Celebrating 10 Years of ParnassusNext: An Interview with Ruta Sepetys and Mary Grey James

This month we are celebrating the tenth birthday of ParnassusNext, our YA First Editions Club. The ParnassusNext club was started by Mary Grey James when she served as the Director of Books for Young Readers at Parnassus. The first selection was Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, #1 New York Times bestselling author of historical fiction. Rae Ann Parker, current Director of Books for Young Readers, talked with Mary Grey and Ruta about the beginning of the club.

Rae Ann Parker: Mary Grey, you started the ParnassusNext subscription when you were the Director of Books for Young Readers at Parnassus in 2013. What inspired you to start the club?

Mary Grey James: Attention must be paid when sales reflect such dramatic growth in a category or genre.  Earlier in my career as a publisher sales rep, young adult books were a small percentage of a publisher’s list and definitely the hardest category to sell. Then things began to change. Steph Appell, who worked with me in the Young Readers department, was an ardent fan of young adult, and together we thought it would be a good idea to do with YA what Parnassus had so successfully done with its First Editions Club. We knew from working the sales floor that there were young customers who eagerly awaited a favorite author’s next book and would be thrilled with a signed copy.

RAP: Why did you select Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys as the club’s inaugural selection?

MGJ: The selection of Ruta’s second book was a “labor of love” for me and definitely a no brainer after the success of Between Shades of Gray

Mary Grey James at the Parnassus Grand Opening in 2011

RAP: What was your favorite thing about beginning the ParnassusNext subscription club?

MGJ: I felt like we were giving young adult books their due—the respect and promotion they deserved.

RAP: Ruta, how did you learn that Out of the Easy was a ParnassusNext selection?

Ruta Sepetys: During a call with my publisher, they mentioned the creation of ParnassusNext. We all agreed that it sounded like a fantastic program that any author would love to be part of. They then revealed that Out of the Easy had been chosen! Of course I was so excited and shrieked and shrieked. But they said that I couldn’t announce it for a time. I remember that was so difficult, keeping such big news a secret.

Ruta Sepetys signs our very first ParnassusNext selection, Out of the Easy, in 2013

RAP: What did that mean to you for an independent bookstore to select your second novel as the club’s inaugural book?

RS: It wasn’t just an independent bookstore – it was my hometown independent bookstore. And it was the legendary Parnassus! Parnassus opened in 2011 and in a short time had already transformed and galvanized the creative community in Nashville. It was a huge honor.

RAP: Three of your books have been ParnassusNext selections. Out of the Easy in 2013, Fountains of Silence in 2019, and I Must Betray You in 2022. You are the only author with three ParnassusNext picks! Your books are always highly anticipated by the club members. Why do you think historical fiction speaks so deeply to today’s YA readers?

RS: I hope what lies beneath the interest in historical fiction is a quest for compassion and human understanding. Reading about historical events allows us to travel to a place and time different than our own, to meet others facing challenges, and learn how they faced those challenges.

RAP: ParnassusNext selections cross a range of genres – contemporary, historical, fantasy, romance, and science fiction. Each one brings something different, but also familiar to a reader. How have you seen young adult literature change and grow since you began writing for young adults?

RS: When I began writing, historical fiction was unpopular with young adults. Several publishers passed on my debut novel Between Shades of Gray with apologies that “historical fiction just doesn’t sell.” Many years later, that has changed. And teachers, librarians, and booksellers deserve credit for that change. Educators brought historical fiction titles into their libraries and classrooms and together with their local booksellers, brought authors of historical titles in for school visits. Imagine my delight to now hear literary agents say that they’re looking for young adult historical fiction!

RAP: Do you have a regular reading practice? How is reading important to you as an author?

RS: Reading is enormously important to me as an author—first for historical research, but also for enjoyment. The majority of my reading relates to research for projects I’m working on. So reading for pure pleasure is incredibly exciting. If a new book is released by an author I admire, I try to carve out a day to read it in one sitting. The experience of immersive reading always reignites my love of story and reminds me how fortunate I am to be an author.

RAP: Finally, do you have any advice on reading or writing for the ParnassusNext subscribers?

RS: Advice for reading: Just because a book resonates with others, it might not resonate with you. That’s okay! Time is precious. If a book isn’t captivating you, move on. You don’t have to finish it.

Advice for writing: Give yourself permission to fail. Initially, allow yourself to write crap to get the general idea down. It’s just a draft. A sketch. You can write poorly as long as you revise intently. Remind yourself of the mantra that “writing is rewriting.”

And lastly, a huge thank you to ParnassusNext subscribers. Your subscription supports literature and creative community. I feel so fortunate to have my books in the program!

ParnassusNext is the book subscription box for YA lovers. Every member of ParnassusNext receives a first edition hardcover of each month’s selected book, signed by the author. There is no membership fee to join — and no line to stand in for the autograph. Not only will you have one of the best YA books of the month when it comes out, you’ll have it straight from the author’s hands, with an original, authentic signature! Set up a subscription for yourself or buy a gift membership for your favorite YA reader for 3, 6, or 12 months.


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