Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Abyss Surrounds Us, a series by Emily Skrutskie

I first met Emily Skrutskie at this year's YALLWEST, and the premise of The Abyss Surrounds Us series was too fascinating to pass up. Have a look for yourself:

Cas has fought pirates her entire life. But can she survive living among them?

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to the ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Cas dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.

But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers that Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and ruining the ocean ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?

Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?

According to your website bio, you dabble in film as well as writing. What do you love most about both mediums?

I love shared experiences. I love going to a theater and watching something—and for two hours, everyone in that room with me is watching the exact same thing, bringing their own selves and their thoughts and opinions and emotions to the table. Something about that has always felt super powerful to me. Plus I love spectacle, and with the wizards in the industry nowadays, the only limit is your imagination.

Well, and what makes it through review and testing and every level of production—which is part of the reason I love writing, too. Because much as I love experiencing shared experiences, I also love constructing them for people, and writing affords you a degree of control that simply doesn’t make it through a film pipeline. I love working collaboratively at my day job, but I also love having authorship in my writing. It’s a daunting thing, being responsible for someone’s entire experience with your story, but it makes it so worthwhile when you pull it off.

Indeed. THE EDGE OF THE ABYSS expands on the world you created in THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US. In what ways did the story grow in ways you didn't expect?

It’s hard to say what I didn’t expect because I planned both books concurrently and knew how the story would end before I started telling it. But I think the way I planned it was incredibly focused on Cas’s development as a character, so one of the surprises was getting to explore Swift, Santa Elena, Varma, and the rest of the cast.

Yet another reason to plan stories thoroughly! You also write short stories. What, in your opinion, is the hardest part about writing a short story and why?

Anton Chekov once suggested that, in paraphrased terms, a short story is less about answering a question and more about stating it correctly. I have a brain that’s wired for problem solving. Allowing myself to leave a question stated, but unsolved, is very, very difficult for me, and it’s one of the reasons coming up with short stories is so much harder for me than figuring out novel plots.

Nonetheless, I'll bet that makes for some interesting plotting twists.  What are some of your current projects?

My next novel, HULLMETAL GIRLS, is due out next summer! It’s the story of two very angry girls who become two very angry jacked up cyborgs and are very angry at each other—but maybe have to stop being angry at each other and start working together if they have any hope of saving the wandering fleet of spaceships they call home.

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Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

FIREBLOOD, the second in the Frostblood Saga by Elly Blake

I've been a fan of Elly Blake's Frostblood saga ever since I featured her here. In addition to FIREBLOOD's gorgeous cover, Kirkus Reviews said, "Ruby's story shimmers and expands as she grapples with forces pushing her to obey."

Against all odds, Ruby has defeated the villainous Frost King and melted his throne of ice. But the bloodthirsty Minax that was trapped inside is now haunting her kingdom and everyone she loves. The answers to its demise may lie to the south in Sudesia, the land of the Firebloods, and a country that holds the secrets to Ruby's powers and past....

Despite warnings from her beloved Arcus, Ruby accompanies a roguish Fireblood named Kai to Sudesia, where she must master her control of fire in a series of trials to gain the trust of the suspicious Fireblood queen. Only then can she hope to access the knowledge that could defeat the rampaging Minax--which grows closer every moment. But as sparks fly in her moments alone with Kai, how can Ruby decide whom to trust? The fate of both kingdoms is now in her hands.

In our last interview, when talking about character fan art, you said, "I enjoy seeing interpretations of the same character, and how each drawing style gives the character different nuances." Do you keep finding new nuances within your characters, and in what ways do they continue to surprise you? 

 Definitely! I discover characters while writing, so I learn about them as they face new situations. It’s always startling to realize that a character has secrets, even from me. Sometimes a character surprises me by reacting differently to a situation than I expected. For instance, at certain points in Fireblood, Kai shows a softer side that I didn’t know he had. And sometimes Marella’s intentions have eluded me. I don’t always have a handle on what she’s going to do, and I find out in the scenes as I write them.

Probably why she's one of my favorite characters. In FIREBLOOD, Ruby gets more acquainted with her homeland. What about the story's setting connects with her character and the new things she's discovering about herself? 

 Great question! When Ruby arrives in the islands of Sudesia, she notices the vivid green of the hills, the crystal blue water, and the bright flowers. Everything seems more colorful and more vibrantly alive, which I suppose is a fitting backdrop for some of the lessons Ruby learns there. Firebloods are much more accepting of showing emotion, and less afraid of a little flamboyance, from their clothing to their fighting styles. There are certainly parallels between the setting, which includes an active volcano and secret underground tunnels, and the emotional moments and secrets Ruby faces while she’s there.

Fascinating--and I love the symbolism of fire versus ice. The paperback edition for FROSTBLOOD just came out, and the series also made the NYT Bestseller List. Congrats on being an NYT Bestselling author! Where were you when you heard the news?  

Thank you so much! I’ll never forget that moment. I was in the middle of cooking pasta when the phone rang. My editor, Deirdre, said she had some good news and suggested I might want to sit down. I asked my son to keep an eye on the pot of boiling water and I took a seat. Deirdre told me that Frostblood had hit the NYT bestseller list!!! I immediately started to cry. Then I heard a few voices in the background, and I realized I was on speaker phone! Several people in the LBYR office were in on the phone call, and here I was, having a good cry. But they were all happy and supportive. I’m so grateful to all the people—especially readers—who took a chance on Frostblood and made my dream come true!

And we're glad you've written such a compelling series! If you could tell your younger writing self one thing, what would it be and why? 

I’d say: You can do this. Don’t feel bad for making mistakes. Failure is only temporary if you keep going.

When I was younger, I dreamed of writing, but I didn’t have the courage to try. I was convinced I wouldn’t be good enough. I didn’t want to risk failure. I thought being a writer was a special gift bestowed at birth, and only people who compulsively wrote poetry or journals would turn out to be real writers. I didn’t think that I’d be talented enough or strong enough. It took the fear of possibly never finding out to jolt me into action. I figured I should at least try. I’m so so so glad I did!

Publishing can be tough, but the writing community is a rewarding one and there’s always so much more to learn, which I find fascinating and energizing! You start writing and before you know it, you can’t stop. And then you find the most wonderful people to take the journey with you. If there’s a secret writer-dreamer reading this—especially someone with a lack of confidence, or high sensitivity, or low self-esteem—I’m speaking especially to you. You are capable of so much more than you know. Find supportive people and be gentle and kind to yourself. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to try! Give yourself permission to try and fail and try again. That’s the only way we learn. I, for one, am proud of you!

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017


I first met Mackenzi at the launch of A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE when she spoke with author Anna-Marie McLemore. I was Anna-Marie's ride, and my car battery decided to die right before I was supposed to leave. If not for a kind city sidewalk paver and his knowledge of cars, I might not have gotten Anna-Marie there in time. There were even wildfires on the freeway on our way there, and the journey started to feel very Illiad-ish. Thankfully, we arrived on time, and intact.

And I'm so glad I went. Not only is Mackenzi a great author, but she's an engaging speaker and brilliant historian. I hope to read her other books, including THIS MONSTROUS THING.

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

I love that you feature #bygonebadassbroads on Twitter. How did this series come about, and what do you love most about writing it?

It came from a lot of the same place as The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue – my frustration that the stories of anyone other than white, straight, cis men in history is considered niche and not mainstream. Sexism has always existed, but so have incredible women who have fought back and beat the odds and persisted in spite of it. Their stories are often overlooked so the twitter series was my small attempt to share something I’m passionate about in away that felt fun and accessible. I never knew it was going to take off the way it has, and it’s been such an incredible passion project. Hearing the response from readers and what the series has inspired has been the best part.

It's truly been an inspiration to us all. And the opening to THE GENTLEMEN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE is one of the best I've ever read. What, in your opinion, is necessary for a good novel opening?

Thank you! The whole books sort of came from the first two lines of the book—when I looked back at my first draft right before the book was published, I realized they hadn’t changed at all (the rest of the book changed A LOT). I think the most important thing in a first line is that it sparks a question in the reader. It makes you want to know more, and propels you into the story.

Indeed it does. THE GENTLEMEN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE also reached the New York Times Bestseller list! Congratulations! Where were you when you heard the news?

I was in a hotel room in California, about to jump in the car to drive to my event at Kepler’s with Anna-Marie McLemore. I got a text from a friend who works in publishing that just said CONGRATULATIONS!!! And I had no idea what she was talking about. But my editor called a few minutes later and it all made sense.

Wonderful. What are some of your current projects?

I have a book of short essays based on my twitter series about amazing forgotten women in history, Bygone Badass Broads, coming out next March from Abrams, and illustrated by Petra Eriksson, and incredible graphic artist. There’s also going to be a sequel to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which is called The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, and follows Felicity’s continuing adventures.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

THIRTEEN RISING, the last in the ZODIAC series, by Romina Russell

I've been a fan of Romina Russell's ever since I featured her here. In reading the Zodiac series, I'm in awe of Romina's intricate worldbuilding, unique characters, and poetic writing. Here are some quotes from ZODIAC that I've permanently highlighted:

"Home is within me, no matter where I go, no matter what happens to our planet or our people."

"Most of us don't intentionally try to misrepresent anything--but the lies we tell ourselves, the truths we repress, the things we conceal in the physical realm...they inform reality..."

"People with tormented souls can barely see beyond their own torment. Your sight is clear because you are honest."

The Zodiac series draws to a close with THIRTEEN RISING, which debuts at the end of this month. Have a look:

THIRTEEN RISING: Debuts on August 29, 2017

The master has been unmasked. Rho’s world has been turned upside down. With her loved ones in peril and all the stars set against her, can the young Guardian from House Cancer muster the strength to keep fighting? Or has she finally found her match in a master whose ambition to rule knows no limits?

In our last interview, you said, "The world must exist before the character can be born." Is this true for all the stories you write, and in what ways do your characters continue to surprise you? 

Yes--I always lead with worldbuilding whenever I brainstorm a new project, and because of that my characters are constantly surprising me. If you birth characters in worlds distinctly different from your own, you'll find that their thoughts and actions and dialogue are always foreign and fresh because they're unique to them. For example, Rho was born on House Cancer, which is a matriarchy--so she felt empowered in many situations where I would have felt self conscious and uncertain. I think of all the characters in Z, Hysan was the most surprising and unexpected because he was raised by a pair of androids--something I could never relate to! So breaking into his mind was almost like hacking into a super advanced software and trying to anticipate how that sort of operating system would function. Which, for me, was extremely hard!

Yes, but Hysan is also one of the most interesting (and disconcerting) characters. As a Libra, I wasn't sure of him at first, but I warmed to him a bit more over time. You've also said that THIRTEEN RISING is your favorite in the series. What about it was the most fun to write?

I always change my mind about which one is my favorite! Usually it's the one I've just finished writing. I think THIRTEEN RISING was tonally very different from the previous tomes because by now Rho has endured so much that she's shifted into a new woman. I think we've seen hints of that woman from time to time in the earlier books, but by now she's fully embraced her new self, and it's very shocking to see her shed her old skin--a little sad, a little exciting, and (for me) very fulfilling. I also loved diving into the villain's mind and finally pulling back the curtain on what's happening in the Zodiac. To me, it just felt like a very complete book, filled with answers and action and heartbreak. And I especially loved writing the big battle scene!

That makes me want to read it even more, and it goes to show why you've penned so many great books! Is there pressure to make the next books better than the previous ones? What ways do you renew your creativity when the well runs dry? 

Thank you! And yes, SO much pressure--mostly from myself. I think I've been in a bit of a postpartum depression since completing the final book, and I'm only now starting to crawl out of my cave. The thing that has been instrumental in igniting my desire to write again has been traveling and meeting readers on tour. Talking with you guys at events has reminded me of how much I love creating new worlds and telling new stories, and it's made me eager to get back to work for you!

Hooray! What are some of your current projects? 

I've outlined a few different ideas, but they're all in too early stages to say much. One of them is calling to me louder than the others, and it's a YA fantasy based on ancient Argentine lore that I researched while I was there presenting the third book in May. I'm originally from Buenos Aires, and I hear my home calling, tugging me back, urging me to explore the life I left behind so long ago.

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Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Pre-order/Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

FIRST WE WERE IV by Alexandra Sirowy

I've been a fan of Alexandra Sirowy ever since I first saw an ARC of her novel, THE CREEPING. Her newest book, FIRST WE WERE IV, just debuted, and it's amazing. (Author Jessica Taylor thinks so too.) 

It started for pranks, fun, and forever memories.
A secret society – for the four of us.
The rules: Never lie. Never tell. Love each other.
We made the pledge and danced under the blood moon on the meteorite in the orchard. In the spot we found the dead girl five years earlier. And discovered the ancient drawings way before that.
Nothing could break the four of us apart – I thought.
But then, others wanted in. Our seaside town had secrets. History.
We wanted revenge.
We broke the rules. We lied. We told. We loved each other too much, not enough, and in ways we weren’t supposed to.
Our invention ratcheted out of control.
What started as a secret society, ended as justice. Revenge. Death. Rebellion.

According to your website bio, you've "been writing short stories and inventing characters since fifth grade camp in the redwoods." What first inspired you to put words on paper?

We moved a lot as a family. We moved from California to Rhode Island and back again before I was six, then we moved three more times before I was twelve. In Rhode Island we lived next door to the children's author and illustrator Christopher Van Allsburg (Jumanji, The Polar Express, etc.). There was always a lot of talk of books in our home and seeing a bonafide children's author walking his dog around the block made writing feel accessible and possible. I started writing short stories as a way to cope with saying goodbye to friends when we moved. At first these were usually ghost stories, though, not the scary kind. My stories always featured a ghost child and a living child who'd meet, become friends, and live happily ever after. By the time I got to fifth grade camp in the redwoods, I was starting to get a little more creative, including animals and haunted forests in the plot-lines.

What a beautiful way to find solace within unpleasant transitions. And, I love that the opening scene in FIRST WE WERE IV starts after something bad has already happened. How do you think about time in relation to plot? 

Time has an important role in all three of my books - something I really hadn't considered until you asked this question!  In THE CREEPING, the protagonist doesn't remember a mysterious and traumatic event from her childhood; recovering those memories and trying to solve the mystery drive the plot. In THE TELLING, the plot is divided between before and after the attack of the protagonist's step-brother. I use scenes from the past as breadcrumbs for the reader to follow and figure out who the killer is in their seemingly idyllic island-home. And in FIRST WE WERE IV, I start the book with the tragic end, when the secret society the protagonists have invented has become irrevocably out of their control.

Time is as important to my plots as character development, tension, and pacing of the story itself. Time isn't forgiving - it's the perfect antagonistic force in thrillers.

Indeed it is. Your novel THE CREEPING takes place in a place similar to where you grew up. In what ways,  if any, did this influence how the setting developed?

All three of my YA thrillers have been set in seemingly perfect, small towns. And yes, I grew up in a similarly privileged, tight-knit community in Northern California. Small towns fascinate me because of the intimacy inhabitants have with each other. You know of people. You think you know them well. But do you really know your neighbors? Imagining crimes and mysterious tragedies in small towns always seems so much more chilling than using a big city. Small towns are supposed to be safe places where nothing bad ever happens. Monsters aren't supposed to look like me and you.

And yet they do--and sometimes those monsters are the scariest. What are some of your current projects?

I have a few books I'm writing: a YA fantasy that's murder-y, revenge-y, and so much fun to write; a fourth YA thriller; and an adult suspense novel. I'm so excited that FIRST WE WERE IV was released on July 25th!


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here