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

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: 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: 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

Author (& Agent) Interview: Caroline George

Pen Friends ~ You are in for a treat! We have the lovely Caroline George, both an agent and YA author, with us today for an inspiring and insightful interview talking about her upcoming book, Dearest Josephine, her 3 book-deal with Harper Collins/TN, social media, agent life and the hardcore pursuit of writing!

Caroline's Headshot

SP: Hi Caroline! I’m so excited to have you -for the second time- on the Spinning Pen! And, with more amazing news! Congrats on your 3-book deal with Harper Collins/TNZ! Before we get into all the new juicy book stuff, here is  Caroline’s new bio:  Continue reading

Author Interview: Jessica Olson, Sing Me Forgotten

Pen Friends ~ I am so excited for you! In this interview you get to meet the lovely, writer mom, Pitch Wars Alum, YA Author Jessica Olson and hear about her incredible her debut, Sing Me Forgotten, out with Inkyard/Harper Collins in 2021. As you know, we are huge fans of championing author’s debut work, so click here to add it on Goodreads and enjoy all of the amazing gems she has shared in this interview!

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

JO: I’ve been writing books since kindergarten, and I’m pretty sure my parents still have stacks of the books I wrote and illustrated as a kid moldering up in their attic. Compelling stories about little girls that got castles for Christmas and went on picnics and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When I fell in love with Harry Potter as a young teen was when I moved on from writing (terrible) picture books to writing (even worse) novels. I was constantly scribbling stories in notebooks instead of paying attention in class during middle school and high school, much to my teachers’ frustration.

I started pursuing publication in college with a YA contemporary issue novel that I thought was the best thing ever written but was actually a pile of stinking garbage. I obviously was not able to get an agent with that manuscript, but I did not give up. I queried twice more over the next few years with two other manuscripts, slowly getting more and more interest in my stories—which showed I was improving—but no bites quite yet.

It wasn’t until I submitted Sing Me Forgotten to PitchWars in 2018 and was chosen as a mentee that things kind of took off. I received several requests from the PitchWars showcase, and I had my first offer of representation within 48 hours. After multiple offers, I chose to sign with Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis, and we went on submission shortly thereafter.

SMF went on to receive multiple offers from publishers, so Christa conducted an auction, which was a surreal and insane experience. I didn’t sleep or eat basically that whole week! Though all of the editors who made offers were wonderful, and they all seemed to be so excited for SMF, we decided to go with Lauren at Inkyard because she felt like the best fit for the book and shared the same vision I had for what the story could be.

smf2.jpg Continue reading

Author Interview: Annie Sullivan, Tiger Queen

Pen Friends ~ Today’s interview is with YA Author Annie Sullivan talking about her latest book, Tiger Queen! We also just learned that she and Lauren Mansy (from our last interview) will go on tour together promoting, The Memory Thief, and Annie’s Tiger Queen, (& her debut, A Touch of Gold!) Be sure to check them all out!

as

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

AS: Thanks so much for having me! I’m the author of fairytale and fantasy young adult novels. I love taking stories readers are familiar with and giving them an unexpected twist—whether that’s a new character or a new ending. I have a master’s degree in Creative Writing from Butler University and have been writing seriously since college. It’s always been a dream of mine to be a published author, and now, I’m so excited that it’s come true!

SP: Tiger Queen was just released into the world! Congrats! Can you tell us how this idea & its characters came about?tgg

AS: Tiger Queen is actually a loose retelling of Frank Stockton’s infamous short story “The Lady or the Tiger,” which has a cliffhanger ending. Ever since I read the story in grade school, I’ve always wanted to give that story the ending it always should have had (in my opinion.) So I’m so excited that I was finally able to make that happen in Tiger Queen as we follow Princess Kateri as she fights suitors in an arena to win her right to rule.

Here is blurb:

In the mythical desert kingdom of Achra, an ancient law forces sixteen-year-old Princess Kateri to fight in the arena to prove her right to rule. For Kateri, winning also means fulfilling a promise to her late mother that she would protect her people, who are struggling through windstorms and drought. The situation is worsened by the gang of Desert Boys that frequently raids the city wells, forcing the king to ration what little water is left. The punishment for stealing water is a choice between two doors: behind one lies freedom, and behind the other is a tiger.

But when Kateri’s final opponent is announced, she knows she cannot win. In desperation, she turns to the desert and the one person she never thought she’d side with. What Kateri discovers twists her world—and her heart—upside down. Her future is now behind two doors—only she’s not sure which holds the key to keeping her kingdom and which releases the tiger. Continue reading