Nic Stone Interview: Dear Martin

Black Yale-bound graduating senior Justyce McAllister’s good life at his prestigious, mostly-white prep school takes on a new harsh reality after he’s falsely accused of crimes and roughed up by a policeman while innocently helping a friend. Meanwhile, daily news accounts of young black men being shot or arrested flood the airwaves, stirring up strong opinions among his classmates. As Justyce searches for answers to explain why he’s now facing scorn from his peers despite being a good kid and a star student, he writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When a second run in with police ends in tragedy, Justyce grapples with being powerless to escape systemic racism. He can’t help but question if Dr. King’s teachings are still relevant and starts looking for answers in a place he thought he’d left behind.

Author Nic Stone doesn’t give us the answers, but she frames questions in a fresh, thoughtful way, promoting deeper dialogue helpful for understanding and confronting racism and social injustice. It’s impossible to read DEAR MARTIN without feeling changed, moved. A must-read for high schoolers and older.

I am more than thrilled to welcome Nic Stone to The Winged Pen! Congratulations, Nic! DEAR MARTIN is an important, powerful book that I hope many, many people—especially teens—will read. Writing it must have been difficult both technically and emotionally, but I’m thankful you did. This book will change lives.

Nic:  Eep! Making me blush already! Thanks for having me 🙂

Obviously, Justyce is a pretty level-headed and very intelligent guy. Even so, he finds himself in trouble, serious trouble, many times throughout the story. What do you hope your readers will learn from his struggles?

In a nutshell, that being smart and doing *stupid* things aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, one rarely has anything to do with the other. I, like Justyce, was a highly intelligent, generally level-headed teenager… but that didn’t stop me from keying my mom’s car. Even Einstein was capable of punching someone in the face when he was pissed off, you know? ALL of us have the capacity to let our emotions to get the best of us. We should constantly bear that in mind.

Justyce is black. He benefits from a great relationship with a black professor in the story, but there are also some important white characters who influence and support him. Justyce is very aware of the importance of these white people in his life, but he also feels conflicted about it. Justyce’s internal dialogue about this seemed very heartfelt and brings some important considerations about interracial friendships to the surface. Could you talk about that a bit more?

So I grew up with very excellent white people who, to this day, are very supportive of me and my work, even when it makes them uncomfortable. And it does. There’s also some validity to the notion that once you really get to know another person, their race becomes peripheral, in a sense (hence that whole “I don’t even see you as [insert marginalized racial identity]” statement that, while likely true, is also a microaggression). BUT in order for any relationship to work, it has to be built on mutual respect and concern for the other person’s well-being. There has to be a willingness to set aside one’s own preconceived notions for the sake of stepping into the other person’s shoes and making an attempt to see the world as they do.

But even saying that makes me uncomfortable because I know there will be some (white) people who take it and say “SEE! You’re supposed to try and see things from MY perspective!” People like this won’t do well in friendships/relationships with people who are different from them. Hell, people like this won’t do well in any relationships because they’re too self-focused.

Bottom line here: if you value and respect other people, are open to hearing their opinions and experiences, and have their well-being as your highest priority, you’ll be the best friend anyone could ask for regardless of race.

I know many white people who might be too afraid to read this story. Maybe they think the story will be too angry (IMO, it’s not angry at all) or just not for them. Why should they read Dear Martin?

Exactly because this question exists, lol! This is the thing: if we don’t explore experiences outside of our own, our worlds will stay small. Books are the perfect place to explore other people’s experiences and emotions because… well because they’re inanimate. Even if a book contains someone’s expression of anger, the book can’t hurt you. It can’t lash out or scream at you or punch you in a fit of furious passion. Books are the perfect place to grapple with things that make us uncomfortable, opinions that differ from our own, experiences we could never live because they don’t require an immediate response out of us, you know? They don’t stare at you waiting for you to say something. You can sit with the information. Chew on it. Swallow the meat and spit out the bones. And you can put them down and never pick them up again, and they won’t hold a grudge. In my opinion, stepping outside of your comfort zone to read something that makes you nervous can only make you a more thoughtful, well-rounded person.

Readers who want to know a bit more about the birth of this story should check out your interview at Adventures in YA Publishing. I was thrilled to hear that you’ve got another book in the works. Can you share anything about it with us?

By the time this interview goes live, I will have turned my copyedits in, LOL. Book 2, as we’ll refer to it for now, already has a title and a cover (that I LOVE) and a slated pub date. What I can say about it is that while it’s different from Dear Martin, it deals with another marginalized aspect of my identity (yay #intersectionality!), and it’s the book I wish I’d had back when I was trying to figure some things out about myself.

I loved your YouTube interview with Adam Silvera, especially the part where you speak to aspiring black authors. Your words, “You are power” are so true. We need to read and share these stories. We talked about this quite a bit at the MadCapRT Writing Cross Culturally workshop where you and I met in March 2017, but could you tell us what advice you have for white authors. What can we do to support diversity in literature?

YOU, Michelle, are doing the best thing you could possibly do: reading and promoting books by and about people of color. The other thing I would say to white authors is: be willing to step aside. Just last week, a white author I know was complaining (in private, so the person shall remain unnamed) because a black author at the same imprint—the only black author at this imprint, mind you—got to fly to New York to assist with the photo shoot for said black author’s book cover whereas the publisher is using stock images for the white author’s cover. There was this cry of, “It’s not fair!” and while I can understand how the white author would perceive things that way, frankly, it wasn’t fair four years ago when my first agent struggled to garner editor interest in the first book I ever wrote because they didn’t think a black lead would sell. Yes, it sucks to feel like what you’re creating isn’t being valued, and it’s not any one white author’s fault the industry has a diversity problem it’s working to remedy. But it also wasn’t any one black author or Indian author or disabled author or gay author’s fault the problem existed in the first place.

Buckle up for the lightning round! *Hands Nic a cupcake with frosting the same color as her gorgeous purple lipstick. (Seriously, you need to check out Nic’s lipstick game on Instagram. Bonus: she often posts pics of her beautiful family.)

Nic’s side note: wouldn’t it be amazing if one could eat a cupcake and wind up with perfectly {insert frosting color} lips? Someone should invent that. I would be all over it.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Already have two: I make people and control minds. (Such is the life of a mother/author. **bows**)

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Sakura Stardust Gelly Roll gel pen. (Okay fine: mechanical, 0.5 pt.)

Coffee or tea? Coffee. No brainer.

Sweet or salty?  Both simultaneously? (PLZ DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE I NEED BOTH OKAY #saltedcarameleverything)

Dog, cat, or other? Do human babies count? Because I like those best. Super snuggly without the shedding.

Plotter or pantser? Plotter. In pants.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?  Think critically, stay open to being wrong, and never stop learning. Seriously. These are the best things you can do for your writing and your life.

Thank you so much, Nic, for taking the time to talk to us. And best wishes for Dear Martin and your future books!

Information about Nic Stone’s release party in Atlanta on October 17th is to the right, but for those who can’t make it stop by your local Indie or check out these links to purchase DEAR MARTIN: 

Indiebound | Goodreads | Amazon | B&N

 

 

 

Photo credit: Nigel Livingstone

About Nic Stone
Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. After graduating from Spelman College, she worked extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to the US to write full-time. Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work. Stone lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons.
Website | Twitter | Instagram

 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, an Indie children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

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Book Recommendation: The Girl with the Red Balloon

Goodreads

I am immediately drawn to any book involving World War II and how it changed the world. When I read a good one, I feel the need to shout it from the rooftops . The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke is one of those stories.

The story is told in three points of view: a Jewish teen living the horrors of World War II, a contemporary teen girl who travels in time, and a boy living in East Berlin during the Cold War. Each character brings us so deeply into their world, the horrific realities are impossible to ignore. But a touch of magic in the form a red balloon helps us find hope.

When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process. Goodreads

There are so many wonderful things about this book. Overall, the story of survival and the dedication of those willing to help people trapped in dangerous and oppressive conditions is heartwarming. The story flows like a balloon floating in the sky. The plot is clear and well written and pulls readers in as we fight along with the characters to get Ellie Baum home. We are quickly introduced to the six main and secondary characters whose relationships with each other are subtle yet complex. They are well developed with strengths, weaknesses, and strong motivations. You can’t help but root for them all, and even those with questionable methods have commendable goals.

In my travels, I spent some time in Berlin, after the wall fell, and was astonished at the stark contrast between the east and west that remained. Locke describes the dismal and depressing East Berlin with such clarity, as I read, the images in my mind were gray.

Yet there are the red balloons. The balloons and the magic written on them float in and out of the past joining the stories. They bring color and hope for the characters to the very last sentence.

The Girl with the Red Balloon, Book #1 in the Balloonmakers series, comes out September 1, 2017, and can be found at bookstores and libraries including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

For more information about this book and the author, please visit her website at Katherine Locke.

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter.

Book Recommendation: NYXIA by Scott Reintgen

Nyxia, Scott Reintgen, young adult booksEvery life has a price in this sci-fi thriller that has the nonstop action of The Maze Runner and the high-stakes space setting of Illuminae. This is the first in a new three-book series that will take a group of broken teens to the far reaches of the universe and force them to decide what they’re willing to risk for a lifetime of fortune.

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.
Excerpt taken from Netgalley.com

Could you turn down an offer of immense wealth and free healthcare for your mother with cancer? What if that offer would send you to the far end of the universe? Emmett and nine other teens are given the opportunity to join a team to mine Nyxia from a far planet. The reader accompanies Emmett as he fights for a spot on the team, faces the bait-and-switch tactics of the company running the mining operation, and strives to find friendship amidst the cut-throat competition he’s been thrown into.

Nyxia is action-packed and fast paced. I enjoyed the creative competitions the teens had to fight their way through for spots on the team and well as the fabulous properties of Nyxia, the valuable substance they’ll be mining. I found myself rooting for Emmett and even sympathizing with some of his less ethical competitors as the grueling contest drew to a close and the stakes got higher. Each character had something to lose if they didn’t make the team. I also found myself wondering exactly what the young miners would find when they reach their Eden, the destination planet. Nyxia is a fun read, great for lovers of sci fi and action-adventure.

I requested an advanced reader copy of Nyxia  in exchange for an unbiased review.

Nyxia will be release on September 12th.
Check out Nyxia on Goodreads.
Pre-order Nyxia from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Indiebound.

Need more book suggestions? If Nyxia sounds good to you, you might also like these recent young adult science fiction releases:
The Takedown by Corrie Wang
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Genius: The Game by Leopoldo Gout

Rebecca J Allen, Young adult author
Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She on Twitter at @RebeccaJ_Allen and her website is writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.

BRAVE NEW GIRLS #STEM Anthology: Inspiration for Future Female Engineers/Scientists

Releasing Today, August 1st, 2017!!!

Brave New Girls: Stories of Girls Who Science and Scheme is a collection of 22 stories about brainy young heroines who use their smarts to save the day. Edited by author Mary Fan, the anthology’s goal is to inspire girls (ages 12+) to study science and engineering. Even better, proceeds from the anthology fund scholarships for women through the Society of Women Engineers. The first Brave New Girls anthology, released in 2015, has provided several thousands of dollars’ worth of scholarships. Hopefully, this new anthology will provide many, many more, enabling more young women to pursue STEM careers!

 

Check out this fun Book Trailer for the anthology!

 

Also visit the Brave New Girls website!

Here are a few quick links where you can purchase the anthology to inspire all the #STEM girls in your life. And don’t forget, proceeds from the sale of the anthology provide scholarships for women to study engineering through the Society of Women Engineers, so please spread the word!!!!

Amazon

Barnes & Noble  

Indiebound

Quail Ridge Books (Raleigh, NC)

GoodReads

We’ve invited two authors from the anthology, the Winged Pen’s Michelle Leonard and fantasy author Karissa Laurel, to talk about women in science and science fiction.

I’d love to know how each of you ended up being passionate about women of science? What sparked the story you wrote for the anthology?

Karissa:  In my careers, I’ve tended to pursue the artistic and creative (not that there isn’t room for creativity in science and vice versa). However, I was raised by a woman of science. My mom was a biology major in college and spent years working as a cytologist. When I was in elementary school, she decided to change careers and went back to school to learn how to be a computer programmer—this was in the mid-to-late 80s. At the time, I didn’t understand it was rare for women to make that kind of career choice. I simply thought my mom could do anything she put her mind to. She’s always inspired me, and only as I get older do I realize what a pioneer she was.

Michelle:  I fell in love with science when I took high school chemistry. Everyone else hated our teacher. She was stern, like a drill sergeant, not at all warm. But Mrs. Davis was the smartest person I’d ever met, and she was black. Her fierceness and passion for science made an immediate impression on me (picture the Beyoncé of Chemistry, without all the razzle-dazzle). I became infatuated with learning everything Mrs. Davis could possibly teach me. We became good friends, even though she remained very stern, and distant, only referring to me by my last name. I often stayed after school to help her set up the next day’s lab, or I would grade tests and homework for her. She insisted that I should become an engineer and asked my guidance counselor to help me land an after-school job to make sure I’d have enough money to go to college.

The main character in my story, a biracial fifteen-year-old named Nina Jessup, is a mash-up of my chemistry teacher and me. Nina uses the blue LED technology I developed as an engineer to fight against something that has deeply troubled me and that I’ve fought against my entire life: racism.

Mrs. Davis has long since passed, but I’ve always felt indebted to her for her inspiration. I’m not a teacher, but I’ve always wanted to do what she did for me for someone else. This story is one attempt to do just that.

What are some science-girl clichés you’d love to see squashed and do you have a book or movie recommendation that does it well?

Karissa:  The first that comes to mind is the “Velma” cliché—yes, Velma from Scoobie Doo. Women in science are often portrayed as nerdy, stiff, robotic, and cold. Despite its flaws, the new Ghostbuster’s movie with Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon made me unbelievably happy because it represented a group of women with disparate and varying personalities all brought together by their passion for science. It took the women who are usually given “sidekick” status and made them the protagonists and heroes.

Michelle:  I whole-heartedly agree with Karissa, but I also get annoyed seeing female scientists portrayed as hot scientists because it’s the twisted trope, the opposite of a “Velma,” and diminishes respect for females in the profession. I’m also not a fan of mad scientists, especially in children’s literature, because it gives kids the wrong impression about science. Hello, does anyone want their child to grow up to be an evil genius? Most scientists save lives and work passionately to make the world a better place. Hidden Figures is a wonderful example of a movie/book showing the obstacles real scientists, especially women and minorities, face every day in their quest to advance knowledge for society and to protect our Earth and all its precious creatures. Those are the stories about scientists that kids need to hear.

Now, a bit of fun.

Time machine to travel back and forth in time or ability to stop & restart time at your will?

Karissa:  Dozens of books and movies have taught me that messing with the past or future is dangerous, and it’s impossible to calculate the consequences. Maybe killing Hitler before he came into power, or saving JFK from assassination, might have made the world a better place. But how are we to know it wouldn’t have made it worse in some way? I think I’d like to be able to stop and restart time. Now that I’m a mother with a teenager, it seems like the days are flying by. He’s growing up too fast, and I’m growing older too fast. I’d love to be able to slow time down, on occasion.

Michelle:  I’m with Karissa in believing that messing with the past could have unintended consequences, but I would do anything to be able to flash back to 1938, right as nuclear fission was discovered, to prevent the development the atomic bomb. The devastation at Hiroshima would be erased. I’d love to be able to stop and start time too. I could squeeze so much more reading in that way. *wiggles eyebrows.

Magical powers or computer brain?

Karissa:  I think what looks like magic is often just science that we don’t yet understand. I love that magic offers so many possibilities and would probably choose that answer, but having a computer brain, if it were big enough and complex enough, might serve the same purpose. With magic, maybe I could heal a person’s cancer. With a computer brain, maybe I could come up with a cure. Both powers come with a great need for responsibility and a strong moral ethos, however. To quote Stan Lee: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Michelle:  Scary news alert! We already have the technology to computerize our brains. So far, it’s being used mostly for medical purposes, but the possibilities are limitless and truly frightening. Magic, on the other hand? Yes, please sign me up!

You guys are the best! This was too fun.

Karissa Laurel lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky named Bonnie. Some of her favorite things are coffee, chocolate, and super heroes. She can quote The Princess Bride verbatim. On weekends, you can find her at flea-markets hunting for rusty things to re-use and re-purpose. She is the also the author of The Norse Chronicles, an adult urban fantasy series based on Norse mythology; and The Stormbourne Chronicles, a young adult fantasy and steampunk series. More information about those is available at her website. You can also connect with Karissa on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Michelle Leonard was born to be a math and science nerd. After spending over ten years working with an engineering dream team developing commercial blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs), she escaped the world of seventy-hour workweeks. Nowadays, when Michelle’s not tinkering on her teleporter for transporting her talented daughters to important gigs or pushing books into young readers’ hands at her local Indie bookstore, she’s turning outlandish thoughts into stories for young readers. She lives with her science-savvy husband, three inspiring daughters, and a border collie who hates numbers. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Book Recommendation: Willow Born

Willow Born, by Shanna Miles, is a young adult story filled with magic, witches, angels, and demons. Add in a girl who comes back from the dead, attempts to navigate contemporary society, and a murder mystery, and you have the recipe for a great adventure.

Goodreads

Years ago, witch hunters came to Carolina and devoured the Willows. Sixteen-year-old Collette, a powerful empath, was one of them. A part of a long line of witches that stretches back as far as the slave auctions of Charleston, she was especially gifted.

Decades later, a series of strange kidnappings prompts a member of her secret coven to make a plea for help and Collette is chosen to answer the call. But things have changed. Angels have come out of the divine closet and everyone is on the lookout for the supernatural.

Snatched from the Void, she has to choose between a normal life and following the warrior path of the Willows, a coven she didn’t know she belonged to. Soon, problems pile sky-high as she struggles to keep the boy who could blow her cover at arm’s length and her sanity as family secrets come to light in the midst of a serial killer.

In the end it all comes down to destiny, death and the grey places between good and evil. But then again, when you’re Willow Born death can be just the beginning. (Goodreads)

I was hooked from the beginning when we learned Collette died and came back to life. I wanted to know what happened as much as she did and was thrilled to follow her on the journey. As well as learning about her past, we struggle along with Collette as she navigates high school, friends, and her crush.

Miles’s strengths are clearly in writing and descriptions, such as her use of color and movement to describe the emotions Collette sees in others. For example: “a milky-green anxiety is buzzing around him.” In addition, each character was fully developed with their own strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and unique voices. And she did not disappoint when it came to secondary characters.

If you love stories about witches, magic, and the past and present clashing, this is definitely the one for you!

Shanna Miles lives in Georgia and works as a librarian. She reads and writes young adult fiction and has a passion for paranormal romance. Check out her website for more of her work including flash fiction and short stories.

Willow Born will be available June 1st at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter.