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.

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!

Waiting On Wednesday – 81

Hello gentle reader,

today I’m waiting on REVENGE AND THE WILD, a YA Historical Fantasy by debut author Michelle Modesto (expected publication: 2d February 2016 by Balzer + Bray). It’s a Steampunk Western with magic. Need I say more?

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From Goodreads:

The two-bit town of Rogue City is a lawless place, full of dark magic and saloon brawls, monsters and six-shooters. But it’s perfect for seventeen-year-old Westie, the notorious adopted daughter of local inventor Nigel Butler.

Westie was only a child when she lost her arm and her family to cannibals on the wagon trail. Nine years later, Westie may seem fearsome with her foul-mouthed tough exterior and the powerful mechanical arm built for her by Nigel, but the memory of her past still haunts her. She’s determined to make the killers pay for their crimes—and there’s nothing to stop her except her own reckless ways.

But Westie’s search ceases when a wealthy family comes to town looking to invest in Nigel’s latest invention, a machine that can harvest magic from gold—which Rogue City desperately needs as the magic wards that surround the city start to fail. There’s only one problem: the investors look exactly like the family who murdered Westie’s kin. With the help of Nigel’s handsome but scarred young assistant, Alistair, Westie sets out to prove their guilt. But if she’s not careful, her desire for revenge could cost her the family she has now.

This thrilling novel is a remarkable tale of danger and discovery, from debut author Michelle Modesto.

“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?

A Writer in the Spotlight – Sarah Glenn Marsh

A Writer In The Spotlight Logo

Hello gentle reader,

today I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a YA author! Meet my friend and critique partner, the very talented Sarah Glenn Marsh, author of the upcoming FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP!

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Author: Sarah Glenn Marsh

Website: http://www.sarahglennmarsh.com/

Twitter: @SG_Marsh

Biography:

Sarah writes young adult (YA) novels and picture books in Virginia, where she lives with her husband and four rescued greyhounds. When she’s not writing, she can often be found browsing an antique shop, taking an art class, or watching something scary on TV.
She loves: roses and lavender, stargazing, red lipstick, hot tea, and raising awareness for animal rescue. She loathes: seafood, spiders, and traffic jams. Fantasy is her favorite genre! She sincerely hopes her books take you someplace you’ve never been.

My interview (26th October 2015)

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Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? 

I’m pretty sure I was born with my love of writing! I wrote little books when I was in kindergarten about why I should be allowed to get a dog (and I must’ve done something right, because we got one on my 6th birthday!). I got in trouble for daydreaming and writing stories in elementary school so often that my fifth grade teacher called my mom to discuss it!

In my teens, I took creative writing classes at my high school, but where my love of writing really blossomed was on Elendor, a Lord of the Rings text-based role playing game! Maybe that sounds crazy, or silly, or what-have-you, but…writing collaborative stories in Tolkien’s world taught me so, so much about establishing setting and creating conflict and multi-dimensional characters. I don’t think I’d be a strong writer if not for the countless hours I spent on Elendor.

My big push to pursue publication, though, actually came from my husband. I was complaining to him about my office job one night when he turned to me and said, “So quit. Write a book. That’s what you should be doing anyway. You’re an amazing writer.” And I did leave that awful job. And I wrote many books. And I don’t ever want to stop chasing the dream of a writing career!

When and where do you write?

I write during the day; I’m most focused in the mornings, but I also write through most of the afternoon! As for location, I sometimes write in my office upstairs, surrounded by my favorite books, signed posters, and random nerdy things like my Lord of the Rings and Sailor Moon action figures; other times, I write in our sunny living room while sharing the sofa with a couple of cuddly greyhounds!

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

I’d say: be in it for the right reasons (the love and sheer joy of storytelling!). That way, when terrible things happen on the journey to publication–and they WILL happen at some point, to everyone, in some way–you’ll have your love of storytelling to carry you through the hard times.

I’d also say: be prepared to stay in this for the long haul. Learning to bounce back from rejections is a slow process for some–like sensitive little me!–but it will happen in time. The thing is, it could take years to get an agent, and then several more years to sell a book, and then there’s the 1-2 year wait from publication offer to seeing your book on shelves. This isn’t an overnight thing for anyone, even those who do land agents quickly.

And another thing: make some great writer friends. You’ll carry each other through the publishing process, offering support when things are tough, and celebrating each others’ successes will become some of your best memories!

Wait! Just one more thing: believe in yourself. Learn all you can from everyone else who’s done this before you, but always trust your instinct when it comes to your own stories. That’s how you’ll stay true to your voice and your vision.

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To write FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP, where did you get your inspiration from?

The first line of FEAR popped into my head one night. I knew I wanted to write a book about the sea and monsters, and once that first line came to me, the words just started flowing, and characters appeared–like Morag, the witch! I think FEAR was a result of my lifelong love/respect/fascination with the sea, as well as a reflection of the gorgeous, rich fantasies and fairy tales I read growing up, where ordinary girls were forced to be braver than they could ever imagine.

Your book is set in 1913 on the Isle of Man, how did you research this time and place?

I’m so glad you asked this! My research process was a bit unusual. For one thing, I found some great books from the 1800s on Manx mythology (mainly dealing with fairies and the Islanders’ customs and lore surrounding them), and read those/took notes! I also ordered some Manx history books directly from the Isle–I don’t recommend this though, unless you want to spend a TON on shipping!

I also went to YouTube to look up videos of the Isle of Man TT. This is a famous motorcycle race (for those who aren’t as enthralled by motorcycles as I am!) and my awesome biker dad had mentioned it to me several times growing up. Anyway, bikers from around the world flock to the Isle of Man for this big race around the island each year; it’s actually been happening since the early 1900s! Anyway, I watched videos of the TT to get a sense for the Manx landscape and the accents of the Manx people reporting on the race!

Your book is a Historical Fantasy: how did you find the right balance between historical facts and the fantasy aspects of the story?

This is a tough one to answer without discussing specifics, which might lead to spoilers! But in short, with FEAR, I wasn’t changing any particular aspects of history; I added magical elements that didn’t change the culture or technology of the time, so it never felt as though the fantastical bits were at odds with the history.

I think it helps that the Isle of Man is such an intrinsically magical place, too! If you don’t believe me, just head over to Google and look at some photos (or better yet, go there and take me with you!). I chose to set FEAR on the Isle precisely because the landscape appears to be brimming with magic.

What are you working on now?

I’m always a bit shy about sharing early on, but… my new project is a dark YA epic fantasy that I like to describe as “SABRIEL meets GRACELING.” Think necromancers + LGBT romance + a super cool magic system!

I can vouch it’s a VERY COOL magic system 😉

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

Here are a few favorites that inspired FEAR: literally everything by Patricia McKillip and Charles de Lint; Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier; The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.

And here are a few favorites I read growing up: Tolkien, Harry Potter (Slytherin represent!), The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, The Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop; the Alanna series and the Immortals series by Tamora Pierce; Patricia McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld— if you’ve not read this book, GO FIX THAT IMMEDIATELY. Go. Now. I’ll wait.

Lastly, here are a few titles I’m excited for next year that are on my mind: The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig; The Reader by Traci Chee; The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie; The Girl Who Fell by Shannon Parker; Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn; Into the Dim by Janet Taylor; The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner; Hearts Made of Black by Stephanie Garber; Liars and Losers Like Us by Ami Allen-Vath… I could go on and on! Basically, if it’s by any of the Sweet Sixteens, I’ll be reading it!!!

Thanks so much for this interview Sarah!

You can add FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP on Goodreads here.

 

 

Waiting On Wednesday – 77

Hello gentle reader,

today I’m waiting on FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP by my friend and critique partner Sarah Glenn Marsh (expected publication: September 2016 by Sky Pony Press). It’s a YA Historical Fantasy set in 1913 on the Isle of Man. Sarah is a very talented writer and a wonderful person, and I can’t wait to see her debut on your shelves! And have you seen this gorgeous and creepy cover?!

FearOfTheDrowningDeep

From Goodreads:

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.

“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?

A Writer in the Spotlight – William Ritter

A Writer In The Spotlight Logo

Hello gentle reader,

today I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a YA author! Meet William Ritter, author of JACKABY and upcoming BEASTLY BONES.

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Author: William Ritter

Website: http://rwillritter.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @Willothewords

Biography:

Reports of William Ritter’s birthplace are unreliable and varied, placing his hometown either in a series of mysterious Catacombs in Malta or in a nondescript town in Oregon. His parents, it can be confirmed, raised him to value intelligence, creativity, and individuality. When reading aloud, they always did the voices.

At the University of Oregon, William made questionable choices, including willfully selecting classes for the interesting stories they promised, rather than for any practical application. When he wasn’t frivolously playing with words, he earned credits in such meaningful courses as Trampoline, Juggling, and 17th Century Italian Longsword. These dubious decisions notwithstanding, he regrets nothing and now holds degrees in English and Education with certificates in Creative Writing and Folklore.

He currently teaches high school Language Arts, including reading and writing, mythology and heroes. He is a proud husband and father. When reading aloud, he always does the voices.

My interview (8th July 2015)

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

I’ve loved writing stories as long as I can remember. I wrote little mini-books about superheroes in elementary school and drew comics for my middle-school newspaper. I wrote stories for fun and to entertain my wife and family, not because I ever thought anything would come of it. Jackaby sort of decided it wanted to be a proper novel without my planning it.

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

I am a teacher during the school year, so I write weekends and evenings, and of course during the summer. I have a nice little writing desk at home where I get a lot of work done, but I sometimes occupy a quiet corner of the library or a local bookstore when I need to really buckle down and concentrate.

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

Motivation is easy to lose, so when you want to write for profit, write for pleasure. Seriously. If you write by thinking rationally about what the market is looking for and how to maximize the appeal of your product based on industry data blah blah blah… then you will create for yourself a hard job that you hate. That’s not why you’re writing. You could become an accountant for that. Instead, design for yourself the kind of book you really want to read—have fun with it and fall in love with your own characters. That sort of passion carries into the prose AND it ensures that when you don’t get that big contract you were hoping for—or when you DO and it leads to even more hard work—you’re still enjoying yourself.

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

Life—mine and other people’s. Fiction. Facts. The stuff in-between. Books. Classes I’ve taken and classes I’ve taught. My inspiration for writing tends to come from everything and everyone I’ve ever known. When that fails, I make stuff up.

Your book is pitched as Doctor Who meets Sherlock Holmes, were they really an inspiration for you?

Yes, in that I was inspired by all of the many stories and characters that I love, but otherwise no, not directly. The Doctor and Sherlock Holmes are very similar characters already, eccentric outsiders who lead their companions into wild adventures—an apt description for Jackaby as well—but I found my way to that archetype on my own, not because I was trying to play to any established fanbases or emulate any particular series. I designed Jackaby as an excuse to tell stories about folklore and mythology and gave him an lifestyle that allowed me to build those stories around madcap capers and magical mysteries.

Your book is a Historical Fantasy: how did you find the right balance between historical facts and the fantasy aspects of the story?

Toward the start, I eased into the fantastical elements gradually to give the narrator—and thereby the reader—time to adjust, but overall, it’s an easy balance. The fantasy in Jackaby is almost entirely taken from existing world folklore. I teach Mythology classes, and I always open by establishing clearly that we are not studying fiction and we are not studying facts. Myths are sacred narratives in their own category. That’s the same approach I take when I pick elements for my own stories. The research involved in finding interesting creatures or magical charms feels very much like the research involved in finding period accurate clothing or atmospheric architecture.

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What are you working on now? 

I am in revision for the third book in the Jackaby series and already poking at my collected notes for book four. Every book has grown differently, so I feel as though I’m learning how to write all over again each time. It’s a lot of work, but also tremendous fun. I count myself extremely lucky to be given the chance to do what I do.

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

So many. My standby favorite authors are PG Wodehouse, Neil Gaiman, and Terry Pratchett. If you’re looking for something in the historical fantasy genre, I can wholeheartedly recommend The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker, Diviners by Libba Bray, and Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. All great reads.

Thank you for a great interview, William!

Thanks so much for having me on your Writer in the Spotlight segment—happy reading!

You can add Jackaby and Beastly Bones on Goodreads here.