OYAN Review: Jason Reynolds Talks Like an Author

This post is an article from the Spring 2018 issue of the OYAN Review and has been edited slightly for publication on the blog. It was written by Kristy Kemper Hodge at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library.

It was Saturday night of the OASL Fall Conference, and Jason Reynolds towered on stage. He regaled us with the story of how he went from an obstinate non-reader to the author powerhouse he is today. The story begins with a much younger Jason, who grew up in a neighborhood that was dangerous and full of perils like gangs, shootings, drugs, and death. Where young men walked on one side of the law or the other, dealing and gang-banging or keeping their heads down, going to school, and staying out of trouble. Jason was able to keep out of trouble, and focus on school, but he was no reader. Why read? Why bother when there were no books about people like him? Who looked like him, talked like him, walked like him, lived like him? Or about people like his friends, family, and the people in his neighborhood? What could books possibly offer?

Then came Queen Latifah. Continue reading

Interview with Cat Winters, author of The Cure for Dreaming and In the Shadow of Blackbirds

Interviewed by Bobbye Hernandez, Tillamook Public Library

CatBWOregon author Cat Winters recently had her second YA novel published, The Cure for Dreaming, and she was kind enough to answer some questions about the book as well as some general questions about writing for our newsletter.

 Let’s talk about The Cure for Dreaming. Where/how did you come up with the story?

I was listening to eerie, dreamlike Halloween music during October 2011 and imagined a young woman floating to a ceiling. The experience put me in the mood to write something Gothic, Victorian, and magical, so I turned to the idea of writing about a turn-of-the-twentieth-century stage hypnotist. At the same time, I had also wanted to figure out a way to bring the women’s suffrage movement to life in a novel. An idea struck me: “What would happen if a Victorian man hired a hypnotist to cure his budding suffragist daughter of her rebellious thoughts and dreams?” Thus, The Cure for Dreaming was born.

What made you pair a hypnotist with a suffragist? Also, there are a lot of interesting images and references to early dentistry in the book what made you make Olivia’s father a mad dentist?

Pairing a hypnotist with a suffragist was simply a case of these two different book ideas merging together and turning into one story. I didn’t find any historical examples of people hiring hypnotists to cure suffragists; however, many late-Victorian and early-twentieth-century women were treated for “hysteria,” a catch-all diagnosis that included females behaving in rebellious ways. Extreme cures—hysterectomies, institutionalization, etc.—were used. I wanted to show the dire methods people went to in order to subdue women of the era, but I also chose to incorporate some magical, lighter elements to keep the subject matter from getting too heavy and depressing. CureforDreaming_cover

In the earlier drafts, Olivia’s father was a physician. However, I realized the mother of my In the Shadow of Blackbirds protagonist was a doctor, so I felt I was repeating myself a bit. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be far more interesting and terrifying if Olivia’s father was a Victorian dentist”? My editor loved the choice and encouraged me to go even farther with the squirm-inducing horrors of dentistry of the era.

 Do you ever think that you will follow-up on Olivia or Henry?

I go back and forth on this question, and readers do frequently ask if a sequel is forthcoming. The problem with a sequel is that no significant milestones for the women’s suffrage movement were reached until ten or eleven years after the 1900 setting of The Cure for Dreaming, when western states such as Oregon and California granted women the right to vote. I feel like I’d have to jump ahead about eleven years in order to write a satisfying sequel, which would push the book out of the realm of YA fiction.

Now let’s talk about writing in general, what inspires you to write?

Music, books, movies, places I visit, conversations, emotions I experience, history. In other words, I find inspiration everywhere. I’ve always seen the world through the eyes of a writer, taking everything in as potential scenes for a story.

 Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

The ideas typically start with the discovery of something in history that either intrigues me or upsets me—or both. Oftentimes, I find book ideas from some sort of side research I’ve performed for a previous novel. For example, when writing The Cure for Dreaming, I considered making Olivia’s best friend, Frannie, a quarter Native American. However, when I researched Oregon’s restrictive interracial marriage laws for the 1800s and early 1900s, I discovered I would practically need to write a whole separate novel about Frannie to do justice to this idea. Instead, I turned the information I learned about Oregon’s prejudices of the past into an upcoming YA novel, The Steep and Thorny Way.

What does your writing process look like?

After I’ve formed my initial idea for a book, I let plot ideas marinate inside my head for a bit. I’m a very cerebral writer. Much of my planning and outlining occurs internally instead of on paper. Once I can’t wait another moment to embark upon the story, I sit down and write an opening chapter, which typically helps me figure out the protagonist’s voice and the overall feel of the book. Writing the opening chapter of In the Shadow of Blackbirds immediately helped me figure out the intense setting of the novel, as well as my main character’s no-nonsense way of speaking about her harsh reality.

After I write a first chapter, I usually research and plot some more, and then I dive into the first draft. About halfway through the draft, I print out a calendar for the months and year in which I’m working (October and November 1918 for In the Shadow of Blackbirds) and keep track of all the key moments in the book, leading up to the climax, as if I’m filling out my main character’s day planner. This is the method I’ve used for every single one of my books, and it’s what works for me.

What is your least favorite part of the publishing / writing process?

The waiting. Every single stage of the publishing process requires extreme patience. You wait to see if your book will get published; you wait to receive edits from your editor; you wait to see the cover for the book; and you wait 18 to 24 months from the point when you sold the book to the day the book actually releases.  However, at the same time, I’m extremely thankful the process isn’t a rushed one. A book grows stronger when care and patience are utilized.

Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Ex: Love? Action? Racy?

For me, the hardest scenes are the transitional ones that don’t contain heated action or emotions. It’s far trickier making the smaller moments in a book come to life, even though such scenes are necessary to balance the pace of the book and give characters and readers a breather. Racier love scenes and action scenes are much easier, in my opinion.

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it? Why?

Child kidnapping. I have two kids of my own, and when my daughter was two years old, we experienced a murder/kidnapping in our neighborhood that made national headlines. Police helicopters flew over our house nonstop, search dogs investigated every single one of our homes in the area, and updates about the missing seven-year-old girl aired on our TV until long after her body was found. The man eventually convicted for her murder lived in our neighborhood, and we’d walk past his house and say “hi” to him before any of this happened. It was a horrifying experience that disgusts me to this day, and I can’t even read books about kidnapped children because of it.

Thank you for sharing that with us, it is a very powerful story. What are you working on now? What is your next project?

Shadow of blackbirdsI’m actually lucky enough to have quite a few projects in the works at the moment. My adult fiction debut, The Uninvited (my second ghost story set in WWI-era America), will release August 11, 2015, from HarperCollins. I’m also in the midst of edits for a short story that will be appearing in the YA horror anthology Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, coming August 18, 2015 from Penguin. In addition, I’m working on my aforementioned third YA novel, The Steep and Thorny Way, a Hamlet-inspired 1920s tale about a biracial girl in Oregon.  Amulet Books, the publisher of my other YA novels, acquired that one, and it will be releasing Spring 2016.

What is your favorite genre to read?

Historical fiction, especially if a mystery or ghosts are involved. I suppose that’s not too surprising, considering the types of books I write.

Lastly, what is your favorite young adult novel?

The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak. He wrote the novel in such a creative and powerful style, and I thought his use of Death of the narrator was absolutely brilliant. It also opened my eyes to the experiences of German civilians in Nazi-occupied Germany. I always highly recommend the book to any reader, young or old, male or female.

For more information about Cat Winters you can visit her website at www.catwinters.com.


YALSA YA Lit Symposium 2014

by Aimee Meuchel, Tualatin Public Library

  • Austin? Check
  • Great Authors? Check
  • Scholarship from OYAN? Check
Aimee with Author Andrew Smith

Aimee with Author Andrew Smith

Four days and three nights in Austin proved to be a fun literary adventure.  I was expecting temperatures in the low 70s and instead was greeted by the same cold front that Portland was experiencing with highs of 36 degrees and lows of 28.  Brrrrrr.  Luckily all of the events are in one hotel and you don’t have to leave unless you want to!

I arrived Thursday night and explored Austin on foot.  The next morning, I further explored (ate excellent crepes and drank amazing coffee) until my preconference Friday afternoon.  I attended Tough It Out! Rugged Characters in Young Adult Books.  This session was facilitated by Rollie Welch, Summer Hayes, and Ellsworth Rockefeller, authors of the VOYA column Man Up!  Matt de la Peña, Patrick Jones, Lauren Oliver, Andrew Smith, and Blythe Woolston were the featured authors.  It was a lot of fun to hear the authors speak about their tough characters and learn more about toughness.

Saturday began bright and early.  It was a day full of sessions and a night of book signings!  I attended YA Realness: what makes ‘contemporary realism’ feel true to readers? with our own Sara Ryan.  Also featured were Sara Zarr, Matt de la Pena, Joe Knowles, and Coe Booth.  The best part?  Matt de la Pena announcing that John Green writes Chick Lit!

The most profound session I attended was Talking Book covers with Young Adults: Whitewashing, Sexism, and More.  It was presented by Allie Jane Bruce and Malinda Lo and Jacqueline Woodson (days before she won the NBA)

were the featured authors.  It was fascinating to hear the authors talk about book covers and publishing.  I’m looking at book covers and reading blurbs very differently now that I’m more aware.  Examples: Liar by Justine Larbalestier had a cover with a white girl on the ARC but in the book she is of mixed-race.  Woodson has had her main characters presented in silhouette to disguise their race.

Aimee with author Lauren Oliver

Aimee with author Lauren Oliver

After the Teens’ Top Ten Author Luncheon with Julie Kagawa, Lauren Oliver, and Jennifer A. Nielsen (free books), I attended “Where are the heroes of color in fantasy and sci-fi?”  and “Bridge to Tweenabithia: Reader’s advisory for the gap between juvenile and young adult”.  That evening was the Book Blitz!  Every participant received 6 free books from publishers.  I was lucky enough to get books by Lauren Oliver, Andrew Smith, Blythe Woolston, and more.  My teens enjoyed receiving them as presents.

Sunday was a half day.  It began with GenreQueer: Smashing the closet which talked about LGBTQ representation in teen fiction.  My final session was Keeping it Really WEIRD (books for the fringe & reluctant readers) with tons of authors including the inestimable Bruce Coville.  Lunch was the final event with a speech by R.L. Stine.  He is a funny guy.  Seriously.  He was a comedy writer when he fell into the horror thing.

This experience was awesome.  I met librarians, tons of media specialists, and AUTHORS!  I was a total fangirl for 3 days.  Andrew Smith and Lauren Oliver may have thought I was stalking them.  Susan Campbell Bartoletti is one of the most charming people I have ever met.  I hope she took my Doctor Who and Where’d You Go Bernadette? Recommendations to heart and loved them.

The conference is in our own backyard next year.  It is not a cheap event, but it is worth every penny.  While I didn’t bring back any fresh ideas for programs, I brought back my renewed passion for YA lit.  And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about for all of us bookpushers!

What I learned at ALA 2012: Part 1

Thanks to the YALSA Baker & Taylor Scholarship and our very own OYAN Scholarship, I attended my first ever ALA Annual Conference in sunny SoCal.   This month I’ll use the blog to make my scholarship report with a series of posts about the conference.  I attended a pre-conference, several workshops, all the banquets, several author events and the orgy of the exhibit room floor.  Hopefully, something will be of use to you!

YALSA Pre-conference: “Books We’ll Still Talk About 45 Years From Now”

We were given a short list of 30 titles to read in advance.  Luckily, there were only 10 titles I hadn’t read including (I’m almost ashamed to say), To Kill a Mockingbird, Nation, The Outsiders, and Perks of Being a Wallflower.  I know, you’re wondering how I could have NOT read The Outsiders, not to mention …Mockingbird?  Shocking, but true.  And if truth be known, I still haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird.  Something had to give and that was it.  Anyway, it was a really good movie!  ;>)

Shortly into the workshop I realized that it was more like a Printz award committee meeting.  Which would have been fine if I hadn’t been producing the OYAN Mock Printz workshop for the past 5 years!  However, it was an opportunity to hear Jacqueline Woodson, Mark Shusterman, and Allie Condie provide thoughtful and eloquent answers to questions about writing for teens.  The nuggets I noted were:

  • Characters have to be easy to connect with;
  • That books must deal with issues with which all people grapple;
  • Voices must be relevant and authentic;
  • Avoid using slang and specifics; and
  • Remember that we’re all 14 inside!

Shusterman quoted Madeleine LeEngle, “The essence of childhood doesn’t change” whether you’re writing realistic, dystopian, or historical fiction.

Of course, the hosts plugged the authors’ new books:

  • Shusterman: the sequel to Unwind, came out in AugustUnWholly,
  • Woodson: coming in Oct., a new picture book  – Each Kindness
  • Condie: coming in Nov., the 3rd of the Matched trilogy – Reached

Then we broke into small groups and using a weighted voting system, narrowed the list of 30 to one title we all felt would still be read in 45 years.  And the winner is…(drumroll, please)…Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Next up: Authors! Authors! Authors!