Wednesday, December 18, 2019


I first met Mary Volmer at Bridging: A One-Day Writing Retreat at St. Mary's College. This writing retreat offered a great space to write, think, and meditate. I was much more in tune with my writing process, and I felt at peace throughout. If you're near the Bay Area (or even if you aren't) this retreat is a necessary one.

I also got acquainted with Mary's writing--in particular, a historical novel called RELIANCE, ILLINOIS, which has an unforgettable protagonist. Have a look:

Illinois, 1874: With a birthmark covering half her face, thirteen-year-old Madelyn Branch is accustomed to cold and awkward greetings, and expects no less in the struggling town of Reliance. After all, her mother, Rebecca, was careful not to mention a daughter in the Matrimonial Times ad that brought them there. When Rebecca weds, Madelyn poses as her mother’s younger sister and earns a grudging berth in her new house. Deeply injured by her mother’s deceptions, Madelyn soon leaves to enter the service of Miss Rose Werner, prodigal daughter of the town’s founder. Miss Rose is a suffragette and purveyor of black market birth control who sees in Madelyn a project and potential acolyte. Madelyn, though, wants to feel beautiful and loved, and she pins her hopes on William Stark, a young photographer and haunted Civil War veteran.

You founded Bridging: A One-Day Hedgebrook Writers Retreat for Women. The retreat is centered upon the idea of radical hospitality. How did this become part of your vision? 

Radical hospitality is the brain child of Nancy Nordhoff, founder of Hedgebrook, a writers residency on Whidbey Island, Washington. I was fortunate to attend a few years ago. The goal of the residency is to provide women writers time and solitude to work. Just as important, the residency offers the kind of nurturing atmosphere women are usually charged with providing for others.

When we were designing the Bridging Retreat at Saint Mary’s College, we knew we couldn’t possibly replicate a month-long Hedgebrook experience. What we could do was offer a day nourished by the same spirit. So, we opened the doors of our bucolic little campus and embraced the concept of radical hospitality. We invite women writers of all descriptions and disciplines, from the vast network of communities that make up the San Francisco Bay Area. What we offer is a taste of Hedgebrook: hours of uninterrupted writing time, great food, camaraderie and connections, and inspiration to propel us forward.

Inspiration that I'm still tapping into now. RELIANCE, ILLINOIS follows Madelyn Branch and her journey toward self-discovery during a time of immense change. In what ways can her story apply to what's happening in our world today?  

Good question. I think the only way I can answer is to give a snapshot of the historical moment of the novel. The book is set in the 1870’s in the long shadow of the American Civil War. This was a dark time. The promises of early Civil Rights legislation was being violently countermanded by Jim Crow laws. Trumped up morality statutes (like the Comstock laws) were being wielded as weapons against women’s reproductive, professional, and economic rights.

And yet, with all this backsliding into racism and misogyny, reformers, like Miss Rose and Mrs. French in my book, continued to fight for equal rights and representation. Their story, and the story of Madelyn and her mother Rebecca, is one of stubborn hope and gritty resilience. I fear it’s more relevant now than when the book came out.

I don't doubt it. What do you think is one of the most common misconceptions that writers have? 

a. "Thinking or talking about writing is as good as writing."

Thinking and talking about writing are necessary, but are no substitute for the labor of pen to paper. Imagine a person who watches, talks and thinks about sports, but who never plays or practices. I’ve described a fan, not athlete. You have to get messy in the work, fail a lot, read a lot, and sweat through the early drafts. That’s how stories (and writers) are made.

b. "Writing gets easier over time."

It doesn’t, but it does become more interesting.

c. "Publishing makes you a writer."

This is not true. What makes you a writer is the conviction that you have something to say, and (this is important) the patience and persistence to find the words to say it well.

Great analogy. What are some of your current projects? 

I’m working on a new book set in the Sierra Nevada foothills during fire season. It’s a departure from my historical novels. I’m accustomed to studying events through the long lens of history. Now, I find the most compelling and unsettling moment is the current one. At the center of the story is a suspicious death and a tempestuous relationship between neighbors living in an rural, unincorporated foothill community. It’s also, more broadly, a story of survival, and a story about the ways we reconcile the life we’ve lived with the life once imagined or expected.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE by Lisa Moore Ramee

I first met Lisa Moore Ramee at an author event, and bought her debut middle grade novel, A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE, at an SCBWI event in October. Her book has been cited as one of NPR's best books of 2019, and was mentioned in Booklist as one of their Top Ten #OwnVoices Middle Grade novels. Have a look:

Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)

But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what?

Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn't think that's for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum.

Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn't face her fear, she'll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.

According to your website bio, you wrote your first book in second grade (Me too!--it was called Stewert and the Wind, and was basically a rip-off of The Muppets Take Manhattan). What was that first book about, and in what ways, if any, did it inspire your writing journey?

My book was called Sky Palace and told the story of Princess Avistina (because even then I was a killer at creating names) who was unhappy living with the gods and goddesses and wanted to be with humans. (Let me add this was before Disney's The Little Mermaid movie and before Rick Riordan brought so much attention back to mythology. Lol) I think even at seven I was interested in exploring themes of not belonging and writing stories that would appeal to a young audience. I also gave my mc a small bit of personal power, something I still try to instill with my characters.

Lisa First Book from Second Grade

I love characters that have personal power! A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE explores finding identity and conquering fear in new and unfamiliar environments. How did Shayla's story form as you wrote it? 

When I first started the book, a had a few primary goals, that all can be narrowed down to say, I wanted to write Judy Blume for Black girls. Which is not to say that Black girls can't read and enjoy Judy Blume--I certainly did--but rather, I wanted Black girls to have a story where not only could they identify with the themes of friendship and crushes and family but also see themselves. The theme of social justice came later and was a direct result of all the stories I saw on the news, (seemingly every day) that showed yet another Black person being killed by police instead of simply being arrested/questioned, and I started imagining how it would feel to see those news stories if I was only twelve? How would it make me feel about being Black? How would I feel being told over and over that because of the color of my skin, my life matters less than others, or perhaps not at all? I knew that Shayla had to be affected by these questions and ultimately I knew I had to show her take a stand. Another thing that developed was the character of Bernard who became a larger part of the story. His character gave me a great opportunity to show how a kid might be judged too quickly.

And I'm so glad that kids with those experiences can see themselves in books like yours. What kinds of books would you like to see more of in Middle Grade?

Always more books with kids of color. We've made some progress but we have a long way to go. I'd also like to see more books that are at the higher end of middle grade. There's a noticeable gap between traditional middle grade and young adult and I think we're missing a whole lot of readers who want stories that speak to their specific age group. There's a big difference between an eighth grader and a junior in high school. But in addition to that I want more middle grade FANTASY with the main character being a person of color--especially with boy mc's.

Sounds wonderful. What are some of your current projects? 

My next book is another MG contemporary but the main character, Jenae, is very different from Shayla. Jenae wants to be invisible and left alone. She doesn't want friends. She just wants to fix her older brother who is home from college with a basketball injury. But a new boy is determined to befriend her, and eventually Jenae has to decide if she's willing to give up this new friendship in her effort to never stand out or up. I love the book because it touches on the fear of public speaking (something I struggled with all through school) and it looks at what history we remember and respect and whether we should still value celebrities after we know of their objectionable beliefs. It will be out summer 2020. Right now, I'm working on a middle grade fantasy that goes directly to my desire to see a Black boy front in center in a fantastical world. I'm really excited about it--even though the writing has been challenging. Hopefully an editor will love it as much as I do.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

REVERIE by Ryan La Sala

REVERIE has been on my To-Be-Read list ever since I connected with Ryan La Sala on Twitter. I'm happy to announce that the book finally debuted yesterday. Have a look:

All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember how he got there, what happened after, and why his life seems so different now. And it’s not just Kane who’s different, the world feels off, reality itself seems different.

As Kane pieces together clues, three almost-strangers claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident. And when a sinister force threatens to alter reality for good, they will have to do everything they can to stop it before it unravels everything they know.

This wildly imaginative debut explores what happens when the secret worlds that people hide within themselves come to light.

According to your website, you are represented by Veronica Park at Fuse Literary. How did you know Veronica was the right agent for you? 

She understood my villain. It sounds like an odd criteria — usually you’d want someone to really emphasize with your hero — but for me, the hallmark of understanding REVERIE is understanding why Poesy does what she does, and what it matters that there’s a great deal of sympathy for her in the book’s narrative. That’s always been the case with the reactions to REVERIE that I value; a critical understanding of the villain.

Plus she goes by Agent V, which reminded me of Sailor Venus (who goes by Sailor V sometimes). And if I were to have one Sailor Scout as my agent, it would absolutely be Sailor V(enus). They share a lot of great qualities: compassion, leadership, smarts, resourcefulness, and a sense for drama. I appreciate those things in a business partnership, and in an artistic partnership.

And lastly, Veronica understands potential in a way that is really impactful for queer creators. First, she believes in queer story tellers, and is a huge advocate for such a thing. But she also understands the harsher battle queer creators face in a largely heteronormative industry, and having her understanding alongside my project was essential in finding the right home for REVERIE.

Lesson learned? I strongly encourage writers to ask both "who will be my best advocate?" AND "who will be the best advocate for the work I can't help but produce?" Veronica is both of those people for me.

Those are excellent questions to consider in looking for an agent! You've stated that you've "always lived on the partition between the real and the unreal." Can you elaborate, and in what ways, if any, did this inspire the worldbuilding in REVERIE?

Yes, of course! From a young age, I used had the urge to participate in the stories that most inspired me. It might have been because there was no one like me in stories (being gay, and very flamboyant, and proud about it), or it could have just been the self-centered nature of a child. But I never outgrew it. I’ve forever sought to take my wild imagining and externalize them, map them onto my own world, and live among them. As a kid, that meant roleplaying and acting out stories and participating in drama. It also meant pretending to have magic powers all the time, and collecting any strange artifact that I thought might curse me or transport me to a magical land.

As an adult, I’m very conscious of the power I can exert on the reality around me. I am more focused in my creative pursuits. I spend less time lying about magical powers, and more time writing about magical powers. I spend less time role-playing heroics, and more time crafting elaborate schemes to get my gay heroes in front of kids, and into classrooms, and out there on social media.

So I sort of see myself as the line between the real and unreal. Kane, the hero in REVERIE, occupies a similar position. He's halfway in, halfway out of fantasy at all times, and as a result he is the person best suited to navigate the reveries (a dreamy phenomenon taking over his town). He understands how stories work, how adventures can turn ugly, and so he's able to navigate in many different kind of stories.

As for the reveries themselves, many are built off of recurring daydreams that have swept me up at one point or another. I can't give specifics, but many of the more bizarre portions of the book are very much related to the things that scare me, captivate me, or disgust me.  As a kid, I used fantasy to deal with a reality I didn't love, so it's kind of fitting that these fantasies now align characters that are conversely trying to reclaim their own love of reality.

What a great way to build a fantastical world based on the reality you experienced. What are your thoughts (and/or opinions) about the upcoming CATS movie? 

THANK YOU for asking about this.

I adore CATS, and unironically. I sort of went as a joke my first time because I won tickets to see it, and heard it was bananas. But then I fell in love, and I saw it two more times that year on Broadway, and then went to the national tour. I am super excited about the movie. Here is why:

CATS defies so much about what we think a story should be. Most people say there’s no plot, but in fact the plot is just incredibly hard to interpret as a plot, since the show is truly about a bunch of humanoid CATS singing about themselves. Ultimately, they also have a goal, but it almost doesn’t matter because the point of the show is uncanny spectacle, self-referential lyrics, and shenanigans. It’s this huge, elaborate hoax dressed up as a Broadway show, and it’s been baffling the public for years, yet folks love it.

LOVE it.

I love CATS, and I love the confusion is causes. I’m so excited that the movie looks like it’s going to be this gorgeous, grotesque spectacle. It’s creating the exact level of artistic panic that I absorb to become more powerful. More Ryan, if you will.

And….the movie will feature Jennifer Hudson belting Memory. This isn’t an opinion. It’s wish-fulfillment. It’s how I know the universe is looking out for my very specific, very narrow interests.

I think I'm interested now too! What are some of your current projects? 

My immediate next project now that REVERIE is out is: playing Pokemon Sword. I just bought it today, and I can’t wait to explore the new region. Aside from Pokemon, I’m also going to work on some cosplays I put off this fall, so I have some killer looks ready to go for cons this spring and summer.

Recently I got to write an essay on about my lifelong obsession with Sailor Moon, and that was super cool! I’m hoping I get to do even more essay writing, now that REVERIE is out, and now that people are beginning to associate me with a queer perspective on culture and media.

I’m also in the midst of editing my second book, due out in late 2020. It’s about arts and crafts, cosplay, relationship drama, and the lessons learned in the world of competitive costuming. It’s not related to REVERIE at all, so I’m a little anxious folks are going to be upset with me for doing that and not working on, say, a sequel, but I’m hoping I get to do both. Interpret that as a hint, if you want. 🙂

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The DARK TOMORROW series by Jeremiah Franklin

The last author feature of November brings us DARK TOMORROW: RISE OF THE CROW and the sequel, CULT OF THE CROW. Have a look at this series from Month9Books:

When a deadly virus decimates most of Earth's population, 16-year-old Sawyer Bradshaw finds he is both immune and alone in a world that has descended into violent chaos. Armed with only his estranged father's shotgun, and an unrelenting desire to stay alive, Sawyer discovers that he not only has an uncanny knack for cheating death, but also for taking lives. It’s not long before he meets his match in a fierce and cunning teenage girl named Sara. By her side, Sawyer emerges as more than just a natural-born killer but as a leader among men. Nevertheless, as quick as the young survivors fall desperately in love, they find themselves caught up in a series of conspiracies and twisted struggles for power. They soon realize that love, betrayal, and death tend to walk hand in hand.

Kill or be killed is the new normal for Sawyer, Sara, and the survivors of the deadly virus that has all but annihilated the human race. With the death of Sara’s father and the disappearance of the strange boy known as Mason, the teens are left reeling, but alongside the enigmatic ex-Marine, Edward, they soon forge an alliance with a collection of young survivors led by the sage and charismatic Kai. Nevertheless, when their new companions begin to mysteriously disappear, the group is once again thrown into a desperate struggle for survival, where only the most cunning and relentless will prevail. Ultimately, among whispers of top-secret military bunkers, lost gold, and a shadowy group known as the Cult of the Crow, Sawyer and Sara must face the grim realization that death and betrayal lurks in every corner, and when it comes to the end of the world--nothing is what it seems.

According to your bio, you are a former private investigator. In what ways, if any, does this experience manifest in your creative work?

When you are on surveillance as a private investigator, you morph into something not unlike an invisible bystander, and you are given a rare opportunity to anonymously observe people’s behavior in all its complexities. Sometimes, you witness first-hand what some would call the “dark side” of human nature, and it’s not often pretty. However, at the very same time, you also have these amazing opportunities to right wrongs, to seek justice, and to solve real-life problems for people who need your help. I think this contradiction between good and evil, and right and wrong, comes out in my writing, and that my experience as a private investigator has given me some insight into what truly lurks inside the hearts of men.

In lots of people, I'll bet! In DARK TOMORROW: RISE OF THE CROW  I'm especially intrigued by the ex-Marine, Edward. How did he come to you, and in what ways did he surprise you?

Edward is a unique and interesting character in many ways, and he is without question an amalgamation of several “real-life” people that I have known. Unlike many of the characters in Dark Tomorrow, Edward is also no teenager, and as a former Marine, he has experienced life events that my younger characters have yet to encounter. At the same time, Edward also enters the story with a fair amount of emotional baggage, and I think it was surprising to see where these personal issues took Edward as the story unfolds. In the end, he makes some truly startling decisions, and I think the reader gets a chance to look into the troubled mind of the complex character that is Edward.

He definitely sounds interesting. What do you wish stories had more of? 

Realism. While I definitely enjoy fantasies and the supernatural as much as the next avid reader, I really enjoy reading fiction that takes a realistic perspective. I know that in my own books, I strove to build a post-apocalyptic world that was not only intriguing, but also plausible. This can be difficult as a writer, mostly because there are no easy outs—characters don’t get to conveniently cast a spell or use their secret powers to solve a problem. In realistic fiction, the characters are bound by the laws of reality, and as much as we all love a character with super powers or magical elements, I think readers also enjoy making connections to characters who are painfully real, and who must overcome challenges that we can all relate to.

Indeed. And I've seen some of those painfully real characters in SF/F too. What are some of your current projects? 

Right now, I am right in the middle of the final edits for the third book in the Dark Tomorrow trilogy, Fall of the Crow. It’s the final chapter in the series and it is due to come out sometime in early summer of next year. I am also working on the first book in a completely new dystopian YA series that I’m really excited about. Like my previous books, it’s set in the not-too distant future, but this novel has more elements of science fiction, and while I can’t say too much about it, I think it will appeal to a wide range of readers who enjoy a fast-paced and thrilling YA story.

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, November 20, 2019


After I featured Katie Henry here, I couldn't wait to see what book she'd come up with next. LET'S CALL IT A DOOMSDAY offers an interesting lens into what it's like to deal with anxiety, and how to figure out how live, even when the world might be ending:

There are so many ways the world could end. There could be a fire. A catastrophic flood. A super eruption that spews lakes of lava. Ellis Kimball has made note of all possible scenarios, and she is prepared for each one. What she doesn’t expect is meeting Hannah Marks in her therapist’s waiting room. Hannah calls their meeting fate. After all, Ellis is scared about the end of the world; Hannah knows when it’s going to happen.

Despite Ellis’s anxiety — about what others think of her, about what she’s doing wrong, about the safety of her loved ones — the two girls become fast friends. As Ellis tries to help Hannah decipher the details of her doomsday premonition, she learns there are secrets Hannah isn’t telling her. But with time ticking down, the search for answers only raises more questions. When does it happen? Who will believe them? How do you prepare for the end of the world when it feels like your life is just getting started?

In our last interview you said you were working on your next standalone YA contemporary novel "like there was no tomorrow." What did you experience while working this second book that was different from other books you've written?

Ha! I’m so glad you remembered that line. During our last interview, I was working on LET’S CALL IT A DOOMSDAY but couldn’t yet talk about the details--hence the oblique reference to the end of the world.

It took me three years to write my debut novel, HERETICS ANONYMOUS. I was asked to write the first draft of LET’S CALL IT A DOOMSDAY in about four months. Writing under a deadline is very different than writing at your own pace, especially since now, there were expectations about my writing and my style--not just from my editor, but from readers. It was tough to block all that out, at first.

Ha! I see what you did there. And I'm glad you could block out the extra noise. I love the premise of LET'S CALL IT A DOOMSDAY. How did you know that this was a book you needed to write?

When I was about fourteen, I was obsessed with survival. I didn’t limit myself to the literal Apocalypse, like Ellis does, but that was definitely included. I had folders upon folders of printed-out Geocities website pages detailing how to survive being stranded at sea, attacked by a bear, nuclear fallout, plane crashes. I was afraid of everything and truly believed the only way to protect myself was to obsessively, anxiously research all the ways the world could kill me.

I’d had this idea--a story about a friendship between someone who fears the world ending and someone who has seen it happen--for a long time, but in the last months of 2016, I started thinking about it a lot more. For big, political reasons and small, personal reasons, I felt that same kind of certainty I had at fourteen, that the world was slowly collapsing on itself.

I’d been thinking about this story for years, in different forms and with different plots, but the only thing that’s remained constant is the theme of belief.  Why do we believe what we do, who gets to determine what’s believable and what isn’t, where’s the line between belief and delusion? What ways do gender, or mental illness, or sexuality influence what we believe, especially about ourselves?

I knew I wanted to answer those questions, and I knew this book was the way I could do it.

I love when I can find those kinds of questions confronted in books (I often encounter them as a librarian too, but it's a necessary job hazard!). What do you feel are the necessary elements of a good story?

I’m sure everyone has a different answer to this, but for me, I need great dialogue and characters with depth. I started off as a playwright, where you really only have what people say to one another to communicate so much to the audience, and that probably explains why I’m still so focused on dialogue, as a writer and a reader. I’m not the kind of reader who lingers too long on beautiful descriptions or needs a fact-paced plot, though of course every story needs descriptions and plot. But what makes a story sing for me is the people within them and the words they use to connect with each other.

Beautifully said. If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?

I wrote my first YA novel when I was fourteen, and because I’m a Type A Monster who lives for research the way other people live for beach vacations, I queried a bunch of agents with it. No one offered (because it was terrible) and I was super disappointed. So if I could talk to my fourteen-year-old writer self, I’d tell her:

“Just because that first book didn’t get published doesn’t mean it was wasted effort. You learned a lot of useful things you’ve going to use later on in your career. And Katie. Oh my god. You are going to be so unspeakably glad that book didn’t get published."

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

THE WICKED TREE by Kristin Thorsness

In writing a middle grade book, I'm also widening my reading palate to include more middle grade titles. One of the fall titles from Month9Books, THE WICKED TREE, offers just the right amount of "spooky" for middle grade readers:

Eleven-year-old Tavorian Kreet hates it when money troubles force his mom to move them in with his great-grandmother – though the historic house and grounds are pretty awesome. Tav is told to stay out of the estate’s woods, but he can’t resist the chance to explore.

After Tav’s first trip into the woods, he begins to have strange dreams about a supernatural tree. The dreams start out pleasant, but soon grow dark and menacing. On a dare, Tav ventures further into the woods with his new friend Harper, and they meet a mysterious, mute boy named Edward who lives in a decrepit cabin there. Though he’s unable to communicate where he came from or why he lives alone, in clear distress he scrawls two words: Bad Tree.

Tav knows what it’s like to be afraid. If he’d been brave enough to act four years ago, he could have saved his dad from the fire that took their home. But he wasn’t, and he’s been trying to redeem himself since. Now Tav is determined to help Edward. He enlists Harper, and together they search the estate for clues to Edward’s identity and how to help him.

While searching, Tav and Harper find antique photo albums, ancient diaries, and a secret laboratory. They piece together the Kreet family history, and discover a curse that’s been waiting generations for an heir. Tav’s dreams grow more ominous, and he realizes time is running short. To save himself and his friends, Tav must go to the heart of the woods, find the Bad Tree, and confront an evil magic before it consumes him completely.

In what ways, if any, did your experience as an elementary school teacher inform your writing?

I loved the five years I spent teaching 5th and 6th grade. Tweens are my favorite; they’re sophisticated enough to examine and question their world, yet still in a phase where anything—including magic! —feels possible.

While in the classroom, I met one-on-one with my students multiple times a week for reading conferences. We’d talk about the book they were reading, whether they liked it, why/why not, what they would change about the story if they could, etc. I chose books for read aloud based on these conversations and bought books for my classroom library that I thought would entice my more reluctant readers. I’d give recommendations to my students, and they’d recommend books to me too. I loved connecting with my students over books—it was always my favorite part of the school day.
At that time, I wasn’t actively thinking about writing books myself, but when I left teaching to focus on raising my kids and writing, I found those reading conference conversations popping up in my mind often. The insight they gave me into the reading lives of middle graders was invaluable as I started tossing plot ideas around. There was never any question in my mind about which age demographic I would write for, and I think that’s due to the enjoyable years I spent teaching, and the wonderful students I had.

What a great path you've been on! And I love the characters in THE WICKED TREE, especially Edward. How did the characters in this book come to you, and how do their journeys intertwine?

Thanks so much! Edward has an extra special place in my heart too. I don’t want to talk about him too much for fear of giving things away, but I love that he made an impression on you!

The two main characters, Tav and Harper, came to me in succession. Everything started with Tav. I had the idea for a story about a boy who would be plagued by a familial curse and I looked up lists of names that meant sadness or misfortune and the name Tavorian jumped out at me the moment I saw it. As Tav began to take shape into his introverted, worrying self, I realized that while I wanted him to have a bravery arc in the story, he wasn’t going to take those first few steps on his own. He needed someone plucky to help push him along. That’s when Harper started taking shape in my mind. She’s sure of herself, knows what she wants, and goes after it. Plopping the two of them into a spooky mystery together worked well. Tav recognizes dangers and overthinks all the possibilities, and Harper has the bravery and quick thinking under pressure to get them safely through.

Also, a fun fact, Mosley the cat is exactly modeled after my sister’s cat. The only difference is my sister’s Mosley is only five.

I love that Harper came about as a way to solve Tav's character flaws! What, in your opinion, is the most difficult part of the writing process? 

For me, drafting is the hardest part, hands down. I know many authors who say drafting is their favorite part, that they love the excitement of seeing the story come to life, but that’s not the case with me. I really struggle with self-doubt during the drafting phase. I worry that the words and scenes I’m stringing together won’t amount to an actual story in the end. To try and combat this, I always outline before I begin writing. That way, when the anxiety sets in, I can look at the outline and remind myself that there IS a full story and it IS going somewhere. This helps, but I still can’t make myself really and truly believe my story works it until I’ve typed the words ‘the end’. Once those words are down, I feel my spirits lift and I’m ready to settle into my very favorite part of the writing process: polishing a (complete!) story until it’s something I’m proud of.

Indeed. What are some of your current projects? 

I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say because the ink’s not quite dry, if you know what I mean, but readers who enjoy The Wicked Tree and wonder what happens to Tav next won’t be disappointed. 😉

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Witchlands Series, by Susan Dennard

I've been a fan of Susan Dennard for a while. I first started following her newsletter, and then I saw her at YallWest earlier this year. There, I bought the first book in the Witchlands series, TRUTHWITCH...only to lose it before Susan could sign it! The most recent in the series, BLOODWITCH, debuted earlier this year:

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she's a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden - lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult's true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls' heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

High in a snowy mountain range, a monastery that holds more than just faith clings to the side of a cliff. Below, thwarted by a lake, a bloodthirsty horde of raiders await the coming of winter and the frozen path to destroy the sanctuary and its secrets.

The Bloodwitch Aeduan has teamed up with the Threadwitch Iseult and the magical girl Owl to stop the destruction. But to do so, he must confront his own father, and his past.

I both love and appreciate the authenticity you bring to your author life, especially through your newsletter. In what ways do you feel this honesty has helped both you and your readers? 

I am someone who doesn't really know what she's feeling or thinking until she's put it into written form. So for me, the newsletter has been both extremely educational (oh! That's how I write a book!) as well as cathartic (dammit, that did suck, and that's okay).

And I know my honesty has helped readers and aspiring authors (published authors too!) since I hear it all the time. And I totally understand why, since it's the reason I started doing my blog and newsletter in the first place. You just want to know you're not the only person failing, and it is truly so, so, SO comforting to realize, "Oh, hey, I'm not alone!"

When I was aspiring and then my first few years of being published, I would cling to any kind of honest advice about failure and the difficulties of publication. But it was hard to find back then! These days--fortunately--there's been a real push for transparency, which is good for everyone.

Indeed it is. In BLOODWITCH, we get a glimpse into Bloodwitch Aeduan's past. In what ways, if any, did his journey surprise you? 

I mean...none? I've known where I was going with him for such a long time. In fact, that whole book was such a big pay off. I've been planting seeds and marching toward some of those moments, so getting to write them was amazing. And having readers read them was even better!!

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

Right now, my focus is on the next Witchlands book--and of course, The Luminaries (on Twitter) which has now been going for almost 4 months. That's been a really fun break to dabble in each day. ;)

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

A PINCH OF PHOENIX, the third in the Lailu Loganberry (Mystic Cooking Chronicles) series, by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski

Lailu Loganberry (Mystic Cooking Chronicles) has been one of my favorite Middle Grade series ever since I featured it here, along with Heidi Lang's book, RULES OF THE RUFF. A PINCH OF PHOENIX offers a high-stakes conclusion to the series, and it's a world I'll be sorry to see the back of:

Lailu is in hot water. After the events of the Week of Masks, Wren keeps sending insect-like automatons to attack Lailu. However, they’re more irritating than dangerous, and Lailu is more worried about the elves, who have been quiet so far. Too quiet.

When Lailu heads out of the city on a hunt with Greg, the elves finally strike. They put up a magical shield separating the Velvet Forest from the rest of the city. Now no human can enter…and unfortunately for Lailu and Greg, no human can leave, either. Ryon shows up to save them both, claiming they were caught unintentionally, but Lailu isn’t sure she believes him.

Tensions between the elves and the scientists are reaching a boiling point, and the question is which side will snap first. And in the middle of it all is Lailu. Trusted by both sides, she’s selected to deliver messages and help negotiate a truce between the parties before war becomes inevitable.

Easy as pie, right? Not so much. Lailu’s new role as mediator may be one recipe that's headed for disaster!

Book 1: A Dash of Dragon

A thirteen-year-old master chef has a lot to prove as she tries to run a five-star restaurant, cook the perfect dragon cuisine, repay a greedy loan shark, and outsmart the Elven mafia.

Lailu Loganberry is an expert at hunting dangerous beasts. And she’s even better at cooking them.

For years Lailu has trained to be the best chef in the city. Her specialty? Monster cuisine. When her mentor agrees to open a new restaurant with Lailu as the head chef, she’s never been more excited. But her celebration is cut short when she discovers that her mentor borrowed money from Mr. Boss, a vicious loan shark. If they can’t pay him back, Lailu will not only lose her restaurant—she’ll have to cook for Mr. Boss for the rest of her life.

As Lailu scrambles to raise the money in time, she becomes trapped in a deadly conflict between the king’s cold-blooded assassin, the terrifying elf mafia, and Mr. Boss’ ruthless crew. Worst of all, her only hope in outsmarting Mr. Boss lies with the one person she hates—Greg, the most obnoxious boy in school and her rival in the restaurant business.

But like Lailu always says, if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. And she’s determined to succeed, no matter the cost!

Book 2: A Hint of Hydra

Thirteen-year-old chef Lailu Loganberry must stop a war between the elves and scientists in this follow-up to A Dash of Dragon, which Kirkus Reviews calls “a recipe for success.”

It’s the Week of Masks, a festival held to chase away evil spirits. But Lailu doesn’t have time to worry about demons. She has bigger fish to fry—or rather, griffons, now that she’s been asked to prepare a mystical feast for the king’s executioner, Lord Elister.

Unfortunately Lailu’s meal is overshadowed by the scientists’ latest invention: automatons, human-shaped machines that will respond to their masters’ every order. Most people are excited by the possibilities, but the mechanical men leave Lailu with a bad taste in her mouth.

Even worse, the elves still blame the scientists for the attacks on them weeks ago, and Lailu worries that the elves might be cooking up revenge. So when she and her sorta-rival-turned-almost-friend Greg stumble across the body of a scientist, the elves are the prime suspects. With help from Greg, her best friend Hannah, and the sneaky, winking spy Ryon, Lailu has to discover the truth behind the murder, and soon—because hostilities between the elves and the scientists are about to boil over faster than hydra stew.

And just ask any chef: war is bad for business.

What do you enjoy most about collaborating together? 

KATI: Besides having someone to share ideas with, I like that when I'm struggling to write a scene I can pass it to Heidi and she might have an idea on how to write it.

HEIDI: I like that about collaborating, too. Also whenever I write, I have this terrible mixture of pride and also extreme self doubt. So I’ll write something, feel like it’s good, and then immediately worry it’s actually terrible. Knowing Kati will be reading through and revising helps me feel better about it - I know if it really is terrible, she’ll tell me, and then we can fix it.

Sounds like a great way to keep perspective. A PINCH OF PHOENIX is the final installment in Lailu Loganberry's story. What about this world will be hardest to leave?  

KATI: Definitely the characters. While I loved writing some of the action scenes and the jokes, the characters for me are what made the story so fun.

HEIDI: Same here. We started writing the first book back in 2011, so we’ve been with these same characters for a long time. I’m really going to miss them.

Me too! What do you think is the most common misconception about Middle Grade novels? 

KATI: People think middle grade novels are just for young kids, but they aren't. Middle Grade novels are for anyone who loves a good story.

HEIDI: Also, there is such a thing as upper middle grade, which fits in between middle grade and young adult. It’s hard to find, since all middle grade is lumped together, but it’s there. And it’s the space that I most enjoy writing in, generally geared toward kids ages 12-14ish.

I love writing for that age group also! If you each could pick three books that your readers would appreciate, what would they be and why?

KATI: MUSEUM OF THIEVES by Lian Tanner, because the concept is just so over the top and fun, I couldn't put the book down. MRS. SMITH'S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS by Beth McMullen (also featured here) has strong girl characters and non-stop action. And THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL by Soman Chainani had a such a unique idea and world. :)

HEIDI: Ooh, good choices. I would add Anna Meriano’s LOVE SUGAR MAGIC because it’s excellent, and it also combines magic and cooking, although in a very different way. PRISONER OF ICE AND SNOW by Ruth Lauren, because it’s set in a unique fantasy world and also features a heroine who will stop at nothing to achieve her goal. And coming in early October, Sarah Jean Horwitz’s THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE, because it is also full of characters who are in that gray area between good and bad.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

More in the Lailu Loganberry (Mystic Cooking Chronicles) series:

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019


I've been a fan of Stacey Lee ever since I featured her here. I'm even more excited about her newest book, THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL. It's a historical novel about a servant who moonlights as an advice columnist, and it's gotten tons of great reviews. Have a look:

By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, "Dear Miss Sweetie." When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society's ills, but she's not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender.

While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta's most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light.

In our last interview, you said, "My favorite thing about writing is that it gives me a chance to make people feel something." Is this still true, and are there other favorite things you've discovered?

It is still my favorite thing. In terms of the actual writing, I love
writing dialogue and I love creating unique scenes. One of my favorite
parts of writing THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL are the porch scenes between Jo
and Nathan, the love interest, when she's trying to stay in character
as Miss Sweetie. The best scenes have things going on 'behind the

They definitely do. And the original title for THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL was "Dear Miss Sweetie," wasn't it? In what ways do you feel the finalized title best captures Jo Kuan and her story?

I think it brings in the concept of being hidden away as well as the
idea that there are levels in society with the serving class
downstairs, and the the served class upstairs. (No, I haven't seen
Downton Abbey yet but I believe this shares a similar concept!)

It does--but I also think that your story adds an extra layer of intrigue. It was also really helpful to hear you talk about THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL and how the story developed in ways you didn't expect. What would you tell writers who are currently grappling with a manuscript and they're not exactly sure where the real story is?

Take some time away from it; share your problem with critique
partners, and get their feedback. Also, I think that the struggle
helps you build a better story. I wouldn't have figured out the true
story unless I had gone in several wrong directions, felt them out,
realized why they were wrong, and then from there, figured out the
right path. Failure isn't the opposite of success but a part of it.
Keep struggling, and you'll get there.

Great advice. If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?

To live life to its fullest; it sounds so cliche, but those life
experiences will actually help you tell a richer story. You can't
quite describe a heartbreak until you've gone through one.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

WRITER'S DIGEST GUIDE TO MAGAZINE WRITING and other books by Kerrie Flanagan

I met Kerrie Flanagan (who also writes under the pen names C.K. Wiles and C.G. Harris) at this year's Colorado Writing Workshop. Kerrie was not only one of the event's main organizers, but she presented a really helpful workshop on publishing.

In The Writer's Digest Guide to Magazine Article Writing, accomplished freelance writer, author, and instructor Kerrie Flanagan demystifies the idea that writing for magazines is a difficult process meant only for those with journalism degrees.
Drawing from her 20 years as a freelance writer and instructor, Flanagan takes you step-by-step through the entire process, sharing her knowledge and experiences in a friendly, conversational way.

With more than a dozen sample articles, expert advice from magazine editors and successful freelance writers, practical tips on researching potential publications and instructions on crafting compelling query letters, you'll find the tools needed to write and publish magazine articles.

Kristin Hughes swore she would never work in the theater again, but that’s exactly where the employment agency sent her for her first accounting job. When performer and old flame, Devon Dashner appears, he doesn’t recognize his ex-lover. Kristin would rather smack Devon than work with him, but with money tight and desperation even tighter, she sets out to finish the job and keep her identity, and her emerging desires private—at least for now.

After she’s had a taste of the theater owner’s crazy antics, and a bookkeeping system from the dark ages, Kristin wonders if she made a mistake agreeing to stay, but Devon’s cunning charm and shirtless work attire are too tantalizing to ignore. After an evening of unwitting voyeurism and a party filled with costumes and lavish libations, Kristin’s secrets are threatened and she must make a choice; disappear or expose everything, and risk being rejected all over again.

Gabe is recruited to join the most dangerous organization the world has never heard about. As a double agent he has to fight within their ranks to stop them, all with no training, no experience and no support. If he’s caught, they will tear him apart. But that’s not the real twist.

Gabe is dead, he lives in Hell and Judas Iscariot just became his new boss.

Judas assigns Gabe a beautiful new partner with plans to sow a disease that could wipe out the modern world. Without revealing his true identity, he must find a way to deal with insect wielding super agents, firestorms, and worst of all, the nauseating envisage travel to get Topside to save the earth.

I enjoyed your workshop on publishing. What do you think is the biggest myth that holds writers back in the publishing process?

I don’t think there are big myths that hold writers back. Most seem to understand that publishing isn’t easy. But what I do see holding back writers is fear. The fear of rejection, and the fear that their work isn’t good enough. For many this can be paralyzing, and they end up not doing anything with their novel, short story, essay… and it sits in a desk or on a computer, never be read by anyone else. Fear is a powerful deterrent, but it can be overcome with a shift in mindset. Just like every person is unique, every writer is unique. If I give a writing prompt to a group of 100 writers and each one would create something different. There may be similar elements, but the voice, word choice, style will be unique to each individual writer. And because of that, writers should feel a responsibility to share the stories, essays, poems they felt compelled to create, because if they don’t put it out into the world, no one will. When we hold back our writing because of fear, we lose any opportunity to have our work resonate with readers.

This is so true--and exactly what I needed to hear! SHOWTIME RENDEZVOUS, which you published as C.K. Wiles, takes place in a theater setting. What about this backdrop was most fun to write? 

My co-author and I chose this setting, because it seemed unique and theaters are full of entertaining, quirky people. Theaters also have lots of different types of settings within the building. There are offices, backstage, the lobby, balcony, the stage, dressing rooms, catwalks… we had so much fun exploring our fictional set and creating different scenes in the various locations. Because of all the options, we never had to leave the building. The characters did leave, but that was always “off camera” and could be talked about by them, but everything in the stories took place in the theater. Even after three books, there were still places we hadn’t used yet and in book three a secret is revealed that added even more possibilities!

Exciting! You also have books with photography and poetry. What do you like about each of these mediums, and in what ways, if any, do they help you refill your creative well?

The Words & Images coffee-table books I did with Suzette McIntyre pushed me creatively and I loved it. I have always enjoyed photography and playing around with poetry. Suzette is a professional photographer, as well as a writer, and one day we were talking about these mediums; individually these they’re great, but what if we combined the two? What if we approached them in a way where they enhanced one another? The idea got us both excited and we created a class that combined them. She taught the photography and I taught the poetry.

The class was success and it inspired us to make the books together. While working on them, I definitely refilled my creative well and at times it was over flowing. At the core of creativity is a curious spirit and surprising your brain with something new. With this project I approached photography and poetry differently than I had in the past, keeping my mind constantly engaged. Suzette was an amazing partner in this venture and inspired me to think outside the box with my photos.

We were working on the last book in the series, Reflection and I had a trip to France planned and I told her I was bummed because it was supposed to be rainy while we were in Paris. Suzette got excited and said that it was wonderful. I thought she had lost her mind. She went on to explain that with rain, comes puddles and puddles reflect the world around them. During my visit to the Eiffel tower, while everyone looked up, I looked down. Sure enough, in one of the large puddles, was a beautiful reflection of the tower. Now, I became excited about the rain.

Once I had all my photos, I went back through and added the poetry. The purpose was not to explain what was in the photo but to enhance it. To think about what couldn’t be seen in the image; smells, sounds, emotions… By themselves the photos and poems were great, but together, they were powerful.

Extremely. What are some of your current projects? 

I love to try new things and have a variety of projects going at once, because as I mentioned earlier, it keeps my brain engaged. One current project has me very excited.

The other project I am really excited about is the urban fantasy series, The Judas Files, I am writing with my incredible co-author, Chuck Harrelson. It is like a mash up of Dresden Files, Sandman Slim and Good Omens. In the first book, The Nine, the main character, Gabe, is making the best of his afterlife in hell and all is going well until he gets summoned to the office of Judas Iscariot who insists Gabe become a double agent for the Judas Agency.

I love working on these books. One reason is because Chuck and I have a great writing partnership making the whole process fun and fuels our creativity. The engaging story line is filled with action and adventure, so we are never bored writing it. Plus, the banter between Gabe and his new partner is a ton of fun to write. We have started the second book, The Dominion, and I look forward to digging deep into that storyline.

We are super excited because the audiobook version of The Nine was just released. We found the best narrator who makes the story come to life. MacLeod Andrews narrated the Reckoners series and the Sandman Slim series, along with many others. When we heard him, we knew he was the perfect narrator for The Judas Files. He does more than just read the book he performs it with different voices and does an incredible job.

You can listen to a sample here: This is our first audiobook and we are very excited to share it with everyone. It will be available on all audiobook platforms and through Author’s Direct:

Kerrie’s Bio:
Kerrie Flanagan is an author, writing consultant, presenter, and freelance writer with over 20 years’ experience in the publishing industry. She’s the author of, The Writer's Digest Guide to Magazine Article Writing and creator of the Magazine Writing Blueprint. In addition, she has published twelve other books with a co-author, under the pen names, C.K. Wiles and C.G. Harris. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications and anthologies including Writer's Digest, Alaska Magazine, The Writer, FamilyFun, and six Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her background in teaching, and enjoyment of helping writers has led her to present at writing conferences across the country and teach continuing studies classes through Stanford University.

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