I found out this weekend that my debut novel, Book Smarts and Tender Hearts, has been chosen as a finalist for the 2019 Oregon Book Award in Young Adult Literature!
When I submitted my book for the Oregon Book Award, I thought there was no way I'd be chosen as a finalist. I thought maybe I would be lucky enough to get feedback from the authors who were judging. So it just goes to show that you should try for the things you want! Even if you think there's no way, just go for it! Now my book will be read by three more authors, including Donna Freitas, whose book Gold Medal Winter (a sweet story about a teenage Olympic figure skater) I once won in a giveaway. Yay!
Suzette Smith from The Portland Mercury shared the list of finalists and said: "THERE ARE COUPLE WEIRD THINGS with this year's list of finalists. There aren't as many small press or self-published titles this year as there have been in years past." I guess that means that I'm lucky to make the cut! I'm glad that the Oregon Book Award judges are open to independently published books, and I'm super excited to be among the other finalists. I can't wait for the awards ceremony in April.
Big fat thanks to Mindi of Fat Positive Cooperative for writing this nice review of Book Smarts and Tender Hearts! Fat Positive Cooperative is an amazing website, full of resources, book and podcast recommendations, and spotlights on fat heroes.
Every new year, social media and regular media fill up with weight loss messages. It gets so exhausting, and I think it's damaging to hear over and over that bodies like ours aren't acceptable and need to be changed. I'm excited to start the year following a bunch of fat activists on social media that I've discovered through Fat Positive Cooperative.
How are you planning on loving your body in the new year??
Okay, I saved the best group of book recommendations for last – young adult, my favorite genre! As I said in my previous blog post, I didn’t read as much YA this year as I usually do. I was afraid that reading YA while working on my own YA novel would make me compare my work or inadvertently try to replicate the book I was reading. Maybe I was overthinking it. But anyway! It wasn’t an entirely YA-free year, and I did read several awesome books this year. Once again, these recommendations aren’t all books that were published in 2018, but rather my favorite books that I read during 2018. Check them out! (library pun!)
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (2017)
This story is delicious. It’s about Monty, a flamboyant bisexual boy who’s the son of a Lord in 1700s England, and he goes on a Grand Tour of Europe (which I guess was a Thing) with his sister and his BFF/secret crush Percy. I loved it, and especially recommend it if you like stories about boys who kiss boys, stories about teens having adventures, and/or agonizingly beautiful crush feelings. I spent most of the time I was listening with a dopey grin on my face. I loved how Monty (and the audiobook reader) calls everyone “dahhhhhling,” how he’s confident but also knows he’s a fuckup, and how he seems like he doesn’t care about anything but secretly has very tender feelings inside. It’s a great book that you can just cozy up with and get lost in.
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde (2017)
This story is about three best friends and a whirlwind weekend at a Comic Con. I don’t participate in fandoms or do cosplay or anything, but these characters do, and it was really fun to see the weekend through their eyes. Alternating chapters are narrated by Taylor, who’s chubby and autistic and secretly in love with the one boy in the group, and Charlie, a vlogger/actress who’s recovering from a very public breakup and getting to know her crush, Alyssa. I haven’t read many books with autistic main characters, so Taylor’s chapters were probably the most eye-opening for me, but I loved Charlie’s chapters too. The story has a wonderful emphasis on friendship, as Taylor and Charlie support each other through all the feelings and drama.
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson (2018)
I liked this more than I thought I would! I'm not particularly interested in zombies, but this has some fun twists on a classic zombie story. It’s about Mila, a teenage girl whose best friend Riley and two popular girls from school have all just died. Mila, who’s been practicing witchcraft with Riley, brings them all back to life and tries to figure out what happened. I liked the undead girls a lot, and how all the girls bond and realize that they like each other despite being so different.
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (2018)
More of a middle-reader than YA, but it’s a great story! Twelve-year-old Aru has to save the world (from her own screwup) by going on an adventure through Hindu mythology. She's sassy and insecure and very realistic, and she bonds with her fellow adventurers and creates a lovely, fun friendship story.
Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter (2018)
This has a lot of classic YA features, like a quick-moving story and teens who have time during a life-threatening situation to think about crushes and kisses. It’s about Logan, the son of the President of the USA, and Maddie, the daughter of a retired Secret Service agent. To try to keep him safe, Logan’s parents send him to stay in Alaska with Maddie and her dad. It turns out to be less safe than expected, though, as some bad guys attempt to kidnap Logan almost immediately upon his arrival. There’s a lot of backstory about Logan and Maddie and their relationship, but it gets revealed throughout the book, so you don’t have to wade through it to get to the action. Maddie is the tougher, more skilled one, but she still likes pretty things. Logan is bigger and stronger but doesn’t know as much about wilderness survival, so they’re pretty well-balanced as they work to save each other. It’s not a big emotional story…there are feelings, and a few moments of big feelings, but mostly it’s a fast-paced adventure, which is just what I was looking for.
I started reading mysteries a few years ago when I was searching for adult fiction that wasn’t romance-centered. I stumbled upon cozy mysteries, which I like because they are usually pretty light stories (which seems like an odd thing to say about stories involving murder, but I stand by it). I also think mysteries are very interesting from a writing perspective, and I like to see how authors weave the storylines together, plant red herrings, and eventually lead the sleuth to solve the crime.
As far as I can tell, the key components of a cozy mystery are:
This year, I listened to a lot of mystery audiobooks to relax while working on my novel. Since my book was young adult fiction, reading other YA novels felt way too close to home, so I really dove into mysteries. I even braved the world of non-cozy mysteries a little!
I’m always on the lookout for queer cozy mysteries. I found a couple this year, but they didn’t make my best-of list. The one queer mystery that did was definitely not cozy, as you’ll see below. I’m thinking about writing a queer cozy mystery as my next writing project, but I haven’t gotten very far. If you have any suggestions of queer cozies for me to check out, please let me know!
And now I present:
Shelley’s Favorite Mystery Reads of 2018
A Magical Match by Juliet Blackwell (A Witchcraft Mystery #9) (2018)
This is my favorite cozy mystery series, and I was excited when a new book came out. This series is about Lily, a witch who owns a vintage clothing store in San Francisco. Too often, cozy sleuths are prissy, fancy ladies, and I love that Lily isn’t. She runs around town in Keds and a ponytail, and is friends with the homeless man who sleeps in her store’s doorway. She also has a talking pig for a familiar, a colleague who makes plus-size replicas of vintage dresses, and a bunch of witchy and hippie friends who pop up occasionally to help her with research or tracking down leads. The audiobooks are narrated with a sweet Texas twang by Xe Sands, who is one of my favorite narrators, and the world of this series just seems so sweet and weird and fun. Plus, I love reading about the vintage clothes.
Blanche on the Lam (Blanche White #1) by Barbara Neely (1992)
I’ve been looking for more cozy mysteries written by authors of color, which is how I found this book. The main character, Blanche, is a black woman who does domestic work in rich white families’ homes, and starts sleuthing when there’s a murder in the house she’s working in. Blanche makes a lot of observations about the experience of being a black woman working for white people, and about police treatment of white vs. black people, and how black lives are treated as though they’re disposable. I liked this book a lot, and the author did a good job injecting social commentary into a story that could otherwise be pretty quick and easy.
Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs #1) by Jacqueline Winspear (2003)
This was a really interesting story! It’s not actually a cozy, since the sleuth in this book is a professional detective, but it does have a lot of the primness of some cozies. We start in the 1930s as Maisie sets up her detective agency, then most of the story is about her younger years, and with her personal life connecting to the mystery. Maisie was a nurse in World War I, which I learned a lot about, and an ambitious, inquisitive, driven woman in a time when women were expected to be none of those things. Before reading this book, I hadn’t considered how in-the-middle-of-things the nurses were during the war. I thought author did a good job of illustrating the horrors of war and how veterans are kind of abandoned when they come back. And Maisie is smart and kind and I liked her orderly process of solving the mystery.
Blackmail, My Love: A Murder Mystery by Katie Gilmartin (2014)
My final mystery recommendation for today is a standalone and is not cozy at all, but it’s definitely queer. This story takes place in the 1950s and is about Josie, who travels to San Francisco when her brother goes missing, and explores the underground gay scene while she searches for him. She meets lots of memorable characters, tells and hears heartbreaking stories about having to hide being queer, and comments on racism and sexism as well as homophobia. It’s a touching and engaging story that breaks every cozy rule that I listed above, including the graphic sex. I can’t recommend this book highly enough if you are interested in queer history!
The year is almost over, which means it’s time for best-of lists for 2018. I love looking back over the books I’ve read each year and picking my favorites. This year, I’m splitting my recommendations into three categories – non-fiction, mysteries, and young adult fiction – and making three posts. So many books to recommend! I don’t only read brand-new books, so these are my favorite books that I read during 2018. Some are new, and some are older. I’ll include the year of publication for easy reference.
I listened to almost all of these on audiobook, but I refer to “reading” them. I try to mention when the audio version is particularly well-read, in case that influences your decision of how to ingest the book.
If you’re interested in following my book reviews on the regs, feel free to add me on Goodreads!
And while you’re over on Goodreads, don’t forget to post your thoughts about MY novel, Book Smarts and Tender Hearts!
And now, without further ado, I present: Shelley’s Favorite Non-Fiction Books of 2018
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Asha Bandele and Patrisse Cullors (2018)
It’s ridiculous that saying “Black Lives Matter” is so controversial. People act like it means that black lives matter more than white lives, but where in the history of the United States has that ever been the case? Considering how differently (than white people) black and brown people are treated by teachers, police, courts and the prison system, it seems clear that the system is set up to show how little black lives do matter. This book really takes you inside that experience, and Patrisse does an amazing job of explaining how it feels to be told that you don’t matter. She describes her family and friends with such tenderness and love, showing how the movement evolved not from anger, but from deep love for her community. I never thought about Black Lives Matter developing from such a personal place, but I see now that this is because it’s not that personal for me. But Patrisse grew up with constant reminders that her life, and the lives of her black family and neighbors, didn’t matter to police or other people in power.
The memoir is very open and raw, and you get to know her family and friends and the systems of support that they’ve created because they can’t rely on support from outside. Before reading this book, I didn’t know that Patrisse is queer. This fact might make you realize how little I knew about her going in. Her sexuality is a big part of the memoir, and I really appreciated that. Her coming out story felt familiar to me, and her gender and sexuality are central parts of her identity. I love how much she prioritizes centering trans women and queers, and to making Black Lives Matter a non-patriarchal movement.
This is a beautiful and powerful book, and Patrisse’s narration of the audiobook adds to the text. I recommend it highly!
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (2012)
Until I finished writing my book, I didn’t realize how hard the vulnerability would be. Even admitting that I thought I had something to say that other people might find valuable felt really vulnerable. I also can’t control how other people interpret my story, what they connect with, or how their reading affects their ideas about me. All of this felt really scary. I walk a thin line between completely buying into touchy-feely-self-help talk and “this is such bullshit,” so I appreciated Brené’s talk about her own struggles with being vulnerable. I thought that was really refreshing. This book was a lot more helpful than I expected, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work!
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (2018)
This is a great book! Ijeoma Oluo addresses a lot of topics, including cultural appropriation, affirmative action, intersectionality, and how to determine if something really is about race. She gives some good, concrete tips, like tying it back to larger systems of oppression when calling out racism. Instead of just saying “that’s racist” when someone says something offensive, you should instead say “that promotes a stereotype about this group that leads to them being offered fewer jobs and getting lower pay” (or whatever is relevant to the comment). She also comes back to that idea later, by giving examples in other chapters of calling things out. I liked that a lot. She says that it’s important to talk about race, but that talk isn’t the end. We need action as well. It’s a serious and dense book, but it moves quickly and doesn’t drag. It definitely gave me a lot to think about.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018)
This book was fascinating. It’s always interesting to learn about someone else’s life when it’s so different from your own. I didn’t realize there would be so much violence. The family’s patriarchal beliefs let abuse go unchecked, and there were also a lot of major accidents which led to long-term medical issues that never got dealt with beyond Reiki, salves and herbs. I think with the title being “Educated,” I was expecting the story to stick to education, but it ended up being about escaping from a lifetime of conditioning and abuse. I was really rooting for Tara, and I loved hearing about the things she had to learn when she got to college, knowledge that most incoming college students took for granted. It was also really interesting to see her process of becoming her own person and forming her own beliefs. It’s a pretty amazing story!
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright (2017)
“Shaming people cures nothing. Living in a state of silence cures nothing.”
This book reminded me of a Mary Roach book, but with more political rants and less grossing me out. The author explains different plagues that have hit humans throughout history, like the Bubonic Plague, Syphilis, Tuberculosis and Typhoid. It moves quickly, is funny, and I learned a lot! She focuses on how different plagues have been handled, what worked and what didn’t, and talks about trends throughout history. I didn’t realize how common it is to blame victims for becoming sick, with society treating the sickness like a moral failing and fighting against the sick people rather than against the disease itself. My day job is in HIV prevention, and I never realized that the stigma of HIV/AIDS is not a new thing. It’s the same way sick people have been treated for centuries.
I was initially disappointed when I looked at the table of contents and realized that there wasn’t a chapter about AIDS, but she addressed it in the epilogue, and explained that she was focusing on plagues that have mostly been resolved. She had so much beautifully righteous indignation toward the members of Reagan’s administration who refused to acknowledge the AIDS crisis, with quotes like: “this plague seems a perfect case-in-point of what happens when you ignore every single one of history’s lessons regarding disease.” Very true!
The bad news is that I got really sick this week and had to cancel my trip to Euzine. I'm really bummed, because I was looking forward to seeing people, picking up new zines, and experiencing Euzine for the first time. But I think I made the right decision for my health, so that's positive I guess.
In happier news, I've been wanting to share these postcards that I made for last month's Correspondence Club swap. One of my favorite parts of Correspondence Club is that every month, there's a different themed swap. Whoever wants to participate writes their name and address on a list, then we each send a piece of mail art to everyone on the list. Last month, the theme was Encrypted. I thought about those puzzles with letters representing other letters, cut up January - September in my calendar to get the little pictures, and then made a code. Like most projects, it was a lot more work than I expected, but I was pretty happy with the results! Here are a few of the postcards I sent - want to see if you can break the encryption?
Hello! Happy November! The most important thing this month is to remember to vote!! If, like me, you live in Oregon, it's too late to mail our ballots in, so please be sure to drop yours off at a library or other drop site before 8 p.m. on Tuesday! I think it's really important to vote for candidates who will oppose Donald Trump, like Kate Brown for Governor. I hope that Oregon will continue with our queer, progressive governor. I know most of my friends agree with me about this, so I think the most important thing is to make sure your ballot gets counted.
My other November news is that this coming weekend, I'm going to the Euzine Comics and Zine Fest in Eugene, Oregon. It will be my first time tabling and attending, so I'm excited. Euzine is Saturday, November 10th from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Auditorium at the Lane Events Center. If you're in the area, stop by and say hello!
In October, I tabled at the Olympia Zine Fest. I've been to the Olympia Zine Fest a few times, and I love the friendly atmosphere and variety of zines. I was lucky enough to be seated next to my friend Sage, and it was great to talk about my book with folks, trade zines, and share my work! I also picked up a lot of creative and interesting zines, which I'm loving reading through.
I hope that Euzine will be just as fun and productive as the Olympia Zine Fest, and that the election results will bring positive change and help guide the country away from fascism. Regardless, I'm trying to fight fascism by living my life the way I want to and speaking out about what I believe. What are you doing to fight?
I got a PO Box! I'm pretty excited to have an official spot for all my zine- and book-related mail now. Send your love letters to: PO Box 33302, Portland OR 97292.
I also posted my zine to Etsy, so if you missed picking up a copy at the Olympia Zine Fest last weekend (which was a great event, by the way, and I will post more about it soon!), you can now order one online!
Below is a picture of some of the gorgeous stamps that I picked up at the last meeting of the Portland Correspondence Club. I love picking out stamps that I think the recipient will like when I'm mailing zines and letters!
The world feels so hard right now. We all saw Brett Kavanaugh get confirmed to the Supreme Court, despite obviously lying under oath and proving that he's completely partisan and not levelheaded in the least. It felt like the GOP was explicitly telling women how much they don't care about us. I guess a lot of things with the GOP have gotten more explicit lately, like the racism and xenophobia that's coming out into the open along with their acceptance of pedophiles and sexual abusers.
During all of this, another one of my aunts passed away. I feel so bad for my grandparents for losing two daughters within six months, when parents aren't supposed to outlive their children. The world also lost Bradley Knox, who laid out my book cover and pages, when he passed away suddenly last month. I hope that Bradley's wife and family know how much they've been in my heart since his passing.
The world is making me want to bury my head in the blankets and not come out until spring. And I've done a fair amount of escaping. I've been listening to tons of mystery audiobooks, binge-watching Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, and I made a new zine. I wrote about my experience writing a book and about my cats. My zine is The Independent Kitten, which is actually a slightly misleading title, since it's not exactly a zine about cats. Right now, I'm finishing up my last article - the one about politics. I feel so overwhelmed but am trying to just take it in pieces and do what I can do. I know it's important to get my own shit together before I can help anyone else, but it feels pretty self-indulgent. Or is that just the patriarchy trying to sabotage me before I even start?
I'm debuting my new zine at the Olympia Zine Fest this weekend, Saturday, October 13th from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Olympia Center. I'll also have books, and I would love to see some friendly faces.
What are you doing to fight the despair? I'd love your tips. I'm donating money, scheduling volunteer sessions at agencies that help my community, and writing thank you notes to Christine Blasey Ford.
Here's hoping the community of the zine fest this weekend will be just what I need to re-energize and get ready to fight some more!
Author Zadie Smith, when asked about including autobiographical content in fiction, said: “When you know writers very well — I have a lot of good writer friends — Writer X could set a book on the moon and it could all be monkeys, but I can read it and know it’s about his wife. It’s always intimate. But the strange thing about it too is that even if you try to write quite close to life, fiction has its own logic. It’s always sorting things, it’s always changing things. When writers say, ‘It’s not me, it’s not me,’ they are telling the truth.”
Since publishing my novel, the main question I’ve gotten is whether the story is autobiographical, or which parts really happened to me. Some people have asked my mom why she did the things that Hannah’s mom does in the story, which weren’t things that my mom ever did. Book Smarts and Tender Hearts isn’t an autobiography. I wouldn’t even call it autobiographical fiction. Hannah is better at school, a lot more self-aware, and way cooler than I was as a teenager. Georgia, Hannah’s mom, isn’t my mom. As I was writing Georgia, I actually worried that she was turning too much into me and that she wouldn’t be believable as a mom, since I don’t have kids. A lot of things about Hannah and her story were inspired by my life – I was a queer, fat teenager growing up in Salem, and my grandma did have Alzheimer’s – but most of the actions are made up. I didn’t get to spend the time with my grandma near the end of her life that Hannah does, but I wish I had. I was older than Hannah when my grandma moved into an Alzheimer’s care center, and I had already moved away.
It’s interesting to me that so many people are sure that Hannah is me, because I feel like all the characters are me in some ways. I made art and zines and had a million crushes like Corey, and I can be self-centered like Liz and aggressively opinionated like Paula. I guess it’s because Hannah is the narrator of the story, and because she’s fat with frizzy hair like me, that’s who people assume I’m telling my story through. But I would never do a lot of the things Hannah does in the story, from covering French fries with ketchup to being able to keep such a huge crush a secret.
When I’m reading, I do wonder sometimes what parts the author drew from their life. And I probably would wonder that more if I were reading a book written by someone I knew – is reading this book teaching me more about my friend? At first, I was kind of offended when people asked this, like they were saying I wasn’t creative enough to make up a whole story. But so many people have asked me that it must just be a natural leap to make.
Maybe people are asking if the feelings in the book are true. One of my favorite quotes about writing is from Toni Morrison, who famously said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I grew up queer and fat in a town that didn’t value either of those things, and I wanted to see my feelings in a story. I couldn’t find one, so I wrote it. I would say that the feelings are the truest things in the story. Maybe, when people ask if the story is real, they’re saying it is believable and that the emotions resonate enough that they feel true. I hope so, anyway.
I can’t control how people interpret the story. That’s something cool about books – how they change depending on who’s reading them, and how everyone sees stories differently. In the end, all I want is for people to read my book, and I would love for readers to connect with Hannah and the other characters, and to find true feelings in the story. Really, what more could I ask for?
I like cats, feminism, queers, making things and writing, apparently.