Meet The Authors Heating Up Scholastic’s Love Stories Panel

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Scholastic’s “I Read YA @ Home” monthly series is proud to partner with Brazos Bookstore (Houston, TX) for a “Love Stories” panel on February 8, 2021 at 5:00 pm (EST). Moderated by Frolic’s Aurora Dominguez, the panel will feature authors including Jessica Verdi (FOLLOW YOUR ARROW), Lucas Rocha (WHERE WE GO FROM HERE), Alice Oseman (HEARTSTOPPER VOL. 2), Stephan Lee (K-POP CONFIDENTIAL) and Debbie Rigaud (TRULY MADLY ROYALLY/SIMONE BREAKS ALL THE RULES).

Our YA expert Aurora got the chance to chat with a few of Scholastic’s most exciting authors about their recent book releases. Up first, we have author Aida Salazar!

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent book? 

Aida Salazar: This story was written in March 2018, months before the world’s eyes turned their attention to the horrors of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the U.S. Mexican border where 3500 migrant children (mostly from Central American countries) were separated from their parents. It was informed by my own migrant story and what I witnessed as an undocumented child but also, because my communities were experiencing real persecution. That January, the Trump administration began to retaliate against sanctuary states and cities across the country. Sanctuary cities are those that will not criminalize migrants for being here without authorization. The mayor of Oakland alerted the community that ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) would be conducting raids in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live. Despite the mayor’s warnings, and the fact many migrants hid that day, ICE detained nearly three hundred undocumented people. They took them while they worked in factories, as they picked up their children from school, or while they vended on the street. During that time, I also learned of the death of two undocumented migrant farmworkers, a husband and wife, who were on the way to work one morning and were followed and chased by ICE. The couple died in the car crash as a result of the chase leaving behind six orphans. This, for being in the country without authorization which is only a misdemeanor offense. It is as big a crime as when we don’t use the crosswalk while crossing the street. My life, my study, my understanding of the long-standing criminalization of migration made these stories have a deeper meaning for me. They were very alive in my broken heart when I wrote Betita’s story. 

Now, how Betita actually came to me is an entirely different story. She came on the whispering wings of her very words. I was studying and taking notes on a picture book about losing a grandparent and before I knew it, my pen wrote the word “deportation” onto the page in front of me. All of a sudden, a little girl was telling me her story and I did everything I could to listen carefully and write it down as if I were her personal secretary. She appeared in the spirit of my imagination day and night. She did not leave for a week. She came as a full person, with a past, present, and future and with a story so urgent she came to tell it to me, someone who had known what it was to be undocumented, but also someone who happened to be sitting and holding a pen and paper in her hand. By the end of the week, I learned how Betita came to lose her father, land in a detention center with her mother, what she experienced in detention, and how she eventually was reunited with her family. When I came up for air, my face was awash in tears, one third of her story was written in her voice and the entire plot was outlined. I am still unable to understand the magic of what happened. I’m not sure I ever will, as the muse is a great mystery, but I am grateful to have been ready and willing to bring Betita’s story to life. 

What character in this book do you most relate to and why? 

There is a little bit of me in all of them in some ways. I am an educator like her mother, rooted in history and myth like her father, a fighter like Marisel (the Dreamer), an organizer and litigator like Fernanda (the attorney). But if I had to choose, I would say I am most like Betita not only because I was also an undocumented child but more because I too share her optimism and belief in the power of our words to inspire change. 

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now? 

There are so many stories that have not been told. We have been reading and absorbing what Toni Morrison has called “the master narrative,” – the white cis heterosexual perspective. When voices that depart from this narrative are given a chance to be heard by publishing and in the media, it is not only refreshing but powerful. They work to dismantle the master narrative. The entire country is in the middle of a reckoning around race, identity, and systemic oppression and voices that have been historically marginalized are here to take part in that reckoning. So many of us are moved by that power. 

Please describe the content of your latest read and what can readers expect from it. 

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything. It is genre-expansive novel unlike anything you’ve read before. It is pulls from science fiction, rom com, folklore, myth, contemporary, poetry. I really connected with the character — a Chicana who longs for justice for her undocumented mother. But is told through lyricism and deep connection to many things I love – land, ancestors, folklore, justice. The book is going to do a lot of good work in the world. Look out for it! 

What’s next for you in the bookish world? 

I’ve got two biography picture books coming from Scholastic one of which is unannounced but the other is Jovita Wore Pants: The Story of a Revolutionary Fighter. Jovita is based on my distant great aunt who dressed as a man and fought for religious freedom in 1920’s Mexico. Also, I’m translating, from the Spanish to English, an extraordinarily unique middle grade novel for Levine Querido which isn’t announced yet but will be out Fall 2021. Plus, one of the most healing things I’ve done during the pandemic is co-edit with Yamile Saied Mendez an anthology about menstruation by IBPOC middle grade authors currently titled, Calling the Moon which will be out through Candlewick in 2022. The title might change but I am so excited to be working with some of the most celebrated middle grade authors writing today like Erin Entrada Kelly, Nikki Grimes, Padma Venkatraman, Ibi Zoboi, Christina Soontornvat, Guadalupe Garcia McCall and more. Of course, I’m currently working on bringing new stories into the world but publishing is very hush hush about these things and I sadly can’t share. 

Who is your current favorite writer? Why? 

Edwidge Danticat. I am writing a biographical poem about her for a secret picture book and so I’ve been diving into all of her written work. It is so exquisite. Her depth and her lyricism are so inspiring. But more, as a person and a writer, she is unafraid to look into the many wounds we carry, and then with her work, exposes them in all of their rawness, finds beauty and makes it feel sublime. 

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?  

Be gentle and have patience with yourself. Practice writing and read when you can. The days when you aren’t writing are part of the lived richness that you will bring to the work when it is time to put pen to paper.  

Up next, author Lauren Tarshis!

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind I Survived: The California Wildfires, 2018?

Lauren Tarshis: In November 2018, I received an email from a woman named Holly Fisher, whose son Lucas reads my books. She was from Paradise, CA, and was writing to me four days after the Camp Wildfire destroyed their town. Her husband Josh is a firefighter who saved many lives that day. Holly wrote me a beautiful email – I can hear her voice in my mind now as I’m thinking about it — asking if I would come to Paradise to hear stories of kids who’d lived through the experience. She and I spoke, and a few months later I went to Paradise with my husband and three of our four kids. Holly and Josh showed us around the ruins of Paradise —  it was empty, desolate, apocalyptic. The air was toxic. On street after street, there was nothing but burned-out lots, twisted metal, husks of cars. They told us their stories and over the next two days I visited with hundreds of kids and teachers in their temporary schools. Many of the kids asked if I would write an I Survived story about them. I wasn’t sure. But then, three months later, my husband and I went back to Paradise. The town was starting to take shape again, and there was hope in the air. I decided to write the book. The main characters are named Josh and Holly, after the Fishers.

Tell us what to expect from this book.

Like all of my books, my goal was to tell the story of an important event through the eyes of a fictional child — in this case two children — who lived through it. I wanted It to feel authentic — the fear, the loss, the uncertainty — but the theme is resilience. I always want my characters to model mindsets and personal connections that enable them to come through difficult events and, eventually, to heal and move forward. I want the books to be realistic but extremely hopeful.  I also want to pack in tons of information.

For this book, I wanted kids to understand what causes monster wildfires that burn hundreds of thousands of acres and why wildfires are becoming so much bigger and hotter and more destructive. I wanted to give them a sense of the beauty of these wild places, and why we must work together to try to protect them. And of course my goal is to also write an exciting and suspenseful story that will grab even reluctant and struggling readers.

Why do you feel books with powerful and unique themes are so popular and have such a voice right now? 

I think that kids need frameworks to understand our uncertain world, and gravitate towards characters who they can connect to, who are struggling in some way — and then overcome their struggles. I think kids, even kids don’t say they don’t love to read, are eager to discover new worlds and “meet” people that inspire them in surprising ways.

Please describe the content of I Survived: The California Wildfires, 2018 and what can readers expect from it. 

The story features two main characters (a first!, two 11-year-old cousins named Josh and Holly. Josh is reeling from a shock in the family  (I won’t give that away) and he and his mom leave their New Jersey town to visit with cousins in California that Josh has never met. They live in a beautiful, very rural part of California (not Paradise, a fictional town further north; this fire was actually not the Camp fire, but the Carr Fire, which happened in July of 2018, in the area of Redding). Josh and Holly get caught in the middle of a fast-moving fire, and have to rely on their wits and ability to collaborate and trust each other.

What’s next for you in the bookish world? 

In my bookish world, I am continuing with I Survived, and also loving the graphic novel versions that the Scholastic team is creating. I am also starting a NEW series, a wildlife adventure series, called Jake Zeppelin’s Deadly Adventures. The goal is to treat the world of animals and nature as I have history, with lots of information and context, written so kids can understand, all wrapped up in a (hopefully) thrilling story.  

Who is your current favorite writer? Why? 

My current favorite writer is Jason Reynolds. I love his novels and I actually listened to the audio version of Stamped, which he read. He was captivating!

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?  

I have no “talent” for writing. Writing is, I believe, a skill that is learned through lots of practice, like playing a sport or cooking or playing Mine Craft. Making mistakes is part of learning. I have learned not to get frustrated when I spend days and days writing chapters that are boring or confusing or ridiculous, when I have to start again from scratch.  Writing these “bad” chapters is part of the learning journey. With each book, I try to get better. So my advice for young writers is to write, get feedback, and feel proud of everything you write because it is helping you get better.

Last but not least, author Melinda Salisbury!

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind Hold Back the Tide?

Melinda Salisbury: A combination of my love for Scotland, and the climate disaster. At its heart, it’s a novel about the devastating effect of industrialization, and what we’ve been told is ‘progress’, on the natural world, albeit on a very localized scale. I wanted to write about how even the tiniest changes to a balanced ecosystem can wreak unimaginable havoc, and how it’s almost always the greed of already-rich people that’s behind it. Hundreds of thousands of young people across the world are protesting week in, week out – and not just about the planet, but about human lives and human rights too – to ask adults to fix the mess they’ve made and we’re still not listening, we’re still making excuses. The clock is running down and we’re looking away.

Tell us what to expect from this book.

A damning indictment of the advancement of progress at the expense of nature. Secrets being unearthed, the past being confronted. Teens getting the job done. Friendships forged and strengthened. Hidden depths. A small, isolated community truly coming together. Beautiful scenery. Horror. A recipe for potatoes you should try making.

Why do you feel books with powerful and unique themes are so popular and have such a voice right now?

Because young people are getting very bored of and angry with adults lying to them and sticking their heads in the sand about so many issues. Racism, sexism, transphobia, queerphobia, the state of the planet, healthcare, education – it’s hard to think of an area that we haven’t comprehensively and completely ruined for the generations coming up behind us. In YA fiction at least teens and young adults are centered as heroes and problem-solvers, and have the active power to change the worlds they live in. I think young readers want and need to see that. And I think it’s the least we owe them.

What’s next for you in the bookish world?

I have two projects currently under contract, both of which are new directions for me; one very left-field and one that is a more natural progression. Neither of which are public knowledge yet so that’s all you get!

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

I don’t have a current favorite writer! There are lots of writers whose work I always return to, because their stories always feel like coming home and I know they can be relied on to entertain, or educate, or inspire, or delight, or horrify me! I’m not keen on the idea of absolute favorites, because I’m trying not to deal in absolutes, these days. I want to be flexible and open to change.

Any writing advice for aspiring writers? 

Be wary of writing advice! One writer’s sure-fire never-fail tip is another’s anathema. That said, you should read as much and as often as you can. A lot. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, short stories, flash fic, fan fic, essays, long-form articles, blogposts, Instagram captions. Read other people’s stories. It will teach you new words and new story structures and new points of view and those will breed ideas. And if you’ve got an idea, you’re only a little discipline away from being a writer.

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