Wednesday, June 27, 2018

WE'LL FLY AWAY by Bryan Bliss

I first met Bryan Bliss at the Glen Workshop in 2012, and featured him here and here. His newest book, WE'LL FLY AWAY, debuted on May 8:

Uniquely told through letters from death row and third-person narrative, Bryan Bliss’s hard-hitting third novel expertly unravels the string of events that landed a teenager in jail. Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.

But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling. Tense and emotional, this heartbreaking novel explores family, abuse, sex, love, friendship, and the lengths a person will go to protect the people they love.

You've published three books so far. In what ways do you balance drafting and editing different projects?

Honestly, I’m never working on two books at the same time. I’m fairly monogamous when it comes to writing books. I spend so much time thinking about the characters and the story that it takes up all of the time I have for writing and editing. In the past, whenever I’ve tried to circumvent this slightly annoying process, I come away with half-baked ideas that don’t keep me interested. But the good part is: once I’m all-in on an idea, I know it can be a book.

Sounds like a good approach. In our last interview, when talking about WE'LL FLY AWAY, you said, "It's a book I've been wanting to write for five years, but it never felt like the right time. I just couldn't put any words down on it. But I knew I was going to write it, so it kind of lived in the back of my head like a trapped bird." How did you know it was the right time for this book?

It’s kind of the same answer as the first question! I have a number of ideas that continue to float around in my head, waiting for the moment where everything comes together, and it becomes the idea I’m going to write next. Weirdly, this happens with small details. For We’ll Fly Away, it was realizing that Luke was a wrestler. It was them finding the plane in the first paragraph of the story. Those little moments where I catch a glimpse of who the characters are is supremely important to my writing. Once I know what’s important to them, everything else starts to fall into place rather quickly. Thankfully, it’s already happened with my next book. But I’ll probably keep exactly what that means to myself for a little longer.

I hope we can find out more about that soon! If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?

Start earlier. While I believe it’s never too late to start writing, I wish somebody would’ve taken me aside and said, “Pursue this. You’re good at it.” Now, if I could magically go back in time I’d probably give myself a few pieces of advice as well. Like, read more. Work harder. And don’t let anyone tell you you’re stupid or that you don’t deserve this. And then I’d look around, make sure whatever genie that had sent me back wasn’t watching, and I’d say, “You’re going to make it. Have fun.”

I wish someone had done that for me too. The tagline on the cover of WE'LL FLY AWAY says, "None of us are ever finished." What significance does this quote have for you?

To say, “none of us are ever finished” is to make a radical statement that, in my mind, is inherently theological. It’s the idea that, no matter what, we have opportunity after opportunity for second chances. We can salvage the pieces of our lives that have been broken. When it comes to the death penalty and the writing of We’ll Fly Away, this was the linchpin that pulled everything together. I wanted readers to see Luke – as well as the actual women and men on death row – as actual human beings who are capable of transformation and growth. People who may have done monstrous things, but don’t have to live the rest of their lives as monsters. Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, put it best: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

Buy: ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here.

Monday, June 25, 2018


Back in May, I got to feature Alex White, and we discussed his forthcoming novel, A BIG SHIP AT THE EDGE OF THE UNIVERSE. I'm excited to report that this book is now out in the world:

Boots Elsworth was a famous treasure hunter in another life, but now she’s washed up. She makes her meager living faking salvage legends and selling them to the highest bidder, but this time she might have stumbled on something real–the story of the Harrow, a famous warship, capable of untold destruction.

Nilah Brio is the top driver in the Pan Galactic Racing Federation and the darling of the racing world–until she witnesses the murder of a fellow racer. Framed for the murder and on the hunt to clear her name, Nilah only has one lead: the killer also hunts a woman named Boots.

On the wrong side of the law, the two women board a smuggler’s ship that will take them on a quest for fame, for riches, and for justice.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


I first met Aminah Mae Safi at this year's YALLWEST conference--where, unsurprisingly, she ran out of Advanced Reader Copies of her debut, NOT THE GIRLS YOU'RE LOOKING FOR. The book just came out, and I can't wait to buy it:

Lulu Saad doesn't need your advice, thank you very much. She's got her three best friends and nothing can stop her from conquering the known world. Sure, for half a minute she thought she’d nearly drowned a cute guy at a party, but he was totally faking it. And fine, yes, she caused a scene during Ramadan. It's all under control. Ish.

Except maybe this time she’s done a little more damage than she realizes. And if Lulu can't find her way out of this mess soon, she'll have to do more than repair friendships, family alliances, and wet clothing. She'll have to go looking for herself.

You're agented by Lauren MacLeod at the The Strothman Agency. What was your query process like, and how did you know Lauren was the right agent for you?

I queried this book a couple of times, but I went through re-writes each time I queried. The time when I found Lauren, I did #DVpit. It was amazing to be able to pitch this book in a space that was so supportive and so excited for a main character like Lulu. She’s mixed race and she’s Muslim and pitching during #DVpit made me feel like there was a whole community of readers and writers that were ready for her.

The rest of the query process was pretty standard. I queried the agents that showed interest from the pitch event. I had a request from Lauren for a partial, and then a couple months later for a full and then an offer. I think she’d been traveling in the summer. Lauren and I just jived on the phone, which was amazing. She saw the core of my book and wanted to preserve that Not the Girls You’re Looking For is ultimately about friendship.

My piece of advice when you do get to the point where you talk to an agent is this— ask them what they want to change. Because you’ll likely do a round of revisions with your agent. Lauren and I were on the same page with what we wanted to change and what we wanted to preserve. She was also excited about upcoming projects I had in mind.

Excellent advice! On your website, you've said that NOT THE GIRLS YOU'RE LOOKING for is your "ode to mean girls, messy friendships, and bad decisions." What do you hope readers take away from Lulu's story?

That they don’t have to be perfect to take up space in this world, to take up space in the pages of stories. And also, that we can all push past our worst days and our worst selves and grow into better people.

Indeed we can. You also have an art background. What do you love most about art, and in what ways does it let you stretch your creativity? 

Art history has been a love of mine for as long as I can remember, even before I actually knew what it was. So much of art history was, for me, taking the visual arts and connecting them to the time and place and people who made them. Art is at the heart of culture, of politics, of religion, and even of science. Art is about the stories we tell and why we tell stories is what keeps me going back to all kinds of art— watching movies, listening to music, visiting the paintings hanging in museums, as well as writing my own books.

When I get blocked, I often go to the museum. I think there’s something about looking at art that helps me get out of my head and keeps me from stagnating in my own storytelling problems. Nine times out of ten, that’s what works.

Wonderful. What are some of your current projects?

I’m currently working on an enemies to lovers rom com set in LA as two girls work together to make a film and try very hard not to fall in love. I started it when I was up in the Bay Area and homesick for LA— so it’s my love letter to the city, to my favorite places, and my more complicated relationship to films in general. It will be out June 2019, so look out for more info on my Instagram (@aminahmae) or my website ( soon!

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

RABBIT & ROBOT by Andrew Smith

Once I saw the cover for Andrew Smith's new book, RABBIT & ROBOT, I knew another feature was in order. This book breaks all the right rules, and Andrew had some interesting new things to share as well.

Cager has been transported to the Tennessee, a giant lunar-cruise ship orbiting the moon that his dad owns, by Billy and Rowan to help him shake his Woz addiction. Meanwhile, Earth, in the midst of thirty simultaneous wars, burns to ash beneath them. And as the robots on board become increasingly insane and cannibalistic, and the Earth becomes a toxic wasteland, the boys have to wonder if they’ll be stranded alone in space forever.

In our last interview, you said, "I don't think there has been anything that has educated or impacted me more than traveling and meeting people from unfamiliar places." What has been one of your most favorite unfamiliar places to travel to, and why?

It's impossible for me to pick a "most favorite" because everywhere I've been has been unique in ways that set it apart from anywhere else. I like the experience of newness. That said, last summer I took my son to Europe and during part of our trip we stayed with my friends Els and Guy at their home in Geraardsbergen, which I had never been to before and I thought it was lovely. They took us to the city of Ghent, another place I'd never been, and I thought it was one of the most spectacularly beautiful little cities I've ever seen. There are these candy sellers in Ghent who set up carts about five feet away from each other, and they make the same product, candy noses, so they compete with each other. And they hate each other, and have even gotten into fistfights before over whose candy noses are better. It's quite an interesting and bizarre story. Here's a picture of one of the guys with his candy noses:

I can't imagine anything better than rival candy nose vendors! And speaking of petty arguments, I like how RABBIT AND ROBOT explores the consequences and chaos of human destruction. What do you think matters most about what makes us human, and what hopes, if any, do you have for the human race? 

The fact that you like an exploration of chaos and human destruction is quite telling, Karen. But then again, so do I, so... um...

There is a point in the novel where the narrator, a kid named Cager Messer who is obsessed with all the things he's never had the opportunity to do, says, "I figured it out: love and hope are what make us what we are. I couldn't see this before we came to the Tennessee. So the Tennessee saved us, and doomed us, too, all at the same time."

So there you have it in a nutshell: love and hope are the things that essentially define us as human beings, and then there's the whole doom and chaos and destruction thing going on as well.

Do I have any hopes for the human race? That's a tough one to answer since it's in our nature to hope, to visualize an outcome that puts us in a better place. I suppose if everyone on the planet reads Rabbit & Robot, and then as a result decides to stop doing all the shitty things we're doing to the planet, to each other, to kids, to economic systems, to ourselves, then just maybe. But I'm not the first writer who's imagined the possibility of a grim future given the path we're on. Just take a look at some Orwell, Huxley, or Vonnegut, whose novel Player Piano is chillingly becoming our reality. There's a good academic paper in there somewhere.

And because Rabbit & Robot makes a rather dark prediction about where capitalism is taking us, here's a picture of my son standing in front of a meeting hall for socialists in Ghent.

A dark prediction--but a beautiful building. The cover of RABBIT AND ROBOT was designed by Mike Perry. What do you like most about the cover, and in what ways do you feel it honors the story?

Coincidentally, I just sent Mike an email yesterday about that cover. I think I've been so fortunate and blessed when it comes to cover art, across all my eleven novels and their reiterations in paperback and foreign editions. But the cover for Rabbit & Robot is probably my favorite one so far. The style of the art--its wild colors and jittery, frenetic appearance--really captures the sound palette of the story. 

When I first saw Mike's design, I spent hours looking at it, hunting for all the little story elements he was able to incorporate. It is a fantastic, unforgettable, and beautiful piece of art. And I'm one of those readers who likes to keep looking back at the cover of what I'm reading to see how well it fits with the content. I'm highly satisfied when that connection is there, and I'm kind of appalled when a publisher just gets it wrong. I even had business cards made from the cover art. Here's a picture of some of them (admit it, you want one): 

I completely want one! If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?

This is a tough one.

I always loved writing, and for as long as I can remember I always wanted to be a writer. But "being a writer" to me just meant someone who writes stuff--NOT someone who gets PAID to write stuff. I never thought about it as a job, because jobs were always so unsatisfying to me. I was a serial quitter at all jobs. Even after I got out of college and actually did get paid to write for newspapers and radio stations, I was unsatisfied, mostly because I resented being told what to do. So I'd quit and drift, quit and drift, repeat and repeat.

It was the right thing to do.

And I kept writing; always writing. I was being a writer without being A WRITER.

Later on in life, when I was dared by a dear friend to submit something for publication, I submitted something that directly got published--my first novel, which wasn't nearly my first. I had been writing novels since I was in high school (they were terrible, but I wasn't focused on BEING a writer, I was only focused on writing). And to be perfectly honest, I didn't really WANT my stuff to be published, because I didn't really want anyone to read the stuff I'd been writing for all those drifting decades. And I especially didn't want it to be yet another "job". I just took the dare because it was a dare, kind of like when I ate grasshoppers.

Here's a picture of me when I was seventeen years old. I was in Austria here, taking one of many semesters off from being an undergrad (and yes, I was writing stuff then; mostly terrible poetry and angry song lyrics):

So, yesterday, I got this, from an amazingly talented writer, and one of my favorite musicians ever, Courtney Barnett:

I love it. And I love what she said to me, because it's exactly what I would say to my younger writer self: to keep on keeping on. To me, it means this: Don't lose sight of the fact that the purest kind of writing you can do, what will give you the greatest sense of satisfaction, is the writing that you do for yourself. It's why I have found myself receding at times, so I can try to get back into that solitary internal space where nothing else matters.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A LIST OF CAGES by Robin Roe

I had the honor of meeting Robin Roe at YANovCon, and when I found out that the main characters in A LIST OF CAGES were foster teens, I knew I had to feature it:

When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian—the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years.

Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kindhearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives…

According to your website bio, you’ve been a counselor for adolescents and a special education teacher. What was most rewarding about both careers, and what ways, if any, do they show up in your writing? 

When I was working with teens, there was this daily joy and the feeling that I was doing something that mattered. Writing is much more solitary, so I miss that part of my life. However, being an author is incredible, and I love spending my days in a creative state of flow.

What a wonderful place to be. A LIST OF CAGES has a beautiful beginning. What do you think are some necessary elements of a book's first few pages?

Thank you—I really appreciate that. What draws me into a book is the main character. If I care about the character, I care about the story. So I’d say that it’s important to do anything you can do as a writer to make us care as soon as possible.

Indeed. I love your website. What advice, if any, do you have for authors wanting to either build or update their online platform? 

I do think having a website is important, but I’m finding that, for me, it’s better if I use social media sparingly. I know some writers are amazing at balancing social media and their work, but I’m not sure if I’m one of those people. I post when I have an event or to answer my readers, but not much apart from that.

Social media can be a vortex, and it's probably good not to get overly tangled within it! What are some of your current projects? 

I have quite a few things in the works, but my next book will also be a YA contemporary. Like A LIST OF CAGES it explores the psychology of the victim, but this one will delve further into the psychology of the offender.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here.