Dhonielle Clayton (“Dhon” like “Don” or “Dawn”) spent most of her childhood under her grandmother’s dining room table with a stack of books.
She hails from the Washington, D.C. suburbs on the Maryland side, but now lives in New York City. She was an extremely fussy and particular child with an undying love for Cheerios (honey nut only), pink lemonade, and frosted animal cookies. A self-proclaimed school nerd, she loved covering her books with brown paper and filled her locker with Lisa Frank stickers. She loved putting headings on her homework, odd-looking pens and freshly sharpened pencils, and numerous notebooks to fill with her research. On most Saturdays you could find her with her equally nerdy Dad at Crown Books and then the comic bookstore where she stocked up on her weekly reading material. Plus, she was so spoiled that her grandfather took her to the library after school almost daily.
She attended Our Lady of Good Counsel High School because her parents thought Catholic school would keep her out of trouble. She went to Wake Forest University, and studied pre-med until she received a fateful F in Chemistry. This setback prompted her to change her major to English, and earned a BA. She rediscovered her love of children’s fiction by re-reading Harriet the Spy, which pushed her to earn an MA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University and an MFA Writing for Children at the New School.
She taught secondary school for several years – at a pre-professional ballet academy and a private K-8 school. She spent most of her twenties in and out of America – living in London, Paris, a small Japanese town, Bermuda – and wandering the planet. She’s been on five out of seven continents, and has grand plans to reach all of them.
She is a former elementary and middle school librarian, and co-founder of CAKE Literary, a creative kitchen whipping up decadent – and decidedly diverse – literary confections for middle grade, young adult, and women’s fiction readers. She is also COO of the non-profit We Need Diverse Books.
What’s next? She will be enrolling in culinary school in New York City and plans to open up a restaurant in the city of her soul, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Meet The Belles!
Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
When I was a pimply, puffy-haired preteen in the mid-1990s, I overheard a conversation at my local suburban mall between several men about their respective girlfriends’ bodies. They were thumbing through a popular magazine as they discussed how much better their girlfriends might look if they had longer and leaner legs, bigger breasts, different hair textures, a more slender frame, softer skin, etc, and comparing then to the celebrity women voted the most beautiful women in the world that year. This conversation broke something deep down inside of me and made me ask a lot of questions: Why didn’t I look like the girls in those magazines? Were there ways I could achieve those looks? Was there a way to be the most beautiful woman in the world?
All of this anxiety lead to the creation of the world of Orléans – a place where one could change yourself down to your bones – your skin color, your hair color, your hair texture, your body shape, your facial structure. I wanted to work out that obsession that my pre-teen self had, and let’s face it still my adult self: What would I do if I could change myself completely? How far would I go? How ugly could it get, and why? Is there a way to be the most beautiful person in the world?
Given the explosion of social media, I thought this was the right time to have deep conversations about what we’re willing to do to our bodies.
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
The villain Sophia is my favorite character. I often prefer villains to heroes, so creating her was a lot of fun. I put a lot of my teenage self into her, and can’t say that if I had her access to power that I wouldn’t have been just like her at sixteen.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
I love that brown girls who always wanted to see themselves as beautiful and feminine and magical get to see themselves on this cover. It’s revolutionary. If I would have seen this type of cover as a teen, I might have had a better relationship to my body and hair. I might have made fewer mistakes. I might have found my frizzy hair and brown skin more desirable. Images and iconography are important, and we like to forget that symbols have weight and power. I’m so blessed that I have a cover that will change a generation of girls. They will be seen.
YABC: What new release book are you looking most forward to in 2018?
Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone is the book I’m most looking forward to in 2018. She’s a force and an author to watch. Her book digs into what happens when you take someone’s magic and they rise up and reclaim it. This is what we need to do this year. We get to decide our own futures. Plus, she’s got supersize animals in her world. They’d all eat my little teacup animals in The Belles.
YABC: What was your favorite book in 2017?
My favorite book I read in 2017 actually comes out in 2018, so I’m cheating. It’s Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation. Zombies, the Civil War, and a badass girl. I like history with a teaspoon of magic. I need it to counteract the pain and bitterness, making history more palatable for me as a black American. As a child learning about the horrible atrocities faced by my people, I realized quickly that this country – and history itself – was not kind to us. Justina Ireland gave me everything that my historical-fiction-obsessed-reader self was missing. We deserve to see ourselves as strong within a historical context. Ireland gave black Americans magic. The thing I craved as a teen reader.
YABC: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
Drafting is like getting a root canal for me. I absolutely hate it. Each new draft takes a pound of flesh from me. I’m intimidated by the blank page. But I’m a revision monster. As soon as I have words to work with, I’m so happy and ready to rip everything up and rearrange. Plus, my editors Kieran Viola and Emily Meehan are magic. Revision means I’m not alone in the process anymore.
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
I’d say that my superpower is listening without judgement. I treasure so many friends and friendships that are based around me being a soft place to land for people. I love having a constellation of people in my life, and I think learning to speak less and listen more was the greatest lesson I’ve ever learned.
YABC: Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
We Need Diverse Books is the organization that is my literal heart. Working with Ellen Oh and the team gives life and breath to my soul. It is truly my life’s work to serve the children of this world, and make sure they can walk into a bookstore and find themselves on the shelves, and find others who aren’t like them.
By: Dhonielle Clayton
Release Date: February 6th, 2018
Three winners will receive a copy of The Belles (Dhonielle Clayton) ~ US Only ~
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