’Tis the Season

Christmas-gift-ideas“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” as the song goes. And it’s my pleasure to announce that Christmas has come early for the two winners of Gene Luen Yang’s two-volume masterpiece Boxers & Saints. Ho ho ho!


So, without further ado (or should I say much ado to work in a Shakespeare title), the two winners are . . . first . . .

First . . .

First . . .

First . . .

First . . .

Charles Yallowitz . . . and second . . .

Second . . .

Second . . .

Second . . .

Second . . .

Ellar Cooper!!!!

Congrats to you both. Please email me (lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com) to provide your snail mail address. Please also provide your phone number. (Sorry. That’s Amazon’s requirement for package delivery.) Merry Christmas!

Speaking of Christmas, what is it about the holidays that makes you willing to put up with more cheese than usual? Okay. I’ll speak for myself. I’m willing to put up with a great deal of cheese. I’m hooked on the Christmas movies on Hallmark and Lifetime. They’re the perfect vehicles for washed-up ’80s TV stars or sisters of ex-Disney Channel stars. The plot is usually a variation on the following: a recently fired, high-powered career woman/broke single mom needs to turn over a new leaf/sell toys or trees/experience a miracle/pay a mortgage before the bank forecloses/get back her self-respect/mojo. Though she’s as broke as a busted window, she usually has a designer wardrobe with killer shoes and a condo or house large enough for a family of six. Or, she lives with her parents who run their own Christmas-oriented business and cheerfully meddle in her love life.


Nothing says Christmas like these shoes.

Of course she’ll find true wuv before the holidays. A hot guy will walk up to her and ask her out, even if she’s in the ladies room. But she’ll get dumped or dump him five minutes before the end due to a horrible misunderstanding. Thankfully, her adorable child/wacky best friend/loyal dog/nagging mom/conscience/belief in Santa Claus/circumstances will work to give her the happy ending the movie requires. Before that happens, there will be lots of holiday moments: ice skating, tree trimming, hot chocolate sipping, tinkling the ivories while singing Christmas carols, Christmas cookie baking, kisses under the mistletoe, and walks around Manhattan. She’ll help him be less cynical/love tree decorating/regain his Christmas spirit/learn to ice skate. He’ll teach her to love again/take a risk/ice skate/see the beauty within/work with disadvantaged kids. Good times. Note that zombies never figure into the scenario. Sigh.


This . . . but never . . . this.

But I don’t mind the predictability. Movies like this are comfort food for the eyes, thanks to the guaranteed happy ending. After all, it’s Christmas, right?

Sigh. As much as I love a happy ending, for some reason, I can’t wrap things up so cheerfully in my novel. I’ve tried. So I wrote an ending that seems more realistic. Yet I feel like the Grinch who stole Christmas as I steal the joy from my characters. I wish some adorable child/loyal dog/wacky best friend would come and make things all warm and fuzzy. But given the events of the story—heartache, unrequited love, death, chaos—warm fuzzies at the end are an uneasy fit, even with a bit of wuv woven into the narrative.

So, I watch these holiday-cheer movies as I work up the courage to end my characters’ hopes for now. Blue Christmas? They’ll probably have one, even if the characters in the movies I watch don’t.

How about you? Is a happy ending a requirement for you? If not, what is the most satisfying ending you’ve read recently, even if it was sad?

Gift image from vizfact.com. Tree from wallpaperchristmas.net. Shoes from shoes.lovetoknow.com. Zombie from plantsvszombies.wikia.com.

Check This Out: Boxers & Saints

17261194geneWith me on the blog today is the awe-inspiring Gene Luen Yang. I’m betting you’ve heard of him. Not only does he teach at Hamline University (the MFA program) in his spare seconds, he has either written or written and illustrated some of the graphic novels you’ve seen on the New York Times bestseller lists, namely American Born Chinese (written and illustrated by Gene), Level Up (art by Thien Pham), The Eternal Smile, Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Promise trilogy (art by Gurihiru) and Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search trilogy (art by Gurihiru), and many others. And yes, the image at the right is one of his. 😀

Gene is represented by Judith Hansen. He’s here today to talk about the latest graphic novels he wrote and illustrated: Boxers & Saints, published by First Second Books. I’m giving away two boxed sets! More on that later. But first, let’s talk to Gene!

El Space: Welcome, Gene! Wish I could offer you a beverage, but we’re separated by cyberspace. Please share four quick facts about yourself.
Gene: 1. I write and draw comic books and graphic novels.
2. I taught high school computer science for years and years.
3. I’ve spent my entire life within this one-hour radius in the San Francisco Bay Area.
4. My Chinese name means “cautious.” When I was first born, my parents gave me a Chinese name that meant “splendid.” When I started walking, I kept bumping my head on stuff, so they changed it to “cautious.”

El Space: Oh man, that’s awesome! What inspired you to produce Boxers & Saints? How long was the process from conception to completion?
Gene: Boxers & Saints is a two-volume graphic novel all about the Boxer Rebellion. I first became interested in the Boxer Rebellion in the year 2000, when Pope John Paul II canonized a group of Chinese Catholic saints. I grew up in a Chinese Catholic community. My home church was really excited about the Vatican’s announcement. This was the first time the Roman Catholic Church had ever recognized Chinese citizens in this way. When I looked into the lives of the newly canonized saints, I discovered that many of them were martyred during the Boxer Rebellion, a war on Chinese soil in 1900. And, in fact, they were killed because they were seen as traitors to Chinese culture. The more I read about the Boxer Rebellion, the more fascinated I became. I feel that this war from over a hundred years ago embodies this struggle between East and West that many Asian Americans have felt from time to time in our lives.

The entire project took me six years from beginning to end.


El Space: What do you hope readers will take away after reading Boxers & Saints?
Gene: Boxers & Saints is based on history, but it’s historical fiction. The two main characters are fictional, and the story takes a turn towards magical realism pretty early on. I hope that Boxers & Saints will inspire readers to look into the actual historical event. Although the Boxer Rebellion doesn’t get much attention in American classrooms, it’s still a big deal in China. It’s part of a time period that the Chinese refer to as their Century of Humiliation. It still very much affects China’s policies toward the West. As China grows economically, the relationship between China and the West will change. I hope American readers will learn more about events like the Boxer Rebellion to better understand how to move forward.

abcEl Space: You’re a National Book Award finalist for Boxers & Saints. Congratulations! And you won the Michael L. Printz award for American Born Chinese, which also was a National Book Award finalist—the first graphic novel to win that recognition. You’ve also won Eisners for American Born Chinese and The Eternal Smile, a collaboration with Derek Kirk Kim. How have the awards been a game changer for you?
Gene: Thank you! The awards have made my life nutty —nutty in an amazing, amazing way. It’s an honor. It’s every storyteller’s dream to be recognized by prestigious organizations like the National Book Foundation, the American Library Association, and the Eisner Awards. Practically speaking, the awards brought enough attention to my book that I was able to go part-time at my day job, giving me more time to work on comics.

El Space: You’ve written several books for the Avatar series as well. How did that come about? What draws you to a project where you’re strictly the writer versus those for which you are writer and illustrator?
Gene: I was a huge fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender before I was ever connected to the franchise. It is, in my opinion, the best American animated series ever. A few years after the original show ended, Nickelodeon decided to continue the adventures of Aang and his friends in the graphic novel format. They asked Dark Horse Comics to produce them, and a Dark Horse editor asked me to write them. I jumped at the chance.

      atla01 atla04

The experience has been wonderful. I’ve gotten to work closely with Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the creators of the original series. I’ve learned so much about storytelling from them. I only handle the writing. The art is done by this tremendous Japanese art studio called Gurihiru.

The Avatar books have been a collaboration in every sense of the word. I’m part of a team, and I’m working with characters who were born in someone else’s head. It’s very different from working on my own stuff. My primary goal is to stay faithful to the source material, rather than stay faithful to my own vision.

472331El Space: Graphic novels have an increased presence in the marketplace. Yet some naysayers pigeonhole them as “comic books for kids.” Obviously, they’ve never read Watchmen. 😀 How would you address this viewpoint?
Gene: Well, comic books are for kids, but they’re not just for kids. There are three major comic book cultures in the world—one based in Japan, another in France, and one here in America. In Japan and France, comics are read by both genders and every age demographic. Every genre is represented. In America, for a variety of historical reasons, the general public has commonly associated comics with superheroes and adolescence.

9516With the support of progressive librarians, academics, and other members of the literary community, we are finally breaking out of that. To anyone who still thinks comics are just for kids, I wouldn’t say a word. I would simply hand them Art Spiegelman’s Maus or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis or Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons. The work speaks for itself.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Gene: My next graphic novel is a collaboration with a fabulously talented Singaporean artist named Sonny Liew. Sonny writes and draws his own stuff. Image Comics recently put out his graphic novel Malinky Robot. For our project, though, he’s handling the art and I’m handling the writing.

It’s a graphic novel called The Shadow Hero. We’re telling the story of the first Asian American superhero, a character from the 1940’s called The Green Turtle, created by a Chinese American cartoonist named Chu Hing. I’m really excited about it. It’ll be out from First Second Books in 2014.

Thank you for being my guest, Gene! I’m looking forward to The Shadow Hero!

Thanks to all who stopped by. You can find Gene at his website, Facebook, and Twitter. I’m excited to offer two boxed sets of Boxers & Saints. Just comment below to be entered in the drawing. The winners will be announced next Tuesday, December 10.

Boxers & Saints can be found here:
Barnes and Noble
Green Apple Books
Powell’s Books

Gene graphic image from Gene’s website. Book covers from his website and Goodreads.

Let’s Get Graphic


In the comments section of my last post, I threatened to write a post about graphic novels. Here it is. If graphic novels aren’t your thing, I’ll save you the trouble and give you the punch line: It fits the theme of the last post.

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I grew up reading comic books. But I have my father to thank for my love of comics in general. He always read the comics in the newspaper. Following in his footsteps, I read them too. So, it’s only natural that I would gravitate to the graphic novel. I haven’t written one, though I’m a fan of the form. If you saw my bookshelves and living room floor, you’d believe that instantly.

Years ago, while searching on Amazon for graphic novels, I was surprised at how appalled some individuals were that authors like Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs wrote graphic novels for their urban fantasy series for adults. (I have one of Jim Butcher’s graphic novels on my shelf—Welcome to the Jungle, illustrated by Ardian Syaf.) Some individuals voiced their complaints, which boiled down to “graphic novels are just comics” or “graphic novels are for kids.” Expressions of disdain.

Because I grew up in a house with an adult who loved comics, I’ve never understood the prejudice against them. I admit I’m biased about them, since at one point I wanted to be an illustrator. But I’ve never thought of comic books or graphic novels as solely “for kids.”

6493842I’m not certain what age range is meant when commenters talk of kids and graphic novels. Middle grade kids or younger? Many graphic novels were written for kids, including
• Jeff Smith’s Bone series
• The Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon
• The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi (He’s the illustrator of the new covers for the Harry Potter series.)
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel—an adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, illustrated by Hope Larson
Sidekicks by Dan Santat
The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis
Cardboard by Doug Tennapel

And there are many others. By the way, the Bone series won 10 Eisners, which Wikipedia describes as “the Comics Industry’s equivalent of the Oscar Awards.” It also won 11 Harvey Awards. I had to look those up:

The Harveys recognize outstanding achievements in over 20 categories, ranging from Best Artist to the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame. They are the only industry awards both nominated by and selected by the full body of comic book professionals.

Telgemeier also was nominated for an Eisner, but for another of her graphic novels—Smile.

118944Perhaps teens are the audience some would assign to graphic novels. Many graphic novels were written for young adults, including
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks
Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

And there are many others. 472331But I can’t believe anyone with the “graphic novels are just for kids” belief has ever cracked open Watchmen written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons (or basically any other graphic novel by Alan Moore); Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series; Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli or any other Frank Miller graphic novel; Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi; Blankets or Habibi by Craig Thompson; or the Fables series by Bill Willingham. And I certainly can’t believe anyone who would sneer at graphic novels as if they were a lower life-form has ever read Watchmen, which appears on some best novels lists, or American Born Chinese, which won the Printz Award in 2007—the award for best young adult novel.

Perhaps the graphic novels’ position in the library leads some to conclude that they’re “just for kids.” At the library close to me, graphic novels are shelved in the teen section.

Anyway, I can understand that graphic novels are an acquired taste. Either you like them or you don’t. But why put down a hard-working author/illustrator team simply because they elected to add another form to broaden the appeal of a series? Is the belief that graphic novels add to the “dumbing down” factor of this country (and I’ve heard that opinion expressed in regard to some colleges which have courses on graphic novels) at the root of the prejudice toward them? I’m not really sure. So, I’m asking you. Have you heard anyone voice this opinion? What’s your belief?

Book covers from Goodreads

Thirteen for 2013

Writers also are readers, gaining inspiration and learning about the craft of writing as they read the works of others. Some writers swear by specific books on the craft of writing, books that have helped them hone their skill. I have several beautifully informative craft books on my bookshelves or stacked on the floor of my living room. I’ll probably write a post about them someday. But the following thirteen books, most of them award winning, are favorites that have inspired me over the years to put fingers to my keyboard (or pen to my writing journal—whichever I happen to be nearest), to dig deep and make my prose sing.

I don’t think I can adequately articulate why I find these books so inspiring, so I’ll just list them. I decided to go with thirteen in honor of 2013. Here they are, in no particular order:

I’ll give a quick shout-out to Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. I didn’t add it to the list, because I wanted to keep the list to thirteen books.

What books inspire you?