Writers on Writing: Malinda Lo/Serials and Series


Continuing a story over several books is serializing that story. Books that share a common setting, story arc or characters is a series. A series would books such as Nancy Drew, Border Town and The Babysitters Club while serialized fiction would include The Goddess Wars, Legend and Dorothy Must Die. Despite these technical differences, we tend to call books with characters and settings that extend over multiple books a ‘series’. To really learn about serialized fiction, I recently interviewed Malinda Lo.

Why do you think serialized fiction is so popular with young readers?

I think serialized fiction is popular with readers of all ages because we become attached to certain characters, and we want to follow their journeys through many stories. Reading serialized fiction is like revisiting old friends. There’s a comfort in it because mlo-by-andiepetkus-wordstock1-lowresyou have a good idea of what you’re going to get, and if they’re old friends, you enjoy spending time with them.  

Additionally, if you like epic tales of adventure, they often have to be in series format. It’s hard to fit saving the world into one book! So if you like big, sweeping narratives, that’s another reason to love series. You get to see much more of that fictionalized world.

How is it decided that a particular story should be serialized? How are the contracts usually negotiated? (one book at a time, or for the entire series at one?)

I’ve written two kinds of serialized fiction. My Adaptation series is two novels and a novella, and is the kind of serialized fiction you generally find in bookstores. The sequence of this series and the number of books in it was negotiated during the contract stage, when Little, Brown acquired it. Sometimes if a book is a standalone and it does really well, publishers will ask for a sequel or for more in the series. So it’s not always decided up front. 

The other type of serialized fiction I’ve written is Tremontaine, a serialized ebook series from an ebook publisher called Serial Box. They release serialized ebook novellas weekly, like a TV series releases episodes. It’s actually quite an old kind of publishing. This is how Charles Dickens released his writing in the nineteenth century — by publishing it in newspapers serially. This was different from my novels because I was one writer on a team of writers, and we worked out the plot together. The overarching beats of the plot were created together before we started writing.

Is writing serialized fiction the same as writing a novel, or are there differences?

If your series consists of a series of novels, it’s like writing a series of novels. As many writers enjoy saying, every novel is different. At the same time, if you’re working with a series, it’s a good idea to know the whole plot (at least generally) before you start writing book one. Otherwise the resulting series will have continuity problems and plot holes. So while each novel on its own is simply (simply, ha!) writing a novel, you have the added issue of plotting across a series rather than only one book.

For Tremontaine, it was quite different from writing a novel because each “episode” was only about 14,000 words. That’s much shorter than a novel, so the structure of each episode was different. You had to limit what you could get done in one episode, and you had to work with the other writers by asking them to insert plot points in their episodes to lead up to yours, or to follow through afterward. The entire arc of the season felt more like a novel. 

If someone were to develop an award for outstanding young adult series, what criteria do you think they should consider?

I think that would be a wonderful idea! There are so many series that are fantastic that don’t get recognized because most awards focus only on standalone novels. For example, Holly Black’s Curse Workers series is truly a work of art. She plants many seeds in the first book (White Cat) that don’t fully blossom until the climax of the third (Black Heart). That kind of multi-book planning — and its successful execution — is really hard to do. So I think a series award would need to look at the entire arc of all books in the series, and consider how well the narrative and characters develop over the course of all books.

Additionally, each book in the series should have its own inner cohesion. Because it’s a book within a series, however, there will necessarily be loose ends in all the books except the last one. But even with that caveat, each book should move the characters through a relatively contained story arc, and then also push the greater story forward. It’s a big challenge and I really admire writers who are able to juggle epic plots and multiple character threads.

What can we expect from you in 2016?

This year I’m hunkering down and doing a lot of writing. You won’t see much new from me this year because I’m working on stuff that won’t come out until after 2016. I will have some nonfiction published this year, including an essay in a collection for adults on the business of writing. And you never know, I might turn out some other essays as well. Stay tuned.

After reading Malinda’s description of what would make good, award winner series, I too wish there were an award! But, Malinda is such a good writer that she could convince me of almost anything. Malinda Lo is the critically acclaimed author of several young adult novels, most recently the duology Adaptation, a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of 2013, and Inheritance, winner of the 2014 Bisexual Book Award. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA, a project that celebrates diversity in young adult books. She lives in Massachusetts with her partner and their dog. We’ll have to watch for her releases in 2017!


Saturday Trailers: Dove Arising

What better day for a book trailer than a Saturday? Dove Arising by Karen Boa releases 24 Feb. “Be there or be a regular quadrilateral”.

Phaet Theta has lived her whole life in a colony on the Moon. She’s barely spoken since her father died in an accident nine years ago. She cultivates the plants in Greenhouse 22, lets her best friend talk for her, and stays off the government’s radar.

Then her mother is arrested.

The only way to save her younger siblings from the degrading Shelter is by enlisting in the Militia, the faceless army that polices the Lunar bases and protects them from attacks by desperate Earth-dwellers. Training is brutal, but it’s where Phaet forms an uneasy but meaningful alliance with the preternaturally accomplished Wes, a fellow outsider.

Rank high, save her siblings, free her mom: that’s the plan. Until Phaet’s logically ordered world begins to crumble…

Suspenseful, intelligent, and hauntingly prescient, Dove Arising stands on the shoulders of our greatest tales of the future to tell a story that is all too relevant today.

I didn’t realize that Christopher Paolini maintains a blog where among other things, he posts interviews with authors. What great networking! Here, the two authors discuss artistic choices Bao made in writing what is the first book in her trilogy, how Bao, a full-time student, manages to find time to write and why they’ve both decided to stop using italics in their writing. I’m so glad they did!


I had to get up and turn the heat up before starting this post. It is definitely getting colder outside. Yesterday was Cookies and Cocktails and I spent the day baking cookies with my sister. No doubt it was a long, long day but it’s a tradition we do not want to give up any time soon. I’ve boxes wrapped and ready to ship off to family and friends who I hope will enjoy eating them as much as we did baking them! I’ve also contacted several people for my annual Cookie Traditions posts and hopefully those will begin rolling in soon.

Zetta Elliott has beem working on completing her annual list of MG and YA books by African American authors.

In doing this work, Zetta urged me to collate my list according to ethnicity so that we can see how many books were compiled by Native Americans, Asian Americans and Latino/as as well. I cleaned up my list removing nonfiction titles and a few that I decided are too young for MG readers and categorized the books I found. I added the titles I didn’t have that Zetta found and some from Debbie Reese as well. I am sure there are books written by authors of color and published by traditional publishers that I have missed, and hope that you will mention them in the comments.

Does this matter? Of course, it does. I’ve been saying for months the numbers and dropping and I’d like to figure out why, particularly since the overall number of children’s books is up this year. This year we say Neesha Meminger, L. Divine and B.A. Binns all self publish. Don’t you think its time for another YA from Cindy Pon? Alex Sanchez? Medeia Shariff? Dia Reeves?

“In the Margins Committee  

What is it?  A group of librarians creating a committee to seek out and highlight books:  preschool through adult fiction and non-fiction titles of high-interest appeal to boys or girls, ages 9-18  who may fit into one or all of the following categories:

 multicultural (primarily African American and Latino)  from a street culture  in restrictive custody  reluctant readers  What does it do?  The committee will select and review the best books of the year, specifically for the population listed above. Titles of interest will be unusual, possibly unreviewed,  have multicultural characters, dealing with difficult situations including (but not limited to) street life, marginalized populations, crime, justice, war, violence, abuse, addiction, etc. The first year we will also review a few older titles that may not have been reviewed previously but which are deserving of attention.

 Committee membership and requirements:   research and nominate titles that are self published, independently and published by small presses  provide written review of books, and read for special content for detention facilities  read all nominated titles  work with or do outreach to teens in custody and/or from street culture.  get feedback from at least 3-10 teens on each title  actively participate in email discussions  meet 1-4 times a year via video conferencing and/or in person  opportunity to blog in column about your and your youth’s experiences with a certain title or author  Don’t delay – Apply today!”

No doubt incarcerated teens need books which will interest them as these teens often have incredibly poor reading skills. And I think the intent of this committee is to review books for those who work with incarcerated teens.  If I read correctly, these reviews will appear in SLJ as the chair of the In the Margins Committee now has a blog on SLJ’s site. Will this blog be balanced with one that gives a wider representation to African American and Latino (and Native American and Asian American) literature?  What effort will SLJ make to educate readers about the vast contrtibutions writers of color make to teen literature and the even broader reading preferences of teens of color?

This is what the CCBC reported  for 2011:  We received approximately 3,400 books at the CCBC in 2011. Of those,

• 123 books had significant African or African American content

• 79 books were by Black authors and/or illustrators

• 28 books had American Indian themes, topics, or characters

• 12 books were by American Indian authors and/or illustrators

• 91 books had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content

• 76 books were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage

• 58 books had significant Latino content

• 52 books were by Latino authors and/or illustrators

This is what I found so far for 2012.


1. Diverse Energies edited by Tobias Buchnell and Joe Monti; Tu Books, November

1. Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith, illus. by Blake Henry;Clarion Books,  Feb. 22
2. Outcasts of River Falls: sequel to Belle of Batoche by Jaqueline Guest; Regina Coteau Books for Kids, 1 Apr
3. Diabolical by Cynthia Leitich Smith; Candlewick Press; 14 Feb


1. The friendship matchmater by Randa Abdel-Fattah; Frances Lincoln, 6 Sept
2. What’s Left of Me: The Hybrid Chronicles, Book One by Kat Zhang; Harper Collins, 18 September MG
3. Adaptation by Malinda Lo; Litte, Brown Books for Young Readers 18 Sept
4. Ash Mistry and the savage fortress by Sadwat Chadda; Harper Collins, October
5. The girl who lept through time  by Yasutaka Tsutsui and David Karashima; Alma Books 1 Sept
6. Bobby the Brave (Sometimes) by Lisa Yee and Dan Santant;  Scholastic, 1 Aug
7. A beautiful lie  by Irfan Master; Albert Whitman & Company, 1 August
8. The choke artist: confessions of a chronic underachiever by David Yoo; Grand Central, 19 June
9. Reincarnation (Legend of Snow Wolf series) by Fred Lit Yu; China Books,   1 June
10. Article 5 by Kristen Simmons; Tor, 2012
11.     Dumpling Days by Grace Lin; Little Brown Books for Young Readers; 2 Jan
12.    Tina’s mouth: an existential comic diary by Keshni Kashyap and Mari Araki; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 3 January
13.     The whole story of half a girl by Veera Hirandandani; Delacorte Books for Young Readers; 2012
14.     Lovetorn by Kavita Daswani; HarperTeen; 17 Jan
15. Fair Coin  by E. C. Myers; Pyr, 27 March
16. Another Jekyl another Hyde  by Daniel and Dina Nayeri; 27  March, Candlewick
17. The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda; St Martin’s  Griffin, Apr. 19

18. The mapmaker and the Ghost by Sarvenaz Tash; Walker Book Childrens, 24 April

19.   The Agency 3: Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee, Candlewick, February

1. A Thunderous Whisper by Christina Diaz Gonzalez; Knopf Books for Young Readers 9 October
2. Summer of the Mariposas by Guadelupe Garcia McCall; Tu Books, October
3. BorderTown #4: No Second Chances by Malin Alegria; Scholastic Nov.
4. The revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano; Scholastic, 1 Sept
5. Con carino/Love Amalia by Alma Flor Ada; Atheneum Books for Young Readers; 10 July
6.  Choke by Diana Lopez; Point; 12 July
7. Border Town #2: Quince Clash by Malin Alegria; Scholastic, 1 July
8. Bordertown #1 Crossing the line  by Malin Alegria; Scholastic, May MG
9. Body Slammed! by Ray Villareal; Pinata Books, 30 Apr
10.     Border Town#1: Crossing the line by Malin Alegria; Scholastic 1 May
11.     Prom dates to die for by Kelly Parra; Buzz Books; 1 May
12. Irises  by Francisco X. Stork; Authur A. Levine; Jan 2012
13.     Facts of life: stories by Gary Soto; Graphia, January
14.     The glass collector by Anna Perera; Albert Whitman and Co. 1 Feb
15. Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz; Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 21 Feb
16. The girl who could silence the wind by Meg Medina; Candlewick, 13 March
17. The Temptation: A Kindred Novel by Alisa Valdes; HarperTeen, Apr. 4

2. No Boyz Allowed by Ni-Ni Simone; Dafina Books, 31 July
3. Hollywood High by Ni-Ni Simone and Amir Abrams, Dafina Books, 25 Sept
4. Pinned by Sharon Flake; Scholastic, 1 October MG
5. Time to Shine by Nikki Carter; Dafina Books, 30 Oct
6. Crazy Love by Amir Abrams; Dafina Books, 27 Nov
7. Dork Diaries 5: Tales from a not so smart miss know it all by Rachel Renee Russell; Aladdin, October
8. Fading Amber: The cambion chronicles #3 by Jaime Reed; K’Teen Dafina 26 December
9. Kiki doin’ it (Juicy Central)  Saddleback, 1 Sept
10. Marnyke: the fake date  (Juicy Central); Saddleback
11. Tia Diva, (Juicy Central) Saddleback Sept
12. Sherise Stalked,(Juicy Central) Saddleback, Sept.
13. Nishell Tempted by Stephanie Perry Moore (Juicy Central); Saddleback, 1 Sept
14. Settle down/be real Cheer Drama/Baller Swag; Lockwood High Series by Stephanie Perry Moore; Saddleback
15. The diary of B. B. Bright possible princess by Alice Randall, Caroline Randall Williams and Shadra Strickland (illustrator); Turner Publishing 4 Sept
16. Charly’s Epic Fiasco by Kelli London, Dafina Books, 28 Aug
17.     A Certain October by Angela Johnson; Simon and Schuster; August
18.     Denim diaries 6 Lying to live by Darrian Lee; Urban Books, 28 August
19.     Fire in the Streets by Kekla Magoon; Aladdin, August
20.     The Cruisers 3: A star is born by Walter Dean Myers; Scholastic 1 Aug
21.     Dork diaries 4: Tales from a not so graceful ice princess by Rachel Renee Russell; Aladdin, June
22.      Back to me by Earl Sewll; Kimani Tru 1 July
23. Always upbeat Cheer Drama (Lockwood High Series)by Stephanie Perry Moore; Saddleback, 1 June
24.     Keep jumping/no hating Cheer Drama (Lockwood High Series) by Stephanie Perry Moore; Saddleback 1 June
25.     Settle down/be real Cheer Drama (Lockwood High Series)by Stephanie Perry Moore; Saddleback 1 June
26.     Yell out/Do you Cheer Drama (Lockwood High Series) by Stephanie Perry Moore; Saddleback 1 June
27.     Back to me  by Earl Sewell; Kimani Tru; 19 June
28.     Lone bean by Chudney Ross; Amistad, June
29. Download Drama  by Celeste O. Norfleet; Kimani Tru, May 20
30.     37 Things I Love (In No Particular Order) by Kekla Magoon; Henry Holt, May 3
31.     Happy families  by Tanita Davis; Knopf Books for Young Readers, 8 May
32.     Burning Emerald: The Cambion Chronicles #2 by Jaime Reed; K-Teen/Dafina; May
33. Creeping with the enemy (Langdon Prep)by Kimberyly Reid; Dafina, 24 April
34. Black Boy White School by Brian F. Walker; HarperTeen 3 Jan
35.     The mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis; Wendy A. Lamb Books, January MG
36.     The Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards; HarperCollins, 17 Jan
37.     Best shot in the west: the adventures of Nat Love by Patricia C. McKissack, Frederick L. McKissack and Randy Duburke; Chronicle Books,  18 January GRAPHIC NOVEL
38.     Mesmerize  by Artist Arthur; Kimani Tru, January
39.     The clone codes #3: the visitors by Patricia C. McKissack, Fredrick McKissack and Pat McKissack; Scholastic, 1 February
40.     Beneath a meth moon  by Jacqueline Woodson; Nancy Paulsen Books, February
41.     No crystal stair  by Vaunda Michaux Nelson; Carolrhoda Press, February
42.     DJ Rising by Love Maia; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 6 Feb
43. Power Hitter  by M. C. Higgins; Darby Creek Pub, March
44. Boyfriend season: Cali boys  by Kelli London; K’Teen, 27 March
45. Creeping with the enemy (Langdon Prep)by Kimberyly Reid; Dafina, 24 April
46. All the right stuff  by Walter Dean Myers; Amistad, 24 April
47. The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson;  Margaret K. McElderry Books , 17 April
48. On the flip side: A fab life novel #4 by Nikki Carter; KTeen Dafina; 28 February
49. Ship of souls by Zetta Elliott; AmazonEncore, 28 Feb
50. Bad boy by Dream Jordan; St. Martin Griffin, 28 Feb

What’s missing??

book review: The Great Wall of Lucy Wu

title: Great Wall of Lucy Wu

author: Wendy Wan-Long Shang

date: Scholastic Press;

main character: Wendy Wan


The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is Wendy Wan-Long Shang’s first novel. It is the story of sixth grader, Lucy Wu, whose life is about to be ruined not only by a long lost aunt with whom she has to share a bedroom, by Talent Chang and her new Chinese school and by Sloan. Sloan and Lucy both want to be the captain of the sixth grade basketball team, Lucy because of her basketball skills and Sloan because of her well developed bullying skills. Lucy builds a physical wall in her bedroom to keep her aunt out of her life and she builds emotional and social walls to keep Sloan and Talent out. The thing with walls is that while we think they’re keeping everyone out of our space, they’re also keeping us out of everyone else’s.

Lucy is bitter about her aunt’s visit, about being forced to give up basketball for Chinese school and she’s confused about what to do about Sloan. Lucy hasn’t given up completely on her Chinese culture, she’s just at a stage in her life where she’s about to begin self actualizing, figuring out who she really is and what she really values. She’ll probably always prefer Italian food to Chinese, but nothing will bring her more satisfaction than her aunt’s noodles. We see a lot of growth in this character who experiences many situations which are true to life and easy to identify with. Shang did an excellent job of developing Lucy’s internal struggles so that her change in attitude is believable and understandable.

What didn’t I like about this book? I didn’t like that there were no samples of the dumplings, no scratch and sniff pads and no recipes. I didn’t like how well I could identify with Lucy’s ability to shut others out.

There were many idioms used in the book which, I’ve come to understand are used throughout Chinese conversations. I liked how Shang blends them into the story and echoes their moral in Lucy’s situations. Being embarrassed by relatives, having parents rain on your parade, having that one really good friend who is always there; these are things to which any middle schooler can relate. The fact that Lucy is Chinese American adds dimension and depth to the story.

author’s website


LA Times review



Asian American Press review

The HappyNappyBookseller review







Asian American stereotypes

In this article, I think the NYTimes attempts  to inform its readers about stereotypes many may have regarding Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and education. They report that it is believed that Asian Americans are ‘taking over campuses’. They refute this by saying Asian Americans are not an homogeneous group. They can be from Samoa, Japan, Korea, India or even Malaysia, each country with its own unique culture. The article then perpetuates other stereotypes by saying people from this country don’t finish high school while those from that country will earn graduate degrees. Problems because of the continuing stereotype? Higher admission standards for these students.