A Writer In The Spotlight – Kat Ellis

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Hello gentle reader,

Today I’m thrilled to share with you an interview with another talented YA author! I “met” the lovely Kat Ellis online a couple of years ago and now her debut BLACKFIN SKY is coming out on 14th May.

A writer in the spotlight – 18

Kat Ellis

Author : Kat Ellis

Genre : Young Adult, Thriller

Location: North Wales, UK

Website: http://katelliswrites.blogspot.co.uk/

Book : BLACKFIN SKY (out 14th May in the UK and 2nd September in the US)

My interview (19th April 2014)

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

Oh, no. Not at all. I think my career aspirations went something like this:

Actress (age 8) …singer (age 10, before I knew I couldn’t sing) …spy (age 12, before I knew my French wasn’t that good) … rock star (age 13, when I learned to play guitar – not well) …racing driver (age 21, after finally learning to drive) …uh, OK, maybe I’ll work in IT (also 21).

So I worked in admin for a bit, then moved into a more IT-ish job, where full-on geekery was obviously a MUST, and ended up falling in love with YA films… then YA books… then YA writing. I think I was about 27 when I knew that I wanted to be a YA author for real.

When and where do you write?

I’m lucky that I get quite a lot of time to write now, and have my very own writing cave at home. The walls are lined with books, and I have my guitar and piano in there to play with when I’m stuck with my writing (or just feel like a skive).

What do you say to someone who wants to be a writer?

HOORAY! (I think anyone who puts in the time and effort to make their dream happen deserves a bloody big HOORAY.)

blackfin sky jpeg

(UK cover)

To write BLACKFIN SKY, where did you get your inspiration from?

I started off knowing the story’s hook: I knew that Skylar drowned on her 16th birthday, and that she’d come back 3 months later and act like nothing had happened. So, breaking all my own rigorous plotting rules, I wrote the first chapters without knowing where it would end up. And I hit the mother of all brick walls when I realised I had no idea what had actually happened to her.

So I mulled it over for a while, took a break from writing, and mulled some more. And then, as happens every summer, the circus came to town. I went with my sister and niece to watch the performance, and it was while I was sitting in the stands, amazed at all the stunts going on in the Big Top, that I figured out what had happened to Sky.

Ta-da! The rest is history. Or Blackfin Sky, actually.

Blackfin-Sky-Kat-Ellis(US cover)

Which authors inspire you now? (=Any books you’d recommend?)

I like to read across the genre spectrum, but have developed recent author crushes on Non Pratt (TROUBLE), C J Skuse (ROCKAHOLIC, PRETTY BAD THINGS, DEAD ROMANTIC), and Patrick Ness (A MONSTER CALLS, THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO).

Some of my long-time author heroes are Lisa McMann (WAKE trilogy, THE MISSING, CRASH, DEAD TO YOU) Michael Grant (GONE series), and Lucy Christopher (STOLEN and THE KILLING WOODS).

As April was UKYA month, I got to catch up on reading a lot of UKYA from my TBR pile, and it’s been fantastic focusing on all the talented authors and amazing fiction coming from the UK right now. Definitely inspiring!

Thank you so much for this interview, Kat!

You can add BLACKFIN SKY on Goodreads here or pre-order it here.

My Week In Review – ROW80 Check-In 2

Hello gentle reader,

Happy Easter!

It’s time for my weekly check-in! I hope you all had a great and productive week. Mine was good!

ROW80 Check-In

ROW80 Logo

My goal for this round is to read or write every day.

This week I didn’t write, but I read every day. I’ve been researching for my new WIP and reading two non-fiction books. I also beta read an awesome manuscript written by Katie Bucklein.

TV Show of the Week

New Worlds

I’ve been watching New Worlds on Channel 4. It’s a historical show set in England and America in the 1680s. I’ve been enjoying it, although the plot is quite scattered.

Book of the Week


For #UKYADay, I’ve been reading The City’s Son by Tom Pollock, a YA Urban Fantasy published in 2012. I’m only a few chapters in but I’m really enjoying it so far!

Links of the Week

This week I was interviewed by Karen McCoy on her blog. I talked about my agent and my manuscript.

On my blog I interviewed YA Author Susan Dennard and I explained how to write a large cast of characters.

On There And Draft Again I shared a list of books on the writing craft.

Next week

Next week on my blog I’ll post an interview with YA Author Kat Ellis and I’ll share a few editing tips.

How was your week? Make sure to share your writing progress and what inspired you this week in the comment section below! And here is the Linky to check out the other ROW80 posts.


I’ve been interviewed! via Karen McCoy

Hello gentle reader,

a quick post today to let you know I’ve been interviewed by Karen McCoy about my manuscript LILY IN THE SHADOWS.

Here is an excerpt:

I love the premise of LILY IN THE SHADOWS. Where did you get the idea from and what do you want readers to take away when they’re finished?

Although I love Steampunk literature, it has glamorized the Victorian era, with heroines in beautiful dresses, innovative gentlemen, steam-powered inventions and afternoon teas. I wrote LILY because I wanted to write the story of an obscure 19th Century flower girl, with no special power or talent, who tries to save the city of London from chaos and magical destruction. Lily lives in Whitechapel, she is partly deaf and she has no hope of ever marrying a king and becoming a princess in a fairy tale. But to me, it doesn’t mean her story shouldn’t be told. Every girl matters and her actions can change the world, even in the shadows.

You can read the full interview here.

A Writer in the Spotlight – Susan Dennard

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Hello gentle reader,

Today I’m thrilled to share with you an interview with one of my favourite YA authors! You may remember I interviewed the wonderful Susan Dennard back in July 2012. At the time, her debut was just being released. Since then, Susan has published one more book and a novella, and the last book in her trilogy will come out in July. Additionally, she has sold another trilogy: a YA Epic Fantasy whose first installment will be available in Fall 2015.

A writer in the spotlight – 17

Susan Dennard 2

Author : Susan Dennard

Genre : Young Adult, Fantasy

Location: Midwestern US

Website: http://susandennard.com

Books : Something Strange and Deadly series: Something Strange and Deadly (2012), A Darkness Strange and Lovely (2013), Strange And Ever After (expected publication: 22d July 2014) from Harper Teen.

Truthwitch series: expected publication Fall 2015 from Tor.

My interview (15th April 2014)

Can you tell us about your writing process for STRANGE AND EVER AFTER? Did you have everything already mapped out before you started drafting or did the book go through a lot revisions and changes?

I had a vague idea of where the series would end up–but VERY vague. Like, I knew Eleanor and the gang would go to Egypt and ultimately face the Big Baddie, but details were totally nonexistent. As I drafted A Darkness Strange and Lovely and new story threads were woven into the plot, my vision for book 3 became clearer. It wasn’t until I started writing book 3 and really set my mind to wrapping up all the story threads and all the character arcs that I fully understood what had to happen. Even then, it took me a half a draft to get a real handle on how everything would actually weave together for an epic ending. What can I say? I’m a bit of pantser…

Strange Ever After

STRANGE AND EVER AFTER is the last book in the series: how did it feel to part with these characters and this world?

Oh my gosh, it was HEARTBREAKING. I cried and cried and cried and immediately (like the same day) started writing a sequel set 5 years in the future. Ha! I will probably never try to publish that, but it was fun for me to see where Eleanor and the gang were going.


You’ve been writing THE STARKILLERS CYCLE with Sarah J. Maas and posting it on Tumblr. This is such a great project, can you explain why you chose to post it online for free rather than to publish it traditionally?

We just felt like the size and scope of the project was WAAAAY to big for traditional publishing–and that’s not traditional publishing’s fault. A single book that’s 200K+ is never easy to sell, and especially not in today’s market.

More importantly, though, this project is very organic for us and 100% a passion project. With our contracted works, we don’t get much stewing time or revising time. It kind of sucks because we’ both firmly believe that good stories take YEARS to percolate into their full potential. We wanted to be able to do that with STARKILLERS–to take breaks and stew. To go back and change earlier scenes as new ideas arose. Obviously, that would never work in traditional publishing. ;)

The first book in your next series, TRUTHWITCH, will come out in 2015. Did you decide with your agent to work on this particular project? Or did you write the story you wanted before considering whether or not it was something a publisher would be interested in?

Truthwitch was a passion project. All my books are. :) I’m a FIRM believer in writing what you love and not worrying about the market (hence writing a sequel to SS&D that I will likely never share or writing STARKILLERS with Sarah).

Yes, passion projects can backfire if no one wants to buy them, and yes, I’ve written things that the market had no need for…BUT the market is always changing. One day, publishers might decide they want my dark middle grade. Or one day, the market might be perfect for my diesel-punk epic fantasy. The important thing is that I LOVED writing those books while I wrote them, and that passion always comes out on the page.

With Truthwitch, I loved every second I was working on it, and I think that passion is really evident on every page. Best of all, despite having revised/rewritten it until my eyes bled, I STILL love the book. I’m not sick of it because the need to tell this story–and to tell it RIGHT–just burns inside my chest. If I didn’t have that passion, I can’t imagine how miserable I would have been by the 2000th round of revisions! :P


What are you reading right now? Do you have any recommendations?

I’m reading Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn. I’ve been on a Sharon Shinn binge lately. She’s just SO GOOD at world-building and romance. I highly recommend all of her series!

Thank you so much for this interview, Susan!

You can buy all of Susan’s books here. (You really should!)

Writing a large cast of characters – with Black Sails

Hello gentle reader,

Fantasy and Historical novels have something in common: they often have a large ensemble cast of at least a dozen main characters, with up to hundreds of secondary characters. Writing a large cast of characters presents some specific challenges: how can the writer make sure each character is distinct from the others and fully realized?

(Please note I’m not talking about the use of multiple points of view here: I’m only discussing managing a big ensemble cast).

With the fourth season of Game of Thrones being aired this month, you may be surprised that I haven’t chosen it as an example to support my argument. Although GoT does have a large ensemble cast, it circumnavigates some of the challenges of writing a large cast because all the main characters are in separate places.

Today I’d like to give a few pointers about writing a large cast of characters who are all in the same place and are forced to constantly interact. I wanted to use HBO’s Deadwood (aka My Favourite Show of All Time) but I realize this show was cancelled in 2006 and you may not have seen it. Therefore I’m going to use a far more recent example: Starz’ Black Sails, whose first season aired in January (side note: this show isn’t censored and the viewer discretion is advised). It’s a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island. I’ve been careful not to include spoilers here.

Black Sails introduces us to a cast of 11 main characters and more than 30 (named) secondary characters. They are all in one place: New Providence Island (West Indies) in 1715.

How do the writers of the show manage to make us recognise each character and care for their fate? And how can you do the same in your Work In Progress?

1) Create distinct characters

The key here is to give each main character his own name, his own way of speaking, his own look (clothes), his own motivations (reasons to be in the story) and his own plotline or “story arc”.

What can be helpful is writing an “ID card” for each character before or while you’re drafting: that way you can keep track of each detail and refer to the character’s card for consistency.

In Black Sails, Eleanor Guthrie is one of the key characters, and she ticks all the above boxes: her speech, her clothes, her hairdos, her goals and her story arc are completely specific to her and she can’t be confused with any other character.

2) Organize your key characters in groups and don’t introduce them all at once.

Black Sails 2
The characters in Black Sails can roughly be put into 3 groups: one led by Captain James Flint, one led by Eleanor Guthrie and one led by Captain Charles Vane.

Of course, these groups aren’t set in stone: as the story develops, people mingle, allegiances shift, etc. But these groups are a great way to introduce all the characters at the beginning: a reader or viewer can’t memorize the names of 20 characters in one chapter or one episode. However, what they can do is identify a few main characters and the group around them.

At the end of the first episode of Black Sails, I couldn’t tell you more than a couple of characters’ names. I could, however, tell you that Captain Flint was the main lead character, that his goal was to find a Spanish treasure galleon, and that his crew consisted of a nice and wise quartermaster, a handsome first mate, and a clever cook with a secret.

3) An opportunity for diversity

Having a large cast of characters is a golden opportunity to introduce characters with diverse cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds, from different age groups, with various sexual orientations or with disabilities.

Black Sails makes quite an effort to introduce diversity in its cast of characters. In 8 episodes, these topics weren’t fully developed, but there’s room for some interesting characters’ development in the seasons to come.

Black Sails 3
4) Make us care: create complex characters

With a large cast of characters, it’s important that each one is fully fleshed out, with qualities and flaws. To make them as human as possible, it’s necessary to have them make good AND bad decisions, experience a wide range of emotions and be both strong and fragile.

If you check out Black Sails on Tumblr, you’ll see the premise of a fandom taking form. And among all the people who watched the first season of the show, you’ll see there are people who love Flint. Other people who hate Flint. People who love Vane. Other people who hate Vane with a fiery passion. People who love Max. People who can’t see why Max is even in the show. Etc. Etc. The reason all these people can’t seem to agree or make up their mind is because these characters are complex enough that you can’t really love them or hate them. There are no heroes and no bad guys.

Let’s take Charles Vane as an example. This character is introduced as a villain. In the first couple of episodes he manages to kill a nice (elderly) secondary character, to punch Eleanor in the face and to beat up Max. So what writing device turns this cruel, murdering pirate into a complex character we actually care about? First, he has friends. Well, one friend, at least. This shows us others do see more in him than what he appears to be. Secondly, he rarely gets his way. For someone who’s willing to do anything to get what he wants, he actually rarely gets what he wants. That makes us sympathize with him, somehow. Finally, he’s in love with a girl who doesn’t love him. That’s always relatable. As a result, by Episode 6, you sort of like Charles Vane, with his flaws and his “no one understands me” attitude. Right? But he wouldn’t be a complex character if he was just this misunderstood guy. So in Episode 8 (the last in the season), the writers have him back to his old ways and you’re back to shouting at your TV screen and wondering if he’s-going-to-kill-everyone-oh-my-I-can’t-even.

Please note I could have written almost the same paragraph about James Flint, except that he starts out as the “hero” and ends up being not that hero-like…

5) Show, don’t tell

My final advice when writing a large cast of characters is to remember to show them to the reader, not tell the reader about them. We need to understand who these characters are and to make up our mind about them through their actions, not because we’re told about them.

Black Sails John Silver
In Black Sails, Long John Silver is a good example of a character we aren’t told much about. We don’t really know who he is, where he came from and what his backstory is. We do, however, get a really clear idea of what kind of person he is through his actions. By the end of the season, we know he’s an opportunist, a liar, a thief, a terrible cook, a very clever man and the Most Likely To Make It Out Alive of the show. That’s characterization well done.

So tell me: have you included a large set of characters in your manuscript? How did you go about it? Most importantly, have you watched Black Sails? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

ROW80 2014 – Round 2 – Check-In 1

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Hello gentle reader,

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may recall a time when I took part in the ROW80 Challenge. From April 2012 to June 2013, I checked in every Sunday and reported on my writing progress. Then revisions for LILY IN THE SHADOWS took over my life, then I signed with my agent, and… I gave up on ROW80 check-ins.

But I’m back!

If you’re new around here, A Round of Words in 80 Days (aka ROW80) was created by Kait Nolan. It is “the writing challenge that knows you have a life”. Each ROW80 round runs for 80 days and the participating writers have to set themselves writing goals for that time. Each Wednesday and Sunday, we check in and let the others know how we are doing. The idea is to form writing habits that writers will hopefully continue once the challenge is over.

Round Two started on Monday 7th April (so I jump in a little late) and it will end on Thursday 26th June. If you would like to join in and become a part of the ROW80 community, please do so, it’s not too late and we’re friendly!

Here are my goals for this round (I always keep them very simple):

  1. Read or write every day
  2. Write the first draft of my new YA Historical Fantasy (hopefully by the end of this round I’ll be able to tell you what it’s about!)

Here is the Linky for the other check-in posts. How are you other ROW80 writers doing?


Cover Reveal: What The Lady Wants by Renee Rosen

Hello gentle reader,

today I’m delighted to share with you the cover of What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age by Renee Rosen (expected publication: 4th November 2014 by NAL Trade).

I really enjoyed Renee’s debut, Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties. I’m excited for her second book to be out, and I’m even more excited to reveal her beautiful cover art!

Here’s the book blurb. Scroll down to check out the cover!

In late 19th century Chicago, visionary retail tycoon Marshall Field made his fortune wooing women customers with his famous motto:“Give the lady what she wants.” His legendary charm also won the heart of socialite Delia Spencer, and led to an infamous love affair. 

The night of the Great Fire, as seventeen-year-old Delia watched the flames rise and consume what had been the pioneer town of Chicago, she couldn’t imagine how much her life, her city, and her whole world was about to change. Nor would she have guessed that the agent of that change would not simply be the fire, but more so the man she met that night…

Leading the way in rebuilding after the fire, Marshall Field reopens his well-known dry goods store and transforms it into something the world has never seen before: a glamorous palace of a department store.  He and his powerhouse coterie— including Potter Palmer and George Pullman—usher in the age of robber barons, the American royalty of their generation.

But behind the opulence, their private lives are riddled with scandal and heartbreak. Delia and Marshall first turn to each other out of loneliness, but as their love deepens, they will stand together despite disgrace and ostracism, through an age of devastation and opportunity, when an adolescent Chicago was transformed into the Gleaming White City of the Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893.

Praise for Dollface 

“Intoxicating….Fans of Boardwalk Empire will love Dollface.”—New York Times Bestselling Author Sara Gruen

“A lively, gutsy romp of a novel that will keep you turning pages.”—Karen Abbott, New York Times Bestselling Author of Sin in the Second City

And now the cover…


Isn’t it gorgeous?!

You can add What The Lady Wants on Goodreads and/or pre-order it here.