Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzi Lee

I first met Mackenzi at the launch of A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE when she spoke with author Anna-Marie McLemore. I was Anna-Marie's ride, and my car battery decided to die right before I was supposed to leave. If not for a kind city sidewalk paver and his knowledge of cars, I might not have gotten Anna-Marie there in time. There were even wildfires on the freeway on our way there, and the journey started to feel very Illiad-ish. Thankfully, we arrived on time, and intact.

And I'm so glad I went. Not only is Mackenzi a great author, but she's an engaging speaker and brilliant historian. I hope to read her other books, including THIS MONSTROUS THING.


Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.


I love that you feature #bygonebadassbroads on Twitter. How did this series come about, and what do you love most about writing it?

It came from a lot of the same place as The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue – my frustration that the stories of anyone other than white, straight, cis men in history is considered niche and not mainstream. Sexism has always existed, but so have incredible women who have fought back and beat the odds and persisted in spite of it. Their stories are often overlooked so the twitter series was my small attempt to share something I’m passionate about in away that felt fun and accessible. I never knew it was going to take off the way it has, and it’s been such an incredible passion project. Hearing the response from readers and what the series has inspired has been the best part.

It's truly been an inspiration to us all. And the opening to THE GENTLEMEN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE is one of the best I've ever read. What, in your opinion, is necessary for a good novel opening?

Thank you! The whole books sort of came from the first two lines of the book—when I looked back at my first draft right before the book was published, I realized they hadn’t changed at all (the rest of the book changed A LOT). I think the most important thing in a first line is that it sparks a question in the reader. It makes you want to know more, and propels you into the story.

Indeed it does. THE GENTLEMEN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE also reached the New York Times Bestseller list! Congratulations! Where were you when you heard the news?

I was in a hotel room in California, about to jump in the car to drive to my event at Kepler’s with Anna-Marie McLemore. I got a text from a friend who works in publishing that just said CONGRATULATIONS!!! And I had no idea what she was talking about. But my editor called a few minutes later and it all made sense.

Wonderful. What are some of your current projects?

I have a book of short essays based on my twitter series about amazing forgotten women in history, Bygone Badass Broads, coming out next March from Abrams, and illustrated by Petra Eriksson, and incredible graphic artist. There’s also going to be a sequel to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which is called The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, and follows Felicity’s continuing adventures.


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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

THIRTEEN RISING, the last in the ZODIAC series, by Romina Russell

I've been a fan of Romina Russell's ever since I featured her here. In reading the Zodiac series, I'm in awe of Romina's intricate worldbuilding, unique characters, and poetic writing. Here are some quotes from ZODIAC that I've permanently highlighted:

"Home is within me, no matter where I go, no matter what happens to our planet or our people."

"Most of us don't intentionally try to misrepresent anything--but the lies we tell ourselves, the truths we repress, the things we conceal in the physical realm...they inform reality..."

"People with tormented souls can barely see beyond their own torment. Your sight is clear because you are honest."


The Zodiac series draws to a close with THIRTEEN RISING, which debuts at the end of this month. Have a look:


THIRTEEN RISING: Debuts on August 29, 2017

The master has been unmasked. Rho’s world has been turned upside down. With her loved ones in peril and all the stars set against her, can the young Guardian from House Cancer muster the strength to keep fighting? Or has she finally found her match in a master whose ambition to rule knows no limits?

In our last interview, you said, "The world must exist before the character can be born." Is this true for all the stories you write, and in what ways do your characters continue to surprise you? 

Yes--I always lead with worldbuilding whenever I brainstorm a new project, and because of that my characters are constantly surprising me. If you birth characters in worlds distinctly different from your own, you'll find that their thoughts and actions and dialogue are always foreign and fresh because they're unique to them. For example, Rho was born on House Cancer, which is a matriarchy--so she felt empowered in many situations where I would have felt self conscious and uncertain. I think of all the characters in Z, Hysan was the most surprising and unexpected because he was raised by a pair of androids--something I could never relate to! So breaking into his mind was almost like hacking into a super advanced software and trying to anticipate how that sort of operating system would function. Which, for me, was extremely hard!

Yes, but Hysan is also one of the most interesting (and disconcerting) characters. As a Libra, I wasn't sure of him at first, but I warmed to him a bit more over time. You've also said that THIRTEEN RISING is your favorite in the series. What about it was the most fun to write?

I always change my mind about which one is my favorite! Usually it's the one I've just finished writing. I think THIRTEEN RISING was tonally very different from the previous tomes because by now Rho has endured so much that she's shifted into a new woman. I think we've seen hints of that woman from time to time in the earlier books, but by now she's fully embraced her new self, and it's very shocking to see her shed her old skin--a little sad, a little exciting, and (for me) very fulfilling. I also loved diving into the villain's mind and finally pulling back the curtain on what's happening in the Zodiac. To me, it just felt like a very complete book, filled with answers and action and heartbreak. And I especially loved writing the big battle scene!

That makes me want to read it even more, and it goes to show why you've penned so many great books! Is there pressure to make the next books better than the previous ones? What ways do you renew your creativity when the well runs dry? 

Thank you! And yes, SO much pressure--mostly from myself. I think I've been in a bit of a postpartum depression since completing the final book, and I'm only now starting to crawl out of my cave. The thing that has been instrumental in igniting my desire to write again has been traveling and meeting readers on tour. Talking with you guys at events has reminded me of how much I love creating new worlds and telling new stories, and it's made me eager to get back to work for you!

Hooray! What are some of your current projects? 

I've outlined a few different ideas, but they're all in too early stages to say much. One of them is calling to me louder than the others, and it's a YA fantasy based on ancient Argentine lore that I researched while I was there presenting the third book in May. I'm originally from Buenos Aires, and I hear my home calling, tugging me back, urging me to explore the life I left behind so long ago.



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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

FIRST WE WERE IV by Alexandra Sirowy

I've been a fan of Alexandra Sirowy ever since I first saw an ARC of her novel, THE CREEPING. Her newest book, FIRST WE WERE IV, just debuted, and it's amazing. (Author Jessica Taylor thinks so too.) 

It started for pranks, fun, and forever memories.
A secret society – for the four of us.
The rules: Never lie. Never tell. Love each other.
We made the pledge and danced under the blood moon on the meteorite in the orchard. In the spot we found the dead girl five years earlier. And discovered the ancient drawings way before that.
Nothing could break the four of us apart – I thought.
But then, others wanted in. Our seaside town had secrets. History.
We wanted revenge.
We broke the rules. We lied. We told. We loved each other too much, not enough, and in ways we weren’t supposed to.
Our invention ratcheted out of control.
What started as a secret society, ended as justice. Revenge. Death. Rebellion.

According to your website bio, you've "been writing short stories and inventing characters since fifth grade camp in the redwoods." What first inspired you to put words on paper?

We moved a lot as a family. We moved from California to Rhode Island and back again before I was six, then we moved three more times before I was twelve. In Rhode Island we lived next door to the children's author and illustrator Christopher Van Allsburg (Jumanji, The Polar Express, etc.). There was always a lot of talk of books in our home and seeing a bonafide children's author walking his dog around the block made writing feel accessible and possible. I started writing short stories as a way to cope with saying goodbye to friends when we moved. At first these were usually ghost stories, though, not the scary kind. My stories always featured a ghost child and a living child who'd meet, become friends, and live happily ever after. By the time I got to fifth grade camp in the redwoods, I was starting to get a little more creative, including animals and haunted forests in the plot-lines.


What a beautiful way to find solace within unpleasant transitions. And, I love that the opening scene in FIRST WE WERE IV starts after something bad has already happened. How do you think about time in relation to plot? 

Time has an important role in all three of my books - something I really hadn't considered until you asked this question!  In THE CREEPING, the protagonist doesn't remember a mysterious and traumatic event from her childhood; recovering those memories and trying to solve the mystery drive the plot. In THE TELLING, the plot is divided between before and after the attack of the protagonist's step-brother. I use scenes from the past as breadcrumbs for the reader to follow and figure out who the killer is in their seemingly idyllic island-home. And in FIRST WE WERE IV, I start the book with the tragic end, when the secret society the protagonists have invented has become irrevocably out of their control.

Time is as important to my plots as character development, tension, and pacing of the story itself. Time isn't forgiving - it's the perfect antagonistic force in thrillers.


Indeed it is. Your novel THE CREEPING takes place in a place similar to where you grew up. In what ways,  if any, did this influence how the setting developed?

All three of my YA thrillers have been set in seemingly perfect, small towns. And yes, I grew up in a similarly privileged, tight-knit community in Northern California. Small towns fascinate me because of the intimacy inhabitants have with each other. You know of people. You think you know them well. But do you really know your neighbors? Imagining crimes and mysterious tragedies in small towns always seems so much more chilling than using a big city. Small towns are supposed to be safe places where nothing bad ever happens. Monsters aren't supposed to look like me and you.

And yet they do--and sometimes those monsters are the scariest. What are some of your current projects?

I have a few books I'm writing: a YA fantasy that's murder-y, revenge-y, and so much fun to write; a fourth YA thriller; and an adult suspense novel. I'm so excited that FIRST WE WERE IV was released on July 25th!


FIRST WE WERE IV


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THE CREEPING


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THE TELLING


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