Wednesday, August 14, 2019


When I met M.M. Choinaurd, and heard about her book THE DANCING GIRLS, I knew I had to spread word about this crime thriller series and its amazing heroine. The second book, TAKEN TO THE GRAVE, just went up for pre-order on Amazon:

When Jeanine Hammond is found dead in a hotel in the picture-perfect town of Oakhust, newly-promoted Detective Jo Fournier is thrown into a disturbing case. Who would murder this shy, loving wife and leave her body posed like a ballerina?

Jo wants to know why Jeanine's husband is so controlling about money, and where Jeanine's wedding ring is, but before she and her team can get close to the truth, another woman is found strangled in a hotel, arms placed gracefully above her head like a dancer.

While digging through old case files, Jo makes a terrifying link to a series of cold cases: each victim bears the same strangulation marks. But the FBI won't take Jo seriously, and if she disobeys direct orders by investigating the killings outside of her jurisdiction, it will mean the end of the career she's already sacrificed so much for, even her relationship.

Just as Jo is beginning to lose hope, she finds messages on the victims' computers that make her question whether these small-town women were hiding big lies. Jo thinks this is the missing link, but she knows the murderer is moments away from selecting his next victim. Will it lead her to the most twisted killer of her career in time, or will another innocent life be lost?

When a girl’s body is discovered in a park in the sleepy Massachusetts town of Oakhurst, local detective Jo is shocked to the core. Because the girl is the second innocent victim to turn up dead in three days. And just like the first, a tarot card has been left by the body. The meaning of the card: betrayal.

After uncovering a series of threatening messages targeting the girl, a student at the university, and the first victim, her teacher, Jo thinks she’s locked the killer in her crosshairs. The primary suspect is a volatile ex-military student with an axe to grind for failing grades, and the frightened town is out for his blood. But the next day, a much-loved member of the community is found dead in her home, a tarot card in her mail. There’s no clear motive to link her death to the others, and the message on the card this time is even stranger: domestic bliss.

With a fourth body and card appearing the following day, Jo knows she’s running out of time to crack the code and bring the killer to justice. And the pressure only gets worse with heart-breaking news about Jo’s father forcing her to choose between helping her family heal or the victims’ families get justice. Can Jo find the twisted murderer sending the town into a panic before another life is lost? Or this time, will the dangerous killer find her first?

You are the owner and operator of Lacquer Or Leave Her!, a nail polish and nail art blog. What originally got you interested in nail art? 

I’ve always loved nail polish, to the point where an ex-boyfriend teased me once that my nails were only ever without polish for the time it took me to remove and reapply. Fast forward years to me as a professor working such crazy long hours and combine that with a niece who started sending me all sorts IG photos and YouTube videos of cool nail art. I’d given up all the artistic outlets in my life because of the hours I was working, so nail art seemed like a relatively low-time investment artistic outlet. I discovered nail stamping and it became a first step on my journey to find balance.

A journey to find balance is definitely relatable. I love the character of Jo Fournier in THE DANCING GIRLS. Did Jo come to you fully formed or did she develop as you wrote her? 

I’m so glad you like her! She developed over time, or rather, she revealed herself to me over time. My first attempt to write a detective was influenced by the ones I’d fallen in love with as a young girl—Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, etc—mostly males. But as I wrote my male detective, I struggled to write one that interested me and that I wanted to spend time with—and if I didn’t want to spend time with them, my readers certainly wouldn’t. I stepped back and thought it through with the help of my critique group, and realized that as much as I loved those characters, I didn’t connect with them on a personal level the way I did with my favorite PI, Kinsey Millhone. So, I switched gears and wrote a woman detective, one who struggles with issues more in line with those that professional women deal with (at least, in my experience). While her specific struggles are different than mine, the more I write her, the more I believe they share something universal with the choices all woman have to make, and with the societal pressures on women. Jo’s specific struggle to find balance is different than mine, but the general struggle is universal across women—we all have to decide how many of our very limited hours we’re going to spend on career, family, self-care, and we all have to deal with the consequences of those choices. But despite those struggles, I also wanted to write a woman who was damned good at her job without turning into a mega ball-breaking bitch in the process; I think that’s an unfortunate corner many women are backed into if they want to be taken seriously. And as I write her, Jo teaches me something new in each book about what strength really means, and how much more powerful it is when paired with compassion.

Wonderfully put! You've also published flash fiction pieces. What do you like most about writing within a smaller story space?

I love the time I get to take on each word in the story. It’s like a puzzle you’re trying to solve, trying to get as much impact into every word as possible. I love reading a flash piece that takes a just a few minutes to read but stays with me for days—flash pieces are like stealth punches in the gut!—so trying to craft that myself is a lovely challenge. And it’s a fun way to use ideas I have that won’t work for a whole novel.

It is indeed! What are some of your current projects?

My second book in the Detective Jo Fournier series, TAKEN TO THE GRAVE, just went up for pre-order. I also have a traditional mystery about a woman who solves her late husband’s murder—and two others—with the help of an enchanted tarot deck that I’m trying to find a home for. And I’m currently writing a stand-alone thriller about a mysterious old-school text adventure game that appears on the dark web and turns out to have clues the players must hunt down in the real world—to deadly consequence, of course.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


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Wednesday, August 7, 2019


I met Rosiee Thor at this year's YallWest in Santa Monica, and when I heard about her debut novel, TARNISHED ARE THE STARS, I had to feature it. Even better, it's set to debut on my birthday, October 15:

A secret beats inside Anna Thatcher's chest: an illegal clockwork heart. Anna works cog by cog -- donning the moniker Technician -- to supply black market medical technology to the sick and injured, against the Commissioner's tyrannical laws.

Nathaniel Fremont, the Commissioner's son, has never had to fear the law. Determined to earn his father's respect, Nathaniel sets out to capture the Technician. But the more he learns about the outlaw, the more he questions whether his father's elusive affection is worth chasing at all.

Their game of cat and mouse takes an abrupt turn when Eliza, a skilled assassin and spy, arrives. Her mission is to learn the Commissioner's secrets at any cost -- even if it means betraying her own heart.

When these uneasy allies discover the most dangerous secret of all, they must work together despite their differences and put an end to a deadly epidemic -- before the Commissioner ends them first.

What originally drew you to steampunk?

I'll be honest, I don't actually remember what drew me to steampunk. I remember liking it, and I remember feeling like the essence of steampunk vibed with the themes I wanted to explore, but I don't remember the initial spark. It might have been an interview I saw about the steampunk community, or it might have been a pinterest photo, or maybe just the overwhelming desire to write about big hats. What I do know is that steampunk allowed me to explore the concept of technological advancement in an exciting way and really embodied the attitude of rebellion through technology, fashion, and social-constructs I wanted to partake in--and really, what more could you ask of a genre?

I think it's that sense of rebellion that draws me to steampunk too. I love that TARNISHED ARE THE STARS is a queer adventure story. What do you hope readers will take away once they've finished reading it?

I have a lot of hopes... probably more than is wise, if I'm being honest. But really the main thing I hope readers take away from this book is that adventure belongs to queer people too. So often I see queerness used as a plot device, and I wanted to write something where queer characters could be queer without that being the point of their story. I wanted them to exist and fight for what they believe in and solve mysteries while being queer without their queerness being a roadblock of some kind. I think issue books can be so important, and we need those, but we also need books where queer kids get to save the day without anyone telling them they can't simply because of who they are.

We absolutely do! I love the design of your website. What suggestions, if any, do you have for authors looking to build (or expand) their online presence?

Thank you! My website was designed by Gail Villanueva, who is an amazing graphic designer, and also a kidlit author! She did such a fabulous job of translating my personal aesthetic into a website and I could not be happier with it. As for advice, I think the best thing I ever did was give myself permission to be myself. So often I think people look for their personal brand and try to cultivate it, but the thing is... we all have personalities already, and most of the authors I see with successful online presences use their personality as their brand. Yes, it's good to be cognizant of what we say online and how that connects to our author brand, but more often than not you already have the tools you need to build your brand right there in your handy dandy personality--you don't have to pretend to be anyone you're not.

Well said! What are some of your current projects?

I can't talk a ton about my current projects yet, but I can say I'm working on another YA book. It's got some fantasy... and some science... and lots of fire! It's also starring queer characters, and while it isn't steampunk, it's got a similar vibe to my debut in that it's grounded sff with a super fun aesthetic! Hopefully I'll get to share more soon 🤞

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Tuesday, August 6, 2019


I'm excited to announce that MRS. SMITH'S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS: DOUBLE CROSS by Beth McMullen is out today! I featured this book here, along with the other titles in the series.

Abby and her classmates have all been invited to Briar Academy to participate in The Challenge, a prep school competition where teams compete for prizes and the glory of being the best of the best. While there, they figure out their nemesis, The Ghost, is using Briar as headquarters to plan a devastating attack on his enemies (a.k.a.: pretty much everyone) using a brand-new invention Toby developed. And this time, The Center and Mrs. Smith will be of no help as Abby suspects there is someone working for The Ghost on the inside—and they can trust no one.

Other books in the series:

After a botched escape plan from her boarding school, Abigail is stunned to discover the school is actually a cover for an elite spy ring called The Center, along with being training grounds for future spies. Even more shocking? Abigail’s mother is a top agent for The Center and she has gone MIA, with valuable information that many people would like to have—at any cost. Along with a former nemesis and charming boy from her grade, Abigail goes through a crash course in Spy Training 101, often with hilarious—and sometimes painful—results. But Abigail realizes she might be a better spy-in-training than she thought—and the answers to her mother’s whereabouts are a lot closer than she thinks…

Abby and the rest of her friends go international as they embark on their first “official” Center mission in this second book in the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls series.

After discovering the truth about her spy school/boarding school—and her super-spy mom—Abby Hunter is ready for her next adventure, but what’s about to happen is something she never would have guessed…

Everyone at The Smith School is obsessed with Monster Mayhem, the latest reality video game craze. But when Drexel Caine, the mastermind behind the game is suddenly kidnapped, it becomes clear that the kidnappers are playing for more than just special badges.

After Drexel’s son—who is Abby’s friend, Toby—receives a cryptic message, Abby and her friends discover the kidnapping is part of a bigger scheme that could take down The Center for good.

With the help of Abby’s frenemy (and reluctant mentor), Veronica Brooks, the group tackles their first official Center Mission. They tangle with the world’s most notorious hacker, get in trouble for the possible theft of the Mona Lisa, and prepare for the ultimate showdown in London. But not before they have to contend with one more hurdle: the agonizing Smith School Spring Formal. Along the way, they discover they are much stronger as a team they can ever be alone.

And with a little luck, they might just save the world.

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

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

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

Release Feature: #MURDERFUNDING by Gretchen McNeil

Happy release day to #MURDERFUNDING, the follow-up to #MURDERTRENDING by Gretchen McNeil! The full interview with Gretchen McNeil can be viewed here.

WELCOME TO WHO WANTS TO BE A PANIAC?, the latest reality TV show on the hunt for the next big-hit serial killer. But don’t worry—no one is actually going to murder anyone, as real as the fake gore and pretend murder may appear . . . uh, right?

Seventeen-year-old Becca Martinello is about to find out. When her perfectly normal soccer mom dies in a car crash, a strange girl named Stef appears to let Becca know that her deceased mom was none other than one of Alcatraz 2.0’s most popular serial killers—Molly Mauler. Soon, Becca ends up on Who Wants to Be a Painiac? to learn the truth about her mom’s connection to Molly Mauler, but things turn sinister when people are murdered IRL. Will Becca uncover dark secrets and make it out of the deadly reality show alive? Or will she get cut?

WELCOME TO THE NEAR FUTURE, where good and honest citizens can enjoy watching the executions of society's most infamous convicted felons, streaming live on The Postman app from the suburbanized prison island Alcatraz 2.0. 

When seventeen-year-old Dee Guerrera wakes up in a haze, lying on the ground of a dimly lit warehouse, she realizes she's about to be the next victim of the app. Knowing hardened criminals are getting a taste of their own medicine in this place is one thing, but Dee refuses to roll over and die for a heinous crime she didn't commit. Can Dee and her newly formed posse, the Death Row Breakfast Club, prove she's innocent before she ends up wrongfully murdered for the world to see? Or will The Postman's cast of executioners kill them off one by one?

Wednesday, July 31, 2019


I've followed Jane Friedman for quite a few years, and she's an excellent resource. I also saw her keynote at a recent conference, and she is an amazing speaker. Her newest book, THE BUSINESS OF BEING A WRITER, is great for anyone who wants to know more about the current warps and wefts of the publishing world:

Writers talk about their work in many ways: as an art, as a calling, as a lifestyle. Too often missing from these conversations is the fact that writing is also a business. The reality is, those who want to make a full- or part-time job out of writing are going to have a more positive and productive career if they understand the basic business principles underlying the industry.

The Business of Being a Writer offers the business education writers need but so rarely receive. It is meant for early-career writers looking to develop a realistic set of expectations about making money from their work or for working writers who want a better understanding of the industry. Writers will gain a comprehensive picture of how the publishing world works—from queries and agents to blogging and advertising—and will learn how they can best position themselves for success over the long term.

How did The Hot Sheet first come about? 

In 2011, journalist Porter Anderson began contributing guest posts at my site ( with news and analysis on the publishing industry. After a few years, we eventually wrapped up that effort, as it wasn’t really an income generator for him or me, aside from a smattering of sponsorships.

So after that ended, we were talking about what else we might do together, and came up with the idea of a paid subscription email newsletter for authors, something that built on my expertise and understanding of the author community, and his industry access and travels to publishing conferences. Our oft-repeated tagline was “no drama, no hype.” We wanted to offer news and analysis that avoided the bias and rancor that can characterize discussions in both the traditional and self-publishing community. (Indie authors tend to excoriate traditional publishers and authors; traditional authors and publishers tend to demonize Amazon and look down on indie authors.)

No drama/bias/rancor is a welcome relief; it's also nice to hear about the parts of publishing that not many people talk about. In THE BUSINESS OF BEING A WRITER, you dispel the myth that publishing is harder now than it used to be, despite the current "cognitive surplus." How might writers' impressions play into some of these perceived barriers? 

Social media makes it immediate and easy to compare notes with other authors, and learn about how often and common it is to get rejected. While the information sharing and camaraderie is valuable, it can also encourage unproductive thoughts and anger (e.g., focusing on an unfair system, seeing editors/agents as idiots or disrespectful, etc). But the historical record shows that the relationship between authors and publishers has always been strained and occasionally adversarial. Even Horace complained about his publisher!

That said, discoverability today is harder. There's no sure way to make your book or  name stand out when so much potential media competes for readers' attention. This is why so many authors will give away their work for free or cheap: the attention is worth more to them than payment. The act of publishing, whether you traditionally publish or self-publish, isn’t all that hard. Selling what you publish—that’s when authors find out where the real difficulty lies.

The other thing I'll add is that while it is a challenging environment for debut novelists, more novels are published today than at any other time in history. The opportunities are greater, but the number of people competing at a high skill level are also greater. So I think it ends up being a wash as far as whether it's more difficult to get published. But to the writer it's always going to feel hard. (Some say it should feel hard to weed out the unserious.)

I've often heard conflicting opinions about giving away work on the free or cheap, and it's reassuring to know that writers can find opportunities in most situations. Between writing, consulting, maintaining your online presence, speaking, and everything else on your plate, to what degree do you find work/life balance and avoid burn-out? 

First, I like what author Alain de Botton says on this topic: let’s stop pretending such a thing even exists. “Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life,” he says. I agree.

Still, I have put in place protections for my own sanity.
  • I try to limit client appointments to three days a week so I have uninterrupted time to focus on writing and editing work.
  • I check and respond to email about once a day, in the afternoon.
  • I segment some social media to specific parts of the day rather than checking in frequently.
Because I work from home, it’s important that when I step away from the desk at the end of the day, I don’t return unless it’s an emergency. I say “no” to just about anything that would require me to work from home in the evening.

I also keep work email off my phone, even during work travel. That is probably the No. 1 way I preserve my mental health and I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s caused a few headaches here and there, but it’s a rule now. I don’t email from my phone, ever.

All of those are excellent ideas--especially separating email from the phone. In what ways do you see authorship further evolving amid current and new developments?

It depends on what sort of author you’re talking about. For traditionally published authors, we’re going to see increased pressure on novelists especially to become better marketers and promoters of their own work. The publishers just can’t effectively market or support every title, and sales of fiction are trending down. It’s harder to get that attention I mentioned earlier.

Indie authors are feeling more pressure than ever to advertise their books to keep sales up—to use social media ads, BookBub ads, and Amazon ads in particular. But knowing how to advertise well, and maintaining effective campaigns, is time consuming and something I considered a specialized skill. I hate to think that success in the future will depend on authors becoming online advertising experts (or having the funds to advertise), but that’s what it feels like right now.

All authors can invest in their long-term success by getting readers and fans onto an email newsletter list, so they can stay in touch with people most likely to buy their books. I know everyone’s sick of hearing about email marketing, but it works—and it’s by far the best defense against the power and control of platforms like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and others.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

For Jane Friedman's other books, click here

For more about Jane Friedman, click here

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, July 24, 2019


I first connected with Susan Adrian over Twitter when we discovered we had a mutual connection to UC Davis. Her latest book, FOREVER NEVERLAND, provides an interesting perspective within a familiar tale:

Clover and Fergus are the great-great-grandchildren of Wendy Darling (yes, that Wendy). And now Peter Pan wants to take them to Neverland for the adventure of their lives! But Clover’s a little nervous–she’s supposed to look after her brother. Fergus is autistic, and not everyone makes him feel welcome. What will happen to him in this magical world?

Fergus isn’t nervous at all. To him, Neverland seems like a dream come true! He’s tired of Clover’s constant mothering and wants some independence, like Peter and the Lost Boys have. He wonders, Why can’t the real world be more like Neverland?

Neverland is fun and free, but it’s also dangerous and even scary at times. There are unfamiliar creatures lurking in the shadows and strange sounds coming from the waters. And then the mermaids start to go missing. . . .

What brought you to Montana? And what, if anything, do you miss about California?

I came to Montana for a job. In 2003, my husband and I were both laid off, with a new baby. We both did a nationwide job search, and I was offered a wonderful job at the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology as a scientific editor, on the Montana Tech campus. My husband later became the Executive Director of the Montana Tech Foundation. We've been here ever since. Butte is a wonderful place to raise a family. We do go back to California once or twice a year, for the sunshine and the ocean.

Sounds wonderful. In FOREVER NEVERLAND, one of the characters is autistic. How did this character find his way to you?  

The two characters in FOREVER NEVERLAND came to me together, very strongly. I was interested in the dynamic between the two, with Clover being very overprotective and Fergus wanting help...but also just wanting some space and independence. Once I realized I needed to write both characters' points of view, I did extensive research to make sure I got Fergus right.

Interesting that both characters showed up at the same time, and dual points of view always offer such great opportunities to show the dynamics between characters. According to your website bio, you once danced in a ballet company. Did any of your experiences find their way into your book NUTCRACKED, debuting in October 2019?

There are many of my experiences dancing that showed up in NUTCRACKED. I was fortunate for that book in that I did not have a time of research to do, at least for the ballet parts. I remember that time very vividly. I was a dancer from the ages of 8 to 16, and I did get to play Clara when I was 13. It was a remarkable experience to relive some of that time and relay those experiences – having mice chase me across the stage, and watching the tree grow – to readers.

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

I am currently working on another middle grade project (working title THE WILD SIDE OF ROWAN MCKINNON) that I'm very excited about. It's about a girl who learns that her mother – who left when she was three days old – is really an Irish shapeshifter, called a pukka. Rowan sets out on a journey to find her mother and learn about who she is. There are wild horses, eagles, and good friends, set in the high lands of Montana and Wyoming. Like all my books, it has magic.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

For Susan Adrian's other books, click here

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


I first featured Aminah Mae Safi here. Her newest book, TELL ME HOW YOU REALLY FEEL, debuted in June, and this enemies-to-lovers story should definitely be on your To Be Read list:

Sana Khan is a cheerleader and a straight A student. She's the classic (somewhat obnoxious) overachiever determined to win.

Rachel Recht is a wannabe director who's obsesssed with movies and ready to make her own masterpiece. As she's casting her senior film project, she knows she's found the perfect lead - Sana.

There's only one problem. Rachel hates Sana. Rachel was the first girl Sana ever asked out, but Rachel thought it was a cruel prank and has detested Sana ever since.

In our last interview, you said that girls and women "don’t have to be perfect to take up space in this world, to take up space in the pages of stories." What do you wish for girls and women who have difficulty accepting themselves?   

You've got to believe in yourself. This is something I struggle with. But part of accepting yourself is honestly believing in yourself and trusting yourself. Learning to listen to yourself. Learning to spend time with yourself and your own thoughts. It's all these things we try to actively prevent girls from doing when they're growing up.

There's this quote from the modern remake of the movie Sabrina: “I sat in a cafe, drank coffee and wrote nonsense in a journal, then suddenly it was not nonsense – I went for long walks and I met myself in Paris" and I think that's what I wish for all girls and any marginalized person, particularly if they have trouble accepting themselves. Get to know yourself. Know you're okay. We're all imperfect beings in this life trying to figure out the best way to make a life for ourselves. We all feel that way. Feeling that way doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to believe in yourself. Develop enough of a sense of yourself so that you know how to trust yourself and know how to listen to yourself. I think that’s where belief starts.

It certainly does--though it can be, as you said, challenging to maintain. In TELL ME HOW YOU FEEL, I love how the relationship between Sana and Rachel evolves. Did you know how their story would unfold before you started drafting, or did it develop as you wrote it? 

It's always both, isn't it? I mean, I sold this book on proposal, so I definitely had an outline. But things change as you draft. They always change. Many of the key scenes are as I envisioned them. Some new moments popped in at the last minute and really took hold in the story.

This is a bit metaphysical, but when I think I always know the story, I'm just finding it again. It's like, the real story is always in there-- waiting to be pulled out of whatever I've written. But I've got to get all the words down first— many of them the wrong ones— and then continue to edit and find that true story as I work.

So in the end, it genuinely feels like this was always the story and the romance couldn't have unfolded any other way. But maybe that's just a trick I tell myself so I can easily cut scenes and characters when they're not serving the overall book. But Sana and Rachel turned out exactly as they were meant to and their love story unfolded exactly as it should have.

Lovely. What do you feel are the most difficult aspects of writing romantic comedies? 

You've got to be rooting for the characters to get together, almost from the first pages. You've got to establish who the characters are and where they need to go, quickly. There are quite a few rules— mostly unspoken— with rom-coms that you've got to understand and acknowledge, even if you decide to break them along the way. Any kind of genre with structure, you've got to know when to play by the rules, and when to break them. You've got to know which tropes serve your overall story and structure, and which ones will only bog you down.

With a rom-com, you've got to do all of this, while also making it feel fun and effortless to read. Effortlessness is always difficult. Introducing people who are essentially two strangers to your readers and getting them to root for their love story is also difficult.

And it's definitely a lot to think about. If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?

You're going to be alright, kid. Just keep showing up. We don't control a lot in life, but we do control our own thoughts and our own actions. So quit worrying about other people and keep showing up.

Incidentally, I still tell myself this. Works wonders.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here.