Can you give us a bit of backstory about CAKE Literary? What is it? What made you and Dhonielle start it?
CAKE Literary is a boutique book packager with a decidedly diverse bent. We come up with fun, high concept, page-turnery ideas with a strong, organic layer of diversity built in, define and outline the “package,” find an #ownvoices writer to work with us on the story, then take it to publishers. The idea is to bring clear, authentic and very necessary voices to the market in a way that sort of hasn’t been seen before. The reason: both Dhonielle and I missed seeing ourselves in those kinds of books—the one where the brown kid gets the girl (or boy!) and gets to save the world—when we were kids. And sadly, 30 years later, my kid still misses seeing herself in those books. Lots of kids do. We wanted to do something about it.
Dhonielle and I met in the Writing for Children program at the New School, where we used to talk a lot about exactly that. We had lots of fun ideas—ones we knew we could never get to ourselves, and often stories that weren’t the right fit for us to tell. We both knew a bit about what packaging was from previous work experience, so we decided to go for it. We used our collaboration on Tiny Pretty Things and Shiny Broken Pieces to launch the company and demonstrate what our version of diversity would look like on the page. It’s been an intense but fun ride.
Dhonielle and I also are a part of the We Need Diverse Books executive team, and its mission really overlaps with CAKE’s. We want to see all kinds of diversity on shelves, so that kids (and grown-ups) of every stripe can find themselves in books. Being a part of the We Need Diverse Books has really been a way for us to expand our impact on this as a unified voice. I’m part of the content team for WNDB, and we’ve got some fun things planned.
What are some of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on/have been working on? Can you let us know what they are?
Two have been announced so far—and we have a slew going out soon that I’m really excited about but can’t talk too much about yet!
The first one to sell was Love Sugar Magic, which is about a Mexican-American family in Texas that runs a fun bakery—and little Leo, the littlest of five, learns that they’re really kitchen witches selling things like flying pig cookies and pan muerte, that lets you connect with the dead. She’s too young for magic, but gets her hands on the recipe book and bungles a spell. Chaos ensues! The writer is Anna Meriano, who is of Mexican descent and from Texas—and she really brings Leo’s antics to life. This one scheduled for 2018 from Walden/Harper.
The second one is called The Gauntlet, and is written by Karuna Riazi, who can also be found as @gildedspine on Twitter. It’s a fantasy MG about a little girl and her friends, who get stuck inside a game that is twisty and turny and more sinister than it first appears. It’s a fun adventure with beautiful writing and stunning world-building. It’ll hit shelves March 2017, and is part of the first list from Salaam Reads at Simon & Schuster.
Watch this spot for more news from CAKE! We’re mixing up some fun things.
Personally, I’m working on three projects at the moment (and have a bunch of others that languish as random WORD files on my Mac). One is a YA contemporary, one is a YA fantasy—my first ever!—that’s I’m ridiculously excited about, and the last is an adult contemporary—what they call chick lit (or maybe now women’s fiction) that’s an adaptation of a screenplay I wrote more than 10 years ago. It’s based on my own experiences, and I like to pitch it as sort of Bridget Jones meets Bollywood.
If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?
My dayjob for a long time was celebrity journalism—I know, weird! I used to work at People magazine, and then the dearly departed TeenPeople, which was pretty much my favorite job ever. I’ve interviewed everyone from Robert Pattinson to Ryan Gosling, and written for places like the New York Times, Cosmopolitan and TeenVogue. I still freelance sometimes. So if I wasn’t writing and working on CAKE stuff, I’d probably end up editing at a magazine again. But I love working in book publishing! It’s the only thing that pays slower than magazine publishing, but it’s so much fun.
What are 3 of your favorite books from this past year and why?
Ah, the eternal question! It’s so hard to narrow things down, but a few of my recent favorites include The Wrath and the Dawn and the Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh—for the swoons and the swagger, really. I also loved Marie Rutkoski’s Winner’s Curse trilogy, which wrapped this year with the stunning Winner’s Kiss. I honestly still have not read the last twenty pages because I can’t let it end. (Marie would laugh at this, but it’s true.) And one of my favorite recent contemporary writers is Nicola Yoon. Her debut Everything, Everything was amazing—but I’m even more excited for The Sun Is Also A Star, which hits shelves in September. It’s unique and inventive, and full of diversity that’s rich and necessary to the story (but not the sole focus of the story). Put it on your TBR list right now!
SONA CHARAIPOTRA is a journalist and author who’s written for everyone from the New York Times to Teen Vogue. The co-founder of CAKE Literary, a boutique book packaging company with a decidedly diverse bent, she spends much of her time poking plot holes in TV shows like Pretty Little Liars—for work of course. She’s the co-author of the dance drama Tiny Pretty Things and its sequel Shiny Broken Pieces. She is proud to serve as VP of content for We Need Diverse Books. Find her on the web at SonaCharaipotra.com, or on Twitter @sona_c.