Exclusive Interview with Mindee Arnett, YA SFF Author of Onyx & Ivory

Hi guys! I am a HUGE fantasy fan now. I used to have a strong dislike for the genre, but I’ve magically been converted as I read more books full of magic. One of the street teams I have been really active in this year is the Relay Riders for Mindee Arnett’s latest book Onyx & Ivory, which is super epic. Check out my review here on why you should read it! Today I invited Mindee on the blog to talk about Onyx & Ivory, and I hope you enjoy this interview!


About the BookOnyx and Ivory

They call her Traitor Kate. It’s a title Kate Brighton inherited from her father after he tried to assassinate the high king of Rime. Cast out of the noble class, she now works for the royal courier service. Only those most skilled ride for the Relay and only the fastest survive, for when night falls, the nightdrakes—deadly flightless dragons—come out to hunt. Fortunately, Kate has a secret edge: she is a wilder, born with forbidden magic that allows her to influence the minds of animals.

And it’s this magic that leads her to a caravan mysteriously massacred by drakes in broad daylight—the only survivor Corwin Tormane, the son of the king. Her first love, the boy she swore to forget, after he condemned her father to death. With their paths once more entangled, Kate and Corwin uncover secrets, both past and present, to face this new threat of drakes who attack in the daylight and the darker menace behind them.

Acclaimed author Mindee Arnett’s stunning new novel thrusts readers into a beautiful, expansive, and dangerous new world—one where trust is rare, magic is commonplace, and little is as it seems.Goodreads

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Mindee Arnett Interview

1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

My love for writing grew out of my love for reading and story in general. As a child, I started off telling myself elaborate stories with my toys, and when I hit the sixth grade my teacher gave me my first short story writing assignment. Once I figured out that “story” was an actual world I could get to just by putting my pen to paper, I knew I wanted to go there again and again. And that’s why I love it so much—it’s an escape into another world.

2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

Gosh, I have so many. Early on my biggest influence was adult fantasy writer Jennifer Roberson. Before her I loved Roald Dahl, Walter Farley, and C.S. Lewis. Nowadays one of my favorite writers is Maggie Stiefvater. I adored her Raven Cycle series as well as The Scorpio Races, and I find her writing very inspirational.

3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

Writing is a full-time job for any writer that’s actively publishing. But for me, I do have to hold down a regular full-time job in addition to the books. That definitely keeps me very busy, but in my free time I’m either hanging out with my family or riding my horses.Onyx and Ivory

4. Your latest YA fantasy novel Onyx & Ivory, which released from Balzer and Bray back in mid-May, is set in two points of view: Kate, an outcasted Relay Rider who possesses an outlawed magic, and Corwin, a crown prince scarred by past failures and mistakes. What are some of the biggest challenges of writing in the points of view of two unique characters? Would you consider yourself to be more like Kate or Corwin, and why?

Going into the book, I honestly had no idea how hard it is to write two points of view. I learned a lot about that process through this book—although I’ve still got plenty to learn. One unique thing about the story is that Kate and Corwin both have complete story arcs that intersect with one another but also standalone. Of the two, I relate to Kate a little more than Corwin. If only because she is a perpetual outsider. She never feels like she belongs in any of the groups she inhabits, and that’s a feeling I know well. I suffer from imposter syndrome so much. I also relate to Kate in how she has a troubled history with her father.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Mindee Arnett, YA SFF Author of Onyx & Ivory”

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Celebrating the 1-Year Book Birthday of Post-High School Reality Quest with an Interview with Meg Eden + Special GIVEAWAY

Hi guys! Today is the 1-year book birthday of Post-High School Reality Quest by Meg Eden, probably one of the most unique books you will ever read if you decide to pick it up. Well, today you have the opportunity not only to learn more about the story but also to win a copy of the book PLUS a narwhal mug and infuser. And you can’t say no to narwhals, can you? Enjoy!


About the BookPost-High School Reality Quest

Buffy is playing a game. However, the game is her life, and there are no instructions or cheat codes on how to win.

After graduating high school, a voice called “the text parser” emerges in Buffy’s head, narrating her life as a classic text adventure game. Buffy figures this is just a manifestation of her shy, awkward, nerdy nature—until the voice doesn’t go away, and instead begins to dominate her thoughts, telling her how to life her life. Though Buffy tries to beat the game, crash it, and even restart it, it becomes clear that this game is not something she can simply “shut off” or beat without the text parser’s help.

While the text parser tries to give Buffy advice on how “to win the game,” Buffy decides to pursue her own game-plan: start over, make new friends, and win her long-time crush Tristan’s heart. But even when Buffy gets the guy of her dreams, the game doesn’t stop. In fact, it gets worse than she could’ve ever imagined: her crumbling group of friends fall apart, her roommate turns against her, and Buffy finds herself trying to survive in a game built off her greatest nightmares.

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Meg Eden Interview.png

1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

I love writing because I’m compelled to do it, because it makes sense to me. It’s how I process, how I worship, how I communicate with the world around me.  I started “writing” in middle school when my friends wrote poems because they thought it was “cool.” But over time, I found writing as something that was my own and personal, and when a teacher told me I was a good writer, that encouraged me to become even more serious about it. As I began to discover my ASD in college, I realized that there are times that it’s very hard for me to be verbal. I became overwhelmed and overstimulated, and my first response was to write. It helped me calm down, as well as to find a way to improve how I communicated with others.

2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

I really love magical realism. Some of my biggest inspirations have been Japanese writers and writers of Japanese magic realism, like Haruki Murakami, Yasunari Kawabata, Shuntaro Tanikawa and Kelly Luce, as well as Studio Ghibli films. I add in Studio Ghibli because I think those films really taught me the power of silence, the power of slowing down the pace and taking a moment to pause. There are moments in Ghibli films, in the anime aesthetic at large, where there’s no music, no action, just a selah, a haiku moment between the audience and the environment. Maybe zooming into a flower or a bug, or a panoramic nature shot. As someone who writes both poetry and prose, this has definitely informed what I focus on in a scene, a moment, what details I care about and how I pace them.

3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

I recently started working full time with the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and teaching creative writing on the side. Before, I really just taught part-time, giving me more time to write. But I’m finding that right now, the full time job gives me a sense of urgency to want to make the time to write, while before I was procrastinating a bit…

4. Your YA debut novel Post-High School Reality Quest is not the average novel; in fact, it infuses the basics of the traditional storyline with the format of a text adventure game! What inspired you to write your book in the form of a text adventure? Could you describe to us both the benefits and the challenges of utilizing this idea?

Post-High School Reality QuestSo it started with a friend casually saying “you should write a novel in the form of a text adventure game.” I tried it on a whim one day and found out I actually really enjoyed doing it! The benefit is that it naturally created tension between two voices: the parser and Buffy (the player), so it was very fast and easy to draft. It allowed me to view the story from a different lens–so I had initially written a very crappy draft of a story about these nerdy friends who all played RPGs in Merrill’s basement and shenanigans ensued. But nothing really happened. So the text parser perspective allowed me to view everything in a new way, and give bones to the story. As for challenges, I think the biggest one was to convince people, “Hey–it’s in second person, but it’s OK!” Personally, I found it a blast to write, but it breaks one of the sacred writing classroom rules, so it can be hard to adjust to.

Continue reading “Celebrating the 1-Year Book Birthday of Post-High School Reality Quest with an Interview with Meg Eden + Special GIVEAWAY”

Exclusive Guest Post with B. W. Morris, Author of Six Pack: Emergence, on “The Journey to The Six Pack Series”

Hi guys! I hope your summer is going off to a great start! Today I have for you a special guest post by B. W. Morris, author of The Six Pack Series, which includes both Emergence and Gyration. What is really cool about this guest post is that its four mini-posts in one! I hope you enjoy!


About Six Pack: EmergenceSix Pack Emergence

Just weeks before Tyler Ward is to graduate from secondary school, he learns the truth about Novusordo and how a drink controls the population. After sharing this information with his five friends, they visit a professor’s house, take another drink and gain strange powers. It leads to them learning more about how the government controls people and the discovery of a movement against the government. Calling themselves the Six Pack, Tyler and his friends must learn how their powers can change society. But they first must learn to trust this movement… and even each other.

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About Six Pack: GyrationSix Pack Gyration

Months after the Six Pack has fled City 37N104W, Tyler Ward wonders how much longer the Underground Network can wait before making its next move against the Novusordo government. His desire to take action is pushed after five more students disappear from Monroe Secondary School. And when he learns Professor Roger Woods is in trouble, Tyler is convinced the Six Pack must take matters into its own hands, even if it means defying the Network. But actions have consequences, and those that Tyler and his friends take will impact everyone they encounter – including themselves.

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B. W. Morris Guest Post

The Journey to The Six Pack Series

How did I come up with the idea for my new series, featuring teenage superheroes in a dystopian world? How did I manage to combine the two elements? And what in the world do two kinds of drinks have to do with events?

The journey to The Six Pack Series was long and interesting. At times I had to think about how the concept would play out and how everything would come together? It was about a four-year process from the time I had my first idea, to the completion of the final draft. A lot of elements came together and a lot of challenges had to be overcome.

Let me tell you about some of them.

Finding Inspiration in Comic Books

I was a fan of superheroes growing up, but my fandom came more from movies and TV shows. It wasn’t until I got older that I explored comic books and graphic novels. Along the way, I found inspiration from the animated TV series, Young Justice, and picked up some of the companion comics.

That TV series and comics gave me the idea for my own team-up of teenaged superheroes. What I really wanted to explore, though, was the teenagers beyond what it was like to be a superhero and having to face obstacles and challenges from a human perspective. That’s what made Young Justice special – you didn’t just follow the characters on missions, but on dealing with issues outside of the superhero life.

The idea of a drink giving them superpowers came to mind early in the process. All I needed was a setting. And that leads me to…

Drawing Up a Dystopia

Six Pack EmergenceAfter I read Suzanne Collins’ book The Hunger Games, I was intrigued by the world building and how she built tension and wrote so that you kept turning pages. That’s when I got the idea – what if these teenaged superheroes were going up against a controlling government?

And with the idea of a drink giving them powers before me, I wondered what would happen if the government had kept the people addicted to a drink that affected their brans so they couldn’t think for themselves. It provided the counterpoint to a drink that enhanced the brain – only the intent was to enhance the brain to greater influence other people. That it turned out to be a drink that enhanced the brain so that one’s greatest ability became more powerful was, in the story’s terms, not the plan.

But it allowed the superheroes to go up against somebody that wasn’t going to be that easy to take down, even if the opposition didn’t have superpowers. I’ve always found the most interesting adversaries for superheroes to be those who don’t have superpowers – and considering this government controls most of the population, the odds are stacked against our heroes.

The dystopian premise of the government controlling what people think poses what I think could be the greatest threat to a society – sure, it might sound nice on the surface if all people thought the same on every subject. But it comes at the cost of people being individuals, the chance to explore interests, discuss new ideas and debate what is the best route to take.

Turning Regular Teens Into Superheroes

Six Pack GyrationWhat presents a challenge for the Six Pack is not just how the members learn to control their powers – though I’ll admit it was fun writing about how they learned to do that. The Six Pack must also figure out who they can trust – they may know the government isn’t on their side, but will they be able to work with those people who want to bring change?

Just as importantly, can they learn to work with each other? Though the six are friends, they still have to learn what it means to work together to solve a problem. Tyler must learn what it means to be a leader, Jessica must learn not to harbor jealousy, Brad must learn to trust adults, Linda must learn not to be reckless, David must realize he needs to take a bigger role, and Stacy learns why it’s important to keep perspective.

So becoming a superhero is more than about the powers – it’s about what you do with them and how you learn to grow as a person.

Writing in Six Points of View

When I wrote my first draft, I used omniscient point of view, but learned early on that wasn’t going to work for a debut novel. But I believed it was important to get the viewpoint of each member of the Six Pack into the narrative, which meant switching to third-person limited.

The trick I had to figure out was how to transition from one scene to the next so that it would be easy for the reader to follow along with whose viewpoint was up. I’ll admit it was hard to get all six characters to the point in which people could understand what they were thinking and how they were reacting to events. You have to be good at writing characters to make sure each sounds as unique as possible.

I believed it was necessary, though, so people could get the best possible examination of what the world was like and how each member of the Six Pack saw his or her place in it. The majority is in Tyler’s viewpoint, but others get their chance to convey their viewpoints as needed.

For some, they may prefer a first-person POV or third-person POV limited to one character. But having read so many comic books and watched so many TV shows and movies based on superheroes, I find the best way to tell the tale is through multiple viewpoints. And when you are talking about a superhero team-up, you miss something with telling the story from just one character’s POV.

I want to thank Kester for allowing me to guest on his blog and appreciate all he is doing for authors. Please do check out The Six Pack Series and drop by my website to learn more!


About the AuthorB. W. Morris

B.W. Morris is a longtime writer for small-town newspapers who put his inner comic book geek to work through writing novels. Born in Texas but grew up in Colorado, he has lived in New Mexico, Oklahoma and currently resides in Kingman, Kan. Greg Weisman, Suzanne Collins, Stan Lee, George Orwell and Conor Friedersdorf all influenced his writing. Morris is a fan of the Young Justice animated series, the Arrowverse shows on the CW Network, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Star Wars films and more graphic novels than he can keep track. You can learn more about his love for science fiction at his website at bwmorrisauthor.com.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read The Six Pack Series? What are your thoughts?

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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Exclusive Guest Post with Wendy McLeod MacKnight, Author of The Frame-Up, on “The World Behind the Frame”

Hi guys! Today I am at the Tennessee American Legion Boys’ State, where I will be marching and learning more about the inner workings about the government for the entire week. It is an honor to be representing my community this year! Today, I have a special guest post by Wendy McLeod MacKnight, the author of It’s a Mystery, Pig Faceand the upcoming release The Frame-Up, which looks so fascinating! Can you imagine traveling to the worlds inside paintings?


About the BookThe Frame-Up

Don’t let anyone know the paintings are alive. Thirteen-year-old Mona Dunn has adhered to that rule for almost one hundred years, ever since her portrait was hung on the walls of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. So when the gallery director’s son, Sargent Singer discovers the truth, she’s sure she’d just exposed the gallery’s biggest secret. But Sargent, an aspiring artist himself, just wants to know more about the vast and intriguing world beyond the frames. With devious plots, shady characters, and grand art heists, this inventive mystery adventure celebrates art and artists.

Featuring sixteen pages of full glossy pictures of the masterpieces who are characters in the book, this book is a must-read and a useful tool for teachers and parents who want to introduce children to art and artists in a fun, accessible way.

The Frame-Up will release from Greenwillow Books on June 5th, 2018!

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Don’t miss her pre-order giveaway!


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The World Behind the Frame: The Frame-Up

I’ve always loved art.

From an early age, I was inspired by art, although I didn’t show a particular aptitude to make it myself (though I admit to the odd dabbling).

I remember visiting my grandmother as a little girl and seeing the portrait of my mother as a teenager on the wall.

Patsy Rider
Photo Courtesy of Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Yes, my mother is Patsy Ryder, the visitor in the story!

The girl in the painting was flat. I wondered what she was looking at. I wondered if she found the grownups conversations boring, as I sometimes did.

What was it like to be in there, behind the frame?

Creating the world behind the frame before I began to write the book was time-consuming.

The world of the art gallery was easy; I had only to wander around the Beaverbrook Art Gallery take notes.

For the world behind, there had to be rules.

First of all, there was the whole travelling between paintings business. I don’t explicitly spell it out in the book, because I want the reader to imagine how it works for themselves, but in my mind’s eye, there is a magical rabbit’s warren of hallways connecting the paintings to one another. Usually, the residents take their time going between the paintings, often times not entering another painting as they go, but other times, they simply walk from painting to painting, especially if the painting is a landscape.

And then there is the whole issue of what exactly is IN any particular painting.

Since the artist’s vision is supreme and what brings the painting to life, I decided early on that the only thing that existed in any given painting was entirely dependents upon what the artists was thinking about while he or she painted.

So Helena Rubinstein gets to have a few rooms at the back of her portrait, as well some cookies, because artist Graham Sutherland thought of them at the time he painted her.

Not so fortunate is a sketch of Somerset Maugham’s head. Since Sutherland was so focused on getting Maugham’s features right for the final portrait, he only thought of the head. The Maugham in the sketch will be forever dependent on the kindness of other residents to get him where he wants to be.

Depending on the imagination of the artist, the painting can go on far into the distance. For example, Mona Dunn ends up in the painting MerryMaking, and ends up travelling for miles on a bitterly cold winter day, thanks to Krieghoff’s imagination.  This is mostly true of all the paintings, though sometimes to almost comical lengths. In Dan Vigilio Lake Garda, John Singer Sargent doesn’t stock the café with chocolate gelato because the proprietor ran out of it on the day Singer visited!

Mona’s painting is very bare: a small throw, a stool, and a shadowy room. It is not wonder that she adores visiting paintings like San Vigilio, Lake Garda!

There are other rules in the world outside the frame: a resident should not go into another residents’ painting when they are not there without their permission.


About the AuthorWendy McLeod MacKnight

Wendy grew up in St. Stephen and wrote her first novel at age nine. She worked for the Government of New Brunswick for twenty-five years, ending her career as the Deputy Minister of Education when the siren call of writing became impossible to ignore. Wendy is represented by Lauren Galit of the LKG Agency in New York City. Her debut middle grade novel, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! was published by Sky Pony Press in 2017. Her second book, The Frame-Up, a fantasy set at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, was sold at auction to Greenwillow Books in a two-book deal and will be published June 5th 2018.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for The Frame-Up? Do you like MG Fantasy?

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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A Special Mer-May LILbooKtalk Edition: “Mermaid Tales and Fairy Tales” with D. G. Driver and Tobie Easton

Hi guys! Today I am taking the third of my AP exams, AP Biology, and I am ready for them to be over! Also, I am having the end-of-school blues, especially since many of the seniors — who I’ve gotten acquainted to over this past year — are going to leave. I’m very sad about that. On the bright side, next week I am off to the TN Boys’ State, which is going to be tiring but worthwhile. During that time, I will be offline for the whole week, but in the meantime, here is the LILbooKtalk for the month of Mer-May: “Mermaid Tales and Fairy Tales” with D. G. Driver and Tobie Easton!


About Cry of the SeaCry of the Sea

Juniper Sawfeather is choosing which college to attend after graduation from West Olympia High School next year. She wants to go to San Diego to be far away from her environmental activist parents. They expect her to think the way they do, but having to be constantly fighting causes makes it difficult to be an average 17-year-old high school student. Why do her parents have to be so out there?

Everything changes when she and her father rush to the beach after a reported oil spill. As they document the damage, June discovers three humans washed up on the beach, struggling to breathe through the oil coating their skin. At first she thinks they must be surfers, but as she gets closer, she realizes these aren’t human at all. They’re mermaids!

Now begins a complex story of intrigue, conspiracy and manipulation as June, her parents, a marine biologist and his handsome young intern, her best friend, the popular clique at school and the oil company fight over the fate of the mermaids.

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About EmergeEmerge

Lia Nautilus may be a Mermaid but she’s never lived in the ocean. Ever since the infamous Little Mermaid unleashed a curse that stripped Mer of their immortality, war has ravaged the Seven Seas. Now Lia lives in a secret community of land-dwelling Mer hidden among Malibu’s seaside mansions and attends high school with humans. To protect everyone around her, she must limit her contact with non-Mer. No exceptions. But when the new girl sets her sights on Lia’s crush, she will risk exposing her deadly secret to stop Clay from falling in love with the wrong girl.

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LILbooKtalk May 2018

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is the wonderful Tobie Easton, who I met last year at the SE-YA Book Fest! I loved the first two books in The Mer Chronicles and I cannot wait for the third installment in the series! Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your novels?Emerge

Tobie: Hi! It was so wonderful meeting you, too, Kester!  Your enthusiasm for the series has really meant a lot to me.  The Mer Chronicles series follows the descendants of the Little Mermaid and offers a peek into a world where Mermaids aren’t just real but live among us on land.

As for me, I like to think I write modern fairy tales.  I like books that feel magical whether that means they actually feature magic or just really immersive world- building. And, I’m a sucker for romance. 😉

Kester: That’s so awesome, Tobie!!! Thanks so much!

Today we also have the amazing D.G. Driver, who is a local Tennessee author living in Nashville! I devoured her Juniper Sawfeather series and loved the books! Would you like to share with us a bit about yourself and your books?

Cry of the SeaD. G.: Hi, Thank you for inviting me to be part of this chat. My series The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy is about a teen environmentalist who discovers mythical creatures tied to her American Indian heritage. In book one, Cry of the Sea, she finds real mermaids caught up in an oil spill. I mostly write young adult and middle grade. I tend to favor contemporary fantasy stories.

Tobie: That sounds so cool, Donna!

D. G.: Thanks. Yours sound great too.

Kester: Here’s my first question for both of y’all: The Mer Chronicles and the Juniper Sawfeather series paint two very different images of mermaids, along with their characteristics and their culture. What inspired you to display mermaids the way you presented them in your book? Could you describe your process as you created your own “spin” on a beloved mythical creature?

D. G.: In Cry of the Sea, I wanted to make the mermaids come across as real creatures that would exist in the ocean today. They are more like fish than the fairy tale creatures in other mermaid stories. It was important to the story, because June and her family feel like people would help their fight against oil pollution if they found out mermaids lived in the ocean.

Tobie: I used the original Hans Christian Andersen version of the Little Mermaid as a jumping off point, but was also very influenced by the Malibu, California setting I chose for the story.

D. G.: I used to live in L.A. Very familiar with Malibu.

Tobie: So, my series has a sparkling, sunlit, ocean mansion-y feel but also addresses some of the darker, more haunting aspects of the original story.  With a healthy dose of siren mythology.  ‘Cause you gotta have mythology.

D. G.: Mythology is key. My books take place in Washington State, and they use American Indian mythology from the Pacific Northwest.

Kester: I loved the mythology in yours, D. G.. It was all so mesmerizing!

Tobie: That sounds really fascinating!

D. G.: Thanks. The mythology becomes more involved in books 2 and 3. No mermaids in book two, though.Whisper of the Woods

Tobie: Can you share which creatures will be in book 2, or is that hush-hush for now?

D. G.: No secret. The books are out. There’s and ancient tree spirit in book 2 that traps Juniper 170 feet up in an old growth tree. In book 3 the mermaids are back, along with shapeshifting orcas, and a monster made of stone.

Tobie: I love the idea of a tree spirit! So cool!

Continue reading “A Special Mer-May LILbooKtalk Edition: “Mermaid Tales and Fairy Tales” with D. G. Driver and Tobie Easton”

Exclusive Interview with Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, MG Author of “A Dog Like Daisy”

Hi guys! School is out in less than two weeks! I am super stoked for summer to come! I have AP exams next week (ugh) and after graduation, I’m off to Boys’ State! Woo hoo! This year has been really awesome for me, and not only have I grown so much with everything, but this blog has grown a lot. Even though it might not have the reach it once had last year, it means a lot more to me to be able to touch more hearts rather than to just reach out to them. That is truly what being a blogger is about.


About A Dog Like DaisyA Dog Like Daisy

Max meets A Dog Called Homeless in this sweet and poignant middle grade novel told from the humorous, thoughtful perspective of a rescued pit bull as she trains to be a service dog for an injured veteran and his family.

Daisy has only ten weeks to prove her usefulness or else be sent back to the pound. Yet if she goes back, who will protect Colonel Victor from his PTSD attacks? Or save the littler human, Micah, from those infernal ear muzzles he calls earphones? What if no one ever adopts her again?

Determined to become the elite protector the colonel needs, Daisy vows to ace the service dog test. She’ll accept the ridiculous leash and learn to sit, heel, shake, even do your business, Daisy when told to. But Daisy must first learn how to face her own fears from the past or risk losing the family she’s so desperate to guard—again.

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Kristin O'Donnell Tubb Header.png

1. Your latest novel A Dog Like Daisy, which released last summer, follows the story of Daisy as she tries to prove her usefulness as a service dog before being sent back to the pound. What was it like writing from an animal’s perspective, and how is it different from storytelling with a human’s point of view? Could you describe to us your approach as you created Daisy’s narration?

I love research, because it often gives me many plot points (hello there, “truth is stranger than fiction” adage!), and it sometimes even provides the voice of character. That was certainly the case for Daisy. I read while researching that some experts believe dogs experience the world as a human with synesthesia might – in other words, their five senses blend into something beautifully unique. Someone with synesthesia might see colors when they hear music, or experience a certain taste when they have intense feelings; something in their brain combines multiple senses exceptionally. When I read that – boom! – there was Daisy’s voice, in all its bacon-loving, color-hearing glory.

2. What inspired you to write a novel about service dogs? Would you like to tell us some of your experiences and adventures working with them?

Ideas are dust – they’re floating everywhere if you’re paying attention and look hard enough to find them. (From this statement it should be obvious that cleaning is WAY LOW on my priority list – ha!) The idea for Daisy came about when my dog was playing with a neighbor’s dog. She mentioned in passing that the man from whom she bought her Great Dane also trained dogs that assist veterans. I thought, “Hmmm. I wonder what that training looks like? I’ve read what service dogs can do, of course, but how do they learn it?” I’ve learned that when I say “hmmmm” to myself, it’s likely that others would say “hmmmm” to that same question. And that? That is a story idea.

I didn’t have personal experience with service dogs prior to researching Daisy, but one thing I’ve found in my decade of writing: people love to tell you about their passions, and those who train service dogs are very passionate about it. I was fortunate enough to chat with Katie Young, a trainer for Southeastern Guide Dogs (https://www.guidedogs.org), and she taught me gobs and gobs about training service animals. Since then, a Southeastern trainer came with a dog-in-training, Rickie, to Daisy’s launch party. I give out information about Southeastern at my book events. And a portion of all sales of A Dog Like Daisy goes to Southeastern for their amazing work. Needless to say, I believe in what they do.

3. In your book, Colonel Victor struggles with PTSD, but Daisy is there to protect him. Why do you believe it is important to portray mental illnesses such as PTSD in middle grade fiction, and in what ways do you want A Dog Like Daisy to impact readers, young and old alike?

A Dog Like DaisyOne review of Daisy captured something that I honestly hadn’t considered when writing the story; the reviewer said that approaching a topic like PTSD from a dog’s point of view makes the story a bit more approachable to a young reader. I agree with that; the story would be far different if the main boy character, Micah, had told it.

Many middle graders experience mental illness in their own homes, and some, in their own bodies. Since the release of Daisy, I’ve met a nine-year-old with PTSD, and her mother tearfully thanked me for writing a book for her age group that included a character with her same challenges. I’ve met a twelve-year-old whose father is a veteran; she told me she’s read the book four times and each time sees something new. I had a veteran who bravely writes speaks about his PTSD request that I join him and other veteran-writers on a panel, and he thanked me for writing this book for military families. I’ve even had a unit of disabled veterans buy copies of the book and donate them to their local library. Honestly, I’m humbled and honored by the response to this story. I’m just delighted that Daisy seems to be offering her service-animal skills far off the page, especially to people who have given so much of themselves to our country.

Kristin's Dogs4. Who are your favorite fictional and/or real-life dogs? Do you have any pets of your own?

Snoopy, for certain. I love the idea of him leading all these secret lives, while Charlie Brown thinks he’s simply lying atop his dog house, waiting for dinner. I can’t wait to see the Isle of Dogs – it looks gorgeous. And of course Dug from Up – “Squirrel!”

I have two dogs – Lucky and Cookie. I narrate their thoughts all the time; Lucky is goofy and lovable, Cookie is neurotic and headstrong. They are very much a part of our family. I’ve included a photo of them here!

5. What is your favorite part about the writing process (i.e. research, drafting, revising, creating characters, writing dialogue, etc.), and why?

Researching! I love discovering and learning new things, and research helps me make real-life connections to the thoughts and feelings I hope to convey in the story. That is the BEST feeling! Research helps me with voice, plot, characterization, setting – I always struggle quite a bit with writing if I don’t take enough time to soak in the aspects of a character’s world through research.

6. It is so great to meet another wonderful author from my home-state of Tennessee! What do you like most about living in the Volunteer State and the Nashville area, which both have amazing writer communities?

Nashville’s literary community is second-to-none! Between Parnassus Books (http://www.parnassusbooks.net), the regional chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI Midsouth; https://midsouth.scbwi.org), the Southern Festival of Books (http://humanitiestennessee.org/programs/southern-festival-books-celebration-written-word), and the best libraries and librarians in the known universe (including those who organize SEYA: https://www.seyabookfest.com), there is no shortage of incredible writing, writing workshops, and events that celebrate powerful stories. I love this community; readers and writers are the heart and soul of stories, and I’m delighted and honored that I get to be a part of it.

7. As a veteran author with multiple books published across various genres (contemporary, fantasy, historical fiction), how have your writing abilities transformed over the past few years? What are some of the most valuable lessons you have learned throughout your writing career?Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

Probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that every book comes to life differently. Simply because The 13th Sign was written one way doesn’t mean that A Dog Like Daisy or The Story Collector will be written similarly. And I don’t mean voice or characters here – I mean the actual process of creating. Some books beg to be written long hand. Some books are written chunk by chunk, rather than in plot order. Some are outlined, other pour out of your fingertips. I think that’s why it can be so difficult for authors to give advice on “how to be a writer;” they are many different types of writers themselves!

8. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

I think Liz Gilbert (author of “Eat, Pray, Love”) said it best on her “Magic Lessons” podcast: Writing is the only thing that, when I’m doing it, I don’t feel like I’m wearing a mask of any sort. I am fully, completely, 100% me when I’m writing. It’s when I feel most authentic.

I had an amazing opportunity when I was in sixth grade, thanks to my wonderful school librarian: I got to interview Madeleine L’Engle by telephone! (Yep!) When I told her I wanted to be a writer, she said, “Good for you! Keep reading and you can do it.” Well, when Madeleine L’Engle tells you you can be a writer, you give it a try! And you know what? My first poem, a haiku called “The Weeping Willow,” was published in a student anthology the very next year. I visit a lot of schools now, and I try to pay that same sentiment forward.

9. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

Oh, picking a favorite genre is like picking a favorite flavor of ice cream! It just depends on what you’re in the mood for: Salted caramel? Creamy vanilla? Super-rich dark chocolate swirl? A Wrinkle In Time has a special place in my heart, for obvious reasons (see above) and I still say it’s my favorite book of all time. But recently I’ve adored The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – I adore poetry, and would love to try a novel-in-verse someday. And I attribute Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself by Judy Blume for my love of historical fiction; my favorite historical titles of late have been anything by Ruta Sepetys and Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (both Tennessee writers!). See? I can’t pick just one!

10. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

There’s a time when a writer isn’t writing? J I feel like I’m always observing, always listening (read: always eavesdropping), with hopes that I can write better characters, build a better fictional world, tell a better story. But for some reason, that doesn’t feel like a full-time job to me; the actual writing happens around real life, in stolen quiet moments.

The Story Collector11. Your upcoming novel The Story Collector is slated to release this August from Henry Holt and Co. (BYR). What could readers look forward to in The Story Collector, and are there any secrets about it you would like to share with us?

EeeeEEEEeeee I’m so excited about this story! The Story Collector is based on a real-life girl, Viviani Fedeler, who was born and raised in the flagship building of the New York Public Library – the iconic one at 5th and 42nd, with the lions. She and her brothers have sleepovers, play in the stacks, hide from guards – all within the library. It’s a ghost story (many claim the building truly is haunted by a ghost named Big Red) and a mystery, based on a real-life stamp collection that was stolen from the library while the Fedelers lived there. The book also features photos from the NYPL (https://www.nypl.org) archives, a timeline, and gorgeous illustrations from Iacopo Bruno (http://iacopobruno.blogspot.com)

It’s also a story about a young writer who struggles to find her voice, which I think a lot of writers can relate to. So in that spirit, I’d like to share the first three paragraphs of the story:

Some people are story collectors. While others collect seashells, or stuffed animals, or stamps, story collectors wrap themselves in words, surround themselves with sentences, and play with participles, even those pesky, perky dangling ones. They climb over Cs and mount Ms and lounge in Ls. Soon enough they land in the land of homonyms, then, WHAM! They stumble into onomatopoeia, that lovely creaking, booming bit of wordplay – and that, Dear Friend, is where our story begins:

Crack!

The bat swung over Viviani Fedeler’s left shoulder, then clanged to the terracotta-tile floor of the New York Public Library. She shrieked and ran, red hair flying, nothing short of a firework whizzing about the bases.

The book is available for pre-order, and if you get it from Nashville’s awesome indie, I’ll sign & personalize it for you! Just put how you’d like the book personalized in the comment section upon check-out. Here’s the link:
http://www.parnassusbooks.net/book/9781250143808

12. Before you go, would you like to share any advice you have to any aspiring authors or writers reading this interview?

I firmly believe that EVERYONE – yes, EVERYONE – is a writer. (Now, whether or not you want to share your story is a personal choice.) You’re likely already doing the kinds of things that professional writers do on a daily basis: if you text, you’re writing dialogue. If you play video games, you’re worldbuilding. If you’re a rule-breaker, you’d likely excel at poetry. So first, think about the kind of writing you’re already doing regularly, that you already love, and hone that skill.  Then: get involved in your local community of writers! There is nothing like sharing your ideas with other writers to give you the courage to share your stories with the world. Best of luck, story collectors – I am cheering you on!

Thanks so much, Kristin, for coming onto the blog! It’s so great to have you here today!


About the AuthorKristin O'Donnell Tubb

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is the author of The Story Collector series, A Dog Like Daisy, John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy (written as E.F. Abbott), The 13th Sign, Selling Hope and Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different. She’s also written many activity books featuring well-loved characters like Scooby-Doo, Bugs Bunny, the Powerpuff Girls, and Strawberry Shortcake. Kristin lives near Nashville, Tennessee with her bouncy-loud family. Just like her two dogs, she can be bribed with cheese.

Kristin can be found far too often on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Oh, and she has a website, too.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read A Dog Like Daisy? Do you like books set from an animal’s perspective?

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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Exclusive Interview with Melissa Ostrom, YA Debut Author of “The Beloved Wild”

Hi guys! Today on the blog, I am hosting one of the kindest and most supportive authors I have ever met, Melissa Ostrom. Melissa is the author of the YA historical fiction novel The Beloved Wild, which I loved and you can see why in my review here, and I am very honored to have her on my blog to talk to us about her debut novel! I hope you enjoy this interview, and please check out The Beloved Wild! (By the way, Ruta Sepetys blurbed it, in case you didn’t know.)


About the BookThe Beloved Wild

Harriet Winter is the eldest daughter in a farming family in New Hampshire, 1807. Her neighbor is Daniel Long, who runs his family’s farm on his own after the death of his parents. Harriet’s mother sees Daniel as a good match, but Harriet isn’t so sure she wants someone else to choose her path—in love and in life.

When her brother decides to strike out for the Genesee Valley in Western New York, Harriet decides to go with him—disguised as a boy. Their journey includes sickness, uninvited guests, and difficult emotional terrain as Harriet comes of age, realizes what she wants, and accepts who she’s loved all along.

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1. Your YA historical fiction debut The Beloved Wild, which released in March from Feiwel & Friends, follows Harriet Winter as she disguises herself as a boy to venture into the Genesee Valley as she overcomes prejudice, nature, and eventually love. As a local resident, what do you love most about living in that region? How did the valley allure you to use it as the setting of your debut?

I’m originally from Chautauqua County. The teaching position at Kendall High School brought me to this area, and I fell in love with its gentle landscape—the sweeping orchards, Lake Ontario, the cultivated fields that alternate with woodlands, and the historical features, like the Erie Canal and cobblestone houses. I felt like a pioneer, traveling to a new place and making it my home. The families of my students warmly welcomed me. Writing Harriet’s story (and recognizing the significant role the Genesee Valley played in our country’s initial wave of westward expansion) became a way for me to show my gratitude for that welcome and my appreciation for this location.

2. The Age of the American Frontier is a time period that is often overlooked in historical fiction. How did you first stumble upon the exodus of New Englanders flocking to the uncharted wilderness of New York? What are some of the most interesting things you learned from your research?

I’m fortunate to have some dear friends who happen to know a lot about our local history. Three in particular—Diane Palmer, Adrienne Kirby, and Sharon Root—shared significant stories about the early pioneers (to whom these women can trace their own ancestries!), and those tales definitely stirred my interest. My friends also shared family memorabilia, access to the archives of the Orleans County Chapter of the DAR, and powerful reading materials, like the settlers’ reminisces, compiled by Arad Thomas. These firsthand pioneer accounts proved quite useful and remarkable. Most of the early settlers were young—just teenagers with little money and few tools—but they possessed a great deal of gumption. They worked hard to eke clearings out of the wilderness and faced incredible trials while starting their farms. Their stories inspired me. I remember reading about one young man who had nothing but the clothes on his back and an axe in his hand when he broached the wilds of his purchased lot of land. He started with practically nothing and yet made something of himself. Amazing.

3. What would be your dream adventure? Where would you go and what would you do?

Oh, I’d like to travel around our country and visit other parts of the world. But lately I’ve been thinking about walking the length of the Erie Canal—simply packing a backpack and taking off for a while, breaking up the hike with stays in inns and visits to the waterway towns. I love going for long walks and usually cover around eight miles a day. It’d be fun to set out—and just keep going! My family (when my kids get a little older) would probably enjoy this adventure, too. The Beloved Wild

4. Before you wrote The Beloved Wild, you wrote many short stories for various journals. Could you describe to us the transition you made from writing short stories to writing a full-length novel? What are the specific benefits and challenges of creating a short story versus drafting a novel?

Actually, about nine years ago when I initially decided to try fiction writing, I started with a novel, not short fiction. The novel became the first in a series of four. I finished the entire quartet before shopping around the first book. When querying this piece didn’t win me an agent, I set aside all four and got to work on another novel (a standalone). Concurrently, I began to craft short fiction.

My initial reasoning behind the short-fiction enterprise was I need to beef up my credentials! I just held a couple of degrees in English lit and my teaching certification. I couldn’t mention publications, conferences, retreats, or even an MFA in a query letter because I hadn’t accomplished any of these things. Publishing short stories would rectify that, I figured. And I have managed to find homes in literary journals for many of my stories.

But something else (something more wonderful) happened as a result of this foray into short fiction: my writing skills improved. Perhaps due to their sparer frame, stories (those admirable ones written by others and the ones I endeavor to create) showcase precise language and an attention to detail. A word must earn its place—or out it goes.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Melissa Ostrom, YA Debut Author of “The Beloved Wild””

Exclusive Interview with Melissa Roske, MG Contemporary Author of “Kat Greene Comes Clean”

Hi guys! Yesterday I just got back from Washington, D.C., and I definitely had a really great trip! Man, April’s almost over, and that means this entire school year is quickly coming to an end. In just a few weeks, it will be AP exams time, so I will be cramming as much studying as I can before then. Today I have another interview with the wonderful Melissa Roske, MG debut author of Kat Greene Comes Clean! I hope you enjoy!


About the BookKat Greene Comes Clean

Eleven-year-old Kat Greene has a lot on her pre-rinsed plate, thanks to her divorced mom’s obsession with cleaning. When Mom isn’t scrubbing every inch of their Greenwich Village apartment, she’s boiling the silverware or checking Kat’s sheets for bedbugs. It’s enough to drive any middle schooler crazy! Add friendship troubles to the mix, a crummy role in the class production of Harriet the Spy, and Mom’s decision to try out for “Clean Sweep,” a competitive-cleaning TV game show, and what have you got? More trouble than Kat can handle. At least, without a little help from her friends.

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1. Your MG debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean follows a young girl as she manages through a turbulent time in her life, including dealing with her cleaning-obsessed mom, her parents’ divorce, the school play, and many friendships. How do you want readers to be impacted from Kat trying to be the “parent” when her mom is unable to? Why do you believe it is important to show how young children overcome these struggles in their everyday lives?

Although I was never thrust into a parental role the way Kat was with her mom, I can certainly relate to being an eleven-year-old with familial and social struggles. I mean, who doesn’t struggle as a preteen? My struggle was primarily with my physical development. At Kat’s age, I was extremely small and underdeveloped, and I used to get teased for it all the time. I was always picked last for sports teams too. One boy in particular—who shall remain nameless—called me “Flatsy,” because, well, you know… and it was humiliating. I was teased for being flat-chested at summer camp, too. I know what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but the scars left by all the teasing and name-calling never fully healed. That’s what I tapped into when I wrote my book. I wanted kids to know that life’s struggles are incredibly difficult—but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.

2. How has your personal experiences and those of others helped shape Kat Greene Comes Clean? What aspects of Kat’s life and personality are based off your life?Kat Greene Comes Clean

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but my book based on my own experience with OCD—or, to be more accurate, my dad’s OCD. His compulsions are the polar opposite of Kat’s mom’s, though, because my dad is extremely messy and keeps everything. (I recently found a datebook in his apartment from 1973!) He’s also a checker, which means he must check the front-door locks, and the gas jets on the stove, multiple times a day. I too have obsessive-compulsions tendencies, including the need to have my window shades fixed at a certain level, but I wouldn’t say they impede my life. They’re just extremely distracting—to my family, and to myself.

3. What about Middle Grade Contemporary drew you as an author and a reader? What inspired you to write for kids and from a child’s point of view, and what were some of the challenges that you faced writing your debut?

I’m not sure if I should admit this, but in many ways I still feel like an eleven-year-old girl. That’s why I’m drawn to MG. It focuses on a phase in one’s life when feelings and thoughts and creativity—even love—are bubbling at the surface, ready to come up for air. I also love the openness, and the receptiveness to new things, that tweens exhibit and express. They say want they mean, and they mean what they say. Who doesn’t love that?

In terms of challenges as a debut novelist, I’d say it’s learning how to manage my expectations. As author, you hope your book will be enthusiastically received, and that it will sell well. But that is not always the case. Some things are beyond your control, as it’s important to realize this and manage your expectations accordingly.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Melissa Roske, MG Contemporary Author of “Kat Greene Comes Clean””

“Love Songs & Other Lies” Street Team Blog Tour: Exclusive Interview with YA Debut Author Jessica Pennington + Giveaway!

Hi everybody! Today starts the first ever blog tour that I organized! I am very honored to be hosting this blog tour for Love Songs & Other Lies by Jessica Pennington, and I am super excited to see everybody’s posts. In just a few days, I will be in our nation’s capital (so looking forward to it) and this blog tour is the perfect way to start off the week. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you will keep up with all our tour stops. There is also a giveaway for a finished copy of Love Songs & Other Lies and a swag bag, so don’t miss out on that!

Love Songs & Other Lies Blog Tour Banner


About the BookLove Songs & Other Lies Cover

Title: Love Songs & Other Lies

Author: Jessica Pennington

Publisher: Tor Teen

Release Date: April 24th, 2018

Genre: YA Contemporary Romance

Synopsis: Two years after rock-song-worthy heartbreak, Virginia Miller is looking forward to a fun, carefree summer. Her friends just landed a spot on a battling bands reality show, and Vee is joining them for her dream internship on tour. Three months with future rockstars seems like an epic summer plan. Until she learns she’ll also be sharing the bus with Cam. Her first love, and her first heartbreak. Now Vee has more than just cameras to dodge, and Cam’s determination to win her forgiveness is causing TMZ-worthy problems for both of them. With cameras rolling, she’ll have to decide if her favorite breakup anthem deserves a new ending. And if she’s brave enough to expose her own secrets to keep Cam’s under wraps.

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1. It is so great to be kicking off the Love Songs & Other Lies Blog Tour with you, Jess! Your debut YA contemporary romance novel is set to release on April 24th from Tor Teen, and it follows the romance between Vee Miller and Cam Fuller, two teens who fell in love two years ago but split after a stunning heartbreak. Since the main characters are a part of a band called Your Future X, have you yourself ever been in a band before? If you could be in one, what part or instrumental would you play, and what genre of music would you perform?

One of my friends in high school was in a band, so that’s the closest I’ve ever come! But I love music, so if I had the talent (which I don’t) I would definitely be a singer and guitarist. I have the heart of a musician, but I definitely don’t have the talent!

2. Love Songs & Other Lies is set in two alternating points of view between Vee and Cam and two alternating time periods called Then and Now. What was the biggest challenge of writing in this format, switching between two characters and between two years ago and the present? Why did you decide to build up to the heartbreak and the ultimate resolution at the same time, and what effect does this create for readers?

The hardest part was staying in the voice between characters, and keeping in the emotional arc of each timeline. For the characters, I tended to write scenes in chunks, staying in the same POV for as long as possible. And between timelines it was a little easier, because I didn’t set out to write a dual timeline novel. I had written most of the THEN timeline before realizing that the story was going to continue! So I wrote the two timelines separately for the most part, but then I had to make lots of changes to make sure that it wasn’t jarring for readers to switch from one to the other, and to make sure the plot points all weaved together so that each timeline was supporting the other. Making all of that work was actually a ton of fun for someone like me who is very Type-A and loves organization; it was like a giant puzzle.

3. Music is a prominent aspect of the entire novel. How big is music in your life? What are some of your favorite songs?

If I’m awake, I’m usually listening to music. And I especially love lyrics—lyrics are usually what will pull me to a new genre of music. I love all sorts of music: The Avett Brothers, The Chainsmokers, Taylor Swift, Train, Ed Sheeran, Imagine Dragons. Pop and folk are my two biggest these days!Love Songs & Other Lies

4. What is the ideal time and place to read Love Songs & Other Lies?

I personally love reading at night, because everything feels more emotional!

5. Would you consider yourself to be more like Vee or Cam? What personality traits and personal experiences do you share with each protagonist?

I’m definitely most like Vee. She had a lot more of my characteristics when I started the book, but as I figured out who she was and what made up her story, most of that was stripped away. But her tendency to cry easily is definitely a leftover trait of mine. I can cry just seeing someone else cry, and especially if I see someone achieving their dream or accomplishing something.

Continue reading ““Love Songs & Other Lies” Street Team Blog Tour: Exclusive Interview with YA Debut Author Jessica Pennington + Giveaway!”

Exclusive Interview with Patrick Moody, MG Horror Author of The Gravedigger’s Son

Hi guys! To be honest, I have not read that many horror novels in my lifetime. The most recent one was The Lairdbalor by Kathleen Kaufman, and although I wish I had enjoyed that book much more than I actually did, I am really excited for The Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody. I am actually ready to be scared to my bones! Today, I have the wonderful opportunity to interview the book’s amazing author, and I’ve certainly enjoyed writing his questions and reading his answers. I hope you have the chance to check out his novel!


About the BookThe Gravedigger's Son

“A Digger must not refuse a request from the Dead.” —Rule Five of the Gravedigger’s Code

Ian Fossor is last in a long line of Gravediggers. It’s his family’s job to bury the dead and then, when Called by the dearly departed, to help settle the worries that linger beyond the grave so spirits can find peace in the Beyond.

But Ian doesn’t want to help the dead—he wants to be a Healer and help the living. Such a wish is, of course, selfish and impossible. Fossors are Gravediggers. So he reluctantly continues his training under the careful watch of his undead mentor, hoping every day that he’s never Called and carefully avoiding the path that leads into the forbidden woods bordering the cemetery.

Just as Ian’s friend, Fiona, convinces him to talk to his father, they’re lured into the woods by a risen corpse that doesn’t want to play by the rules. There, the two are captured by a coven of Weavers, dark magic witches who want only two thing—to escape the murky woods where they’ve been banished, and to raise the dead and shift the balance of power back to themselves.

Only Ian can stop them. With a little help from his friends. And his long-dead ancestors.

Equal parts spooky and melancholy, funny and heartfelt, The Gravedigger’s Son is a gorgeous debut that will long sit beside Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener.

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1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

First, thanks so much for hosting me, Kester!

I love writing because I’ve always been a daydreamer. I’ve always had stories in my head, or at least little snippets of stories, thinking up fantastical places and people, heroes and villains, dangerous quests and spooky castles. Growing up, my mind was filled with “what ifs”. I think, in all honesty, that I never really grew out of playing make believe. I love writing because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be fulfilled creatively.

2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

My favorite genres are fantasy and horror. Science Fiction is up there as well, and a bit of magical realism, too. I think the most impactful writer in my childhood was Robert Jordan. My father was a fan of his, and had his entire Wheel of Time series. I remember climbing up onto the bookshelves and staring at those incredible covers, completely spellbound. Aside from Goosebumps and Lloyd Alexander, I never really read for my age group. I jumped right into epic fantasy. Terry Brooks came next, followed by Peter S. Beagle and Ursula K. Leguinn.

Beagle has influenced me more than any other writer. I think The Innkeeper’s Song is the most beautiful fantasy ever written.

As for favorite books, ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King & Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury have always been close to my heart. Recent favorites include The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill and The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe. I’ve also really enjoyed a few short story collections by Kelly Link.

3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

When I’m not writing, I’m usually reading. It seems my TBR pile gets bigger every time I turn around. I think it’s growing on its own! Maybe that’ll be my next book?

For me, writing isn’t really a job. It’s a passion. A need. I do have a full time job as a middle school custodian. It’s really great for my writing. Nice and quiet, with plenty of time to think. I write for one hour a day, on my lunch break. I feel that setting a time limit really helps. On my days off, I always tell myself, “Okay, lets get writing. You’ll get so much done!”…Until I turn on the tv or crack open a book. Having the structure of writing at work really helps. Otherwise, I get way too distracted.

4. Your MG debut novel The Gravedigger’s Son tells the tale of Ian Fossor, who feels conflicted between his desire to become a Healer and his family’s lineage as Gravediggers. As he is Called to help the soul of a young boy, he finds himself fighting against a group of witches bent on seeking revenge and power. Would you be a Gravedigger or a Healer? How do you explore the themes of life and death, good and evil, and following your dreams versus your family’s expectations in your novel?

The Gravedigger's SonThat’s a tough one! Gravediggers and Healers both help people, but one helps the Living while the other helps the Dead. I think I’d like to be a Gravedigger, since they deal with a certain amount of magic and mysticism. Healing is noble, but I’d be too worried about messing something up. I was never too good in biology or anatomy class!

Exploring the concept of death can be tricky, especially when writing for a MG audience. In terms of religion, I kept everything utterly vague and set it in a fantasy realm. I also had to do it in a way that wasn’t too bleak (I hope), so I knew that I needed a lot of comic relief. That came in the form of Bertrum, Ian’s grumpy but loving undead tutor. And it comes later with Thatcher Moore, the skeleton who refuses to stay dead. One of the main struggles in Ian’s life is the fact that he lost his mother at a young age, and though he’s growing up in a family that has the power to speak to the Dead, he knows he’ll never be able to reach her…or so he thinks. I liked the idea of having something so important being just out of his reach. It makes for a melancholy character, but a sympathetic one. Ian knows that death is a serious business. There’s a big part of him that really despises the whole notion of it (which is probably true for most of us), but as the story progresses, he discovers that death is far from the end.

Good and evil was also something I wanted to explore, but I knew that I didn’t want to make it so black and white. In the story, Ian comes across a coven of Weavers, or dark magic witches. At first, they seem to be completely evil. Yet as the conflict reaches its climax, Ian realizes that their evil deeds are coming from a place of great pain, and in the case of the younger Weavers, a place of learned ignorance. I never like stories of completely flawless heroes vs. completely evil villains. That’s been done before, and I think it’s (thankfully) becoming a dying trope. Everyone has the capacity to be good and bad. There are a thousand shades of gray. You never know what might drive a good person to do something bad, or a bad person to do something good. We all handle things differently. I wanted to write about characters who struggle with righting past wrongs. Naturally, they all have a lot of emotional distress, their morality is clouded, and that heavy baggage can lead to some pretty drastic action.

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