Wednesday, September 25, 2019

THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS by Bill Koningsberg

I've long admired Bill Koningsberg, and I got a chance to meet him at the IReadYA booth at this year's YallWest. I was particularly inspired by the speech he gave at last year's NCTE conference. His newest book, THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS, explores facing fears--and how we can grow when we let go of denial.

Max: Chill. Sports. Video games. Gay and not a big deal, not to him, not to his mom, not to his buddies. And a secret: An encounter with an older kid that makes it hard to breathe, one that he doesn't want to think about, ever.

Jordan: The opposite of chill. Poetry. His "wives" and the Chandler Mall. Never been kissed and searching for Mr. Right, who probably won't like him anyway. And a secret: A spiraling out of control mother, and the knowledge that he's the only one who can keep the family from falling apart.

Throw in a rickety, 1980s-era food truck called Coq Au Vinny. Add in prickly pears, cloud eggs, and a murky idea of what's considered locally sourced and organic. Place it all in Mesa, Arizona, in June, where the temp regularly hits 114. And top it off with a touch of undeniable chemistry between utter opposites.

Over the course of one summer, two boys will have to face their biggest fears and decide what they're willing to risk -- to get the thing they want the most.


I love the unique detail you have in your stories, especially regarding your characters. How do you decide which details to include and which to leave out? 

Good question. A lot of the choices I make are instinctual, but I suppose if there are ground rules, it would be something like this: include it if the detail evokes character, or if it makes the setting come to life in and of itself. Leave out if it feels generic or uninteresting. I think of Jordan's 80s bordello bedroom. I am not the kind of writer who is going to overload readers with detail, so I want each detail to do a lot of work. They have to land.

Finding that "best" word or phrase that makes all the difference. In THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS, both characters are confronted with their fears. What do you hope readers can glean from their journey?

I think a lot of what I've been learning in my own life is how important it is to move away from denial. And by that I mean all sorts of denial: denial of reality, of feelings... I was really focused on how Max has been told to ignore his emotions, and how much I was told that in my life, too, and the impact of that. On boys and also on society. That which we resist does tend to persist, at least in my experience. I've been really enjoying a TV show called The Bold Type, about three 20-something women working in the fashion industry in New York City. What I notice is how often the plot tends to come down to the characters having to dig down and deal with what is, and what they are feeling. It begins to feel like the most important thing in life, in some ways.

It certainly is. You gave a very poignant speech about the dangers of marginalization and what it does to teens. What do you wish more people knew about these teens and their experiences?  

I wish people--and I guess I mean non-allies here--understood that this isn't about sex or sexuality. I think a lot of the "queasiness" some people feel about LGBTQIA issues is that it seems like it's about something private, but really it isn't. Not any more than someone acknowledging their heterosexuality is about sex, and we seem to do that with great ease. This is about identity, and being open and honest with ourselves and others, and most importantly it's a health and safety issue. We simply must work harder to lower the horrifying numbers of LGBTQIA teens who attempt and die by suicide. Particularly trans youth. It's not acceptable, and it shouldn't be acceptable to anyone.

Indeed. We live in a heartbreaking world, and I'm thankful that teens (and others) have access to your books within it. What are some of your current projects?

I'm finishing up edits on my next novel, THE BRIDGE, which will come out next fall. THE BRIDGE is about two teens, a boy and a girl, who meet atop the George Washington Bridge in New York City. They are both there to jump, and they interrupt each other. Then, based on what happens as the two teens sit, facing each other, 100 feet apart, with one leg each over the ledge, the world splits into four separate realities: one in which the girl jumps, one in which the boy jumps, one in which they both jump, and one in which they both decide not to. It's a book about the huge impact of our choices in those moments when we are depressed and we think no one would care if we died, and how we impact the world around us greatly, each of us. Not just our families and friends, but those who we would not expect to be impacted. I'm so excited to have this book out in the world!

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

For Bill Koningsberg's other books, click here.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Release Feature: DEMON IN THE WHITELANDS by Nikki Z. Richard

Happy release day to Nikki Z. Richard and DEMON IN THE WHITELANDS! The full interview can be accessed here.

Sometimes no matter how hard you try, some things cannot be explained.

Sixteen-year-old Samuel, son of devout cleric, has endured shame and prejudice his entire life. Although he is destined to become clergy too, he longs for an ordinary life in the whitelands away from demons and holy roots.

When the mayor claims to have captured a mute demon girl, Samuel is forced to become her caretaker. But as Samuel gets to know the prisoner, he finds her not to be very demonlike. Instead, she is intelligent, meek, and an exceptional artist. Despite her seeming goodness, some more concerning things cannot be explained. Samuel is hard-pressed to reconcile her uncanny strength and speed, missing arm, ambiguous gender, and the mysterious scars covering most of her body.

Samuel forms a deep attachment to the girl with predator eyes and violent outbursts, against his father’s advice. Their friendship could turn into something more. But when Samuel discovers the mayor’s dark intentions, he must decide whether to risk his own execution by setting her free or watch as the girl is used as a pawn in a dangerous game of oppression, fear, and murder.


Buy: BookPassage ~ Amazon.com Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Monday, September 16, 2019

MERGED by Jim Kroepfl and Stephanie Kroepfl

This month seems to have a theme of collaborative writing! Like last week, we have another writing duo, this time a husband and wife team, whose book, MERGED, is set to debut tomorrow, September 17:

Seven of our country’s most gifted teens will become Nobels, hosts for the implantation of brilliant Mentor minds, in an effort to accelerate human progress.

But as the line between what’s possible and what’s right, draws ever blurrier, the teens discover everything has a cost.

Scientists have created an evolved form of living known as Merged Consciousness, and sixteen-year-old Lake finds herself unable to merge with her Mentor.

Lake, the Nobel for Chemistry and Orfyn, the Nobel for Art, are two from among the inaugural class of Nobels, and with the best intent and motivation. But when Stryker, the Nobel for Peace, makes them question the motivation of the scientists behind the program, their world begins to unravel.

As the Nobels work to uncover the dark secrets of the program’s origins, everyone's a suspect and no one can be trusted, not even the other Nobels.

As the Mentors begin to take over the bodies and minds of the Nobels, Lake and Orfyn must find a way to regain control before they lose all semblance or memory of their former selves.

How did you know you wanted to collaborate together?

We fell in love when we were nineteen years old. We were pursuing business majors in different fields, and then spent our corporate careers working separately. Our lives changed when we moved to a tiny town at the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. The natural beauty is truly inspiring. It was finally time to pursue something we’re passionate about, and do it with each other. We’re both avid readers and have always written for our careers, so the idea of creating stories together fulfilled a lifelong dream.

Wonderful. How did the premise of MERGED come to you, and in what ways did writing the book surprise you?

Three death-related incidences occurred within days of each other. First, an older friend was in hospice, and just before he died he shared amazing stories about his life that none of us knew. Then, Brittany Lauren Maynard, a younger woman with terminal brain cancer, decided to intentionally end her life “when the time seemed right.” Finally, friends had to put down their old dog, and it was fascinating how their lives changed afterwards. It got us thinking about all the things that would change if people—in good health—had more time. This led to the concept of merged consciousness, which provides those who are making world-changing differences another lifetime to continue their work.

The aspect that surprised us is the STEM vs. STEAM theme. One of our protagonists, the street artist Orfyn, appeared on the page as if by magic. He was too fascinating a character not to incorporate into the story, and it changed the entire plot line. Jim is a musician and Stephanie is an artist, and it was a huge part of our lives while growing up. Without being preachy, we wanted to show how valuable it is to include right-brained people when solving problems, and how their artistic contributions enrich our world.

What a great way to encompass the importance of art in story! What is the most difficult about writing emotionally?

It is challenging to ensure each major character has their own unique character arc. Meaning, while the characters are moving through the story, they need to change and learn from their experiences and interactions. Otherwise, what’s the point of the story? Every person reacts differently to emotional situations, and each reaction must feel true for that particular character.

We don’t believe a scene or chapter is complete until one of the characters experiences a significant emotional shift. When a character begins with one emotion and then goes through a dramatic emotional change, it needs to be something visceral that the reader (hopefully) actually feels—a roller coaster ride of tension and release. And that’s where the hard work comes in. We have to show that emotional shift and not merely tell the reader what’s happening to the character.

Hard work--but also necessary! What are some of your current projects?

We’re busing promoting MERGED, and also writing the sequel RE-MERGED. We’re speaking at high schools and colleges about the craft of writing a novel and the business of getting published. We have a number of novels in various stages of development, but we also love writing short stories and have recently had “The Patch” published in the Northern Colorado Writers anthology, “Change.” This is a story about a group of teens who travel to the Pacific Garbage Patch to colonize a new homestead for their religious sect back on the troubled mainland. These short stories are often the basis of our future novels, so we’re working on developing this story into something bigger. Finally, we’re constantly brainstorming and keeping notes on future characters and book ideas.


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

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

UNPREGNANT by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Kaplan

I met Jenni and Ted at this year's YallWest, and as soon as I heard about their book, UNPREGNANT, I couldn't wait to read it. The book debuted today, September 10, 2019:

Seventeen-year-old Veronica Clarke never thought she would wish she’d failed a test until she finds herself holding a thick piece of plastic in her hands and staring at two solid pink lines. Even the most consistent use of condoms won’t prevent pregnancy when your boyfriend secretly pokes holes in them to keep you from going out-of-state for college.

Veronica needs an abortion, but the closest place she can legally get one is over nine hundred miles away—and Veronica doesn’t have a car. Too ashamed to ask her friends or family for help, Veronica turns to the one person she believes won’t judge her: Bailey Butler, Jefferson High’s own little black cloud of anger and snark—and Veronica’s ex-best friend. Once on the road, Veronica quickly remembers nothing with Bailey is ever simple and that means two days of stolen cars, shotguns, crazed ex-boyfriends, truck stop strippers with pro-life agendas, and a limo driver named Bob. But the pain and betrayal of their broken friendship can’t be outrun. When their fighting leads to a brutal moment of truth, Bailey abandons Veronica. Now Veronica must risk everything in order to repair the hurt she’s caused...


How did you know you wanted to collaborate on a novel together?

Well, to be honest we didn’t set out to write a novel. We’ve been screenwriting partners for a while and UNPREGNANT started out as a feature length script. We wrote it as spec (a completed screenplay that would be then be shopped to producers) but our agents at the time thought the story would be nearly impossible to sell. For context, this was during the Obama administration, so you know, no one was panicked yet about things like basic human rights. Anyway, Jenni was pregnant at the time, so we put it aside for the time being. But we still loved the story, and more than that we believed it was important — especially after the 2016 election. So we decided to do something crazy, something we’d never imagined we would do, we decided to try to turn the story into a novel. We figured that as a book the story would be a finished product that could stand on its own, unlike a screenplay which would require millions of dollars and lots of different people’s involvement before anyone would see it. Ultimately, we are glad we took this path because it turns out, writing books is super fun. It allowed us to delve much deeper into the story than we could in the limited timeframe allowed in the screenplay.


This is definitely a story that deserves to be covered in depth! I love that UNPREGNANT takes place in the southwest. How did you know that was the right backdrop for Veronica’s story? 

The initial idea for the story came to us from an NPR report about abortion access for minors in the middle of the country and the restrictive parental consent laws most states have. From Missouri, the closest two options are New Jersey and New Mexico. We chose to send the girls to New Mexico because there’s something iconic about the southwest. Everything is vast, open and seems to stretch on forever. It’s a great visual metaphor for the transition from childhood to adulthood, full of possibility and also terrifying. Also, everyone knows there are no aliens in New Jersey.


Definitely not! And I know what you mean--I used to live in New Mexico, and the skies are as wondrous as the wide open spaces. Unpregnant will also become a movie! Congratulations. Where were you when you heard the news?

Jenni: Sadly this is not a very exciting answer though probably indicative of the “glamorous” life of a writer. I was on the way to a coffee shop to work because my desk at home was covered with a Lego project. When I got to the parking lot there was an email asking if I was available for a conference call. I was starving because I’d been running around doing mom stuff all day and hadn’t had lunch yet, so I grabbed a bagel sandwich and sat in my car. I was just shoving the last bit into my mouth when the call came through and they told us they’d found a director and distribution and would be moving ahead to production. The book had been optioned shortly after it had been sold (almost a year previous) and we’d been lucky enough to be hired to write the screenplay ourselves, but we knew from working in the industry that a lot of books get this far, and then get stuck. So it was a huge surprise that things were moving so quickly. I basically let Ted do a lot of the talking and tried not to choke on bagel from shock.

Ted: My memory was that we had been told the producers wanted to “talk” and that’s always terrifying when you don’t know why. Did they want another rewrite, another writer, was it stalled, did they find out that there was another teenage abortion road trip being made by Miley Cyrus?!! Gah!!! So I was laying on the couch of my office taking deep breaths while we took the conference call hoping that it was some good news. And boy was it! Not only did they find a distributor but an amazing female director, something that had always been on our wish list. After the call, we called each other just to make sure we had heard the same thing. We still call each other periodically in case this is all a really long dream sequence.


I'm glad it wasn't! What are some of your current projects? 

How coy are we allowed to be? We have another book coming out from HarperTeen and we are in the process of drafting it. Like Unpregnant, it’s another friendship story, but this time with two guys. There are lots of feelings and messy emotions, but also dick jokes and a shark.


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

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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

THERE WILL COME A DARKNESS by Katy Rose Pool

I've known about this book for awhile, and I'm ecstatic that it's finally available. THERE WILL COME A DARKNESS contains characters from multiple diverse backgrounds in a world on the verge of destruction; it debuted on September 3, 2019.

The Age of Darkness approaches.
Five lives stand in its way.
Who will stop it... or unleash it? 

For generations, the Seven Prophets guided humanity. Using their visions of the future, they ended wars and united nations―until the day, one hundred years ago, when the Prophets disappeared.

All they left behind was one final, secret prophecy, foretelling an Age of Darkness and the birth of a new Prophet who could be the world’s salvation . . . or the cause of its destruction. As chaos takes hold, five souls are set on a collision course:

A prince exiled from his kingdom.
A ruthless killer known as the Pale Hand.
A once-faithful leader torn between his duty and his heart. 
A reckless gambler with the power to find anything or anyone.
And a dying girl on the verge of giving up.

One of them―or all of them―could break the world. Will they be savior or destroyer?

According to your website bio, your father was a screenwriter. In what ways, if any, did this influence your own writing? 

It’s definitely been a huge asset to me, because we would discuss movies and stories and how they work from a very early age. That way of analyzing stories and their plot beats has become so ingrained in me that it’s fairly effortless for me to plot a book and make sure it’s hitting the right beats at the right time. That said, my approach to story is so different from his! Obviously film and novels are two very different mediums, and beyond that my dad is extremely concept and premise-driven whereas I am much more interested in character and my stories usually start there. But it’s been kind of fun to think that I’m sort of carrying on the family legacy!


Speaking of characters, I love the variety of them in THERE WILL COME A DARKNESS. How did they come to you, and did any of them surprise you?

As I said, my characters are usually the first thing I start to figure out in a story. In There Will Come a Darkness, these characters all kind of came with a central question in mind--which is, what happens when you have to face your worst fear? Each of them has to grapple with this and figure out if they are really the person they believe themselves to be. The character who surprised me most was probably Beru--her role in the story grew quite a bit from when I’d first conceived of her, and her reactions to certain things in the book were very different from what I’d planned.


I love when that happens! What, in your opinion, is the most challenging part of the writing process?

For me it’s probably building momentum. I’m a fairly slow drafter, and a slow reviser, and I think it’s because I just tend to overthink things and be a perfectionist about them. I really like to consider every angle of a plot or character and that constant re-evaluation can really slow me down.


Indeed. What are some of your current projects?

Right now I’m super focused on the sequel to There Will Come a Darkness! I am very excited for where the second book takes the characters and I can’t wait for people to read it.


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


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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Release Feature: ONLY ASHES REMAIN by Rebecca Schaeffer

I featured Rebecca Schaeffer's Market of Monsters series here. At long last, the second book, ONLY ASHES REMAIN, is out in the world!


After escaping her kidnappers and destroying the black market where she was held captive, all Nita wants is to find a way to live her life without looking over her shoulder. But with a video of her ability to self-heal all over the dark web, Nita knows she’s still a prime target on the black market.

There’s only one way to keep herself safe.

Nita must make herself so feared that no one would ever dare come after her again. And the best way to start building her reputation? Take her revenge on Fabricio, the boy who sold Nita to her kidnappers. But killing Fabricio is harder than Nita thought it would be, even with Kovit by her side. Now caught in a game of kill or be killed, Nita will do whatever it takes to win.



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