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San Francisco

I visited San Francisco again this past weekend! Upon arriving late Friday afternoon, I went straight to Casa de Paz, an intentional community in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland. There I met my friend Miyuki. The residents of the house were cooking a vegan meal for Friday evening meditation, which I wasn’t going to be able to stay for. Miyuki showed me the amazing gardens, and then we sat on the front steps and caught up. Occasionally someone from the neighborhood would walk by, and I’d try to follow as Miyuki chatted with them in Spanish.

On Saturday, I went to the Bay Area Book Festival with Miyuki, our friend Andrew, Miyuki’s Google linguist friend, and Miyuki’s friend Jonah. All of us but the Google linguist went to Swarthmore.

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Andrew with a cockatoo by the Berkeley BART station

Wandering through the booths, we were hailed by another Swarthmore alum, Books! Books was working for the festival, doorkeeping or some such for an Irish writers panel that included Colm Tóibín (!).

On Radical Row, Andrew was beguiled by a deal at the Small Press Distribution booth whereby he could choose a free book if he wrote a poem. After much thought, he penned an eight-line poem with end rhyme about the cockatoo. Hovering at this booth, I noticed A Bestiary by Lily Hoang and, after leafing through it, decided to buy it.

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Pictured above is Lacuna, an art installation/giant free library set up in a park at the southern end of the festival. Miyuki discovered a Taiwanese children’s book that weirdly featured both bopomofo and a lot of erhua. Andrew found Chieh Chieng’s A Long Stay in a Distant Land and offered it to me. It looked interesting, so I took it.

On Monday, my friend Leland and I walked through Chinatown, stopping at a bakery for some pork buns, and then spent a long time in City Lights Books. From there, we took a look inside Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church and then walked to the Coit Tower. We admired the New Deal-era murals, and I particularly noticed this particular section of one:

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There’s this one passage in Sparkers:

He limps to the nearest machine and sits down at it. “This is a linotype machine.”

In front of him is something like a typewriter keyboard. He peruses my scribbles and begins to type. To his left, little blocks of metal engraved with letters begin to form lines of text.

Leland and I took the elevator up to the top of the tower and took in the views of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Angel Island.

Leaving the Coit Tower, we wandered through the neighborhood and stumbled upon Schein & Schein, a map/antique print shop. It was magical. We lingered there so long we ran out of time to get artisanal ice cream.

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A page from an old French music theory textbook (our best guess). The text is often quite amusing. For instance, the text above Fig. 14 says, “Third to avoid because of the equivocal chord, unless the song is well-determined, like here”

On Naming and Diversity, Part II

Yesterday I talked about my discomfort with Louis Sachar giving his main character a made-up, generically ethnic name in his new novel, Fuzzy Mud. I wanted to talk about making up names in fantasy too, but that post was getting way too long, so I decided to write a Part II.

I objected to Sachar making up a pseudo-Indian last name in a novel set in the real world, but what about in a novel set in an invented world? There, I think it would have been okay, particularly if it was clear that the characters weren’t intended to be Indians transposed into a fantasy world but instead lived in an Indian-influenced society. Does naming a character in a fantasy novel Tamaya Dhilwaddi contribute to diversity in literature? Maybe. This question is trickier in fantasy because languages, cultures, and skin colors don’t have to align the same way in a made-up world as they do in the real world. The way the concept of race is constructed in a fantasy world may be totally different from the ways it’s constructed in the real world, but of course readers will still encounter the fantasy world through the lens of their real world understanding of race. Probably the best way to increase diversity in fantasy is to write explicitly non-white characters, but I think giving characters names that real world readers will code as non-white can help too.

In essence, I think fantasy writers should feel free to name characters however they want, including giving them names that sound “vaguely X,” but we should do it with our eyes open. One option for naming characters in a fantasy world is to simply pick a real world language/culture and draw names from there. Maybe the world itself is inspired by a particular real world culture and you want the names to match, so to speak. An example of this is Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix, which is set in the Chinese-inspired Kingdom of Xia and features characters named Ai Ling and Chen Yong.

Once it’s firmly established that a fantasy culture and its language have real world counterparts, a name that doesn’t fit the pattern and has no good reason not to will be jarring, at least to readers who can tell the difference. I once read a fantasy novel in which characters from a certain country spoke Mandarin Chinese. It wasn’t called Chinese in the book, of course, but the one example phrase of the language given in the text was actual Mandarin, not a made-up Mandarin-inspired phrase. The problem was the names of the characters who came from this country, and indeed the name of the country itself, were in extreme violation of Mandarin phonotactics (permitted sound combinations). I just couldn’t believe that the characters could simultaneously have the names they had and speak the language they were purported to speak.

That’s not to say I don’t think fantasy authors have the freedom to change things up. It just has to make sense. For instance, maybe you want Chinese-sounding names, but your invented culture has different naming practices, so family names come after given names instead of before or given names always have three syllables instead of one or two. Why not? Or maybe your fantasy world/culture and language come from two different real world sources. Say, a Chinese-inspired society where the language and names are Italian. It might seem weird to readers, but it doesn’t make your world internally incoherent. You can also have multiple influences for both culture and language (an Indonesian/North African-inspired society with a language that looks both Germanic and Bantu!), but here you do have to be careful not to combine incompatible elements (whether cultural or linguistic). Once you’re doing something like devising a Germano-Bantu hybrid language, you should probably figure out the rules for yourself so you can make sure your names and any phrases you put into your book are consistent and make sense.

Somewhat in the same vein of the Germano-Bantu language, maybe you want your character names to sound French but not actually be French, or maybe you just want them to sound vaguely French. You’re going to be making up names, but if you want readers to get a French vibe from them, you’ll have to make sure you’re using the sounds and sound combinations that French actually allows. Depending on how far away from French you want to get, you may decide to break some rules governing how French words and names can be constructed, but you should decide exactly which rules these are before you start throwing names together.

Of course, you can always decide to invent character names (and perhaps a language) from scratch. You’ll probably inadvertently have some real world influences, but they may be so deeply buried that your readers see nothing but a fantasy name. If you do this, you should probably still establish a sound inventory and make some rules about how sounds can be put together so that your names will feel like they come from the same language.

No matter which approach you take, but especially if you draw inspiration from real world cultures and languages, readers may criticize the way you named your characters. This is something you have to accept, and if readers have a point, all you can do is acknowledge it and try to do better next time. It’s not only errors in linguistic consistency that readers may take issue with. Names taken from real languages will have real world resonances even when given to invented peoples. If the only characters in your world to have, say, Chinese-inspired names are all servile and buffoonish, readers may object.

In Sparkers, I chose to use real world names. I’ve talked about this a little before, but basically I made an aesthetic choice to give north landers Hebrew names and Xanites Arabic names. If I were building the world all over again, I’m not sure I would make the same choice. I think this naming scheme almost inevitably evokes Israel/Palestine, even though the names and the axes of power line up differently in my invented world. Moreover, I know I’ve been accused of appropriation at least once for giving the majority of my characters very Jewish-sounding names despite not being Jewish myself. This is a legitimate criticism.

Although I haven’t heard of any complaints, I also played around with naming practices and flouted the principle of internal consistency. Firstly, the last names of the characters in Sparkers are actually first names (though some can probably also function as last names in the real world–I don’t know as much as I should about the distinction between Hebrew and Arabic given and family names). This was a deliberate choice I made, so even if some readers find it odd, I hope they don’t think I did it out of cluelessness.

Secondly, I tried to make the characters’ names closer to the original Hebrew or Arabic and less Anglicized (though I retained some Anglicization, for instance by omitting the glottal stop in Leah and in Yakov, which should also have another a), but in some cases, I blatantly violated my own principle. The most notable case is Caleb. If I had treated his name like the other characters’, it should have been something more like Kalev, but I decided I wanted his name to look more familiar to English-speaking readers. I took some liberties with Marah’s name too. The girl’s name Mara actually ends in a glottal stop, not an h like Sarah or Leah. Marah with an h is a place mentioned in Exodus, but not a given name. Nevertheless, I spelled Marah’s name with an h because I liked it. Melchior’s name is another one that doesn’t quite fit; while it has Semitic roots, it’s not really Hebrew or Arabic, so in the world of Sparkers it’s actually an odd name for him to have. This is something I know, but it’s not something that’s on the page, so readers might well think I didn’t know what I was doing.

Finally, I made up some proper names in Sparkers, some of which are not linguistically coherent with the rest of the naming scheme. For instance, people from Xana have Arabic names, but the country name Xana is made-up and doesn’t look Arabic, particularly in its orthography, since the x represents a [ʃ] (sh sound).  I could explain away this inconsistency by saying that the name of the country is a holdover from an earlier civilization, but that’s not in the book. Ashari names I made up include the surname Imael, the covered market called the Ikhad, and the school name Firem. Some of these invented names may not be possible Hebrew words. Firem is the only one I know is probably phonotactically bad; outside of loanwords, I believe Hebrew doesn’t permit initial f. By the time someone pointed this out to me, though, I was so used to the school being called Firem that I didn’t change it.

In Sparkers, I took the route of drawing almost all names directly from real world languages. I made a few mistakes with linguistic consistency and also broke my own rules a few times out of personal preference, but I take responsibility for all these choices and recognize that people have the right to critique them.

The Friends of American Writers Awards Luncheon

Back in February, I learned that Sparkers had won the Friends of American Writers’ Young People’s Literature Award. Friends of American Writers is a Chicago organization dedicated to the promotion of literature, and each year they award prizes to adult and children’s books with a Midwestern connection. At the end of last week, I traveled to Chicago to attend the awards luncheon.

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This photo is from Quiz Bowl Nationals in 2008.

I arrived the evening before the luncheon, having procrastinated all week on preparing my acceptance remarks. (It’s shocking how little useful material one finds when one Googles how to give an author award acceptance speech. Then again, I was probably making a mountain out of a molehill. This wasn’t the Oscars.) Over some rather chemical-tasting mac and cheese, I reviewed my single page of brainstorming and was forced to acknowledge what I’d suspected all along: a laundry list of connections between my life and relatively minor facets of my book did not make for interesting remarks. Everything scrawled on that sheet of paper was trivial. Nobody would care that, like my main character, I enjoyed trying to teach myself languages and, oh, hey, when I lived in Paris as a thirteen-year-old I read Argentinian comics about a girl named Mafalda in order to learn Spanish. Whatever I said needed to have some sort of arc, or at the very least a unifying thread beyond all the languages I tried to teach myself in my youth. I had an inkling of another idea, but I was hesitant to go there. The more I thought about it, though, the more it felt like the right, even the inevitable, choice. I knew if I stuck with my collection of not-actually-all-that-quirky anecdotes, I would probably be a bit of a flop. If I embraced that other idea that beckoned, on the other hand, I might be able to say something that actually mattered.

What was that other idea? Roughly, it was the social justice aspect of Sparkers. As I said in the remarks I eventually gave, this is the number one thing readers mention in their online reviews, yet I have rarely discussed it because I’ve had trouble coming up with anything thoughtful to say about it. But a review I had seen just a week before flying to Chicago had praised Sparkers for its great connection to current events in Baltimore, MD and Ferguson, MO. The day I was stewing over my speech, the news broke that the Justice Department would be conducting an investigation of the Baltimore police. I’ve been humbled by the numerous reviews like the one just mentioned and have felt like I don’t deserve the credit I’ve been given for addressing timely issues through children’s fantasy, but on the eve of the awards luncheon, I felt it was time to own the parallels people had been drawing between my book and real-life injustice.

I left the restaurant, got myself some ice cream, and went for a walk in Grant Park, across from my hotel. Crabapple trees (or the like) were in flower, their blossoms fragrant in the evening air. I admired Buckingham Fountain and the Chicago skyline rising behind my hotel, then turned around to look out across Lake Michigan, which was mostly just an expanse of gray nearly indistinguishable from the darkening sky. At last, I returned to my hotel to prepare the speech I had now resolved to give.

I finished writing it at the actual eleventh hour, and before going to bed, I wondered if I was really going to go through with this. Was I really going to open my remarks by mentioning two inquiries into racial bias in city police forces that I had literally pulled from the headlines that evening? Was I really going to say that the oppressive, unjust world I had invented as a teenager no longer looked so different from present-day U.S. society to me? Was I really going to name Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray in front of an audience I knew almost nothing about? I’d realized as I was coming up with things to say that Sparkers contains an incident of police violence right in the first chapter. Not that I’d forgotten, exactly, but I’d never before considered this scene in the context of this last year. In my remarks, I made the connection explicit.

I was sure I had chosen the right topic, but I was mildly terrified of actually speaking. What if the people who were giving me this award were offended when I said oppression and injustice still existed in the U.S.? What if they thought I was being too political? Did I really have the right to talk about Mike Brown and Freddie Gray? I was still wondering the next morning.

The awards luncheon was held at the Fortnightly Club, a handsome brick building that was the epitome of gentility on the inside. The dining room had chandeliers and a high ceiling painted like the sky. I met various members of the Young People’s Literature Award committee, who told me how much they’d enjoyed Sparkers. Two of the four other award winners were also in attendance, and I met them at the signing table before lunch. In keeping with the award eligibility criteria, we were all Midwesterners by upbringing.

After a little bit of signing, we returned to the dining room for lunch. Due to some confusion, I wound up giving my remarks before the meal began, while all the other authors, including those absent, were recognized over dessert. After a member of the awards committee introduced me, I walked up to the podium and plunged into my little speech. It went well. I think it was better than the linguistics talk I’d given in Chicago exactly two weeks prior. When I returned to my table, the committee members were complimentary. It seemed I’d had nothing to fear. They told me it was so nice that I’d credited my mother with inspiring me to work for social justice with Mother’s Day right around the corner. Ah, right, that was totally on purpose. (Hi, Mom!)

Remarks done, I was able to enjoy the delicious luncheon (dark and white chocolate mousse!) and the other authors’ acceptance speeches. Somebody else was the (requisite?) funny speaker (I learned what not to do when a Hungarian mathematician tells you your three-year-old daughter is a prodigy and should be doing algebra), and I was glad I hadn’t tried to be funny since I would have failed. And just before heading back to the airport, I got signed copies of Last Night at the Blue Angel and The Mathematician’s Shiva, which I am eager to read.

In conclusion, if anyone ever lands on this post because they Googled how to give an author award acceptance speech, here’s my advice: follow your instincts, dare to take risks, weave in what your book is about, and make sure you have some kind of structure and/or direction.

Music Month at Paolini.net

I’m participating in Music Month over at Paolini.net, and today I have a few words up about a piece of music I associate with Sparkers. Find out what piece here. There is also further discussion and heaps of music from Rachel Hartman, whose Shadow Scale I’m reading right now, not nearly fast enough (seriously, why won’t my conference handout revise itself so I have more time to read?).

I’ll also have a guest post on music and writing going up sometime next week. I’ll link to it here when it appears.

2014 in Review

A festive New Year’s Eve to you, and all good wishes for 2015!

Last year, I presented a sort of photo essay recapping my 2013, so I’m trying it again for 2014. Without further ado, here is the much abridged account of what I did this past year.

In January, I attended the Linguistic Society of America’s Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, a conference which inspired a couple of posts. I also went to the All-California Sacred Harp Convention, which was the first convention I ever led a song at, which means for the first time my name will appear in the annual minutes! I know, it doesn’t get much more exciting than that. January also saw the founding of Datvebis Gundi, our beloved UCLA Georgian chorus, which I’ve written about rather a lot. I also ushered in the new Year of the Horse (my year!) with some homemade pork, tofu, and noodles.

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Frost patterns on my window, Minnesota, January 2014. No, this has nothing to do with anything.

February was less eventful. I unveiled the Sparkers cover and, I don’t know, studied a lot of syntax, phonology, and semantics. Maybe. I also made this chickpea salad with carrot tops because what else do you do with carrot tops?

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In March, Sparkers ARCs arrived. I also experienced my first ever earthquake! My family visited me for a really great spring break that involved Chinese-style lobster, a Shandong beef roll, and ramen. And I started writing Book 2.

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ARCs!

In April, it was National Sibling Day on Facebook. I watched a lunar eclipse and churned out copious amounts of words. Also, the now infamous (er, among choir members) article about Datvebis Gundi appeared in UCLA’s Daily Bruin.

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Me and my brother at the Rim of the World (San Bernardino Mountains) (This picture is from March, but National Sibling Day was in April!)

In May, I went to a splendiferous hurdy-gurdy concert and the LA Regional All-Day Sacred Harp Singing. I also participated in the We Need Diverse Books campaign, which gained tremendous momentum over the following months and led to the founding of a full-fledged non-profit organization. You should check it out.

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The Korean Friendship Bell, near the site of the Regional All-Day Singing

In June, I went to Minnesota for my cousin’s wedding. I also went to Northern Spark 2014 and rode the new Green Line train between Minneapolis and St. Paul for free on its opening night. I returned to Los Angeles just in time to move into a new apartment.

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Wedding cake (See that knife on the right with frosting on it? That was my dinner knife! They used it to cut the cake (before dinner)!)

In July, I celebrated Independence Day in Los Angeles and went on various local adventures with my roommate.

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A pomegranate tree in the garden of the Getty Museum

In August, I volunteered at the LA Food Bank and saw a Shakespeare in the Park production of The Taming of the Shrew in Griffith Park. I’m not very fond of that particular play, but it was a fun outing. A high school friend of mine visited me in LA, providing the perfect excuse to finally try the Persian food that is so plentiful in my neighborhood. Tahchin is really good, you guys.

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Also, a finished copy of Sparkers arrived!

In September, I went to Minnesota for my cousin’s wedding. Before that, I went on an expedition to Chinatown for moon cakes. I had my launch party at Red Balloon and sang at the Minnesota Sacred Harp Convention. And on September 30th, Sparkers came out!

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Me, babushka-ish, at the Red Balloon launch party (Photo by Laura C.)

I kicked off October by speaking to a group of creative writers at my high school, at the invitation of the librarian and my 11th grade English teacher. Back at UCLA, I began my second year of grad school. At the end of the month, I had my California launch party for Sparkers at Children’s Book World.

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Me and my friend Andrew at Children’s Book World

In November, I threw myself into TAing undergraduate Phonology I, sketching the grammar of Maragoli (our field methods class language), and furiously revising the rough draft of Book 2. Oh, and after blithely tolerating a nice spider in our apartment for weeks, I killed it because my more uneasy roommate discovered it was a black widow. What with all the excitement, there are no photos from November.

In December, I wrapped up all the fall quarter madness and returned to Minnesota once more. After a green Christmas, it finally snowed and got cold again, and I went skating and played (very amateur) hockey on one of the Minneapolis lakes.

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Our Christmas tree (Notice the abundance of book-shaped presents beneath it)

That’s it. Happy New Year!

A Special Stamp Revisited

Today is the 365th day in the life of this blog!

You may recall the stamp a fellow linguistics graduate student made me when she was a prospie visiting UCLA. I brought it to my book signing at Children’s Book World last week, though I only stamped her book (and Andrew’s, because he requested it). She wasn’t entirely happy with the stamp because the phonetic transcription of “writer” is both a little odd for English and doesn’t reflect how I personally pronounce the word because I have Canadian raising (see the old post for relevant linguistic explanations). Well! She made me a new stamp, with a new transcription for “writer” that exactly matches how I say it! The old stamp is on the left and the new stamp on the right:

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A few other newsy items:

  • I haven’t linked to any blog reviews of Sparkers before, but I really liked this one at Asian American Literature Fans (you have to scroll down past the reviews of all of Marie Lu’s books). I found the commentary quite interesting–it goes in a different direction than most of the reviews I’ve read–but I’ll admit I was also just tickled to see Sparkers called “part of the ever-growing archive of young adult fiction penned by American writers of Asian descent”.
  • Also this week in being Asian American, there’s a little piece about me on page 13 of the October issue of ChinaInsight, a monthly Minnesota newspaper about Minnesota-China relations (or more broadly, U.S.-China relations). It includes a photo from my Red Balloon launch party.

Sparkers at Children’s Book World

Last Saturday I had a Los Angeles launch for Sparkers at Children’s Book World, a fantastic children’s bookstore not far from UCLA. It was great fun! Though there was no spontaneous singing in Georgian, there were plenty of brownies. Even better, my college friend Andrew was able to come (and serve as official photographer!). I hadn’t seen him since graduation. For a while, we had the exact same major (Linguistics & Languages with French and Chinese), and we studied abroad in Grenoble together. Andrew spent the last two years teaching English in Korea and is now a graduate student in linguistics at Berkeley.

Speaking of linguists, many friends and colleagues from the department came to my party, which was very sweet of them. During the Q & A, my advisor asked me a phonology question. And I got to try out the special stamp one of the first-year grad students carved for me back in the spring when she was a prospie visiting UCLA!

Now for some photos (all taken by Andrew, unless otherwise specified):

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Me in front of a wall of books!

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Booksellers, linguists, church folk, Swarthmore alumni (some of those sets are overlapping)                       (Photo by Laura F.)

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Signing books (note the stamp close at hand, and the ink pads that look like rosin)

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Me and church friends

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Me and UCLA linguist friends

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Me and Andrew (Photo by…oh dear. Laura F. or Ana M.)

I’m glad so many people came out to celebrate with me, and many thanks to Children’s Book World for hosting my California launch!

Come See Me Saturday!

If you live in or around Los Angeles, I’ll be having a California launch event for Sparkers at Children’s Book World this Saturday, October 25th, at 2:30pm! (Oh, my gosh, I think that was a biscuit conditional!) You’re invited. Yes, you. I will probably be baking brownies for it, and you never know, a Georgian chorus might spontaneously burst into song during the signing. Stranger things have happened. Learn more about the event here.

In the meantime, in the spirit of fall, have some pumpkins!

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The 14-Year-Old Middle Grade Protagonist

I came across Dianne K. Salerni’s  post about the “awkwardness” of having a fourteen-year-old main character in a novel for young people, and it struck a chord because, well, my main character is fourteen years old. Why is a fourteen-year-old protagonist troublesome? It boils down to an issue of category: there is middle grade (MG), for children ages 8 to 12 (or 10 to 14, on the upper end), and there is young adult (YA), for children/teens ages 12 to 18 (or 14 to 18, on the upper end). Additionally, children tend to like to read about characters a bit older than them. A book with a fourteen-year-old main character occupies an ambiguous position between MG and YA. Thirteen-year-old characters belong squarely in MG and fifteen-year-old characters in YA (I’m simplifying, of course, because the nature of the story and the book’s tone matter too), but fourteen-year-old characters? Unclear. The reason category matters is because bookstores have to shelve books somewhere. Ms. Salerni cites Barnes & Noble in particular and explains that she aged her main character down to thirteen from fourteen to make her novel unambiguously MG.

So, in Sparkers, Marah is fourteen. And for a long time, I actually considered my book YA. It wasn’t until I went on submission to publishers that I discovered it was being positioned as MG. I completely agreed with the reasoning, but I had to shift my conception of my novel a little bit. I’m actually happy Sparkers was declared MG because it inspired me to venture back into the children’s section of the library. I’ve since read many wonderful MG books I might not have read had my own book not been placed in that category.

Marah is fourteen for the very simple reason that I was fourteen when I started writing her story. (When I was younger, all my main characters were the same age as me.) Ms. Salerni brings up the fact that fourteen-year-olds (in the U.S.) are typically freshmen in high school, and high school students generally can’t be the protagonists of MG novels. When I began Sparkers, I was fourteen and in 9th grade, but I was still in middle school because of the way my school district split up the grades into buildings. Moreover, I had just come back from a semester in Paris, where the division of years was the same: I had been in 3ème, the fourth and final year of collège (middle school). The Ashari school system was directly inspired by my experiences in France, so of course Marah, despite being fourteen, is not yet in what we would call high school.

Like Ms. Salerni, I was asked on multiple occasions to change Marah’s age. Early on, I was advised to raise her age to fifteen because she sounded older than the text said she was. A little later, it was suggested that I reduce her age to thirteen because her story was that of someone younger. At this point, I threw up my hands and just made Marah fourteen again, like she’d been from the beginning.

Much later, my editor told me that Barnes & Noble (them again!) was concerned that Marah’s age made her too old for the store’s MG section. She asked how I’d feel about aging Marah down to thirteen. She gave me the option of keeping her age where it was, though, and that’s what I decided to do.

I find the desire to avoid fourteen-year-old characters a bit strange. I understand that fourteen straddles the boundary between MG and YA, but, after all, readers’ ages form a continuous distribution, so shouldn’t characters’ ages? If at some age children like to read about twelve-year-olds and at another age they like to read about sixteen-year-olds, there must be an age at which they like to read about fourteen-year-olds, right? It would be beyond weird if there simply were no fourteen-year-old protagonists in literature for young people.

In the end, I think it’s the individual character and their story, not their age, that determines a book’s categories. There are adult novels with child narrators. Penelope Lumley, the main character in The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, is fourteen or fifteen, but those books are definitely young MG. If memory serves, the main character in The Miseducation of Cameron Post is fourteen for much of the book, but that novel is undoubtedly YA. So instead of considering fourteen a difficult age (in terms of categorization), maybe we should consider it a versatile age.