Author Interview: Kimberly Gabriel

Pen Friends ~ I am so pumped to introduce you to YA Debut author, Kimberly Gabriel, author of EVERY STOLEN BREATH, (Blink/Harper Collins), friend, and  fellow PitchWars Alum! Her cover reveal was on March 27th and we LOVE it. It’s breathtaking, and her writing journey is even better! Please read below!

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SP: Hi Kimberly! Thanks for joining us! Congrats on the sale of your upcoming book to Blink/Harper Collins! But before we dive into all the book stuff, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing?

I’ve been writing off and on for as long as I can remember. For a short time in college, I majored in Creative Writing, but after taking my one and only Creative Writing class, I switched majors. The professor who taught the class was an arrogant guy who delivered harsh and public critiques, while I was a sensitive freshman, who hoped for glowing praise only. Thankfully, I’ve developed thicker skin since then. I ended up majoring in English Literature and English Education, went into teaching, and took a break from writing. Then about ten years ago, I got an idea for a book. I spent years writing it and making all the “first-book mistakes.” The result was a 100,000 word YA paranormal with eight characters and eight (yes, eight) POVs. When I queried it, however, it got some attention from agents—enough that I decided to write a second manuscript, which became EVERY STOLEN BREATH. My path to publication was a long and bumpy one, but the silver lining is that I had many opportunities to learn from my mistakes, and I’m really thankful for them.

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SP: Your debut, Every Stolen Breath, is a YA Thriller–fast paced, intense, and even inspired by a real event!

Here is a blurb:

The Swarm is unrecognizable, untraceable, and unpredictable—random attacks on the streets of Chicago by a mob of crazed teens that leaves death in its wake. It’s been two years since the last attack, but Lia Finch has found clues that reveal the Swarm is ready to claim a new victim.

Lia is the only one still pursuing her father’s killers, two years after attorney Richard Finch’s murder by the Swarm. Devastated and desperate for answers, Lia will do anything to uncover the reasons behind his death and to stop someone else from being struck down. But due to debilitating asthma and PTSD that leaves her with a tenuous hold on reality, Lia is the last person to mount a crusade on her own.

After a close encounter with the Swarm puts Lia on their radar, she teams up with a teen hacker, a reporter, and a mysterious stranger who knows firsthand how the mob works. Together, they work to uncover the master puppeteer behind the group. Though if Lia and her network don’t stop the person pulling the strings—and fast—Lia may end up the next target.

Inspired by the real-life “flash mob” violence that has plagued Chicago since 2011, Every Stolen Breath by debut author Kimberly Gabriel is a fast-paced and immersive thriller that shows just how hard one girl will fight back, knowing any breath might be her last.

SP: Can you tell us a bit more about how you came up with this idea and developed it?

KG: In 2011, a series of “flash-mob” attacks broke out around Chicago near where I lived. I remember reading stories where dozens of teenagers would suddenly emerge from the crowd and descend on one tourist to mug and attack. The stories terrified me so much that I eventually took that concept, made it worse, added elements of mystery and romance to it, and turned it into the basis of EVERY STOLEN BREATH.

SP: What was the hardest part about writing Every Stolen Breath?

In the early stages it was finding Lia’s voice. I knew the story I wanted to tell, but it took me a while to discover Lia and her unique perspective on the world and everything happening around her. Once I found her voice, my WIP started to finally feel like a real story. Eventually Lia turned into someone so distinct in my mind, I almost forget how hard it was to make her stand out in those first drafts.

SP: Do you usually read thrillers? What is your favorite genre to read?

KG: YES! I love thrillers and really anything packed with tension in all shapes and sizes. These last few years, writers have been turning out really fantastic YA thrillers, so there has been no shortage of great reading. But every now and again, I love to read fantasy. Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom, and really anything written by Leigh Bardugo mark my all time favorites.

SP: How did you know you wanted to write YA?

KG: I teach seventh graders, who are avid YA readers. I also spend most of my day immersed in the young adult world, which makes writing YA a no-brainer. But aside from that, I’m drawn to YA because there is a beautiful naiveté and optimism that underlies most YA character arcs. No matter how awful the MC’s life or world is, there is a hope and possibility for things to get better. Young adults are just starting their journey; they are on the cusp of figuring out who they want to be and how they are going to be themselves consistently. I love writing about that time of self-discovery, especially when faced with the terrible conflicts created by YA authors.

SP: You were a PitchWars Mentee in 2016–which helped land you an agent. What came before that? How many books had you written? Had you queried long? What compelled you to apply for PitchWars

KG: EVERY STOLEN BREATH was my second manuscript. Like I mentioned, my first manuscript was a disaster. I probably poured 300,000 words total into that book revising it and rewriting it until I finally trunked it. For my first manuscript, I probably queried 60 or so agents, and I ended up with 8 requests. Several of those agents bumped up their partial requests to full requests. It was enough attention that I felt compelled to write another manuscript. I wrote EVERY STOLEN BREATH and then applied to PitchWars in 2016 on a bit of whim. Luckily, I was chosen by mentor Dawn Ius. The Pitch Wars contest and community became game-changers for me that led to an agent and editor. I queried EVERY STOLEN BREATH a little before and then also after the contest, and ended up with close to 30 requests and multiple offers of representation.

SP: Agent Question: How did you know your agent was the right agent? Which qualities did you want most in an agent?

KG: I adore my agent, and in many ways, I got really, really lucky. Because ultimately, when you’re querying, you’re just looking for a “yes.” Even though I researched every agent I queried, it’s still hard to know what they are really like beyond their profile. When you talk to an agent on the phone, you’re able to get a better handle on who they are. Luckily, I had multiple offers, so I was able to get a feel for different personalities and styles through those calls. When I spoke with Jenny for the first time, the conversation was incredibly easy. We chatted for over an hour, and I loved her revision ideas for my manuscript—they were really smart and fit so well with my vision for my story. (She has a wicked smart editorial eye!) She also talked about my writing career, instead of focusing on this one manuscript. Hearing that she was invested in me as a writer was big for me, and I really liked her submission strategy. Once I started working with her, it didn’t take long to realize she was the perfect agent for me.

SP: At the SP, we are always curious about two things:  Was submission to publishers hard or easy for you and how did that go? And HOW did you celebrate when you got the news that your book was going to be published?

KG: It was painful—partly because there was no next step or second chances. Subbing to publishers felt more final than querying agents, so those rejections stung worse. My saving grace was that Blink showed interest in the very beginning. Even though it took months before they offered a contract, I knew in the back of my head they were a possibility, which definitely helped my sanity. That also meant I did a lot of celebrating. Dawn Ius, my PitchWars mentor, told me to celebrate every step along the way, and so I did. Every time I heard I made it past another milestone with Blink, I celebrated with a glass of really great wine—my vice of choice.

SP: Mom Writer question: How do you balance your writing and mom life? What does your day look like?

KG: Balance is something I struggle with everyday. I wake up early and write in the mornings for an hour or two before work. I teach middle school kids during the day, and then I come home to my three children. I try to read at night after they go to bed. My husband travels, so sometimes it’s just me in the evenings. Because life is crazy and full, there are two bits of advice I’ve learned along the way that I lean on. First, I try to stay in the moment. When I’m writing, I’m not thinking about work or my kids. Likewise, when I’m with my kids, which is always the most important part of my day, I’m giving them my full attention. Second, I recognize that it’s all a juggling act, and sometimes I drop the ball. The more I juggle, the more likely it is that something will slip. I’ve learned to be okay with that. I’ve had to let go of my type-A, perfectionism, but it’s a healthier way to live.

SP: Any new projects in the works?

KG: Yes! I’m working on a new thriller that begins with a dead girl, a gamer, and a bus stop bench. And from there it spirals out of control with secrets, revenge, social media, regret, denial, and, of course, murder. Set in Chicago, this one has a slight paranormal twist to it, which I’m excited about.

SP: Now to lighten things up: 

Favorite fictional crush?

Jest from Heartless.

Best recent read?

The Window by Amelia Brunskill.

Favorite childhood book?

I used to love Lurlene McDaniel books like Six Months to Live, I Want to Live—the more heart-wrenching the better.

Fav drink/food while writing?

Ice water with extra ice to chew when I get stuck.

Fav getaway spot?

Anywhere with water and a beach.

Or were you talking about writing? If so,

The library is my go-to for writing, and I get very territorial over my lucky chair. 😉

SP: Pen & Book Friends ~ Every stolen breath is available for preorder now!

PRE-ORDER NOW ON:
AMAZON | B&N | GOODREADS

Also be sure to add her book to your Goodreads list & connect to Kimberly on Instagram & Twitter

Signing off, Nova, YA Author of soon coming film,  Calculated

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Book Review: Bridge of Clay

BOCTitle: Bridge of Clay

Author: Markus Zusak

Blurb: The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance.

At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge—for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle.

The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome? Continue reading

Author Interview: Joanna Hathaway

Pen Friends, I’m so excited to introduce you to debut YA Author, Joanna Hathaway who will talk about her YA Fantasy (with Historical aspects), Dark of the West, which comes out February tomorrow, the 5th!!! Let’s hear what she has to say about books, publishing, marketing and more!

JHSP: Hi, Joanna! Thanks for joining us! Congrats on your debut coming out in February! I bet you’re getting excited!  But before we dive into all the book stuff, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

JH: Thanks so very much for having me! Yes, it’s getting very exciting, and as you mentioned, Dark of the West is my debut. It’s my first book to be published — but it’s also the first book I’ve ever finished! I started working on it when I was in university, over a decade ago, and it was the only story that stuck with me through the years. I like to say that I “grew up” as a writer with this book. I’ve revised it so many times, and in so many different ways, that it’s taught me most of what I know about craft at this point. I know many authors write a few different books before they reach The One, but for me it took agonizing over countless drafts to makeDark of the West become The One!Dark of the West

SP: Your debut, Dark of the West, will come out February 5th! From the first moment I read your description, I knew I would LOVE this book!

Here is a blurb:

Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan’s mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it’s the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania—Aurelia’s mother. Determined to avenge his wife’s murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.

Athan’s mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it—a war in which Athan’s father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been raised to believe. Continue reading

Book Review: Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles)

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Title: Cinder (The first book in The Lunar Chronicles.)

Author: Marissa Meyer

Blurb:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

With high-stakes action and a smart, resourceful heroine, Cinder is a Cinderella retelling that is at once classic and strikingly original. MM.jpg

Review: I want to start my review with the quote (below) from Entertainment Weekly. This quote–the concept for Cinder–hooked me into reading the book in a way my friends couldn’t. I was so intrigued by mashing these genres/titles together, I simply had to see how she had done it.

“An interesting mash up of fairy tales and science fiction . . . a cross between Cinderella, Terminator, and Star Wars.” ―Entertainment Weekly

 

All I can say is WOW. I was blown away by the creativity and imagination that went into creating this plot & series!

Characters/Voice: Once I started the book with this quote in mind I easily slipped into Cinder’s voice. She was sympathetic and I loved getting to know her story, and of course the quote had me rooting for her from the beginning. Prince Kai, Queen Levana, Peony and Cinder’s step mom were all well done; easy to read and follow and had depth. I could easily see their motives. The book moved between the scenes and characters with such great timing I was invested in each story line and character.

Pacing: The pace kept me reading and invested the entire time. It was hard to put down.  Mainly because that same quote had me asking questions. How will Meyers do this? I loved the weaving of the plot and the mystery. Seriously, it was so well done!

Plot:  The plot is super creative because as you read in the blurb, Cinderella is a cyborg set in a future world with the threats of wars and conspiracy. The main plot and sub plots are complex and full of mystery and suspense. It’s believable and fun.

Setting: Loved this imagined future world. Loved the scientific developments and new technology. Loved the descriptions of New Beijing and the Eastern Common Wealth and Luna, the moon civilization. Loved the backstory on the history of World War 3 and 4, and how the earth was redivided. Her writing and description was not dry in any way.  A perfect balance between setting and plot and character and pace.

Themes/ Audience: The themes that were most obvious were standing for what is right and finding your true identity and being ok with who you are. As for audience, I gave this book to my Dad because he loves Sci-FI and he loved it! LOL. He is already on book 3 (as am I.) It is also totally appropriate for younger ages. Needless to say, I would totally recommend this book to younger and older teens (and even adults who love fantasy, fairytales, or sci-fi-fi action books!)

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Nova, Author of YA Contemporary Action/Adventure & Fantasy, signing off! See Nova’s book stuff here and her latest book news announcement – I’ll give you a hint–film is involved.

Book Review: Just For Clicks

just for clicks book mockup photoTitle: Just For Clicks  (Release date: February 19, 2019)

Author: Kara McDowell

Blurb: Mommy blogs are great . . . unless the blog happens to belong to your mom.

Twin sisters Claire & Poppy are accidental social media stars thanks to Mom going viral when they were babies. Now, as teens, they’re expected to contribute by building their own brand. Attending a NY fashion week and receiving fan mail is a blast. Fending off internet trolls and would-be kidnappers? Not so much. Poppy embraces it. Claire hates it. Will anybody accept her as “just Claire”? And what should Claire do about Mom’s old journals? The handwritten entries definitely don’t sound like Mom’s perfect blog persona. Worse, one of them divulges a secret that leaves Claire wondering what else in her life might be nothing but a sham . . .

Review: If you love Contemporary YA, especially ones with swoony unique characters, slow burning romance, fresh concepts and plot twists you CANNOT guess, then you will love Just for Clicks!

I had the privilege of reading an early copy this book–be jealous! kara mcdowell author photo 2

 

Characters/Voice: One of the aspects I love most about this book is the VOICE. So well done! Claire is one of the most relatable characters and I could identify with her immediately. Poppy and Rafael, even her mom, get under your skin too because you get to know them all in a very real, vulnerable way.

Pacing: The pace and plot were steady and fresh the whole time and kept me turning pages and man– the twists— I did not see them coming. Well done, Kara. Sorry, y’all == no spoilers!

Plot:  As for the story, the plot is wonderfully executed and thought out. (see synopsis above!) I thought the plot (& concept) was genius for today’s audience and I was amazed at how well Kara wrote it! The phenomenon of youth online, blogging, texting, youtube, reality shows, etc. It was so real to me, I felt that this could be an actual story online the entire time! lol.

Setting: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in Arizona and I loved it. It was so different from where I’ve lived that learning about how the weather at Thanksgiving could be 90 degrees and how that effected life made me feel the setting in a fresh way. The high school was a typical American set-up, but in each place Kara set the moment, whether at home or outside. I was there.

Themes: “Breezy and fresh meditation on privacy and relationships in the internet age, with a likable protagonist who would rather code than braid her hair for a fashion vlog.” (Fiction. 12-18)

**This is a clip from the Kirkus Review, which I recommend reading the full review here.

Audience: I would totally recommend this book to younger and older teens (and even moms!)

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Nova, Author of YA Contemporary Action/Adventure & Fantasy, signing off! See Nova’s book stuff here.

The Querying Show: Final Episode

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Welcome to The Querying Show’s Final Episode (until later)!

For the last 3 months we’ve witnessed every juicy (and completely stagnant) detail of our SP Staff Member’s querying life in the SLUSH PILE!

(Check out our rules and reasons in our intro post here!)

So the question is, DID CR’s/Write_Or_Left achieve AGENT success? Or DID HE result with a querying and MS reboot?

Today is the final week of CR’s journey (at least online!).

First, as always, let’s check in our with brave querying fellow and see how things have finished. (Click here for Episode 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5.)

SP: Happy New Year, CR/Write_Or_Left! For our final week, we will ask you for the last time about your STATS. 

Any new queries? Rejections? Requests? Tell us!

CR/Write_Or_Left:  Short answer: Nope, nothing to report! Short reason: I made the mistake of querying too early.

I realized pretty early on in the process that my book was not quite where it needed to be for querying. It all boiled down to my characters just not feeling real/relatable enough. Because of this, I’ve been focusing a lot more on rewriting than on actual querying.

SP: So, after four months of querying in the slush pile during the querying show you did not get an agent. (Boo!)

What is your take away and what have you learned? What will you do differently next time?

CR/Write_Or_Left: Trust my gut regarding the content of the story. I never felt like I got to know my characters all that well, but I thought my plot would be strong enough to carry the book. Obviously, that’s not a good mindset. I’m going to make sure my book is exactly where I want it to be before I jump back into this process.

SP: Now that you have this experience under your belt, which steps will you take on your next attempt to query? When do you think you will query again? 

CR/Write_Or_Left: I’ll try to query again as soon as my story is ready. I spent much of my Christmas break rewriting. Not just editing, but really reworking most the story. Once I feel that everything has come together, I’m going to be more consistent about sending queries on a schedule. The more the better!

SP: Thank you for being courageous and willing for us to WATCH as you dove into the slush pile. Was it worth it?

CR/Write_Or_Left:  Absolutely. I learned how to write (and rewrite) a query, research agents and find the qualities and agencies I liked. I also learned how to remain patient and recognize the talent in the slush (which is amazing), and my understanding of the industry in general really grew in. I’ll definitely be more prepared next time.

SP: We wish you the greatest luck next time, confident that you will walk away with an agent soon!

Final question: We are happy to see your Instagram account is steadily growing, now up to 28k from 25,000 followers since the last Querying show! We look forward to your coming post on the Spinning Pen talking about growing your social media!

You also recently started posting on WattPad – Can you tell us about that? Can you give us the link?

CR/Write_Or_Left: 

IG: My account has been getting a lot of traffic recently, and it’s been really cool to see! We actually just hit 29k yesterday. The secret is pretty simple, and I’m sure I’ll be back to talk about it eventually 😉 (see a tip here from last episode!)

Wattpad: Yeah, so I wrote my first novel when I was in my teens. I decided I would post that story each week just for fun! You can read it here. Keep in mind I wrote most of this from ages 16-19, so you should go into it with a mindset of, “This guy has improved a lot since then, but it’s cool to see his early efforts” and not, “This should be as good as a published novel.”

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SP Querying & Pub TIP of the week:

  1. Read the back cover of ten stories that are in your genre. Then read the first chapter on Amazon, if available. Did the voice, feeling, hook, capture you in both?
  2.  Read summarizes both long and short of books online, distinguish which ones capture you and why.
  3. Practice your craft & Never give up!

Good luck!

 

CR & Nova Signing off!

Author Interview: Astrid Scholte

Pen Friends ~ As a 2016 PitchWars mentee, I’m giddy to tell you that my fellow 2016 PW tribe member, and YA debut author, Astrid Scholte‘s incredible, fast-paced, and highly anticipated fantasy, FOUR DEAD QUEENS will be out in the world in February! Her story of perseverance and hard work is inspiring. Enjoy the interview!

 

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SP: Hi Astrid! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, we’d LOVE for you to share with our readers a bit of your inspiring (never-giving up) writing journey. Who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

AS: Thanks so much for having me! Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be an author, writing my first “novel” at age 5. Another love of mine was drawing so I thought a picture book illustrator would be the dream job. Back then, I thought I could illustrate my own books. It wasn’t until much later that I found out most authors don’t also illustrate their work.

While my passion for writing was there from a young age, I pursued a career in 3D animation and visual effects as I also had a love for the magic of movie making. I studied 3D animation at university and have worked (and still do!) in the film, TV and animation industry for the past 10+ years. Working in film production is a taxing job, with long hours, so my writing took a back-seat for a few years. It wasn’t until 2012 that I finally finished a novel. It was a YA paranormal romance and I thought for sure it would get published!

I attempted to be published here in Australia, where you can submit to publishers directly. After getting close with one publisher (or what felt like close at the time as they gave a detailed, positive rejection) I decided to query agents in the USA. Over 100 rejections later, with only one full request, I realized that like many of the characters in YA paranormal novels, the genre was also dead.

That year, I attempted Nanowrimo for the first time and wrote 50K words of what would become my second completed YA novel, an elemental YA fantasy. This time, I went straight to the USA, as I’d been told that speculative fiction was a difficult sell in Australia. I amassed around 80 rejections, but has 12 full requests and some positive feedback. The common feedback I kept hearing was that YA fantasy was over saturated and mine wouldn’t stand out in the market.

So I decided to try one more time. (In truth, I’m sure I would’ve kept going!) I wanted to combine all the things I loved about YA and fiction, including twists, morally gray characters, forbidden romance, secrets and murder mysteries. I also wanted to query as quickly as possible as I’d spent years on failed manuscripts. This book was Four Dead Queens and it ended up getting into PitchWars in 2016, landing me an agent a week after the competition ended, and a publishing deal less than two weeks after going on submission! Luckily I didn’t give up!

Overall, it took me 10 years of writing seriously and 5 years of attempting to get an agent and publisher before I got my offer.
Continue reading

Guest Post: Championing Our Words

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My writing dream all began when an innocent teacher said the fateful words, “Wow! You’re a good writer!”

And a monster was born.

I’ve been writing since middle school, more seriously since high school, and first tried to get published over five years ago. (*I’m still not yet published.) Over that period of time, I’ve made a lot of  mistakes and learned many valuable lessons. But here I am still plugging away at my writing & publishing dream. Why do we writers torture ourselves this way?

We have words inside us that need to be heard.

Continue reading

Author Interview: Kara McDowell

Pen Friends~ today’s interview is special because I was along side YA debut author Kara Jean McDowell as a fellow 2016 PitchWars mentee, witnessed her get an agent, and then a book deal, and now her book, Just For Clicks, will come out in February!

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SP: Hi Kara! Thanks for joining us. Before we dive into all the book stuff, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing?

KM: Hello! Thanks for having me! My name is Kara McDowell. I live with my husband and three young kids in Arizona. When I’m not writing or reading, I like to boat, bake, go on road trips, and watch Netflix.

SP: Your debut, Just for Clicks, will come out Feb 2019. First, we LOVE your incredibly adorable, genius, and timely idea!

Here is a blurb: Continue reading