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.

Looking forward to 2017: Anticipated YA Books

Hello gentle reader,

On this blog I’ve already mentioned five YA releases I’m looking forward to reading in 2017: CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber, THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzi Lee, TRAITOR TO THE THRONE by Alwyn Hamilton, SHIMMER AND BURN by Mary Taranta and GILDED CAGE by Vic James.

Today I’m adding seven books to this list, in no particular order:

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A CONJURING OF LIGHT by V.E. Schwab (SHADES OF MAGIC #3)

Release date: 21st February 2017 by Tor Books

Blurb: London’s fall and kingdoms rise while darkness sweeps the Maresh Empire—and the fraught balance of magic blossoms into dangerous territory while heroes and foes struggle alike.

Why it’s on my TBR list: I loved the first two books in this Fantasy trilogy and I can’t wait for the final instalment!

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STRANGE THE DREAMER by Laini Taylor (STRANGE THE DREAMER #1)

Release date: 28th March 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Blurb:

Strange the Dreamer is the story of:

the aftermath of a war between gods and men

a mysterious city stripped of its name

a mythic hero with blood on his hands

a young librarian with a singular dream

a girl every bit as perilous as she is imperiled

alchemy and blood candy, nightmares and godspawn, moths and monsters, friendship and treachery, love and carnage.

Welcome to Weep.

Why it’s on my TBR list: I enjoyed Laini Taylor’s first trilogy and I loved her short story THE GIRL WHO WOKE THE DREAMER. I’m curious to read this new series.

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BLOOD ROSE REBELLION by Rosalyn Eves (BLOOD ROSE REBELLION #1)

Release date: 28th March 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Blurb: The thrilling first book in a YA fantasy trilogy for fans of Red Queen. In a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place.

Why it’s on my TBR list: I’m always on the lookout for YA Fantasy debuts and this one sounds intriguing.

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YORK or THE SHADOW CIPHER by Laura Ruby (YORK #1)

Release date: 16th May 2017 by Walden Pond Press

Blurb: New York, a puzzle (laid into the city) that’s never been solved, three teens determined to solve it, and at the end of it – a treasure beyond all imagining.

Why it’s on my TBR list: It’s about a treasure hunt in New York and it’s written by Laura Ruby. That’s enough for me.

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THE VALIANT by Lesley Livingston

Release date: 14th February 2017 by HarperCollins Canada

Blurb: In Ancient Rome, the youngest daughter of a proud Celtic king is captured and sold to a training school for female gladiators—and its most influential patron is none other than Julius Caesar himself.

Why it’s on my TBR list: I’m really not sure about the blurb but I can’t resist a story set in Ancient Rome.

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THICK AS THIEVES by Megan Whalen Turner (THE QUEEN’S THIEF #5)

Release date: 16th May 2017 by Greenwillow Books

BlurbKamet, a secretary and slave to his Mede master, has the ambition and the means to become one of the most powerful people in the Empire. But with a whispered warning the future he envisioned is wrenched away, and he is forced onto a very different path. Set in the world of the Queen’s Thief, this epic adventure sees an ordinary hero take on an extraordinary mission.

Why it’s on my TBR list: BECAUSE THE QUEEN’S THIEF IS MY FAVOURITE SERIES OF ALL TIMES AND HERE IS A NEW INSTALMENT AT LAST. I can’t wait.

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THE END OF OZ by Danielle Paige (DOROTHY MUST DIE #4)

Release date: 14th March 2017 by HarperCollins

BlurbAmy Gumm must do everything in her power to save Kansas and make Oz a free land once more.

Why it’s on my TBR list: I enjoyed the first three books in the series and I’m curious to find out how it all ends.

What about you? Which books are you looking forward to reading in 2017? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

A Writer in the Spotlight – Stacey Lee

A Writer In The Spotlight Logo

Hello gentle reader,

You may recall THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE by Stacey Lee was featured in one of my Waiting On Wednesday posts a few months back. Since then, I’ve been able to read an ARC of this book and I’m delighted to report it was as good as I hoped. It comes out on 27th December and I strongly suggest you preorder it!

And today I’m pleased to welcome Stacey again on this blog for an interview. Hope you enjoy!

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My interview (3rd December 2016)

Stacey Lee

Your first two books were Historical novels, but THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE is a Contemporary novel. Was the genre switch intentional? Or did you just write the story you wanted at the time? 

Definitely not intentional! I wrote about something that I love — scents! And the story that came out was set in modern day, though there is definitely an overlay of ‘history.’ Mim comes from a long lineage of aromateurs descended from the Queen of Sheba, and one of the things she struggles with is balancing the life of ordinary teen with the burden of being the last aromateur left in the world. I’m not sure it fits neatly into one category or another so I just like to call it ‘contemporary with a hint of magic.’ 

Mim is an Aromateur. Can you explain how you came up with this amazing and unique concept? 

Natural perfumery, the art of combining real botanicals (as opposed to lab created) into harmonious combinations is a passion of mine. Plants are complex, sentient ‘beings,’ each with their own history and use profile. Using plants for love potions is not a new idea, but I wanted to bring a modern, almost scientific sensibility to this practice.

What type of research did you have to do for this story?  

In addition to smelling hundreds of plants, I visited several gardens of ‘ancients,’ including plants that have been around since the Ice Age. I spent a bit of time at Strybing Botanical Garden in the San Francisco Golden Gate Park, which is where a key scene takes place, as well as Point Lobos, near Monterey, California, the sight of the surfing scene. 

Secret of a Heart Note

My favorite scene in the book is when Mim goes “surfing” with Court. Is surfing one of your hobbies too? 

Surfing was on my bucket list. I finally checked it off two summers ago in Hawaii. Everything was going well, until I wiped out, and the board glanced off my forehead, leaving me with a big bump and a black eye. So, I guess won’t be doing that again!

Can you talk about what you’re working on right now?

I’m working on my third historical, DEAR MISS SWEETIE, about a Chinese girl in 1890 Atlanta who becomes the pseudonymous author of a wildly popular advice column, and who attempts to use her power of the pen to change the course of a trial of a black man accused of assaulting a white woman.

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

I loved Traci Chee’s THE READER, as well as Roshani Chokshi’s THE STAR TOUCHED QUEEN. For an unusual sci-fi, I also enjoyed Parker Peevyhouse’s WHERE FUTURES END. Currently, I’m reading Padma Venkatraman’s CLIMBING THE STAIRS, and it’s wonderful.

Thanks for the interview, Stacey!

You can add THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE on Goodreads.

And check out Stacey’s Twitter for an awesome giveaway!

Waiting On Wednesday – 91

Hello gentle reader,

Today I’m waiting on SHIMMER AND BURN by Mary Taranta (expected publication: 8th August 2017 by Margaret K. McElderry Books). It’s a YA Fantasy that has definitely me intrigued. And look at this gorgeous cover!

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From Goodreads:

Faris grew up fighting to survive in the slums of Brindaigel while caring for her sister, Cadence. But when Cadence is caught trying to flee the kingdom and is sold into slavery, Faris reluctantly agrees to a lucrative scheme to buy her back, inadvertently binding herself to the power-hungry Princess Bryn, who wants to steal her father’s throne.

Now Faris must smuggle stolen magic into neighboring Avinea to incite its prince to alliance—magic that addicts in the war-torn country can sense in her blood and can steal with a touch. She and Bryn turn to a handsome traveling magician, North, who offers protection from Avinea’s many dangers, but he cannot save Faris from Bryn’s cruelty as she leverages Cadence’s freedom to force Faris to do anything—or kill anyone—she asks. Yet Faris is as fierce as Bryn, and even as she finds herself falling for North, she develops schemes of her own.

With the fate of kingdoms at stake, Faris, Bryn, and North maneuver through a dangerous game of magical and political machinations, where lives can be destroyed—or saved—with only a touch.

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted by book blogger Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases we’re eagerly anticipating.

Have you heard about this book? Is it on your TBR list? What are you waiting on this week?

Waiting On Wednesday – 90

Hello gentle reader,

This week I’m waiting on a very exciting book: THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzi Lee (expected publication: 20th June 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books). You may recall I loved Mackenzi’s debut THIS MONSTROUS THING and I’m very much looking forward to her second release, another YA Historical Fantasy that sounds right up my alley again!

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From Goodreads:

An unforgettable tale of two friends on their Grand Tour of 18th-century Europe who stumble upon a magical artifact that leads them from Paris to Venice in a dangerous manhunt, fighting pirates, highwaymen, and their feelings for each other along the way.

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Witty, romantic, and intriguing at every turn, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a sumptuous romp that explores the undeniably fine lines between friendship and love.

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted by book blogger Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases we’re eagerly anticipating.

Have you read THIS MONSTROUS THING? Is THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE on your TBR list?

What are you waiting on this week?

Book of the Week – Fear the Drowning Deep

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Hello gentle reader,

Today’s the day! FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP by my extremely talented friend and critique partner Sarah Glenn Marsh is finally out! I can only recommend you pick up this fantastic  YA Historical Fantasy set in 1913 on the Isle of Man, with witches, sea monsters and a swoony romance.

The blurb:

Witch’s apprentice Bridey Corkill has hated the ocean ever since she watched her granddad dive in and drown with a smile on his face. So when a dead girl rolls in with the tide in the summer of 1913, sixteen-year-old Bridey suspects that whatever compelled her granddad to leap into the sea has made its return to the Isle of Man.

Soon, villagers are vanishing in the night, but no one shares Bridey’s suspicions about the sea. No one but the island’s witch, who isn’t as frightening as she first appears, and the handsome dark-haired lad Bridey rescues from a grim and watery fate. The cause of the deep gashes in Fynn’s stomach and his lost memories are, like the recent disappearances, a mystery well-guarded by the sea. In exchange for saving his life, Fynn teaches Bridey to master her fear of the water — stealing her heart in the process.

Now, Bridey must work with the Isle’s eccentric witch and the boy she isn’t sure she can trust — because if she can’t uncover the truth about the ancient evil in the water, everyone she loves will walk into the sea, never to return.

If you want to find out more about Sarah and her writing process for her debut, do take a look at my interview with her.

And please feel free to add the book on Goodreads and to buy it on Amazon.

What are you reading this week? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

A Writer in the Spotlight – Julie C. Dao

A Writer In The Spotlight Logo

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?