Author Archives: laurenbjorkman

About laurenbjorkman

I write novels for teens. Check out MY INVENTED LIFE (Holt, 2009) and MISS FORTUNE COOKIE (Holt, 2012)

controversy

A year ago, my editor and agent gave feedback on a draft of my work-in-progress that inspired me to revise. One thing they said, though, stopped me cold.

My editor: I believe, in writing about mixed race characters, native Hawaiian culture, and by using dialogue where characters speak in both Hawaiian and Hawaiian pidgin, you are placing yourself squarely in the crossfire of current controversy.

My agent: I agree. In the current environment a publisher won’t touch the manuscript.

These statements shook me up, kept me from writing for a long time.

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SWIM WITH THE SHARKS is most personal project yet, the story of fraternal twins that heal generational trauma. Here is a two-sentence synopsis:

A family trauma that has been long held secret still devastates the Kapaloas. Noe and Kalea, fifteen year-old twins, return to Hawaii to discover mystical talents, resolve a family feud, confront real ghosts, and break the cycle that puts their lives at stake.

When my first novel, MY INVENTED LIFE, launched in 2009, my editor told me that half the libraries in the country would not order it due to my lesbian, gay, and bisexual characters. This wasn’t exactly happy information, but not devastating. By then I understood that few writers support themselves by writing novels. I knew about attitudes toward LGBTQ people.

No one said then that I put myself in the crossfire of controversy for writing a bisexual, African American character (Jonathan), a lesbian, Latina character (Carmen), and a boy attracted to lesbian girls (Nico). My second YA novel, MISS FORTUNE COOKIE, is about a white girl living in San Francisco Chinatown who yearns to be Chinese-American. When it came out in 2012, not a peep.

Times have changed since then. Issues that have been simmering below the surface have come to the forefront. I am a white writer with all the advantages that entails. Writers of color haven’t been given a fair shake from publishers, readers, and other writers. Some white writers exploit cultures, stereotype people, and write racist manuscripts that become best sellers.

I want to be a good ally. Good allies promote their author of color friends. And they get out of the way. I understand the first part, but am less clear on the second.

I asked an Asian-American writing colleague: should I keep writing. Or scrap the project?She asked me back: Is this your story to tell?

I spent a few months thinking about it.

Pidgin is a second language for me. Even after much study, I’m not fluent. It was an easy (though painful) first step to remove the Pidgin from the manuscript.

Except for being crypto-Jewish (thank you Ancestry.com), I’m not mixed race, either. Does that mean I should change my main character from mixed race to white?

I was steeped in Hawaiian culture for twelve formative years of my life, but wasn’t born there. Should I take out the references to Hawaiian culture?

This can of worms is HUGE. It involves the rights of writers of color to have the space and the support to share their personal stories. It involves the rights of all people to have their stories told with sensitivity. It involves the sum of my life experiences, who I am at my core, and how I came to write books about diverse characters in the first place. And that’s just the beginning.

Is this my story to tell? I think so.

Though controversy terrifies me, I hope to engage in civilized discourse on the topic. I welcome commenters and guest bloggers to participate.

Hello, 2018!

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Librarian Superheroes: Ellen Bosman

Welcome to LIBRARIAN SUPERHEROES–the unsung defenders of books. Ellen Bosman is a librarian at the University of New Mexico. I caught up with her in the middle of a challenging mission, cataloguing books by New Mexico Authors. Her cape made quite the impression. Lucky for us, she took time from her dangerous mission to answer a few questions from a pesky reporter.
Ellen reading in 2008

Ellen reading in 2008

If you could have a super power, what would it be?

The ability to be in more than one place at a time. I would be simultaneously kayaking, bird watching, and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef.

What is the best thing about your job?

Helping people with their research questions. I love the combination of detective work needed to find an answer and knowing

I helped the user. Plus I learn about many subjects along the way.

What is the worst?

Being in administration, I wish I had more opportunities to work directly with users on their research needs.

What are you reading now, and what do you think about it?

I am on the Stonewall Book Awards committee so read a lot of gay/lesbian books. Unfortunately I can’t comment on those books

until the awards are announced, but I can comment on a few I enjoyed last year.

Very cool! Tell us more…

One my favorite genres is young adult fiction. I really enjoyed Sparks: The Epic, Completely True Blue, (Almost) Holy Quest of Debbie, by S. J. Adams. I read the book in one day. The fast pace, breathless nature of the writing/story was engaging and reminiscent of the headiness of being in high school, feeling like everything is earth-shattering and must be taken care of NOW. The rush and confusion of first love, the risk-taking, the cliques, the clunker cars with not enough gas or enough money for gas, the realization of religious hypocrisy–it all felt very realistic. I just had to keep reading to find out what happened. I found the plot unpredictable and the characters engaging. I think everything about the book was fun, from the cover art and title, to the writing style and characters.

Art on Fire by Hilary Sloin is a somewhat unusual work of fiction. It is a pseudo-biography, complete with fake footnotes and art reviews, of lesbian artist Francesa desilva. Tomboy Fran lives in the shadow of her genius sister Bella in their otherwise typically dysfunctional family circa late 1970s–early 1980s. Fran meets Lisa, also a genius, at one of her sister’s parties for the socially inept. Thus begins Fran’s only love, an on again-off-again relationship burdened by Lisa’s internalized homophobia, her own familial baggage, and Fran’s belief that she can never really, truly love. Fran runs away from home, begging Lisa to join her. Ultimately, Fran ends up living a life of artistic deprivation. The isolation suits her and, through a serious of coincidences, she becomes a famous artist, eclipsing her sister’s success.

There are several layers of mystery in the story and the reader is invited to read between the lines–and footnotes– looking for the truth but the mystery is only a subtle part of an otherwise tragic story, filled with broken people, thwarted desire, unfilled dreams. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the scholarly art analysis of Fran’s work with the rest of the story. The reader almost has to laugh at the art reviews, as each attempts to decipher the meaning in Fran’s art within the context of feminism and lesbianism while the reader knows how each piece came about and why. A story of contradictions and sadness.

My TBR pile just grew. Tell us a story about yourself or about a librarian you know that runs counter to the myth of librarians as retiring, spinster-ish, bookworms.

At my last job I was working with a colleague on the reference desk and another librarian came by. We were carrying on some discussion when a patron asked us to be quiet. Clearly we were a chatty bunch, social to a fault—literally. The image of librarians as quiet, etc. has become a trope, media’s code for communicating precisely that someone is quiet, retiring, and book-ish. However the advent of the Internet, e-books, and other technologies in the library has mitigated the image to some extent. Librarians are now portrayed as tech savvy.

Is there a librarian in your past that influenced you?

I don’t recall the names of my local, branch librarian in NJ and my school librarian. I’ve always been drawn to libraries and have a very vivid memory of my first library visit. I had just learned to write my name and my mom took me to the branch library. I was in heaven and asked the librarian how many books I could take home and she said “as many as you can carry.” That response wowed me. Plus, I wanted to play with all the stamps on the librarian’s desk. Alas, by the time I became a librarian stamps were virtually non-existent.

Are there topics you feel writers need to write about more?

There is always more room for stories with characters of diverse ethnic backgrounds.  I would like to see a greater variety of religious fiction based on faiths other than Christianity; the latter has pretty much cornered the market.  The growing visibility of transgendered individuals indicates the need for more serious fiction featuring transgender individuals and bisexuals could also be included in that category.

What do you have to say to readers?

Read as many books as you carry. Read outside your favorite genres to broaden your horizons.

Great advice! That’s why I belong to a book club. It forces me to read books I never would’ve picked up on my own.

Thank you for stopping by, Ellen. Have fun snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef!

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Friendship, interrupted

Dear Miss Fortune Cookie,

In my group of friends there were four of us. One of them decided she didn’t want to be friends with us anymore and her reason was that I was bullying her; I wasn’t, I thought she was my bestfriend. She caused a big scene leaving the rest of us not wanting to talk to her.

It’s been 3 months and now one of my bestest friends wants to be friends with her again, and I’m not sure that I can be friends with someone who is friends with that girl that treated me badly.What do I do? 

Stuck

 

Dear Stuck,

Miss Fortune Cookie Says: The person who makes a scene is not a friend. She’s an actress.
 
I’m allergic to scenes. They discourage communication. If your ex-friend had not thrown a scene, you could’ve talked about what upset her. You might have seen each other’s point of view. Amazing! But now it’s a Chinese Opera with shifting alliances, and daggers unexpectedly drawn.
 
What a mess.
 
Your bestest-friend-that-wants-to-be-hang-out-with-your-ex-friend is key. Can you talk to her? If she understands that her move hurts you, she may change her mind.
 
I love to give people second and third chances. But true friendship is based on trust, loyalty, and mutual admiration. A friend should always have your back.
 
Miss Fortune Cookie
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Categories: Advice for teens, Miss Fortune Cookie, Miss Fortune Cookie letters | Leave a comment

Free book alert!

To celebrate the release of the final book in Kersten Hamilton’s riveting Goblin Wars Trilogy, you can get a copy of the first book free at iTunes. The offer is only good this week, so jump on it!

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You can also download a copy onto your Kindle for 0.00 at Amazon.

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Here’s what reviewers are saying about WHEN THE STARS THREW DOWN THEIR SPEARS:

“This spectacular conclusion will satisfy fans and lead new readers into a complex world with fascinating magic and appealing characters.” Kirkus, starred review

 “Brimming with heroism, violence, romance, and tragedy. . . . This will more than satisfy series fans—it will make them laugh, fill them with wonder, and uplift them in the end.” Booklist Online
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Don’t be a bully, you jerk

 
Dear Miss Fortune Cookie,

This noob in photography won’t leave me alone. He keeps asking me dumb stuff like how to view his pictures. I keep telling him to ask the teacher, but he ignores me. How do I get rid of him?

Annoyed

 

WHAT MISS FORTUNE COOKIE REALLY WANTED TO WRITE, BUT DIDN’T:

Dear Annoying,

Miss Fortune Cookie says: Someone is speaking well of you. Because they don’t really know you.

The hallmark of noob-behavior? Calling someone else a noob.

In other words, it takes one to know one. I’m rubber, you’re glue. Everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you.

Miss Fortune Cookie

angry girl avatar

 

ENLIGHTENED ANSWER:

Dear Annoyed,

Miss Fortune Cookie says: Open your heart. You can always close it again later.

Be nice. Everyone is a noob sometime in their life.

Besides, maybe this noob knows how to view his pictures, but is looking for friendship or romance. Anything is possible.

Miss Fortune Cookie

fortune cat

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My two-timing summer

I am a late bloomer. A late, late bloomer. By the end of high school, my statistics in the romance department were deplorable:
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Crushes – 16
Dates – 6
Kisses – 2
Boyfriends – 0
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The summer after graduation my world changed. At the graduation party, Rick (not his real name) kissed me. A week later as I came off a shift at my summer job, Rick was waiting for me. I liked him. We started going out.

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Before all that, I’d developed a substantial crush on another boy named Pelle. We’d met in a community college poetry class that I took my final semester of high school. On the first day he read a love poem. To his girlfriend. For some reason that didn’t discourage me from getting to know him (flirting, actually). After several weeks I learned that his girlfriend lived 400 miles away. (yes!) And then one day, he invited me to go sailing. The whole time we were together, we had a blast—laughing and talking and being silly.

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Nothing “happened” on my date with Pelle. He didn’t ask me out again right away. While I waited for him to make the next move, Rick asked me to be his girlfriend, and I accepted. Rick and I enjoyed each other, but I couldn’t help comparing him to Pelle. Unfavorably. Then Rick told me that he planned to break up with me at the end of the summer because long distance relationships don’t work.
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That was not a good move for him.
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One evening Pelle appeared on my doorstep to return a sweater I’d left on his sailing dinghy. And to ask me out on a lunar eclipse viewing date. Oo la la. But one of my closest friends was staying the night, so I turned him down. When he left, I felt I’d blown my last chance.
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A few days later Rick told me he wanted to have sex before the summer ended. Before our pre-determined break up, naturally.
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Worst. Move. Ever.
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Luckily Pelle persisted. Not long after, he invited me on a drive to an overlook. As we gazed at the shimmering lights together (swoon), he still didn’t try to kiss me.
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Was I wrong to go out with him without telling Rick? Yes. Did I worry about it? No.
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Finally the turning point arrived. Pelle and I spent a romantic evening together in San Francisco. At the end he hinted that he would break up with his girlfriend. I hinted I’d do the same.
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Now Pelle and I are married. Our son is 16, one year younger than I was in the above story.
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Yikes.
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How do you think the world will end?

Zombie dinosaurs?

Sinkholes?

Radioactive capybaras?

Tweet your theory for the impending apocalypse.
#apocalypseprediction

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RT Teen Day … here I come!

If you’ve never heard of Teen Day at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, let me fill you in.

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100 amazing YA authors + me + 1 big room = 3 hours of delicious pandemonium called YA Alley.

Get autographs from luminaries such as Jennifer Brown, Veronica Roth, Kim Derting, Ally Carter, Carrie Ryan, Aprilynne Pike, Maureen Johnson, and Stephanie Perkins. I, personally, will be sitting next to Sarah Rees Brennan trying not to faint from fan-girl overload.

I’m on a speed reading panel between 5 and 6pm, and afterwards plan to “unwind” at the Teen Party, where you can win books and swag by the toteful. Hope to see you there!

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The Winner!!!

Congratulations to Mary Catherine Miller for winning the Be an Advice Columnist for a Day contest. She’s a doctoral student at Ohio State University working in Literature for Children and Young Adults. Check out her excellent blog, Travels with Mary.

And read her pithy and fun advice below:

Dear Miss Fortune Cookie,

I’m not short, but my girlfriend is taller than me. My friends laugh about it. They call me stumpy and pat me on the head. I don’t want to go to school anymore. Should I just break up with her already?

Taller Than Average

 
Dear Taller than Average,

Miss Fortune Cookie says: Long legs let the heron see more than the duck.

Don’t your friends know that the average height of a model is 5’11”? Tell them there’s no way you’re going to set them up with her friends if they keep patting you on the head.

Miss Fortune Cookie
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Opinionated much?

Do your friends dump their problems on you all the time? Do you feel like you’re expected to listen and keep your mouth shut?

Here’s your chance to do the talking!

I’m hosting an awesome Dear Miss Fortune Cookie CONTEST. Just reply to one of three letters asking for advice and you’ll get:

A signed bookmark

An opportunity to be published on my blog

An entry into my giveaway — sparkly nail polish, a beautiful bracelet, and a signed copy of Miss Fortune Cookie

Go here for more details!

Categories: Contests, Fun stuff, Giveaways, Miss Fortune Cookie | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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