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.

Chicago Reads: Anderson’s YA Literature Conference

I was lucky enough to attend Anderson’s Bookshop’s YA Literature Conference last month in Naperville, Illinois. And I am so happy that I got to go with my ChiYA sisters, Ronni and Samira!

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The lineup of authors was fantastic (keynotes in bold): Frank Beddor, Anne Greenwood Brown, Kym Brunner, Julie Buxbaum, Sharon Cameron, Traci Chee, C. Desir, Paula Garner, Kathleen Glasgow, Goeff Herbach, Ellen Hopkins, Miranda Kenneally, Brendan Kiely, Sarah Darer Littman, Chris Lynch, Adriana Mather, Anna Michels, Susan Moger, Jennifer Niven, Kenneth Oppel, Joy Preble, Adam Selzer, Adam Silvera, Sherri L. Smith, Jordan Sonnenblick, Ann Stampler, Laura Stampler, Aaron Starmer, Paula Stokes, Krystal Sutherland, Kara Thomas, Maggie Thrash, and Jeff Zentner.

On Saturday, the conference consisted of panels and keynotes. The panels were:

  • Get Real
  • Guys Write YA!
  • Love Contemporary Style
  • Mystery! Thriller! Suspense!
  • Navigating the Issues—Yesterday & Today
  • Sci-fi, Fantasy, & Witches, Oh My!
  • Write Down the Street

The best part of the conference for me was meeting other writers, teachers, and librarians. I was lucky enough to sit next to Sharon Cameron on Saturday and we hit it off right away. Sharon and I are both represented by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Sharon had just met my agent a few weeks prior. We bonded over switching careers (she was a concert pianist and I was a dentist), feeling guilty about getting to write (as she said, it’s so fun it feels like it should be illegal), and all the good and bad (but mostly good) that come with the privilege.

Christa Desir and I also had a few things in common: we’re both Chicagoans and we’re both Simon Pulse writers! I’ve looked up to Christa and was honored that she took the time to tell me about her experience with Simon Pulse (she loves them and has five books with them!) and give me advice on the industry.

Traci Chee is a friend of ChiYA and it was so wonderful for us to meet her in person! We couldn’t be happier for her tremendous success with her debut, The Reader, which was released at the end of September and has already hit the New York Times Bestseller list!

Adam Silvera is also a ChiYA friend, and we’re always so happy to spend more time with him! His keynote was inspiring.

Jennifer Niven was such a sweetheart and Ronni, Samira, and I were lucky enough to spend Sunday with her. I’m so inspired by her writing, her story, and her characters.

I’m always so blown away by how supportive authors are, even when they’re internationally-bestselling authors. Many of them truly love the industry, love books, and want to see you succeed. Every single author I met at this conference was so supportive, and I want to thank each and every one of them for their kindness. The writing community is wonderful because of authors like them.

Some of my favorite quotes from the weekend:

“I have ADD, I have a hard time sitting still, and I hate writing.” – Jordan Sonnenblick

“You are my rockstars.” – Jennifer Niven

“I’ve always taken pretend very seriously.” –Jennifer Niven

“The voice of the character is what carries through.” — Laura Stampler

“We carry these things in our lives and they show up unexpectedly in our writing.” – Ellen Hopkins

“I’m big on breaking stereotypes because we often look at the wrong people.” – Ellen Hopkins

“I’m the Taylor Swift of YA.” – Adam Silvera referring to his habit of writing his exes into his books

“What we say will carry on with someone for possibly the rest of their lives.” – Adam Silvera

“Harry Potter created me.” – Adam Silvera

“YA taught me the power of words even after I wrote a book.” – Adam Silvera talking about the YA community

Some of my favorite advice from Jennifer’s keynote (some of which can be found on her website):

“Do not enter your pin numbers all at once,” meaning you should take writing one scene, one chapter at a time.

“To do anything well, you have to be able to breathe.”

“Write and shake it off.” She likened the process to having a baby and sending it out in the world, only to hear others tell you things like, “If I had a baby, it would not be like that baby.”

“It’s a lifeline, not a deadline.” Remember, you get to do this, this work is who you are.

The authors were asked why they write for a YA audience, and the answers were inspiring. Here are the ones I managed to jot down, slightly paraphrased:

Chris: Problems don’t go away.

Susan: I write YA because it has a wide demographic, and because of conferences like these.

Ellen: I wrote my first book because I didn’t want that teen to go down that road. Now, I want to convey it does get better. YA = discovery, who you want to be, discovering who you were meant to be. YA is judging tomorrow by today whereas adult fiction is reflection.

Adam: YA is what I always picked up, the space where I’d want to be…even when I try to move away, I magnetize back. It feels great to make a difference and make these teens feel seen and heard.

Kathleen: YA has a desperation for meaning. Real stories live here. It’s an intense reading experience. YA is figuring out who we’ll be. 90% of kids don’t have a sunny, happy life and need to be represented. And I’m emotionally 15.

Anne: Different voices fit different writers. I never left high school and that’s the voice that came out of my mouth and pen. Also, YA has such a broad audience.

Geoff: I write YA because of my son’s smelly left armpit.

Julie: My son’s right armpit…Just kidding. I missed being 16 and wanted to go back to when the world was wide open. It’s fun to tackle firsts.

Jennifer: YA is bold, brave, original. It starts conversations that need to be had. My agent said to write what I have to even if it terrifies me. YA = Oz: the readers are eager, want to see themselves on the page, are honest, and if we write honestly they’ll be receptive.

Susan: I was told I couldn’t write YA and I had to show them otherwise…just like a teenager! I write what I wish had been available when I was a teen.

My favorite advice from the weekend:

Each book requires a new set of tools. You have the toolbox, but you have to find the tools, which can take time (for Susan, 20K words). It’s about recognizing the process.

There are different ways to write: Jennifer has a set of teen readers for the first draft but Julie doesn’t share her work. Sarah has a few trusted betas. It’s about finding your process.

Julie’s advice: read like a writer, not like a reader. You have to stop when it’s grooving to figure out why. Read widely and critically.

Don’t be afraid to ask people for help when researching your book. This was mentioned by multiple authors throughout the day, and the bottom line is, people want to help you. I’ve personally been afraid to ask for help while researching, and this was wonderful to hear and gave me confidence to explore areas of life I’m not familiar with.

On Sunday, “Fandom Frenzy” day, the attendees were mostly teenagers, and it was such a privilege to be able to see teen readers interact with their role model authors. I loved books as a child, but took a long hiatus during my teens and didn’t fall back in love until I was much older. I was so happy to see that there are plenty of teens out there who love and, more importantly, need these books, and it was wonderful to be reminded of this.

For more on the conference, check out the hashtags #ABYALitConf and #YAFandomFrenzy on Twitter!

Beautiful collage of all the authors’ books, courtesy of Anderson’s:

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

Author Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Gloria Chao

This post is one in a series introducing the ChiYAwriters.com contributors. We hope you’ll stick around to learn more about us and to follow our writing adventures in and around Chicago!

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Who is your fictional hero?

I love Audrey Rose from Stalking Jack the Ripper. She was a girl ahead of her time, wanting an education and career before that became the norm. She fought her arranged marriages and snuck out behind her father’s back. She loved science and was badass enough to go after a murderer, yet she still loved pretty dresses and gossiping.

I don’t want to chase serial killers, but I admire her intelligence, confidence, and all-around-badassness.

Who is your real-life hero?

I look up to J.K. Rowling for her creativity, dedication, and talent. She created an entire world and brought us in using third person! Harry Potter made me fall back in love with books after a long hiatus and was an important part of my journey.

I also look up to my husband, who pursued what he loved and gave me the confidence to chase after my dream. Without him, I would have never started writing.

If you were a fictional character, who would you be?

All of my own characters have a bit of me in them. I guess you write what you know.

What is happiness to you?

My husband of course, and sitting down at my desk to write with a cup of tea. I’m also obsessed with Dance Dance Revolution, board games (Takenoko or Ticket to Ride, anyone?), and of course books.

What inspires you to write?

I first started writing because it was my escape from dental school. When I came up with the idea for American Panda, it was partly therapeutic, but more so, I wanted to write the book that I wish teenage me (and me right now) could have so she would know she wasn’t alone in her struggles to fit in, straddle two cultures, or have different dreams and priorities than her parents.

I want other teens to know they aren’t alone. I also want to show them how to find the humor in their struggles, which took me almost thirty years to find.

If you could give three books to every young adult, what would they be?

What’s your favorite work of art (book/movie/song/sculpture/etc.) with a Chicago connection?

There’s a Renoir in The Art Institute of Chicago that will always be special to me. When my husband and I first visited to decide whether or not to move here, we visited the museum and we were both blown away by the Renoir—how lifelike the woman’s eyes were, how vivid the colors—and we stared at that piece for quite some time. Seeing that painting always makes me remember how we fell in love with the city before we moved here, and how it’s now home.

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What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?

I love 57th Street Books. It extends much farther back than you would initially guess, it’s underground meaning you can go stacks-spelunking, and it has a fantastic selection of young adult books. I spend a lot of my weekends there!

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