Blog

KIDLIT UNITES AGAINST BOOK BANNING

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Kidlit Unites Against Book Banning

More than 13,000 MG and YA authors and illustrators have signed a letter condemning the current wave of book banning. The letter, written by Newbery Honor author Christina Soontornvat,  calls on Congress, state leaders, and school boards to act now to protect students and their right to access a diverse selection of books.

“This current wave of book suppression follows hard-won gains made by authors whose voices
have long been underrepresented in publishing.” (From Soontornvat letter)

Demonstrating the resonance of this message with children’s book creators, most of the thousands of signatures on this letter were gathered in under 48 hours. The letter is now posted on diversebooks.org and includes signatures from a handful of contributors from our blog here at From the Mixed-Up Files … of Middle-Grade Authors.

 

badge logo for We Need Diverse Books - text with pink brush marks at top and botto

“When books are removed or flagged as inappropriate, it sends the message that the people in
them are somehow inappropriate. It is a dehumanizing form of erasure …. At a time when our country is experiencing an alarming rise in hate crimes, we should be searching for ways to increase empathy and
compassion at every turn.” (From Soontornvat letter)

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

On May 18, Soontornvat sent the signed letter to the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, which is investigating book banning in schools. On Thursday, the subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over civil rights and equal protection laws, held its second hearing on the subject and formally introduced the letter into its record.

((Interested in reading more on the fight against book banning? Click here.))

((Want a list of banned books you can support? Click here.))

 

Interview: Xiran Jay Zhao Talks About Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor

Bookcover for middle-grade novel Zachary Ying and the Dragon EmperorWhen I saw the amazing cover for ZACHARY YING AND THE DRAGON EMPEROR (illustrated by comic book artist Velinxi), I knew it was a book I wanted to devour. Which is why I’m so thrilled to interview the novel’s author on From the Mixed Up Files today. Xiran Jay Zhao is the New York Times best-selling author of the young adult novel IRON WIDOW, and ZACHARY YING is their debut middle-grade novel. Billed as a Chinese Percy Jackson, here’s the book’s description:

12-year-old Zack never had many opportunities to learn about his Chinese heritage. His single mom was busy enough making sure they got by, and his schools never taught anything except Western history and myths. So Zack is woefully unprepared when he discovers he was born to host the spirit of the First Emperor of China for a vital mission: sealing the leaking portal to the Chinese underworld before the upcoming Ghost Month blows it wide open.

The mission takes an immediate wrong turn when the First Emperor botches his attempt to possess Zack’s body and binds to Zack’s AR gaming headset instead, leading to a battle where Zack’s mom’s soul gets taken by demons. Now, with one of history’s most infamous tyrants yapping in his headset, Zack must journey across China to heist magical artifacts and defeat figures from history and myth, all while learning to wield the emperor’s incredible water dragon powers.

And if Zack can’t finish the mission in time, the spirits of the underworld will flood into the mortal realm, and he could lose his mom forever.

What was your inspiration for this book?

Xiran Jay Zhao, author Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor

Xiran Jay Zhao

I was inspired to write this story when my friend Rebecca Schaeffer, author of the NOT EVEN BONES series, encouraged me to try my hand at writing MG, since I’d been hyperfixating on Chinese history and myth, and myth stories make for very good MG novels. Immediately I thought of doing a Chinese take on Yugioh, the most formative anime of my childhood, in which I would combine modern gaming tech with ancient myths and magic. And thus ZACHARY YING was born!

 There’s such intricate detail about the history in China. Tell us about your research.

I didn’t need to do much fresh research since I already had so many historical and mythical stories in my head that I couldn’t wait to tell, so I basically just double-checked that my facts were legit. Whenever I saw an opportunity in the plot to bring up a fun anecdote, I went for it. My first draft was actually stuffed with many more of them, and I had to cut a few out to make the book less overwhelming.

What was the most surprising or interesting thing you discovered in your research, and if you didn’t use it in the book, why not?

The First Emperor was so dramatic of a person that there are a lot of stories about him that didn’t make the cut simply because I couldn’t find a good place to tell them. My favorite is the time he went up on Mount Tai, a sacred mountain in China, to proclaim his supremacy after unifying the seven warring states, then a huge rainstorm hit him on the way down and he had to take shelter under a big tree. Then he proceeded to make that tree an official rank-5 minister?!

Wow! I love the idea of the spirits of these legendary characters staying alive and powerful because of the belief people have in them. What inspired that?

There’s a lot of interconnection between myth and history in Chinese culture, and I’ve always found that fascinating! The Chinese pantheon of gods is very vast; there are basically no rules to who can become a god, as long as a group of people agree and make you a temple. Because of this, many early historical figures have been enshrined as gods, such as Guan Yu of Three Kingdoms fame, who somehow became the god of money. I thought it’d be cool to have magic fueled by legends.

Yes. So cool! I also love that you used a videogame as a way for the spirits to communicate. So fun! Are you gamer? And was Mythrealm inspired by a particular game?

I’m not a gamer myself, but the vast majority of my friends are. Mythrealm is specifically inspired by Pokemon GO (remember those two weeks after it came out, where it felt like we achieved world peace?), but with myth creatures instead of Pokemon.

I could see the similarities to that game! Is there a character who’s most like you? And if so, which one and why?

Zack drew heavily from my awkward, self-conscious 12-year-old self, though nowadays I’d have to say I’m more confident and self-assured like Melissa. It was a long road, going through this transformation!

That’s something a lot of middle schoolers will be able to identify with (not to mention a lot of adults. 🙂 ). Your debut novel, IRON WIDOW, was for young adult readers. Did you find it challenging to write for a middle-grade readers? How did your process change, if at all?

I actually didn’t have much difficulty transitioning to MG. Writing ZACHARY YING was easier for me, even. I honestly think ZACHARY YING embodies me as a person much better. I got to show the fun side of my personality that didn’t really get a chance to show up during the bleak brutality of IRON WIDOW.

And finally, what can we look forward to next from you?

I’m working hard on the sequel to my YA debut IRON WIDOW, which will hopefully release Summer 2023!

We can’t wait!

Learn more about Xiran Jay Zhao at their website, XiranJayZhao.com. You can also follow them on Twitter @XiranJayZhao for posts about Chinese history, Instagram for cosplay, TikTok for short videos, and YouTube for more information about Chinese history and culture.

Writing Mojo: Tips for Getting Off Hiatus

I don’t know about you, but my writing mojo has been on hiatus for the past few years. I want to be writing and coming up with creative idea after idea, but I haven’t had the focus and motivation to make it happen as much as I’d like. I’ve been hearing similar things from writers I know.

What’s the issue? I think collectively there’s just been too much to worry about. On top of typical life issues, the pandemic has consumed our thoughts, added additional stress to the logistics of our lives, and resulted in social separation that’s left people with a dwindling well of inspiration. But things are changing, life is changing, and writing mojo doesn’t just disappear . . . it hangs on, waiting to return.

Many of us have been doing what we can the past few years to keep that spark going—Zoom writer’s groups and other virtual meetings. And now we can do more and more out in the world. So, what has been working for writers? Here are some tips from myself and a few MUF bloggers on filling up your creative well and getting back to your writing self again.

Tip #1. Get out there, get physical, get lost.

Writers spend too much time in their heads. And if worry is filling it, there’s not much room for much else. One way to make some space for inspiration is to get out of your head and into nature. Walking has always been healing  and inspiring to me. I like to get lost for a while, occupy my mind on the route ahead, and focus on my surroundings. I notice life a little better and my head clears so that it can wander. Trying another kind of art helps too, one that is more physical than writing. I’ve been trying some macrame lately and getting out into the garden. It opens up the writing part of my mind. When it can wander, new writing ideas have space to wiggle in.

Tip #2. Connect with community again.

If you’ve been avoiding book and writing events for a while, like many of us have, start venturing out again. Being with others in the writing community is such an inspiration. Volunteering to help with book-related events can help spark that excitement us writers have about what it is we love. There are likely many outdoor events in your community now that the weather is nicer. See what you feel good about attending and then start connecting again. Or start a book-related event yourself—maybe a free children’s book table at your local farmer’s market. Talk with people about children’s books. See how books affect their lives.

Tip #3. Follow a writer’s program on your own or with a group of writers.

A friend of mine mentioned The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron the other day. If you haven’t heard of it, it contains exercises, activities, and prompts to cultivate your creativity. Having a structured method to explore creativity may be the right way for you to get back on track with writing.


MUF blogger Dorian Cirrone
also had some thoughts on what’s been keeping her writing mojo alive:

Two things have kept me writing during the pandemic. The first has been reading. During these past couple of years, I’ve become a voracious reader of suspense fiction in order to escape reality. And with each book I’ve read, I’ve gotten ideas on how to enhance my own writing, which is always exciting to me.

The other thing that has kept me going is watching webinars on writing. I’m amazed at how many fantastic free or low-cost webinars and videos are available to writers. I know a lot of people have webinar fatigue, but I’ve found many that have been inspiring. Here are a few sites to explore:

 

MUF blogger Heather Murphy Capps offered these thoughts on what motivates and inspires her:

It’s been such an up and down time for writing during this upside down time in our lives … and I have loved reading about other ways of filling the creative well. Here’s what usually gets me excited to write or try out new ideas:

  1. Read the newspaper! I know—that seems counterproductive given the dumpster fire of a world we’re living in. But I want to remind everyone that there’s more to the paper besides the front page. Scientists are discovering black holes, advice columnists are still advising people on how to deal with families and friends, sports teams are still doing amazing things—especially local small teams and high school sports.
  2. Listen to the radio! Listen to MOTH radio and StoryCorps on Fridays on NPR. If you’re like me, you will inevitably cry (!!) but you will also be rejuvenated listening to stories of real people and they often spark ideas about what your fictional people might do or want or think.
  3. Watch bad television! I love watching television, I’ll admit it. And one of the benefits from television is it allows me to turn off my analytical brain and just feel or react … which often spurs ideas. I am not often a person who does subtitles or artsy television— I like it, but I find that serialized drama is a great way to just relax my brain. And then the ideas come, which is a beautiful thing.
  4. Finally, and I know people say this all the time, but I do definitely think that getting into quiet and nature is a foolproof way to spur creativity again. Being quiet and observing beauty and not being required to interact with the world ALWAYS helps free up my brain.

 

Hope these ideas help get you off your writing hiatus. It’s still a work in progress for me, but I’m trying. What’s worked for you? Please share some of your tips in the comments below!