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.

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

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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.

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

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018


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!

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

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

This post can also be viewed here