Wednesday, October 7, 2015


I was fortunate enough to meet Daniel Kraus at ALA a few months back, and as soon as I heard the premise for both volumes of THE DEATH AND LIFE OF ZEBULON FINCH, I knew a blog feature was in order. AT THE EDGE OF EMPIRE is the first of the two, with a street date of October 27. I also ordered plenty of copies for the Sacramento Public Library.

From Goodreads:

May 7, 1896. Dusk. A swaggering seventeen-year-old gangster named Zebulon Finch is gunned down on the shores of Lake Michigan. But after mere minutes in the void, he is mysteriously resurrected.
His second life will be nothing like his first.

Zebulon's new existence begins as a sideshow attraction in a traveling medicine show. From there, he will be poked and prodded by a scientist obsessed with mastering the secrets of death. He will fight in the trenches of World War I. He will run from his nightmares—and from poverty—in Depression-era New York City. And he will become the companion of the most beautiful woman in Hollywood.

Love, hate, hope, and horror—Zebulon finds them. But will he ever find redemption?

Ambitious and heartbreaking, The Death & Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume 1: At the Edge of Empire is the epic saga of what it means to be human in a world so often lacking in humanity.

Daniel was also kind enough to answer some interview questions:

In addition to being an author, you're also a filmmaker. What do you like most about working in both mediums, and how do they supplement one another? 

I like filmmaking because of editing: the strenuous work is done and the rest is just like doing a puzzle. It's fun, involving, even relaxing in a way. Back in the day of cutting on film, it was something else altogether, but today you can experiment with approaches, then throw it all away if it doesn't work. What I don't like in filmmaking is what I like in writing: I don't like large-group collaborations. They can bring you a lot of social energy but, for me, they dilute what you're trying to do. In writing, I can go as far as I want as hard as I want.

Indeed you have. And I love the macabre in AT THE EDGE OF EMPIRE, as well as Zebulon's cynical way of looking at the world. Where did the idea for the story come from, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished?

The story dates back 20 years and evolved. It almost served as a bulletin board over the years: whenever I had big ideas that didn't fit elsewhere, more often than not they'd fit into this giant project. I hope readers are challenged by it. I hope it makes them think about ideas of good and evil, and what we're willing to accept when it comes to our survival, or the survival of our community, or the survival of our country. It's big stuff, I know, but, you know, it's a big book.

Further proof that there are no wasted words. And speaking of big books, I'd like to mention TROLLHUNTERS, your collaboration with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. How did this come about, and in what ways, if any, did the collaboration shape the story?

Guillermo was a fan of my book ROTTERS and had the idea for TROLLHUNTERS and so invited me up to Toronto to talk about it. The original idea was his, so the question is really what did I bring to it? And I think that was a sort of grittiness and a wildness, things at which I try to excel. I also think I am good at texture. There were certainly times where Guillmero would have a brilliant idea but the question was how to make it feel real, you know? That's what I love more than anything: taking stuff that shouldn't work because it's too dark or absurd and make it work anyway.

Your use of texture is what I studied most in your scenes, especially the way it breathed life into your stories and characters. Besides EMPIRE DECAYED, the second volume in Zebulon's story, what are some of your current projects?

Some really incredible stuff is happening but I can't say anything about it, because what if it all falls apart? Then we'll all be sad.

Oh no. Don't bring the sad. Let's just show all the lovely people where they can get your books, including ROTTERS, TROLLHUNTERS, and of course AT THE EDGE OF EMPIRE:

Pre-order: Simon & Schuster
                 Barnes & Noble

          Barnes & Noble


Buy:  Penguin Random House

          Barnes & Noble

Buy:  Penguin Random House

          Barnes & Noble

Buy:  Penguin Random House

          Barnes & Noble

For more information, you can also visit

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

SANCTUARY by Jennifer McKissack

I first found Jennifer McKissack on Facebook, and after reading the gothic novel Rebecca, the premise of SANCTUARY was too compelling to resist. Even better, SANCTUARY debuted just yesterday!

From Goodreads:

After the untimely death of her aunt Laura, Cecilia Cross is forced to return to Sanctuary, a rambling, old French-Gothic mansion that crowns a remote island off the coast of Maine. Cecilia is both drawn to and repulsed by Sanctuary. The scent of the ocean intoxicates her, but she's also haunted by the ghosts of her past--of her father who died at Sanctuary five years ago, and of her mother who was committed soon after. The memories leave Cecilia feeling shaken, desperate to run away and forget her terrible family history.

But then a mysterious guest arrives at Sanctuary: Eli Bauer, a professor sent to examine Sanctuary's library. Cecilia is intrigued by this strange young man who seems so interested in her -- even more interested in her than in the books he is meant to be studying. Who is he and what does he want? Can Cecilia possibly trust her growing feelings for him? And can he help her make peace with her haunted, tragic past?

Jennifer also answered some interview questions!

According to your Twitter bio, you are represented by Tricia Lawrence at Erin Murphy Literary. How did you know that Tricia was the right agent for you, and can you tell us more about your journey toward publication? 

Trish and I bonded immediately over REBECCA. Before I even prompted her, she mentioned in our first phone call that REBECCA was one of her favorite books and SANCTUARY reminded her of it. I knew then she was the agent for me. Trish is a gifted agent. She immediately came up with ways to make SANCTUARY a stronger book (also giving it the new title!), and I revised before she submitted.

Being newer to REBECCA, (I read it last year) I can only imagine the complexity it can reveal when you sit with it for an extended period of time. In what ways was SANCTUARY influenced by the Gothic, and what do you want readers to take away when they're done with the story?

I've read REBECCA again and again. I first read the book as a teen and fell in love with it. With SANCTUARY, I wanted to capture that same sense of place and of mood, and romance too, and also the way the past can haunt and seduce. I wanted to create a vulnerable heroine, but one with courage. SANCTUARY isn't a retelling; it was a way for me - as a writer - to explore those things I enjoyed so much about Daphne du Maurier's classic.

SANCTUARY definitely has its own voice! I also love the cover art. In what ways do you feel it represents the story and what Cecelia faces?

One of the themes of SANCTUARY is the complicated longing we can feel for the home of childhood. Was it as I remember? Why do I long for something that also brought sadness? Do I want to return to it? It's what Cecilia wants and feels. I think the cover captures her longing and hesitation really well.

Definitely a feeling I can relate to, having just returned to my home state for the first time in ten years! What are some of your current projects?

I'm working on two more novels: another YA Gothic, this one set in Scotland, and a YA high fantasy.

Sounds amazing--especially the one based in Scotland! Thanks Jennifer, for such great answers.

Get copies of SANCTUARY here:

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

ZEROES by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

I first became a fan of Scott Westerfeld after I read UGLIES, and when I saw an ARC of ZEROES at BEA this year, I couldn't wait to read it, especially when I found out the other points-of-view were written by Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti. ZEROES will debut September 29, and I've already ordered a truckload for the Sacramento Public Library. A version of this post can also be accessed on Sacramento Public Library's website the day the book comes out.**

**Addendum: This has been delayed. I will post a link once this goes live. 

From Goodreads:

Ethan, aka "Scam," has a way with words. When he opens his mouth, whatever he wants you to hear comes out. But Ethan isn't just a smooth talker. He has a unique ability to say things he doesn't consciously even know. Sometimes the voice helps, but sometimes it hurts - like now, when the voice has lied and has landed Ethan in a massive mess. So now Ethan needs help. And he needs to go to the last people who would ever want to help him - his former group of friends, the self-named "zeros" who also all possess similarly double-edged abilities, and who are all angry at Ethan for their own respective reasons. Brought back together by Scam's latest mischief, they find themselves entangled in an epic, whirlwind adventure packed with as much interpersonal drama as mind-bending action.

Scott, Margo and Deborah were also kind enough to answer some interview questions:

You've described writing as a social process. How did the three of you come to write together, and how did you divide the character stories among yourselves?

Margo: Scott and Deborah got together first through their shared interest in superpowers and Debs enthusiasm for the idea of the television Writers Room. They wanted to write in that kind of team environment, taking advantage of the conversational, brainstormy, and even cheerfully competitive parts of their brains. Partly I guess they thought it'd make the writing more efficient and partly they wanted to enjoy the spectacle of stories being pushed to their limits by the energy in the room.

But they realized that two people do not a team make, so they asked me along for the ride. And it was only at our second meeting or so that Scott suggested that I should take on two particular charactersand I got so busy thinking about them that I dont remember how the other four were divvied up...

Deb: We came up with all six characters and then Scott said, 'Deb, you take [redacted] and [redacted]'. To which I replied, 'Ace!' (Note that in Australian, ace means 'why, that's excellent, thank-you very much'.) So then we started working out the personalities of our character and negotiating how they would all fit together.

Scott: We outline together, in the same room, arguing how the story will go. But once the outline is solid, we retreat to our separate houses (and separate continents, sometimes!) to write the chapters. Everything gets written out of order this way, so it's all a jumble that has to be put back together. But that means that each chapter gets to be like its own little story as well.

It definitely fits together like complete parts to a whole, and I found it fascinating how the superpowers increased the more the characters were around others. How did this concept develop, and how did it affect the characters and the development of the plot?

Margo: That feature of the powers was there pretty much from the beginning as a way to unify the powers, and make them more varied. Sometimes there just wouldnt be enough of a crowd for Flicker to find a pair of eyes, for example, or to make Anonymous forgettable. And sometimes thered be way too many people around, and teens with poor impulse control would suddenly have massive powers to do stupid things with. It taught the characters about the dangers of their powers, also the potential, and added good scary and anxious-making possibilities to a lot of the scenes.

Deb: The social superpowers aspect originally came from Scott. We were riffing on the idea that people born in the year 2000supposedly the year of the great Y2K computer meltdownwould have very different experiences growing up to what we'd experienced. For a start, there's the internet, and all the social advantages that presents. Advantages, and dangers.

Scott: Collaboration is the human superpower. Humans can't fly on our own, but when tens of thousands of us design aircraft and build airports and create air-traffic control systems, flying becomes easy. So it made sense to us that all these superpowers would come from the crowd.

It's sort of like Twitter: if you're alone on it, Twitter's nothing. With a hundred friends, it makes the Oscars funnier to watch. And with a million people? You've got the Arab Spring.

So true. It also comes out in characters' voices--particularly Ethan's. In writing multiple points of view, how were you able to keep the characters' voices so distinct? Did some voices come more easily than others?

Margo: Collaborating meant that we had three distinct writing voices at our disposal to start with. We definitely wanted the powers to be very distinct from each other, too, and we wanted to show how each power had formed each character as they fought to deal with its consequences. That made it pretty obvious where the voices diverged.

Some voices did come easier than others. For instance, we spent a lot of energy early on getting Anon to stop fussing like a nervous grandpa and start being broodingly romantic instead.

Deb: We're not admitting who wrote which character yet, so it's hard to comment specifically on this. But in my experience the voices came relatively easily initially, simply as a result of *thinking* our ways into each character. How would it *feel* to be Scam, for example? How would it feel to be Flicker or Crash or Anon?

The funny thing was presenting our initial character sketches to each other (word sketches, not illustration sketches) and being surprised by the insights. Like, when I first presented [redacted] to Scott and Margo, they both agreed the character was kinda [redacted], but in a good way. So I ran with it, made that character as [redacted] as I could. My other character was considered to be way more [redacted], which was good news, but turned out to be way harder to write.

Scott: Oh, Deb. You're such a [redacted].

For me, what makes these characters distinct is the powers themselves. Scam's voice speaks for him, Flicker sees through others' eyes, Crash feels technology like its insects in her brain. All of these powers change the way that point of view works and the way that language works. Our objective was to make the way these six characters see the world not only different from each other, but also from any other person the reader has ever met.

Youve definitely succeeded. What are some of your current projects? Will there be future collaborations?

Margo: Were just finishing off Book 2 of Zeroes, and expect to be busy with Book 3 until the end of next year. My solo projects include two fantasy novels and the odd short story.

Well have to see how we weather the entire trilogy before we know whether well collaborate again, though were kicking along okay together right now. Collaboration is pretty addictive; solo writing feels very lonely and laborious by contrast!

Deb: I'm playing with some solo novel ideas in my spare time, getting thoughts and research and very rough words down on the page. I've collaborated a few times on smaller projects and I'd definitely like to collaborate again. It's occasionally exhausting but more often it's inspiring and stimulating and invigorating. I recommend it for writers who want to be stretched.

Scott: On top of Zeroes 2 and 3, I have a graphic novel coming out next year, called Spill Zone. It's about a young artist who sneaks into an alien visitation site to take photographs. This art is both illegal and very personal, as both her parents disappeared during the visitation. Here's more:

For more information on Scott's other books, click here.

For Margo's other books, click here.

For Deborah's other stories and novellas, click here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


I met Jonathan Maberry at the Tuscon Festival of Books earlier this year. While he's known for his Rot & Ruin  books, a new series, Nightsiders, debuted May 19. If you're a Rot & Ruin  fan, not to worry--the next installment, BITS & PIECES, will hit the streets on September 22.

From Goodreads:

In a world filled with Bugs, monsters that ceaselessly ravage the Earth, Milo Silk has a hard time keeping his dreams separate from reality. So he keeps them locked up in his dream journal and hopes they'll never come to pass. But too often, they do, like when his father disappeared three years ago. Lately, the Witch of the World has been haunting his dreams, saying he is destined to be the hero who saves everyone. But all Milo can think about is how he fears the Bugs will attack his own camp, and bring something even more terrible than ever before.

What Milo doesn't know is that the Earth is already fighting back with its own natural power in the form of Nightsiders, magical creatures who prefer shadows to sunlight and who reside in trees, caves, and rivers. And the Nightsiders are ready to find an ally in Milo.

From Goodreads:

Benny Imura’s zombie-infested adventures are well-chronicled in the gripping novels Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay, Flesh & Bone, and Fire & Ash. But what else was happening while he was on his quest? Who were the others navigating the ravaged landscape full of zombies?

Bits & Pieces fills in the gaps about what we know about First Night, surviving the plague, and traveling the land of Rot & Ruin. Eleven all-new short stories from Nix’s journal and eleven previously published stories, including “Dead & Gone” and “Tooth & Nail,” are now together and in print for the first time, along with the first-ever script for the Rot & Ruin comic books.

Jonathan was also kind enough to answer some interview questions: 

KAREN McCOY: According to your website bio, you write in several genres. What is your favorite genre to write in, if any, and what do you like most about dabbling in different mediums?

JONATHAN MABERRY: At heart I’m a thriller writer, and even when I shift gears to write in different genres most of my works are built on the model of a thriller. That means there are usually high stakes and some kind of race against time to prevent a catastrophe. That can manifest as a rescue, trying to prevent a biological outbreak, a zombie invasion, or just about anything else.

The reason I move around from genre to genre is because I love to experiment, to try new things, and to stretch as a writer. I read across genre lines, and always have. When I made the switch from writing mostly nonfiction (feature articles, nonfiction books, etc.) to writing novels, comics and short stories I knew that ‘fiction’ was the driving force. Not one particular kind of fiction. Sure, I have a bias toward horror and suspense, but I haven’t parked my car there. If I have a good idea that’s not in one of the genres in which I’m currently publishing, I discuss it with my agent and we go from there. If it’s something I become truly passionate about, then nothing will stop me from writing it and finding a good market for it.

Short stories are particularly good for allowing a writer to stretch and to try new things. Over the last few years I’ve written in so many different genres that it’s surprised even me! I’ve written mysteries, horror, psychological thrillers, weird science, westerns, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, military science fiction, comedy, historical fiction, and more. And I’ve done a lot of stories tied to existing characters or licenses, including tales set in the worlds of the Wizard of Oz, Sherlock Holmes, John Carter of Mars, Auguste DuPin, Cthulhu, Planet of the Apes, Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood), and many others. And experimental fiction allows me the chance to introduce new characters and test-drive them with my readers.

KAREN McCOY: Glad to know your genre car's still moving! I love the premise of NIGHTSIDERS: THE ORPHAN ARMY. How did the idea come to you, and what do you want readers to notice most in the story?

JONATHAN MABERRY: NIGHTSIDERS is a direct collaboration with my eleven-year-old self. You see, I kept a dream diary from age seven all the way through high school. I had very vivid dreams and even then I wanted to be a storyteller. So I wrote everything down. I had one particularly frightening series of dreams involved an invasion of insect aliens. And around the same time I dreamed that I was friends with kids who were monsters (faeries, ogres, sprites, werewolves, and like that). So I combined those two sets of dreams and used them as the foundation for a new series of books. Since I was eleven when I had those dreams, it seemed appropriate to write that series for kids in 4th, 5th and 6th grades.

I recently finished the second book in the series, VAULT OF SHADOWS.

KAREN McCOY: Should have definite appeal for middle-grade audiences. Your YA horror series, Rot & Ruin, was named in Booklist’s Ten Best Horror Novels for Young Adults. Aside from your well-deserved acclaim, what has been the most rewarding part of writing this series?

JONATHAN MABERRY: ROT & RUIN started out as a novella for adults. It was my response to a challenge from editor Christopher Golden, who was putting together an anthology of zombie stories that tweaked the standard model. The book, THE NEW DEAD, had great stories. Until that point I’d never written anything post-apocalyptic and hadn’t written from a teen’s perspective. So I combined those two elements. And, I’ve been a zombie fan since I was a kid. When I was ten years old, my buddy and I snuck into a movie theater to watch the world premier of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. That was October 2, 1968. That movie left a mark on me. It scared me crazy but at the same time it kick-started a speculation that still lingers today: How would I survive a zombie apocalypse?

So, ROT & RUIN is an extension of decades of thinking about that question. However I wanted to give it some of my own twists. Instead of writing about the apocalypse, I jumped forward fourteen years later and started there. The zombies have already consumed most of the world and even after all these years they haven’t rotted away. There are seven billion of them and only thirty thousand humans. The lead character was a kid growing up in a fenced-off town and we follow him as he looks for a job in that world.

The novella, “The Family Business”, was very favorably reviewed and received, and my agent nudged me in the direction of turning it into a novel for teens. It was something I’d never done…and so I had to try. Now we have the fifth ROT & RUIN book coming out –BITS & PIECES, which is a collection of short stories. There’s also a graphic novel, WARRIOR SMART, that’s set between books #2 and #3. And we have a movie in development.

KAREN McCOY: I was excited to learn about the movie, as well as the prospect of Louis Ozawa Changchien playing Benny Imura. At the Tuscon Festival of Books, you were on a panel entitled, "Undying Appeal of the Undead." What, in your opinion, makes the undead so appealing to readers, and what about them appeals to you as an author?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Zombies are a perfect vehicle for metaphorical storytelling. You can say ‘zombie’ and people immediately understand you’re saying and they can envision the scope of the problem. They allow a writer to create a massive, shared threat that negatively impacts the lives of every single character in the story. Everyone is shoved out of complacency and out of the affected versions of themselves they wear every day. What’s left are people reduced to their true selves, stripped down and unable to hide behind pretension. That allows for deep character exploration, and the essentially generic nature of the crisis gives us a blank canvas on which we can paint any kind of image we want. Zombie stories can be used to talk about social issues (consumerism, political extremism, etc.), psychological issues (loss of identity, etc), global threats (pandemics or misused technology), and so on. The zombies represent the threat, but once introduced they usually fade to the background and we focus on the dynamics of people in crisis. That is the foundation of all drama, which means there is no end to the kinds of stories you can tell.

And zombies themselves are frightening because they unreasonable, unrelenting, and physically repellent while still representing people who once knew. That is delightful paranoia.

KAREN McCOY: And who knew zombies could be so malleable? What are some of your current projects?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I’m in the busiest phase of my career, juggling dozens of projects, large and small. I wrote three novels so far this year –VAULT OF SHADOWS, the second NIGHTSIDERS book; KILL SWITCH, the 8th in my Joe Ledger weird science thriller series; and GHOSTWALKERS, an alt-history old West steampunk supernatural thriller with zombies and undead velociraptors based on the Deadlands role-playing game. I’m writing a science fiction novel for teens (the details of which are under wraps!), and then I’ll wrap the year by writing GLIMPSE, a standalone horror-suspense novel for my adult readers. I’ve written a slew of short stories and novellas this year, including several audio exclusives. I wrapped my second V-WARS graphic novel, and am in discussions to do three new comic book limited series. And I’m writing a pilot script for a possible TV series based on my first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES. I’m also working on three Hollywood projects: the movie version of ROT & RUIN; a TV series based on my V-WARS vampire apocalypse series; and a feature film based on KING OF PLAGUES, the 3rd of my Joe Ledger novels. And we have a V-WARs board game coming out for Christmas. While doing all of that I’ve been traveling around the world doing writers conferences, comic conventions and other events. Next up is Lucca Comics & Games in Tuscany. So…like I said, it’s a crazy time.

For more information on Jonathan and his books, feel free to click the links below.

Jonathan Maberry
NY Times Bestseller and 5-time Bram Stoker Award winner

Website & Blog: 

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

THE CURIOUS CAT SPY CLUB by Linda Joy Singleton

I first got wind of Linda's books when a few copies showed up on my library work desk. She's local to Sacramento, and not only did I like the premise of her first book, THE CURIOUS CAT SPY CLUB, but I found out the sequel, THE MYSTERY OF ZORSE'S MASK will debut September 15. Have a look:

From Goodreads:

No one at school knows that Kelsey, Becca, and Leo are secretly friends. They have nothing in common--until they rescue three kittens and form a club to help animals through volunteering, spying, and solving mysteries. In the first book of this series, Kelsey helps catch a runaway zorse (horse + zebra) with the help of another girl from school named Becca. The two are walking home when they happen upon a litter of kittens trapped in a dumpster and Leo Polanski is the only person around who can help get them out. The three unlikely friends decide to work together to help solve animal crimes with their secret club!

When a mysterious stranger claims to own Becca’s beloved zorse, Zed, something seems suspicious. Besides, if this person is Zed’s real owner, the Curious Cat Spy Club fears he might be responsible for abusing Zed in the past. Kelsey, Becca, and Leo are determined to uncover the truth before they have to give Zed away. But when a daring rescue attempt puts Kelsey in danger, does the CCSC have enough spy skills to save her or are they in over their heads?

Linda was also kind enough to answer some interview questions:

According to your website, you sent out short stories as early as age 14. What got you started writing, and can you tell us more about your journey toward publication?

I still have stories I wrote when I was 8. No one told me to write; it just happened. I believe I was born to write. I always loved series books best and read any juvenile mystery my parents could find for me. I enjoyed Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Beverly Gray, Vicki Barr, etc, but my favorite series was the Judy Bolton mysteries by Margaret Sutton. When I was 14, there were no writing classes for me so my Dad, who also had an interest in writing, took a college class then came home and told me how to format my manuscripts and how to submit. I submitted teen stories to American Girl Magazine, and received nice personal rejections.

 Also, I wrote a fan letter to my favorite author, Margaret Sutton, and she not only responded to me but continued a friendship that lasted until she died at 98.  I co-wrote a Judy Bolton mystery with her called THE TAKING SNOWMAN. A fan’s dream come true!

Life took over for about a decade then I came back to my passion for writing in my late 20’s. Hearing about a writing conference on the radio, I attended and this led to my joining Romance Writers of America (RWA). I learned SO much, listening to editors and agents and published authors speak at local meetings. I submitted a lot! In just over 2 years, I sold my first book, ALMOST TWINS, to a small school fair publisher. It was probably the most exciting moment of my career.

I know what you mean about life taking over--and I'm glad you returned to writing. I love the concept for the Curious Cat Spy Club series. How did you translate the club you had as a child into such an engaging read for kids?

My best friend Lori and I were crazy about animals so made up a club called the Curious Cat Spy Club.  We wanted to take care of animals, spy, and solve mysteries like the books we were reading. We both had cats and at least one dog.  She sometimes helped her cousin clean a dog kennel and I’d go along. When a staple gun was stolen, we wanted to solve this mystery and eavesdropped on a neighbor through a fence and actually heard proof about who stole the gun. I think his parents made him return it soon afterwards – back then neighbors backed up each other if one of their kids did something wrong.

And there really were three kittens that had been dumped that were brought to Lori’s home, by her brother, I think. I have this vague memory that I saw one of the kittens grown up much later and it was a happy, chubby cat.  The kittens were found in a box in a ditch; not a dumpster. But that’s the fun of writing a story; I take the facts and mold them into a story.

I never thought of using my childhood club in a story until one day during critique group, I mentioned the club to one of my writing friends, and she said it sounded like a great idea for a book. Zing! This stuck in my head, and a few months later when my editor invited me to send her ideas for a mystery series, CURIOUS CAT SPY CLUB was the first one on my list.  My editor LOVED it and I received a contract for 3 books to start this series.

It's great to know there will be more in the series! On your website, you also offer a “writing advice” tab for aspiring writers. What is one piece of writing information you wish you’d had sooner in your career?

Don't be too impatient to get published, and to make sure your work is written the best it can be. I was often so impatient; I’d rush to send my work out when it was still rough. I was lucky to make some of the sales I did because they needed more editing afterwards. I’m still impatient but now I’ve learned so much about editing/rewriting that I write slowly and rewrite each chapter until it feels right before going on to the next one.  This is my process and everyone will work differently. Many writers I know like to just write a sloppy first draft then go back and fix it.  Still I do believe it’s best to rewrite many times and have the help of a critique group to shine your rough draft into a polished book.

Wonderful advice. What are some of your current projects? 

I’m currently writing the 4th Curious Cat Spy Club book.  The working title is "The Secret of the Shadow Bandit." The first three books has each kid one-by-one able to keep their kittens. So my plan is for book #4 and any after that to have a new story arc about finding the right house to move into. Kelsey’s kitten, Honey, has a big part in book #4 too, as she’s the one who discovers the Shadow Bandit. Book #3 is called Kelsey the Spy and is a tribute to Kelsey’s favorite book, Harriet the Spy – so readers may guess what happens to Kelsey’s Notebook of Secrets--which leads to a ransom note and a dramatic cliffhanger.  There’s also a 130-year-old tortoise named Albert and a Humane Society Fundraiser.

NOTE TO ANY LIBRARIANS/TEACHERS:  Choose CURIOUS CAT SPY CLUB for your kid book club selection and I will give each child a Spy Pack (puzzles, badge, etc.) plus donate a signed book and offer a free Skype with your kids.  More information at under Teacher/Librarian link.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

SHACKLED by Tom Leveen

I've featured Tom Leveen before, and he always has such super-smart things to say. So when I found out his new book SHACKLED came out August 18, I immediately ordered it for my library system and contacted him for an interview. Have a look:

From Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Pelly has a master plan. After years of therapy, medication, and even a stint in a mental hospital, she’s finally ready to re-enter the world of the living. Pelly has been suffering from severe panic attacks ever since her best friend, Tara, disappeared from a mall six years ago.

And her plan seems to be working, until an unkempt girl accompanied by an older man walks into the coffee shop where she works. Pelly thinks she’s seen a ghost, until the girl mouths “help me” on the way out, and Pelly knows she’s just seen Tara.

Too shocked to do anything, Pelly helplessly watches Tara slip away again as she steels herself against a renewed spiral of crippling anxiety. But rather than being overcome by anxiety, Pelly feels more energized than she has in years. Determined to track down enough evidence to force the police to reopen Tara’s file, Pelly’s master plan takes a turn for the dangerous.

Pelly decides she cannot be shackled by her past—and the anxiety, fear, and grief that comes with it—any longer if she wants to save Tara. But in seeking answers through whatever means necessary, she’ll come face-to-face with true evil. And not all the shackles are in her head...

Tom was also kind enough to answer some follow-up interview questions:

I love that you're addressing PTSD issues in SHACKLED. What inspired the story, and what do you hope teens gain from reading it?

The suspense/thriller aspects of SHACKLED were originally inspired by a strange dollhouse display at the library where I used to work. It had a furnished attic...but no way to get to it. I thought that was an odd detail to be left out, and imagined two people noticing it and talking about who might be secreted away in such a place if the dollhouse was a real house somewhere. That led to a story about a girl being kidnapped while running away from home and finding this part-time library job, which ultimately morphed into the plot of SHACKLED. As for the thematic elements of Pelly's psychological issues, those are completely based on my own experience. After a lifetime of distressing and disruptive symptoms, I've finally been diagnosed with PTSD stemming from some things that happened in childhood; additionally, I had a severe panic disorder for many years in my twenties which has since mostly resolved. Combining those two elements is where the novel finally sprang from.

The greatest stories are derived from personal experiences--and you always bring such unique perspectives to your work. Your last book, RANDOM, had a brilliant tagline: "Not guilty doesn't mean you're innocent." In what ways does this relate to Tori's story, and how did it develop as you wrote it?

The thing about RANDOM that I wish I'd made more clear at the outset is that Tori is, in literary terms, the villain of the piece. She is certainly the protagonist, but she is also a villain. She refuses for most of the novel to accept her role in a tragedy, like so many people do. Whether or not a court would find her guilty of a crime is one thing; whether or not she's morally culpable - whether by action or inaction - is another thing altogether. I did not set out to write a novel about the redemption of a bad guy, and it's "easy" to write from a victim's point of view. I was interested in getting into the head of a villain and trying to figure out her motives. Tori is very young and has a lot to learn; I think the story of RANDOM is only the first step in her learning to accept the wrongs she's done, and how and why she can make better choices in the future.

I like that she doesn't fit into any particular mold--I think that's what makes your protagonists so compelling. In our last interview, you mentioned a possible supernatural YA in the pipeline. How has that project developed since?

Yes! I'm happy to announce that my novel HELLWORLD has been picked up by Simon Pulse for a Fall 2017 release. It basically asks the question, What happens if all literal hell breaks loose and there's nothing you can do about it? A group of teens goes looking for their ghost-hunting parents who went missing five years ago and inadvertently open up a hellmouthy kind of portal that unleashes Lovecraftian monsters into the world. Thematically it's about how we deal with things that we cannot control, like illness or other tragedies. Apart from that, it's a pretty scary horror story!

Oooh, sounds fantastic! Thanks, Tom, for yet another excellent interview!

SHACKLED is now available at Amazon, and you can view and buy Tom's fabulous other books here

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


I've been fortunate to feature A.S. King in the past, namely here, and here. With each interview, I learn something new, and this time was no exception. I even won this from

Notice the helicopter pilot key chain.
Here's some more information about I CRAWL THROUGH IT:

From Goodreads:

Four talented teenagers are traumatized—coping with grief, surviving trauma, facing the anxiety of standardized tests and the neglect of self-absorbed adults—and they'll do anything to escape the pressure. They'll even build an invisible helicopter, to fly far away to a place where everyone will understand them... until they learn the only way to escape reality is to fly right into it.

And here are her answers to some follow-up interview questions!

I love the beginning of I CRAWL THROUGH IT, especially the part about Gustav's invisible helicopter. What books did you read while you wrote I CRAWL THROUGH IT, and in what ways, if any, did they influence the story?

What a great place to start. Surrealism has always been one of my favorite types of writing and when I started I CRAWL THROUGH IT, I hadn’t read surrealist fiction in more than a decade. So, I pulled out a few classics from my bookshelf (Kafka and Burroughs) and then went looking for contemporary surrealist books. The two I enjoyed the most were Daniel Fights a Hurricane by Shane Jones and The Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg. I still read bits and pieces of Schomburg’s book daily. It’s wonderful and very strange. I also swam inside a Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story collection at the time. Magic realism, I know, but some of those stories were completely awesome and messed up. “Eva Is Inside Her Cat” is just so great.

Marquez is fantastic. I've heard his story "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" is definitely worth reading as well. I CRAWL THROUGH IT also explores the pressure teens face. How were you able to tap into these anxieties, and what do you hope readers will gain from reading about them?

I think we all face very real pressures when it comes to violence in our culture. Whether it’s random gun violence or other types of crime, I think all humans no matter their age can relate to feeling anxious at certain times or in certain situations. As for the pressures of standardized testing, I tap into that by talking to teenagers who have to take too many tests—or more saddening, who have to prep for those tests all year long rather than explore education in a a more organic way led by trained and enthusiastic teachers. I guarantee you those teachers do not want to be teaching to tests any more than the students want to be learning to them.

I meet many students who ask me what the answers are to my books—as if there are clear answers to any piece of fiction. They need the answers. It’s for the test. This is a great way to learn about many things. As a math nerd, I fully support trying to find the right answers. But in fiction, which is art, “right” answers are often fleeting, varied, or just not there. I suppose I hope that readers of I CRAWL THROUGH IT realize that if they are in school, stuck doing these tests, they can crawl through it and come out the other side knowing they can be free to think what they want when they are done. They are free to be what they want when they are done. They can finally realize that maybe no one was asking the right questions, especially in a real-world arena where violence and fear are very real…and yet never on the test.

Exactly. I'm reminded of REALITY BOY, and how Gerald's TV life isn't a reality at all. It shows how all your books offer an opportunity to discover the beauty of painting outside the lines. In our last interview, you mentioned that the opening of GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE was inspired by an example of your own writing during a revision workshop. In what other ways, if any, does teaching writing inspire your creativity?

Teaching is fantastic inspiration. Conducting workshops in high schools brings me closer to my teen self because even though I’m well past my teen years, I can see clearly that students today face similar challenges to what I did…and so much more. Interacting with students is always helpful because it reminds me about why I write books with teens in them. I want them to have a voice. I want them to be taken seriously. I had neither of these things as a teen and I think our culture of condescension toward teens is really damaging. So I like to inspire students when I see them in schools, and they, in turn, inspire me.

I recently taught three semesters of grad school at Vermont College of Fine Arts and the effect it had on me was mind-blowing. Not only did I get to interact with other writers for two-week-long residencies twice a year but I got to work with some very talented students who made me realize that I could do things I’ve never tried before. For example, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to write a middle grade book had it not been for my time at VCFA. Also, my 2016 YA book was inspired by a student lecture at VCFA—by a writing exercise. Soon after that exercise, I got the idea for the book and the exercise (an expanded version) is one of the main working parts of the book. That book wouldn’t exist if it were not for that student’s lecture. Teaching opens my mind. I think that in itself is a big plus for any writer.

Indeed it is! Thanks so much for yet another excellent interview!

You can pre-order copies of I CRAWL THROUGH IT using the links below:


Barnes and Noble

Or these other online retailers.

Before I Crawl Through It, Amy's YA novel, Glory O'Brien's History of the Future garnered six starred trade reviews and landed on several end of year best lists since its release in October 2014. Reality Boy (October 2013) was a A New York Times Editors' Choice, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and School Library Journal Best Book of 2013, a Junior Library Guild Selection, Amazon Best Books for October, and a Winter 2013-2014 Kids' Indie Next List Top Ten pick. 2012's Ask the Passengers (Little, Brown October 2012) is a Los Angeles Times Book Prize Winner, a Junior Library Guild selection, a Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly & School Library Journal Best Book of 2012, an Indie Next List pick and has been called "Another thoughtful, and often breathtaking achievement" by Booklist in one of six starred trade reviews for the book. Everybody Sees the Ants (Little, Brown October 2011) was an Andre Norton Award finalist, a Cybils finalist, and a 2012 YALSA Top Ten book for young adults. Her 2010 YA novel, Please Ignore Vera Dietz was a 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, an Edgar Award Nominee, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book for Teens 2010, a Junior Library Guild selection and a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults pick. Her first YA novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs, was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, an Indie Next pick and a Cybil award finalist. Her short fiction for adults has been widely published and was nominated for Best New American Voices 2010. Her short fiction collection, Monica Never Shuts Up is available in paperback and all ebook formats. Amy now lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and children, teaches  writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program, and is a huge fan of Kurt Vonnegut, corn on the cob, libraries, and roller skating.

Visit her full website here.