A Writer in the Spotlight – Mackenzi Lee

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Hello gentle reader,

I had the pleasure of interviewing YA author Mackenzi Lee in June 2015, a couple of months before her YA Historical Fantasy debut THIS MONSTROUS THING came out. Eighteen months later, and Mackenzi is now an established author, with two books coming out in 2017-2018. I thought it was time to have another chat with her… Hope you enjoy!

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My interview (9th January 2017)

Mackenzi Lee

THIS MONSTROUS THING came out a little over a year ago. What were the highlights of your debut year? Anything you’d do differently?

I’d sort of do everything and nothing differently–in the same way I’d do everything and nothing differently if I could live my life again. So much of what I know at the end of my debut year is because I made mistakes and learned things the hard way, but those mistakes are the reason I now know things.

Don’t think about it too hard.

But there were so many highlights, and I keep thinking about those highlights whenever I’m down or stuck or things feel like I don’t know how to author. Like getting to hold my book for the first time, or the reader who asked me to write a note to Mary Shelley in her copy of Frankenstein, or the reader who showed up to an event with a copy of TMT that she had color coded, or getting an envelope full of mail from an eighth grade class who read the book, or the twin girls who chose to come to one of my events and buy my book for their birthday present, or my childhood librarian sending me a picture of my book on the library shelf, or the guy sitting next to me on a red eye flight buying my book on his Kindle right in front of me.

I think the thing I would do differently would be to try and focus more on these moments, and not the lists I’m not on or the stars I don’t get or the festivals I’m not invited to. But I’m a neurotic writer, so that’s easier said than done. Focusing on the good moments is a lifelong battle.    

Now that you’re published, what would you say has changed in your writing life?

Right before I sold THIS MONSTROUS THING, a grad school mentor told me to enjoy this time before I was published because it was the last time I could write for myself. I thought at the time that was so stupid–publishing is the end game! What’s there to enjoy about not being published?!

Now I understand what she meant, because once you’re published, there’s a lot more to consider every time I make a decision about my writing. I feel like editors and agents and reviewers and readers have all become my internal voice. As a result, the first thing I tried to write after TMT was a disaster because I was so caught up in how backward the process felt when I already had agent/editor/publishing house attached to the book, as well as reader expectations.

But then I wrote Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, as a project that started just for me, that I never intended to let anyone read. Publishing has definitely changed my writing, but I’m trying not to let it change that I want to always be working on things I love and am proud of.

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You have a much anticipated book coming out in 2017, THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE. Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration for this story?

I first learned about the concept of the eighteenth century Grand Tour (a sort of gap year young noblemen took in the 1700s between finishing school and waiting to take over their family estate) years ago, when I was a TA for a humanities class in college. It was the sort of thing I shelved in my brain as “something to write about someday.”

I really love playing with tropes and genre conventions in my books–TMT is very much my self-aware Gothic novel. I don’t know when exactly I had the idea to write the same sort of tropey adventure novel set during a grand tour, or what prompted it, but I remember deciding early on that I wanted to write an adventure novel populated with the sort of people who have traditionally  been left out of these sort of narratives—both historical and adventure novely. So my lead trio of my very traditional historical adventure novel interact in various ways with sexuality, race, chronic illness, and gender in ways that adventure novel protags usually don’t.

What type of research did you have to do for this book? Did you go on a Grand Tour of Europe yourself?!

I went on a Grand Tour-ish?

When I was in college, I did a year abroad in England, during which I took my own Grand Tour over the course of the weekends and school holidays, so it was a long, drawn out, sporadic tour. But I did get to visit all the places Monty and Percy go to in the book, and I definitely drew on my memories when I wrote. And I also definitely plotted the book around my favorite cities in Europe. The “road map” of the book was one of the first things I figured out, even before I had a plot.

My favorite research I did for this book was reading the journals and letters of real 18th century grand tourists, both because they were populated by so many colorful interesting details about a daily reality that felt almost otherworldly to me because of how different it was from mine, but also feelings and thoughts and anxieties that I related deeply to. A lot of these grand tourists from the 1700s—men around the same age as me—shared so many thoughts that I do. It was amazing, and definitely shaped how I thought about my novel.

Can you talk a little bit about SEMPER AUGUSTUS, which will come out in 2018?

Oh my yes! This is not a book I am well practiced in talking about yet!

SEMPER AUGUSTUS started from a place of me wanting to dissect my least favorite trope—the girls dressing as boys in historical fiction. But of course it ended up being a lot of other things too—a book about religion and family and first love and community and ambition and loyalty.

It’s set in 1637, during the Dutch Tulipomania which is this very odd pocket of Dutch history where an economic bubble sprung up around tulip bulbs, until, at the peak, single tulip bulbs were being sold and traded multiple times a day, sometimes for the price of a canal house in Amsterdam. Basically 17th century Beanie Babies. SEMPER AUGUSTUS is set during the height of the mania, and is about two siblings trying to pull off a con to sell a tulip bulb for way more than its worth. My family is Dutch, so I have a lot of personal ties to the cultural landscape of the story, as well as the conflict between religion, community, and self.

I’m so excited for everyone to read it. But one book at a time.

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Finally, do you have any reading recommendations? Recent reads that stood out?

I literally always have reading recommendations. Some recent reads that floored me:

My current obsession is Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, a nonfiction book about octopuses and animal consciousness and emotion. I could have not have given less of a shit about octopuses before this book, and now I am OBSESSED with them. Not only are they basically the most fascinating creatures on the planet,  but Sy writes about them with such elegance. I found this book utterly and unexpectedly riveting.

Also I’m late to the game with Landline by Rainbow Rowell but that book had me inconsolable on a plane. Rainbow is a freaking wizard with words–if I could write sentences half as good as she can, I could die happy. That book made me feel all the things–the most emotionally real and honest novel I’ve encountered in a long time.

Lastly, The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman, a fabulously accessible and high-stakes historical fiction novel about lady bare knuckle boxers in Georgian England. I mean….what’s not to love in that premise alone?

Thanks for the interview, Mackenzi!

You can add THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE on Goodreads, as well as SEMPER AUGUSTUS.

A Writer in the Spotlight – Julie C. Dao

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Hello gentle reader,

Today I’m delighted to bring you another interview with a successful writer: Wattpad sensation Julie C. Dao, whose Upper MG Fantasy Pumpkin Patch Princess has been a Wattpad Featured Story and has reached the Top 50 on the Wattpad Teen Fiction Hot List. It’s a humorous fairy tale about a pumpkin farmer’s daughter searching for her own happily-ever-after. You can find out more about Julie and her writing here.

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My interview (19th September 2016)

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Can you explain where you got the inspiration for Pumpkin Patch Princess from? 

I wrote PPP back in 2010 as a tribute to all of the fairy tales I loved growing up: Cinderella, Snow White, the 12 Dancing Princesses, the Frog Prince. It was one of the first stories I wrote after deciding I wanted to try getting published for real. It was also my first foray into the middle-grade category, since it started out young adult until all of the agents I submitted to suggested it might appeal to a younger audience. I’ve learned so much from writing this story, namely the fact that I love MG and will continue writing it!

Did you write Pumpkin Patch Princess thinking you’d post it on Wattpad? 

PPP was the first book I very LIGHTLY queried (meaning I sent out about 10 letters total) as I was still getting my feet wet in the traditional publishing process. I always intended for it to get published, but everyone told me the market for middle-grade fairy tales was too crowded. I shelved the book and moved on to other manuscripts, but it always lingered at the back of my mind because I loved it so much and had such fun writing it. When I signed with my agent, I brought it up and we discussed my options for it. Self-publishing for middle-grade readers is still very tough, and e-books don’t typically do as well with that audience as they do with YA and adult, so I decided to post it for free on Wattpad. The decision turned out to be the right one because that’s where my target audience hangs out!

What was your experience with Wattpad before Pumpkin Patch Princess?

I had no experience with it. I had heard a lot about it, though, especially about the major book deals that have come out of people posting stories there.

Pumpkin Patch Princess has been a huge success on Wattpad: can you explain why (beside the fact that it’s an awesome story!)? 

First of all, I made sure I had a well-written synopsis with popular comp titles (ELLA ENCHANTED and THE PRINCESS DIARIES). Then, I made sure my cover was attractive and eye-catching. I posted on Twitter and Facebook occasionally whenever I updated the book.

I was lucky in that I didn’t have to do much to promote it! Wattpad HR got in touch with me and offered to add PPP to their Featured Books on the front page, which helped skyrocket its popularity. Then the story spread via word of mouth, with teens and tweens telling their friends to come read my story. I tried to maintain that momentum by responding to all comments and coming up with fun ideas for my readers, like contests and quizzes and extra materials like the PPP Diaries.

What’s next for Pumpkin Patch Princess? 

I don’t think PPP will be traditionally published, now that I’ve put it online, and I’m not actively trying or hoping for anything to happen with it. But never say never! I’m okay with it living on Wattpad, if that’s what ends up happening. I am a much stronger, better writer now than I was when I wrote it, so I have a lot of other projects occupying my time that I hope will be published. And I’m crossing my fingers that PPP helps drive sales to them one day!

Are you planning on posting more stories to Wattpad?

I don’t have any immediate plans to post more stories on Wattpad at the moment. My main goal has always been traditional publication and I’d like to focus on getting my other books onto shelves. One day, I may use Wattpad as a marketing tool for those stories since I’ve seen other authors successfully doing that!

Thanks for the interview, Julie!

Thanks for having me on your blog, Eve!!

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Pumpkin Patch Princess by Julie C. Dao

A fun, magical fairy tale perfect for fans of THE PRINCESS DIARIES or ELLA ENCHANTED!

Noelle Simpkins is sick of working for her parents.

Sure, her dad runs a booming pumpkin business and her mom’s the greatest shoemaker in the land. But pumps and pumpkins get OLD after a while, and at 14, she’s ready to see more of the world.

When she hears about a fairy godmother internship in the city, she jumps on it. The goal? Make sure royal clients get happily-ever-afters — all while battling goblins, curing curses, and figuring out how to use a magic wand. Not to mention shutting down a rival godmother and avoiding Kit, a distractingly cute pie seller who keeps turning up.

But as exciting as the new gig is, Noelle begins to realize… she kind of misses making shoes and growing pumpkins.

Has she gotten closer to her own happily-ever-after, or farther away?

And when the (glass) shoe’s on the other foot, can she stay true to her own heart?

A Writer in the Spotlight – Mackenzi Lee

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Hello gentle reader,

today I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a debut YA author! Meet Mackenzi Lee, author of THIS MONSTROUS THING (coming 22d September 2015 from Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins).

Mackenzi Lee

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Author: Mackenzi Lee

Website: https://mackenzilee.wordpress.com/

Twitter:  @themackenzilee 

Biography:

Mackenzi Lee is a reader, writer, bookseller, unapologetic fangirl, and fast talker. She holds an MFA from Simmons College in writing for children and young adults, and her short fiction for children and teens has appeared in Inaccurate Realities, The Friend, and The Newport Review.  Her young adult historical fantasy novel, THIS MONSTROUS THING, which won the PEN-New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award, as well as an Emerging Artist Grant from the St. Botolph Club Foundation, will be published on September 22, 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She currently calls Boston home.

My interview (3d June 2015)

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? When/How did you decide to be a writer?

Definitely not–when I was in high school I wanted to be an actress, I majored in history in college, and worked in children’s theater and public radio before I found my way to writing. When I was young, I wrote a lot, and in high school I wrote fanfiction and terrible poetry. But I never really thought about being a writer as a career until I was living in the UK and doing a lot of traveling. Since I spent a lot of time in airports and bus stations, I started reading for fun for the first time since I was in middle school. And it was so much fun that it reminded me how reading as a kid had inspired me to write. So I started writing, sort of for the first time and sort of again. So for the first time again.

Are you a full-time writer? When and where do you write?

I am not–I actually have two other jobs (lucky for me, both are book related). So I do a lot of writing late at night and on weekends and on my lunch breaks. I am lucky enough to be part of a community called the Writer’s Room of Boston, which gives me a space to write, so I do a lot of work from the sixth story of an old skyscraper near the harbor, looking out on a fire escape that is so picture perfect I want to climb out on it with my ukulele and sing Moon River. I also do a fair amount of writing in bed. Because tired.

What do you say to writers who want to be traditionally published one day?

The number one big thing is to remember that everyone’s path is different. There is no one right way to get published, or one path, and other people’s’ journey is no indication of what yours will be.

The second big thing is to remember that everything you write counts, even if it doesn’t get published. I have three or four or five practice novels I wrote before THIS MONSTROUS THING. I have a book that I signed with my agent with that was on sub for a year and never sold. It’s hard not to think of all the time I spent on these projects that will never do anything but sit on my hard drive as wasted time, but it’s not. I couldn’t have written TMT without writing them first. Writing is like playing an instrument–no one sits down at the piano and expects to be good right off the bat. You have to practice, and that practice isn’t wasted time.

And third, remember that it’s not a race. You don’t have an expiration date on you. You aren’t running out of time to get published. I know it feels that way–trust me, I know. And I know it feels like good things are happening to everyone but you. There will be days you will go on Twitter and feel like everyone has an agent and everyone has a book deal but you. But the good thing is, it’s not a race. There aren’t a finite number of books that can be published. You don’t get a countdown clock attached to you as soon as you start trying to be traditionally published. This thing takes time.

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THIS MONSTROUS THING was inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, how did you come up with the idea for it?

My novels never have a single inception moment, so TMT came from a lot of places: seeing a production of Frankenstein at the National Theater in London that changed my perspective on the book, traveling to Germany and France at Christmas time, learning the story behind Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein. And, probably most importantly, a lifetime of being the volatile older half of a pair of siblings.

Do you listen to music when you write? If yes, what did you listen to when writing THIS MONSTROUS THING?

I do listen to music! A lot of TMT was written to the album The Life of the World To Come by the Mountain Goats, which is very biblical (each song has a corresponding scripture) and has lots of life and death and resurrection imagery, so it was very appropriate for a book based on a book based on the Bible. My favorite song from the album is Genesis 30:3 and Psalm 40:2 (which has the oh so appropriate line “Send me a mechanic if I’m not beyond repair”). Some other highlights from the TMT mixtape: Autoclave by The Mountain Goats, Mary by Noah and the Whale, Empty Rocking Chair by Parsonsfield, After the Bombs by the Decembrists, Don’t You Want to Share the Guilt? by Kate Nash, A Girl, A Boy, and a Graveyard by Jeremy Messersmith, Lies by the Swell Season, Machine by Regina Spektor, One More Time with Feeling by Regina Spektor, and the Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel. I try to find songs with lyrics that mirror elements of the story, and all of these do.

What are you working on now?

I have another book coming out with Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, so I’m hard at work on that! It is unrelated to TMT–but it is another standalone historical fantasy (or industrial fantasy, if you prefer, because there is lots of metal. Or historical fanfiction, which is what I’m starting to call my work). It’s set in 1893 Chicago and is about a bisexual boy with a metal-based superpower. I’m also working on a manuscript set during the Dutch tulip mania in 1637, about first love and gender identity.

What are your favourite books? (= Any books you’d recommend?)

Always.

For great historical fiction, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (also happens to be my favorite book).

For steampunk, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.

For Frankenstein, This Dark Endeavour and Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel.

For Mary Shelley, The Lady and Her Monsters by Roseanne Montillo.

And some current favorites that have nothing to do with TMT: Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee, The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore, Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert, Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear, and Drift & Dagger by Kendall Kulper.

Thanks for the interview, Mackenzi!

A Writer in the Spotlight – Sophie Cleverly

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Hello gentle reader,

today I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a debut author! Meet Sophie Cleverly, author of the Middle Grade series SCARLET AND IVY (HarperCollins).

Sophie Cleverly

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Author: Sophie Cleverly

Website: http://www.hapfairy.co.uk

Twitter: @hapfairy

Biography:

Sophie Cleverly was born in Bath in 1989. She studied for a BA in Creative Writing and an MA in Writing For Young People. Book one of her Scarlet and Ivy series is out now from HarperCollins, with books 2 and 3 coming in late 2015 and early 2016. Aside from writing, she can often be found blogging about symphonic metal, watching fantastical TV and struggling to find her way out of her ever-increasing pile of books.

My interview (12th April 2015)

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? When/How did you decide to be a writer?

I loved writing stories from the minute I learnt how to write. I made my own paper books (some of which I still have) and wrote stories in school all the time, even in lessons where I wasn’t supposed to. But although I always knew I wanted to be a writer, I never considered that I could actually do it as a job until I applied for the MA in Writing For Young People at Bath Spa. Before that I’d been planning to be a teacher, but I decided to drop the sensible option and try to follow my dream.

Are you a full-time writer? When and where do you write?

I am lucky enough to be a full-time writer at the moment. I always write in the evenings and at night, because I find the ideas flow much easier (I’m not a morning person…). I type my work on my PC, which is in our small second bedroom that we optimistically call a study. It just about fits both our computers, my pet degus and A LOT of books. I have a lovely view out of the window of the church and a field full of sheep.

What do you say to writers who want to be traditionally published one day?

Do your research! With traditional publishing, you’ll almost certainly want an agent. It’s quite easy these days to find agents online telling you what they want from a query and what sort of books they’d like to see. The more you know about who the agents are and what they’re looking for, the more successful your query process will be (and a rejection with feedback is still a success – if lots of agents are saying the same thing, that’s how you know what needs work in your manuscript). I’d also really recommend getting hold of the Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, which lists all the contact details of agents and editors and has tons of great advice articles too.

Scarlet and Ivy

To write SCARLET AND IVY, where did you get your inspiration from?

The story actually came to me when I was studying for my degree in Creative Writing. We were set a task to imagine a character returning to a room that they hadn’t set foot in for a long time. I imagined a room with twin beds, but I only saw one girl walking into the room. By the end of the lesson I had the beginnings of a story with the lost twin and the secret diary.

When I was writing the book, I took inspiration from all sorts of places – my own memories, visits to interesting old buildings (for example, the dumbwaiter from Lacock Abbey has a cameo in the book), watching books and movies… I also looked at lots of old photographs of girls in the 1930s – I learnt a lot from that about what they wore, how they acted, what lessons they had to go to and so on.

Your book is a MG mystery novel set in creepy boarding school: did you go to boarding school yourself when you were young? Why did you choose this particular setting?

I didn’t go to boarding school, but I did go to a non-private all-girls school in rather creepy old buildings. We had wooden science labs with worrying things in jars, a creaky gym, a graveyard over the wall… all of this inspired aspects of Rookwood School in my book. I pieced together things from other schools I went to as well – the ghost rumours from my primary school play a big part in book 2.

Boarding schools are just such a great and classic setting – most kids who don’t go to one find the idea fascinating. It’s even been revealed recently that young Queen Victoria wrote a book about a girl being sent away from boarding school. Getting your characters far away from the safety of their parents/guardians is brilliant for drama, and all kids can understand that fear when you go to a new school. Also my fiancé went to boarding school, so I like to mine him for information.

I love your blog about symphonic metal – do you listen to music when you write? If yes, what did you listen to when writing SCARLET AND IVY?

Thank you! Yes, I absolutely have to listen to music while I write. I think symphonic metal is the perfect backing music to writing because it’s like a film score. I particularly like listening to the instrumental versions of the albums so that I don’t get distracted by the words. For that reason I listened to a lot of Imaginaerum – The Score by Nightwish and The Life and Times of Scrooge by Tuomas Holopainen. Both are soundtracks which work really well for writing.

What are you working on now? (Is it Book2?)

I’m working on SCARLET AND IVY book 2, THE WHISPERS IN THE WALLS. This book has a bit of a wintry theme, and a ghostly presence! It’s been a lot of fun to play with my characters again and put them into a new story. Hopefully there will be a cover reveal soon (I have seen the cover, and it’s awesome!).

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What are your favourite books? (= Any books you’d recommend?)

I absolutely love the Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett – Tiffany is such a fantastic heroine, a strong, angry and determined young witch. A HAT FULL OF SKY is my favourite of the series. Another favourite is THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman. I confess I’ve always had a strange fascination with graveyards, and I’d love to write a book set in one. It’s just a shame that Neil beat me to it and wrote the perfect graveyard story. But I have some ideas for something a bit different!

Thanks for the interview Sophie!

You can buy SCARLET AND IVY: THE LOST TWIN here and pre-order SCARLET AND IVY: THE WHISPERS IN THE WALLS here. You can add the series on Goodreads here.

A Writer In The Spotlight – Jenny Adams Perinovic

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Hello gentle reader,

Today I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a debut author! Meet Jenny Adams Perinovic, whose YA Gothic Romance A MAGIC DARK AND BRIGHT comes out on 28th April 2015. 

Jenny Perinovic

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Author: Jenny Adams Perinovic

Website: http://www.jennyperinovic.com

Twitter: @jennyperinovic

Biography:

“I’m a twenty-something writer, library assistant and bookworm. I live just outside of Washington DC with my husband, Eric, and our tiny menagerie. I spend my days working as a Circulation Specialist in a library. By night, I write YA speculative fiction about brave girls, the boys who love them, and their battles against dark forces. There’s always a bit of magic, a bunch of kissing, and a whole lot of spine-tingling creepiness. Before moving to DC, I graduated from The Ohio State University in 2010 with a degree in Medieval and Renaissance Studies (yes, really) and half of three minors. I love medieval French literature, good books, pretty things, web design, photography, baking, writing, vintage clothes, ballet, and the color purple.”

My interview (7th April 2015)

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? When/how did you decide to be a writer?

I’ve always written, but I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer. For a long time, it never occurred to me that it was a real job I could have–I wrote books for fun all through middle school and high school. When I got to college, I decided to set writing aside in order to concentrate on “practical” things, which didn’t really work out. I ended up majoring in Medieval and Renaissance Studies and finishing another book (a truly terrible adult epic fantasy) before I graduated. After graduation, I moved to DC with my then-boyfriend (now husband), and while he started his Masters, I started working full-time. My first year in DC was rough–I had no clue how to make friends as a grown-up, I was homesick, and we had no money. So I read constantly–over 300 books that first year. It’s also when I re-discovered YA, and thought, for the first time, “I could do that.” I threw myself into writing. Three books and five years later, here I am!

Are you a full-time writer? When and where do you write?

Nope! I currently have a full-time job as a library assistant, and I also freelance as a graphic designer. So it’s like I have three jobs! Sometimes it’s hard to balance, and it means I write more slowly than other people. I try really hard to wake up and write before work, but let’s be real: most of my writing happens in notebooks during my hour-long bus ride to and from work and during my lunch break. Hopefully I’ll be able to make the transition to full-time writing and freelance work eventually (as in YEARS from now, after my husband is finished with his PhD), but for now? I love my job. I’m happy.

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To write A MAGIC DARK AND BRIGHT, where did you get your inspiration from?

Homework, actually! I briefly took classes towards my MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins. Ultimately, I decided the program wasn’t a good fit and quit, but before I did, I received the following prompt as an assignment: Write the story of one character from the point of view of another.

The first line came to me immediately: Halfway through November, Charlie stopped coming to school. I knew nothing else about the book–I just sat down and started writing. By the time I was done with that assignment, I knew three things–the story was set in the mountains of Pennsylvania where I grew up, Charlie and Amelia had done a Very Bad Thing, and because of that, someone was dead.

Over time, it became just as much Amelia’s story as Charlie’s, and that initial beginning was scrapped. I immersed myself in the history of a long-forgotten French settlement called Azilum (Asylum), where local legend claims was meant as a haven for Marie Antoinette. I read first-hand accounts of what it was like to live there, and I imagined what the town might be like if it had survived to the present day. Some of the story was drawn from my own experiences–when I was a teenager, my high school experienced a string of suicides–I think it was four or five in the span of six weeks. It was terrible and tragic, and it really rocked my tiny community to the core. So I tried to capture some of that feeling of helplessness and heartbreak, too. And everything I write includes a combination of magic, creepiness, and kissing! Eventually, all of those elements came together and I had a book I was proud of. 🙂

Why did you choose to self-publish your book? Was that a difficult decision?

Self-publishing had always been on the table. However, I wanted to try my hand at querying first. I entered a few contests (including PitchSlam and The Writer’s Voice) and received an overwhelming amount of attention. Over the course of last summer, I sent out over 50 full manuscripts and several partials. The agent feedback I received was invaluable, but so much of it boiled down to: “I love your writing, but paranormal is an incredibly hard sell right now. Please send me your next book.”

I supposed I could have kept querying, but after talking it over with my husband, my CPs, and several other friends who self-published, I made the decision to go indie. Traditional publishing is notoriously slow, and I’m sure that the agents were right–by the time my book could be published traditionally (if it ever would), paranormal would be out. I figured I may as well take a chance and use the speed of indie publishing to my advantage and get my book in the hands of readers as soon as possible, before the market dried up.

It was a shockingly easy decision to make–it was either shelve it or self-publish it. And I believed in it too much to shelve it. Since then, I’ve learned A TON and even banded together with a group of other indie (or soon-to-be) indie authors to found our own collective press, Bookish Group Press. It’s been quite the adventure, and I’m really excited to see what the next few months have in store for us.

Do you listen to music when you write? Any recommendations?

I do! I’m a Spotify addict, hah. I have playlists for all of my manuscripts. You can listen to the music I played on loop for an entire year while I wrote A Magic Dark and Bright here.

What are you working on now?

I’m actually working on three different projects. One is the sequel to A Magic Dark and Bright, of course. I’m also working on Like Drops of Moonlight, which is an NA romantic suspense I plan on self-publishing, and Dead Man’s Hand, which is a historical with a hint of magic set in the circus in 1918, which I plan on querying in the next six months or so.

Which authors inspire you? Any books you’d recommend?

Oh, I’m inspired by others constantly! But here are a few authors who gave me the courage to go indie with A Magic Dark & Bright!
+ Rachel O’Laughlin‘s Serengard series is absolutely amazing. It’s poetic, sweeping, and absolutely un-put-downable.
+ Leigh Ann Kopans‘ ONE was one of the first indie YA books I read, and to this day remains among my favorites.
+ Faith McKay‘s Prophecy Girl was so much fun–bold, brash and full of sisterly love and sunglasses.
+ Anything by Trisha Leigh. Her YA books–The Cavy Files and The Last Year are perfection, and her NA books (written as Lyla Payne) are so much fun.
+ Other indie authors I love: Shari Arnold, Teresa Yea, and Anya Monroe.

Thanks for the interview Jenny!

You can pre-order A Magic Dark And Bright here and you can add it on Goodreads.

A Writer In The Spotlight – Alyssa Palombo

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Hello gentle reader,

I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a debut author! This week it’s Alyssa Palombo, whose Historical novel THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE comes out on 15th December 2015 from St. Martin’s Press.

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A Writer in the Spotlight – 25

Author: Alyssa Palombo

Website: http://alyssapalombo.com

Twitter: @AlyssInWnderlnd

Location: Buffalo, NY

My interview (6th April 2015)

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? When/How did you decide to be a writer?

I don’t remember ever making a conscious decision to be a writer – it just seems that I was always writing. When I was a kid I’d write short little stories just for fun, and when I was 12 I set out to write my first “novel” – I’d write a chapter at a time and give each new chapter to my family to read. Not sure if I still have that story somewhere – it would be both funny and cringe-inducing to read it again!

But all through middle school and high school I was writing stories and novels – often during class when my teachers thought I was taking notes, haha! So when it was time to pick a college, I decided on Canisius College, which was the only college in Buffalo with a formal creative writing program. Based on the teachers I had there and the amazing friends and fellow writers I met there, it was definitely the best choice I could have made.

Are you a full-time writer? When and where do you write?

Sadly not, though my ultimate goal is to become a full-time writer. At the moment I work both a full-time and a part-time job, which means writing time can occasionally be hard to come by. I try to write for a few hours on weeknights when I don’t have anywhere to be after work, and when I’m really rolling on a project I’ll bring my laptop to work and write on my lunch breaks. I usually get a lot of writing done on weekend days, as well.

As to where I write, I have a desk in my room with lots of pictures up around it. I had lots of pictures from Venice up when I was working on VIOLINIST to help get me in the zone 🙂 I like writing at home because I can just stay in my sweatpants to write, but sometimes I’ll shake it up and take my laptop to a coffee shop or bookstore.

What do you say to writers who want to be traditionally published one day?

I’m pretty new to the game myself, but here are a couple things I’ve learned along the way:

Get used to rejection, but also understand that rejection isn’t always personal – it generally isn’t, though it often feels that way. An agent or an editor might pass on something because they already have a similar book on their list, for example. Or they just may not be connecting with it that deeply. Reading is such a personal experience, and as such everyone reacts to a work differently. A rejection doesn’t necessarily mean that you wrote a bad book or that you’re not a good writer, just that you haven’t found the right fit for it.

Something else I would say, more about writing in general, is to find a writing routine that works for you. I used to feel guilty because I didn’t write every day, because pretty much everyone tells you that to be successful as a writer you need to write every day. What I found was that that didn’t work for me. If I work on a project for a whole string of days in a row, I start to get burned out, and need a day or two away to recharge and come back to it fresh. And, quite frankly, sometimes life happens and you’re just not going to get to your work in progress that day. That’s okay too.

So if you’re someone who can’t or doesn’t want to write every day, don’t. If you’re someone who needs to write at least a little but every day, then do that. Find what works for you and stick to it. If you’re serious about writing and being published, you will need to make a lot of time for yourself to write, and find some way of fitting it into your schedule, but do it however is best for you. Don’t feel bad that you don’t go about it the same way as everyone else!

The Violinist of Venice
To write THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE, where did you get your inspiration from?

The story of how I got the idea for THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE is kind of a crazy one, actually! I had this incredibly vivid dream one night that was essentially the first chapter of the book. I woke up somewhat puzzled – I really didn’t know all that much about Vivaldi, so why he was in a dream of mine I wasn’t quite sure – but the dream had been so powerful that I wasn’t able to forget it. Over the course of that day I came up with a very loose, hazy sort of outline of the plot in my head, and I started writing that night. I didn’t know at first what it was going to be – for a little while there I thought it might be a short story or a novella. Since the first draft ended up being almost 600 pages, that obviously was not the case 🙂 I really didn’t know much at all about Venice or Vivaldi when I started, but I wrote anyway because I couldn’t stop thinking about the story, and I did the research as I went.

Your book is a Historical novel set in 18th Century Venice: how did you go about researching this time period? Did you go to Venice?!

I did go to Venice! That was easily my favorite part of the research process. Venice is a great place to write about because it hasn’t changed all that much in the last few hundred years – it’s not like they can be putting up lots of new buildings, or paving new roads! By the time I went to Venice I had writteb two drafts of the novel, and despite reading about the city for a long time I knew I needed to see it for myself. There’s no place like it in the world, and so photographs and such can only take you so far.

Other than that, it was a lot of reading. I read lots of material specifically about 18th century Venice, of course; I read about the history of Venice from its founding to the present; I read about Venetian culture and government; I read about religion in Venice; I read about other well-known Venetian composers and artists. It was a lot of work, but when you’re researching something you love and are interested in it becomes fun!

Of course, there’s always things you can find out by doing a quick Google search – for instance, I needed to know when Easter fell in 1711, so I was able to look things like that up as I went.

Your book features the composer Vivaldi: how did you find the right balance between historical facts about his life and the needs of your story?

THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE is a “what if?” kind of story, so with that I had a lot of free rein. With that said, Vivaldi was a frustrating figure to research since not as much is known about him in comparison to say, Mozart or Beethoven. Part of that is because his music was mostly lost/forgotten shortly after his death, and was really only rediscovered when musicians and historians rediscovered J.S. Bach and realized the influence Vivaldi and his music had had on Bach.

The first half of the novel takes place over the course of the years 1710 and 1711, and naturally there happens to be very little information about what Vivaldi was up to during that time. That got frustrating at times, but at the same time that also gave me some freedom. I used certain events as a frame: the premiere of some of his works, the dates he worked as a music teacher and composer at the Pieta, etc. He’s a less present in the second half of the book, so I could have my (fictional) heroine’s life take whatever course I wanted.

I also listened to A LOT of Vivaldi’s music as I wrote: choral music, opera music, but mostly instrumental music – specifically for the violin. All of Vivaldi’s music that I describe in the book is real; I wanted to choose just the right piece for every scene.

Another form of research I did was to take violin lessons. I had never so much as touched a violin when I started writing this book – I’m a singer myself – so I knew I needed to learn something about the instrument. Turns out I am a terrible violinist, but the lessons were a lot of fun and it definitely did help me in writing the novel.

What are you working on now?

I just finished the first draft of another historical novel, which will be the second of my two book contract with St. Martin’s Press. I don’t want to say too much about it yet, but it takes place in Renaissance Florence, and it’s different from VIOLINIST in that almost my entire cast of characters are real historical figures. Some of the notable ones that make an appearance include Sandro Botticelli and Lorenzo de’ Medici.

What are your favourite books? (Any books you’d recommend?)

Lady of the Eternal City

There are so many! Right now I’m reading LADY OF THE ETERNAL CITY by Kate Quinn, and I’m completely obsessed and can’t wait to finish it. You can’t go wrong with any of Kate Quinn’s novels. But some of my all-time favorites are:

BITTER GREENS by Kate Forsyth
THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by Philippa Gregory
THE WHITE QUEEN by Philippa Gregory
IN THE COMPANY OF THE COURTESAN by Sarah Dunant
GREEN DARKNESS by Anya Seton
BEL CANTO by Ann Patchett
THE SONG OF THE LIONESS series by Tamora Pierce

I better stop there before it becomes a super long list! 🙂 But in addition to the above, some I’ve read recently that I’d highly recommend are:

ARCANA by Jessica Leake
THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah
THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST by Holly Black
WRITTEN IN THE STARS by Aisha Saeed
DUPLICITY by N.K. Traver
BELZHAR by Meg Wolitzer

As you can see, I read lots of historical fiction, and also lots of YA!

Thanks for the interview, Alyssa!

You can add THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE on Goodreads here.

A Writer in the Spotlight – Karina Sumner-Smith

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Hello gentle reader,

I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a YA author! This week it’s Karina Sumner-Smith, whose debut novel RADIANT comes out on 30th September 2014. It’s a YA Fantasy and the first book in the TOWERS trilogy.

A Writer in the Spotlight – 24

Karina Sumner-Smith

Author: Karina Sumner-Smith

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Website: http://karinasumnersmith.com/

Book: RADIANT (published 30th September 2014 by Talos/Skyhorse)

Biography:

Karina Sumner-Smith is a fantasy author and freelance writer.

Prior to focusing on novel-length work, Karina published a range of fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories, including Nebula Award nominated story “An End to All Things,” and ultra short story “When the Zombies Win,” which appeared in two Best of the Year anthologies.

Though she still thinks of Toronto as her home, Karina now lives in a small, lakefront community in rural Ontario, Canada, where she may be found lost in a book, dancing in the kitchen, or planning her next great adventure.

My interview (9th September 2014)

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

When I was little, I wanted to be a scientist just like my dad. Science, I knew, had something to do with test tubes, which were awfully fun to play with in the sandbox. Scientists got to do interesting things in a lab, and wear these white coats, and use cool equipment for experiments. Science, I decided, was awesome.

I was thirteen when I decided that my future was in science fiction and fantasy instead. That was the year that I fell into that true writing “flow state” for the first time – and also realized that writing stories was an actual career path. (At the time, the rather low income that one can generally expect as a writer seemed like so much money.)

When and where do you write?

There was a time when I wrote best at night. I was one of those people who’d be up at all hours typing by the glow of the computer screen, always telling myself that I’d go to bed when I finish just this next little bit.

Now, it’s all over the place! These days I work as a freelance writer, so I’m at my computer in my home office for most of the day, and I try to fit fiction in wherever I can. Some days that means that I’m up and writing before I’ve had my breakfast; others I don’t have a chance to get started on my day’s words until quite late. For all that I am a creature of habit and routine, there’s definitely something to be said for flexibility when it comes to writing.

What do you say to writers who want to be traditionally published one day?

Focus on your craft. I think that we writers can get too caught up in things like what’s hot in the market, agent wishlists, blogging and social media, and all the rest. The writing should always be the most important. Trends will come and go, the market will change, but there will always be a demand for great writing.

I truly believe that once you reach a certain level of skill, it’s not a matter of if you’ll be published, but when. If not this project, then another.

So read books on writing, and figure out which methods work best for you. Read widely, both inside and outside your genre. Study the works of authors you love. Develop a critical eye. Critique others’ work, and really focus on seeing not just the piece’s flaws but what makes it shine. Try freewriting. Practice, practice, practice.

After that? Settle in and get ready for the long haul. Sometimes the road to getting published – and all the roads that follow, for that matter – can be pretty bumpy. Fasten your seat belt and just try to enjoy the ride.

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To write RADIANT, where did you get your inspiration from?

Radiant actually started as a short story that I wrote for the DAW anthology, Children of Magic. I’d been struggling for an idea that would fit the anthology’s theme, tossing around the idea of a girl who could see ghosts, maybe something about a magical, post-apocalyptic society … it was all a jumbled mess. But when I sat down to write, bam, Xhea arrived, as whole and vivid to me as if I’d been writing about her for years. I suddenly could barely type fast enough to keep up with the story as it unfolded.

The short story was 6,000 words – and there was so much about the characters and their world that I still wanted to understand. Since I don’t outline, the only way for me to know what happened to Xhea or to Shai was to keep writing. In that way, I think it’s not inspiration that keeps me going so much as curiosity. My brain is always asking, “What happens next?”

Your book features two strong female protagonists, but no romance I believe. Why did you make these choices for your story?

I don’t really feel that having the story focus on a strong friendship rather than a romance was a choice, to be honest – at least not a conscious one. For me, any story grows naturally from the characters, their problems, and their world. I could probably write a few thousand words on why there isn’t a romantic plotline for either Xhea or Shai in this book, but the simplest explanation is that there just isn’t room, emotionally, for a romantic entanglement.

This is especially true for Xhea. When the story begins, she’s so very closed down, so defensive – which shows in countless little quirks designed to keep people away from her, to keep herself safe. She learned the hard way that she can only rely on herself. And then the ghost, Shai, changes everything. This story isn’t about Xhea falling in love; it’s about her learning, slowly and hesitantly and painfully, to trust one other person. Given where she starts, that’s a huge emotional transformation for her.

I will say, though, that while I can enjoy a great romantic plot or subplot in novels that I read, I don’t like the idea that every story has to include romance or romantic elements. Romantic love can be so powerful and transforming – but it’s only one part of the spectrum of human emotion, and one way that characters can connect.

What are you working on now? (Is it Book 2?)

Right now I’m working with my editor to revise Book 2, Defiant, and am gearing up to start writing Book 3, Towers Fall. (It’s going to be a busy fall for me, for sure!)

I actually have to admit, finishing this series is a little daunting. These characters and this world have been with me, in my head and in my heart, for so many years that it’s strange to think that I’ll soon reach “The End”. Exciting, too, of course. I already have a couple of new projects waiting for my attention that I think are going to be really fun and different.

What are you reading right now?

Truthfully, right now I’m reading dog training books. I’m bringing a new puppy home soon (in a week, as I write this!), and want to be ready for the fluffy addition to the household.

But I’m actually really excited about some of the things on my to-read pile right now. Fighting for my attention are Cast in Flame by Michelle Sagara, The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley, Hidden by Benedict Jacka, and Broken Souls by Stephen Blackmoore. In YA, I’m really looking forward to reading Stefanie Gaither’s Falls the Shadow, which is supposed to be released later this month – but, of course, I’m impatient!

What are your favourite books? Any books you’d recommend?

I used to work part-time in a science fiction and fantasy bookstore – Bakka Phoenix Books in Toronto – so it’s really, really hard to recommend just one book. And I’d recommend different books for different people!

But let’s see … if you like fantasy or science fiction with a great romance, check out Archangel by Sharon Shinn or A Thousand Words for Stranger by Julie E. Czerneda. For dragons and adventure, you can’t go wrong with Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon. For sweeping, emotional, history-inspired fantasy, go straight to Guy Gavriel Kay. For great YA, I always point to Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia series that begins with The Thief, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, and Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

But if I were dragged away to a desert island, the book I’d take with me is Sunshine by Robin McKinley. I’ll need to buy a new copy soon; carefully though I treat my books, my copy has been read so often that it’s falling apart.

Thanks for the interview, Karina!

You can read the first chapter of RADIANT and pre-order your copy here.