Author Interview: Sam Taylor

Pen friends~ So happy to introduce you to another of my 2016 PitchWars alum gang, Sam Taylor, who will release her debut, We Are the Fire in February 2021!

SP: Hi Sam! Thanks for joining us! Before we start talking about your debut, We Are the Fire, can you share a bit about you and your writing journey? 

ST: One of the most unique things about my journey is that I landed my book deal for WAtF before signing with an agent! That’s definitely not the usual order of events, at least for traditional publishing. WAtF was the third manuscript I’d seriously queried. It wasn’t having good luck with agents, but my wide pool of early readers loved it, and this story means so much to me personally. So I began exploring alternate paths to publication. That was when I turned to Swoon Reads (more on them below). I thought to myself, “Agents aren’t responding to this book right now, but readers love it. Maybe readers can help me get it published.” And they did!!!

SP: Can you tell us a bit about your PitchWars experience AND Querying & Agents?

ST: My Pitch Wars journey was completely unorthodox in that I was an unofficial mentee (which I don’t think they do anymore) who was made official right before the showcase. I worked on the sidelines with Kip Wilson (author of the powerful novel-in-verse WHITE ROSE) on a YA fantasy inspired by Babylonian culture and magic. It was a phenomenal experience, I learned so much from her, and turned into a dream when right before the agent showcase I was invited to become an official Pitch Wars mentee and have my story included in that showcase. But then… I didn’t get a single agent request during the showcase week. That was really hard; talk about a whirlwind of emotions! But I found so much support and strength among my fellow Pitch Wars mentees, some of whom have become good writing friends. That support kept me going as I went on to query that Babylonian fantasy–most Pitch Wars mentees still get their agents through regular querying! Alas, that book did not land me an agent, though I did come very close. WAtF was the book I worked on after Pitch Wars, by the way. Sometimes achieving that publishing dream just takes a different project.

SP: Now we want to hear all about your upcoming novel, We Are The Fire releasing with Swoon Reads/Macmillan on February 16, 2021.

Here is a blurb: 

Two magical, fire-wielding teen soldiers in love, pitted against each other as they fight to tear down the empire who kidnapped them. It’s An Ember in the Ashes with fire magic, twisted alchemy, and ash-gray morals.

SP:  How did this story idea come about?

ST: I was trapped in a work environment with some very corrupt people. No matter how much I wanted to fix things, I didn’t always know how to make the situation right, and definitely wasn’t rewarded for my efforts. I was frustrated and angry and wanted to watch something burn. So I had the idea of these characters who, with a breath and a spark, can ignite bonfires. And they have to figure out how to use this magic forced onto them to win back their freedom. The right choices aren’t always clear for them, either, and often they don’t come without steep cost. But these characters keep fighting anyway to take back their lives.

SP: Swoon Reads is very unique, can you tell us more?

ST: Swoon Reads is an imprint of Macmillan (one of the Big 5 publishers), but it is unique in that the books it publishes are selected from a website where writers are invited to post their YA manuscripts. Anyone can read these manuscripts for free, and readers are invited to rate and comment on the ones they like best. Stories with strong ratings and reviews can grab the attention of an editor at Swoon Reads. A few times a year, they’ll select manuscripts that would work well for their list, and extend an offer of publication to those authors.

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

ST: I loved the romantic and moral tension between Oksana and Pran! It was so challenging to write these two with such different perspectives on their world, yet they are united by their dedication to each other. Even–and especially!–when it seemed like they were tearing apart their world and each other, there was always that yearning for them to be together again. Emotions were always high, and that made it easy to be deeply invested in their story, even when writing it pushed me to the limits of my abilities.

Sepp surprised me the most, of all the characters! Over the course of a few drafts, she went from an extremely minor character to one who’s crucial for the story. I think readers get to see this a bit, in how on both Oksana’s and Pran’s side of the story, she goes from being a character mentioned in asides, to someone who’s always at their sides!

SP: What excites and terrifies you about your book coming into the world?

ST: I’ve been invested in all the manuscripts I’ve written, but I had a passion for this story that did not exist for my previous two manuscripts. Maybe because it came out of such a painful time in my life? This was a story I was deeply invested in, yet there was a long span of time when querying was not going well, and I really thought this book would never find its way into readers’ hands. So I’m thrilled that it does get the chance to be a real book out in the world, and it feels right that this is the book I debut with, the one that launches my author career.

As for what terrifies me… this book does get quite dark in places. There are scenes that were particularly divisive among early readers. Yet when this book is deeply exploring moral ambiguity, and the characters are trying to outsmart people who have zero scruples, and dominoes are lined up along precarious paths… there come points when the characters only have intensely difficult decisions to make. And I didn’t shy away from having the characters make them. That wouldn’t do this story justice. I just hope that I’ve done the actual writing justice, so readers can understand what I’m doing on the page, even when the story events turn dark and difficult.

SP: Writing habits — can you let us into your process/writing life? How do you get the job done? Any tips for us?

ST: My process has changed quite a bit since becoming a mother! I’ve been getting up at 5am to have some quiet time to myself while Little T still sleeps. Though I’ve always been a morning person, I never used to get up that early, and it’s definitely been challenging to stick with. But I’ve found that early morning time is crucial to getting enough work time in, especially once I had a book under contract. I also write during Little T’s naps (and thus, have kept him on a pretty strict nap schedule. He needs that sleep time to be in his best mood, and I need the break during the day to recharge and be my own person through my writing).

My advice to others is that if they want to write, they’ll need to make time for it. Find what works for you! Someone else’s schedule won’t necessarily fit, and there’s no one “right” way to make writing time happen. Doesn’t have to be early morning, or even every day. But make time for writing, and honor that time. Learn to tell other people ‘No” and defend anything that would infringe on that time (there will always be something!) Even a little time, regularly taken, can add up to a lot of words after a while.

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

ST: It’s certainly changed the experience I’d been picturing! For instance, I’d planned on attending BookExpo in NYC this past May. That’s a huge book conference lots of industry professionals attend, with so many opportunities for networking! It’s been on my radar for six years; I’d promised myself I’d attend when I had a book to promote. Early this year I’d bought my first ticket for it… alas. Next year, maybe? But a lot of online events have sprung up in place of in-person, including conferences, workshops, book festivals, and launch parties. And I have to say, I’m loving these online events and the accessibility of them all. For myself, traveling is no longer so easy, since I’m mom to a toddler, and as I write this, my second baby is a month away from being born. But with these online events, I’ve been able to participate in conferences I’d never have been able to travel to this year, even without the virus. I’ve joined in the launch parties of friends who live many states away. And I’m looking forward to organizing some of my own online events next year to promote WAtF. I do hope that this a trend that keeps up even after COVID-19 finally leaves us, that there are increased opportunities for online events (or, options to tune in online to in-person events) to include more people in bookish activities.

SP: Now, to lighten things up! 

Is SAM a…

Plotter/pantster? 

Planster! Haha. I always have an outline–can’t draft without it. But every time, as I actually start writing a new story, I’m struck by new ideas that come to me as I sink into the story world and characters’ lives. I always give myself the freedom to explore these new ideas, especially in the first few drafts, because often they result in my best and most creative story elements.

Last book you read?

Just finished Nafizaa Azad’s The Candle and the Flame (amazing and atmospheric! Gorgeous writing, stunning world-building, a compelling romance, and food descriptions that will leave you drooling). Currently, I’m reading an ARC (advance readers’ copy) of Louisa Onomé’s Like Home, a contemporary YA novel about gentrification and friendship on the rocks. Look for this book next February!

Current dream vacation spot?

Iceland! Took a short trip to Reykjavík in Spring 2019 to explore the setting of another one of my books. Mostly I stayed in the city; now, I’d love to go back and see more of the country. You know, when traveling is safe again…

Something always in your fridge? 

Almond milk! Is that a boring answer? I switched over to drinking it while I was pregnant with my first child (Little T)… then realized I liked it so much better than cow’s milk, so I kept on drinking it.

Would you rather be a professional: Marine Biologist? Spy? Opera Singer? Brain Surgeon? OR?

I think being a spy would be thrilling! Don’t know that I’d be any good at it–I’m such a nervous person! But sneaking around uncovering useful secrets seems really empowering.

Favorite childhood book?  

The Velveteen Rabbit. I just love the gorgeous writing, and the meditation on the question, “What is real?” What does it mean to be a real, genuine living being?

SP: Thanks so much for sharing with us, Sam! We are eagerly anticipating your book!

Be sure to connect with SAM!

ADD social media links here.

Buy links:

Nova, Signing off

Nova McBee, author of Calculated & The Never Vows

Exciting New Young Adult Imprint Launches Today: Wise Wolf Books

Wise Wolf Books, a YA & Teen imprint under the Wolfpack umbrella, has officially launched today! (see their press release HERE.)

Wise Wolf Books has been getting a lot of buzz lately. Publisher’s Weekly recently highlighted their innovative publishing model that straddles the traditional model and a new indie-hybrid. While other publishers seem to be struggling during the pandemic, this publisher’s sales numbers are on the rise. Established authors published by the Big 5 have started knocking on their door because Wise Wolf Books & Wolfpack’s agile model provides so many benefits for authors. Wolfpack is what the future of publishing looks like.

Authors are attracted to their marketing strategies which build long-term author careers, including closer release dates between books, more affordable pricing of books, and less stress on social media, with more emphasis on writing books, loyalty, and a big picture vision for maximizing sales in today’s market.

Associate Publisher, Rachel Del Grosso, says this about the new Wise Wolf Books imprint and what they are presently looking for, “This year has been so different from anything anyone could have imagined, and I can’t help but think that we could all use a little more joy in our lives. Now, more than ever, young readers want to simultaneously be transported from their lives andrecognize themselves in the characters they read about, making it an exciting time to be writing and publishing in the teen/young-adult genre. 

Our aim is to publish teen/young-adult books from writers of all genders, ethnicity, race, and ability that young readers will love while also staying true to our unique business model and what has worked well for us in the past. Genres that we are currently interested in are contemporary mysteries, thrillers, westerns, action-adventure, and hallmark-type romances, particularly those in a series. We are not currently looking to publish in the science-fiction/fantasy or non-fiction genres.”

Blank book cover

For a closer look at what Wise Wolf is currently looking for, you can check out Rachel’s manuscript wish list on the Wise Wolf blog here. 

While Wise Wolf Books has print on demand and book distribution, their main focus is digital books, which is in line with the current needs of today’s world. With businesses and schools and conferences going online, digital demand has risen and frictionless on-demand e-books provide instant gratification for readers.

Here is where you can learn more~

Link to Press Release

www.wisewolfbooks.com

https://www.instagram.com/wisewolfbooks/

twitter.com/wisewolfbooks

https://www.instagram.com/racheldelxo/

facebook.com/wisewolf.wolfpack

~SP STAFF

Author Interview: Hope Bolinger & Alyssa Roat

Pen Friends ~ When these lovely authors shared their blurb and cover with me, I loved the concept and was eager to share it! Who doesn’t love a good hero-villain story? Come meet co-authors, Hope Bolinger and Alyssa Roat, as they share about DEAR HERO releasing September 28th.

SP: Hello Ladies, so happy to have you on the Spinning Pen! So, how did this story, DEAR HERO, come about? How did you decide to co-author it?

H: Most of that summer was pretty fuzzy, so I don’t know if I can remember the exact circumstances. But it all started when Alyssa and I created parody YA twitter accounts to make fun of YA tropes. She was a cliche YA villain, I, a cliche YA hero. My friend back home was also on a lot of dating apps, and I’d read a novel that was a series of letters between two people dating. The idea sort of all just clicked: what if there was an app, like Tinder, that matched you with your nemesis in the superhero world? We took the idea and ran from there. 

A: Once we had the idea, co-authoring was a no-brainer. We’ve co-written shorter pieces and articles before, so we knew we work together well.

SP: Co-authoring must be an interesting process–can you tell us a bit about your process? How long did it take you to write DEAR HERO as a team? Any obstacles?

H: So yeah, we didn’t do the typical co-authoring process with this. Basically, we hopped on a Google doc and each took on the personality of different characters. I was the hero, she was the villain (and we playacted other characters who later pop up like an 80-year-old henchman who is a dragon and a theatre-nerd/frat boy sidekick). We’d spot-check each other as we went for consistencies and had a skeletal outline we were following in terms of plot. The “obstacles” if we could call them that were that we never expected what the other person would write. We had to roll with the punches to get to our plot destination points whilst balancing two different visions for the book. But I think we worked together really well.

A: Confession time: we wrote the first draft in nine days. We were having so much fun we just couldn’t stop. (A lot of edits came afterward, don’t worry.) Basically, it was nine days of fingers flying, grinning in a room by myself at Hope’s quips, and trying to remember that oh yeah, I do have jobs to do as well.

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

H: I think what surprised me was how fun it was to write. I kept saying, “We shouldn’t be allowed to have this much fun writing.” I think the speed of writing the book in 9 days (don’t worry, we edited it a TON afterwards) caught me by surprise. We’d originally planned to write the thing in 60 days. 

A: My favorite part was waiting to see what hilarious thing Hope would come up with next. We had a loose outline, but lots of room for imagination. Honestly, all of the characters surprised me—I didn’t expect to fall in love with them so much! I knew the book was going to be funny, but I didn’t expect how much I would feel for the characters and how much we would watch them grow. And of course, there’s that plot twist that neither one of us saw coming!

SP: Writing tips–how do you stay focused? What is your revision process?

H: I usually don’t personally have a problem with focus. I often call a version of myself “beast Hope” where I’ll forget to eat or sleep because I’m so absorbed with the project. As for the revision process, it did look a little different for this project. Alyssa and I edited each other as we went and edited the document after numerous times. We had some betas give it a read and give their thoughts. The publisher and us also went back and forth a lot to make sure we caught lots of typos and inconsistencies. 

A: The problem is UN-focusing, haha! Hyper-focused Alyssa comes out with big projects like this and forgets to do important things like eat food. As for revising, it was really nice having someone clean up behind me in real time as I typed, and I did the same thing for Hope. Then we did broad revisions and a couple copy edits. I’m the nitpicky one to a fault, so I did a couple rounds of proofreading as well.

SP: Who is one author that influenced your writing?

H: I’ve been told John Green, which I think is high praise. His snark but also ability to pull no punches does often seep into my writing.

A: For this book, I think Rick Riordan had a lot of influence on tone. Plenty of snark and silliness, but with deeper character emotions and themes as well.

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

H: It’s opened up a lot of opportunities for online events. I usually do about 20 speaking engagements per year, but because of COVID, that has doubled for 2020. I do miss in-person events because they’re so personal, however. 

A: It definitely turned a lot of my marketing plans on their head, but in some ways it’s given us more opportunities. Since I have dysautonomia/POTS, traveling and speaking puts a lot of strain on my body. Being able to attend conferences and events from home has meant I’m able to do much more without any fainting adventures!

SP: Now, to lighten things up! 

Are Hope and Alyssa…

Plotter/pantster? 

H: This is actually funny because we’re complete opposites. I’m a plotter. I remember telling Alyssa, “This is the most pantsing I’ve done for a manuscript.” And she said, “This is the most plotting I’ve done,” when we talked about Dear Hero. 

A: Poor Hope. My writing style gives her secondhand stress. I pants everything and usually have no idea what’s going to happen next.

Last book you devoured ?

H: The Thing about Jellyfish. I’m getting into middle grade now. Absolutely beautiful book. 

A: I just finished A Conjuring of Light, the final book in V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic, a series I really should have read a long time agoCan you see how the two of us ended up writing a contemporary speculative novel? I devour anything spec fic/ fantasy, and Hope loves her contemporary fiction.

Current dream vacation spot?

H: Probably a secluded forest or some obscure national park. I’m convinced I’m half-fairy. Alyssa will probably agree. 

A: If Hope is a fairy, I’m the kooky old lady who lives in the woods. I’d like to be in a secluded cottage where I can write to my heart’s content. But barring that, I’m always down for a trip to London.

Something always in your fridge? 

H: Cookie dough. Always. 

A: Cheese!

Would you rather be a professional: Space-X Rocket Scientist? Spy? Food Critic? Paleontologist? OR?

H: PALEONTOLOGIST! I’ve been obsessed with dinosaurs since I was four. I once corrected a docent at a museum, when I was six, when she got her Dino facts wrong.

A: Maybe this is why Hope and I are such good friends. I was obsessed with dinos as a kid, and I may have missed my calling as a paleontologist. 

Any recent fictional crushes?

H: Oh gosh, LOL, I always go for the bad boys: Loki, Bullseye from Netflix’s Daredevil (not so much in the comics … he’s a little more psychopathic in those) and Zuko. And can I really be honest if I don’t put Darcy in here? Again, I’m like a cinnamon roll, so I’m not sure why I’m going for these dudes. 

A: My biggest crush will always be Captain America. Always.

Favorite childhood book?  

H: You know, it just depends. For a while it was Harry Potter, but I think I’m edging more toward Percy Jackson now. 

A: This is a cruel question. I thought I was supposed to be the villain. I can’t even pick a favorite childhood genre. I loved everything from Hattie Big Sky to Redwall to A Wrinkle in Time. 

SP: Thanks so much for sharing with us, ladies! Congratulations on your book!

Be sure to connect with Hope and Alyssa:

You can find Hope on most social media @hopebolinger 

And Alyssa is @alyssawrote:

Website: https://alyssawrote.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/alyssawrote

Insta: https://www.instagram.com/alyssawrote/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/alyssawrote/

Signing off,

Nova McBee, author of Calculated & 2020 PitchWars Mentor!

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

7 Tips to Write Better Fantasy with History

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7 Tips to Write Better Fantasy with History

So you think you have an original fantasy world? That may be so, but creating something from nothing is nearly impossible. Much of what we create is repackaged. We borrow. We polish. We add a flame. Some of the greatest writers borrow from history to create their fantasy worlds. And more are doing so with a desire to branch out of the European Fantasy trope that’s long dominated the fantasy world. Let’s take a look at a few famous fantasy worlds based on real historic events or places:
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – 17thcentury Amsterdam

Lord of the Rings by Tolkien– Rohan is the epitome of Anglo-Saxon England

Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin–based on historical events like the Wars of the Roses and the Glencoe Massacre, etc.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – Ancient Rome

 

All of these are Fantasy novels, not Historical Fantasy even though they are inspired by real history. I mean Amsterdam and Ketterdam are pretty close! The degree to which history inspires the worldbuilding varies with each of these examples. The worlds are more rich and alive when based on something real whether it be a place, a battle, a character, or a culture. But in order to write Fantasy well (and know where history fits in) you must first decide on the base for your fantasy world:

 

  1. Imaginative World (General Fantasy) – An Ember in the Ashes (What if I invent my own world?)
  2. Alternate World (General Fantasy) – Harry Potter (What if England had witches?)
  3. Real-World (Historical Fantasy) – Temeraire by Naomi Novik (What if Napoleon had dragons!)

 

The degree of association with the real-world increases with each category, as does the need for historical research. What separates Historical Fantasy, such as Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, is the perfect blend of real history and the fantastical. Historical Fantasy is set solidly in a real-world setting with historic characters of significance and in real time, but with a touch of the supernatural. Fantasy inspired by history is simply fantasy with a rich world informed by aspects of history. But regardless of your fantasy subgenre, I would argue that it’s never too late to be a history buff! Now that you’ve seen some amazing novels inspired by history, here are some tips to improve your fantasy writing with history:

 

  1. Characters NOT Caricatures: Some AMAZING characters have been plucked from the pages of history. Lady Eboushi from Princess Mononoke, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Indiana Jones was based on Hiram Bingham III, and Severus Snape. The list goes on to prove that history can inspire great characters. But unfortunately, it can also result in caricatures. If you are going to reinvent someone from the pages of history be sure to do so with respect and make it your own.
  2. Startling Events: History is full of the weird and wonderful, the beautiful and the cruel. Did you know that human pillars were used to build bridges in some places? Or that there was a nerdy botanist who joined a rebellion and fell into a tragic love story? How about the secret life of the man who invented the tea party? History is a wonderful playground for the imagination.
  3. Worldbuilding: History provides ancient maps, languages, artifacts, culture, and myth. A rich well of inspiration for the fantasy world. Myth is most often the one writers pull from when researching as its closely related to fantasy. But consider that back then it was believed to be real. How did this change the way people acted? What system of law did people adhere to? Also, magic is in the history books. People have already created whole worlds built on magic systems. Use them to dream and build your own magical world. Dig deep to imagine the day-to-day of your fantasy landscape. And when drawing inspiration from real-world cultures, past or present, please do so respectfully and with care.
  4. Go on Tour: Explore old houses and historic places for inspiration. It doesn’t need to be fancy. You can visit local sites, graveyards, museums, anything that sparks of history! I’ve found weapons that traveled the globe, baby shoes made of glass, and mossed-covered books that begged whole stories to be written about them. Explore history in tangible ways by visiting places and ask questions.
  5. Read nonfiction: Biographies are a favorite pastime of mine. I find the most unusual stories and observations from minds long since passed. People who saw sea dragons in Meiji era Japan, the woman whose carriage lost a wheel in a thunderstorm, the little girl who couldn’t walk but changed lives by growing flowers. Lost and forgotten stories from otherwise ‘boring’ biographies. Read the information plaques at the historic sites you visit, read the small print for names and notes. You’ll be surprised at the treasures you find.
  6. Lists: I’m a sucker for details. I have a list of plant species in my fantasy world based on real plants in Hokkaido, Japan. A list of the smells in different seasons, the types of fish people caught. Makes lists from history and then use those details to create a real and palatable world.
  7. Make it Yours: Let history be your sandbox. Play in it. Roll ideas around and make roads to new places. Write your story and use the pages of history to bring it to life in the best ways.

 

Ellen, signing off!

*I just joined IG, so if you hung out there come find me!

TRANSITIONING GENRES

TRANSITIONING GENRES?

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Three tips to ensure a smooth move

It all started with a room in an abandon park…

It wasn’t just any room, but a particularly large, spacious and strangely unearthly one. It was as if the room was originally built for giants of men and heroes of old. After that day, I never saw that space again, but it remained etched in my memory. That was the room where the story first came to me.

At the time, I was already deep in the writing trenches of my YA fantasy novel. When this futuristic world began to reveal itself to me in that room, I couldn’t help but start frantically taking notes. There was a future world that existed out there and was waiting to be written.

I promised myself I’d finish up my current work in progress but after that, I would be switching to sci-fi. Though switching from fantasy to sci-fi sounded daunting, this past year was the year I made that jump.

If you’re considering changing genres, here are a few things I learned along the way that I hope help you:

Think about why you’re switching genres and if you’re a good fit

Hopefully, if you’ve completed another manuscript, you know what your strengths are. Do you write page-turning plot, life-like characters, or mind-blowing worlds? Take your list of strengths and weaknesses into consideration as you’re picking your new genre.

If your number one strength is developing deep characters and you really struggle to write anything fast paced, a thriller probably isn’t the best fit for you. Make sure that your strengths fit the new genre you’re about to tackle.

Think about what you’re passionate about

What makes you come alive? You may be the most gifted horror writer in the world but if you feel queasy at the thought of gore, is that really the story you want to tell? Writing is incredibly hard work. But it’s also fun! Write something that’s going to excite you and keep you up at odd hours because you love it.

Think about where you draw inspiration from

One more thing to take into consideration is your current environment. When I moved to Beijing a year and a half ago, I was in awe of city and curious about how it worked. I used my phone to pay for everything, scanned my face to get on planes, and had toilet paper delivered to my door by men on bikes. It wasn’t hard for me to begin extrapolating the world around me and converting it into a novel.

“I could see stories enfolding on every corner.”

That’s when I knew it was time to write the sci-fi novel I had stored away at the back of my brain since I first saw that room. It was a hard decision because I was about to start querying my other novel. I didn’t want to delay that any longer. But I also knew, I’d only have one year in Beijing and I’d never find inspiration like this again.

If you’re traveling, just moved, or are facing some other life change that is compelling you to write something new. Go for it! I typically wouldn’t advise completely neglecting your other WIPs but, especially if it’s a short stretch of time, take advantage of the inspiration around you! Tackle that new genre while the warm fuzzies last.

Just don’t forget, keep going even when they stop. Nerd out, turn it into a game, get organized, or keep wanderingbut do whatever it takes to keep writing.

 

Candace signing off to go hiking and get more inspiration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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

Book Giveaway & Author’s Note!

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READERS:
WHO WOULD LIKE TO WIN A CRAZY AWESOME PETER PAN RETELLING?

You? Your daughter? Your best friend whose birthday is coming up? Your long lost cousin in Brazil? Your sister who is driving you crazy during lockdown?

 

Fantastic! You’re in the right spot! The SP is partnering with YA Author Kara Swanson to do a GIVEAWAY for her upcoming book, DUST!

*Intriguing summary below!*

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.

TO WIN:

Who is your favorite Peter Pan character? Comment & share –here on this post OR on your social media, use the hashtag, #SPDustgiveaway and you will be entered twice!

We will monitor this post on Twitter, Instagram, and here.

Winners announced FRIDAY on an IG live with Kara! Good luck! 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!

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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