A Birthday Gift for You

I woke up today to discover that Kitty and Jordie were missing.

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This is Jordie and Kitty if you wonder who they are.

My first thought was to check my wallet for missing credit cards. Kitty is a supervillain after all, while Jordie is a bit impressionable. But they turned up eventually before I could alert the authorities. I was touched that they had enlisted the help of others to surprise me with this.

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Awww. Makes me ashamed for having doubted their integrity.

Yes, it’s that time again. (Though by the time you read this, Monday would have rolled around, signaling an end to my birthday.) I enjoyed a number of good meals over the past week and weekend with friends and family. I have good leftovers in my refrigerator and fond memories.

Though it was my birthday, I want you to have a share in the loot. This is one of the gifts I received:

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The coffee, rather than the crocheted car

The Caribou Coffee shops near me are now Peet’s Coffee shops. But Amazon and other stores still sell Caribou coffee.

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Now let me tell you what I’m going to do. I will send to one commenter a 12-ounce bag of medium roast Caribou coffee and one of the above tiny crocheted cars. (I had to make a bunch of them for a child’s upcoming Hot Wheels-themed birthday party.)

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The busy roadway and a Hot Wheels car I could not crochet

If you have a Keurig, um, sorry. I don’t have a Keurig. I’m giving away a gift like the one I received. Unfamiliar with Caribou? Don’t worry. Since I also received some Starbucks gift cards, I can have a bag of Starbucks ground coffee sent to you. Not a coffee drinker? I’m willing to send a box of Tazo or Harney & Sons tea—whatever Target sells—since that’s something I would supply for myself with a gift card.

Comment to let me know what you would prefer (Coffee? Tea? Nothing?) or what your favorite morning beverage happens to be. I’ll announce the winner on April 30.

Tazo tea from javaestate.com. Harney & Sons tea from luxebc.com. Peet’s logo from glutenfreeville.com.

Wanna Be Relevant? Be Yourself

Basically, the moral of this story is in the title of the post. But allow me to elaborate if you have a little more time.

Yesterday, my younger brother asked me, “What are you doing to make yourself relevant?” (This is the same brother who convinced me to start a blog.) He didn’t elaborate on what he meant, however, so I didn’t answer. But I thought about his question today as the spring snow flurries gently wafted to the ground. (Yes. Snow flurries.) I knew he meant relevant to my audience, which covers kids elementary age through high school.

My thoughts on the subject ran thusly: If I really wanted to be relevant I would have a YouTube Channel like John and Hank Green. Yeah, I wish. (If you’re not sure who the Greens are, click here for one of their channels or here for a bio.)

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Hank and John Green

Or, I thought, I’d have one like the crew at How It Should Have Ended (HISHE) have. At this channel, they produce videos of alternate ways popular movies, movie trailers, and videogames could have ended.

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I LOOOOOOVE this channel. Of the videos they produce, this is one of my favorites:

To show the relevance of this channel to the audience, another YouTube channel, this one by the Fine Bros, catalogued the reactions of teens to HISHE. That’s here if you want to see that video. They have other videos that show kids reacting to other aspects of pop culture.

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The Fine Brothers

Or, I considered, instead of a YouTube channel, perhaps I could do like my good friend Lyn Miller-Lachmann does and collaborate on Instagram with other storytellers. Lyn set up a Lego village in her home called Little Brick Township and has come up with stories based on it. Check out this post or this one at her blog. (Or better still, check out one of her young adult books, like Rogue.)

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I took a quick inventory of my assets.

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(First photo) A Dancing Oh from a McDonald’s Happy Meal (based on a character from the DreamWorks movie Home), Kitty, and Gandalf. (Second photo) Jordie, Frodo, and assorted sheep who strayed from the bookcase herd.

Okay, so Instagram storytelling was probably not the way to go with this motley crew. I needed another angle. . . .

Once I drank a few cups of coffee, I realized the answer to the question was staring me in the face all along. A comment Tina Alexander made in an interview at About Entertainment (an article written by Nancy Basile) helped. When asked, “How did HISHE come about?” Alexander replied, “Truly just from a love of movies and discussing them.” So, Lyn, the Fine Brothers, the Greens, and the folks at HISHE (Daniel Baxter, Tina Alexander, Tommy Watson, Otis Frampton, and many others) were all doing what they love to do. That’s how they keep relevant.

That’s when I realized: I’m already doing what I love to do: talking to kids and teens about the books, movies, YouTube channels, and videogames they love and I love. Best of all, I’m writing stories I love in order to share those stories with them.

So, the best thing I can do to be relevant is to be myself. It really is true: everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten.

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How would you answer my brother’s question for yourself?

The Fine Brothers from Wikipedia. The Greens from pinterest.com. How It Should Have Ended logo from tardesocio.blogspot.com.

Does Passion Always Lead to Success?

You’re probably familiar with this scenario: Person A gives her all to pursue her passion—practicing; researching; talking to individuals who share her passion—whatever is necessary. Person B stumbles upon this particular passion and decides, Maybe I’ll give this a shot. On her first try, Person B achieves a level of success Person A only dreamed about.

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When I was an undergraduate, I roomed with someone majoring in performance studies. She seemed very passionate about the craft, often walking around singing loudly and quoting from well-known plays. But over the years, I’ve never seen her name in lights anywhere. Yet a guy in my graduating class who never seemed to care one way or the other about the performing arts (he had an entirely different major actually) went on to gain recurring roles in television shows and in movies.

Life has its twists and turns, huh? My life has taken some strange ones. A few years ago, a publisher asked me to write curriculum for kids 3—8. “Why me?” I asked. “I don’t know anything about kids this age! I never studied early childhood development. I don’t even read books or watch TV shows geared toward kids this age!”

Don’t worry. I wasn’t silly enough to say those words out loud. Instead I said, “Okay,” thinking that project was a fluke, surely. Yet last year someone at another publisher said, “I saw on your resume that you’ve written preschool curriculum. We’d like you to write preschool and kindergarten curriculum.” Again, I thought, What?! I still don’t know why I was asked to write for this age level before!

In Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell mentioned opportunity as a factor that has led to success for some. He said

Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them. Page 267

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Whether or not you agree with this book, my experiences above show the beckoning fingers of opportunity. Yet when I analyze the years I spent writing preschool curriculum—yes, years—I have to say that passion did indeed have a part. I have a passion for producing a quality product. I’m willing to work hard to produce that product, even if I’m asked to write for an age level about which I know very little.

Am I always successful at that? Nope. I’ve been fired from projects. “Here’s a kill fee,” one editor at a magazine told me after reading (and disliking) an article I had written. Also, over a decade ago, I was passionate about a four-book series I had written for a publisher. Yet that passion did not keep it from going out of print within two years. But I learned something in both cases: to persevere through utter failure. So in a way, both projects were a success though not in the way that I had envisioned.

Does a lack of opportunity or opportunities that seem to lead to dead-ends mean that our passions are misplaced? Not necessarily. Sometimes failure can point you in a direction you wouldn’t have considered had you succeeded right away.

Opportunity may give us wings, but passion makes us soar.

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A good article on passion is “Unleash Your Passion to Unlock Your Leadership.” Find it here at Forbes.com.

What do you think? Does passion or opportunity lead to success? A combination of both? Neither?

Passion image from lifebites.com. Malcolm Gladwell from nbforum.fi. Outliers cover from Goodreads. Flying people from rock.genius.com.

Suspending a Character’s Disbelief and Ours

I’ve got book winners to announce, but that will be at the end of this post. Mwahahahaha! So grab a donut and pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea while I talk at you for a minute.

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Ever read a book where a character is handed a truth that would require a major paradigm shift for him or her to accept? For example, the character suddenly learns that magic or monsters really exist.

We’ve all read stories of characters who stubbornly cling to disbelief in the face of tons of evidence to the contrary. They insist that they’re dreaming or “this isn’t really happening” until they reach a plot point (at least halfway through the book) that pushes them toward belief. Or we’ve read stories where a character instantly accepts a completely world-changing viewpoint without a struggle. There are also stories where the character seems to ignore what would be totally obvious to a seven-year-old. I think of that as the Lois-Lane-can’t-see-Superman-behind-Clark-Kent’s-glasses perspective. That’s why we don’t necessarily suspend our disbelief as we read. (Or sometimes we go along for the ride because the characters are so beloved or iconic.)

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Lois, have you noticed anything unusual about Clark? No? Some reporter you are.

Here is where foreshadowing can be an author’s BFF. An author can hint at the possibility that something major is going to happen at a future point. Foreshadowing also is a reminder that things are not always what they appear to be. It provides a solid base to make a character’s suspension of disbelief seem inevitable.

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Prince Zuko of the Avatar animated series and Anakin Skywalker of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Sometimes though, a rip-off-the-bandage approach works to move a story along. I can’t help thinking of two episodes of Doctor Who, series 4 (2008), starring David Tennant as the Doctor (BBC/BBC America).

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In Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, an extremely chilling 2009 Hugo award-nominated two-episode arc written by Steven Moffat, we see a little girl talking to a psychiatrist, while her anxious dad hovers in the background. Such an innocuous scene. The little girl has told the doctor—Dr. Moon—about her dreams.

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Doctor Moon (played by Colin Salmon) and the little girl (played by Eve Newton)

In her dreams, she goes to a library—a place where she feels safe. But as we watch the episodes, we realize that all is not what it seems. Later in the first episode, because of a dangerous development, Doctor Moon has to share a shocking truth with the little girl, a truth that would require a paradigm shift for her to accept. (Quote below from IMDb. **SLIGHT SPOILER.**)

Dr. Moon: What I want you to remember is this, and I know it’s hard. The real world is a lie and your nightmares are real. The Library is real. There are people trapped in there. People who need to be saved. The shadows are moving again. Those people are depending on you. Only you can save them. Only you.

**END SPOILER.** You can read this Wikipedia article if you want to know the plot. Or, I would suggest watching the episodes. They are extremely good.

Another example of a character having to shift from disbelief to belief comes from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/Philosopher’s Stone (the title depends on which side of the Atlantic you happen to be on), Hagrid tells Harry the truth about Harry’s extraordinary life in this scene from the first Harry Potter movie, directed by Christopher Columbus (2001).

Rowling set the stage earlier by having weird things happen that Harry witnessed, but couldn’t explain. So when the big reveal comes, his struggle for acceptance doesn’t feel contrived.

I’m facing a similar issue in my middle grade book—a character struggling to believe something extraordinary about herself. I’ll ask you the same questions I had to answer for the character: If you were told that magic really exists, what’s the first thing you would do? What would you say or ask?

While you think about those questions, I’ll move on to the book giveaway. Thanks for you patience. If you recall, last week I had mentioned two great books: None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio and Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue by Charles Yallowitz. You can find those posts here and here. Jordie and Hello Kitty wanted to be in on the reveal. You might have to enlarge the photos below if you have trouble reading the names.

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The winner of None of the Above is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

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The winner of Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

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Congratulations Jill! Congrats, Professor! Please comment below to confirm.

Now I will leave you with a photo I am calling, “The Five Geese of the Apocalypse.” For some reason, they were just standing there on the ledge looking out. Surveying their domain perhaps?

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Doctor Moon and the little girl from stevegoble.blogspot.com. Doctor Who, series 4, DVD cover from Wikipedia. Lois Lane and Clark Kent from goodgirlsinc.wordpress.com. Coffee and donut from wisdomwoman.com. Zuko from glogster.com. Anakin/Darth Vader from tvtropes.org.

Am I Desensitized?

Recently, I watched a bunch of movies where many people were shot or killed in some other way or beaten severely. I also finished reading an urban fantasy novel in which a reluctant werewolf was tasked with hunting and dispatching several vampires who slaughtered multiple people. Very gritty. But when I sat down to watch an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, Emma (1996), the other night, I couldn’t get into at first. Now, I love this movie. But switching gears mentally to watch it took time. After a few tries, I was able to watch the whole movie without twitching.

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Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse with Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley

doctor_who___2005_teaser_by_mrtardis-d34dd4oWondering why? I’ll get to that in a minute. Let me preface by explaining that I once went five years without watching much television at all—only special news broadcasts (like the 9/11 coverage) and Doctor Who, a BBC show geared toward families. So its violence quotient was low. And I watched Doctor Who on DVD after the whole season was released, rather than each week. This was prior to the start of the first season of Heroes on NBC in 2006. Actually, Heroes was the first network show I watched when I decided to return to network TV watching. I binged on the first season online, having missed the shows when they first aired.

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Though I really enjoyed the show, I was shocked at the violence and gore. If you’ve seen the first season of Heroes, maybe it seems a bit tame compared to shows on HBO or Netflix. But having given up TV for years, I hadn’t realized how programming had evolved.

The fact that I was shocked may seem ironic to you when I clue you in on my history. I grew up in an area of Chicago that many deem unsafe due to gang violence. I heard gunshots many times, sometimes on holidays when people would fire guns as part of their celebration. My family wound up moving due to drive-by shootings that happened on our block.

During a visit to an aunt’s house one evening in a south suburb when I was a kid, the sound of gunfire shattered the night. My father ordered us to stay inside while he and my uncle went to investigate. Turns out a man down the street had made a serious attempt to kill his entire family. One child miraculously escaped. The police arrived along with ambulances. My family went to the hospital with the surviving child who had been grazed by a bullet.

The horror of that experience stayed with me for a long time. I couldn’t help thinking about it two months ago. While visiting my family in the Houston area, the breaking news story was the extradition of a young man accused of murdering his entire family, one of which was a five-year-old. You can find that story here. Interestingly enough, several years ago, I had heard this young man’s father, an Episcopal priest, preach at a church. Now he’d been murdered.

Psychology-Today-logoI was horrified, but the horror faded quicker than it did when I was a kid. And with my recent diet of violent movies, I have to wonder if I’ve become desensitized. The answer, according to psychological studies quoted here, here, and in an article at the Psychology Today website, is yes. You can find that 2013 article here. The study discusses the effects of violent media on the brain. The article describes this finding:

There was a significant decrease in the activation of prefrontal portions of the brain and a greater activation of the amygdala.

The amygdala is where emotions come from while the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps us concentrate. This is why I had trouble adjusting to the slower pace of Emma at first. Want to see another study on the subject? Click here for one at the Mount Sinai Hospital website.

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Please keep in mind that I am pointing the finger at myself and no one else. I know when my attitude shifts after a steady diet of one form of media. Maybe you can handle it, but I can’t after awhile. And yes, I know the difference between real-life violence and the Hollywood version of it.

Giving up TV in the early part of the century helped me get a lot of writing done. You know what? I didn’t really miss watching TV during those years. It’s funny what you get used to when you break a habit.

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Though I’m looking forward to seeing The Avengers: Age of Ultron, I think I’ll cut back on the violent media until then. I need a dip in calmer waters.

Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley from Pinterest.com. Heroes cast from insidetv.ew.com. Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor from mrtardis.deviantart.com. Television clip art from clker.com. Psychology Today logo from eileenkennedymoore.com. Brain image from ladyatheist.blogspot.com.

Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue Is Live!

LEGENDS OF WINDEMERE:
SLEEPER OF THE WILDWOOD FUGUE
LIVE on Amazon Kindle!

The final champion stirs and reaches out to any who can hear her voice. Yet all who heed her call will disappear into the misty fugue.

Awakening their new ally is only the beginning as Luke, Nyx, and their friends head south to the desert city of Bor’daruk. Hunting for another temple once used to seal Baron Kernaghan, they are unaware that the game of destiny has changed. Out for blood and pain, Stephen is determined to make Luke wish he’d never set out to become a hero.

By the time the sun sets on Bor’daruk, minds will be shattered and the champions’ lives will be changed forever.

Don’t forget to mark it as ‘To Read’ on Goodreads too!

Charles E. Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz

About the Author:

Charles Yallowitz was born and raised on Long Island, NY, but he has spent most of his life wandering his own imagination in a blissful haze. Occasionally, he would return from this world for the necessities such as food, showers, and Saturday morning cartoons. One day he returned from his imagination and decided he would share his stories with the world. After his wife decided that she was tired of hearing the same stories repeatedly, she convinced him that it would make more sense to follow his dream of being a fantasy author. So, locked within the house under orders to shut up and get to work, Charles brings you Legends of Windemere. He looks forward to sharing all of his stories with you and his wife is happy he finally has someone else to play with.

Blog: Legends of Windemere
Twitter: @cyallowitz
Facebook: Charles Yallowitz
Website: www.charleseyallowitz.com

Read the Previous Volumes of Legends of Windemere!!!

BEGINNING OF A HERO

PRODIGY OF RAINBOW TOWER

ALLURE OF THE GYPSIES

FAMILY OF THE TRI-RUNE

THE COMPASS KEY

CURSE OF THE DARK WIND

I’m giving away a copy of Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on April 16.

Happy birthday, Charles!

Check This Out: None of the Above

A special guest on blog today is the great I. W. Gregorio. She wears many hats, including, surgeon, mom, vice president, and the one we’re here to talk about today: young adult author. Today happens to be the book birthday of her novel, None of the Above, which has been described as “Middlesex meets Mean Girls.” Ilene is represented by Jess Regel of Foundry Literary + Media.

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NoneoftheAbove_CoverNone of the Above was published by Balzer & Bray/HarperTeen. Here’s the synopsis:

When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.

But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s world completely unravels. With everything she thought she knew thrown into question, can she come to terms with her new self?

Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.

book birthdayEl Space: Congrats on your book launch! Four quick facts about yourself?
I. W.: 1. I grew up in Central New York, one of only two Asian Americans in my class.
2. I’m a total foodie: Some people eat to live; I live to eat.
3. My second child was born the day after my debut novel sold.
4. I decided the medical school I went to based on the physician-writers I most admired—Sherwin Nuland and Richard Selzer.

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El Space: What inspired you to write a novel described as “Middlesex meets Mean Girls?”
I. W.: I’ve been intrigued by intersex—a biological condition where a child is born with a variation of sex anatomy—since reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex. After I began writing YA in during my residency lab year, this idea for a “YA Middlesex” floated around in my brain for about a year until I met a young girl with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome who inspired None of the Above. After I met her, I couldn’t stop thinking about what it must have been like for her moving forward with her diagnosis. Did she tell her friends? Did she have a boyfriend? How did her diagnosis shape her sense of identity?

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El Space: In a guest post at the Stacked blog, you mentioned that the “gender binary is insidious.” How will this book address that issue?
I. W.: When she discovers that she was born intersex, my main character Kristin has to wrestle with some important questions: What does it mean to be a woman? Does having XY chromosomes mean that people will treat her differently? What does it mean not to have a uterus? So she comes face to face with the assumptions that people make when they realize that she has testes . . . which is problematic of course because people like to slip people into socially constructed boxes labeled M and F, when in reality most personality traits are gender neutral, and very few people fit perfectly into one box.

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El Space: What was the process of crafting the character of Kristin?
I. W.: I did a lot of research. In addition to reading a bunch of books and first-person accounts, I also interviewed several intersex women and their families.

El Space: In your bio, you’re described as a “recovering ice hockey player.” Could you tell us a little about that and how the gender binary might have impacted you as an athlete?
I. W.: First of all, I must give the caveat that I was a very low-level ice hockey player! I started in college and played at the club level. But I actually loved playing hockey. It surprised people, because I didn’t fit the stereotype of what kind of women people thought played ice hockey. Throughout my life, I’ve noticed that people seem to put me in a box because I’m a smallish Asian woman. They assume that I’m going to be submissive and polite. Telling people that I used to play hockey sometimes does change the way people look at me, which is kind of my way of making binary assumptions work for me.

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Olympic ice hockey players

El Space: You’re also a surgeon. I can see a glimpse of your medical background in this book. But when and why did you start writing young adult fiction?
I. W.: I’ve wanted to be a writer as long as I remember, but took a little detour through medical school. While I did a lot of essay writing in medical school, it wasn’t until my lab year of residency, when someone essentially dared me to write a book by saying that they didn’t think I was “the right personality” to write a book, that I decided to write a novel. I had always wanted to write a book for teens, because that was when I read most voraciously. That was also when I read the books that impacted me most.

6572d210314f4f49f2de6c771e9eabc0El Space: What’s your role in the We Need Diverse Books campaign?
I. W.: I have been with the WNDB campaign since its inception, and right now I serve as VP of Development, meaning that I’ve been working to establish relationships with groups like the American Booksellers Association, School Library Journal, and the SCBWI. I’m also providing oversight for the planning and fundraising for our 2016 Diversity Festival.

El Space: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
I. W.: Read a lot, and read outside of your comfort zone. Different genres can teach you different things. Find critique partners who will support you, but won’t be afraid to give you criticism.

El Space: What are you working on now?
I. W.: Things have been very busy lately with WNDB and with promotion for None of the Above. But I’m actually working on a picture book now that was inspired by my daughter and musician husband! And I’ve got an idea for a YA contemporary that has been rattling around in my head for a while, with an Asian American protagonist. But I don’t want to say too much about that because I’m sure my plot will change.

Thanks, Ilene, for being my guest!

If you’re looking for I. W. Gregorio, you can find her at the usual places: her website, Facebook, Twitter.

None of the Above is available here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

One of you will win a copy of None of the Above. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. The winner will be announced on Apil 16.

Curious about the We Need Diverse Books campaign? Check out the WNDB website to find out how you can get involved.

Author photo and book cover courtesy of I. W. Gregorio. We Need Diverse books sign found at pinterest.com. Book birthday gif from romancingrakes4theluvofromance.blogspot.com. Other book covers from Goodreads. Female ice hockey players photo from olympic.org. Male and female symbols from clker.com.