Author Interview: Akemi Dawn Bowman on Harley in the Sky

Akemi Dawn Bowman author photoHarley in the Sky is a complex book about family, identity, and everything that makes circuses so magical. I loved this story about performing and training to pursue your dreams and the way it shows the work behind the scenes as well as the wonder audiences see. And, of course, I loved Harley–a resilient heroine who is willing to pursue her dreams no matter the cost. Today I have Akemi Dawn Bowman here answering some questions about her latest book and one of my favorite reads of the year.

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

Akemi Dawn Bowman: I think it’s been a combination of big dreams, a lot of hard work, and all the stars aligning at the exact right time. I feel very lucky to have the publishing team that I do, but it took a good 4-5 years of querying before I got an agent. And in that time, I wrote (and re-wrote) four different manuscripts. I’m a very weird mix of thinking I never deserve anything good while also refusing to give up on the goals I set for myself. I guess it puts me in a strange headspace when I find success, because I am constantly plagued by self-doubt. But I’m stubborn too, and writing has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. I’ve always known I wanted to create stories, and characters, and worlds. And whenever I’ve dealt with rejection in this business, I don’t hear “no.” I hear “not right now,” or “not this particular project.” So I’ve always been good about working on something else, to give myself the very best chance at making it in this industry. And eventually, after hundreds of rejections, I found my wonderful agent and still can’t believe I get to do this as a job!

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Harley in the Sky?

Akemi Dawn Bowman: I think the inspiration came from two things. The first was that I’d just finished writing two very emotional and very heavy books, and I wanted to write something a little bit lighter, and a little bit more fun. The circus has always seemed so magical to me, so it felt like the perfect way to combine real-life with something that always brought me joy. And the second inspiration came from my experiences with mental health, and specifically what it felt like to be living and coping with something I didn’t have a diagnosis for at the time. A lot of people—especially on social media—seem to equate seeing a therapist or having a diagnosis as the only way to validate a mental illness, and that isn’t fair or accurate. There are many, many people who are unable to seek treatment or therapy for a number of reasons. They may not have access to it, they may not be able to afford it, they may not have family who are supportive, or they may have a personal situation that prevents them from seeking care. They might also choose not to go to therapy because they are already coping in a way that feels healthy and right for them. Mental health isn’t a one-size-fits-all, and managing a mental illness doesn’t look the same for everyone. And I guess I wanted to write this story so people like Harley can feel like they’re doing okay—that their experiences are valid, too, even if they don’t have a label.

Miss Print: It’s hard for me to pick a favorite thing about this book because it does so many things, so very well. However, it’s fair to say that the circus setting and Harley’s dream of becoming an aerialist are major parts of the story. What kind of research did you do to nail the setting? Do you share Harley’s love of the static trapeze?

Akemi Dawn Bowman: Thank you! I love the circus, and particularly the static trapeze. It’s always the act I look forward to most. There’s this otherworldly quality about it that makes me feel like I’m in a dream. I did a lot of research for this book—articles, circus documentaries, and many, many YouTube clips to help capture the setting. Originally, the circus Harley winds up in traveled by train. But it really limited how many interactions Harley could have with the rest of the troupe, so I made some changes halfway through drafting and switched to traveling by trucks and caravans. It meant that some of the research never really got used, but I think it was for the best. Still, there’s something really cool about the way a circus can transform an empty plot of land into something that fills people with so much nostalgia and wonder. I wanted to show the behind-the-scenes work that’s done, to kind of balance the way Harley sees the world versus reality. Because there’s more to the circus than just the glamor and the beautiful performances, and Harley is definitely prone to romanticizing things!

Miss Print: Harley in the Sky came out in early March right when shelter in place and quarantine orders were going through. How do you think Harley and the other characters would do with quarantine?

Akemi Dawn Bowman: I think Harley would very much be missing her circus family. She likes to be on the move, and a big part of her love for the circus isn’t just performing, but performing with people. Plus, it would be hard to train without a spotter! Vas on the other hand would probably be coping quite well. He could happily work on his music in a room alone and not feel like he was missing out on anything. He’s a bit like me, in the sense that being told to stay home and self-isolate doesn’t exactly feel like a punishment. Especially when he’s got his violin nearby!

MP: Do you have a favorite scene or a scene you are excited for readers to discover? (I really loved seeing Harley with her grandmother!)

Akemi Dawn Bowman: Oh, I’m so glad you loved Popo! She’s near and dear to my heart. I’m excited for readers to learn about Harley, and how messy she can be but also how hard she tries. It’s so, so human to make mistakes. Harley stumbles quite frequently in her quest to follow her dreams, but she cares so much, and I hope it’s a reminder to readers that nobody is perfect, and that it’s okay to mess up as long as we keep trying to be better. Also, I’m biased, but I love the scenes between Harley and Vas and can’t wait for readers to meet them!

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about your next project?

Akemi Dawn Bowman: Absolutely! The next YA book I have coming out is called THE INFINITY COURTS, and it’s basically the sci-fi/fantasy mash-up of my heart. It’s about a girl who ends up in the afterlife, only to discover it’s been taken over by an artificial intelligence called Ophelia who is posing as a queen. It combines my love of robots and superpowers with my love of period dramas, and I’m just unbelievably excited about it. Even though all of my published novels so far have been contemporaries, I actually started out writing fantasy, and the book I found an agent with was a sci-fi. In a lot of ways this story feels like getting back to my roots. I’m nervous for sure, because it’s such a jump from what readers have known me for. I also have my middle-grade debut releasing next year, which is called GENERATION MISFITS. It’s about a girl who meets an unlikely group of friends through a shared love of J-Pop. I was home-schooled for a lot of elementary and middle school, and this book is a nod to my experience of going back to a public school and feeling totally out of place.

Miss Print: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

Akemi Dawn Bowman: Keep writing. There’s so much in this business and industry that writers have zero control over, but the one thing you can control is your writing. Every book, every page, every sentence—it’s all practice, and it’s all getting you one step closer to your goal. And try not to compare your journey with anyone else’s. Everyone is different, and most of the time what people share on social media is their highlight reel. It’s not the reality of all the rejections and bumps in the road. Keep your eyes on your own path, and remember that every word you write is one more than you had yesterday.

Thank you again to Akemi for these great answers! I’m definitely taking a lot of this to heart myself.

You can find out more about Akemi and her books on her website.

You can also read my review of Harley in the Sky here on the blog.

Author Interview: Samantha Hastings on The Invention of Sophie Carter

Samantha Hastings author photoThe Invention of Sophie Carter is a delightful bit of historical fiction filled with humor, romance, and more than a few shenanigans as identical twins Sophie and Mariah Carter spend one summer pretending to be “Sophie” together in order to stay at their aunt’s house for one season that is sure to change everything for both of them and the two young men whose hearts they capture. I’m so happy to have Samantha here today answering a few questions about her excellent sophomore novel.

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

Samantha Hastings: I grew up reading and watching Anne of Green Gables and Little Women and I knew that I wanted to be an author just like Anne or Jo. The path was a lot longer and harder than I anticipated. I gave up several times, but ultimately decided that if it was my dream, I had to keep going. Most published authors are aspiring authors who didn’t give up after multiple (sometimes hundreds of) rejections and kept writing and working on improving their craft.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for The Invention of Sophie Carter?

Samantha Hastings: I was reading The Fire Wish by Amber Lough, a djinn fantasy book, and I absolutely fell in love with the structure of her book. It was told by two girls, alternating POVs, and had double the romance. The Invention of Sophie Carter doesn’t have any other similarities to that story (although, I highly recommend that you read it) except it also has double the romance and twin swap trouble.

The setting and historical details of my book are a love letter to my undergraduate History degree. At that time, I was obsessed with Pre-Raphaelite paintings and Victorian literature. One of my senior level courses focused on John Ruskin (who makes a cameo in the book) and the history of the Victorian era. Including, the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Miss Print: This book is set in England in 1851 during the Great Exhibition. What research went into bringing this era and locale to life? Did you find out anything interesting while researching?

Samantha Hastings: I am lucky enough to live by a University and I was able to use their library to read several books about the Great Exhibition, including one with actual pictures from it! One of the most interesting things that I learned about the Exhibition was that it had the first public toilets. They cost one penny to use.

I was also fascinated by their public food concessions. The organizers didn’t trust the common man with alcohol, so they sold: 432 quarts of milk and 1,092,337 bottles of Schweppes soda water, lemonade, and ginger beer.

The largest diamond in the world was also on display, the Koh-i-noor diamond, but it hadn’t been cut well, so it didn’t sparkle and was a bit of a disappointment to most viewers.

Miss Print: This book focuses on identical twins Sophie and Mariah Carter who are both quick to tell people that, although they look alike, they are not at all the same. Are you more like Sophie or Mariah? Was one sister harder or easier to write?

Samantha Hastings: When I was younger, I was more like Sophie. Brash, brave, and outspoken. Now that I’m approaching forty (#gasp), I find that I have more similarities with Mariah who is devoted to reading, music, and relationships.

Both sisters were easy to write because they were so different. Also, I have two sisters and therefore, plenty of sisterly experience.

Miss Print: Do you have a favorite scene or a scene you are excited for readers to discover?

Samantha Hastings: The one with the hiccups! That’s really all I can say, but you can’t miss it. I hope it makes you giggle.

[Miss Print: I loved this scene too!]

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about your next project?

Samantha Hastings: Yes! A Royal Christmas Quandary will be available on October 6, 2020. It’s set at Windsor Castle in 1860. Drina must help her best friend, Princess Alice, pick the perfect prince to marry. The only snag? Her other best friend, Lord George Worthington, has lost one of the suitors. It’s lighthearted, full of holiday fun, and sweet romance.

Miss Print: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

Samantha Hastings: Read as much as you can in the genre you write in. Then you’ll know the market and have current books to compare your manuscript to when you query.

Thanks for the interview! Curtsy, Samantha.

Thanks again to Samantha for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can find out more about Samantha and her books on her website.

You can also read my review of The Invention of Sophie Carter here on the blog.

Author Interview: Tanaz Bhathena on Hunted By the Sky

Tanaz Bhathena author photoHunted By the Sky is a fast-paced fantasy filled with magic and adventure in a world inspired by medieval India. As the start of a trilogy, get ready to meet your next fantasy obsession. I’m happy to have Tanaz here today for a quick Q & A.

Miss Print: Hunted By the Sky is your first fantasy novel (following your excellent debut A Girl Like That and the companion novel The Beauty of the Moment). Did writing in a new genre change your process? What was the best part of creating a new fantasy world? What was a challenge?

Tanaz Bhathena: I don’t think my process itself changed much. While writing, I always start with a character or a scene or a title–and in this case I started with a character and a scene. I flesh out a few chapters, outline the novel a little further, then write more chapters. The best part of creating a new fantasy world was honestly the research! I loved reading about medieval Indian history as a child, so playing around in this time period and figuring out how my fantasy kingdom Ambar was both similar to and different from a typical kingdom in 15th century Hindustan was a great deal of fun! It was also one of my biggest challenges. As India was colonized by the British, our history is very much portrayed through that lens of colonization. I had to decolonize my imagination and make a conscious effort to figure out what about medieval India would make sense for Ambar and what wouldn’t.

Miss Print: This novel takes place in Ambar, which was inspired by medieval India. While the story focuses on Gul and Cavas, it’s fair to say that the kingdom is often as much of a character in the novel as it is a setting. Which came first during your drafting: the setting or the story?

Tanaz Bhathena: The story came first. I was writing a sci-fi dystopian novel with similar themes. But that novel felt skeletal in terms of the setting and the plot. The moment I changed the setting to one inspired by medieval India, everything came to life. It was as if I’d unlocked a door and a whole world was waiting for me behind it. All I had to do was embrace my culture.

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

You can also read my review of Hunted By the Sky here on the blog.

Author Interview: Isabel Bandeira on Practically Ever After

Isabel Bandeira is the author of the Ever After series. She’s here today to talk about the third book in the series, Practically Ever After, super planner MC Grace, and wrapping her first trilogy. (Don’t worry, the books all read as standalones so no risk of spoilers for Bookishly Ever After here!)

Miss Print: Practically Ever After is the final book in your Ever After series. Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration for and focus of Grace’s story?

Isabel Bandeira: I know the primary focus for readers of my books is the romance, but all three books start from a premise where the romance is secondary to the character learning to embrace their strengths (and flaws) and use them to chart their own happily ever afters in every aspect of their lives. Like Phoebe and Em, Grace’s journey is about learning that she’s more than her lists and plans, that she is more than the labels she projects onto herself, and that perception is definitely *not* reality.

In the last two books, all we saw was the perfect facade she projected to the world– perfect clothes, perfect grades, glitterati status, upper middle class family, perfect girlfriend– and this was a chance to let readers see things from her point of view, flaws and all. The downside of starting the story with a “perfect” life and relationship, though, is that us evil writers (and life) need to shake things up to make things interesting. The last part of senior year in high school is hard– not because of classes or homework since most of that is winding down, but because it’s right on the edge of a turning point in your life: everything is about to change. I wanted to reflect the excitement, fear, and bittersweet nature of that experience in Grace’s story. Change makes us grow, and Grace learning to deal with her perfect plans falling apart was how I was going to help her grow through her story.

Miss Print: Practically Ever After focuses on Grace and her girlfriend, Leia–a character we don’t see as much of in the other novels in the series. What were some of your favorite details to share about Leia as readers get the chance to properly meet her?

Isabel Bandeira: Leia is sunshine. She’s Grace’s balance, the one person who can tone down the Queen of plans and perfection while also bringing out Grace’s inner dork. While Grace is about fitting in–salon-perfect blonde highlights and gliteratti-approved clothes, Leia’s unnatural hair colors shift through the story (and the prequel story) and she spends most of the book in her school uniform or grubby gardening clothes. Like Grace, she’s smart, but unlike Grace, she doesn’t show it off. One thing readers may notice both in earlier books and the beginning of Practically is that she’s skilled at stepping aside to let others shine and is too good at making allowances for others, so a big part of her journey in PEA is to learn to stand up for herself.

A Leia primer: unlike the rest of the group, she goes to a private school on the outskirts of Lambertfield. She loves working with kids and wants to be a teacher, she loves to garden, and just barely tolerates her mom’s love of antiques. She and Grace met through model UN (and, back then, she had long red hair that made her look like Ariel from The Little Mermaid) and she’s the type of person who will drop everything to help you out.

Miss Print: What was it like writing the final book in a series? Did you know where you wanted all of the characters to end up when you started writing this series? Did anything change between then and now?

Isabel Bandeira: Yes, I had to provide synopses for all 3 books as a part of my contract with Spencer Hill Press, so I knew where the books and characters were going to go from the very beginning. What changed in the actual books from my synopses were mostly details, such as side characters, character names, or certain aspects of execution, like timing and adding shadows and color to really flesh out the story. I was going through a few changes in my life at the time of drafting and revising the book, so some of my own personal stresses at the time– including being in my own period of career change–helped me to better empathize with Grace’s situation and better capture the feelings I had wanted to convey.

Miss Print: We’ve talked in previous interviews about how you balance your career as a mechanical engineer with being an author and other creative pursuits–a balance that Grace herself is trying to find as she decides what comes after high school. What was it like tapping into your own experiences for this story? What’s one thing you wish you could tell yourself when you were in Grace’s shoes?

Isabel Bandeira: It was wonderful being able to show Grace falling in love with engineering, like I did the first time I realized it was more than just engines and boring machines, and showing her deep in the spark of a new idea. It was also wonderful to dance again (vicariously) through Grace, since I had to give up ballet and contemporary because of problems with my feet and legs. Those moments where she was one with a design or with the music were magical to write. There’s this false perception in society that STEM and arts don’t intersect and I wanted a character who loved both because I want other girls who love science and art, math and dance to know that we exist and thrive and are needed.

For Grace: I’d tell past me and her that you can be practical and still find your own niche in the world. I had always seen Mechanical Engineering from the limited lens of what I knew– either machines or power/thermodynamics, like what my dad did for a living. What I didn’t see was how my love of art and design and creativity could fit into that space and how the human body is the most amazing machine ever. I’d tell her that we contain multitudes and those multitudes are what make us strong and unique. Instead of sacrificing what makes us special, we can learn how to combine them into the right future career for ourselves. And I’d tell her that sometimes the best things happen when life decides to veer you (slightly) off your plans.

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about your next project? What’s the first thing you did when you finished work on Practically Ever After?

Isabel Bandeira: I rested and slept! The last few rounds of revision took a lot out of me and I needed a break from writing to recharge my mental batteries. 2017-2019 involved a ton of career changes (engineering-wise) and family illnesses. Combined with the stresses of writing, revision, and promo, I had to spend some time after I turned in my manuscript not trying to do or be *everything*, and that included writing. I am currently in the middle of a YA contemporary set in Portugal and pulling from my experiences as a third culture kid (hyphen-Americans, first gens… whatever we’re called this month…). I love it, but I’ve taken this time to pause, step back, and let my body and brain recover.

It’s so easy to get caught up in this whirl of book/writer social media where you feel like you’re not a good writer if you don’t have a book deal or you aren’t always writing or having a book or two or three out a year or promoting or engaging with readers or spending every weekend signing at a table in a Barnes and Noble or flying out to book festivals or… or… or… And it’s easy to think you’re never good enough, not enough sales or readers or likes on the latest tweet/insta post, not part of the right clique of authors, not loud enough on social media, not good enough to be invited to panels or maybe invited to the wrong ones or invited to too many and you don’t want to miss out, and the moment you get a really nice review, someone is out there to remind you that you suck or you don’t write “real books” because they’re for kids or have people kissing or are happy or are commercial. And even with your publisher and readers and friends are awesome, it happens. So, sometimes we need to step back, breathe, and remember why we started: because we love books.

I’ve learned that my best work comes when I write out of joy and for myself. I took this time between finishing PEA and now to examine my motivations and just fall in love with writing for the sake of writing. I broke ties with my former agent who represented the Ever After novels mid last year and I have a few books sitting and ready to query, but I’m waiting to finish the Portugal one first. I’m really excited about this one because it’s close to my heart, so wish me luck!

Thanks again to Isabel for taking the time to answer my questions!

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

You can also check out my review of Practically Ever After.

Author Interview: Emma Steinkellner on The Okay Witch

Author Interview: Siobhan Vivian on Stay Sweet

Author Interview: Isabel Bandeira on Dramatically Ever After

Isabel Bandeira is the author of the Ever After series. She’s here today to talk about the second book in the series, Dramatically Ever After, and her new heroine, Em. (Don’t worry, the books all read as standalones so no risk of spoilers for Bookishly Ever After here!)

Miss Print: Dramatically Ever After is the second book in your series. Can you tell me a bit about its inspiration? What was it like returning to a world and cast of characters you already knew while also writing a new story?

Isabel Bandeira: Em’s story was written immediately after I finished Bookishly Ever After. Her voice is incredibly dominant, so Em kept demanding her own story and wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it. If Bookishly hadn’t sold or if it had only been a one book deal, I was ready to switch Dramatically Ever After to a standalone and to query it separately. Em’s character and personality are so strong, she actually had a habit of taking over the other stories, and, when writing the other books in the series, I had to be very careful to let Em be a part of the story without trying to take over the leading role.

Coming back to Lambertfield and the world of PCHS was seamless because I was still in the Ever After world, but I had the fun job of flipping that world around to a new viewpoint. Every single one of us looks at the world and others with our own, unique perspectives colored by our personalities, backgrounds, and beliefs. How Em sees herself, for example, is different from Phoebe’s perception of her or Grace’s, or even the readers’. As writers, the line we have to walk, especially in the first person, is to portray that mental image of self while also showing in actions and others’ reactions a more neutral point of view. Em is a little bit of an unreliable narrator, so it was fun slipping in details readers could see that would, at times, contradict her perceptions. Companion novels or novels with multiple points of view are really nice ways for us, as writers, to learn to be more empathetic because we have to learn to see the same people and places through different lenses.

Miss Print: One of the things I loved about Dramatically Ever After is how different Em is from her best friend Phoebe. We’ve talked before about Phoebe having a lot in common with your teen self as she embraces her inner geek and her love of books (and knitting). What was it like getting inside a new character’s head for this story?

Isabel Bandeira: A lot of me went into Em’s character, too (that being said, I maintain that the character most like me in the series is Phoebe’s big sister, Trixie)! Like her, I’m a huge history dork, love speech writing, and was actually in a (similar concept but there are major structural differences) speech competition when I was a teen, representing my state on the national level and going around Washington, DC with over 50 other teens (all the states plus territories and regions for military families stationed overseas). But… I’m definitely not as outgoing as Em, as bubbly, or as quick to forgive. And she says all the things I don’t have the guts to say, which makes her so much fun to write.

And then there are the external pressures coming from her family. Even though only Em’s dad is an immigrant, compared to both of my parents, she still feels a lot of the things kids of immigrants, like me, feel. That quip about the Greek scholarship? Been there, done that, got badly mistreated by a Portuguese-American scholarship’s organizing committee. The pressure to go to college, be the best student, get the best scholarships, get a logical good-paying job… all of that got wrapped into Em and the worries that helped drive her motivations.

Voice is really important, and it’s more than words and actions. It’s in the details and things like mental comparators the character uses—while Phoebe’s descriptors revolved around things familiar to her in the forms of yarn, books, and archery: “It was soft, like a quivut and cashmere mix,” Em’s mental dialogue reflected her love of Hollywood and history: “She looked like a cross between Rita Hayworth and Katherine Hepburn” and using 17th-century stays as a descriptor for feeling constricted. It’s even conveyed in the use of color—Phoebe, for example, wears and mentions a lot of soft teals and blues and greys, while Em’s world is all about vibrant colors, especially yellow.

Miss Print: Dramatically Ever After takes Em away from her beloved home state to compete in a speech competition in Boston. How did you decide which locations to have Em visit during the competition?

Isabel Bandeira: I chose Boston because it’s such a great city and the perfect place to showcase Em’s love of history. As a history dork, I was easily able to pull on my own wonder and awe from my first visit there years ago to build on Em’s reactions to this world.

The grounds outside the colonial dinner site were modeled after one of my favorite historical sites—Phillipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, NY. You really do feel like you’ve stepped back in time in that place, and I wanted Em to have that space as a backdrop to one of the conversations where she first begins revealing bits of her real, unfiltered self to Kris.

And the MFA: I had to write the MFA into DEA primarily because of the statue of Guanyin. Everyone has points in their lives when they feel hopeless or as if no one could ever understand what they’re going through. That was what I was feeling the first time I walked into that wing of the MFA and saw Guanyin’s statue. I remember looking up and coming to a complete stop the moment I saw that face projecting so much compassion and kindness, and I remember crying and taking comfort from this over two-thousand-year-old statue. Em needed a moment like that, too, and I made sure to work this amazing work of art into Em’s story.

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about your next project? What can readers expect in Practically Ever After?

Isabel Bandeira: PEA was probably the hardest book of the three to write—how do you take a “perfect” couple, the couple all the other characters in the last two books look up to, and break them up? I love writing Grace and Leia together, and it was not easy to throw challenges their way. But every relationship hits bumps, even perfectly practical ones!

Readers can expect practicality, flawless use of planners and lists, science and engineering, dance, cheer, prom, and lots of the same friendship dynamics we’ve seen in the last two books. I really enjoyed diving into Grace’s discovery of her love of engineering, her rediscovery of her love of dance, that that bittersweet space in time of being on the edge of change. I hope readers enjoy it, too!

Thank you so much for reading Dramatically Ever After and for the interview!!! <3

Thanks again to Isabel for taking the time to answer my questions!

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

You can also check out my review of Dramatically Ever After.

Author Interview: Sarah Beth Durst on The Queen of Sorrow

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is one of my favorite authors and one of the busiest. Last year she published her latest standalone middle grade The Stone Girl’s Story and Fire and Heist a new standalone YA featuring were-dragons. She also wrapped up her first trilogy written for adults with The Queen of Sorrow. Today Sarah is to talk with me a bit more about the series.

Miss Print (MP): The Queen of Sorrow concludes the arc of your Queens of Renthia trilogy. Did the framework for this story and its focus shift between when you first started drafting the series and when you began writing this installment?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): There’s an episode of the Flash where Captain Cold explains the Four Rules of Planning: “Make the plan, execute the plan, expect the plan to go off the rails, throw away the plan.”  And that describes my writing process.

Before I began writing The Queens of Renthia trilogy, I planned out all three novels.  But then when I sank into the actual stories…

You have to trust your instincts when you write.  Trust your characters.  Trust your story.  In some cases, this takes you down a path that follows a nice, neat outline, but sometimes the best discoveries happen when you veer off that path.  So I try to allow myself the flexibility to veer.

For example, the character of Garnah, the sociopathic poison-maker, didn’t exist when I first outlined the trilogy.  She popped up while I was writing, and I fell so in love with her that she became an important character.

MP: The Queen of Sorrow shows readers several new parts of Renthia including quick snapshots of the other queens in neighboring kingdoms. How did you decide what scenes to use to show readers these new areas? Which are you most excited for readers to discover?

SBD: Renthia is a world filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits who want to kill all humans.  (Not exactly a very safe tourist destination.)  It’s also a world of extreme beauty, thanks to those out-of-control spirits: towering Lothlorien-like trees, mountains that pierce the sky, endless glaciers…  In THE QUEEN OF SORROW, we’re mostly in the forests of Aratay and the mountains of Semo.  But I also had the chance to show glimpses of the other countries.  They’re brief scenes, but I spent a ton of time daydreaming about what those other places were like, who their queens were, and how they survived.

In particular, I can’t wait for readers to see Belene, a string of islands built on the bones of long-dead leviathans.  It’s the setting for my next book, THE DEEPEST BLUE, a standalone epic fantasy set in the world of Renthia.

MP: For the past few years you have had several fantastic books out each year (which I love because it’s more books for me to recommend to my readers!) across a variety of ages and fantasy sub-genres. How do you balance working on two projects so close together? What does a typical writing day look like for you?

SBD: I tend to sink into a world when I write, so I prefer to work on one project at a time.  Typically, I’ll spend a couple months working on my next book for adults, hand it off to my editor, and then transition to working on my next book for kids, hand it off to that editor, and so on.

On days where I have to think about two worlds at once, I eat a lot of chocolate.

I do try to write every day.  I know this doesn’t work for every writer, but for me, it helps maintain momentum.  And quite simply, it makes me happy!

Depending on what stage of writing/revision I’m at, I often set daily goals (a scene, a chapter, etc.), but I don’t have set hours that I write– I just try to write as much as possible between all the little things in life that need taking care of.

MP: Working from the last question, this year you’ll be publishing The Deepest Blue–another adult fantasy novel set in Renthia, this time in the island kingdom of Baleen. When did you realize that you had more stories to tell in Renthia? How will this story be similar to (or defer from) your other books set in this world?

SBD: While I was writing book one of The Queens of Renthia, THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, I sketched out a map: trees, mountains, fields, glaciers, a few islands to the south… and I immediately started wondering about them.  So when the chance came along to write a brand-new story set in another part of Renthia, I jumped on it.

THE DEEPEST BLUE is about Mayara, one of Belene’s fearless oyster divers, who is about to marry the love of her life when an unnatural storm hits her island.  To save her family, Mayara reveals that she has the power to control spirits — and when the storm ends, the queen’s soldiers come for her and send her, along with other women of power, to an island filled with bloodthirsty spirits.  Whoever survives will be named heirs to the queen.

So, new story, new characters, new land.  And a lot of sea monsters!

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next projects? What can readers look forward to from you in 2019?

SBD: THE DEEPEST BLUE comes out from Harper Voyager on March 19th.  And my next book for kids, SPARK, comes out from Clarion Books / HMH on May 14th.  It’s about a girl and her storm beast (a.k.a. a lightning dragon) and how even the quietest voice can change the world.  I’m ridiculously excited about both books and can’t wait for readers to meet Mayara (my oyster diver) and Mina (my storm guardian)!

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!

For more information about Sarah and her books you can also visit her website.

You can also read my review of The Queen of Sorrow here on the blog.

Author Interview: Jeff Zentner on Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee

Jeff Zentner author photoJeff Zentner’s new novel Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee is  a story about big dreams, big chances, and the mediocre results we sometimes end up with as a result. It is also a laugh-out-loud funny ode to friendship, creativity, and horror movies. This book totally snuck up on me and is fast becoming one of my favorite novels of the year. I’m very excited to have Jeff back today answering some of my questions.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee?

Jeff Zentner: One night, three years ago, I came home on a Saturday night and turned on the TV and started channel surfing. I never do this because I have a Netflix queue a mile long. I came to the Nashville public access station and it was playing a low budget horror movie. This was very strange. I kept watching, fascinated. The movie then cut to these two young women dressed in horror garb, named Marlena Midnite and Robyn Graves. They were the hosts of a syndicated public access show out of Davenport, Iowa called Midnite Mausoleum. I was fascinated. It was so goofy and fun and sweet. It got me thinking about who hosts these kinds of shows. I immediately started thinking up an idea about two young women who host their own public access creature feature.

MP: This novel alternates between Josie and Delia’s narrations. Who was your favorite character to write? Who was the hardest?

JZ: I loved them equally. I loved writing Josie’s sense of humor, because it’s closest to my own. And I loved writing Delia’s sense of poetry about the world, because it’s closest to my own. I loved writing the relationship between Delia and her mother and the relationship between Josie and Lawson.

MP: Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee is your third novel. It’s one of the funniest books I’ve read and a bit of a departure from your previous novels which were much heavier stories. Did this shift in tone require a shift in your writing process? How did you go about channeling the quirkiness and humor to tell this story?

JZ: It did require a shift. I love very lyrical, poetic writing. But that sort of writing often comes at the cost of humor, so there wasn’t as much room for this kind of writing as in past books. As for channeling the humor, I love to joke around. It was just a matter of storing up humorous observations and insights and putting them in Josie and Delia’s mouths.

MP: How do you fit writing into your daily routine between working full time and other obligations? What does a typical writing day (or writing session) look like for you? Where are your favorite places to write?

JZ: I have a pretty intense and demanding day job, so I really have to fit writing into the cracks. I do 80 percent or so of my drafting on my iPhone with my right thumb on the bus to and from work. It’s not my favorite place to write, but it’s where I do most of my writing. My favorite place to write is my writing studio at home. I have a room devoted to it that’s full of favorite books, letters I’ve gotten from fans, scented candles, cool vintage bookshelves and typewriters, and my vintage pulp paperback collection. It smells like heaven. It’s so cozy and wonderful. I’ve never before lived in a house with a room devoted solely to work and creativity and it’s wonderful.

MP: So far, all of your novels exist in the same world with a few references (and even characters) traveling between books. Can you tell me anything about your next project? Can readers expect more connections between your novels?

JZ: My fourth novel is about two young people from small town East Tennessee who get scholarships to an elite northeastern prep school. As readers may (or may not) recall, Nana Betsy from Goodbye Days is from East Tennessee, and it turns out that my main character in this fourth book is her grandnephew. She has a small, but pivotal role in the new book. Also, if it survives the edit, there’s another really fun cameo from an important figure in the Zentnerverse!

Thanks again to Jeff for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can see more about Jeff and his books on his website.

You can also check out my review of Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee.

Author Interview: Tiffany Schmidt on Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy

Tiffany Schmidt author photoBookish Boyfriends is filled with books, humor, and romance all framed around retellings of classic novels. The first installment, A Date With Darcy, follows Merrilee as she starts her sophomore year at Reginald R. Hero High School and discovers that, much to her surprise, the boys at this school might actually be better than her book boyfriends.

I really enjoyed this one and The Boy Next Story is one of my most anticipated sequels coming out in 2019. Today Tiffany Schmidt is here to answer some questions about her new series.

Miss Print (MP): Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy is the first book in your ongoing series. What was the inspiration for the series in general? What was the inspiration for this specific installment?

Tiffany Schmidt (TS): I’ve always been bookish. Even before I could sound out words and read to myself, I’d lug books to my parents and older sister and beg them to read to me. I’ve always wanted to live in the worlds between covers: the Hundred Acres Woods and Narnia and Hogwarts and Uriel and Klickitat Street. The idea for the Bookish Boyfriends series came from that love of stories and my desire to write myself into them. For A Date with Darcy, I specifically wanted to play around with my mis-reading of Romeo & Juliet as a romance when I was young, and also my deep, deep love of all things Austen and Pride and Prejudice. (Mr. Darcy fangirl forever!)

MP: This series blends contemporary romance with loose retellings of classic stories. A Date With Darcy features elements from Romeo and Juliet as well as Pride and Prejudice while The Boy Next Story promises hints of Little Women. How did you decide which stories to draw from for inspiration?

TS: The mentor texts for each of the Bookish Boyfriends novels was a book that was significant for me during my teenage reading years. As a misguided, quixotic middle schooler, I thought Romeo was dreamy. A year later I met my one true love in Mr. Darcy. And Little Women is a book I’ve returned to so many times over the years—seeing my own sister and myself in the March girls. There are so many books that impacted my life as a reader, and it’s such a joy to play with them within the Bookish Boyfriends world.

MP: Merrilee’s English teacher promises to help students find their story and guides Merrilee in particular to a book with life changing consequences. If you had to pick one book that had that kind of impact on you, which would it be?

TS: One book? Man, you’re asking the tough questions—and since there are MANY books that have impacted me, I’m pretty sure I give a different answer to this question each time I’m asked. Today I’m choosing Superfudge by Judy Blume as well as the Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary. I read these in second grade and so identified with young Farley Drexel Hatcher and Ramona Geraldine Quimby and their ability to accidentally get into trouble. The difference between their intentions and the outcomes of their actions resonated so strongly—and it still does. My eight year old twins are reading these books now, and it’s amazing to me how it’s been decades since I read them and I still remember them so vividly. I keep accidentally spoiling things for them. Whoops!

MP: Congratulations on signing on to write more books in this series! Did you always know that you wanted this world to expand to follow multiple characters? How much did you know about the world and the story (or stories) that you wanted to tell when you first started drafting?

TS: I had always hoped to write more Bookish Boyfriends novels, so I’d optimistically planned for it and typed with crossed-fingers. It was never a guarantee, so I am feeling grateful and blessed for the chance to share books three (Eliza’s story- aka, Talk Nerdy to Me) and four (Huck’s story aka Get a Clue). Eliza especially was a character who has demanded her own story from the very first page of book one, so it’s been percolating in my mind for quite a while. Even now, while I’m drafting book four, I’m keeping lists and notes about potential extensions and plots for more characters. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever get sick of writing these books, so as long as they find a readership, I’ll happily keep going

MP: Do you have a favorite character to write in Bookish Boyfriends? Is there any character you are particularly excited for readers to meet?

TS: I’m not going to lie, I had worried that no narrator would top Merrilee because she’s so effervescent and fun to write. But then I started Rory’s story and fell deeply in love with her little sister voice. Rory’s friend Huck was a bit of a surprise. While he has a tiny cameo in book 1 (props if you’ve spotted it!) readers truly meet him early in book two. He was a character that was instantly strong and clear in my head and who would’ve taken over if I hadn’t reined him in. Huck’s become the narrator of book four, Get a Clue, which I’ve only just begun drafting. I’ve got high hopes that he’ll be a reader favorite, because he’s certainly one of mine.

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project? What can readers expect in The Boy Next Story?

TS: The Boy Next Story is about sisters and first loves and finding your own identity outside of others’ expectations or the roles you’ve been assigned within family dynamics. It’s about unrequited love, and art class, and yoga, and Harry Potter, and kombucha, and fresh starts, and math class. And what happens when you outgrow your first crush, but maybe don’t outgrow the boy. And Little Women.

Thanks again to Tiffany for a great interview.

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

You can also read my review of Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy here on the blog.