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YA Author Rendezvous

Creativity Unleashed: Books for the young and the young at heart

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Author Spotlight

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Author Spotlight:
Barbara Renner

By: Michelle Lynn

What are the titles of your work and can you tell us a bit about them?

Lonnie the Loon Finds His Home – This is a story about a baby loon looking for his home. He tries to convince his mom where he would like to live but discovers there is only one place he can call his home.
Lonnie the Loon Learns to Fly – When Lonnie is a little older, he asks his mom a lot of questions about nature that surrounds him. He discovers more about life than just learning about his surroundings.
Lonnie the Loon Learns to Call – This is a story about a loon coming of age. Lonnie forms a relationship with his dad as he learns the four common loon calls. Readers can listen to the loon calls using a QR Code Reader App.
Lonnie the Loon Flies South for the Winter – Lonnie and his friends fly south for the winter and end up on a desert lake when they are blown off course. Lonnie forms a friendship with a little quail named Quincy who teaches him about living in the desert. The reader can hear animal sounds in this book also.
Quincy the Quail Leads His Family on an Adventure – Quincy is a little clumsy, but he is still the leader of his family. He takes them in search of food in the desert, but it turns into an adventure as Quincy is almost washed away during a sudden rainstorm.

Who’s your favorite character from your books?barbara-1

I’m fond of both Lonnie and Quincy. I’m excited about Quincy because he’s a little clumsy, but that doesn’t hold him back from considering himself as a leader. I’m a little clumsy myself! I want children to realize that even though they may have shortcomings, they also have strengths.

As a children’s book author, which comes first – writing the story or creating the images? Is there a reason for that?

I’m not sure about other authors, but I write the story first and then give the manuscript to my illustrator. My illustrators have been wonderful about working with me and revising their illustrations to match what I have in mind. When I write, I probably describe the scenes with a little too much detail. Then I have to delete words once the illustrator can picture the scenes in his/her mind. My new illustrator for Quincy put together a storyboard, which makes it easier for her to picture what I want in the book. I just have to quit writing so many words and have the illustrations speak to the reader! I’m still learning!

barbara-1A quail and a Loon are the stars of your children’s books. Why did you choose these animals when they’re less recognizable to kids?

When my husband and I first starting going to Minnesota for the summer, I discovered loons for the first time. I fell in love with them and did some research about Minnesota’s fascinating state bird. I thought everyone should know about loons, so that’s why I wrote my Lonnie the Loon books. I have facts about loons in my books, so children can learn about them too. I’ve had adults who’ve lived in Minnesota all their lives tell me they learned something new about loons. When I started promoting my books in my home state of Arizona, they didn’t sell as well as in Minnesota. That’s when I thought of writing a series about Quincy the Quail. I love watching the little quail covey run down the street in my neighborhood, so I tried to incorporate that visual in my books. I’ve had a lot of interest in my quail books here in Arizona and am enthusiastic about writing three more books about Quincy. My Quincy books have facts about quail also. I love reading my books to elementary school classes so they can learn about loons and quail – and receive a little geography lesson too.

Do you hand draw the images or are they computer generated? I doubt most of our readers are familiar with how children’s books come about, so what is the process for that?

I’m not sure how my illustrators create their images. I’m pretty sure Davina Kinney, illustrator of my Lonnie the Loon books, does all her illustrations digitally. I think my Quincy the Quail illustrator, Amanda Wells, makes sketches by hand first and then transfers them to the computer. Davina lives in Florida, but Amanda lives here in Arizona. It would be fun to have a book signing with her some time so she can explain the process to our customers. I think the illustrations are fantastic – and I’ve had a lot of compliments about both Lonnie and Quincy.

What authors have inspired you to write?

I enjoyed reading Mercer Mayer and Stan & Jan Berenstain books to my children. I also love Shel Silverstein, all of Dr. Seuss’s books, and all of the Amelia Bedelia books. I guess that tells you what era I’m from!

barbara-1What age were you when you started writing?

I wrote goofy little stories and melodramas when I was in elementary school, and my friends and I acted them out. I took a creative writing class in high school, but didn’t pursue my writing then. During my career hopping as an adult, I wrote and edited a variety of newsletters and journals. I started blogging when I was 61 because it was the thing to do! When I retired from teaching at age 63 I was bored to tears. That’s when I wrote and published my first two Lonnie the Loon books.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

All the time!! I don’t write enough – that’s the key. I need to write every day to keep the creative juices flowing.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I outline in my head – crazy. Then I sit down at the computer and hammer it out. That’s when what I thought I was going to write about changes directions and the story takes a different path. I haven’t written anything longer than 5,000 words, so if I write a novel, which I plan on doing one of these days, I may have to outline my story on paper or post-it-notes first.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

The only challenges I had were trying to decipher the 30-page contract with the publishing company; learning all the buzz acronyms like POD; and writing the book blurb! I jumped in with both feet and didn’t do enough research about publishing; but it turned out okay and I’m pretty happy with who I chose. However, what I thought was going to be a hardcover book the size of “Make Way for Ducklings” turned out to be a paperback the size of the Berenstain Bears.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

My first three books aren’t written using a typical storybook model. They don’t have a conflict or a climax or a solution to a problem. They are more educational. But, I’m okay with that; I’ve sold over 200 copies of each book. If I had to do it over, I probably would have written a better “story” and get involved with a critique group. Instead of asking my hubby and friends for feedback, I should have joined a critique group. I thought I could do it all by myself. As far as publishing goes, I’ve learned that it’s very important to have a spine on your books, which mine don’t. Libraries and bookstores don’t like to display your books on a shelf without the title and publisher printed on the spine. I would have found a different publisher to ensure my books had spines.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

I’m continuing with my Quincy the Quail series, and they will have sounds that the readers can listen to. In the next book a hummingbird bullies and scares Quincy’s chicks.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I guess the toughest criticism comes from Arizona residents when they ask “Why loons?” My friend told me, “I don’t get it.” I look at rejection as criticism also. I sent copies of my Lonnie the Loon books to The Audubon Society and The Loon Preservation Committee to see if they would carry them in their online gift shops. I never heard back from them. Other than compliments on the illustrations, the best compliment I received as an author was from a librarian when I showed her my first book. She said she liked the fact that there weren’t a lot of words on each page because fewer words were better for children ages 3-5. She said a lot of picture books are too wordy for small children.

barbara-1Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

I guess I would say to read a lot and write a lot, whether it’s writing stories, blogs, newsletter articles, etc. The cliché is “practice makes perfect.” Nothing is perfect, but practicing will make everything you write a little bit better. Also, become involved with a critique group. You can read the works of other writers as well as have them give you critical feedback on your own writing.

Do you have any strange writing habits?

Well, I don’t have any good luck charms like blue Smurfs sitting on my desk. Sometimes I get my story inspirations when I walk or hike, then I type the story on my computer. After I type it out, I let it rest or “cure” for a couple of days and then go back to it to revise it.

What others are saying about Barbara Renner:

“Getting my niece to last to the end of the book is usually a miracle. With this, she wanted me to read it again. She was mesmerized by the birds and the way they’re portrayed. It was really great to see.”

“Lonnie the Loon Learns to Fly is a great book for a small child to read as they start to take notice of the world around them.”

Don’t forget to check out our awesome giveaway here!


See all of Barbara’s books HERE!

Find Barbara on Goodreads HERE!

Like the Young Adult Author Rendezvous on Facebook HERE!

 

Author Spotlight: G.K. Derosa

gk-derosa   By Michelle Lynn

What are the titles of your work and can you tell us a bit about them?
I have one book series out called Wilder: The Guardian Series – there are 4 books in the series plus a companion novella. The story is about a young girl in her senior year of high school who discovers a huge family secret after a pair of handsome brothers move into her small town.

Who’s your favorite character from your books?
I really love my main character, Celeste Wilder. I wanted to have a strong female heroine as the lead and I think she embodies that. Sure she’s silly and naïve sometimes, she is only 17 after all, but she’s also strong and resilient and can kick some butt!

Your series is a great vampire tale. Is there a reason you chose to write about these supernatural creatures?
Who doesn’t love a good vampire story right? I know it’s been done a lot with Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, True Blood etc. but there’s a reason why we all keep coming back for more! There’s something so thrilling about the idea of eternal love and then of course there’s the whole bad boy thing. So that’s why J

Whenever a story has a human falling in love with someone who isn’t so human, there are complications – sometimes insurmountable ones. Some books such as Twilight or the Vampire Diaries solve this by simply turning their human into a vampire. You didn’t take such an easy route. How did you deal with these types of issues?
It’s true, it is a difficult challenge but from the moment I started the first book, I knew what I wanted to do with that. I don’t want to give away too much but that’s the beauty about writing YA fantasy, you aren’t constrained to anything. If you can think of a way to deal with a problem and explain it somewhat logically or “realistically”, you can accomplish anything you want in the story telling. 

You’ve chosen not to have a singular supernatural focus in your books. Along with vampires, you have werewolves, witches, fairies, and of course – the guardians. How did you keep all of this straight as you were writing it?
As you mentioned, there are so many vampire stories out there and I didn’t want Wilder to be just another vampire book. I think adding other supernatural creatures and mystical elements makes for a more interesting story. This way the characters all have their unique powers they bring into the mix.

Were there alternate endings that you considered?
Yes there definitely were a few different options I toyed with regarding Aleks and Lilliana. Again I don’t want to give away too much, but after you read it, if you want to know, shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to tell you the alternate endings I had in mind. As for Celeste, Roman and Nico I knew from the beginning how I wanted it all to end.

What authors have inspired you to write?
I’m obviously a big fan of YA myself and have read a ton of it! I loved the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and read the series about 4 times already. Then there are authors like Stephenie Meyer and LJ Smith who wrote Twilight and The Vampire Diaries. They inspired me in a different way – no offense to their writing, but after reading their series it made me think I could totally do this!

What age were you when you started writing?
Honestly, I loved writing when I was back in grade school and middle school but then I totally lost track of it. It wasn’t until I was in my early 30’s that I picked it up again. Wilder was the first novel I wrote and published.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Sure, I think it’s impossible not to, but it happens pretty rarely luckily! I have a very active imagination and love conjuring up the different scenes in my head.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?
For my first book, Wilder, I just wrote. I really had no idea what I was doing to be honest! I got more organized after that and you can probably tell if you’ve read the whole series! Even by my last book Wilder Legacy, I still didn’t do a very detailed outline. I like my characters to dictate where the story goes.

Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?
Yes! I was so depressed when I wrote the last book in the series because I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t going to be able to spend time with my characters anymore. You definitely get attached and they become like real people to you.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
I decided to self-publish from the get go so I never went through the thrill of rejection from publishers 😉 But I also had no idea what I was doing in self-publishing. I thought writing the book was going to be the hard part, but I was totally wrong. From finding an editor to a graphic designer to formatting and not to mention the all-important marketing, there were so many things to do. But it was totally worth it and I’m so glad that I did it on my own.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
Not really… except I wish I had known more about marketing and advertising from the beginning. That would have been extremely helpful!

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
Wilder is currently included in Dark Legends which is a collection of urban fantasy/paranormal romance novels with 20 other amazing authors. That has been a huge project that has been quite time consuming lately. I am going to start working on a spin-off of Wilder that I’ve had in mind since I started on the last book. This is actually the first time I’m really talking about it, but it will feature some of everyone’s favorite characters in Oak Bluffs. I’ll give you a little teaser – a hot younger Constantin brother will be one of the stars J But… the main character will again be a female and I think you’re really going to love her.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
Oh man, I had one review on Goodreads that was like 10 paragraphs long and she went through and quoted several lines from Wilder and tore it apart. Her criticism ranged from punctuation to dialog to overall plot. She was brutal! Mind you, this person was given the book for free for review! I’m really lucky that I get a lot of great reviews from my fans and they leave lots of wonderful comments on my website. I absolutely love hearing from them. One of my favorites, is this lovely lady who said she could totally see Wilder as a TV show on the CW! She’s an awesome supporter!

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
As Nike says, Just do it! As daunting as it may seem, writing and publishing your novel is incredibly rewarding, not to mention fun! I never thought I could make a career out of something that I enjoy doing so much. Never give up and no matter how scary it is, put your book out there and let people read it. It’s totally worth it!

What others are saying about G.K. Derosa:

“This story has layers upon layers of things happening that all somehow are interconnected. It’s like a bunch of story-lines melded into on in an exciting fashion. Ms. Derosa has once again impressed me, entertained me, and made me want more. She can count me as a fan.” 

“With twist and turns, and a new take on vampires, along with likable characters you root for from the very beginning, I found myself drawn into this world so immensely, that I read the entire thing in one day.”


G.K. Derosa is found at the Young Adult Author Rendezvous HERE.

G.K. Derosa is online HERE.

Michelle Lynn is found at the Young Adult Author Rendezvous HERE.

Author Spotlight: Rita Goldner

rita-goldner   By: Michelle Lynn

What are the titles of your works and can you tell us a bit about them?
Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy is my first printed book. Before that I wrote/illustrated two Kindle books about a boy, Jackson, who gets bored with traditional school, and instead uses his art to learn and explore other things. They are: Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure.

Who’s your favorite character from your books?
I fell in love with orangutans even before I wrote Orangutan, but I think Jackson is more versatile, kids can relate to him more, and I can use him for future books.

Orangutan is an interesting book. It not only entertains kids, but teaches them as well. Is there a reason you chose this animal to focus the book on?
I sketch and paint animals from life at the zoo often. I just bring my own folding chair, and really enjoy myself. Over the years, orangutans became my favorite, and I became more aware of their endangered plight. So I started doing research, and decided to write the book.

The images in Orangutan are incredible. Do you do them yourself? And if so, how are they done. Drawings? Computer generated?
They started as sketches of live orangutans. Then after studying the anatomy and expressions, I moved their limbs and bodies around to poses that fit the story. I scanned the final drawings into my computer and tweaked them, colored them, and added texture (hair) digitally. (I use an inexpensive program called ArtRage.) 

I imagine writing a children’s book has its own set of difficulties outside of the fiction world. What are some of the things you have to consider?
I wanted it to be scientifically accurate and educational, but never at the cost of fun. I also didn’t want it to be sad, and the danger of extinction is sad. I chose to leave that out of the story, since there’s not much a little kid can do about it.

Why have you chosen such a young age group to focus your books on?
As I mentioned above, a young child can’t do much politically, but can fall in love with orangutans, and when he grows older, help their critically endangered status. I also have another audience, the adults who read to the child. Hopefully, they can become aware about global environmental responsibility, and habitat protection, and help with their votes and contributions.

What authors have inspired you to write?
Good illustration is so appealing to me it almost eclipses the writing. When my kids were young, I read Richard Scarry books to them, mainly because the pictures were so much fun. I loved Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, too, for the same reason. In recent years, I was fortunate to have Molly Idle, a recent Caldecott Honor recipient and a fantastic illustrator, as my teacher and my inspiration. You’ll notice I said “almost eclipses”. I consider the writing vital, too, and I was influenced when writing Orangutan by several expert wildlife veterinarians, especially at orangutan rescue centers in Borneo. They weren’t writers, per se, but were so passionate about getting the word out, that they motivated me to write a story that would inspire children.

What age were you when you started writing?
I wrote poetry in high school, and occasionally wrote for fun while raising my family and having a different career. But I didn’t take it really seriously until I retired. 

Do you ever experience writer’s block?
All the time, as all writers do. But I also share with them the nutty experience of having writer’s “Aha!” moments in the middle of the night, while trying to sleep.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I always have an outline, and a ton of research, and a picture-book dummy I make for myself, so I can see the flow, and pacing. I also want to have a rough idea of the design while I’m working, and where to put the pictures.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
It was actually serendipitous. I hired my editor to edit four books. I didn’t know she also owned a publishing company, and she then asked me if she could publish Orangutan. Her company only publishes books about the natural world, so she wasn’t interested in the other three, but did an excellent job editing. One of the others was the e-book Jackson’s History Adventure, which I am now re-writing as a coloring book. I plan to self-publish this time, and expect a boatload of challenges.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your book or getting it published that you would change?
Not really, my publisher/editor is great. Without even knowing what I was doing, I fell into the good fortune that my colleagues search for, for years. Before I met her, I had submitted other books to several agents and publishers, and collected my huge share of rejection letters, but I gave up doing that.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
I’m using my black and white drawings, for the reader to color, but it’s a story book, not just a coloring book, with text and “Fun Facts”. It’s about Jackson time-traveling back through centuries of civilization and all over the world to draw and paint his school assignment of a history report. It’s designed for left or right-handed colorists, so the coil binding is at the top. 

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
A piece of really good advice, that’s a lot of hard work to follow, I got from my marketing group. It is to create a book that is as perfect as you can make it, in readability, presentation, and quality of writing, printing and binding. This is not just because of all the competition out there, but because anything less is a disservice to your readers.

What has been the best compliment?
The compliments have been mostly about the illustrations, which I found easier than the writing. My favorite compliments are about kids liking and re-reading it.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
You have to pay a professional editor, and this is much more than a proof-reader.

With any luck, you can get proof-readers for free from among your school teacher friends, in return for your services. The manuscript should already be perfect in grammar, punctuation, spelling and usage before the editor gets it. Then they help you make it interesting to your audience.

I also think if you’re self-publishing, you should use a smorgasbord approach to buying services. Research and find an editor, a book designer, an illustrator if you need one, and a printer. I think this is cheaper and gives you more control than getting a package deal from a paid publishing company.

Do you have any strange writing habits?
I get a really slow befuddled start in the morning, sometimes not getting rolling until noon. Then I build up a head of steam in the late afternoon, and hit my stride at night.

What others are saying about Rita Goldner:

“The information relayed is very educational, but it’s the illustrations, which are so colorful and vibrant that give this book its appeal. Young kids will be entranced, particularly those who love monkeys (and oh so many kids do!).”

“Combining beautiful art, a nice story and good scientific facts’ this book for children get its act right. With fun facts in each page, kids are introduced to orangutans and their environment.”


Rita’s Young Adult Author Rendezvous page is HERE.

Rita’s Website is HERE.

Michelle Lynn at the Young Adult Author Rendezvous HERE.

Author Spotlight: Gina Azzi

Young Adult Author Rendezvous Author: Gina AzziInterview by Michelle Lynn.

An interview with author Gina Azzi.

What are the titles of your work and can you tell us a bit about them?

Sure! My books are in the young adult and new adult genres. The first book I wrote is entitled Corner of Ocean and Bay. It’s a mature young adult novel that highlights the friendship of Nessa and Jacie during the summer before their senior year of high school. Primarily focusing on teen topics such as underage drinking, family issues, and first loves, the novel explores how Nessa and Jacie navigate these challenges and the impact certain situations have on their friendship.

After writing Corner of Ocean and Bay, I started working on The Senior Semester Series, a new adult and college romance series that follows four best friends as they embark on their senior year of college, new adventures, and love interests! The first book in the series, The Last First Game, focuses on Lila Avers as she completes a medical internship in California and meets football player Cade Wilkins at the airport! Their romance is a whirlwind but things grow complicated as Cade deals with the fallout of a sudden illness and Lila struggles to be there for him. The second book in the series, Kiss Me Goodnight in Rome, follows Mia Petrella to Italy and chronicles her romance with hot Italiano Lorenzo Barca. This book deals with body image issues, family financial concerns, and a looming long-distance relationship. The third book in the series, All the While, focuses on Maura Rodriguez and Zack Huntington and will release January 17, 2017. And the final book is Emma’s Story which is set to release next Spring.

Who’s your favorite character from your books?

Ah, what a tough question! I really like Lila a lot – I think she’s really laidback, fun, and easy to get along with. At the same time, she’s incredibly loyal, family-oriented, and genuine. I also really enjoyed writing Lorenzo’s character as he is rough around the edges, a bit arrogant, and pretty cocky before he falls for Mia.

In your book, The Last First Game, you tackle some pretty huge issues – namely cancer and sexual abuse. Is there a reason you chose to write about these massive topics?

In all of my books, I try to write about themes that are relatable and age-appropriate. The cancer element was really difficult to write about but it’s also something that most people can relate to – having known someone close to them that is struggling with an illness. How do they cope and handle these challenges? How does it change their relationship with this person? Sexual assault was a really important topic for me to include since statistics show that 1 in 5 women on college campuses experience sexual assault. That is mind boggling! It’s also a topic that is finally being covered in the media, discussed in politics, and receiving attention and education on college campuses. The Obama Administration launched the It’s on Us campaign in 2014 to combat sexual assault on college campuses. I think it’s a huge issue that deserves attention and awareness and I wanted to help do so through The Last First Game.

What advice would you give to someone writing about a topic that people tend to have very strong opinions on?

Be sensitive to the opinions of others, be factual in the information you provide, but never be afraid to write about something you believe in/believe deserves attention.

Amidst these big things that are happening to Lila and Cade, you manage to give them some normalcy as they fall in love and learn to rely on each other. Was this difficult?

It wasn’t that difficult since it’s very common for young people to experience a lot of challenges or things that bring them stress and pressure – and in the midst of all of that, still fall in love, form meaningful friendships, have these important relationships with other people. I think people are always dealing with things that are difficult for them but at the same time, trying to cultivate a support system is important, and connections with other people can’t be overlooked.

Were there alternate endings that you considered?

No! haha! I was pretty set on the ending of The Last First Game – I actually wrote it before I finished a good portion of the middle bit!

What authors have inspired you to write?

I’ve always loved reading – I was totally that kid that read under the covers by flashlight at night! Some of my favorite books growing up were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Harry Potter – all of these books and more and so many talented authors have inspired me in different ways to write.

What age were you when you started writing?

Super young! I suppose about 7 or 8 – I used to write and illustrate stories to read to my friends!

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Totally! Sometimes I have to take a step back from my work for several days and just do something completely unrelated before I can go back to it. Having that break from the story usually helps me look at the content with a fresh perspective.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

A little of both. I usually make a general outline with major plot points, themes, scenes and then just free write from there. Most of the time, I begin without knowing the ending and at some point, I sort it out and then write the ending, sometimes before I finish how the story arrives at that conclusion.

Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

Haha not really – they’re real to me because they exist in my mind anyway!

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

It was totally trial and error. I went the self-publishing route as I liked the idea of having complete creative control. I did some research about how to go about the process and spoke with some other self-published authors. Through learning about their experiences – and reading a lot of blogs! – I learned about how to find an editor, a cover designer, a formatter. Little by little it fell into place. Something I love about the self-publishing route is it’s a constant state of learning – and that is pretty exciting by itself!

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

No – mainly because I really enjoyed the learning process and feel like every step of my journey has gotten me to where I am today. It’s tough to skip steps and even the mistakes I’ve made have taught me a lesson. I think experiencing these lessons first-hand is really important for me in order to value what I do and to encourage me to keep writing.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

Sure! All the While is a new adult, college romance book releasing on January 17, 2017. Here’s the blurb:

Consumed with grief for her twin brother Adrian’s death, Maura Rodriguez is spinning out of control. To cope with Adrian’s loss, she numbs her pain with bottles of vodka and sex with random men.

Consumed with guilt for his best friend Adrian’s death, Zack Huntington is yearning for a past that no longer exists. Reaching out to the familiarity and comfort an ex-girlfriend offers, Zack aims to recreate what once was but can never be again.

When their worlds collide while running on the trails along Boathouse Row, Maura and Zack find comfort in each other and in the memory of their shared connection, Adrian.

From their unlikely friendship grows an undeniable attraction, an irrefutable desire, and an unexpected love. While Maura and Zack struggle to heal, to forgive, to accept, they also learn how to let go and allow themselves to fall in love, a truth they’ve both known but resisted all the while.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

The toughest criticism has been that my characters lack depth. That’s hard to hear as I really want my characters to resonate with readers and if they’re not, then I have to try harder to create more layers for them. Another criticism is the lack of sexual content in my books – I tend to imply sexual encounters rather than write more graphic content. The best compliment is when people tell me how much they could relate to a character and understand his/her challenges, point of view, experiences. That makes me super happy!

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Keep writing! If it’s something you love to do, keep it up – even if it’s for your own peace of mind!

Do you have any strange writing habits?

I’m not sure – I like to write at coffee houses and cafes with my Spotify playlists and a sweet treat! I feel like that sounds pretty boring though.

What others are saying about Gina Azzi:

“This book tackled some very serious issues and it did so with a cautiousness I appreciated. I think it was a true representation of what might happen to a very young, very new couple when faced with these issues. They were very human.”

“Her characters are well-drawn, realistic, and could be people that you actually know (or knew). Her stories are invariably sweet and romantic, stories written about love and all the highs and lows that go with it.”

Find Gina on Amazon

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Author Spotlight: Miracle Austin

Young Adult Author - Miracle AustinInterview by Michelle Lynn.

An interview with author Miracle Austin.

What are the titles of your work and can you tell us a bit about them?

Doll is my debut YA Paranormal novel—it is story about mean girl (Pepper Fox) versus the outcasts, since junior high. Outcasts are now in high school and so fed up with Pepper and decide to seek help from the paranormal world to teach Pepper a good lesson, but will they get what they always wanted or something much more they never expected. Twists, spells, and social awareness issues breathe in this work.

Boundless will be my second release. It will be a very eclectic collection of micro and short stories (some less than 20 words while others are over 5,000 plus words) with many social awareness themes weaved in. Some works will be light, while others will be much darker…May need a flashlight for a few…Make sure you have extra batteries, just saying…

I’ve written various short stories and they have been traditionally published in anthologies or ezines. I love writing short stories and will continue…

Who’s your favorite character from your books?

This is hard one. I will confess Lisette from Doll is one because of her inner and outer mystery…she is more powerful than she actually realizes… Tomie (Toe-me) is also one of my faves because he has no idea what breathes inside of him…I have others, but will discuss another time.

Doll is quite the creepy book – that’s a complement by the way. Lol. Is it difficult to go from writing parts of the book to living your normal life? Difficult to get out of that frame-of-mind?

Thank you so much. I absolutely take that as a lovely compliment. It was not difficult at all to write. In fact, I rushed home each day to dive into Frost High and its related worlds—they were my escapes, in fact every time I write, I have a chance to enter the character’s worlds—love that!!

The heart of Doll is about getting back at bullies, whether they do so in the right way or not. What made you take on this topic?

I took on this topic because of what I witnessed in junior high/high school/college, being a past victim of bullying myself, and my awesome mom sharing a story with me that ignited me to write Doll.

If she had not shared that story, then Doll would never be. In fact, my mom (so appreciate her) is my biggest inspiration for writing my stories—she has shared some pretty amazing stories growing up in the 40s in Crawford, Texas, (a lot of secrets live in small country towns) and living in the 50s-today. I just use my fictional magic to bring one story at a time to life.

I love the New Orleans voodoo feel of Doll. What kind of research did you have to do to get this right?

I did very little research because my mom lived in the Louisiana area for a short time. I utilized her experiences, she was the majority of my research.

What authors have inspired you to write?

So many—R.L. Stine, Stephen King, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Octavia Butler, Shirley Jackson, William Shakespeare, and so many more….

What age were you when you started writing?

Probably around 13

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Sometimes—I will take a break, listen to some awesome music—classical, 60s love songs, or a little lite rock helps me find my way back to writing. I will also Netflix it or Hulu watch…I catch ideas from anywhere, which helps me write.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I do both, but now for longer works—the outline has become my writing/dance partner.

Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

No, because they are real to an extent. I know each character is a little part of me, others I know/observed, and/or mash-ups.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

Short version–Doll was never supposed to be a novel, only a short story, maybe 10k words. It was only a distraction because Boundless was supposed to be published first. It met over 315 rejections. —I kept persevering.

I finally landed a small publisher and everything, but personal things in publisher’s life caused my rights to be returned back to me, which was a huge blessing in disguise. It sat untouched with the publisher for almost a year. After being inspired by other Indie authors, I decided to pursue self-publishing and BOOM for Doll!!

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

No, definitely self-pub all the way from what I had to endure for almost two years.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

Not so nice reviews, but I’m okay with criticism, but there is a way to express it in a constructive way versus being, well you know the rest… I know that not everyone will love my works for various reasons, but I write what moves me, like many writers, and there will be others who will enjoy. Best compliment—Cannot wait to read more from you!!!

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

A few things I would share:

Never allow someone to tell you not to write what you feel in your soul.

Don’t rush your teen years—take the scenic route

Surround yourself with positive bees because there will always be negative bees who will try to steal your honeycombs.

“Pay attention to those who don’t clap for you…” not sure who said the last one—love it and so true.

Praise for Miracle Austin:

“The characters were well-realized, and Pepper was deliciously evil (and I couldn’t wait for her to be taken down!). And even though one might think the ending would be predictable, it wasn’t. There were plenty of twists that I wasn’t expecting.”

“This story is dark, and full of so many twists and turns and suspicious characters that I had no idea what to expect. There were moments that sent shivers down my spine. There were moments that made my heart skip a beat. This story has everything: magic, revenge, romance, suspense…”

“With a flawless plot, descriptions and style, this book is the perfect combination of horror, suspense and a little teenage drama and romance. A definitely must-read for this year!”

Author Spotlight: George Sirois

george sirois - authorInterview by Michelle Lynn.

An interview with George Siroiswww.georgesirois.com

What are the titles of your works, and can you tell us a bit about them?

“Excelsior” is a young adult / science-fiction novel, the first part of a trilogy. It tells the story of 17-year-old Matthew Peters, who has been spending seven years writing and drawing his own webcomic about a character named Excelsior, who is from the faraway planet Denab IV. Matthew is visited by an older woman who tells him that she is from planet Denab IV, and everything he has been writing and drawing have actually taken place. So now, with Excelsior’s enemies growing in power on both Denab IV and Earth, Matthew realizes that he has the opportunity to become the hero that he thought only existed in his imagination.

“From Parts Unknown” is a five-part science-fiction / sports serial that is currently available on eBook as one complete file. The main character is Stephen Barker, a man who is trying to provide a living for his family by getting on the roster of the only sport left in America: the GCL (Gladiatorial Combat League). The company is a combination of the over-the-top characters & good guys vs bad guys storyline of professional wrestling and the reality of boxing & mixed martial arts. Stephen unknowingly becomes a pawn in a behind-the-scenes battle of control over the league between the current champion and the top villain in the company, and is turned into a monster of a man stripped of his identity and humanity. While his wife tries to find him, she discovers that the GCL is not only providing entertainment for the masses, but it is also used as a tool of distraction and stripping of people’s rights by the US Government.

The first of two “Excelsior” sequels – “Ever Upward: Part Two of The Excelsior Journey” – is currently being edited and prepped for a November 2016 release.

Who’s your favorite character from your books?

It’s easy for me to say Matthew Peters is my current favorite, since I put so much of myself and my late cousin Matthew Peter Henkel into him. He’s the ultimate in wish fulfillment, getting to be a hero that he thought was just his idea.

But looking at all the completely fictional characters, I’d have to say my favorite is General Hodera, a truly ruthless woman who is in the top ranks of the Krunation Empire. While my main character has been sitting in my head for a very long time, Hodera came to be during the rewrites of the original novel. I had a big, tall, force-of-nature like being that would really strike fear into the hearts of the Denarian people, modeled after The Undertaker in WWE. When I told my editor about him, she asked, “Can it be a woman?” Best. Suggestion. Ever. When I took the character and reworked him into a her, she leapt to life and became a truly delicious villain. I loved her almost from the beginning, and I got to use a lot of space in “Ever Upward” to further explore her character. I can’t wait to show you what she’s really made of.

In your book, “Excelsior,” Matthew is a comic book writer and illustrator before he discovers the world behind what he thought he was creating – how did you come up with such a unique storyline?

It really goes back to 1992. When I was in grade school (1985, to be exact), I created some characters with my friends based on everything we grew up watching: Star Wars, Transformers, G.I.Joe, Voltron, etc. We were just killing time between assignments in school, and when I lost contact with them, I kept picking at them. I knew there was something there, but I didn’t know what. Anyway, in 1992, I was in between my sophomore and junior year in high school, my grades were less than stellar, and I was in summer school taking English over again. It wound up being a blessing in disguise, because one of the things we did in this class was watch the 1981 movie Excalibur, which is all about King Arthur. At that time, I was thinking about coming up with a new character, and after seeing this, I knew I wanted him to be a legend within my little universe, a god made into a man, striking down his enemies with his sword. I took elements from Arthur, Jesus Christ, and Optimus Prime and he just came to life.

The original story of Excelsior was all about the character being reborn through someone on Earth, and back then it was an adult who was a comic book writer. When I decided to start writing the novel in 2008 that would be the definitive take on him, I realized itha hads started his own webcomic, so I borrowed that element from him and named Matthew’s uncle after him as a thank you.

Have you always loved comics and superheroes? If so, which one is your favorite?

I’ve always loved both comics and superheroes, more comic book films than comics themselves. The characters grabbed me from the start, and I still love them to this day. It’s almost cliché to say Batman is my favorite, but there really is something special about him that has allowed him to endure in so many different forms.

I’ve also been a fan of Transformers, ever since I heard that they were getting a Marvel comic mini-series and animated series on Sunday mornings. Optimus Prime very quickly became a personal hero of mine, and he always will be.

Matthew gets thrown into a new world pretty quickly, yet is quick to adapt and strong throughout. What are the keys to writing a character like this?

I’m confident in saying that Matthew is not a wholly original character. He’s the form I chose to go on what Joseph Campbell referred to as “The Hero’s Journey.” He’s in the same boat as Luke Skywalker, Marty McFly, Neo, Alice, and all the other main characters who are thrust into an extraordinary adventure. I wanted to make sure that he was capable of becoming this hero, but not ready to jump in with both feet since he believed he would be giving up everything he was. I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s not always a flip of the switch for me when it comes to major milestones. Doubt lingers, confidence has its ebbs and flows, and that’s what Matthew deals with in both “Excelsior” and even more so in “Ever Upward.”

Were there alternate endings that you considered?

Kind of. When the barebones elements of Excelsior’s trilogy came together during my high school years, the first two parts were more or less how they wind up in these finished drafts but the third part was different, more than a bit darker. But after I discussed it with my editor, she convinced me to steer it in a different direction, and now I’m confident that the third part is going to wrap up Matthew Peters’ story in a very satisfying way.

What authors have inspired you to write?

I’ve been a huge fan of William Goldman’s writing ever since I saw The Princess Bride, and I went on to get his “Adventures in the Screen Trade” books that gave me the confidence in my own voice. And I wanted to be a storyteller of any kind when I saw the original Star Wars. That really got me into my love of science-fiction / space fantasy.

What age were you when you started writing?

I had been creating characters since I was nine years old in 4th grade, but I didn’t start filling notebooks with text until I was 14 years old in 9th grade. By that point, the characters had evolved to the point where I couldn’t really draw them anymore. My very limited artistic ability had hit the proverbial wall, but I wanted to keep going with them, to give them detailed origin stories, let them interact with and fight against each other. As time went on, and my writing in high school improved, I incorporated my high school friends into the stories, making them supporting characters, which got them wanting to read them. That was a lot of fun, and I almost wish I still had those notebooks today. (I say “almost” because, if they’re as bad as I remember them, it’s probably best that they stay in the past.)

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Sometimes, but more often, it’s – as Kevin Smith once called it – “writer’s laze.” If I’m not in front of my monitor hacking away at my work-in-progress, I lose the momentum and find myself either on social media or in front of the television in the middle of the latest Netflix marathon. Thankfully, I know now what gets my momentum up and running again, and that’s a deadline. I asked my publisher to let me know when they would like to launch “Ever Upward,” and once I got that, it suddenly became a little easier to sit down and edit one chapter after another.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I’ve done both. When I did the first draft of “Excelsior” in 2008, I knew the beginning and I knew the end. That was it. It was up to me to figure out what happened between Point A and Point B.

The outline for “From Parts Unknown” wound up being the original novel that I published through iUniverse in 2002. I was under the impression that I was just going to punch up that one, update the technology, and incorporate a subplot I had been thinking about ever since I got the rights back from the publisher. But as plans will do, that plan went awry in the best way possible because only scraps of the 2002 novel remained, and it went from a 234-page novel to a 550-page serial.

Before I started writing “Ever Upward,” I wrote an extensive outline and worked on it with my editor. That helped out a lot and became a map for me as I went through all the different twists and turns with this story. I think with the third one, I’m going to do another outline, but I want to see if I can make it not as detailed as the second, so there’s more room for me to embellish when I get to actually write it.

Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

Not really. I’ve taken enough elements from my life that my characters have some form of reality attached to them. Matthew Peters feels real to me because of how he’s an amalgam of myself and my cousin, and I’m grateful to the one to take him on the adventure he’s on now, since it keeps my cousin’s name alive. And Excelsior has been with me for almost 25 years, so I can’t imagine my life without him.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

The original versions of both “From Parts Unknown” and “Excelsior” were each different challenges. “From Parts Unknown” was finished in July 2002 BK (Before Kindle), and self-publishing was still looked at as the “last option” for writers. I sent it to an agent acquaintance, and he suggested I self-publish since it catered to a very niche market. That September, I came across iUniverse and they offered a setup package of just $199, which included a free hardcover upgrade. I took a shot, the book was launched in November, and it literally came and went without much of a whimper because I had no idea how to market myself or my book.

When I was working on the rewrites of “Excelsior” in 2009, I opted to self-publish that one because I didn’t want to just throw away the rights on these characters I’ve known for so long. But by this time, I had a website, I was writing regularly for a successful pop-culture website – 411Mania.com – and I was more confident in this particular story. So I set up a crowd-funding “Early Bird Special” drive where all participants would guarantee their own signed copy and their names would be listed in the back of the book in the acknowledgement section. That drive brought in all the money I needed for setup at

Infinity Publishing, everyone’s copies, and mailing of copies to everyone out-of-state. It took a while for that money to come in, so it was a stressful time while I was working on my edits, but it felt great getting it self-published without having to pay a dime.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

If I knew what “From Parts Unknown” would go on to be, I would have just shelved the 2002 novel without releasing it at all.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

It’s going to be hard to say too much without giving away elements of the first one, but here goes…

“Ever Upward: Part Two of The Excelsior Journey” picks up six months after “Excelsior” (in Denab IV time, so SHOULD BE five years in Earth time). I gave myself three commandments for this one: I wanted it to be longer (the first book is less than 80,000 words and this one is between 110,000 & 115,000 words), I wanted it to go deeper into Excelsior’s mythology, and I wanted it to be darker. All three are definitely accomplished. We’re going to take a much bigger look at Denab IV itself, we’re going to go inside the hierarchy of the Krunation Empire, General Hodera will be given a much bigger role, we’re going back to Earth to catch up with Matthew’s uncle Jason, a major character from the original will come back to life, there will be a major battle on the 70th floor of Rockefeller Center in New York City (with cameos by former Top of the Rock colleagues), and we will not only see the complete origin of Excelsior himself, but also that of his greatest enemy.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I’ve had people say that “Excelsior” is clichéd, which makes me want to say, “Of course it is, it’s my take on Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” so that doesn’t really bother me too much. The toughest critique I’ve gotten is that it’s under-written, and I understand the way of thinking behind it and I won’t fault them for saying it. I’ve always been story-driven, and I just want to get on with telling the story when I feel I’ve given enough description.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – be afraid to write a crappy first draft. Get it on the page, get the story out, and commit to going back and fixing what you have. Almost every bit of writing comes from rewriting, and you can’t rewrite from nothing.

Thank you George for sharing a bit of yourself and your books with us.

What others are saying about George Sirois:

“Thank you, George Sirois, for making me feel like a kid again.”

“This story grips you from the beginning and does not let go. I was blown away with the author’s ability to build worlds, and quite frankly, this is science fiction at its best.”

“Sirois has done a fantastic job of borrowing small elements of familiarity from comic books and cartoons and combining them into an amazingly original and fantastic story.”


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Finding Inspiration: an interview with Siobhan Quinlan.

Margaret Mead Quote - Young Adult Author RendezvousFinding Inspiration: an interview with Siobhan Quinlan.

Interview by Michelle Lynn

A lot of awful things are happening in the world right now. We see them every day. No matter where we live, no matter who we are, we are being continually touched by tragedy, our worlds dimming each time. There’s not a lot we as individuals can do to fight these bigger problems and we all deal with them in different ways. As writers, most of us here at the YA Author Rendezvous use our words to try to make a little sense out of all the madness.

Despite a feeling of overwhelming darkness that sometimes seems to be covering our planet, this past week has reminded some of us that maybe we can still make a difference. Most of us will never be on the front lines fighting terrorism or saving babies from burning buildings, but this week a community came together to do something good, great even.

This post was just supposed to be an interview, our first with someone who wasn’t themselves a writer, but when opportunity strikes to be inspired and to possibly inspire someone else, we take it. Siobhan Quinlan has been with us from the beginning. She isn’t an author, but she loves books with a passion I’d never seen before. She’s a reviewer for Reader’s Favorite and our number one cheerleader – our very own Irish Pirate.

Well, this pirate of ours needed some help. It was time for a pirate to get a new eye, a prosthetic that would cost $1200. K.R. Conway, one of our authors who writes Siobhan’s favorite book series, decided it was time to step up. A girl in the Netherlands tagged her in a video on YouTube about Siobhan’s need and became determined to make it happen. She turned to the author community, issuing a call to members of YAAR that was also eventually answered by the Indie Author Support and Discussion group as well as other friends. Within three days, the GoFundMe campaign had more than enough.

Desmond Tutu Quote - Young Adult Author Rendezvous“Sometimes the world is brutal and fate throws you the worst curveballs,” K.R. Conway said. “But when people pull together, they can do amazing things. It goes to show you that human compassion is still alive and well, despite the daily news.”

It was unbelievable to see something so inspiring on Facebook among the fear and anger that’s been going around. I don’t know about anyone else, but this writer hasn’t stopped smiling.

Now, we know many people who read our blog are other authors, so this month we decided to interview a reader to get some real answers to many of the questions floating around out there. And Siobhan is the ultimate reader as well as being a fantastic person in general.

As someone who isn’t the typical target age for YA books, what does the term Young Adult mean to you?

Young adult is usually aimed at 12 to 18 year olds and I’m 31 so I am a bit passed that, but to me the term young adult means I can relate with the characters as I have experienced the same things and having been that age and being able to look back on that I can relate and say whether I would have been the same or not.

What is it about Young Adult books you love so much?

I love being able to get lost in a young adult book. I love the wide range of books about all different things that are available in the YA section

Favorite genre? Why?

Horror. I love a good scare that will keep me up at night and worried every time I hear a noise.

You don’t just read the books, you write reviews. Why do this? What is the importance of reviews?

I write reviews and I make YouTube videos as I feel reviews and ratings are the best way for authors to be found. I also like to talk about the books I have read and authors I have discovered whether it’s good or bad

Describe your ideal heroine.

A strong independent lady who can hold her own and knows she doesn’t need a man to have her back.

Describe your ideal leading man.

A man who knows how to treat women as an equal. One who isn’t afraid to show his soft side and even flawed knows he isn’t perfect and doesn’t pretend to be

Favorite book of all time?

Well this will be a shock to anyone who knows me. My favorite book of all time has to be Undertow by K.R Conway.

What made it special?

Everything 🙂 I love the writing style, the amazing characters, and the inability to put the book down every time I reread it.

What is the one thing you hate to see in a story?

Insta-love. I cannot stand insta-love

Cliff hangers. Yay or nay?

Yay, but at the same time nay. I Love a cliff hanger if I know I don’t have a huge wait for the next book, which is why I tend to read series when they are fully or close to done so I do not need to wait so long in-between books if I fall in love.

Do you notice a difference between the indie published books and traditionally published ones?

I have found that for me indie published books seem to have more individual art work. I prefer reading indies and I find the authors seem to have more freedom with what they say.

Werewolves or Vampires?

I am a lover of vampires. There’s nothing scarier then knowing there could be a vampire lurking outside my house right now waiting to get me

Do you like books that make you cry?

I am a book crier. In fact, I can become a total mess while reading. I love books that can hit me right in the feels and have me sobbing in starbucks while being stared at by the staff and customers (thanks for that K.R Conway)

If a book has a less than happy ending, does it affect your overall feelings about it?

Sometimes I love an unhappy ending, especially if it fits in with the story and makes sense. It will probably make me cry, but leave me satisfied

Romance. Many people think books need some sort of love story, even if it’s in the background. Do you agree? Why or why not?

I do not think a story needs a love story. I can very happily read a book without a love interest. I’ve found a lot of relationships are portrayed as amazing and perfect in books and that just isn’t real life or they come across as abusive and played off as normal which gives young people the wrong idea about relationships

What are you reading now?

I am reading a few different books right now. I’m a multi reader ( no wonder I don’t have a big monthly read figure ) on my currently reading pile right now I have School of deaths by Christopher Mannino, Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas, and a scary number of review copies of books.

How many books would you say you get through a month?

This varies from month to month depending on work. Some months I could get through 10 books others 1.

And finally, the big one. Why do you read? There are so many other things that can occupy your time. You have a child. There are great TV shows and movies being made of a lot of these books. So why should someone pick up an e-reader or flip through the pages of a paperback?

I love watching certain T.V shows and movies, but I have found a lot of the shows have pretty much the same story line and they just do not make movies the way they used to I feel with reading. I can get lost in many worlds and read about many different things in the space of time it takes me to watch a movie.

There you have it folks. Most of what we do here at the YA Author Rendezvous is for the readers and that hasn’t changed, but today, this week, this is also for the author community.

Thank you to everyone who inspired me this week.


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Author Spotlight: Lili Mahoney

lili mahoney - authorInterview by Michelle Lynn.

An interview with Lili Mahoney.

Hey Lili! Thanks for doing this interview. We’re excited to share your wonderful book with our readers. What can you tell them about it?

My debut novel is Barefoot Pastures and is the first of four in the saga.  It’s a young adult novel about a Texas cowgirl who is finishing her senior year in high school and trying to figure out where she wants to go next.

Do you have a favorite character? I know, that’s like asking someone to choose which of their children they love more.

To pick just one is really hard. Does Rusty count? I mean I know he’s a horse, but he’s got such personality! Tory’s gang, as I like to call them, is made up of characters I love for different reasons.  Of course there is Megan, her best friend who counter balances Tory and is light and carefree.  I also love Dillon and the support and loyalty he shows.  But the twins are her pillars and comedy relief as well.  I guess if I had to pick just one that I always go to, it would be Tyler.  He just makes me laugh so much.

Tory works the rodeo circuit, something that I loved. I know nothing about it so I found that world fascinating. Do you have a lot of experience in that world?

I do and I don’t.  I wasn’t born on a farm or ranch, so compared to individuals who were, I’d so no.  They are the true cowboys and cowgirls.  Folks that live that life in order to survive.  However, I did start barrel racing when I was about 12 years old and continued throughout college.  Though it was a “hobby”, I worked my horse every single day, for hours and hours, and raced most weekends, all over the great state of Texas.  It’s a world that I feel truly at home in, the people and the animals are where my heart is.

When most people think about rodeos, they picture bull riding and the other big events portrayed by movies. But this book is about the horses and there’s something so pure about the bond between Lili and her horse. What is it about horses that you love so much?

Horses have a way about them that is hard to explain.  Besides the obvious, being huge and powerful, yet soft and furry, they are also magnificent creatures whose soul reaches something deep inside you and both calms and ignites a fire.  When you work with a horse, it’s a partnership built on trust and a drive to work hard, to give all of yourself to each other in order to accomplish the goal. A horse doesn’t know how to hold back. That is what I love.

Tory goes through a lot, yet remains strong and confident in herself. What are the keys to writing a character like this?

Tory has accomplished a lot in her young life and that builds a certain level of self-worth.  She is flawed though, and she knows it.  To create a character, a teenage girl that other teenage girls can relate to, is a challenge.  But to be honest, Tory really took on a life of her own.  She is loosely based on my daughter.  A strong-willed, independent, and feisty female who will not be held back by gender roles.  Sometimes that makes her annoying.  She can be too stubborn at times, but like all young females, she’s still learning and growing.  Tory is fighting to find out who she is deep inside, who she truly wants to be, and that is the key to her character.  I think we all continue on that journey of finding ourselves, or at least a version of ourselves that we like and are proud of.

Were there alternate endings that you considered?

Tory’s journey was written in one document and in about four months. It was only after the story was “purged” that I began learning about publishing, (ie. book length) and discovered that it would need to be broken up into four books, thus creating a saga.  So, the “ending” had to be a point along that journey that could sort of be a break, or a timeout so to speak.

What authors have inspired you to write?

It never crossed my mind, being a writer.  I wasn’t even a reader, honestly.  Reading takes work for me, being dyslexic, and it was not a pastime I enjoyed.  The way it happened is sort of strange, I have to admit.  Some fellow teachers who were reading the Twlight series talked me into reading the books (of course I was hooked) and as I was reading them, “Tory” began telling her story.  My daily thoughts became consumed with in inner dialogue and I simply had to write it down to get it out of my head. 

What age were you when you started writing?

In my 30’s

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

My stories don’t seem to develop that way, so no, I haven’t.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I just write and as I get it put down on paper, the story just progresses.

Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

What do you mean they aren’t real?

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

I tried traditional publishing first.  I had two agents that were interested in representing me, but insisted the book be shortened, by almost half, since I was an unknown writer.  They both said it would be hard to find someone to publish it because of the length.  After a lot of consideration, I just couldn’t change the story from the way it was written and proceeded to learn about Indie publishing. 

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

There was a lot to learn, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way.  Except maybe to not be in a rush once I had the book polished and ready.  I should have done a bit more exploring about publishing companies and marketing.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

I have two books ready to be published, I just need the time to put into the marketing and release.  One is the continuation of Barefoot Pastures, and is Young Adult.  The other is Contemporary Romance that I will publish under another name.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I have been told that Tory is annoying, more than once.  And in a way, I already knew that.  She’s slightly flawed, but she’s growing and maturing.  Still, it hurts when someone doesn’t like your character.  It’s like someone saying they don’t like you or your friends. 

The thing I’ve heard more than once, and makes me the happiest about my book is when they stayed up all night reading, that they couldn’t put it down.  My favorite was someone telling me they called in sick to work so they could finish reading!  LOVE THAT.  I’m selfish that way.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

I’m probably not the best to give advice since I just starting writing, and with no prior training.  But I think it’s important to do what you think you would be good at, what you dream of.  So learn all you can learn about that “craft”.  Research and research some more.  Then share your work with someone you trust will be honest with you.

Do you have any strange writing habits?

When I write I like to have headphones on to help me block out the things happening around me.  I like to snack, and not be interrupted until I get out what is currently playing in my head.  Which I guess isn’t very weird, but for me it’s a big thing.   (snacks vary between sweet and salty.  I love popcorn and reeses pieces mixed together)

Thanks for the chat Lili! For anyone considering reading about this crazy and complex world of rodeo and the pure, sweet bond between girl and horse, here are what others are saying.

“Tory’s awkwardness was cute and her brothers made her all the more endearing. They provided both the humor and a large part of the heart. The theme of family is very strong and I could fall in love with the story on that alone. “

“I would recommend this book as a great coming-of-age story about what it means to be a teenager. Whether you’re familiar with Texas or tending horses (both of which you’ll get a real education about in this story) or not, the familiar teenage themes will resonate with you whether you’re currently living your teen years or well past them.”

“Lili Mahoney does a great job at creating an introverted and socially insecure character and then allowing her to grow and blossom throughout the story. She paints a wonderful setting and I really enjoyed reading Barefoot Pastures.”


Miss last week’s post? Check it out here!

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Author Spotlight: Korey Ward

korey ward - authorInterview by T.D. Shields

An Interview with Korey Ward.

Tell us about you! Where are you from? What’s your family like? We want to know it all!

Well, I grew up in the small town of Flatwoods Ky. I was raised by my grandparents on my mother’s side. They took sole custody of me when I was about six, because I was in a really bad place at that time in my life. My father took off shortly after I was born, and my mother is an alcoholic who likes to throw wild parties. I could literarily write a book on all the things I’ve seen and experienced just with in the first 5 years of existence. And perhaps I will one day. I owe my whole life to my grandparents because without them I probably wouldn’t have one.

When and why did you begin writing?

My writing, I believe, was a progression of little ideas before I ever even dreamed of writing an entire novel. My first experience with writing, that wasn’t part of my schooling, was in the form of little poems that would pop into my head from time to time. Then after high school I formed a rock band called Fates Tragedy. We were together for about 8 years, and were becoming quite successful locally before we all went our separate ways. I wrote the majority of the lyrics for the band, which I found easy transitioning from poetry to structured lyrics. It wasn’t until after my daughter Zoey, was about 8 years old that I even thought about writing a book.  We were rather poor at the time and we couldn’t even afford cable and it was well before streaming services such as Netflix, so we started to buy a book or two a month and I would read it to my daughter, and even act it out occasionally. After reading the likes of the Grey Griffins series by : J. S. Lewis, and Derek Benz, someone suggested to me that I should write my own stories to read to Zoey since I had a vivid imagination. That is when I began writing the first lines to what would later become Rise of the Shadow Seekers. It wasn’t until years later that I buckled down and finished the book, due to my wife’s constant encouragement.

What books do you have published and where can we buy them?

I have two books published at this time. The first Being Rise of the Shadow Seekers: The First Seeker. It was published on November 3rd 2015 under Korey L. Ward. The second book is Strawberry Sorbet: A Noir, published on Valentine’s Day 2016, under my pen name, Landon Wake. You can find all of my books on amazon, BAM online, and Barnes and Noble online.

What project are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on a psychological suspense thriller called G.P.S I can’t reveal any more details than that at this time, other than it will be published under my Landon Wake pen name. In case you were wondering, I use Korey L. Ward as my young adult/ kid friendly books, and Landon Wake as my more adult themed books.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

The hardest thing about writing for me is the stick-to-itiveness. With life and work and family and just not being in the mood, gets in the way sometimes, but you just have to push through it.

What is the best thing about writing?

The best thing about writing to me, is that feeling of completion, and knowing that others will get the chance to hopefully enjoy the labor of my love.

Just for fun… If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?

If I were a superhero, I would have the power to heal all diseases. If you really want to save someone I think that is the best place to start. Superman could catch a person falling from a tall building, wouldn’t be able to save that person from the cancer that will take their life next week.

What book are you reading now?

I’m reading Intensity by Dean Koontz right now.

Who are your favorite authors?

My favorite authors are the king himself Stephen King. Dean Koontz, Joe Hill, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. J. S Lewis, and Derek Benz.

Where can readers find you to say hello and keep up with your latest news and new releases?

You can find me at koreylward.com, Facebook, Twitter, and other various social media.

And finally, anything specific that you would like to say to our readers?

Yes, of course. I would love to thank you all for giving me a chance. I strive to entertain you all and poor my heart and soul into all of my books. I also have to give you props for actually reading to the end of this whole thing, Ha! Check you later.

Korey, out.

Author Spotlight: Hayley Barrett

hayley barrett - young adult authorAn Interview with Hayley Barrett

By: Michelle Lynn

Hi Hayley, welcome to YAAR. First things first, can you tell me about your books.

My first novel is called Into Darkness and it’s a dystopia set in New Zealand about a privileged girl who is convicted of a crime she didn’t commit by her father. I’ve also written a novella which includes some of the same characters but happens before Into Darkness, and that book is called In the Cool Light of Dawn. In September, the sequel will be released and it’s called A Silhouette in the Night.

So, at first glance your book seems to be just a dystopian, but there’s a bit of the paranormal thrown in. Can you tells us about that?

It is primarily dystopian, but there are also a race of people whose ancestors were experimented on many years ago and genetically modified. The result is that these people, Drifters, are faster and stronger than humans and they require human blood to survive. However, a few drops of Drifter blood can fix any human illness or disease meaning that humans and Drifters are constantly at war with each other.

How did you come up with the world you’ve created?

I’m not really sure. I had a basic idea of the story I wanted to write and the world just sort of formed around the story.

You’ve created so many great characters that move the story forward. Who’s your favorite?

Emily Jane. She doesn’t appear much in Into Darkness, but she is the main character in Cool Light and is a supporting character in Silhouette. Her back story keeps revealing itself each time I write about her, and I really enjoy finding out what she’s gone through in the past.

What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

There is a part near the end of Into Darkness where readers often tell me they hate me (I can’t say more without giving the plot away). I loved writing that because it upset me to write it. It comes unexpectedly and with any luck, it makes readers feel something that they weren’t expecting to feel.

Were there alternate endings that you considered?

Nope, not for Into Darkness. Cool Light originally finished where Emily Jane first meets Alex and Will in Into Darkness but I’d glossed over what are now the last chapters of the novella. A beta reader suggested I try a different ending and I like it so much better than what I’d originally written.

Are there any other authors that have inspired you to write?

When I read Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness, I’d never read a book that I was so invested in and I decided that I wanted to write a book like that. It took about twelve more years before I actually sat down and started to write, but it really was that book that did it.

What age were you when you started writing?

My school reports right back to when I was about eight years old all say I had a flair for writing. In high school, I won the school writing competition twice without (I hate to say it) really trying. But once I left high school, I didn’t write anything for about eighteen years.

Writer’s block – an author’s worst nightmare. Ever experience it?

Yes, although I don’t often find I can’t write anything. For me, it’s more that I find myself writing the wrong thing. When that happens, my writing doesn’t flow and I need to scrap it and start again. Usually it means I have to do something entirely different with the scene to make it work.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I’m not an outliner. I often wish I was, but plot twists often come to me as I’m writing and if I’d written an outline, it would have to go out the window at that point.

Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

Hehe. Not so far!

Here’s a couple just for fun – If you were a super hero, what would your name be? What costume would you wear?

I don’t know! Maybe Super Mom. I’m not sure what my costume would be, but I’d definitely need a decent vehicle so I could run my kids to all their afterschool activities (hmmmm, that sounds suspiciously like real life!)

 If you could have any accent from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?

I was going to say Irish because I just love the way it sounds. But I also have a thing for Diana Gabaldon’s character Jamie Fraser, so I’m going to go with Scottish!

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

I actually didn’t have too many challenges. Double Dragon Publishing was recommended to me by another author and they were one of the first publishers I submitted to.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

I don’t think I’d change anything!

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

I’m currently working on something completely different.  It is another young adult novel but this one is historical with a hint of paranormal.  It’s been a lot more challenging to write, but I’m pretty happy with how it’s turning out.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I find it really hard to read critical reviews where some of the things the reviewer has a problem with are actually answered in the novel – if only they’d bothered to read it properly!  The best compliment was hearing about an eleven-year-old who likes my books who had a “To Do” list beside her bed. One of the points on her list was “read more of Hayley Barrett’s books.”

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Keep writing. Everyone says it, but it’s true. It’s easy to come up with a reason to stop writing such as, “I can’t work out why this character does this and I can’t go on until I figure it out.” Something like that is just an excuse. Even if you can’t make it work, move on. Write the book. Then go back and fix the difficult part in editing. Oh, and that’s another thing for aspiring authors. Make sure you edit your work!

Do you have any strange writing habits?

Not really. I can’t write on an empty stomach though, so I’m least productive right before a meal.

Thanks for joining us Hayley and to all of YAAR’s readers out there – I hope you’ve found another fantastic Young Adult author to follow!

Praise for Hayley Barrett:

“I was hooked at the beginning. I thought it was such an original and unique way to introduce us to the characters, which have amazing personalities, portraying the real complex of human nature.”

“The story is fast paced, there is lots of action, intrigue, romance and adventure, and I was constantly surprised by all the plot twists, especially the shocking turn of events near the end of the book.”

Author Spotlight: Cynthia Port

Author Cynthia PortInterview by T.D. Shields

An Interview with Cynthia Port.

Tell us about you! Where are you from? What’s your family like? We want to know it all!

Who me? I’m a corn-fed, southern Indiana gal. One summer my mother and I challenged each other to eat corn on the cob every day, and it was no challenge at all. After living hither and thither for college, grad school and postdoctoral work, I ended up back in my hometown, which is a delight. My husband and I have two children, ages 15 and 10, and an advanced model cat (she’s a calico). When I am not writing fiction, I write and edit scientific grants and manuscripts for medical researchers at universities across the country.

When and why did you begin writing?

Author Cynthia Port - Writing Career
The cast that launched a writing career!

They say make lemonade when you’re handed lemons, right? I feel like I made lemonade from vinegar. A few years back I ruptured my Achilles tendon while taking a self-defense class (you know, to keep myself SAFE ha ha). As it was healing, I managed to re-rupture it, requiring major reconstructive surgery and a 6-month recuperation. I needed a 100% sit down hobby to keep me sane, and I had this story I’d been thinking about writing. Those six months evaporated, and I fell in love with writing novels.

What books do you have published and where can we buy them?

I have two books published in my humorous fiction Kibble Talk series, with number three on the way. I also have a short story about cats in space that was originally written for a sci-fi anthology. All my books and stories are available on Amazon.

What project are you working on now?

In addition to number three of the Kibble Talk series, I’m doing final edits on an historical fiction novel set in the Australian Outback. There’s some humor in it, but also more serious themes, including the rabbit plague, the Stolen Generation, and the repatriation of remains. I’ve been working on this book for four years, and it’s got my heart in it.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

Finding the time to write, and by that I mean several hours a day. I can’t “dabble” at writing; I need to be immersed in it for the characters to speak to me and the words to flow.

What is the best thing about writing?

Ah, so many things. The creative process itself is energizing for me, as is getting to share my books with others. An unexpected pleasure is that moment when you are reading what you’ve written and it feels like someone else, someone who’s a better writer than you, must have written it.

Just for fun… What toppings do you like on your pizza?

I’m a gluten free vegan (one of THOSE people), so let’s start with the GF crust, then put on some vegan pesto sauce and every vegetable you can pile and shoehorn onto its surface! Okay, but especially olives. I can’t get enough olives.

What book are you reading now?

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani. Mesmerizingly beautiful. Also finishing a beta read for a friend, which happens to be an historical fiction/romance set in the civil war.

Who are your favorite authors?

I re-read Richard Adam’s Watership Down every 4 or 5 years. To me, it is perfection. Favorite writers generally are John Steinbeck and Harper Lee. For middle grade books my favorites are Holes by Louis Sachar, Rules by Cynthia Lord, and the Harry Potter series. In general, I like dense, descriptive writing, though that’s not at all what my books are like. I don’t think I could write it sufficiently well to please myself—maybe someday, but not yet.

Where can readers find you to say hello and keep up with your latest news and new releases?

My Facebook author page is a great place to find me (CynthiaPortBooks) or my website by the same name. I always enjoy hearing from readers or potential readers or people who want to know where to send me a gluten free vegan pizza.

And finally, anything specific that you would like to say to our readers?

Do you know a hardworking teacher of second to 6th graders? Please have them get in touch with me via FB or my website about my Free Books to Teachers Program. I will send them a free, signed, print copy of Kibble Talk, along with fun classroom materials and free bookmarks for their students, and will even do a FREE author visit to their classroom via Skype. Summer is a great time for teachers to preview fun new classroom read-alouds.

You can find information about Cynthia’s books here!

Author Spotlight: Beth Rodgers

Beth Rodgers - AuthorInterview by Michelle Lynn

An Interview with Beth Rodgers

Thanks for talking with us, Beth. We’re glad to have you on the blog. Tell us about your book.

 My debut novel is titled ‘Freshman Fourteen.’  The main character is Margot, a high school freshman girl, and she is trying to win the heart of her first true crush, Peter, while at the same time fending off advances from a dorky boy who likes her and trying to escape the torment of the school bully.

I’ve read Freshman Fourteen and you have a lot of great characters. Who’s your favorite?

I enjoy all of my characters, but my favorite one to write was Walter’s mom, Mrs. Gribble.  She’s just so over-the-top annoying, but she doesn’t realize it, and everything she does makes me laugh even though it would be agonizingly aggravating if I was the recipient of anything she does to Margot or the other characters in the novel.  Even though she means well, it comes across as overbearing, but in a funny way!

In your series, Margot is a young girl who’s just trying to fit in as she’s bullied by some of the more popular kids. What made you decide to tackle a massive subject like bullying?

I didn’t really think about it too much, to be honest.  I think that everyone, at some point or another, is bullied in some way.  Even if it’s just a little crack based on how short or tall someone is, what kinds of clothes they are wearing (or aren’t wearing), who they like, etc., bullying is prevalent in society, and definitely in schools.  We’re prone to see bullying as larger-scale issues, like when it gets physical or someone is taunting someone mercilessly and preying on their emotions.  We take for granted those little, minor episodes that don’t seem like bullying, but really are, and Margot has her fair share of issues that some of the mean kids like to call her out on.  It’s hard for her to deal with, as I’m sure kids in school find it hard to deal with in reality, so focusing on what might not seem the worst kind of bullying in the world might actually shed some light on how bullying is so pervasive that sometimes it’s not even necessarily noticed to the extent that it should be.

Your book is on the younger end of YA fiction, but above middle grade, reaching kids at a critical time in their lives. How did you choose this age group when they are arguably the hardest group to obtain and keep their attention?

I wanted to write a “clean” novel, as best I could.  There isn’t any sex, drugs, or violence in the novel, save for a punch or two that get thrown.  I read young adult novels like they’re going out of style, and for every one I read with those few aspects, I read some without them as well.  I think it’s important to remember that kids can just be kids, much like I was, without all the issues that can plague them.  Not everyone gets sucked into the world of sex, drugs, and violence, and even those who are near it may not have to deal with it beyond hearing about it.  That’s how I was, and I think it’s important to show that these issues do not have to be front and center to gain attention.

Did you ever have the chance to be in a play like the talented little Margot you’ve created?

Yes.  That was part of the semi-autobiographical nature of the book.  Even though everything that happened to Margot after the first couple of chapters in the novel did not actually happen to me, I definitely was in two plays, and much like Margot, I was typecast as a child.  I was in ‘The Miracle Worker’ about Helen Keller as ‘the smallest child’ (and yes, that really was the name of the role I was cast in), and I was also in ‘David and Lisa’ as a young girl.

Were there alternate endings that you considered?

I thought about all the ways the end could have played out, based on how Margot could have chosen to move forward with her life as the fall play came to an end.  I am happy with the ending I chose.  I think it wasn’t necessarily expected, but that may not be true for all readers.  I’m sure some may have seen it coming, but it was definitely not totally predictable, and that’s what I was aiming for.  You can’t please everyone all the time, and no matter what ending I would have chosen, some reader out there surely would have thought it could have been different.  So I stand by my choice, and I urge others who are considering alternate endings in their writing to do the same.  Just because a story doesn’t end up the way someone wants it to does not make your ending wrong.

What authors have inspired you to write?

Sonya Sones, a fantastic author who writes novels-in-verse is one of my biggest inspirations.  Of course J.K. Rowling with the ‘Harry Potter’ series, because how could I not mention someone who has captivated millions of people and showed me how to weave words so effortlessly.  Also, I cannot fail to mention my aunt, who writes wonderful historical and contemporary romances and thrillers.  She writes under the name Jill Gregory.  Even though her books are far from YA, they are awesome and I love reading them.  Her writing style is one that I truly enjoy!  Even though there are many, many others, one more I want to be sure to add is Sylvester Stallone.  I thanked him in the acknowledgments of my book, but I’ll thank him here too.  If you don’t already know, he wrote all the original ‘Rocky’ movie scripts.  I love those movies, and it really is a testament to how talented and creative he is to think about how wonderful those scripts are and how thoroughly well-written they were to elicit such fabulous performances out of the actors who played the roles.  I dont’t know him personally, but I wish I did!

What age were you when you started writing?

I was very young.  I have journal entries from when I was in the first grade that say I want to be a teacher and an author when I grow up.  I have achieved both of those goals now!  I have stories about dragons, frogs, and other types of animals from when I was really young, and, starting in upper elementary and middle school, stories about young kids and eventually teenagers.  I have not tried writing about adults too much, as I find that I feel more “at home” with the young adult genre.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Definitely.  Who doesn’t?  I used to have a website all about how to defeat writer’s block, and I use the techniques to this day.  At one point, I had over 180 pages of unique content on the site that I would come up with as I used the different techniques myself.  From journal writing to making lists to reading books in the young adult genre, I have a whole host of methods I rely on regularly to help me break my writer’s block more efficiently.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I tend to just write.  Sometimes I make a few notes, but overall, I come up with an idea and I just go with it as long as I can write about it without having to think too hard.  When I find myself thinking too hard about it, I sometimes stop for a while and wait till more inspiration hits, or make a list of what could occur next and then pick and choose from it until I have my idea worked out as best I can for the moment.

Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

A little.  I’m someone who loves TV and movies, and I have a hard enough time realizing that those characters aren’t real.  Part of why I write about high schoolers is because I really enjoyed high school, and sometimes I wish that the characters I’m writing are real so that I can go back and be with them and witness high school from a different perspective that I may like just as much, even though it may have played out differently when I was in high school.

Now, for some fun ones – if you were a super hero, what would your super power be?

I’ve seen a lot of people say this, but I don’t care.  I would want to fly.  I have always wanted to fly.  I used to dream I was Peter Pan and would fly around my house.  So, without a doubt, my superpower would be the ability to fly.  However I could use that to help others, I would, but flying is the most important part of the equation!

If you could have any accent from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?

Irish – or maybe Scottish.  I like them both, among a variety of others.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

It took me 9 years to write my book and finally get it published.  It was a lengthy process, but totally worth it in the end.  I love being able to hold my book in my hands and know that it was my effort and dedication that made it possible.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

I would have worked on getting it completed more quickly.  I would have days or weeks where it would just be flowing out of me, but then I would have more days or weeks than that where writer’s block would just take over, or life would get in the way.  I would have pushed through it more, much like I’m doing with the sequel, so that it would have taken much less time than 9 years.  However, now that it’s completed, it doesn’t really matter to me how long it took.  Just the fact that it’s done and out there in the world means so much to me!

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

I am working on the sequel to ‘Freshman Fourteen’ right now.  Since the first one follows Margot and her friends through the beginning of freshman year of high school, the second one will follow the same characters (plus some new additions) through sophomore year.  I’m hoping to keep track of them through all four years of high school when all is said and done.

How do you deal with criticism of your work?

It’s hard.  Criticism is never easy to take.  Granted, sometimes a critique can be positive.  The word criticism just sounds so negative that we liken it to that automatically.  But even though it’s hard to take, it sometimes helps me think of ideas for how I might want to change or adapt my writing.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Never give up on your dreams.  I worked hard and continued striving for what I wanted, and eventually I achieved it.  I published my book.  No matter what anyone says, keep doing what you love, because if you love it, no matter whether you sell one copy or a million copies, you will be making yourself happy.  And that’s what truly counts.

Thanks again Beth. Now, everyone – go check out Freshman Fourteen. You won’t regret it!

Praise for Freshman Fourteen:

“The characters were well-written and engaging, and getting into the mind of the neurotic Margot made me feel like I was fourteen again. A great read for anyone of that age.”

“Rodgers manages to create a realistic world that focuses on the most important things many teens care about….peer issues and the opposite sex.”

“The characters are well developed and easy to relate to – in fact, most of the time I felt like the main character could have been me at that age.”

Author Spotlight: Elizabeth Woodrum

beth woodrum
Interview by Michelle Lynn

An Interview with Elizabeth Woodrum

Hi Elizabeth! Welcome to YAAR. First things first, can you tell me about your books.

I write a children’s mystery series called The Maisy Files. There are currently three books in the series. The main character is the fourth-grade detective, Maisy Sawyer. She is a bit unlike her peers because she enjoys old-fashioned mystery movies and envisions herself to be in a black and white world when solving her cases.

I’ve read all three of your books and can say honestly that you’ve written a fantastic crop of young characters. Who’s your favorite?

While I adore Maisy, her friend Veronica is my favorite. She is starting to want to help Maisy with some of her cases, but she’s not always very stealthy while she is working with Maisy. Plus, she and I share a deep love of chocolate.

Maisy is an absolutely adorable kid. Precocious and sweet all at the same time. Is she based on someone in real life?

I wouldn’t say that she is based on a particular person. But, I taught fourth-grade for a decade. I would say she’s a bit of a mixture of a variety of kids I’ve worked with over the years in terms of her personality.

So, you write mystery, but for the younger crowd. How do you balance the intrigue of this genre with the constraints of your demographic? Basically, it can’t be too scary, but it still has to be mysterious, right?

This is where I believe being a teacher has been very helpful. The stories can’t be too scary, but they have to grab kids’ attention. Most readers in my target audience respond just as well to the tension created by curiosity as they do by something scary. I write with my “teacher hat” on and make sure what I’m writing is something that I, as a teacher, would be comfortable reading aloud to a class. I’ve found that mini-cliffhangers seem to be the best approach to keeping kids turning pages.

The younger the reader, the more difficult it is to write a story that holds their interest. What made you want to tackle this challenge rather than an adult mystery series that would be able to follow a more standard formula?

Again, I think that teaching kids of this age for so long made me feel like this would actually be easier than writing for adult readers. I know this age of student very well. The experience I had teaching that age group gave me plenty of realistic scenarios that I can incorporate into my books to make them relatable.

Were there alternate endings that you considered?

I don’t believe I’ve ever had an alternate ending in mind. I usually start with a general outline of what will happen at the main points in the book. But, the specific details work themselves out in the writing process.

Are there other authors who’ve inspired you to write?

JK Rowling and Nicholas Sparks are my two favorite authors. They write very different genres, but I find that reading or rereading their work makes me what to get writing.

What age were you when you started writing?

I’ve enjoyed writing since I was in elementary school myself. I can’t say that I really remember a specific time when I started. I haven’t always sat down to write creatively, but writing has always come easily for me.

The dreaded writer’s block. It’s hard to avoid it. Have you experienced it?

I do. I find that it’s best to take some time off and toy with ideas for a while before trying to get back at it. I’ve had horrible results when I try to just push through it. I’ve ended up throwing everything out on more than one occasion.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I have a very broad outline. I know the main case Maisy will encounter and I know “whodunit.” I plan out a few main events along the way. But, overall, I do better when I just sit and write. I usually stay close to the main outline, but the minor details change a lot as I go.

When we write, our characters become our friends, our family because we spend so much time with them. Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

I do wish Maisy were real! I bet she’d be a real treat to have in class.

Here’s a fun one for you – If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?

I would be able to stop time. I never have enough to get everything I need to done!

If you could have any accent from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?

I like both British and Australian accents.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

I decide to self-publish. So, most of the challenges were just making sure I knew enough about the process to put out a good book that was worthwhile for people to read.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

I probably would have given myself more time to spread things out. After I finished the book, I set up my website, mailing list, Facebook page, Twitter, virtual book tours and many other things. It was all so crammed together that it was very stressful.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

I don’t have very many details yet, or even a working title. But, I believe it will deal with the theft of food from Maisy’s school cafeteria. I think this one may tug at the heartstrings a little more than the previous books.

Criticism is a very real and very hard part of being an author. How do you deal with it?

I go back and read really great reviews or view messages I’ve received from readers who enjoyed my work.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Take the time to learn how to write correctly. Then, take a creative writing course to learn how to best structure a longer writing piece. A lot of people have great ideas, but putting them together is the hardest part.

Do you have any strange writing habits?

I don’t know that I’d call them strange. But, I do tend to write in my pajamas with a cup of hot chocolate.

And lastly, to all the YAAR readers and aspiring writers out there – how important do you think reading is to your writing?

I think reading is vital to writing. Reading great stories that catch my attention helps me be more creative. Also, the more I write, the more I am able to pick apart a story I’m reading and notice the way the author structured it. It helps me get ideas and it helps me identify strategies I don’t want to use, particularly if something I read has some sort of flaw that pulls me out of it as a reader.

Thanks for talking to us Elizabeth!

Don’t forget to check out the adorable Maisy Files series. You won’t regret it!

Praise for the Maisy Files:

“This is definitely a must read for the young reader you are trying to interest in the world of fiction. It’s written in a way that it never gets boring and it’s short enough to keep the interest of even the most reluctant reader.”

“I loved how Elizabeth Woodrum wrote this story. She made it clever and whimsical without being condescending.”

“Even though the book was short, as it was written for a younger age range, the characters were developed well, the plot was completely satisfied by the end of the story, and the mystery was well-constructed.”

Author Spotlight: Debbie Manber Kupfer

debbie kupferInterview by Michelle Lynn

Todays interview is from a very talented writer – Debbie Manber Kupfer.

So, I’ve read the first two books in your series, P.A.W.S. as well as a few of the short stories. They’re all great. Can you tell us about them?

The first two books of the series, P.A.W.S. and Argentum are out and I’m currently working on books 3 and 4. (I’m not sure how many books there will be in the end). It’s a YA fantasy that focuses on an international organization of shapeshifters, The Partnership of Animagi, Werewolves and Shapeshifters (otherwise known as P.A.W.S.) I’m also releasing a series of short stories that tie in with the series, Tales from P.A.W.S. both as individual ebooks and as a combined paperback.

When I’m not writing fiction I write puzzles for magazines and my website Paws 4 Puzzles and in early 2015 I published a book of logic problems, Paws 4 Logic together with my son, Joey.

You have so many wonderful characters. I know who my favorite is, who’s yours?

I have a particular fondness for Joey, the animagus kangaroo Australian exchange student as I based this character off of my son who shares a lot of his characteristics.

My absolute favorite character however first appears in Argentum. He’s Gromer the Green – an old Welsh warlock with a fondness for pea soup (don’t forget the wizzlewoop). Gromer will be coming back in book 3 and I also plan sometime in the future to give him his own tale.

Your main character, Miri, is a shapeshifter that can turn into a cat. Do I sense some major cat love? What made you choose this animal over all the other ones we see in paranormal fiction these days?

Well first of all I need to point out that there are many different animals that are part of P.A.W.S. – everything from toads, to snakes, to flamingoes! But yes, cats do hold a special place in my heart and Miri is a cat because if I were a shapeshifter that’s the form I would take. Danny (also a cat animagus) explains it best – cats are known for being able to blend into the shadows and have a magic all of their own.

So, Alistair – he’s the ultimate bad guy. For those who haven’t read your books, can you give a little background on him? What goes into creating a villain?

Oh yes, Alistair. You may be surprised to know that Alistair wasn’t even in my original idea for P.A.W.S., rather Miri’s Uncle David was going to be the main antagonist, but a few chapters in Alistair emerged and basically made the story all about him.

But there’s a lot more to Alistair then first meets the eye. I don’t believe that anyone is evil in a vacuum. There’s always a reason, and Alistair has his reasons. That’s why I wrote his origin story, Alistair, in Tales from P.A.W.S.

Oh yes, Alistair was my favorite short story of yours. How do you walk that line between a villain that readers just hate, and one that’s a little more complex? A little more fun?

Despite his evil, I think readers are drawn to Alistair – just like Nora and his pack are in his story. He’s attractive and has a charisma that shines out beyond his magic. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, but the one part of the series I personally felt was weak was how Voldemort was drawn. There’s really no part of the series when we empathize with him and he’s mostly in the shadows while others, Snape, Malfoy, Umbridge take on the real role as villain.

Were there alternate endings that you considered?

Not really for P.A.W.S. – I have a clear vision of the ending of the whole series and have even written the final epilogue – but I have only a vague notion of how we’re going to get there, but I’m looking forward to the journey.

What authors have inspired you to write?

My biggest inspiration is probably JK Rowling, but I’m also a huge fan of Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Cornelia Funke and Terry Pratchett.

On a personal level after I wrote P.A.W.S. I took my prologue to a local writer’s group. Those writers who have since become my friends were probably my biggest inspiration. I also had the good fortune to meet Ben Reeder at a science fiction conference last fall. Ben, an indie author, who has been able to earn a living wage from his paranormal and zombie books is a huge inspiration. He proves that with good writing and a little luck it is possible to really succeed as an indie.

I think there are very few of us that haven’t been influenced by JK Rowling. I know I was. What age were you when you started writing?

I’ve been writing ever since I was a kid. I sent one of my stories about a day when I turned into a ladybug to the Puffin Post when I was around eight years old and got a mention in the magazine.

Do you ever experience the dreaded writer’s block?

A little – usually when I do I’ll go for a walk and take my writing out to a coffee shop or McDonald’s. I’ll write the old fashioned way then in a notebook and I’ll people watch. I love people watching – and yes a lot of those folk end up in my stories.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I’m mostly a discovery writer. I have a vague outline in my head, but not usually on paper.

Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

What do you mean they aren’t real?!

Here are a couple of fun questions! If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?

I want “Mary Poppins” power. The ability to snap my fingers and have the house clean itself so I have more time to write!

If you could have any accent from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?

That’s an odd question. I grew up in London so (at least when I’m in the US) I have an East London accent. It’s not a posh accent – I don’t speak the “Queen’s English” and neither would I want to – but I find it strange how many Americans tell me they “like my accent”. The other thing that’s strange to me is when I go to England my friends there tell me that I now have a slight American twang to my accent. I, of course, can’t hear it all, but I believe they are right.

I have a friend who also grew up in England but while I moved to America he moved to Australia. A few months ago he posted a video of an interview he did on Australian TV and I was dumbfounded; to my ear at least he had lost every trace of his English accent and sounded completely Aussie!

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

When I first wrote P.A.W.S. I wrote it for myself. I had the story burning inside me and I knew it needed to come out. I only started thinking about publishing after I took my prologue to a local writer’s group. With trepidation I read it aloud and was amazed by the response. The writers in the group loved it and told me I needed to publish and one of those writers was Robin Tidwell of Rocking Horse Publishing. I knew nothing about the publishing process at the time and RHP gave me my chance for which I am truly grateful. They published P.A.W.S. and a year later the sequel, Argentum.

In the meantime I met more writers both online and off and started learning about what indie publishing really entailed and in spring of 2015 ventured into self-publishing on Createspace when I published together with my son our puzzle book, Paws 4 Logic. I discovered that not only could I self-publish I also enjoyed the process and the freedom it gave me to set my own publication dates, choose my own covers and generally be in control.

When my original contract expired with RHP for P.A.W.S. I thought long and hard and decided not to renew with RHP and in September 2015 I rereleased P.A.W.S. with a new cover and bonus bits. I’m grateful for the chance RHP gave me originally, but today I’m happy to be self-pubbed.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

I would have done some of the social media stuff in advance. Set up a blog, had a blog tour, online release party, stuff like that. When I was brand new at this I had no idea about the marketing side.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

I have a few upcoming projects. Firstly I’ll be releasing my three Tales from P.A.W.S. – Alistair, Ramora and Griddlebone – together in their own small paperback. I’m also working on a collection of my flash fiction stories, Tea and Dark Chocolate, that all being well will release sometime in the next few months.

Then there are my picture books, Adana the Earth Dragon and Cecilia’s Tale. Both of these are out with illustrators at the moment and I’m very excited about the stories. Adana is the tale of a small brown dragon who discovers that she can do big things. Cecilia was my cat in Israel and this is the story of how she found and adopted me.

Finally towards the end of the year I will republish Argentum and then the third part of the P.A.W.S. series, Umbrae. In Umbrae (which is currently out with my beta readers) Miri will travel to Israel and discover the secret of the purple book with Argentum on its cover that she first received in New York from the old crone.

How do you deal with criticism of your work?

I try to take it in my stride. Not every book is for everyone and that’s OK.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Try NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It helps me a lot to set aside the month of November, (and April and July for Camp NaNo) to write. For just month at a time I can concentrate on my writing and let the other stuff slide. Also the social aspect of cheering each other on really helps me and I’ve made some good friends through my local NaNo group.

How important do you think reading is to your writing?

Essential. I truly don’t understand folks who don’t read. I read constantly and I think it helps me be a better writer.

Do you have any strange writing habits?

I must have a mug of tea with milk at all times!

What is your biggest fear?

That I don’t make it to the end of my series. I’m a cancer survivor. I understand that we’re all mortal. P.A.W.S. is my little bit of immortality that I want to leave with the world and really hope that by the time I check out my story is complete.

Author Spotlight: Christopher Mannino

Christopher ManninoInterview by Michelle Lynn 

  • Hey Christopher, thanks for doing this. We’re all pretty excited to learn more about the man behind the brilliant world of deaths, so let’s get started. First, can you tell us a little about your books?

 

School of Deaths and Sword of Deaths form the first two parts of a trilogy called The Scythe Wielder’s Secret. The final novel, Daughter of Deaths, will release in 2017. In School of Deaths, a young girl named Susan is pulled from her home in Maryland and brought to the College of Deaths, where she’s forced to train to become a Death, Reaping souls from the Mortal World to the Hereafter. She learns that she’s the first female Death in a million years, and faces sexism and bullying from all her peers. She eventually forms a group of close friends, and as the series progresses realizes that her presence in the World of Deaths is no accident. A war between the ancient original reapers, the Dragons, and the Deaths is about to erupt, and Susan’s right at the heart of the conflict. In Sword of Deaths, Susan and her friends find an ancient artifact that may help in the oncoming confrontation. In Daughter of Deaths, the Dragons attack, and Susan and her two closest friends undertake an epic journey across three worlds hoping to save the Deaths.

 

  • You’ve written some great character that people can really identify with. Who’s your favorite?

 

I really like Frank, and the arc his character goes through, progressing/maturing from the first book through the end of the series. I also intentionally paralleled Susan’s arc to Frank’s.

 

  • As a woman, I loved Suzie. Girl Power! She’s the lone girl character of any importance. As much of a dream as that would sound to most girls, I’m sure it created some problems or unique situations when writing? Can you tell me about that?

 

Yes! In the very earliest draft, the sexism wasn’t even an issue. The main character was Billy, and the College was co-ed. However, as I worked on the book, I wanted to increase the main character’s isolation, and that led me to realize that the overwhelming majority of grim reaper portrayals are either men, or are parodies. I wanted to make a female Death who wasn’t a parody, and was a strong heroine in her own right.
However, as a man, writing in a girl’s point of view, particularly a teenager’s, can be problematic. In one scene in book one, Susan has her first period. It’s an intentional scene, both in terms of the fact that it sets her apart, and also it serves as foreshadowing for several events. I wrote the scene, then gave it my wife to help me re-write it, and later had two female beta readers pay special attention to it, but I’ve still had students tell them that scene in particular made them a bit uncomfortable.

 

  • So, death, huh? Your characters are training to be grim reapers. Does spending so much time dwelling on death get exhausting?

 

Death’s the only absolute certainty in life. While the book has extremely dark undertones, I intentionally kept the tone light, particularly in the first two books. The focus in my series isn’t really the reapings or the occupation, it’s the world that the reapers live in. From a social justice perspective, the Deaths in the book are not the horrors, the sexism and racism are. For me, and for the characters, the focus is on what we can do in our lives, not a fear of what might happen after.

 

  • Personally, I love dragons. So, I was pretty psyched when I read your book and realized they were going to play a part. How do you find a new take on such a popular and often done creature?

 

I love dragons too, and it was fun to write about them. Especially in Daughter of Deaths, when we see the world of the Dragons up close, I think you’ll find extremely different dragons than usually appear in fantasy or elsewhere. For me, the series has an underlying theme of addressing sexism, bullying, and racism. As one of the races, Dragons became a non-homogeneous collective. I think too many stories lump all dragons together as being one certain way. I think each dragon would have its own issues and own society.

 

  • Were there alternate endings that you considered?

I always knew exactly how this series would end. However, without giving anything away about the end, all of the plot strings wrap up, but the door’s left open a crack.

 

  • These days, there are so many amazing books out there. What authors have inspired you to write?

 

My favorites growing up were Tolkien, Asimov, and Pratchett. They were my initial inspirations, joined later by authors such as Gaiman, Rowling, and Ken Follett.

 

  • What age were you when you started writing?

We were given an assignment to read three books, then pick an author of one of the three and copy their style. My three were: “The Lord of the Rings”, “The Mabinogion” (A Welsh myth cycle- I used the four book Evangeline Walton translation), and Robert Holdstock’s “The Hollowing.” This, while half the class chose “The Cat in the Hat” as one of their three. I ended up writing a short story in Tolkien’s style about the Ents searching for the Entwives. It was my first written story, and I’ve enjoyed writing ever since.

 

  • Do you ever experience writer’s block?

 

I honestly don’t believe in writer’s block. I have trouble progressing at times (extremely rarely), but since I get so little time to write regularly, I have to be efficient about my writing time. I don’t have time for writer’s block.

 

  • Do you work with an outline, or just write?

 

 

In the past, including for The Scythe Wielder’s Secret, I used what I called an image outline. I’d start with a concrete idea, and then develop a series of images. Many of the art pieces on my SITE are images from my image outline, that I later described to my cousin (the artist). I have vivid pictures in my mind, like photographs, and know I want them to be in the story, but don’t necessarily know how they’ll connect- I just write after that.

However, the more I write, the more that’s starting to change. I’ve been working on my current novel by outline sections of about six chapters at a time, still connecting the image outline, but less by the seat of my pants. At the same time, I’ve already started a detailed outline of the book I’ll write after that, including eleven pages of pure plot outline, and a thirty page glossary of places/characters. This is new for me, and we’ll see how it impacts the writing.

 

  • Our characters become like friends to us. Some of the time we spend more time with them than we do with the people in our lives. Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

 

But they are real. As long as we can imagine them, they’re real in a sense.

 

  • We all want the ability to do the extraordinary. Sometimes writing allows us to do just that. If you could have any power in real life, what would it be?

 

Shape-shifting! It covers most of the other powers I’d want, including flight.

 

  • If you could have any accent from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?

 

Indian

 

  • Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

 

I did not want to self publish. I queried hundreds of agents and publishers, before eventually finding the publisher who printed the book. It took me about a year to find a publisher, and then another year to go through the editing process.

 

  • If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

 

I’ve learned a lot about both writing and publishing since my first book came out, and definitely feel that I’ve grown as an author significantly. There is a sport called boskery that appears in the first two books. While I do think it adds to the novels, I’m not sure I would include it at all if I was to write them over again.

 

  • Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

 

Two years ago, Susan Sarnio was brought to the World of Deaths.

Fighting sexism and bullying, the first female Death helped reinvent the College.

Now, her friends journey deep into the heart of enemy territory, hoping to rescue her. Ancient secrets come to light. The horrifying truth behind Susan’s arrival in the World of Deaths is at last revealed. War erupts between Dragons and Deaths, and the fate of three worlds hangs in the balance.  Daughter of Deaths, the epic conclusion to The Scythe Wielder’s Secret releases in 2017.

The final novel in the trilogy is told from the same three points of view as book two. The series has now moved completely from light fantasy (Harry Potter/Percy Jackson style) to epic fantasy (Lord of the Rings/Eragon style). There’s a lot that happens in book three, and the end just may shock you.

 

  • Criticism can be the hardest part of being an author. How do you deal with it?

 

It hurts, but you move on, and focus on the positive acclaim you’ve gotten. In the end, I write because I have stories to tell. Not everyone will want to hear them, but the stories still need to be told.

 

  • There has never been a better time to be a writer. The publishing world is wide open and more books are being published than ever before. Do you have any advice to give to writers thinking about jumping in to this crazy world?

 

Never give up.

 

  • Do you have any strange writing habits?

 

I like to write with Pandora on- I play film scores, or trailer music such as Audiomachine.

 

  • And finally, for some fun – Dogs or Cats?

 

BOTH- although I only really like cat sized dogs. (I have a shih tzu)

 

  • What is your biggest fear?

 

That someday I’ll meet Susan on one of her colleagues for real. J

 

Thanks for joining us, Christopher.

 

Don’t forget to check out the exciting world of deaths in The Scythe Wielder’s Secret!

 

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