Two weeks from today, my young adult novel Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak comes out. This is the second book in the Unstoppable trilogy, and I'm so excited to share it with the world. It's full of palace intrigue, spy missions, artists venturing beyond the universe—and most of all, queer chosen family being kind to each other.
I can already tell that there are going to be a lot of days coming up when I'll feel weird about talking up my novel, because something horrible is happening in the world. I do not need to trivialize this at all — it genuinely feels selfish and petty to bang a drum about my goofy space fantasy in the midst of so many horrifying disasters and abusive schemes. All of the horsemen of the apocalypse are riding as hard as they can right now, and it really feels like nothing else matters.
In any case, I kind of have no choice but to promote this book as much as I can. My publisher spend a lot of money printing it and trying to get the word out, and I'm proud of the years I spent writing it and refining it. Turns out space palaces are actually really hard to build — who knew? You only get one chance to launch a book, most of the time, and you have to make as much noise as you can leading up to the pub date. In today's algorithm-saturated world, you have to do ten times as much promo to get one-tenth the effect.
But also, I believe that a compound apocalypse is absolutely the right time to be celebrating and championing stories — both our own and other people's. I wrote a whole book about how storytelling can get us through hard times (which was mostly aimed at writers, but a lot of it is applicable to readers as well.) Among other things, I talked about how escapism is heroic in the midst of horrible events, both because it's self-care and because it helps us to imagine how things could be very different. Never Say You Can't Survive is, in large part, a manifesto about why stories matter more when the world gets bleak. Including, maybe especially, seemingly frivolous stories.
It bears repeating: the abusers of the world want you to have only one story. Their story. They spend a lot of energy and resources trying to drown you in their narrative, full of distorted facts and paranoid scenarios.
When the worst people in the world try to overwhelm you with their monstrous narrative, they're often advancing a theory of human nature, at least in part. It's red in tooth and claw, people have to fight to survive, and trying to build a fairer and more nurturing world is pure quixotic folly. When we all buy into a misanthropic, violent vision of the world that prizes "toughness" and "strength," it's much easier to force us all to accept the domination of some would-be strongman. Brutality will always triumph, so we might as well have it on our side.
The abusers don't mind in the least if we feel dismayed or enraged at the sight of systemic abuses, as long as we stay fixated on the narrative they've created for us. And as I wrote in my book Never Say You Can't Survive, fictional stories about fighting back and rising up and defeating evil help to inspire people to do those things in real life. But also, stories of kindness and friendliness represent another theory of human nature: one in which people are capable of building instead of destroying, teaching instead of mystifying, caring for each other instead of bathing in hatred.
And I want to expand on the self-care part of it. I can only spend so many hours doomscrolling and dwelling on the worst that could happen next, before I fall into a kind of paralysis. It's easy enough to feel helpless no matter what, because our institutions are becoming less and less responsive to ordinary people. But that feeling of helplessness only increases if I become fixated. I try to do what good I can (signal boosting, donating, calling my reps) and absorb as much information as my brain can stand, but then I have to disengage in order to have energy to keep fighting and caring. Burnout is real. (I'm going to write more about burnout soon.) Positive, hopeful stories give me hope, which in turn gives me the strength to keep fighting.
I'm proud to keep yelling about Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, in particular, for a couple of reasons.
First, even though this book is very escapist and mostly quite friendly, it is very much about the times we're living through. As the title suggests, there is some heartbreak here. Including fascism and war and creeping disasters. My heroes are grappling with these things, and trying to find ways to keep creating and inspiring each other in spite of all the nastiness around them. I very much hope that teens — and everyone else — come away from this book with a sense that creativity and friendship and curiosity can save your life when things get bad. This book is not didactic in the least — after all, I already wrote Never Say You Can't Survive — but I couldn't help writing about the things that I was seeing around me. That's what authors do.
Which, incidentally, is one reason I think authors should be willing to keep shouting about their books even in horrible moments — our books are how we've been dealing with the state of the world, and they inevitably contain our deepest and most thoughtful responses to the events we're living through. One reason I keep writing fiction is because there are a lot of things I can't wrap my mind around any other way.
Secondly, I am super proud of how queer and inclusive Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak is — and I really hope that everyone reads my story of pansexual, trans, non-binary and gender-fluid teens from all over the world who go out and save the galaxy with the power of chosen family. One of the things that is making me scared right now is the onslaught against trans teens and LGBTQIA+ topics in schools — so I am happy to stand on my cardboard podium and yell about my "Guardians of the Galaxy, but gay" epic. We desperately need more positive images of teens who are being demonized and excluded in real life — and I really hope and believe this book provides some. I can't wait for you to read it.
I'm going on an in-person book tour!!! These are the dates that are confirmed so far. I'll have more dates to share with you next week:
April 5: Booksmith, San Francisco, CA, 7 PM PT. In conversation with the astounding Nina LaCour (We Are Okay)!
April 6: Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA, 7 PM PT. In conversation with the heroic writer/bookseller Rob Crowther!
April 7: Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA, 7 PM PT. In conversation with the amazing Margaret Owen (Little Thieves)!
April 9: Anderson's Bookshop, Naperville, IL, 2 PM CT.
Hope to see you at one of these events. Stay tuned for details about my upcoming events in Boston, NYC, and Los Angeles!