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Month: September 2013

  • CBC Diversity: Write What You Know

    An It’s Complicated! — Authentic Voices guest post by author, Elizabeth Kiem.

    Last month, as the release date of my Cold War thriller Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy drew near, these were the things I worried about:
    Would Russian readers question why I nicknamed Marina, my heroine, ‘Marya’ rather than the more usual ‘Marinka?’

    Would American readers check Google earth and find that the building where Marya lives is not as close to the riverbank as I implied?

    Would anybody notice that Marya flies out of Moscow on a Tupelov 134, which is actually an unmanned drone?

    In other words I worried that readers might question the authenticity of my story, my setting, or my props. But it never occurred to me that I might be challenged on the authenticity of my character – a Russian ballerina with a psychic streak and a lot of family baggage.

    I have been preoccupied with Russia since I was a pre-teen. I wrote my first paper on ‘Détente and Perestroika.’ In college I studied Russian Imperial History and the Great October Revolution. A month after the Soviet Union collapsed I moved to post-Moscow where I lived for four years and watched as monuments toppled and lifestyles crumble. 

    But as I experienced Moscow in real-time, I remained fascinated with the not-so-distant past … and with the youth of my new friends. Every trip to the dacha was a voyage in time; every visit to an antique shop, a glimpse into another generation. When Olga bent my ear about her love life, it was a cultural epiphany. When Stas and I split a bottle of lemon vodka I internalized a new ideology. 

    Writing Marina was as easy as writing Olga and Vika and Dima and Stas – friends whose Soviet childhood became so familiar, I sometimes felt it was my own. I enveloped her in the nostalgia I had been leant and placed her on streets I knew. Her embrace of these comforts is what made her real to me.

    When, in the course of my story, I moved Marina to Brooklyn, I had to invite another model. She had gone from being the personification of an era to a girl out of her element. For the remainder of the book I allowed her to be the character I had initially created, but informed by experiences that were my own. (No – I have never been a fugitive and I am not more extra-sensorily perceptive than most – but I know very well the discomfort of feeling ignorant in a new land; and I also know how dance can remove almost any discomfort.)

    So, there you have it – I’m a dancer and a Russophile. I have lived in Moscow, I have Russian friends, I love Russian movies, and I have real-life experience and passionate research in my arsenal. I’m also a Brooklynite, so I know Brighton Beach like the back of my hand. 

    Is that all I need tell the story of a Soviet teen defector?

    It is if she is me … in another life.

    Elizabeth Kiem studied Russian language and literature at Columbia University and writes novels, essays, reports, reviews, grocery lists and more. She has lived in Brooklyn for more than 15 years, and before that she lived in Moscow as it entered a new era, immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Besides Brooklyn and Moscow, her favorite places are Alaska (where she was born), Istanbul (where she understood that all great cities straddle the water), and Haiti (where life itself straddles the water). In Russian, she is Elizaveta Ivanovna. Dancer Daughter Traitor Spy is her first novel.

  • Scholastic to Publish ‘Sinner’, Companion Book to the Internationally Bestselling Shiver Trilogy by Award-Winning Author Maggie Stiefvater

    New York, NY — September 10, 2013 — Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education and media company, announced today that it has acquired world rights to Sinner by #1 New York Times bestselling and Printz Honor …

  • CBC Diversity: Parallel Heartbeats

    An It’s Complicated! — Authentic Voices guest post by author, Graham Salisbury.

    image image New Cover My second novel, Under the Blood-Red Sun (1994), is about the power of friendship as seen through the eyes of two young boys in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor is bombed. One is Billy, a white boy, who’d moved to Hawaii from California, and the other is his best friend, Tomi , a Japanese boy born and raised in the islands. I wrote the first draft of this novel from Billy’s point of view, figuring, well gee, I’m a white guy … I had to write it from Billy’s point of view.

    But that first draft wasn’t working; the editorial letter said, in effect, “This novel has no heartbeat. Try again.”   


    So … should I start over, or chuck the three hundred pages and move on to something else? That may sound like a tough decision, but it wasn’t, because I realized that my problem was really quite simple: I’d written the book from the wrong point of view. This was Tomi’s story, not Billy’s.

    But could I, a Caucasian, write a novel in first person from the point of view of a young Japanese-American boy? I had an audience of young readers that would very likely believe that I actually was Tomi, and must be Japanese. If they were to ever actually see me they might feel betrayed! And what about reviewers and other adults? “The nerve!”

    Still, the idea of changing point of view made perfect sense. The problem with my first draft was that I knew very little about a boy from California. And I knew close to everything about a Japanese boy in Hawaii, because I grew up there and had Japanese friends. I knew Tomi. I knew what he ate, how he spoke, what his traditions were, how he treated his family, even his dog. Eventually, I knew his hopes and dreams. In effect, I became Tomikazu Nakaji.

    This was exciting! And scary. I could get clobbered for thinking like this.
    But so what?

    I felt such an urgency to tell Tomi’s story that I jumped into his head and began an entirely different novel. I shared it with Japanese friends in Honolulu to make sure that the details of culture and language were correct, and that I hadn’t written anything that a Japanese-American reader would find offensive.

    The book was well-reviewed, and won the Scott O’Dell Medal for historical fiction, among other prizes. I‘ve published about twenty novels so far, and Under the Blood-Red Sun remains the most popular, with hundreds of thousands of copies sold … all because getting into the right character’s head, no matter what his cultural background, gave it a heartbeat.

    Tomi’s story inspired a group of stand-alone novels about Japanese-Americans from Hawaii during World War II, which includes House of the Red Fish, Eyes of the Emperor and the forthcoming Hunt for the Bamboo Rat. I plan to write at least two more books under the overall series title of “Prisoners of the Empire.” 

    I’ve been waiting twenty years for someone to get all riled up at me for thinking that I could write “outside of my race,” and I have yet to receive a single complaint about any of these books. 

    imageWhen I created my Calvin Coconut series, I had the same problem. I wanted my lead character to be multi-racial, as many, if not most, kids are in the islands. I wanted to write about them. They deserved to be represented in the world of literature for young readers. Again, I became my character, and it was so easy because I was a lot like Calvin as a kid growing up in Hawaii. For me, what really matters is what a writer is made of, that he/she speaks from an earned place of authenticity where faking it is forbidden, if not impossible.

    A writer writes, and doesn’t really worry much about complaints, anyway. We’re seeking the dramatic and emotional intricacies of life wherever and however we can find them. Our job is to explore them, enlighten ourselves, and try our best to move our readers. We may all look different, but we are all intimately and infinitely connected. We are one. We are beings with parallel heartbeats. The only race out there is the human one.

    imageGraham Salisbury’s family has lived in the Hawaiian Islands since the early 1800s. He grew up on Oahu and Hawaii and graduated from California State University. He received an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he was a member of the founding faculty of the MFA program in writing for children. He lives with his family in Portland, Oregon. You can visit him at his website www.grahamsalisbury.com.

  • Julianne Moore to Visit Kids in Need at Harlem Daycare Center, Sept. 9

    Children’s author and award-winning actress Julianne Moore will visit Round the Clock Nursery in Harlem on Sept. 9, along with Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book, to celebrate …

  • Scholastic to Publish Two Middle Grade Novels by Bestselling Author Peter Abrahams


  • Sign Up to Receive the CBC Diversity Newsletter

    Sign Up to Receive the CBC Diversity Newsletter: Click to view CBC Diversity Newsletter September v. 1 on GLOSSI.COM

  • Take Four! A New, Two-part “It’s Complicated” Conversation

    As part of CBC Diversity’s ongoing effort, we’re pleased to present the fourth dialogue in the “It’s Complicated!” blog series starting next week, and for the first time, it will run over two consecutive weeks, starting on Monday. This time we’ve invited five authors to share their thoughts about writing inside their cultural perspective, and five authors to discuss writing outside their cultural perspective.
    I think most would agree that in an ideal world, the diversity depicted in books and of their creators would match the diversity of our world. But I know some might disagree on the best way to get there—what if that’s not immediately possible? Is it better to have white/straight/able-bodied, etc. authors write books about non-white/LGBT/disabled, etc. characters? Can those characters truly be authentic? What if the only way authors of color can achieve commercial success is by writing books with non-diverse characters? And can those books be authentic, too? Are there any topics that should be “off-limits” to outsider writers? Do you trust an author you perceive to be an insider more than you would an outsider?

    As an editor, I’ve worked with authors writing both inside and outside of their cultural perspective, and don’t feel that one group of books is more authentic than the other. I’m more confident editing a book about, say, an Asian-American girl that’s also written by an Asian-American author, but perhaps I’m not as careful—in some cases, when the author is an “outsider”, I’m perhaps more strict about getting additional readers and fact-checkers to make sure depictions feel authentic to an “insider.” I am well aware that one reader can’t always represent their entire group, but it helps us “get it right” as best we can.
    imageIn my experience, even when an author is writing a book from an “inside” perspective, the book may still be criticized for somehow “getting it wrong.” Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen is a book about a half Taiwanese, half white teen girl. Her mother is super strict, and has a very strong negative reaction when she finds out her daughter is dating a boy whose parents come from mainland China. Now, this is a very real, very true-to-life reaction of many Taiwanese parents Justina and I know personally. And yet she still had someone tell her that the depiction of the mother was unrealistic. 
    Isn’t “authentic” such a nebulous thing to recognize and define? What is authentic to one reader will ring false to another. (And for the record, Justina and I still maintain that the depiction is realistic—and our mothers would agree!) For me, this is all to say: if you’re writing as an outsider, don’t be overly paranoid about getting it wrong. As long as you do your research, are thoughtful about how and what you’re writing, and get appropriate readers, be confident that you’ve done what you need to do. Because no book can be right for all readers.
    There will always be some debate regarding who has the authority to write certain books. Cheryl Klein and Cynthia Leitich Smith covered much of this debate in their posts for our very first “It’s Complicated” series, as have many others here on this blog. Because this is such a layered topic, we decided to double the fun and spread this new series over two weeks. Week one will focus on the outsider perspective, and we’re excited to have authors Walter Dean Myers, A.S. King, Graham Salisbury, Elizabeth Kiem, and Patricia McCormick speak to their experiences of writing outside of their own cultural group.
    Week two will focus on the insider perspective with authors Sharon Flake, Diana Lopez, Bil Wright, Alex London, and Mitali Perkins.
    I look forward to reading what our esteemed panel of guest bloggers have to share with us, and I guarantee that whatever they write will be scintillating. Please join us!

  • Kids May Prefer the Kindle Fire Over the iPad

    Apple’s iPad tablet holds the second best spot. Among the participants of this study, 27% of children who use eReaders prefer the Kindle Fire and 20% favor the iPad. “This …

  • ‘The Fall of Five’ Is August’s Most-Discussed Book on Social Media

    “Speaking of The Fall of Five, which was published by HarperCollins on Aug. 27, Jeff Costello, v-p of CoverCake, said, ‘This book just kept picking up momentum all month as …

  • Dare to Dream…Change the World Contest Launches for 2013-2014

    View the contest flyer with guidelines▸▸ FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE DARE TO DREAM…CHANGE THE WORLD CONTEST LAUNCHES FOR 2013-2014 Jill Corcoran, compiler and contributing poet to the award-winning Dare to Dream…Change …

  • ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’, Digitally

    For Immediate Release  RANDOM HOUSE CHILDREN’S BOOKS TO PUBLISH DR. SEUSS’S CLASSICS AS EBOOKS FOR THE FIRST TIME 41 Dr. Seuss Ebooks to be released in September, October, November 2013, …

  • The Atlantic Avenue Children’s Literature Contest Seeks Entries

    “The (inaugural) Atlantic Avenue Children’s Literature Contest! Calling aspiring picture book authors from Brooklyn and beyond! The merchants of Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn’s favorite ‘main street’, are offering you the opportunity …

  • Ellen Oh Explains “Why It Is Okay to Tackle Diversity”

    “I want to talk to you about why it is okay to “tackle diversity.” If you are the type to say, “Yes, I want to include diversity! I just don’t …

  • This Week on Girls Scouts’ The Studio: ‘The Ever Afters’ Author Shelby Bach

    “I discovered that my favorite writers’ early drafts weren’t nearly as amazing as their finished books. Once they wrote something, they did everything they could to make their writing better. …

  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers Hosts “Draw a Quarkbeast” Contest

    “A QUARKBEAST is a small hyena-shaped creature with shiny-leathery scales, often described as one-tenth Labrador, six-tenths velociraptor, and three-tenths kitchen food blender. But what does it look like, exactly? Now’s …

  • Lambda Literary Foundation Opens Award Submissions

    “The Lambda Literary Foundation announced the opening of book submissions and revised submission guidelines for the Lambda Literary Awards, which celebrates the best in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender literature. …

  • Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando Collaborate on a Young Adult Novel

    The story features “alternating perspectives to great effect as they portray a budding friendship between two young women on opposites sides of the country. Self-assured, with a boyfriend and an …

  • SCBWI Announces the Winners of the Annual SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grants

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in conjunction with a generous grant from Amazon.com, congratulates the winners of the 2013 Work-In-Progress Grants in the following …

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