Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday the 13th, guys! This morning I got to take Bodo the dog on a walk that partly included a nearby cemetery, so I’m feeling the spooky vibes this morning. Here’s to a good fall-y weekend, and some micro-book reviews.

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Touching and well crafted, but I kept thinking–is this really YA?

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Funny, smart, and thoughtful. One of my new favorite YA contemps.

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas
Couple twists didn’t quite work, but a fun thriller, with a female relationships at its core.

Coming out in Kid Lit

Today is National Coming Out Day, which got me thinking about LGBTQIA+ representation in YA and children’s literature. While there certainly can be more stories featuring realistic, nuanced representations of LGBTQIA+ characters (protagonists! friends! heroes! parents! etc!), I’m heartened by the books young readers do have today, to let them know that their feelings are valid and that they can be the main characters of their own stories.

Which means that, of course, I need to share some of my recent favorite reads featuring LGBTQIA+ characters.

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard: a great look at sexual identity and gender identity, as Pen struggles against her family and friends’ ideas of what it means to be a young woman. I also loved the minor characters in this. #teamblake

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown: a twist on the coming out story, as very out Jo hides her sexual identity when she moves to a small, conservative town.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee: bi, gay, and asexual representation in this super fun and touching historical adventure. I’m psyched for the sequel, which will follow Felicity!

George by Alex Gino: one of the sweetest and most sensitive coming out stories, about a young trans girl who just wants to be Charlotte in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: one of my new favorite contemporary YAs, about theatre and friendship and first love and figuring out who you are and how to share that with the world.

As I Descended by Robin Talley: in case you want some classically-inspired scares and intrigue with your representation, this one’s a female take on Macbeth, starring two young women at an elite boarding school.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour: one of my new favorites full stop, this is a fantastic look at first love and friendship and loneliness and grief and reaching out to those we love.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo: a powerful and hopeful story about a young trans girl trying to make a new start for herself.

Other books you’d add to this list? Share ’em in the comments! In the meantime, remember–you are valid and you deserve love.

Links Galore

Lots of links I’ve been saving:

Mental Health, Hogwarts Houses, The Correct Pronunciation of Gif, and Other Strong Opinions

Obviously I’m a big fan of podcasting, so when the lovely people at Candlewick Press reached out to me about their podcast, Candlewick Press Presents, I was beyond excited. I had a fantastic conversation with the Candlewick team about writing, my time as a Candlewick intern, why I love social media, why I’m jealous of how good Walt is at titles, and more. (This didn’t even include the pre-recording conversation about which Candlewick team members would be in which Hogwarts houses, a topic we all take very seriously.)

You can hear my interview on iTunes and Stitcher, and make sure to check out the previous episodes, as well. They include interviews of amazing writers and illustrators like Aaron Becker, creator of gorgeous wordless picture books like Journey, and Lesléa Newman, author of the classic Heather Has Two Mommies. Can you hear my fangirling?

Thanks to the Candlewick team for including me in such a great project. Can’t wait to hear the rest of Candlewick Press Presents, season 1!

Links Galore

Lots of links I’ve been saving:

Writing While Anxious

In my session on writing about mental health at NESCBWI 17, I talked about some tropes/stereotypes I particularly disliked. One of them: that medication makes you an emotional zombie. This, and the idea that creative people with mental illness will lose their creativity through therapy/medication, get me super rage-y. If you have a mental health issue, medication can be a huge help, and the right medication/dosage won’t rob you of your creativity.

Which is why I was so happy to see this article about creativity, mental health, and medication in the New York Times.

Julia Fierro describes her experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression, and eventually finding medication and resources that work for her. But all of this care came after years of stress, and of going on and off medication, and how this has been a long journey to caring for herself as a person and as an artist.

One part in particular that stands out for me:

“Many of my favorite authors had suffered from anxiety or depression — Dostoyevsky, Fitzgerald, Plath, Woolf and Emily Dickinson…Surely, I told myself, their anguish was linked to their greatness. Instead of fleeing anxiety and depression (although many did douse their emotional instability with alcohol), they dived in and used their misery as inspiration for their creative work. I was convinced that killing the mad part of me with medication would also kill that which made me unique. I memorized a line by Proust: “Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.””

I feel like this is a pretty common assessment people make when it comes to creativity and mental health. For some reason we assume that if you want your brain to be firing on all creative cylinders, you need to embrace the parts of your brain that are bringing you down with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. That creative people have to be mentally ill in order to be creative.

Which is total crap.

Like Fierro, I can’t write if I’m not taking care of my mental health. If I’m experiencing a bad bout of anxiety, I can’t focus on anything, much less muster the kind of focus that a draft requires. I can’t let myself spend time with my characters and their worlds, because I’m too busy worrying about what the publishing market is like, or if I should give up writing entirely because I’m the worst. When I’m anxious, I’m both way too hyped up and way too exhausted to be a creative person.

Thanks to therapy and medication, I can mostly write when I need and want to. (Getting myself off Twitter is another issue.) For me, creativity happens when my brain doesn’t have to deal with its own bad stuff. Maybe some artists don’t work well with medication, but that’s super not me, and that’s not what I know from most artistic friends who have mental health issues.

Fierro begins and ends her article by talking about how she shared the truth about her mental health struggles and successes with an audience at a reading. Fierro connected with her audience members by being honest, because some of them have been dealing with the same kinds of issues. At NESCBWI, I was so grateful that people in my session also opened up and talked about their own struggles and concerns. Because the more we talk about mental health and art, the more real we can be–and the more we know we’re not alone.

Competition and Camaraderie

running-573762_640I’m always finding connections between running and writing. Recently, I was listening to an episode of the Runner’s World podcast, in which they talked about the recent attempt to break two hours in the marathon.

Around 30-minutes into the episode, they talk about how the pacers in this attempt were special in that they were all elite athletes–ie, runners who are used to focusing on their own goals and winning races. For this race, elite athletes were running to support someone else’s goal, in the hopes that one of the three competing runners would break the world record. Runner’s World columnist Alex Hutchinson, who was there for the attempt, talks about how the pacing runners were so supportive of the competing runners, and how this isn’t unusual for the running community. One particular thing Alex says about this:

“Everyone wants to be the best, but everyone wants everyone else to be their best, too.”

This really stood out for me as a great way to frame the idea of professional competition and camaraderie, particularly in the writing world. As much as I love to support my fellow writers, I’m also totally guilty of feeling jealous of other people’s successes (mostly because all you see on social media is SUCCESS SUCCESS SUCCESS over and over and over).

runners-752493_640But I also want other writers to be writing the best books possible–the world would totally suck if only one person got to be the best writer, and everyone else wrote meh books. I’d way rather live in a world where I’m always striving to write the best books I can, and in which everyone else is doing the same. We all end up pushing each other and challenging each other and inspiring each other.

And unlike professional running, there doesn’t have to be one winner per race. Okay, so only one book can win some award every year, but every book can be someone’s favorite. The more awesome books out there, the more everyone wins.