YA Author Rendezvous

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


Author Interviews

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!

Are you a teenager or know a few who love to write? Our Flash fiction contest is now open. Find out how to enter to win some great prizes. Contest details.

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, 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?




  • 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!


An Interview with Author Michelle Lynn

Interview by Bethany Wicker

It’s time for another author spotlight! Up this week is Michelle Lynn, author of four of my favorite books. Time to learn more about her.


So, you have four published books. What are the titles of your work and can you tell us a bit about them?


I do! The Dawn of Rebellion trilogy is a dystopian story about two sisters trying to find their way in a desperate future. The US has long since been destroyed and is now controlled by different factions. The UK controls Florida with their slave camps. When Gabby, the older sister, is taken to one of these camps, Dawn must do everything she can to save her. What she finds in this strange land is not what she expected.


Choices is quite a bit different. It’s a contemporary romance, but its message is deeper than a simple love story. It’s really about breaking free of other people’s expectations and discovering what will make you happy. It’s the first in a four book series. The second, Promises, will be released in March.



There are so many great ones to choose from, especially with two different series, but who’s your favorite character from your books?


This is tough, but I’d have to say Gabby. She doesn’t always do the right thing, but she would do anything for the people she loves. Her story is a tragic one. I also love Jason from Choices, but that’s for a simpler reason. He’s just the perfect book boyfriend.



What was it like shifting from a more action-y book like Dawn of the Rebellion to an endearing romance one like Choices?


Refreshing. After I finished the final book in the Dawn trilogy, I was mentally exhausted. For a while, I tried writing other things and then would stop because I couldn’t find my creative mojo. So, I decided to try a light romance. It ended up being anything but light, but it wasn’t so draining and I found that I loved it.



Were there alternate endings that you considered for either of the series?


Not for Dawn. With Choices, I had a different ending written, but then one of my beta readers told me it sucked. I needed the tough love because she was right. So I rewrote it and the new one felt right.



What authors have inspired you to write?


Sooo many. I’ve always been a huge fan of fantasy and my favorite is Robin Hobb. There’s also Stephen King. I actually don’t like his books – at all – but he is an inspiration. If you read interviews by him, he’s a genius when it comes to technique and, more importantly, motivation.



What age were you when you first started writing?


I know most people want to hear that I’ve been writing since I was young and it was all I’ve ever wanted to do. The truth is that I hadn’t written more than school assignments until I was 24.



A dreadful thing: writer’s block. Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, how do you work through it?


For me, it’s about motivation. There are a lot of times when I just don’t want to start writing. I have to force myself to sit at my computer until something comes. It usually does.



Everyone has different writing styles. Do you work with an outline, or just write?


I just write. I’ve tried to outline, but stories have a way of taking on a mind of their own so any outline would end up being obsolete.



As an author, you can become attached to your characters. Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?


Haha – this is a weird one. But, truthfully, yes. They’re truly special people. But, then I look at some of the people whose traits I’ve imbued in my characters, and realize that parts of them are real.



So, fun question to break things up. If you were a super hero, what would your name be and what power would you have?


I totally want to be able to fly. I have a disability that impacts my walking so that would help. Lol. I don’t know about a name.



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


Australian, hands down. A few of the people I’ve become good friends with lately are Australian and they’re always saying awesome words that I don’t know the meaning of.



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


I didn’t really have any. I didn’t send it to any publishers because I didn’t yet know if I’d even finish the series. I just put it out there – probably earlier than I should have.



Which series was more fun to write or was it an equal feeling between Choices and Dawn of the Rebellion?


They were very different and both fun – but, I’d say Dawn. The action scenes were great. And everything that happened had these huge consequences for the entire world. But, I feel like Choices and its sequel are my best writing to date and that thought alone makes them special. I’m very proud of my newest book that’s coming out next month.



So, we’re all looking forward to it, so can you tell us about your upcoming book?


Promises is about Maggie and Elijah, two minor characters from Choices. Since they were kids, Elijah is the only person Maggie could count on in her messed up life. She went from a drunken father to a drunken husband, all while Elijah stood on the sidelines as her best friend/emotional support. It’s been a few years since Maggie’s marriage blew up and she is finally ready to see what’s been right in front of her the whole time. Only, things aren’t that simple. There are secrets that Maggie has been keeping from Elijah. As those start to come out, their relationship may not be the same.



As an established author of four books, do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?


You have to love it. If you don’t, then quit right now. It isn’t easy. Some days it downright hurts. If you’re not doing it because you love to write, you won’t make it.



Do you have any strange writing habits?


I have to write at the same time every day. For two hours every morning. If I try in the afternoon or evening, I can’t do it.



Time for some random questions to spice things up. What toppings do you like on your pizza?


Pepperoni. I know. Boring.



Are you a dog person or cat?


Both. I like a house full of animals – including a bird.



What is your biggest fear?


Never getting over my disabling illness and having a normal life.



What’s your favorite pastime besides reading and writing?


Watching hockey. Can’t get enough of it!

Author Spotlight: Sarah Wathen



Written by L J Higgins


It’s time again to meet one of YAAR’s talented authors! Today we interviewed Sarah Wathen, author of the Catchpenny Series.



  1. Tell us about your Catchpenny Series.

Catchpenny is an offbeat romance—one novel released in 4 serial parts. The original title was Wicked Lover, and that’s exactly what Meg Shannon is…in all of the ways you might interpret such a phrase. She’s in her senior year of high school, so imagine the consequences of playing that role. Meg has plenty of enemies and slut shame is a big theme. She does find love, yet finding her true worth as a human being is the ultimate quest. In that way, it’s also a coming of age story.


  1. Why did you release it as a serial?

I had intended it to be a pretty short read in the beginning. My first book, The Tramp, is part of a long epic story, with tons of characters, history, and interweaving plot lines. With Catchpenny, I wanted to take a breather and write a simple love story. Of course nothing about love is simple, and writing about it isn’t short or simple either. I finished Wicked Lover (part one) and while I was working through it with my editor, part two just couldn’t help itself from happening.


  1. Your main character in Wicked lover is a teenage girl who is obsessed with poker. Do you play?

I would say Meg’s a gambler in almost every sense. Love interest Tristan would say she gambles with her body, but not her heart. I do play a little poker, but my game is Blackjack and I learned from the best. My Aunt Maxine taught me everything I could know about cards and she was a true romantic, a guiding force in writing this book. She passed away right before Thanksgiving last year and Catchpenny is dedicated to her.


  1. The world is captivated by young love, which seems to be a main theme in Wicked Lover. What do you think we find so enchanting about it?

Young love is pure. We can all remember when we felt so powerfully about another person, before all the worries of adult life got in the way: finances, marriage, family, career. Back when we were invincible and our worlds were filled with boundless hope and endless possibility. Of course, I remember young love being pretty painful, too, when I really stop to think about it. Reading a book about it is much more fun!


  1. Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

I’m always influenced by whatever good book I am currently reading. Right now it’s The Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro, a collection of short stories. Makes me feel like writing a short story, which I’ve never done.


  1. 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’s plenty I would change about the money I wasted! I made so many mistakes it’s ridiculous. But I guess I learned from them all, too, and in a way, the knowledge I gained is priceless.


  1. Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

Catchpenny is the collection of four serial parts: Wicked Lover, Battle Ax, Cactus Heart, and Gold Mine. It was fun to release the books as a serial at first, and since I’m a brand new author, it was a great way for readers to get a taste of my writing before diving into a full novel. Yet after finishing the serial, I really wanted to give people a chance to read the story as a whole.


  1. How did you come up with the title for your books?

“Catchpenny” means something cheap, bought for pennies. In the beginning, that how Meg thinks about herself (though she doesn’t realize that). Her journey from a Wicked Lover, through to the Gold Mine in the end of the series, is about her discovering her worth. The two books in between are titled for key concepts in each, but I can’t give that away!


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

I’ve been told that my first book, The Tramp, moves too slowly by some. It’s hard for me not to take that to heart and just stay the course of my plan for the series. I hate that I feel like changing the story because of what some people think, because I think it’s a great book and I do have a plan for it as a series. It was written with a lot of purpose and not every book needs to move quickly, like Catchpenny does. Mostly, I think I made some marketing and genre mistakes. Because the best compliments have also come from The Tramp! Maybe it moves slowly, but apparently that’s because I’m a darn good “wordsmith” and I’m great at painting a rich, visual landscape. That doesn’t happen when you rush through a book! You need to settle in. I guess my favorite books that I’ve read are of the settle in variety.


  1. If you had a superpower what would it be?

Mind control, so I would never have to worry about marketing ever again!


  1. What else are you working on at the moment?

I’m marrying writing and making art together in a graphic novel. It’s a really exciting project and a huge challenge for me. The story comes from a series of Flash Fiction that I wrote back in April last year called Gaslight. The short, 300-word segments are perfect for graphic novel chapters!


  1. Tell us about your cover design.

Each of the four drawings on the Catchpenny cover were covers for the four serial parts. The first one, the cover for Wicked Lover, was a charcoal drawing with a long history for me in grad school. This weird little figure began as a chalk smudge on velvet paper, then came alive as I discerned a tiny being and filled in details with a pen. I wrote it’s birthdate down and “pregnant, dancing, armored bodice.” Next, it became a series of silk screens, each print different. Finally, she was fully realized in the detailed drawing I used for Wicked Lover. When I found the drawing in a flat file, she was just perfect for this strange creature that Meg Shannon is in the beginning of Catchpenny. The figure becomes more human and more beautiful in each part, then finally takes flight. It’s such a great metaphor for discovering yourself.


  1. Your website shows that as well as writing you have a passion for art. Which do you prefer and why?

They are apples and oranges, though both ways to create. Writing and making art couldn’t feel more different to me, and I need them both. Here’s a good way to think of it: when I paint I listen to rock, when I draw I listen to jazz, and when I write I listen to white noise on noise-canceling headphones. I was classically trained in painting and up until a few years ago, that’s how I would’ve defined myself. Now I realize that, as an artist, I just choose the hat for the moment. Last year I was “a writer,” this year I’m “an illustrator,” and before that I was “a painter.” It’s all art.


  1. Are you a coffee or a tea drinker?

I’m drinking coffee right now, but I prefer wine.


  1. Is there anything else you would like your readers to know about you?

Yes! I work closely with my musician husband when I write, and the title Wicked Lover is from a song that his band, Her Last Boyfriend, wrote. It’s the song in the book trailer I produced and you can check it out here:

Also, HLB has decided to produce an EP album of four songs, one tune for each serial part of Catchpenny. It’s not finished yet, but they are doing some really cool stuff that goes so well with the story in the book. I love it! The second song is a remake of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” The fourth is an alternative rock version of the famous wedding song, Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” Follow my blog, and I’ll keep you informed:


An Interview with L.J. Higgins

New Release January 2016Written by T.D. Shields

  1. Tell us about your book, Dawn of the Dreamer.  Do you have a favourite part or character?

Dawn of the Dreamer is set in the year 2023.  It follows the story of Amelia who, due to new technologies being unable to change her dreams, has been labelled a Dreamer and is therefore made to feel different and unlike her friends and family.

My favourite part to write was the fire scene. I can’t pinpoint why exactly, but it came to me so
easily and I really enjoyed writing it. As for characters, I couldn’t decide between Amelia and Jonah.

  1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

When I was around twelve years old. I use to write stories and short novels then take them to my teachers for them to read and give me feedback. I have a folder full of old, cringe-worthy stories. I’ve always loved reading, so I guess it stemmed from there.

  1. How long does it take you to write a book?

Dawn of the Dreamer took eight months, but Fall of the Dreamer only took me three to four. I’m getting better at mapping out and planning my novels, which makes the writing process easier and quicker.

  1. What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

Schedule? What is that? I’m a stay at home mum and between getting kids to school, keeping my daughter occupied all day, and trying to keep a clean house and a happy husband I don’t have much of a schedule at all. I write when I can fit it in, which usually means very late nights.

  1. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I’d like to say I don’t have one. But I’m sure if someone came and watched me write they’d find quite a few.

  1. How do you overcome writer’s block?

I haven’t had to yet, and hope I never do have to. I’ve had motivation block before. But YAAR’s group usually helps with that one.

  1. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Relax with a green tea and read a good book, spend quality time with my family, I love to paint, draw and craft (I have my own shed dedicated to this)

  1. What does your family think of your writing?

They are all extremely supportive. They don’t always necessarily understand the hours and effort that goes into writing and publishing, but they have always told me to go for it.

  1. What made you decide to write for a young adult audience?

Because they are my favourite type of books, and because I think YA covers the period of a person’s life when they go through the most change. Trying to work out who they are and what they want to do with their life.

  1. Where did you come up with the idea for Dawn of the Dreamer? Was there something in particular that triggered the idea?

I’d started a blog, and noticing that I was reigniting my passion for writing, a friend of mine bought me notebook and inside she put a post it note saying that she couldn’t wait to read my future novel. With no word of a lie, that night I had a dream that sparked the idea for Dawn of the Dreamer and the Dreamer Trilogy.

  1. What project are you working on now?

Fall of the Dremer (Dreamer Trilogy, Book Two) will be released on the 28th January, so I have been working on getting it ready. I’m also writing Book Three of the trilogy, while also mapping out the story for my next series. There is also a stand-alone book I am working on that is more contemporary but still young adult.

  1. Anything else you’d like to tell your friends and fans?

At the moment I am running an amazing giveaway where you can not only win softcover copies of Dawn of the Dreamer, and Fall of the Dreamer but also a Dreamer singlet, a beautiful Dream Catcher, Journals and other great Dreamer goodies. You can find out more on my Facebook page.
I will also be a part of a 5 Author Extravaganza with four other YAAR authors on the 30th January. It is an online event where we will play games and giving away prizes. You can join us by clicking on this link:
And of course, Fall of the Dreamer will be released on the 28th of January as both an Ebook and softcover book!

Author Spotlight: T.D Shields


Written by
Michelle Lynn

What are the titles of your work and can you tell us a bit about them?
My first two books are Into Shadow and Into Light. You should probably read them in that order. I just heard from one of my beta readers for Into Light and she accidentally read it first and then started on Into Shadow… she was very confused!

Both books are set in the not-so-distant future… there has been an enormous war that involved the entire world and the country is only now beginning to recover from it. The country is led by a dashing, handsome war hero who you would like very much if I didn’t kill him off within a few minutes of opening the book.

After his death, his daughter Poppy has to learn to fend for herself and figure out what to do next. She ends up hiding in one of the many cities that were left decimated and deserted after the world war, only to learn that the city of Denver is not nearly as empty as she’d been led to believe.

Into Shadow is really about Poppy finding her way and figuring out how to be her own person after spending so many years as an extension of her father. Into Light is where she returns to confront the man who destroyed her life and killed her father. It all sounds kind of dramatic and dark, but I try to let my snarky sense of humor peek out enough to lighten the mood.

Who’s your favorite character from your books?
Poppy is my favorite, of course! She’s the center of the story and she’s really everything I would like to be myself. She’s smart and loving but tough and able to literally kick butt when the situation calls for it. And she’s a redhead – as I am myself. I have a hard time NOT making the heroine of one of my stories a redhead; I just think it’s the best possible hair you can have.

Your series consists of two books at a time when trilogies are very popular. Can you tell us a little about what goes into a decision like that?
I guess I have a little trouble with premature encapsulation… I wound up the whole story too early so it was only two books instead of three!

But really, so many stories ARE trilogies these days and often that’s just perfect. But sometimes it feels like the story is being stretched out unnecessarily just to make it fit into the three-book mold. Poppy’s story was done at the end of two books.

Besides, how many times have you loved the first two books of a trilogy and then the third was kind of a let-down? I avoided that by stopping with two. I won’t rule out revisiting the world at some point – maybe to give Rivers and Sharra their own story.

How important is reading to your writing? Any particular genres that get your mojo flowing?
If you want the really honest truth… reading is actually a barrier to writing for me. I LOVE to read. I will forgo sleep and slack off on my paying job occasionally when I get caught up in a great book. (Unless my boss reads this and then I definitely NEVER slack off on my day job to read a book! And if I ever did, I totally made up for it later, I promise!)

And when I’m all caught up in a great story from another author, I’m so into it that it crowds out my own stories. I do my best writing when I force myself to put down my reading and listen to the stories in my own head.

I like to read almost any genre, but my favorites are dystopian (big surprise!) and anything with a paranormal twist; ghosts, urban fantasy, and other things that go bump in the night are always fun for me.

What authors have inspired you to write?
It’s so hard to pick just one… but I will go with Kiera Cass, who wrote The Selection series. That is the series that I read just before I finally sat down at the computer with the intention of writing out one of my stories. The world that she created just felt so real to me that I wanted to stay in it a while longer. In the end, the world my books live in is not the same as Cass’s world – which is as it should be, because I want to be inspired, not a copycat. But it was definitely that view of the future that led to my version of it.

What’s your favorite book and what is it that draws you to it?
Another tough one! I love so many… The Dresden Files, the Mercy Thompson series, The Selection series, The Hunger Games, pretty much anything by Mercedes Lackey.

But if I really have to pick one, I would have to go with The Belgariad by David Eddings. This is a series of five books and it’s high fantasy – full of wizardry and drama and peril. It’s the first series that I really remember being completely immersed in. I have read it a dozen times at least and it never loses its magic (no pun intended) for me.

What age were you when you started writing?
As I recall, I wrote my first book at about age seven. It was around a dozen pages long, hand-written and self-illustrated on lined paper that I tore from a notebook and stapled together. I couldn’t tell you any of the storyline anymore, but I do remember that my heroine was named Philadelphia and liked to be called Philly. I also remember an illustration of Philly sitting in a nest. I don’t know if this is because the story ACTUALLY involved Philly sitting in a nest or if that’s just my lack of drawing ability coming to the fore – maybe the picture was supposed to be something else entirely.

To my parents’ great credit, they almost managed not to laugh out loud as they read my first attempt at a book. Since the story of Philadelphia was quite a serious drama, I was pretty offended by the laughter. That may be why it took another thirty years or so before I made another serious attempt at writing a book.

Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you deal with it?
It’s not a huge thing for me, but I do run into it from time to time. My preferred method of dealing with it is to play lots of rounds of Monster Busters (a match-three game) on my tablet. It occupies just enough of my mind to let me bypass the block and work out some plot points in the background of my thoughts.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I have a very loose outline. I know where I’m starting out and I know where I want to end up, and I lay out a few major milestones along the way. Then I just write and find out where the story takes me.

It has been said that authors sometimes think of their characters as an extension of themselves. Do yours ever feel real to you?
Oh my gosh, yes! I sometimes have to remind myself that these are not real people. I think of my characters as my friends and it’s actually kind of sad to me when I have to stop and realize that they are actually just figments of my own imagination.

If you were a super hero, what would your power be?
I’m greedy. I would want a bunch of them, kind of like superman. I want the super-strength, the super-speed, the x-ray vision, and definitely the ability to fly. I would also like the power to be invisible, especially when the kids are looking for me to tell me more tales of Minecraft. I could just lie right there in the bed taking a nap and they’d never know where to find me!

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
The technical aspects were a little challenging at first. Just figuring out where to go, what to do, and how it all works can be intimidating. I kind of fumbled my way through it, but it worked eventually.

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 learn more about the whole marketing side of things first. I really had no idea how much work it would be to handle the marketing for the already published stuff while still trying to write something new. For me it kind of turned into an either/or thing. I could either focus on marketing Into Shadow or I could focus on writing Into Light. Now that I’m making final tweaks on Into Light, I can move back into marketing mode again, I guess.

Can you tell us about your next book?
The next book is the start of a new series. Hey, maybe this one will be a trilogy! It’s more lighthearted than Into Shadow and Into Light. It will be called Catbird Seat and it’s urban fantasy, featuring a main character who is a crime-solving cat. It sounds kind of strange, I guess, but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
The toughest critiques are the ones that are correct! When I read a comment about something that could have been better and realize that they have a very valid point, it stings a little, but ultimately helps me do things better the next time around.

I really dislike it when someone gives me a low rating of one or two stars, but doesn’t say WHY they feel that way. I’m totally on board with your right to not like my book, but I would like to know what it was that turned you off so I can try not to do that again. Then again, maybe if the one-star reviewers left comments I would hate it even more than when they don’t comment, so I should probably leave well enough alone!

The best compliment is when someone tells me they loved the book and can’t wait to see what happens next. The idea that someone else is enjoying my story and wants more is exhilarating. And my mom didn’t laugh at my book this time around (except in appropriate spots). That was a big relief.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Just jump in and give it a try. Until you give it your best shot you don’t know what you can do.

Do you have any strange writing habits?
I can’t write in the daytime. Or when anyone in the house is still awake, really. I will procrastinate all day long and get nothing accomplished, but suddenly at midnight it’s like an alarm goes off in my brain and it’s time to be productive!

Dogs or Cats?
Cats, for sure. Dogs are cute, but I can’t stand it when they slobber on me. And with Roomie as a major character in my first books and my next series starring a cat as the main character, I guess it’s pretty obvious that I lean that direction.

Chocolate or Vanilla?
I’ll never turn down chocolate, but given a choice between the two, I’ll take vanilla.

What is your biggest fear?
It’s an oddly specific, but real fear… I worry that my car will catch fire while I’m filling it with gas. I try to never re-fuel the car while my kids are with me because I don’t want them strapped in their car seats while the car is on fire. I will postpone fueling up for as long as possible in hopes that my husband will just give in and go to the gas station before I have to.

I realize that it’s ridiculous, but in my defense, my brother’s car really did catch fire while he was filling it with gas. It burned down to a charred frame and nothing more, right there in the parking lot of the gas station! Ever since then I have obsessed over it a little.

Also, vampires. When I was a kid (around 4th grade) I slept with a jar of garlic salt and a fork under my pillow. Apparently my mom felt a stake was inappropriate? I’m still not entirely convinced that vampires (of the scary, non-sparkly variety) are not lurking in the dark when I have to go out alone at night.

So, pretty bleak view of the future. Are you insane? And should we be worried?
Yes. And yes.

Just kidding, I hope. I like to look at Into Shadow as the bleak future, but Into Light takes us past that into bright new possibilities (at least by the end of it all). But even amid the desolation of bombed-out, rubble-strewn cities, people still find friends and family and build good lives. Technology keeps progressing and finding new and better ways to do things. And most people want to do the right thing. So even though there’s plenty to worry about these days, I try to focus on the light, even when it’s almost hidden by the scarier stuff.

And as far as my own sanity goes… I wouldn’t lay any bets in favor of my clean mental-health evaluation. 😉

What People Are Saying About Tara and Into Shadow:

“With the verbal brush-strokes of a Renaissance artist, T.D. Shields crafts a vivid picture of a world two centuries in the future. Thousands of books are given such a setting, but it takes a skilled author to immerse us in that world without weighing the story down in descriptions.”

“The faultless writing style sweeps you into a survival story and leaves no reason to ponder how certain events occurred in this incredible adventure. Tackling bullying and inequality between the sexes, pointing out corruption in government officials, and veering between kindness and cruelty, this novel covers all the human conditions.”

Find out more about T. D Shields HERE

Author Spotlight: Kayla Howarth


Written by
Bethany Wicker

Time for another Author Spotlight and a chance to get to know Kayla Howarth, author of the Institute Series.

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

The Institute, Resistance, and Defective (Books 1, 2 and 3 of The Institute Series) follow my heroine Allira Daniels and her struggle to live a normal life. Her brother is Defective, a term used for people who possess supernatural abilities. They are seen as dangerous and are segregated from the general population by law and forced to live at the Institute.

Everything Allira does is to protect her brother, Shilah, from having to be sent to the Institute. (Even if she completely screws that up sometimes … okay a lot.)


You have many great ones to choose from, but who is your favorite character from your books?

Are you really asking me to pick one of my favourite children? Because that’s what it feels like!

I feel closest to Allira, obviously being inside her head for three years while writing the trilogy.

But my favourite character might actually be Drew, the enigmatic boy who learned early on in life that to survive, he had to screw people over. He had the biggest struggle and growth as a character and earned a place in my heart. (And a lot of readers’ evidently.)  


Out of all the action, what was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

There are so many scenes that I read and reread over and over again because I loved them so much, and looking back now, it wasn’t so much the action scenes, but the ones where friendships and relationships developed.

Any scene with Allira and Tate was always fun to write.

The awkwardness between Allira and Chad gave me butterflies of nerves.

Allira and Shilah’s sister/brother relationship.

Any of the interactions between Allira, Drew, Jayce and Jenna in book #3.


Your endings have the perfect closure, but were there alternate endings that you considered?

The Institute had a whole extra chapter at the end that was cut and reserved for Resistance. The scene answered a lot of unanswered questions readers have when they reach the cliffhanger ending of book one. I, myself, as a reader hate cliffhanger endings, and I hated that I did it to my readers, but the scene that was cut just wasn’t strong enough of an ending to the story. It lacked the punch that was needed and would have had readers questioning, “Well, okay … but what now?”

Both Resistance and Defective ended how I’d planned from the beginning.


What authors have inspired you to write?

Suzanne Collins. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a major Hunger Games fan. Before that series, I hadn’t really read much at all since high school. THG inspired me to start reading again, and that inspired me to write my own stories.


What age were you when you started writing?

I’d taken an elective writing class in high school, but didn’t do any writing after that until I was about twenty-eight. That’s when I started shaping The Institute.


Writer’s Block. A common enemy to all authors. Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, what helps overcome it?

I hate it. I HATE it so much! I used to just force myself to push through it, telling myself I could just go back and fix the drivel later. That doesn’t work so much for me anymore.

I will try reading, but usually if I’m in a writing slump, I’m in a reading slump too. I will try different projects, which is probably why I have four … crap, FIVE unfinished works in progresses right now. *face palm*

But when all else fails… coffee.


Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real? Like Allira and her badass-ness?

They’re not real? What? I don’t understand the question. Why would you say such a mean thing?


If given the choice, would you be normal or defective?



If you were Defective, what ability would you have and would you have a cool nickname?

I would really love the ability of power of suggestion. I write this as I beg my child to go put pants on for the thirtieth time today, only to get a resounding ‘no’ in response.

As for a name, right now I’d settle for anything other than, “Mummy… Mummy… Mum. MUM! MUMMY!”


Allira must have been fun to write. Where did you get the idea for her? Is she similar to you?

Allira started off very much like me until I realized no one wants to read about a socially awkward, insecure, second-guessing yourself kind of person for 350 pages. She ended up developing into the kind of person I want to be. She’s someone who will stand up for what she believes is right, and even though she does have flaws and insecurities, she doesn’t let them own her like perhaps I do.


Australians have awesome accents, but if you could have any accent from anywhere in the world, what would you choose? Would you keep the Aussie one?

I’d like to refine my Australian accent to sound more like Nicole Kidman and less like Rebel Wilson. I love the Aussie accent but not the bogan (trashy) version of it. Sorry Rebel.


Publishing books can be challenging and stressful. Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

I put it out there before it was ready and had to fix it up after it was published. I didn’t realize how big the indie publishing world was or the amount of help available pre-publication. So I regret not doing more research beforehand.


We are all eager to see what comes next. Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

There will be very short novella written from Chad’s perspective. “Through His Eyes (The Institute #3.5)” fills in the eighteen month gap in between Resistance and Defective.

Then shortly after, “Losing Nuka” will be released. Nuka from The Institute Series is all grown up and gets her own book where she searches for her birth mother, only to find herself involved in an underground illegal fight ring called “Litmus” where Defectives are pitted against other Defectives. The Litmus Series will have three books, each from a different person’s perspective. It’s very different to The Institute Series even though it’s technically set in the same world.


As an accomplished author, do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

When I first published, there were so many times where I thought to myself “I’m wasting my time!” My husband kept having to remind me that it’s not an overnight success type of thing.

It’s easy to get disheartened when your sales are in a slump, or you get a bad review. You spend countless hours/days/months/years slaving over a story that you just hope others will love as much as you do, and when they don’t you feel like you’ve failed. For some stupid reason, our brains are wired to focus on the bad reviews and not the positive ones. It’s a lot easier to remember when someone says something negative than when they pay a compliment.

The key is to take it all in stride, improve where you can, and just continually learn to grow and master your craft. I guess I’m trying to say, ‘Don’t give up’.

This cliché (but true) piece of advice brought to you today by lack of caffeine.


Do you have any strange writing habits?

I have to edit out a lot of ellipses from a first draft. Generally, when I’m thinking about what a character should do or say, I reflexively type … like they’re actually thinking about it too. My first drafts usually read like all of my characters have stutters or can’t think straight.


Now, time for some random, fun questions. What toppings do you like on your pizza?

Meatlovers. Any kind of meat. NO PINEAPPLE EVER. Pineapple is a fruit. Fruit does not belong on a pizza. All of you smarty-pants out there saying “Tomato is a fruit and it’s nice on a pizza,” you just shhh now. It’s not the same and you know it! Pineapple is a fruity fruit.


Dogs or Cats?

I love both. Right now we have one dog at home, but I’d love to have a cat again one day.


What is your biggest fear?

Oblivion. No wait … That was Augustus Water’s answer in The Fault in Our Stars.

Mine? Anything to do with my son, really. I’m the overprotective mother who freaks out any time my child goes near water, falls over, gets sick … I try not to be, but it seems my mother instincts are stronger than my common sense.


So there you have it: a look into the mind of Kayla Howarth. If you’re interesting in checking out her books then the links have been placed below.

The Institute

Author Spotlight: Lauren Mayhew

laurenmayhew-page1 (1)Written by

L J  Higgins and Michelle Lynn


It’s that time again where you get to meet another one of YA Author Rendezvous amazing authors. Lauren Mayhew is the author of Reality is in a Dream and we can’t wait for you to learn more about her and her book.


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

My first book is called ‘Reality is in a Dream’ and it’s part of the Liliana trilogy. I am currently writing the second book in the series called ‘Mourning Memories’.

Reality is in a Dream follows a girl called Liliana who we meet on her 16th birthday. From the moment that she wakes up, strange things start to happen in her life. Not only does she start dreaming about family members that don’t exist in the waking world, she realises that she has powers she never knew about. We follow her over a year, as she tries to figure out what is real and who she can trust.


Were there alternate endings that you considered?

Initially, Reality is in a Dream was going to end without the epilogue. I was going to use the epilogue as the beginning of Mourning Memories, but it wouldn’t have worked. It would have made the beginning of Book 2 drag a little.


What age were you when you started writing?

Whenever we were asked to write a story or a poem at school, I remember getting really excited, so I know I was interested in writing from a really young age. I don’t think I came up with a big story line for a novel until I was about 15 and I started writing properly when I was about 17 or 18 I think.


Do you ever experience writer’s block?

I have had writer’s block for most of this year. I think I got so caught up in trying to promote my first book, as well as going to work full time, that I struggled to find the time to write. That meant I wasn’t in the writing head space I was in for writing my first book, so I’m still struggling to get back into it.


Lauren Mayhew - Reality is in a Dream PlanDo you work with an outline, or just write?

I usually havea beginning and an ending in my head, so I start writing straight away. Then I get to a point when I realise that I have no idea what happens in the middle of the book, so I then write a plan. It’s basically a bullet point list of the book in sections. I end up writing notes on it everywhere when I think up something that needs to be added in. It ends up being quite a mess, but I understand it.


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 definitely take my time and not rush into it the way I did. I got so excited about it all, I didn’t do any research. Now I know about beta readers, so my second book will be done a lot more professionally!


Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

It’s hard to talk about without giving away the twist at the end of the first one! All I can say is that Liliana’s parents kept a big secret from her about herself. She finally begins to understand the true reason why Duana wants her above all others with powers.


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

On the first book that I ever started writing (a love story which may never be completed!) someone read the first three or four chapters and basically slated the whole thing. They said that I should delete everything that had been written so far and start the story from then on. I would have accepted their comments had it not been for the way they ended it – “Hope this helps!” I cannot begin to explain how angry this made me!


The biggest compliment would be from my boss’ 11 year old daughter, Sophie. The first time I met her she got very excited at the fact that I was writing a book. When it was released, she read it in one sitting, loved it and started telling all her school friends that she personally knew an author.


Do you have any strange writing habits?

I write everything by hand, some might think that’s strange nowadays considering the amount of electronic devices we have to type things up, but I really struggle to write straight to a computer.


I also write down the date each time I start writing. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea!


Dreams can be difficult to write. In Reality is in a Dream, you’ve managed to make the dreams a major part of the story without breaking the action or boring the reader. What made you want to tackle such a big challenge?

Firstly, thank you!


For me, the dreams were basically half of the story. Without them, I would have had to do a lot of information dumping on the reader and long explanations between Liliana and Justin, as she started to remember more and more about Samson and Asher. That would have slowed the story down a lot more.


It just made more sense to write it as dreams so that the reader was finding out this information at the same time as Liliana. That way the reader is more involved.


I also tried to make sure that the dreams added significance to the story and gave important information. So many dreams in books are pointless page fillers and I wanted to avoid that!


If you were a super hero, what would your name be? What costume would you wear?

I’d love to be able to have the power to tell if someone was telling the truth or lie. It might not sound like a great power, but I know of a few politicians who would be quaking in their boots! I think the obvious choice for a name would be Truthsayer. I’m not a big fan of dressing up, so I’d probably just try and blend in with everyone else.


What people are saying about Lauren Mayhew and Reality is in a Dream:


“Telling a story like this requires an expert hand. When you have to use your mind to know the points when we’re in the “real world” and when we’re not, and Lauren Mayhew did a very good job of this. The characters were well-developed, and Liliana herself was a good lead character, a typical teenage girl trying to solve an unsolvable puzzle.”

“The writing kept me enthralled and wanting to read more which is all I can ask of any book. At its heart, this book was romantic- about people trying to find their way back to each other. What better story is there than that? I can’t wait to read more.”


Check out Lauren Mayhew’s page on YAAR to learn more!




A Sit Down with Melissa Craven

a sit down withInterview By:  T.D. Shields


What are the titles of your books? How did you choose your titles?

Emerge: The Awakening and Emerge: The Edge.

The first book was originally titled, “The Awakening” after the transformation Allie experiences on her sixteenth birthday. But that was a title I was seeing everywhere and it never felt quite right. I eventually settled on “Emerge” as the series title because I think that word embodies this period of time in the lives of Allie and her friends. “The Edge was a no brainer for me. I didn’t even have to think about it. The book is a prequel that takes place in the months before The Awakening. During this time, both Allie and Aidan are truly on the edge of a big change in their lives. For Aidan, the title holds a little more significance. This is not a pleasant time in his life. He is a powerful Immortal just beginning to learn how to control that power. He is literally on the edge of what he can handle and Allie’s arrival changes that for him.


We all need a hero! Tell us about your protagonist(s). Was there a real-life inspiration behind him or her?

Allie’s character was created as a response to everything I did not want to see in female leads. Some might call me a feminist, but I’m really a hard-core equalist. I wanted Allie to be that strong independent young woman, but I still wanted her to be a genuine, believable girl who doesn’t always make the right choices. Throughout Emerge, Allie is introduced to many strong relationships of equality, most evident in her deep friendship with Aidan who is also her “equal” in power.

In many ways, Allie is much like myself. Her insecurities and some of her experiences come from my own experiences. How she handles herself and the obstacles life throws at here are based on how I wished I handled things when I was her age.


What was your favorite part to write and why?

In the second half of the book, as Allie’s powers continue to develop, one emerges that also affects Aidan. The two experience A LOT of growing pains over this shared gift and it creates some awkward moments for both of them. The way this gift works really presents a challenge to me as a writer, but these moments (that will continue to develop throughout the series), are my most favorite to write.


When you sit down to write a story, do you already have the end in mind? Or do you discover the plot as you work?

Although I do some general planning with outlines and notes (and voice memos of me talking to myself while I’m driving), I am most definitely a “pantser.” I never really know what’s going to happen until I’m in the moment and actually feeling it. So I bounce from one part of the book to another. Right now I’m elbow deep in my current Emerge project and I have a hodge-podge of chapters and scenes that probably only make sense to me. Eventually it all comes together, but I always begin with a solid, but extremely general plan. I don’t like to commit to anything until I really get in there and see how it goes because it never goes according to plan! My characters are too stubborn for that!


What authors have inspired you to write?

My inspiration to write came from a place of an unsatisfied reader, so I don’t want to name names here, but several really bad YA reading experiences in the post Harry Potter years, led me to pick up my pen. My hope was that I could do a better job creating a story with strong role models and a believable fantasy world set within our own. Whether or not I’ve accomplished that is to be decided by my readers, but throughout my experiences as a novice writer, I did learn that writing a book is A LOT harder than I ever dreamed.


Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you cope?

I don’t often struggle with staring at a blank screen. There is always something bouncing around in my head that needs writing. And there is almost always something I’m excited to write about. But if I’m not sure what direction I need to go in, or if I’m not happy with the way things are coming along with current chapters and scenes, I’ll just start writing something that I know will probably never make the cut for the book. Those exercises help me get to know my characters better. Most of the time, I will write myself out of whatever issue I’m having. Honestly, that’s how The Edge was born. Years ago, I was struggling with the beginning of The Awakening. I didn’t really know the “before” Allie and Aidan well enough yet. So I wrote about their experiences before they met just to help me get the beginning of The Awakening where it needed to be. I wasn’t certain I’d ever do anything with that material, but it never went away and it eventually morphed into the prequel.

But sometimes I have to get away from the computer and just think. I do some of my best planning on a long drive!


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

If I could have a conversation with myself five years ago, I would tell past Melissa to go find some other authors to give herself a much needed support system. I would also tell her to hire an editor about two years before she finally did and to not be afraid of using beta readers.


Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Make sure you love what you’re writing. If you have a message you want your readers to get, even better. You need something driving you to keep you motivated to finish. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Looking back now, I should have sought the advice of other writers and readers long before I finally did. I wish I had the kind of support system I’ve found with YA Authors Rendezvous way back when I first started writing.

Writing a book is like building a house. It takes a team of skilled individuals to create a set of construction documents and see it though from the foundation to placing the very last window. No one person can do it all. It’s the same with a book. It takes more than just one author with a good idea to tell a great story, and editing is the most vital part of that process. Educate yourself on what the editing process actually entails because it’s so much more than fixing typos and using correct grammar.

And don’t listen to all the noise. This is a weird time in the world of publishing and everyone has an opinion about how and when authors should promote their books. Some of it is great advice, but take it all with a grain of salt. Keep your head down and write a good book because nothing else matters if your product isn’t the best it can be. Write a good book and all that other stuff will fall into place.


Do you have any strange writing habits?

I don’t know if this is “strange” but I cannot write without music. I also can’t listen to anything that I could potentially sing along with if I ever expect to get anything done. Several years ago, I discovered Classical crossover music was my muse. The music is often contemporary played by a full orchestra or quartet, but sometimes it goes the other way, as classical music arranged to sound more like contemporary music. It’s upbeat and keeps me focused.


What toppings do you like on your pizza?

I’m obsessed with feta cheese on pizza these days. It’s dangerous.


Dogs or Cats?



What does your writing process look like?

I usually have a certain scene rolling around in my mind for a few days before I sit down to write it. When I do, I just jump into the moment and let it flow to see what happens. I will inevitably end up with a bunch of disjointed scenes and chapters that I will spend months arranging into the right order. I’m a stickler for content editing, so I’m never happy with the first several drafts. I strongly feel that a story needs time to evolve beyond the initial drafts. I will spend a lot of time revising, rewriting and rearranging, letting characters develop further along the way. I will typically redraft a novel at least five times before I will even think about sending it to my editor or beta readers. The story will always hit its stride during the editing process and isn’t something that should be rushed.


Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?

I’ve sworn off reading reviews pretty much every day since I got my first bad review, but I can’t seem to stop stalking myself. I’ve struggled with some harsh comments from the rare few readers who just don’t like Emerge, but I have to remind myself that the other 98% of my readers love my books. I thought I was prepared for the criticism, but I’ve had a few moments that have been difficult and I’ve had to grow a tough skin. I’m finally getting to the point where I don’t have a panic attack when I see I’ve received a new review (good or bad). I never respond to reviewers unless they are a blogger and we’ve been in touch or I’m doing a blog tour.


What is your best marketing tip?

Don’t be afraid to give your book away for free. And don’t be afraid to spend a little money on advertising even when sales are not immediate. In the months and even years after releasing your first book, it is important to think about LONG TERM success rather than short term sales. Get your book in as many hands as possible. When marketing, think about how many people will see you book. They might not buy it the first time they see it, maybe not even the second or third time they see it, but when they see it often enough, they will start thinking “hey, I need to check this out, it looks good!” Eventually you will start seeing results as more and more readers discover your books.


What’s on your desk? Can you see your desk? Describe what you see when you look around.

This is immaculate for me… but on a normal day…

My desk manufactures junk. I clean it up and I turn around and someone has piled books and papers and crap all over my desk! There will always be an iced coffee sitting on my coaster and there are to-do lists everywhere–and there is usually a furry creature snoring under my desk (or sitting on it.)


What’s the worst job you’ve had?

There was a time after college when I was really focused on getting my book done. I worked extremely part time as an interior design assistant, which was much needed experience, but I got paid in peanuts. I didn’t want to sacrifice the writing time I finally had, so I worked for my sister who was a property manager for several apartment buildings. I cleaned apartments after someone had moved out. I scrubbed toilets and nasty bathrooms and cleaned ovens that had probably never been cleaned before! It was the worst job ever! But I could do it on my own schedule and I worked alone so I could “talk out” plot points to myself using a voice recorder. I made great strides in developing the Emerge series during that time, but the work was … humbling. I have great respect for anyone who does that kind of work full time.



Help us bond with you a little… do you have a funny or embarrassing story about yourself to share?

My father really enjoys embarrassing us. He’s been known to chase us around the Wal-Mart parking lot with a lampshade on his head, like you do.


What question were you hoping to answer… but I didn’t ask?

This was a recent question from another interview that I would love to share with my YAAR community.

Tell us something quirky about the characters of Emerge that the reader might not grasp.

I have a ridiculously complicated method for giving supernatural gifts to my Immortal characters. I do not just hand them a supernatural ability to suit the situation. So much effort and research goes into deciding which gifts a character will possess. Aidan and his sister, Sasha are a great example of my process. Most of my characters are loosely based on historical figures and mythological characters. Aidan and Sasha are a reflection of the Greek gods, Apollo and Artemis, who were twins.

Artemis was slightly older than Apollo (by a few hours). Sasha is about two weeks older than Aidan. Artemis was goddess of the hunt, protector of animals. Sasha has an affinity with nature and can talk to and heal animals. Artemis was armed with a bow and arrow and was known to never miss her target. She was also fast on her feet. Sasha never misses her target and is the fastest runner of all the Immortals on Kelleys Island.

Apollo was known as the sun god and the god of music. Aidan’s “sun” gift eventually manifested as a gift with fire and heat. Aidan plays the violin and has a deep love for music. Apollo could heal injured mortals and animals. Aidan is a healer of mortals, while Sasha is a healer of animals.

Allie is also based on the god, Apollo and the mortal, Daphne whom Apollo was desperately in love with in Ovid’s, Metamorphosis. The details are endless, so I could talk about this all day!



How can readers find you? (Internet, social media, booksellers…)








Anything else you want to tell us?

Earlier this year, Emerge: The Awakening placed as a finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards, and just this month, was honored as a finalist in the 2015 USA Best Book Awards!


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