Author Interview: Melissa Albert on Our Crooked Hearts

Melissa Albert author photoCR: Laura EtheredgeMelissa Albert is the author of the Hazel Wood series of fantasy noir novels. Like that series her latest novel Our Crooked Hearts is eerie, dark, and extremely feminist as she delves into an intergenerational story filled with magic and menace in equal measure. I’m very happy to have Melissa here today to talk a bit about her latest novel.

Miss Print: Our Crooked Hearts is two stories in one as readers meet Ivy in the suburbs right now and also learn about her mother Dana’s story in the suburbs back then. Where did this story spark? Did you always know you would be following two different protagonists?

Melissa Albert: I did not know I’d be following two protagonists! This was Ivy’s story, growing out of my desire to write a “suburban fantasy” (as opposed to the urban fantasy of the Hazel Wood duology). One thing I absolutely love in speculative fiction is magic with consequences—in the case of Our Crooked Hearts, the consequences of teenaged Dana’s deep dive into magic, which reverberate throughout her life and come back to haunt her and her daughter.

Miss Print: Working off the last question, how did you go about balancing these two narratives? Who was easier to write: Ivy or Dana?

Melissa Albert: When I started writing Dana’s story it was meant to be one scene: I pictured it as a narrative she was telling her daughter, and wasn’t sure how exactly it would fit into the story. Then as I wrote I got more and more interested, and the story got longer and longer, and suddenly I realized it was meant to be half the book. So honestly Dana’s story came easier, because I was writing it with zero pressure attached, because I kinda thought I was working out backstory stuff I would ultimately cut. I’m so glad I was wrong about that.

Miss Print: This will be your second book release since the pandemic started. Has living and working through the pandemic changed your writing process? How do you think Ivy and Dana would have managed the pandemic?

Melissa Albert: I don’t think it changed my process in a longterm way, but it definitely changed how I wrote this book: for five months in 2020, when daycares were closed, I only had my son’s (blessedly long) naptimes to write. I’ve rarely felt more focused, happy, and grateful as a writer than I did during those stretches of hard-won work. Our Crooked Hearts was my escape from reality, a light in a dark time.

Miss Print: One of the things that always strikes me about your books is how you fold different genre elements into your fantasy worlds. Suspense (and even some horror) elements factor into a lot of Our Crooked Hearts. How do you go about bringing these pieces together while sustaining tension and keeping the plot moving?

Melissa Albert: I think I just write what I love. A big part of writing for me is stringing together an endless series of “what ifs” that get my brain ticking, trying to figure out how I can stuff all the fun uncanny speculative weirdness that I adore as a reader into my own books.

Miss Print: What are you reading and loving right now?

Melissa Albert: I just read and loved Emily Henry’s Book Lovers, and to keep the contemporary romance party going am now burning through Annabel Monaghan’s Nora Goes Off Script. In preparation for our event together, I’m reading Jeff Zentner’s luminous and deeply moving In the Wild Light. I’m also really enjoying J.M. Miro’s Ordinary Monsters, and next up I’ve got Isabel Ibañez’s Together We Burn and Grace D. Li’s Portrait of a Thief!

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about what you’re working on now?

Melissa Albert: It hasn’t been announced yet, but I’ve got a book coming soon that I cannot wait to shout about. Big suburban gothic vibes.

Thank you again to Melissa for these great answers!

You can also read my review of Our Crooked Hearts here on the blog.

Author Interview: Alix E. Harrow on A Mirror Mended

Alix E. Harrow author photoAlix E. Harrow turns her considerable talents to all things fairytale in her Fractured Fables novellas. Alix is here today to talk about this latest installment A Mirror Mended, inspiration, and all things writing.

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

Alix E. Harrow: Like all writers, I got here by hard work, luck, and help, and I try not to think about the percentages of that pie chart. Basically, I started writing short fiction in my early twenties, in between adjuncting and renovating our semi-abandoned house. One of my stories happened to go around twitter a little bit, and I got messages from an editor and an agent asking if I happened to have a novel–which I did! And here I am.

Miss Print: It’s no secret that the Fractured Fables novellas are your version of a “spiderverse” treatment for fairytales. Where did this idea come from? Did you always know that Sleeping Beauty would be your starting point?

Alix E. Harrow: The idea came about twelve minutes after walking out of the movie theater after seeing Spider-Verse. Aside from being a perfect film, it also struck me as the perfect retelling–an expansive, inclusive sprawl of a plot that was big enough to fit all the previous versions of itself. Every retelling is trailed by its own ghosts, but Spider-Verse was the first one to give the ghosts speaking lines. And I wanted to do that with my own personal problematic canon: Disney-fied princess fairy tales.

It took me a little longer to settle on Sleeping Beauty, but of course it had to be her. If there’s any story I would break the physical laws of the universe to escape, it’s that one.

Miss Print: Working off the last question, do you have a favorite Spider-Man/person/entity?

Alix E. Harrow: I mean, my five year old still watches the “What’s Up Danger” leap of faith scene from Spider-Verse every time he gets his nails clipped, so, it has to be Miles. But I have a huge affection for all past and future spider-folk.

Miss Print: While A Spindle Splintered and A Mirror Mended are novellas, you also write both novels and short stories. Do you have a favorite format to use? Does the format change or influence your writing process?

Alix E. Harrow: That’s the wonderful thing about science fiction and fantasy! Unlike most other genres (romance is an exception, maybe?), there are legit venues for almost any length of story, from flash fiction online magazines to multi-book series. So instead of finding an idea to fit the correct scale, I have the enormous privilege of having an idea and figuring out what scale it happens to be.

Miss Print: We’re living in a strange time with the pandemic as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. How would Zinnia be handling the pandemic?

Alix E. Harrow: As someone with a high-risk preexisting condition, I personally think Zinnia would simply exit our dimension for a while. Honestly, there’s got to be better ones out there.

Miss Print: What does a typical writing day look like for you? Has this changed in light of the pandemic?

Alix E. Harrow: I mostly write in the mornings, Monday through Friday. Another unearned function of privilege is that my husband is home full time with the kids.

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about what you’re currently working on?

Alix E. Harrow: I just turned in my third full length novel, which I’ve been describing as “kentucky gothic” and “what if A24 did Beauty and the Beast.” The current title is Starling House, and it’ll be out in early 2023!

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

Alix E. Harrow: I’m so suspicious of advice, but so totally unable to prevent myself from handing it out! None of the most common bits of writing wisdom–write daily, finish every story, keep a journal, write longhand, write what you know, keep your dayjob, quit your dayjob, get an MFA, don’t get an MFA under any circumstances–are actually universally helpful, except one: read. Read so widely and weirdly that you just can’t help but try it yourself.


Thank you to Alix for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about Alix and her books on her website: https://alixeharrow.wixsite.com/author

You can read my reviews of A Spindle Splintered and A Mirror Mended here on the blog.

Author Interview: Corey Ann Haydu on Lawless Spaces

Corey Ann Haydu author photoLawless Spaces is Corey Ann Haydu’s first novel in verse. It’s also one of the best (and one of my favorite) novels to come out in 2022. Haydu fires on all cylinders with this sophisticated, unflinching, and ultimately incredibly hopeful story. I have been gushing about this one since I read it last fall and now I’m so excited to have Corey here to answer a few questions about her latest gem.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Lawless Spaces?

Corey Ann Haydu: I had been wanting to write a story about mothers and daughters for a really long time, maybe partly because of my love of Gilmore Girls, and originally assumed I would just write one mother and her daughter, and walk with them through their teenage years in different time periods. But I had been challenged by an editor of a different book of mine to write something they hadn’t seen before (what a challenge to lay out!!) and because of that push, I started trying to imagine the story as bigger and bigger and bigger, and it evolved into this multi-generational tale, though there were MANY different versions with different types of plot points before this one. Including a whole murder and royalty plot at one time!

Miss Print: Lawless Spaces is your first (but hopefully not last) novel in verse. It also balances multiple characters in different time periods as you unpack both Mimi’s immediate story and the larger story of the Dovewick women. Did you always know that poetry was the best way to tell this story? Did writing in verse change your process?

Corey Ann Haydu: I was always using verse for this story. I don’t think I could cover this much territory in prose, and verse really let me focus in on singular moments and build story through that sort of intimacy rather than trying to write an explosive plot. Writing in verse changed my process a LOT. It was a much more… romantic sort of process than my usual one. I wrote in a variety of beautiful notebooks and really let the vibe be exploratory and flexible and ongoing. It wasn’t under contract for a very long time, so I just worked on it randomly, when the mood struck, and without any particular plan, just really trying to get to know the characters organically. When it was time to really pin down plot and focus, it was the beginning of the pandemic, and so the process was different because of that too. I wrote in the super early mornings before everyone woke up, and it was sort of my happy place during that really trying time. Verse was also perfect for that moment– I couldn’t hold much in my head at once, and verse let me zone in on one thing at a time, which was about all I could handle.

Miss Print: Lawless Spaces has a narrative that shifts in time as Mimi deals with her complicated relationship with her mother while also reading the diaries of her grandmother and great-grandmother, among others. How did you balance these different plot threads and voices?

Corey Ann Haydu: I think because of all the upfront, exploratory time I took– years really of just getting to know the characters and their stories and who I needed them to be– it came really naturally by the time the more intensive work came along. I knew them so well and knew which parts of their stories mattered most to me, and when I finally decided Mimi would be the sort of central figure, it became easy to tie their stories to hers. I hadn’t known there would be a central figure at first, and unlocking that made all the difference. It gave the other stories something to bounce off of, and helped clarify everyone’s role in the narrative.

Miss Print: A big moment in this story is Mimi’s sixteenth birthday when she gets her own notebook to start writing about her life–something the women in her family have done for generations. What was your sixteenth birthday like? What’s something you wish you could have been told by a family member (in a notebook or in person) when you were Mimi’s age?

Corey Ann Haydu: Oh what a great question! What a strange 16th birthday I had, honestly. I had a tough time in high school– I had a toxic boyfriend and was pretty isolated from friends and had a lot going on at home, so it was a lonely time. Somehow I had a joint 16th birthday with two other girls. I only remember one of them right now– they weren’t close friends or anything, it was more a birthday of convenience I guess. We all liked a local band, and the band came and played for our birthday. It so deeply did not match up with my actual experience of being 16– which was lonely and sad and hard. My birthday was so…. splashy and book-worthy, and would make it seem like I was a social butterfly, when really I was thrown out of my social circle when I was 14, never to be allowed to return. I wonder if there’s anything I could have been told that would help. Maybe it would have been nice to have had the experience validated– yep this sounds awful!- instead of people telling me it was fine. I would have liked to know other people going through something serious. And I wish someone could have gotten me out of that bad relationship, and let me know that there would be better relationships and friendships in the future. But mostly don’t we all just want someone to agree with how much something sucks? I needed to hear that what I was going through was real, and difficult, and that I was surviving it as best I could, and that that was enough.

Miss Print: In Lawless Spaces readers will see Mimi looking back on the pandemic and quarantine period in 2020 as she thinks about ways her life has changed since then and the ways it hasn’t. In the same vein, how did your routine as an author change because of the pandemic?

Corey Ann Haydu: Ah, I answered this a bit above but when the pandemic hit my daughter had just turned two. My husband was furloughed, so theoretically I could have gotten writing done at any time of day for the months he was home. But we live in an apartment where there isn’t anywhere to go, and my kid could not handle me being in a different room with her when she was awake. It became clear it just wasn’t possible for me to work during the day, not with the focus it required. Luckily at that time she wasn’t getting up too early, so I started waking up at 5am to write. I’d never done that before. And now it’s my absolute favorite thing, and my number one tip for most parents. I’ve found that I’m at my best before I’ve had to turn on my parenting brain. Once the adrenaline of navigating tantrums and fixing breakfast and arguing about how many times we are going to listen to Let It Go kicks in, I’m less clear and writing is more of a struggle. If I start writing after I get my daughter to school (since she’s back in school these days), I struggle all day long to get a thousand words, and often settle for a hard won 500. But today, for instance, I got up at 5 and wrote 3000 words before my kid woke up. It’s a HUGE thing I’ve learned about myself– especially myself as a parent-writer, and I do have the pandemic to thank for handing me that valuable information. That said, I was always a write-in-a-coffee-shop person, and I’ve had to shift into a write-at-home person, and I am less thrilled with that change in routine. I miss the energy and fun and purpose of being out at a café.

Miss Print: 2022 has been a big book year for you with two book releases so far. Can you tell me a little about your other recent titles or what else you have in the works?

Corey Ann Haydu: Ironically, my biggest two years of publishing have been these covid years. My entire chapter book series– HAND ME DOWN MAGIC— came out, all four books, as well as a middle grade title and two YAs. I hope more kids get to discover my chapter books– they feature two cousins who have differing views on their maybe-magical family life and maybe-magical family-run second hand shop, and they feature a character based on my own daughter, the girls’ young cousin, Evie, who demands attention and makes everything fun. My recent middle grade, ONE JAR OF MAGIC, is about a lot of things I spend time thinking about and trying to heal– jealousy, what it means to be told you’ll be special and feel you’re not living up to that, and family secrets. All with a twist of magic, of course. As for what’s next, I’ll be expanding into a new age category once again (!!!) with a book that hasn’t yet been announced. And I’m currently working on my next middle grade novel, which is Greek mythology inspired and focused on toxic friendship. I’m also leaving my heart and mind open for inspiration for what my next novel in verse might be, because I have fallen so so in love with the form, which honestly felt like returning to an old friend.

Thanks again to Corey for this great interview!

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

You can also check out my review of Lawless Spaces.

Author Interview: Romina Garber on Lobizona and Cazadora

Romina Garber author photoIn a series grounded in Argentine folklore, Romina Garber’s Wolves of No World series is a timely commentary on the danger of labels and what can happen when we let society decide who does and does not have the right to be called “legal.” I’m thrilled to have Romina here to answer a few questions about this series and what else she has in store for readers.

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

Romina Garber: I was born in Buenos Aires, and I immigrated to the U.S. with my family when I was five; but it was in fourth grade that I truly heard the English language for the first time. My teacher used to read to us from Shel Silverstein’s masterpiece Where the Sidewalk Ends, and I fell in love with words.

I wrote my first poem that year, “Si yo fuera la luz,” and my Spanish teacher liked it so much that she submitted it to a writing contest at the local county fair, and I won first place. I went on to write for my school paper in high school, and I later interned at the Miami Herald, where I pitched a column to bring in more teen readers. “College She Wrote” came out every Sunday and was even nationally syndicated—that’s how I developed my voice and discovered that teens are my favorite audience.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Lobizona?

Romina Garber: The inspiration behind the worldbuilding of Lobizona is a curious Argentine law that is still in effect today: ley de padrinazgo presidencial 20.843. It declares the President of Argentina godparent to the seventh consecutive son or daughter in a family. When I researched the history of this law, I came across a superstition that claims seventh daughters will be born brujas and seventh sons will be lobizones. I knew I wanted to write about it, but rather than a straightforward fantasy, I opted to explore the mythologies we weave with our words every day.

Lobizona is a treatise on labels and a warning of what happens when we take language too literally. It’s also the book teen-me needed: A YA fantasy about Latinx brujas and lobizones who speak my languages, share my cultures, and make me swoon.

I wrote the story as an exploration of the immigrant identity. Manu’s dual identity as a human and a werewolf is a threat to both her worlds, and rather than having two homes, she’s left with none. As an immigrant, this sense of homelessness is one I’ve struggled with my whole life.

Miss Print: Your latest books, Lobizona and Cazadora, comprise the Wolves of No World duology. When you started writing Manu’s story did you always know it would be a series? Do you have more stories planned in this world?

Romina Garber: Once I started writing Lobizona, I quickly realized I’d inadvertently outlined two books in one. The midpoint was in fact the ending! So in that sense, the series feels like a natural duology. I have since outlined a third book, but at the moment there are no publication plans. Yet there is a Wolves of No World short story coming out in the Reclaim the Stars anthology in February 2022!

Miss Print: Like Manu, you are an Argentine immigrant. Do you and your protagonist have anything else in common? (I won’t tell anyone if you’re a Septima, promise!) 

Romina Garber: Ha! I really connect with Manu because, even though I’ve been fortunate enough to have amazing friendships, I’m sort of existentially lonely. I can never quite figure out where I fit in. And in addition to English, Spanish, and Spanglish, Manu and I also share a literary language—we both use references to books we love to process the world.

Miss Print: Who was the hardest character to write in this series? Who was the easiest?

Romina Garber: Manu was easiest for the aforementioned reasons, and the hardest was probably Cata because she is so guarded that she proved a bit tough to get to know at the outset.

Miss Print: Do you have a favorite scene from this series–either a favorite to write or one you’re excited for readers to discover?

Romina Garber: I love the first time Manu sets foot on the Septibol field and shows off her skills for the school. It was such an empowering moment.

Miss Print: We’re living in a strange time with the pandemic as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. How would Manu and her loved ones be handling the pandemic?

Romina Garber: I think Manu would sail through this pandemic because she’s been in quarantine her whole life! She’s probably better prepared for a pandemic than the rest of us!

Miss Print: What does a typical writing day look like for you? Has this changed in light of the pandemic?

Romina Garber: I typically wake up by 7:30am and go straight to my Nespresso to make myself an iced latte. Then I sit on the couch, ready to work, and proceed to pull up all my social media platforms. After about an hour, I finally open my WIP and get writing! Not much has changed since the pandemic, except that I don’t get to work from coffeeshops as much as before, which is something I sorely miss.

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about what you’re currently working on?

Romina Garber: I am currently working on a new, dark YA that’s also for Wednesday Books—a gothic paranormal that I hope to be able to discuss in more detail soon . . .

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

Romina Garber: Never give up! In my 20s, I wrote five fantasy novels over the span of 8.5 years, and every single one of them was rejected—but if I’d given up after the fifth book, I never would have made it to ZODIAC! So if you’re feeling defeated by rejection, hang in there and hold on for your YES.


Thank you to Romina for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about Romina and her books on her website: rominagarber.com

You can read my reviews of Lobizona and Cazadora here on the blog.

Author Interview: Thanhha Lai on Butterfly Yellow

Thanhha Lai author photoThanhha Lai is the author of Listen, Slowly, and National Book Award and Newbery honor winner Inside Out & Back AgainButterfly Yellow, her first novel for young adults released in 2019 and quickly became one of my favorite books of all time. I had the pleasure of talking to Thanhha at Tampa Teen Lit Fest’s virtual panel “Forging Your Own Path” last month and am thrilled to have her on the blog today answering a few questions about her work and this gem of a novel.

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

Thanhha Lai: I didn’t write fiction until my mid 20s, after a brief stint in journalism. I got an MFA from NYU, which is a fancy way of saying I waited tables for years while putting my first novel together. That one was a convoluted mess. After struggling for 15 years on that, I was exhausted and decided to write about myself. That effort turned into Inside Out & Back Again.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Butterfly Yellow?

Thanhha Lai: As a journalist, I wanted to write about the second wave of refugees who fled Vietnam. They experienced horrendous stuff, pirates at sea, years in camps, years under Communism. But it was too invasive to splash someone’s name and face across the front page. So I went the fictional route to add humor and show how a girl heals from trauma that she refuses to acknowledge.

Miss Print: Butterfly Yellow has a complex narrative with dual points of view, flashbacks, and even grammar trees along the way. How did you decide what pieces to include to tell this story?

Thanhha Lai: I included just enough to tell Hằng’s story after she landed in Texas. The people she met, her job, her family, her brother’s new family. I left out specifics of Vietnam and the trip over because I wanted to focus on healing, not trauma.

Miss Print: Do you have a favorite scene from this novel–either a favorite to write or one you’re excited for readers to discover?

Thanhha Lai: The entire novel centers on the rainy-day canyon scene when Hằng and LeeRoy truly connect without speaking. I loved writing that scene.

Miss Print: I love that scene so much!

Miss Print: We’re living in a strange time with the pandemic as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. How would Hang and LeeRoy be handling the pandemic?

Thanhha Lai: Hằng would get her shots, put on a mask, and keep going without missing a step. LeeRoy would follow her and off they go to reclaim David.

Miss Print: What does a typical writing day look like for you? Has this changed in light of the pandemic?

Thanhha Lai: I was already living in a cave pre-Covid. So life continued on, except for masking while grocery shopping.

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about what you’re currently working on?

Thanhha Lai: I’m on deadline for a sequel to Inside Out & Back Again. The family will have to move to Texas and endure the long process of re-settlement.

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

Thanhha Lai: I always tell students to read. Everything. That way they can get a sense of how they want words to land on a page. That’s the voice and the hardest aspect of writing fiction. The voice then dictates character and plot. So read, lots.

Thank you again to Thanhha for taking the time, while on deadline!, for this interview.

You can find more about Thanhha and her books on her website: https://www.thanhhalai.com/

You can find my review of Butterfly Yellow here on the blog.

Author Interview: Sarah Beth Durst on The Bone Maker

Sarah Beth Durst author photo2021 has been a great year to be a Sarah Beth Durst fan. Even and Odd, her new middle grade about sisters who share magic on alternating days, hit shelves in June.

On the adult side, The Bone Maker is Sarah’s newest novel for adult readers, which begins after “the end” when five heroes who thought they’d already saved the world in their youth have to do it again.

Sarah is one of my favorite authors and I’m so glad to have her back to discuss her latest.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for The Bone Maker?

Sarah Beth Durst: One day, I jotted down on a Post-It: “Lots of pockets!” You see, my jeans have these really shallow pockets that aren’t even large enough to hold my cell phone, and I decided that, regardless of what kind of book I wrote next, my protagonist would have lots of pockets.

So I asked myself, “What would be in those pockets?”

And my brain answered,”Bones.”

I suppose that probably says a lot about my brain…

The book grew from that one thought into a standalone epic fantasy about second chances in a world steeped with bone magic. THE BONE MAKER takes place twenty-five years after a team of heroes defeated a great evil, losing one of their own in the process. They think their story is over, but it’s definitively not.

The pockets even ended up being a part of it! Here’s the opening sentence:

“Kreya always wore her coat with many pockets when she went out to steal bones.”

Miss Print: The magic system in this world is founded on bone magic which can include using bone talismans to enhance things like strength or stealth, creating said talismans, reading bones to divine the future, creating bone constructs, or–working with darker magic–bringing back the dead. Which kind of bone magic would you want to have? While we’re talking about bone constructs: did you have a favorite one to imagine for this book? Was it my own favorite, the rag dolls?

Sarah Beth Durst: I’d love to be a bone maker, like Kreya. She can animate the inanimate — and there are endless possibilities as to what you can do with that.

So happy you liked the rag dolls! They’re my favorite as well. They actually weren’t in the original outline — they crawled into the book as I was writing it, and I thought they were so very creepy that they had to stay.

Miss Print: The Bone Maker is written in close third person and follows several different character viewpoints. How did you decide which characters to showcase and when as the story progressed?

Sarah Beth Durst: With each scene, I’d ask myself who had the most at stake and who can best carry the story forward. And then I’d trust my instincts. A lot of writing comes down to trusting yourself and your own sense of story.

I’m very tempted to put the “BELIEVE” sign from Ted Lasso over my desk. Believing in yourself, your story, your characters, and your world… it’s key. That’s not to say that you need to be 100% confident while you’re writing, but it helps to remind yourself that you have — all of us have — been soaked in stories since the day we were born, and we all have developed a sense of what works and what doesn’t, as well as what we like and what we don’t. You need to trust that.

Miss Print: Did you have a favorite character to write or one who was more challenging? How would Kreya and her team be doing with the pandemic?

Sarah Beth Durst: I adored writing Zera (the bone wizard and Kreya’s former best friend). She’s so overdramatic and full of snark. I love writing snark!

Really, I am deeply suspicious of novels that don’t have a sense of humor. Humor is such a basic human coping mechanism.

As for how they’d do with the pandemic… I think they’d live together in Stran’s house. Kreya would end up creating a lot of rather unsettling-looking contraptions to help around the farm, and Zera would carve a lot of talismans out of chicken bones. Jentt would learn how to bake and would constantly need to fish stray bone fragments out of his sourdough starter.

All of them, though, would hate having an enemy that they can’t see and can’t fight and, despite swearing to leave the problem to others to fix, would end up doing whatever they could to help.

Miss Print: One of my favorite things about this book is that in addition to the focus on Kreya and Jentt’s marriage–both before and after Kreya’s resurrection attempts–readers get to see a lot of the teams’ friendships as they find their way back to each other. (One of my favorite quotes: “The laws of nature and decency say friends don’t give up on friends. No matter what tragedies happen. No matter how many years pass. People are meant to keep loving each other, even after death.”) Can you discuss what defines a solid friendship in one of your books? Do you have any favorites that you’ve read (or written yourself)?

Sarah Beth Durst: There are so many toxic relationships in both fictional worlds and the real world that I really wanted to write about healthy relationships — or at least relationships that grow to be healthy.  I love the trope of the found family and the concept that strength comes from shared compassion, not just shared trauma.

The characters in THE BONE MAKER are old friends who, for the most part, haven’t seen one another in twenty-five years.  They’ve got some serious history between them, and I loved exploring how their friendships were shattered and how they glue them back together, stronger than before.

Some of my favorite books have great found families in them, such as EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire, SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo, and THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA by TJ Klune.

Miss Print: Has your writing routine/process changed for this novel (or other projects) in light of the pandemic?

Sarah Beth Durst: My writing routine/process has intensified. Every time I look at the news… It’s just all so horrific. I’m not a doctor or a nurse or a scientist or a teacher — I can’t help that way, but what I can do is write stories that I hope will give people an escape from everything for at least a few hours. And so for the past year and a half, I’ve been writing as much as I can.

Miss Print: You always have something in the works, can you tell me anything about your next project? Or about your other 2021 release?

Sarah Beth Durst: My other 2021 release is a book for kids (ages 8-12) called EVEN AND ODD. It’s about two sisters who share magic on alternating days. When the border between the mundane world they live in and the magical world they were born in shuts abruptly, they embark on a quest to reunite their family — with the help of a unicorn named Jeremy! It’s out now from Clarion Books.

And my next book is also for kids and will be coming out in June 2022. It’s called THE SHELTERLINGS, and it’s about a squirrel named Holly who is a resident of the Shelter for Rejected Familiars. It has a lot of talking animals. I mean a LOT of talking animals. I can’t wait for people to read it!

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 Race the Sands here on the blog.

Author Interview: Debbie Rigaud on Simone Breaks All the Rules

Debbie Rigaud author photoDebbie Rigaud’s debut novel featured a swoon-worthy couple reminiscent of everyone’s favorite royals if they were teens: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, of course. Her latest contemporary YA Simone Breaks All the Rules features one of the funniest protagonists you’re going to meet in 2021, new friends, an end-of-high-school bucket list, and lots of prom goodness. I’m so happy to have Debbie here to answer some questions.

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

Debbie Rigaud: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I remember being a toddler scribbling gibberish on paper to mimic my eldest sister’s neat handwriting. Though I was an early reader, writing was my jam. I kept journals—one of bad poetry—as a tween and wrote sketches and short scripts for my cousins to perform. I continued journaling through high school and beyond, and wrote for the school paper in college. My first job after graduation was an editorial internship at Time Inc. in NYC. I worked at several magazines, and because I’d been staffed at teen magazines like Seventeen and loved for writing for young readers, I was approached to contribute a novella to a YA anthology published by KimaniTru. From there, I got an opportunity to write a Simon Pulse Romantic Comedy. Though this was followed by a gap of years before I published any fiction, it was these earlier works that led to the TRULY MADLY ROYALLY and HOPE series book deals. Thanks to TMR, I was able to pitch SIMONE BREAKS ALL THE RULES, which feels like my debut because this is my first work of non-assigned fiction. It’s my conception and it’s a story I’ve wanted to write for at least a decade.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Simone Breaks All the Rules?

Debbie: Like Simone, I am a child of Haitian immigrants who grew up in a strict but loving household, and I longed to read joyful and humorous stories about this experience. Yes, tossed in there are bitter feelings about all the many rules I grew up with, I was careful not to vilify strict parents or paint them with flat, broad brushstrokes. This was an opportunity to highlight the nuances, the complications, the backstories and, yes, the hilarity of growing up with overprotective immigrant parents. When I thought of the relatives who had had their proms arranged irl, I had my angle to writing such a story.

Miss Print: The story really gets started as Simone connects with Amita and Kira when the girls make their senior playlist of all the things they want to do before high school ends. Their list includes things like traveling to New York City, going dancing, and Simone’s number one item: choosing her own prom date. What kind of things would have made it onto your own senior year bucket list?

Debbie: Going to the college of my choice—I was obsessed with NYU. I got in but could not attend because the tuition was too steep for my family. My second choice, which I was also very passionate about, was FIT. Yes, once upon a time, I fancied myself an aspiring fashion designer. I have zero talent in that area, so it seems wild that I could even consider a career in fashion. But I had the sketch book with wonky illustrations as evidence of that time. Also, like Simone, I really wanted to go away for college, but—deep sigh—alas, I commuted instead.

Miss Print: Without getting into spoilers, a lot of Simone Breaks All the Rules is focused on Simone’s plans for prom (especially compared to her mother’s plans for prom). So, of course, I have to ask: Can you tell readers anything about your own prom experience?

Debbie: I went to two proms—when I was a junior I was a senior boy’s prom date. And that boy then accompanied me to my senior prom the following year. Yes, this was a sort-of boyfriend. But by my senior year, he was not my boyfriend, but kept his promise to accompany me. Let’s just say, I could’ve done without him accompanying me to my prom. I remember hanging more with my friends than with him that night. Womp, womp.

Miss Print: We’re living in a strange time with the pandemic as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. How would Simone and your other characters be handling the pandemic?

Debbie: Being house-bound is Simone’s area of expertise. She and her crew of late bloomer friends are called HomeGirls for a reason. You’d be surprised how industrious you can be when confined to your home and its environs. For this reason, I am great at lots of parlor games and curbside activities, like Double Dutch, dancing, creative arts, chatting on the phone. Everything but cooking and baking, it seems. I think Simone would handle the lockdown with relative ease. And her mom, who is a worrywart would be pleased that her kids are some place safe where she can keep an eye on them. As we’ve all been coming out of lockdown, it feels like we’re all breaking out of our protective cocoons and being social butterflies, a la Simone!

Miss Print: Simone is such a fun character and, in a lot of ways, it feels like her story is just getting started. Will readers be seeing more from you about Simone–or her cousin Gabby–in the future?

Debbie: You know, that’s not a bad idea. I’d have to plead—er, talk with my editor and agent. If the book continues to perform well, I’d have a case for this. So, here’s where I make an appeal to readers to please pick up Simone, request it at your library and ask a friend to do the same! :)

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

Debbie: I feel like I kicked my career off way behind the starting line because I didn’t have the full reading lives that most authors seem to have. I had reams and reams of journals, and even some bad fashion sketches, but I can’t ramble off a long list of influential classic books from childhood. Every author podcast interview I’ve listened to, there’s a lot of early voracious reading memories shared. At first, this made me feel mad inadequate during panel discussions. So what I say to aspiring authors is to start where they are. You can start here and now. Read what interests you, read what authors and readers you trust rave about, read in and out your genre. You can’t change the past, but appreciate all the influences that touched your journey and developed your writing. For me that was magazines, hip hop lyrics, TV, yes, books—though not many I recall by name—and, most especially, my family’s oral storytelling. Bottom line: so long as you make it count, it all counts and it all matters!

Thank you again to Debbie for these great answers! You can find out more about all of Debbie’s books on her website.

You can also read my review of Simone Breaks All the Rules here on the blog.

Author Interview: Suzanne Park on Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous

Suzanne Park author photoSuzanne Park is the author of several contemporary romances for both adult and teen readers. Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous, her latest YA, is a laugh-out-loud-funny story of a mid-range teen influencer who is sent to a digital detox camp on a farm in Iowa after one of her live baking videos accidentally turns PG-13. I’m very happy to have Suzanne here to answer a few questions about her latest book which has already become one of my favorites.

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

Suzanne Park: 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 Nashville with underfunded schools and libraries, so you can imagine how limited the selection of books was for a curious Korean-American girl growing up in Tennessee!

It never occurred to me that I could be an author one day. I didn’t do particularly well in my English classes and my HS English teachers didn’t think AP English was a good fit for me. There weren’t any creative writing classes offered in my high school, and in college the closest courses they offered at the time were for poetry and journalism.

As an adult though, I took a lot of writing classes (one was held at an old Best Western in downtown Seattle) and had picked up stand-up comedy along the way. By doing stand up, I was able to refine my joke writing and hone my voice.

My first novel I drafted was an absolute disaster. It was a three-hundred page blog entry about pretty much nothing. I cleaned it up considerably and submitted the manuscript into a mentorship contest called Pitch Wars in 2016. In this contest, my mentors helped me with plotting, planting (foreshadowing) and pacing. After a few rounds of intensive rewrites, my three-hundred page blog post turned into a real novel. From there I got a literary agent, and years later, wrote and sold my adult and YA debut novels.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous?

Suzanne: I was inspired to write SUNNY SONG WILL NEVER BE FAMOUS after watching a Korean documentary about game addiction. The story followed five teenagers who were sent to internet addiction camps in rural areas for treatment. It made me wonder if we had camps like these in the U.S. (they don’t). So then the question for me became, what if I wrote a novel about a teen who was sent away to a digital detox camp? Around the same time, I went out to dinner with my family and noticed that nearly everyone at this nice restaurant was constantly checking their phone. It made me think hard about how society had evolved such that this had become the norm. After I turned in my finished book to my editor, the Netflix documentary THE SOCIAL DILEMMA released. It raised a lot of issues and challenges with social media and technology, and I had included many of the same points in my novel.

Miss Print: Sunny’s relationship with social media and her phone is complex to say the least. What’s your own relationship to tech and social media like? Do you have a favorite platform? Least favorite?

Suzanne: I have my high engagement days and “off” days. After doing so much digital detox research, I’m better able to recognize and control my consumption, but it’s not easy. My favorite platform is Instagram, and I’ve started to use Clubhouse more regularly. I find Twitter a little scary and I’m too wordy for the character limit, but I still engage when I think of something that makes more sense on that platform. I actually downloaded TikTok a long time ago, but took it off my phone pretty soon after that because of security breach concerns. I never put it back on my phone.

Miss Print: Sunny’s experiences throughout the book, both at Sunshine Farms and as an influencer, might seem far-fetched but (minus the farm animals) are all grounded in real content creator concerns as well as actual tips and tricks from experts to have a better relationship with technology. What reading and research did you do to get these details right?

Suzanne: As part of the research for this book, I read tech articles, listened to business podcasts, read tech company financial statements and books like DIGITAL MINIMALISM, ESSENTIALISM and ATOMIC HABITS. These books are tech and/or business-focused ones that teens don’t typically read. I distilled some of the main points and themes from these books and included them in SUNNY SONG in a way that I hope can help teens think about their media usage and better understand the tech companies’ motivations behind the technology. After all of my research, my social media consumption has gone way down. Oh! I also read books about farming and read Laura Ingalls Wilder novels, Charlotte’s Web and Anne of Green Gables to get the setting right.

Miss Print: We’re living in a strange time with the pandemic as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. So, of course, I have to ask: How would Sunny and your other characters be handling the pandemic?

Suzanne: I try hard to emphasize in the book that social media isn’t necessarily “bad,” but rather tech companies have motivations and incentives that you may not be aware of, and people have control over how they’re spending their time. Using tech platforms to connect with friends and family for enjoyment can be wonderful. But it’s the mindless scrolling and extreme focus on online personas that can be unhealthy, and I would hope after the camp experience they’d be more aware of it. I can absolutely see Sunny, her new farm mates, and close friends using this time to stay connected, trying “high value” funny and possibly over-the-top and absurd things to pass the time.

Miss Print: You have written books both for adult readers and teens. Does your writing process change depending on your audience? How do you know when you’ve found the right voice for your story?

Suzanne: My writing process doesn’t change much between age groups… I seem to dive head first into doing research with almost everything I write, whether it’s about gaming, or zombies or farms! I do focus hard on voice and try to accurately reflect the views of teens and adults given realistic life experiences of my characters. So my teens stumble through life and figure lots of things out for themselves. My adults will have more life experiences yet may have more deeply ingrained beliefs or misbeliefs that guide their decisions and actions.

I don’t always nail the voice at first, sometimes I have to rewrite the first few pages to get the main character’s perspective right.

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

Suzanne: SUNNY SONG WILL NEVER BE FAMOUS is a coming-of-age story featuring a Korean-American L.A. based teen influencer Sunny Song who is sent to a digital detox camp in Iowa. It explores themes of social media obsession, identity, and what it means to be truly connected. This book releases June 1st.

SO WE MEET AGAIN is a part coming-of-age story, part love story in which a young Korean American woman discovers that finding a new career and new love means learning to embrace the awkward and unexpected—exploring familial expectations, finding your voice, and unimaginably falling for your childhood rival. This book comes out later in the summer, August 3rd.

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

Suzanne: I took so many detours before I became an author, so I always urge writers of all ages to not give up. I read broadly and encourage others to do the same— it really helps you figure out what type of writing you like to read, and also helps you see what you don’t enjoy reading, which is just as important.

No two writers are the same, and you might need time to figure out what works for you, whether it’s writing a little every day or writing large chunks in a workshop, sprinting with friends or writing alone without distractions, or plotting versus winging it.

And finally, don’t assume all writers understood and loved Shakespeare. In high school I failed many quizzes and essays about Shakespeare…it doesn’t determine your destiny!

Thank you again to Suzanne for these great answers! You can find out more about all of Suzanne’s books on her website.

You can also read my review of Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous here on the blog.

Author Interview: Melissa Albert on Tales From the Hinterland

Melissa Albert author photoCR: Laura EtheredgeMelissa Albert is the author of the fantasy noir novels The Hazel Wood and its sequel The Night Country. In her latest book, Tales From the Hinterland Albert presents a collection filled with the short stories that form the underpinnings of her previous novels’ world building. These eerie, dark, extremely feminist stories are exactly the kinds of tales we need in this strange moment in world. I’m thrilled to have Melissa here today to talk more about her writing and her latest release.

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

Melissa Albert: As a kid devouring the Chronicles of Narnia and Peter Pan I always dreamed of being a fantasy author, but when I got older I decided the more “practical” path (lol) was to become a journalist. I did some beat reporting and arts writing (mostly book and theater reviews) in Chicago, then started blogging for Barnes & Noble. Through my work with B&N I discovered this booming golden era of YA fantasy had begun. I became obsessed and decided in 2011 to try writing a novel during National Novel Writing Month. It was a hideous disaster, of course, but when I recovered I was determined to try again. Which developed into a bloody-minded determination to finish something I’d started. It’s very easy and fun to start writing a book! It is less easy to finish one.

Miss Print: Tales From the Hinterland presents Althea Proserpine’s notorious collection of dark and twisted short stories that form the backbone of the world building in both The Hazel Wood and its sequel The Night Country. What came first when you started writing within this world: the stories or Alice (the main character in The Hazel Wood)? Did you always know you had multiple stories to tell within this framework/world?

Melissa: The first thing that came was the idea of a reclusive author alone in a house in the deep dark woods, and the idea of her being preyed on by something more sinister than isolation. Then came Alice’s voice, which I wanted to give the world-weary vibe and alternately spare and lavish style of Raymond Chandler’s noir narration. Then I had to figure out why this young, healthy person was so world-weary, and figure out how to pull the floor out from under her sense of herself as being jaded and self-sufficient. I didn’t know till later drafts that I would dare to weave in more than just references to the Hinterland tales.

Miss Print: Tales From the Hinterland includes some stories that readers of your previous novels will recognize as well as some new tales that were only ever mentioned as titles before. How did you go about returning to these familiar tales from a fresh perspective? How was writing the short stories for this collection different from writing the excerpts included in your previous novels as Alice and Ellery learn more about the Hinterland?

Melissa: In THW and TNC I had the context of the novels to give the stories and pieces of story that I shared extra resonance. They were imagined as standalone tales, but told within larger works. With the actual collection of Tales, I had to be sure each story worked as its own distinct, self-contained universe, as well as a piece of a larger whole. It was an interesting headspace to be so immersed in, for so long, because when I wrote fairy tales to include within the novel duology it was very refreshing to jump as a writer from the voice of a contemporary heroine to that cooler, more matter of fact fairy-tale tone. Finding the tale-telling voice again took some time, as did finding my balance between the utterly stripped tales you find in old collections and the lusher stories of later writers like (of course) Angela Carter.

Miss Print: 2020 was a strange year with some things carrying over into 2021 as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. So, of course, I have to ask: How would Alice and Ellery mange during this pandemic? Would any of the other Hinterland characters be especially well-suited (or ill-prepared) for dealing with our current circumstances?

Melissa: Alice wouldn’t mind the built-in excuse to stay away from other people, though she’d miss the lost wages. Finch would get really intense about sourdough and attempt (again!) to write a novel.

[Miss Print: I could totally see Finch on a quest to figure out the perfect sourdough technique!]

Miss Print: For me three standout stories in this collection were “The House Under the Stairwell,” “The Clockwork Bride,” and “Death and the Woodwife.” Do you have a favorite story in this collection? Were some stories easier to write than others?

Melissa: I love all my wicked children, but I too have a real soft spot for “Death and the Woodwife.” Some of the stories required lots of revision, lots of reimagining, but “Woodwife” came out very close to fully formed. I also love how the setup for the main narrative operates as its own distinct fairy tale–that was a nod to the shape of one of my favorite classic tales, “The Juniper Tree,” which opens with an almost vignette-sized take on the Snow White tale, before opening into the very weird main story. Also, as the closing story in the collection, I’m very happy with the note it ends on.

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about your next project? Can we expect more Hinterland tales?

Melissa: I’m thrilled to say that I’m deep into drafting the next book, which is a novel unrelated to the world of the Hazel Wood. I don’t know what I’m allowed to say just yet, so I’ll err on the side of being cagey. But it’s another contemporary fantasy, my great love!

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

Melissa: Read LOTS, protect your writing time (even if it’s just twenty minutes–you can probably find twenty minutes at least a few days a week!), and remember your writing is SUPPOSED to look insufficient to you for a long time. Writing “badly” shouldn’t be discouraging (though it is, I know it is!), it just shows the gap between your vision and your current abilities. I try to look at narrowing that gap as the work of my life as a writer. That, and constantly working on the next thing I don’t yet know how to write, so it always feels exciting and destabilizing and sometimes really hard.

Thank you again to Melissa for these great answers!

You can also read my review of Tales From the Hinterland here on the blog.

Author Interview: Roshani Chokshi on The Silvered Serpents

Roshani Chokshi author photo, credit: Aman SharmaThe Silvered Serpents is the stunning and often shocking follow up to The Gilded Wolves–a historical fantasy filled with magic, action, and more than a few mysteries. Set not long after the events of book one, this installment once again follows Séverin and his team this time as they hunt for The Divine Lyrics–a way to stop the rogue lost house and also chase immortality and prestige themselves. Roshani was already one of my favorite authors but who knew you could love a favorite even more as a series continues. I’m very happy to have Roshani here answering some questions about this latest installment.

Miss Print: The Silvered Serpents is the second book in your Gilded Wolves trilogy–a series partially inspired by National Treasure and Tomb Raider. When you started writing the first book, did you already know what would be in store for the characters in book two? Did anything change after you had finished The Gilded Wolves and started working on this story?

Roshani Chokshi: Yes! Before I started writing the first book, I had a pretty clear idea of how things were going to end up for the characters. That said, I think the emotional balance between them changed a lot more as I started working on TSS. At its heart, it really is a story of love, and it was both rewarding and painful to reexamine each of those relationship dynamics and see what would be different.

Miss Print: This series starts in 1889 and in this book, as the beautiful cover hints, we see the action move from Paris to Russia as the team explores the sprawling and magical Sleeping Palace. I was struck by how much forging magic readers see in this installment. How did you decide what kinds of magical creations to include? Did you have a favorite forged object here or anything that didn’t make the final cut?

Roshani Chokshi: Most fictional magic systems come down to whether the magic functions as an art or a science. Can it be learned or does it first require innate ability that can then be shaped? For me, I really wanted to write a magic system that was both artistic in practice and in nature. Because Forging is tied so closely to someone’s will, it can be powerful, but more often than naught, it’s an expression of whimsy. Winter and whimsy is a joyous feast for the imagination, so I had a lot of fun coming up with objects and ways to interact with the setting. At every stage, I wanted each piece of Forging to enhance the mystery of their setting, and I hope that shines.

Miss Print: These books feature one of my favorite ensemble casts and I love getting chapters following each of them as they move through different parts of the story. We’ve discussed before who was the most fun and the hardest to write. But with everything that’s been going on in the world, I have to ask: How would the team manage during quarantine?

Roshani Chokshi: I think as long as they were in L’Eden…they’d be fine. Hypnos would probably stage musical theatre performances that, halfway through, would become a surprise burlesque performance and scandalize everyone. Laila would be conquering sourdough starters. Zofia would be blowing things up in the backyard. Enrique would be holed up in the library, and Séverin would be running back and forth between all of them, making sure they want for nothing.

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about your next project? Any news on your Santa origin story?

Roshani Chokshi: Lately, I’ve been frantically revising the third and final book in the Gilded Wolves trilogy and also wrapping up edits on the fourth book in the Pandava quintet. It’s bizarre to me that I’m nearing the finishing line for both series when they’ve lived in my head since 2015?? What is time?? After that, there’s a story that’s been rattling about in my brain. Something about Bluebeard. I’m not sure what it wants to be yet. And I am *STILL* noodling the Santa origin story haha. I need to figure out the magic of it all…but I’ve been jotting down bits and pieces of dialogue and I have to say…I am endlessly delighted with how it might turn out.

Thanks again to Rosh for taking the time to chat with me.

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

You can also read my review of The Silvered Serpents here on the blog.