Author Interview: Shanna Swendson on Rebel Mechanics

Shanna Swendson author phot (by Julian Noel)Rebel Mechanics has quickly become one of my favorite books. This alternate history novel blends elements of fantasy and steampunk to create an adventurous novel with romance, action and tons of fun. Today Shanna Swendson is here for to talk about her delightful latest novel.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Shanna Swendson (SS): I’ve always entertained myself by making up stories in my head. I was about twelve when I realized that if I wrote these stories down, I’d have a book. I think that was when I decided this was what I wanted to do when I grew up. I studied journalism in college with the idea that it would be a way to learn about writing while getting trained in something I could get a job in (since there aren’t really any “entry-level” novelist jobs). I started seriously writing — as in finishing a book instead of starting a lot of ideas — about a year after I finished college and sold my first book not long after that. I had a few romance novels published, then moved into fantasy with the Enchanted, Inc. series. Rebel Mechanics is my first novel for young adults, though a lot of teens have read my earlier books, as well.

MP: What was the inspiration for Rebel Mechanics?

SS: The idea of steampunk has appealed to me for a while because I’ve always been a bit of a fan of Victoriana. I love a good costume drama, and this is costume drama with a twist and a bit of adventure. I just didn’t have a story idea in mind, until one day when I was looking at my bookcase and saw a couple of books next to each other that gave me an “aha!” moment. My copy of Jane Eyre was next to a Madeleine Brent Gothic adventure/romance, and that was when I thought I needed to write a steampunk governess/spy story. Being a governess would be a great cover for spying on the upper class, and if the upper class had magical powers, that would give them an actual reason for being set apart from the rest of society. The rest kind of fell into place from there.

MP: Rebel Mechanics features elements of steampunk as seen with the actual Rebel Mechanics with more traditional fantasy in the form of the magic wielded by Magisters. What drew you to these two aspects of the story? How did you go about constructing the rules that would govern magic in this novel?

SS: Since I started with the idea of the upper class having magic, it seemed like the best way to fight against them would be with advanced technology, so the magic vs. technology tension is inherent in the premise. One thing I’ve wanted to see more of in the steampunk I’ve read is that influence of the technology on society rather than it just being part of the set design. I wanted to write a story about actual steampunks who were using technology to rebel against magic. As for creating the rules of magic, this is the third fantasy “universe” I’ve created, so making up magical systems is second nature. I start with what I need to have happen for the story to work, and then build it from there — and then force myself to stick to those rules even when they become inconvenient. The main thing I wanted in this magical system was for it to be detectable, so another magical person would know if magic was in use nearby. This kind of magic is mostly a power supply — kind of like electricity, only generated and channeled by people.

MP: This book is set in 1888 New York (with a very altered history because of the magisters). Why did you choose this historical era? How did you find historical details and choose which ones to include and/or alter in your story?

SS: Would it sound too shallow to say I chose it because I liked the clothes? Actually, I wanted to use Gilded Age New York as the setting because even in the real history that was an era of a vast gap between social classes. There were outrageously wealthy people living extremely extravagant lives, and there were horribly poor people crammed into tenements that would make even the slums of today look like luxury. There were times during that era when a revolution wouldn’t have been a huge surprise. At the same time, technology was starting to play a bigger role in daily life. It seemed like the perfect era to have a revolution brewing.

I did a ton of reading when I was researching this novel — about 60 books — and I have a binder full of notes I jotted while reading. I read about the social set of the Gilded Age, found a wonderful book full of photos of the Fifth Avenue mansions that no longer exist, and read some memoirs of people who lived in that era. I’d studied the work of tenement reformer Jacob Riis in journalism school and had his books, full of photos of slum life from not long after the time in which the book is set. I also did a lot of reading about the real American Revolution and found events that seemed to parallel situations either in the real world in the later time or in my story, and I found ways to move them around. I think I just mostly looked for details that gave me that “ooh, this could work!” tingle.
MP: Verity’s New York is a magical place (often literally!). Throughout the story she travels to many different areas of Manhattan. Did any actual locations inspire you while writing this story? How did you decide which locations to include in the story?

SS: Between business trips to New York and research trips I’ve done for other books, I’ve walked huge swaths of Manhattan and am pretty familiar with it. Central Park is one of my favorite places in the world, and I have to go there on every trip. The Victorian lampposts in the park seem to fit this era pretty well, and the park as a kind of front yard for the mansions across the street plays a role in the story. Most of the mansions there didn’t last long because that land is too valuable for a single-family home, but there are still a few that are now museums. There’s a stretch of Broadway south of Fourteenth Street that has always struck me as looking like something you’d expect to see in a Dickens novel, and so that’s a general area where I set a lot of the “downtown” scenes. I kept a map of the city and a historical atlas showing what was built when by my side when I was writing.

MP: Verity is a big reader of both classics and more contemporary novels in Rebel Mechanics. Did you always know reading would be a big part of her character? How did you decide which books and genres to include in your story?

SS: Being caught in between things is a big theme in the novel, and Verity’s choice of reading material plays into that. She’s been highly educated by a demanding professor father, so she’s well-versed in the classics, but at the same time, she’s a dreamer who needed an escape from a pretty drab life, so she turns to popular fiction. That makes her an interesting combination of very knowledgeable and very naive, but it also makes her game for jumping in and trying new things because she’d love to be a heroine like she’s read about in books. I suppose it was natural for me to write a reader like that because books are such a huge part of my life, and I’m just as prone to reading a classic as I am to reading the latest fantasy bestseller.

MP: Did you have a favorite character to write in Rebel Mechanics? Is there any character you are particularly excited for readers to meet?

SS: I pretty much love all of them. It’s hard to choose a favorite. I did end up really loving Henry. He was fun to write and turned out a little different than I initially planned, which sends the book into a slightly different direction that I ended up loving. I guess I like a man of mystery who can also be a bit of a geek.

MP: If you had to choose would you rather be a Rebel Mechanic or a Magister?

SS: I’m not sure I could choose! I might end up being like Verity and mediating between the two groups. I have to confess that I’m not very mechanically minded, so I’d be pretty useless as a Mechanic.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Will we be seeing more of Verity and Henry?

SS: I’m working on the third book of my contemporary fantasy Fairy Tale series, but I’m researching the second book in what I hope will be a Rebel Mechanics trilogy. I haven’t sent the publisher a proposal yet, so I suppose it depends on how well this book does before I’ll know if they want more books (so buy the book and tell all your friends!).

[MP: Seriously. Buy this book. I need more Verity and Henry in my life, people!]

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

SS: Becoming a published author requires a lot of perseverance. I started writing this book in the summer of 2010, and it’s only now coming to print. In between, there were a lot of revisions and rewrites, then a lot of rejections by publishers, and then after it sold there were even more rewrites. If I’d given up when it became difficult, the book wouldn’t have been published. So, power through even when you feel like giving up.

Thanks again to Shanna for this fantastic interview.

You can see more about Shanna and her books on her website.

You can also read my review of Rebel Mechanics.

Elmer and Butterfly: A Picture Book Review

Elmer and Buttefly by David McKeeEveryone’s favorite patchwork elephant is back in Elmer and Butterfly by David McKee.

When Elmer helps Butterfly get out of a hole blocked by a fallen branch, he doubts that she will be able to return the favor. Then Elmer wanders onto a narrow path and becomes trapped in a cave. With Butterfly’s help, Elmer’s cousin Wilbur and the other elephants mount a rescue.

This story reminiscent of the fable of “The Lion and the Mouse” but also includes McKee’s own brand of writing and humor.

Butterfly reminds readers that even the smallest animals can help a friend in need. McKee’s signature style includes high contrast and sharp detail on every page along with easy to read text. Bold colors and whimsical illustrations make this an excellent read-aloud choice, while longer text selections on each page make this book ideal for older storytime attendees as well.

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online*

Week in Review: July 5

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

Thanks to the holiday, this week was a whirlwind. After working three days I had a four day weekend during which I barely sat still (which is why this post is going live on Monday even though I have backdated it to Sunday.)

I continued my efforts to tidy my life according to Marie Kondo’s methodology. I started by trying to stick with her order but that didn’t work out. Over the course of the weekend I discarded and tidied my pants and skirts, loungewear (like pajamas), shoes, socks/tights (how do you know when tights are stretched out? Do I really have to try on every pair I own??), cardigans (still have to tackle heavy-weight sweaters), and purses and totes. With my mom’s help I also went through all of our old pattern and craft books.

Then we moved some furniture around in the living room which included emptying a few cabinets and getting rid of some shelving units. I also got rid of an rearranged a lot of knick-knacks by my desk and all of my pens. I started on my books but that’s becoming complicated.

Still have to tackle stationary, personal papers (got rid of all my old college and grad school papers but are there more???), dresses, hats/scarves/etc and the rest of my books. I also want to go through my entire wardrobe again now that I have a better handle on what brings me joy.

I don’t know that it’s worth buying Marie Kondo’s book but I’m really happy I got it from the library and it’s already getting so much easier to keep things neat–I understand why she boasts that none of her clients ever relapse to being slobs. For the first time, maybe ever, I know exactly what purses I own and where they are. Thanks to the KonMari folding and vertical storage I can fit all of my pants in one drawer where they used to be shoved into three. I’m planning on  reviewing the book but I wanted to wait until I had a handle on the process. Spoiler: If you buy into it, and approach with the knowledge that you can take and leave certain aspects, it totally works!

I don’t even remember anything else about this week. All told I think I got rid of 15 trash bags worth of stuff. Plus the furniture. I still have A LOT to do but I’m so excited!

If you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my June Reading Tracker.

How was your week?

P. S. I Still Love You: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*P. S. I Still Love You is the sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. As such there are major spoilers for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in this review.*

“You only know you can do something if you keep on doing it.”

psistillloveLara Jean didn’t know what to expect when all of her love letter’s were mailed. She knew she was upset and panicked. What she didn’t know was that the letter she wrote Peter K in eighth grade would lead to a fake relationship. She never would have guessed that it would lead to something more.

Lara Jean knows she loves Peter now. For real, not as part of their pretend dating. But she still doesn’t want to get her heart broken. She’s still afraid of getting hurt.

When another love letter makes its way back to her, Lara Jean is confronted with feelings from a crush she never quite forgot. Lara Jean might have feelings for two boys. But she can only be with one in P. S. I Still Love You (2015) by Jenny Han.

P. S. I Still Love You is the sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and picks up shortly after the first book’s conclusion.

It’s hard to give this book a “real” review because there are a lot of spoilers–even with the summary because a lot of the driving plot mentioned above doesn’t come until after the first hundred pages.

P. S. I Still Love You was one of my most anticipated 2015 releases. While To All the Boys I Loved Before is a solid novel and functions perfectly as a standalone, I loved Lara Jean enough to want to read more. I also had a sneaking suspicion this book would have more John Ambrose McClaren* which I definitely needed in my life. (Not going to lie, he is my favorite character.)

This book does not disappoint. Although a lot of the plot focuses on Lara Jean’s romantic life, this story has a lot more going on. Lara Jean is still trying to be a good sister and live up to the standard set by Margot. She’s still taking care of Kitty and their father. She has to face cyber-bullying and changing friendships. Thanks to Peter (and her letters getting sent) Lara Jean has also come out of her shell and is trying new things.

It is particularly poignant to watch Lara Jean learn that the bonds that tie people together don’t always last forever and, more importantly, that sometimes that is the best thing for everyone. This story is imbued with a sense of nostalgia for the past as Lara Jean looks back on moments from her childhood but also immense optimism in terms of facing the unknown as she wonders what might come next.

Although Lara Jean doesn’t always make the decisions I would make in her position, she is such a well-written character that it doesn’t matter. Everything Lara Jean does and chooses makes perfect sense for her character in the moment so that the overall ending is deeply satisfying and absolutely perfect given the arc of both books.

P. S. I Still Love You is a must-read for fans of Jenny Han and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Also highly recommended for readers who enjoy slice-of-life novels with fun families, light (happy) romances, and especially for readers looking for a book that encapsulates nostalgia and optimism like no other.

*Follow me to my Exclusive Bonus Content if you want to talk more about John Ambrose McClaren (with some spoilers)!

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle

Exclusive Bonus Content: I loved John Ambrose McClaren just from the snippets we got about him in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Sometimes with a secondary character you can tell, by how they are written, that they are loved by the author and have a bigger story of their own. That was definitely the case with John and I was absolutely thrilled to find he played a bigger role in the novel.

While the romance aspect of P. S. I Still Love You didn’t go exactly how I had wanted (Team JAM in case I wasn’t clear) it still totally made sense for Lara Jean. I also feel pretty strongly that she and JAM will find their way back to each other, but I’m okay with having to imagine that part on my own–that’s the nice thing about open-ended conclusions to a favorite book.

So obviously I had strong feelings about these characters. Because of that, I made some buttons for any fans who want to declare their allegiance. You can see them all in my Buttons inspired by To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before & P. S. I Still Love You post. Also you can tell from my blog’s sidebar which teams I have chosen.

July (2015) Reading Tracker

You can also see what I read and received in June.

Books Read:

  1. Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross
  2. Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten
  3. Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  4. The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

Books On Deck:

  1. Lion Heart by A. C. Gaughen
  2. Nameless by Lili St. Crow
  3. The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle
  4. The Truth Commission by Susan Juby
  5. A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
  6. Once Upon a Crime by P. J. Brackston
  7. Splintered by A. G. Howard
  8. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
  9. Love Fortunes and Other Disasters by Kimberly Karalius
  10. Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray
  11. Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan
  12. Blood Red Road by Moira Young
  13. The Edge of Forever by Melissa E. Hurst
  14. Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Books Bought:

Gifted/Traded Books:

Arcs Received:

If you want to see how I’m doing with BEA 2015 books check here.

July 1: Two books and only one day into July?! I’ll take it!

July 6: Squeezing in two books that weren’t originally on deck (Red Rising and The Eleventh Plague).

Rory the Dinosaur: Me and My Dad: A Picture Book Review

Rory the Dinosaur: Me and My Dad by Liz ClimoRory is an energetic dinosaur who lives on an island with his father in Rory the Dinosaur: Me and My Dad (2015) by Liz Climo.

When Rory’s dad needs quiet time, Rory sets out to find some adventures all by himself. Little does he know, Dad is there every step of the way to make sure that nothing goes wrong.

Bright, bold colors and clean lines help bring these whimsical characters (previously seen in Climo’s comic Tumblr and her book The Little World of Liz Climo) to life.

Climo’s hand lettering lends a folksy quality to the otherwise sleek style of her digital artwork. Ample white space on each page and small pieces of text make this a read-aloud option with broad appeal. An excellent addition for most collections.

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online*

Week in Review: June 28

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

This week was pretty quiet blog-wise which sometimes happen when I pre-schedule because I forget to lay in other content. Oops!

After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo I started putting what I read in to practice. Last Sunday I did my tops and got rid of about half of them. I might still get rid of more. I’m trying to decide if a shirt can “spark joy” while still being kind of uncomfortable to wear. (I think I know the answer but I also feel like I need to own as many black shirts as humanly possible, you know?) Other interesting discoveries: I hoard hangers when I am anxious and overbuy them for fear of running out. (I do the same thing with sticks of butter. I don’t know why.)

Next up will be pants/skirts but not sure when yet. Ideally I want to tackle one category (or most of one category) every weekend until I’m done but working weekends sometimes get in the way.

Anyway.

This was a really fun mail week. (Like, I love getting mail to the point that I watch other people at work open their packages and volunteered to open unclaimed boxes. AND I NEVER GET THIS MUCH MAIL! OMG!)

I also took this amazing (if I do say so myself) picture of the Empire State Building this week:

Foggy view of the Empire State Building from this weekend. #newyork #nofilter #fog#empirestatebuilding #makinguphashtags

A photo posted by Emma @ Miss Print (@missprint_) on

I wrote a short story that I thought would be about a dreamy boy but it totally isn’t.

This week I read The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope a classic which embarrassingly slipped my notice as a kid/teen and started Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman (yay Western! but I’m not sure about the portrayal of Native people in it–maybe in that respect Westerns just shouldn’t happen anymore, I don’t know) and Consent by Nancy Ohlin (I already have pages of questions/notes so I’m not sure how I feel yet).

I’ve been feeling really, really stressed by all of the reading challenges I signed up for on top of my Goodreads one. After much deliberation, I decided the stress isn’t worth it so I’m withdrawing from everything but my Goodreads challenge which I will meet regardless. I know I will read fantasy books anyway, I know I will read more the 365 days of YA anyway, and I hope I might finish some series but the actual tracking is just overwhelming right now.

If you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my June Reading Tracker.

How was your week?