SFF in Conversation

SFF in Conversation: Valynne E. Maetani and the New Visions Award

SFF in Conversation is a monthly feature on The Book Smugglers in which we invite guests to talk about a variety of topics important to speculative fiction fans, authors, and readers. Our vision is to create a safe (moderated) space for thoughtful conversation about the genre, with a special focus on inclusivity and diversity in SFF. Anyone can participate and we are welcoming emailed topic submissions from authors, bloggers, readers, and fans of all categories, age ranges, and subgenres beneath the speculative fiction umbrella.

Today, we continue our ongoing new series “SFF in Conversation” with a guest post from YA author Valynne E. Maetani, Tu Books’ first New Visions Award winner, talking about her experience writing and submitting her novel and eventually winning the award.

Ink and Ashes

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I grew up in Utah where diversity leaves a lot to be desired. But on my first day of kindergarten, I came home ecstatic.

“Mom! There’s a Japanese girl in my class,” I said.

Mom’s face lit up. “What’s her name?”

“Michelle Gonzales!”

Even back then I had a desire to connect to people who looked like me. But when I didn’t see myself in books, movies, or toys, I concluded my story didn’t matter. Someone like me wasn’t important enough to be the main character, the hero, or the leader.

So when my sister turned eighteen, I decided to write Ink and Ashes for her because I never got to see myself in books other than those with settings involving war, an internment camp, or high fantasy. I wanted her to have a contemporary title with a Japanese American protagonist. From the moment I learned to read, diversity in children’s literature was so limited for me. I was tired of reading about people like me who were hated just because of the way they look and thought the greatest gift I could give her was the kind of book I never got to read.

I fell in love with writing, but as I attended conferences, the one theme that seemed to be repeated was agents and editors were looking for something different, but the same. If I couldn’t find something similar to my book on a site such as Amazon, there probably wasn’t a market for my story. When I found nothing comparable, I moved on and began to write my next book rather than wasting more time revising a book that would never be published.

Then Tu Books and Lee and Low announced they were seeking submissions for the New Visions Award, which required the author to be a person of color and address the needs of diverse children. But Ink and Ashes was nowhere close to being ready, and I didn’t have enough time to revise it before the deadline. And then I saw a post questioning the validity of the award and the submission requirements.

Do we really need diverse authors to share their voices? Does this award matter? It matters to me. My manuscript needed a lot of work, but I submitted it to support their mission.

This award means there will be more books in the world for children like me who never got to see themselves. It means all children will have the opportunity to be exposed to diversity in ways they might not have otherwise.

Never in a million years did I think I would become a finalist. Never in a billion years did I think I would win. And I am honored to be the first New Visions Award winner.

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Valynne Maetani grew up in Utah and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She has developed educational software for children with learning disabilities, but currently spends her time writing and as a part-time stage mom and soccer mom for her three daughters. She lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and their children. Ink and Ashes is her first novel.

About the Award:

TU BOOKS, the middle grade and young adult imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS, award-winning publisher of children’s books, is pleased to announce the third NEW VISIONS AWARD. The award will be given for a middle grade or young adult novel by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash prize of $1,000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500.

TU BOOKS, launched in 2010, is dedicated to diversity in genre fiction for young people. Titles published include the first winner of the New Visions Award, Ink and Ashes by Valynne Maetani; Andre Norton Award finalist and School Library Journal Best Books of the Year book Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall; and Quick Picks Top Ten title Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac. For more information about Tu Books, visit leeandlow.com/imprints/3.

Submissions are currently open.

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