By Olivia Mules
Today we’re pleased to welcome Kara Bietz to the WNDB blog to discuss Sidelined, out September 21, 2021!
Congratulations on your second novel! Could you tell the readers of We Need Diverse Books what they can expect from Sidelined?
Thank you so much! I’m so excited to see Sidelined finally in the hands of readers! Sidelined has been described as Love, Simon meets Friday Night Lights. Readers can expect two boys with a complicated shared history, tons of Texas high school football madness, small-town traditions, homecoming mums, school dances, real friendships and all the swoony feels I could squeeze in.
Where did you find inspiration to write this story in particular?
I lived in Texas for a few years and worked in a high school guidance office and later in the school library. I learned so much about the culture of high school football and homecoming, and just how important some of these traditions are to the students and honestly, the whole school community. I also had a personal wish to see more joyful stories with queer characters falling in love, feeling safe and respected in their neighborhoods, and being loved and celebrated by their families. These two things were front and center in my life when I began writing Sidelined.
Each of the characters in Sidelined face different real-world problems. We know it is important that there is representation and visibility in the texts teens are reading. What do you hope teens take away from this book?
I think everyone deserves to see themselves in a book. And not only do they deserve to see themselves in a book, but they deserve to see themselves HAPPY in a book. Don’t get me wrong, I am huge fan of darker themed stories, and books that deal with difficult subject matter. But I also think it’s necessary to have books that center joy, and the characters are loved and supported and respected for exactly who they are.
I loved learning about the tradition of wearing mums and garters to Texas high school homecoming. Did you have to do any research for this book? If so, what was the most interesting thing you found out about?
As I said, I learned a ton about Texas homecoming from the students at Cypress Ranch High School in Cypress, Texas! The day of the homecoming game, all the students would come to school with their garters and homecoming mums on, and I loved being in the hallway during passing periods on that day. Everything was always so bright and joyful and LOUD! Some students were incredibly creative with their mums and had stuffed animals and blinking lights and LED screens with running messages and some even played music! It was always my very favorite day of school all year. Strangely, the things I had to do the most research for were the football scenes! I am a huge basketball fan, but honestly hadn’t watched a ton of high school football before I started writing Sidelined. I made sure I was front and center for a whole lot of games once I started writing! And in the spring and summer months, YouTube and binge-watching episodes of QB1 on Netflix had to take the place of my bleacher seat on the 50-yard-line.
In Sidelined, the two narrators are both queer high school senior athletes. What advice would you give to students trying to navigate high school while also trying to navigate their identities?
I’m raising two young adults right now, one in high school and one in college. In our house, there are only four rules: Be kind, be tolerant, be curious, be brave. Those are rules not only within our four walls, but out in the big world, too. And they’re also rules you can apply to yourself. Be kind to yourself. Be tolerant of yourself. Be curious about yourself. Be brave for you. Know that your identity is your business. You decide who to share that part of yourself with. (And know that it is just a part of you. It is not all of you, nor is it THE defining piece of you.) Know that you will find your people. The ones who will have your back and support and love you exactly how you are right now, even if it’s messy. Even if it’s complicated.
When you write, what is your favorite part of the writing process? Why?
Writing ‘The End!’ Honestly, that’s not that far from the truth. I love discovering things about my characters and scene-setting and deciding which turns a plot will take, but I’m much happier in the revision stage of writing than I am while crafting a first draft! All of those blank pages ahead of me during the drafting stage can make me anxious and writing with anxiety is like swimming with a cinder block around your middle. It’s not going to end well. That first revision is when you can uncover all the hidden gems you wrote while drafting. Those tiny diamonds are where the real story lies and pulling them from the rubble and setting them aside is the best kind of treasure hunt. Crafting a story around those first strokes of brilliance is what I love the most about writing, and those shining moments aren’t usually obvious until you’ve finished what Anne Lamott refers to as a “sh*tty first draft.”
What advice would you give to other young adult authors who want to write about characters with diverse lives and identities?
My advice would be the same to anyone wanting to pursue publication in the young adult space. Stay true to a young adult voice, understand the world teenagers occupy today, and write what is in your heart. Once you have written, then decide if it’s something that would fit in the market. Not everything that’s written is going to be a good fit. If your voice adds to a conversation that’s already underway, starts a new conversation, or pursues a necessary perspective that we haven’t seen before, it might be right for publication. My other piece of advice is to ask yourself why you are the right voice for these lives and identities and be confident in the answer.
Do you have any recommendations for published or forthcoming books or voices we should be reading?
Since the pandemic, I have been reading a ton of contemporary YA graphic novels and poetry. So. Much. Poetry. Some of my favorites of the past few months are anything at all by Tillie Walden, and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. Some amazing poetry I’ve picked up recently is Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson and Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes. I’ve just started reading Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne and I’m just devouring it. Gorgeous. Some things I’m looking forward to reading later this year are Things We Couldn’t Say by Jay Coles, Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson (You Should See Me In A Crown is one of my favorites), and Like Other Girls by Britta Lundin.
If you could have your dream panel promoting Sidelined what would it be about? What other authors and voices would you like to have on it alongside you?
I would love to be on a panel with other authors writing happy YA LGBTQIA+ love stories! Leah Johnson is someone I think does this really well. Malinda Lo is the queen of character development, and I’d love to hear her perspective on this, so she is definitely on my dream panel! I am also a huge fan of Julie Murphy’s Pumpkin and Ramona Blue and sharing a panel with her would be an honor. Sophie Gonzalez, Jennifer Dugan, Jason June…we’re going to have to get a really long table for this panel!
What question do you wish you were asked more often (and the answer)?
A question I always love is “when did you know you wanted to be a writer?” In third grade, we were allowed to choose books from any section of the elementary school library. No longer relegated to the picture book shelves or the easy readers, the holy grail of big kid-dom beckoned: chapter books. I was so excited for our first library day that year, I could hardly contain myself. I devoured every Ramona book I could get my hands on. How To Eat Fried Worms. Anything by Betsy Haynes. Every Choose Your Own Adventure book the library had on the shelf. Sometime during third grade, I stumbled upon Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume, and that is when I found myself in the pages of a book. I checked out Sheila the Great at least ten times that year, probably way more if I’m being honest. That’s when I started writing my own stories, too. About kids who looked like me and thought like me. My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Frates, told me I was a good writer, and that stuck with me. I was eight years old and even now, a whole lot of years later, I still remember what it felt like to be told that you’re good at something. And sometimes I still think about Mrs. Frates when I’m writing!
Kara Bietz was born and raised in New England but now resides in north Georgia with her family. Sidelined is her second novel. She invites you to visit her online at karabietz.com or on Twitter and Instagram @karamb75.
Olivia Mules is currently pursuing her master’s degree in library and information science. Olivia’s goal is to work in academic librarianship and reference services with a focus on information literacy. Before starting her degree program, she was a special education teacher and taught math and science. Her favorite literary heroines are Elizabeth Bennet, Gemma Doyle, and Arya Dröttning. When Olivia is not doing schoolwork, she enjoys cooking, music, hikes with her wife and daughter, and drinking an inordinate amount of iced coffee.