Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

I figured since we're all off enjoying turkey, ham, turducken, or whatever floats our buckets this Thanksgiving, that blog viewership is likely thin on the ground. So, no interview this week, but stay tuned next week, when I'll be interviewing the amazing Suzanne Young!

This set was gifted to us. I've dubbed the woman Scary Pumpkin Lady, especially when she moves.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

RIDE THE WIND and SPARK by Starla Huchton

I met Starla at this year's UTopYA conference (now known as Utopia Con), and was immediately taken by her cover art. Her newest book, RIDE THE WIND, debuted November 2, and is the latest in her Flipped Fairy Tales series. Have a look:

From Goodreads:

Once upon a time, I made a promise to a stranger. Though I'd never seen her face, I cared for her above all others.

Once upon a time, I broke my vow. In trying to save the one I loved, I condemned her to a cursed life and stripped her of all freedom in a single, misguided step.

Once upon a time, I set out on a journey. Though it might never earn me forgiveness, I would set her free or die trying.

Starla also has a follow-on to her Evolution series under the name S.A. Huchton, starting with the book SPARK:

A shadow looms over every day of Phoebe Lawrence's life. The child of two of the most powerful superheroes on the planet, she's never had the choice to be anything less than perfect. Making mistakes isn't an option, and being normal is definitely off the table. Being a Superkid is far from easy, and controlling her newly awakened ability feels nearly impossible. Fear finds her around every corner, and her potential for absolute destruction is a demon that not only haunts her nightmares, but chars the edges of her waking moments at the slightest lapse of control. When the Supers of ISLE start getting sick one by one, it falls to Phoebe to step up and take her parents' place. With her world crumbling around her, it's up to her to uncover the source of the disaster, and with her parents out of commission, a boy she barely knows might be her best, and only, hope. All she has to fear is herself but can love truly conquer any demon?

And here are Starla's answers to some interview questions:

I love your covers. What goes into each design, and how do they develop as you go along?

This varies really widely. A lot of it involves getting to know the story, characters, and setting for each book, but a big part is also researching design trends and new techniques. Each book faces its own challenges when it comes to a cover. That can be anything from finding the right cover model that hasn't been seen a bazillion times already, expressing a completely abstract concept with color and shape, or figuring out how to add the right amount of fire to a person's hair to make them look paranormal rather than like an arson victim. My questions for my clients are more or less the same as ones I ask about my own books. It's not the job of the cover to give away every detail about the story inside, only to tease at those things enough to make a reader want to know more. This is somewhat easier when I'm working for someone else, as I can't always whittle down the most crucial elements of my own words. It's a forest for the trees sort of thing. First I get the basics (genre, tone, age range, general idea of the plot), then move on to specific details I think I'll need for a successful cover. That could include anything from character descriptions and personality, to setting, to objects that play an important role, to the focused themes of each story. Some are easier to work out than others, and the design falls into place immediately. Others might take hours of trial and error with different ideas before I finally figure out what works for an individual book. No two projects ever play out the same way, so it keeps me from getting bored. :)

So true. And I love that paranormal heroine and arson victim aren't that far apart! Since SPARK is the first in the follow-on to the Evolution series, how did you know more of it needed telling, and how did the new story form?

There was one particular thread from the Evolution series I thought needed more exploring, but I wasn't able to tell that story within the confines of the trilogy. The rest was really me asking myself what would happen if these superheroes went on to have children. Those two things formed the groundwork of the overall plot of The Chronicles of ISLE, which was just brain fuel for more what-ifs.

I'm glad you got to further explore plot elements and make them into reality. And I'm excited about RIDE THE WIND. The concepts in your Flipped Fairy Tales series are always so unique. In what ways do you build on existing elements to make them your own?

When I first started writing SHADOWS ON SNOW, I never intended my Flipped Fairy Tales to go further than the one book, but it turns out these ideas are like rabbits. You just end up with more of them. In telling the tale of Snow White as a prince, I unintentionally found myself seeding ideas that could easily be used as ties to other fairy tales. The "formula," in as much as one exists, is to look at each story and pick out the defining themes and plot points of each, and then expound on them. For Snow White, the theme is "true love conquers all," but there are different forms of true love, not only romantic. In SHADOWS ON SNOW, love is found not only between Raelynn and Leo, but also among her and her sisters, to show how deep devotion can run and how powerful it can be if you embrace it. Because that's also the trick to it. Love is work, and you have to let it work, and encourage it to work, and foster it before anything will come of it.

That's the more complex issue of theme. Plot structure is already built into the original fairy tale. Here's a short list of original versus flipped elements from Shadows on Snow as an example of what I do:

Evil Queen obsessed with beauty/Evil King obsessed with power
Princess attacked by huntsman while picking flowers/Prince attacked by his soldiers on a hunting trip
A corset, a golden comb, and an apple/Golden flax, a knife, and an apple

So you can see how I sort of pull these things in order and use the original as a loose basis for the flipped story. Fairy tales are simply the skeletons of full stories. It's my job as an author to put the meaningful flesh and soul around that structure.

Very well put--and your examples were great! If you were stuck on an island, which three books would you pick to have with you and why?

There are only a few books I've read multiple times, so this is a fairly easy question to answer. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'engle, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, and The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. All three are very different, and so bring various qualities to the table that would keep me occupied during my island exile.

Those sound great! Thanks, Starla, for an excellent interview!

To buy Starla's books for yourself, check out the links below:

Flipped Fairy Tales series:


Buy:  Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound


Buy:  Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound


Buy:  Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound


The Chronicles of ISLE series:


Buy:  Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound   

The Evolution series:

Evolution: ANGEL

Buy:  Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound

Evolution: SAGE

Buy:  Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Evolution: HEX

Buy:  Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


I met Tim at this year's NCIBA (Northern California Independent Booksellers Association) Conference, and remembered his novel WILLFUL MACHINES from when it came across my library desk. It's a great science fiction story, and a unique take on A.I. See for yourself:

In the near future, scientists create what may be a new form of life: an artificial human named Charlotte. All goes well until Charlotte escapes, transfers her consciousness to the Internet, and begins terrorizing the American public.

Charlotte's attacks have everyone on high alert— everyone except Lee Fisher, the closeted son of the US president. Lee has other things to worry about, like keeping his Secret Service detail from finding out about his crush on Nico, the eccentric, Shakespeare-obsessed new boy at school. And keeping Nico from finding out about his recent suicide attempt. And keeping himself from freaking out about all his secrets.
But when the attacks start happening at his school, Lee realizes he's Charlotte’s next target. Even worse, Nico may be part of Charlotte’s plan too.

As Lee races to save himself, uncover Charlotte’s plan, and figure out if he can trust Nico, he comes to a whole new understanding of what it means to be alive ... and what makes life worth living.

Tim also answered some interview questions!

Let's start on a happy note (pun intended). What is your favorite song from Les Misérables, and in what ways, if any, has music influenced your writing (or vice-versa)?

I have to admit I love pretty much all the songs from Les Miz, but the one I’ve probably spent the most time singing in the shower is “On My Own.”  I also sometimes do “A Little Fall of Rain” and then fake-die.  Of all the characters, I definitely vibe with Eponine most—which is probably a little sad, considering she’s such a tragic figure.

I do find music makes its way into my writing at times.  When I write, I like to draw inspiration from all sorts of other art forms.  For example, although music doesn’t play a big role in WILLFUL MACHINES, Shakespeare’s plays do.  In my second book, TATTOO ATLAS, which comes out next year, music figures into the story in a fairly big way (as does painting, poetry, and, of course, tattoo art).

I love "On My Own," and I can't wait to see how the elements of music play out in TATTOO ATLAS. And while Shakespeare plays a big role (pun intended?) in WILLFUL MACHINES, you also find unique ways to explore artificial intelligence and its dangers. How did Charlotte come to you, and what do you want readers to take away from her and Lee's story?

One of my goals in WILLFUL MACHINES was to turn the whole Terminator-style robot takeover scenario on its head.  Instead of portraying Charlotte and the other A.I.s in the story as cartoonish monsters, I sought to make them as three-dimensional as any human character.  And I wanted to question the assumption that machines, once they become sentient, will automatically want to obliterate mankind and take over the planet.  I mean, maybe they will.  I honestly don’t know.  But in my story I wanted to take things in a different direction.

I also wanted to use the story to explore some other A.I.-related questions that have intrigued me for a long time.  Namely, as machines get more and more sophisticated, how are these advances changing the way we think about ourselves as human beings?  What, if anything, sets us apart from machines?

Not as much as we think, I'm sure! According to your website bio, you graduated from Boston University with a master's in writing. In what ways did this help you grow as a writer, and what advice, if any, do you have for writers considering master's programs?

I had a wonderful time at B.U. and learned a lot there, but I certainly don’t think having a master’s is a requirement for being a writer.  For one thing, in the world of fiction writing, no one cares if you have a degree or not.  For another, I don’t believe most aspects of writing fiction are necessarily teachable in a traditional, structured, classroom sort of way anyhow.  Writing fiction is such a complex, nuanced pursuit, with a few guidelines but no fixed rules, and I think you mostly just learn by reading a lot, writing a lot, and getting as much helpful feedback on your writing as possible.  You don’t necessarily need a graduate program for that.

That said, I do think master’s programs offer a few things for writers.  One of those things is time.  When I was at B.U., I appreciated having the time to focus on my writing without a job or anything else distracting me.  Another is community.  Writing is usually so solitary, and I loved having a group of other writers I could hang out with and talk about writing with.  It kept me motivated.  And thirdly, I learned at B.U. a very important skill: how to take feedback.  Like a lot of writers, I felt really vulnerable whenever I gave my work to other people to read.  Each story felt like a piece of my soul on paper.  But after getting critiqued by my professors and fellow students week after week, I learned how to separate myself from my writing and not take it personally when someone else pointed out something that wasn’t working.

Sounds like an excellent way to approach craft. What are some of your current projects? Will WILLFUL MACHINES have a sequel?

As I mentioned, I have another book coming out next year, also from Simon Pulse.  It’s called TATTOO ATLAS, and it’s a psychological thriller about a teen sociopath who receives an experimental brain surgery that gives him a conscience.  Right now I’m working on finishing edits for that.  And then … I’m not completely sure.  I do have a story arc mapped out for a sequel to WILLFUL MACHINES, but I also have at least two other concepts I’m extremely excited about, and I’m not sure which of these projects I’m going to dive into next.  I definitely hope to get back to Lee and Nico and the WILLFUL MACHINES universe at some point, though.

I hope so too! Thanks, Tim, for an excellent interview!

To grab WILLFUL MACHINES for yourself, click any of the links below:

Buy:  Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


I first heard about THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS from some of the Sacramento Youth Services librarians. Then, as luck had it, Anna-Marie stopped by the library one day. As soon as I learned more about her and her book, I knew a feature was in order. She weaves together a beautiful story, and her touches of magic are both subtle and inspired. Have a look for yourself:

For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she's been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

Anna-Marie also answered some interview questions!

You bring a lot of richness to your writing, and your ability to seamlessly craft words together completely blew me away. Which authors were influences for you, and can you tell us more about your writing and publishing journey?

Thank you so much! So many authors of magical realism inspire me: Allende, Marquez, Coelho, Esquivel, Belli, Lorca…I come back so often to their novels, short stories, poetry, and plays. My heritage plays a role, either in the forefront or in the background, of everything I write, and I feel blessed to be able to be open about being Latina, and about being queer, in the book community. Book lovers—readers, book bloggers, publishing professionals—are such lovely people to get to know, and I’m grateful for how many I’m getting to meet!

And I'm grateful you brought this lovely book into the world! I especially loved how THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS drew on magical realism to enhance the dynamic between the Corbeaus and Palomas as rivaling circus families. What inspired the symbolic pairing of feathers versus fins, and what do you want readers to take away from the story?

Years ago, my father told me about a mermaid show he’d seen when he was in his twenties. Ever since I’ve wanted to write a story about performing mermaids, but it wasn’t until a photographer friend had me out in the woods while wearing a set of wire and cloth wings that the idea for the book came to me. Women swimming in mermaid tails, and winged tree performers. The story grew from those two images coming together.  The Palomas are the performing mermaids, and the Corbeaus are the winged tree-climbers. But just as important as their circuses are their cultures. The Palomas are Mexican-American, and the Corbeaus are French-Romani. Lace and Cluck’s heritages are as central to their lives as their families’ professions. Lace and Cluck have to find each other and see each other even through the prejudices they’ve been taught. And that’s what I hope readers take from this story, that we have to find each other and see the beauty in each other, especially in those different from us.

Definitely--and this is even more pronounced with the dual points-of-view between Lace and Cluck. I loved the intimate insight into both families, especially Lace's. How did this develop as you wrote, and what experiences, if any, shaped the story overall?

Speaking from my own experience, when you grow up in a big, closely knit family, they’re your world. What they believe is what you believe. Lace accepts that her body should be different than it is because she and her cousins measure themselves by their older relatives’ opinions. The things our families teach us may not be what we believe throughout our lives, but they stay with us even as we define who we are.

Beautifully put. And you've captured this in really relatable ways, especially with Lace's descriptions of her "soft" body. What are some of your current projects?

I’m current working on another book that’s about new characters, but has some of the same elements as THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS—magical realism, multicultural themes, and a small-town setting. I’ll be sharing more soon, but for now I can tell you that I’m especially excited because this book will also have LGBT themes.
Thanks so much for having me, Karen!

And thanks for being here, Anna-Marie!

To grab your own copy of THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, feel free to click any of the below links:

Buy:  Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound
          Books-a-Million ~ iBooks ~ Powell's