Cover Reveal: The Big Sting

Tundra is very excited to be publishing The Big Sting on February 7, 2023! Written by Rachelle Delaney, The Big Sting follows Leo, whose visit to his grandfather’s farm is turned upside down when his late grandmother’s beehives go missing!

Scroll down for the full bee-utiful cover plus a Q&A with Rachelle Delaney!

Cover Art: Morgan Goble
Cover Design: Emma Dolan

The Big Sting
By Rachelle Delaney
224 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735269309 | Tundra Books
Release Date: February 7, 2023
Eleven-year-old Leo is an “armchair adventurer.” This, according to Dad, means he’d choose adventures in books or video games over real-life experiences. And while Leo hates the label, he can’t argue with it. Unlike his little sister Lizzie, Leo is not a risk-taker.

So when he, Lizzie, Mom and Dad leave the city to visit Grandpa on Heron Island, Leo finds all kinds of dangers to avoid – from the deep, dark ocean to an old barn on the verge of collapse. But nothing on the island is more fearsome than Grandpa himself – Leo has never met anyone so grumpy! According to Mom, Grandpa is still grieving the recent death of his wife, a beekeeper beloved by everyone on the island.

Despite Leo’s best efforts to avoid it, adventure finds him anyway when Grandma’s beehives go missing in the dead of night. Infuriated, Grandpa vows to track down the sticky-fingered thieves himself . . . with risk-averse Leo and danger-loving Lizzie (plus a kitten named Mayhem) in tow.

Q&A with Rachelle Delaney

What inspired The Big Sting?

A few years ago, I learned about hive heists, which is another term for bee theft. I’d never heard of a hive heist before, and I was intrigued. I quickly started brainstorming ideas for a story, though it took me a long time to decide on a setting. Eventually I settled on one close to home: a fictional Gulf Island off the coast of BC. I live in Vancouver and visit the islands a few times a year. They’re beautiful and quirky, and I’ve always thought it would be fun to set a story there.

Did you have to do any research? What was the most fun/interesting fact you learned?

I love doing research for novels, and this was no exception. I learned all I could about hive heists from articles and podcasts. I did a lot of research into bees too. Unfortunately, this was during the height of the pandemic, so there weren’t many opportunities to meet with people in person. But I did Zoom calls with my beekeeper friend, Jode, who answered many, many questions.

The most amazing fact I learned is that one of the most expensive honeys in the world is produced in a cave in northeastern Turkey. The cave is so deep it takes a team of mountaineers to harvest it. It’s called Elvish honey, and it costs almost $7,000 per gram!

Without spoiling anything, what was your favourite moment to write in The Big Sting?

One of my favourite parts is when the Heron Island Bumblers – a group of geriatric beekeepers – descend on Leo’s grandpa’s house to help solve the crime. I loved writing their dialogue and interactions with Grandpa, who is not a fan of the Bumblers. Also, the scene is FULL of bee puns.

Do you think Leo would be friends with Alice Fleck?

Oh, I think so. Leo and Alice are both clever, curious and braver than they think. They have very different interests, but I don’t think that would stop them from being friends.

Which character is the most like you or the most like someone you know?

Like Leo, I’m a bit of a catastrophizer – I tend to think of everything that can go wrong before taking a risk. But I love having adventures (within reason), so I try to push past most fears. When I described how Leo feels bold and capable after climbing Heron Mountain, I was definitely writing from experience.

How many cover drafts did you see before this one was finalized?

I think I saw three drafts before it was finalized. It’s so fascinating to see a cover come together. I think the illustrator, Morgan Goble, and the designer, Emma Dolan, did an incredible job.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever given or received?

The other day, my 14-year-old niece and I were talking about how hard it is to write when you don’t want to make mistakes – when you want everything to turn out RIGHT. It can be totally paralyzing, and it can take the fun out of writing. It’s so important to give yourself permission to play with writing, experiment and have fun. I have to remind myself of this all the time.

What have you been reading lately?

I’ve been reading – and loving – Norwegian author Maria Parr’s books. She writes delightful middle-grade novels (translated into English, of course) set in the mountains and fjords of Norway. They’re the perfect blend of humour and adventure.

Also by Rachelle Delaney: 

Alice Fleck’s Recipes for Disaster
By Rachelle Delaney
256 Pages | Ages 10-14 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735269279 | Puffin Canada
Alice Fleck’s father is a culinary historian, and for as long as she can remember, she’s been helping him recreate meals from the past – a hobby she prefers to keep secret from kids her age. But when her father’s new girlfriend enters them into a cooking competition at a Victorian festival, Alice finds herself and her hobby thrust into the spotlight. And that’s just the first of many surprises awaiting her. On arriving at the festival, Alice learns that she and her father are actually contestants on Culinary Combat, a new reality TV show hosted by Tom Truffleman, the most famous and fierce judge on TV! And to make matters worse, she begins to suspect that someone is at work behind the scenes, sabotaging the competition. It’s up to Alice, with the help of a few new friends, to find the saboteur before the entire competition is ruined, all the while tackling some of the hardest cooking challenges of her life . . . for the whole world to see.

Clara VoyantClara Voyant
By Rachelle Delaney
224 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Paperback
ISBN 9780143198543 | Puffin Canada
Clara can’t believe her no-nonsense grandmother has just up and moved to Florida, leaving Clara and her mother on their own for the first time. This means her mother can finally “follow her bliss,” which involves moving to a tiny apartment in Kensington Market, working at a herbal remedy shop and trying to develop her so-called mystical powers. Clara tries to make the best of a bad situation by joining the newspaper staff at her new middle school, where she can sharpen her investigative journalistic skills and tell the kind of hard-news stories her grandmother appreciated. But the editor relegates her to boring news stories and worse . . . the horoscopes. Worse yet, her horoscopes come true, and soon everyone at school is talking about Clara Voyant, the talented fortune-teller. Clara is horrified – horoscopes and clairvoyance aren’t real, she insists, just like her grandmother always told her. But when a mystery unfolds at school, she finds herself in a strange situation: having an opportunity to prove herself as an investigative journalist . . . with the help of her own mystical powers.

The Bonaventure Adventures
By Rachelle Delaney
288 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Paperback
ISBN 9780143198512 | Puffin Canada
Sebastian Konstantinov has grown up in a travelling circus, surrounded by talented performers. Seb, however, has no circus skills at all. He can’t even turn a somersault. But he does know this: the old-fashioned circus his father founded is out of date and running low on money. If someone doesn’t figure out how to save it, the Konstantinovs will be in real trouble. Seb thinks he may have the answer, and it involves attending the highly selective Bonaventure Circus School in Montreal, Canada. Seb secretly writes to the school’s Directrice (conveniently leaving out the part about his lack of circus skills), and to his surprise, he gets accepted right away. Now all he has to do is keep his lack of talent a secret. But it turns out that Seb is not the only one with secrets. The school is literally crumbling beneath the students’ feet, and the Directrice is counting on Seb’s “talent” to save it.

Rachelle Delaney: website | instagram | twitter

Someone is Always Watching: Q&A with Cover Designer Talia Abramson

This is no April Fools’ Day joke: there’s a new Kelley Armstrong book on the way! We’re so excited to reveal the cover for Someone Is Always Watching, designed by Talia Abramson. Keep scrolling for a Q&A with Talia and get ready to add this new thriller to your TBR when it comes out in January 2023!

Q&A with Talia Abramson

Did you read Someone Is Always Watching before starting on the cover? What stuck out to you the most?

When I started working on this cover there wasn’t a complete manuscript (if I remember correctly, it didn’t have an ending yet!), but I was immediately drawn to the dark psychological aspects of the story. I knew I wanted to visually translate the isolating feelings of not knowing who to trust or what to believe. 

Were you given any guidance from the author/editor?

Yes! The editor always fills out a design brief that we go over together before I start the design process. It’s a really helpful document that includes a description of the plot, the tone, the target audience, and anything else the editor wants me to keep in mind. In this case, we knew early on that we wanted to head in a moody, atmospheric direction.

How did you create the cover? What tools or programs did you use?

I created the cover art in Photoshop, then added the text to the layout in InDesign.

How many drafts/designs did you go through before it was “finished”? 

We were originally working with a different title that steered the first round of covers in another direction.  And once we settled on this new title, we arrived on a direction we all liked in the first round of designs, but it took 5 rounds of cooler palette and type tweaks until everyone was satisfied.

What are some other book covers you’ve worked on? Do you have any coming up?

One of my favorite YA covers I’ve worked on is Vicki Grant’s Tell Me When You Feel Something. Outside the world of YA, some upcoming covers I’m looking forward to seeing in print are Every Summer After by Carley Fortune, and Mansions of the Moon by Shyam Selvadurai.

Someone Is Always Watching
By Kelley Armstrong
352 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735270923 | Tundra Books
Release date: January 3, 2023
The experiment began with the best of intentions. Take a young child who is responsible for a traumatic death. Maybe their entire family perished in a fire they set. Maybe they shoved their sibling off a balcony during an argument. If the child is too deeply traumatized – and stigmatized – to ever lead a normal life, wouldn’t it be better if they just . . . forgot? It was a three-pronged approach: erase their memories, insert new ones, and return them to their parents or place them with a new family. Blythe and her friends Tucker, Tanya, and Gabrielle, are now teenagers, attending a local high school, falling in and out of love with each other. But then a shocking event happens at school: Gabrielle is found covered in blood in front of their deceased principal, with no memory of what happened. It’s becoming apparent that their pasts weren’t erased – they were just walled up, and now those walls are crumbling.

Kelley Armstrong: instagram | twitter | website 
Talia Abramson: website

What We Harvest: A Q&A with Ann Fraistat

We may be a bunch of scaredy-cats but even we couldn’t resist Ann Fraistat’s fantastic debut, What We Harvest! We loved it so much, we invited Ann over to answer a few questions.

Q&A with Ann Fraistat

Tell us a bit about What We Harvest! What inspired you?

What We Harvest is feminist YA folk horror about an idyllic small town being devoured by a mysterious blight – one that infects not only crops, but animals and people, too. And, more importantly, it’s about Wren, the sixteen-year-old girl fighting to save her farm and family against avalanching odds. Nature has turned against her community, disease devastates her neighbors and comes for her own family, and the American dream she once believed in has turned to ash in her hands. Still, Wren strives to unearth her town’s deep-buried rot, and to rebuild a healthier future.

The deeper themes came from the reality we’ve lived with over the past several years. But this specific story? Honestly, I was between projects at the time. Deeply burned out. And an image from a dream stuck with me: this glimmering field of rainbow-colored wheat. I sat down to explore it as a freewriting exercise, which started as a paragraph and eventually snowballed into an entire book.

I think it flowed so organically because, as it turned out, this was the story I needed to hear. All of it. The horror. The beauty. The endless grit of its characters, and the innate hope to be found in that perseverance.

Now, I hope this story can give readers what they need, too.

How weird was it writing a book about a spreading disease during a pandemic? Did what was happening in real life change the way you approached the plot?

Honestly, weird. Really weird. I actually drafted What We Harvest in 2019, pre-COVID. So, by the time I was editing this book in the fall of 2020, it was a much eerier experience.

In the first chapter, Wren is exposed to the quicksilver blight because of confusion over government-issued guidelines. She doesn’t realize she needs to be wearing a mask while working with infected plants – and that was baked into this book from the start. The first draft had also already incorporated the quarantine in Hollow’s End, and so many moments that now land more intimately than I could’ve anticipated: the grief that comes with lost opportunities for togetherness, the terror of testing positive, and the temptation to downplay the likelihood of infection (not only by the person experiencing symptoms, but also by their surrounding loved ones).

So, yes, freakily enough, most of the major resonances with our real-life pandemic were in place from draft one. But COVID-19 did give me a clearer picture of what the day-to-day details might look like, those mounting little inconveniences that add up to a life and routine we no longer recognize. The signs taped to the windows in our own apartment complex’s lobby, scribbled over with ever-changing updates to hours and masking requirements, inspired a line about What We Harvest’s abandoned Main Street shops. The sudden switch to remote learning made me more fully appreciate how tough it would be for kids like Wren and Derek to be quarantined from their school across the bridge and to have to take their finals online – especially given the disastrous Wi-Fi of Hollow’s End, a rural and remote peninsula.

However, one thing I’m thankful for is that the quicksilver blight, a molten metal rot, is a very different beast from COVID-19. And I hope the splashier genre elements, and the inherent distance from reality they provide, offers a safer space for readers who need a catharsis without directly confronting personal experiences from the last couple of years.

What are some speculative fiction novels you love?

*takes incredibly deep breath* In alphabetical order: A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow; A Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix; Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis; Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power; Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft; Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters; House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland;  Mexican Gothic by Silvia Morena-Garcia; Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand; Small Favors by Erin A. Craig; The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould; The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson; When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Maria McLemore . . . I am going to physically restrain myself now.

The book has real Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibes. And that movie has famously been read as a parable for near everything. Was the “blight” in your book inspired by any real-world social issues?

Oh, definitely! But, like the body snatchers in Invasion, the quicksilver blight isn’t meant to neatly map to one specific issue. To throw another horror movie into the mix, are you familiar with the concept behind Ju-On: The Grudge? The monster there is a literal curse, one created when a person dies in the throes of extreme rage or sorrow. An emotion made manifest. Similarly, the blight represents embodied sin. Past sin. Buried sin – which can only stay buried so long. The kind which will consume us all, unless we take the time to understand and address it.

The blight is meant to suggest that the sins of the past are still very much with us in the present. Racism, inequity, pollution, to name a few. And the book at large invites us to examine: what is the price of our own dreams, and who is paying it? Have we taken the time to root out the blight in our own soil? Are we doomed to plant our futures on poisoned ground?  How do we do better and move forward?

What We Harvest is not without a few gory sequences: how do you decide what to “show” and what to “tell” in terms of blood and guts?

Agh, this is such a fine line! Somebody’s “meh, not scary” is another person’s “whoa, way too much!” For me, the most gruesome horror is in the details. The super intense close-ups. Ultimately, I try to return to the question: what serves the story? Does this detail create a meaningful emotional response for the character observing it? If so, I’ll try to show it.

But I have sometimes softened descriptions based on collective feedback from beta readers and critique partners. In terms of what is or isn’t too intense, it’s helpful to get the opinion of people who spend less time playing around in fictional nightmare-worlds!

It’s also a very funny book at times – what do you feel is the relationship between horror and humor?

Oh, I’m so glad you asked this! Not sure people expect this from a YA horror author, but my roots are in comic playwriting. So, I love comedy. And, in fact, as the mastermind Jordan Peele has discussed at greater length with greater words: comedy and horror are more alike than they seem. They both rely on the suspense of not knowing what comes next, they both provoke visceral bodily responses, and they both speak in hyperbole – exaggerating an aspect or two of reality in order to point at deeper truths.

People sometimes dismiss humor as creating distance between a fictional world and its audience, but when used well, I believe it’s actually an invaluable bonding opportunity. Nothing opens people’s hearts like humor. It can allow an audience to feel more deeply for characters and their stories, not less.

For me, the only trick of blending horror and humor is making sure to place jokes in the right spots, so the scares stay scary. Otherwise, I’d say they’re a perfect marriage!

What’s your number one piece of writing advice (either that you give people or that you’ve received)?

Embrace your inner weirdo. Which is really just a more fun way to say: don’t self-censor. I spend a lot of time battling perfectionism and that adorable inner voice that likes to question the worth of what I create. While drafting, I wondered many times if this book, with its iridescent wheat and molten metal blight, was too strange. But those turned out to be elements that so many people connect to! Precisely because, yep, they are strange.

What are you working on next?

My upcoming book is another standalone YA horror/supernatural thriller. It’s a mental health recovery story set against the backdrop of a haunted house, full of seances and mysterious masks, and crawling with bugs and blue roses. Very excited to share more about that soon!

Pandemic question: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without these days?

So, at the height of the pandemic, my husband and I embarked on a crusade to discover the best ever chocolate chip cookie recipe. We were planning to try out a bunch. Then we made Doubletree’s and stopped right there. Because they were perfect.

We’ve been making them (probably way too often) ever since:

Credit: Doubletree Hilton

Incidentally, I also discovered during the pandemic that I’m gluten-intolerant, but you can make this recipe gluten-free by subbing the flour out for: 1.25 cup oat flour, 1 cup of one-to-one gluten-free flour blend (I recommend Better Batter!).

Thanks for joining us, Ann! What We Harvest is available now, make sure you pick it up from your favorite bookstore. And keep an eye out for an Instagram Live with Ann in April!

What We Harvest
By Ann Fraistat
336 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593382165 | Delacorte Press
Wren owes everything she has to her hometown, Hollow’s End, a centuries-old, picture-perfect slice of America. Tourists travel miles to marvel at its miracle crops, including the shimmering, iridescent wheat of Wren’s family’s farm. At least, they did. Until five months ago. That’s when the Quicksilver blight first surfaced, poisoning the farms of Hollow’s End one by one. It began by consuming the crops, thick silver sludge bleeding from the earth. Next were the animals. Infected livestock and wild creatures staggered off into the woods by day – only to return at night, their eyes fogged white, leering from the trees. Then the blight came for the neighbors. Wren is among the last locals standing, and the blight has finally come for her, too. Now the only one she can turn to is her ex, Derek, the last person she wants to call. They haven’t spoken in months, but Wren and Derek still have one thing in common: Hollow’s End means everything to them. Only, there’s much they don’t know about their hometown and its celebrated miracle crops. And they’re about to discover that miracles aren’t free. Their ancestors have an awful lot to pay for, and Wren and Derek are the only ones left to settle old debts.

Ann Fraistat: website | twitter | instagram

Finding Her Edge: A Q&A with Jennifer Iacopelli

When we heard Jennifer Iacopelli’s  latest book, Finding Her Edge, was a retelling of one of our fave Jane Austen novels, we had to know more. Read on for our Q&A with Jennifer!

Q&A with Jennifer Iacopelli

Tell us a bit about Finding Her Edge! What inspired you?

Finding Her Edge is a story about a young ice dancer, Adriana Russo, who comes from a legendary figure skating family. I drew my inspiration from two places. First, during the 2018 Olympics when all the media attention was on Virtue and Moir, the Canadian ice dancers and everyone insisted that they were together romantically, even when they kept denying it (and it turns out they weren’t!). I wanted to explore the potential toxicity of something like that happening, especially to younger skaters who maybe don’t quite have the same control over their careers as those two did!

Second, my favorite book is Jane Austen’s Persuasion and I’ve always wanted to do a retelling and there was something about the hierarchy of figure skating and that world that really lent itself to the foundations of that story and the strict hierarchy of Regency England!

Who is your favorite ice dancer/figure skater?

My all time favorite figure skater is Michelle Kwan. I regularly go back to watch her programs from years past. She’s just a few years older than me, so I feel like she’s inspired me for decades now! More recently, I’ve become such a fan of Nathan Chen. His brilliant skates in Beijing notwithstanding, his story is amazing and his comeback after all that pressure was put on him in 2018 to win, was seriously mind blowing!

Michelle Kwan in action.

You follow Persuasion quite closely, did you ever feel tempted to change or update some of the story beats?

I didn’t! It all seemed to fit really well and Persuasion isn’t nearly as popular as Austen’s other novels, so I felt like it made sense to stick with the plot as much as possible, despite it being pretty disguised by the ice dance of it all. If I’d been working on a Pride and Prejudice or Emma retelling, I probably would have messed with the story beats quite a bit more.

Break the Fall is about a gymnast, Finding Her Edge is about an ice dancer – what sport will you write about next?

We’ll see! For my next full length novel, I have a few ideas, but right now it looks like I might be headed to the world of ballet. And I just finished working on a short story for my upcoming anthology co-edited with Dahlia Adler about fastpitch softball!

Related: are you athletic? What’s your favorite sport?

I am decently athletic, mostly because I have good hand-eye coordination. I played sports in high school, but nothing at a super high level. My favorite sport of all time is baseball and I miss it so much right now it hurts!

If you could write a modern version of any other classic novel, what would it be? What genre would you rewrite it as?

I’ve always wanted to write an updated version of  William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair because it’s so juicy and delicious. Becky Sharpe is such a delightfully awful main character and I think it would play very, very well with a contemporary audience, but I also think it would have to be an adult novel to hit the right tone.

A scene from the 2007 adaptation of Persuasion.

What’s your number one piece of writing advice (either that you give people or that you’ve received)?

Always and forever, write the thing that you want to read. It will keep you motivated and you’re guaranteed to write something that at least one person in the world wants on their bookshelf (and if there’s one, there are many, many more!)

What are you working on next?

Right now I’m playing around with a few ideas. The first, that ballet story I mentioned earlier and I’ve got this super fun idea for a contemporary YA about a rock band, but that’s very much just a nugget of an idea that needs time to marinate.

Pandemic question: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without these days?

Right now, I’d be absolutely lost without my sandwich press. I bought a super cheap one and it makes the most perfect grilled cheese, brown and crispy on the outside and very melty on the inside!

Thanks for joining us, Jennifer! Finding Her Edge is available now, make sure you pick it up from your favorite bookstore!

Finding Her Edge
By Jennifer Iacopelli
304 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593350362 | Razorbill
Adriana Russo is figure skating royalty. With gold-medalist parents, and her older sister headed to the Olympics, all she wants is to live up to the family name and stand atop the ice dance podium at the Junior World Championships. But fame doesn’t always mean fortune, and their legendary skating rink is struggling under the weight of her dad’s lavish lifestyle. The only thing keeping it afloat is a deal to host the rest of the Junior Worlds team before they leave for France. That means training on the same ice as her first crush, Freddie, the partner she left when her growth spurt outpaced his. For the past two years, he’s barely acknowledged her existence, and she can’t even blame him for it. When the family’s finances take another unexpected hit, losing the rink seems inevitable until her partner, Brayden, suggests they let the world believe what many have suspected: that their intense chemistry isn’t contained to the ice. Fans and sponsors alike take the bait, but keeping up the charade is harder than she ever imagined. And training alongside Freddie makes it worse, especially when pretending with Brayden starts to feel very real. As the biggest competition of her life draws closer and her family’s legacy hangs in the balance, Adriana is caught between her past and present, between the golden future she’s worked so hard for, and the one she gave up long ago.

Also by Jennifer Iacopelli:

Break the Fall
By Jennifer Iacopelli
336 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780593114193 | Razorbill
Audrey Lee is going to the Olympics. A year ago, she could barely do a push up as she recovered from a spine surgery, one that could have paralyzed her. And now? She’s made the United States gymnastics team with her best friend, Emma, just like they both dreamed about since they were kids. She’s on top of the world. The pressure for perfection is higher than ever when horrifying news rips the team apart. Audrey is desperate to advocate for her teammate who has been hurt by the one person they trusted most – but not all the gymnasts are as supportive. With the team on the verge of collapse, the one bright spot in training is Leo, her new coach’s ridiculously cute son. And while Audrey probably (okay, definitely) shouldn’t date him until after the games, would it really be the end of the world? Balancing the tenuous relationship between her teammates with unparalleled expectations, Audrey doesn’t need any more distractions. No matter what it takes, she’s not going to let anyone bring them down. But with painful revelations, incredible odds, and the very real possibility of falling at every turn, will Audrey’s determination be enough?

Jennifer Iacopelli: website | twitter | instagram

Both Sides Now: A Q&A with Peyton Thomas

Peyton Thomas just released his adorable and thought-provoking debut, Both Sides Now, and we’re so excited – it’s one of our #Penguin10 titles this fall! Peyton graciously dropped by the blog to answer some questions, so read on!

Q&A with Peyton Thomas

Tell us a little bit about the book! What inspired you?

Debate was my life in high school. I sacrificed a lot of weekends to arguing with total strangers. I traveled all over Canada for competitions, meeting kids from across the country, and sometimes from far beyond its borders, and yelling at them. I’m grateful for those experiences. They opened my mind, introduced me to new viewpoints, and made me a more empathetic and thoughtful person.

So I love debate, but I’m very wary of bad actors abusing it. There is, in particular, a trend of right-wingers hollering “debate me, bro!” at any marginalized person who asks to be left alone, please. Trans people are especially vulnerable to this kind of bad-faith bullying. I began to wonder: When is debate helpful? How is it abused? Is there a point where an intellectual exercise becomes a very real threat to a person’s well-being? Setting my story on the high school debate circuit allowed me to engage very literally with these questions.

How similar are you and Finch? Did you put any of your personality into other characters? Which character is the most “you”?

I’ve seen many a reviewer describe Both Sides Now as #OwnVoices – which is very funny, because Finch is the polar-whole-entire-opposite of my high school self! I didn’t come out until my mid-twenties; Finch figured it out in middle school. I was raised with a very conservative religious outlook, while Finch is pretty progressive. And I went to an all-girls’ school, which meant no hunks like Jonah roaming around. I spent a lot of time being quite sure that I liked boys, but less sure where I came down on girls – the exact opposite of Finch’s dilemma.

Maybe this is the best way to put it: Finch is the person I wish I’d been when I was younger. He’s just so sure of himself, in ways that I never was.

We do have a fair bit in common, though. We’re both on the shy side, but we still love a good argument. We’re hopeless romantics, although we’d never actually admit it. And we’re doing constant battle with our perfectionist streaks.

Ari Schechter is closer to who I was in high school. She’s questioning the worldview she grew up with, probing the gap between who she is and who her parents would like her to be. She’s very ambitious, but she’s vulnerable, too, in ways she doesn’t even realize. Can she be a jerk? Yes. But she can be so much more than that.

Did you ever have to debate heavy/personal topics in school? How difficult was it for you to get into Finch’s headspace to argue against his (and your) identity?

I spend a lot of time in Finch’s headspace, truth be told. I probably debate someone about my transness once a day. Many a trans person finds themselves constantly forced to justify their every decision – to their family, their friends, their never-ending supply of online trolls, whoever. We’re not always debating in a formal setting, like Finch, with a podium and a timekeeper, and a panel of judges. But we’re never really off the clock, either. It can be really exhausting.

And yet, there’s a reason we come back to these debates, time and time again: we want to win hearts, change minds; we know debate can do that. When I struggled, in high school, with a debate resolution, it was usually something that went against my religious and political beliefs. Abortion, maybe. Gay marriage. The wall that Israel built in the West Bank. I didn’t realize I could be wrong about these issues until I debated them.

Who would you cast as your characters in a movie adaptation?

Miles McKenna plays Finch on the cover of Both Sides Now, so he’s the obvious choice. The musician Cavetown also looks a lot like Finch. Oh, and my friend Tom Phelan, who was one of the first trans boys to play one on TV – as a teenager, he’d have been Finch from Central Casting. He’s a little too old to play Finch now, and way too punk rock. Alas.

This is your debut novel (congrats!) – what advice do you have for budding writers?

Hilary Mantel is one of my favorite authors. People like to ask her if she writes every day, or if she just waits for inspiration to strike. Her answer? “Of course I write every day, what do you think I am, some kind of hobbyist?” I regret to report that, in my experience, this is the only way to do it. Every day. Period. End of.

Before I became a full-time author of fiction, I wrote scripts for video games. That job was the first time I’d ever made a capital-L Living off of writing. It was also the first time I’d ever been required to write 10,000 words a week if I wanted to keep my job. Was it a grind? God, yes. Did it teach me how to meet my deadlines whether I felt ~inspired~ or not? Also yes.

So that’s my very simple advice. Get into a daily writing habit. Weekdays, weekends, holidays. Do it for fifteen minutes, or ten, or five. Come back to it, again and again, no matter how inspired you’re feeling. And see how sharp, vivid, alive your writing gets. Live for it.

What other LGBTQIA+ books/authors would you recommend for fans of Both Sides Now?

We’re in a real boom of books by trans men about trans men! Both Sides Now shares a debut year with The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitszimons, Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee, and May the Best Man Win by Z.R. Ellor, all of which I highly recommend.

I’d like to suggest, also, that my readers check out books by and about trans women. There seem to be fewer of these in YA, which is a real shame. Meredith Russo’s YA novel If I Was Your Girl is lovely, and I really loved Canadian author Hazel Jane Plante’s Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) – which isn’t YA, but probably won’t scandalize anyone in that age bracket. Kai Cheng Thom – also Canadian! – writes a lot of excellent non-fiction, including an advice column for Xtra that my readers should check out.

You write music reviews for Pitchfork and other outlets. What are some artists/songs you’re currently obsessed with?

I’m going to take this opportunity to be very sneaky and cryptic and embed my writing playlist for the next book I’m working on.

Can any of you bright sparks piece together the plot based on the contents of this list? Let’s find out.

What are you working on now?

When I’m not reviewing Peppa Pig for Pitchfork, I’m working on a second book. Two hints, in addition to the playlist I linked above:

  1. The working title is “Two Slow Dancers”.
  2. You already know the characters.

Pandemic question: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without these days?

The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for peanut-butter pie. It takes ten minutes to make, and it’s ambrosial.

Thanks for joining us, Peyton! Both Sides Now is available now, make sure you pick it up from your favorite bookstore!

Did you miss Peyton’s launch at Glad Day Bookshop? Catch up on our Instagram or YouTube (includes captions):

And for our Canadian friends, you have until Tuesday, August 31 to enter this giveaway for a chance to win a copy of Both Sides Now!

Both Sides Now
By Peyton Thomas
300 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735269750 | Penguin Teen Canada
There’s only one thing standing between Finch Kelly and a full-blown case of high school senioritis: the National Speech & Debate Tournament. Taking home the gold would not only be the pinnacle of Finch’s debating career, but the perfect way to launch himself into his next chapter: college in Washington, DC, and a history-making career as the first trans congressman. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, Finch could develop a teeny tiny crush on his very attractive, very taken, and very gay debate partner, Jonah. Never mind that Finch has never considered whether he’s interested in more than just girls. And that dream of college in DC? Finch hasn’t exactly been accepted anywhere yet, let alone received the full-ride scholarship he’ll need to make this dream a reality. Worst of all, though, is this year’s topic for Nationals: transgender rights. If he wants to cinch the gold, and get into college, Finch might have to argue against his own humanity. People say there are two sides to every argument. But, as Finch is about to discover, some things – like who you are and who you love – are not up for debate.

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