Tag Archives: Amber Smith

Authors in Conversation: Jaye Robin Brown and Amber Smith

Excited to welcome two wonderful authors to the site today, Jaye Robin Brown, author of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit, and Amber Smith, author of The Last to Let Go, both of which are contemporary YAs with lesbian protagonists! Come learn more about their books and thoughts!

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Jaye Robin Brown: I’m so excited to get a chance to interview you! I vividly remember that Madcap Retreat in Gatlinburg, where you shared a room with me and Robin Constantine. I was so sick that first day, barely knew you, but you graciously let me put my germy hands all over an arc of your first book, The Way I Used to Be. Reading the opening pages, I knew immediately you were going to be a force in contemporary YA fiction and I wasn’t wrong. Now, your second book, The Last to Let Go, has hit the shelves and wow, talk about a sophomore book with a bow and a flourish. My heart hurt in so many ways reading it. You took a girl who’d grown up with domestic violence and really showed us how having that model of relationship can seriously mess up one’s own relationships. I loved how as a reader I got so frustrated with Brooke’s interactions and then at some point I got it, like, OH, OF COURSE, it’s the only way she could be. Was this unspooling intentional?

Amber Smith: I know, I’m so excited to get to have the chance to chat with you too! Yes, I remember that retreat! I remember how sick you were. And I remember being so honored for my little arc to be in your germy hands because I had just finished reading your debut, NO PLACE TO FALL and I totally fell (no pun intended) in love with it. Seriously, I became an instant fan of your writing, so when Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit came out I couldn’t wait to get my copy! I had such high expectations and I was not disappointed. Which is why I’m so touched by your kind words about The Last to Let Go.)

I really love creating complex, flawed characters who don’t always make the best decisions. And one of the things I wanted to show in TLTLG was how being raised in an environment rife with violence can often lead to the cycle of abuse being perpetuated in the lives those who witness it. But I wanted to show not only how this happens, but how it is stopped. I think the cycle of abuse phenomenon can be hard to understand, both from the perspective of an outsider, as well as someone stuck right in the thick of things, and so I wanted this “unspooling” (perfect word, by the way) to happen gradually, once we’re in the main character’s head-space, and hopefully seeing things from her perspective.

And while we’re on the topic of characters who don’t always make the best choices… one of the things I loved so much about Peaches is how you showed the main character, Jo, who was always out and proud, make the decision to go back in the closet for the sake of her evangelist father. It was such a fascinating journey because often we read stories about the opposite process—coming out, rather than going back in. Yet the whole time the one thing that remains constant is Jo’s faith. You struck such an amazing balance, and that’s not something I’ve seen before. So, I’m interested to know, what inspired this story?

JRB: It’s funny, some readers got a bit frustrated with Jo and her retreat to the closet, which I totally get, but I think the reality is very real for most LGBTQ people. We’re still in a world where we’re constantly checking in on our “safety” in any given situation. Jo’s decision was based both on her desire for her father’s happiness and maybe a bit of her own fear in a new situation so she got to use her dad as the out. As to the inspiration, it was a combination of things. I heard an NPR segment on the wealth of radio pastors and thought “What if one of those guys had a lesbian daughter?” But I didn’t want to pursue the wealth angle, and it was too easy to write the stereotypical “you’re going to hell” pastor. I was also teaching high school at the time and had seen, first-hand, the devastation a judgmental church family could have on a queer young person. I knew that in larger cities, LGBTQ affirming churches were (and are) a thing. So out of this came Jo, very gay, very Christian, and unabashed about either.

Like you, my first book, No Place to Fall, featured a straight protagonist. I wrote straight characters for many of my early manuscripts (ironically, my first manuscript to land me an agent was a f/f story—but the agent didn’t want to go out with that one—he and I parted ways and that manuscript is shelved). Now that Peaches has been so well-received and my third book releasing in 2019, The Meaning of Birds, also features an already out lesbian teen, I sometimes wonder if I could do straight romance again. I’ll be honest, I think about it from a financial standpoint, would it be a better career move for me? But then I shudder and think, no way, I don’t want to do that, I’m finally OUT in my writing and unlike Jo, I don’t want to go back in. What are your thoughts on making that switch with The Last to Let Go? Were you nervous about the romance between Dani and Brooke being out in the world or did it feel like a big sigh of relief?

AS: It’s strange, I feel like so often people think of coming out as this one definitive event, but the reality is you have to come out a million times; it’s a decision you have to make over and over again. So, it’s been an interesting process to sort of “come out” in many ways with this second book where my main character, Brooke, is so gay. I think because there was really nothing remotely queer at all in The Way I Used to Be, people haven’t necessarily thought of me as a queer writer (despite all my rainbow emojis). So here’s a fun, little-known fact about The Way I Used to Be: in a VERY early draft of that book I played around with writing the main character as bi, but I ultimately edited that out because, much to my dismay, it just didn’t serve the story. But with The Last to Let Go, I knew Brooke was a lesbian from the start—I could see and feel her so vividly in my mind that it wasn’t even a conscious choice. And in this case it really did serve the story, because Brooke’s journey to embrace her identity and her struggle with coming to terms with her dysfunctional family were completely intertwined from the very beginning.

On the one hand it felt so great to write Brooke as a lesbian, but on the other, part of me was nervous about representation. The #ownvoices movement in yalit is so incredibly important, yet it still feels super intimidating to actually call myself an #ownvoices writer. It’s such a big responsibility, and I really wanted to get not only the story right, but the LGBTQ rep part right, as well (because I think we all know firsthand how it feels to see representation mishandled). My third book, which I’m currently working on, is a first love story that features a trans character, so it’s definitely queer, but not the same setup as the f/f love story thread in TLTLG. Beyond book 3, I really don’t know what’s going to be next for me (which is both liberating and terrifying!). I do often wonder, though, if the sequence of my two books were reversed (if The Last to Let Go was my debut rather than The Way I Used to Be) how that might have affected the reception of both books…I’m still not sure.

You mentioned being a teacher, so I’m curious about whether or not your experience working with young people has influenced your writing at all? And what kinds of responses have you gotten from readers about your books—did they differ a lot from NPTF to Peaches, as you moved from writing a straight protagonist to a queer one?

JRB: Oh for sure it was helpful. I miss having that ready access to my target audience, even for simple things like “do you get this reference?” As to reader responses, the response to Peaches has been much stronger than to my first book. I regularly get emails from readers thanking me and telling me how much it meant to read about a lesbian character of faith. And not just from queer youth, but from adults, both straight and gay. It’s heightened my awareness of the opportunity I have as an #ownvoices writer to put meaningful stories into the world and to be out and proud as I do it. It’s very gratifying. And a heady responsibility to do my best.

So here’s a fun (and final) question. What three queer books (currently published and available) would be on Dani and Brooke’s bookshelves and why?

AS: I LOVE this question! Well, since Brooke and Dani’s personalities are so different I feel like their books would reflect that. I think Brooke would have something more classic on her book shelf, like Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden. Dani, on the other hand, has a much funkier, more eclectic taste, so I feel like she’d have something like the Batwoman comic book series proudly displayed in her bedroom. But then I could see the two of them reading Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home together and totally bonding over it!

This has been such fun, thank you so much for chatting with me, Jaye! I’m so grateful that you are out there writing these stories that need to be told. And I cannot wait to read The Meaning of Birds next year!

JRB: It’s been a total blast! And readers, be sure and pick up Amber’s latest book, The Last to Let Go, so you can meet Dani and Brooke for yourself!

And thank you, Dahlia for the invite!

Jaye Robin Brown, or JRo to her friends, has been many things in her life–jeweler, mediator, high school art teacher–but is now living the full-time writer life. She currently lives in New England but is taking her partner, dog, and horses back south to a house in the woods where she hopes to live happily ever after. She is the author of NO PLACE TO FALL, GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT, and the forthcoming THE MEANING OF BIRDS.

Amber Smith grew up in Buffalo, New York, and now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her two dogs. After graduating from art school with a BFA in painting, she earned her MA in art history. When she’s not writing, she is working as a curator and art consultant. She has also written on the topics of art history and modern and contemporary art. She is the author of The Way I Used to Be and The Last to Let Go. Visit her online at AmberSmithAuthor.com.

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New Releases: February 2018

All We Can Do Is Wait by Richard Lawson (6th)

9780448494111_p0_v2_s550x406In the hours after a bridge collapse rocks their city, a group of Boston teenagers meet in the waiting room of Massachusetts General Hospital:

Siblings Jason and Alexa have already experienced enough grief for a lifetime, so in this moment of confusion and despair, Alexa hopes that she can look to her brother for support. But a secret Jason has been keeping from his sister threatens to tear the siblings apart…right when they need each other most.

Scott is waiting to hear about his girlfriend, Aimee, who was on a bus with her theater group when the bridge went down. Their relationship has been rocky, but Scott knows that if he can just see Aimee one more time, if she can just make it through this ordeal and he can tell her he loves her, everything will be all right.

And then there’s Skyler, whose sister Kate—the sister who is more like a mother, the sister who is basically Skyler’s everything—was crossing the bridge when it collapsed. As the minutes tick by without a word from the hospital staff, Skyler is left to wonder how she can possibly move through life without the one person who makes her feel strong when she’s at her weakest.

In his riveting, achingly beautiful debut, Richard Lawson guides readers through an emotional and life-changing night as these teens are forced to face the reality of their pasts…and the prospect of very different futures.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

The Last To Let Go by Amber Smith (6th)

33803090How do you let go of something you’ve never had?

Junior year for Brooke Winters is supposed to be about change. She’s transferring schools, starting fresh, and making plans for college so she can finally leave her hometown, her family, and her past behind.

But all of her dreams are shattered one hot summer afternoon when her mother is arrested for killing Brooke’s abusive father. No one really knows what happened that day, if it was premeditated or self-defense, whether it was right or wrong. And now Brooke and her siblings are on their own.

In a year of firsts—the first year without parents, first love, first heartbreak, and her first taste of freedom—Brooke must confront the shadow of her family’s violence and dysfunction, as she struggles to embrace her identity, finds her true place in the world, and learns how to let go.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon * iBooks * IndieBound

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson (6th)

Sixteen-year-old Elena Mendoza is the product of a virgin birth.

This can be scientifically explained (it’s called parthenogenesis), but what can’t be explained is how Elena is able to heal Freddie, the girl she’s had a crush on for years, from a gunshot wound in a Starbucks parking lot. Or why the boy who shot Freddie, David Combs, disappeared from the same parking lot minutes later after getting sucked up into the clouds. What also can’t be explained are the talking girl on the front of a tampon box, or the reasons that David Combs shot Freddie in the first place.

As more unbelievable things occur, and Elena continues to perform miracles, the only remaining explanation is the least logical of all—that the world is actually coming to an end, and Elena is possibly the only one who can do something about it.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Fire on the Ice by Tamsen Parker (6th)

Blaze Bellamy is the bad girl of the short track speed skating world. Looking like a roller derby bruiser when she’s not in her Team USA uniform, she’s an unlikely American heroine. She’s got a punk attitude to match her provocative dress and her dyed hair, and she’s determined to get onto the front pages of the papers regardless of how she has to do it.

Maisy Harper is the workhorse of the Canadian women’s figure skating team. Serious, modest, and above all, polite, Maisy would prefer to win her victory on the ice rather than in the press, and is exasperated by Blaze’s antics. When she’s not lusting after her anyway. After they both failed to make the medal podium at the last Snow and Ice Games, they drowned themselves in gin—and each other.

Despite their hookup being drunken, they both harbor fond memories of their night together and are keen for a repeat. But they’ve got different ways of going about getting what they want, and Blaze’s willingness to go to any lengths for the spotlight could ruin any chance she has with Maisy.

Buy it: Amazon

The Last Beginning by Lauren James (13th)

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The epic conclusion to Lauren James’s debut The Next Together about true love and reincarnation.

Sixteen years ago, after a scandal that rocked the world, teenagers Katherine and Matthew vanished without a trace. Now Clove Sutcliffe is determined to find her long lost relatives.

But where do you start looking for a couple who seem to have been reincarnated at every key moment in history? Who were Kate and Matt? Why were they born again and again? And who is the mysterious Ella, who keeps appearing at every turn in Clove’s investigation?

For Clove, there is a mystery to solve in the past and a love to find in the future, and failure could cost the world everything.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Snowsisters by Tom Wilinsky and Jen Sternick (15th)

High school students—Soph, who attends private school in Manhattan, and Tess, a public school student who lives on a dairy farm in New Hampshire—are thrown together as roommates at a week-long writing conference. As they get to know each other and the other young women, both Soph and Tess discover unexpected truths and about friendship, their craft, and how to hold fast to their convictions while opening their hearts to love.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Hold Fast by Kris Ripper (20th)

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Zack Scherzo likes his notebooks. And his pens. And, okay, he really loves to organize stuff. He’s organized his whole life into the ideal trajectory for his ten year plan, at which point his career will be solid and he’ll be ready for a husband and family. Everything makes perfect sense.

Until he meets Isaiah.

Driven entrepreneur Isaiah Carlin generally doesn’t get involved with lost causes, like the climbing gym Zack’s trying to keep afloat. But there’s something about the gym—and there’s definitely something about Zack—that intrigues him. He wants to help. He also wants to see what happens when Zack shakes loose some of his rules and allows himself to feel.

When passion collides with Zack’s regimented life path, something’s gotta give. And it looks like that thing is going to be Isaiah, unless he can convince Zack that sometimes real life is even better than the best laid plans.

Buy it:  Amazon

One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock (27th)

Welcome to Daniel Boone Middle School in the 1970s, where teachers and coaches must hide who they are, and girls who like girls are forced to question their own choices. Presented in the voice of a premier storyteller, One True Way sheds exquisite light on what it means to be different, while at the same time being wholly true to oneself. Through the lives and influences of two girls, readers come to see that love is love is love. Set against the backdrop of history and politics that surrounded gay rights in the 1970s South, this novel is a thoughtful, eye-opening, look at tolerance, acceptance, and change, and will widen the hearts of all readers.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

People Like Us by Dana Mele (27th)

35356380Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely. Now she’s a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl’s body is found in the lake, Kay’s carefully constructed life begins to topple.

The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation. But if Kay’s finally backed into a corner, she’ll do what it takes to survive. Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make…not something that happened.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages ed. by Saundra Mitchell (27th)

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Take a journey through time and genres and discover a past where queer figures live, love and shape the world around them. Seventeen of the best young adult authors across the queer spectrum have come together to create a collection of beautifully written diverse historical fiction for teens.

From a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood set in war-torn 1870s Mexico featuring a transgender soldier, to two girls falling in love while mourning the death of Kurt Cobain, forbidden love in a sixteenth-century Spanish convent or an asexual girl discovering her identity amid the 1970s roller-disco scene, All Out tells a diverse range of stories across cultures, time periods and identities, shedding light on an area of history often ignored or forgotten.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon