A Q&A with Ali Hazelwood, Author of November/December Kids’ Indie Next List Top Pick “Check & Mate”

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Independent booksellers across the country have chosen Ali Hazelwood's Check & Mate (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers) as their top pick for the November/December 2023 Kids’ Indie Next List.

In the chess rival romance, Check & Mate, Mallory Greenleaf is drawn into the world of chess after winning a charity tournament against the reigning world champion, “Kingkiller” Nolan Sawyer. 

“Ali Hazelwood’s young adult debut delivers an exciting ride of rediscovery and second chances," said Kaylie Padgett of Women & Children First in Chicago, Illinois.
Here, Hazelwood discusses her work with Bookselling This Week.
Bookselling This Week: It sounds like this is a story you’ve been thinking of for a while. Do you have a long history with chess? Was it something you delved into over the course of this story?
Ali Hazelwood: I learned to play chess when I was very young (my elementary school in Italy had mandatory tournaments every year), but sadly I’ve never been a particular skilled player. Professional chess players, though, have always fascinated me, mostly because of the discipline and dedication necessary to rise to the top, and I’d been wanting to write a story centering them for a while. Plus, my undergraduate research mentor had run several studies that used chess as an environment to examine how gender stereotypes affect performance, so it’s a sport that always felt close my heart.
BTW: I haven’t played chess in years, and this story certainly has me looking to play again. In Check & Mate, Mallory and Nolan attract public attention and inspire an interest in chess. Are you hoping this novel similarly gets more people curious about chess?
AH: I feel like this has already happened to some degree — The Queen’s Gambit was a huge success, and with social media and streaming, chess players are closer to being celebrities than they’ve ever been (I’m thinking about Hikaru Nakamura, Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana). I doubt my book’s reach will be as wide as a Netflix show, but I’ll be honest: if it makes one single person want to learn how to play, I would be so honored!
BTW: This is the next in your line of STEMinist fiction, but it’s your first YA novel! What made you want to dive into YA?
AH: I didn’t necessarily set out to write a YA book, but when I began drafting the story I realized that the protagonists needed to be young for it to work. They needed to be at a delicate stage in their lives, where they had to make important decisions about their futures, so writing about an eighteen- and a twenty-year-old felt like the perfect spot. I know it’s not a label that always works in publishing, but I definitely see the book as “New Adult.”
BTW: We’re getting something a little different with your next title. Would you like to tell us a little about Bride?
AH: Bride is my next adult release, and it’s the story of an arranged marriage between a vampire and a werewolf. I adored writing it, because it gave me the opportunity to truly embrace two things: the kind of paranormal romance novels that I grew up reading and were extremely formative to me (I’m talking about Nalini Singh, Kresley Cole, J. R. Ward, Christine Feehan, Patricia Briggs, and many more!) and, of course, my fanfiction roots. It was so fun to be able to come up with a story in which the stakes are high and the plot can be unhinged. I hope people will like it, because I would love to write more!
BTWThis is our second time interviewing you, so we’ve already asked you our classic indie bookstore question! Do you have a favorite memory or moment from an indie bookstore visit? 
AH: Literally every time I visit my local indie (Lark & Owl in Texas). I love everyone there! The owners are super lovely; Christina, the book buyer, is amazing at what she does; and special shout out to Meghan and Shakeria for being the most amazing booksellers, and to everyone else who works there. And, the store has a delicious bistro — food and books, best combo ever. If you’re ever in the area, you should totally visit it!