by Len Lear
Justina Ireland, who has been called “an important voice in the Diverse Books movement,” is one of several authors who will be talking with fans and signing books at the “Author Extravaganza” this Saturday, May 20, 2 to 6 p.m., at Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy. There will also be raffles and prize giveaways throughout the event.
(Big Blue Marble is also partnering with Mt. Airy USA to host an 11 a.m. story time for kids and 12 noon picnic at Ned Wolf Park, 7018 McCallum St.— the corner of McCallum and Ellet.)
Ireland, 38, of York, PA, has a B.A. in history from Armstrong State University in Savannah, has just completed a Master’s of Fine Arts in writing and is almost finished with a Master’s of Arts in Applied History from Shippensburg University.
Ireland is the author of two Young Adult (YA) novels, “Vengeance Bound” and “Promise of Shadows,” who has caught several social media grenades for her uncompromising, gutsy calling out racist and other stereotypes in YA books. Authors generally do not harshly criticize other authors publicly since it can boomerang back at them, but Ireland has not hesitated to use a megaphone to expose injustice. We interviewed her last week about this and other matters:
- What kind of backlash have you received for calling out racist and other stereotypes in YA books?
“A lot. I’ve had threats emailed to me, I’ve had people leave negative reviews about me and not my books, and I’ve even had people anonymously email my editor to try and convince him to cancel my upcoming books. I’ve pretty much been on the receiving end of one smear campaign or another since I started speaking out. But if people are angry about me pointing out the inequality in publishing’s standard operating procedures, well, that says more about them then it does about me.”
- You have been called “an important voice in the Diverse Books movement.” For those not familiar with it, would you please explain what that is?
“It’s pretty much a common sense movement where folks have looked at the number of books representing different marginalized groups, like the disabled, people of color and so on, and wondered why there aren’t children’s books that kids can see themselves reflected in. The market is there for those books, so why aren’t publishers creating them? It’s also about holding books that rely on racist tropes accountable, like the ‘Birthday Cake for George Washington’ that came out a couple years ago, a book that was both historically incorrect and depicted slavery as happy, fun times. Our kids deserve better, especially in a country where people of color will soon be the majority. How can we live a complex, multifaceted life if only one way of life is depicted in books?”
- Where did you grow up?
“I grew up in California in a place called San Bernadino. It’s not a great place.”
- Did you always want to be a writer, even as a child?
“No, but I was always a reader. And honestly, that’s more important when someone wants to be a writer. You can’t be a great writer if you aren’t a careful and thoughtful reader.”
- “Vengeance Bound” seems really dark. Did you intend it as a cautionary tale for young women or more as a fantasy?
“It’s more a story about feminine anger and how refusing to acknowledge the pain and rage women carry around after being wronged can have explosive consequences. So I’d say it’s more a cautionary tale to men not to be jerks.”
- “Promise of Shadows” sounds like it could make a really good movie. Do you have that in mind when you are writing these really dark tales?
“I always envision a movie scene when writing, so, yes. I’d love to have any of my books made into movies, even terrible ones.”
- What is your ultimate goal as a YA novelist?
“To just keep writing books, hopefully good ones.”
- Who are your own favorite writers, living and/or dead?
“I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy: Kate Elliott, Ann Aguirre, Ilona Andrews, NK Jemisin, Octavia Butler. There are lots more, but you get the idea.”
- What is the best advice you ever received?
“Slow the f— down.” There’s an urge to rush through things, especially in writing and publishing, in the hope to get somewhere first. But it’s never about being first; it’s always about creating something great. Greatness doesn’t happen when you rush.”
- What is the hardest thing you ever did?
“I spent nearly 10 years in the Army. Everything is easy after that.”
- What is your idea of perfect happiness?
“A warm, sunny day, a book, a beer and time to enjoy all three.”
- Which person in the world would you most like to meet and spend an hour with?
“No one; the only people I want to spend time with I already do.”
- What do you consider your greatest achievement?
“Paying my bills every month on time. ‘Adulting’ is hard.”
- Who are your heroes in real life, living and/or dead?
“Ida B. Wells, because she stood up for what was right and what she believed in, even when everyone told her to sit down and be quiet.”
- What is your biggest pet peeve?
“Willful ignorance. Facts matter, even if they contradict your beliefs.”
More information at justinaireland.com or 215-844-1870.