Exclusive Interview with Supriya Kelkar, MG Historical Fiction Author of Ahimsa

Hi guys! I have a really special interview for you today, and today’s guest is Supriya Kelkar, author of her MG historical fiction debut Ahimsa. It is an amazing novel, and if you haven’t read it, you are missing out! Check out my review of Ahimsa here, and I hope you enjoy this interview and read this beautiful book!


About the BookAhimsa

In 1942, when Mahatma Gandhi asks Indians to give one family member to the freedom movement, ten-year-old Anjali is devastated to think of her father risking his life for the freedom struggle.

But it turns out he isn’t the one joining. Anjali’s mother is. And with this change comes many more adjustments designed to improve their country and use “ahimsa”—non-violent resistance—to stand up to the British government. First the family must trade in their fine foreign-made clothes for homespun cotton, so Anjali has to give up her prettiest belongings. Then her mother decides to reach out to the Dalit community, the “untouchables” of society. Anjali is forced to get over her past prejudices as her family becomes increasingly involved in the movement.

When Anjali’s mother is jailed, Anjali must step out of her comfort zone to take over her mother’s work, ensuring that her little part of the independence movement is completed.

Inspired by her great-grandmother’s experience working with Gandhi, New Visions Award winner Supriya Kelkar shines a light on the Indian freedom movement in this poignant debut.

Goodreads

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1. Your MG debut novel Ahimsa, which follows Anjali as she and her mother join the nonviolent Indian Freedom Movement, was inspired by your great-grandmother who worked with Gandhi and other political leaders as a Freedom Fighter. Could you share with us a bit about your great-grandmother and how her life of perseverance and activism led to the creation of Ahimsa?

My great-grandmother’s background is very similar to Ma’s in Ahimsa. When Gandhi asked each family to give one member to the nonviolent freedom movement, my great-grandfather was running a business and couldn’t go because they needed the income to survive. So my great-grandmother decided she would join. She fought for women’s rights and for the impoverished communities in her region. She was arrested by the British for leading a protest and remained imprisoned until Gandhi negotiated the Gandhi-Irwin pact, which allowed non-violent political prisoners to be released from jail. After India’s independence, she went on to become a two-term congresswoman.

In 2003, when I learned more about her, I really wanted to write a screenplay about her story, a biopic. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to work. Then I thought it should be a fictional story and tried to tell it from the point of view of a freedom fighter’s daughter. That still wasn’t working. That’s when I decided to give the story a try as a novel. Ahimsa was the first novel I ever wrote and it didn’t get published until fourteen years after the first draft was written!

2. What attracted you to historical fiction as an author and a reader? Why do you believe it is important to shed light on events such as the Indian Freedom Movement to young readers?

It’s so interesting to me how much there is to learn from historical fiction, and how relevant the genre can be. I didn’t even realize the social justice parallels in my book until more than a decade into revisions on it. I think it is important to shed light on events such as the Indian Freedom Movement so young readers can not only learn a little about historical events that are often lightly touched upon in a school curriculum, but also so young readers can learn from them and apply the lessons of the time period to today’s time.

3. How have your personal experiences dealing with racism as you grew up shaped Ahimsa? What do you want readers to take away from your debut novel?

AhimsaA few years ago, a childhood friend on Facebook was talking about how differently some people were treated by the police, based on the color of their skin. And almost everyone who responded from our high school said this wasn’t true. We grew up in a town that was all about being “color blind.” Race was not discussed (unless you were being bullied because of it), and everyone liked to talk about how they didn’t see color and everyone was equal. I was stunned. I finally wrote a long comment on his post to the other people about everything I went through, all the racist incidents that happened, all the racist comments from teachers, peers, kids younger than me, words written in permanent marker on my locker, and a brick thrown through our window. And none of the people I grew up with could believe any of this happened, even though it happened almost daily and in front of their eyes. This realization that I could walk the same halls of high school as other people but my experience could be so totally different, led to the scene where Mohan tells Anjali that although they walk on the same street, their experiences are totally different.

I want readers to understand from Ahimsa that if someone tells them something is hurtful or racist, they should believe it, even if they haven’t experienced it or seen it. I want them to be aware of their own prejudices and their own privileges and see where they can grow.  I also want readers to know that they are powerful and can make a difference in this world with their voice. And most of all, I want them to take away empathy from Ahimsa, and realize how much there is to respect and value in each person, from every background.

4. What were some of the challenges you faced during your research for Ahimsa? How has writing your debut helped you embrace and understand more about your Indian heritage and ancestry?

Anjali’s house is my father’s childhood home in India. But when I was describing things in it, I was describing how I remembered them in the 1980s and 1990s. Although most of it was accurate, since the house was around in the 1940s, there were small details I got wrong. I had only seen kitchen cabinets with a stove on top of them. But back in the 1940s, the cooking was done on the floor in that house. Luckily, my parents read the drafts several times and were able to point out any inaccuracies.

Another mistake was I had used my favorite Gandhi quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world” in the book. But it wasn’t until almost the very last edit, when I was triple checking every little detail, that I realized there is no proof Gandhi ever said that line. I had to remove it and find a quote that was actually documented as being said by Gandhi to replace it with.

Debuting with a story about Indian characters really did help me embrace my background more. For years I had written stories about characters that were not from my cultural background, because those stories were the ones that sold. It meant so much to me that now, a story like this could be published.

5. Which character in Ahimsa do you identify most with, and why?

I relate a lot to Anjali in that I can be stubborn at times and it takes me a while to learn from my mistakes. I also relate to Ma’s optimism and wish I were as brave as she was.

6. As a screenwriter for multiple Hindi films, how has your profession in the film industry impacted you as a writer? Would you like to describe to us some of your experiences working on your productions?

Supriya KelkarI had the great privilege of working with one of the biggest production houses in India, and one that knows the value of a solid screenplay. We would spend years on one script, revising it and having it get torn apart and then revising it again. As an impatient person, I learned a lot about how important it is to keep revising and not become attached to your words. You have to be able to throw out entire scenes and storylines and sometimes characters when you’re revising. I also learned a lot about the importance of plot and the importance of being entertaining while serving the plot thanks to the incredible directors and writers I got to work with.

 

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

I have always been someone who loved to tell a story, and probably embellished my stories quite a bit as a child, so writing was a natural way for me to record those stories when I was younger. I first remember really loving writing in third grade, when our class wrote our own books, which our teacher bound into hardcover books. That’s when I first felt this huge sense of accomplishment for writing a story and the joy of being able to share it. It was also when I first heard some constructive criticism too. I couldn’t figure out how to get the characters out of trouble so right when things were at their worst, I had the main character wake up with a start and realize it was all just a bad dream. A family member told me she loved the story except for the ending. 🙂

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

I don’t really have a favorite genre. As a child, I really enjoyed the Babysitters Club series and scaring myself with the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. I was also really into this Indian comic book series called Amar Chitra Katha. Since there weren’t any books about Indian or Indian-American characters when I was growing up, I really enjoyed learning Indian history, folk tales and mythology from those comic books. In my late teens and twenties, I loved the Harry Potter books. And currently, I really adore picture books. I love how much can be said in so few words in them and think you’re never too old to read them. I was really floored by DU IZ TAK? by Carson Ellis. It is a book told totally in a made-up bug language and yet the reader is able to understand.

I don’t think any of the books in particular impacted my writing style. But I do think I learned about story and plot and character arcs from each and every one of them.

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

When I’m not writing, I have my hands full with my three young kids. Writing is my only job outside of being a mother. I come from a screenwriting background, having studied it in college and then later going on to become a Bollywood screenwriter. I enjoy that I can make my own hours as an author, versus being a screenwriter. I actually write late at night after the kids have slept. It leads to groggy mornings and strange dreams but it’s worth it!

10. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Did you ever surprise yourself as you drafted and revised your book?

I am 100% a plotter thanks to my screenwriting background. I start with general story beats. Then I expand them into bullet points. And then I write paragraphs below each bullet point about the moments I want to have happen in each chapter. I do surprise myself as I draft each chapter when the writing leads to a new idea that has repercussions later in the book though. Those are fun moments that I always look forward to when writing.

11. Your upcoming children’s picture book The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh is set to release in 2019! What is it like making this transition from a Middle Grade novel to a picture book? What can we expect in your latest story?

Yes! I am so excited for it! I always wanted to be a picture book author and I still can’t believe it is actually happening next year. I learned the hard way that it isn’t easy to write a picture book, even though the word count is the equivalent of a page or two in a novel. The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh is about an Indian-American boy who expresses himself through colors. When he moves to a new town across the country, he uses his colors to navigate the various emotions he feels, from nervous, to shy, to finally feeling at home again. Alea Marley did the illustrations and they are stunning and adorable and I can’t wait to be able to share the book with everyone next year!

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

I would say to keep learning, keep revising, and never give up. Ahimsa took 14 years to be published, and the first draft was awful. It can be hard to not get attached to your words and be receptive to constructive criticism, but once you’re able to delete stuff with abandon and really take in constructive criticism, you might be pleasantly surprised with the results. I know I was.

Thanks so much, Supriya, for joining us today! It was so great to get to know more about you and your wonderful debut novel!


About the AuthorSupriya Kelkar

Born and raised in the Midwest, Supriya learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. Winner of the 2015 New Visions Award for her middle grade novel AHIMSA, (October 2, 2017), Supriya is a screenwriter who has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films, including Lage Raho Munnabhai and Eklavya: The Royal Guard, India’s entry into the 2007 Academy Awards. She was an associate producer on the Hollywood feature, Broken Horses. Supriya’s books include AHIMSA, THE MANY COLORS OF HARPREET SINGH (Sterling, 2019), and THE SANDALWOOD PYRE (Tu Books, 2020). Supriya is represented by Kathleen Rushall at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read Ahimsa? Do you like MG historical fiction?

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

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June LILbooKtalk: “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty” with Dana Middleton and Alyssa Hollingsworth

Hi guys! I am really excited to share with y’all this month’s LILbooKtalk! The theme is “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty,” a theme that is present is most Middle Grade novels. That is one of the biggest reasons why I love MG because they certainly boost my hope whenever I feel overwhelmed or sad. Today, I have two wonderful authors here to discuss this topic, Dana Middleton and Alyssa Hollingsworth, and they both provide some amazing insight into the worlds of MG and contemporary. I hope you enjoy!


About Open If You DareOpen If You Dare

Like Birdie Adams didn’t have enough problems this summer. But Birdie’s Birdie. And if a long-buried box has “Open if you dare” written on its lid, then Birdie and her best friends, Ally and Rose, are going to open it.

And now, along with everything else that’s going on–Ally’s pitching slump, Rose’s banishment to Britain, and Birdie’s annoying younger sister being, you know, annoying–the best friends are caught up in solving a mystery planted by a dead girl forty years ago.

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About The Eleventh TradeThe Eleventh Trade

From debut author Alyssa Hollingsworth comes a story about living with fear, being a friend, and finding a new place to call home.

They say you can’t get something for nothing, but nothing is all Sami has. When his grandfather’s most-prized possession―a traditional Afghan instrument called a rebab―is stolen, Sami resolves to get it back. He finds it at a music store, but it costs $700, and Sami doesn’t have even one penny. What he does have is a keychain that has caught the eye of his classmate. If he trades the keychain for something more valuable, could he keep trading until he has $700? Sami is about to find out.

The Eleventh Trade is both a classic middle school story and a story about being a refugee. Like Katherine Applegate, author of Wishtree, Alyssa Hollingsworth tackles a big issue with a light touch.

The Eleventh Trade releases from Roaring Brook Press on September 18th, 2018! Pre-order it today!

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LILbooKtalk August 2018

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is Dana Middleton, MG author of Open If You Dare, which released last year. I was able to meet Dana at the SE-YA Book Festival back in March, also! Could you tell us a bit about your latest book and your background?

Dana: Hi Kester. So great to be here! My latest book is called Open If You Dare. It’s set in Atlanta (in the real neighborhood of my youth). It’s a mystery but it’s mostly about three friends during their last real summer together. I live in LA now but most of my MG fiction takes me back to my childhood in the South.Open If You Dare

Kester: Thank you for joining us today, Dana! I certainly loved Open If You Dare!Alongside Dana, we have Alyssa Hollingsworth, whose MG debut novel The Eleventh Trade is set to release in September of this year. Would you like to share with us a little about your book and yourself?

Alyssa: Sure! Thanks for having me. The Eleventh Trade is a contemporary story set in Boston about an Afghan boy who loses his last heirloom from home and goes on a quest of trades to get it back. I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old, got my master’s in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University, and seem to have accidentally landed in the niche of MG books with fun plots and an underbelly of humanitarian themes.

The Eleventh TradeKester: I am really excited to read The Eleventh Trade! I’m glad that you’re here with us!

Both Birdie in Open If You Dare and Sami in The Eleventh Trade are faced with great challenges, such as dealing with one’s best friends moving away or trying to buy back a prized possession, that require a lot of hope and perseverance to overcome. What is the central message that you want young readers to take away from your novels? How do you want your book to help readers who are going through similar trials?

Alyssa: Great question! Boiled down to its very basic core, The Eleventh Trade is about how loss opens us up to community (friendship/belonging), and how community brings healing. I hope that readers will see the book as an opportunity to be aware of others’ struggle and actively jump in to give help and hope.

Dana: I agree with Alyssa. When a reader can identify and/or become aware of others’ struggles, the world becomes a smaller and kinder place. As an author, I feel like it’s my job to step into the skin of my protagonist. Birdie, in this case, is a lot like me and a lot different, too. She feels deeply about the impending loss of her friends (one is moving away and the other will go to a different school next year) but she also grows to understand that she can stand on her own and that the future can be different and good at the same time.

Alyssa: “Different and good” — I love that!

Dana: Right? I think I still struggle with that as an adult!

Kester: I definitely agree with the both of y’all. It’s very important to foster empathy in readers so they could make the world a better place.

Dana: In all fiction, but perhaps especially in middle grade fiction, it’s all about empathy and showing readers a variety of experiences. I’m excited to read The Eleventh Trade, partially for that reason. And also because it sound really good!

Alyssa: 🙂

Continue reading “June LILbooKtalk: “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty” with Dana Middleton and Alyssa Hollingsworth”

Book Review: Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar — A Masterpiece that Should Be in Every School Classroom and Library

Hi guys! I have a gigantic slew of MG novels that I need to review for y’all, so for the upcoming weeks, you will see a bunch of reviews of some amazing Middle Grade books! Spoiler alert: They’re all four or five star ratings! To start off, today’s review is on Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar, which is set in 1940s India during the Freedom Movement. Sounds intriguing? Go read it! You will not regret it!


About the BookAhimsa

In 1942, when Mahatma Gandhi asks Indians to give one family member to the freedom movement, ten-year-old Anjali is devastated to think of her father risking his life for the freedom struggle.

But it turns out he isn’t the one joining. Anjali’s mother is. And with this change comes many more adjustments designed to improve their country and use “ahimsa”—non-violent resistance—to stand up to the British government. First the family must trade in their fine foreign-made clothes for homespun cotton, so Anjali has to give up her prettiest belongings. Then her mother decides to reach out to the Dalit community, the “untouchables” of society. Anjali is forced to get over her past prejudices as her family becomes increasingly involved in the movement.

When Anjali’s mother is jailed, Anjali must step out of her comfort zone to take over her mother’s work, ensuring that her little part of the independence movement is completed.

Inspired by her great-grandmother’s experience working with Gandhi, New Visions Award winner Supriya Kelkar shines a light on the Indian freedom movement in this poignant debut.

Goodreads

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5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free finished hardcover copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

I rarely rate books five stars anymore. A book is awarded five stars for one of three reasons: it is a new all-time favorite, it resonates with me on such a deep basis, or it has the power to change lives including my own. Ahimsa is a novel that will influence the viewpoints of readers, regardless of age. It is such a thought-provoking and emotionally gripping story that will inspire readers to persevere in their battles. Although I was not very into the story at first since it was written in third-person, the deeper I progressed into Anjali’s fight for freedom, the more that I literally could not put the book down.

Continue reading “Book Review: Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar — A Masterpiece that Should Be in Every School Classroom and Library”

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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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 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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Melissa Ostrom Header.png

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””

ARC Review: Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne — A Fast-Paced and Brilliant Retelling of Jane Eyre Full of Intrigue, Mystery, Secrets, and Lies

Hi guys! Today, in my hometown, we are celebrating the World’s Biggest Fish Fry! What is that, you might ask? Well, in Paris, Tennessee, (yes I live in a town that is named after the city in France… and yes, we do have a miniature Eiffel Tower), the town fries up literally tons of catfish and we celebrate that by having a week-long celebrating full of eating, going to the fair, and fish-related activities, including catfish races (yes, we race catfish, and we’re not ashamed of it). While I’m watching the parade today, I hope you enjoy this review of one of my most anticipated releases of 2018, Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne!


About the BookBrightly Burning

Seventeen-year-old Stella Ainsley wants just one thing: to go somewhere—anywhere—else. Her home is a floundering spaceship that offers few prospects, having been orbiting an ice-encased Earth for two hundred years. When a private ship hires her as a governess, Stella jumps at the chance. The captain of the Rochester, nineteen-year-old Hugo Fairfax, is notorious throughout the fleet for being a moody recluse and a drunk. But with Stella he’s kind.

But the Rochester harbors secrets: Stella is certain someone is trying to kill Hugo, and the more she discovers, the more questions she has about his role in a conspiracy threatening the fleet.

Brightly Burning releases from HMH on May 1st! Pre-order it today!

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4 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

It feels so great to finally find a YA novel that I literally could NOT put down; in fact, I finished Brightly Burning in just one weekend, tearing through it like a slice of cake. Brightly Burning is a brilliant and imaginative retelling of Jane Eyre thrust among the stars and full of intriguing mystery, dark secrets, and jaw-dropping technology. Honestly, I tried to read Jane Eyre but never had time to finish it (though I’m determined to read it this summer), but comparing the synopsis of the novel with Donne’s debut, I have got to say that Brightly Burning keeps the essence of Jane Eyre while spinning it into a dystopian and aristocratic space society. It is such a stunning and marvelous book that I fell in love with everything about it from page one.

While I did enjoy the romance and found it to be swoon-worthy and charming (I was rooting for Hugo and Stella the entire time), I was more captured by all the mystery and deception surrounding the Rochester. Curiosity swelled through my body as Stella attempted to learn more about Hugo’s dark past that lies beneath his brooding exterior. The climax took me by surprise, and I did not expect it at all. Every shocking revelation, every plot twist was a punch to the gut. Brightly Burning throws at readers everything from surprise visitors to mysterious secrets to heartbreaking betrayals, and each twist and turn will slowly wrench your heart until the very end.

Alexa Donne is a master at world-building. Brightly Burning is set in a dystopian future where an Ice Age took over the Earth, and only a fleet of space ships holds the remainder of the human race. The deeper I went into the novel, the more I became fascinated by this history. I wanted to know more about the ships, the people, and the politics. I craved answers to questions like “Are there people on Earth? Is it inhabitable?” The author elegantly describes the technology and the ships so well that you feel as if you were on them. I could imagine myself reading in Hugo’s library or walking through the decks of the Rochester or the Stalwart. I even felt the urge to live on a space ship myself! Brightly Burning will enrapture readers so much that they will never want to leave! I know I did not.

You cannot help but fall in love with all of the characters, regardless of their personality. From the strict yet caring Officer Xiao to the kind-hearted best friend George, each character had his or her own complexities that make them memorable, lovable, and relatable. Even the supposed antagonists (I use “supposed” very lightly) will surprise you in many ways when the time comes. However, Stella has to be my favorite character. Firstly, her love of books is one of the best parts of the entire novel. There are so many references to amazing classics and authors that the avid reader will rebound in joy at each one. I now want to re-read some of my favorite books because the novel emphasizes the power of literature. Secondly, she’s one of the strongest characters I have read. She would rather risk her joy and her life to save the lives of others, and she won’t give up searching for answers. Stella’s perseverance and self-sacrifice throughout the novel inspires readers to keep on fighting and moving regardless of the risks.

Brightly Burning is the perfect book for science fiction and mystery fans alike! It is one of the best Young Adult novels I have read in a long time, and I did not want it to end. I became so snuggled up into the Rochester that I did not want to leave. Alexa Donne outdid herself in her debut, and I loved every single aspect of it. Although Brightly Burning is a standalone novel, there will be a companion novel to it in the future, which is so exciting. I know I want to get my hands on it as soon as possible!

Please note that this is a review of an unfinished Advance Reader’s Copy. There may have been major and minor changes between this version of the book versus the finalized novel that will be released to the public.


About the AuthorAlexa Donne

Alexa Donne is a Ravenclaw who wears many hats, including teen mentoring, college admissions essay consulting, fan convention organizing, YouTube-ing and podcasting. When she’s not writing science fiction and fantasy for teens, Alexa works in international television marketing. A proud Boston University Terrier, she lives in Los Angeles with two fluffy ginger cats named after YA literature characters. Visit her at http://www.alexadonne.com or on most social media spaces @alexadonne.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for Brightly Burning? Do you like YA sci-fi?

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

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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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Melissa Roske Header

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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Jessica Pennington Header.png

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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Patrick Moody Header.png

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.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Patrick Moody, MG Horror Author of The Gravedigger’s Son”

Announcing the Love Songs & Other Lies Street Team Blog Tour, Hosted by LILbooKlovers

Hi everybody! Today I am announcing the Love Songs & Other Lies Street Team Blog Tour, which starts this Monday! Although there is another blog tour going on, hosted by the amazing JeanBookNerd (who is very great–I was on her blog tour for The Queens of Innis Lear), all the stops in this blog tour are members of Jessica’s epic Street Team, which I am a part of myself! In addition, this is the first ever blog tour that I am organizing myself, so I am super excited to see how this all turns out!


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.

Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Powell’s | Book Depository | Macmillan


Love Songs & Other Lies Blog Tour Banner

Monday 16th

LILbooKlovers – Interview

Ashleigh’s Bookshelf – Review

Tuesday 17th

The Clever Reader – Dream Cast

Tale Out Loud – Review

Wednesday 18th

Smada’s Book Smack – Top 10 Quotes

BookCrushin – Review

Thursday 19th

My Fangirl Chronicles – Excerpt

A Blunt Book Blog – Review

Friday 20th

BookishBitsBlog – Guest Post

Books. Life. and Everything Else. – Review

Monday 30th

The Candid Cover – Interview

Belle’s Archive – Review

Tuesday 1st

The Cursed Books – Playlist

The Heart of a Book Blogger – Aesthetic

Wednesday 2nd

Portrait of a Book – Aesthetic

 Vicky Who Reads – Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Read LS&OL

Thursday 3rd

The Mind of a Book Dragon – Interview

Boundless Bookaholic – Review

Friday 4th

Claerie’s Tales – Guest Post

Librarian Laura – Interview and Excerpt


About the AuthorJessica Pennington

Jessica Pennington is no stranger to the combination of love and drama. She’s a wedding planner, after all. A writer since the age of ten—when she sought publication for her poem about a tree—Jessica likes the challenge of finding the humor in a sad situation or highlighting the awkwardness in a romantic one. She lives in a Michigan beach town suspiciously similar to the one in her books, where she’s currently finishing her second novel, WHEN SUMMER ENDS, out April 2019.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for Love Songs & Other Lies? Do you like YA contemporary romances?

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

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