aerial view of a busy bookstore

Catalogs: A Useful Tool Selling Book Rights

International book fairs are the comic con of the book publishing industry. This might be an overexaggeration; however, these fairs are how agents and publishers market their books to other industry professionals to spread the word about their backlist and frontlist titles. (Frontlist titles are the up-and-coming books of a publisher, and backlist titles are books that have already been published.) Promoting these books at conventions can be accomplished in many ways. The most useful of these methods that we use during these networking events are called book catalogs.

Catalogs are large documents (either print or digital) that have all the information an agent, publisher, or book buyer would need to learn about the titles you are looking to market or sell. These documents can be a standard, informational paper; however, most publishers will have elaborate designs to capture buyers’ attention. Catalogs have many uses, and not all these uses are exclusively for book fairs. Publishers use catalogs to present their frontlist and backlist titles to booksellers and buyers around the country so they may pick and choose what titles they want to sell.

Now, you must be asking yourself what goes into these catalogs. Throughout the industry, there is a set standard of elements that need to be in the document. Let’s go through some of the elements that should be included.

Title
Obviously, the first thing a catalog should have is the book’s title to ensure ease and accessibility. They might even include a table of contents or section markers to ensure the catalog is easy to navigate. This is especially helpful if the publisher works with multiple genres.

Hook and Description

All catalogs have detailed book descriptions and hooks. This book description is a little different from what you would normally see on the back of a book or even when online shopping. When writing a book description for a catalog, you have to explain why a publisher or agent should be interested in your title. This is the section where publishers add any praise or awards the book has received.

ISBN, Page Count, etc.

Having things like the ISBN, page count, and word count in a catalog will provide agents and publishers with the important information they need to see if the particular title they are interested in is a good fit for the presses they represent.

Rights Sold

Catalogs that are used by rights agents have a section that clearly states what rights have already been sold for each title. For example: if the Spanish rights for Love, Dance & Egg Rolls have been sold, the Ooligan Press catalog would state that in the rights section to make sure no agents or buyers make inquiries for rights that have already been sold.

Our goal here at Ooligan Press is to have our catalogs in these book fairs every year to spread the word about our engaging titles. That is why our rights coordinator and agent Sylvia Hayse, from Sylvia Hayse Literary Agency, has started to circulate our catalogs at these types of events. By having our catalog in these book fairs, we have the power to connect with publishers abroad.

Catalogs are often openly available to view by consumers. As a bookseller or even a reader, it might be interesting to poke around and see what goes into the business of book publishing.

You should all take a look!

Plant with a table sign saying difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations

The Effect COVID-19 Has Had on Publishing

As we find ourselves still in the middle of the pandemic, it is hard not to think about what it was like before and how things have changed and how each individual has been affected, whether in their personal or professional lives. Businesses in different industries have had to change and adapt to keep going. However, unlike some industries, the publishing industry has actually seen growth amid the pandemic.

Like many others, the publishing industry has seen its share of employee, staffing, and supply chain issues. These are areas that most in the industry will continue to deal with as the pandemic continues. Yet, unlike most other industries, the growth that has been experienced is nothing but good.

According to Cliff Guren, Thad McIlroy, and Steven Sieck and their article “COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021,” “Trade sales in 2020 were almost uniformly ahead of 2019, and in several categories unit sales were up over 20 percent through mid-December.”

This is due to publishing being a part of the arts. In the beginning of the pandemic, individuals turned to the arts to keep busy, distract themselves, and find enjoyment, especially when we were all in lockdown.

Additionally, according to Statista and their stats on “Unit sales of printed books in the United States from 2004 to 2021,” “Data showing how many books were sold in 2021 revealed that the printed book market remains healthy: a total of 825.75 million units were sold that year among outlets which reported to the source, marking year-over-year growth of 8.9 percent. Trade paperbacks remained the dominant format with over 450 thousand print units sold.”

Furthermore, specific areas in publishing, trade publishing to be exact, are thriving even more than others. When individuals sought out material to read, they sought books that could be considered predictable and unrelated to what was happening in the real world. According to Rachel King and their Fortune article “The romance novel sales boom continues,” “The predictability of these novels makes for literary comfort food, one that many readers craved in abundance during some very turbulent times.”

King went on to further state, “Unit sales for romance books topped 47 million in the twelve months ending March 2021 (including print and ebook sales combined), representing an increase of 24 percent from the previous year, according to NPD BookScan. Romance accounted for 18 percent of adult fiction unit sales in the twelve months ending March 2021, making it the second most popular fiction genre overall—second only to general adult fiction—which accounted for 30 percent of adult fiction sales in the same time frame.”

This is not to say that other genres were not sought out. Genres like mysteries and thrillers also soared like romance. Overall, the publishing industry continues to thrive and the data is showing that it is going to continue to do so. So, even though the pandemic has changed so much and continues to change things, this can be considered one positive that has come from it.

woman wearing glasses at computer

Why Would You Want To Work For Someone Else’s Publishing Company?

With an ongoing global pandemic, it is no surprise that many individuals are looking into options that allow them to work from home. In the publishing industry, freelancers are common and many publishing companies even contract freelancers for specific projects or needs. With the added appeal of making your own schedule and essentially managing your own business, why wouldn’t you want to be your own boss?

Employees who are hired as full-time workers of publishing companies usually have several benefits in doing so. For many individuals, the structure and financial security of the nine-to-five office job is preferred; not to mention, many of these jobs allow for health insurance, paid time off, matching retirement plans, and so forth. These employees are often paid hourly or salaried pay and don’t have to deal with the added responsibility of keeping track of and withholding their own taxes from their income. While freelancers do have the option of hiring an accountant or bookkeeper to keep track of that side of the business, working for a company has that built in the structure of the business already.

Even with all the benefits of working for an already established publishing company, according to a blog from Udacy (a technological career training site): Statista data projects that in 2027, 86.5 million Americans will be freelancing and be 50.9 percent of the total workforce. The draw is not only due to individuals and companies pivoting due to the COVID-19 demands that began in early 2020. That same Udacy blog states that the numbers have been steadily increasing over the past decade or so. For many, a huge draw is being able to be in control of their own work/life balance. There is, no doubt, a level of freedom that comes with which clients and projects you take on, how many you take, what kind of work you take on, when you are able to schedule appoints—both personal and professional, when and where you work, and generally being able to call the shots on your career and professional life.

While it does take a lot of “behind-the-scenes” work to network and find the work and the clients in order to sustain your financial needs and make ends meet, many individuals are drawn to the challenge and the desire to learn all aspects of what is essentially running their own business. Many business and entrepreneurial start-ups happen as a result of freelancers who start with the vision of what they want their careers to look like and build from there.

When it comes down to a decision as to whether or not freelance work is right for you, it truly varies from person to person. Take stock of your career goals, look at what you want out of life and what is important to you. Many individuals are able to do some combination of contracted, employed, and/or freelance work. If you are wanting to do a bit of both, just make sure to check with your employer to make sure that any of the projects you take on are not considered a conflict of interest. Otherwise, do what works best for you and your work/life balance and professional development.

A child in a spacesuit attached to a book

How the Big Five Publish Genre Fiction

Booksellers are often tasked with ensuring the shelf a new book is placed on aligns with the marketing the publisher is going for. Is The Handmaid’s Tale science fiction or dystopian fiction or “speculative fiction” as Margaret Atwood herself would have it? Ursula Le Guin famously countered Atwood’s definition, calling this categorizing “arbitrary” and “restrictive.”

Regardless of what you call them, fiction books as a whole sell more copies than nonfiction books—and thrillers, mystery, romance, science fiction, and fantasy are the most read. And while pop culture critics lament the downfall of our supposed literary culture, what are writers and publishers alike to do in creating, acquiring, and publishing books to cater to the growth in genre fiction readers? Since the Big Five have the most publishing power, the best way to investigate the popular fiction they make is to dive into their genre fiction-focused imprints.

Penguin Random House

Starting out with original adaptations of Star Trek, Bantam Books (and science fiction subdivision Bantam Spectra) has put out works by modern genre heavyweights like Danielle Steel and George R. R. Martin. Though they no longer publish manga, the Del Rey imprint specializes in science fiction and fantasy books, publishing novelizations of video games along with classics like Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern series and the “weird fiction” of China Miéville. Not to mention numerous digital imprints such as Alibi (mystery), Loveswept & Flirt (romance), and Hydra (horror and scifi)—or the semi-independent DAW Books distributed by Penguin Random House.

Ballantine Books’s move away from early pulp fiction acquisitions conflicted with rival Ace Books, as they squabbled to get rights to The Lord of the Rings. They now both sit under the same Penguin Random House umbrella, and Ace Books boasts a backlist of Dune, The Once and Future King, and Neuromancer and shares that same editorial team with fantasy imprint Roc Books that published the Discworld series and The Dresden Files series.

Macmillan

Tor Books is the jewel of Tor Publishing Group, formerly Tom Doherty Associates, publishing almost three thousand works since just 1980 and known as the imprint that published Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series and Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series and The Stormlight Archive series. The Tor/Forge blog and Tor.com website are renowned for their insight into the speculative fiction publishing world too.

Housed under Macmillan’s St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books is one of the only imprints focused on mystery, thriller, and suspense novels. The Cassie Dewell novels of C. J. Box (which would become the TV show Big Sky), the gothic whodunnit The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller, and works by Louise Penny (who recently published State of Terror, co-written with Hillary Clinton) were all Minotaur books.

HarperCollins

The entire Harlequin branch of HarperCollins nearly monopolized the romance market for decades, including everything from erotica to paranormal and historical love stories. After acquiring Avon Publications, many early “cheesecake” paperbacks were folded into HarperCollins, and newer releases include tie-ins to the TV show Bridgerton. Early works by Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle now fall under Harlequin. However, ebooks and self-published works have started to outpace the popularity of formally published romances.

Harper Voyager was originally Eos Books, but now publishes science fiction, epic fantasy, and especially urban fantasy. Voyager boasts work of tabletop role-playing game legend Gerald Brom, military sci-fi writer William H. Keith (as Ian Douglas), and speculative fiction writer and poet Beth Cato.

Hachette

Forever and Forever Yours are Hachette’s romance imprints, but the big dive into genre fiction is through science fiction and fantasy imprint Orbit. Popular reads from Orbit include The Witcher series and The Broken Earth Trilogy. Acquisition of Gollancz also means Hachette oversees the out-of-print ebook collection website, SF Gateway.

Simon & Schuster

Still a separate entity, at least for now with the merger court case pending, the only real genre fiction imprint left at Simon & Schuster is the speculative fiction Saga Press. Mostly featuring up-and-comers like Catherynne M. Valente, Rebecca Roanhorse, Ken Liu, and T. Kingfisher, it’s no surprise they still market the works of Le Guin.

Publishing works of popular genre fiction is no small task—Ooligan Press’s first fantasy title in its twenty-year history, Court of Venom, was released April 5, 2022. However, it’s easy to see that walking up to the dystopian fiction shelf in your local bookstore may not just be the work of an attentive bookseller, but the work of an entire imprint intent on bringing a love of genre fiction all the way from the top of the editorial team to the hands of those ready to be swept away to another world.

young girl interacting with a human-like AI

Machines, Authorship, and Ethics

Deep-learning machines—Artificial Intelligence (AI)—are staking out more ground in literature. They make the work of authors and publishers easier every day. Need InDesign to check your XML formatting, no problem; want to adjust the tone of an email, Grammarly has your back. But as machines become increasingly complex, so do the algorithms that help them understand and learn—algorithms written by people. People have life experience, and within the context of this article, that should be seen as extremely limited when compared against the other 7.75 billion people in the world. The ethics of representation as we build and train machines to do more work for us is as important as AI doing the work itself.

Ethics, like the Humanities, weaves its way into our lives and decisions slowly, making our training in it and experience practicing it hard to spot on any given day. Unlike more scientific pursuits, like math or engineering which have fairly linear signs of success or failure, ethics must be intentionally practiced and included in our endeavors. Those who can write code should not be the only ones inserting their ethics into machines.

Therefore, we must have social scientists working with AI engineers from the start. As Dr. Leah Henrickson said in our interview about AI in literature, “Words are the only way we can express what is in our minds to others.” Language is nuanced, subtle, and personal.

Have you ever asked someone whose primary language is not English what something meant in their language? Often that answer goes something like, “Well, there isn’t really a word for that in English, but it kind of means…” The unofficial language of coding is English. Contemplate a deep-learning machine coded by English speakers but asked to write or edit a book in Hindi. Although that machine can know all of the words and grammatical rules of Hindi, does it have the experience of a Hindi speaker? Does it have nuances of that language running through its electrical veins? Does this make it a translated book?

Now is the time to be seeking subject matter experts to assist coders, engineers, and scientists in the writing of algorithms for AI systems. In literature, that should include literary experts from a broad spectrum of languages, cultures, and genres. Imke van Heerden and Amil Bas have been researching this very thing. In their paper on AI as author, they say, “This article suggests that a network of researchers from literary studies and machine learning could work together to create a shared language between disciplines with vastly different methodologies.”

So how do we get there? In the publishing industry we must begin to understand things like AI, deep-learning machines, and natural language generation (NLG). We must become curious about how they are built and trained, and how they learn. There is a deep commitment to equity in most of the publishing world, but just over the horizon is a whole new set of partners creeping into our industry. Will we just stand by and let Silicon Valley decide how those partners will think about the art that we hold dear?

wooden desk with laptop, notepad, coffee, and smartphone

How & Why the “Great Resignation” has Affected the Publishing Industries

Since 2020, industries everywhere have been affected by what has since been dubbed “The Great Resignation.” We can see this partly due to the fact that lots of workers recognized that they were being overworked, and/or underpaid, and decided that this was the best option to take. The pandemic, and the ways in which many people had to work around the social distancing and mask mandates, seemingly opened the nation’s eyes to companies’ capabilities of compensation and the lack thereof. But what does this have to do with publishing?

Plenty. Toward the beginning of 2020, two big publishing houses (Macmillan and Little, Brown and Company) received resignation letters from different editors on their staff. This event quickly led to concern for “junior” and mid-level employees and serious calls for action from publishing companies to assess what is being asked of employees and how they are being compensated. Note that “junior” is purposely in quotations because, as it seems, much of the frustration comes from staff members being dubbed “new” or “junior” in their respective positions despite their experience and contributions to the company.

Take Molly McGhee for example. She was one of the resigners from Tor (owned by Macmillan Publishers), who, according to an article from PublishersLunch, took her leaving public on Twitter. After spending upwards of ten years in various assistant roles, she tried for a promotion. And though she had all these years under her belt, and an acquisition debut at number three on the New York Times Best Sellers List, she was met with reluctance. The reason provided to her for this was that she “needed more training” and, therefore, could not and should not expect to advance for at least another five years.

This issue really points to the fact that lower-level employees seem to be missing recognition and visibility for their valuable inputs and outputs that their positions/higher-ups require of them. I think that most people, when they think of problems in a work environment such as this, tend to default to considering retail and food service. And while it is true that these businesses (along with hospitality, supply chain warehouses, and more according to an article on Fortune.com) have, for a long time, failed to meet the needs of their staff in many cases, we have to start recognizing how often this also happens in fields that are less talked about outside of the industry itself.

For people who are in, or about to step into, positions where they have hiring powers—we have to consider these perspectives before spouting out that, “no one wants to work these days.” Is it truly that no one wants to work, or is it that people want to receive the respect and remuneration that is warranted? Referring back to McGhee on this topic, she has stated since her departure from Tor that she loved her job, and the people she worked with, but ultimately felt that it was in her best interest to resign as the workload and pay were “untenable.” The burnout that nature of employment produces is inexcusable. For the future of the publishing industry, and the toll that the effects of The Great Resignation has had on it, changes need to be made.

castle in a forest

The Murky Depths of Portland Produce Fantasy Gems

Dark skies, misty drizzle, and towering trees hang heavily over the treasures of fantasy in Portland. The Pacific Northwest is home to a host of fantasy authors, and our city is no exception. Here are three authors who span fantasy’s roots to fantasy’s present in this beloved genre.

Ursula K. Le Guin is the author of the Earthsea Cycle fantasy series. Although Le Guin was born in Berkeley, California, she has lived in Portland for most of her adult life and began teaching at Portland State University in 1979. Le Guin is most known for her science fiction, but she began her career writing fantasy.

The Earthsea Cycle began as a trilogy from 1968 to1972 but was then added to in 1998 and 2001 to create a total of five books. Earthsea is Le Guin’s fantasy universe that begins with A Wizard of Earthsea. The wizard in question is the young Ged, who is pushed to travel across Earthsea to be trained as a wizard. When he feels slighted by another trainee, his hubris pushes him to cast a spell well beyond his ability, which releases a shadow that haunts him. Ged is stalked by this doppelganger of his ego until he is forced to chase it down and face it. It is a wonderful fantasy story with great philosophical undertones. Ursula K. Le Guin died in 2018 as a respected champion of women, fantasy, and science fiction.

Wendy Wagner’s debut novel was Pathfinder Tales: Skinwalkers in the Pathfinder Tales series, which supports the Pathfinder gaming universe. Like Le Guin, Wagner writes a broad range of genre fiction, but fantasy, sci-fi, and horror are their favorites. Wagner’s prose is intricate and eerie, weaving a folkish feel into her magic—a perfect complement to winter reading in Portland.

Wagner also focuses on eliminating gender bias from their writing as much as possible. In an interview with Chuck Wendig of Terribleminds, Wagner recalls how hard the process can be:

When it was time to revise, my editor pointed out many, many instances of gender-biased language. I lost count of the number of times I referred to a group of fighters as “men.” In situations with a crowd, I almost never described anyone but the guys. Jendara may have been a well-rounded female character, but she was definitely a rarity in her world. I’m a woman and I believe very firmly in equality for all human beings. I was pretty ashamed to see my own work, and I’m glad I got a chance to fix it before it went out in the world. It’s all too easy to use those same old phrases without thinking about them, but as a writer, it’s my job to think hard about the world I’m making with my words. Do I want it to be the same world that’s told women they have to stay home out of sight, or do I want it to be a world where everyone can adventure, no matter their gender?

Annie Bellet is the newest of the three writers. Her first book, Justice Calling, was published in 2014 and kicked off her Twenty-Sided Sorceress series. Her genre is fantasy with a heavy gamer influence. Justice Calling introduces us to Jade Crow, a sorceress who is taking a break from magic in Idaho. Jade is forced back into spellcasting when an evil shapeshifter finds her and her friends. Bellet’s writing is fast-paced, and her world is familiar to ours. She has parlayed the Twenty-Sided Sorceress into a long-running series that is now at ten books and counting.

Finding the Perfect Indie Press in Oregon

With all of the independent publishers that exist, it can be difficult to find which one is the perfect fit for your newly completed manuscript. Whether you write romance, comics, young adult, or flarf poetry, Oregon is likely to have a press that serves your niche. Here is a round-up of some local independent presses who are accepting (either open, limited, or opening soon) submissions from authors like you. You can browse the list below, then follow the link to each publisher’s website and read more about their submission guidelines and existing catalog. Happy hunting!

Children’s

Ripple Grove Press (Portland) names their mission as pairing talented writers and gifted illustrators to make their children’s books as beautiful and masterful as possible. They are calling out for manuscript-only submissions for a unique picture story that “captures a moment with a timeless feel” for children two to eight years old. They ask for five months to review each submission and do not expect to hear from them unless you have been accepted. They also have a helpful list on their website of what stories not to send and how not to submit a manuscript.

Pomegranate (Portland), while not strictly a children’s book publisher, offers numerous children’s titles in addition to coloring books, puzzles, flashcards, and games. This art-focused publisher offers the resources of a large publisher with the attention and care of a small house. They ask writers and artists to submit their materials either through email or direct mail and offer a response within eight weeks of receiving the submission.

Comics

Dark Horse Comics (Portland) hardly needs an introduction with a backlist of Hellboy, Fight Club 2, Lady Killer, and American Gods. The comic publisher currently accepts two kinds of submissions: “art samples or story/series proposals” from either solo artists or teams (writer-only submissions will not be reviewed). Writers must complete a submission agreement before sending any stories or proposals. All submissions should not expect a response unless their material has been accepted.

Image Comics (Portland) was formed by some of Marvel Comics’ best-selling artists in 1992. Since then, the creator-owned house has become the third largest publisher of comics in the US, producing greatness like The Walking Dead, which inspired the top-rated TV show by the same name. Image Comics accepts proposal-only submissions from writers (no manuscript or storyboards) and photocopies of inking, penciling, and lettering samples from artists. Those who submit can expect a response within one month after submitting only if their material has been accepted.

Fiction

Atelier 26 Books (Portland), which published one to three titles a year, preaches reading as a non-consumerist endeavor offering “beautifully designed and expressive books that get people listening, talking, and exchanging ideas.” While submissions are closed for 2018, they are likely to open again in 2019 and will be looking for writing that bravely diverts from the standard in the current publishing industry. For news on reopenings, you can keep an eye on their Facebook and Twitter or check their website contact page for updates.

Forest Avenue Press (Portland) rose to prominence on the wings of the effervescent Laura Stanfill, a luminary in the Portland writing and publishing community. Stanfill and her three-person team produce a few high-quality books and organize numerous book-related events throughout the year, all while encouraging consumers to turn back to their indie bookstores. Submissions are closed for 2018 but will reopen in 2019. When they reopen, they accept submissions through the free platform Submittable and will be looking for 60,000-80,000 word literary fiction that fits within the existing audience reach of the press. True to their mission, they are also looking for authors who will help promote the book themselves through independent bookstores.

Nonfiction

NewSage Press (Troutdale) publishes nonfiction books in numerous areas, including “animal and human bond, environmental issues, nature, women’s issues,” grief and loss, health and wellbeing, and American life as an immigrant. NewSage claims notoriety from American Library Association, which named the press as offering the best books for young adults. The press asks for proposal-only submissions limited to a ten double-spaced page maximum. They have a useful guide on their website for exactly what they expect to see in the proposal and how they would like it to be submitted. They offer no timeline or promise of a response.

Overcup Press (Portland) focuses on producing high-quality books that serve unique niches with travel, art, and design inclinations, publishing everything from a children’s book starring a raccoon to a highly-illustrated guide to Portland’s craft distilling community. The press asks specifically for nonfiction proposals on the following topics: “Pacific Northwest, travel, architecture and design, food and drink, contemporary arts and culture, music/music history/music journalism, STEM titles (in middle-grade or YA).” The small press accepts submissions through Submittable.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo: Five YA Titles Highlighting Hispanic Heritage

Are you celebrating Cinco de Mayo this year? Although Cinco de Mayo officially commemorates a victory for the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, it’s evolved into an international celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. Regardless of your background or your plans this Cinco de Mayo, if you’re like most of us at Ooligan Press, any good day of celebration somehow involves a refreshing drink paired with a relevant new read. We may not know your drink preference, but we’ve compiled a list of YA titles highlighting Hispanic heritage that are perfect for celebrating this cultural holiday.

    I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez
    Published in 2017, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tells the story of Julia Reyes, a teenage girl growing up in a low-income Chicago neighborhood with her older sister Olga and her undocumented parents. Olga is the perfect Mexican daughter, and Julia is . . . not. Olga still lives at home, wears modest clothes, doesn’t date, and has a respectable job. Julia, however, is extremely independent, rebellious, and dreams of going to college in NYC. After Olga dies in a tragic accident, Julia discovers her older sister had a secret life. Unfortunately, just as Julia feels like she’s starting to understand Olga better, life gets even more complicated when Julia gets her first boyfriend and her parents react by sending Julia to stay with family in Mexico.

An Intimate Evening with Meagan Macvie

We took a second to catch up with author Meagan Macvie before the launch of The Ocean in My Ears (November 7), asking some questions about books, goats, and life growing up in Alaska.

First, I’ve got to get the most burning question out of the way: what can you tell me about your goats?

I have two Dwarf Nigerian goats—a girl named Beth and her stinky brother Lucky. I take them out almost every day for walks in the field behind my house. They munch blackberry bushes and fiddle ferns while I think about the world. My goat-inspired ponderings often end up in my writing.

Meagan and her goats. “I look crazy in this photo, but it’s also kind of hilarious.”

Besides totally owning #goatstagram, got any weird hobbies?

Hm. Weird hobbies. I like taking pictures of fungi. Like a lot. I go on walks in the woods and see all these crazy ‘shrooms. Wild mushrooms are strange and mysterious to me. There are so many different kinds and colors, and they’re very photogenic.

The Ocean in My Ears opens with an epigraph from Margaret Atwood’s “Circe/Mud Poems.” Without spoilers, why is this epigraph so important for this book? Why should we read Atwood with relevance today—and, if we’ve never read her before, what should we start with?

There are many ways into Atwood because she’s wildly interesting. She’s a big thinker and prolific writer who’s written in all genres. As a young person, I started with her poetry for so many reasons. I was a teen girl becoming uncomfortable with the roles being foisted upon me as an almost-woman, and Atwood’s Circe/Mud Poems explored these cultural expectations in ways that sharpened my own thinking. I badly needed an ally at that time in my life, and there weren’t many to be found in Soldotna, Alaska. As a feminist thinker, Atwood’s work is as relevant today as it ever was. I also loved The Edible Woman and, of course, The Handmaid’s Tale.

What were some of your favorite fictional heroines growing up? How about more recent ones?

I was pretty geeked out on sci-fi and fantasy in my younger days. Wonder Woman, the Bionic Woman, and Morgaine from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon come to mind. I wanted to be beautiful and strong, clever and mysterious. Even then, I wanted to fight evil in the world, especially evil that was confusing. Not the obvious “bad guys” in Disney films, but the slick conspirators who pretended to be good. The early Christian patriarchs threatening the matriarchal Celtic culture. The doddering old man who puts his hand up your shirt when no one’s looking. That last one may be a real-life experience, but my battle felt no different, the odds no less impossible, than those facing my fictional heroines. I still admire strong women who face impossible odds. Although I did love the new Wonder Woman movie, now my heroines tend to be real women fighting for justice in today’s world. Beautiful, strong, clever, and mysterious women like former First Lady Michelle Obama, writer Roxane Gay, and US Senator Patty Murray.

What was the book scene like in small town Alaska in the 90s?

I went to a Christian school through seventh grade. There was no library in my school. We read from the Bible, Christian textbooks, and ancient Encyclopedia Britannicas. My mom also had a mail order subscription for kids books. Disney, Dr. Seuss, and Little Golden books would arrive in our mailbox once a month. I don’t remember an actual bookstore in town, but at the drugstore I bought Nancy Drew hardbacks as a kid and later mostly popular sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks. My mom had stacks of romance novels that I would sneak and read in the bathroom. That pretty much sums up my young reading life. I did attend a public high school, where I read novels that focused on social, political, and cultural critique—1984, Brave New World, Animal Farm, Looking Backward, The Jungle. There was no shortage of fear-based thinking in my life at the time. I also had to read some Shakespeare, Of Mice and Men, and bits of Greek mythology in school, but I didn’t encounter a ton of literary fiction until college. As an English major, I was expected to read everything from John Milton to Toni Morrison. That was a steep learning curve for me—I had to quickly step up my library, reading, and critical thinking skills.

If you were to be tattooed with one literary quote, which one would you choose? And what font?

Oh, that’s a good one. Maybe just “without guilt” from the Atwood epigraph in the book, because guilt has sucked so much of my energy—wasted energy—over the years and kept me from doing things I wanted or needed to do. It’s made me hate myself. Guilt is an empty glass.

In terms of font, I have very particular font tastes. I like a traditional serif font with round “i” dots and round periods. Garamond is a traditional font I like, but this Alice Google font is pretty lovely.

The Ocean in My Ears is heavily rooted in nostalgia for the 90s. Did you listen to anything in particular to get you into that mindset while writing? What 90s band would you recommend for teens today?

I listened to a lot of Journey while I was writing Joaquin and Meri scenes. Though I wouldn’t call Journey a 90s band, I listened to them a lot back then, and their songs—especially their ballads—were popular at dances. The Brett character was clearly informed by Def Leppard. Depending on my mood while writing Meri, I’d maybe pull up some old Madonna or British bands I used to love, like Pet Shop Boys or Tears for Fears or OMD.

(Listen to Meagan’s The Ocean in My Ears–inspired playlists to really get in the mood.)

What’s one interesting thing about growing up in Alaska that readers won’t find in The Ocean in My Ears?

Once in real life I fed carrots to a moose from my back door. That is not in the book.

Kirkus Reviews categorized The Ocean in My Ears as historical fiction. How does that make you feel?

Old, of course.

Rapid Fire

What was your very first job?

Babysitting. I hated it.

Go-to order at Dairy Queen?

Chocolate Dilly Bar.

Last book you read & loved?

Thi Bui’s graphic memoir The Best We Could Do.

Three things you can’t live without?

Hummus and salami on a pita (I count that as one thing), my green puffy coat, and my phone that is also a computer and a gps and a thermometer and camera and a data base and a recorder and a million other gadgets in one.

Pick a gif to describe your feelings about the upcoming publication of The Ocean in My Ears.

Like that one gif of Sam and Dean where Dean’s all “I’m totally fine” and then makes a whacked out face and the caption reads INTERNALLY SCREAMING.

Meagan’s The Ocean in My Ears is about Meri Miller, a girl growing up and facing challenges of leaving her small-town life in rural Alaska for college in the 1990s. Read it November 7, 2017.