first few years at least.)

Until we stop thinking that diversity is an agenda, rather than just a reflection of our readership, we’ll continue to have readers say things like the following: “I prefer ‘diversity neutral’ characters in my reading unless there is a reason to make it part of the story. Religious people might like being preached to in their readings, but most people don’t. If these things are jammed into books because ‘it is the right thing’, people will know, and they won’t likely be pleased. Not many of us care for books with agenda.” (Quote from an anonymous commenter on Nathan Bransford’s blog)

The Monster in the MudballI like to believe that the reason people say things like this is because they still think we’re stuck in an After-School Special world, a world that preaches instead of telling a good story, and they don’t realize that we’re way past that in YA lit today. A few I’m looking forward to, books that star diverse main characters just going about their business being awesome: my fall titles Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac, for which we’ll be doing a cover reveal later this week and you’ll be able to hear all about it then, and The Monster in the Mudball by S.P. Gates, a middle grade adventure about a boy who, with the artifact inspector he meets along the way, must track a monster that’s hatched from a ball of mud in his neighbor’s flat.

Coming next spring, we finally get to see how the Tankborn trilogy ends (it’s GOOD, y’all—you’re going to love it!) and we meet a new world in M.K. Hutchins’s Drift, about a brother and sister who live in a world where everyone lives on islands set on the backs of turtles that drift on the surface of Hell. And further out, we have our first mystery title by New Visions Award winner Valynne E. Maetani, about a girl who accidentally brings the Japanese mafia, the yakuza, down on her family when she discovers her deceased father was once a member of it.

Not one of these books has an agenda, unless that agenda is entertaining young readers with awesome stories, just as books do that star white characters. And I think there’s plenty of room out there for more books like these, so that the nearly half of the kids in our country that are people of color can see themselves reflected in the stories they read, and so that the other half might be able to be entertained putting themselves in the shoes of people like the friends they go to school with. Because even if our books are about fantastical events and people, the effect on the kids that read these books is very real.

Stacy L. WhitmanStacy Whitman is the publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books that publishes fantasy, science fiction, and mystery for children and young adults. In 2009, she founded a small press named Tu Publishing, dedicated to publishing multicultural fantasy and science fiction for children and young adults, which was acquired by Lee & Low Books and became Tu Books. Prior to starting Tu, she was an editor for Mirrorstone, the children’s and young adult imprint of Wizards of the Coast in Seattle. She holds a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College. She has edited elementary school textbooks at Houghton Mifflin, interned at the Horn Book Magazine and Guide, and spent a brief stint working as a bookseller.

New Releases

Happy book birthday to The Weight of Souls (release date: August 6, 2013)!

the weight of soulsThe Weight of Souls

by Bryony Pearce

Sixteen year old Taylor Oh is cursed: if she is touched by the ghost of a murder victim then they pass a mark beneath her skin. She has three weeks to find their murderer and pass the mark to them – letting justice take place and sending them into the Darkness. And if she doesn’t make it in time? The Darkness will come for her… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Definitely grabbing this book when I get the chance!