Book Review: Before Beauty

BEFORE BEAUTY

Title: Before Beauty (First Book in the Trilogy)

Author: Brittany Fichter

Blurb: Prince Everard’s father spent the boy’s youth forging the prince into a warrior. Upon the king’s death, however, Everard realizes he’s lost himself somewhere along the way, and in his pain, makes a decision that brings a dark curse upon both him and the great Fortress that has so long guarded the people of Destin.

The prince’s sin doesn’t simply affect those of his citadel, however. Isa, the daughter of a local merchant, has suffered the prince’s hasty temper before, and it changed her life forever. When Everard’s final outburst cuts off his people’s source of protection with the curse, he demands that she, a crippled commoner, come to help him break it. All the while, Destin’s northern enemy crouches at the foot of the Fortress’s mountain, waiting for the right moment to capture the stronghold that has stood for a thousand years.

Can Ever and Isa move past their brokenness to save Destin together, or will they and their beloved kingdom remain under darkness forever?

Brittany FichterReview:

If retellings are your thing, then check Brittany Fichter out asap. She’s quickly becoming a QUEEN of retellings. Prolific is not enough to describe her. Look below for a few more titles in her Classical Kingdom Series.

Before Beauty–her Beauty and the Beast retelling–is one of the most beautiful and unique spin-offs of this classical fairytale that I have read in a long time. There is very little “this has been done before” and the transformation of both characters unfolds in a compelling and fresh way.

Characters/Voice: Prince Everard and Isa each have unique voices, back story, personality and roles in this story. Each are unique and relatable and I loved them right away. Isa, who is disabled, brings vulnerability, transparency, and un-dealt with anger to the table that is completely identifiable, while Everard, who must conquer who he truly is–the boy he was designed to be or the boy his father wants him to be –brings reflection, sympathy, and agony as you watch his growth. So good!

Pacing: Does this book keep you up late at night? YES. Don’t read at night unless you want to get caught up in their story, their romance, their battles, their enemies, and their future. The story moves at a perfect pace, increasing with each chapter. I really believe it moves so quickly because it touches on so many deep and real human emotions.

Plot: Perfectly executed and unique. The idea of the “Fortress” and the raging mind battles between Prince Everard and his enemy are a fresh kind of power-set and makes for an interesting setting. Why Isa is the one to be selected, not to mention their past encounters coming in the present time, makes for a complex plot with large pay-offs. I was entirely satisfied and wanted more.

Setting: Fichter’s world building for Destin and the surrounding kingdoms were all well done. The land was easily pictured and likable. The history of Destin was easily understood and believable, which makes it easy to follow the story and its motives.

Themes: This story spins all kinds of universal truths of goodness, humility, faith, hope, strength, identity, and more. I love how it’s all weaved together in the characters. It’s also appropriate for all MG/YA ages and can be a great alternative to other retellings that  have adult content or an upper YA/NA feel.

Brittany Fichter obviously has a gift and passion for retellings. I look forward to checking out the rest in her series! Check out titles below.

 

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Nova, signing off.

 

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Query + Pages Critiques + Journals!

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Pen Friends ~ Looking for a query critique or your first chapter looked over? Nova McBee, SP host (in charge of Author Interviews & Book Reviews,) is offering her 2nd out of 3 Giveaways in November. Don’t miss out. She does the majority of query critiques at the SP and has become really good at pinpointing just how to make a query successful!

Thanks for all of your support and being part of our writing community!

Check here for details: November Giveaway Part 2!

Signing off,

SP gang!

 

Nova McBee’s Launch & Giveaway!

Pen Friends, our very own SP host, Nova McBee, will launch a newsletter and start blogging on her new website! To celebrate, she will have THREE Giveaways in November for writers and readers. You don’t want to miss on those or a chance to support this upcoming author!

* Check out her post by clicking the link below!

Congrats, Nova! We’re all excited to be part of your journey!

 

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Many moons ago, on a rainy Sunday in November, two young parents ran out of gas on the freeway trying to get to the hospital to have a baby. They eventually got there and I was born in a whirl of excitement. After this, one of my first memories was of smelling pumpkin pie–obviously, that […]

via NEWS & November Giveaways — Nova McBee

How to Survive in the Creative Darkness

I feel like the only appropriate way to start this post is with a quote from George Washington in “Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda:

“Check it–

Can I be real a second?

For just a millisecond?

Let down my guard and tell the people how I feel a second?” 

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It’s one of those seasons for me where everything feels a little darker than usual. There’s a heaviness to the air, in my limbs, and in my soul. Yeah, it’s dramatic, but we’re writers. Drama comes with the territory.

I’m guessing most of you have been in one of these seasons, and if you haven’t, you likely will be at some point in the future. Especially for creatives, the dark seems to follow us around a little more.

So today, when I just don’t know if I can get the words out any other way, I have this bit of encouragement for you–and for myself.  Continue reading

EDITOR TALK with Heather Webb

Pen Friends ~ We are super excited to hear from PRO EDITOR and Historical Fiction author extraordinaire, Heather Webb as she shares her editing and writing tips. Also check out her latest book, Last Christmas in Paris It’s out now! See below!!

Heather Webb, Smiling 2Hi Heather! Thanks for joining us. Since you are both an author and an editor, we are seriously eager to pick your brain. But first, please tell us who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

Hi all! I’ve been writing since 2008, so about 9  years or so. I can’t even believe that! Sometimes I feel like a newbie with so much to learn.

SP: First love– writing or editing? Which came first career wise? Bonus: How long did it take for you to write your first book?

Oh, definitely writing on both counts—my favorite, and it came first. As for my first book, it took me about two and a half years to complete.

SP: Mistakes, faux pas, cliches and the like–AS an editor, which do you see in debut authors and what tip can you give them to fix it before querying?

It really depends on the writer. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, and if you’re doing it right, you will continue to learn and grow the whole of your writing life. Mistakes I see most often include too much “telling” or explaining what’s happening instead of putting the reader directly into the character’s head; too many verbs of being that water down the prose and give it a passive feel; stage directions in which there are too many prepositional phrases explaining direction or location; also, awkward and unnatural dialogue.

In terms of a tip, I’d advise writers to streamline their editing process. Your first few drafts should be all big picture edits for story arc and character arcs, as well as story structure. The following several drafts should be layering, deepening, and polishing. If you haven’t done at least five drafts, your novel shouldn’t be sitting in an agent’s inbox yet.

SP: What are the most important elements of story that you look for?

I’m a sucker for great characters with distinct voices. When I walk away from a novel, what I always remember most is a well-drawn character. Plot is second for me, followed by world-building in third place, though sometimes it’s a tie for second place. I really like to be transported while reading.

SP: How does being an editor influence your own writing?last xmas in paris

Editing for others has helped me grow tremendously. I’ve trained myself to have an eagle eye, and I’ve become very meticulous with my own writing. I’ve been told this by all of my editors and my agent so something must be working. It can hinder me at times, too. I’m a lean writer so while drafting, I tend to despair over how thin it is, and I get in my own way sometimes. I have to talk myself through a first draft just to get to the end. That’s when the fun begins and I can start developing the manuscript into an actual book.

SP: When do you know that a writer is not ready to publish?

This is fairly easy to spot, after seven years of editing, nine years of writing, and a lifetime of reading voraciously. Craft issues, uneven pacing, unbelievable plotlines or thin characters—they all jump out at you after so much time and practice.

SP: Which genres do you love editing?

Historical fiction, any category of young adult, romance, literary, speculative fiction. Honestly, though, I enjoy working on anything that’s got a great hook.

SP: What is the hardest part about being an Editor?

Delivering difficult feedback. I always hold my breath when I send off the editorial letter and a manuscript that’s bleeding with red ink. I never want to crush someone’s dreams, or make them feel bad about themselves or their talents, but I do think honesty is a form of tough love that is absolutely pertinent to growth. I struggle with it as a writer myself, still. Receiving feedback is part of the process. I think my clients understand that I have their best interests at heart and tend to be open, for the most part, to thoughtful criticism. I truly want to see them succeed so I push them hard to go to the next level. That’s what it’s all about. Can you tell I used to teach high school? J

SP: What important changes/trends do you see happening in writing right now?

The advent of cell phones and internet and all that is high speed means the average attention span has shortened considerably. I think it’s important for writers to keep this in mind while crafting their stories. They need to be instantly gripping, compelling, and well-paced, regardless of genre or category. I’ve noticed a huge increase in audiobooks as well (including on my end! I love them!).

SP: Where can we learn more about you, your books, and editing?

Please read my bio below for more information and links! Thank you for having me on this wonderful site!

Bio:

Heather Webb is the author of historical novels Becoming Josephine, Rodin’s Lover, and the newly released Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of WWI, which have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Elle, France Magazine, and more, as well as received national starred reviews. Rodin’s Lover was a Goodreads Top Pick in 2015. Up and coming, The Phantom’s Apprentice, a Gothic retelling of Phantom of the Opera from Christine Daaé’s point of view will release February 6, 2018. To date, Heather’s novels have sold in multiple countries worldwide. She is also a professional freelance editor, foodie, and travel fiend.

Website:  www.HeatherWebb.net

Twitter:  @msheatherwebb

FB: https://www.facebook.com/Heather-Webb-Author-124095350992513/

Instagram: @msheatherwebb

Last Christmas in Paris Blurb:

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

SP: What fantastic advice and congratulations on your new book! Thanks so much for joining us!

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Nova, signing off

Book Blog Tour & Author Interview: Seize Today by Pintip Dunn

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Chapter by Chapter Blog Tours

SEIZE TODAY blurb

Seventeen-year-old Olivia Dresden is a precognitive. Since different versions of people’s futures flicker before her eyes, she doesn’t have to believe in human decency. She can see the way for everyone to be their best self-if only they would make the right decisions. No one is more conflicted than her mother, and Olivia can only watch as Chairwoman Dresden chooses the dark, destructive course every time. Yet Olivia remains fiercely loyal to the woman her mother could be.

But when the chairwoman captures Ryder Russell, the striking and strong-willed boy from the rebel Underground, Olivia sees a vision of her own imminent death…at Ryder’s hand. Despite her bleak fate, she rescues Ryder and flees with him, drawing her mother’s fury and sparking a romance as doomed as Olivia herself. As the full extent of Chairwoman Dresden’s gruesome plan is revealed, Olivia must find the courage to live in the present-and stop her mother before she destroys the world.

Note: Check out the excerpt below!

INTERVIEW

Pintip croppedSP: Hi Pintip! Congrats on Seize Today coming out into the world! First, for some of our readers who have not met you, can you tell us a bit of your writing journey?

Sure! My road toward publication was long and windy. I started writing my first novel after college, and it would take me fifteen years and 150 rejections before I got published. I signed with my literary agent, Beth Miller, on the third novel I queried, and even then, it took three books on submission and nearly three years before we received our first offer. At that point, however, I sold seven books in approximately seven months, so it pays to move on to that next project, when your first one doesn’t initially sell!

SP: As mentioned, Seize Today is the last book in the Forget Tomorrow Series. How does it feel to wrap up and say goodbye to all these amazing characters in this final book?

Bittersweet! These characters have been with me for so long — six years — that it feels strange to me that I will be saying goodbye to them, and they will continue living the rest of their lives without me!

At the same time, however, I feel incredibly happy. I really think that writing this series is the biggest accomplishment of my life, so far. I am so proud of this body of work. I really am. That’s not something we’re allowed to say very often, but when I look at these characters and this world and these intertwining stories I’ve created, that’s how I feel: proud.

SP: Can you tell us how writing Seize Today was different than the others? What’s unique about Seize Today?

Seize Today was the most difficult book I’ve ever written. Not only did I have to tie up all the loose ends of the series, but my heroine, Olivia, is a precognitive who sees everything! It was quite a challenge to keep the twists and turns surprising to Olivia, from whose POV the story is told, when she should’ve foreseen it!

Another challenge was the number of characters who had to have a strong presence. Book 1 features Callie and Logan, while Book 2 stars Jessa and Tanner. Seize Today focuses on Olivia and Ryder. Even though each book has a new couple, I knew that my readers would be looking for the previous characters they got to know in earlier books. Thus, each book got progressively more difficult. While Book 2 had to include enough mention of Logan and Callie to satisfy my readers, Book 3 had to give page time to Callie, Logan, Jessa, and Tanner, in addition to the main characters of Olivia and Ryder! That’s a whole lot of characters to squeeze into a huge plot with limited pages.

SP: Which character in the series got under your skin the most?Seize Today Cover

Oh no! This question! It’s the hardest is because it’s like asking a parent who her favorite child is. And as I always tell me kids, they’re all my favorite!

But…if I have to be completely honest, I would say that Olivia is the heroine who got under my skin the most. She carries the burden of everyone’s futures, and she still manages to emerge from her circumstances strong and courageous.  Plus, she’s so lonely, so isolated, so uncertain if she is worthy of love. I really enjoyed giving her that family and sense of belonging she wanted more than anything.

As for the hero who got under my skin the most… I would have to say Tanner. Oh gosh, now I feel super guilty saying that, because I love Logan and Ryder, as well…but it’s Tanner! Brilliant, arrogant, and swoony, but with such an awful, broken past. I love his relationship with Jessa, and I love how far he is willing to go to redeem his mistakes. (Now, that statement makes me think about how far Callie would go to save her sister, and that makes me wonder if perhaps she gets under my skin the most! See?! It’s an impossible question!)

SP: Family. Love. Risk. Destiny. These are all themes in your books. Is there one “take away” you wish young readers could identify with throughout this series and run with in their own lives? If so, what is it?

From the first book to the last, this series is about fighting for your future. I hope that my readers take away the idea that no one can tell you who you’re going to be and what you’re capable of — not even your future. I hope they will feel inspired to reach for their potential — and be the strongest, bravest, and most capable version of themselves.

SP: You write adrenaline, heroic, risk-taking plots with intriguing premises. So I must ask, who do you imagine yourself to be when you’re day dreaming? Any superhero you wish you could have lunch with?

Well, the truth is, I don’t actually imagine myself to be anybody (other than me!) when I’m daydreaming. What’s the point of having all those wonderful fantasies happening to someone else?!!

But to answer the spirit of your question, I’ve been a little obsessed with Wonder Woman ever since the movie came out, so can I be her? I’m not nearly as kick ass as her, but this is a daydream, right? As for lunch, can I go to their island and take a tour of their facilities and meet all those amazing women?

SP: Now a bit of personal–favorite movie of all time? Favorite book of all time?

Favorite movie of all time is Life is Beautiful. My husband would dispute this answer because he says I never re-watch it — which I don’t because it makes me sad. But a movie can be your favorite even if you don’t like to rewatch it, right?!!

Oh gosh, my favorite book, my ONE favorite book? That’s really hard to answer. I’m going with Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. The first time I read this book, I didn’t like it. The second time I read it, I thought it was enjoyable. By the third time I read this story, I was madly in love. I’ve reread this book at least a dozen times, and it gets better upon each read!

SP: We wish you all the best with Seize the Day! Readers– Check out her other books below!!! There is also a blurb if you scroll down! Enjoy picking up this series!!!

Thank you so much! It is truly appreciated!

 

EXCERPT FROM SEIZE TODAY

Eleven years earlier…

I pull the lever of the cage, switching the tunnel onto a different track, trying to confuse the mice.

I know exactly how the future will play out, of course. I know which mice will fall down the trap and which ones will smack into the see-through glass wall. I know which mice will get hopelessly lost. I even know which ones will run the maze correctly on the very first try.

I like watching them anyway. They wriggle over one another like worms, and their whiskers twitch when they’re at a corner between two paths. But what I like most is how they come to me when I call.

Picking up a mouse, I run my fingers over its soft fur and warm body. It looks at me with unblinking pink eyes, and I think it could be my friend.

Of course, I can see which mice will come, so I know which ones to call. Rodents are predictable like that. Humans, not so much. They have too many wants, too many feelings. I don’t see any one future for people. Rather, I see them all—every single pathway their futures might take, flickering before my eyes.

So I have to guess which of my human classmates will want to play with me. Most of the time, I guess wrong.

“Are you bothering my mice again?” a little boy’s voice says. “Fates, Livvy. How many times do I have to tell you? Leave them alone!”

Startled, I let go of the mouse and look up at Tanner Callahan, the other six-year-old who hangs around the scientists’ labs. I’m here because my mom’s the head of the Future Memory Agency, or FuMA, and he’s here…I guess ’cause he has nowhere else to be.

He’s got black hair that pokes up in the back, and his skin sticks too closely to his bones. I thought this meant he wasn’t eating enough, but MK, our child-minder, said that grief over his parents’ deaths had burrowed holes through his resources.

This makes me think of the mice digging through the straw, and my chest aches. I flash forward to his futures. He still has hundreds of branches remaining, but in most of them, one thing is the same: he will be sad and lonely until he kisses our classmate Jessa ten years in the future.

I don’t know why kissing should change anything. But I do know how it feels to be lonely and sad.

We don’t have to be like this. I could be his friend. I just have to figure out the right thing to say.

“Jessa and I are going to rule the world one day.” It can’t hurt to bring up the girl he smushes lips with. Maybe if he thinks she and I are friends, he’ll like me, too. “You know Jessa, right? The girl with the teardrop eyes? She’s my best friend.” Not true. I think Jessa only talks to me because she’s nice. But he doesn’t have to know that.

“Oh yeah? Well someday, I’m going to be the inventor of future memory,” he shoots back. “And then we’ll see who’s more important.”

I bite my lip. That wasn’t what I meant. I wasn’t trying to brag or compare or compete. The futures containing our friendship begin to fall away, one by one. I guessed wrong once again.

END

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Nova signing off!

Feature Friday: Alexa Donne of Author Mentor Match

Pen friends, if you’ve spent much time around here, you know how much we love the writing community! One of our favorite ways of learning and growing within that community is by participating in contests and mentoring opportunities, and today we are thrilled to chat with one of the founders of Author Mentor Match, the lovely YA author Alexa Donne!

*The current round of submissions for AMM is open now through October 24th, so if you’ve been looking for a mentor, now is the perfect chance to apply!

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SP: Welcome, Alexa! We’re so excited to have you join us. Can you please tell us a little about who you are and what you write?

Hi! Thank you so much for having me! I am Alexa Donne, a YA science fiction & fantasy writer whose debut novel, BRIGHTLY BURNING, will be coming out from HMH Teen on May 1, 2018. It’s a retelling of Jane Eyre, set in space.  Continue reading

How to Survive NaNoWriMo

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         Before you can continue with this guide, you first have to know WHAT in the world NaNoWriMo is. It stands for National Novel Writing Month and takes place every November. The standard goal is to write 50k words in ONE MONTH. Sounds crazy, right? Well, now you know why you need this guide. (If you want more info on NaNoWriMo, visit https://nanowrimo.org/)

Okay, so last year I completed my goal of 50k words and managed it in just 28 days. How? It was pretty dang hard, to be honest. But that’s the point, right? The whole idea of Nano is to push your abilities, force you to stop procrastinating, and GET CRAP DONE! YEAH!

Let’s jump right in!

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1) Find the Motivation

In order to get anything done, you have to have motivation. So that’s where we’ll start. (This is where I get you HYPED!)

A. Break it Down Now, Y’all! So, 50k words seems a little overwhelming, right? Yes, yes it does. But let’s break it down here using some complex Calculus and rocket science.

50k words/30 days in November/16 average hours awake in a day. So, you need to write 105 words per hour. Not horrible, right? Realistically, you won’t have a chance to do it every single hour. A better approach is to do it 1-3 times over the course of the day. Mostly you just need to know what style works best for you. Are you best at cramming it all in at once? Then write 1,667 at once all at once. If you’d rather spread it out, set aside two-three times a day to do it and write 835 or 555 words. Manageable, right?

B. Tired of Procrastinating. Yes. We are all there at some point.  As Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing, I love having written”. NaNoWriMo basically forces you to stop procrastinating and get those fingers flying across the keyboard. Especially if you’re an achievement/goal oriented person like myself.

Seriously, think about it. If you follow through with this, you could end up with 50 FREAKING THOUSAND WORDS WRITTEN IN ONE MONTH!!! If that’s not a good enough reason to be absolutely hyped, I don’t know how you help you.

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C. Accountability and Friends. While this goes along with point B), I feel like it is worthy of a separate category. Some of us have writing “accountability partners” to make sure we don’t waste our time getting everything EXCEPT writing done. But not all of us have that privilege. NaNo builds that benefit in. It makes it easy to connect with people online who are also taking place in the “Great Writer’s Race”. Not only that, it makes it easy to talk to people you may know in real life about writing, thus helping you create that accountability that may continue beyond NaNo!

2) Find the Time

So now you’re HYPED! But you’re still thinking, “How in the world will I find time to write 1,667 words a day??” Valid question. Let’s jump into the answer.

A. Schedule It. Yes, you’ve heard it before, and yes, it’s still true. You’re probably going to have to schedule out your writing time. It might not be the same time(s) every day, but that doesn’t matter. Schedule it like a meeting!

Truthfully, I didn’t schedule an exact time, but my strategy was “Get home early every night and write for two hours”. Simple, yet very effective. I purposely left events early, said no to plans, etc. This is going to take sacrifice. But keep the goal in mind! Like these two adorable dogs!

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B. No Breaks. At the beginning, you might start really strong and manage 10k in the first 3 days. If this happens, you’ll be tempted to slow down and say, “Yeah, I’ve got this. I’ll take a break.” DO NOT SLOW DOWN. The worst thing you can do is break the habit of writing you have developed throughout the month. Do not stop unless you absolutely have to. You never know what’s going to happen in your life, especially when Thanksgiving rolls around. If you get ahead, stay ahead.

C. Drop the ‘Flix, the ‘Lu, and the ‘Gram. You heard me. This is something I preach on relentlessly in my blogs. Netflix is not necessary. Hulu is especially unnecessary (c’mon, you still have to watch ads even with Hulu+?), and Instagram gives you unlimited garbage to mindlessly sift through. As someone who runs a large writing Instagram account *cough* follow @write_or_left on Instagram*cough*, this advice is BAD for business. So you KNOW I mean it.

Yes, all of them have some benefits, but very few will help you write. If you REALLY want to reach your goal, you’ll find a way to do without for a month. Or at the very least, cut back.

That’s basically all you need at this point. In review:

  • Find the motivation from deep within yourself, like a tribal warrior summoning the spirits of his ancestors.

  • Make time as if J.K. Rowling offered to tutor you for 1-2 hours every day for 30 days straight.

 

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Tell me what you think! Did I miss any vital tips?

Until next time, Caleb Robinson

Author Interview: Tracey Neithercott

Pen Friends ~ We are delighted to have Tracey Neithercott, debut author of Gray Wolf Island and an Author Mentor Match mentor, here with us today!

Tracey Neithercott FullSP: Hi Tracey! Thanks for joining us. First, will you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

Hi! Thank you so much for having me.

I’m a magazine journalist and the author of the YA novel Gray Wolf Island. I’ve always written in some way or another: There was my sixth grade The Princess and the Mean Genie, which really made me aware of my inability to draw but had me feeling pretty proud of my talent for coloring within the lines.

In high school, I started (but never finished) a bunch of books in the voice of whatever I’d last read. I somehow ended up sounding like both Pip from Great Expectations and Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye. This was not a good thing.

As I began thinking about college, I shifted my focus. It’s weird looking back at how my brain worked back then, but I was convinced authors were these super-special people who were, I don’t know, given their super-special talents from the heavens or something. I figured journalism was a more realistic career. And in a way, I was right: I did become a journalist.

Only after I began reading YA writer blogs—watching them go from unagented writers to agented writers to published authors—did I start to believe writing a novel was something I could actually do. And in 2010, I finished a novel for the first time. Continue reading