Wednesday, October 29, 2014

THE WHATNOT, by Stefan Bachmann

Back in 2012, I interviewed Stefan Bachmann about his debut novel, THE PECULIAR. I'm happy to report that the sequel, THE WHATNOT, just came out in paperback. Have a look:

"Oh, the Sly King, the Sly King, in his towers of ash and wind."  

Pikey Thomas doesn’t know how or why he can see the changeling girl. But there she is. Not in the cold, muddy London neighborhood where Pikey lives. Instead, she’s walking through the trees and snow of the enchanted Old Country or, later, racing through an opulent hall. She’s pale and small, and she has branches growing out of her head. Her name is Henrietta Kettle.

Pikey’s vision, it turns out, is worth something.Worth something to Hettie’s brother—a brave adventurer named Bartholomew Kettle. Worth something to the nobleman who protects him. And Pikey is not above bartering—Pikey will do almost anything to escape his past; he’ll do almost anything for a life worth living.

The faeries—save for a mysterious sylph and a mischievous cobble faery or two— have been chased out of London. They’ve all gone north. The army is heading north, too. So Pikey and Bartholomew follow, collecting information, piecing together clues, searching for the doorway that will lead them to Hettie. 

Here are Stefan's answers to some updated interview questions!

In our last interview, you were drafting the companion to THE PECULIAR, now available as THE WHATNOT. How has THE WHATNOT expanded on the world you've built?

It's basically twice the size. The world, not the page-count. The first book was set only in the steampunk-y, magic-infused England, and the second one is only partly there, and partly in the mysterious faery world, which I loved writing. I could go a little bit crazy. No rules. Curtained windows for eyes. Clocks that tell the mood of the house-mistress, instead of the time. It was fun.

Sounds amazing! Pikey Thomas is different from THE PECULIAR's protagonist, Bartholomew Kettle. Did Pikey come to you fully fleshed, or did you discover him as you wrote?

Characters are definitely the hardest for me to write, and in this book the characters (mostly Pikey and Bartholomew) came really slowly throughout the revision process. Pikey's pretty simple in some ways. He's a hardscrabble orphan who lives in constant peril after having one of his eyes tampered with by a faery, and under his rough exterior he's longing for a home and other people. I knew all that about him when I started the book, but sometimes my brain knows things and doesn't bother telling me, and so it can take ages for me to be able to consciously express them and bring it out in the book.

I'm the same way--some characters come fully formed, others are tougher to crack. 

You contributed a short story to THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES: 36 TALES BRIEF & SINISTER. What do you enjoy most about writing short stories? 

We each contributed 8 short stories! Cabinet of Curiosities ( is a fun side project that I do together with three author friends where we post an odd/creepy/whatever-we-want short story every week. We were not expecting it to be turned into a book at all, and I think what I love most about the project is just being able to get away from whatever longer thing I'm working on and write whatever comes to mind. I also think it's great practice for me. I've learned a ton about writing in general from doing these short stories.

Sounds like a great way to learn! Thanks, Stefan, for another excellent interview.

To grab THE PECULIAR and THE WHATNOT for yourself, click the links below:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Last year, I featured A.S. King's book REALITY BOY, which I loved. I was excited to meet her again at this year's American Library Association Conference, where I found out about her new book. The premise is knock-your-socks-off amazing:

Would you try to change the world if you thought it had no future?

Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities — but not for Glory, who has no plan for what's next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way... until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions—and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying.

A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do everything in her power to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.

In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last—a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.

And here are her answers to some updated questions:

GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE has one of the best openings I've ever read--I was immediately hooked. What is your process for building openings, and what, if anything, guides that process?

My openings come to me pretty organically and they guide the rest of the book, really. I hear a character in my head and I write down what they tell me to write down. In the case of Glory O'Brien, I was in a school in Omaha, Nebraska and I had to come up with something quickly to use an example of my own writing during a writing and revision workshop. What I wrote that day is still the prologue to the book. In many ways I finished the book because the students said, "That's mental! What happens next?" But why did that idea come to me--drinking a bat? The fast train? I have no idea. I just wrote the first thing that came to me and then went with it.

Sometimes that's the best way to go. You always create sly, witty characters that readers want to hang out with for tons of pages. If you could have lunch with one of your characters, who would it be and why? (And what would you have for lunch?)

This is such a super hard question. And thank you. I'm so glad you dig my characters. I'd love to meet a lot of my characters. But if I could have lunch with anyone from any one of my books, I'd have lunch with Gerald from Reality Boy. I think I just want to tell him that he's going to be all right one day and hug him. I want to be his hockey lady. :) We'd probably eat Chinese food right out of the cartons with plastic forks.

I'm so glad Gerald has a hockey lady, both in the book and in real life. In our last interview, you mentioned that your favorite book is usually the one you're working on. What about this book made it your favorite while writing it?

Wow! Now THAT'S a question. Because I'm two books into the future, I have no idea. I think I loved that I got to revisit my 2004 (unpublished) book WHY PEOPLE TAKE PICTURES and find out what happened to that main character, as sad as it might have been. I also probably liked the angle of Glory's narration--from the present and the future. Wow. This is such a hard question to answer. But you know what? I kinda think I liked being unapologetically real about the nature of Glory's question about what a woman really looks like in our society and what that question does to all of us. That same thing scared me sometimes too. But I think being scared of what one is writing is probably a good thing in the end. If we don't take risks in life and art, then we're just making products. I'm here for art. I know this makes me look weird, but much like Glory, I really don't care if I look weird as long as I'm me.

And we're certainly glad you're you. Thanks for another excellent interview!

To snatch GLORY O' BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE for yourself, click the button below:

And here are more books, in case you haven't read them yet:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

FALLS THE SHADOW by Stefanie Gaither

I contacted Stefanie after I read her fantastic Fiction University post on hooking readers. Her debut novel, FALLS THE SHADOW, is a unique YA science fiction thriller, and the premise grabbed me immediately:

From Goodreads

When Cate Benson was a kid, her sister, Violet, died. Two hours after the funeral, Cate’s family picked up Violet’s replacement. Like nothing had happened. Because Cate’s parents are among those who decided to give their children a sort of immortality—by cloning them at birth—which means this new Violet has the same smile. The same perfect face. Thanks to advancements in mind-uploading technology, she even has all of the same memories as the girl she replaced.

She also might have murdered the most popular girl in school.

At least, that’s what the paparazzi and the anti-cloning protestors want everyone to think: that clones are violent, unpredictable monsters. Cate is used to hearing all that. She’s used to defending her sister, too. But Violet has vanished, and when Cate sets out to find her, she ends up in the line of fire instead. Because Cate is getting dangerously close to secrets that will rock the foundation of everything she thought was true.

In a thrilling debut, Stefanie Gaither takes readers on a nail-biting ride through a future that looks frighteningly similar to our own time and asks: how far are you willing to go to keep your family together?

Here are Stefanie's answers to some questions:

According to your website bio, you are repped by "ninja" agent Sara Megibow. How did you connect with Sara, and what do you like most about her as an agent?

I connected with Sara through a cold query--no prior contact, no referrals, nothing like that. She requested a partial from my one page query, and then a full almost instantly after that, and then a week or so later, I got "the call". You can read more about my query here:

And there's lots to like about Sara! Aside from the fact that she's one of the sweetest and most optimistic people on the planet, she's also super communicative and informative; my emails are always answered quickly and thoroughly, usually before my crazy writer mind even has time to stress about her reply :) She's really good about letting her clients know what to expect too, whether with submissions or otherwise. The list could go on, really--basically, let's just say she keeps me sane (ish) and leave it at that. 

Sane (ish) is definitely important. And I love the premise of FALLS THE SHADOW. Where did the idea come from, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished?

The idea came from a combination of a quote I saw on the internet, my own experiences losing family members, and probably a multitude of other things and experiences I'm forgetting about. As far as what I want readers to take away, great question! I guess that ultimately, for me, this is a book about family--all different kinds of family, with all their different kinds of complications, sci-fi related or otherwise. So, I'd hope FALLS might make readers think about that, and maybe question what they would do if given a choice like making their loved ones, in a sense, immortal. What might that mean for their relationships? Would it be worth it in the end? It's a fascinating, terrifying, complicated possibility to think about.

It is indeed! You also work as a copywriter for an advertising agency. In what ways does this supplement your creative writing, and what sort of balance (if any) do you find between both?

I think this background was most handy when it came to pitching the story; with copywriting projects, I'm usually trying to sell a product or person, and that's essentially what query letters and synopses are doing. Having this work on the side also helps me to remember to consider the business side of publishing when I'm crafting a story, which sounds totally anti-creativity or whatever, but to me, it's really not. The most successful businesses are creative businesses, after all--and I think success in publishing these days requires a happy marriage of creativity and business sense. 

So true--and definitely something all authors should think about. Your recent post on Fiction University discussed hooking readers. What elements hook you the most when reading, and why? 

Aside from the initial spark of conflict and questions that I talked about in that post, I'll follow a strong voice/good writing and an intriguing character a long way into a book, even well past the point where the plot or worldbuilding elements stopped making sense or holding my interest (though it's nice when everything keeps working, of course).

I agree--science fiction and fantasy writers often rely on worldbuilding, but more often it's the characters who carry the story. What are some of your current projects? Will FALLS THE SHADOW have a sequel?

Can't say anything at the moment, but I will be sharing some exciting news about this in the near future :)

Can't wait! Thanks, Stefanie, for giving such fantastic answers!

To snatch FALLS THE SHADOW for yourself (I know I'm going to!) click the link below:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


I connected with Tim through SCBWI, and his unique take on food trivia for kids intrigued me. RUDE DUDE'S BOOK OF FOOD: STORIES BEHIND SOME OF THE CRAZY COOL STUFF WE EAT is now available, and looks like a great addition to K-12 school libraries. Here's more information:

It's actually true that Mongol warriors rode with slabs of raw meat under their saddles then ate them that night in camp! It's actually true that Chinese archaeologists found 4,000-year-old noodles in an overturned cup. It's actually true that Americans buy $1 billion worth of chocolate each Valentine's Day. You think food is just stuff we eat!? Come on! There's a world full of great food stories out there—and Rude Dude's going to tell them!

Here are Tim's answers to some interview questions:

According to your website, you are a writer, songwriter, storyteller and teacher. How do all these creative mediums feed one another, and can you tell us more about your journey toward publication?

I can't imagine not working in multiple genres; I'm very much a generalist.  For one thing, I love the variety.  One day I'm writing poetry, the next researching a nonfiction piece, and the next at my keyboard or guitar.  But what appeals to me most is that I can find a proper home, so to speak, for different ideas that come to me.

I began writing, in grade school, with poetry.  (I also began writing songs in upper grade school, but song lyrics are, after all, a form of poetry). Poetry became habitual to me--it was my normal, and exclusive, form of literary expression.  As a senior in college, though, I began to notice a certain artistic constriction in my life.  I was a young adult, and my horizons were expanding rapidly; the more I learned and experienced, the more varied my inspirations became.  And I began to sense that, while some things are best expressed in poetry, others aren't.

One day I was driving down a neighborhood street and saw a dead squirrel, one that had clearly been hit by a car.  I felt a great pathos for that creature in that moment; a squirrel, just like a human being, is simply trying to live its life in the world.  But a poem about a car-flattened squirrel?  That just didn't feel right.  Suddenly, but rather quietly, it occurred to me that it could play a part in a short story.

But it was a huge shift for me, an opening up, and it allowed my artistic life to expand in a significant way.

My path to publication, at least to some degree, was unusual--I wrote for decades without the slightest thought about publication.  It never entered my mind.  And then I got married and started teaching, and then we had kids, so I was way too busy to work in a comprehensive way on a career in art.  During those years I stole whatever time I could for writing and songwriting.  Being an artist was always at the heart of me, always who I was. After many years I began to seek publication.  I began with children's books simply because they were short enough that I could finish them with my schedule.  My first picture book was published in 1993.  I've just kept on from there.  And today, with my kids grown up, I have more time.

Your story definitely shows the importance of infusing art in all stages of life. THE RUDE DUDE'S BOOK OF FOOD has some great stories about food and food history. How did it come to you, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished?

I was a high-school and middle-school teacher for 14 years, then a university teacher educator for 20, and I now teach in the English department at Santa Clara University.  I know kids and I know pedagogy (I learned a tremendous amount about teaching from my amazing wife, Dr. Priscilla Myers, a reading specialist, and also at SCU). One of the biggest problems in education, it seems to me, is that so many students are so often bored.  And it doesn't have to be that way.

What makes lifelong readers?  I know many such readers, and they don't read because they think they should.  They read became they want to.  What have we as educators accomplished if a kid goes through 12 years of education (or more)--and at the end of that time says to himself or herself, "Thank God that's over--now I don't have to read and write anymore." Many high-school graduates feel this way--and it's  the opposite of our goal!

I'd written a picture book called The History of the World from a  Hamburger Lover's Point of View, which I wrote mainly for the humor of it.  An editor who rejected it suggested it might make a good full-length book.

It seems to me that helping young people learn to love books is even more important than teaching them literacy skills.  Because if they love reading, they'll give themselves far more reading experience than we can ever give them, and that in turn will profoundly improve their skills.  I want readers to enjoy Rude Dude so much that they learn from it without realizing it.  And I want them to take on smarter and healthier attitudes about food and food history, as well as more openness to the fascinations of history in the larger sense.

In helping college-age students with research, I'm always amazed at how bored some of seem. I'm glad that you, and other teachers, are striving to light fires under your students. 
According to your bio, you have numerous pieces in children's magazines. What advice, if any, do you have for writers interested in submitting to these kinds of publications?

I love children's magazines, and I love writing for them.  Seeking this kind of publication can be very helpful for a writer, since it gives you publication credits, and publication experience (which can be more complicated than some people realize), and it can bolster your confidence.  There are drawbacks, in the sense that it doesn't pay much, and of course it isn't easy to be published in magazines, especially the best ones.  But all this, ultimately, is beside the point.  Because publishing is publishing, and for a writer, being read is the completion of the work.  There's profound fulfillment in that.  I don't write for children's magazines merely as a stepping stone to book publication; appearing in Cricket, for example, is a thrill and an honor in itself.

An additional advantage is that some magazines will take work that won't make it as, say, picture books, and that's allowed me to express myself publicly in a more varied way, which I deeply appreciate.

As far as advice goes, I'd remind writers to do their homework.  You need to know something about the magazine to begin with, and you certainly need to know all the details about how to submit, what kind of thing they're looking for, etc.  And then all the normal advice for the writing life kicks in:  being patient--being organized--being persistent--taking rejection in a positive way.  And of course the single most important advice:  But your main effort into the quality of your writing.

Excellent advice. What are some of your current projects?

I'm always working on a million things, which is how I like it.  I've recently published a number of adult nonfiction pieces on some great websites like the Los Angeles Review of Books and Electric Literature and in some magazines.  I plan to finish a picture book soon, and want to do pieces on some new terminology for issues of racism and for science fiction and fantasy literature.  My main project is a realist-fantasy novel for young adults and adults, which I'm still doing research for.  It's thrilling to work on, because I get to build a whole world!

Sounds great! Thanks, Tim, for being interviewed!

To purchase a copy of RUDE DUDE'S BOOK OF FOOD, click on the link below: