Wednesday, November 27, 2013

MY SORT OF FAIRY TALE ENDING by Anna Staniszewski: the Final Installment of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life Series

I'm seriously bummed that the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series by Anna Staniszewski is coming to an end. For a recap of the previous books, I posted about them here and here.


Happily ever after? Yeah, right.

Jenny's search for her parents leads her to Fairyland, a rundown amusement park filled with creepily happy fairies and disgruntled leprechauns. Despite the fairies' kindness, she knows they are keeping her parents from her. If only they would stop being so happy all the time-it's starting to weird her out! With the help of a fairy-boy and some rebellious leprechauns, Jenny finds a way to rescue her parents, but at the expense of putting all magical worlds in danger. Now Jenny must decide how far she is willing to go to put her family back together.

You can also read the first chapter here. Or, have a look at the trailer:

Below are Anna's answers to my questions: 

MY SORT OF FAIRY TALE ENDING wraps up the last of the My Very Unfairy Tale Life series. What has been the hardest part about writing the ending, and how difficult is it to tie up loose plot ends when writing a series?

There were two main challenges I faced when writing the final UnFairy Tale installment. First, I wanted to make sure that Jenny’s story was wrapped up in a satisfying way that tied together her emotional journey over the three books. Second, I wanted to give the book its own beginning, middle, and end, so that it felt like a smaller story within the larger one. It took a lot of work to get both of these elements to a place where I was happy with them. Hopefully, Jenny agrees with my choices!

I'm sure she does! In our last interview, you discussed a new project, DIRT DIARY. Where did the idea for the story come from, and how has it developed as you've written it?

I was listening to a story on NPR about teen mortification that mentioned a girl working for her mom’s cleaning business and having to clean the houses of some of her popular classmates. When I heard that, a bell started clanging in my head. As I sat down to play with the idea, Rachel’s voice jumped off the page. She told me about the other problems going on in her life (her parents getting divorced, the guy she liked dating her nemesis, etc.) There were a lot of plot threads that were woven in as I continued to work on the story, but the overall idea has stayed the same from that first spark of inspiration.

In addition to writing, you teach in the MFA program at Simmons College. How do you balance teaching and writing, and what advice do you have for writers juggling more than one career?

I love teaching because it gets me out of the house and talking to like-minded people who aren’t imaginary. I teach part-time which gives me more time to write, though sometimes it’s still difficult to balance the two. I find that I need to set aside writing time, even if it’s just an hour that I take away from grading papers, etc. No matter what, writing needs to come first.

Indeed. I love that you insert humor into your books--you do it really well. Do you have any tips for writers wanting to incorporate comedy into their stories?

Be your wacky self! Seriously. I think sometimes we try to do what other people think is funny without considering our own personal sense of humor. We all have offbeat and unique ways of looking at the world. Work those sensibilities into your stories, think about your characters’ offbeat traits and viewpoints, and have fun with them.

So true. If you were stuck on a desert island with five books, what would they be?

Oh boy! I think I need to go by author on this one. I’d choose a book by each of the following:
1.    Jane Austen
2.    Douglas Adams
3.    Shannon Hale
4.    MT Anderson
5.    John Green

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston with her husband and their black Labrador, Emma.

When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series, published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Look for the first book in Anna’s next tween series, The Dirt Diary, in January 2014, and visit her at

To snag Anna's books for yourself, click on the links below:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

BUTTER and DEAD ENDS by Erin Jade Lange

I met Erin Lange at a recent conference and bought her books immediately. She has one of the strongest voices I've ever read. Her debut BUTTER just made YALSA's 2013 Teens' Top Ten List and she has a new release entitled DEAD ENDS.

A lonely obese boy everyone calls "Butter" is about to make history. He is going to eat himself to death-live on the Internet-and everyone is invited to watch. When he first makes the announcement online to his classmates, Butter expects pity, insults, and possibly sheer indifference. What he gets are morbid cheerleaders rallying around his deadly plan. Yet as their dark encouragement grows, it begins to feel a lot like popularity. And that feels good. But what happens when Butter reaches his suicide deadline? Can he live with the fallout if he doesn't go through with his plans?

With a deft hand, Lange allows readers to identify with both the bullies and the bullied in this all-consuming look at one teen's battle with himself.

Dane Washington is one suspension away from expulsion. In a high school full of “haves,” being a “have not” makes Dane feel like life is hurtling toward one big dead end. Billy D. spends his high school days in Special Ed and he’s not exactly a “have” himself. The biggest thing Billy’s missing? His dad. Billy is sure the riddles his father left in an atlas are really clues to finding him again and through a bizarre turn of events, he talks Dane into joining him on the search. 

A bully and a boy with Down syndrome makes for an unlikely friendship, but together, they work through the clues, leading to unmarked towns and secrets of the past. But they’re all dead ends. Until the final clue . . . and a secret Billy shouldn’t have been keeping.

Erin also answered some interview questions:

As a journalist, you get to explore real-world issues. How do you connect this to your writing, and can you tell us more about your journey toward writing fiction?

I spend up to 50 hours every week writing the news. During those hours, I can rarely spare even a second to think about fiction, but I am constantly absorbing. Some stories, like your daily armed robbery, can be brushed off. But some stories can't be so easily purged. They sit and fester somewhere in my subconscious until I have to release them, and they tend to come out in my fiction - accidentally, if I'm being honest. But usually when I have a light bulb moment in my books, I can trace it back my newsroom. It can be as obvious as the internet bullying and teen suicide included in BUTTER or as subtle as the economic recession in DEAD ENDS.

I have always written fiction for fun, but it took ten years of writing facts for me to be truly inspired enough to write fiction professionally.

Further proof that a lot of fiction can be based in fact! I love the character of Butter--he jumps right off the page. How did he come to you, and do you have recommendations to writers having trouble with character development?

Thank you! My stories always start with characters. I've tossed out many a good plot idea because the characters just weren't coming to life, and I've rewritten a good chunk of a book to give my characters a better plot. 

Butter's story came to me in a bit of a flash, but in the beginning, he was more of a stereotypical "angry fat kid." Once I started writing him, he let me know he was so much more than that. He was also witty and talented and lonely and loving. I let my characters evolve on the page, and if necessary, I change the story around them. I will always bend a plot to make it more realistic for my characters, but I will never force a character into an unnatural plot situation. I would encourage writers to be flexible with their outlining and plotting and try not make characters do things out of - well, character.

Great strategy. No wonder your characters' voices are so distinct! In DEAD ENDS, you tell the story from the bully's point-of-view. How did the story develop, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished reading?

DEAD ENDS started with voices in my head. Haha! That is to say, I would get these rushes of dialog that came to mind so fast and furious, I couldn't remember them long enough to get to a computer and type them out. I would actually dictate the dialog into a voice recorder and then transcribe my recordings later. This went on for months, because I had no idea what the story was - only that I had two boys with a lot of personality who were a bit of a mismatched pair. I kept trying to write other things, but these voices just would not go away, so I finally sat down and found them a story. It only took one month to write that first draft, because I loved hanging out with those two!

I always say, I never set out to send a message with any of my books. If a reader walks away with something personal, that is wonderful, but the best I can ask for is that they feel like they've been told a good story.

Indeed! What are some of the current projects you're working on?

I am currently working on my 3rd book, REBEL BULLY GEEK PARIAH, which is due out Fall 2015. I'm aiming for a modern day breakfast club with a side of thrills. As always, I just hope my readers love the characters!

I'm sure we will! Thanks, Erin, for a great interview!

To grab Erin's books for yourself, click on the links below:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

THE BEST LAID PLANS by Tamara Mataya

From last week's interview with Kelly Barnhill, her short story, "The Insect and the Astronomer," is now available for free! 

This week, we switch to romance. I found Tamara Mataya on Twitter when I saw her posts on Janet Reid's blog. Not only is she a super cool writer librarian, her new book, THE BEST LAID PLANS, came out November 4.

Jayne Griffin isn’t looking for Mr. Right. She’s looking for Mr. RTFN and a toe-curling good time. She’s got the brains, the powerful job as a futures broker, and thanks to a makeover and a thin book of dating advice, the confidence to turn any man’s head.

Malcolm Black notices his high school crush, Jayne, from the stage of her company’s work party. His adolescent feelings for her died beneath months of abuse at the hands of bullies. Abuse that was Jayne’s fault. Though this scorching hot studio musician is unrecognizable as the band geek he used to be, the hurt still lives inside him, and he hatches a plan: Seduce Jayne into falling in love with him, and then shatter her heart.

The white-hot chemistry between them is a pleasant surprise. It all goes so smoothly until Feelings start to develop... and that invitation to their ten year high school reunion lands in their inboxes.

Jayne wants the perfect lover. Malcolm wants revenge. But you know what they say about The Best Laid Plans...

Here are Tamara's answers to some of my questions:

 As a fellow librarian, you must have a healthy love of books! Did that draw you toward writing, or did the writing happen first?

I've ALWAYS been a reader. I ended up sucking at math in the fifth grade, because we had reading period before math, and I sat at the back of the room. EVERY DAY I'd sort of emerge from my book haze and realize that the rest of the class had moved on to math, and I'd still been reading, and had missed half the lesson! So I've ALWAYS lost myself in books. As for writing, my first real writerly experience, was in the sixth grade, when my short story was chosen as a winner, and I got to go to the Young Author's Conference, and have my story published in an anthology. The story was about a jack-o-lantern that came to life, found love, had seventeen children, then was left a widower and single father! I still have the anthology :)

That's awesome! I had a similar math experience. I always pulled a C average, and was called a "daydreamer"  by one of my elementary school teachers.
I love the premise of THE BEST LAID PLANS. What inspired the idea, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished?

I was thinking about the stories we all carry with us beneath our skin. People are shocked when I tell them I was picked on in school, and wasn't popular by any means. I wondered if two seemingly perfect people could get past the scars of their pasts and see something amazing right in front of them... even if they share a less than stellar past.

As for what people take away from it, I hope it helps them let go of something weighing them down. Maybe letting go of some hurt from their pasts too. :)

Very well put. I love your Twitter handle, Feaky Snucker. How did it come about?

A conversation with my dad and older brother! My brother was talking about what he'd name a spy/ detective agency, and my dad called him Sneaky Fu..... I promptly commandeered it from my brother, made a tweak, and I've been Feaky Snucker ever since!

You just signed a 3 book deal with Swoon Romance--congratulations! Will your books all be part of the same series? What other projects are you currently working on?

 Thank you!!! I feel like Malcolm and Jayne (MC's from THE BEST LAID PLANS)'s story has been told, and at this moment in time, I can't think of anything I want to add. There could be books featuring other characters in TBLP, which would include a peek at Malcolm and Jayne in the future!

As for WIP's, how much time have you got?! I have WAY too many ideas. I'm currently writing two main WIP's, and have about 7 ideas for others vying for my attention! I've got contemporary NA romance, NA Action/ adventure, YA Sci-fi, NA Urban Fantasy! I'm set for a while and am SO fortunate to have found an agency that lets me write more than one Category/ Genre! 

To get a hold of THE BEST LAID PLANS for yourself, click on the link below:


Wednesday, November 6, 2013


When I read this blog post by author Kelly Barhill, I knew I wanted to interview her immediately. In addition to her novels, she also has a new short story called, "The Insect and the Astronomer" in Lightspeed Magazine. Be sure to check it out!

Enter a world where magic bubbles just below the surface. . . .

When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his strange aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for quite a long time.

When he arrives, three astonishing things happen: First, he makes friends -- not imaginary friends but actual friends. Second, he is beaten up by the town bully; the bullies at home always ignored him. Third, the richest man in town begins to plot Jack's imminent, and hopefully painful, demise. It's up to Jack to figure out why suddenly everyone cares so much about him. Back home he was practically, well, invisible.

The Mostly True Story of Jack is an eerie tale of magic, friendship, and sacrifice. It's about things broken and things put back together. Above all, it's about finding a place to belong.

The end of their world begins with a story.
This one.

In most fairy tales, princesses are beautiful, dragons are terrifying, and stories are harmless. This isn’t most fairy tales.

Princess Violet is plain, reckless, and quite possibly too clever for her own good. Particularly when it comes to telling stories. One day she and her best friend, Demetrius, stumble upon a hidden room and find a peculiar book. A forbidden book. It tells a story of an evil being—called the Nybbas—imprisoned in their world. The story cannot be true—not really. But then the whispers start. Violet and Demetrius, along with an ancient, scarred dragon, may hold the key to the Nybbas’s triumph . . . or its demise. It all depends on how they tell the story. After all, stories make their own rules.

Iron Hearted Violet is a story of a princess unlike any other. It is a story of the last dragon in existence, deathly afraid of its own reflection. Above all, it is a story about the power of stories, our belief in them, and how one enchanted tale changed the course of an entire kingdom.

Here are Kelly's answers to some of my questions:

Your website bio mentions that you "have a bunch of short stories in various publications." What do you like most about short story writing?

I really enjoy writing short stories a lot, and it's something that I let slip in my regular writing practice for a couple years, due to an over-focus on the novels. Not to trash-talk novel-writing, mind you, but it is good to keep the different creative muscles flexing. I have two short stories coming out soon - one called "The Insect and the Astronomer" which will be in Lightspeed Magazine and another which will be in an anthology of feminist science fiction sometime next year. As well as a number of others currently out on submission. For me, writing short stories has more in common with the construction of a poem than the long journey of a novel. Both require a focus on sound and a precision of language that is not quite as true in novel-writing. Both are designed to be consumed in a single sitting, which means that both are built on an intricate web of harmonics and reverberation - each moment carries an echo of every other moment in the story, and every word, every comma, every break, every beat, matters. And that's a fun way to write. Stressful, yes. But fun.

I've heard writers should write outside their usual genre--to challenge themselves and grow. And, short stories sometimes offer extra income, so it's valuable from a business standpoint, too.
I love the premise of IRON HEARTED VIOLET! Where did the story concept originate, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished reading?

The story started a number of years ago. We have a little cabin that my family goes to from time to time - just a shack in the woods, no electricity, no running water, no phones. Even our cell phones don't work up there. Just eleven acres of scrubby forest and running creeks and sometimes a cougar or bear or wolverine sighting. It's awesome. Anyway, I was snuggled up with my daughters and was getting ready to tell them a story. They wanted me to tell them the story of a princess. "But not a pretty princess," they said. "Pretty princesses are boring." And so I started telling them about Violet. And then I couldn't stop.

Pretty princesses are boring! And Violet really seems to break the mold. You also wrote THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK. Great premise here, too. Did Jack come fully formed or did you develop him while writing his story?

Jack arrived fully formed. I am a runner, and do quite a bit of writing while running. Normally, I will start with a sentence that pleases me, and will just string it further and further, looping back to the beginning and adding word after word, like beads on a string. I am primarily an aural thinker, and not a visual thinker at all, so when images pop into my head....well, it's rare. So I pay attention. I was out for a run, and I had a sudden image of a boy sitting in the back seat of a rental car, barreling through Iowa, with the landscape stretching away in every direction like a broad, green quilt. And this kid in the car? He was such a singular fellow. And desperately lonely. I could feel his loneliness hit me like a truck. And I wanted nothing more than to write him a place to be - a place to belong. I had so much compassion for that loneliness, and I wanted to write him home.

It's wonderful when inspiration comes at unexpected times! Your website bio also mentions that you teach and freelance. What strategies have you found while juggling various tasks? Do you have any recommendations for writers balancing more than one career?

Man. I'll tell you, it's hard. Both my husband and I are independently employed, and we have three kids, so we have essentially built our lives together out of duct tape, cast-off lumber, cardboard and gum. And sweat, of course. And tremendous love for the work. Mostly, I have a pretty good sense of when to work like mad, and when to give myself a break. When I'm teaching, for example, I absolutely cannot write. Teaching requires such a tremendous rush of energy going out, that I'm completely depleted by the end of the day. Happy, yes. Satisfied, most definitely. But too exhausted to write. So I schedule things far in advance, I let my editors know where my teaching gigs are, and they are wonderfully flexible and forgiving. And I do my best.

What that means, of course, is that sometimes projects don't happen in exactly the way I think they will. And that can be frustrating - particularly because it is easy for us to be hard on ourselves, and to assume that any deviation of the original plan must constitute failure. The fear of failure is huge with artisty-types, and it's not helpful. Being able to bring what I can to the page, to trust the work when it happens, and not to judge myself - well that was a hard one to learn. But worth it.

Excellent advice. Especially the part about how crippling "fear of failure" can be. What are some current projects that you're working on?

Well! I have a new book coming out next year called The Witch's Boy, which will be published by Algonquin Books for Young Readers. And I am terribly excited about it. And I have two books that will be heading to my agent shortly - and I'll let him decide which one comes next. One is called The Boy Who Loved Birds, and it is about a girl who goes to live with her estranged grandmother when her father is deployed to Afghanistan, and the boy she meets who may or may not be able to speak to birds. The other is called The Sugar House, which is about a boy who is out of the good graces of pretty much everyone on earth after he accidentally almost blows up the school. He also has Type 1 Diabetes, which means that he's the only kid in the neighborhood who hasn't fallen under the spell of a gingerbread-house-witch who is wreaking all kinds of havok on the block. And no one believes him. Why would they? He already almost blew up the school. Accidentally. Mostly. I'm also finishing up a short-story-turned-novella called The Unlicensed Magician. And a couple more stories. It's good to have a bunch of logs in the fire. Very good indeed.

Indeed! Thanks, Kelly, for an excellent interview! 

To snag Kelly's books for yourself, click on the links below.