Wednesday, February 27, 2019

IRON CIRCLE, the second book in the YELLOW LOCUST series, by Justin Joschko

I first heard about Month9Books when I featured Tobie Easton. Another Month9 author, Justin Joschko, has a book called IRON CIRCLE debuting next month. When I saw the cover, I had to spread word about it, as well as the rest of the Yellow Locust series:

Selena Flood is a fighter of preternatural talent. But not even her quick fists and nimble feet could save her parents from the forces of New Canaan, the most ruthless and powerful of the despotic kingdoms populating America-that-was.

Forced to flee the tyrannical state with her younger brother Simon in tow, Selena is now the last chance for peace in a continent on the verge of complete destruction.

In her pocket is a data stick, the contents of which cost her parents their lives. Selena must now ensure it reaches the Republic of California—a lone beacon of liberty shining across a vast and barren wasteland—before it’s too late.

Between New Canaan and California stretch the Middle Wastes: thousands of desolate miles home to murderers, thieves, and a virulent strain of grass called yellow locust that has made growing food all but impossible. So when Selena and Simon stagger into Fallowfield, an oasis of prosperity amidst the poisoned plains, everything seems too good to be true—including the warm welcome they receive from the town’s leader, a peculiar man known only as The Mayor.

As Selena delves deeper into the sinister secrets of this seemingly harmless refuge, she soon learns there is a much darker side to Fallowfield and the man who runs it. Before long, she must call upon the skills she honed in the fighting pits of New Canaan to ensure not only her own survival, but that of her brother, in whom the Mayor has taken far too keen an interest. And she’d better act fast, for an all-out war inches ever closer, and New Canaan is never as far away as it seems.

The path west is long, but despite Selena’s progress, New Canaan is never far enough behind her. It was there that her parents were killed, forcing her and her little brother Simon to flee the tyrannical state. Now, New Canaan wants control over every last inch of America-That-Was. Only the Republic of California can stand against it—but not without the data stick in Selena’s pocket, rumored to contain vital information about New Canaan’s deadly new weapon.

As winter closes in, Selena races south in search of an open passage to the coast. She must pass through Nuevo Juarez, where a ruthless leader named Thorin has seized power. Selena runs afoul of Thorin’s men and is separated from her brother, captured, and auctioned off at the city’s thriving slave market.

Her only way out is through the Iron Circle, a fighting ring where the city’s most fearsome warriors pit their skills against one another. As the populace and Thorin watch Selena rise through the ranks, Selena earns a reputation she doesn’t want and the attention of man with the power to destroy her and what’s left of America-That-Was.

According to your Author Bio, your writing has appeared in newspapers and literary journals across Canada. How did these publications come about?

A couple of different ways. I used to write a fair bit of poetry and short fiction before transitioning into novels, and after a lot of submissions, some of these got picked up by various outlets. Grain published a poem of mine, and I appeared in a couple of anthologies for horror and speculative fiction. I've appeared in some American journals as well, but since I'm Canadian and attended Canadian universities, I was much more familiar with the journals in this country, which is where most of my submissions went.

While pursuing my own projects, I also worked as a freelance writer and editor, which led to me writing a number of non-fiction pieces--some credited, some ghost-written--that appeared in several of Canada's biggest newspapers, including the Huffington Post, the Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star. I also co-wrote a popular science book called Scientific Parenting that explores the genetic and environmental factors that influence early child development. In recent years, I've drifted away from this sort of non-fiction work, and now my writing tends to be either my own novels or academic work published in peer-reviewed journals.

Speaking of your novels, IRON CIRCLE marks the second book in the Yellow Locust series. In what ways, if any, did Selena's story expand in ways you didn't expect?

I didn't set out to write a multi-book series, and the possibility of Yellow Locust having a sequel didn't even occur to me until about the third draft. It was then that the story opened up beyond the immediate conflict in Fallowfield, and drew in much of the backstory about New Canaan and the broader concerns of the continent. Once those ideas were in play, it no longer seemed sufficient to let Selena and Simon ride off into the proverbial sunset. I needed to follow her there and see what she found.

What a great analogy. I'm always curious what characters might find in the so-called distant sunset. Along that vein, what do you think are the necessary elements of a good story?

I think there are three essential elements that make up a story: plot, character, and style. A great book excels in all three areas (think We Have Always Lived in the Castle, A Confederacy of Dunces, or The Book of the Long Sun), but a good writer can flub one of these a little and still turn out solid work. Lovecraft's characters make cardboard look dynamic, but the man wrote stories in eloquent prose that fundamentally rethought the very nature of what "evil" is, so he pulled it off. Ken Follett's prose is unadorned and even a bit flat at times, but he builds worlds rich in historical detail and writes characters that engage you (even if they tend towards a fairly basic good-evil dichotomy). Probably there are books that excel simply by knocking one of these elements out of the park, but generally speaking any book I've enjoyed has gripped me in at least two of these three areas.

Makes sense. What are some of your current projects?

I've written a couple of books that fall outside of the Yellow Locust universe, which I'm hoping to get published at some point. One is a horror novel set in my hometown of Niagara Falls, the other a sort of urban fantasy along the lines of Neil Gaiman (if I may make so bold a comparison). I've never been good at sticking to one genre, as a reader or a writer, so I imagine I'll keep bouncing around in years to come.

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

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

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

THE QUEEN'S RESISTANCE, second in The Queen's Rising series by Rebecca Ross

I first featured Rebecca Ross here, and when I found out that the sequel to The Queen's Rising, THE QUEEN'S RESISTANCE would be coming out in March, I knew another feature was in order:

Finally, Brienna is a mistress of knowledge and is settling into her role as the daughter of Davin MacQuinn, a disgraced lord who returned to Maevana to reclaim his house. Though she’d just survived a revolution, one that will finally return a queen to the throne, she faces another difficult challenge. She must prove herself trustworthy to the MacQuinns. But as Queen Isolde Kavanagh’s closest confidant, she’ll have to balance serving her father’s house as well as her country. And then there’s Cartier, a wholly separate but desirable factor in her new life.

Aodhan Morgane, formerly known as Cartier √Čvariste, is adjusting to the stark contrast between his pre-rebellion life in Valenia as a master of knowledge and his current one as the lord of a fallen house. During his castle’s restoration, he discovers a ten-year-old boy named Tomas, whose past and parentage are a complete mystery. So when Cartier’s former pupil Brienna is as taken with Tomas as he is, he lets his mind wander—what if he doesn’t have to raise him or his house alone?

As the Lannon trial rapidly approaches, Brienna and Cartier must put their feelings aside to concentrate on forging alliances, executing justice, and ensuring that no one interferes with the queen’s coronation. But resistance is rumbling among the old regime’s supporters, who are desperate to find a weakness in the rebels’ forces. And nothing makes a person more vulnerable than deep-seated love.

When her seventeenth summer solstice arrives, Brienna desires only two things: to master her passion and to be chosen by a patron.

Growing up in the southern Kingdom of Valenia at the renowned Magnalia House should have prepared her for such a life. While some are born with an innate talent for one of the five passions—art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge—Brienna struggled to find hers until she belatedly chose to study knowledge. However, despite all her preparations, Brienna’s greatest fear comes true—the solstice does not go according to plan and she is left without a patron.

Months later, her life takes an unexpected turn when a disgraced lord offers her patronage. Suspicious of his intent, and with no other choices, she accepts. But there is much more to his story, and Brienna soon discovers that he has sought her out for his own vengeful gain. For there is a dangerous plot being planned to overthrow the king of Maevana—the archrival kingdom of Valenia—and restore the rightful queen, and her magic, to the northern throne. And others are involved—some closer to Brienna than she realizes.

With war brewing between the two lands, Brienna must choose whose side she will remain loyal to—passion or blood. Because a queen is destined to rise and lead the battle to reclaim the crown. The ultimate decision Brienna must determine is: Who will be that queen?

In our last interview, you said, "I feel like my mind is always working, bouncing from current projects to future projects." How do you know where to best direct your focus when juggling multiple projects?

Ah, it's been hard. Haha. This year I've honed my focus by planning ahead and then following my calendar to stay on track. If I am on deadline, then all of my attention and energy needs to go into that. Even if a new shiny idea emerges. I just wrapped up my first round of edits for my third book, which required an extensive rewrite. But even as I was devoted to my revisions, I had a little hum in the back of my mind about The Queen's Resistance, whose release is right around the corner so I knew it was time for me to begin promoting it. I think it truly comes down to how well I can plan and manage my time. My daily planner and monthly calendar save me, or else I'm sure I wouldn't be able to remember and keep up with all the hats I'm currently juggling.

Juggling multiple hats is certainly daunting. And I love how THE QUEEN'S RESISTANCE deals with vulnerability. What do you hope readers take away from these new developments in Brienna's story?

I hope readers enjoy Brienna's journey and that it resonates with them in some measure. In The Queen's Rising, we see her struggling to find out which path she wants to take in her life. In The Queen's Resistance, she has chosen her path but she still aches to find where we she belongs. She is also rising in power, which is accompanied by challenges, and her relationships are deepening and growing. But I think most of all, to love is to be vulnerable. Even in the face of justice and hard truths and uncertainty. There are a lot of painful revelations that come to light in this book, and yet despite it all, we must remember our humanity. Brienna discovers that she can be soft and strong in the same breath.

Beautiful. I've heard that it can be challenging to write a sequel. Did you experience any "Book 2 Blues"? If so, how did you deal with them?

Yes. Second books can be very difficult creatures. A lot of authors struggle with writing their sophomore novels. I think it's a combination of writing under a contract for the first time + a wave of " did I write the first book? I have no idea what I'm doing." :) The Queen's Resistance had a very unusual origin. I wrote The Queen's Rising to be a standalone, and so I pitched the other two books in my contract as companion novels, so the same world but different heroines. Well, I wrote a companion book. I came to strongly dislike it after it was drafted, so I scrapped it. I wrote another companion book. This one was slightly better, but it was still missing something. Something felt off about it. It was nearly time for me to send a manuscript to my editor, so I was beginning to panic, because I had no idea what to do. That was when Brienna came to me again and quietly said, "Continue my story."

I had never allowed myself to imagine her story continuing, but I picked up right where The Queen's Rising left off. And before I knew it, I had drafted a chapter, and then another chapter, and then another. The words poured out, just as they had in The Queen's Rising. I had a spark, which is what I had been looking for and couldn't find in the companion novels.

I'm very happy my agent and editor were 100% on board with me writing a sequel. And I'm glad that I didn't settle with the companion novels. I had to do a lot of digging and had a lot of sleepless nights trying to figure out what my second book needed to be. But I wouldn't change the journey that led to its creation. For authors who may be experiencing second book blues, I just want to encourage you. You got this. Breathe and write again for the love of it, not for a contract. If you have to scrap an entire manuscript, do it. Trust your gut. The right story will emerge, it just might be in a different way than your debut did.

Wise words. What do you feel are the necessary elements of a good story?

For me, I want a story to make me feel something. I want it to emotionally manipulate me, to stir something in me. I love to be surprised by plot, but I think the most important thing is to have characters who feel real, characters who I would follow to the ends of the earth.

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

This post can also be viewed here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


I was excited to learn that Jenny Lunquist had a new Middle Grade book, in addition to those featured here and here. Her newest novel, THE CARNIVAL OF WISHES AND DREAMS, debuted yesterday, and offers a glance into the barriers that can sometimes emerge between friends.

The small town of Clarkville has seen better days. Ever since the Cohen factory burned down a few years ago, jobs are scarce and unemployment is high. But each year for one night the Carnival of Wishes and Dreams comes to town and everyone gets to indulge in a little wonder and delight. And for three girls who each receive notes asking them to meet the anonymous sender at midnight at the Ferris Wheel, it’s an evening that promises to be truly magical.

Audrey McKinley can’t believe someone would ask her to ride the Ferris Wheel. Everyone in town knows she’s afraid of heights; the last time she rode the Ferris Wheel it ended with her having a panic attack. But ever since her dad lost his job after the Cohen factory burned down he’s been working too little. The carnival gives him a chance for some seasonal work, and she plans to spend the evening checking up on him and making sure he does his job. Maybe she’ll face her fears tonight, after all.

Grace Chang isn’t supposed to go to the carnival. It’s too close to the burned remains of the old Cohen factory—the place where her firefighter father lost his life. And they always rode the Ferris Wheel together, so that’s also something Grace isn’t supposed to do. But since her mom just announced they’ll be moving away from Clarkville the day after the carnival, Grace is sick of only doing things she’s supposed to do. She’ll be at the carnival. And she is definitely riding that Ferris Wheel.

Harlow Cohen is surprised anyone would want to ride the Ferris Wheel with her. Harlow used to be popular. But ever since her grandparents’ old factory burned down and so many people lost their jobs, many of the kids at school blame her—and her rich family—for their own parents’ worsening economic situations. Harlow can never resist a dare, but when a note arrives asking her to meet an anonymous person at the Ferris Wheel at midnight, she’s far from certain it will be a friend waiting for her.

Can these three girls put their differences aside long enough for their wishes to come true? And is it possible to save a friendship that once seemed lost for good?

In our last interview you said, "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." What kinds of stories do you think the world needs more of? 

I think the world is in need of more diverse stories and more stories that encourage empathy. Now more than ever, I think it's important that we try to understand that other people's experiences are different than our own. I know for me right now, I'm also looking for hopeful or fun adventure stories. Sometimes the world can seem so dark; and sometimes on those days I need something fun to escape into.

Me too. I love the premise of THE CARNIVAL OF WISHES AND DREAMS, which you've described as having a "Night Circus/Ray Bradbury" tone. Did the story come to you this way, or did it develop as you wrote it? 

I would say both. I knew I wanted a particular tone when I was first brainstorming the story. But for me there's only so much that I can plan in advance so some of the voice of the story came as I was drafting.

That makes sense. What do you feel are the necessary parts of a good story? 

I think the most necessary parts of a good story is the marriage of the right character, to the right plot. I've had to abandon book ideas or develop completely different characters because I've realized that the main character I developed didn't match the plot. I also believe that character development in general is extremely important. You can have the best plot ever; but if you haven't developed a character that readers can root for, or be interested in, they may not stick around to finish the book or pick it up in the first place.

It's fascinating to think about whether or not characters match their story. If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why? 

If I could tell my younger self one thing it would be this: Just write. Don't worry about what anybody else is doing and don't pay any attention to the negative voice in your head telling you that you can't do it, will never be good enough, etc. I lost a lot of years because I chose to listen to my own negative/critical thoughts about myself and I really regret it. While I knew from the time that I was in elementary school that I liked to write, it wasn't until I turned 30 that I was finally able to just ignore those thoughts and sit down and start writing.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019


At last year's Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) conference, I was delighted to see a familiar face at one of the signing tables. It was Carrie Lara, someone from my hometown of St. Helena. Her book is MARVELOUS MARAVILLOSO, a glimpse into ethnicity and culture in families:

Marvelous Maravilloso is a story from the point of view of a young interracial child about what color means within the dynamics of race, ethnicity, and culture.

When did you know for certain that you wanted to write books for children? 

Actually, I didn't know for sure until it happened. That's why I feel so blessed with this whole journey. I have always loved writing, expressing myself through written word, and I love reading! I wrote this book originally in about 2014 as part of my own processing, working through a situation in which my family had unfortunately experienced hurtful comments. In my process, I thought about the world through my 3-year-old daughter's eyes and what that would be like for her, it was a very cathartic piece. When I finished, I initially searched for books from the bicultural child's perspective to  have in our shelf to read as a family and couldn't find anything that captured what I was looking for, especially the Latino  and White cultural mix. I thought I would try and self publish my book to have, but life happened and being too busy meant the book didn't happen. Then, in 2016 when there was increasing racial controversy, many family members encouraged me to revisit it. I sent it into Magination Press and they picked it up! And now we are working on my second book. I am loving being a children's author and working the creative juices this way.  I feel so truly blessed!

What a meaningful journey! MARVELOUS MARAVILLOSO looks at diversity through the lens of a child. What do you hope readers will take away from this book when they're finished? 

I hope that readers are able to see the celebration of diversity that the book entails, capturing the piece of child and cultural development at the very beginning of that life journey. I hope that the book fosters and supports positive conversations with children around culture and diversity. Although the book says ages 4 to 8, it really can be and should be used with a greater audience, younger and older children as well. The conversations change and adapt based on where children are at in their own development, which is what makes it so rich. In the back of the book is a section for parents and caregivers, and teachers, to help give language and guidance around the topic. I also have a thorough lesson plan written by Patty Dineen, a retired 40 years educator, that has three parts to help bringing it in the classroom that I can make available to those who would like it. I'm thinking about posting it on my social media pages.

Sounds like a great resource! In what ways do you balance your career as clinical psychologist with your writing, and in what ways do you refill your creativity?

My writing is my creative outlet. Working as a clinical Psychologist and behavioral health manager is filling in many ways, and it has been my career path. However, my world is my family. Being mommy to my two beautiful children has brought me so much joy. It is hard work balancing career and family life, but they are my priority. And they are my inspiration. When there are rougher days at work, focusing on them and their adventures fills my bucket, and writing about those adventures, the big and little emotions experienced, puts life into perspective and purpose for me. I have also enjoyed working with Magination Press, which is an imprint of the American Psychological Association, and has a mental health focus with its literature, helping children understand emotions, for example. Each book has support for parents, teachers and caregivers in the back, with education about the topic of the book, which is really cool.

Indeed! What are some of your current projects?

Currently I have a new manuscript that is with my editor and I am waiting her notes. It remains in the same theme of celebrating diversity and culture, with a bit deeper dive, but I don't want to give away too much yet.  I'm really excited and anxious to get the notes!

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here.