Off the Record: A Q&A with Camryn Garrett

We’re honored to have a guest post from the incredible Camryn Garrett today! Camryn is the author of Full Disclosure and the new Off the Record, both of which deal with heavy topics (HIV and #MeToo, respectively) and they’re well worth the read. Keep scrolling to hear a bit from Camryn herself!

Q&A with Camryn Garrett

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

Off the Record is about a teen journalist named Josie who wins a contest to cover a press tour for a new movie, but while on her journey, she discovers a sexual assault scandal and must decide whether or not to use her voice to try to expose it.

As for what inspired me, I had really been wanting to write something about a teen journalist because I had that experience. With MeToo all over the news, I had been thinking about those stories and the way they were reported. There was a lot of emphasis put on the survivors who came out with stories first, but even when other celebrities, like Gwenyth Paltrow, shared their stories, they all seemed to be white. There were women like Salma Hayek and Lupita Nyong’o who also had Weinstein stories, but to me, they were reported almost as an afterthought. I wanted that to be addressed in the story; is it because there are less WOC who have been abused? Because they’re uncomfortable speaking with the (usually white) reporters? What dynamics are there?

You’ve said that this is your most personal book. How are you and Josie similar? Different? Do any of the other characters share parts of you? 

My friend picked up the book the other day and said, “I really feel like Josie is you.” It’s kind of embarrassing because it’s so personal. Josie and I both struggle with anxiety and fatphobia. When I was her age, I also wanted to leave my town, and I also was a teen journalist. Neither of us went to prom! We’re both into film and journalism. We both have rather interesting relationships with sisters. Her really horrible experiences in middle school were based on mine. There are many similarities.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’m as shy as she is. I had great friends in high school while she didn’t. I think she’s really great at establishing trust and soothing people, while I find it pretty difficult to be comforting. While she’s into film, I don’t think she actually wants to make them, whereas I do. My parents also never would’ve let me go on this adventure that she gets to experience!

I think all of my characters have some part of me, even if it’s just the ugly parts. I also relate a lot to Alice as a big sister. Even though she and Josie don’t really get along, I understand how hard it is to try to get along when you feel so different from your younger sibling. The awkward ways she tries to comfort and support Alice definitely stem from my interactions with my own sister.

The book also looks at “problematic faves” – have you personally had to reckon with any problematic faves of your own?

Yes, I think that’s something we all have to deal with! The problematic faves mentioned in the book were drawn from my own. I really love Hitchcock, but it’s also hard to forget how he treated his female leads, and I try to remind myself of that when I watch his work. I also love many movies Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin have produced. I think it feels more and more impossible to only watch work by “good” people when producers like Weinstein and Rudin really worked on everything. I don’t believe in separating the art from the artist, though I try to think really hard about who worked on films and how that influenced the way we not only see the movie in a cultural sense, but how the cast and crew were treated.

So far, your books have tackled the #MeToo movement and life as an HIV-positive teen. What other social issues (for lack of a better term) are you hoping to include in future YA novels?

I’m honestly not really sure yet! There are “big” issues I feel I can center books around, and then issues I try to sneak in, if that makes sense. Off the Record tackles #MeToo but also things like fatphobia and mental health. I really want to write about colorism, but I’m not sure if I could center an entire plot around that. Stay tuned!

How do you balance writing and school? Like Josie, do you struggle with people not taking you seriously because of your age, despite your talent?

I want to give a positive answer and say that I just schedule myself to death. But the truth is, even with my schedules, it can be really overwhelming at times. It’s finals season right now and I’ve definitely had a hard time balancing book stuff and college. That being said, it’s definitely more manageable when you aren’t releasing a book around midterms or finals!

I think some people in the actual industry might take me less seriously, but people I interact with daily tend to be a lot more impressed. I always forget how impressive my accomplishments are until I speak to one of my mom’s friends or let one of my professors in on my secret. They’re always so excited for me!

Normally, though, I don’t really tell any of my professors or classmates about my books. I don’t want it to color their perception of me. When my professor who doesn’t know about my books tells me that I’m really talented, it means so much, and I know it’s not just because they’re impressed by my writing.

Credit: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images


Who would be your dream person to profile? An actor, musician, artist, etc?

My dream person would probably be Stella Meghie. She’s a Black director from Canada who has made films like Everything Everything, Jean of the Joneses, and The Photograph. Right now she’s working on a biopic of Whitney Houston! She’s gotten so much amazing work since her debut film, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen for Black women in this field, and I love that she’s able to work in both the independent and studio worlds. I’d mostly want to talk to her for selfish reasons.

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

The podcast WhoWeekly. I very eagerly anticipate it every week!

Thanks for joining us, Camryn! Off the Record and Full Disclosure are out now, make sure you pick them up from your favorite bookstore!


Off the Record
By Camryn Garrett
320 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984829993 | Knopf BFYR
Ever since seventeen-year-old Josie Wright can remember, writing has been her identity, the thing that grounds her when everything else is a garbage fire. So when she wins a contest to write a celebrity profile for Deep Focus magazine, she’s equal parts excited and scared, but also ready. She’s got this. Soon Josie is jetting off on a multi-city tour, rubbing elbows with sparkly celebrities, frenetic handlers, stone-faced producers, and eccentric stylists. She even finds herself catching feelings for the subject of her profile, dazzling young newcomer Marius Canet. Josie’s world is expanding so rapidly, she doesn’t know whether she’s flying or falling. But when a young actress lets her in on a terrible secret, the answer is clear: she’s in over her head. One woman’s account leads to another and another. Josie wants to expose the man responsible, but she’s reluctant to speak up, unsure if this is her story to tell. What if she lets down the women who have entrusted her with their stories? What if this ends her writing career before it even begins? There are so many reasons not to go ahead, but if Josie doesn’t step up, who will?

Also by Camryn Garrett:

Full Disclosure
By Camryn Garrett
320 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984829955 | Knopf BFYR
Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.
Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real–shy kisses escalating into much more–she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.

Camryn Garrett: website | twitter | instagram

A Taste for Love: A Q&A with Jennifer Yen

In honor of AAPI Heritage Month (and just because we loved A Taste for Love), we asked author Jennifer Yen a few questions about her sweet – in more ways than one! – new romcom!

Q&A with Jennifer Yen

Tell us a bit about A Taste for Love! What inspired you?

I originally pitched A Taste for Love as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice meets the Great British Baking Show, with matchmaking Asian mommas! While it is a young adult romcom, it’s actually a story about all kinds of love: for yourself, your family and friends, and of course, for that special someone! I was inspired to write it because growing up, I wanted to see characters like me finding and falling in love. I also wanted to write a book that highlighted the experience of growing up as Asian American diaspora.

Are you a baker yourself? If so, what’s your specialty?

I do bake, though I’m not anywhere near Liza’s level! My favorite pastries to bake are cakes, because I love the different flavors you can layer in through the cake, icing, and toppings. One of my hopes once COVID has passed is taking lessons on how to decorate them!

Related: if you were on a cooking show, what would be your signature dish?

I’ll let you in on a (not so well kept) secret . . . I’m a terrible cook! However, when I do attempt something, I stick to the dishes my mom taught me. My favorite is her vegetarian sushi.

Who is your favorite Jane Austen hero and/or heroine?

There’s a reason why I chose Pride and Prejudice as my first retelling. Elizabeth and Darcy have a very special place in my heart.

What’s your favorite romance trope?

Oh my goodness . . . there’s so many! I love enemies-to-lovers, friends-to-lovers, one-sided (they think) love, there’s only one bed, stoic versus sunshine, I could go on. . . .

If you could write a modern version of any classic novel, what would it be? Why?

This will probably surprise a lot of people, but I would love to write an epic fantasy like Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. It was the book my dad used to read me at bedtime when I was growing up, and I remember being so enthralled by the characters and their adventures.

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

The best advice I’ve ever received from several authors – the most recent of whom was the wonderful Sarah Kuhn – is that successful writers are the ones who don’t give up. Publishing is tough, and you’ll face a lot of challenges, but perseverance is key to making it through. As for the advice that I give, it’s to know your strengths. Start from there so you have the confidence to tackle the parts that are most challenging to you.

What are you working on next?

I have a few projects in the works, but there are only two I can talk about right now. The first is my second book, Love, Decoded, a modern day retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. My protagonist is Gigi Wong, James’ younger sister. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Jennifer Yen novel without delicious food, family drama, and a banter-filled romance, so there’s that too! The second is Every Body Shines, a fat positive anthology I contributed to that’s coming out in June 2021. My short story, “A Perfect Fit,” features a girl who must become the hero of her own story if she wants to be a princess at prom.

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

I think anyone who knows me knows I will say BOBA TEA! Granted, I don’t always get the boba, but I live for milk tea. Also, with social distancing, I can’t live without my phone and computer! They’re my connection to the world.

Thanks for joining us, Jennifer! A Taste for Love is out now, make sure you pick it up from your favorite bookstore!


A Taste for Love
By Jennifer Yen
336 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593117521 | Razorbill
To her friends, high school senior Liza Yang is nearly perfect. Smart, kind, and pretty, she dreams big and never shies away from a challenge. But to her mom, Liza is anything but. Compared to her older sister Jeannie, Liza is stubborn, rebellious, and worst of all, determined to push back against all of Mrs. Yang’s traditional values, especially when it comes to dating. The one thing mother and daughter do agree on is their love of baking. Mrs. Yang is the owner of Houston’s popular Yin & Yang Bakery. With college just around the corner, Liza agrees to help out at the bakery’s annual junior competition to prove to her mom that she’s more than her rebellious tendencies once and for all. But when Liza arrives on the first day of the bake-off, she realizes there’s a catch: all of the contestants are young Asian American men her mother has handpicked for Liza to date. The bachelorette situation Liza has found herself in is made even worse when she happens to be grudgingly attracted to one of the contestants; the stoic, impenetrable, annoyingly hot James Wong. As she battles against her feelings for James, and for her mother’s approval, Liza begins to realize there’s no tried and true recipe for love.

Jennifer Yen: website | twitter | instagram

Tell Me When You Feel Something: A Q&A with Vicki Grant

We’re super excited for Vicki Grant’s upcoming thriller, Tell Me When You Feel Something, so we asked Vicki to pop by the blog and answer a couple of questions!

Q&A with Vicki Grant

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

Here’s my elevator pitch: Vivian Braithwaite is in a coma. Lots of kids shot cell phone footage of her taking a pill at a party just before she seized so there’s no real question what caused her to overdose – or is there? Davida Williamson has her doubts. Despite her crippling shyness – and her own mixed feelings about her apparent friend – Davida is determined to discover what really happened. Throw in some romance, betrayal, heartbreak, and a growing sense of dread – and that’s basically the premise behind Tell Me When You Feel Something.

The inspiration for the story came to me years ago when I found out that some of my daughter’s high school friends worked as “simulated patients” at med school. Their job basically was to ’simulate’ illnesses so student doctors could sharpen their medical chops before getting sicced on real patients. Until then, I had no idea that was a thing. My brain kicked into high gear. A YA story set in a med school? Kids having to fake diseases and conditions? I had so many ideas about what I could do with that scenario. My first attempt was a comedy TV series with the punny title of Ben Dover (also the name of our hapless hero.) I couldn’t talk anyone into buying the series, but the SP angle hung around in the back of my head. By the time I’d conceived of Viv and Davida working as SPs, the story had become much darker. My brother’s in the medical business so I’d occasionally pick his brain about what he’d witnessed. I could always count on him for some deliciously gross (if anonymous!) details after a night in emergency but it was the more complex issues he encountered that really resonated with me. I’d spoil it to say too much more other than to add that although the particulars in the book are fictional, the situations (and machinations that created them) are based on reality.

Designer credit: Talia Abramson

There are multiple perspectives in the book – what was the easiest perspective to write? The hardest? Do you have a favorite character?

Viv’s chapters were probably, if not the easiest to write, at least the easiest to conceive. I certainly wasn’t the star in high school that Viv was, but we shared a similar background. I’d never suggest I had an unhappy childhood – because I didn’t! – but I understand firsthand what Viv was going through. As in her case, my parents adored me (and my siblings), they just couldn’t stand each other. This led to some notably bad behavior. Different than in the book, but still far from ideal. Through it all, despite the unseemly behavior happening behind closed doors, we were expected to play happy, well-adjusted teenagers in the outside world. More than that, we were expected to succeed. Anything less felt like abject failure.

This, of course, isn’t an unusual situation. To a greater or lesser degree, don’t all teenagers live with the conviction that they have a terrible secret to hide? Sometimes it has to do with family breakdown or addiction. Sometimes it’s just having a sister you think is weird (which, depending on your state of mind, can loom almost as large). In the book, Viv is at the darkest part of her struggle, before she’s developed any perspective on it. I remember what that felt like – and how growing up was all I needed to get past the worst of it.

As for the hardest perspective to work from? Again, I can’t give too much away but “the bad guys” are usually the most difficult to get right. Partly that’s because I don’t identify with them (geez, I hope not) but also because I don’t believe anyone is entirely evil. Very, very bad things are done in this book. Terrible, unforgivable things. But that doesn’t mean I want to paint the perpetrator and/or perpetrators as unredeemable monsters. No one is all bad, no matter what they’ve done. I always try to imbue my villains with some decency, some inherent worth. They’re human beings after all. How to do that without in ANY WAY condoning their behavior is the tough part.

Who are some of your favorite thriller writers (or what are some of your favorite thriller novels)?

I love thrillers that make sense. That sounds like one of those “well, duh,” responses but a lot of thrillers don’t. The clues might all add up, but the basic premise doesn’t. For instance, the social media influencer who singlehandedly cracks an international cocaine ring? The pre-school teacher who teams up with a semi-pro skateboarder to solve the murder of a Moldavian prince? Might make for a fun read, but when would that ever happen? So I’m going to go way, way back for this and mention Scott Turow’s book, Presumed Innocent. It’s not a YA book but it’s still the best thriller ever. It’s a true mystery set in a real-world situation, solved by someone realistically in a position to solve it. Brilliant!

What’s your preferred genre to write? Would you write another thriller?

I love writing thrillers, especially with some humor, so yes. I’d absolutely write another one! (In fact, I’ve got one on my laptop right now, waiting for a polish.)

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a middle-grade novel called Green Velvet Dress, Worn Once. It’s about vintage clothing and medically-assisted death and forgiveness and somehow figuring out how to fill the giant gaping hole torn in your life when the person you love more than anything dies. Oh, and it’s a mystery and it’s funny too.

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

At the risk of sounding obnoxious, I live in Nova Scotia where there’s been virtually no COVID, so there’s very little I’ve done without during the pandemic. Our borders were closed so I haven’t been able to travel – but how can I complain about that given what the rest of the world is dealing with? I feel very lucky. (I’ve even be able to get my highlights touched up regularly!)

Thanks for joining us, Vicki! If you’re intrigued by Tell Me When You Feel Something, make sure to request it on NetGalley right now or pick up a copy on June 15!


Tell Me When You Feel Something
By Vicki Grant
336 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735270091 | Penguin Teen Canada
It seemed like a cool part-time program – being a “simulated” patient for med school students to practice on. But now vivacious, charismatic Viv lies in a very real coma. Cellphone footage just leads to more questions. What really happened? Other kids suspect it was not an intentional overdose – but each has a reason why they can’t tell the truth. Through intertwining and conflicting narratives, a twisted story unfolds of trust betrayed as we sift through the seemingly innocent events leading up to the tragic night. Perhaps simulated patients aren’t the only people pretending to be something they’re not. . . . The perfect after-school job turns deadly in this contemporary YA thriller that exposes the dark reality of #MeToo in the world of medicine, for fans of Karen McManus and Holly Jackson.

Vicki Grant: website | twitter | instagram

The Black Friend: Q&A with Frederick Joseph

We got a chance to ask Frederick Joseph a couple of questions about his New York Times bestselling book, The Black Friend, and his answers will inspire you.

Tell us about The Black Friend – what inspired it?

The Black Friend was inspired by a moment of racism I faced while taking the subway to work a few years ago. I sat next to a young white woman who clutched her purse as soon as I sat down, as if I was going to steal from her and then moved her seat next to a white man. I tweeted about the incident and how racist her actions were and many people argued that her actions were in fact not racist. I then realized that we have a very long way to go as a society in understanding that racism is a spectrum and microaggressions are one of the most consistent manifestations of daily racism non-white people face. I wanted to create a text that helped people further understand that fact.

You’ve been behind two successful campaigns – #BlackPantherChallenge and #RentRelief – can you tell us about how both of those started? Did you get the results you expected?

Both campaigns started by me recognizing a need in our society and wanting to do what I could to help alleviate it, though the two needs are very different. #RentRelief is likely the most practical for many. People are facing economic hardship because of the pandemic, so I raised money to send funds in hopes that it would help them during their troubles. As far as the #BlackPantherChallenge, that’s a bit more nuanced. I created that campaign because oftentimes when we discuss marginalized young people, we only talk about how to help them survive. But I believe joy is a very important part of youth as well. So I raised money to give young people a moment for joy and to see themselves represented on screen.

What other writing projects are you currently working on?

This is top secret for the moment. But I will say, I’m going to continue to find ways to support marginalized communities through my writing, especially women and the LGBTQ+ community.

You interviewed so many inspiring people for The Black Friend – were there any people you wish you could have included?

I do wish that I could have had someone who is Native American in the book. I was working on firming up time to interview three amazing people, but scheduling didn’t work out. But I will do everything in my power to get them in a future project.

Related: Who would be at your dream dinner party (once dinner parties are a thing again)?

At my dinner party hmmmm . . . You didn’t specify whether they have to be alive. So I’ll say, my fiancée, Malcolm X, Coretta Scott King, Ayanna Pressley, my editor Kaylan Adair, LeBron James, and Fred Hampton.

You provided an excellent list of recommendations in the appendices. Since releasing the book, is there anything else you’d add to those lists (book, movies, music, people to Google)?

There are SOOOO many pieces of art I wish I could have added to the list. But on my mind at this moment is the upcoming film Judas and The Black Messiah.

How have you been keeping yourself busy during the pandemic?

I’ve kept busy by moving to a new home, writing my top secret projects, and having amazing discussions such as this.

Anything else you want to share with readers?

I want to share one thought with readers: Prioritize your mental health. So much is going on in our world and I want you all to do things to heal and find your peace mentally and emotionally.

Thank you, Fred! If you haven’t picked up The Black Friend yet, it’s a powerful read.


The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person
By Frederick Joseph
272 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781536217018 | Candlewick
For Frederick Joseph, life as a transfer student in a largely white high school was full of wince-worthy moments that he often simply let go. As he grew older, however, he saw these as missed opportunities not only to stand up for himself, but to spread awareness to those white people who didn’t see the negative impact they were having. Speaking directly to the reader, The Black Friend calls up race-related anecdotes from the author’s past, weaving in his thoughts on why they were hurtful and how he might handle things differently now. Touching on everything from cultural appropriation to power dynamics, “reverse racism” to white privilege, microaggressions to the tragic results of overt racism, this book serves as conversation starter, tool kit, and invaluable window into the life of a former “token Black kid” who now presents himself as the friend many readers need. Backmatter includes an encyclopedia of racism, providing details on relevant historical events, terminology, and more.

Frederick Joseph: websitetwitter | instagram

Fight Like a Girl: Q&A with Cover Artist Lauren Tamaki

Looking for a mid-week pick-me-up? Look no further: we have a new Q&A with artist Lauren Tamaki. She’s the genius behind the striking cover for Sheena Kamal‘s upcoming YA debut, Fight Like a Girl. Read on to see just how many sketches Lauren went through before she landed on this final image.

Did you read Fight Like a Girl before starting on the cover? If so, what about it stuck out to you the most?

I read the whole thing, front to back! I was struck by the ferocity of the main character: she’s angry, she swears, she fully realized. Her Trinidadian-Canadian identity is front and center and although we come from different backgrounds, I could relate to feeling of being in-between worlds and not knowing your place. The author explored the vagaries of being a 16 year old girl with gusto and the emotion was further heightened by the crazy fight sequences!

What emotions did you want to capture on the cover?

When John Martz, my wonderful art director, first briefed me on the project, we talked about dynamic image of a girl throwing a punch or a kick. The book is woven around the main character’s love for Muay Thai. I tried a few versions of that, and while they were active, sweaty and impactful, none of them had the confrontational nature that the character possessed. I tried a couple drawings that had direct eye contact but I didn’t want to create an explicit portrait of her face (someone told me a long time ago not to do that on book covers). I came to a nice solution that showcased the character’s searing stare and physicality with a bit of vulnerability tossed in.

How did you choose the colour scheme?

I knew the colour had to be hot and intense. The story is about love and violence, so I had no choice! I ended up using black ink washes coloured digitally (so it was still transparent in areas). I put a purple bruise colour under the red so it felt just a bit… achey.

Were you given any guidance from the author/editor?

The original vision for the cover was of a simple figure in an expressive illustrated style. I watched a ton of Muay Thai on YouTube to get an idea of what I was dealing with. This particular martial art is very calculated for all the fury it brings. We ended up gravitating away from that original thought, but drawing all those figures was extremely helpful.

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

So so many…. I sent through 8 pencil sketches for the first review, mostly of the expressive figure in action. We toyed with a couple directions for a while but went with a more centralized view of a girl staring down the viewer while ‘on the ropes’. Once we decided on that path, I tried about 9 colour/tone tests, but nothing seemed right. I stripped it back to simple black line work and a flood of colour, which was the right treatment because it was bold and direct.

As per usual, I nit-picked right up to the delivery date: I noticed I hadn’t addressed the hand wrapping *exactly* as it should be so I went back in and fixed that. Research is so important!

Have you worked on other book covers before or do you have any coming up?

I’ve done a handful of book covers and this is definitely one of my favourites! My first book cover was with Penguin UK (Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe) and I had a great experience working with them: they let me go wild with the illustration and design of the entire wrap. I’m working on a book right now that will require a cover at some point… I think it’ll probably be the last thing I tackle!

How is designing a cover different from other illustration projects you’ve worked on?

I’ve heard designers and illustrators bemoan how book covers are difficult because of the variety of opinions required to pass muster. I’ve had wildly different experiences – mostly positive. The most joyous work occurs when you have trust and rapport with your AD. The worst experiences are when there are too many cooks in the kitchen, there is a lack of clarity and no respect for your time. Any illustration work (editorial, advertising, etc) can fall on either side.

What are some recent book covers you admire?

Designer Na Kim creates the most stunning book covers. The way she mixes illustration, photography, type… so wonderful! Her covers have incredible variety but are all blessed with her magic touch. Her image for Girl by Edna O’ Brian (featuring a gorgeous drawing by Chioma Ebinama) stopped me in my tracks.


Fight Like a Girl will be released on March 10, 2020. In the meantime, make sure you’re following Lauren and author Sheena Kamal on social media!

SHEENA KAMAL: website | instagram
LAUREN TAMAKI: website | instagram