This week's fiction reprint, "The Truth About Owls" by Amal El-Mohtar, is taken from the YA anthology Kaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Director and Publisher of Twelfth Planet Press) and Julia Rios (fiction editor here at SH). This short interview was conducted by email in January 2015; you can also read an introduction by Amal to her story, and more about the anthology on its dedicated site.
Niall Harrison: Kaleidoscope was originally inspired (I believe) by a Wiscon 2012 discussion on "Heteronormativity in YA novels", podcast at the Outer Alliance in June 2012. How did the concept evolve over time? Did the finished book end up roughly where you expected, or was it something that grew in the imagining?
Julia Rios: The concept Alisa originally proposed was an anthology of QUILTBAG YA dystopian stories, and it began evolving immediately after she contacted me. We thought we should be more inclusive, so we expanded the diversity part of it to include people of color, non-neurotypical people, and more. We also drifted away from dystopia and into contemporary fantasy, which later evolved to include science fiction. The project grew and changed as we worked on it because in the end what we really cared about was putting together a collection of really good stories.
Alisa Krasnostein: But in terms of what I expected it to be, it’s pretty spot on—a book of stories for young adult readers that offers a range of protagonists who are the hero of their own story. The Wiscon panel on heteronormativity in YA novels made me really sad that so many young readers would not see themselves in the exciting fiction being published today. Or that they would think only straight white able-bodied people are worthwhile to tell exciting stories about or, worse, get to survive adversity. I wanted this anthology to respond to that idea, to react to that panel, and offer something else, something diverse and representative to all. And I’m happy with how Kaleidoscope has achieved that aim.
NH: The book has been out in the world for about six months now. What has the reception been like? Have there been any surprises?
Julia: The reception has been mostly great. I think the thing that was the most exciting and surprising to me was finding Kaleidoscope on NPR’s list of great gifts on their book concierge app. That was something that made my family proud, which was wonderfully validating.
Alisa: I was genuinely surprised and thrilled by the reception of the book at Loncon—so many people were already talking about it and so many people came up to our table specifically to buy it. And so many people came back during the con having started reading it, to share how much they were enjoying it and which stories spoke to them specifically. Publishing doesn’t get better than that!
NH: The stories in Kaleidoscope range across SF, fantasy and horror, but they’re focused on contemporary (or contemporary-ish) settings. What was the aim of that constraint?
Julia: The contemporary focus was the theme we eventually settled on instead of dystopia. We wanted the freedom to include tales of hope and wonder, and we also wanted them to feel close enough to modern teens’ experiences that the worlds they explored would be in some way familiar and relatable. We also chose that feeling because when we compared some of our favorite stories, we found that we were both drawn to contemporary settings.
Alisa: The young adult fantasy I most enjoy is in a contemporary setting. I have a much broader taste in science fiction but to make the book feel more cohesive, we went with contemporary settings as the loose theme, with the fantasy and science fictional aspects roaming more freely.
NH: Your next project is an ongoing Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction,?the first volume of which is out now. So, time for a big sweeping generalisation question: what would you say is the place of the short story in YA? My perception is that for the most part YA is, if anything, even more novel-focused than adult SF.
Julia: The Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2013 is our first volume, and we’re working on the 2014 volume now. Reading for these has shown me that there’s a lot of quality short fiction being written for and about teens right now. I agree that YA publishing is largely focused on novel length work, but aside from the few YA anthologies we found, we also discovered lots of gems in venues that are for adults, or to be more accurate, venues meant to appeal to a wide age range. There were some outstanding specifically YA anthologies in 2013 though. I was particularly impressed with Futuredaze (edited by Erin Underwood and Hannah Strom-Martin) and Defy the Dark (edited by Saundra Mitchell).
Alisa: I think the YA market is so strong that economically, novels is the place to be for writers, which isn’t to say there aren’t some excellent short stories being written. There have been some really great stand out YA anthologies. Others to mention from 2014 would be Monstrous Affections and My True Love Gave to Me. The great fun in editing our Year’s Best is finding the young adult story gems hidden in books not specifically aimed at young readers. We get to hunt them out and collect them to share with YA readers who haven’t yet come across them.