February’s YA Debut Authors on Love and Inspiration

YA newcomers talk about the fictional crushes, heartbreaks, soaring romances, and legendary friendships that have kept them company creatively. 

 

Adalyn Grace and her book, All the Stars and TeethAdalyn Grace, author of All the Stars and Teeth (Macmillan/Imprint; Feb. 4, 2020)

What are your all-time favorite love stories?

There are so many! Recently, I really fell in love with the romance in Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue, as well as The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Pride and Prejudice is a classic for me, while I also love the romance between Jamie and Claire in Outlander. I’m obsessed with any love story rooted in Greek mythology, even though so many of them are absolutely tragic, like the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is an absolutely breathtaking adaptation of the myth. Shelby Mahurin's Serpent & Dove has also fully captured my heart, and no romance has ever made me cry as hard as the one in the K-drama, GoblinThe Lonely and Great God.

Tell us about the inspiration for your book.

I wanted to create a confident and unapologetic female heroine. While I do believe things are getting better in terms of gender norms in the media, it’s impossible not to notice the disparity in the treatment of male and female characters. I’ve never heard of a male character referred to as a brat, but that’s something that female characters are so quick to be called when someone doesn’t like or agree with the way they behave. Female characters are often expected to be kind, humble, and fit into a certain mold. Men get away with significantly more than women do, often without criticism.

In creating Amora, I wanted to make a character who isn’t willing to downplay herself in order to please anyone. She’s an incredibly liberating character to write, and All the Stars and Teeth started with her.

Tell us about your journey to publication. What surprised you the most about the process?

Until you’re in the thick of querying or on sub with a novel, I don’t think you really start to understand how stressful this business is. You’re handing over a piece of your creative work to someone specifically to get their judgment. Those judgments are necessary: Critique partners and editors judge your work to help you make it stronger, agents judge whether they believe in the book and can sell it, readers judge whether they want to spend time reading it. Everything is judgment, and that comes with a ton of pressure.

As new, hopeful writers, we always see the glitz and the glam and the exciting parts of the industry. But I am a fairly confident person, and I was unprepared for just how physically and mentally taxing the process would be. Fortunately, I have an amazing and supportive publishing team, as well as an incredible group of author friends who’ve helped show me the ropes.

Rabiah York Lumbard and No True BelieversRabiah York Lumbard, author of No True Believers (Crown; Feb. 11, 2020)

What are your all-time favorite love stories?

There’s nothing like being asked this question to make you realize you don’t read enough love stories! While A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness isn’t a love story—it’s about a child’s love for his mother and how he processes her loss—the story exudes love and compassion. I’m also a big fan of We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss, for the same reasons.

Tell us about the inspiration for your book.

Trauma. This book was my way of excising the good and releasing the bad. It was an act of hope and reconciliation, for myself and for the future of my country.

This novel is extremely personal for you. Are any characters or plot points drawn from real life?

Salma Bakkioui was mostly inspired by my eldest daughter—her sarcasm, vulnerability, and intellectual curiosity. Like Salma, she is a bit of a rebel. She has a good sense of right and wrong but likes to question everything. I think that’s great. Many of Salma’s friends and family are written as a love song to my own extended circle of compassionate peeps. Amir draws upon my love of Arab culture and music—I’ve lived in the Middle East for nearly a decade. Several of the plot points were inspired by conversations with my father, who, after retiring from the Marines, worked as an intelligence analyst for the Department of Homeland Security in an anti-terrorist cybersecurity unit. Last but not least, the thesis of the book was inspired by my belief that no religion has a monopoly on truth.

Kim Smejkal and Ink in the BloodKim Smejkal, author of Ink in the Blood (HMH; Feb. 11, 2020)

What are your all-time favorite love stories?

My favorite love stories are the unconventional ones. I absolutely adore reading about all the other ways love manifests: between friends, siblings, and found family, for example. It reminds me that we contain multitudes.

Tell us about the inspiration for your book.

The initial seed of inspiration came from a conversation I had with my father. He left Czechoslovakia in 1968, and he told me that the worst part of living under a communist regime wasn't the lack of freedom, but the constant flow of lies from those in charge. I wondered, how big could one lie get? What would happen if people wanted to believe that lie over the truth? If one lie could become so powerful, what would it take to expose it? As I played around with those ideas, the antagonist in Ink in the Blood was born. From there, I added everything I loved: theater, masks, tattoos, a fierce friendship, and of course, magic.

There’s a long tradition of tattoo magic in stories. Can you talk about the power you see in tattoos, in narrative and real life?

I think there’s something magical, almost spiritual, about using your body as a canvas. Tattoos have the ability to take hidden aspects of your soul and put them on display for other people to see, or they can be a simple, personal way of claiming some power over your body. Within a story, tattoo art can showcase themes or character in a very tangible, visual way. The tattoos in my book do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of symbolism, but they also reinforce the themes of body autonomy and freedom of choice. They’re all the more powerful because they are not a personal choice.

The Gravity of Us and Phil StamperPhil Stamper, author of The Gravity of Us (Bloomsbury; Feb. 4, 2020)

What are your all-time favorite love stories?

My mom and I would always watch these amazing 90s rom-coms—we viewed While You Were Sleeping (1995) so many times we basically broke the VHS! As I got older, the movie Shelter (2007) was groundbreaking for me, because it was the first time I’d seen a queer love story with a “happily ever after” ending—that was rare, and really special.

More recently, my favorites include Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau, any books by Becky Albertalli or Shaun David Hutchinson, and Patrick and David’s love story in the TV series Schitt’s Creek.

Tell us about the inspiration for your book.

I’ve always been captivated by NASA's Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions in the 1960s and 70s. While I was fascinated by the science and technology behind these missions, one thing that always called out to me from the background was that the astronaut families essentially became the celebrities of that era. They had to be immaculately dressed, polished, and ready for the spotlight, all while not knowing if their husbands or fathers would come home alive that night. I wanted to capture this tension while also showcasing a contemporary queer love story.

How has working in publishing informed your publication process? Is there anything that you were completely surprised by, or totally ready for?

Having a master’s degree in publishing means I know a lot of basics about the process, which makes me slightly more confident. Sometimes. But it’s impossible to ever feel fully prepared. Once you accept that you’ll never be “totally ready,” you start to breathe and take it one day at a time.

Rebelwing and Andrea TangAndrea Tang, author of Rebelwing (Razorbill; Feb. 25, 2020)

What are your all-time favorite love stories?

So many, and not all of them explicitly romantic! I think Elizabeth Wein said it best in Code Name Verity: "It's like falling in love, discovering your best friend." That can apply to stories about deep, complex friendships as well as classic romances. That said, I do love me an old-fashioned, steamy, slow-burn romance as well—one of my favorites is Gen and Attolia in Megan Whalen Turner's “The Queen’s Thief” novels. And almost any half-decent version of the ballad of Tam Lin—Janet of Carterhaugh is legend.

Tell us about the inspiration for your book.

Rebelwing is an homage to storytelling in general, but more specifically to the storytelling that I loved growing up, from mecha anime to classic literature. I also really wanted to tell a big, fun, action-packed genre story with a contemporary voice—something that would make the larger-than-life world-building of this realm feel somehow more grounded and relatable.

How did living in Washington, DC, and working in politics/government influence the setting?

Oddly enough, it was the little mundanities, more than anything else. The background adult characters who work for the fresh young democratic government fuss and complain about meetings, deadlines, and red tape the same way government contractors, consultants, and think-tankers do in real life! Their fancy sci-fi transit system, like ours, is also crowded, stressful, and at times notoriously slow and unreliable. I hope that the obvious political pulse and vitality of Washington, DC, has crept into this, and that it adds a more layered, complex flavor to all the history and military intrigue of the North American setting.

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Katy Hershberger
Katy Hershberger (khershberger@mediasource.com) is the senior editor for YA at School Library Journal.

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