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August 22, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Lygia Day Peñaflor

Kate Hart
headshot of Lygia Day Peñaflor

This week's Badass Lady is Lygia Day Peñaflor, teacher to the stars and author of UNSCRIPTED JOSS BYRD, a debut YA novel releasing tomorrow -- don't miss your chance to win a signed copy!


chairs and a table inside Lygia's on-set school trailer
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Lygia: I’ve been teaching child actors for ten years. I love the job, but I always wanted to be a published author. When I first started working in the film industry, I was struck by how young and accomplished everyone was—directors, producers, writers, and crew, not to mention my own students who had Tony awards and Oscar nominations. As I got to know everyone, I realized they weren’t any different than I was, and this motivated me to write seriously. I figured, if these young people could achieve their goals, so could I. I wrote UNSCRIPTED JOSS BYRD during my commute, during lunch, and on breaks. Eventually, I had a book about a child star that was the direct result of my surroundings and experiences.

Lygia's remodeled kitchen
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)? 

Lygia: I love home renovation and design. I recently remodeled my kitchen. Unfortunately, it directly affected my writing because it’s pretty much impossible to write a novel when walls are coming down and you’re living in a dust cloud. But I lived through it, and now I can write again. Check out my kitchen reveal here!

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Lygia: It’s a challenge to remember to write for me first before worrying about what my agent or editor or readers with think. Sometimes it’s hard to keep my head down and block out expectations. There was a luxury when writing a first novel in that no one cared about it but me. That gave me a certain level freedom and courage that’s hard to recapture now.

Kate: What's the best compliment you've ever gotten?

Lygia: When I was in 9th grade in an all-girls school, everyone was being particularly mean and cliquey, so our theology teacher had each of us say something nice about someone in the class. A girl I barely knew said, “Lygia doesn’t need a group to know that she’s cool.” That stuck with me all these years and is still the greatest compliment I’ve ever heard.

Lygia and her mom on their way to the premiere of Boardwalk Empire
Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Lygia: When I started dating, my mom told me that I should always have money on me so that I could leave on my own if I wanted to. As an adult, this translated into being able to live independently at any point. In UNSCRIPTED JOSS BYRD, Viva is a single mother raising her child star daughter, Joss. More than anything, Viva wants Joss to be able to stand on her own someday. Viva’s methods may be controversial, but her intentions are good.

Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Lygia: Be present for each other during times of success as much as moments of difficulty because success comes with new stresses and pressures. Celebrate achievements together. And here’s a personal plea: don’t use the word “bitch” as a term of endearment.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Lygia: Know exactly what you want, down to the outfit you’ll be wearing when it happens and the song that will be playing in the background.


Win a signed finished copy of UNSCRIPTED JOSS BYRD!

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Badass Ladies You Should know logo
Lygia  Day Peñaflor is a YA author and academic teacher to young actors on television and film sets. Her debut novel, UNSCRIPTED JOSS BYRD, about a child star struggling through a demanding shoot, releases August 23rd with Roaring Brook/Macmillan. Her students have included cast members of Gossip Girl and Boardwalk Empire, as well as I Am Legend. She lives on Long Island where she is an avid equestrian and old-school roller skater. Lygia is represented by Molly Ker Hawn at The Bent Agency.

website  //  twitter  //  IMDB

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August 2, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Christa Desir

Kate Hart
headshot of Christa Desir
2016 has been a big year for Christa Desir, book-wise: In January, Simon Pulse released her third novel, Other Broken Things. In February, she was part of The V-Word, an anthology looking at virginity and the loss thereof, and in May, she and co-author Jolene Perry celebrated the release of their novel Love Blind.

I've always admired Christa's willingness to take on tough topics -- and not just in fiction. From her work with rape victims and incarcerated women, to her willingness to share the ups and down of publishing, speak up on issues of injustice, and share her own story as a survivor, Christa's combination of vulnerability, determination, and bravery make her a truly badass lady. (Make sure to scroll down for a chance to win ALL of her books!)


Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Christa: I’ve had a million jobs in my life, starting at the age of 11 when I made tiny piecemeal napkin rings using a hot glue gun and fake tree sprigs. Probably there are few jobs I haven’t done: I taught kickboxing, I negotiated talent for the Marlboro cowboys, I was a receptionist in a dentist’s office, I edited erotic romance novels, I was a CFO for a small music company, I stage managed plays at a community theatre, I wrote free-standing inserts for Summer’s Eve douches. I get restless and like to try new things constantly. Mostly, I like to help out people who need it which is where many of my jobs came from. I’ve always written in one form or another, but writing novels is relatively new to me. I started late (about 6 years ago) and fell in love with this type of writing. My passion has always been working with rape survivors. I’ve done that longer than probably anything else in my life. I started volunteering for Rape Victim Advocates in hospital ERs when I was 22. I’ve done advocacy for survivors in one way or another for almost 20 years. My debut novel, FAULT LINE, came out of a writing workshop for rape survivors and half the proceeds from that novel go back into supporting future workshops.

Christa Desir in roller derby gearKate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)? 

Christa: I co-host a podcast with Carrie Mesrobian about sex in YA books. Demystifying and reclaiming sex has always been an interest of mine. I would say that the podcast probably makes me think about the topic more in my own writing, but it’s hard to say which came first there.

Additionally, my advocacy and politics have always influenced my writing. It’s hard to separate the two. I tend to include “helpers” in my books, even if the helpers don’t end up solving any problems. I want them there. I want teenagers to know they’re there.

Until very recently, I also did roller derby which was a more creative outlet than you might suspect and helped me channel a lot of stuff into my writing that I otherwise might not have. When you surround yourself with badass strong women in gold sequence shorts who are constantly cheering you on or trash talking about your crappy t-stops, it sort of reminds you that you’re amazing to be doing this crazy thing at 42. It became easier for me to write female characters who really believed in themselves.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Christa: Feeling like I don’t deserve to be invited to the table. Not just in writing, but in life. I am quite aware of my own flaws and that self-actualization sadly doesn’t translate as well into an awareness of the things I do well. I apologize too much. I often think I’m unworthy of any sort of esteem. I have excellent taste in people and books, and it is difficult to be surrounded by greatness when you mostly feel like you should be back down in the minors getting water for everyone.

Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Christa: I have a book that I love more than anything (OTHER BROKEN THINGS). I’m unapologetic about how much I love it because it’s incredibly personal to me. Even now, I read it and love it and wish more people would read it because it got sort of lost in the shuffle. I got a Kirkus review for it that said it had “a lot of potential but only achieved mediocrity.” I cried in the car for four hours on my way home from my inlaws after I read that. I asked my editor to stop sending me any reviews. I’ve had lots of shitty reviews, but that one hurt the most because it fed into my fear that this part of me is really not all that great. Not the writing part of me, but the human part of me. The part that put all my heart into something and presented it to the world only for the world to say “mediocre!”

cover of BLEED LIKE ME by C.Desir cover of FAULT LINE by C. Desir cover of LOVE BLIND by C. Desir and Jolene Perry cover of OTHER BROKEN THINGS by C. Desir

Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Christa: I’m proud of the letters my readers send me. Most of those who write me are not big readers and they tell me that they hadn’t read in a long time until my book. I love this. I want us all to be in the business of cultivating more readers. Publishing needs more readers before they need more books. If my brand becomes “writes books for kids who don’t read” then I would be super pleased with my life.

Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Christa: I was raped when I was 6, but didn’t tell anyone about it until I was 15. My feminism roared to life my senior year of high school. I was pretty done with the way you always had to pretend to be something else if you wanted to have someone fall in love with you. I think I wasted a lot of years trying to get someone to fall in love with me because I thought it would make me happy. I was unprotected as a child and had bought into the whole notion that if I could just be better in some vague way, then I’d be more lovable. But by my senior year, when I’d had lots of sex and no real love, I figured out that I wasn’t going to find love until I started to really like myself. So I surrounded myself with women who built me up instead of tearing me down. I got deep into the politics of sexual assault and consent and how to reclaim your own sexual agency. I found my voice slowly over time, volunteering in domestic violence and then in sexual assault and then becoming involved with incarcerated teen girls (whose rate of sexual abuse is staggering).

boxes of books to be donated to Cook County Juvenile Center
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Christa: I’ve done a fair amount of public speaking through the Voices and Faces Project. But at the end of the day, the best work I’ve ever done is when I’m out in the field. Some people are better at public policy and working towards female empowerment on a macro level. For me, I’m better in crisis situations or in one-on-one direct service. Everyone has a role to play in dismantling the patriarchy. Mine happens to be in making connections on a personal level. For example, I have lunches or book club with the incarcerated teen girls at Cook County and we talk about sexual violence and what consent really looks like. It’s eye opening to hear about it from their perspective because it’s not like they’re all enlightened feminists who have a solid sense of self. They’re mostly unprotected with very few resources. So even explaining that sex doesn’t have to be transactional on any level (and by transactional, I mean that girls don’t owe guys sex just because they did something nice for them) is a pretty intense conversation. Similarly, talking with high school students about writing testimony and using my story to change how people view rape has opened a lot of doors. I’m not shy about my story and made a decision a long time ago to never be muzzled by what happened to me. I want that for other girls and feel like we can all model that.

The other way I encourage women to support other women is to endeavor not to fall into comparison and competition. Women are works of art, masterpieces in their own right, so treating them like mirrors in which we compare ourselves only perpetuates unnecessary insecurity and self-loathing. I try hard to approach most things in life with a “mercy before judgment” motto because God knows I’ve needed plenty of mercy in my fuck-ups. I’m doubly conscious of that when it comes to women. We’re criticized enough; we don’t need to go after each other.

Above all, listen. To me, the path to empathy has always been in listening to the experiences of others. Particularly when it comes to intersectional feminism and stepping aside for marginalized women to take the stage in feminist circles.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Christa: Read, listen, observe the world, think, be curious, trust your instincts, don’t follow a crowd, learn as much as you can about as many things as you can, be gracious, allow for anger when it’s warranted, don’t apologize for taking up the space you deserve, but recognize that compassion and forgiveness are valuable qualities and integral to building bridges to understanding. And wake up every day knowing what matters to you and working to achieve that.


Win a copy of ALL of Christa's books!
(US only)


Christa Desir writes contemporary fiction for young adults. Her novels include FAULT LINE, BLEED LIKE ME, OTHER BROKEN THINGS, and LOVE BLIND. She lives with her husband, three children, and overly enthusiastic dog outside of Chicago. She has been working as a rape victim activist for nearly twenty years, both in hospital ERs as an advocate and as a public speaker. She is a founding member of the Voices and Faces Project, a nonprofit organization for rape survivors that conducts an international survivor-based testimonial writing workshop, including working with incarcerated teens. She also works at an independent bookstore.

website  //  voices and faces  //  twitter  

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July 20, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Bea and Leah Koch

Kate Hart
headshot of Bea and Leah Koch

Feminist. Sex positive. Welcoming, Fun and Pink.” That's how Bea Koch, one of the sisters behind The Ripped Bodice, describes the store. The Kickstarter campaign for the sole romance-only bookstore in the US (and the Northern Hemisphere) got a lot of attention in my neck of the internet woods, and rightfully so: A store that respectfully and earnestly caters to the much-maligned tastes of female readers? Sign me up.

Sadly, The Ripped Bodice is about a 1500 miles from my house, but Racked has a great profile of the store, and my LA friends are definitely fans. I wanted to find out more about the ladies with the great idea, and luckily they were willing to share their badassery with us.


sidewalk shot of store window with The Ripped Bodice logo and a pink awning overhead
The storefront
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Bea and Leah: We are the owners of The Ripped Bodice bookstore in Culver City, CA. We are the only exclusively romance bookstore in the Northern Hemisphere.

The story of the store is one that relies heavily on timing. We were living across the country from each other as Bea finished her graduate degree at NYU and Leah attended USC. Bea visited Leah one weekend, and over the course of one conversation the Ripped Bodice began to take shape. We were full speed ahead basically from the moment we had the idea.

The bookstore - and the idea of running our own business - was so appealing from the get go that we never second-guessed it. We knew we wanted a home for all of our creative interests and this seemed like the perfect place.

Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)? 

Leah: Quilting is so relaxing for me. I was using it to make money in my last year of college so now it's quite nice for it to just be a hobby I can do in my (admittedly not very much) spare time.

Bea: Writing is definitely not relaxing, but it's something I need to do. I've always kind of lived in my own world, but owning a business requires a very different mindset that I've had to cultivate and work on.

Bea and Leah Koch with cover model Fabio
The owners with Fabio
Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Leah: We are both very introverted and that presents a lot of difficulties for us in our work. Retail is a very person to person job and we engage very directly and deeply with our customers. Given our introverted tendencies, it can be very draining for us. We both work hard to make sure we have time to replenish the energy we are expending. For the first couple of weeks we were both in the store, all day, everyday. We learned pretty quickly that we need days off to recharge.

Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Leah: I am always tickled when people ask if we had a designer for the store.

Bea: There have been a few customers who have had such a strong emotional reaction to the store. They keep me going. To see someone instantly recognize that this space is for them - specifically for them - is such a special thing for me.

a tabletop display at The Ripped Bodice
A store display

Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work? 

Leah: Our mom was probably the biggest influence in our personal feminism, with our dad following closely behind. We were taught from the beginning to be strong and self-sufficient. That helplessness is not cute. If there was a problem we should step in and fix it ourselves, not wait for someone else.

Bea: Feminism is a thru-thread in everything we do. And I am reminded by the importance of visible feminism every time a man recoils or laughs upon entering my store. It's like #masculinitysofragile on display 24/7. Our storefront is pink. We have a large sign proclaiming that we are "romantic bookstore" and you would not believe (or maybe you would) the amount of men who walk in and ask "is anything in here for me?" It's for everyone! This genre is for everyone and anyone. But we did design the space for women. There are so many other spaces for men, that women contend with every day with no complaint. This one bookstore is designed to make women feel comfortable. If that makes you uncomfortable, I think you need to ask yourself why?

cards for sale at The Ripped Bodice
The Ripped Bodice sells
more than just books!
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Bea: Any way you can! For us, that's been working with other female owned businesses, makers, and authors.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Leah: Work, work, work, work, WERK! (and Peggy!)

(that was a Hamilton reference for those of you that are confused)

Nothing is going to happen if you don't put the time in. I think younger women need to start soul searching earlier and really figure out what they want to put their energy towards. That is not going to be career for everyone. If you would be happy in a low stress job and put all your energy towards climbing mountains in your spare time, do that! If your goal is to have a family, start thinking about that early and how you are going to make that happen. If you want to rule the business world, get out on your own early. Take what you can learn working for others and then start failing on your own. Also find a business partner who is your sister. Doesn't have to be biological. You want someone who is going to care more about you then the business and more about the business then herself.

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Bea and Leah Koch are sisters and the owners of The Ripped Bodice. We grew up in Chicago. Bea went on to attend Yale and NYU, where she wrote a graduate thesis titled, "Mending the Ripped Bodice." Leah moved to Los Angeles to attend USC, graduating cum laude with a degree in visual and performing arts. Our family also includes our Dad and our brother Jacob and his lovely wife Olivia, our dog Chester who lives at home with dad, and our cat Clementine. Bea loves her boyfriend Charlie, Bravo reality shows and french fries. Leah loves pizza, Hamilton and weirdly inspiring reality shows like American Ninja Warrior.

website  //  instagram  //  twitter

Want to meet more Badass Ladies? Follow on Tumblr or Twitter!

June 30, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Taté Walker

Kate Hart
headshot of Taté Walker

After a short health-related hiatus, the Badass Ladies series is back! Today I am thrilled to bring you a profile of Taté Walker: Lakota storyteller, activist, social services professional, and, among much more, the editor of Native Peoples magazine. Her life and career path have given her a unique and valuable perspective on feminism and creating change, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to share it with you.

May 31, 2016

shine along: a newsletter-type of thing

Kate Hart
Since my earliest days on the internet, I've been creating lists. I've gathered everything from book covers and best tweets to deal statistics and authors on Tumblr. I organized a "best of the YA net" award, rounded up weekly news for five years, and even attempted to map the entirety of kidlit publishing

But as the January release of my debut novel approaches, I find myself burned out on pub talk. I do want to announce career news occasionally, but now that blog commenting is dead, what I'd really like is to compile cool stuff and share it in a way that's more personal than just tweeting a link into the ether. 

I'll still be posting Badass Ladies, book news, and occasional other posts to my blog, and this monthly-ish newsletter will include those. But it will also offer some giveaways and exclusives, plus a collection of things which may include, but are not limited to: intersectional feminism, art, crafts, living with chronic &/or mental illness, history of all sorts, tribal sovereignty, treehouses, travel, mountains, music, photography, witches, bitches, sewing stitches -- and of course, books, especially those written by and about women.

If you're interested, sign up below, and I'll bring you all the shiniest things I can find. (And if you're on the fence, you can check out the first installment here.)

Thanks for reading <3 

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May 10, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Simini Blocker

Kate Hart
Simini Blocker headshot

If you've spent any time on Tumblr or in the YA world, you've seen the work of Simini Blocker. She's done commissions for great titles like Jessica Spotswood's A Tyranny of Petticoats, Julie Murphy's Dumplin', and Alison Cherry's Red. Her illustrations of Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park were included in a special edition of the book. She's done magazine illustrations, her own comics, artistic interpretations of literary quotes for Goodreads newsletters, and even adorable family portraits.

Simini's style is easily recognizable, but I wanted to find out more about the badass lady behind it, and now I'm happy to share her badassery with you.

May 2, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Vilissa Thompson

Kate Hart
headshot of Vilissa Thompson

I recently came across the website Ramp Your Voice! and immediately emailed its creator, Vilissa Thompson, in hopes of getting an interview. From articles and presentations to children's books and anthologies, Vilissa is taking every opportunity to amplify the voices of disabled women of color, and I'm happy to add another boost to her badass signal.


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