This installment of Canadian news spotlights publishers and authors venturing into YA for the first time.

A “Fierce” Love of Young Adult Books

These are tough times, so if you are launching a YA publishing house you’d better be fierce. The founders of Fierce Ink Press clearly took this to heart when they came up with the name.

“We’re very passionate about young adult books, and writing and writers in the region,” says publishing label executive Colleen McKie, who works from Hunter River in Prince Edward Island. And, she said, she and Halifax-based partner Kimberly Walsh “wanted to come up with a name that would let readers know that the books that they are going to be reading are going to be fierce.” McKie has been running the YA book blog Lavender Lines for about four years, and Walsh was an associate producer for CBC’s Book Club and Canada Reads.

McKie says the pair created Fierce Ink because they noticed a neglected niche. Other publishing companies in the region publish some YA books, but they usually require that the book be set in or be about the Maritimes. “There are a lot of amazing writers in the region who do genre writing – science fiction, dystopia, urban fantasy, historical fiction – that publishers in the area don’t publish,” McKie says. “The only requirement we have is that the authors are based on the East Coast.” Fierce Ink’s first book, The Night Has Teeth by Kat Kruger, which was published in September, is about a boy from New York who discovers a Parisian underworld populated by werewolves.

A two-person operation at present, Fierce Ink plans to publish small lists to begin with, of no more than four titles a year, says McKie. The company will also publish one digital short per month, typically creative nonfiction from well-known regional YA writers about their teen experiences. “It’s along the lines of the ‘It gets better’ campaign,” McKie says. Not only are the shorts meant to reassure teens that others have gone through similar difficulties, but, she adds, they’re “a really cool way for people who are already fans of these authors to actually get to see a little bit of their personal side.”

An Accidental YA Author

Author Mariko Tamaki made her first official entry into the YA genre with (you) set me on fire, published by Penguin Canada’s Razorbill imprint in September.

Tamaki may already be familiar to YA readers; she created the graphic novel Skim with her cousin, artist Jillian Tamaki. It was published by children’s and YA publisher Groundwood Books in 2008 and nominated for a Governor General’s Award. But Mariko Tamaki didn’t originally write it as a YA book: The story was first published in 2005 as a special-edition comic by Toronto-based literary magazine Kiss Machine, with an expletive in the subtitle. Groundwood rereleased it as a YA graphic novel, with a cleaned-up cover. Tamaki has published other books for adult readers, but (you) set me on fire is the first book she has intentionally written for young adults.

It’s a coming-of-age novel, tagged as “a story about school, about fire and about love.” The protagonist, Allison Lee, is 17 and just starting college. She’s been scarred – literally, by flames, and figuratively, by love. College introduces her to “the beautiful and blinding” Shar, and the potential for more scars. Lynne Missen, Penguin’s publishing director for young readers, says the book has received a great critical reception in Canada so far. Reviewers have praised its dark humor and compared it to books by John Green and Gayle Forman. It has yet to be published in the U.S.

“I’ve been hearing more and more about this category of 'new adult,' and this definitely fits that," says Missen. “It’s that category – upper teen into early twenties.”

On her blog, Tamaki has mused about what it means to write for young adults. “I’m torn,” she writes. “I’m super into the idea of that group as my audience. On the other hand, I typically don’t want to think about my audience when I'm writing…. I don’t want to worry about them, I guess is what I'm saying. I don't want the borders of any genre to affect what I put on paper or how I construct the story I want to write.”

West Coast Publisher Explores a New Genre

Vancouver-based Arsenal Pulp Press is best known for its LGBT and multicultural literature, vegan cookbooks, and books on visual arts and alternative arts and crafts, such as knit graffiti. This fall, the house is exploring another niche, with its first two titles for teens. “We wanted to make sure that whatever books we did do in the YA genre are compatible with our list,” says publisher Brian Lam. Of the new venture, he says, “so far, so good.”

October’s short-story collection One in Every Crowd is Ivan E. Coyote’s eighth book with Arsenal, but it’s Coyote’s first that was specifically written for LGBT youth. It was a spring title in Canada and did really well, Lam says: “Ivan had great success at the Vancouver Writers Festival.”

The graphic novel Escape to Gold Mountain recounts the history of the Chinese in North America, including the immigrants’ role in building railways and the racism and other ordeals they endured over some 125 years. Arsenal first came into contact with author and illustrator David H. T. Wong, who is also a Vancouver-based architect, while looking for new office space.

The book was published in early October, and Lam says he is already ordering a reprint. Wong is doing a West Coast tour in November with readings and events in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.