Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide during World War I, when approximately 1.5 million Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1923. YA author Dana Walrath is the granddaughter of survivors of the Armenian genocide—which, as she writes in a guest blog post below, is "a genocide that continues through denial." Her powerful novel-in-verse, Like Water on Stone (2014), uses alternating voices to tell of three siblings’ flight from these atrocities. To commemorate this anniversary, Walrath draws us into her research and heritage, and offers more reading suggestions for those who wish to bring this bit of history to the surface.
Place is always a character in a novel: It has a look, a history, a fragrance, distinct sounds. Places carry the memories and beliefs of their inhabitants. In Like Water on Stone, my verse novel about genocide and survival, the reader gets to know one of the world’s oldest places: Armenia.
I am the granddaughter of survivors of the Armenian genocide, a genocide that continues through denial, and so turns 100 this year. Growing up in New York, I never knew my Armenian mother’s parents, their language or the land that they called home. As a kid I once asked my mother about the childhood of her mother, Oghidar Troshagirian. I got the bare bones: Oghidar’s parents ran a mill in Palu; after her parents were killed she and Uncle Benny and Aunt Alice hid during the day and ran at night to an orphanage in Aleppo. Like Water on Stone put flesh on those bones, adding in a guardian spirit—an eagle—who protects the young ones on their journey. I wrote this story to find my grandmother, to find the Armenia in me.
In 1977, I traveled to Soviet Armenia with my parents and younger sister. There we met our cousins, descendants of Oghidar’s older brother, living on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Though by look and manner I seemed the average American, this trip woke up the Armenia in me.
In 1984, I traveled to the land where my grandparents were born, where 2 million other Armenians lived before the genocide—Eastern Turkey. Finding Palu, along the eastern branch of the Euphrates River, I traced my way to a mill. I did not know that this mill would eventually become the setting for Like Water on Stone. It took a dissertation’s worth of words in anthropology, complete with a social theory of genocide and its consequences, for me to start discovering the storyteller in me.
I returned to Armenia in 2012 as a Fulbright Scholar working on the anthropology of aging. My fieldwork gave me a score of grandparents who cheered for me when Random House acquired Like Water on Stone. Their stories, the meals we shared, the songs we sang and danced all found their place in the book.
This spring I’ve returned again to Armenia for the premiere of an animation of Like Water on Stone, created by a team of young people at Yerevan’s Tumo Center under the direction of my cousin Shushanik Droshakiryan, Oghidar’s great-grand-niece. I’m grateful to know my story will reach so many young people via this film.
I am also deeply grateful for my writer “cousins,” fellow Armenian Americans who also strive to reckon Armenia’s place in history, to tally the complexity and resilience of genocide survivors:
Dana Walrath in eastern Turkey, 1984
Eastern Turkey, 1984
Images from raw drawings that will be included in the animated film based on Like Water on Stone, created by two teen students at the Tumo center in Armenia.
Dana Walrath, writer, poet, artist, Fulbright Scholar and second generation Armenian, is committed to the movement for reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia. She believes an honest reckoning of history, apology and forgiveness is essential for healing and will help bring about peace in the future. Like Water on Stone is her first book for young readers. She lives in Vermont. For more information, visit her website: danawalrath.com
With his National Book Award-winning YA novel, Godless, Pete Hautman explored themes of religion and spirituality through the story of a church that worshipped a water tower—the perfect blend of weighty, provovative themes and a humorous premise. His new novel, Eden West, touches on similiar topics, this time through the story of a teen boy who belongs to an insular, secluded cult, and what happens when the outside world begins to creep in on his protected world. In a guest blog post, Hautman shares his thoughts on readers' fascinations with cults.
Every few years some group of people who share an unconventional set of beliefs winds up in the news: The Branch Davidians. Heaven’s Gate. The Unification Church. Trekkies.* Because these groups are tiny and somewhat (ahem) peculiar, we call them “cults.”
This year, with the release of the HBO documentary Going Clear, the cult of the moment is Scientology—never mind that Scientology might not be a true “cult” (any more than it qualifies as a true religion). Our love of schadenfreude means that any excuse will do to put the sensational and pejorative word cult in a headline. (Did I just do that very thing? Yeah, I guess I did.)
But while the rest of us are congratulating ourselves for being comparatively normal, it’s easy to forget that these cults—or cult-like groups—are largely made up of smart, creative, well-intentioned individuals who are working hard to live good lives within a carefully constructed framework. The majority of cults don’t make the news. They are functional and largely invisible. And while most cults eventually self-destruct or wither away, a few groups with cultish origins—Christians, for example—have evolved to become accepted, mainstream religions.
Since nobody else was doing it, I wanted to write a story concerning a fictional cult that was functional—not your usual cults-are-evil-and-everybody-dies-in-the-end scenario. I wanted to write a love story.
Eden West started out that way. A boy growing up in an odd, insular cult compound in Montana meets a girl from the other side of the 13-mile-long chain-link fence. Inside the compound, several dozen hard-working people are raising their families and waiting peacefully for the end of the world. I wanted my fictional “Eden West” to be idyllic and entirely functional—a sort of backdrop to a more personal story, that of one boy who becomes tainted by contact with the outside world.
As often happens, things fell apart. My carefully laid plan to write a simple love story set against the backdrop of a utopian cult turned out not to be so simple. During the 12 years it took to write, Eden West became the story of a world within a world, a world colliding with itself. Unforeseen events lead the young man, Jacob, to an unexpected series of epiphanies, each of which chisels away at the foundations of his reality. My little utopia imploded, my characters were swept into the resulting vortex, and the story went to places I had never intended to visit.
I learned a lot, and it turns out there’s a good reason why most cults separate themselves from the mainstream—most of them simply can’t survive close contact with the juggernaut of the conventional. Not even in fiction.
*Just kidding, Trekkies. Live Long and Prosper!
And check out Pete's Eden West unboxing video below:
It's been 10 years since the publication of Boy Proof, Cecil Castellucci's groundbreaking young adult debut, now one of Time magazine's 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time. Ten years ago, sci-fi fans—especially young females—felt like they could let their geek flags fly after reading about Egg, who styles herself after the heroine of her favorite sci-fi movie, Terminal Earth, by dressing all in white, shaving her head and coloring her eyebrows. She's got her shields up—especially against boys. But then she meets Max.
Castellucci looks back on the book that defined her as an author and encouraged nerdy girls to stay weird while finding their courage:
It begins at a bookstore: one of my favorite indie bookstores in Los Angeles, Skylight Books. When I was first trying to sell my first book and dreaming of becoming an author, I would walk to the store, which is funny because nobody walks in Los Angeles. I went there to haunt the shelves, paw the books and dream that maybe one day I would be an actual author. The staff was friendly and encouraging. They let me stay for hours.
In those early years of being a dreamer, they asked me to help out at inventory. I came in to support, but also needing the grocery money to help clean the store and count and shelve the books. I still do inventory with them every year—15 years and counting. I had written two novels and a picture book that had not sold. I was blue. And poor. And dreaming. Somewhere in fiction while I was dusting and lamenting my rejections both by the book industry and gentleman suitors. Then Steven Salardino, the manager of the bookstore and now a dear friend, turned to me and said, “You should write a book called Boy Proof and the boy should be named Max.” Instead of shrugging him off, or throwing a dust rag at him, I said, “OK,” and set about to do it.
The title had struck me deep in my core. And as a nerdy girl myself, I had felt like that growing up and wanted to write a book about a girl who was a true nerd and the star of the book, not the sidekick or the best friend. A girl who, like me felt a little boy proof. I wanted to write the book that I had needed and wasn’t there when I was growing up geek. I had a few loose threads in my head that I thought I could pull on to make a story.
While time coding for my friends production transcript company, I had seen footage of a girl who dressed up as Trinity from the Matrix movies. To give myself swaths of time to write, I was an extra in movies and once got a call to interview to be a child ape on Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. I was not chosen to be an ape. (Tim Burton’s loss, to be sure!) The interview was at special effects make-up artist Rick Baker's studio, which was truly inspiring. Living in Hollywood with all of this buzz of making it and reinvention made me think to back to when I was in high school. I had a great friend whose mother, a famous singer and actress, was making her big comeback, and there was a boy I was too shy to figure out how to make my boyfriend who sat next to me in math class. His name was not Max, but the shadow memory of him was a place to start.
I put those things together to write a book called Boy Proof about a girl named Egg who dressed as the main character of her favorite sci-fi movie. Who loved post-apocalyptic movies and read comic books. Who felt uncomfortable around the new boy. Whose dad was a special effects make-up artist. Whose mom was a TV star making a comeback. A nerdy girl who lets down her guard to let love in.
It was the first novel I sold, and it was born in a bookstore.
And to this day, I always ask Steven to help me title my novels.
Author photo credit Eric Charles.
There's something quentissentially hopeful about young adult novels that feature teenagers on crosscountry roadtrips. Adi Alsaid's debut novel takes an even more hopeful approach, as the main character of Let's Get Lost might be on an epic journey, but it's a uniquely selfless one, as she has plenty to share with those she meets along the way.
Writes our reviewer, "Adi Alsaid weaves together the distant and disparate stories of his multiple characters, using Leila as the bright red thread to sew the patchwork quilt of their lives. The final product is beautiful, moving—and nothing like it would have been if kept separate." Read our full review of Let's Get Lost.
Adi is touring the web with ‘’Seize the Tuesday” posts to celebrate the publication of his new novel which goes on sale today! Each piece focuses on a different, fun example of how Adi was able to "Seize the Tuesday" in his own life and how that can inspire others to make a change in their lives, too. Seize the Tuesday not only gives readers a glimpse into Adi’s life, but also introduces readers to one of the key themes in Let’s Get Lost of "seizing the Tuesday"—of seizing a moment that can change your life forever.
About Let’s Get Lost:
Five strangers. Countless adventures.One epic way to get lost.
Four teens across the country have only one thing in common: a girl named LEILA. She crashes into their lives in her absurdly red car at the moment they need someone the most.
There's HUDSON, a small-town mechanic who is willing to throw away his dreams for true love. And BREE, a runaway who seizes every Tuesday—and a few stolen goods along the way. ELLIOT believes in happy endings . . . until his own life goes off-script. And SONIA worries that when she lost her boyfriend, she also lost the ability to love.
Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia find a friend in Leila. And when Leila leaves them, their lives are forever changed. But it is during Leila's own 4,268-mile journey that she discovers the most important truth— sometimes, what you need most is right where you started. And maybe the only way to find what you're looking for is to get lost along the way.
Seize the Tuesday: Learning to cook
By Adi Alsaid
One summer during college, I was back home in Mexico, bored out of my mind. Few friends were in town and the rainy season had me stuck indoors far more than I would have liked. Watching TV all day wasn’t my ideal way to spend the summer, but options were limited, and I ended up sitting in the living room with my sister a lot. That was the summer she became a big fan of the reality cooking show, "Top Chef."
It was during a marathon of "Top Chef" that I realized a crucial mistake in the way I’d been living my life. I’d always believed that living well and eating well went hand in hand, but up until then, I’d trusted others to provide me with great food. I could barely pour myself a bowl of cereal. Then I watched "Top Chef" and realized that the people on that show can make themselves those ridiculous dishes anytime they want.
As soon as I got back to Vegas, I begged my older brother, who’d gone to school for hospitality and therefore taken a cooking class, to teach me. He wasn’t quite up for it, too impatient to deal with someone who didn’t even know how to hold a knife the right way. So I watched a few more shows on the Food Network, then decided to cook for the first time ever. I was going to make tacos. Except I was a little trigger shy, so I decided to call a friend over and have him cook the chicken for the tacos while I made a salsa. Cutting vegetables and throwing them together seemed like a good stepping stone.
I moved on to pasta with sauce from a jar. I burned chicken. I didn’t think to wash vegetables. I watched more Food Network, made more salsas. I started going home for lunch to make myself bagel sandwiches, which slowly got more and more complex. I brought homemade dips to potlucks, perused the cookbook section at bookstores. I started making pasta sauce from scratch, offering to make a dish for family dinners. Spice is the spice of life, and I was starting to live it up.
In the years since, I’ve spent more and more time in the kitchen. My sauces are a little more complex, my repertoire more extensive. I’m sure my techniques are often ineffective, my knowledge still lacking, my knife skills still weaker than my brother’s. As friends and my Instagram followers know, I cook a lot now (and, yes, am guilty of photographing my kitchen exploits). But I’ve learned the joys of cooking delicious things for myself and for others, the joy in going to a grocery store with headphones on, not knowing exactly what I want to make but looking around until inspiration hits. There’s even the joy in cleaning up afterwards (not always, but sometimes), the evidence that hard work went into whatever I just ate, that a meal was earned.
Eating has always been life-affirming for me, and now cooking is, too.
About Adi Alsaid:
Adi Alsaid was born and raised in Mexico City. He attended college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While in class, he mostly read fiction and continuously failed to fill out crossword puzzles, so it's no surprise that after graduating he packed up his car and escaped to the California coastline to become a writer. He's now back in his hometown, where he writes, coaches high school and elementary basketball, and has perfected the art of making every dish he eats or cooks as spicy as possible. In addition to Mexico, he has lived in Tel Aviv, Las Vegas and Monterey, California. A tingly feeling in his feet tells him that more places will eventually be added to the list.
Readers, Let's Get Lost is now available! Enjoy an excerpt.
Young adult mystery Death Spiral is working double duty: It introduces the Poisoned Pencil, the new YA mystery imprint of Poisoned Pen Press, and kicks off the Faith Flores Science Mysteries.
Death Spiral might be intended for teen readers, but this science thriller tackles some dark stuff. Sixteen-year-old Faith Flores wants to go to college and study science, but she has a lot to overcome. When her junkie mom dies, Faith doesn’t believe it was an overdose, and she begins a dangerous search for the truth that takes her from the drug houses of North Philadelphia to the labs of the pharmaceutical industry.
Author Janie Chodosh is a "scientist wannabe and a naturalist." Chodosh shares 10 fascinating tidbits on the science behind her debut:
Death Spiral: A Faith Flores Science Mystery is a genetics-based mystery. Check out this list of interesting genetics facts that inspired the story of Faith Flores and her quest to find the true cause of her mother’s death from a supposed heroin overdose.
1) The human genome consists of approximately 3 billion chemical base pairs and about 21,000 protein-coding genes. There are probably thousands more genes. Despite so many base pairs, any pair of humans is 99.9% identical in DNA.
2) Many genes play a role in addiction. For example, The A1 allele of the dopamine receptor gene DRD2 is more common in people addicted to alcohol or cocaine.
3) Although no mice were tested on to write this book, with the help of mouse studies, scientists have identified many genes that play roles in addiction. The reason mice are so helpful in studying addiction is because the reward pathway in our brains functions in much the same way in mice as it does in people. (If you want to know about mice and their addiction issues, read the subpoints; if rodent addiction is not of interest to you, move on to #4.)
a) Mice lacking the serotonin receptor gene Htr1b are more attracted to cocaine and alcohol.
b) Mice bred to lack the β2 subunit of nicotinic cholinergic receptors have a reduced reward response to cocaine.
c) Mice with low levels of neuropeptide Y drink more alcohol, whereas those with higher levels tend to abstain.
4) Gene therapy is a set of methods that uses genes to treat or prevent disease by inserting genes into a patient’s cells. There are three approaches to gene therapy: replacing a disease-causing gene with a healthy copy of the gene; inactivating a mutated gene; or introducing a new gene to help fight a disease.
5) When many people, including yours truly, think of patents, they think of things like curling irons and doodads that make cars work. In fact, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office has been issuing patents on genetic material since 1982. There are currently 3,000 to 5,000 patents on human genes in the United States.
6) However, (see #5) on June 13, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that human genes could not be patented.
7) Opponents of genetic patents worry about the financial aspect of gene patenting. What about this: If just one company is allowed to patent a particular genetic test or treatment, they will have a monopoly for the term of the patent and can charge whatever they like for it, limiting access to people who cannot afford to pay. Or this: Without any competition from other researchers, the company who owns the patent wouldn't necessarily have to respond to consumer feedback.
8) Myriad Genetics filed several patents for BRCA1 and BRCA2, genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer. In March 2010, a U.S. District Court ruled that the company's patent claims were invalid because genetic material was, in fact, a product of nature.
9) The age of personal genomic medicine is here. Whereas it used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a genome sequenced, the cost has gone as low as $1,000 and will continue to get cheaper. However, getting the meaning out of the data might cost you a lot more. Plus, where are you going to keep that valuable information?
10) We can find now find out if we are carriers for thousands of different diseases with a genetic component—things like Alzheimer’s Disease, Schizophrenia and Huntington’s Disease. Now, the question is, do we want to know? And if you know, it might have an impact on your siblings and children.
Thanks, Janie! Readers, Death Spiral is out now.
More and more often we're hearing about self-published e-book sensations that go viral and eventually get scooped up by traditional publishers. With more than 150,000 e-books sold in the U.S. (not to mention the weeks it has spent on the New York Times bestseller list), Tammara Webber's Easy definitely fits into that category. Penguin took over the rights in October, and Berkley published a trade paperback edition on November 6. Many readers are already hooked on this story of a 19-year-old who deals with tough issues in college—from sexual assault to falling in love again.
However, there's an interesting "trend" angle to this novel that makes it unique. Easy is part of an emerging subgenre called "New Adult" literature. NA books are appropriate for older teens and adults, and they typically feature characters who are transitioning from teendom to adulthood. Webber is very passionate about writing stories that explore this life stage. In a guest blog post she tells us what "New Adult" means—and why it's important.
New Adult—or just new marketing?
By Tammara Webber
I confess, my initial reaction to the term “New Adult” was lukewarm, because I thought it was a seriously dumb label for a literary category. Who wants to be called a new adult? When I was a college student, a bookstore couldn’t have paid me to walk down an aisle with that designation at the head of it.
What intrigued me, though, was the concept behind the harebrained title. A long-standing decree from publishers warned agents (and therefore, authors) against submitting manuscripts with main characters older than 18 or younger than mid-20s. The justification? They won’t sell.
Enter the birth of digital self-publishing, the rapid growth of the e-reader market, and more recently, widespread apps that turn any smart phone into an e-reader. Those college-aged protagonists no one wanted to read about? Indie authors offered those stories to readers directly. Lo and behold, the previously nonexistent audience appeared.
Shocking? Not really. Much of the “NA” audience is just an extension of the YA audience, as well as a natural progression from it. Is an 18-year-old—who is a legal adult—an adult in every sense of the word? Not until she’s financially independent. Until then, she’s on the same coming-of-age path she was before—she’s just closer to her goal. A professor friend told me that she hadn’t realized how young her students were until her own sons were in college. “They have adult bodies and more advanced language skills, but their thought processes and reasoning haven’t quite caught up,” she said.
This leads me to confession number two: I’m not convinced publishing needs a new category. Heck yeah, I slapped a “New Adult” tag on each of my “Mature YA” books, because I’m not stupid. If everyone is going to say I’m writing “NA,” and that tag helps readers find my books, then by all means, I’ll add it. But what needed to happen has happened: Authors are writing and selling novels with characters in the college age range, without benefit of a distinct category.
Where those books should be “shelved” is something brick-and-mortar retailers will have to figure out. The idea that these stories can be edgier because the protagonists are 18 and up is unnecessary. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that plenty of YA books are edgy—they contain swearing, drinking, drugs and sex. In other words, reality.
If by edgy one means tackling tough topics—well, anyone who reads YA on even the most intermittent basis knows that’s been done and done well: Speak, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Sky is Everywhere, Looking for Alaska, Some Girls Are, Shine, I Know It’s Over . . . No one needs to look for a New Adult designation to find edgy, or dark, or titillating literature—and thank God for that.
Lest you question my credentials for welcoming edgy content to YA, I have an incontestable qualification: I’m the parent of three children between the ages of 17 to 23. I love that my son brought Going Bovine into my room at 2 a.m. with tears on his face and said, “Read this.” I love that my daughter and I could discuss and contrast Alex Fuentes (from Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles) with “real boys.” I’m a parent who welcomed the edgy stuff, and recognized the importance of it for creating dialogue with my kids. It wasn't about what I wanted to talk about—because I can do that without assistance from literature or celebrity-endorsed commercials, thanks—but about what they wanted to talk about.
I’ve heard that NA seeks to appeal to readers “18 to 35.” Or 34. Or 30. Or starting at 17. Again, unnecessary. The elimination of the weird dearth of characters in the 19-23 year-old age range was the essential thing. The placement of those stories should be based on content, not the ages of the protagonists. If a book has a YA voice, if it speaks to serious issues as archetypal YA does, then it should be categorized as YA, and perhaps given a “mature” label to let the parents of 14-year-olds know that this book should be parentally-guided. Books like Easy and Slammed fall into that category. As for those 20-somethings (and older) being able to find them? We already read YA. We’ll find them just fine.
As a self-published author, I found enough readers to put Easy on the NYT bestseller list for nine weeks—three of those on the combined and the e-book lists. The audience is there. Now let’s publish for them.
Readers: What do you think of the "New Adult" designation? Do you like to read about protagonists who are in that stage between living at home and being a full-on adult?