Wednesday, May 23, 2018

DEVILS INTO DUST by Emma Berquist

I first learned about Emma Berquist's book DEVILS INTO DUST via Twitter, and I immediately fell in love with the premise. If you're looking for an horror story that takes place in the old west, you should definitely pick this one up.

Ten years ago, a horrifying disease began spreading across the West Texas desert. Infected people—shakes—attacked the living and created havoc and destruction. No one has ever survived the infection. Daisy Wilcox, known as Willie, has been protecting her siblings within the relatively safe walls of Glory, Texas. When Willie’s good-for-nothing father steals a fortune from one of the most dangerous shake-hunters in town, she finds herself on the hook for his debt. With two hunters, including the gruff and handsome Ben, to accompany her, she sets out across the desert in search of her father. But the desert is not kind to travelers, and not everyone will pass through alive.

According to your website bio, you currently live in New Zealand and you avoid the beach. What do you love most about New Zealand, and why no beaches?

 New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Just driving to the grocery store there are views that would make you gasp, and I haven’t even explored the South Island yet. (Plus, publicly funded healthcare is great!)

I have a long-standing aversion to the beach. Not only do I hate sand, but I get sunburned in about 10 minutes unless I’ve slathered every exposed inch of me in sunscreen. NOT A FAN.

And now I'm more of a fan of the grocery store than the beach! DEVILS UNTO DUST is set in the West Texas desert during the post-Civil War era. In what ways, if any, did this setting shape the story, and what was most challenging about bringing it to life?

This story actually started with the setting. I was in Palm Springs, a small desert town in southern California, and the scenery was making me nostalgic for the hiking trips I took as a kid in Texas. I started thinking about what a beautiful but harsh landscape the desert is, and how it’s the last place you want to be if there was something chasing you, because there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. I was able to draw on a lot of my memories for the descriptions of Glory, but it was more challenging to get the details of the time period right. I had to read up on the Reconstruction Era and the realities of the old west to make sure everything was as accurate as I could make it.

What a beautiful way to shape a setting. In your interview with BookPeople, you said the hardest thing about writing was, "Having to actually sit down and get the words on the page. It’s easy to come up with an idea but a lot harder to turn that idea into an entire book." What helps you keep motivated when the process of creating a book from an idea becomes challenging?

I’m not a fast writer, so I put up a whiteboard to keep track of my word count. Even if I only write a little bit every day, seeing the physical progress of a book taking shape (albeit slowly) helps to keep me motivated to push forward. If I start to get too discouraged or feel creatively drained, it always helps to read books that inspire me, or watch movies that remind me of the power of storytelling.

Huzzah to the power of storytelling! What are some of your current projects?

 I’m starting edits on my second book, which is a contemporary ghost story. I also have a few new story ideas that I’ve been bouncing between, trying to figure out which one has the most potential. I keep switching back and forth, but hopefully I’ll narrow it down soon!

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

HULLMETAL GIRLS by Emily Skrutskie

I first featured Emily Skrutskie here. Her newest book, HULLMETAL GIRLS, debuts on July 17, 2018, and I can't wait to read it:

Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor's salary isn't enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.

Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she's from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.

In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha's and Key's paths collide, and the two must learn to work together--a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.

With violence brewing and dark secrets surfacing, Aisha and Key find themselves questioning their loyalties. They will have to put aside their differences, though, if they want to keep humanity from tearing itself apart.

In our last interview, you said, "Allowing myself to leave a question stated, but unsolved, is very, very difficult for me, and it’s one of the reasons coming up with short stories is so much harder for me than figuring out novel plots." What is the last unsolved question you had, and how did you resolve it?

That's the thing about storytelling: it's nonstop problem solving all the way down. Little things like how a character transitions from the first emotional beat of the scene to the second, which is a matter of untangling thought processes and understanding how the mind follows trains of association. Big things like how the overarching external conflict of a book reflects a character's overarching emotional journey. And usually solving one question creates several others, so it's difficult to isolate them. This is also a difficult question to answer in detail because either you don't know what I'm talking about or I'm spoiling something by telling you both the question and its answer!

It's a helpful answer all the same! HULLMETAL GIRLS explores collaboration in the midst of conflict. What was the most challenging part of writing Aisha's and Key's story?

HULLMETAL GIRLS is the first time I've tried to tackle dual first person POVs. The story started out in only Aisha's perspective, but as I got deeper and deeper into that first draft, I realized that Key had a lot more going on beneath the surface and needed a voice in the narrative. And even though they're two very different characters, it took multiple attempts to really nail the distinctions between them. Aisha and Key come from vastly different classes, which affects their way of thinking. Key's more likely to throw a fit when told she can't do something, whereas Aisha is more likely to accept it (but quietly seethe). Key wears her anger on the surface because she's never had to hide it, whereas Aisha is more likely to hide her emotions for the sake of the people around her. Key's the foul-mouthed cynic to Aisha's more poetic voice, which affects the writing down to the sentence level.

And then, of course, I made everything a thousand times more complicated by having the two of them mentally linked. There are moments in the story where Aisha will swear because Key's vocabulary has bled into hers or Key will use a more Aisha-like turn of phrase. Keeping two perspectives straight, allowing them to mix, and making it clear whose voice is whose were the most challenging aspects of writing this story.

What a fascinating way to explore character! This year, you participated in Colleen Houck's bi-annual YA Scavenger Hunt. How did you get involved with this, and what has been most rewarding about it?

I was invited to join the hunt back before THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US was released, and I've been doing it ever since. One of my favorite things about doing the YA Scavenger Hunt is coming up with unique bonus content. It's always a bit of a challenge to figure out something to create that would be both interesting for the unfamiliar reader and valuable for the familiar one. In the past, I've done playlists, lists of easter eggs, and this season I wrote a letter from Dr. Isaac Ikande, the head of Medical in HULLMETAL GIRLS, explaining the process of becoming Scela. Not only was that a fun way of introducing new readers to an important part of the book, it was also a unique writing challenge for me. I had to figure out both what Isaac's written voice sounded like and how he would write a letter to a group of people he knew were mostly about to die.

And now I want to read that letter. What are three books you would recommend to your readers and why?

Readers of HULLMETAL GIRLS absolutely need to check out THIS MORTAL COIL, by Emily Suvada. It's a sci-fi thriller with all sorts of fun (and occasionally SUPER GROSS) body mod stuff, extremely good science, and a disease that EXPLODES PEOPLE. And if you love sci-fi action with enhanced humans and rebellion, definitely check out Fonda Lee's EXO, which is about a boy trapped between the alien invaders who turned him into an enhanced soldier and the human resistance trying to throw them off the planet. I also deeply enjoyed HONOR AMONG THIEVES, by Ann Aguirre and Rachel Caine, because who DOESN'T want to read about psychic space whales that you travel the cosmos inside?

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Emily's recommendations:

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

GOODBYE DAYS by Jeff Zentner

I've been a fan of Jeff Zentner ever since The Serpent King came out, and I was delighted to meet him at YANovCon earlier this year. His newest book, GOODBYE DAYS, explores the different shapes of grief in a very unique way.

One day Carver Briggs had it all—three best friends, a supportive family, and a reputation as a talented writer at his high school, Nashville Academy for the Arts.

The next day he lost it all when he sent a simple text to his friend Mars, right before Mars, Eli, and Blake were killed in a car crash.

Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident, and he’s not the only one. Eli’s twin sister is trying to freeze him out of school with her death-ray stare. And Mars’s father, a powerful judge, is pressuring the district attorney to open a criminal investigation into Carver’s actions.

Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a Goodbye Day with her to share their memories and say a proper goodbye to his friend.

Soon the other families are asking for a Goodbye Day with Carver, but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these Goodbye Days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?

Which one of your tattoos is your favorite, and why?

My tattoo with my son’s name on it. As for why, it’s because I really like him a lot.

Makes sense! GOODBYE DAYS does well in handling the many shapes grief can take. What do you think is most helpful for people dealing with the kind of loss Carver encounters in the book? 

I think just letting yourself feel things and not trying to rush the grieving process. It looks different for everyone.

Indeed it does. Your novel, THE SERPENT KING, explores the consequences of self-destruction. What about this was the most compelling to explore?  

I found it fascinating exploring the root causes of what makes people head down self-destructive paths. So often we’re judgmental of self-destructive decisions without understanding or empathy for why people make them.

And having that empathy would make a difference for other people, as well as ourselves. What are some of your current projects?

My third book, RAYNE & DELILAH’S MIDNITE MATINEE, comes out next spring. It’s about two girls who have their own creature feature on their local public access station, and whether the show they make together will be able to take each where they want to go in life.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018


I was lucky enough to meet Alex White at this year's San Francisco Writers' Conference. He has a lot of great books, and has even penned the newest and latest foray into the land of Xenomorphs, ALIEN: THE COLD FORGE.

A dramatic new Alien novel, as Weyland-Yutani seeks to recover from the failure of Hadley's Hope, and successfully weaponize the Xenomorphs.

With the failure of the Hadley's Hope, Weyland-Yutani has suffered a devastating defeat--the loss of the Aliens. Yet there's a reason the company rose to the top, and they have a redundancy already in place. Remote station RB-323 abruptly becomes their greatest hope for weaponizing the Xenomorph, but there's a spy aboard--someone who doesn't necessarily act in the company's best interests. If discovered, this person may have no choice but to destroy RB-323... and everyone on board. That is, if the Xenomorphs don't do the job first.

What is the most fascinating aspect of watching people blacksmith?

I love the repetition of it. In many ways, smithing is identical to the publishing process. You put all of this fire and energy into an immutable thing, you take it over to your anvil and you beat on it with everything you can before it cools. When that's finished, you've barely changed anything at all. To the untrained eye, you've basically gotten nowhere. Then you do it again, and again shaping the object into the future you want to see. You can't rush it, or all of your efforts will be ruined, and you have to start over. Blacksmithing is the combination of patience and hard effort over long periods of time in punishing conditions. I can't think of a more apt metaphor for breaking into publishing.

Neither can I, and yours is a great one. Your latest book, ALIEN: THE COLD FORGE, offers a new glimpse into the land of Xenomorphs. How did this novel come to be, and what do you hope readers take away from the story?

The publicist for my first book, Lydia Gittins, moved from Solaris to Titan Books in the middle of the production cycle for EVERY MOUNTAIN MADE LOW. She emailed me to let me know that if I ever wanted some free Titan books, she could provide, so of course I hit their website immediately because I'm a sucker for that. I saw they had Alien as a license and called my agent, Connor Goldsmith, to say, "Get me an Alien deal." He delivered brilliantly, setting up the pitch meetings with editor, Steve Saffel. From there, it was a wait, pitch, wait, pitch game for about two years. Once the contract came through, I had four months to write the book.

I want people who read THE COLD FORGE to look at the consequences of inhumanity. The Xenomorphs are far from the worst things on the space station. The real danger comes from the Weyland-Yutani corporate culture and their willingness to do anything for the bottom dollar.

Inhumanity in its worst form can offer great (and terrible) lessons for us all. Speaking of EVERY MOUNTAIN MADE LOW, I was fascinated by how the book deals with the effects of haunting. What did you enjoy most about exploring Loxley Fiddleback and her world?

Loxley is a unique protagonist because of her autistic worldview. She's clever and adaptive while dealing with extreme social difficulties. She's braver than most other people, too. The ghosts of EVERY MOUNTAIN MADE LOW are terrifying and cruel, completely inhuman, but she's still willing to approach them if she can solve the murder of her best friend.

That takes definite tenacity. What are some of your current projects?

I'm extremely excited about the first entry in my Salvagers space fantasy series: A BIG SHIP AT THE EDGE OF THE UNIVERSE, which hits shelves on June 26th! The book follows Nilah Brio, a pampered race car driver, and Boots Elsworth, a once-famous treasure hunter turned con artist. The two women accidentally uncover a galactic conspiracy and have to team up with some of Boots's old friends to locate a legendary warship. There's magic, intrigue and romance among the stars. What's not to love?

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Cover Reveal: A LIGHT AMONGST SHADOWS by Kelley York and Rowan Altwood

I featured Kelley's book, OTHER BREAKABLE THINGS, which she co-wrote with Rowan Altwood, and I was excited to learn they have another forthcoming book, A LIGHT AMONGST SHADOWS, which will release on June 1. See below for the cover reveal and Rafflecopter giveaway:

James Spencer is hardly the typical troubled youth who ends up at Whisperwood School for Boys. Instead of hating the strict schedules and tight oversight by staff, James blossoms, quickly making friends, indulging in his love of writing, and contemplating the merits of sneaking love poems to the elusive and aloof William Esher.

The rumours about William’s sexuality and opium reliance are prime gossip material amongst the third years…rumours that only further pique James' curiosity to uncover what William is really like beneath all that emotional armor. And, when the normally collected William stumbles in one night, shaken and ranting of ghosts, James is the only one who believes him.

James himself has heard the nails dragging down his bedroom door and the sobs echoing in the halls at night. He knows others have, too, even if no one will admit it. The staff refuses to entertain such ridiculous tales, and punishment awaits anyone who brings it up.

Their fervent denial and the disappearance of students only furthers James’ determination to find out what secrets Whisperwood is hiding...especially if it prevents William and himself from becoming the next victims.
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RowanFB Page | Twitter

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

THE FIRST TO KNOW by Abigail Johnson

I met Abigail Johnson at this year's YANovCon, and was immediately excited about her book for two reasons. First, the book is set in Arizona, a state I lived in for four years. Second, it features a relationship between a sister and her half-brother, and I have two half-brothers. Most importantly, this book explores the fragile ties that hold families together, and how easily they can be wrenched apart:

Dana Fields's father never knew his parents. When Dana secretly does a DNA test for her dad, hoping to find him some distant relatives for his birthday, her entire world implodes. Instead of a few third cousins, Dana discovers a half brother her age whose very existence means her parents' happy marriage is a lie.

Dana's desire to know her half brother, Brandon, and the extent of her dad's deception, clashes with her wish not to destroy her family. When she sees the opportunity to get to know Brandon through his cousin, the intense yet kind Chase, she takes it. But the more she finds out about Brandon, her father's past and the irresistible guy who'll never forgive her if he discovers the truth, the more she sees the inevitable fallout from her own lies. With her family crumbling around her, Dana must own up to her actions and find a way to heal the breach—for everyone—before they're torn apart for good.

What is it like to go bodysurfing in Mexico? Is it an experience you would like to write about?

It’s a blast! I’ve always loved the water and I especially love that feeling of weightlessness I find in the ocean. It can be as scary as it is exhilarating though. I got caught in a riptide the last time I was in Mazatlán and even though we never got sucked out too far I couldn’t completely quell that flash of panic when the beach started getting further away. I would absolutely like to write about it at some point. That’s actually a really good idea!

Oh, wow. I'm glad you're okay! There is a cameo of a character from IF I FIX YOU in THE FIRST TO KNOW. In what other ways, if any, are your standalone books connected?

I loved dropping that little cameo in THE FIRST TO KNOW! My first two books are both set in nearby towns in Arizona so the general area is the same, but I think that might be it.

In your experience, how is a second book different than a debut in terms of marketing, and what marketing strategies have worked well for you? 

As far as strategies go that’s all my publisher. I’m so fortunate to have an amazing marketing team at Harlequin Teen. They flew me to a lot of bookseller trade shows and events for my second book, four times as many as with my first book. My job is to say yes to as much as possible. I did connect up with a handful of bloggers for reviews and giveaways on my own which I think is always a great way to get the word out. I also try to come up with a few fun things to post on my social media accounts. This was my favorite one for THE FIRST TO KNOW. Oh, and I did make up some customized lip balm swag that I pass out at events. Those have been a huge hit.

Lip balms are great--and I can't help but be reminded of a book title whenever I use one. What are some of your current projects? 

I have two more books coming out from Harlequin Teen. The first one is called EVEN IF I FALL and it will be published on January 8, 2019. It’s about a figure skater coping with her brother's murder conviction while falling for the last person she ever expected: the victim's brother. The book after that will be hitting shelves in 2020 but I can’t talk about the story just yet 😉

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Release Feature: SKY IN THE DEEP by Adrienne Young

Happy release day to SKY IN THE DEEP, by Adrienne Young! It's already getting a ton of buzz. I first featured the book here, and I can't wait to read it:

Seventeen-year-old Eelyn’s world is war. Raised to fight alongside her Aska clansmen in a generations-old blood feud against the Riki, her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield—her brother, fighting with the enemy—the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother's betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki if she wants to make it back to the fjord after the thaw. But when she begins to see herself in the people she's been taught to hate, the world Eelyn once knew begins to crumble. And after the village is raided by a ruthless clan many believe to be a myth, Eelyn is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend who has tried more than once to kill her. Together, they must end the blood feud between their clans or watch their people be slaughtered.

A lush, Viking-age inspired fantasy about loyalty, forgiveness, and the definition of family.

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