Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Conversation with Natalie Parker, Author of BEWARE THE WILD

Natalie Parker, Author of Beware The Wild

Hi Natalie! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog! Your upcoming novel, BEWARE THE WILD, is set in the swamps of Louisiana. As a huge fan of Southern fiction, I want to know your take on it. Do you think it has a distinct flavor? What sets it apart from stories set in other regions? Do you have favorite Southern authors?

Hey Jaye! Thanks for having me. I'm always happy to chat with fellow fans of Southern fiction, not to mention fellow 2014 debuts, not to mention fellow bloggers, not to mention....okay, I just really like to talk, so thanks for giving me another place to do that. ;)

Favorite Southern authors? I'm probably supposed to lean back in my recliner and tell you about the very deep appreciation I have for William Faulkner (and believe me, I do), but if we're talking favorites, I'm going to have to push Eudora Welty and Barbara Kingsolver to the front of the line and cite reasons: mythology and prose. 

As for the what sets this novel apart, one of my favorite things about the South is that you can't go anywhere without encountering stories. Every place you go will come with its own, incredibly unique, incredibly strange mythology. Strangeness has an incredibly long shelf life, so its the really weird things that end up defining a place. This is one of the things I've tried to do with BEWARE THE WILD -- sink readers into a world where strangeness is just a really vivid piece of reality.

Of course, the short answer is: gatorgirls. 

I have friends who lived around the corner from Eudora Welty in Jackson. I always thought that was awesome. Barbara Kingsolver is amazing, of course. Another couple of Southern writers I love are Fannie Flagg and Mark Childress, both from Alabama. Oh, and Sue Monk Kidd! Great writers come from humidity.

And can I tell you how much I love this: "'s the really weird things that end up defining a place."

So can you fill us in? Give us a clue to a particular weirdness in your book that makes you smile with the oddity of it all. Is it a character? A place? A moment? Do tell!

One of the things I had the most fun with was the town's mythology. Sticks is a place rich with a gruesome, ethereal history centered around its swamp. Over the generations, all of those stories are captured, retold, illustrated, printed, bound, and sold in the General store. These are the stories kids tell at sleepovers, that adults whisper with caution, that grandparents delight in passing to the young. 

And the question at the very beginning of the novel is....are they all true, after all?

Hmmm, I see an opportunity for some cool graphic novel spin-offs of BEWARE THE WILD. 

You mention a question, which leads me to thinking about my next question. Do you have a typical way in which a story idea forms itself in your head? When I chatted with Joy Hensley she said she most often will imagine the climax first and build off of that. For me, it's often a single word or the voice of my character, or just an emotional feeling. For example, I have a middle grade built off the word justice, and a new WIP idea I'm simply calling Lonely Girl. How does a story idea implant itself firmly enough in your brain to merit the writing of it?

I almost always begin with an image. For BEWARE THE WILD it was the image of a girl emerging slowly from a dark swamp, climbing over a fence, and tugging free of magic that didn't want to let her go. The follow-up began with an image of something spoilery happening around the ever-blooming cherry tree in the center of the swamp. My future projects are similar in that they all revolve around some image that I then place inside a world. The characters develop after that. 

The plot always comes last. That's probably indicative of the kinds of stories I like to tell. Striking imagery! Compelling world! Dynamic characters! Oh, and they do things, too…

Oooh, love that opening image. Do you keep a Pinterest board for inspiration? Do you want to share it?

As a matter of fact, I do:

Okay, magic. What were the elements that guided you in creating the magic for your world? Did the magic relate to setting at all (since the swamp is key to the story)? And what of these gator girls I keep hearing whispers of!

I wanted the magic to feel as wild as the swamp. That meant it had to have elements of chaos and accessibility. In my mind, that translated into organic matter. (In all honesty, I was probably fighting crab grass in my backyard one summer and thought, WHAT FOUL MAGIC IS THIS?!) The magic of the swamp is very much a part of the ecosystem -- in many ways, it is a plant, growing and shrinking under the right conditions. And, as is so often the case with magic, it's those who use it who make it bad or good. The gator girls (and boys!) are not naturally occurring, but are created....*enter eerie music here*

I love how those real world moments can intersect with our fictional ones. I completely think it was the swamp talking through your crab grass!

And unbelievably, we've come to the end! I think I need to cling to you a bit longer so you can tell me swamp stories, but I suppose it will suffice for you to tell us about the next three books in your TBR pile, the best beverage ever in your glass, and the song you just can't shake.

Thanks, Natalie! I'm really looking forward to BEWARE THE WILD!

I'm doing my best to die by ARC this year and the next three in my TBR are: THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE by Jennifer Mathieu, SURVIVAL COLONY 9 by Joshua David Bellin, and THE FIRE WISH by Amber Lough.

The best drink ever in my glass? Home brewed pomegranate mead!

And the song I can't's one from the playlist for swamp book 2, Monsoons by Pucifer:

Thanks for having me, Jaye! 

Absolutely! And next week, stop back by when I'll be chatting with Meredith McCardle, author of the Eighth Guardian!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

YA Scavenger Hunt- TEAM BLUE - Meet Rachel Harris!!!

Welcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! This tri-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive one signed book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are TWO contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the BLUE TEAM--but there is also a red team for a chance to win a whole different set of twenty-five signed books!

If you'd like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt homepage.


Directions: Below, you'll notice that I've listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the blue team, and then add them up (don't worry, you can use a calculator!). 

Entry Form: Once you've added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian's permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by April 6th at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.


Today, I am super excited to host Rachel Harris on my website for the YA Scavenger Hunt! Rachel writes fun and flirty escapes about sassy girls-next-door and the hot guys that make them swoon. A Cajun cowgirl now living in Houston, she firmly believes life's problems can be solved with a hot, sugar-coated beignet or a thick slice of king cake, and that screaming at strangers for cheap, plastic beads is acceptable behavior in certain situations.

She homeschools her two beautiful girls and watches way too much Food Network with her amazing husband. She writes young adult, new adult, and adult romances and LOVES talking with readers!  

Find out more information by checking out Rachel's website or find more about My Not So Super Sweet Life here! And not just any book, but a SPECIAL DIGITAL EDITION (no time travel in this one, but definitely swoonier and this time, dual POV between Cat and Lucas! Yeah, baby)

Rachel's Website!

Cat Crawford just wants to be normal—or at least as normal as a daughter of Hollywood royalty can be. And it looks like fate is granting her wish: she’s got an amazing boyfriend, Lucas; her fabulous cousin, Alessandra, living with her; and her dad planning his second marriage to a great future stepmom. That is, until her prodigal mother reveals on national television that she has something important to tell her daughter…causing a media frenzy.

Lucas Capelli knows his fate is to be with Cat, and he’s worked hard to win her over once and for all. Unfortunately, Lucas has his own issues to deal with, including a scandal that could take him away from the first place he’s truly belonged.

As secrets are revealed, rumors explode, and the world watches, Cat and Lucas discover it’s not fate they have to fight if they want to stay together…this time, it’s their own insecurities.

Well, and the stalkerazzi.

(excerpt in graphic, full scene below in text)

Oops! Too late. YASH is over, but you can buy the book to read this steamy scene! Link above! (at the cover image)

I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to go stick my face in the freezer now! Smoking! 
And don't forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of signed books by me, Rachel Harris and many more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 17. Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the blue team and you'll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!


To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author! The fabulous P.J. Hoover! Just click HERE!

And because I want you to get to know yet another of my amazing 2014 debut author friends, I'm giving away a pre-order of The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings, just fill out this Rafflecopter and you're in! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Conversation with Kelsey Macke, author of DAMSEL DISTRESSED

Kelsey Macke, author of DAMSEL DISTRESSED
Hi Kelsey! I feel so lucky because I keep interviewing one after the other of my favorite online writer friends! (Weird how you're all with Spencer Hill!) You are such a force to me in this world of writing. Your inspirational vlogs, your sunny presence on my Twitter feed, your work with charities and teen groups. I mean, WOW! But here's the story I want to know if you're willing to share. On a blog post you wrote about being whisked to NYC because a song you wrote got some attention and they got interested in you as a performing artist. I'd really love to know more about that story. Teens often have these types of dreams and it sounds like yours had the opportunity to come true. Can you tell us this story? And then tell us a bit about why it wasn't the right time for you?

Hey Jaye! I feel the same way about you, and I'm so proud of the amazing people in our YA community. It's amazing that so many of our dreams are coming true. 

But, like many people, I have more than one dream, and I have even more dreams that have been left behind me as my aspirations have grown and changed. 

When I was seventeen, I was sure that if I kept writing songs and kept singing as often as I could, I would eventually be noticed and would be able to be a "REAL" singer. A singer with a tour bus, and with a manager, and with her own specially designed guitar.

I'd been writing songs for several years when the Twin Towers fell in September 2001, and like many artists, I processed my fear, anger, and hope through my work. I wrote a song called "After Today." 

Interestingly enough, I'd been planning to go into a local radio station to try and "sing to win" concert tickets. But when the whole country was upended, they pushed my segment back a week. So, on the one-week anniversary of the tragedy, I was in the radio station, with my guitar, ready to sing for tickets. But as it was exactly one week later, there were some special moments of silence and the National Anthem was being played throughout the morning, and for some reason, I mentioned to the producer that I'd written a song the night before and would be happy to play it in tribute. 

Of course, in reality, the song was rough and un-practiced, having been written only a few hours before. 

But the meaning and heart was there, and I sang it on-air and shortly after, they had calls pouring in of people pulling their cars over on the highway to cry and to thank me for singing what they hadn't figured out how to say. 

In the ONE WEEK after I first sang the song, it "went viral" (though that term really didn't exist yet) and it was being played on local and national news and radio programs, I had recorded a CD single to sell in order to raise money for the Red Cross, I was interviewed by several national entertainment shows, I was performing everywhere, and then I was flown to New York to perform live on a major network's early morning talk show. 

I remember walking up to Ground Zero with my mom, just TWO WEEKS after it happened. I remember the smoke still swirling and the taste of ash still in the wind. 

While we were in New York, a few record label A&R reps had asked for meetings. 

What they offered was almost like my dream, but not quite. 

They wanted me to put down my guitar, lose 20 pounds, and start taking dance classes. 

I wanted the chance to make music for a living, but I didn't want it like this. 

After lots of thinking and frustration, I decided the answer was no. And that version of my dream died. 

But I'm so glad, because if it hadn't, I never would have met my husband, Daron, and we never would have formed our band, Wedding Day Rain, and we wouldn't be releasing a record of songs we LOVE and believe in now. This version of the dream is so very much sweeter. 

Goodreads Link

Oh, wow. Thank you so much for the full story. That must have been so huge a deal to just walk away. But how amazing that as a young woman you had the strength to know "hey, this isn't right for me." And now, thanks to the efforts of your agent, Jessica Sinsheimer and your editor at Spencer Hill, you have a kind of landmark young adult book deal with Damsel Distressed. Most people when they submit their manuscripts think they're going to end up with a book deal. You and Daron ended up with a whole lot more. Do you remember when the idea was first pitched? Who brought it up, how did it come to be?

The album cover for Wedding Day Rain's  (Kelsey & her husband, Daron) companion piece to Damsel Distressed.

Actually, Jessica was the person who really connected the dots. She and I had discussed the story that I just recounted to you. I spoke to her about my former life as an almost-teen-popstar and about how Daron and I were making music together with the hopes of putting together a record in the future. She was the person who picked up on the performance components of my book and asked if there was some way that the two parts of me could work together. 

When she asked the question, it was one of those lightbulb moments. I knew that she'd hit on something important and RIGHT. I knew right then that there was traction here and that if we were lucky enough to have the support of Spencer Hill, this would be one of those special, once-in-a-lifetime types of opportunities. 

I told Daron about the idea and he felt it right away too. We started playing through the handful of songs we'd already begun writing and we found song after song that overlapped in theme/content with the novel. It's like those songs always belonged to this project, even before the project was a thing. 

That gave me chills. Seriously. Don't you love those moments of serendipity or faith or stars aligning? When you absolutely know things are as they were meant to be.

Speaking of absolutely knowing, tell me about being a writer. Was there ever a moment of magic that made you sit straighter in your chair and own it? When you knew, without a doubt (and we're not talking self-doubt), you were meant to write?

I have to honestly answer NO. 

I am a creative person and have always been. I spent my younger years writing good and bad poetry, singing, writing songs, acting, and coloring everything with rainbows. 

If I wanted to make something, I did. If I wanted to sing a song, I did. If I wanted to write a song, I did. 

So, when the day came that Imogen's voice echoed through my head with such clarity, I couldn't deny her, I wrote her story. 

It was difficult, but it was also easy. It was supposed to come out, so it did. 

I'm one of those rare writers that believes in writer's block and being unable to tap into the art. I do think you can force writing and make things worse than if you'd not written at all. I try and listen to the muse, whatever she may be, and I believe I can do that because I see myself as a lowercase "w" writer and not a capital "W" Writer. Writing is something that I do. Something I love, but it's not my whole identity.

All I know is that I'm a writer today because Imogen's story needed to be told. I have a few more stories I'd like to tell, but if my dreams shift again in a few years and sculpture or photography or graphic design calls my name, I'll listen--no matter what my current job title might be. 

I love that you are unabashed about your creativity. I'm a metalsmith, photographer, writer, art dabbler and I've done each of them professionally at some point in my life. I have friends who are like "what CAN'T you do?" And it cracks me up because, um, math, sports, musical instruments. But to lots of people creativity seems like a frightening, illusive thing. What they don't get is creativity brings a ton of head monkeys (aka insecurity) with it, too.

You, like me, are also a teacher. How important do you think it is to give your students an inside view of the dreams you're fulfilling?

I'm definitely an emotional teacher. 
I spend as much time trying to make sure my students know that I love, accept, and support them as I do making sure that they're academically prepared. 

I think that there are so many ways to contribute to our world, and math, science, reading, history--all the basics are part of that. But I also believe that the world needs dreamers, activists, musicians, and volunteers as well. 

I am virtually hugging you right now. Every answer makes me go "oh..." and "aw..." and I can't wait to meet you IRL one day! And more than that (or maybe equal to that :)), I can't wait to read and listen to Damsel Distressed and Imogen Unlocked!

Sadly though, our chat has come to an end. Would you share with us the next three books on your TBR pile, the liquid in your cup, and the song you've had stuck on repeat lately? And thank you so much, Kelsey!

OMG! I'm so glad you asked about the song stuck in my head! This past week, I was on a writing retreat and we stopped in this little tiny town and they had this amazing, very cool, alternative-esque hamburger joint (I'm getting to my point, btw.) and we'd been stuck in a one room cabin with NO WIFI OR CELL SERVICE, so this place was an oasis, and this song was on this guy's random pandora and it's been in my head SO SERIOUSLY STUCK. 

I actually JUST had to go buy it this very night. 

Dirty Work by Steely Dan
(Seriously, it's a good song. Go listen to it on YouTube)

The next three books that I'm reading are (in no particular order): TWO 2014 debut arcs that I have been DYING to read, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE by my friend Jen Mathieu, and LIV, FOREVER by Amy Talkington. Book number three is a manuscript by my friend... it's going to be amazing. I already started it and I can't WAIT for him to be majorly famous.

Lastly, the liquid in my cup: water. 
I'm trying to kick a MEAN Dr. Pepper habit. :D

I love you, JRo! Thank you so much for having me and for your friendship (and for your amazing writing, omg. NO PLACE TO FALL made me have way too many feels)! 

Here's to our books and a happy and productive 2014!

Aww, thanks Kelsey, now I'm blushing. Be sure and stop back week after next when I'll be chatting with Natalie Parker, author of BEWARE THE WILD. Next week I'll be hosting Rachel Harris for the Young Adult Scavenger Hunt!!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Conversation with Megan Whitmer, author of BETWEEN

Megan Whitmer, author of BETWEEN

Hi Megan! I'm so excited you agreed to stop by the blog for a chat. You are one of the people I "know" online that make me smile and marvel on a daily basis. Not only have you written your debut novel (BETWEEN - Spencer Hill Press - July 2014) but you run #writeclub on Twitter, are active in All The Write Notes, and you have an awesome author Vlog at your Youtube, Scrambled Megs channel. And you have a family! So I have to know, how do you channel all this energy! Tell us your secrets!

One of the best motivators is the people who read the blog posts, watch the vlogs, and participate in #writeclub. YA Misfits and All the Write Notes have lots of awesome, interactive fans, and I generally get positive responses to my vlogs. #Writeclub is one of the best things I’ve ever played a part in, and it’s grown from one random tweet on a Friday night in October 2012 to an international Friday night tradition with its own twitter account (@frinightwrites). I have moments where I think I’m going to have to give up something (and I have actually taken a step back from #writeclub for the time being), but I enjoy all of these activities so much that I hate to walk away from any of them. I think that’s one of the key things—I don’t commit myself to anything I don’t fully love and believe in. When something becomes more of a drain on my energy rather than a task I enjoy, it has to go. Being a mother and writing novels are the two things I consider my full time jobs, so all of these extras are hobbies for me. I have times where I’m not good at keeping up with it all—I’ll miss a post here or there or completely forget to record a vlog—but for the most part, setting up reminders in my calendar and keeping a notebook filled with random blog/vlog ideas helps me stay on track. 

I think there's an important life lesson in there. It's so easy to want to get wrapped up in every single bit of the debut author and online writer community and it's hard sometimes to say no even when you know it's outside your comfort zone. Like street teams, for me. Totally freaks me out. But you've started one recently! Can you tell us a bit about what you see as the advantages for marketing, or is it just for fun? What are some other authors' street team strategies you've watched and said "Hey, that's awesome, I totally am going to do that!" Maybe you can convince me!

I wasn’t really sure about street teams, either. I’ve seen other authors use them, but I just wasn’t sure that I necessarily needed one. I feel like I get an incredible amount of support from the awesome group of friends I have on twitter already, and I didn’t really think there was a reason to ask people to sign up to say they’ll help me promote Between when they’re already doing so.

But then I remembered that there’s a huge world beyond twitter (I have a tendency to completely forget this, which is silly, but twitter makes the world seem so small!). I’m hoping members of my street team will help me promote Between on a more personal level by equesting it at their local libraries and book stores and moving the Between talk to their individual areas, off line. Mostly, I feel like my street team is just another way for me to talk to people. And as we both know, I’m a super big fan of talking and interacting. I think of it as more of a community than a marketing tool. I want them to feel some ownership in Between’s success, since they’re excited enough about it to want to be a part of it!

What? A world beyond Twitter? Joking. Sort of. And that makes perfect sense!

And this world beyond is a perfect segue for you to tell us about the world in your debut novel, BETWEEN. I absolutely love the cover and want to know if the dark/colorful split has special significance.
Goodreads Link

Thank you! I’m thrilled with how the cover turned out. Each half is actually showing the same world in a before and after sense. That world is part of what’s at stake in the book. The contrast on the cover also reflects the difference between Charlie, my main character, and Seth, the character I have an inappropriate crush on. Charlie is an artist and she's full of personality and emotion. She chooses heart over logic every time. Seth, on the other hand, is more of a realist. He's serious and a little dark, because he has to be in order to perform his job in the Fellowship—keeping Charlie alive. When Charlie goes somewhere or meets someone new, she’s overcome by the beauty and magic of it all, whereas Seth looks beyond that and focuses only on the darkness and danger. I love the way they interact with each other. As Charlie says in the book, “Seth’s world is black and white. While I prefer to draw that way, I have deep appreciation for the gray areas, too.” 

Charlie sounds like my my kind of main character. Is there an artist you imagine her work might be like or that she would admire? A particular painting that invokes Charlie for you? And since I know you personally LOVE music, which song would Charlie snapchat herself lip synching to her friends? 

I don’t really have a particular artist in mind. Charlie uses all sorts of mediums, and she prefers creating realistic representations of things she’s seen and places she’s been in order to remember them. One of her most prized possessions is a sketchbook containing all sorts of drawings of home. As she goes from living in the mortal realm to the mystical realm, where the line between what’s real and what isn’t changes, she starts to develop more of a taste for art that represents an emotion rather than a specific person or place. 

Oooh, music question!! It’s funny because while I’m obsessed with music, Charlie sooooo isn’t. Her brother, Sam, is the music nut in the family, so if she knows anything that isn’t mainstream, it’s only because he’s made her listen to it. I can totally see her busting out a Don’t Stop Believin snapchat video. She’d love Phillip Phillips’s Home, but she’d never know all the words. 

You wrote a character not into music? Wow, that's kind of awesome. I mean, you know how characters dictate who they are despite our authorly interference, seems like Charlie had her way with you.

Okay, final questions. Next three books on your TBR pile, the liquid in your cup, and what's playing on repeat. And if that were to come in video lip synch form I would totally put it on my blog!

Oh yeah, Charlie was an artist even before I realized it. I’d write a scene and Charlie would start talking about colors and lines and I was like, "Oh, she appreciates beauty." Which led to, "Oh, she likes to create beauty." Which led to, “Well that’s just fantastic, Charlie. I know NOTHING about drawing or painting.” 

Next three books in my TBR pile: Nil by Lynne Matson, which I’ve been waiting on for what feels like forever, Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay, and This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales.

Liquid in my cup: I’ve been surviving on coffee lately, and depending on the time of day it may or may not include a splash (or three) of Baileys. 

What’s on repeat: Pharell Williams’s Happy, and OBVIOUSLY I will make you a lip synch video. (we're waiting, Megan! :))

Thank you so much for the interview, Jaye! 

Thanks so much for stopping in, Megan, and don't forget to stop back next week when I'll be talking to Kelsey Macke, author of DAMSEL DISTRESSED.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Conversation with Jessica Love, author of PUSH GIRL

Jessica Love, Author of PUSH GIRL
Hi Jessica! I'm so glad you've agreed to stop by the blog for a chat! Your novel, PUSH GIRLS, is one that you co-wrote with television star, Chelsie Hill. How did this opportunity come about for you?

Thanks for having me, JRo! 

I got hooked up with Chelsie to write PUSH GIRL through some awesome agent/editor matchmaking. The publisher was looking for someone to work with Chelsie to tell this story, and here I was - a lover of contemporary YA who liked to write about dancers. It was a great match right away. 

It's a little different from what I imagined for my debut YA novel, but I'm so excited I had a chance to work on this book. It was a lot of fun, and I've enjoyed the opportunity to tell this story.
Goodreads Link

I was at dinner with an author friend the other evening and she was talking about how her agent was expressing the need for writer flexibility in today's marketplace. How a lot of times a house will have a niche they're looking to fill and you might pitch them book A, which they turn down, but then they come back to you and say, "But we're looking for book B, would you write it?" Sounds like you win at the flexibility game!

You're so right about being flexible! I've heard so many stories lately of authors in the exact situation you mentioned. I think it's important to keep your mind and path open - you never know what opportunity might land in your lap and open doors you never expected!

Since your debut book is sealed with a pretty cover, what kind of books do you imagine yourself writing when you're not working with a co-storyteller? Do you have anything in the works? Themes you tend to revisit every time you set fingers to keyboard?

I'm a romance girl at heart, and while there is a romance element in PUSH GIRL, the stories I write for myself usually keep the romance at the front and center. I love stories about falling for the person you least expect to and then figuring out how to deal with those feelings. Those are the relationships that show up in one form or another every time I sit down to write a book.

I love a great romance. I particularly like the kind that leave me with a kind of aching fullness at the end. Two recent favorites were Aristotle and Dante in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and Judith and Lucas in All The Truth That's In Me, two very different books and romances but both left me with that sweet, these two are going to be great, no matter what, feeling.

Oooh, I haven't read either of those! I need to check them out!

What are some of your all-time favorite couples in YA fiction and why do you think they were written right?

One of my favorite relationships in YA right now is Kami and Jared in Sarah Rees Brennan's Lynburn Legacy books. (UNSPOKEN is the first one.) These two have such a unique bond, and these books are so much about them navigating this bond and the feelings that come along with it. What makes this relationship get to me so much is that it isn't even entirely romantic. There is this deep friendship, and even more than friendship, really, between these two. They know absolutely everything there is about one another, and how do you translate that into real life? It makes for this crackling chemistry that i can hardly even handle. And then, of course, Sarah Rees Brennan rips your heart out when it comes to these two at every given opportunity. 

And one of my favorite classic YA couples is Remy and Dexter from Sarah Dessen's THIS LULLABY. These two are opposites attracting and they are both very flawed, but they both bring the best of themselves to the other one. I think that's what really makes me root for a relationship on the page - when people are messed up, but able to bring out the good in their partner. 

Yep. I love Sarah Dessen's storytelling. I haven't read anything by Sarah Rees Brennan and it sounds like I need to remedy that.

Oh, you should definitely pick up UNSPOKEN, then! I recommend it to everyone. It's hilarious and scary and has an awesome cast of characters. 

Okay, we're going way off the topic of PUSH GIRL now, but it's one I know is dear to your heart. I want to hear the story of how you got Patrick (if you look at prior posts, you'll know I have a weakness for author dogs) to be Gunner's best friend. And a photo of course! I mean, we can all relate to dogs, right? And they are our constant writing companions. Am I finding a tie-in here?

YES! My very favorite doggies! 
Patrick on the left. Gunner on the right.

We adopted Gunner about 3.5 years ago from a girl on CraigsList who had raised him since he was a puppy, trained him perfectly, then decided to get rid of him for some reason I will never understand. He's a Mini Schnauzer / Yorkie mix and he is seriously the most amazing dog ever. 
Last year we moved to a bigger place and wanted to get Gunner a buddy. I'd been following a local pet rescue on Instagram and kept seeing pictures of little Patrick, we think he's a Fox Terrier and Chihuahua mix, and his sweet face. I thought for sure he would get adopted, but he just kept being available. Finally I couldn't resist and I adopted him from the rescue. Turns out they saved him from the county shelter on his last day before euthanasia. Patrick is so different from Gunner, but he's such a little love! He loves to curl up right on my chest when I'm trying to write - he's the cutest, sweetest distraction ever. 

Everything is better with a dog, especially writing. 

Okay, it's crazy but we have reached the end of our interview! Any final words you want to add about Push Girl? And tell our readers, what are the next 3 books in your TBR pile, the liquid in your cup, and what song is playing on repeat these days?

And thank you so much for dropping in for a chat! I'm so excited to read your debut, Push Girl! 

I'm really excited to share Push Girl with the world! I hope you all like it. I promise it's not all sad and depressing...there are a lot of funny and lighthearted moments in there! 

I'm in the middle of Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, so I need to finish that up. Once I'm done with that, I'm going to read Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry because some of my students want to talk to me about it. Then I'll probably pick up my ARC of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart so I can see what all the fuss is about. 

The liquid in my cup is coffee, of course. Lots and lots of coffee. (I have a small caffeine addiction.)

And the song on repeat for me is actually an entire album - the new album from Broken Bells called After The Disco. I can't get enough of it!

Thanks so much for having me, JRo! This was so much fun!

Be sure and stop in next week, when I'll be chatting with Megan Whitmer, author of BETWEEN!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Balance (or how the hell do you write, market, teach, live, clean, shop, cook, etc.)

Before I even start I'm giving up a hells yeah to the parents in the house. I no longer have kids at home, so can't even imagine what it would be like trying to conquer this particular maelstrom with toddlers or active middle schoolers. So, praise.

But here's what I'm yammering about. Time. Sweet precious beautiful time.

Yesterday it was 60 and sunny here. The first slap dead gorgeous day that felt like spring. And I had a list a mile long of ALL THE THINGS I wanted to make happen. And none of them included sitting behind my desk working on taxes or revisions.

Prior to my book sale, all of my writing time went to that. Writing. But now, my writing time includes things like guest posts, and researching marketing strategies. I'm involved with three different 2014 debut groups, which is invaluable, but also unwieldy. Not only do I want to promote my own stuff, but I want to promote them as well. And at the same time I don't want to become a promotion machine. My head is starting to spin with it and I'm still nine months (to the day!) from my book release. I'm also reading fellow debuts' ARCs which is great, but time consuming.

So what am I doing? I'm still getting up at 5 am every single morning to write or do writing related work. I'm still spending 4 hours or so in the weekend mornings dedicated to writing time. I'm starting to say no on occasion. The other thing I'm doing is pushing any book release excitement back a few months. Summer is when I plan to start worrying about it. I'll still have plenty of time.

But I can't give up life. There are young horses to ride and friends to keep. There are classes to teach and family to visit. So what's going to go? Probably this blog. At least temporarily. I have interviews with amazing authors lined up for a while, but once those are gone. I'm going to shut her down. I may be back or I may not. But I love you all!

Peace out.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Conversation with Joy Hensley, Author of RITES OF PASSAGE

Joy Hensley, author of RITES OF PASSAGE

Hi Joy! I'm so glad you agreed to stop by the blog for a chat. I wonder if now is the time I should tell everyone you are PATSY CLINE'S COUSIN????? (fangirl swooning) Okay, all silliness and fame mongering aside, you wrote a book! And it's awesome! Tell me about the first time you thought "Hey, I'm going to write a book about a girl who wants to go to an all-boy's military school." Or did it develop in some less direct way?

Goodreads Link

Aw, JRo, you can fangirl all you want! Funny story--my kids' doctor is such a Patsy Cline fan that he's been to her grave site and actually made his kids pose for pictures there! Every time we go in for a check-up, their doctor mentions it. :-)

On to RITES OF PASSAGE--it is awesome that I wrote a book. I still kind of can't believe it. They say a book is a lot like having a kid and, since I have two, I can say without worry that it most definitely IS like carrying a baby for nine months and then delivering them and watching them grow up.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably say that this book didn't just spring fully-formed in my mind. I wanted to go into the military and had actually gone to the Marine Corps recruiting office in my home town. My mom freaked out over this, as some moms do, and begged me to go to college first. That way, if I still wanted to go into the military afterwards, at least I would be an officer.

When I was in college, I just couldn't really find my way. I kept thinking about the military and one of my best friends dared me to go to a military university. It was a $25 dare for me to spend an entire school year going through the recruit year at a military school plus take college classes. I took the dare immediately. I applied to Virginia Military Institute (who were only in their second year of having females on campus) and Norwich University. I got accepted to both and chose Norwich because they'd had females longer and I thought it would be easier.

That's the most ridiculous assumption I've ever made in my life.

Anyway, fast forward to last year when I was doing revisions on a book that my agent still hasn't seen. I was stuck on that book. Something was broken and I just couldn't figure out how to fix it. I e-mailed Mandy and asked her if I could just take a break during NANOWRIMO and just play around with something. Six weeks later, the first draft of RITES was born!

So, while I wrote RITES just last year, the ideas have been in my head for...holy cow, I just did the math...nearly fifteen years. Wow. I'm old.

You said an interesting thing, that you knew your other book was broken (not RITES) but couldn't figure out how to fix it. I've found the same type of thing, that if it's like pulling teeth, at least at the draft stage, then I'm off track in some way. How intuitive is the writing process for you?

Being a writer is so weird sometimes, isn't it? When I come up with a story, here's what I see first: a main character in the climax. I know instantly who she is and what the climax is. I can see it like it's a movie. What I don't know when I come up with a story is how they get there.

Sometimes I start at the climax and write to the end, just to keep the energy of that scene like I see it in my mind. Then I go back to the beginning and meander my way back to the climax. If I am trying to make something happen that doesn't want to work--if writing is like pulling teeth and I can think of a million different things to do BUT write--that's when I know my story is broken. In the book before RITES, specifically what happened was I wrote an entire book based around an environmental problem. Unfortunately, those types of books are so narrow that you can lose the bigger young adult themes like finding your place in the world and things like that. I couldn't figure out how to make the story BIGGER. 

That's where critique partners come in. I have one critique partner in particular who is great when it comes to fixing the broken parts of my books. If I'm pulling my hair out and crying, he can always find where I went wrong and gives me great suggestions for fixing the problem. I count on him probably to much if I'm being honest, but I wouldn't be at all where I am without him.

My broken story is still there in my mind, though, and I hope that once I'm done working on my second book for Harper Teen I might be able to go back. I love that story and I think I've figured out a way to fix it, but I don't have time to play with it right now.

You start with the climax of your story? That's wild to me. I start with a feeling, or a word, or a character's voice -usually, but then every story is a little different. You mentioned one of your critique partners and as you and I both know, writing is not as solitary as it seems. If you were talking to a writer just starting out, what recommendation would you give on how to find CP's and how to know if they're a fit?

How do I love my critique partners? Let me count the ways! None of my writing would ever get anywhere without them. The biggest piece of advice about critique partners that I ever got is this:

If a CP doesn't have anything negative to say about your writing, they're not doing their job.

It really is the truth. There are times when all I want is praise. When I just need someone to tell me all my words are beautiful. At those times, I go to my friends and my family--the people who don't understand how writing really works, you know? They, without a doubt, will tell me that everything is perfect and can boost my self-esteem enough to continue writing. That only works so far, though. 

I need CPs to tell me when something's not working. Who can spot what sucks in the story and then tell me that. There's a fine line, there, too, of course. I need constructive criticism. And I guess that is the key. CPs are people who can spot what's wrong and give ideas or direction that might be just what you need to fix it.

I've found it's also important to find someone at your own writing ability level and/or with your same dreams that understands the writing path you want to take. If you want to be published in the big six but your critique partner is writing a story to share only with family and friends, in my experience, that relationship won't work out. The two paths are too different. Likewise, getting someone at your same level. If you dream of having a NYT bestselling author as your CP and you've only just finished your first short story, I think there's too much of a gap there for the relationship to be productive.

First and foremost, you've got to find someone you trust. You've got to be able to take criticism. Sure, I usually take my criticism with a pint of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food ice cream to help soften the blow, but once I've wallowed, I look at what they say and figure out how I can adapt my story or my writing style to make improvements.

As for how to find them? On-line writing  communities. Swap sample chapters with people you know in the writing community. Critique and be critiqued. See if you like their story or their critiquing style. Places like Absolute Write or the NANOWRIMO forums are also great places to find critique partners.

Above all else, though, you have to be READY for a critique partner. It's not easy getting a critique for a book you've spent four years writing. Sometimes it HURTS to know you need to cut scenes or characters that you love a lot. If you're not ready or are just looking for praise, just send it to your mom to get words of praise.

I've gone through many critiquing relationships that started out working but just fizzled out or one of us moved on to the next phase of writing and the other one wasn't ready or couldn't take critique and use it. You've got to know when you've outgrown your CP or they've outgrown you, as well. You can always be friends, but a CP is more for business, not pleasure, if you know what I mean.

Wow. I guess I have a lot to say about CPs, huh? 

It may be a lot but it's so well said! I remember vividly my first scathing critique. Gosh it burned, but I knew at my gut she was right and I was so thankful someone had taken that much time to be honest with me.

So let's get back to RITES OF PASSAGE. Were there any scenes you loved that you ended up having to leave behind? Or conversely, did someone ask you to add some salt or pepper that wasn't there to start?

Oh, RITES OF PASSAGE. I want to hug my first draft because I love it so much. It's my baby, you know? The book that sold. I thought it was PERFECT just the way it was. It sold at about 70k words and I actually had in my mind two more books to go along with it. Harper bought it as a stand-alone, though, so I had to tie off some loose ends. Also, the book deals very heavily with a secret society. In my first draft, the show-down was really serious. There were secret tunnels and rituals involved and I worked so hard on making it real. Writing the climactic scene actually put me into a bit of a depression because of what ended up happening with some of the main characters.

Through revisions, though, a lot of that changed. RITES grew to a hefty 100k, with some serious subplots being added. The climax changed entirely and I actually had to go back and work in a year-long competition within the military school structure that I had built to make it work. It's completely different than the first draft--some characters are different genders, there's romance where before there was none at all--just a hint of something that I thought would grow over the course of three books.

I thought my baby was perfect, but as RITES has grown into the young adult book that it is, I'm grateful for every change I've made. When it comes out in September, it'll be able to stand on its own and I'm so proud of all the work that's gone into it--from the suggestions by Mandy, my agent, and Jen, my editor, as well as all the others at Harper Teen who are making my little recruit into a shining cadet. :-)
Well I know how excited I am for RITES OF PASSAGE to be out in the world. It was such an immersive experience into a world I knew little about and that's what I love about reading! I can't wait for the praise to start rolling in for you from readers.

Well, that's all for us, Joy. But before you go, would you mind sharing with the readers the following: What are the next 3 books in your TBR pile? What liquid's in your cup? And what's playing on repeat these days?

Aw, thanks, Jaye! I just hope people fall in love with Sam and root for her like I did! She's so kick-ass, despite everything that happens in the book .She's definitely an idol of mine!

Okay, nitty-gritty questions require nitty-gritty answers. Here I go:
1. I'm starting a manuscript critique today for my most epic of epic critique partners, the Falconer by Elizabeth May, and White Hot Kiss by Jennifer Armentrout.
2. Right now, because there's a foot of snow on the ground and my kids are playing out in it, I'm drinking a nice relaxing cup of special tea from some Himalayan mountain region--my hubby is a tea snob. Later today when the hubby is working? Coffee. Lots and lots of it.
3. On repeat these days is a playlist on youtube of MMA Entrance Theme music. Lots of cuss words and heavy beats. Perfect for first drafting. :-)

Thank you SOOOO much! This was so much fun. I love the conversational e-mail interview thing you've got going on!

And thank you! Next week be sure and stop back in when I'll be chatting with Jessica Love, author of PUSH GIRL.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

KEEPER OF WONDER: An Interview with Lori Faust

Lori Faust, Librarian Extraordinaire
It's been too long since I've had a librarian (aka Keeper of Wonder) on my blog, but today I'm so excited because Lori Faust is here. And Lori has the distinction of having served on the Newberry Committee! (True fact: Before I wrote YA, I thought I was going to be a Middle Grade author and I had deep, secret Newberry dreams. I blame Kate Di Camillo for that!)

Here we go!

  1. Tell us about your library? (Where, what, anything quirky or cool?) What's your job title and description?
I work for the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library in Warren, Ohio (northeast Ohio). We have a “main” library in downtown Warren, a bookmobile that traverses the county, and five branch library locations. I am the Youth Services Department Manager, which means I supervise all of the children’s librarians, the teen librarian, and the paraprofessional staff (9 staff members in all) system-wide. Because we are not that large of a system, I do it all: collection development and maintenance, programming, customer service, and outreach. Lots of variety and never a dull moment!
  1. I heard through your friend, Rebecca Barnhouse, that you served on the Newberry selection committee once. Tell us (what you can) what that was like! How did they select you?
Serving on the Newbery selection committee was, without a doubt, a career highlight! I had served on other ALSC committees and I had been a member of the inaugural Bill Morris Seminar: Book Evaluation Training when I was appointed to the committee (some members are elected, others are appointed). It was a very intense year of reading – committee members get bombarded with shipments of books from publishers – but a wonderful experience of camaraderie with one’s fellow committee members. Everyone takes the responsibility of selecting the most distinguished book for children published that year so seriously. It is such an incredible feeling of commitment to the process, and I was so proud of our results!
  1. What was the most recent book request?
Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship, by Russell Freedman
  1. What was your most recent book suggestion to a patron?
The Bike Lesson by Stan and Jan Berenstain. The patron was looking for books with a guided reading level of “G” – “I”. We have sets of “leveled readers,” but they aren’t very interesting reading. I wanted this child to have something that would be fun to read, so I checked one of my Fountas & Pinnell references and found this title on the level “I” list.
  1. What was your most recent book suggestion to a friend?
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Best “grown up” book I read last year! The writing, the intricacy of the plot – blew me away! (I'll have to look that one up!)

  1. If you could sit down to your favorite beverage with any current kidlit author, who would it be? And why?
Oooh – so tough! If I can only pick one, I guess I’d have to go with Neil Gaiman. He excels at every genre and he’s such a passionate supporter of libraries. Love him!
  1. What book do you wish you had in your library (professional or personal or both) but don’t? (this can be something written or something you’ve never seen)
Hmmm – another tough question. I wish I had a personal collection of all the Newbery medal winners, but we do own them all at my library. And I guess I wish some of my favorite authors would publish more often, because I can’t get enough of them (Barbara Kingsolver, for example!).   (She's one of my favorites, as well. I got to hear her read last year which was thrilling.)
  1. What factors influence your decision to add a book to your collection?
Reviewer recommendations are the main reason I purchase something, but I’m also aware of what is popular in my community and what the teachers are looking for, so I’ll keep an eye out for materials that meet those needs. My collection budget is generous, so I order everything that sounds good! (My shelves, however, are pretty packed!)
  1. What about you would make us say, “REALLY? But you’re a librarian!” ?
Well, I have a pretty sarcastic sense of humor and people expect children’s librarians to be sweet (I AM sweet to the kids and parents), so sometimes that surprises people. Otherwise, I’d say I’m pretty stereotypical – and by that I mean cool, quirky, and eclectic! I do not, however, own a cat, and I never will.  (No doubt, librarians are the coolest!)
  1. Five favorite books of the past five years.
A mix of adult, teen, and children’s books (in no particular order):
    1. Life After Life, Kate Atkinson
    2. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
    3. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
    4. When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead
    5. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin

Thanks so much for stopping by Lori! (If you are a librarian, or know a librarian, who'd like to be featured, my email address is in the top right info box on this blog)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Conversation with Sarah Guillory, author of RECLAIMED.


Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog. It seems like we should
know each other in person! Anyway, I loved your debut novel, RECLAIMED,
the plot point with the brothers for sure, but mostly your really beautiful
writing. Writing a book is hard to begin with, but you, like me, work
full time as an educator. How'd you make that work?

Goodreads Link

When I decided to write seriously, I knew that meant budgeting my time. (Hoarding it, really.) I write every day when I get home from work, usually from 4:30 - 6:00 PM. If I'm on deadline, I also usually work after dinner as well, for at least another hour. My weekends are for writing, as are holidays (Mardi Gras, Spring Break) and the summer. I wrote RECLAIMED during the school year by writing at least 1,000 words every day after school. I finished in the spring, then let it sit for a few weeks before spending most of my summer revising.

I try not to bring my school work home. My mother and grandmother, also teachers, gave me that advice early on, and even before I was a writer, I followed it. There are times when I do have to grade at home (usually research papers), but I only do so after I've met my writing goals for the day. I'm cranky if I don't get to write, so having that time is an integral part of who I am, and I believe it makes me a better teacher.

Now that RECLAIMED is out in the world and presumably your students have
been reading it, what's it been like to straddle that line between published
author and teacher. Are there things that are different? Things you wish
were different? (I won't ask about the same, because I'm sure you still have
your type A's and your slackers and that doesn't change a whole lot!)

It's not that different, actually. Many of my students have read the book, but they are good at separating me as author and me as teacher. (Maybe because author Guillory is much cooler than teacher Guillory.) Tons of them attended my launch party (seriously, it was mindblowing),had me sign their books, and made me pose with them for pictures. That made me laugh, since they could take a picture with me any day of the week. Those who didn't get to come have had me sign their books at school, but they don't ask during class. They come before school or during my break, and they seem shy, the way they would if asking someone they don't know instead of someone they talk to every single day. A few of them finished the book while at school and chased me down to yell at me a bit. I loved that. I actually get to chat with readers every day, and I feel incredibly lucky for it. (A few have handed me "fan" letters when passing me in the halls. They are the sweetest.) They do get small inside scoops, since many have asked about my next book. I hope the one thing my students do learn from me is that hard work pays 
off and dreams can be reached, even the biggest ones.

And to always do their homework. ;)

Nice! And I love that bit of shyness, it's so sweet.

So, RECLAIMED is published with Spencer Hill Contemporary, a newer branch of a small press that still is relatively new. Have you enjoyed working directly with an editor versus going the agented route? And what have been the advantages of being with a newer imprint?

I love working with Spencer Hill. I'd always envisioned my publishing path the traditional route - agent, then editor. I was participating in Writeoncon and trying to polish my query when my editor read it and asked for the full. When she called to offer a week later, I was ecstatic! I took some time to think about it, but I decided to go ahead and sell it to Spencer Hill because I thought it was a good fit for the book. My editor was so enthusiastic about RECLAIMED, and she completely got the story. She loved the characters as much as I did, and I knew they would be in good hands. It's been a great experience, and the personal attention and close working relationship has been the best part. My editor was always just a phone call away if I needed her. I actually emailed her on a Friday night in the middle of my revisions because I had a little freak-out moment. She called me immediately to talk me through the problem I was having (which was nothing), then ordered me to take the night off, even if it meant I missed my deadline by a couple of days. She always wanted what was best for the book, and that meant the world to me. Everyone at Spencer Hill, editors, interns, publicists, have been absolutely amazing. That was one of the benefits of a new imprint - there were only a few (three I think) releases in 2013, so I always felt I had the support I needed and that they believed in my book.

I know so many authors that I love as people have signed with Spencer Hill so I can't help but think they must be awesome as well! Glad to hear what a positive experience it's been.

So what's next? Are your writing new things? Sticking with contemporary or venturing out? Can you tease us a little?

I am writing lots of new things! I'm currently revising a book I dreamed up back before I sold RECLAIMED. I had an idea for a trilogy back in the spring of 2012, but it was very involved and scared me. I told myself I wasn't going to write it, but the idea just wouldn't let me go. I wrote it over the summer of 2012, then set it aside to work with my editor on RECLAIMED revisions. I revised it a bit in Janurary, 2013, but an awesome writing friend suggested I start in a different place, so the book I originally wrote will become parts of book two and three, and I wrote an entirely brand new book one in March of 2013. I revised this summer, and am now revising again based on feedback. It is both historical and contemporary. It's very different from anything I've ever done, which is both exciting and terrifying. It's set in Louisiana, and there is kissing.

Oh that gives me hope! I have a couple of former projects that won't die for me. Weirdly enough one upper MG I wrote, I'm toying with writing as an adult novel now! Strange.

Anyway, I can't wait to find out more about the new one in the future as I love anything that has a Southern setting! And I do hope it has a bloodhound in it. (Cue, gratuitous photo of author pet here, please :0))

Sarah's handsome Bloodhound!

Before we end our chat, I have one final question, or rather a series of small questions. Tell my readers, what are the next 3 books on your TBR pile? The liquid in your cup? And the song you've got playing on repeat!

 And thanks so much for stopping by!!

That's so funny that you mentioned the bloodhound, because he was one
of the first characters! Right now I'm planning on having him make his
appearance in book two.

My next TBR books are: The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr, Not a Drop to
Drink by Mindy McGinnnis, and Let Me Play by Karen Blumenthal.

In my cup: Community Coffee

Song on Repeat: "Too Late" by Wes Kirkpatrick

Thanks so much for having me!

Next week, be sure to stop in when I'll be chatting with Joy Hensley, author of RITES OF PASSAGE!