Thursday, December 17, 2015

Twinja Book Reviews 3rd Annual Diversity Month Day Fifteen: Interview with @ShiraGlassman + month long #giveaway

So we met this author through a small request via Twitter last year! Ask Twitter a question, and you shall receive!

We were looking for more books featuring trans characters in YA and SFF, and this author's publisher directed us to her fabulous book series =D

We've gotten to have a few exchanges with her as well, and we're learning that while the state of inclusion is getting better, there's still a lot of ways we fail, and need room for improvement(There was an interesting debate about the state of Jewish main characters or bodies of works by Jewish authors, that if you don't know, you should really check out here!)

But anyway, not only is our next guest an awesomesauce author, she really throws down on the violin XD

We're happy to finally host her, and hope we can cook something up next year to work with her on!

Twinja Book Reviews Annual Diversity Month Event Day Fifteen:

Author Shira Glassman

Ok so we already know you, but some(just a few)may not. What can you tell us about yourself as a first introduction?

I'm a queer Jewish violinist who writes fantasy and contemporary lit focusing on queer Jewish characters. I draw my inspiration from the world around me -- from wanting to see myself, my friends and family, and my culture reflected in things like fairy tales and cute little romances -- and from opera.

What can you tell us about your journey being an author?

The short version: when my dad died of cancer I imagined being rescued from my grief by a stronger version of myself and a lovable dragon, and by some miracle that turned into a book. And it DID rescue me from my grief. Then I had so much fun with my characters that I didn't want to stop, so I gave them more adventures and got better at writing.

I initially decided to go with a small indie house for my books because I was terrified that an agent would say my main character has too many marginalizations, and ALL of her traits are important to me, to her, and to the story. I think nowadays things with agents are improving--from what I've heard. But anyway, Shulamit's attraction to women and her Jewishness are my real life and I deserve to be able to write about them, and her gluten issues are my spouse's and a very big part of our daily lives. (Plus, some of her gaslighting is me writing about how my lactose intolerance was treated when I was a kid.)

My books are available from anywhere that sells books (Amazon, ARE, Barnes and Noble, etc.) and also from the publisher's website -- Prizm Books. Paperbacks have to be special ordered from brick and mortar stores except Wild Iris Books here in Gainesville, FL, but they ship all over. (You can get paperbacks from Amazon, too.)

What inspires the content you create?

I take something I want to celebrate in real life -- relationships, religious observance, food -- and slap dragons in it, basically! I love celebrating the warm fuzzy feelings we get when we're around family and found-family, or how much I adore the tropical foliage and architecture in the South Florida of my childhood.

Or, I take something that frustrates me in real life, and have my characters get to conquer it. An example of this might be Shulamit's bodyguard and best friend, tough-girl Rivka, yelling at a courtier who doubts the validity of Shulamit's gluten problem.

So you're busy writing books, but we see you're a blogger too! What created the initiative behind your blogging style?

I blog book reviews/recs for queer & trans lit (and in some cases, Jewish het) because I like helping people looking for non-tragic queer representation (and non-Shoah-from-the-gentile-POV Jewish representation) find new reading material they might not have already known about. There is amazing stuff especially coming out of indie houses these days and sometimes I run into posters online who don't even know that publishing houses like Bold Strokes Books, etc. even exist. I try to explain what specifically I liked about the book so that it'll actually be useful to readers in deciding whether or not they want to give it a try.

What inspired your review policy?

I only want to write about the books I liked a lot.

What draws you into a book? What themes do you look for? What makes a book an amazing read?

Clear, easily written sentences and clear, easy to follow worldbuilding. If it's romance I prefer complementary characters (like the "chef who figures out how to give girl with food allergies stuff she can eat" f/f romance in my books) to antagonistic characters (the "CEO vs. environmentalist" trope.) As for "amazing read" = clever yet happy plot twists, effective use of Chekov's Gun, and the "making you want it before the author gives it to you" resolutions.

Everyone has a unique story that shaped the way they see things. What can you tell us about what it was like for you growing up?

I was SO lucky to grow up in an area populated by a lot of other Jews, so that I wasn't totally aware of how much anti-Semitism there still is in the world until I graduated and left for college. This gave me a solid foundation to approach my adult life in an ethnoreligious minority. My mom also made sure I read a lot of Jewish lit, and my grandparents' house was full of nonfiction books about Ashkenazi, Ashkenazi-American culture, and the Yiddish language. I've also been back to the town in Germany where my other side of my family were from before they fled. I've seen the houses that still bear scars from where the mezuzah was ripped off. I have a couple of pages from my German grandmother's "escape diary"--she was 16.

However, I didn't grow up with queer role models or positive queer stories and felt quite, quite alone in that respect. I absorbed the sympathetic, tragedy narrative from popular culture and "literary" culture and it's taken me years to feel like I've escaped from that. There are YA books I've read this year, in 2015, that I SO wish I'd had access to in 1996. I'm so glad that no more generations of us will have to grow up without these books -- "Everything Leads to You", "The Rules of Ever After", "Under the Lights", etc.

Do you feel well represented in books and/or media?

I think Jews are creating media about Jews all the time, but it doesn't necessarily get enough attention so that it can get to the eyes that want it. I also think Jews feel pressure to create non-Jewish media, like our experiences are too "marked", and furthermore I think gentiles (non-Jews--and honestly this is probably just WHITE gentiles) like to use us in their fiction to fulfill specific roles. I am tired of having to explain to my mom and aunt that Nazi romances exist. They grew up going to working-class summer resorts where other people staying there had number tattoos. This is just frustrating.

How can we make the conversation about diversity where it needs to be?

I'm glad the conversation on diversity continues to grow to include groups that don't get as much focus as well as providing more effective ways to help the most hypervisible, most targeted, and most vulnerable groups. I think the focus should always be on making sure voices from within groups are the ones being signal boosted and enhanced, and I do think the conversation has moved in that direction.

What are creators not doing well when it comes to the conversation of diversity?

There are some people who seem to think that it All Depends on Them to create diversity in literature and it doesn't have to be that way. There are writers IN those groups to signal boost, and that's important, too.

Are there any books that you thinks gets representation right?

I want to let people know about Libi Astaire's Jewish Regency mysteries. They've got the historical cozy mystery feel I like about Christie, but about us! And she also explains things with little asides so I feel like gentiles won't be intimidated by unfamiliar customs. Speaking of Jewish Regency, I was also impressed by Rose Lerner's TRUE PRETENSES. I just finished Suri Rosen's PLAYING WITH MATCHES, and it was fantastic. As for queer representation, I mentioned some in another answer.

What is the book(or books) that have the biggest impact on you and why?
So this isn't a book but Wagner's Ring Cycle. It can be said that my first book is a Jewish, feminist answer to it :P 

Why do you write the types of books you write, and do you plan diversifying genres in the future?

I write stories that I have fun thinking about. I like stories that celebrate relationships--romantic or otherwise--and environments, like the tropical plants of my childhood. I guess I wind up writing a lot of fantasy because dragons and fairies are FUN and make me happy, but I've started writing contemporary romances recently -- mostly about symphony musicians -- just because that's another environment that makes me happy. If I have any good ideas in other genres I will write them but I don't have 'em at the moment.

What sites would you recommend for those trying to educate themselves better on the conversation about diversity in books and media?

Writing With Color on Tumblr. Hey, people: if you're trying to write outside your own group and don't know where to start: READ WHAT PEOPLE IN THAT GROUP ARE WRITING. This can include fiction and nonfiction but can even start with just blog posts. Imagine me skywriting this with a dragon.

So we've been talking about what you like, let's start chatting about what you write! What has been your favorite character to create and why?

So I have this Yiddish-speaking dragon shifter wizard... ;-) His name is Isaac and he predates all of this by about twenty-five years, going back to a tiny child flailing about her parents' divorce. I guess I could also say Rivka because she's like a five-foot-eleven version of me with gigantic muscles who doesn't take crap from anyone and I'm a tiny little wimp. She and her protective tantrums are fun to write. The two of them are married because in my world, knights marry dragons instead of killing them, apparently.

What has been the piece of your work you've taken most pride in?

I'm very proud of chapter 12 in A HARVEST OF RIPE FIGS, in which the young lesbian queen Shulamit outwits a villain who snuck into the palace. She has to think really fast on her feet so it's one of those "tiny clever girl is clever" moments. I'm also pretty proud of the short story "Rivka in Port Saltspray", which is included in the Tales from Outer Lands eBook and in the FIGS paperback.

Which fictional world that you created would you want to live in and why?

I guess me creating Perach ("flower" in Hebrew = Florida) is just a sign that I miss bits of South Florida. But I don't want to move back there because the part of Florida I live in now is calmer. So instead we have potted palms on the front porch :P

Let's get funky! If you can have any superpower or supernatural ability, what would it be and why?

The ability to not have dermatillomania lol. Nah... um... I dunno, healing touch would fix that and also make me able to fix my spouse's migraines, right?

What types of books did you like consuming growing up?

I've always been a voracious reader of vintage murder mysteries, like Agatha Christie, but when she includes gay/lesbian characters they're neutral to slightly negative and like any British gentile of her time she's awkward around Jews.

Who is your favorite Book Bae and why?

Canadian writer J. L. Douglas and I chat a lot if that's what this question is asking? She's really cool :)

What type of advice can you give to those starting out?

Write what you love and what you're passionate about, because it'll show in your writing. The part YOU enjoy is the part other people will think is better writing.

Finally, where can folks go for updates, and to learn more about your projects going on?

My Official Site/Blog!
Check me out on Twitter @ShiraGlassman
Reblog me on Tumblr!
Like Me on Facebook!

Shira Glassman is a bi, Jewish violinist who lives in Florida with her agender, same-sex spouse and the World's Worst Behaved Cat. She is best known for her queer Jewish fantasy series "the Mangoverse", which will get its fourth book next summer (they can all be read standalone, by the way), but also writes short adult romance stories that span the range from G-rated to erotica.

She's even donating an e-copy of "A Harvest of Ripe Figs" Book Three in her Mangoverse series which is described as a Mystery novel, where a lesbian queen solves the mysteries in her capital city, while raising a baby princess with her partner & bodyguard family! Enter below for a chance to win!


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