Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Video Interview! ALPHA GODDESS and The Riven Chronicles Series by Amalie Howard

I met Amalie Howard at this year's UtopiaCon, and she was kind enough to grant me my first video interview. She discusses her wonderful books, in addition to her experience with agents and marketing. Have a look!

For more on Amalie and her books (including her Aquarthi series), you can visit her website,

Alpha Goddess:

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

The Riven Chronicles:

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Monday, July 18, 2016

Make Yourself: Gaining Tolerance for Vulnerability

I think Kevin Smith is one of the most inspirational people on the planet. You can like Kevin Smith, or dislike him, but you can't deny that he has made himself. He demonstrates that you can put yourself out there, in whatever iteration you want, and say what you think about the world. (Language NSFW.)

Which made me think.

For many years, I was taught that I was defined by what I made money at. This week, watching Kevin Smith talking about building yourself from nothing, I realized I could be more than just the source of my income. That I already was. I had already made myself. There was an Incubus song that told me this years ago, but it didn't really register:

I've been self-employed for almost nine years, writing full-time while working a day job. The only difference now is that I have one career instead of two. I'm unemployed, according to my current paycheck--but I'm technically self-employed. My in-laws asked my husband if I was enjoying my "time off," and my husband said, truthfully, "She hasn't really taken any."

And it's true. Since my temporary reprieve with librarianship, which started at the end of April, I've published at least one blog post a week, most of which have been author interviews, finished the first draft of my sixth novel, written a few short stories, one of which that got published in this book, submitted a script to ABC discovers, have almost completed a novella, and am almost done with revisions on the sixth draft of my fourth novel. At a recent book festival, describing this to one author, she said, "Okay, none of this 'aspiring' garbage. You are doing things. You're a writer." And it's true. I've published, both in fiction and non-fiction now.

It took me losing my librarian job to figure out how much of a writer I already was.

And there was a reason why I was hesitant to take this step. Making yourself also opens you up to failure. And failure is scary as hell. I was determined to keep my librarian job as long as possible so that I wouldn't be labeled as a "failure." It took everything I had to try and keep that job, and losing it to realize that even if I try to put the fuzzy bumpers into my life to save myself pain, the inevitable will happen.

I don't blame anyone at my former job--the best word I can come up for it is "circumstanced." There were a lot of circumstances that went in to me getting that job in the first place and a lot of circumstances that led to me losing it. I think it was all inevitable--regardless if I had taken that job, I was at a place of being burned out and something would have given, eventually.

That was what had to happen to give me the courage to pursue the unknown. Because making yourself involves a high tolerance for vulnerability, and by practicing gratitude, two things I'm still working with, day after day. Brene Brown says it best here:

So. Make yourself in the way only you can. I dare you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

SINKING by Sarah Armstrong-Garner

I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah at Barnes and Noble's B-Fest, and the way she pitched her novel SINKING made me want to read it immediately:

Jocelyn washes up on the shore of eighteenth century Ireland, alone, naked, and missing all of her memories. Taken in by a lonely old woman full of plots and schemes for the lovely yet enigmatic creature, Jocelyn knows only one thing. She longs for the sea with every ounce of her being. Yet it tried to kill her.

Aidan Boyd loves two things. His ship and the sea. When Jocelyn is thrust upon his vessel in the midst of his superstitious crew, he finds himself intoxicated by her--willing to give up everything for her. He soon finds he cannot live without her.

But something holds Jocelyn back. The whisper of another's love. The embrace of water. Does she belong to this world? Or could Jocelyn possibly be from the sea?

Sarah also answered some interview questions:

In addition to novels, you also write screenplays. What do you like most about each medium and why?

They are both amazing and both their own animal. With a screenplay it is all visual and the blueprint to a movie, which I love. I know when writing a screenplay that one-day many people will have a part of making my story come to life. With screenplays the less description the better and with novels you want all of your senses alive. With novel writing I am able to dig deep into my character’s mind and feelings and describe them on the page and with screenplays I am not. I find it refreshing to switch between both mediums. It’s like turning a picture upside down. I see something new in my stories every time.

And I'm betting that's why SINKING has such a delightfully complex premise. At the beginning, Jocelyn is left with no memories. In what ways did her character grow as you wrote her, and were there times she surprised you?

There were many times when she surprised me. At more than one time Jocelyn was writing her story and I was just reading it. This story is about self-discovery and origins. It is about pushing to the limit and not breaking. And that’s was Jocelyn does. She pushes past her fears and leaps into the unknown, hoping she will find answers. With every leap and struggle, Jocelyn finds a piece of what she’s lost and also what she will have to give up.

Very well put. I can't wait to watch her journey within the world you've created for her, and I love the way you pitched her story. What advice, if any, do you have for authors looking to spruce up their pitching skills?

Make it simple. If you can’t grab someone’s attention in one sentence then rework your pitch. If they are interested in your story then tell them more, but keep it simple and short.

Great advice. What are some of your current projects?

Right now I’m working on DRIFTING and RISING, the next two books in the Sinking Trilogy. When they are done I’ll be writing their screenplays to go with them.

Wonderful! I can't wait to see how the intricate story-building in SINKING will continue to grow and change.

You can learn more about Sarah by following her on Facebook and Twitter, @SarahTwyla, to get faster updates on her novels, screenplays, and projects.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Monday, July 11, 2016

Conveyance of an idea vs. what that idea conveys

Many aspiring authors are afraid of putting their ideas out there, in case their concepts might be stolen by others. I used to have this fear too, but eventually, the more I wrote, I realized that concepts in and of themselves can be familiar, and all we do is put our unique twists on them. If I wrote a vampire story, for example, it would probably look very different than something from Twilight. Mine would probably be more along the lines of a vampire who has dreadful allergies, or something, because I'm fascinated by the mundane within the fantastic.

"Damned pollen--my eyes are so red I can't see. And look at this rash!"
(photo from

But even this concept, or idea, is welcome to be stolen from someone else. I don't mind. Because, I learned something else even more important from reading Neil Gaiman's The View From the Cheap Seats, something he said during his speech at the fortieth anniversary of the Nebula awards:

"The challenge now is to go forward and to keep going forward: to tell stories that have weight and meaning. It's saying things that mean things, and using the literature of the imagination to do it."

The full speech can be viewed here.

Neil Gaiman has always been a fountain of wisdom for me--probably why I was so excited to meet him in 2013. His quote reminds me that it doesn't matter if I come up with a cool concept--if that idea doesn't have some way to universally resonate with someone else, it probably won't translate in the way I intend anyway. It's all about the "why." Why is this cool element so important for the story, and why does it affect my character?

 In thinking about this, my vampire with allergies might get some traction. After all, it's not about the allergies in and of themselves, but how people's lives are affected by them. Are they not able to own cats, for example, even if they might really want one? Do they want to go for a walk during spring, but can't? And how does it affect a person's motivation and well-being to be constantly drowsy from allergy medication?

As authors, we don't only convey ideas, but we create experiences for people. So the next time you're afraid that your idea might be "stolen," think about the universal concepts within that idea--have they been done before? Are they relatable to someone else besides you? And if not, where might you find the universality within your story?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

EVERLAND by Wendy Spinale

I had the fortune of meeting Wendy and getting to know her new book at this year's Bay Area Book Festival. Needless to say, I bought EVERLAND immediately, and was instantly drawn in:

London has been destroyed in a blitz of bombs and disease. The only ones who have survived are children, among them Gwen Darling and her siblings, Joanna and Mikey. They spend their nights scavenging and their days avoiding the ruthless Marauders -- the German army led by Captain Hanz Otto Oswald Kretschmer.

Unsure if the virus has spread past England's borders but desperate to leave, Captain Hook hunts for a cure, which he thinks can be found in one of the survivors. He and his Marauders stalk the streets snatching children for experimentation. None ever return. Until the day they grab Joanna. As Gwen sets out to save her, she meets a daredevil boy named Pete. Pete offers the assistance of his gang of Lost Boys and the fierce sharpshooter Bella, who have all been living in a city hidden underground. But in a place where help has a steep price and every promise is bound by blood, it will cost Gwen. And are she, Pete, the Lost Boys, and Bella enough to outsmart Captain Hook?

You've had quite the journey, from Disney, to Kinesiology to freelance writing. Which parts of your journey taught you the most, and what did you do to keep motivated through it all?

I've had a phenomenal life and every part of it has contributed to who I am today. I am so grateful for the experiences I've had and for the people I've met along the way. I'm highly motivated by the people I surround myself with. They are driven, inspirational, and remind me that life is precious and to never take for granted the great things I've been given.

Which makes you inspirational to others too! I loved the world-building in EVERLAND. What did you enjoy most about writing it, and what part was the most challenging? 

My favorite scenes to write were the chapters within the Lost City. I ended up have to cut about two chapters of the original manuscript because we decided that it wasn't YA enough. But those Lost Boys are charming and the city they built is magnificent. Hook was the most challenging character to wrap my head around. I knew he was my villain, but that he wasn't your traditional bad guy. He's complex, confused, and I wanted the reader to almost be sympathetic. In order to do that, I had to create this tragic backstory. As a mother, it was difficult to get in touch with that horrible, wicked mother of his. I adore kids and Hook's childhood was awful.

That depth is what sets this story apart--in addition to your flawless world-building. Speaking of creative spaces, I love the design of your website. What advice, if any, do you have for authors looking to expand their online platforms? 

Thanks! I found an amazing website designer through I think finding ways to put your work out in the world is important. I was blogger for a short time and also worked as a online news journalist before I started writing books. There are a lot of online writing communities such as Wattpad that allow you to upload your writing. Also, social media plays a huge part in getting your name out in the world. I've found Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to be excellent avenues to reach out the readers, writers, librarians, and book bloggers. The writing community is such a positive group of people and a great resource when it comes to promoting. They are like virtual cheerleaders, marketers, and publicists. Engage with others who love to read and write books.

It's a beautiful community--and I love how you encourage writers to get rid of that word 'aspiring'! What are some of your current projects? 

I'm currently under contract with Scholastic for two more books in the EVERLAND series as well as two e-shorts. I've just turned in my latest revision for book two to my editor and am currently working on the first e-short. The e-short is tentatively set to come out either late this year or early next year. It will be a short read about the backstory of one of the EVERLAND characters. Book two is expected out early summer 2017.

Thanks again for having me stop in. Those were great questions and I appreciate you and your readers for taking the time to get to me and my little world of EVERLAND a bit more.

Thank you! EVERLAND is gorgeous and I hope lots of people will experience it!

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

WANDERING WILD by Jessica Taylor

Embarrassingly enough, when I first met Jessica Taylor, I mistook her for someone else. Thankfully, she was extremely nice about it, and when we reconnected a few years later, I was happy to learn that her book WANDERING WILD had made it out into the world:

Raised by Wanderers, sixteen-year-old Tal travels the roads of the southern wild in her Chevy by day and camps in her tent trailer at night. Hustling, conning, and grifting her way into just enough cash to save her fifteen-year-old brother, Wen, from bare-knuckle fighting was once enough to keep her dreams of traveling the whole world at bay. Everything changes when the Wanderers set up camp in a little town called Cedar Falls.

There, Spencer Sway, a boy Tal tried to hustle at a game of billiards, keeps popping up into her life—and worst of all—into her scams. Buttoned-up, starched-and-ironed Spencer talks of places where Tal’s truck can’t take her. His promises of traveling across oceans are almost enough to shatter her love of the Wanderer life.

When a boy shows up at camp, ready to make good on a nearly-forgotten arranged marriage to Tal, Tal and Wen make a pact: No matter the cost, they will use their limitless skills of grift to earn the bride price and buy back her future—even if Spencer Sway gets used along the way.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

In addition to WANDERING WILD, here are some other books Jessica thinks readers will also enjoy:

WHAT'S BROKEN BETWEEN US by Alexis Bass. After Amanda's brother Jonathan kills a classmate while drunk driving, he gives an interview that makes him sound less than apologetic. A year and a half later he's coming home from prison, and Amanda has to deal with the fallout. I'm a huge fan of Alexis Bass's writing, and this is my absolute favorite of her books. Like WANDERING WILD, it deals with learning to accept and forgive a destructive family member.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

THE POSSIBILITY OF NOW by Kim Culbertson. Mara has always been a perfectionist, but when she has an embarrassing outburst in the middle of her calculus exam, she trades her overachieving ways for some time with her laid-back father in Lake Tahoe. Learning to focus on what's best for ourselves is something I love to explore both in my writing and my life (don't we all?). I highly recommend this book!

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

OUTRUN THE MOON by Stacey Lee. Mercy Wong is determined to leave behind her life of poverty, so she finesses admittance into an elite San Francisco school. When the historic 1906 earthquake strikes the city, Mercy must survive with her classmates. Mercy is one of my favorite heroines. Like Tal in WANDERING WILD, Mercy is torn between the life she was born into and a destiny of her own making.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

UP TO THIS POINTE by Jennifer Longo. Harper has lived her life with one goal in mind--to become a professional ballerina. When that plan goes south, so does Harper. Literally. She finagles her way into spending the winter in the Antarctic to rediscover herself. Like my next novel, A MAP FOR LOST GIRLS (Dial/Penguin, 2018), UP TO THIS POINTE is a non-linear story, which is one of my favorite story structures. I absolutely devoured this book!

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber. Two sisters escape their ruthless father and enter into a dangerous game that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. This is one of most highly anticipated debuts, and I had the absolute privilege to read an early draft. Like A MAP FOR LOST GIRLS, CARAVAL has a strong sister relationship and explores how far the strength of those bonds will make a sister go.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Extraction Series by Stephanie Diaz

When I heard the premise for Stephanie Diaz's Extraction series, I was immediately hooked; I've already read the first, and can't wait to get a hold of the rest. Here's a glimpse:

Clementine has spent her whole life preparing for her sixteenth birthday, when she’ll be tested for Extraction in the hopes of being sent from the planet Kiel’s toxic Surface to the much safer Core, where people live without fear or starvation. When she proves promising enough to be “Extracted,” she must leave without Logan, the boy she loves. Torn apart from her only sense of family, Clem promises to come back and save him from brutal Surface life.

What she finds initially in the Core is a utopia compared to the Surface—it’s free of hard labor, gun-wielding officials, and the moon's lethal acid. But life is anything but safe, and Clementine learns that the planet's leaders are planning to exterminate Surface dwellers—and that means Logan, too.

Trapped by the steel walls of the underground and the lies that keep her safe, Clementine must find a way to escape and rescue Logan and the rest of the planet. But the planet leaders don't want her running—they want her subdued.


It's been seven days since Clementine and Logan, along with their allies, retreated into hiding on the Surface. The rebels may have won one battle against Commander Charlie, but the fight is far from finished. He has vowed to find a way to win—no matter the cost. Do the rebels have what it takes to defeat him...and put an end to this war?

As Clementine and Logan enter a desperate race against time to defeat Commander Charlie—and attempt to weaken his power within his own ranks—they find themselves in a terrifying endgame that pits them against a brutal enemy, and each other. With every step, Clementine draws closer to losing Logan...and losing control of herself.


Clementine and Logan’s world is on the brink of destruction. An army of aliens from the distant planet Marden has arrived with a massive fleet of battleships, intent on finally putting an end to an age-old war. With the Alliance headquarters reduced to rubble and one of the rebel leaders close to death, Clementine and her friends have no choice but to retreat to the Core to escape the alien ships attacking the Surface.

But safety in the Core means forming a temporary alliance with their sworn enemy. Though he's a ruthless man they cannot trust, striking a bargain with him—his pardon in exchange for their help defeating the Mardenites—seems the only way the rebels might survive. The only way that Clementine and Logan might finally live in peace. But their hope for peace is short lived as they soon find out that Marden's force is more powerful than anyone anticipated, with weapons and technologies never before seen on Kiel. Unless old feuds can be set aside long enough for a diplomatic solution to be found, all of Kiel's people will be destroyed, and all of Clementine’s sacrifices will mean nothing.

According to your website bio, you landed your first three-book deal at the age of nineteen. What did you learn from your experience, and what are you most thankful for?

I did land a book deal young, but it took years of hard work--8 years, in fact, as I started querying at age eleven. (Can you tell I was an overachiever?) I wrote and queried two books before the Extraction series, trying again and again to get them right. For a long time my goal was to land an agent before I finished high school, but that didn’t happen. When it finally happened before I finished college, and I landed a book deal a few months later, I was incredibly relieved and grateful. It meant I would actually have employment after graduating, AND it was what I’d always wanted to do! I think the biggest thing I learned throughout the whole process was that patience is so important in this industry, and so is taking your time to learn and grow as a writer, to make sure any books you put out into the world are truly the best ones you can write.

Wonderful advice, especially the part about making books the best ones you can write. A recent post from agent website reflects this too. You created such a beautifully complex world in the Extraction series, including some pretty tough choices for Clementine. What do you hope readers will gain from her journey? 

I hope Clementine’s journey inspires strength and fearlessness in readers, and the encouragement to find hope in the midst of hardship and horrors, because it’s always possible. Any mistakes you make along the way do not define you. There is always a better future waiting.

Delightfully reassuring! Or as my cousin says, "Worry is just fear projected in the future." In addition to being an author, you are also a freelance editor. What advice, if any, do you have for people interested in pursing freelance work?

The most important thing is to build your resume and portfolio first—gain experience beta-reading and offering critiques for writers, even land a remote internship with a literary agent if you can. Editing is a very different skill than writing, so make sure you have a solid grasp on how to give insightful criticism. Then start getting the word out there!

Giving insightful criticism is definitely key. What are some of your current projects?

I have been working on several, including a Pirates of the Caribbean-inspired high fantasy, and another high fantasy that’s a Mulan retelling. Hoping I’ll be able to share more about them soon!

I hope so too! Thanks, Stephanie! 

Bio: Twenty-three-year-old Stephanie Diaz lives in San Diego, CA, writing full-time and working as a freelance editor on the side. She graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in film production. She is the author of Extraction, Rebellion, and Evolution. When she isn't lost in other worlds, she can be found singing, marveling at the night sky, or fangirling over TV shows.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound