Chicago Reads: Jenny Han and Jennifer E. Smith

Here is an old post I had written up prior to our summer hiatus that I’m reviving! This was a post recapping an event from May 2, 2017:

I trekked up to Winnetka for a book event with Jenny Han and Jennifer E. Smith. They were there promoting their latest releases: Always and Forever, Lara Jean and Windfall, respectively.

The Book Stall is such a lovely bookstore. Their YA section is fantastic. One of the largest I’ve seen, with spot-on picks. I wish it wasn’t so far away because I would love to frequent this bookstore!

Jenny and Jennifer are friends, and it was fun to listen to their conversation.

Some of my favorite behind-the-scenes tidbits from the event:

  • Jennifer talked about how after each book, she wonders how she will ever write another book again. This was reassuring to hear, especially since she is a prolific writer!
  • Jennifer said her books begin with a big What If?, with the concept, and her characters come later.
  • Jenny Han was present for the cover photo shoot, and there are a lot of fun Easter eggs:
    • The photo in the upper left corner, to the left of the “A long forever” picture, is actually a photo of Jenny Han and the model from the shoot.
    • Jenny’s dress is hanging over the chair and the pink shoes on the floor are hers.
    • On the back flap, the framed photo of Leo and Claire Danes from Romeo and Juliet is Jenny’s, from high school. If you look closely, you can see the horizontal glue lines.
    • If I recall correctly, I believe the ladder on the back flap is also Jenny’s.
  • Jennifer brought the little figurines that are on her cover. She said the bear was originally a panda that they painted gold.
  • Jennifer had fun swag. Since her book is about winning the lottery, she had scratch tickets!

I love events with more than one author, and it’s an extra pro if they’re friends and have a great rapport!

About Always and Forever, Lara Jean:Always and Forever Lara Jean

Lara Jean’s letter-writing days aren’t over in this surprise follow-up to the New York Times bestselling To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You.

Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.

But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.

When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

About Windfall:

WindfallThis romantic story of hope, chance, and change from the author of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is one Jenny Han says is filled with all of her “favorite things,” Morgan Matson calls “something wonderful,” and Stephanie Perkins says “is rich with the intensity of real love.”

Alice doesn’t believe in luck—at least, not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for some time now, she’s been pining for her best friend, Teddy. On his eighteenth birthday—just when it seems they might be on the brink of something—she buys him a lottery ticket on a lark. To their astonishment, he wins $140 million, and in an instant, everything changes.

At first, it seems like a dream come true, especially since the two of them are no strangers to misfortune. As a kid, Alice won the worst kind of lottery possible when her parents died just over a year apart from each other. And Teddy’s father abandoned his family not long after that, leaving them to grapple with his gambling debts. Through it all, Teddy and Alice have leaned on each other. But now, as they negotiate the ripple effects of Teddy’s newfound wealth, a gulf opens between them. And soon, the money starts to feel like more of a curse than a windfall.

As they try to find their way back to each other, Alice learns more about herself than she ever could have imagined . . . and about the unexpected ways in which luck and love sometimes intersect.

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This post is brought to you by Gloria Chao at ChiYAwriters.com.

Chicago Reads: American Writers Museum

Earlier this year, the American Writers Museum opened in Chicago at 180 N Michigan Ave. It was designed for the reader, with interactive exhibits that explore the art of writing and the art of reading.

Upon entering, there’s a wall of bookmarks for you to pick from, with each bookmark featuring a famous author and an inspiring quote.

The exhibits include:

  • Writers Hall
  • American Voices
  • Surprise Bookshelf
  • Word Waterfall
  • Readers Hall
  • The Mind of a Writer
  • A Writer’s Room
  • Featured Works
  • Word Play
  • Chicago: A City of Writers
  • Children’s Gallery
  • Changing Exhibits Gallery

In this post, I’m going to highlight Children’s Gallery, American Voices, Surprise Bookshelf, Story of the Day, and Word Play.

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The Children’s Gallery had displays on classics like Dr. Seuss and Little Women, and the bright room housed an impressive collection of books that visitors could sit and peruse. Personally, I wish there had been more young adult coverage, but their children’s book selection was well curated. It was a lovely trip down memory lane.

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I spent a lot of time in the American Voices and Surprise Bookshelf exhibits, which are across from each other down a long hallway, with the former on the right and the latter on the left in the following picture:

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American Voices “takes visitors on a journey through the literary history of the United States” and the Surprise Bookshelf presents a series of illuminated boxes that showcase “samples of great American writing.”

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Story of the Day is an exhibit within the museum’s Mind of a Writer section and comprises an interactive space where visitors can write stories on paper and pencil, typewriters, or digital media. Once they are done, there is a wall where you can display your work.

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I had a lot of fun playing around with the typewriters there (and it made me love my laptop and Microsoft Word even more), and it took me an embarrassingly long time to type up the first paragraph of AMERICAN PANDA to put on the wall:

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Word Play is another exhibit within The Mind of a Writer and featured an interactive tabletop with word games which were fun and, frankly, quite difficult. My husband and I spent quite a bit of time here playing around.

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More photos and descriptions can be found on the museum’s website. All in all, this was a lovely way to spend an afternoon, and there’s plenty of information to absorb and fun activities to engage in.

If you sign up at their website for their newsletter, you can receive 20% off your first visit. For details on ticket prices and hours of operation, see below:

Tickets

Adults $12
Seniors (ages 65+) $8
Students (w/ valid ID) $8
Children (ages 12 & younger) Free

Final ticket sales are 30 mintes before closing

Hours of Operation

Monday closed*
Tuesday-Wednesday 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday 10 am – 8 pm
Friday-Sunday 10 am – 5 pm

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This post is brought to you by Gloria Chao at ChiYAwriters.com.

 

Inspiration Station: 88 Cups of Tea Podcast

Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.

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Last week, Kat Cho and I were lucky to be among 8 listeners to be interviewed for the 88th Milestone episode (embedded below) of my favorite podcast, 88 Cups of Tea! I like to turn to 88 Cups of Tea when I need writing inspiration. They also have fabulous information about publishing, and it gives you a rare behind-the-scenes look!

Some past guests include Leigh Bardugo, Morgan Matson, Kami GarciaRenee Ahdieh, Kody KeplingerJeff Zentner, Sabaa TahirJenny Han, Jerry SpinelliAlexandra BrackenV.E. Schwab (just to name a few), as well as agents, editors, and TV/film writers.

Yin and Moonlynn are such wonderful, big-hearted people, and they put so much love into this world through this podcast. If you’re looking for a supportive community, you can join the 88 Cups of Tea Storyteller Tribe on Facebook here. There are weekly check-ins, the opportunity to ask questions to future podcast guests, and lots of love from other writers.

Kat’s section begins around 1:37:40. I loved hearing about how she got into writing, her two WIPs, and her close relationship with her sister and her cousin, Axie Oh (whose book, Rebel Seoul, comes out September 15th!). I loved that Kat’s sister wrote her stories when they were kids! And I love Yin’s one-line pitch for Kat’s book: “Oh my God, she falls in love with her dinner!” Thanks, Kat, for the inside look into Korean culture and the inspiration for GUMIHO!

My interview begins at 00:19:35, and I absolutely loved chatting with Yin about my writing journey, my family, and my debut novel, American Panda!

The other ladies featured in the episode are lovely, fascinating, and inspiring, so please check out their sections too!

Happy listening! I hope you all love this podcast as much as I do and can find nuggets of wisdom and inspiration in each episode! Yin recommends starting with rockstar literary agent Joanna Volpe‘s episode. I also highly recommend Kami Garcia‘s episode, which discusses craft in depth and lists great resources (also listed on the show notes at the bottom of the page).

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This post is brought to you by Gloria Chao at ChiYAwriters.com.

Chicago Reads: #FAMOUS

About #famous:

Debut author Jilly Gagnon bursts onto the scene with a story equal parts bite and romance, perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Jennifer E. Smith, about falling for someone in front of everyone. 25116429

In this modern-day love story: Girl likes boy. Girl snaps photo and posts it online. Boy becomes insta-famous. And what starts out as an innocent photo turns into a whirlwind adventure that forces them both to question whether fame—and love—are worth the price . . . and changes both of their lives forever.

Told from alternating points of view, #famous captures the sometimes-crazy thrill ride of social media and the equally messy but wonderful moments of liking someone in real life.

On February 24th, Lizzie and I had the pleasure of attending Jilly Gagnon‘s reading at The Book Cellar for the launch of her debut, #famous!

The Book Cellar is a fantastic venue—they have coffee, wine, and snacks available to enjoy during book events and book club meetings, or just while browsing. For Jilly’s event, there was punch and chocolates available, as well as a gorgeous and extremely delicious cake that looked exactly like the book cover. Jilly wore her prom dress—her actual prom dress from high school!—to pay tribute to the prom scene in her book. Lizzie brought a tiara, which Jilly wore during her reading.

Jilly chose several passages to read. The first established her adorkable characters and fabulous voice, and we gradually moved on to explore more serious topics—how social media can lead to bullying, and how it affects boys and girls differently. We had some wonderful discussion about Jilly’s inspiration for the book—Alex from Target—and how she decided to explore more serious themes in the midst of a super cute romance.

I love the dual POV in #famous and how Kyle and Rachel’s voices are so different. I also love how unique Rachel is with her snark, her maturity, and her unique view on the world. I also love that she knows who she is and embraces that, but it alienates her because, high school. I related to that a lot.

Jilly and I will be having a young adult author conversation about complicated relationships on April 23rd, 2017 at Women and Children First at 4:00 p.m. We’ll be joined by the lovely Stephanie Kate Strohm (It’s Not Me, It’s You) and NYT bestselling author Brittany Cavallaro (A Study in Charlotte; The Last of August). We’d love to see you there! Details for the event can be found here.

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This post is brought to you by Gloria Chao at ChiYAwriters.com.

Chicago Reads: CARAVAL

On February 11th, I had the pleasure of attending Stephanie Garber‘s event at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL.

Caraval has been on my radar since BEA 2016 when it was named a YA Editors’ Buzz book. I unfortunately didn’t get my hands on an ARC and have been waiting impatiently for it since.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

For this event, Stephanie was joined by Joelle Charbonneau, bestselling author of The Testing. Both Stephanie and Joelle were so charismatic, sweet, and humble, and it was so much fun listening to them talk about Caraval and writing. I love that both of them came from non-writing backgrounds, and I related to a lot of what they were saying!

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Some of my favorite tidbits revealed during the event:

  • When Stephanie picked up Marie Lu’s Legend, she had been anticipating a read about a protagonist named Legend. When that turned out to be false, she never stopped thinking about a character named Legend and eventually decided to write her own book about Legend.
  • Stephanie has persevered through many rejections, an agent leaving the business, and multiple book manuscripts to get to where she is. Her advice: don’t give up!
  • Stephanie and Joelle’s advice for debut authors: don’t worry about marketing until a few months before release. In the meantime, just write the best book you can and focus on writing the next books.
  • Other advice they had for writers: find your community and find the social media outlet that you enjoy.

The book art beautifully represents the magic and whimsy of the words:

I devoured this book within a few days of the event. Caraval was so different from anything I’d read in a long time, and I couldn’t put it down. I loved the plot twists (I didn’t see any of them coming!), the beauty and magic of the game tinged with underlying darkness, and how nothing was as it seemed. I highly recommend it. It was such a lovely escape, and it left me craving more. I can’t wait until the sequel is released!

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This post is brought to you by Gloria Chao at ChiYAwriters.com.

Chicago Reads: Zadie Smith

On November 30th, I went to a Zadie Smith event put on by The Seminary Co-op. Zadie packed the DuSable Museum auditorium and an overflow room to share her latest book, Swing Time.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Two brown girls dream of being dancers–but only one,51hi92m66bl-_sy344_bo1204203200_ Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, about what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revi
sited, but never quite forgotten, either.

Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from northwest London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.

While I loved hearing Zadie read from Swing Time (which I cannot wait to read), her Q&A session with Vu Tran was my favorite part of the event. She is so eloquent and her answers were so intelligent.

I especially loved her answer to a question about writing outside of your experience. The attendee wanted to know how to write “with honor” and how we could decide what experiences were meant for us to write. Misrepresentation is harmful and any writer risks criticism when they venture too far from their own experiences and without proper research. Yet…who are the “experts” who get to decide when someone has crossed over? And if no one ever wrote outside their experience, our books would be very limited. Where is the line?

I thought Zadie answered this well. She commented (and please note I am paraphrasing) that it is impossible to judge fictional characters. She has a Trinidadian professor in one of her novels, and as she said, he does not represent all Trinidadian professors. And is there a better portrayal of Trinidadian professors out there? Maybe, but who’s to say there is only one “correct” way to portray Trinidadian professors? This is a conversation, in her opinion, to be had between reader and author. Readers will always have different interpretations of a novel, and it’s their right to decide what is realistic to them and what is done poorly. However, in her opinion, if an author constantly worries about upsetting a potential reader, she will never write a single word.

Misrepresentation is a problem, but it’s a complex problem with no easy solution. Not only did I admire Zadie’s answer, but I’m glad important writers in the world are thinking about and discussing these issues.

Some other fun facts from the event:

  • The protagonist in Swing Time is never named. Zadie said she wanted to write a distant narrator (in first person) and purposely did not reveal her name.
  • The way Zadie described the beauty of dance and rhythm captured what I have always felt about dance but had difficulty conveying.
  • Zadie visited West Africa for research for this book.

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This post is brought to you by Gloria Chao at ChiYAwriters.com.

Chicago Reads: Coming of Age at the End of Nature

On November 3rd, I attended the reading for Coming of Age at the End of Nature at the wonderful 57th Street Books in Hyde Park. Our own Lizzie Cooke was a contributor to this anthology and a speaker at the event. She was joined by James Orbesen, another contributor, and Mark Magoon as moderator.

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About the book: “Coming of Age at the End of Nature” explores a new kind of environmental writing. This powerful anthology gathers the passionate voices of young writers who have grown up in an environmentally damaged and compromised world. Each contributor has come of age since Bill McKibben foretold the doom of humanity’s ancient relationship with a pristine earth in his prescient 1988 warning of climate change, The End of Nature.

What happens to individuals and societies when their most fundamental cultural, historical, and ecological bonds weaken—or snap? In “Coming of Age at the End of Nature,” insightful millennials express their anger and love, dreams and fears, and sources of resilience for living and thriving on our shifting planet.

Twenty-two essays explore wide-ranging themes that are paramount to young generations but that resonate with everyone, including redefining materialism and environmental justice, assessing the risk and promise of technology, and celebrating place anywhere from a wild Atlantic island to the Arizona desert, to Baltimore and Bangkok. The contributors speak with authority on problems facing us all, whether railing against the errors of past generations, reveling in their own adaptability, or insisting on a collective responsibility to do better.

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I love the moderated book events I’ve attended. I love that the writers have a dialogue, giving us a chance to get to know them and their books in a natural way.

Lizzie discussed her experiences volunteering in Haiti to plant trees—the backbreaking manual labor and finding a way to water without the right equipment. In Lizzie’s essay, we go with her to Haiti, endure a hurricane that overtakes the island, and experience her journey as she discovers her purpose. Her words take us into the eye of the storm, experiencing the pounding rains, overflowing rivers, and sheer panic with her.

We see through her eyes the kind of lives that some of the locals live: young people who feel their lives are already over because of the responsibility they carry to support their parents.

During the event, Lizzie shared with us that now, instead of paying for another plane ticket, she donates to established nonprofits, such as Partners in Health, and socially conscious businesses, such as Kuli Kuli, which she thinks have a bigger impact than she could.

The pictures she brought of a flooded Haiti were heartbreaking and eye-opening—a visual representation I wish could have been included in the book. She’s agreed to share them with the ChiYA readers:

James discussed his essay, the aptly named But I’ll Still Be Here, which highlights each generations’ responsibility to protect the environment for the future generations. He asks questions of himself and others about what they are and aren’t willing to do for the environment, and whether or not it’s too late. And the bottom line he keeps coming back to is that he’ll still be here, dealing with the consequences of the decisions made by the previous generation.

The event ended on a lighter note, with Lizzie speaking Creole and James singing for us. The discussion (and book) raised important questions about our impact on the environment and what we can do to play our part.

Congratulations on the anthology, Lizzie, and thank you for sharing your experience with us!

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This post is brought to you by Gloria Chao at ChiYAwriters.com.