Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Kingdom on Fire, a series by Jessica Cluess

It's only fitting to continue a fire-themed week with one of my favorite new series. The first book, entitled, A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING, is one I've used as a comp title--and it even helped me figure out the problems my novel had in its beginning. The second in the series, A POISON DARK AND DROWNING just debuted, and I can't wait to read it next. The writing is excellent, the characters are engaging, and this alternate Victorian London is world I love getting lost in.

I am Henrietta Howel. The first female sorcerer. The prophesied one. Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames. When she is brought to London to train with Her Majesty's sorcerers, she meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, young men eager to test her powers and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her. As Henrietta discovers the secrets hiding behind the glamour of sorcerer life, she begins to doubt that she's the true prophesied one. With battle looming, how much will she risk to save the city--and the one she loves?

The magicians want her to lead. The sorcerers want her to lie. The demons want her blood. Henrietta wants to save the one she loves. But will his dark magic be her undoing?

Henrietta doesn’t need a prophecy to know that she’s in danger. She came to London to be named the chosen one, the first female sorcerer in centuries, the one who would defeat the bloodthirsty Ancients. Instead, she discovered a city ruled by secrets. And the biggest secret of all: Henrietta is not the chosen one.

Still, she must play the role in order to keep herself and Rook, her best friend and childhood love, safe. But can she truly save him? The poison in Rook’s system is transforming him into something monstrous as he begins to master dark powers of his own.

So when Henrietta finds a clue to the Ancients’ past that could turn the tide of the war, she persuades Blackwood, the mysterious Earl of Sorrow-Fell, to travel up the coast to seek out strange new weapons. And Magnus, the brave, reckless flirt who wants to win back her favor, is assigned to their mission. Together, they will face monsters, meet powerful new allies, and uncover the most devastating weapon of all: the truth.

In addition to writing books, you are also an instructor at Writopia Lab. What have you found most rewarding about helping kids and teens tell their own stories? 

So many people, kids and adults alike, feel that writing and storytelling belong to this select, chosen few. In reality, we’re all telling stories to ourselves all the time. Our lives are essentially one long, surprising narrative. Helping kids understand that they don’t need to be the smartest or the most creative in order to write is an incredible gift. When I see a reluctant writer get really carried away by what she or he is working on, that’s the best feeling.

And what a blessing to bring to so many. Your newest book, A POISON DARK AND DROWNING, is a sequel to A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING. What challenges, if any, did you have in writing the sequel, and what did you find most satisfying?

I had to completely rewrite APDAD from the ground up. That was among the most stressful things I’ve ever done. I barely slept for six weeks! That process hurt, but when I’d finished it was also my most satisfying project. That horrible rewrite helped me believe I could be an author. Many people can strike gold and write a publishable book. Taking a heap of garbage and making it something publishable is a lot more arduous.

Indeed it is--and it's a good reminder that even heaps of garbage are salvageable! I love your website. What advice, if any, do you have for authors wanting to build (or update) their online platforms?

Choose one or two social media platforms, and get really good at them. Don’t try to do every single one; you’ll burn yourself out, and not be effective. Also, while you can certainly build your own website, it helps to have a professional come in and design one for you. It’s worth a little money, but if you can swing it it’s fantastic.

Excellent advice. What are some of your current projects?

I’m currently finishing edits on book 3 in the Kingdom on Fire series. After that, I’ve got a YA fantasy project I hope gets bought. Fingers crossed!


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Monday, October 23, 2017

I See Fire: Wine Country, 2017

I'm ashamed to admit that I've always dismissed California fire season in the same way as California earthquakes--treating them as just part of the territory. A necessary evil. Unfortunately, I truly didn't understand the devastation fire can have--until it threatened the one place I consider home.

I'm even more ashamed that this provided the empathy I should have had all along.

I grew up in St. Helena, California, in the heart of the Napa Valley. We moved to Napa when I was 2, and to St. Helena when I was 4, and I lived in the same house until I went to grad school at age 25. I've always carried my town with me, not just as a place--but with the people from there who shaped me--ones I still turn to today.

When the Atlas Fire hit, I was on the phone with my father, and I didn't think much of it at first. I thought back to a previous conversation with a friend, when I heard about how people in Northern California made particular efforts to clear away brush in order to avoid the devastation seen from Southern California fires. The fire wouldn't spread too quickly, I thought.

How wrong I was. My home, usually sequestered from tragedy, from pain--my own Shire, as it were--was now facing the flames of Mount Doom.

Perhaps it's all too fitting, then, that Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire" is on The Desolation of Smaug soundtrack. Smaug, like the Northern California fires, was indiscriminate in his anger, destroying the city of Lake-town without hesitation of what it would do, or who would be affected.

And now, we pick up the pieces. Granted, Santa Rosa and Sonoma have more to clean up than Napa County does, and I am thankful that St. Helena and its surrounding towns are safe.

There are others who are much worse off. People with houses of mere rubble. Loved ones lost.

We have to confront how we are going to move forward. What now? What possible recourse do we have?

We start by using the change to shape us further.

No longer do I have trouble finding the necessary recognition, the necessary empathy, when it comes to the characters I write, their relationships, and what happens to them. All I have to do is remember my sick, horrid queasiness when an un-contained fire moved toward my home community. When there was nothing I could do to stop it.

I also have a fire scene in one of my eight works-in-progress that will probably have to be completely rewritten because of this. But it will be better, in the end.

I am using my anger, my angst, to build something better.

In a word, we have community, and each other. We have art. And like this woman who lost her home, we can use it to build beauty from the ashes.

And we must.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Jenny Lundquist continues to generate the perfect books for middle grade graders--with topics that aren't often seen (but are very much needed) in books for this age group. Her newest book, THE WONDROUS WORLD OF VIOLET BARNABY is the second part of her Izzy Malone series, first featured here.

Violet Barnaby is a having a blue Christmas. She’s still grieving the loss of her mother, and to make things worse, her dad has just married Melanie Harmer, a.k.a. the meanest teacher at Dandelion Hollow Middle School. But on the day Violet and her dad are packing up and moving into the new house they’ll share with Melanie and Melanie’s two children, Violet finds a letter her mother wrote to her before she died, asking Violet to enjoy Christmas, along with a Christmas Wish List—things her mom wants her to do during the holiday season. On the list are exactly the kinds of things Violet doesn’t want to do this year, like Be Someone’s Secret Santa; Give Someone the Gift of Your Time: Volunteer; and Bake Christmas Cookies.

Violet shows the letter to her friend Izzy’s Aunt Mildred, who calls a meeting of the Charm Girls, a club Izzy and Violet belong to along with their friends, Daisy and Sophia. Aunt Mildred decides she will give them each a charm to put on their bracelet if they do all of the tasks on the Christmas Wish List, which Violet is not too happy about. She’d rather forget about the list completely, but feels compelled to honor her mother’s wishes.

And when Izzy’s crush confides a big secret to Violet, Violet feels like she is stuck between her best friend and the boy who she just might have a crush on, too…

In our last interview, you said, "I think the main thing I’d like my readers to take away is that it’s okay to be who you are." What are your hopes for middle grade readers who might not know who they are yet? 

My biggest hope is that they would know that’s okay! Most of us don’t know who we are; and who we are one day could be different than who we become the next day. I firmly believe life is a journey, and we are always changing and growing. Middle school is a tender and tough time, an in-between time, when there is so much to learn. Wherever you’re at now, you’re okay. And you will be okay.

Wise words! THE WONDROUS WORLD OF VIOLET BARNABY is the second part of the Izzy Malone series. I love how Violet talks about her relationship with words at the beginning. What other ways were you able to get to know Violet as you wrote her?  

In this book Violet has to come to terms with her new blended family, while still grieving the loss of her mother to cancer a year and a half ago. I wanted to make sure I honored Violet’s character—and anyone who has lost a parent—by trying to portray what it feels like when a tween/teen loses his/her parent as accurately as possible. To that end I read books about the grief process and let that influence me as I wrote Violet’s character. I also get to know my characters by writing journal entries in their “voice” and occasionally interviewing them.

Interviewing characters sounds like a great strategy. What books do you hope to see less of and why?

None! Less books are never the answer! I want more books. Bring me all the books! One of my favorite things to do as an author is visit elementary school classrooms and encourage the students to consider writing a book. The world is always in need of more stories. Who knows how many masterpieces don’t exist because their author decided they “didn’t have what it takes” to become a professional writer?

An excellent point--and one I needed to hear. What are some of your current projects? 

Right now I am in the process of writing the first draft of The Carnival of Wishes and Dreams, which is a book about three eighth grade girls in a struggling factory town who each receive a note to meet the anonymous sender at the Ferris wheel at midnight on the night of the carnival. It’s got sort of a Night Circus/Ray Bradbury tone to it and it has been so fun to write. It is also due in three weeks, so I am currently stress eating my way through October!

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

NYXIA by Scott Reintgen

I first saw Scott Reintgen at a panel that discussed worldbuilding, and I really liked what he had to say. His new book NYXIA is excellent too. Have a look:

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.


Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

According to your website bio, you have a teaching background, explicated through the following quote: "He strongly believes that every student who steps into his classroom has the right to see themselves, vibrant and victorious and on the page." How does this principle translate to both your teaching and your writing?  

I have brilliant, diverse students who the system treats like afterthoughts. In spite of their boundless potential, the system has already taught them to act like side-characters in their own stories by the time they reach high school. That's wrong, and I've tried to teach and write against that mentality from the very beginning. My students are main characters. They can be heroes. They can launch into space and fight dragons and conquer empires. I always want to teach and write that truth as a reminder to them.

A wonderful reminder. In NYXIA, Emmett goes on a voyage to provide enough money for his family. How did Emmett come to you, and in what ways, if any, did he surprise you? 

Emmett's personality is based on several of my students. He's the kind of kid I spent full semesters with, day in and day out, learning from. And Emmett definitely surprised me. I wanted to write him as this cutthroat competitor who was reaching for glory, and willing to do anything to achieve his goals. Emmett refused to be that character. Time and again, I watched him build bridges of connection toward his competitors.

I love when characters blaze their own paths. NYXIA's cover is amazing, and I'm sure you've received many compliments on it. What, in your opinion, are the necessary elements of a book cover?

That's a great question! I think you want a cover that is aesthetically pleasing, captures the core of the book, and offers expectations to the reader. I'd say that this brilliant cover does all three. First, it's a pretty cover, especially when you see it in person. Those raised bubbles splashing out and the reflective design? Just lovely. Second, it's meant to be nyxia (a very important substance in the book) as it transforms shape. I think the cover captures the idea of possibility as we see something new taking form. Finally, it offers expectations. There's some clear science fiction to the cover, but more importantly, I think it's a relatively mysterious image. You kind of get drawn into that central portion of the image and want to know what journey you're about to begin. I definitely think our team at Penguin Random House hit a home run with this.

They definitely did! What are some of your current projects? 

I'm working on a lot of things that I can say very little about. Nyxia is a trilogy, and book two is complete. I'm slowly dipping my toes into book three as well. I've already written the first book of what might be my next YA series. Beyond that, I'm dabbling in some middle grade and adult fantasy as well. I've been quoted saying I have 23 planned projects at the moment and that number still stands.

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

THE BRIGHTEST FELL, newest in the October Daye series, by Seanan McGuire

I happened upon Seanan McGuire's books when I was looking at a preliminary review of INTO THE DROWNING DEEP, one of her stories written under the name Mira Grant. The newest in McGuire's October Daye series, THE BRIGHTEST FELL, also promises a satisfying literary escape.

For once, everything in October “Toby” Daye’s life seems to be going right. There have been no murders or declarations of war for her to deal with, and apart from the looming specter of her Fetch planning her bachelorette party, she’s had no real problems for days. Maybe things are getting better.

Maybe not.

Because suddenly Toby’s mother, Amandine the Liar, appears on her doorstep and demands that Toby find her missing sister, August. But August has been missing for over a hundred years and there are no leads to follow. And Toby really doesn’t owe her mother any favors.

Then Amandine starts taking hostages, and refusal ceases to be an option.

According to your website, you've been a full-time author since January 15, 2014. In what ways, if any, did you balance your author life with your previous day job, and what are some time management strategies you still employ?

Well, when I was working a full time day job as well as a full time slate of publication commitments, I slept an average of three hours a night, had no social life, regularly broke down crying for no apparent reason, screamed at my friends for even implying that it might be acceptable to take a break, considered suicide daily, and eventually had a nervous breakdown culminating in my spending three weeks on the couch watching Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and dozing.

I don't do those things anymore.

As for time management strategies, I have a daily to-do list, and I try to finish everything on it before I go downstairs to play Overwatch.

Sounds like a nice way to unwind--and I'm glad you've found some balance! In THE BRIGHTEST FELL, the newest in the October Daye series, readers finally get to meet Amandine the Liar. What did you enjoy most about writing Amandine and why?

There's a sort of flawed central conceit to this question, which is the idea that I enjoy characters rather than plots and storylines.  I adored getting the chance to finally tell more of Amandine's story, which has been brewing in the background for a very long time, but writing Amandine herself was no better or worse than writing anyone else.

That makes sense. The second book in the Wayward Children series, DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES, actually takes place before EVERY HEART A DOORWAY. What led to this decision, and in what ways do you feel time influences plot?

In this case, the plan has always been to alternate between "present" stories--the time period that began with "Every Heart a Doorway," and continues forward from there--with "past" stories, showing the actual worlds the various students went to visit.  Each is intended to interrogate the other, and show that all the kids, good or bad or neutral in the present, were heroes in their own way and time.  It's important to the text that we not forget that all of them were once sure.

Indeed. In July, you announced that you will be penning an upcoming Star Wars novel. There's probably not a lot you can say specifically yet, but is there anything that has you most excited about it?

I'm one of the four authors writing a novella for Canto Bight, an awesome look at one of the exciting new settings introduced in The Last Jedi.  I adore working in other people's worlds.  It's freeing and constricting all at the same time, and that's just delightful.

Sounds exciting! You also write horror novels under the name Mira Grant. INTO THE DROWNING DEEP comes out this November--is there anything you can tell us about it yet?

Mermaids!  So many mermaids.  I'm hoping to do for Ariel what Alien did for domestic xenomorphs.


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

More books by Seanan McGuire:

Discount Armageddon Midnight Blue-Light Special Half-Off Ragnarok Pocket Apocalypse Chaos Choreography Magic for Nothing Tricks for Free
(7 books)

Indexing Reflections
(2 books)

More books by Mira Grant:

Feed Deadline Blackout Feedback
(4 books)

Parasite Symbiont Chimera
(3 books)

(images and links ©2017 Goodreads Inc)

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