Wednesday, June 26, 2019


I first featured Randy Ribay here, and I continually admire his ability to capture an authentic voice that teens can relate to. When I heard about his newest book, PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING, I knew another feature was in order:

Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte's war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.

Hoping to uncover more about Jun and the events that led to his death, Jay is forced to reckon with the many sides of his cousin before he can face the whole horrible truth -- and the part he played in it.

In our last interview, you said, "I always enjoy writing my characters' emotional journeys because I get to experience it with them." Which characters have you most enjoyed writing and why?

Every character gives me the chance to experience something unique, but I think writing Jay and Jun, two of the characters in Patron Saints of Nothing were interesting in that they allowed me to explore my own identity as a Filipino American in a new way. In the story, as Jay’s trying to figure out what happened to his cousin, he’s simultaneously trying to wrestling with the feeling of having a foot in two different worlds but not feeling completely home in either. It’s something I’ve experienced, so writing his emotional arc led me to reflect on my own. Jun is the cousin who has been killed, so uncovering what happened to him in the years since he had fallen out of contact with Jay was interesting in its own way. I can’t say too much about that without giving away spoilers, though!

What a great premise! PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING also offers a glimpse into piecing life together after a loss. What do you hope readers can glean from Jay and his journey? 

I hope they understand that everyone needs the space to mourn in their own way after experiencing grief. To risk sounding like a crotchety old man, society moves at such a breakneck pace these days. As soon as something tragic happens, we rush to fix it and/or to assign blame. But I think it’s vital for our souls to take the time to identify, examine, and process our feelings so we can begin to heal. That’s not to say that we don’t then go and take action. I just think taking action without taking the time to mourn a loss can just be another form of unhealthy repression.

Indeed it can. What do you feel are the necessary parts of a good story?

Of course, the concept of “good” is subjective, but for me, I love stories that can balance it all. I want to feel a plot pulling me along, but I also want to understand the complexity of the characters so I feel invested in what happens to them. Along the way, I want the story to be told beautifully while exploring themes that explore who we are as individuals and as human beings. Also, I want that story to reflect the diverse reality of our world. I no longer have the patience for stories that are cast entirely with straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied people. That’s not what the world I live in has ever looked like, so I’m glad our stories no longer consistently project such a skewed perception.

Absolutely. At this year's YALLWEST, you were on a panel entitled, "That Time I Sucked." What convinced you to be a part of this, and in what ways do you feel this kind of a panel might be helpful for people?

Growing up, I tended to view artists as innately gifted people who sprung from the womb oozing effortless talent and skill. It’s only as I got older and worked towards getting a book published that I saw how much hard work, persistence, and resilience authors put into their writing. Talent will only take you so far. And luck plays a significant role, but you’re more likely to capitalize upon luck if you’ve been putting in the work. Even so, rejection and failure along the way are inevitable. They come with the territory of being a writer or artist, of taking the risk of putting your work out there. People have different tastes and different experiences, so your work is never going to be universally accepted by agents, publishers, readers, reviewers, etc. I think it’s important that we accept this and speak transparently about our own failures to help people understand that. If we only share our successes, we create a false sense of success. And if somebody buys into that, then as soon as they hit a stumbling block, they are going to give up, believing that they’re just not gifted enough.

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

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

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

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

THE BONE CHARMER by Breeana Shields

I found THE BONE CHARMER while wandering in a random Barnes and Noble and as soon as I read the first page, I was hooked. This is a beautifully written YA Fantasy that also offers a bit of humor. It also provides a unique perspective: a protagonist on two simultaneous paths.

In Saskia’s world, bones are the source of all power. They tell the future, reveal the past, and expose secrets in the present. Each village has a designated seer who performs readings for the townsfolk, and in Midwood, the Bone Charmer is Saskia’s mother.

On the day of her kenning—a special bone reading that determines the apprenticeships of all seventeen-year-olds—Saskia’s worst fears come true. She receives an assignment to train as a Bone Charmer, like her mother, and even worse, a match-making reading that pairs her with Bram—a boy who has suspicious tattoos that hint of violence.

Saskia knows her mother saw multiple paths for her, yet chose one she knew Saskia wouldn’t want. Their argument leads to a fracture in one of the bones. Broken bones are always bad luck, but this particular set of bones have been infused with extra magic, and so the break has devastating consequences—Saskia’s future has split as well. Now she will live her two potential paths simultaneously. Only one future can survive. And Saskia’s life is in danger in both.

What do you love most about board games and why? 

What a great question! My favorite style of board games are Eurogames—things like Settlers of Catan, Carcassone, and Castles of Burgundy. They tend to be well-thought out, beautifully designed, and extremely re-playable. But I think what I love most is the bonding that happens when you play with friends and family. Board games have a way of revealing personality—it’s instantly clear who the cooperators and peace-makers are and who are the cut-throat-win-at-all-costs types. Not that people necessarily approach real life like a board game (I would definitely not still be happily married if that were the case!). But it does expose an approach to problem solving that helps get to know each other on a different level, and that part does translate to the real world! Plus, it’s just a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Indeed it is--I also love the games where everyone has to collaborate together and solve a mystery. THE BONE CHARMER also contains quite a few mysteries, and it's one of the few stories I've seen where the protagonist has their own dual narrative. How did you know this needed to be part of Saskia's journey, and what was the hardest aspect of composing her split narrative? 

I’ve really wanted to tackle a single-protagonist/dual narrative story for a long time! There’s something so fascinating about contemplating how different choices shape someone’s character in fundamental ways, and I loved getting to really play with that in this story. However, it took me a few years of the idea percolating before I finally figured out how to pull it off. (At least I hope I pulled it off!). The hardest part was making sure Saskia’s two timelines were distinct enough that they were equally entertaining and that they each pushed her growth in different directions. I wanted Saskia to feel true to herself in both versions, but for it to still be clear to the reader that she was learning different things and growing in different ways in each timeline.

Not only are both timelines entertaining, but they complement each other very well. You've also mastered pacing with both--when reading, I didn't feel that anything was too hurried, and I was always engaged. I also loved how Saskia has to grapple with choice, and the challenges that come with the freedom she craves. In what ways do you think readers might relate with this struggle, and is this something you've experienced for yourself? 

I think we’ve all been in a situation where our choices come back to bite us, and we wish we could have seen down the path far enough to know we should turn back immediately and make a different decision. However, I think that’s part of life, and one of the things I wanted to explore with Saskia’s story. Our freedom comes at a price—it means we’re going to make some wrong turns along the way. And even if we could see further down the path, we still might not be able accurately predict how things turn out. Besides, our mistakes make us who we are—in both good and bad ways.

Very eloquently put. What are some of your current projects? 

I’m working on finishing up edits for the sequel to The Bone Charmer (currently titled The Bone Thief) and then I’m planning to start a new fantasy in an entirely new world. In a non-writing capacity, my biggest project right now is a huge family move from Washington State to the Washington D.C. area. It’s exciting, but I’m very tired!

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

For Breanna Shields's other books, go here.

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


Gretchen McNeil has a skill with writing both comedy and horror, which makes her one of my favorite authors. I featured her back in 2017, and I especially love her new series, starting with #MURDERTRENDING, a sci-fi thriller with a very interesting premise:

WELCOME TO THE NEAR FUTURE, where good and honest citizens can enjoy watching the executions of society's most infamous convicted felons, streaming live on The Postman app from the suburbanized prison island Alcatraz 2.0. 

When seventeen-year-old Dee Guerrera wakes up in a haze, lying on the ground of a dimly lit warehouse, she realizes she's about to be the next victim of the app. Knowing hardened criminals are getting a taste of their own medicine in this place is one thing, but Dee refuses to roll over and die for a heinous crime she didn't commit. Can Dee and her newly formed posse, the Death Row Breakfast Club, prove she's innocent before she ends up wrongfully murdered for the world to see? Or will The Postman's cast of executioners kill them off one by one?

WELCOME TO WHO WANTS TO BE A PANIAC?, the latest reality TV show on the hunt for the next big-hit serial killer. But don’t worry—no one is actually going to murder anyone, as real as the fake gore and pretend murder may appear . . . uh, right?

Seventeen-year-old Becca Martinello is about to find out. When her perfectly normal soccer mom dies in a car crash, a strange girl named Stef appears to let Becca know that her deceased mom was none other than one of Alcatraz 2.0’s most popular serial killers—Molly Mauler. Soon, Becca ends up on Who Wants to Be a Painiac? to learn the truth about her mom’s connection to Molly Mauler, but things turn sinister when people are murdered IRL. Will Becca uncover dark secrets and make it out of the deadly reality show alive? Or will she get cut?

In our last interview, you mentioned that your book #MURDERTRENDING would be a "horror comedy." In what ways are you able to find comedy within the horror genre?

In the same way that salted caramel feels like the combination of two diametrically opposed things, horror and comedy are, in fact, complimentary flavors.  They both represent heightened states of emotional exhibitionism, and in that way, tend to make people uncomfortable.  A belly laugh can so easily turn into a terrified scream!  Plus you can use the one to enhance the other, or as a red herring to obscure a punch line or a horrifying revelation.

What a great analogy--and I'll never look at salted caramel the same way again! I love how #MURDERTRENDING is set in a version of Alcatraz. How did you know that this would offer the best backdrop for the story? 

I love a locked room mystery.  In my novel TEN, I followed Agatha Christie's example and took the locked room to the extreme - an isolated island with no escape.  Instant tension!  When I was looking to create a suburban prison environment, and island seemed like the perfect setting.  I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where Alcatraz looms large.  I remember on a class field trip, learning about how former inmates of Alcatraz reported on that still nights, they could actually hear the sounds of the city drifting into their prison cells.  That totally stuck with me.

But the actual topography of Alcatraz didn't fit with what I wanted to do with this book, which led me to Treasure Island.  It's a real place and so many of the buildings I describe - from the Barracks to Gassy Al's Pavilion to the former Navy yards - are all real.  And there.  You can visit them (if you dare...)

How could you not? The sequel to #MURDERTRENDING, entitled #MURDERFUNDING, is set to debut in August. Is there anything you can tell us about it yet?

So yes, #MURDERFUNDING is very much a sequel, but it has a new main character: Becca, who is trying to find out whether or not her recently deceased mom was actually the Alcatraz 2.0 executioner known as Molly Mauler.  This quest will cross paths with the survivors of #MURDERTRENDING as both are investigating different aspects of the same problem!

I will also add, that while I loved my serial killers from book 1, the thematic "Painiacs" and wannabe Painiacs that I came up with for Book 2 might be some of my favorite characters of all time, like John Carpenter, Actual Carpenter; Princess Slaya; and the blood thirsty folk singing duo Psychoman and Gorefunkel.

Awesome. If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?   

TAKE YOUR TIME.  Publishing is not a race.  It's not like doorbusters on Black Friday where you have to be one of the first people through the door if you want to score that 60" flat screen for $40.  Publishing will always be there.  Book deals will always be there.  Take your time.  Don't rush.  Enjoy the journey.

For Gretchen McNeil's other books, go here.

This post can also be viewed here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

WILDER GIRLS by Rory Power

I met Rory Power at YallWest this year, and I was immediately drawn to the premise of her novel, WILDER GIRLS, which debuts on July 9. Have a look:

It's been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty's life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don't dare wander outside the school's fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there's more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

You recently tweeted about discovering the different ways books can "speak." How did you know when you'd found your own "voice" as an author?

I didn’t really find my own voice until I’d been writing seriously for about a year. I spent a long time trying to emulate the fiction I was reading, and while I think that taught me a lot, it felt like I was only producing a knockoff of somebody else’s work. To find my own, specific voice, I really went back to gut feeling and instinct. When I write now, I think mostly about rhythm, and I know I’ve got it right - I know I’ve made it my own, rather - when the rhythm clicks.

Voice as rhythm--what a great concept! WILDER GIRLS explores the importance of finding the truth. Was Hetty's world fully formed in your mind all along, or did it develop as you wrote it? 

The world of WILDER GIRLS definitely developed as I wrote about it. I knew the basics from the beginning - an island, a school, a quarantine - but the more I wrote, the more I figured out about the people around Hetty and the circumstances of exactly why she and her classmates had been quarantined in the first place. Eventually that involved a lot of working backwards. Now that I’d figured out what the truth was, I had to go back and rework the bits leading up to it so that they were pointed in the right direction.

Further proving that stories have different ways of unraveling. Hetty, Byatt, and Reese aren't run-of-the mill, ordinary female characters. What do you like most about each of them, and what other kinds of characters would you like to see more of in books?

I think my favorite thing about all three of them is how very much like most girls they are - they’re angry and they’re messy and I think a lot of girls feel that way during adolescence. These three girls are very upfront about their flaws, which I hope makes them that much more familiar to people. As far as my favorite thing individually goes, I love Hetty’s tenacity, Byatt’s confidence, and Reese’s depth of feeling. Those things are liabilities as much as they’re assets for the girls, but I think that can be true for the most cherished parts of all of us. As far as what kinds of characters I’d like to see more of, I’m really excited by the increasing breadth of queer characters we’re seeing in books, and I’m eager for that to continue - there are so many great queer titles on the horizon!

Indeed there are! What are some of your current projects?

Right now I’m working on my second book, which will be out in Summer 2020 (title to be revealed). It’s a standalone separate from WILDER GIRLS, and it’s really different, although I think people who enjoy one will enjoy the other. I can’t say too much about it, but in general there’s a lot of corn, a lot of family drama, and, like WILDER GIRLS, some weird science thrown in for fun.

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

This post can also be viewed here