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.

Author Interview: Sarah Beth Durst on Race the Sands

Sarah Beth Durst author photoAny time Sarah Beth Durst has a new book coming  out, I know I should be excited. She is one of the most prolific and versatile authors writing fantasy right now and, get excited, I think her newest standalone for adults might be her best book yet.

I’m excited to have Sarah back today answering some questions about her monster racing adventure Race the Sands.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Race the Sands?

Sarah Beth Durst: When it was time to start thinking about my next book, I sat down at my desk, typed the words “Things I Think Are Awesome,” and started making a list of everything from pizza to armadillos to fire-breathing unicorns.  A page or two into that list, I jotted down two words:

Monster racing.

And a little voice inside me said, “YES.  I MUST WRITE THAT.”

So that’s where this book began, with two words.  Everything in sun-drenched Becar grew out of that one core idea: deadly races on the backs of irredeemable monsters called kehoks, who bear the reborn souls of their world’s most depraved humans.

Miss Print: Race the Sands is set in a world where what you do in this life determines what (or whom) you are reborn as in your next life. Augur Yorbel even reads a few characters’ auras during the story to see how they will be reborn. What creature would you want to return as?

Sarah Beth Durst: A dragon!

Or maybe that’s a bit impractical.

How about a cat?  A well-fed housecat whose humans know better than to move once I decide to nap on them.  Like my cat Gwen.  She’s sitting on me as I write this.  In fact, I write most of my books with her on top of me.  Sometimes it makes it tricky to see the keyboard.

Miss Print: On the other end of the reincarnation spectrum we have the kehoks–souls reborn as monstrous creatures because they have done something so heinous there is no hope of redemption (unless they win the Becaran races). The kehoks come in all shapes and sizes including, notably, the black lion Tamra and Raia work with. What kind of kehok would you want to be (assuming the whole doing something evil to be reborn as one wasn’t on the table)?

Sarah Beth Durst: I’d like to be reborn as something like my black metal lion.  Fast and fierce.  Preferably without any slime or tentacles.

Miss Print: One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was the way you utilize the ensemble cast by following a few different characters as the story unfolds. Did you always know the story would have this narrative structure? How did you decide which characters to showcase?

Sarah Beth Durst: I did plan from the beginning to show the story through multiple viewpoints, but I didn’t fully sketch out exactly whose eyes I’d use for which piece of the story.  I tried to trust my instincts.

A lot of writing is trusting your instincts.  We’ve all absorbed so many stories that we’ve internalized the rhythm of how a tale unfolds — the trick is to trust that sense of rhythm.

Miss Print: Working off the last question: Did you have a favorite character to write or one who was more challenging? And since this book came out during quarantine in April: How would everyone be fairing in quarantine? Who would you want to have quarantined with you?

Sarah Beth Durst: I loved writing Tamra!  She’s a former champion rider who now works as a professional trainer in the sport of monster racing.  She’s also a single mother who would do anything for her daughter, even sacrifice her own soul.  She’s fierce, driven, and unstoppable, and I loved spending time with her.

She’s named after Tamora Pierce, a fantastic writer and fantastic person.  I first discovered Tammy’s books when I was ten years old, the same year that I decided I wanted to be a writer.  I remember reading ALANNA, her first Tortall book about a girl who wants to become a knight, and thinking to myself, “If Alanna can become a knight, I can become a writer.”

As far as how my characters would fair in quarantine…  I think Tamra would take Raia and Shalla and ride on the back of a kehok out into the desert, away from the cities.  And Dar would be doing his best to take care of his people.  He’d be worried, but he’d do what’s right to protect as many as possible.

And the character I’d want with me…  There’s one brief mention in the book of a woman who bakes the best pastries in all Becar… I’d want those pastries with me.

Miss Print: You always have a few books in the works, can you tell me anything about your next project?

Sarah Beth Durst: Yes!  My next book will be a standalone epic fantasy called THE BONE MAKER, coming in March 2021 from Harper Voyager.  It’s about second chances — and bone magic.  It’s set twenty-five years after the heroes saved the world.  Now they’re called to save the world again, but they’re not the same as they once were.

My next novel for kids is called EVEN AND ODD and will be out from HMH / Clarion Books in June 2021.  It’s about two sisters who have magic on alternating days — Even has magic on even days, and Odd has magic on odd days — and what happens when the portal that separates our world from the magic world closes.

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: 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.