Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Release Feature: SKY IN THE DEEP by Adrienne Young

Happy release day to SKY IN THE DEEP, by Adrienne Young! It's already getting a ton of buzz. I first featured the book here, and I can't wait to read it:


Seventeen-year-old Eelyn’s world is war. Raised to fight alongside her Aska clansmen in a generations-old blood feud against the Riki, her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield—her brother, fighting with the enemy—the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother's betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki if she wants to make it back to the fjord after the thaw. But when she begins to see herself in the people she's been taught to hate, the world Eelyn once knew begins to crumble. And after the village is raided by a ruthless clan many believe to be a myth, Eelyn is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend who has tried more than once to kill her. Together, they must end the blood feud between their clans or watch their people be slaughtered.

A lush, Viking-age inspired fantasy about loyalty, forgiveness, and the definition of family.



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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE by Rachel Lynn Solomon

I've wanted to feature Rachel Lynn Solomon ever since I saw the cover for YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE in my Facebook feed. I love books that explore duality, and the dichotomy of these twins is significant as well as symbolic.

Eighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah have little in common besides their ambitious nature. Viola prodigy Adina yearns to become a soloist—and to convince her music teacher he wants her the way she wants him. Overachiever Tovah awaits her acceptance to Johns Hopkins, the first step on her path toward med school and a career as a surgeon.

But one thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. It’s turned their Israeli mother into a near stranger and fractured the sisters’ own bond in ways they’ll never admit. While Tovah finds comfort in their Jewish religion, Adina rebels against its rules.

When the results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s. The other tests positive.

These opposite outcomes push them farther apart as they wrestle with guilt, betrayal, and the unexpected thrill of first love. How can they repair their relationship, and is it even worth saving?

According to your website bio, you used to work for NPR. What did you enjoy most about working there, and in what ways, if any, did it lead to (or supplement) your writing career?

My degree is in journalism, and for a while, I was certain my career was in public radio. I worked for two NPR stations in Seattle as a producer and (very) occasional reporter, and my favorite part was being involved in something that was so much bigger, being part of an organization that's such a force for good in the world. Ultimately, though, journalism was not for me long-term, and the major reason was that I really struggled to manage my emotions while working on heavy stories. Public radio is extremely competitive, though -- there are so few jobs that actually exist in the country, and only a couple places you can work in each state if this is something you really want to do. While it wasn't my path, I did pursue it with vigor for several years post-college, and I imagine that ambition carried over to writing. I tend to be very, very stubborn about my goals!

That's definitely a good thing! YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE explores the possibilities that arise with duality. What do you think it is about the book that most connects with readers?

That's such an interesting question. One thing I've noticed is that while some readers do connect more with one twin, many find themselves rooting for both, or even seeing themselves in both. Adina and Tovah are different, but they're far from opposites. In terms of plot, a lot of us with anxiety (including me) tend to catastrophize. The idea of these opposite fates -- one twin testing negative and one twin testing positive for Huntington's -- is heartbreaking, terrifying, and fascinating. There's so much tension in the premise alone.

Definitely. In your interview with Kit Frick, you talked about the "done-ness" of a book. In your experience, in what ways can a book be "done" as opposed to finished? 

Honestly, no book of mine has ever been "done" at this point except for YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE. I can't open up the document and tweak a sentence or fix a typo. I feel like all my projects are living documents; even after I send something to critique partners or my agent, I'm sometimes still fiddling. "Finished" for me often means it's not keeping me up at night. It means I'm not sending my friend five emails in a row with subject lines like "read this version" and "no wait, actually read this version" and "FINAL VERSION. FOR REAL." Being "done" was hard because I had to finally let go of the characters. They don't occupy space in my mind anymore; that's reserved for my works-in-progress. But I was ready to be done, ready for it to be out in the world.

I'm so glad it is. What are some of your current projects? 

I've just wrapped up final(ish) edits on OUR YEAR OF MAYBE, which is coming out from Simon Pulse in early 2019! So it's "finished" but not "done" :). It's dual POV, like my debut, and is about the aftermath of a kidney transplant between best friends, complicated by the fact that the donor is in love with the recipient. I'm also working on a YA romantic comedy and a short story for a Jewish YA anthology coming out next fall.


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Bio:

Rachel Lynn Solomon lives, writes, and tap dances in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of two young adult novels, You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone (out now from Simon Pulse) and Our Year of Maybe (out in 2019). You can find her online at rachelsolomonbooks.com and on Twitter @rlynn_solomon.


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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

ANATOMY OF A MURDERER by Tim Floreen

It's always a pleasure catching up with Tim Floreen, which I was able to do at this year's YANovCon. I couldn't wait to feature ANATOMY OF A MURDERER, the paperback edition of his book TATTOO ATLAS, which comes out on April 24.

A teenage sociopath is “fixed” after he gets an implant that’s supposed to cure him in this thrilling coming-of-age tale from the author of Willful Machines.

A year ago, Rem Braithwaite watched his classmate Franklin Kettle commit a horrific crime.

Now, apart from the nightmares, life has gone back to normal for Rem. Franklin was caught, convicted, and put away in juvenile detention for what he did. The ordeal seems to be over.

Until Rem’s mother selects Franklin as a test subject for an experimental brain procedure intended to “cure” him of his cruel and violent impulses. Suddenly Rem’s memories of that day start coming back to the surface. His nightmares become worse than ever. Plus he has serious doubts about whether his mother’s procedure will even work. Can evil really just be turned off?

Then, as part of Franklin’s follow-up testing, he and Rem are brought face to face, and Rem discovers…Franklin does seem different. Despite everything, Rem finds himself becoming friends with Franklin. Maybe even something more than friends.

But when another of their classmates turns up dead, Rem’s world turns upside-down yet again. Franklin insists that he’s innocent, that he’s cured, but Rem doesn’t know what to believe. Is someone else responsible for this new murder, or is Franklin fated to stay a monster forever? And can Rem find out the answer to this question before the killer, whoever it is, comes after him too?

On your website, you mention that you are "a little obsessed with Wonder Woman." Where did this "obsession" start, and what did you think of the Wonder Woman movie with Gal Godot?

 I’m totally dating myself here, but my love of Wonder Woman actually started with the Lynda Carter TV show, which began airing when I was three years old. Her glamour and power captured my imagination, and pretty soon I was having my mom make me a tiara and bracelets out of paper so I could run around tying up friends and family with my “magic lasso.” I’ve loved her ever since. Last year, though I was thrilled someone was FINALLY making a Wonder Woman movie, I was also nervous that my beloved character would get ruined. So it came as a huge relief when I saw the movie and found I LOOOOOVED it. It took all the classic elements of the Wonder Woman character and combined them in a way that felt completely new and fresh—while saying something quite profound about war and the nature of evil.

I agree! DC finally got themselves some decent screenwriters too. 
ANATOMY OF A MURDERER is the paperback edition of TATTOO ATLAS. Can you share what led to the title change in the latest edition? 

I think the publisher was concerned that the previous title, TATTOO ATLAS, didn’t give a clear enough idea of what the book was about. I came up with a list of alternate titles, and my editor chose ANATOMY OF A MURDERER, a play on the title of the classic movie ANATOMY OF A MURDER. This title definitely ties directly to what lies at the center of the novel: the body of the teenage sociopath Franklin Kettle—more specifically, his brain. AOAM is a psychological thriller that deals with the question of what might make the brain of a killer different and whether changing the way the brain works can actually make a “bad” person “good.” In other words, CAN EVIL BE CURED? (Cue dramatic music.)

A thought provoking question, indeed! In our last interview, you mentioned you were contributing to a "collaborative novel" project called FERAL YOUTH. What was the most rewarding part of this process?

I had a blast working on FERAL YOUTH. First off, I just love the idea of the project—a book that’s not quite a novel and not quite an anthology, but something in between. The premise is that a group of teens at a wilderness survival camp for troubled youth are passing the time telling each other stories, Canterbury Tales-style. Each of the involved authors wrote one of the stories and developed the character telling that story, and Shaun David Hutchinson wrote the framing narrative. I loved getting to work with him and all the other authors. Plus, it was so much fun writing a short story—something I hadn’t done in a while—and trying my hand at a noir-style revenge tale.

Looks like I'll have to add FERAL YOUTH to my TBR list!  If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why? 

Write for yourself, not for others. I wasted too many years writing the kind of fiction I thought I was SUPPOSED to write instead of the kind that truly filled me with joy. I’m much happier writing sci-fi thrillers for young adults. :)

ANATOMY OF A MURDERER (a.k.a. TATTOO ATLAS)





TATTOO ATLAS


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FERAL YOUTH



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WILLFUL MACHINES


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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

CHAINBREAKER, the second in the Timekeeper series, by Tara Sim

I first featured Tara Sim here, and as soon as I saw the exciting new cover for CHAINBREAKER, I knew a re-feature was in order. CHAINBREAKER builds on what happened in TIMEKEEPER, and puts it into a dramatic new setting: India.

Clock mechanic Danny Hart knows he's being watched. But by whom, or what, remains a mystery. To make matters worse, clock towers have begun falling in India, though time hasn't Stopped yet. He'd hoped after reuniting with his father and exploring his relationship with Colton, he'd have some time to settle into his new life. Instead, he's asked to investigate the attacks.

After inspecting some of the fallen Indian towers, he realizes the British occupation may be sparking more than just attacks. And as Danny and Colton unravel more secrets about their past, they find themselves on a dark and dangerous path--one from which they may never return.

In our last interview, you said, "Time is already a strange concept to us IRL, and it's even more so for my characters, who perceive it as a sort of magic that only a few can tap into." In what ways, if any, has time been magic for you?

There's a quote in Timekeeper that kind of expands on the idea of time seeming to shorten as you get older, which is definitely true. There's also a strange magic in the way that time both seems to stretch and somehow take forever, which I've never been able to figure out. There's always some difference in how time feels and how it's told, if that makes sense.

CHAINBREAKER deals with the British occupation in India. What about this era of history do you wish people knew more about?

Well, basically everything! I was always really sad that we never got to study India in school; the most we got was learning about Gandhi. I didn't even know all that much about the British Raj until I started doing research for Chainbreaker, but it was SUCH an important period in the country's history that ultimately shaped it into what it is today. India didn't even get independence until 1947, which really isn't that long ago. England had the country in its clutches before that, with a strong military presence that was able to snuff any and all rebellions that arose in that time.

Yes, didn't know much either, until I learned about the Partition of 1947 during my time as a librarian. Here's hoping more of India's history gets discussed in schools.
I've often heard second books in a series can be difficult to write. What was your experience with CHAINBREAKER, and what, if anything, did you learn from it?

When I wrote the first draft, I actually had fun with it, despite the amount of research I had to juggle. It definitely had its difficulties, particularly in regards to plotting--what information to reveal and where, and with which character--and how to write about India from a certain perspective. I think this book helped me learn even more about how to bridge books 1 and 3 of a trilogy, about letting the book have its own arc while continuing the overall trilogy arc.

Sounds useful! What are three books (besides yours) you would recommend to your readers and why?

A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab, for more magical London hijinks.


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A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING by Jessica Cluess, for even MORE magical (Victorian) London hijinks.


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WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon, for cute Indian romance.


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THE TIMEKEEPER SERIES



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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

OTHER BREAKABLE THINGS by Kelley York and Rowan Altwood

I met Kelley York and her co-author, Rowan Altwood, at a Barnes and Noble book event, and was immediately intrigued by the premise of OTHER BREAKABLE THINGS. This story embraces second chances, and shows why no one should ever give up.


According to Japanese legend, folding a thousand paper cranes will grant you healing.

Evelyn Abel will fold two thousand if it will bring Luc back to her.

Luc Argent has always been intimately acquainted with death. After a car crash got him a second chance at life—via someone else’s transplanted heart—he tried to embrace it. He truly did. But he always knew death could be right around the corner again.

And now it is.

Sick of hospitals and tired of transplants, Luc is ready to let his failing heart give out, ready to give up. A road trip to Oregon—where death with dignity is legal—is his answer. But along for the ride is his best friend, Evelyn.

And she’s not giving up so easily.

A thousand miles, a handful of roadside attractions, and one life-altering kiss later, Evelyn’s fallen, and Luc’s heart is full. But is it enough to save him? Evelyn’s betting her heart, her life, that it can be.

Right down to the thousandth paper crane.

Kelley York also answered a few interview questions:

According to your website, in addition to being an author, you are also a graphic designer with a specialty in book cover design. What, in your opinion, are the necessary elements of a good book cover?

There are a lot of elements to this so I'm going to try my best to keep this answer concise: 1. Genre-matching (you don't want someone to pick up your YA contemporary romance thinking it's a sci-fi book, for instance), 2. Technical aspects (good compositing and typography, for instance), 3. Uniqueness, and 4.) the ability to give a reader some kind of idea of what they're getting into when they pick the book up.

The cover of OTHER BREAKABLE THINGS demonstrates this beautifully. Since you co-wrote this with Rowan Altwood, what was the collaboration process like when you wrote Luc and Evelyn's story?

It was my first time finishing something with someone else, and it definitely has it's own unique challenges, but at the same time, co-writing is exciting. We plotted out most of the book together first, so we knew what needed to happen as we alternated chapter by chapter and consulted one another on "our character's" reactions to things. Rowan is largely responsible for all things Luc, and I'm largely responsible for all things Evelyn.

Lovely. Another book of yours, SUICIDE WATCH, deals with the fragility of life and the complicated bonds we make with others. What parts of Vince's story were the most challenging to write and why?  

Suicide Watch is very much a book near to my heart, because a lot of Vince's struggles have been my own. Even down to a few small scenes in the book that were a direct reflection of things I've gone through or felt or thought. But while writing all of that was therapeutic in a lot of ways, it was also terrifying to share that part of myself. I had this deep fear I would put this book out there and readers might not "get" Vince, or might shrug off his issues, which in turn would be dismissing my own. To date, it's my most personal book and putting that much of yourself into your writing is scary.

Indeed it is, and I'll bet plenty of readers understood where Vince was coming from. What are some of your current projects?

I have an LGBT book set in Mare Island (remember that place from Other Breakable Things?) that's about halfway done, and I've been a little stuck on it. Actively, Rowan and I are working on another book together; this one is an LGBT horror/thriller set in a British boarding school in the late 1800's. It's halfway done, and we've been chugging away at it every single day this month. It might end up being the fastest book I've ever written, and I'm so ridiculously excited for it!


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Monday, March 26, 2018

Monday Feature: Video Conversation with Greg Neri, author of WHEN PAUL MET ARTIE and TRU & NELLE

I met Greg Neri at this year's YANovCon, and we had a lovely conversation. He talked about his newest picture book, WHEN PAUL MET ARTIE. It's about Simon and Garfunkel, and it debuted on March 20. Click the video below for more:



For more on Greg and his books, you can visit his website, https://www.gregneri.com/home/.


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Tru & Nelle:


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This post can be viewed on Wordpress here, and the video can also be viewed on YouTube.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

THE ART OF THE SWAP by Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone

I first heard about THE ART OF THE SWAP when it was featured in an email from a local bookstore, and I completely fell in love with the cover. It debuted last month, and it has a fantastic premise:


Two girls trade places in time to solve a legendary art heist across two centuries!

As the daughter of a caretaker for a mansion-turned-museum, twelve-year-old Hannah Jordan has spent nearly all her life steeped in the history of the Gilded Age of Newport, Rhode Island. The Elms, the mansion where her dad works (and they both live), is one of the most esteemed historical properties on famed Bellevue Avenue. Mysterious legends and priceless artifacts clutter every inch of the marble floors and golden walls, but Hannah is most drawn to the reproduction portrait of Maggie Dunlap, the twelve year-old subject of a famous painting stolen in a legendary art heist on the day of its scheduled unveiling in 1905.

Hannah dreams of how glamorous life must have been for the young oil-heiress, Maggie, at the turn of the century, but she never expects she’ll have a chance to experience it herself… until the day a mysterious mirror allows the two girls to change places in time!

In 1905, Hannah races to stop the art heist from happening—something she is convinced will allow the girls to trade back to their own eras—while in current times, Maggie gets a hilarious introduction to the modern digital age and a new perspective on women's roles in society while reveling in the best invention of all: sweatpants. So long corsets!

As the hours tick off to the recorded moment of the legendary art heist, something’s not adding up. Can the girls work together against time—and across it—to set things right... or will their temporary swap become a permanent trade?

Kris Asselin also answered a few interview questions:

THE ART OF THE SWAP is your first published Middle Grade (MG) book. What, if anything, was different in your writing process for a MG novel?

THE ART OF THE SWAP is my first published Middle Grade, but I've written several! The process isn't so different than YA for me, though it's much different from my nonfiction. I generally start with a kernel of an idea, and write a blurb...something like a query blurb...and then build from there. In this particular situation, I had the general idea of a girl who lived with a parent at a living museum. It got much bigger after brainstorming with my friend and writing partner Jen Malone. After a long car ride together, it became a time-traveling, feminist, dual POV project! Working with someone else was brilliant--having another brain to bounce ideas off of, and to share in the research and writing really made this project different from any other for me.

I'll bet, and I love how THE ART OF THE SWAP deals with changing places in time. If you found yourself in 1905, what would be the first thing you would do and why?

We picked 1905 because it really was the heyday of the gilded age in Newport, Rhode Island. If I found myself traveling through a portal back to that time and to that place, I'd love to try on a ball gown and attend one of those infamous society parties. I think it would be absolutely magical.

I'd also take a moment to look up at the stars--so fewer lights back then that I'm sure the sky was far more brilliant than today.

That sounds fantastic. I love the cover for THE ART OF THE SWAP! What, in your opinion, are the necessary elements of a book cover?

Thank you so much! We love our cover as well. We really wanted something that would appeal to both boys and girls--even though THE ART OF THE SWAP has a pretty strong feminist story arc, we think the subject appeals to readers of both genders. We didn't want the cover to be stereotypical  "girly." I think it's important for a cover to tell a story--for it to be something that will make people pick it up. There are some really beautiful covers being made these days!

And yours is definitely one of my favorites. What are some of your current projects?

I'm working on a new middle grade which we're tentatively pitching as "The Ghost Whisperer" T.V. show meets "The Classy Crooks Club" by Allison Cherry -- it's about a girl whose mother works as a professional mourner, and who begins solving mysteries using her ability to talk to the recently deceased. It's still very much a work in progress, but I'm having fun with the research.


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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

12 STEPS TO NORMAL by Farrah Penn

I met Farrah Penn at last year's YALLWEST, and when I found out that her book 12 STEPS TO NORMAL confronted the necessary issue of addiction, I knew I had to feature it. It debuted yesterday, and I'm sure it will appeal to a lot of readers.


Kira's Twelve Steps To A Normal Life

1. Accept Grams is gone.
2. Learn to forgive Dad.
3. Steal back ex-boyfriend from best friend...

And somewhere between 1 and 12, realize that when your parent's an alcoholic, there's no such thing as "normal."

When Kira's father enters rehab, she's forced to leave everything behind--her home, her best friends, her boyfriend...everything she loves. Now her father's sober (again) and Kira is returning home, determined to get her life back to normal...exactly as it was before she was sent away.

But is that what Kira really wants?



In addition to being an author, you work for Buzzfeed. What do you love most about both jobs and why?

One of the best things about working at BuzzFeed is the people. I love going into an office where I'm surrounded by talented, funny, creative, and collaborative co-workers. Working there also allows me to be creative with content in a way that's different from writing a novel because I'm writing up fun pieces about pop-culture or books that are immediately published, or working on a video that takes me a few weeks to edit and put out in the world, and both provide that feeling of instant gratification. Books take a *little* bit longer to get out in the world, and I love having the quiet alone time in my own head to work on a story. Both equally feed my extroverted and introverted sides!


Ah, an ambi-vert! Me too. 12 STEPS TO NORMAL not only talks about addition, but how it affects everyone surrounding the user(s). What do you hope readers can gain from this book when they're finished?

Alcohol addiction and substance abuse have a social shame surrounding it, which sometimes makes it hard to talk about. Growing up, I told very few people there was someone in my family struggling because on one hand, I didn't quite know how to talk about it, and on the other hand, I personally felt like it was shameful to admit. It was also heartbreaking losing friendships when family friends did find out and would therefore decide to distance themselves. So I hope this book provides readers with a little bit of empathy. I also hope it can act as encouragement to start a conversation or seek out help if they're going through something similar to what Kira is facing.


It's definitely a book a lot of people need. And I love your website. What led to its current iteration?

Thank you! I'm not a web designer by any means, but after scouring Pinterest I had an idea of the layout I wanted. My good friend Jon Moreaux was able to create it for me, and Omar Padilla built it out in a way that was manageable for me to update!


Checking Pinterest for web design sounds like a great idea. What are some of your current projects?

I'm not going to reveal too much, but I've been working on another YA contemporary that centers around sisters and — I hope — contains a lot of female empowerment.


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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

AFTER THE SHOT DROPS by Randy Ribay

I met Randy Ribay at an author event, and as soon as he mentioned his new book, AFTER THE SHOT DROPS, I knew I had to spread word about it. This book would be a great selection for both public and school libraries. Have a look:

Bunny and Nasir have been best friends forever, but when Bunny accepts an athletic scholarship across town, Nasir feels betrayed. While Bunny tries to fit in with his new, privileged peers, Nasir spends more time with his cousin, Wallace, who is being evicted. Nasir can't help but wonder why the neighborhood is falling over itself to help Bunny when Wallace is in trouble.

When Wallace makes a bet against Bunny, Nasir is faced with an impossible decision—maybe a dangerous one.






In addition to writing books, you also teach high school English. In what ways, if any, do you find balance between your day job and your author life?

I write almost every weekday early in the morning before I go to school. Though I spend a lot of time throughout the day thinking about whichever story is my current project, I generally don't write again until the next morning (unless I need to meet a deadline!). So for me, it's a pretty easy delineation. Though, I often use what I learn about writing to improve my teaching. For example, the way I give feedback for my students' writing is meant to mimic the way I receive feedback from my editor.


I know what you mean--I give the same kinds of tips to the students I work with at UC Davis. Regarding AFTER THE SHOT DROPS, I'm intrigued by the ethical dilemmas that Nasir faces. What about Nasir's journey did you find most rewarding to write about?

I always enjoy writing my characters' emotional journeys because I get to experience it with them. In most cases, I like my characters to change in some meaningful way from beginning to end, and I usually start out the first draft knowing Point A and Point B. However, I don't know how the character gets from one place to the other, and I see part of the challenge of writing is figuring out how they shift in a believable way. Without getting too spoiler-y, Nasir starts out the story feeling hurt and betrayed, left behind by Bunny's decision to switch schools. By the end of the story, I (hope) readers see how he gains some empathy for Bunny's situation.


I'll bet they will! AFTER THE SHOT DROPS is also told from alternating perspectives. What was the most challenging aspect of writing in this kind of format?

I can't remember where I heard it from, but someone once said that if you're writing a book with multiple POVs, then your aim should be that the reader can read the first few sentences of any section and know who the POV is without looking at the chapter/section heading. Of course, the challenging part is figuring out how to differentiate them enough in a way that doesn't feel gimmicky or superficial (e.g. This POV talks like a robot and this one like a cowboy!). For me, that meant delving into each characters' emotional core as well as intentionally using patterns in syntax or vocabulary.


Sounds like great advice to help with character development. What are some of your current projects?

Currently, I have a YA contemporary manuscript on submission. I also have a YA dark fantasy that's been sitting on the back burner in need of revisions for quite a while. I also have a secret project I'm working on for fun!


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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

IT'S NOT LIKE IT'S A SECRET by Misa Sugiura

I first met Misa Sugiura at an author event, and I've really enjoyed the conversations we've had. Her book, IT'S NOT LIKE IT'S A SECRET explores what it means to tell the truth, and how doing so can turn out in ways we don't expect.

Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like that fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore anymore.

Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy… what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.


According to your website, your ancestors include a poet, a priestess, a samurai, and a stowaway. If you could choose one of these people to write about, which one would it be and why?

Oh, wow, I love this question! I would definitely choose the priestess. I know almost nothing about her--she's just this shadowy, nameless figure from a shrine on the eastern coast of Japan. To be totally honest, she was probably a "miko" or shrine maiden, rather than a priestess. Her son—my great-grandfather—was adopted by my "legitimate" family and became something of a legend in the family for his supposedly psychic powers. I often wonder about her—why she became a shrine maiden, what her life was like there, the circumstances around her pregnancy and her son's birth, what happened after she gave up her baby.


She sounds like a very interesting woman! IT'S NOT LIKE IT'S A SECRET explores what happens after we tell the truth. Which parts of Sana's story were the most interesting to grapple with?

For me, the issues around our most shameful/embarrassing thoughts about race and ethnicity were the toughest to write about. I wanted to be completely honest about how people can see each other despite their best intentions, which meant venturing into some potentially very hurtful territory. It also meant that readers might interpret characters' opinions and portrayals to be rooted in my own opinions, or they might just be hurt or offended by those same portrayals and opinions. I also had to confront a lot of my own narrow views of people--I thought because I liked certain characters, I was writing positive portrayals and flipping old stereotypes on their heads. Thanks to my sensitivity readers, I realized that even though I had tried to offer more than the stereotypes, those stereotypes still overpowered the characters' individuality in my early drafts. I hope my revisions added depth and texture.

I loved writing about micro-aggressions, whether it be for race and ethnicity, or sexuality, or gender. All of the characters have to face them and figure out how to react to them, and all of the characters are guilty of perpetrating them. Navigating those micro-aggressions can be tough, because it often feels like a judgment call—how much can I be offended if the person meant no offense? Is it the emotional energy I will have to spend to call them out? If I let it slide, am I just giving permission for it to happen? If I say or do something and accidentally offend someone, does that make me a racist/sexist/homophobe? I loved writing about that tension and exploring how people interact when those questions are in the air.

And they are definitely questions we all grapple with. Is there something you wished you'd known before your book debuted last year? If so, what would it be and why? 

On a purely practical level, I wish I'd known to look for conferences and conventions where I might be able to appear on a panel or for an interview, and put together proposals and pitches both individually and with other authors. I didn't realize how many opportunities there were, or how early you had to apply. It's often nine months or more in advance! I wish I had known that I could have asked my publicity department for ideas, or to pitch me to some of the bigger conferences.

Conferences are excellent, for both writers and readers. What are some of your current projects?

I've got a second novel with my editor at HarperTeen. It's undergoing some pretty major revisions, so I can't say much about it right now. And ideas for a third novel are percolating. :-)


Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound


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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

THE FINAL SIX by Alexandra Monir

I saw THE FINAL SIX featured as a pre-order offer on Facebook, and the book cover nearly knocked me over. It comes out March 6, 2018.

When Leo, an Italian championship swimmer, and Naomi, a science genius from California, are two of the twenty-four teens drafted into the International Space Training Camp, their lives are forever altered. After erratic climate change has made Earth a dangerous place to live, the fate of the population rests on the shoulders of the final six who will be scouting a new planet. Intense training, global scrutiny, and cutthroat opponents are only a few of the hurdles the contestants must endure in this competition.

For Leo, the prospect of traveling to Europa—Jupiter’s moon—to help resettle humankind is just the sense of purpose he’s been yearning for since losing his entire family in the flooding of Rome. Naomi, after learning of a similar space mission that mysteriously failed, suspects the ISTC isn’t being up front with them about what’s at risk.

As the race to the final six advances, the tests get more challenging—even deadly. With pressure mounting, Naomi finds an unexpected friend in Leo, and the two grow closer with each mind-boggling experience they encounter. But it’s only when the finalists become fewer and their destinies grow nearer that the two can fathom the full weight of everything at stake: the world, the stars, and their lives.


In addition to being an author, you are also a recording artist and composer. Which came first, music or writing (or both)? In what ways, if any, do they overlap in your creative process?

I've actually been doing both for as long as I can remember! My favorite activities from as early as age two were singing and reading books, and then I started performing in school plays and writing stories from elementary school on. When I started writing pop songs in high school, that changed my direction for awhile--I became a full-time recording artist and went on the road opening for bigger acts like O-Town and Aaron Carter at ages 17-18. But moving to LA for my music career brought me closer to the world of storytelling too, and in between recording sessions and performances, I was writing and pitching ideas for film/TV. Everything came together when I sold my debut novel, Timeless, since my lead characters were songwriters- and I wrote and recorded their songs for the book!

Fabulous! THE FINAL SIX's protagonists have to grapple with how to make choices without knowing the full truth. In what ways, if any, did Leo and Naomi surprise you as you wrote them?

Good question! I didn't expect that Naomi would feel so close to me. She's a science genius, which I am most definitely not, and she's also a lot more fearless than I am! But the fact that we share the same Iranian-American heritage caused me to identify with her in many ways, and I started weaving more of myself into her character. I think Naomi has a lot to do with why The Final Six is the book of my heart!

I'll bet a lot of readers out there will identify with her too! In your other series, Timeless, you explore the consequences of time travel. What about this series was the most fun to write and why?

I absolutely loved writing all the time-travel scenes, where my main character got to step into the New York City of the past. It was definitely wish-fulfillment for me!

I'll bet! What are some of your current projects?

I'm writing the sequel to The Final Six, plus developing some other projects that I'm excited to share as soon as I can talk about them! :)



Wednesday, February 14, 2018

NICE TRY, JANE SINNER by Lianne Oelke

As soon as I saw NICE TRY, JANE SINNER, I knew I had to feature it. It's a great selection for high schoolers and college students alike.

The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.

Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don't know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she'll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.

As House of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She'll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.

In an article in USA today, you mentioned that a lot of college students read YA, and I love how NICE TRY, JANE SINNER contains content that both high schoolers and college students can appreciate. I work with college students who always think they don't have time to read for pleasure. Along with recommending NICE TRY, JANE SINNER, I'm interested in letting them know that books like yours are ones they should make time for. What suggestions, if any, might you have for these students?    

I know how tough it can be to read for pleasure in college, but finding time for the things you love makes such a difference- it’s what kept me sane. Generally, I turned to fantasy in my free time, because I didn’t see myself in contemporary YA. Thankfully, there are more college YA books out today for students to turn to! FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell is one of the most well-known. THE BIG F by Maggie Ann Martin is also a delight- it hits the sweet spot between high school and college. POST-HIGH SCHOOL REALITY QUEST by Meg Eden seems bizarre and nerdy and wonderfully retro. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the hilarious AMERICAN PANDA by Gloria Chao (available Feb. 6, 2018), and FAT GIRL ON A PLANE by Kelly deVos (June 5, 2018) sounds incredible.


I've heard great things about all those books, especially FAT GIRL ON A PLANE. And, I love how Jane's story deals with what happens when life throws its inevitable curve balls. What do you hope readers can gain from her story? 

Jane goes through so much, from mental illness to expulsion from high school to losing her faith to disagreeing with her family over some pretty big issues to fame and televised humiliation. I’d like to think there’s something there for everyone, but for me, the most important aspect of Jane’s story is that past mistakes don’t have to define a person. Anyone can have a second (or third, or fourth) chance.


That's definitely reassuring! What is one thing you've learned from failure, and in what ways, if any, did it change you?

I used to be one of those annoying kids in school who could write an essay the night before and still get an A. It turns out that writing a book is substantially harder than anything school threw at me. Publishing doesn’t reward the underprepared. Every author experiences failure. For me, the hard part was getting rejection after rejection from potential agents for two years. I’d like to think I’ve learned humility and patience from the whole publishing experience, and it’s absolutely made me a better, more deliberate writer. Now, the thought of turning in a project the day after I finish the first draft fuels my nightmares.


Ha! Still, it's nice to know that persistence not only pays off, but it generates growth. What are some of your current projects?

I’m working on another YA novel- a multi-POV fantasy inspired by saga-age Iceland! Think blood feuds, volcanoes, witchcraft, and dark humour.


Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

SHADOW WEAVER by MarcyKate Connolly

When MarcyKate Connolly's new middle grade book, SHADOW WEAVER, popped up in my social media feed, I completely fell in love with the cover and premise. The book debuted January 2, and it looks amazing:

The shadows that surround us aren’t always as they seem…

Emmeline has grown up with a gift. Since the time she was a baby she has been able to control shadows. And her only friend and companion is her own shadow, Dar.

Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.

With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.


MarcyKate Connolly – SHADOW WEAVER Interview

According to your website, you like weird things, and enjoy writing about them. What is the one of the weirdest ideas you've had for a novel?
The weirdest idea I’ve had thus far has got to be my first published novel, MONSTROUS. The main character has wings, a tail, cat’s eyes and claws who is brought back to life by her father to save the girls of the neighboring village from the wizard who killed her. It was so fun to write the book from her unique perspective as an outsider!


Outsiders are my favorite characters. And I love how SHADOW WEAVER deals with the consequences of secrets. What about secrets do you think can be most difficult to deal with?
The keeping of them, definitely. Especially the bad ones. Those are the ones that eat you up from the inside. They want out, and they always seem to find away whether you want them to or not. Emmeline in SHADOW WEAVER certainly figures that out the hard way!


I'll bet she does! SHADOW WEAVER has a great cover. What do you like most about it?
Can I say everything? No? All right, everything about it is gorgeous, but I particularly love how perfectly the artist captured the scene from the book. At first glance it looks like Dar (the shadow) is chasing Emmeline, but if you look closer at Emmeline’s face you can see her expression is more thoughtful than scared. It’s a perfect fit for the scene, and precisely right for those two characters at that time in the story.


I also like the upside-down A in the title--it seems to indicate that shadows can be conversely related to our true selves. What are some of your current projects?

Right now, I’m working on the sequel to SHADOW WEAVER (title TBD) and unrelated middle grade fantasy novel that I co-authored with Dan Haring (a crazy talented artist and writer!) called THE STAR SHEPHERD. It will be out in Fall 2019. It takes place in a world where the light from the stars is the only thing that keeps the world safe from dark creatures. A boy, his dog, and the town baker’s daughter must race to rescue the stars and find his father, the local Star Shepherd, before too many stars fall from the sky. It will also contain many fantastic illustrations – I’m really excited about both upcoming books!



Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound




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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Release feature: THE QUEEN'S RISING by Rebecca Ross

Happy release day to THE QUEEN'S RISING, by Rebecca Ross! I featured this book here, and I can't wait to read it.


When her seventeenth summer solstice arrives, Brienna desires only two things: to master her passion and to be chosen by a patron.

Growing up in the southern Kingdom of Valenia at the renowned Magnalia House should have prepared her for such a life. While some are born with an innate talent for one of the five passions—art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge—Brienna struggled to find hers until she belatedly chose to study knowledge. However, despite all her preparations, Brienna’s greatest fear comes true—the solstice does not go according to plan and she is left without a patron.

Months later, her life takes an unexpected turn when a disgraced lord offers her patronage. Suspicious of his intent, and with no other choices, she accepts. But there is much more to his story, and Brienna soon discovers that he has sought her out for his own vengeful gain. For there is a dangerous plot being planned to overthrow the king of Maevana—the archrival kingdom of Valenia—and restore the rightful queen, and her magic, to the northern throne. And others are involved—some closer to Brienna than she realizes.

With war brewing between the two lands, Brienna must choose whose side she will remain loyal to—passion or blood. Because a queen is destined to rise and lead the battle to reclaim the crown. The ultimate decision Brienna must determine is: Who will be that queen?





Wednesday, January 31, 2018

NOT NOW, NOT EVER by Lily Anderson

I first met Lily Anderson at book event with Anna-Marie McLemore, one of my favorite YA authors. Like Anna-Marie, Lily Anderson constructs stories that many readers can see themselves in, and her newest book, NOT NOW, NOT EVER explores what it means to redefine yourself within the unfamiliar.


1. She isn't going to stay home in Sacramento, where she'd have to sit through her stepmother's sixth community theater production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
2. She isn't going to mock trial camp at UCLA.
3. And she certainly isn't going to the Air Force summer program on her mother's base in Colorado Springs. As cool as it would be to live-action-role-play Ender's Game, Ellie's seen three generations of her family go through USAF boot camp up close, and she knows that it's much less Luke/Yoda/"feel the force," and much more one hundred push-ups on three days of no sleep. And that just isn't appealing, no matter how many Xenomorphs from Alien she'd be able to defeat afterwards.

What she is going to do is pack up her attitude, her favorite Octavia Butler novels, and her Jordans, and go to summer camp. Specifically, a cutthroat academic-decathlon-like competition for a full scholarship to Rayevich College, the only college with a Science Fiction Literature program. And she's going to start over as Ever Lawrence, on her own terms, without the shadow of all her family’s expectations. Because why do what’s expected of you when you can fight other genius nerds to the death for a shot at the dream you’re sure your family will consider a complete waste of time?

This summer's going to be great.


In addition to being an author, you are also a school librarian. What do you love most about being an author, and what do you love most about being a librarian? 

My favorite part of both is getting to share my love of literature with new people. Finding a book that perfectly speaks to someone is such an incredible feeling and one that I'm blessed to experience often. As a librarian, I spend a lot of my day matching books to people. Books that weren't my speed can click so perfectly with someone else. I love being able to say, "Oh, if you liked [blank], then I have the perfect follow up read!" As an author, however, I put my books into the world with very little control as to who gets them, so it's always a pleasant surprise when someone tells me that they loved my story.


I love your stories too, especially how NOT NOW, NOT EVER references The Importance of Being Earnest. How did Elliot's story come to be, and in what ways, if any, did she surprise you?

Elliot's story started with Elliot. I knew that I wanted to write a girl like her--someone tough and sporty, basically the total opposite of me--long before I had a plot for her. Having grown up near an Air Force Base, I wanted to write about a girl who has always known that she's going to enlist after high school and how that effects her relationships with people.

After I wrote my debut novel, THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU, my editor asked for another retelling set around the Messina Academy. I was hesitant to do another retelling set at the same school because I didn't want the Mess to seem like a Twilight Zone episode where each graduating class gets stuck living the plot of a famous play every year (although, hm, plot bunny?), so Elliot's story starts with her deciding to use her knowledge of The Importance of Being Earnest to her advantage.

The most surprising thing about the story was how quickly Elliot started connecting with people. I've never written a fish out of water story before and I thought Elliot might be more reserved in getting to know people, but she was so game to put on her fake identity and forge these real, deep friendships.


It's interesting how that ends up defining her too. Your book, THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU contains a lot of pop culture references, and I love the lists you include on your website of recommended books, comic books, and movies. What is your favorite book, comic book, and movie, and why? 

Oh, goodness. Favorites are hard, but I'll give you what I love most today.

Book: Jenny Lawson's LET'S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED. It's a memoir, but it's also hilarious. Before I read it, I'd never considered being open about how funny my mental illness can be, the ridiculous scrapes I've been in because my anxiety got the better of me. When I run out of spoons, I listen to the audiobooks of both of Jenny Lawson's memoirs to remind myself that I'm not alone.

Comic book: Deadpool, preferably from the Duggan-Posehn run. My love of Deadpool is pretty well documented (I literally have a Mrs Deadpool car license plate). I've always been a sucker for meta humor. It rewards paying attention. But more than the goofs and blowing things up and guest appearances from Ben Franklin, I love Deadpool's tragedy. He doesn't relish his extended adolescence. He's just a lonely screw up, more or less stuck outside of society, but he really does consistently try his best.

Movie: The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. It's ridiculous and soapy, but there's something about it that just sucks me in every time.


Excellent choices. What are some of your current projects?

Right now, I'm in the midst of drafting my first drama. All I can tell you about it is that I write a lot slower when I'm not writing jokes.


Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound





Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound


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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

THE QUEEN'S RISING by Rebecca Ross

As soon as I saw the cover for THE QUEEN'S RISING, I knew I had to feature it--it's a fascinating YA Fantasy that explores two societies at odds, and different ways of finding one's identity. It comes out on February 6, and I've already pre-ordered it.

When her seventeenth summer solstice arrives, Brienna desires only two things: to master her passion and to be chosen by a patron.

Growing up in the southern Kingdom of Valenia at the renowned Magnalia House should have prepared her for such a life. While some are born with an innate talent for one of the five passions—art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge—Brienna struggled to find hers until she belatedly chose to study knowledge. However, despite all her preparations, Brienna’s greatest fear comes true—the solstice does not go according to plan and she is left without a patron.

Months later, her life takes an unexpected turn when a disgraced lord offers her patronage. Suspicious of his intent, and with no other choices, she accepts. But there is much more to his story, and Brienna soon discovers that he has sought her out for his own vengeful gain. For there is a dangerous plot being planned to overthrow the king of Maevana—the archrival kingdom of Valenia—and restore the rightful queen, and her magic, to the northern throne. And others are involved—some closer to Brienna than she realizes.

With war brewing between the two lands, Brienna must choose whose side she will remain loyal to—passion or blood. Because a queen is destined to rise and lead the battle to reclaim the crown. The ultimate decision Brienna must determine is: Who will be that queen?


According to your blog, you began drafting THE QUEEN'S RISING about three years ago. What sort of a revision process was involved in this book, and in what ways, if any, did it change from start to finish?

The very first draft of TQR stood at 127,00 words. It was very wordy and I knew it was too long, and yet I have always been more of a drafter than a reviser. I also knew that if I was to catch an agent's eye, I needed to cut around 27,000 words, so I began to self edit the best that I could. Miraculously, I got an agent with the book at 115,000 words (by most agent standards, this is still entirely too long), and then she helped me hone it down to 106,000 when we went on submission. From the beginning, I was always whittling and cutting, which can be difficult with a fantasy. It was important to me that my world felt fully realized to the readers, but I also did not want to bog my readers down with needless descriptions.

But I think my biggest shock was when I got my first edit letter. I had no idea what to expect in the letter; it was 12 pages of my editor's questions and concerns. And I read it and went into a daze, completely overwhelmed. I sat on it a few days, and then solutions to all those problems began to bloom in my mind, and I redrafted the book with my editor's notes guiding me. I definitely changed a few plot threads in this revision, and the story that emerged was much stronger than what it was initially.


I think you've pinpointed a challenge that many YA Fantasy authors share--the line between two much and too little. I'm glad you found a happy medium between the two. And I love how THE QUEEN'S RISING confronts the difficulty of choosing between two conflicting lands. What do you hope readers gain from Brienna's journey?

Brienna herself is divided between the two realms in the book. Her mother was Valenian, her father is Maevan, and she eventually has to decide how to bring these two parts of her heritage together. And I think that all of us, in some way or another, go through an experience like this, where we long to figure ourselves out, and know where we belong and who we are and what our mission or purpose in life will be. I hope readers can relate to Brienna, and, of course, enjoy the adventure she takes them on.


I'm sure they will--that kind of conflicted journey affects many of us, especially in establishing our true identities. Speaking of personal branding, I love your website. How did the design come to be, and what, in your opinion, are the necessary elements of a good author website? 

I am so happy to hear you love my website! It was important to me to have an author website that reflected things I love and also appear frequently in my writing (maps, constellations, and flowers). I hired Hafsah Faizal from IceyDesigns to design it for me, and she did such an amazing job incorporating those elements!

When it comes to an author website, I think it really depends on how much the author wants to share of themselves. I have seen some websites that are very minimal (author bio and book description and contact page), and some that are very engaging (events page, blog, FAQ, social media links, etc). The author should definitely go with what makes them most comfortable, but I think it's also important to consider what a reader is going to connect with. I know when I finish a book I love, I instantly search for the author's website, because I want to know more about the author, their books, and even their writing process.

Regardless of how much the author decides to share on the website, at the end of the day, the website should be easy to navigate. Above all else, information about the author's book(s) should be easy to find.


Excellent advice. What are some of your current projects?

I just finished and turned in my first round of edits for TQR Book 2 (I hope to share more details on this soon!). I've drafted bits and pieces of Book 3, so that story is always at the back of my mind. And I'm also scheming up ideas for my next fantasy project. I feel like my mind is always working, bouncing from current projects to future projects, but I guess this is a good thing (as long as it doesn't keep me up at night!).




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