Wednesday, July 18, 2018

HERETICS ANONYMOUS by Katie Henry

I found the cover of HERETICS ANONYMOUS on Twitter. This is an excellent book with an amazing premise, releasing on August 7:

Michael is an atheist. So as he walks through the doors at St. Clare’s—a strict Catholic school—sporting a plaid tie, things can’t get much worse. His dad has just made the family move again, and Michael needs a friend. When a girl challenges their teacher in class, Michael thinks he might have found one, and a fellow nonbeliever at that. Only this girl, Lucy, is not just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest.

But Lucy introduces Michael to other St. Clare’s outcasts, and he officially joins Heretics Anonymous, where he can be an atheist, Lucy can be an outspoken feminist, Avi can be Jewish and gay, Max can wear whatever he wants, and Eden can practice paganism. After an incident in theology class, Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies. When Michael takes one mission too far—putting the other Heretics at risk—he must decide whether to fight for his own freedom, or rely on faith, whatever that means, in God, his friends, or himself.

Though you spent your teen years in Northern California, you decided to stay on the east coast after college. What do you love most about where you currently live?

I've lived on the island of Manhattan for the last ten years, with a brief stint in Dublin, Ireland halfway through. I had just turned eighteen when I moved here, so this has been my home for my entire adult life. What I love most about New York City is the sheer breadth of opportunities in such a small geographic area. And not just the big things, like Broadway and the Met, but wonderful hole-in-the-wall restaurants and book readings in tiny bookstore basements. You have access to just about anything you could possibly want. Except personal space. And good avocados.

As a Californian, I'm not sure how I would deal with the avocado situation. And personal space is definitely necessary! HERETICS ANONYMOUS offers a humorous take on unlikely rebels. How did you know this needed to be a lighthearted story?

I've always written comedies. It started out as a tactical move, when I was writing plays. When you're sitting in a dark theater, the only cues you have about whether an audience is enjoying themselves is laughter or audible sobbing. I went with laughter, and that's the tone I'm most comfortable with now. Also, stories about religion tend to be very heavy. That makes sense, of course--faith (and lack of faith) is deeply meaningful to people, and it's easy to hurt someone's feelings. But I wanted to write a story where faith was funny, but no one was being made fun of. I hope I succeeded.

I'm always glad for a humorous tone--especially in what I read. You also write plays. How is this different from writing novels, and what do you like most about each medium?

I love how many people are involved in the creation of a play. And of course, many people are involved in the creation of a book, too, but theater has an extra focus on creative collaboration. There are so many times while writing a book where I come to a setting description or a detail about someone's clothes, and I think, "Oh, whatever, the set designer or costumer will deal with that." But oh wait, no, they won't, because this is fiction and all those things are my job now. The very first drafts of my books are about 90% characters talking to each other, 8% interior monologue, and 2% description. It's a struggle.

In plays, everything about your characters has to be expressed through dialogue. If you need the audience to know something, it has to be spoken out loud or conveyed through subtext. One important thing I learned while getting my playwriting degree is that no one ever tells the whole truth, not even fictional people. I love writing dialogue and I love figuring out how to tell the audience what they need to know, even if the character doesn't know it. But something I love about fiction is that you're expected to give your protagonist an internal monologue. You can show what's happening in someone's head and dig deep into their thought process. It adds a layer of depth to a character you might not get in theater, simply because that's how the medium works.

I love that! What are some of your current projects?

My second YA book (another contemporary stand-alone) is releasing from HarperCollins in Summer 2019. I can't say much about it yet, but I can tell you I've been working on it like there's tomorrow.


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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Release Feature: HULLMETAL GIRLS by Emily Skrutskie

Back in May, I featured Emily Skrutskie, and she talked about HULLMETAL GIRLS, which just released today into the world!

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.


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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

CITY OF LIES by Sam Hawke

I first got acquainted with Sam Hawke through Janet Reid's blog on publishing, often referred to as "the reef." And when I first heard the premise for Sam's book, CITY OF LIES, I knew a feature was in order:

I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me... 

Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he's a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.

But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising...and angry.



According to your bio, you have a deep fear and distrust of ducks. What is the worst duck encounter you've had?

Oh boy. This hatred and distrust runs deep. As a teenager I used to house/dogsit for a school friend’s parents in the holidays. One year they built a massive duck enclosure in their garden too. I’d had chickens most of my life, mostly little silkies, so I wasn’t bothered and assumed it would be a similar experience. Boy. Boy was I wrong.

Chickens are affectionate little things. They come running when they hear you, they’ll sit on your lap for stroking. Ducks ... ducks are not your friends. Those things are little feathered psychopaths. And when I say little I actually mean ‘substantially bigger than you previously realised’ and by ‘feathered’ I mean ‘except for the one they’ve torn all the feathers off and pecked into a bleeding husk of a bird’. And look maybe they just walked into the shelter at dusk when my friend’s Mum clapped at them like she claimed, but they sure as hell didn’t do it for me. Their house was basically a box in the middle of the back third of the enclosure, with sharp scratchy bushes behind and on either side of it but - critically - a big enough gap both ways that ducks could easily divert from the ramp at the last second and dart left or right to run around behind instead of going in. There was no way to block off those exits, as I learned only too well while chasing aggressive belligerent feathered demons around in the increasing dark, getting scratched and filthy and filthy, swearing and crying with frustration. Even with three people (eventually I admitted defeat and begged help from my family) it was a complex and stressful military campaign to get them in every night. I looked after those ducks for many years but I never stopped hating them.

I don't blame you! Not sure I can look at ducks in the same way either. And speaking of prickly things, in CITY OF LIES, you dabble with different kinds of poisons. What about this was the most fun to write? 

Early on in my world building I decided I wanted it to play in a proper secondary world, with only minor crossovers in plant/animal life with things we would recognise. Which meant not relying on existing poisons but largely making up my own based on the flora, fauna, climate, and sociological history of the region. Possibly I’ve always had a weird interest in ‘things in nature that can kill you’ so I really enjoyed doing it. When I was about eight we got this Readers Digest book called ‘Australia’s Dangerous Creatures’ and I was weirdly, inexplicably obsessed with it, read it cover to cover hundreds of times, so my subconscious is full of deadly plants and venomous and poisonous animals that probably heavily influenced my world building!


That sounds scarier than ducks, even! You still blog on a somewhat regular basis on samhawkewrites.com. What do you think the future of blogs might be, and what do you enjoy most about maintaining your blog? 

Blogs are dead, I’m told? Honestly, I don’t know. I still like reading them, but I have a lot less time than I used to. There are some blogs I think are an invaluable resource for emerging writers - for example, I read Janet Reid’s blog at jetreidliterary.blogspot.com and Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds.com religiously. But I guess more broadly people are communicating in different ways now.

My blogging has never been what you’d call regular, partly for time reasons and partly self consciousness - I still find it hard to feel confident that my rambling thoughts about something are worth an entire blog post.

Not sure I agree with you--I'll bet you have a lot of great things to say. What are some of your current projects?

I’m working hard trying to get the sequel to City of Lies done. Then there will be at least a few months of editing, and I’m hoping to squeeze in an in-world story for an anthology but that’s dependent on me coming up with a workable idea (I tend to think in novel length!). After that, we’ll have to see how City of Lies does and whether there’s any appetite for the Poison Wars novels to continue!



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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Photo courtesy of mentalfloss.com
Stay tuned next week for an interview with Sam Hawke, author of CITY OF LIES!



Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he's a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.

But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising...and angry.








Buy: Bookpassage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Indiebound

Monday, July 2, 2018

Release Feature and Review: CINDERELLA BOY by Kristina Meister

I was lucky enough to snag an ARC of CINDERELLA BOY, and I'm so glad I did. This book releases today; it's a sweet love story that pulled me in from the first page:

Sixteen-year-old Declan is the perfect son . . . except for one tiny issue. When his sister Delia comes home to find him trying on her clothes, he fears her judgment, but she only fears his fashion choices. One quick makeover later, Declan is transformed into Delia’s mysterious cousin Layla and dragged to the party of the year, hosted by Carter, the most popular boy in school.

When Carter meets Layla, he fumbles to charm her. He adores her sense of humor and her poise. But when she vanishes in the middle of the night, he’s left confused and determined to solve the mystery of who she is.

As their school year begins, their high school embraces a policy of intolerance, and both Declan and Carter know they must stand up. Carter is tired of being a coward and wants to prove he can be a knight in shining armor. Declan is sick of being bullied and wants desperately to be himself. If they team up, it could be a fairy-tale ending, or a very unhappy ever after.

Review:

Declan lives for trying on his sister's clothes--until she catches him at it one day. Delia doesn't judge him--if anything she offers the kind of support most would wish in a sister--including introducing Declan to his crush, Carter, as the ever-mysterious "Layla." Carter, meanwhile, finds something in Layla he hasn't found with other girls--an intellect that can match his, and someone willing to see the side of himself that he hides from his other, more popular, friends. Declan, however, gets a conscience about his deceit, and starts to care enough for Carter to let him go. But Carter has some ideas of his own--ones that Declan can't even dream of--especially when Carter fights for something worth believing in. Where Kristina Meister really stands out as an author is with her distinctive voice--separate enough from her characters for them to be autonomous, but consistent enough throughout to keep readers engaged. The characters, in and of themselves, are very deep thinkers, and their conversations are fascinating. Even better, the budding romance is deftly supported with a really meaty plot--with battles against intolerance that teens are still currently fighting. Overall, this book has a beautiful message about self-confidence, and the importance of being yourself, and readers who struggle with self-esteem--even the adults among us--can find ways to gain comfort in their own skin within these pages. This book is definitely a must for high schoolers who are trying to find themselves amid the pressures from parents and community--and for those of us who need ways to bring our own unique individuality to the world.




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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

WE'LL FLY AWAY by Bryan Bliss

I first met Bryan Bliss at the Glen Workshop in 2012, and featured him here and here. His newest book, WE'LL FLY AWAY, debuted on May 8:

Uniquely told through letters from death row and third-person narrative, Bryan Bliss’s hard-hitting third novel expertly unravels the string of events that landed a teenager in jail. Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.

But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling. Tense and emotional, this heartbreaking novel explores family, abuse, sex, love, friendship, and the lengths a person will go to protect the people they love.


You've published three books so far. In what ways do you balance drafting and editing different projects?

Honestly, I’m never working on two books at the same time. I’m fairly monogamous when it comes to writing books. I spend so much time thinking about the characters and the story that it takes up all of the time I have for writing and editing. In the past, whenever I’ve tried to circumvent this slightly annoying process, I come away with half-baked ideas that don’t keep me interested. But the good part is: once I’m all-in on an idea, I know it can be a book.

Sounds like a good approach. In our last interview, when talking about WE'LL FLY AWAY, you said, "It's a book I've been wanting to write for five years, but it never felt like the right time. I just couldn't put any words down on it. But I knew I was going to write it, so it kind of lived in the back of my head like a trapped bird." How did you know it was the right time for this book?

It’s kind of the same answer as the first question! I have a number of ideas that continue to float around in my head, waiting for the moment where everything comes together, and it becomes the idea I’m going to write next. Weirdly, this happens with small details. For We’ll Fly Away, it was realizing that Luke was a wrestler. It was them finding the plane in the first paragraph of the story. Those little moments where I catch a glimpse of who the characters are is supremely important to my writing. Once I know what’s important to them, everything else starts to fall into place rather quickly. Thankfully, it’s already happened with my next book. But I’ll probably keep exactly what that means to myself for a little longer.

I hope we can find out more about that soon! If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?

Start earlier. While I believe it’s never too late to start writing, I wish somebody would’ve taken me aside and said, “Pursue this. You’re good at it.” Now, if I could magically go back in time I’d probably give myself a few pieces of advice as well. Like, read more. Work harder. And don’t let anyone tell you you’re stupid or that you don’t deserve this. And then I’d look around, make sure whatever genie that had sent me back wasn’t watching, and I’d say, “You’re going to make it. Have fun.”

I wish someone had done that for me too. The tagline on the cover of WE'LL FLY AWAY says, "None of us are ever finished." What significance does this quote have for you?

To say, “none of us are ever finished” is to make a radical statement that, in my mind, is inherently theological. It’s the idea that, no matter what, we have opportunity after opportunity for second chances. We can salvage the pieces of our lives that have been broken. When it comes to the death penalty and the writing of We’ll Fly Away, this was the linchpin that pulled everything together. I wanted readers to see Luke – as well as the actual women and men on death row – as actual human beings who are capable of transformation and growth. People who may have done monstrous things, but don’t have to live the rest of their lives as monsters. Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, put it best: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”


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Buy: BookpassageAmazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound





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Monday, June 25, 2018

Release Feature: A BIG SHIP AT THE EDGE OF THE UNIVERSE

Back in May, I got to feature Alex White, and we discussed his forthcoming novel, A BIG SHIP AT THE EDGE OF THE UNIVERSE. I'm excited to report that this book is now out in the world:

Boots Elsworth was a famous treasure hunter in another life, but now she’s washed up. She makes her meager living faking salvage legends and selling them to the highest bidder, but this time she might have stumbled on something real–the story of the Harrow, a famous warship, capable of untold destruction.

Nilah Brio is the top driver in the Pan Galactic Racing Federation and the darling of the racing world–until she witnesses the murder of a fellow racer. Framed for the murder and on the hunt to clear her name, Nilah only has one lead: the killer also hunts a woman named Boots.

On the wrong side of the law, the two women board a smuggler’s ship that will take them on a quest for fame, for riches, and for justice.


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