Who is Nicola? A NYC librarian that knows what it takes to write a YA novel
It is rare that I have a chance to interview someone that constantly works with books and never loses their passion for it. Meet author Nicola L. McDonald, a librarian working in the Big Apple, who lives and breathes books everyday. In this interview we find out she feels so strongly about YA and having people of color represented.
You state on your website that you work as a YA librarian in NYC. What made you decide to write your own YA book? Was there something missing in the YA genre you feel your book can fill?
My library system serves urban communities, needless to say that a large majority of teens who use our libraries are from very diverse backgrounds. The YA genre has lacked diversity in representation for quite some time, although this seems to be changing very slowly. I wrote Transformed because I believe that all readers should be able to see themselves in the books that they read and that the availability of materials shouldn’t be one-sided, as it mostly tends to be. Many YA books with characters of color tend to depict them in utterly stressful or depressing situations, which is not necessarily the ideal circumstance that people of color in general relate to when seeing themselves.
Why did you choose to write about paranormal/romance?
Again, there’s a big void in diverse representation of characters of color. This is hard to ignore as a librarian serving diverse youth and offering book recommendations to patrons – and even harder to ignore as a writer. Paranormal, fantasy, and science fiction are popular genres among a large number of readers, but when you look at the covers of most YA books they show just one set of people. As the genres that mostly encourage readers to dream and use their imaginations to see themselves in other worlds and circumstances, I wonder about the message we are sending to readers who don’t ever see themselves represented within the pages they read. Are they to see themselves always as the underdog and never as the hero or heroine?
I think that many people of color have low expectations of themselves, and I believe that the views society portrays have a lot to do with it. The books that are published each year do send a certain message or portrayal of how things are and should be, whether people choose to see and accept it or not. As with everything, there are many underlying layers that affect the whole way of things, but change has to begin somewhere and I think it’s long overdue in the area of producing/publishing/making available a diverse set of YA books to all readers.
How has your experience been as a self published author? What difficulties have you faced?
I published my first book over ten years ago when self-publishing meant something totally different than what it means today. The process was a lot more challenging and required more resources, including monetary. That for me was a great experience and is what encouraged me to go the self-publishing route again. The greatest challenge I’ve faced is time – not having enough of it – or particularly not wanting to use my time to do everything that self-publishing requires. I can market, but I don’t necessarily want to be solely responsible for it as it takes away from my writing time. And working a full-time day job, where I’m professionally active in various organizations makes time even more of a challenge. But I do what I can when I can, and I’m glad that my book is out there and available to readers.
How important do you it is to have a strong African American lead character in the YA genre?
I believe that it’s imperative to have a diverse representation of lead characters in YA novels, and this includes black characters. It makes a difference to people when they can see themselves reflected in the things that surround them, and what they read is no different. This cause becomes even more significant with constant readership because there is a certain message being sent, whether clearly or in undertones. The lead character is obviously the center of attention and more often than not tends to rise above their circumstances. I believe that stories have special powers and something as simple as seeing themselves in a lead character can bring readers to stand taller and accept that they too can in fact be heroes and heroines of varying circumstances, and not just the tales often told of drugs and betrayal and neglect to reflect them.
Finally, there is not much information about you personally on the Internet beyond your career as a librarian. Why the disconnect?
I prefer to keep my life as private as possible, especially since I work in a public setting. But I can be reached via my website which also serves as my writing blog,www.nicolalmcdonald.com I haven’t updated the site in a while, but I look forward to being able to get back to it at some point.