Wednesday, September 28, 2016

RIDING CHANCE by Christine Kendall

I had to feature Christine's Kendall's upcoming debut--it's beautiful, and it has horses! I really hope all libraries get a hold of this one, and that plenty of teens, particularly in urban areas, get to read it. It releases on October 11:

Troy is a kid with a passion. And dreams. And wanting to do the right thing. But after taking a wrong turn, he's forced to endure something that's worse than any juvenile detention he can imagine-he's "sentenced" to the local city stables where he's made to take care of horses. The greatest punishment has been trying to make sense of things since his mom died but, through his work with the horses, he discovers a sport totally unknown to him-polo. Troy's has to figure out which friends have his back, which kids to cut loose, and whether he and Alisha have a true connection. Laced with humor and beating with heartache, this novel will grip readers, pull them in quickly, and take them on an unforgettable ride. Set in present day Christine Kendall's stunning debut lets us come face-to-face with the challenges of a loving family that turn hardships into triumphs.


According to your website bio, you studied music growing up. In what ways, if any, has music influenced your creative process?

Listening to music is a part of my daily life. Many writers prefer to work in silence but music helps me bridge the gap between the real and fictive worlds. I sometimes listen to a favorite tune as a warm-up to a writing session but, more often, I have music in the background as I write. 

It's a great way to renew creativity too. RIDING CHANCE has been described as a "heartwarming tale of redemption and second chances." Why, in your opinion, is it important for readers to see hope within the stories they read?
Stories are a reflection of our lives and their many challenges. Hope is what enables us to keep moving forward and to remain optimistic during tough times. It's something characters, both real and imaginary, must have in order to thrive. 

I couldn't agree more. I love how Troy finds solace in horseback riding. What do you hope readers will gain from his story, and what about it was the most fun to write?

I hope readers will develop a greater appreciation of the powerful bond between humans and animals. In the book, Troy struggles to be himself until he lets Chance into his life. What happens after that—the love and respect they share—seems magical, but anyone who has spent time with animals knows how deep the relationships can be. Writing about the link between the young man and his horse was the really fun part. I did a lot of research on horses but recalling my experiences with my first cat, Lhasa, was also delightful.

Animals are such wonderful creatures, and I'll bet Lhasa was a great cat! What are some of your current projects?

It's coincidental that Riding Chance has a male protagonist but I'm working on another coming of age story with a female leading character. I'm also continuing to develop a collection of short stories.






Monday, September 26, 2016

INTO THE ABYSS by Stefanie Gaither

I featured Stefanie Gaither's first book, FALLS THE SHADOW, because of her ability to hook readers. Little did I know that it was only the beginning. She also has a beautiful way with words, and way to hit a reader right between the eyes. As an example, here's one of my favorite quotes from FALLS THE SHADOW: "Because while most of the student body of Haven High is perfectly content with me being furniture, Jaxon always makes a point to remind me that I exist..."
The sequel to FALLS THE SHADOW, called INTO THE ABYSS, came out on August 30, and I can't wait to read it:

Violet Benson used to know who she was: a dead girl’s clone, with a dead girl’s memories. But after Huxley’s attempt to take over the government left her memories and personality wiped, all she has left is a mission: help the CCA fight back against the rest of Huxley’s deadly clones that are still at large.

But when a group of clones infiltrate CCA headquarters, Violet is blamed. Already unsure of where her loyalties should lie, Violet finds herself running away with an unlikely ally: Seth, Jaxon’s unpredictable foster brother. With Seth at her side, Violet begins to learn about a whole new side of her city’s history—and her own.

But when she learns the shocking truth about cloning, Violet will have to make a choice—and it may be one that takes her away from everyone she ever loved.

In our last interview, you said, "I'll follow a strong voice/good writing and an intriguing character a long way into a book, even well past the point where the plot or worldbuilding elements stopped making sense or holding my interest." What, in your opinion, constitutes a good voice, and what typically makes you stop reading?

A “good voice” is kind of a tricky thing to define, largely because of that whole 'writing is subjective' thing. And it sounds like a total cop-out answer, but I also believe a good voice is the kind of thing that you just know when you see it (or read it or whatever). If I had to narrow down a few things that I personally like, I suppose it comes down to two main things: First is what I guess you might call ‘the flow’. My first love was poetry, and in reading and writing it as much as I have, I’ve developed an inner critic that is sensitive to the rhythm of sentences and syllables. A good voice knows when to use short or long sentences/words, when to flourish and when to be more straightforward—that sort of thing.

Secondly, good voice means paying very close attention to word choices, grammar structure, etc. People talk differently in real life, even people within the same family, and I love it when writers understand this and give each character’s voice the subtle differences and patterns that make them feel like real, distinct people. It’s a hard thing to do (without overdoing it), but when it’s done right, it really elevates a book to the next level for me.

As for what makes me stop reading…hm. I’m a pretty forgiving reader, generally speaking, so I rarely completely stop reading. But one of the biggest pet peeves I have is really inconsistent characterization, or characters just plain contradicting themselves from one page to the next. Characters that change and grow over the course of the book are great, of course, but if I’m reading and I get the sense that the author simply forgot about a character’s particular thought or trait that they just mentioned a couple pages ago, it feels like careless writing and it kind of pulls me out of the book. If that happens too much, I’ll probably disconnect from the character and set the book aside.

Distinct characters are important, and you've definitely mastered how to create unique points-of-view. For example, INTO THE ABYSS offers a different twist by following Violet's perspective. What about her perspective was the most difficult to write?

The biggest challenge in writing Violet’s perspective probably came in the beginning of the book; when Violet is first “reawakened” in ABYSS, she’s very far removed from the human girl her clone was created from. She has no memories, and a brain that understands facts perfectly well—but emotions… not so much. So, in those opening chapters, I was essentially writing from the point of view of a super computer who slowly starts to realize she’s human. It was a unique, fun challenge to make her a relatable—or at least understandable—character for readers, while also trying to make her journey to her more human side believable. Once she started to develop that human side, it was a little easier, but still challenging because ‘human’ Violet and I still don’t have as much in common as Catelyn (the protagonist from Falls) and I do.

I loved how you captured Catelyn, and I look forward to reading Violet's journey into humanity! What are some of your current projects?

My current main work-in-progress is a fantasy novel that features a cursed heroine who might actually be a villain. Also it has dragons. And lots of blood and weird magic. High fantasy was my first love as a reader, so I’m really, really excited about the way this new strange, little book is coming to life for me.


Buy: BookPassage Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound




Buy: BookPassage Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

THE BOOK OF BART by Ryan Hill

I met Ryan Hill at UtopiaCon this year, and when I found out about the BOOK OF BART, I knew I had to feature it. Have a look:

Working for the man upstairs stinks, but working with Samantha, an angel in training? Offensive!

Only one thing is so powerful, so dangerous that Heaven and Hell must work together to find it: the Shard of Gabriel.

With a mysterious Black Cloud of Death hot on the shard’s trail, a desperate Heaven enlists the help of Bartholomew, a demon who knows more about the shard than almost anyone. Six years ago, he had it in his hands. If only he’d used it before his coup to overthrow the Devil failed. Now, he’s been sprung from his eternal punishment to help Samantha, an angel in training, recover the shard before the Black Cloud of Death finds it.

If Bart wants to succeed, he’ll have to fight the temptation to betray Samantha and the allure of the shard. After an existence full of evil, the only way Bart can get right with Hell is to be good.

Your writing puts me in mind of Terry Pratchett and Christopher Moore. Which authors would you say are your biggest influences and why?

Christopher Moore is probably my biggest influence. If he's the gold standard of paranormal humor, I'd be more than happy being the black sheep of the genre, the one everyone eyeballs sideways at Thanksgiving dinner, wondering how long it'd been since I was last arrested. Douglas Adams, too. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is an all-time classic.

I love how your book grapples with the nuances of good and evil. What would Bart say if someone referred to him as being good?

My initial gut reaction says he'd do a spit take. In your face. One of those classic ones that leaves you dripping. Then, he'd laugh for a good five, ten minutes, after which he'd want to say some really awful things but the giggle fits would be too much for him to handle. Eventually, either you'd bore of his condescension and walk away, or he'd get himself under control just long enough to say, "No. No I'm not." After which, he'd burst into another giggle fit, one that would probably leave him on the ground convulsing in laughter, ruined suit be blessed.

Nice! On your website, you mention that some of your novels are set within the same universe. Was this something you planned, or did it happen organically the more you wrote?

I planned it, though that's giving me more credit than I deserve. Paranormal humor is my preferred genre to write in (though I do others), so it seemed like a no-brainer to have everything take place in the same world. Don't worry, I'm not planning some kind of Avengers knock-off, or even a Justice League knock-off.

And I'm sure yours will be much more unique. What are some of your current projects?

I'm currently editing The Book of Bart - Verse 2. That's as official a title as I can give at the moment. I'm also going to work on Verse 3 during NaNoWriMo, my first official project during that event. The plan is to have both out next year. After that, it's finishing up this dark, funny, YA murder mystery noir I've been working on.


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Monday, September 19, 2016

On Books and Libraries, and the Relevance of Each

Libraries are a vital place for information and books. If you don't believe me, this article by Neil Gaiman might convince you.

Most of the time, librarians do everything they can to provide services and programs to the public, mostly by making a lot out of very limited resources. Which is why, contrary to popular myth, librarians don't have a lot of time to read (even though they may be aware of new titles to recommend to patrons).

Which brings me to books in libraries. I recently wrote this article for The Write Life about what authors should consider if they want their books to gain traction in libraries.

One commenter on the article pointed out that a lot of decisions in libraries tend to be governed by budget. And unfortunately, she's right--libraries not only have to guarantee that their budgets won't be slashed the following year, they have to justify the use of that money.

Which is why articles like Neil Gaiman's are so important. Libraries aren't obsolete due to the internet--they still offer information and books, they're just packaged in a different way. If more people realize this, it increases the likelihood for libraries to get the funding they need, especially if they are seen as a valuable asset to community education.

So if you are an author trying to get your book on a library shelf, see what you can do for your local librarian today to help them serve their community. Conversely, if you are a librarian, perhaps open up your mind to that local author to see what kind of collaborations can develop.




Wednesday, September 14, 2016

CURSE OF THE BOGGIN by D.J. MacHale

I've been a fan of D.J. MacHale for many years, especially his Pendragon series, and when I learned he had a new series, The Library, I couldn't wait to feature it. Book 1, CURSE OF THE BOGGIN, came out on September 6:


Enter the Library, where no one knows how the stories end . . . and finding out will be terrifying.

There’s a place beyond this world, beyond the land of the living, where ghosts go to write their unfinished stories—stories that ended too soon. It’s a place for unexplained phenomena: mysteries that have never been solved, spirits that have never been laid to rest. And there’s only one way in or out.

It’s called the Library, and you can get there with a special key. But beware! Don’t start a story you can’t finish. Because in this library, the stories you can’t finish just might finish you.

Marcus O’Mara is a 13 year old guy at a crossroads. He constantly finds himself in trouble at school, with his friends, and with his adoptive parents. Marcus doesn’t believe things can get any worse for him…until they get worse.

Much worse.

He begins seeing strange and impossible visions; gets thrown into paranormal danger and is haunted by a mysterious ghost with a singular goal: to give him a key.

It’s a key that opens the door to a mysterious library. When that door opens, the incredible adventure for Marcus and his friends begins as they learn the truth about Marcus’ past and uncover the strange world of unfinished stories that are found on the shelves of the Library.

In addition to your bestselling books, you've also written, directed and produced award-winning television series and movies. What do you like most about dabbling with different mediums, and in what ways has your creativity grown in the process?

I’ve always been a storyteller.  From the time I was in elementary school.  My problem was (and sometimes still is) having the discipline to sit down and “write”.  I put “write” in quotes because to me, writing isn’t just about putting words on paper, it’s about creating stories.  All kinds of stories that can be told in so many ways.  That’s why at a young age I gravitated toward filmmaking.  I filmed my stories from the 8th grade all the way through the various TV shows I made.  That spanned four decades.  Yikes.  One of the (many) reasons I decided to start writing novels was that over the years I got consistent feedback from the various people I worked with telling me how much they enjoyed reading my scripts.  Yes, they liked the shows the scripts eventually became, but they were talking about the specific experience of reading the scripts themselves, before anything further was produced.  It got me thinking that, as a storyteller, the idea of eliminating the middle man would be something worth trying.  Meaning, a script isn’t the final product.  It’s only the first step.  The people who watched my shows never actually read any of my scripts.  So I set out to eliminate the middle man, which in this case happened to be the shows.  It put me in a position of having a direct line to the people I was writing for.  What I wrote, they read.  It turned out to be incredibly satisfying because I had complete control over what I wrote.  I didn’t have to worry about the whims of studios or networks.  There were no constraints in regard to budgets or the clock or the weather!  It was so in credibly freeing!

I still love filmmaking.  The idea of bringing a group of talented people together to combine their various visions and expertise to create something special is also wonderfully rewarding.  But in a different way.  I’m actually thinking about going back to try my hand at a show again.  As much as I love the freedom of writing novels, I also miss the challenge of collaborating with a team of talented people.  (Remind me I said that when I’m stuck out in the middle of nowhere at 4 a.m. in the freezing rain)

I do believe that my experience with the screen has greatly influenced the way I write novels.  I’ll never be accused of writing wonderful, poetic prose.  But I do know how to paint a vivid picture using an economy of words.  That comes from having written multiple dozens of scripts.  It doesn’t make for lovely prose, but it does help me to spin exciting yarns.  I also believe that my dialog rings true.  I’ve written multiple thousands of lines of dialog that I’ve actually had performed.  Or directed performances.  I think that’s given me an edge in writing words in my novels that people would actually say.  Again, that doesn’t mean it’s lyrical or poetic, but it’s real.

But in the end, whether you’re writing a novel, a TV show, a movie or a play, you are faced with the exact same challenge. You must create a story about compelling characters who are faced with interesting conflict. It’s the same no matter what the medium.  A good story is a good story, no matter how it’s told.  So the more stories you create, the better you get at it!

And your stories are some of the best! As a librarian, I was greatly intrigued by the premise of CURSE OF THE BOGGIN. What inspired you to write a book in which stories have a life of their own?

The name of the new series is The Library.  CURSE OF THE BOGGIN is Book #1.  Several different concepts led to its creation.

I love spooky stories.  Always have.  One of my favorite novels when I was very young was “The Children of Green Knowe” by L. M. Boston.  It was about a family of children who went to visit their aunt who lived in a haunted house.  It was a novel my mother read to me before I was old enough to read something that complex.  (As an aside, my mother always loved spooky stories too.  She called them:  “Ooh yeah!” stories. So I guess it’s genetic.)  I’m not a fan of “horror” per se.  I’m not interested in gore.  What I’m drawn to is mystery.  I love being able to play along with the characters because all supernatural stories are essentially mysteries...with something imaginative at stake.  On screen I loved The Twilight Zone and The Night Gallery.  These weren’t “horror” stories, they were supernatural yarns about people who find themselves in strange and extraordinary circumstances.  My love of that genre led me to making the TV series:  “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”  We produced 91 episodes, each with it’s own unique supernatural conceit and character dilemma.  A few years ago I wrote the “Morpheus Road” trilogy about two friends who were being haunted and hunted by an evil spirit.  It’s was fun taking what I had learned from creating eerie on TV and translating it to my novel writing.  Once you step into the world of the supernatural, a writer has limitless opportunities for creating unique and imaginative conflicts.  So the idea for The Library was simply a natural extension of my wanting to write the kind of stories I love so much.

Then came the challenge of determining what form it should take.  With all of my previous book series there was a definitive conclusion to the overall tale.  Whether it be three books or ten, the final book always ended with a conclusive “The End”.  I wanted to break free of that constraint.  With my show “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” the device that allowed us to tell multiple stories that didn’t rely on the others was having kids tell tales around a campfire.  There was no story continuity, only the continuity of those characters.   The shows could be watched out of order because each episode was unique.  I wanted to find that same kind of device for my next book series, and decided that there was no better place to find multiple stories than in a library!  The idea of a library filled with supernatural stories was really exciting to me.  I’d like to visit that library!  But as much as there could be limitless, unique stories in a library, I wanted there to be some continuity.  Why were we visiting this library?  I didn’t want the series to be totally anthological.  I wanted continuing characters we would come to know and care about.  That’s how I came up with the concept of having this library filled with supernatural, UNFINISHED stories.  The challenge for our characters would be to finish the stories.  That way, both the characters and the readers would have to unravel the mysteries together.  Each new book will present a completely different set of challenges and a new mystery for our continuing characters to solve.  This will free me up to write any kind of supernatural tale that comes to mind.  The second book in The Library series is about witches.  The third is about a machine that uncannily predicts the future.  The possibilities are limitless...just as in an actual library!

Indeed they are! What advice, if any, do you have for authors juggling different projects, and what are some effective ways you've found to prioritize your time?

Writing multiple projects can be a challenge, but ultimately it’s a good thing.  The reason being is that when you constantly shift gears, your mind will go in directions you hadn’t anticipated.  You may be faced with a challenge writing story A because you can’t shake a particular way of looking at it  Working on story B gets you thinking a different way and it might actually help you shake loose ideas for Story A.

When working on multiple stories, which I usually am, one thing I have trouble doing is switching stories in the same day.  With TV its different because you have multiple scripts going at once, but at least they are all for the same show.  But writing two different books at the same time is a challenge for me.  But not a big one.  It just means that I have to dedicate an entire day to a single story.  I plan my work so that I’ll finish what I’d like to get done for one story by the end of the day.  That gives me an entire night to shift my thinking to another story so that by the next day I’ll be totally immersed in that one.  It’s a simple technique, but it works for me.

Sounds like a great process. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences!

To grab a hold of CURSE OF THE BOGGIN for yourself, click the links below:

Buy: BookPassage Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

You can also click here to see D.J. MacHale's other books.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Book Review: THE MARKED GIRL by Lindsey Klingele

I featured THE MARKED GIRL back on August 3, and as soon as I got a copy, I devoured it. It's a unique take on a portal story that offers superb writing, a page-turning plot, and a beautifully layered tale with amazing characters.

Here's the book cover and blurb:




When Cedric, crowned prince of Caelum, and his fellow royal friends (including his betrothed, Kat) find themselves stranded in modern-day L.A. via a magical portal and an evil traitor named Malquin, all they want to do is get home to Caelum—soon. Then they meet Liv, a filmmaker foster girl who just wants to get out of the system and on with her life. As she and Cedric bond, they’ll discover that she’s more connected to his world than they ever could’ve imagined…and that finding home is no easy task…






Review:

This book blew me away from the first page, and had a great first chapter title: The Night that Started Out Normal. The writing was not only beautifully descriptive, but also clear, and the character building and world development was effortlessly sprinkled onto the pages. Liv was fully-fleshed out and had a clear voice, and the way she grew during the course of her adventures was both realistic and easy to sympathize with. Her dynamic with Cedric, the warrior from Caelum, was not only endearing, but poignant in this gentleness. The battles with the enemies weren't repetitive, and each story development opened a new layer of complexity without being overwhelming. When I was finished with this book, I held it to my chest and sighed, sad that it was over. I'll definitely be getting the sequel, and re-reading this book to study its flawless use of craft.

To grab a copy of THE MARKED GIRL for yourself, feel free to click the links below:


Buy: BookPassage Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

THE BLACKTHORN KEY and MARK OF THE PLAGUE by Kevin Sands

I first saw Kevin Sands at BEA 2015, when THE BLACKTHORN KEY came out. I then saw him on a panel at this year's Bay Area Book Festival, and found out the sequel, MARK OF THE PLAGUE, was due out in September. It came out yesterday, and I've already ordered a copy. Have a look:


“Tell no one what I’ve given you.”

Until he got that cryptic warning, Christopher Rowe was happy, learning how to solve complex codes and puzzles and creating powerful medicines, potions, and weapons as an apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn—with maybe an explosion or two along the way.

But when a mysterious cult begins to prey on London’s apothecaries, the trail of murders grows closer and closer to Blackthorn’s shop. With time running out, Christopher must use every skill he’s learned to discover the key to a terrible secret with the power to tear the world apart.





The Black Death has returned to London, spreading disease and fear through town. A mysterious prophet predicts the city’s ultimate doom—until an unknown apothecary arrives with a cure that actually works. Christopher’s Blackthorn shop is chosen to prepare the remedy. But when an assassin threatens the apothecary’s life, Christopher and his faithful friend Tom are back to hunting down the truth, risking their lives to untangle the heart of a dark conspiracy.

And as the sickness strikes close to home, the stakes are higher than ever before…



According to your website, you have degrees in theoretical physics. In what ways, if any, does this influence your storytelling?

It doesn’t really influence me in a direct way—as you might imagine, there’s not much call for tensor mathematics in children’s adventures. But I do think studying physics shaped the way I learned to write.

Like most authors, I learned quite a bit from books on writing, critiques from other writers, and so on. But what ended up being most valuable for me was looking at stories the way a physicist looks at an equation or a theory: break the problem down, analyze its components. When I was trying to learn about pacing, for example, I looked for books with great pacing, and broke them apart like I was reading a textbook. Why is this book effective? What are the basic elements of the craft, and how were they put together? Which of these might fit my own style? And the answers to questions like that shaped me as a writer.

That process had become so ingrained, I wasn’t even aware I was doing it; it was a publisher of mine who first pointed out I had an unusually scientific approach. I’d never really thought of it that way before, but of course he was right.

That scientific approach also adds a unique element of worldbuilding to your stories. For example, I love that the recipes and remedies in THE BLACKTHORN KEY were actually used. What kind of research did you conduct to learn these recipes, and in what ways do you feel they enhance the story and its puzzles?

Lots of research in and out of libraries, mostly, plus videos online of how to make certain things. (I already knew the formula for the smoke bomb. Don’t ask.) There’s a world of information out there, incredibly fascinating, describing in detail the recipes and ingredients they used. Who knew you could make gunpowder from pigeon poop? Apothecaries, apparently.

I think these kinds of things bring a lot of fun to the story, and put a different sort of twist on this type of tale. Christopher isn’t your typical adventure hero in the sense that physically, he’s just an ordinary 14-year-old, without any particular training or skill in fighting. So if he’s going to win, he’ll have to use his wits—and his master’s recipes—to outthink, outplot, and outmaneuver the villains in the story. And to do it in interesting ways.

And that's another reason it's so easy to root for him. At BEA 2015, you were on your first panel. Can you describe what that was like, and what you learned from it?

It was pretty wild. I was on the stage, thinking okay, that’s David Baldacci on my right...and Maggie Stiefvater on my left...and there’s Jackson Pearce...and oh, it’s David Levithan asking the questions. And I’m like, really? I’m here now? Okay, then.

But it was incredibly fun. We all had a great time, and if there’s one thing I learned it’s how nice and down-to-earth fellow authors are.

They most certainly are. What's next for you? A book project? Something else? 

More novels! I’ve got a new series, a space adventure, that I’m working on, and I’ve just begun to start research for Blackthorn Key #3. Sorry—no spoilers!

Darn! Well, while we look forward to #3, there's plenty of time to read the first two:


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Buy: BookPassage Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound