Wednesday, April 26, 2017


I met Gretchen McNeil at YANovCon, and after hearing her speak on a panel, I had to feature her and her books. Check out her latest, I'M NOT YOUR MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL:

Beatrice Maria Estrella Giovannini has life all figured out. She's starting senior year at the top of her class, she’s a shoo-in for a scholarship to M.I.T., and she’s got a new boyfriend she’s crazy about. The only problem: All through high school Bea and her best friends Spencer and Gabe have been the targets of horrific bullying.

So Bea uses her math skills to come up with The Formula, a 100% mathematically guaranteed path to social happiness in high school. Now Gabe is on his way to becoming Student Body President, and Spencer is finally getting his art noticed. But when her boyfriend Jesse dumps her for Toile, the quirky new girl at school, Bea realizes it's time to use The Formula for herself. She'll be reinvented as the eccentric and lovable Trixie—a quintessential manic pixie dream girl—in order to win Jesse back and beat new-girl Toile at her own game.

Unfortunately, being a manic pixie dream girl isn't all it's cracked up to be, and “Trixie” is causing unexpected consequences for her friends. As The Formula begins to break down, can Bea find a way to reclaim her true identity and fix everything she's messed up? Or will the casualties of her manic pixie experiment go far deeper than she could possibly imagine?

According to your website bio, you are a a former coloratura soprano. What is a coloratura soprano, and in what ways, if any, has music influenced your writing?

In classical music, voice types are called "fachs" and different roles are categorized by a singer's voice type.  A coloratura soprano is a fach, characterized by elaborate ornamentation and an extremely high range.  Think The Queen of the Night from Mozart's "The Magic Flute" or Zerbinetta from Strauss's "Ariadne auf Naxos."

Unfortunately, I wasn't a very good coloratura soprano.  Or at least, not good enough.  But the lessons I learned about storytelling on stage have absolutely influenced my storytelling on the page.  I actually teach workshops to show writers how to use acting methods, specifically the Stanislavski Technique, to help plot story.

What a wonderful way to teach writing!  I love how you weave mathematics into Beatrice's story. In what ways do you hope readers can see themselves in her experiences? 

I love writing about STEM girls in my books (3:59, GET EVEN and GET DIRTY all feature girls who love math and science) and my goal is to destigmatize these disciplines which for so long have been considered "for boys."  You can be a normal, fun, functional member of high school society AND be into STEM fields without morphing into a The Big Bang Theory stereotype.

True that. I love the design of your website, as well as its usability. What recommendations, if any, do you have for authors looking to build and/or update their online platforms?

Branding is important.  Website, Twitter, Official Facebook Page - they should all have the same look, the same content, and the same voice.  That way, fans know they've found the real you immediately.  You want a clean man page for your website where users can easily find what they're looking for: bio, info about your books, upcoming events.  And if you have a newsletter, make sure the sign up page is right there front and center!

And a quick word about your bio: I have three versions on my website - long, short, and mini.  When you're doing events, organizers and moderators are going to go to your website to find a bio to read. Give them options!  Sometimes, they'll want to read the whole long shebang (if you're a keynote speaker, or a guest of honor, etc.) as an introduction, and other times, a short version will do (like if you're on a panel with four other authors).  Make your bio easy to find, easy to download, and keep them updated!

Great bio tips! What are some of your current projects?

My next book comes out in the spring of 2018 with Disney/Freeform.  It's called #MURDERTRENDING and it's set fifteen minutes in the future where a reality TV "star" turned President of the United States has sold the criminal justice system to a Hollywood producer and turned San Francisco's Treasure Island into Alcatraz 2.0, a penal colony where criminals are sent to live in a faux suburban environment and are hunted down by serial killers.  Their deaths are filmed and streamed live on an app for people's phones and tablets.  When a seventeen-year-old is falsley convicted of killing her stepsister and sentences to Alcatraz 2.0, she must stay alive long enough to figure out who framed her and why.

Did I mention it's a comedy?  Well, a horror comedy.  :)

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

For Gretchen McNeil's other books, go here.

Gretchen McNeil is the author of several young adult horror/suspense novels for Balzer + Bray including POSSESS, 3:59, RELIC, GET EVEN, GET DIRTY, and the award-winning TEN. In 2016, Gretchen published her first YA comedy I'M NOT YOUR MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL, and her next novel will be the horror-comedy #MURDERTRENDING for Disney/Freeform.  The film adaptation of TEN starring China Anne McClain (Descendants 2, Black Lightning) and Rome Flynn (The Bold and the Beautiful) premieres later this year.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

LETTERS TO THE LOST by Brigid Kemmerer

I've been a fan of Brigid Kemmerer for a long time, and I interviewed her a few years back. I'm excited to announce that she has a brand new book out, and it looks spectacular:

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

In our last interview (from 2012), you said, "I'm a firm believer of putting conflict on every page, and that includes the opening." Is this still true? In what ways, if any, have your novel openings evolved since?

This is absolutely still true! My writing has definitely improved, but sometimes I'll still get emails from my beta readers saying, "I think you might have started this one a little too fast..." I like to jump right into the action. My goal is to grab a reader so they can't put a book down once it starts.

A goal you've attained many times! I always love romances written through letters. Did Juliet and Declan's story come to you at once, or did it weave itself together over time?

For the most part, it came to me all at once. It was the first book I've ever sold on proposal (meaning Bloomsbury bought the book before it was fully written), so I had to write out a full synopsis with the twist and everything. I was worried that would sap my creativity, but it was actually really helpful to have an outline by my side as I was writing.

Indeed. I wish I'd embraced outlines sooner! I also love the book's cover--what about the design do you like the most?

I love the cover! I think I'm most excited about the fact that Bloomsbury's art department actually hand-wrote letters from the book, and then superimposed those on the flower petals. It's incredibly detailed and beautiful, and I love the juxtaposition of words about blood and death being superimposed on something delicate and beautiful like the flowers.

I didn't know those were the actual letters! What a poignant way to symbolize the story's themes. What are some of your current projects?

My next novel will be More Than We Can Tell, a contemporary YA companion novel to Letters to the Lost. After that will be A Curse So Dark and Lonely, a contemporary/fantasy crossover, hopefully coming mid-2019.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Carbon Dating, Ro-Sham-Bot, Recipe: 1 Universe, and other short stories by Effie Seiberg

I met Effie Seiberg at this year's FOGcon, and I was immediately struck by both her engaging personality and unique writing voice. Her stories can be found in the "Women Destroy Science Fiction!" special edition of Lightspeed Magazine (winner of the 2015 British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology), Galaxy's Edge, Analog, Fireside Fiction, and PodCastle, among others.

You've worked a variety of places, including Google, IBM, and Tor. What was your favorite job, and why?

My favorite job is my current one. I have my own strategy and marketing consulting business where I work primarily with tech startups. Being independent means it's easier to carve out time for writing, and working with lots of types of businesses means I get to learn a lot of new things! Learning more about 3D printing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, sneaky types of mobile phone tracking, and more, is all great fodder for science fiction.

I'll bet it is! What brought you to writing, and what do you wish you'd learned sooner?

I've always loved to read, in particular science fiction and fantasy. When I was in college I did a bit of creative writing for a few classes, but it took another ten years for it to become a substantial endeavor! I wish I'd known how much I really loved it and stuck with it back then, since then I'd have ten more years of practice under my belt. Now if only I could find a Time-Turner /TARDIS/ DeLorean...

I wish that too--until I remember what William Shatner said: “The journey must be taken in individual moments. Enjoy the ride for the ride.” Speaking of an exciting ride, you recently did a reading event with Peter S. Beagle. What was that like?

Not even gonna hide my fangirling here - Peter S. Beagle is one of my literary heroes. (When I was in middle school, "The Last Unicorn" was my all-time favorite book. In fact, I still have that old copy, which he's now signed!) So meeting him, chatting with him at the pre-reading dinner, and then actually reading with him, was an unbelievable honor. The guy is sort of a real-life version of the butterfly from "The Last Unicorn" - he peppers the conversation with references from the common (Shakespeare) to the semi-obscure (France's national poet in the 70s), and throughout is woven humor and deep wisdom. That sprinkling of references is something I've picked up in my own writing, and it took me until that conversation with him to see why! I hadn't realized just how influential he's been on my work.

I read a short story called "Recipe: 1 Universe" (2016, Galaxy's Edge), and an upcoming short story called "Carbon Dating" (2017, Galaxy's Edge), both of which are lighthearted pieces with a sliver of social and philosophical commentary. He read an upcoming short story about the origins of Schmendrick the Magician from "The Last Unicorn", which was of course wry and witty. I'm always going to treasure that experience!

And thanks for sharing it with us! What are some of your current projects?

Coming in May in Galaxy's Edge, "Carbon Dating" is a story written in collaboration with Spencer Ellsworth (, and is the story of the Internet gaining consciousness and scanning itself for dating advice. Predictably, internet dating advice is not always the most sound, and hijinks ensue.

Coming this year in PodCastle, "The Thirty-Seven Faces of Tokh-Bathon" is a story of a strict religion where monks devote their lives to solving a complicated logic puzzle, and of the little girl who cleans the temple and accidentally breaks the pattern of truths and falsehoods.

And separately, I'm currently working on a middle grade novel tentatively titled "The Bird Job", which has a mob war and con artists and a heist that goes terribly awry when a fire-breathing chicken-parrot hybrid hatches in the bank vault and imprints on the thieves. Hard to be stealthy with a squawking thing following you around and shooting fireballs into the air!

You can read more of my stories on my site,, and if you want daily musings, bad puns, and pictures of my dog Yoyo, you can follow me on Twitter at @effies.

Buy: ~ 

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Shades of Magic series and the Monsters of Verity duology, by Victoria (V.E.) Schwab

I've met Victoria (V.E.) Schwab on a few occasions, and each time I'm more convinced that she's an author every writer should aspire toward. The final book in The Shades of Magic series, A CONJURING OF LIGHT, debuted last month, and if you haven't read this series yet, DO. It's a fast-paced fantasy filled with unique world-building and gorgeous writing.

Kell is one of the last travelers--magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.

There's Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King--George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered--and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London--a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.

It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell's possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland's dying body through the rift--back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games--an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries--a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

Kell - once assumed to be the last surviving Antari - begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

Lila Bard, once a commonplace - but never common - thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

While you at it, also check out her Monsters of Verity YA duology--the second book, OUR DARK DUET, comes out this June.

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

Kate Harker is a girl who isn’t afraid of the dark. She’s a girl who hunts monsters. And she’s good at it. August Flynn is a monster who can never be human, no matter how much he once yearned for it. He’s a monster with a part to play. And he will play it, no matter the cost.

Nearly six months after Kate and August were first thrown together, the war between the monsters and the humans is terrifying reality. In Verity, August has become the leader he never wished to be, and in Prosperity, Kate has become the ruthless hunter she knew she could be. When a new monster emerges from the shadows—one who feeds on chaos and brings out its victim’s inner demons—it lures Kate home, where she finds more than she bargained for. She’ll face a monster she thought she killed, a boy she thought she knew, and a demon all her own.

You've said that while you don't dislike romance in YA novels, that romance doesn't necessarily have to be the only thing that drives the stakes in a story (which I completely agree with). What kinds of stories resonate most with you as a reader and why?

The stories that resonate with me most—or more precisely the relationships in those stories—are the ones that involve antagonism and adversaries. I love putting people who DON’T obviously match up. Either rivals or siblings, strained family pairings or those with philosophies at odds. I love being surprised by characters, being won over. I’m all about the long con when it comes to relationships in books, and I can’t stand stagnancy. I want the relationships to evolve and change in realistic ways, whether that’s coming together or shoving apart.

That's a good thing to remember when crafting characters--and likely why yours have such great voices. A CONJURING OF LIGHT is the last book in the Shades of Magic series. In what ways, if any, did the final plot threads twist in ways you didn't expect?

I plan and write the ending of my books first, so I knew where each and every thread would end, and only one plot thread (a character arc, actually) surprised me. I can’t specify which one (spoiler) but suffice it to say that what I wanted as the writer and what I wanted as the reader went to war for a bit. I’m really, really happy with how the ending turned out, but it was harder to write than I anticipated.

The best stories are usually the ones we struggle most with as writers. Speaking of struggle, I love how your novel VICIOUS explores the point-of-view of villains. What did you find most enjoyable about exploring alternate moral perspectives? 

My goal when I set out to write VICIOUS was to write a book without heroes, and then to make the reader root for one of them. It was an exercise in the theory that it’s not about what people do, but why they do it. My favorite aspect of the process wasn’t just writing the villains themselves (though it was wonderfully refreshing to write characters unburdened by morals) but watching readers struggle with their own moral compass while reading!

Indeed we have, and it's one of the things that makes VICIOUS stand out most. What are some of your current projects?

Well, right now I’m finishing up copyedits on OUR DARK DUET, the second half of the Monsters of Verity duology, which comes out June 13th! I’m also working on a middle grade series I’m really excited about, and about halfway through my next adult novel, VENGEFUL (a sequel to VICIOUS). As you can probably tell, I’ve never been good at sitting still.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Pre-order: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Ninja Librarians series by Jen Swann Downey

When I saw this book series, I knew I had to feature it--I mean, who doesn't love a ninja librarian? The first book is called THE ACCIDENTAL KEYHAND, and the second book, THE SWORD IN THE STACKS, came out last June. Jen Downey will be talking kids’ books and intellectual freedom at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest on April 21-22nd (, and at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 20th ( You can find out more on her website,

Dorrie Barnes had no idea an overdue library book would change her life. When Dorrie and her brother Marcus chase her pet mongoose into the janitor's closet of their local library, they accidentally fall through a passage into Petrarch's Library -the headquarters of a secret society of ninja librarians who have an important mission: protect those whose words have gotten them into trouble. Anywhere in the world and at any time in history.

Dorrie would love nothing more than to join the society. But when a traitor surfaces, she and her friends are the prime suspects. Can they clear their names before the only passage back to the twenty-first century closes forever?

Dorrie is eager to do well at her practicums, and prove her worth as an apprentice, but before she can choose between "Spears, Axes, and Cats: Throwing Objects with Precision and Flair” and "First and Last Aid: When No One Else Is Coming", mistakes made by Dorrie in the past cause trouble for the lybrarians.

The Foundation, once nearly destroyed by the Lybrariad, now has the means to rise from its ashes, and disappear reading and writing from the world. To make sure it succeeds, the Foundation sets in motion a dark plan to increase the power of a cruel figure from the fifteenth century.

To stop the Foundation, Dorrie, Marcus and Ebba will have to burglarize Aristotle, gather information among the suffragists and anti-suffragists of 1912 London, and risk their lives to wrest a powerful weapon out of the Foundation's hands - all while upholding the Lybrariad's first principle of protecting all writing, appreciated or despised. If they fail, reading and writing will only be the first things to disappear.

What do you love most about libraries? About librarians?

Well let’s start with the pure metamorphic magic of the situation! Libraries LOOK tame and demure, but that’s merely a clever disguise, twitched around the wild world of imagination and possibility.  What is a library but shelf upon shelf, aisle upon aisle of these largely unremarkable rectangular cuboids we call books? The physical ingredients are prosaic: some variant of ink and paper. Orderliness and findability, not artfulness, dictate their arrangement. But each book is an un-popped kernel of corn, a sleeping giant, a nuclear reactor with ingredients still in separate containers a pile of kindling arranged to become a flaming bonfire before the right eyes. Books defy their dimensions, containing vast emotional and physical landscapes, epic battles, hearts stretched to the breaking point, and fresh vistas at every towering mountain pass, and hellish gate. I have to love a place that can hold all that alchemical energy!

Another thing I love about libraries in their ideal form is that they can act as potent bulwarks against self-deception and limited perspective. A library encourages both imagination and humility. Humility is such an important counterweight to arrogance when the project is to develop knowledge. Without humility, the knowledge development process stalls.  In a library we have the chance to test our most cherished assumptions about the way the world works, or might best work through books that challenge our original points of view.  In librarians, we have people who privilege the availability of different viewpoints to the public, over the option to shape a collection according to that librarian’s favored opinions.

Speaking of alchemical energy, I love The Ninja Librarians series. Where did the concept come from, and what has been the most rewarding part of writing the series? 

Thank you! So glad you’re enjoying.  The concept had some of its roots in my view of librarians as quiet (and sometimes not so quiet!) heroes because of their role in ensuring and protecting free access to information, and a basic belief among many librarians that people need free access to and not protection from ideas.   The rewards have been numerous! I love history, and writing the books have so far given me an excuse and reason to focus on learning more about ancient Greece, medieval Timbuktu, and 1910s England. Even more lusciously, I’ve had a chance to roam historical archives in search of figures from past centuries such as Cyrano de Bergerac and Hypatia of Alexandria, whose recorded actions and attitudes indicate that IF the Lybrariad existed, they might have joined! The third wonderfully satisfying part of Ninja Librarian-ing has been the fun of creating the purely fantastical time-port headquarters of “Petrarch’s Library” with its sumptuous maze of interconnected rooms, and imagining the fun I would have had in it as a kid!

I would have had fun in it too! What is something you wished you'd known when you started your writing career? 

I wish I’d known that I wasn’t really ready to submit to agents when I did.  I got extremely lucky in that my agent was building her list at the time, and truly liked something about the voice in the manuscript, and was willing to help me develop it further, but I could have wasted a lot of agent queries with my half-baked manuscript. So, writers, take your time! When you are sure its really ready to send, that’s the time to put it into the hands of a trusted critique partner, and get another round of feedback, both from the critique partner and from your own self once you’ve been away from it for at least a few weeks.

I don’t know if the second thing I want to talk about is so much a matter of wishing that I’d “known” a particular thing as wishing that I’d been CAPABLE of doing a few things differently. For instance, I “knew” better than to get caught up in a fantasy that my first book (a fantasy! : ) would be an instant blockbuster success, but I indulged in it nonetheless. It made me very jittery in the six months following publication, and it was difficult to put it out of my head, and focus my energies on writing my next book. I wasted countless hours keeping tabs on Goodreads reviews and Amazon ratings, and scanning for new reviews…looking to the literary establishment for a version of writerly salvation — If the book became wildly popular, I’ll have “got there” and THEN I could relax, be productive, or some such nonsense. Understandable nonsense, but nonsense all the same.

So writers, attend to your writing. Do your writing in such a way that it continues to bring you joy, and allows you to PLAY, no matter where you are in terms of engaging in writing as a profession. It’s easy to get caught up in the feeling that on the brink of publication one is holding a lottery ticket, and that its very important to stare at the television in case your number is called. Fuggheduboudit!  Really. Try. With all your might. Once your book is out there. To. FUGGHEDUBOUDIT!  Instead, start a meaningful relationship with your next book’s characters and plot and place and point. Go THERE.

Sage advice for writers at all levels! What are some of your current projects?

In my office, I have three project piles on my desk, and a whole lot of index-card covered boards standing around like drunken soldiers. Two of the projects are MG novels (The 3rd Ninja Librarians book & a story about a kid who can’t make up her mind to save her life, until she has to save somebody else’s). The third project  is a YA about a sixteen-year girl in a fantastical past who is an excellent nanny and an even better thief. Just when she’s saved up enough money to abandon her uh... more lucrative ”trade” and enroll in the local University for Wannabe Scryers, her plans are dashed to dangerous pieces. The Queen’s Intelligence Service gives her a choice: Help the Perimeter Security Office solve a pressing mystery in the distant Witch Meadows that endangers all of Aaachenland, or be thrown to the council court-worms. She opts to live.  What she finds out in the Witch Meadows will challenge everything she thinks she knows about how scryence is practiced, and how the world works. If she survives, she might just become a powerful Scryer after all.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017


I first saw Andrew Smith when he accepted the Printz Honor for GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE back in 2015, and I was immediately compelled by what he said about characters, and the importance of making them organic. At a recent conference, I also bought his book WINGER, another good example of his unique wit and voice.

Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba interweaves the story of his Polish legacy with the story of how he and his best friend , Robby, brought about the end of humanity and the rise of an army of unstoppable, six-foot tall praying mantises in small-town Iowa.

To make matters worse, Austin's hormones are totally oblivious; they don't care that the world is in utter chaos: Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, but remains confused about his sexual orientation. He's stewing in a self-professed constant state of maximum horniness, directed at both Robby and Shann. Ultimately, it's up to Austin to save the world and propagate the species in this sci-fright journey of survival, sex, and the complex realities of the human condition.

Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids in the Pacific Northwest. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.

With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

Filled with hand-drawn info-graphics and illustrations and told in a pitch-perfect voice, this realistic depiction of a teen’s experience strikes an exceptional balance of hilarious and heartbreaking.

According to your bio, you are a native-born Californian who spent most of your formative years traveling. What do you think we can learn from people who live in different places around the world?

I'm actually the son of an immigrant, and I was the first child in my family born in America. I don't think there has been anything that has educated or impacted me more than traveling and meeting people from unfamiliar places. In the same way that books help to develop empathy for those whose experiences don't overlap perfectly with our own, immersing yourself in the culture of new environments humanizes the world; it breaks down the desensitizing barriers that are consequential to experiences filtered through technologies.

Speaking of breaking down barriers, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE offers a clever blend of realistic problems within an world built on science fiction. In what ways do you think fiction can offer truth and/or show what truly matters?

The things that happen in GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE that are preposterous are completely enmeshed in the things that are true--love, self-doubt, wonder, the end of childhood, Austin's solipsism. Since fiction is not constrained to reiterating with precision a timeline of specific occurrences, we have the room to explore the innate truths that are universal parts of the human experience (and this is at the core of the essential questions Austin--the narrator/historian--constantly struggles with).

You have a masterful way of making narrators struggle, and I love that WINGER begins with Ryan's head in a toilet. What do you like the most about writing the beginnings of stories?

The beginning of the story--the first few lines--are so important to me because I want to condense into that moments-long experience of the reader who is just arriving on page one as much as I can about the mood, environment, characters, and conflict that will become the foundation architecture that build a bridge to the final page. I love beginnings, and spend a great deal of time and thought making sure (hopefully) I get them right.

You definitely have so far. What are some of your current projects?

I've turned in two novels to my agent and editor in the past year, so we'll see what happens with them. There are a few movie adaptations currently in various stages of development. I have a short story (called "Julian Breaks Every Rule") in an upcoming anthology published by Bloomsbury in July, called BECAUSE YOU LOVE TO HATE ME. The anthology is all about villains. It was a lot of fun. And at the moment, I am beginning work on a graphic novel with an artist friend in New Zealand.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


I first saw this book at the California Library Association (CLA) conference last fall, and was immediately intrigued by its premise. It's a unique story with an engaging voice sure to catch a diverse audience. Have a look:

When Vee Crawford-Wong’s history teacher assigns an essay on his family history, Vee knows he’s in trouble. His parents—Chinese-born dad and Texas-bred Mom—are mysteriously and stubbornly close-lipped about his ancestors. So, he makes it all up and turns in the assignment. And then everything falls apart.

After a fistfight, getting cut from the basketball team, offending his best friend, and watching his grades plummet, one thing becomes abundantly clear to Vee: No one understands him! If only he knew where he came from… So Vee does what anyone in his situation would do: He forges a letter from his grandparents in China, asking his father to bring their grandson to visit. Astonishingly, Vee’s father agrees. But in the land of his ancestors, Vee learns that the answers he seeks are closer to home then he could have ever imagined.

According to your website bio, you got an MFA from the University of San Francisco. What advice, if any, do you have for people interested in getting an MFA, and how did your MFA experience shape your writing?

For me, the MFA was a fantastic experience - it allowed me to immerse myself in a community of writers and "put my money where my mouth is," so to speak. I gave myself permission, for the first time, to really call myself a writer. The USF program has night classes, which was convenient, and also focuses on close craft analysis as much as on page production. I am a total nerd and absolutely loved it. To the MFA-seeker, I would say, "Do your homework!" There are tons of programs out there (low residency, M.A. programs, ones that give you teaching opportunities, etc.). The MFA put me on the right track to make writing a permanent part of my life, and I'm fairly certain I wouldn't have written this first novel without that help.

You've definitely crafted a beautiful story! I love Vee's voice in THE COUNTERFEIT TREE OF VEE CRAWFORD-WONG. What did you enjoy most about writing his journey?

I tend to be on the sarcastic side of sarcastic about most things, so it was fun to really let loose with that. I started the book with the idea that Vee would be incredibly average in all ways but quickly realized that he needed to be nerdy and sharp in order for it to be enjoyable to write - and in order to reach some of those insights I wanted him (and, by extension, the reader) to have. I do a lot of learning through my characters while I'm researching what they like. Vee is into archaeology and anthropology and Chinese culture, so I got to delve into all of that. And once, while watching a NOVA show on black holes and such, I turned to my husband and said, "Vee would absolutely love this!" He gave me a strange look, but hey, it was true! Being a fiction writer means I will never, ever be bored.

And your readers won't be either. In what ways do teenagers continually inspire you?

I love how unfiltered and how passionate young adults can be about, well, anything. Adults sometimes fall into ruts about who they are and what they can do. Young adults haven't carved out those deep neural pathways yet and are constantly reinventing themselves. I think our world would be a much better place if adults were able to do this better! Teenagers are also natural storytellers and I am consistently blown away by the quality and creativity of their writing. I am currently judging a creative writing contest for 6th-12th graders (feel free to check it out at and it fills me with optimism to read these sharp, lyrical, clever, sometimes heartbreaking stories. It also fills me with jealousy at times, but that's a good thing too.

What a wonderful way to encourage creativity! What are some of your current projects?

I'm revising (okay, actually rewriting for the second time) a novel about a girl who is addicted to a video game. I've invented the game, which makes me feel a bit like a science fiction writer or maybe a mad scientist, but the heart of the novel is really about why she's addicted - about the issues in her life that are driving her to want to escape and inhabit another persona. And because I don't write in a bubble - because there's so much going on in the world right now - it's also morphing into an homage to the power of women and family and female friendships. Also, my seven-year-old and I are brainstorming ideas for a book we want to write together. But usually, we come up with an amazing idea and then find out that someone has already written it. But we persist. That's what writers do!

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here