Author Interview: Alicia J. Novo

Pen Friends ~ Please welcome YA Author Alicia J. Novo talking about her upcoming debut, UNWRITTEN, publishing journey, writing tips, favorite books & book-crushes, launching a book during COVID, and so much more! Do NOT miss her book cover. *It is beyond gorgeous and made by my favorite cover designer, Micaela Alcaino.

Alicia J NovoSP: Hi Alicia! Thanks for joining us! Before we start talking about UNWRITTEN, can you share a bit about you and your writing journey?

Absolutely! I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was six. I remember the exact moment. After I won an inconsequential writing contest and saw my story printed in the school newspaper. This is what I’m meant to do, I thought. But it took a long time and many turns before I decided to embrace writing professionally. I told myself I was too practical. Now, I think I was too scared. Instead of English or History, I studied Economics and became a technology executive. Not that I regret it. I enjoyed it. I’ve lived and worked in different countries and learned a lot about business, and people, and the world. Stories are in my blood, though, and eventually I had to accept writing is my calling. The journey since then has been bumpy but also satisfying because there is nothing I’d rather be doing than immersing myself in stories.

SP: Now, congrats on, UNWRITTEN, which will come out in March 2021!Unwritten_Cover
Here is a blurb: 

Books whisper to Beatrix Alba. But they aren’t the reason she has never fit in. Bullied at home and school, she keeps a secret—a power of violence and darkness.

When the spell that keeps her hidden fails, she’s catapulted into the Zweeshen, a realm where all tales live, and her dream of meeting her favorite characters comes true. But wishes are tricky, and behind its wonder and whimsy, the Zweeshen is under attack. A character is burning bookworlds in pursuit of a weapon to rule both stories and storytellers. To succeed, he needs a riddle in Beatrix’s keeping.

Now he’s hunting her down.

Joining forces with William, a cursed conjurer, Beatrix must face an enemy who knows her every weakness in a realm where witches play with time, Egyptian gods roam, and Regency heroines lead covert operations. And with her darkness as the only weapon, she may have to sacrifice everything to save a world that rejects her.

SP:  How long did it take you to write UNWRITTEN and how did this story come about?

I began writing this book almost seven years ago. It sounds crazy long. In truth it was a discovery process, and I feel I’ve written three different UNWRITTEN novels during that time. The final version, the UNWRITTEN which is being published, is about three years old, and it’s the best of that exploration. It contains what I’ve learned, not just in terms of writing, but life as well. Even though UNWRITTEN is not an issue novel–it does touch on concerns that feel pressing today, such as bullying, discrimination, and tolerance. So it was enlightening to find some answers through Beatrix and her challenges.

The original idea for UNWRITTEN is even older. Remember the six-year-old who wanted to become a writer? Well, she didn’t have a lot of friends and adored book characters. So she invented a place where they all went after the end of their books. I picked up that old concept and used it to develop the Zweeshen, a universe where characters from all stories live. UNWRITTEN grew from there in ways that surprised me.

SP: What has been your favorite process about launching this book? Any marketing tips you can share with debuts?

My favorite part was growing a community on Instagram. I wasn’t active at all on the platform before UNWRITTEN, but it has proven such a boon, especially because COVID has limited the impact of other more traditional channels. The bookish world on Instagram has been so fun and supportive!

In general, playfulness works for me. It’s one of the reasons I like fantasy so much. Because as a writer you get to play. Subvert the way of things. For marketing, I’m a huge fan of bookish swag. I had a great time creating bookmarks, finding props and designing a charm and a keychain. I even have a funko pop based on amazing character art of Beatrix Alba. But I am also a planner. I created a marketing plan and put every single idea I could find in there. The goal isn’t to do them all but have the pressure out of my head. I take it one day at a time. One action per day at least. And I try to have fun with it, turn it into a game.

SP: What was your favorite part about writing this book? Which character surprised you most?

My favorite part was discovering the world of the Zweeshen through Beatrix’s journey. I always try to challenge my main character to the breaking point, so the Zweeshen had to evolve to test Beatrix. The Zweeshen would be a completely different place if not for her particular issues. It ended up becoming a much richer world than it was originally.

The character who surprised me the most was Emma. She’s younger than Beatrix, so I had planned to keep her on the sidelines. Emma wouldn’t have it. She kept taking over scenes and expanding her role. In time, I stopped fighting her because she made Beatrix better. Emma has changed the least too. She was fully-developed and idiosyncratic from the start. Now she’s one of my favorites.

SP: Writing tips and revision– what helps you stay focused on finishing a book?

I think a book is no different than a painting in that you have to expect multiple passes. You have to let the paint dry before adding the next layer to create a specific effect. I’d say embrace the process, try to enjoy each step. My biggest writing tip is to get stuff down. Whether for a first draft or a scene or even a paragraph. Often my first try is full of Xs. They stand for a word or a sentence I know I’ll have to include. Something that would force me to slow down to get it right and would break the momentum. Let ideas flow first. There will be time to revise. To agonize over the perfect word or sentence structure.

You asked about staying focused. For me, it’s less about focus and more about maintaining the right distance. That place where you can still assess the work with a level of objectivity, detached enough to prioritize. If I’m revising for plot, every comma shouldn’t stop me, and I have to let some things go. One of my biggest challenges is cutting too much. It’s the opposite of struggling to kill darlings. I have a murdering bent. Feedback is mana to me, so all someone needs to say is “that portion dragged a little”, and I will chop a whole chapter off. Learning to cut more judiciously is one of my goals.

SP: As an author, what have you learned about the publishing world that you think is important to share with upcoming authors?

Here are my top 3:
1) You already heard publishing is slow. Well… It’s slow. Slower than slow. So slow you want to pull your hair out. Slower than the sloth from Zootopia. So make sure you arm yourself with patience and keep yourself busy while you travel through whatever stage you are in.
2) Expect things to work differently than you hoped and differently from everyone else. Even though there’s a process, each journey is personal. Have faith and believe you will get there. There is no one way. This is your jungle. Love the path you’re clearing. When in doubt, get yourself a bigger machete.
3) Speak up. Ask. Question. Do not suffer your uncertainty in silence. If there’s something you feel strongly about, request it. I had always envisioned UNWRITTEN having a map, so I was disappointed when it wasn’t mentioned in the planning discussions. I agonized over it. When I finally brought it up, my publisher loved the idea. I’m delighted with the final map in the book.


SP: Launching during COVID 19 must be an interesting experience- in which ways have you seen positive things come of it? 

A huge challenge, yes. COVID forced me to accept changes, delays and a feeling of constant flux. Everyone is doing the best they can, but we all work with limited information and make the best choices possible on any given day. I had to make friends with that relinquishing of control. It’s a work in progress 🙂 The cancellation of live events and signings is the saddest loss from my perspective. I really like interacting with people. Still, there are silver linings. Small bookshops have been forced to develop their online presence, which will help them long term. As a reader and local shopper, I love that.

For writers, the move to online has opened up possibilities to participate in events that would have been out of reach. Not everyone can travel constantly for conferences. I recently participated in the SCBWI Summer Spectacular which was amazing. If it had taken place in person, I would have missed it.

Also, and It is too early to tell if this will be a permanent shift, I think COVID has served as an equalizer. Small and independent presses struggle to get into the limited shelf space in bookstores which is dominated by Big 5 releases. The internet is more democratic. The online focus is a win for readers’ chances to find quality books that would have otherwise gone under. Bloggers, online reviewers and cool sites like the Spinning Pen help with that too because people turn to them for honest recommendations and that is more important than ever during COVID.

SP: Now, to lighten things up!

Is Alicia a…

Plotter/pantster?

Plotter without a doubt. I have outlines, lists, mindmaps. I have charts of my charts. But I am willing to blow them all up and go with something a character wants because, in the end, the best laid plans…

Last book you read?

I just finished rereading Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, and I love it more every time. The prose is lyrical and the story is rich, enthralling and full of mystery. And it’s a book about books–I can never resist those.
Current dream vacation spot?

Bali. I crave sun and sand and turquoise water. I’ve always wanted to stay at one of those huts that sit on stilts in the ocean.

Something always in your fridge?

I feel like I should say something cool and healthy like avocado (which I love) or Kale (which I kind of tolerate) but actually diet coke. Not cool and not healthy but my vice. Especially when on a deadline. And champagne. There always has to be a bottle in there just in case. Either to celebrate a surprise success or enjoy just cause.

Would you rather be a professional: Kick boxer? Archaeologist? Dog Groomer? Mechanic? OR?

Archeologist. Hands down. I’m fascinated by history and trying to recreate the stories of the past, to reconstruct the world as it used to be. It requires imagination, logic and quite a bit of detective work. It sounds mesmerizing to me. There’s a character in UNWRITTEN, Jane, who used to be an archeologist before arriving in the Zweeshen. I had lots of fun working on her backstory.

Any recent fictional crushes?

No, not lately. It’s a question I’ve been working on from a writing perspective. What makes a character dreamy? Why do we fall in love with him or her? Especially for male supporting characters, how do we create a love interest that is attractive and strong in his own right, while being respectful; masculine without having to save the damsel or become too overbearing? As a mom of a son, finding that answer matters to me.

Favorite childhood book?  

Anne of Green Gables. I admire Anne’s positivity, lack of fear or self consciousness. The willingness to be herself at all times regardless of what anyone thought. Plus, she loved stories and ended up a writer, so a kindred spirit.

SP: Thanks so much for sharing with us, Alicia! We are eagerly anticipating your book!
Be sure to connect with Alicia!– 

www.alicianovo.com

Instagram: @authoraliciajnovo

Twitter: @aliciajnovo

facebook: alicianovoauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20323098.Alicia_J_Novo

 

Signing off, NOVA MCBEE Author of Calculated and 2020 PitchWars Mentor

Author Interview: Laura Taylor Namey

Pen Friends ~ I’m so pleased to introduce you to a new friend and talented YA author, Laura Taylor Namey  talking about her writing journey, her first book, The Library of Lost Things (Inkyard) and her upcoming novel, The Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow (Atheneum) out in October.

laura TSP: Hi Laura! Thanks for joining us! Before we start talking about The Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, can you share a bit about you and your writing journey? 

Hi Nova, thanks so much for chatting with me! I’m a San Diego native and I’ve been writing for about six years. Right now I’m loving the world of young adult contemporary with a coming of age bent and plenty of Latinx rep.

SP: First, congrats on your debut, The Library of Lost Things, which came out last October by Inkyard! What was your favorite process about launching your first book?library lost

Thanks so much! I will never forget the feeling of walking into a bookstore and seeing my book, face-out on the shelf. That, as well as getting to meet so many readers, made last fall one of my favorite times.

SP: Now we want to hear all about your upcoming novel, The Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow that will come out with Atheneum October 6, 2020.

Here is a blurb:

cubanFor Lila Reyes, a summer in England was never part of the plan. The plan was 1) take over her abuela’s role as head baker at their panadería, 2) move in with her best friend after graduation, and 3) live happily ever after with her boyfriend. But then the Trifecta happened, and everything—including Lila herself—fell apart.

Worried about Lila’s mental health, her parents make a new plan for her: Spend three months with family friends in Winchester, England, to relax and reset. But with the lack of sun, a grumpy inn cook, and a small town lacking Miami flavor (both in food and otherwise), what would be a dream trip for some feels more like a nightmare to Lila…until she meets Orion Maxwell.

A teashop clerk with troubles of his own, Orion is determined to help Lila out of her funk, and appoints himself as her personal tour guide. From Winchester’s drama-filled music scene to the sweeping English countryside, it isn’t long before Lila is not only charmed by Orion, but England itself. Soon a new future is beginning to form in Lila’s mind—one that would mean leaving everything she ever planned behind. Continue reading

Author Interview: Natalie Mae & The Kinder Poison

Pen Friends~ I’m so excited to introduce you to Young Adult Author, Natalie Mae, who will talk about her upcoming book, The Kinder Poison, out in just ONE WEEK, from Razorbill.

NatalieMae_headshot_200
SP: Hi Natalie! Thanks for joining us! Before we start talking about your debut, The Kinder Poison, we’d LOVE to know a bit about you and your writing journey?

NM: Thanks so much for having me! I’m a Colorado author who graduated with an

Information Technology degree from CU Boulder, because I didn’t think writing books could be an actual job. (I guess I thought authors just “existed” out there? Like stars?) Very happy to say that I soon found out anyone could pursue authorship, and the rest is history! It’s taken about 8 years to get where I am now. It took me 2 of those years to get an agent, and though we sold my debut (a YA sci-fi) within months, it would be another 4 years before I sold The Kinder Poison. And another 2 1/2 years from then until it would publish! So it’s definitely felt like a long journey, but I’m so grateful to be published at all and to be able to write for a living.

SP: The Kinder Poison will come out with Razorbill next week! TheKinderPoison_web

Here is a blurb:

Zahru has long dreamed of leaving the kingdom of Orkena and having the kinds of adventures she’s only ever heard about in stories. But as a lowly Whisperer, her power to commune with animals means that her place is serving in the royal stables until the day her magic runs dry.

All that changes when the ailing ruler invokes the Crossing. A death-defying race across the desert, in which the first of his heirs to finish–and take the life of a human sacrifice at the journey’s end–will ascend to the throne. With all of the kingdom abuzz, Zahru leaps at the chance to change her fate if just for a night by sneaking into the palace for a taste of the revelry. But the minor indiscretion turns into a deadly mistake when she gets caught up in a feud between the heirs and is forced to become the Crossing’s human sacrifice.

Now Zahru’s only hope for survival hinges on the impossible: somehow figuring out how to overcome the most dangerous people in the world. Continue reading

Author Interview: Shannon Dittemore

Pen Friends ~ I’m super excited to have YA Author Shannon Dittemore on the blog today talking about her upcoming book, WINTER, WHITE, AND WICKED, which is just my kind of book and fell in love with the moment I saw the cover and read the blurb. See below!

Screen Shot 2020-04-17 at 10.10.56 AM

SP: Hi Shannon! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, we’d LOVE to know a bit about you and your writing journey? 

Thank you so much for having me! I’m excited. SO! My journey. I think probably the best place to start is this: I’m not a debut author. A lot of folks out there are thinking that WINTER, WHITE AND WICKED will be my first published book, but that’s not true at all. 

My first book came out in 2012 with Thomas Nelson fiction. By the time August of 2013 came around, I had three books on the shelf, ANGEL EYES, BROKEN WINGS, and DARK HALO. As a writer, I’ve grown a ton since these were published, but I love these stories and I’m so glad they’re a part of who I am.

I started writing my first novel as a young mom. My son was four and my daughter was three months old and I missed being creative. I had a background in theatre and I really wanted to go back, but I found myself unwilling to give up my nights and weekends. I didn’t want to be away from my little family, so in a moment of frustration I found myself telling God, “I just wish I could tell stories from home!” 

And then it dawned on me that I could.

Writing wasn’t new to me. I’d always fiddled with it, but as a mom I think I’d picked up a valuable trait that made sitting in a chair and writing an entire book possible. Patience. I was learning to be patient with myself and the process, and while waiting isn’t my favorite, the ability to do so has come in handy. 

winterSP: WINTER, WHITE & WICKED will come out with Amulet Books in October 2020. 

Here is a blurb: 

Mad Max: Fury Road meets Frozen in this striking YA fantasy Continue reading

Author Interview: Sara Fujimura

Pen Friends ~ Welcome YA Author Sara Fujimura as she shares about her latest book, Every Reason We Shouldn’t that came out with TOR TEEN in March!

sara fSP: Hi Sara! Thanks for joining us! Every Reason We Shouldn’t was released in March–a crazy time for a book to come out! Before we get to that, let’s hear about the book.

Here is a blurb:

Sixteen-year-old figure skater Olivia Kennedy’s Olympic dreams have ended. She’s bitter, but enjoying life as a regular teenager instead of trying to live up to expectations of being the daughter of Olympians Michael Kennedy and Midori Nakashima…until Jonah Choi starts training at her family’s struggling rink.

Jonah’s driven, talented, going for the Olympics in speed skating, completely annoying… and totally gorgeous. Between teasing Jonah, helping her best friend try out for roller derby, figuring out life as a normal teen and keeping the family business running, Olivia’s got her hands full. But will rivalry bring her closer to Jonah, or drive them apart?

eerws

SP: Can you tell us how long it took you to write Every Reason We Shouldn’t and how this story idea came about?

It took about eight years for this book to go from idea to physical book. The sad thing is this was my fastest book to produce out of all three! So the idea that my next project, “Book #4” right now with Tor Teen, will come out in less than two years is a little mind-blowing.

I own a pair of figure skates and occasionally go ice skating, but I am not very good at it. What inspired EVERY REASON WE SHOULDN’Twas Apolo Ohno’s autobiography ZERO REGRETS, specifically the account of his teenage years. Ohno was at the crossroads of his career and had to make a decision: Walk away from the sport with the wins he already had or press on to see if he could make it to the Olympics. Spoiler alert: Ohno has eight Olympic medals in short track speed skating. I think he made the right choice. Jonah’s character came to me first, and Apolo Ohno very much influenced him. I saved the crossroads story for Olivia, though. I have two ultra-talented girls (now young women) in my life, and I got to see—thanks to their moms—what it’s like to be that one-in-a-million teen and all the unique challenges that come with being that high level of an athlete/performer. One is a dancer and the other a singer, but I wanted a girl who was into ice sports to work better with Jonah’s character. As super cheesy as it is, I love THE CUTTING EDGE. I wanted to write an updated (and much more realistic) version of the movie with teen skaters. Continue reading

Author Interview: Suzanne Park

Pen Friends~ Hopefully this interview finds you well and safe during this crazy season. Many of my author friend’s book launches and book release’s have understandably been cancelled and/or have gone virtual. Let’s try to support them as much as we can during this time! SO…

It’s my pleasure to introduce today’s debut YA (& adult) author, my friend and fellow Pitchwars 16′ alum, Suzzane Park! Sadly, her time in Seattle (where I am based) was also cancelled, but that won’t stop us from celebrating her and her upcoming YA book, The Perfect Escape!

spark

SP: Hi Suzanne! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, can you tell us a bit about you and your writing journey? 

I was a kid who loved reading, but was limited by the types of books we had at our school library and public library system. I grew up in a small suburb in Tennessee with underfunded schools and libraries, so you can imagine how limited the selection of books were for a curious Korean-American girl! Continue reading

Author Interview: Kara Swanson

Pen Friends~ today’s interview is with YA Author, Kara Swanson, talking about her latest release, DUST, a peter pan sequel/retelling coming out with Enclave Publishing  this July (2020.) Kara’s path to publishing is really unique and I believe will be helpful for those in both traditional and self publishing. Her cover art has won awards and guys- she has friends & readers that create the most stunning fan art. See all below!

Kara Swason | Floral HeadshotSP: Hi Kara! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, we’d LOVE to know a bit about you and your writing journey? 

Hello there, friend!

It’s such a pleasure to be here with you today!

I’ve been writing since I was a young teen. I grew up overseas in Papua New Guinea as the daughter of missionaries. I was first published at seventeen, and that small taste of being an author was what made me realize I wanted to pursue this as a career. Several years later, while I was dealing with the worst season of having Lyme Disease (a sickness I still battle to this day), I wrote The Girl Who Could See, a novella that helped me process the unique perspective I had as a young person transitioning back to the US after having spent most of my life in another culture. It was a way to work through this sense that I’d had of always standing between two worlds, never quite a part of either. I continued writing and now at twenty-three, I have a Peter Pan retelling/sequel that releases with Enclave Publishing this year. 

SP: Dust will come out with Enclave Publishing in July 2020. Dust-by-Kara-Swanson-1331x2048

Here is a blurb:

The truth about Neverland is far more dangerous than a fairy tale.

Claire Kenton believes the world is too dark for magic to be real–since her twin brother was stolen away as a child. Now Claire’s desperate search points to London… and a boy who shouldn’t exist.

Peter Pan is having a beastly time getting back to Neverland. Grounded in London and hunted by his own Lost Boys, Peter searches for the last hope of restoring his crumbling island: a lass with magic in her veins.

The girl who fears her own destiny is on a collision course with the boy who never wanted to grow up. The truth behind this fairy tale is about to unravel everything Claire thought she knew about Peter Pan…and herself. Continue reading

Author Interview: Hanna Howard

Pen Friends ~ Today’s interview is such a treat! Debut YA Author, Hanna Howard, shares about her upcoming novel, IGNITE THE SUN and her beautiful (and somewhat painful) journey to becoming an author. Don’t miss the blurb to her novel. The premise is entirely captivating!

hhSP: Hi Hanna! I’m so excited to have you on the Spinning Pen to talk your upcoming debut, Ignite the Sun. But first, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you started writing? Continue reading

Author Interview: Dante Medema

Pen friends ~ Another fantastic interview from debut author, Dante Medema, talking about her upcoming book, The Truth Project, coming out with Harper Teen this fall! She also shares about her querying journey, her 5-editor 6 figure auction dream acquisition story (& the crazy event that followed that news!), and her thoughts on dreamy Alaska settings.

danteSP: Hi Dante! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, we’d LOVE to know a bit about you and your writing journey?

DM: Thanks for having me! I’ve always loved writing. I took a creative writing course in college and I remember thinking “I can’t believe how much fun this is!” Then after my husband and I started our family, I stayed home with the kids, and it became my outlet. Somewhere in there I thought “maybe I could try to do this for real” and I made a go of it! Continue reading

Agent Interview: Hannah VanVels, Corvisiero Literary Agency

Pen Friends ~ Today we have a very special guest, Hannah VanVels, once an acquisition editor for Harper Collins Blink, and now a literary agent. Don’t miss her thoughts on publishing, tips on querying, thoughts on the slush pile, and her current wishlist!

Hannah VanvelsSP: Hi Hannah! First, congratulations on joining the Corvisiero Literary Team! I’m excited to have you on the Spinning Pen for our first ever AGENT interview!  Continue reading