Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Interview with Douglas A. Burton, author of Far Away Bird

  1. Where did you grow up/live now? Like a lot of people in my generation, I moved around quite a bit. I grew up in Berwyn, Illinois, which is a small suburb of Chicago. After high school, I moved to Orlando, Florida, where I started a career in real estate appraising. After the housing market collapse and the Great Recession, I sought work elsewhere. That’s how I ended up in one of the most dynamic and up-and-coming cities in America, Austin, Texas. I live here with my wife, Crystal, and my two little boys, Jacob and Lucas.

  1. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a movie director like George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg. These two directors came to dominate the film industry in the formative decades of the 1980s and 1990s. Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T, Jurassic Park among others, captured my boyhood imagination and never let go. 

  1. What is your education/career background? I‘ve written stories my whole life, but not exactly as a professional. I started a career as a real estate appraiser back in 2001, just before September 11th. Everything was great until the housing market collapsed in 2008. I knew that if I was ever going to be a writer, then I needed stability in my life. Appraising here in Austin has provided that stability. Therefore, no matter how much writing takes over my life, I’ll always stay vested in my career as a real estate appraiser. I’ve been training new appraisers ever since I moved to Austin and I consider it a privilege to train a person in a job that can sustain them. Hopefully, in the future, I can also help other writers!

  1. Do you have kids and/or pets? I have a 7-year old boy named Jacob, who is just a wonderful person. He’s bright, caring, optimistic, and excitable. He’s a second-grader and we both are involved in Cub Scouts as well. I also have a 4-year old boy named Lucas. He leaves a remarkable impression on everyone he meets. He has that bizarre, hard to define “it” quality that appeals to seemingly everyone. I also have two dogs, one is an old-timer Viszla named Wrigley and the other is a rescue dog, named Duncan. For 7 pounds, he has quite the fighting spirit. 

  1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? Or what first inspired you to write? I wrote my first real story in 4th grade. I wrote a Halloween haunted house story by hand in my Mead notebook. It was 28 pages long, so it took up a pretty decent chunk of the notebook. But everyone wanted to read it. I then started making comic book stories with panels of hand-drawn characters. I’m also a bit of an artist, though hopelessly amateur. After I read this one phenomenal comic book called, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, a collection of tales by author Fritz Lieber, I had a wave of desire to become a full-on writer. The bizarre details, the exotic world, the characters, I loved it all. I created a beloved and similar character called Eli Naxin, The Grey Fox I wrote so many adventures for him. So, when I started writing about Byzantium, which is an equally exotic and bizarre world in real life, I brought a fantasy writing background into it. I’ve tried to write stories that took place in Byzantium for 20 years.

  1. Where/When do you best like to write? I write almost exclusively in the morning. I find and then defend my writing time no matter what. If necessary, I’ll go to bed a 10 pm and wake up at 4 am. I make sure I get at least six hours of sleep each night, but I get up early and write. I never write on Saturdays because I do no work whatsoever on Saturdays. I can write anywhere. But I usually write from home in my little office or I go to a coffee house.

  1. Do you have any interesting writing habits or superstitions? Yes. Music. I can’t write without music. Whenever I have a scene in my head, I simply must have accompanying music. It’s the sound and spirit of the music that has to be right. I’ll comb soundtracks, classical music, world music, anything to find that music. I’ll create a playlist. When I’m in the car, I listen to that music and my imagination runs wild with almost dreamlike spontaneity and randomness. Great scenes come into my head sometimes and then I try and bottle that magic on a page. For example, in the climax of my book, Chapter 47, I listened to the finale of Swan Lake. This scene was to be the emergence moment of a true empress. I’d play the music loud and let my chaotic, creative mind auto-populate the entire scene in all its rich and vivid details. Then, I challenge my logical, orderly brain to use exact and unambiguous language to recount the scene. It’s a pretty intense process actually. But the feeling that the music evokes stays inside you long after the chapter is written.

  1. When you are struggling to write/have writer’s block, what are some ways that help you find your creative muse again? I listen to music. Soundtracks are usually best. That feeds my chaos brain. And then I do tons of research, which feeds my structured brain. I keep doing both until the two halves of my brain make babies lol. But this process is tried and true. 

  1. What do you think makes a good story? Good characters who are seriously challenged and face failure at every turn. Being overmatched. Being unable to overcome a situation. These are major aspects of a good story that cause us never to forget what that character went through. And more importantly, when we see how these characters finally triumphed in the end, we learn something about overcoming adversity. To me, stories are much more than mere entertainment. They are models of the human experience that can span across time and reality. They all mean something.

  1. What inspired your story? I fell in love with the Byzantines back in 1993 when I read a book called Constantinople: Birth of an Empire by Harold Lamb. He painted a picture of a Roman Empire divorced from Europe, Greek-speaking, not Latin-speaking. My fascination never let go. My first attempt at my current novel was back in 2009 and had Justinian as the main character, told in the first person. But as I explored a competing storyline that focused on Theodora, she came to dominate the story in ways I could have never imagined.

  1. How does a new story idea come to you? Is it an event that sparks the plot or a character speaking to you? Anything can spark an idea. A boat half sunk next to a pier, a name on a tombstone, a bad movie, seeing an orchid mantis for the first time on YouTube, or a random conversation. I usually jot them down in a notebook and file them away. 

  1. Is there a message/theme in your novel that you want readers to grasp? Well, the message emerged on its own. The strongest message of the book is about personal empowerment, which comes at a price. There are many discussions and lessons in the book about the nature of personal power and the nature of evil. I believe these themes are universal and take on a special dynamic when it relates to women. Seeing the world through Theodora’s eyes had a major impact on me, personally. 

  1. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books? I think my biggest discovery was the cultural significance of a heroine-centric story. I grew up studying Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey and based a ton of work on story structure and character development on it. However, I came to find many differences in the narrative arc when it came to Theodora that I decided to study female-driven stories and films. I came up with something I’m calling the ‘Heroine’s Labyrinth,’ which is a heroine-centric model for story structure that I’m damn excited about! Many women encounter a host of different challenges in our cultural stories and in many cases, model a different kind of heroic behavior. Generally speaking, heroines save the world in different ways. Whereas male-oriented heroes taught me how to leave home and prove my worth, female-oriented heroes taught me how to overcome social roles and unmask villains here in my own native culture. I’m inspired by heroic women more than ever before and plan to pursue this study long into the future. I think I’m on to something. 

  1. What was your greatest challenge in writing this book? I was completely unprepared for the dramatic challenge to my world view and personal perspective that would come about in the writing of this book. Writing about Theodora, especially her struggles and efforts to assert herself in a male-dominated world opened my eyes. And not in a small way. To my surprise, when I opened myself up to feedback about my lead character, numerous women came forward. They gave a voice to the issues and conflicts within the novel. Real people told me real stories and provided real perspectives about real-world issues. I couldn’t believe how relevant Theodora’s problems were here in the modern day. I see things differently now. I did my very best to open myself up to perspectives and insights that were not my own. And in a big way, I met my own lead character for the first time and she taught me things about the world I didn’t know before I started writing the book.

  1. On a Friday night, what are you most likely to be doing? Friday night is Shabbat in our tradition. So, you’ll almost always find me with my family at home having a Shabbat dinner. I never work on my appraisal-related work or my writing. I don’t even think about it. Friday nights (and most of the day on Saturday), it’s all about family, friends, and the community.

  1. What do you like to do when you are not writing? Wrestle and read with my boys, appraise real estate, train others to appraise real estate, watch movies, read books, grab a drink with my friends, go camping, vacation, Cub Scouts, my synagogue, and my favorite, go out with my wife. Date nights are still a hit! 

  1. Who are some of your favorite authors? Leo Tolstoy, J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Anne Applebaum, Dennis Lehane, Hannah Arendt, Harold Lamb. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Mitchell, Stephen King, and Erik Larson.

  1. Do you have a bucket list? What are some of the things on it? By the end of my life, I’d like to have written as many books as possible, including the full series of books about Sixth-Century Byzantium. I’d like to see my children as grown adults, fully educated, and in professions they love. I’d also like to see and experience more of the world. I want to visit Israel, Venice, Revenna, Florence, Spain, the U.K., China, Japan, France, New Zealand, and Australia. 

  1. Have you won any awards or honors (not just for writing)? Well, I’m proud to be an Eagle Scout. Last year, I was the den leader to my son, Jacob’s Cub Scout den. I really enjoyed that role. I won a Silver Key Award in high school for artwork. In high school, I was the team captain for track and went down state for track as a hurdler and sprinter. I won the MVP that year. I’m still proud of that because I learned a ton of valuable life lessons in high school track. As a writer thus far, my current novel, Far Away Bird, won the grand prize for the Writers’ League of Texas manuscript contest last year for historical fiction. It also won a gold medal for Book of the Year in Historical Fiction and a bronze medal for Best Debut Novel by the Coffee Pot Book Club. Hopefully, now that the novel is published, it will win more awards! 😊

  1. What person(s) has/have helped you the most in your career? My best friend George Frei really mentored me and gave me great advice. He helped me to understand the writing world as a professional industry. He helped me think like a professional writer and also taught me a little bit about business contracts. I’d also say Jeniffer Thompson, who is the CEO of Monkey C Media. I hired her to help me with my author branding so that I could look like a professional. She really took me from zero to sixty in that regard. IN a year’s time, I feel like she took me from a real estate appraiser who had a novel on a Word doc, to a professional indie author who belonged in the industry. My website is www.douglasaburton.com if you want to take a peek at her work. Lastly, I’d say Kathie Giorgio. She’s an accomplished author who is fast becoming prolific. She helped me immensely with my novel. She has a company called AllWriters Workshops, where I met and worked with numerous other writers in the polishing of my book. She also worked with me personally as a writing coach to get the best possible book I could write out into the world. I’m VERY grateful to the people who helped me along the way and I look forward to helping others in the very near future.

  1. What’s the best writing advice you have ever received? I would say it came from my friend George, who is an artist at Disney. He told me never to get hung up on just one book. He said that, as a professional, you create a product, give it all the love and attention you can, get it out into the world, enjoy the heck out of that process, and then you move on to the next product, He helped me to understand that as an artist of any stripe, the act of creating is ongoing and never-ending. He also told me that being a professional artist isn’t always fun, but it's always fulfilling. I think that was perfect and sobering advice.

  1. What was your favorite book as a child? As a child? I absolutely loved A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I simply could not get enough of his wacky, but immensely creative work. I entered a speech contest in sixth grade and instead of using the prepared speeches that were available, I made my own using a bunch of Shel Silverstein's poems and even wrote my own rhymes to transition each poem lol. What a blast. I also like The Best Nest by P.D. Eastman, Sheldon’s Lunch by Bruce Lemerise. And then, of course, when I was about ten, I fell in love with The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. 

  1. What is the one book no writer should be without?  The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I’d also add On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

  1. How do your spouse/significant other/friends/family feel about your writing career? I feel completely supported. My wife is full-on helpful. She listened to every version of every chapter and never doubted me. She’s been involved with every aspect of the writing journey and has been just amazing. Without Crystal, I don’t think I could have written a novel like this. My friends and family have also been extremely supportive.  

  1. If your book was turned into a movie, who would you like to play the main characters? I love this question because it’s so fun. I actually did this already when I first wrote the book in 2014. For Theodora, I would LOVE to cast Gal Gadot. She seems to strike the perfect balance of seductive flamboyancy yet with the capacity for feminine power, sovereignty, and authority. For Justinian, I liked Joaquin Pheonix because of his look, but more and more because of his acting. For Macedonia, I like Kate Mara. She has that solid blend of force and stoicism. Indira Varma would be perfect as Theodora’s mother, Maximina. I would cast Daniel Day-Lewis as Magister Origen. He has the self-control of a man in power but with a steady glow of cruelty in his eyes. Bobby Cannavale for Governor Hacebolus and Lupita Nyong’o for Samira. Natalie Portman as Theodora’s sister, Comito.


Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Guest post by Khristi Lauren Adams, author of Parable of the Brown Girl








What writing this book taught me

Writing this book has taught me about trusting the process. I’ve heard the phrase “trust the process” a great deal in the past year. I first heard it at a Philadelphia 76ers game when one of the players
stepped to the free-throw line and the crowd kept shouting, “trust the process!” I asked my friend what they meant by that phrase. He told me that it had to do with the strategy that the team used in being patient in how they were going to build a successful team. The key to that success was learning to trust the process. As I started writing, I thought about that phrase quite often. The process for writing a book can be quite challenging. It’s not only challenging because one needs to find the time to be able to write, but also challenging emotionally and even physically. I wasn’t sure how the book was going to turn out nor was I sure if I would even be able to make it to the end where I felt like I had a successful piece of work. It took months of writing and sending chapters to my editor and getting feedback and then rewriting. That process went on for about a year. Even now I find myself in a place where I have to learn to trust the process of putting the book out in marketing and promoting it. Parable of the Brown Girl was complete in the summer of 2019, but it isn’t until February 2020 that people will be able to purchase the final product. That is a significant time of waiting which means that patience is also a part of the process. I have found myself anxious and wanting to get out ahead of the process but I have been reminded that God has a plan for how this book will unfold and I have to position myself to trust that plan. I’ve learned a lot about myself and I have grown as a person, not just from the content of the book, but the overall process of writing it has taught me a great deal about trusting God in areas of my life where I am waiting for something. I have learned that running a marathon is much more about how you grow during the training for that marathon as much as when you cross the finish line. 


Friday, February 7, 2020

Excerpt of The Winter Duke by Claire Bartlett

Thank you so much to Tanya for allowing me to flaunt my beautiful girls and their fledgling romance. In this excerpt, Ekata feels stuck when contemplating her next political move, and her marriage-of-convenience bride Inkar tries to counsel her:



"Where did you go?" Inkar had a blanket pulled over her knees and the Kylmian grammar book propped upon them. Her hair fell in front of her face, making her look smaller somehow, more vulnerable.

I should have lied to her. The trial marriage would be over in four more days, and she would be gone by then. Instead, I shut the bedroom door and went to my wardrobe. "I was visiting Yannush. He'll help me in exchange for exile."

"I thought you were going to execute him."

"I still might." He'd crossed lines that should never be crossed. "Father would."

"You keep talking about him as though he is everything that matters." Inkar set the grammar book aside and drew up her knees, propping her chin on them and tucking a sun-streaked lock of hair behind her ear.

"He - it's difficult," I muttered, trying to undo the button between my shoulders. I should have called for Aino, but I'd had enough of her sniping at Inkar and making snide comments in Kylmian.

"I can help you." Inkar slid off the bed, hissing as her bare calves touched the air. A few moments later, her fingers brushed the back of my neck. My skin prickled. She slid the first button free and began to work her way down my back. Each light touch made my breath hitch.

"That's not what I meant," I said, struggling to focus. Father was far from everything that mattered, but he reached through everything that mattered. Like an illness that rooted in a specimen and spread through a population. His cruelty had become normal, and if I didn't pretend I had it, I'd be torn apart. "I can either be him or be used by people who want to be him. If those are my only options, I know what I'll choose."

She was silent for a moment as she finished unbuttoning my dress. Then she said, "My father often told me that I had to think about what kind of leader I would be. He said we would discover ourselves in battle. You have not been given many battles to discover yourself. But I do not think you will discover what kind of leader you are if you are always chasing after him."

Her hand appeared around my side, holding the long lace of my corset. I turned to take it and met her eyes. They were too close, too kind. No one in my family had eyes like that. I could see the soft fuzz on her cheek, and firelight tipped her eyelashes with gold. Her mouth was slightly parted, her brow furrowed in concern. How could she be so sincere? Among my family, such sincerity would crack us open, and the wolves would descend. I'd only been safely myself with Aino and Farhod.

I took the lace and her hand, too. "I don't have time to learn to be the right kind of leader." Every misstep brought Sigis closer to winning the coronation trials, no matter what I learned from it.

I felt Inkar's soft exhale on my cheek. Her gaze fluttered over my lips. Then she retreated, getting into bed and pulling Aino's quilt around her. "Perhaps your father was not the right kind of leader, either."


What do you think? If you want to read more of The Winter Duke, also known as political lesbians on ice, preorder or request from your local library! 

goodreads link: http://bit.ly/twdgoodreads
website: authorclaire.com


See More from tanya contois

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Interview with Kelly DeVos, author of Day Zero


Can you tell us a little about your book?

DAY ZERO is a young adult thriller set in a near future, quasi-dystopia that follows a teen hacker, Jinx Marshall, who believes that her father is responsible for triggering a political and economic crisis. Jinx is left in charge of her little brother, Charles. While she’s pursued by a shadowy, paramilitary group and is on the run with her stepsiblings, Jinx tries to learn the truth about her dad.

How many books have you written?

I’ve written six books in total. Out of the six, two (FAT GIRL ON A PLANE and DAY ZERO) have been published and two additional books (DAY ONE and EAT YOUR HEART OUT) are scheduled for publication in 2020 and 2021.

 Are you working on anything new?

I’m currently working on a couple of new horror ideas that I can’t wait to discuss more once I have things a bit more fully fleshed out. 

 What piece of advice would you give to aspiring authors?

I feel like one of the things I did early on was to connect with other writers in my area. These people are now some of my very best friends and I am thankful for them every day. So, my advice is to find your writing people!

 What are you currently reading?

I just finished two amazing books. One is SPELLHACKER by M.K. England. It’s kind of like a teen, magical, Ocean’s 11. The other is WHAT I CARRY by Jennifer Longo and if you decide to read it (which you absolutely should), bring some tissues because you will be crying and laughing and laugh-crying.



Kelly deVos is from Gilbert, Arizona, where she lives with her high school sweetheart husband, amazing teen daughter and superhero dog, Cocoa. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. When not reading or writing, Kelly can typically be found with a mocha in hand, bingeing the latest TV shows and adding to her ever-growing sticker collection.

Kelly is represented by Alice Sutherland-Hawes of the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency in
London. Her work on body positivity has been featured in the New York Times as well as on Vulture, Salon, Bustle and SheKnows. Her debut novel, Fat Girl on a Plane, named one of the “50 Best Summer Reads of All Time” by Reader’s Digest magazine, is available now from HarperCollins. Her second book, Day Zero, is now available from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.





About DAY ZERO
Fans of Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It series and Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave series will cheer for this fast-paced, near-future thrill ride.

If you’re going through hell…keep going.

Seventeen-year-old coder Jinx Marshall grew up spending weekends drilling with her paranoid dad for a doomsday she’s sure will never come. She’s an expert on self-heating meal rations, Krav Maga and extracting water from a barrel cactus. Now that her parents are divorced, she’s ready to relax. Her big plans include making it to level 99 in her favorite MMORPG and spending her weekend with her new hunky stepbrother, Toby.

But all that disaster training comes in handy when an explosion traps her in a burning building. Stuck leading her headstrong stepsister, MacKenna, and her precocious little brother, Charles, to safety, Jinx gets them out alive only to discover the explosion is part of a pattern of violence erupting all over the country. Even worse, Jinx’s dad stands accused of triggering the chaos.

In a desperate attempt to evade paramilitary forces and vigilantes, Jinx and her siblings find Toby and make a break for Mexico. With seemingly the whole world working against them, they’ve got to get along and search for the truth about the attacks—and about each other. But if they can survive, will there be anything left worth surviving for?

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Interview with Diana Urban, author of All Your Twisted Secrets

Can you tell us a little about your book?

All Your Twisted Secretsis about six teens who were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill … or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?


Will there be a sequel to your book or is it a standalone novel?

As of right now there are no plans for a sequel.


What’s your writing process like?

My writing process ends up being a bit different for each novel, so I’ll talk specifically about All Your Twisted Secrets

What made this book unique for me in terms of process were the dual timelines. In the story, the characters have an hour to choose who to kill, and one hour is a pretty limited time to get to know each character. I thought integrating flashbacks into the locked-room narrative would kill the tension, so instead I alternated real-time chapters with flashback chapters—all from Amber’s POV over the past year. These flashback chapters get to the heart of the story: the characters’ relationships and how they deal with many of the pressures teens face today, from bullying to college admissions to losing a loved one—all while dropping clues about whodunit and who the victim will be.

So when I drafted the novel, I started with the real-time chapters (as the teens question their predicament, try to escape, and start panicking). But I still hadn’t figured out the ending—I needed those flashback chapters to flesh out the characters first. So I backtracked and determined where the real-time chapter cliffhangers should be, and then wrote flashback chapters to correspond with each cliffhanger, dropping clues, twists, and reveals that would feed into the next real-time chapter. I didn’t write the ending until I was a couple of drafts in.

And the real magic happened during revisions, especially since this book is pretty complex! Just like you wouldn’t solve a jigsaw puzzle by pulling pieces from the box and setting them down in order—from left to right, one at a time—I didn’t revise that way, either. Instead it was like I scattered all the pieces on the table and start working on the edges of the puzzle (the outline, or the framework of the novel, which I put together with notecards after the first draft was done). Then I tackled one section at a time (one plot thread, or one character arc, or one red herring), building and building until it all finally fit together. It was incredibly overwhelming to try to conceptualize this novel at once, but when I broke it down like this and took one element at a time, it was easier to manage. 

Can you tell us a little about your book?

All Your Twisted Secretsis about six teens who were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill … or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?


Will there be a sequel to your book or is it a standalone novel?

As of right now there are no plans for a sequel.


What’s your writing process like?

My writing process ends up being a bit different for each novel, so I’ll talk specifically about All Your Twisted Secrets

What made this book unique for me in terms of process were the dual timelines. In the story, the characters have an hour to choose who to kill, and one hour is a pretty limited time to get to know each character. I thought integrating flashbacks into the locked-room narrative would kill the tension, so instead I alternated real-time chapters with flashback chapters—all from Amber’s POV over the past year. These flashback chapters get to the heart of the story: the characters’ relationships and how they deal with many of the pressures teens face today, from bullying to college admissions to losing a loved one—all while dropping clues about whodunit and who the victim will be.

So when I drafted the novel, I started with the real-time chapters (as the teens question their predicament, try to escape, and start panicking). But I still hadn’t figured out the ending—I needed those flashback chapters to flesh out the characters first. So I backtracked and determined where the real-time chapter cliffhangers should be, and then wrote flashback chapters to correspond with each cliffhanger, dropping clues, twists, and reveals that would feed into the next real-time chapter. I didn’t write the ending until I was a couple of drafts in.

And the real magic happened during revisions, especially since this book is pretty complex! Just like you wouldn’t solve a jigsaw puzzle by pulling pieces from the box and setting them down in order—from left to right, one at a time—I didn’t revise that way, either. Instead it was like I scattered all the pieces on the table and start working on the edges of the puzzle (the outline, or the framework of the novel, which I put together with notecards after the first draft was done). Then I tackled one section at a time (one plot thread, or one character arc, or one red herring), building and building until it all finally fit together. It was incredibly overwhelming to try to conceptualize this novel at once, but when I broke it down like this and took one element at a time, it was easier to manage. 

Diana Urban is an author of dark, twisty thrillers. When she’s not torturing fictional characters, she works in digital marketing for startups. She lives with her husband and cat in Boston and enjoys reading, video games, fawning over cute animals, and looking at the beach from a safe distance. Visit her online at dianaurban.com.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Interview with Jodie Lynn Zdrok, author of Sensational

1. Can you tell us a little about your book?
It’s so hard to talk about a sequel without giving anything away from either book!

SENSATIONAL is a historical thriller with a touch of magic, the second book in the SPECTACLE duology. It takes place at the 1889 Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) in Paris. A months-long event that drew millions of visitors, the Exposition was an international showcase of culture and innovation. 
The perfect place for some grisly murders, right?
Nathalie and her friends make the first of several unsettling discoveries as beheaded victims end up in some of the Exposition’s most popular exhibits. Dun dun dun! That’s when the fun and public morgue displays begin. 
As a sequel, SENSATIONAL is also about the consequences of SPECTACLE and Nathalie’s journey in the aftermath of those events. (The books are ideally read in order, but you can read the second one first. They are paired standalones.) I especially enjoyed writing the subplots—one involving a new character, one involving Aunt Brigitte—because they support the main plot and Nathalie’s character arc in different but intriguing ways.
2. Are you working on anything new?
Last month I submitted the proposal and 50-page sample of my option novel, a boarding school ghost story set in 1920s Rhode Island. I am very excited about it and crossing my fingers that it sells! I’m continuing to write and polish it as I waaaaiiiiiit. (Patiently, of course.)
3. What’s your writing process like?
I refined my process for SENSATIONAL because I was on a tight deadline, and it’s my New and Improved Method for novel-writing (I’ve extended it to my option novel, too). I do a lot, lot, lotof thinking and plotting and logic layout in my head before putting my hands on the keyboard. Then I write a rough outline, start drafting chronologically (unless there’s a scene burstingto get out), fill in the outline as I go, and write straight through to the end, making a lot of notes in the margins as I go. Then I go through it a second time, tend to the notes that need attention and separate out the ones I can address in a later draft. And then it’s usually time to turn it in! 
4. What piece of advice would you give to aspiring authors?  
Read! Read to enjoy, but also read to study what other authors do to establish mood, voice, character, setting, pace, suspense, etc. The more you write andread, the better your writing will become. And for those close to pursuing publication: Strap yourself in tight because it is indeed a roller coaster. Publishing is both rewarding and challenging, and it consists of highs, lows, thrills, and lulls. Put on your emotional armor, equip yourself with pragmatism and a solid sense of self-worth, and don’t let anyone take those things away from you.
 5. What are you currently reading? I read several books at once! I’m reading The Last Wordby Samantha Hastings and House of Salt and Sorrowsby Erin Craig. Next on my bookshelf is Kate Atkinson’s latest book, Transcription
Jodie Lynn Zdrok holds two MAs in European History and an MBA. She enjoys rooting for Boston sports teams, traveling, doing races (to offset being a foodie), and posting cat photos to Instagram. She works in technology and lives in North Carolina by way of Massachusetts. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

Interview with Elly Swartz, author of Give and Take

Can you tell us a little about your books?

            I am so grateful to have 3 middle grade novels out in the world. My most recent book is GIVE AND TAKE (Farrar Straus & Giroux) and it flew into the world on Oct. 15, 2019. In GIVE AND TAKE, you meet twelve-year-old Maggie who knows her new baby sister who smells like powder isn’t her sister for keeps. Izzie’s a foster baby awaiting adoption. So in a day or a week, she’ll go to her forever family and all that sweetness will be gone. Except for those things Maggie’s secretly saving in the cardboard boxes in her closet and under her bed. Baby socks, binkies, and a button from Bud the Bear. Rocks, sticks, and candy wrappers. Maggie holds on tight. To her things. Her pet turtle. Her memories of Nana. And her friends. But when Maggie has to say goodbye to Izzie, and her friend gets bumped from their all-girl trapshooting squad to make room for a boy, Maggie’s hoarding grows far beyond her control, and she learns that sometimes love means letting go.
In SMART COOKIE (Scholastic), Frankie’s equal parts spunk and heart. But since her mom died many years ago, she feels like a piece of her is missing. So, Frankie secretly puts a dating profile online to find her dad a wife. No spoilers, but what she finds instead, is her herd. Her community. We all have one. And this herd is often so much bigger and wider than those with whom we share a name or childhood.

And in FINDING PERFECT (Farrar Straus & Giroux), my debut novel, you meet Molly Nathans. To Molly, perfect is:
•     The number four
•     The tip of a newly sharpened number two pencil
•     A crisp, white pad of paper
•     Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines
What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving for a faraway job. Molly hatches a plan to bring her mom home: Win the middle school slam poetry contest. But there’s a problem. Molly’s poetry is becoming hard to create. Actually, everything’s becoming harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and world from spinning out of control. Ultimately, Molly learns there’s no such thing as perfect.
Are you working on anything new?
Yes! I just finished writing a new middle grade novel which I am super excited about. In this book you’ll meet Autumn and her pet guinea pig named Cheetos. This story is about friends and choice. About finding yourself and your voice. And about choosing to do the right thing even when the right thing comes at a cost. It’s a story filled with animals and lots of heart. 
What’s your writing process like?
My writing process differs with each stage of writing. If I’m working on a first draft, I begin with a loose outline that has lots of holes. In my latest novel, I knew the beginning and the end, but not the middle. So I filled in the parts of the outline that I knew and where the middle would have been, I wrote, “Something Great Happens Here!” I’m a big believer in the idea that writing does not have to be linear. Color outside the lines! Explore! Discover! 
Once my first draft is complete – and by complete I don’t mean done, I just mean I have a beginning, middle and end. I dig into revision. This is my favorite part. This is where the heart of my story lives. And when I’m revising, I like to write in big gulps. I sit for six to eight hours at a time, wrapping myself in the story and the characters. At some point during this process, I begin to dream and think like my character. That’s when I know I’m close enough to this character to share her story from that place of true connection, emotion, and authenticity.
Then I revise and revise and revise until I feel I’ve captured the heart and essence of my character and her journey. 
What piece of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
My advice to aspiring authors would be to read everything. And write what matters most to you. If you write from that place of true authenticity, the place that tugs on your heart, you’ll find the voice and words and story that will connect with readers.
            I would also recommend jumping onto social media, and Twitter, in particular. Meet the educators and librarians who are talking books. They are the most gracious, kind, dedicated group of people. Their love of their students and their love of reading is palpable and wonderfully contagious. Introduce yourself, engage. Connect with other authors. Create community. 
Then follow your heart and embrace the journey! 
What are you currently reading?
            I always have a few books going at once. Right now, I’m loving, The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel, Anxious Charlie to the Rescue by Terry Milne, and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
 https://ellyswartz.com/(Resources, curriculum guides, school visit information, and more!)
My YouTube Channel
Give and Take Playlist on Spotify

Bio
poetry competition that will determine everything. In her second book, SMART COOKIE (Scholastic, 2018), you meet the spunky and big-hearted Frankie. Frankie’s all about family with a dash of mischief and mystery! Then in October, 2019, say hello to Maggie in GIVE AND TAKE (FSG). With the help of a foster baby named Izzie and Bert the turtle, Maggie learns that sometimes love means letting go. Elly lives in Massachusetts with her family and beagle. You can find her at ellyswartz.com,on Twitter @ellyswartz, on Instagram @ellyswartzbooks or on her webseries #BooksintheKitchen with author Victoria J. Coe.