Elly Blake: Five Questions

frostblood

I am a sucker for a good fantasy. Magic, new worlds, adventure, and mystery are just the things that to me make a thrilling story.

Elly Blake’s Frostblood is a prime example of what I mean. Ruby is a Fireblood–she can control fire. But being a Fireblood is a big secret in her world. The Frostbloods, who can control ice, want to obliterate every last Fireblood and will stop at nothing to do so. When Ruby’s village is attacked she unwittingly reveals her true nature and is thrown in prison where she is tormented with buckets of ice water.

But then two Frostblood men arrive and tell her they will break her out of prison if she agrees to help them with a mission. She doesn’t trust them but is desperate to be free. She is taken to an abbey where she is healed and taught how to use her power properly, though most who know her true nature are frightened of her and the danger she represents as a fugitive.

And then there is Arcus. He is the Frostblood that freed her from prison. He hides behind a mask and is very reticent to share anything about himself other than what he expects of her. But a reluctant truce forms and they begin an unlikely friendship.

This book was so well done. The writing was outstanding and the story was well-plotted and satisfying. The sequel, Fireblood, comes out in September and I am ready for it NOW.

FIVE QUESTIONS
1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

I started with a character — Ruby, a girl with power over fire. I actually dreamed about a girl with power over fire and a king with an icy heart. When I woke up, I knew right away that her name was Ruby. I decided to focus on frost and fire as opposing elements, and started spinning ideas from there.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I’m a pantser who wants to be a plotter. I try to plot, but I find it very hard to answer questions about character and plot before I start writing. I get to know the characters as I draft. So I know a few major points before I start, but the rest is a mystery until I have that messy draft. That’s when I focus on applying structure and plotting methods– during revisions.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

There are many writers I love, and many writers whom I envy! I often wish I could write more like my favorite authors, but I’m not sure who actually influences my style most. I think when it comes to voice, most of our influences are unconscious. We pick things up from books we enjoy and it comes out when we write. A few of my favorite authors are: Marie Rutkoski, Megan Whelan Turner, Leigh Bardugo, Kristin Cashore, Morgan Rhodes, and so many more!

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I usually listen to soundtracks: Tron: Legacy, Pirates of the Caribbean, Game of Thrones, The Dark Knight Rises, etc.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s so good! I just finished Caraval by Stephanie Garber, which was a beautiful read. (I also met Stephanie recently at a signing and that was a total thrill!) Next, I plan to read The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles. I’m in a debut group so I’m reading a lot of 2017 debut books and loving them!

Elly Blake is the NYT bestselling author of Frostblood. After earning a BA in English literature, she held a series of seemingly random jobs, including project manager, customs clerk, graphic designer, reporter for a local business magazine, and (currently) library assistant. She lives in Southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and a Siberian Husky mix who definitely shows Frostblood tendencies.

Ready for a thrilling fantasy?  Get your copy here:

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Eileen Cook: Five Questions

with-maliceI studied abroad when I was in college, and it was the best thing that had happened to me up to that point. Living and going to school in another country takes you out of your element and exposes you to new ways of being, and for that I am forever grateful.

But what if my time abroad had ended in tragedy? What if I woke up in a hosptial and had no recollection of how I had landed there or what had happened? Eileen Cook takes a look at that very premise in her young adult thriller With Malice.

A girl wakes up and doesn’t know where she is.  At least she remembers who she is, Jill Charron, a National Merit Scholar and state debate champion. But how she woke up connected to machines and tubes, an enormous pain in her head and a broken leg, she has no idea. The last thing she remembers is being with her friends Simone and Tara. But when her parents inform her she’s been in a car accident Jill is terrified she’s going to miss her study abroad trip. That’s when the second nasty surprise comes –she’s already been, the accident had happened in Italy.

With a traumatic brain injury Jill can’t remember a thing about going to Italy, let alone the accident that put her in the hospital. What really happened? Bit by bit Jill starts to put the pieces together and finds that the truth may or may not be more than she can stomach. Who is Niccolo? And had she and her best friend Simone really been fighting over him? Was the accident all her fault?

Told with a tense plot that reveals breadcrumbs to lead us back to the real story, With Malice is a twisty, dark thriller. Not knowing who to trust, Jill needs to untangle the fact from the fiction and discover just what part she played in the tragedy, and what really happened between Niccolo, Simone, and herself.

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

There were a few things that came together to form the idea of this book. I’m fascinated with long-term friendships and how they survive and evolve, or don’t. I knew I wanted to write about two friends who had been in a relationship for so long that at times it was hard to tell where the good parts and the bad intersected. I’d also worked for over twenty years in the field of vocational rehabilitation assisting with people with injuries and illnesses. I’d done a lot of work with individuals with brain injury and taking the opportunity to explore identity and relationships when you can’t trust your own memory was exciting.

Once I wrote a full draft of the manuscript I knew it was missing something and two other pieces of inspiration fell into place. The first was that I was planning a trip to Italy and it occurred to me to set the book there. I did a semester abroad while in college. It was an amazing experience, but there is something very disorienting about being so far away from home and your own culture. I felt it would give Jill an extra push to explore her friendship if they were out of their current element. As I prepared for the trip I started to read more about the Amanda Knox trial and that motivated me to add the pressure coming from the media- where everyone else is deciding your guilt or innocence based on very little information.

The final bit of inspiration came from the first season of the Serial podcast by NPR. (If you haven’t listened- download it- you’ll thank me.) It’s a true crime story about a murder trial that happened in the 1990s. With each person that told their story I would shift my feelings. “He’s totally innocent! He’s guilty! Wait-he’s innocent!” I wanted to see if I could recreate that feeling for readers by providing them with new perspectives that might change how they felt about the story line.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

When I started writing it took me a long time to realize that what works for one writer might not work for another. I always encourage people to try different processes and see what fits their style.

What works for me is to spend time plotting and planning before starting to write. Sometimes this includes writing diary entries from different character’s point of view, making timelines, and endless lists.  I used to jump in as soon as I had an idea, but I’ve learned it’s better to let an idea ferment for a period of time.  Like wine, it gets more complex and interesting if it sits for a while.

I usually get up early and walk the dogs or go to the gym before settling in with a cup of tea and getting to work.  I’m not creative before eight in the morning or after ten at night. I usually have three or four hours of writing/creative time before my brain gives up.  I spend the rest of my day doing more business things, marketing, teaching, research etc.  Also looking at random things on the Internet, yelling at my dogs to stop digging in the yard, and drinking endless cups of tea.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

In some ways I find this an impossible question because I am terrified I’ll leave someone out. From Judy Blume who I loved with a white hot passion growing up, to Stephen King who was one of the first to inspire me to want to be a writer. (Can you imagine two more different writers if you tried?)  With every book I read I’m interested to see how that writer chose to tell that story, the decisions they made from when to start the story, to whose perspective to how they increased the tension. I try and learn from everything I read. I don’t believe there is any one (or even two or three) writers that directly influenced my writing- it would be all of them.  One of the things that still gives me great joy is standing in a library or bookstore and being aware of just how many great books are out there to read. And writers just keep making more!

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I love the idea of listening to music, but I find that when I do I tend to start singing along. No one wants that. I sound like someone stepping on a hamster when I sing. I will sometimes play movie soundtrack music in the background while writing. I find the music is designed to invoke an emotion so it can inspire me. For example, if I’m writing an action scene then the Indiana Jones theme song might be on.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’ve recently read two books that I’m excited about. Both are coming out in June and I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek. (There are some benefits to being a writer!) I just finished a book called The Party by Robyn Harding. It’s the story of a slumber party where something goes horribly wrong and how all members of the family unravel after the event. The other book is The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy about two girls who are homeless after their mom’s death and how far the older sister will go to protect her younger sister. In both books there’s a mix of YA and adult perspectives and I found how the different ages viewed the situations really interesting. Plus they’re great reads!

eileen-cookEileen Cook is a multi-published author with her novels appearing in eight different languages. Her books have been optioned for film and TV. She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. Her newest book, With Malice, came out in June 2016 and was called “a creepy and satisfying thriller” by Entertainment Weekly. She’s an instructor/mentor with the Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program.
You can read more about Eileen, her books, and the things that strike her as funny at http://www.eileencook.com. Eileen lives in Vancouver with her husband and two very naughty dogs and no longer wishes to be anyone or anywhere else.

It’s a thrill-ride that ends in a crash. Get your copy here:

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Michele Bacon: Five Questions

Life Before by Michele Bacon

It is really hard to write about abuse authentically. If you haven’t experienced it,  it is hard to put yourself in the victim’s shoes. If you have lived it, then it is equally hard to distance yourself from it and write from a perspective that isn’t so horribly devastating. Michele Bacon has done a phenomenal job in her portrayal of Alexander Fife and his physically abusive father in Life Before.

Xander is almost there. He is graduating from high school and has a full-ride scholarship to college. Once he gets there he can live a life that doesn’t fall under the shadow of his violent father. But on the night of his graduation ceremony a tragedy occurs that destroys his world and leaves him in danger for his life.

In order to spare those he loves the worst of the peril, Xander takes off. He reasons everyone will be safer with him gone and all he has to do is kill time until college starts. But life on the run is neither glamorous nor fun and Xander finds himself in Burlington, Vermont with no money, no friends, and no place to stay.

Bacon tells Xander’s story with the perfect balance of realistic danger, sorrow, fear and hope. It does not fall into a maudlin place because even though Xander finds himself at probably the lowest point of his young life, he is not completely bereft of hope, nor damaged beyond repair. He makes friends in Burlington, finds a job, and even meets a girl. But will he ever stop running from his past or go home again?

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

The seed for this book was my greatest childhood fear. I grew up in a violent household, and for much of my childhood I was terrified that my father would kill my mother. While Xander’s story is fiction, it’s based on that fearful what if of my childhood.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

Today, I am a devoted plotter, but I wrote Life Before without plotting it first. I often wonder how it would have been different had I plotted it before writing.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

I appreciate this question, because it’s more difficult than rattling off a list of authors whose work I enjoy. Instead of emulating others’ work, I try to learn something from every book I read. Here are three examples:

On pacing: In Janet McNally’s debut, The Girls in the Moon, I loved her transition between chapter 1, when her best friend arrives on the doorstep, and chapter 2, when we learn about that friendship. My curiosity forced me to turn the page.

On storytelling: Alison Bechdel’s first mention of 17-year cicadas in Fun Home seems interesting but immaterial, but she later uses the insects as a metaphor. I appreciated that echo, and how it changed my reading experience.

On point-of-view: Emma Straub’s The Vacationers is in and out of characters’ heads, moving the camera around to tell the whole story. I always write first person or third person close, but this book changed my mind about omniscience.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I have three small children, so I savor the quiet of my empty house. When I am experiencing stress or time constraints, I use solo cello music to help calm me and keep me focused.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m poring over Atlas Obscura, which will inform my travel plans for years to come. I’ve just started The Portable Veblen, by Elizabeth McKenzie. I received it in the reddit books exchange, and it’s quite promising.

michele-baconMichele Bacon writes novel-length fiction for adults and young adults. An avid traveler, Michele has visited all 50 states and few dozen countries. She lived in many cities throughout the United States, and spent 14 months living in Christchurch, New Zealand before settling Seattle with her husband and three young daughters. Michele’s second novel, Antipodes, a coming-of-age novel about an ambitious teen forced into a foreign exchange program, will publish early in 2018.

I don’t, as a rule, cry at books. But this one did get me, I confess. It’s a wonderful read that ultimately gives you hope that Xander will not just survive, but thrive.

Get your copy here:

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Five Questions: Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

 

Frances Hardinge came onto my radar last spring when I was deep in research mode as to the pulse of historical fiction in the young adult category. Was it dead? I found through this book that indeed it was not. I wrote a full review of The Lie Tree back in May and you can read it here. I was thrilled when she answered my request to be interviewed. So here we go. May I introduce Frances Hardinge?

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

The original seed was the idea of the Lie Tree itself – a plant that would feed on lies, and bear fruit that could be eaten to learn secrets. The notion came to me when I was out walking along the Thames path, and I remember stopping halfway across the bridge of Richmond Lock, knowing that I had the heart of a story.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I am very definitely an outliner, and I tend to do a lot of planning and research. In the case of my first novel, I had a chapter by chapter outline! I haven’t planned the others in quite such precise detail, but I always know in advance the main things that are going to happen, and how the book will end. Having said that, my books sometimes surprise me, and I’ll realise halfway through them that I want to take the plot and character arcs in a different direction. It’s still helpful to have the original outline, though, otherwise I feel like I’m setting out on a journey without a roadmap.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

There are too many to count! I know that I’m influenced by the authors I loved as a child – Susan Cooper, Nicholas Fisk, Alan Garner, Lewis Carroll, Catherine Storr, Richard Adams, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Conan Doyle, etc. I suspect I’ve also been influenced by writers like Wilkie Collins, E M Forster, the Brontes, all the mystery novels I gobbled during my teens and twenties, and many others.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Sometimes I do, and often it’s because I associate a particular track with a specific character or scene. This does tend to mean that I will listen to the same track over and over again. My significant other has bought me some very good headphones, so that this habit of mine doesn’t drive him insane…

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a non-fiction book called “Thinking: Fast and Slow” by Dr Daniel Kahneman.

Frances Hardinge at home in London September 9, 2009

Frances Hardinge

Frances Hardinge was brought up in a sequence of small, sinister English villages, and spent a number of formative years living in a Gothic-looking, mouse-infested hilltop house in Kent. She studied English Language and Literature at Oxford, fell in love with the city’s crazed archaic beauty, and lived there for many years.

Whilst working full time as a technical author for a software company she started writing her first children’s novel, Fly by Night, and was with difficulty persuaded by a good friend to submit the manuscript to Macmillan. Seven of her books have now been published, all aimed at children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Lie Tree, won the Costa Book of the Year Award, the fiction category of the Boston Globe Hornbook Award and the 12-16 age category of the UKLA Awards.

Frances is seldom seen without her hat and is addicted to volcanoes.

So there you are. Award-winning and awesome storytelling. Get your copy here:

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Five Questions – Julie Berry

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

Last year when I was doing some market research in YA historical fiction I went to the bookstore and grabbed four books off the shelf and bought them. One of those was Julie Berry’s The Passion of Dolssa. I was not disappointed when I began reading.

Dolssa is a high-born young woman in 13th century France with the gift of hearing words directly from God. In her community she is revered as a miracle worker and a mystic, but the Church hears of her good deeds and brands her a heretic. Dolssa barely escapes being burned at the stake and goes on the run.

Botille lives in a fishing village on the coast and makes a living running a tavern with her sisters, but is also the town matchmaker. When she discovers Dolssa half-dead, she brings her back to the tavern and hides her, nursing her back to health and forming an unlikely friendship. But the Church won’t stop in their quest to find Dolssa. It is up to Botille and the people of her village to save the girl from a fiery fate.

I wrote a full review of The Passion of Dolssa last April and you can read it here.  It was a dark and twisty read full of great historical detail and a thrilling conclusion.

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

The Passion of Dolssa began gradually as several different pieces joined together. I’d always been interested in medieval mystics, and had read a fair bit about them. I had once thought, what if I recast Macbeth’s three witches as teenaged sisters running a roadside inn? At another time I thought, why do matchmakers always need to be older women? What if there was a young matchmaker? But none of these ideas found each other until I listened to an audio lecture on the Albigensian Crusade in southern France in the early 13th Century, and the subsequent inquisitions into heresy. Then everything clicked: what if a girl mystic was accused of heresy and sentenced to execution, then rescued and helped by a girl matchmaker who runs a tavern with her two sisters? Et voilà. The Passion of Dolssa. Plus a few years of research, writing, and revision, give or take. 🙂

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I’m pretty much a pantser, but I use outlines extensively when revising. The Passion of Dolssa underwent significant revision, and outlines were crucially to wrapping my head around the scope of the story and its many voices and moving parts.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

Hm, I’m really not sure how to answer that one. I don’t there’s anyone whom I consciously try to evoke. I have lots of favorite authors, but I don’t know to that extent they find their way into my style. I love Charles Dickens, P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters – the usual suspects, I guess.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I don’t. I love music, so it diverts my attention away from writing. Background noise isn’t my friend. It’s why I don’t write in cafés.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley, and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

Julie Berry

Julie Berry

Julie Berry is the author of the acclaimed young adult novel The Passion of Dolssa, the award-winning, All the Truth That’s in Me (2013, Viking) and The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (2014, Roaring Brook), and six other critically acclaimed titles for young readers. A forthcoming middle grade novel, The Emperor’s Ostrich, releases in June 2017 from Roaring Brook. She grew up in western New York and holds a BS from Rensselaer in communication and an MFA from Vermont College in writing for children and young adults. Before becoming an author, she worked in software sales and marketing. She now divides her time between eastern Massachusetts and southern California with her husband and four sons. Find her online at www.julieberrybooks.com, or on Twitter at @julieberrybooks.

And you know you want to read The Passion of Dolssa now, don’t you? You can buy it here:

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Five Questions: Molly Booth

saving-hamlet-molly-booth-2Molly Booth is adorable. A cute, pixie haircut, glasses, and a huge, beautiful smile. And she’s a damn fine writer too. Her debut novel, Saving Hamlet, was just published in November. It’s funny as hell, smart, and has Shakespeare! What’s not to love?

In Saving Hamlet we meet Emma, a high school student who has recently shed her jock persona in favor of a drama geek. She is the stage manager of her school’s production of Hamlet and things aren’t going well. The lead is struggling with his lines, Ophelia is being a prima donna, and the director (her secret crush) is not, well, being directional. And then one night Emma accidentally falls through the stage trapdoor and finds herself in the basement of the Globe Theater in London. In the sixteenth century. Emma has to find a way back home and glean enough information from her experience with the Globe’s theatrical company to make her own high school show a success.

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

The original idea for Saving Hamlet came when I was a sophomore at Marlboro College, taking a fiction workshop and a Shakespeare course at the same time. My professor, Paul Nelsen, taught us about Shakespeare’s backstage and history, and it was so exciting! So many plays at once, barely any rehearsal time, lightning-paced theater. I’d been a stage manager in high school and for part of college, so reading about the Globe and the Chamberlain’s Men was thrilling. I came up with a short story idea to have a teenager travel back in time there, and get to work with Shakespeare. I started writing Emma (my main character), and her challenges and voice helped shape the story, which eventually became Saving Hamlet.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

A bit of both! I write one draft without a whole lot of plotting, then I do a long outline before the next one. Some chapters I go in knowing what needs to happen, sometimes I write until I figure it out, and then go back and revise. I think part of what’s exciting (and terrifying) for me about writing is that you don’t know how it’s all going to happen before you do it. Maybe once I’ve written 10 or 20 books I’ll know ahead of time, but I doubt it!

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

I grew up reading Meg Cabot and Tamora Pierce, and I do think some of how I write was formed by their (far superior) clear prose, humor, and character development. In recent years, I’ve also turned to Rainbow Rowell when looking for inspiration — she writes so fearlessly, and her books give me courage.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Sometimes! If I do, it’s almost always instrumental electronic music. I wrote Saving Hamlet to the Social Network soundtrack and deadmau5, and for Nothing Happened, I’ve been writing with Ratatat in the background. I usually listen to musicals, alternative rock/pop, and Taylor Swift, so the electronic thing is definitely a weird writing phenomenon for me.

5. What are you reading right now?

Right now, I’m reading Hag-Seed  by Margaret Atwood, a retelling of The Tempest, as well as finishing The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman. I also just finished my friend Dana Langer’s truly wonderful middle grade novel, Siren Sisters, which I cannot recommend enough!

Molly Booth

Molly Booth

Molly Booth is a freelance writer, youth theatre director, and graduate student at UMass Boston. She writes YA books about Shakespeare and feelings. Her first novel Saving Hamlet, is out now from Disney Hyperion. Her second, Nothing Happened will be coming spring 2018. She lives in Boston, and has almost too many pets. Almost. For more, find her on twitter @mollygbooth, and visit her website: www.mollybooth.com

Saving Hamlet was probably my favorite YA read of 2016. You’ll laugh out loud, I promise.

Get your copy here:

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Five Questions: Robert Wilder

Nickel by Robert Wilder

Nickel by Robert Wilder

I met Robert Wilder at the Sanibel Island Writers Conference last November. If you remember I volunteered for the event and was the lucky person who ran trips to and from the airport. Rob was one of the folks I carted around, and he was great to talk to.  I look forward to seeing him again someday.

Rob has previously written several books of humorous essays, but Nickel is his first foray into Young Adult literature. Coy is an adorkable teenage boy with a mother in rehab and a slightly inept stepfather. His lifeline is his best friend, the 80’s obsessed Monroe. But when she comes down with a serious and indefinable illness Coy is left to fend for himself in the cruel high school landscape.

Wilder really hit the awkward, nerdy teenager on the spot. Coy digs right into your heart and won’t let go. Nickel is both painful and ultimately hopeful as we follow his lows (a surprise birthday party with almost no attendees) and highs (meeting Avree, a girl he thinks is out of his league). Told with a keen understanding of the teenage mind, Nickel is a funny and authentic read from an author to watch.

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

NICKEL is a tribute to the quiet, odd kids I’ve enjoyed teaching over my twenty-five years in the classroom. My inspiration for the novel began with all the essays, stories, poems and journal entries I’ve read by the quirky kids, a series of interior voices few others had access to. I then combined those voices with a dash of my son London and my younger self to form Coy, the narrator.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

My early drafts are purely exploratory. I start with a voice or idea or event and then follow it, not worrying about anything (or showing anyone) until I have a full draft. Then I start again since I hopefully know what the novel’s intentions are. Somewhere along the line, I’ll tape butcher paper up on my kitchen walls and sketch the overall plot, scenes, or character arcs, but not until I have at least two full drafts under my belt.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

Style? I’m not sure but for NICKEL, I read Lorrie Moore, Antonya Nelson, JD Salinger, Sarah Shun Lien-Bynum, Augusten Burroughs and others.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Nothing with lyrics. Mostly jazz while I’m writing, but when I’m in the car or taking a break I listen to all different types of music. The characters of Coy and Monroe in NICKEL are obsessed with the 1980s, so I reacquainted myself (rather loudly) with Foreigner, Bad Company, AC/DC, The Smiths.

5. What are you reading right now?

I just finished Nicholson Baker’s Substitute and Anne Valente’s Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down; I’m in the middle of Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton; and The Odd Woman and The City by Vivian Gornick is up next.

Robert Wilder

Robert Wilder

Robert Wilder is the author of a novel, NICKEL (Leaf Storm Press), and two critically acclaimed essay collections, Tales From The Teachers’ Lounge and Daddy Needs A Drink, both published by Delacorte Press.

A teacher for twenty-five years, Wilder has earned numerous awards and fellowships, including the inaugural Innovations in Reading Prize by the National Book Foundation. He has published essays in NewsweekDetails, SalonParentingCreative Nonfiction, plus numerous anthologies and has been a commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Thanks for playing along Rob! Go get this book, you’re going to love it.

Get your copy of Nickel here:

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Five Questions: Lawrence Tabak

in-real-lifeWelcome to my weekly author interview. This week I talked to Lawrence Tabak who wrote the great gaming novel In Real Life.

Fifteen-year-old math prodigy Seth Gordon knows exactly what he wants to do with his life—play video games. Every spare minute is devoted to honing his skills at Starfare, the world’s most popular computer game. His goal: South Korea, where the top pros are rich and famous. But the best players train all day, while Seth has school and a job and divorced parents who agree on only one thing: “Get off that damn computer.” Plus there’s a new distraction named Hannah, an aspiring photographer who actually seems to understand his obsession.

While Seth mopes about his tournament results and mixed signals from Hannah, Team Anaconda, one of the leading Korean pro squads, sees something special. Before he knows it, it’s goodbye Kansas, goodbye Hannah, and hello to the strange new world of Korea. But the reality is more complicated than the fantasy, as he faces cultural shock, disgruntled teammates, and giant pots of sour-smelling kimchi.

What happens next surprises Seth. Slowly, he comes to make new friends, and discovers what might be a breakthrough, mathematical solution to the challenges of Starcraft. Delving deeper into the formulas takes him in an unexpected direction, one that might just give him a new focus—and reunite him with Hannah.

THE FIVE QUESTIONS:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

When my second son was in middle school he rather suddenly decided that there were no longer any books of interest. Keep in mind this is within the confines of a house where bookshelves are everywhere and space on shelves is short. His main interest at the time was video gaming so after some back and forth he reluctantly agreed he’d give a book about a video gamer a shot. We tried the local bookstores without much luck — while there were a few very good science fiction type books that centered on gaming (Ender’s Game, for example) we couldn’t find a contemporary novel about kids obsessed with console controllers or mouse clicking. I was surprised, since in my experience, gaming was central to the lives of young boys. We could find any number of books about young basketball players, young football players, young hockey and tennis players. But not one about gamers. This was at a time when professional gaming was beginning to emerge domestically, and was already well established in South Korea. So I decided to write that book.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I don’t work with a written outline, but do spend considerable mental energy laying out the general course of a book before I start. I once read a profile of best-seller thriller writer Harlan Corben in which he describes spending months lying around, dreaming up his intricate plots, which he finally pens in a frenzy of writing. I haven’t achieved this sort of mental discipline, but do tend to write fast once I get into a project. That said, I find that my storylines tend to twist and turn in composition as events fall into place in a way which seem more true to satisfying fiction than life.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

I’ve been drawn to writing about younger protagonists more than writing for younger readers. As such, I’ve been most impressed with YA writers whose seem to be seeking to write the best possible books about young adults without tempering their composition for accessibility — what is sometimes called literary YA writing. The best of these writers are producing fine novels — not just fine novels that are geared for younger readers. Examples include A.S. King, Gayle Forman, and John Green. I’m also been knocked out by some modern writers when they delve into the lives and minds of younger protagonists. I’m thinking of the teenage Theodore and his dissolute friend Boris living as virtual orphans in the ruins of suburban Las Vegas in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Or the story Victory Lap which opens George Saunders’ collection Tenth of December. In a book I’m reading currently, Nathan Hill does an amazing job of capturing the passion and intensity of the emotional lives of eleven-year-olds in The Nix.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I often write with music on my headset, particularly since I like to work in semi-public places (coffee shops, libraries, student unions). I will usually just leave my song list on random, since once I get into the writing I’m not consciously aware of what songs are playing.

5. What are you reading right now?

I often have a couple books going at once. I’ve currently set everything aside to finish The Nix, a riveting 2016 novel by Nathan Hill. As I’ve mentioned, the sections devoted to his characters’ younger years are particularly stunning, as well as harrowing. It’s also a novel rich in political relevance, as it bounces back and forth between naive anti-war protestors in 1968 to a contemporary crisis involving a modern demogogic politician. I’ve got a bookmark in a just-translated volume of stories by Israeli Nobel Prize winner S.Y. Agnon, A City in Its Fullness, all set in the small Ukrainian city where he had spent his youth. And another bookmark in The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt’s story of how a 15th century book hunter found the last extant manuscript of a Roman poem by Lucretius, On The Nature of Things, and in doing so, helped trigger the Renaissance.

 

lawrence-tabakLawrence Tabak started out on Candy Land but soon hit the harder stuff (Pong, Tron, SimAnt). His first job was playing knock hockey with ten-year-olds as a playground supervisor in Dubuque, Iowa. He graduated to jobs in pizza assembly and door-to-door solicitation before settling into a series of tennis jobs in Iowa, California, New Jersey and Kansas. Most recently he’s worked in the marketing communications side of finance in Kansas City and Madison, Wis. His freelance writing has appeared in numerous national magazines and journals including Fast Company, Salon.com and The Atlantic Monthly. He and his wife have raised two game-obsessed boys, mostly in Wisconsin. Among their accomplishments are stints on the pro-gaming squads of SK Gaming and Fnatic and helping launch the live-streaming gaming site, Twitch.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Lawrence! If you have a teen who is obsessed with video games this is the perfect read. Watch for great new things to come from this author.

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Five Questions: Maria Alexander

Snowed by Maria Alexander

Snowed by Maria Alexander

Welcome to my next author interview! This week I am talking with Maria Alexander, the author of the amazing YA horror novel Snowed.

Charity Jones is a 16-year-old engineering genius who’s much-bullied for being biracial and a skeptic at her conservative school in Oak County, California. Everything changes when Charity’s social worker mother brings home a sweet teen runaway named Aidan to foster for the holidays. Matched in every way, Charity and Aidan quickly fall in love. But it seems he’s not the only new arrival: Charity soon finds the brutally slain corpse of her worst bully and she gets hard, haunting evidence that the killer is stalking Oak County. As she and her Skeptics Club investigate this death and others, they find at every turn the mystery only grows darker and more deadly. One thing’s for certain: there’s a bloody battle coming this holiday season that will change their lives – and human history – forever. Will they be ready?

FIVE QUESTIONS:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

Many years ago, on a miserable November night, I was feeling especially Grinchy as I was driving home from an awful, long-distance job. I’d always had a tempestuous relationship with Christmas. So when an instrumental version of “Carol of the Bells” came on the radio, it struck me as the darkest piece I’d ever heard. I’d just read Neil Gaiman’s “Nicholas Was,” which already had me in a myth-twisting mood. By the time I got home, I had a new story in my head, and all I had to do was sit and write. “Coming Home” was the result: a wicked flash fiction piece that was part social commentary, part bah-humbug, and completely surprising. I shared it with Neil, and he said, “This is the story I should have written.” That floored me, of course, but I knew I’d done something different.

It was published a dozen times and stolen even more before it was produced as a one-act play by Women in Theater in Los Angeles, and even adapted to podcast by Pseudopod.org. But I knew it had potential to be a bigger work. I didn’t really figure out how to adapt it to novel, though, until late 2012.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I come from a screenwriting background. So, structure is very important to me, which means I outline. When I started Snowed, I thought I was writing this sweet magical romance. But something terrible fell out of nowhere at the end of Chapter 5 – something I hadn’t anticipated but it felt right. (If you’ve read the book, you know what that is.) That’s when I realized I was actually writing something very dark. I went back and totally revised the outline. I’m working on the sequel, Inversion. The first draft only took three months because I knew the broad strokes and all the characters. So, I don’t always need a thorough outline to write, but I do need to know the big moments.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

It’s changed a lot since I switched to YA. It used to be authors like Caitlin Kiernan, Clive Barker and Tim Powers. Now I’m not so sure, although a couple of readers have said the Snowed is reminiscent of Joe Hill, who I love. I’d say that Philip Pullman has been and will always be a big influence on anything I write for younger audiences, as His Dark Materials had a major impact on me. And I read a lot of what my friend Nancy Holder writes, so no doubt she’s in there, as well.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Usually, and especially when I’m thinking about story, but never anything with lyrics unless it’s in another language. Just movie soundtracks, ambient, and classical music.

5. What are you reading right now?

A lot of stuff people are offering for Bram Stoker Awards consideration, actually — everything from horror poetry to novellas. But I’m really excited to dig into Gretchen McNeil’s newest book, I’m Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl, even if it’s not particularly dark. We met this year in San Diego at an event we were both signing at. She’s going to be the YA Guest of Honor at StokerCon 2017, and I look forward to spending time with her again.

 

Maria Alexander

Maria Alexander

Maria Alexander is the award-winning author of Mr. Wicker, numerous short stories, and two poetry collections. Her nonfiction is used in curriculum at Champlain University. Her debut YA novel, Snowed, from Raw Dog Screaming Press is being called “one heck of a page turner” by adults and “kick-ass” by teens. For more information, visit her website.

Thanks so much for your time, Maria! Seriously, you need to read this book. Charity Jones is whip-smart and sassy. I wish I had known her in high school. Go and get your copy here:

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The Waiting is the Hardest Part

It is a weird week. Not a bad one, just different, schedule-wise. Kosta and I have taken tomorrow off to add to our already three-day weekend, so today is my Friday. But our usual Wednesday night person is on vacation so I am working the late shift to fill in for her. That’s why I got to go here this morning:

2016-03-16 08.15.30

Ah…

The beach in the morning is one of my favorite places in the world. It brings me back to myself when I’ve been living in my head too much. And I have lately, and here’s why:

My novel, Cloak and Dagger, isn’t selling. I’ve had lots of favorable feedback from different editors but no one has ultimately taken the bite. The thing I have heard most frequently is “I really love this book, but I couldn’t get it past my sales team because it is historical fiction.” Apparently while historical fiction is a huge thing in the adult market, it is a very tough sell in the YA world.

What I’ve been doing since December is taking out the first novel I wrote, The First Muse, and rewriting the beginning and editing the rest. I knew the first third had flaws and a tough time getting going, but I believe I fixed those issues. I am almost ready to send it off to my agent and see what he thinks about it. Trust me, I am terrified he won’t love it, but that’s just a little part of me. I know this book is good and the series has amazing potential.

It’s just hard, you know? Getting the agent was an incredibly grueling endeavor, but this part is no easier. The funny thing is, when you are searching for an agent, you get rejections. But when you ascend to the next level and your agent is sending your manuscript to editors, you get passes. Sounds a lot less awful, but really, it’s just as painful. Especially when the months drag by and you’re still waiting.

But I don’t give up. I will keep plugging away until I get a win. My agent loves my writing and at least one editor asked to see anything else I wrote. That is encouraging. If my contemporary fantasy about a kick ass group of girl goddesses doesn’t sell, I will dust myself off and write another book.

I expect to finish my final polish of The First Muse by Friday and then I’ll be sending it up to New York and crossing my fingers. I’m looking forward to some rest now that it will be with Alex. I’ve been working two full-time jobs really, and I’m exhausted. Even so, I know the work won’t be done, as I am sure he will have suggestions to make the story tighter. After all, I’m a talented writer, but not a flawless one.

Then it will go out into the world to be loved or rejected, and I won’t be able to do one thing about that.

Tom Petty said it best: The Waiting is the Hardest Part.