Friday, September 18, 2015

Explaining Myself with a Book Review

Drum roll please! The winner of WOVEN by David Powers King and Michael Jensen is S.P. Bowers! Congratulations, Sara! I will connect you and David with each other. Thanks again to David and Michael for offering their wonderful book. You’re both awesome! Now onto my post…

Last night, I wrote a long post about some things I’ve been dealing with, and it regards a topic that has made me feel very beaten down these past few weeks ever since the school year began. I read my post to my husband and asked if it was a good idea for me to publish it. My husband said I probably shouldn’t publicly share this, at least not yet. He pointed out that he doesn’t want me to get hurt even more than I have been just in case someone from that environment I’m alluding to finds my blog and twists my words and my intentions. My husband is a wise person, and I respect his advice.

(Update: When I first posted here, I shared a book review reflecting some of the stuff going on with me. That was my way of talking about it without really talking about it. But I have since decided to remove it.) 

Have you ever really wanted to post about something on social media but decided not to? (Update:) Have you ever taken down something you posted, like what I just did?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Author Interview with David Powers King & Book Giveaway

Years ago, David Powers King and I first connected through some writers bloghop. Since then, David scored a sweet publishing deal for WOVEN (Scholastic), a YA novel he wrote with co-author Michael Jensen. The story is about a peasant boy named Nels who is murdered. Only the snobby Princess Tyra can see his ghost. To save Nels, the two embark on an adventure to locate a magic needle. I particularly enjoyed the mystical ideas presented here about sewing, including the suggestion that we’re all threads being worked on by self-weaving looms creating various big picture tapestries.   

David and Michael generously offered to give away a book with this interview. So if you’re interested in receiving WOVEN, please follow my blog if you aren’t doing so already AND leave a comment on this post by the end of Wednesday, Sept. 16. The winner will be announced here on Thursday, Sept. 17.

Here’s David’s interview:

Tell me where you were born and raised.  What did you study in college? Did this subject influence your writing?
I was born in Burbank, California. Being near so many movie studios gave me mad respect for stories, and so I decided to give writing a shot when I was young. After studying behavioral science in college, I had plenty of tools for creating dynamic and engaging characters. Michael also lived in California for a time, but lived in Utah most of his life. He has a good eye for great stories, studied musical theater and has written a few musicals. 

How did you come up with the plot and world building behind WOVEN?
The story originated with a dream that Michael had over a decade ago, about a princess and a ghost in search of a magic needle. Shortly after Michael and I became friends and he told me about this concept, I fell in love with it right away. We had to make a story about this! So when thinking of a setting that would accommodate a princess and a magic system involving a needle, we built up a sewing-based magic system in a medieval setting. The more we brainstormed, the more natural everything fell into place. We’re very pleased with it.

I really liked the character Jilia. Her spunk and her attentiveness to Nels’s mother during a difficult time made her stand out. I wonder if there might be potential for a spin-off story featuring her, or if there’s any possibility of a romance between her and Nels in a different story, say a pre-WOVEN story?Jilia is one of our favorite characters as well, and her personality is, in large part, based on a cousin of mine. We’ve discussed the possibility of writing companion novels rather than direct sequels, which can give us room to write Jilia (and other characters) their own story in the WOVEN world. Our options are open at this point.

What's your advice for authors who want to collaborate to write a book? Collaborating on a book can be an enriching experience that helps strengthen your writing. So long as you are both committed to the goal and the story. Know early on what each other’s role is going to be. Stick to it. And be there for your collaborator when life strikes. A collaboration is not a “you” or “me” thing. It’s an “us” thing.

What authors/books did you like when you were a kid? 
So many to choose from! I would say my biggest writing influences and inspiration has come from the works of Lois Lowry, R.L. Stein, Orson Scott Card, Michael Crichton, James Dashner and Shannon Hale. Michael’s are Elizabeth George Spear’s CALICO CAPTIVE and THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA by C.S. Lewis, CRICKET IN TIME by George Seldon and KIDNAPPED by Robert Lewis Stevenson.

What are you working on now? Any future projects we should look out for? 
In addition to drafting a sequel/companion novel to WOVEN with Michael, I currently have a YA zombie novel on submission, and we both have many more individual story ideas that can't wait to leap onto the page. For more updates, feel free to check our website at or my blog at

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

IWSG: Last Month's Ups and Downs

Today is IWSG day, a monthly event Alex Cavanaugh started. On the first Wednesday of the month, writers are invited to reveal their insecurities. Sometimes on this day we just fill the blogosphere in on what we’ve been up to. 

Yesterday, I was blitzed by dozens and dozens of writers. A big thanks to author DL Hammons, founder of Blog Blitz, a program where a writer gets selected to be surprised with visits from other writers. This week, DL selected me as the lucky writer. Thanks to everyone who had stopped by my blog! August had its ups and downs, and receiving a collective hug from other writers was quite comforting. 
Let’s start with the ups: Our family visited Kauai for a few days with friends, and it was an AWESOME trip...And recently, my son started at a new preschool and my daughter started first grade. Both seem to be adjusting well.

Now, a down: Shortly after we returned to California, a speeding car crashed into our minivan on the freeway. Thankfully, my husband and I were okay and our children weren’t in the vehicle when this happened. But it was still a scary experience. At the time, the driver of the speeding car admitted he was in a rush to get somewhere and he apologized for damaging our minivan. But later, he did a 180 with insurance and lied about what happened. As of now, we're still trying to sort things out with insurance. Argh!
And more downs: It just seems that in the last couple of weeks, more frustrating stuff have been piling up on me. All I’ll say is that I can do the right thing, and sometimes people would still let me down.

These downs have been distracting me from my writing. But I’m hopeful that September will bring better things, and that I can finally finish up my novel-in-progress.  

How are you doing?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

IWSG: #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter

Today is IWSG day, a monthly event Alex Cavanaugh started to get writers sharing about their insecurities and other things. On the first Wednesday of the month, a bunch of us gather on the blogosphere to share...I'm not here to discuss an insecurity today. Instead, I want to acknowledge that sometimes writers get understandably annoyed with stuff people say to them. On Twitter, I recently found #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter. 

A couple of my favorites came from writers I follow on Twitter, Medeia Sharif and Mark Koopmans:

Medeia and Mark, if you're visiting here, I want you to know I hear you! =)  *Fist pump*  (And Mark, that's such a cute picture you posted!) 

Although I didn't participate in the hashtag fest, I could certainly think of a number of things people have said to me that caused my eyes to roll internally, such as...Since you got that rejection, why are you still writing? Yes, someone actually said that to me.

Can you add to the list #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Revisiting a Classic: DAUGHTERS OF EVE by Lois Duncan

Lois Duncan's DAUGHTERS OF EVE is one of my favorite YA reads. It’s also one of those rare books I could read more than once and with each reading, I can gain a new insight about what I think Lois is trying to say. (Side note: I just skimmed through the “modernized” version of the book. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Updating a book is unnecessary. Giving a classic a makeover is like plugging a helicopter into Van Gogh’s Starry Night.)                 

The book is about a group of high school girls who join a sorority called Daughters of Eve, led by a charismatic and matronly advisor named Irene. Irene influences the girls, having varying experiences with the boys and men in their lives, to distrust and hate men. Only the reader knows that Irene’s bitterness stems from her own personal disappointments.

Irene successfully manipulates the girls to “fight back against oppression” through anonymous acts of violence, which begin with a brutal gang attack on a boy.

DAUGHTERS OF EVE is about one group justifying its questionable behavior with the argument that they are fighting for respect. The book also shows that one can make a heroic show of standing up to bigotry and promoting a cause, all while being a despicable person at the same time. This is not a feel-good revenge story but a warning tale about a self-serving leader and her naive followers. 

The original book was published in 1979 and its portrait of mob mentality still rings true today. I would even go as far as to say that reading DAUGHTERS OF EVE in my youth helped cultivate this tiny bit of self-awareness: I can wholeheartedly support a cause but not be a fan of an Irene-like individual or entity that has postured themselves as a leader of the movement. I can also be in disagreement with the approach followers of a like-minded cause take to handle non-supporters when it involves bullying or hypocrisy masked as “standing up for the right thing.”

What books, fiction or non-fiction, have raised your awareness about the dangers of Irene-like leaders and their followers?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Author Interview with Dianne Salerni

It’s been awhile since I posted an interview. This month, I bring to you Dianne Salerni, author of THE EIGHTH DAY series (HarperCollins) and a number of other books.  I’ve been following Dianne’s blog for some time, so I’m stoked to have her here on my blog. Dianne is a native and resident of Pennsylvania. She is an alumna of the University of Delaware, where she fondly remembers calling her mother to come pick her up when she didn’t feel like eating at the dining hall. Having studied Elementary and Special Education at UD, and then arming herself with a Masters in Language Arts Education from the University of Pennsylvania, Dianne taught fifth grade for 25 years. Imagine all the juicy story ideas she must’ve gathered from observing this age group! Dianne retired early and now writes full time.  

THE EIGHTH DAY is about a 13 year-old orphan named Jax who discovers a secret extra day of the week. On this day, it appears at first glance that the rest of the people in the world have gone missing. But Jax learns soon enough that people do exist here, and he gets caught in an ongoing war between two groups of people.

When I first heard about THE EIGHTH DAY from your blog, I daydreamed about what I would do if I discovered there was an eighth day where seemingly, only I existed. I decided I could spend that day working on my novel and catching up on pleasure reading. What would you do on an eighth day where only you existed?
If I had a secret day all to myself, I’d spend it visiting places that are normally so crowded you can’t enjoy them properly.  Maybe not Disney World, since no one would be there to operate the rides. But I’m recalling my visit to Versailles two summers ago when I was pushed and shoved and trampled by the crowd – and how after that experience I didn’t even bother trying the Louvre. Those are two places I would love to see with NOBODY else there!

Jax, your male protagonist, reminds me of many boys I know. What was your process exploring a boy’s POV in your writing?
This is where all my years of teaching fifth grade helped a lot! I’ve spent a lot of time around boys about Jax’s age. I know how they talk, how they think, and how they try to wiggle out of trouble. There’s one particular spot in THE EIGHTH DAY where Jax lies to his guardian, Riley, about something important. Some adult readers have questioned whether it was realistic for him to do so, given the stakes in that situation. But no tween reader has ever questioned it! They know as well as this teacher-turned-author does that most boys in that situation would lie, trying to keep themselves out of trouble above all else.

I thought it was clever how you were able to weave Arthurian legend into your story. How was it like to take an existing story and put your own creative spin on it?
I loved taking the legends and stories and twisting them into something different. I ended up borrowing not just from Arthurian legend (for the Transitioners) but also from general Celtic mythology (for the Kin). This connection continues in the other books of the series, and occasionally I find something in the legends that makes a surprising parallel with what I’ve already written. For instance, when I named the race of people trapped in the eighth day “the Kin,” it was originally only a place-holder name, until I thought of something different. But I never did think of a better name, and the book went to print with Evangeline and her race called the Kin.

Much, much later, I was researching Celtic legends for Book 3, and I came across the Tuatha de Danann, a legendary race of people gifted in magical powers who arrived in the British isles in ancient times and ruled there awhile. Eventually they were defeated and driven away to a secret, hidden kingdom where they lived extended lives and were never seen by humans again. Kind of like the Kin in my story.

But here’s the part that was just a little freaky. Tuatha de Danann translates as the people, the nation, the tribe … or … the kin.

Can you tell me what is coming up for THE EIGHTH DAY series?
THE EIGHTH DAY is the first book of a 3-book deal, but there is an option clause for two more. When HarperCollins acquired THE EIGHTH DAY, I was asked to plan out 5 books, but to make sure the series could end on Book 3 if necessary. That seemed a pretty daunting task at first … and then I figured out how to do it. (Yay!)

In Book 2, THE INQUISITOR’S MARK, Jax – an orphan – discovers that his late father lied to him about who they were. Jax actually has an extensive family, including an uncle and an aunt, grandparents, and many cousins. Unfortunately, they happen to be members of the Dulac clan, the organized crime family responsible for killing everyone in Riley’s family. These people are anxious to meet Jax and give him a home. But they also want him to turn Evangeline over to their custody – and when they discover Riley escaped their previous assassination attempt, they want to fix that mistake as soon as possible.

In Book 3, THE MORRIGAN’S CURSE, a prison break at the ancient Welsh fortress of Oeth-Anoeth results in the escape of the Llyrs, a Kin family with such a powerful talent for working with weather, they were once treated like weather gods. Now free after centuries of imprisonment, they seek to break the Eighth Day Spell, and they have a secret weapon: Evangeline’s little sister Addie. Jax is determined to rescue her … but it seems like Addie doesn’t want to be rescued. She’s chosen her side of the conflict: the wrong one.

Any upcoming projects you’d like to share about?
I’m afraid I can’t talk about some of my projects, but I can tell you that I’m working on a synopsis and sample chapters as part of my proposal for the optioned books in the Eighth Day series. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Which books/authors did you like to read while you were growing up?      
My first love was mysteries, and I quickly passed beyond the books meant for children (Nancy Drew, The Three Investigators) and on to my mother’s collection of Mary Stewart, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Virginia Coffman. I also loved ghost tales and stories about madness and the bizarre. Think Shirley Jackson. Later on, in high school, I fell in love with fantasy and science fiction, tearing through books by Roger Zelazny, C.J. Cherryh, and Douglas Adams.

I think my writing as an adult, from WE HEAR THE DEAD and THE CAGED GRAVES to the Eighth Day series (not to mention various manuscripts that are, as yet, unpublished) shows the influence of all those authors! I don’t know if you are what you eat, but I believe you write what you read!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pre-Reading Thoughts for Harper Lee's GO SET A WATCHMAN

Years ago, I read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I loved the book. Harper Lee's GO SET A WATCHMAN, set 20 years after MOCKINGBIRD took place, is released today. It is said that WATCHMAN was written before MOCKINGBIRD. On top of that, rumors of a third book have been circulating. 

From skimming early reviews, I've learned that MOCKINGBIRD'S beloved attorney Atticus Finch, who nobly sought acquittal for an African-American man falsely accused of rape, re-emerges in WATCHMAN now as a man who attends a KKK meeting and makes bigoted remarks about African-Americans.      

For this reason, people have not been shy to express on social media their apprehensions about reading the book. It's understandable that some Atticus fans want to preserve the godlike image they have of him. But I myself can often read about flawed characters, as long as they're well-written. What I am often curious about when I encounter such a character is why they are the way they are, even if I don't agree with who they are. I want to know how Atticus became Bizarro Atticus…Or has he always been this way? *Shudder*

What I find troubling are comments out there unfairly scoffing at Harper's "first draft," possibly her first book writing effort. Anyone who has ever tried to be a master at anything should be inspired to learn that the author of one of our great American novels didn't achieve this on her first try. She, like most of us, applied the "wash, rinse, and repeat" approach to her work. MOCKINGBIRD came from that.

I plan to read GO SET A WATCHMAN.

I don't know if I'll read the book as if it's a standalone or a sequel. I also don't know if I'd read the book with consideration to the rumor about a third novel. So I don't know if Atticus may be a future book.  What I do know is that uncertainties such as these stoke interest. 

Do you plan to read GO SET A WATCHMAN? If you know that a character you idolized in one book becomes a totally different person in another book, would you still read the book?