Author Interview

Q & A with B.T. Gottfred

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Happy Tuesday, bookworms! I recently finished The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy and gave it 4.5 stars. I really enjoyed reading this YA novel because it powerfully depicts the fluidity of masculinity and femininity. I’ve always been a fan of gender discourse, so this book was a pleasure to read. Hence, I’m very grateful that the author granted my wish for a written interview. I highly encourage you to pick up THGAHBB when it comes out next month. 😀 If you want to know my thoughts, feel free to check out my review. Happy reading! ❤


 

  1. What inspired you to write THGAHBB? Is the topic of gender stereotypes close to your heart?

“Almost all my books are born first with the character voices speaking inside my head. Unlike some of my books (like Nerdy and Dirty), I always knew Art and Zee would be in the same book opposite each other. So then the question of “If Art and Zee are voices in your head, are you gender and sexuality fluid?” arises and my answer is I think ALL people are, even if many if not most people don’t identify that way publicly or even consciously. So yes, this topic is close to my heart. ;)”

  1. Among all of the members of the LGBTQIA+ community, who do you think is the most marginalized/misunderstood nowadays?

“Trans people are going to be the most marginalized until there is a major break through in understanding gender. If not a total deconstruction and rebuilding of what gender even means. I have friends who are as progressive and liberal as one can be on many topics, yet are downright archaic when thinking about gender.”

  1. Is it possible to identify or label the sexual orientation of Art and Zee?

“They certainly try to make sense of it, in their own way, with the ‘Zert Scale’ (which is a bonus at the end of the book). But part of what both they (and I) are trying to do is say that labels and identification should only be used if they are (1) self defined and (2) self empowering. No one anywhere ever should be telling anyone else who they are or who they should love.”

  1. How much research did you have to do before (or while) writing  THGAHBB? Are you a scholar of Feminism?

“An academic scholar, no;) I’m far too lazy for such a feat. But I was raised by a feminist and I married one so I feel like my scholarship has been lived more than studied. I do think all any writer (or person for that matter) with any ounce of imagination has to do is imagine, “what if I was born differently than I am” and they would immediately realize that equal rights is the most important thing there is. Period.”

  1. What gender stereotypes do you dislike the most?

“Anything aimed at children. I have two small boys (2 and 4 years old) and you can see they pick things up from classmates and others such as “that’s a girl’s show” or “that’s a boy’s toy” and yet, when they are not being tricked into stereotypes, both of them love to sing princess songs and have their toenails painted like their mom. I guess in a broader sense, I hate any stereotypes that tries to limit people’s ability to be the person that makes them most happy.”

  1. If you had the chance to go on a picnic with one of your characters, whom would you pick and why?

“Asking me to pick one of characters is like asking me to pick one of my kids… just can’t do it. I will say that as for Art and Zee, I would bring Art for his joy and Zee for her strength.”

  1. When it comes to gender/sexuality, on which side are you on: nature or nurture?

“I’m on the side of only the individual has the power to decide who they are. There are dangers to both nature or nurture and I don’t want any individual being told who they are by anyone or thing else.”

  1. Are you friends with Cale Dietrich? Who are your YA author buddies?

“I do not know Cale, but I just followed him on twitter because of this question. 😉 Jessica Brody got me into YA, so I will always credit her first. I’m in a writers group with Gretchen McNeil and Jennifer Wolfe and they both helped a ton with my book. I have dozens of others friends in YA and meet more every week. I must say some of the nicest/kindest people in the world are YA writers.


About the author:
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B.T. Gottfred (Brad T. Gottfred) is a screenwriter, producer, director, playwright and young adult novelist. He wrote and directed the digital series THE BOONIES, which premiered on go90 in 2017. His debut novel, FOREVER FOR A YEAR, was released in July 2015 by Macmillan/Holt, followed by THE NERDY AND THE DIRTY in November 2016. His third book, THE HANDSOME GIRL AND HER BEAUTIFUL BOY, will be released in May of 2018.

 

Visit B.T. Gottfred’s website

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Book Review

Love Is Love

The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful BoyThe Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy by B.T. Gottfred

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A man who reads effeminate may well be consistently heterosexual, and another one might be gay. We can’t read sexuality off of gender. —Judith Butler

Have you ever been subjected to gender stereotypes? That’s probably a rhetorical question. Hahaha. I myself have experienced being criticized for not conforming to traditional or hegemonic masculinity. Even though there are many kinds of masculinity, most people prefer only one: the kind that includes athleticism, big muscles, and other “macho” qualities. The same can be said of traditional femininity, which is typically tantamount to outward beauty, gentleness, and silence. In college, I learned about a feminist named Judith Butler. According to her, gender is a social construct or performance. In other words, your gender (behavior) isn’t determined by your sex (genitals); males aren’t necessarily “masculine,” and females aren’t necessarily “feminine.” Following this logic, I can’t help but think that gender stereotypes are stupid.

The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy is a novel that powerfully illustrates the latter truth. It’s the story of two teenagers who are bombarded by gender stereotypes. Because of their divergent looks and behavior, Zee’s and Art’s sexuality is always put into question. It eventually comes to a point where they themselves aren’t sure of their orientation. However, as Zee and Art become closer, they realize that gender is not as solid as people want it to be.

It was my first time to read a book by B.T. Gottfred, so I was pleasantly surprised by his humor and candor. He didn’t sugarcoat anything in this supposedly YA book. The emotions and conversations of the characters were raw, and the love scenes were pretty graphic. Hence, although this book features YA characters, its content is for a more mature audience. I personally did not enjoy the explicit scenes, but I commended the author for deviating from the norm, just like his characters. I plan to read more of his novels, so I guess I should prepare myself. xD

Zee and Art were unquestionably quirky and fascinating. I had never encountered such a weird yet perfect couple. Zee was turned on by Art’s effeminate looks and behavior, and vice versa. There were times when I was so confused because I didn’t know if they were straight, gay, or bisexual. Seriously, there were so many mixed signals, and it was impossible to label them using gender stereotypes. In the end, it occurred to me that that was probably the author’s intention. Zee and Art were in love with each other, so what was the point of labels?

In addition to gender discourse, this book had lots of family drama. Zee suddenly met her biological father after losing her mother to cancer, and Art’s parents separated after one of them became unemployed. I found their problems to be of equal magnitude, but I was particularly invested in Zee’s dilemma. She had a lot of hang-ups to address before she could start a relationship with her dad. That being said, I loved Art because he was selfless enough to set aside his issues and help Zee attain reconciliation.

Overall, I gave The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy 4.5 stars because it was very funny and insightful. Readers who are familiar with Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity will definitely enjoy it. Art and Zee powerfully illustrate the fluidity of masculinity and femininity, so this book is perfect for anyone who hates gender stereotypes.

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Author Interview

Q & A with Amanda Hocking

Hi, everyone! As a participant in a blog tour for Between the Blade and the Heart, I was given the opportunity to have a written interview with Amanda Hocking, one of the most popular authors of YA literature. BTBATH was the last book I read in 2017, and you can find my review here. Hopefully, this Q & A will encourage you to check out BTBATH, which comes out today. 😀

(Note: The questions with a red asterisk were submitted by my fellow blog tour participants.)

Cover Between the Blade and the Heart


  1. What or who was the inspiration behind Between the Blade and the Heart

“I have already written several books inspired by Scandinavian folklore, and I was always fascinated by Valkyries. But because I had already done in Scandinavian fantasy, I wanted to come at this one from a different angle. I imagined the Valkyries helping to police a gritty, diverse, cyberpunk metropolis, in a world filled with not just Norse figures but from many mythologies.”

  1. What are the life lessons that you want readers to glean from your book? 

“That love is a strength, not a weakness.”

  1. If you were given the chance to go on a date with one of your characters, who would you choose and what would you do together? 

“Oona. She doesn’t swing that way, but since I’m married anyway, it would be a friendship date. I think it would be fun to go to an apothecary with her and have her show me around the magic. Or maybe just veg out and watch bad movies.”

  1. Would the essence of your novel change if the main protagonist were male?

“Yes, it would be changed dramatically. For one, Valkyries are women. But I also think the book explores the relationships between mothers and daughters, and friendships between young women.”

  1. What is your definition of true love in YA literature? 

“There has to be passion and desire – not necessarily anything physical, but so much of young love is about yearning. But I also think that true love is based on mutual respect and selflessness.”

  1. *What advice would you give to someone who wanted to be an author/start writing?

“My biggest piece of advice is to just write. It’s so easy to get caught up in self-doubt or procrastination. There are lot of great books and blogs about the art of writing, but the most important thing is really to just do it. The best way to get better at writing is by doing it.”

  1. *What cities inspired the urban haven where the Valkyries live?

“I was really obsessed with this idea of an overpopulated metropolis, and so I took a lot of inspiration from some of the biggest cities in the world, particularly Tokyo, Mexico City, Mumbai, and Manila. The city itself is actually a sort of futuristic, alternate reality of Chicago (one of my favorite cities in the world), and I wanted to incorporate that into it as well.”

  1. *How did you name your characters? Are they based on people you know in real life?

“It’s combination of names I like and taking inspiration from the world itself. With Between the Blade and the Heart, the names were inspired both by the mythology they come from – many Valkyries have Norse names like Malin, Teodora, and Freya, for example – and the futuristic setting of the book, so I wanted names that seemed a bit cooler and just slightly different than the ones we use now.”

  1. *Which mythological character is the most like you?

“Demeter, because she’s pretty dramatic – she basically kills all the plants in the world when her daughter goes missing – but she’s also determined, and will stop at nothing to protect those she cares about.”

  1. *You’ve said that pop culture and the paranormal both influence your writing. How do these things intersect for you?

“In a way, I think they’re both about how humans choose to interpret and define the world that surrounds us. So many mythologies come from humans trying to make sense of the seasons and the chaos of existence, and even though we’ve moved past a lot of the scientific questions, pop culture is still tackling our existence. Even when looking at shows made for kids, like Pixar, they handle a lot of difficult concepts, like what it means to love someone else, how to be a good friend, facing your fears, and overcoming loss. These are things that mythologies and stories have been going over for centuries.”

  1. *Your novels and characters are so layered. How do you stay organized while plotting/writing? Do you outline, use post-it notes, make charts, or something else?

“All of the above! This one was the most intensive as far as research and note taking goes, and I also had maps, glossaries, and extensive lists of various mythologies. I think I ended up with thirteen pages of just Places and Things. I do a lot of typed notes, but I also do handwritten scribbles (which can sometimes be confusing to me later on when I try to figure out what they mean. I once left myself a note that just said “What are jelly beans?”) For this one, I really did have to have lots of print outs on hand that I could look to when writing.”

  1. *Was this book always planned as a series or did that develop afterwards?

“It was always planned as a duology. I don’t want to go into too much or risk spoiling the second book, but I had this idea that one book would be above, and the other below.”

 


 

About the author:

Amanda Hocking NEW--credit Mariah Paaverud with Chimera Photography

Amanda Hocking is the author of over twenty young adult novels, including the New York Times bestselling Trylle Trilogy and Kanin Chronicles. Her love of pop culture and all things paranormal influence her writing. She spends her time in Minnesota, taking care of her menagerie of pets and working on her next book.

Visit Amanda’s website

 

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Book Review

Between Valkyrie Profile and City of Bones

Between the Blade and the Heart (Valkyrie, #1)Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I reviewed this book as a participant in a blog tour hosted by the publisher. Thank you, Macmillan (Wednesday Books), for sending me an e-galley and a finished copy.

Did I choose to be a Valkyrie, or did it choose me? —Malin

Being a fan of Valkyrie Profile, I was very excited to delve into Between the Blade and the Heart, Amanda Hocking’s new novel about a teenage girl tasked by Odin to gather the souls (kill) of chosen individuals. After reading the first few chapters, I felt like I was devouring a revamped version of City of Bones. The setting was dark and urban, filled with creatures that were divine, diabolic, and something in between. Intrigued by the book’s great premise and familiar world, I was able to fly through each short chapter.

Essentially, this book had a strong beginning but lackluster ending. As a result, I had a hard time sorting through my conflicted feelings. Thankfully, this book had strengths that prevented me from giving it a lower rating. For example, most of the characters were diverse; there were many people of color. Moreover, there was an emphasis on female empowerment; it was impossible for males to be Valkyries. Gender equality obviously wasn’t shown, but it was nice that the female characters deviated from stereotypical weakness. Finally, the author’s application of Norse mythology was concise and excellent. I particularly loved learning about the history of Valkyries and the gods that governed mortals and immortals.

Romance was the thing that nearly ruined my overall enjoyment. The love triangle was unique since it involved a straight dude, a bisexual girl, and a lesbian. After all, queer love triangles are rarely seen in YA. However, I really disliked how Malin always compared Asher and Quinn. Her comparisons made Quinn (who was lesbian) seem inferior to Asher (who was straight). In spite of that, Malin couldn’t make up her mind. She claimed that there were more important issues to deal with than her complicated love life. I understood the urgency of her world’s destruction, but I couldn’t help but wince at her insensitivity. Asher was my favorite character, and I was annoyed that Malin was inadvertently toying with his feelings.

In the end, I decided to give Between the Blade and the Heart 3.5 stars because for the most part, it was fast-paced and entertaining. Its premise made it one of the most unique books in my library. Regardless of its flaws, I look forward to reading more books by Amanda Hocking. ^^

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Author Interview

Q & A with K. Ancrum

Happy Thursday, booknerds! Today is kinda special because this post is my 10th author interview. I’m so happy because I continue to meet amiable and talented authors in the YA community. Today’s post features K. Ancrum, debut author of The Wicker King. I found this book to be so weird, but it was not in a bad way. If you want to know more about my thoughts on it, check out my reviewThe Wicker King comes out this fall (October 31), and I hope that you will enjoy reading it. 🙂

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  1. Mental health is a prevalent theme in YA books nowadays. With that in mind, what made you decide to write a book about codependency?

“It’s an incredibly under-discussed phenomenon. When we think about toxic relationships, we nearly always categorize someone as the aggressor and someone else as the victim. With codependency, both parties contribute to the issue—acting as aggressor and victim simultaneously—both inflicting damage, whether intentional or accidental. With August and Jack, a primary aspect of the book is the neglect that both of them suffer and their attempt to resolve their emotional needs in each other. They spiral into codependency because they are both taking from one another in volumes that the other cannot satisfy without destroying himself. They take from one another because they are lacking the traditional sources for their needs, and they make poor decisions because there is no real authority around to guide them not to. It’s a sad and dangerous situation and its entirely too common to be as under-discussed as it is.”

  1. August and Jack are not necessarily likable characters. Were they intentionally crafted to be that way?

“Yes. They’re not designed to be liked. They’re more designed to be cared about or worried about. My goal was to make readers feel protective of them—regardless of their faults.
Also, upon finishing the book, I wanted readers to view them with a sort of wary caution and feel more reflective about their circumstances and the topic at hand, than have a ‘favorite’ between them. That unbalanced emotionally conflicted mood you felt after finishing the book was entirely intentional.”

  1. How did your knowledge in literary theory/criticism influence your writing process? (i.e. Did it make it more unique or meticulous?)

“I—as you’ve probably guessed— greatly enjoy queer theory. When I first drafted the manuscript, the relationship between August and Jack was even more subtle because I enjoyed the ambiguity of the situation (as well as its comparison to old queer coded text, in a way that echoes the fairy tale feel of the story). The only hints of interest originally came from secondary characters who verbally assert their observations that August has feelings for Jack to his face—a fact that he’s not ready to recognize until the end of the book. However, as the manuscript grew and matured, I began to value representation over artistic subtlety.   I originally wrote it as a meticulous, queer-coded ode to older braver stories (Like Marie de France’s Bisclavret). But refined it into something that would resonate much stronger with my intended audience. Not everyone has sat through Uni level Arthurian literature and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to respect and value that.”

  1. With whom do you identify the most, August or Jack? Do you love them equally?

“This is so hard.Well. I care about August a lot, but by god, my heart beats for Jack. The manuscript is written from August’s perspective of course—but he’s an unreliable narrator. If you have time to re-read the book from Jack’s perspective (or take a gander at the e-novella which is written in Jack’s perspective which is to be sold separately) the amount of love and sheer terror that he hides behind his teeth, even while he’s shouting demands, is stunning. Even as he twists himself into something terrible to suit August’s terrible needs, you can see him shivering in fear. There is not a second in this book where Jack is not looking at August and begging to be loved.  There is a feral-ness to that kind of hope that absolutely makes my veins sing.”

  1. What message do you want to impart to your research, particularly in regards to mental health, abusive relationships, and sexuality?

“The themes that I wanted to cover are: The negative effects of parental neglect, the devastation as a result of ignoring offered help when you need it, the importance of mental healthcare being appropriately suited to the needs of the patient, the wretchedness of our policing system when dealing with mental health fallout, and how students can slip through the cracks when their school cares more about their grades and classroom behavior than their overall wellbeing.

“As for sexuality, I feel a tenderness towards the ‘Questioning’ stage many people go through when navigating their identity. Jack is just a bi kid being bi. August, on the other hand, takes ages to correctly identify attraction: trying to fit that square block into round holes of ‘responsibility’ ‘duty’ ‘allegiance’ and ‘ownership’, before settling into a wordless yearning Meanwhile, he denies other people’s subtle suggestions the whole way. Sometimes it takes a bit of time and that’s okay. I also wanted the resolution of the feelings they had for each other to be the one good thing they got out of their wretched journey. I’m a sucker for happy endings.”

  1. Between August and Jack, whom would you pick to be your boyfriend/best friend/husband?

“August would be a fun boyfriend. Jack would be steadfast in a way that would make him a good husband. However, I think that separately they are both lacking and in order to have good balance they need to be together. Which, consequently, is exactly what happens: In my next book THE WEIGHT OF STARS (which is set in the same small town, 25 years in the future, about a different group of seniors attending the same school) the Main character’s best friend is Rina, August and Jack’s child. So you’ll get to see a taste of what healthy Polyamory looks like, as well as meeting August and Jack as adults.”

     7. What are the perfect songs to listen to while reading The Wicker King?

IM A HUGE NERD AND MADE A SOUNDTRACK AGES BEFORE THE ARCs WENT OUT SO HERE YOU GO.

You can also find the CD playlists that each of the characters have in the book HERE


 

About the author:

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K. Ancrum grew up in Chicago Illinois. She attended Dominican University to study Fashion Merchandizing, but was lured into getting an English degree after spending too many nights experimenting with hard literary criticism and hanging out with unsavory types, like poetry students. Currently, she lives in Andersonville and writes books at work when no one is looking.

Visit K. Ancrum’s website

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Book Review

The Messed Up King

The Wicker KingThe Wicker King by K. Ancrum

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

codependency
noun co·de·pen·den·cy \ˌkō-di-ˈpen-dən(t)-sē\
: a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (such as an addiction to alcohol or heroin); broadly : dependence on the needs of or control by another

August and Jack were such messed up characters. I didn’t expect this novel to be so weird. Still, I must say that it was very intriguing. It’s been a long time since I finished a book in three sittings. Overall, three words can be used to perfectly describe The Wicker King: queer, dark, and spellbinding.

Queer

When I picked up this novel, I immediately noticed its strange features. The titles of each chapter were seemingly random, the pages gradually became darker as the story progressed, and morose character portraits appeared every now and then. Thankfully, my fondness for literary theory/criticism enabled me to understand and appreciate the beauty of such organized chaos. For example, I realized that the gradual darkening of the pages was a clever metaphor for the characters’ journey into insanity. I don’t want to spoil anyone further, so I highly suggest that you Google “Modernism” or “stream of consciousness” before you start reading.

As an afterthought, The Wicker King is also queer in that one could question the sexuality of the protagonists. August and Jack’s relationship was predominantly platonic, but I could tell that there was something more between them. Whatever they had definitely blurred the distinction between bromance and actual romance.

Dark

Gleaning upon the definition of codependency supplied above, The Wicker King was a shocking exploration of one of the most controversial topics in YA/NA literature: abusive relationships. I was initially very supportive of August and Jack’s bromance, so I was utterly surprised when things took a dark turn.

Because of a nearly tragic event in their childhood, August firmly believed that he belonged to Jack. August was a “soldier,” and Jack was his “king”. In other words, August was willing to do everything that Jack commanded. Jack, who suffered from vivid hallucinations, obviously had to be hospitalized. However, little did I know that August also had mental issues to deal with. I was rendered speechless by the crazy, unhealthy, and illegal things they did just to fulfill a what-the-heck prophecy.

Spellbinding

Even though this book clearly wasn’t written to evoke positive emotions, it was hard to put down. If I didn’t have to go to work, I could’ve finished it in a few hours. I loved how most of the chapters consisted of only one page because it made the plot incredibly fast-paced. Plus, I was constantly intrigued by the mental health aspect of the book. Until now, the nerdy side of me wants to learn more about codependency. I would like to thank the author for giving me an enlightening reading experience.

The Verdict

I enjoyed The Wicker King because it’s the most unique book I’ve read this year. Still, I can’t confidently say that I loved everything about it. I cared for August and Jack, but their story probably deserves a different ending. (That is always up for debate.) 😉

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