Meet the Authors Heating Up this Year’s Miami Book Fair, Part 2

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[Note from Frolic: This series of interviews is a partnership between Miami Book Fair and Frolic. These authors are some of more than 300 authors participating in the 2020 Miami Book Fair. They are all gathering together from all over the world in conversation, all virtual, all safe, all unique, all free between Nov. 15-22. Visit miamibookfaironline.com and register for free and enjoy these conversations for free: 

Twisted Tales: Liz Brasewell/Straight on Till Morning, Jen Calonita/Conceal, Don’t Feel, Elizabeth Lim/So This is Love 

Own Your Magic: TJ Klune/The House in the Cerulean Sea & The Extraordinaries, Bethany C. Morrow/A Song Below Water, Mark Oshiro/Each of Us a Desert, Lauren Shippen/A Neon Darkness; this 

DC Comics panel: featuring Kami Garcia/Teen Titans: Beast Boy-Teen Titans Raven, Sarah Kuhn/Shadow of the Batgirl, Alex Sanchez/You Brought Me the Ocean, Maggie Stiefvater/Swamp Thing: Twin Branches, Laurie Halse Anderson/Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed, Danielle Paige/Mera: Tidebreaker; and so much more.

For more information please visit  www.miamibookfair.com, follow Miami Book Fair @miamibookfair, #MiamiBookFair2020 #MBF2020 #MiamiBookFairOnline.]

First up, we have author Kalynn Bayron!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?

Kalynn Bayron: It was a combination of things; my deep love of storytelling and fairytales, but also the lack of representation in these kinds of stories. As much as I loved fairytales and fantasy, I rarely saw anyone who looked like me as a main character. I wrote Cinderella Is Dead for that younger version of myself who desperately wanted to see Black girl in a ball gown getting to have the same adventures as everyone else.

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

While I adore Sophia and Constance, and I think I had a lot in common with them when I was a teenager, Amina is the character I relate to now as an adult. She struggles with reconciling her past and her present. She never feels like she has to be just one thing, and she’s given up caring about what people think of her, especially when they don’t know the whole story. She’s also living her best life by residing in a secluded cabin in the woods and honestly, I’m trying to get on her level.

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

Our stories are powerful. They always have been. The never ending task of getting others to recognize and support these kinds of stories is the issue. The visibility of stories like mine and so many others is due to the hard work of the authors who came before. Literary giants like Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and Octavia Butler showed me what it meant to tell the story I needed to tell, to be authentic, to put in the work. I’m glad that our stories are being uplifted, and I hope the support will continue. 

What can the audience expect from your Miami Book Fair 2020 presentation?

I am looking forward to speaking with fellow authors Lilliam Rivera, Tracy Deonn, and Chloe Gong. I think this is a great opportunity to talk about YA retellings and the power that writing for young readers has. 

Which author are you most excited to see in Miami Book Fair 2020?

I can’t pick just one! I’m looking forward to seeing both Tracy Deonn and Lilliam Rivera.  

Author Kacen Callendar is up next!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel? 

Kacen Callender: There were different sources of inspiration behind Felix Ever After: I learned that I’m a demiboy a few years ago as a nonbinary person who at times feels that my gender shifts to a more binary male. I hadn’t heard the term before, and I knew that I wanted to see a book featuring a protagonist questioning his own gender identity and realizing that he’s a demiboy, too, to potentially help anyone else on their own gender identity journey. I also really wanted to see myself, fully, for the first time in a story as a Black, queer, trans person, and to write the sort of queer rom-com that readers can get lost in.

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

I relate a lot to Felix, and not only because we share the same identities, but because of his internal struggle as well. Like Felix, I’ve also often worried that I might be “one marginalization too many” for love, and have had to focus on my self-love and self-acceptance, as Felix also must learn to do. I also loved that I had the power to declare that both Felix and I are powerful and worthy of love in my writing.

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

Well, I don’t necessarily know about adult books—but on the YA side, it’s because the Gen-Z readers themselves are so able to realize their own uniqueness and power, and they want to see characters who reflect them: who are discussing topics that I, a millennial, had barely been aware of in college, who are taking more action to make change. This is a revolutionary generation, and it makes sense that YA novels would reflect their voices and give them the stories they want to see.

What can the audience expect from your Miami Book Fair 2020 presentation?

 I just finished filming for one panel today! I’ll be sharing about my experience as a queer and trans author from the Caribbean on a panel called So Queer, So Caribbean, discussing my not-yet-published adult fantasy novel, King of the Rising. I’ll be on another panel for Felix Ever After, and filming hasn’t started for it just yet, but I’m excited to talk even more about Felix.

Which author are you most excited to see in Miami Book Fair 2020

Oh, it’s unfair to ask me to choose—there are way too many authors I respect and love in the lineup to pick just one!

Up next, author Jeff VanderMeer!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind A Peculiar Peril?

Jeff VanderMeer: Jonathan Lambshead is the protagonist, inheriting his grandfather’s weird mansion. The grandfather, Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead, was the star of two anthologies of short fiction, a fake disease guide and a cabinet of curiosity-themed collection. For both of those I had to create quite the backstory for Dr. Lambshead. Afterwards, I started thinking about some of the mysteries in Dr. Lambshead’s life and had a eureka moment imagining his grandson investigating them. That led to exploring wild, hard-to-control magic via an alt-Earth called Aurora, which Jonathan discovers behind a magical door in the mansion. From there it just took off. Most of the action is set in the historically mashed-up Europe of Aurora—an area of the world I know well from traveling there a lot. And Jonathan is very much based on me as a teen: someone who grew up in a British Commonwealth Country and then came back to the US. Which is close to Jonathan’s story.

What character in A Peculiar Peril do you most relate to and why? 

 I related to all of them! Well, not really, but I have a fondness for most of them, even the disembodied head of Napoleon as military advisor to an alt-Crowley who is trying to conquer all the Earths. I do like very much the Celestial Beasts in the novel, which include the Comet Man, the Golden Sphere, and Ruth Less. Ruth Less is supposedly a tool of the villain, but has hidden depth and a limitless pouch that includes whole universes. I love her attempt to make sense of the world she’s been conjured into, which is so different from her home world. And I do sympathize with the Golden Sphere. Everyone wants to capture it to help conquer all the Earths. And it just wants to be free.

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

 I think you answered your own question…in the question.

What can the audience expect from your Miami Book Fair 2020 presentation?

 A lot of talk about how we view animals and how important that is. As well as the fine line we walk now. We need escapism. We need things that speak to the moment. But misjudge how you speak to the moment and you wind up not being of much use. But it’s a wide-ranging conversation.

Which author are you most excited to (virtually) see in Miami Book Fair 2020?

 I don’t really think of it that way. What I’m going to be looking for in the schedule is the unexpected combination of talents. The mix that seems most unusual and that will be the most surprising. So, I’m not yet sure what I’m going to watch!

Author Ismée Williams is up next!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?

Ismée Williams: My first book, WATER IN MAY, about a 15-yo Dominican-American girl, Mari, who wants nothing more than to have a baby so someone in her family will finally love her, was based heavily on my experience as a pediatric cardiologist working at Columbia University Medical Center in Washington Heights (spoiler: Mari finds out the baby she’s carrying has only half a heart). I’m incredibly proud of that book and I think it accomplished what I intended, which was to raise awareness of congenital heart disease, the #1 most common birth defect. But for my second book, I wanted to center the romance. I’m a huge fan of romance novels! I wanted to highlight the diversity of Latinx identity. And I wanted to celebrate New York City and the beauty of a place where people of all different backgrounds and walks of life can belong. I’ve always found the subways fascinating, how a construction worker in her fluorescent vest might be sitting in front of a banker in a suit who’s standing beside a nanny holding the stroller of a toddler who’s staring at a group of teens laughing at a video on someone’s phone. I sometimes make up stories about the people I see on the train (something I learned to do in church as a child). I thought it would be cool for a couple to meet on the train, two teens who wouldn’t otherwise know each other because they live very different lives in very different parts of the city: a Dominican-American baseball prodigy from Washington Heights who maybe wants to be a poet and an Upper East Side private school girl who wants to be a professional ballerina–even though her Havana-born mother feels that is an unacceptable career choice for a modern woman. That was the spark that got me started. 

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

Isa’s life shares a lot of similarities with mine. Both our mothers are Cuban immigrants. I danced ballet for thirteen years. I was the girl who many people often didn’t realize spoke Spanish. But I wasn’t as brave as Isa. I was a rule follower who never would have gone against my parents’ wishes. In that way, I relate more to Alex. Alex is very aware of how others perceive him and he’s constantly making adjustments to improve that perception and appease others. He wants to do what is expected of him: be a good son, a good brother, get drafted into the pros so he can make his papi proud and take care of his mami. He doesn’t want to tell his papi about his poetry because he knows Papi won’t accept it. Loving Isa and fighting for her is the most rebellious act he commits. At least in the beginning.  

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

I think novels with strong, unique characters will always have an audience. I certainly was attracted to stories with powerful female figures when I was young, and I still am. What I’m most excited about in current literature is the push for diversity. We Need Diverse Books was founded in 2014 with the goal to get more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of children. As a pediatrician with a research focus in child development, I understand the importance of young minds seeing themselves in the pages of a book. Rudine Sims Bishop’s premise that a story can be a mirror, and can show a child all the wonderful things they are capable of achieving, is very real. At the same time, books featuring characters from all different types of backgrounds and experiences increase empathy among readers who may not know an individual with that background or experience in real life. It’s important to point out that many different types of diversity exist, including racial, cultural, religious, gender-identity, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, ability level and more. It’s also important to recognize that these identities can overlap and that there are many of us who have complicated backgrounds with heritage in more than one category. This is another area in which I personally am very invested. I’m currently exploring the idea that individuals of mixed backgrounds can sometimes feel like islands, alone and without connection to the communities of their parents. But they also have the potential to be bridges, as they have experience in various communities and can help increase understanding and tolerance. Did you know that the largest growing segment of the U.S. population is people of mixed race and culture? This hopefully will translate into more books featuring unique characters being published.

What can the audience expect from your Miami Book Fair 2020 presentation?

I am so honored to have been invited to participate in the Miami Book Fair! It has been on my wish list for quite some time. And it is a dream to be paired with the great Elizabeth Acevedo. I reached out to Elizabeth shortly after reading her debut novel, THE POET X, to tell her how much I loved the story and identified with the character, Xiomara. My abuelita was super strict about boys and not dressing in a way that attracts male attention and I’d never read a book that so closely brought that experience of mine to the surface. I didn’t think Elizabeth would write back to me–in fact, it was the first time I had reached out to an author about their work, but Elizabeth’s book moved me so much I couldn’t not share that with her. So I was thrilled and honored when I received such a lovely and honest and humble response. This was before the National Book Award, but I knew THE POET X was unique and would be recognized as such. And here I was, just a lowly debut author with a quiet book. After that, I got the chance to meet Elizabeth in person at a book signing in Washington Heights and then again at a writer’s conference where her keynote blew us all away. Elizabeth is a remarkable person and an incredible artist. I can’t wait to chat with her for all of you guys to watch! 

Which author are you most excited to see in Miami Book Fair 2020?

Well Elizabeth Acevedo of course! But seriously, this is going to be a monumental book fair. There are so many kidlit authors I am dying to see including fellow Las Musas Aida Salazar, Donna Barba Higuera, Jenny Torres Sanchez and Zoraida Córdoba–I’ve read all their books and they are phenomenal! I’m also a huge fan of Mark Oshiro, F.C. Yee, Renée Adhieh and Tiffany D. Jackson. So yeah, I’m going to be watching a lot of the Miami Book Fair! 

Next, a chat with author Bethany Morrow!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel? 

Bethany Morrow: My inspiration for ASBW was the undeniable power and influence of Black women’s voices, and the violence directed at us for not simply having survived, but for refusing to ingest that misogynoir. 

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

While I can relate to aspects of both the main characters, Tavia and Effie, I was a lot more self-possessed as a teenager and very ready to hold mirrors up to people. While quite different to her as well, I’d actually say I’m more like Naema’s character, in the way that she doesn’t doubt herself—but readers will see more of her (from her own perspective instead of someone else’s) in A CHORUS RISES (June 1, 2021).

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

I think such characters have always been popular, it’s just that they’ve all historically looked the same. Power in media has always been assigned to one group of people, unless it’s painted as malevolent. The stories we’re seeing now have everything to do with the grit, persistence, and burden of marginalized authors telling our own stories unapologetically.

What can the audience expect from your Miami Book Fair 2020 presentation?

There’s gotta be some element of spontaneity, for both my and the audience’s sake, so I’ll never know exactly what you can expect. But there’s always good commentary and conversation, and excitement for what’s going on especially in young adult literature right now!

Which author are you most excited to see in Miami Book Fair 2020?

It’s always a good day whenever I get to see or hear from Darcie Little Badger, and Tiffany D Jackson, and Tochi Onyebuchi. Justin A Reynolds and Kalynn Bayron are gonna be there, too? This line-up is definitely stacked! 

Last but not least, an interview with author Alex London!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel? 

Alex London: As a young adult series, each book has been about the characters finding more and more of themselves through the trial and tribulations of their world, but as an epic fantasy, those trials and tribulations have grown larger and more complex in each book. For the finale, Gold Wings Rising, I wanted to link the personal journey of my two heroes to the journey of the society itself. It went from a book about falconers at war to a story of family, history, community, and trauma, as they learn, on a personal, political, and historical level that you cannot heal a wound with the tools that made it.

Also, giant killer birds of prey at war with humanity was just pretty cool to write.

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

Brysen has the most of me, psychologically speaking, of any character I’ve ever written. While our lives are very different, our longings are similar, the way we carry our wounds, how we strive and stray and struggle against ourselves. I’m older than he is and I like to think I have a healthier worldview and make better choices, but so much of his pain, his anxiety, but also his romantic hopefulness in spite of everything comes from me. Unlike him, however, I didn’t have a ton of boyfriends as a teen, though just like him, I fell for the wrong guys all the time. The consequences were, for me in the suburbs, less dire than for him on the high Uztari plateau beset by enemies on the ground and in the sky.

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

I’d think they always do? We don’t generally stick with a plot of any kind unless we’re drawn to the characters. You can write as fantastical a world as you can dream, but your characters need to be grounded in recognizable emotional truth or no one will go on the journey with you.

What can the audience expect from your Miami Book Fair 2020 presentation?

Jeff and I talking about racoons more than either of us expected, I imagine. Our backyards. Murderbirds. Also questioning “the canon” of speculative fiction and how it privileges not only certain stories, but certain story structures that Sci Fi and Fantasy literature would  be richer for moving past.

Which author are you most excited to see in Miami Book Fair 2020?

At this point in the pandemic, I’d be delighted to see ANY author live in person, and would’ve loved to have met the inimitable Carl Hiaasen, but I suppose the blessing of a digital festival is that I don’t have to choose just one. I can, in time, watch all the recorded events if I wanted to! It’s an embarrassment of bookish riches. 

We’ll see you at the fair!

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