Author Interview: Kendare Blake on All These Bodies

Kendare Blake author photoAll These Bodies is an atmospheric story at the intersection of true crime and horror following Michael Jensen in the summer of 1958 when a grisly killing spree lands in Black Deer Falls, Minnesota. As Michael begins working with the police to interview Marie Catherine Hale, the only person found alive at the most recent crime scene, Michael is drawn into an investigation that is much darker–and surprising–than he could have imagined. This book has been living rent-free in my head since I finished it so I’m very excited to have Kendare here today to talk about it.

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

Kendare Blake: Yikes, the path is so long at this point it hardly feels like I know. I wrote for a long time as a kid, and as a college student, working on craft, messing around with fanfiction which is also working on craft. Writing short stories and novels that weren’t ready for publication. I did a Master’s in Creative Writing that let me live in London for a year, and that was cool. Eventually my writing got better, and stories started selling, and then I wrote Anna Dressed in Blood. Now I’ve been publishing novels and short stories for more than a decade.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for All These Bodies? Was any research involved to nail the historical period and atmospheric setting?

Kendare Blake: All These Bodies was inspired by three true things: the murders of the Clutters and Truman Capote’s true crime masterpiece, IN COLD BLOOD; the multi-state murder spree of teenaged killers Charlie Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate; and the Vampire Hysteria of New England.

As for research, I did some, like looking into what students in the 50s might have eaten for school lunch, but I still messed up: apparently blue lights weren’t added to police cruisers until the 60s and my dad says they did not have pop top beer cans.

Miss Print: All These Bodies was a 2021 Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best Young Adult Novel–an award given for horror novels (congrats!). After your more recent fantasy adventures in the Three Dark Crowns series and Buffy: The Next Generation (your addition to the Buffyverse), what was it like returning to the horror genre?

Kendare Blake: Thank you for the congrats! I was so excited to be a finalist! It was great to return to the horror genre, and in many ways I felt like I’d never strayed far. Both Three Dark Crowns and Buffy: the Next Generation have some horror elements. What can I say, I like entrails.

Miss Print: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have been thinking about All These Bodies nonstop since I finished it. One of my favorite things about this book is the interplay between what your narrator Michael knows to be true about the case and what Marie tells Michael which leaves readers to draw their own conclusions. How did you balance this push and pull?

Kendare Blake: This is so wonderful to hear. Writing the back and forth between Marie and Michael, and balancing the known world of true crime with the speculative aspect of vampirism was one of the most challenging parts of the book. But it was also one of the most fun. Michael is a natural journalist, and the way he processes Marie’s story did half the work for me. I absolutely loved working with him. Over the course of the story his views are tested, and even by the end, when he’s made his choice about what to believe, he’s still being tested. The kid is so unassuming, but he became one of my favorite narrators ever.

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 your characters be handling the pandemic?

Kendare Blake: It’s hard to take characters with 1950s viewpoints and plop them into our modern day problems without having experienced the transitional decades in between, but I think both Michael and Marie would be handling it pretty well. They have rich interior lives, so they’d have plenty to think about and keep themselves entertained while sitting at home ordering groceries for delivery.

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

Kendare Blake: Writing is quite solitary and I generally did it from home, so my day-to-day hasn’t changed much. I do occasionally sneak off on writing retreats or write with friends in cafes though, so there was a period of time where I didn’t see my writing clutch in person for over a year. And I missed them!

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

Kendare Blake: Of course! Right now I’m working on a number of things: the final book in the Buffy: the Next Generation trilogy, and my new epic fantasy series, which is set in the same world as Three Dark Crowns. It doesn’t have an official title yet, but I’ve codenamed it AMAZON JEDIS, because it’s like if the Wonder Woman Amazons had a baby with the Jedi Order. Comes out in Fall 2023, and I should have more announcements about it soon! Hopefully like an actual title.

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

Kendare Blake: Always. Though the worst vice is advice, and it won’t be applicable to everyone. READ. You learn a lot from reading, consciously and unconsciously, and you will continue to throughout your writing career. And: WRITE. Which sounds like the easy part, but isn’t. Find a way to get your butt in the chair and the words on the page. They don’t need to be perfect words the first time around. They just need to get out of your head and into reality.

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

You can read my review of All These Bodies here on the blog.

Author Interview: Susan Lee on Seoulmates

Susan Lee author photoSusan Lee’s debut novel Seoulmates is an ode to all things romance as estranged childhood best friends Hannah Cho and Jacob Kim reconnect over one hectic summer filled with San Diego sites, memories, and more surprises than the best K-drama. I got to read Seoulmates early for a panel I moderated in May for SLJ’s Day of Dialog (read the recap) and knew I had to ask Susan to chat on the blog about her swoony debut.

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

Susan Lee: I hadn’t set out be a writer. In fact, it wasn’t something even on my radar as I’d already built a pretty long career in corporate America. But, as I started to read more and more, my own stories started swirling around in my head! I wrote my first completed manuscript in 2018, which got my into the mentorship program Pitch Wars, and eventually allowed me to sign with my first agent. My career has taken some twists and turns in the few short years I’ve been writing, but I feel like every one of those steps was going down the right path for me!

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for SeoulmatesYour book alternates between Hannah and Jacob’s narrations–did you always know you’d follow both characters? How did you decide which parts would be from which point of view?

Susan Lee: I just wanted to write a romance about 2 Korean American teens. That was the original base of the inspiration. But it all came about during the rise of BTS’ global phenomenon…and as I was dealing with my own “identity crisis” of sorts surrounding all of this, I started writing these bits and pieces into the story. I read a lot of adult Romance and alternating POV’s is much more prevalent in those books. So it felt natural for me to do this.

Miss Print: In Seoulmates we see Hannah reconnecting with her Korean culture including Korean foods like kimchi while Jacob tries to recapture his childhood in San Diego with a bucket list including a search for the perfect California Burrito. Can you talk about how you integrated food into your stories? How did you choose the dishes you highlight?

Susan Lee: LOOK..FOOD IS LIFE. ha! When I go on vacation to other places, I look first to where I want to eat before researching what I want to see! :) Also, food plays such a huge part in family dynamics in Korean culture. So yeah, I was pretty sure food was gonna be its own character in the book!

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

Susan Lee: Hannah flowed very naturally for me as I wrote her chapters. I wouldn’t say she IS me…but there’s a lot of myself in her. Snark, abandonment issues, the tendency to push people away instead of face the emotions. I LOVE HER. :) Jacob wasn’t hard to write, per se, but I did want very much to get a male “voice” correct. I wanted to write a tender, kind, strong lead…who was vulnerable but reliable. I LOVE HIM. :)

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 Hannah and Jacob be handling the pandemic?

Susan Lee: Cue scene…and action! “Hey you idiot, why aren’t you wearing a mask? Can’t you see we’re indoors and there are a lot of people here?” My voice gets louder with every word, but I can’t help myself. Why can’t people just try? “Hannah.” Jacob’s kind voice pulls me from my rage and he gently squeezes my arm. “But Jacob…” I whine. I know he won’t judge me for getting angry. In fact, I know he agrees with me. But we just communicate…differently. “All we can do is wear our masks and protect ourselves. Let’s grab the stuff our moms put on the shopping list and get out of here,” he says. Voice of reason. “Fine,” I grumble. “But can we get McDonalds soft serve cones on the way home?” His smile spreads slowly and it makes me all gooey inside. I’m such a sap. “Yeah, we can do that,” he says. And suddenly I forget why I’m so angry. He’s right, we can only do our best to get through these hard times. No use getting angry at everyone else. I hold back the swoony deep sigh I’m tempted to let out any time I think of Jacob Kim. I look down at my mom’s chicken scratch on her shopping list and lead the way to the eggs.

Miss Print: Both Hannah and Jacob are struggling with some big questions in this story while they try to figure out if they’re enough of any one thing for themselves, their friends, and the people they choose to love. What is some advice you would have given your characters or advice you wish you’d received as a teen when you might have had similar questions?

Susan Lee: I think I was one of those teens (and adults, frankly) that always wanted to get it right. That needed a plan. That was driven. But what I’ve come to realize as I’ve gotten older, as those plans have often changed or fallen by the wayside, as I’ve failed many times in life and not gotten it “right” is that we need to show ourselves a lot more grace. It’s okay. We’re okay.

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

Susan Lee: I honestly don’t have a “typical”. I don’t always write in the mornings or in the evenings or even at all some days. I spend most days thinking of writing (ha!). But honestly, I’m a “when the inspiration strikes me” type of writer. So I sit and wait. I stress. I daydream. I procrastinate. And then…when the time is right…I write.

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

Susan Lee: It’s a YA contemporary romance with 2 Korean teens from very different backgrounds…but that’s about all I can share right now! ha! I think it’s SUPER cute and funny and I love it!

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

Susan Lee: WRITE YOUR STORIES! It’s the most basic advice…but everything hinges on you WRITING YOUR STORY. So, when things seem overwhelming and there’s too much to think about, bring it back to the core…WRITE YOUR STORY! :)

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

You can read my review of Seoulmates here on the blog.

Author Interview: Emily Lloyd-Jones on The Drowned Woods

Emily Lloyd-Jones author photoEmily Lloyd-Jones writes a range of fantasy novels–both YA and Middle Grade–including one of my favorites The Bone HousesWhen I heard that her latest YA was set in the same world, I was delighted. The Drowned Woods combines some of my favorite things–heists, spies, dogs, and a subtle romance–in all of the best ways to create a story worth obsessing over. I’m very excited to have Emily on the blog today answering some questions about her latest novel.

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

Emily Lloyd-Jones: I feel like my journey has been pretty typical for a lot of writers. I grew up with stories, became really invested in the Prydain Chronicles when I was a kid, never lost my fascination for Welsh legends, and then when I was older decided to pursue publication more seriously. I finished my first real story when I was sixteen. It was terrible, like most first attempts at anything. I wrote more things. I wrote a lot of things. And finally, I felt like I’d written something that I thought was decent—which turned into my debut novel. It was published almost ten years after I finished that first story.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for The Drowned WoodsDid you always know you’d return to the world of your previous novel The Bone Houses?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: I always knew that The Bone Houses was a standalone book. Ryn and Ellis had their adventure—and it was done. And that was good! But I spent years fine-tuning that world, doing research, traveling to Wales, and even crawling around in an old copper mine. So I while I was fine letting go of the characters, I had a harder time letting go of the world.

It helped that when I was doing my research, one of the myths I ran was that of Cantre’r Gwaelod. It was the legend of a kingdom that once existed where Cardigan Bay is now—and the myth was having a bit of a resurgence as they discovered some fossilized trees beneath the surface of the water. I did my research, found many variations of the myth, and in several of them was reference to a maiden who was in charge of a magical well. That lady, Mererid, bore the blame for the kingdom sinking. So I decided that I would tell the story from her perspective.

Miss Print: One of the things I loved about The Drowned Woods is that you really capitalize on the power of a strong ensemble cast. While Mer remains the main protagonist of the story, we also learn more about other members of the crew she joins including Fane and Ifanna. How did you go about integrating all of these backstories into the plot? Were there any details you had to cut while editing?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: At its core, The Drowned Woods is structured as a heist story. And since heists function as ensemble pieces, it made sense to create a cast of characters with different strengths and roles. With a heist crew of six, this book could easily have been way too long—and I didn’t want to bog down the pacing, so I decided to focus only the backstories of the three core characters: Mer, Fane, and Ifanna. I did have backstories written up for every single character—Emrick, Gryf, and Renfrew all have histories—and writing those backstories helped inform their characters throughout the narrative. But I never included those details within the book because it would have made the plot far too unwieldy.

Miss Print: Working off the last question: Who was the hardest character to write? Who was the easiest?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: The easiest character was Ifanna! I have a deep love of snarky side characters, the ones who steal nearly every scene they’re in and then saunter off-page. But one thing I loved writing about her was that even though she is funny and light-hearted, at her core she is a leader. She’s carrying a lot of responsibility and the weight of many people’s lives—so she deals with that by pretending to take nothing seriously.

As for the hardest, Mer was occasionally stubborn at times! I love her character and her journey, but she also had a lot of history and backstory—so while her character came very easily to me, sometimes it was a struggle to balance her past with her present. It was a fun little writing challenge.

Miss Print: Being a spy novel and a heist novel, it’s not a spoiler to say that The Drowned Woods has quite a few twists and turns along the way as secrets are revealed and loyalties shift. How did you manage these plot elements–and how best to reveal them–while drafting?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: Well, I’m very much an outliner so I knew ahead of time which major plot twists were going to happen. However, as much as I detail the plot, I do tend to let the characters find themselves throughout the process of drafting. In particular, one character’s motivation for joining the heist (if you’ve read the book, you probably know who I’m talking about) was very heartbreaking and I didn’t figure out the details until I was actually in the scene. I like to let the characters develop organically as I work on the book, let their relationships grow, and see where it takes me.

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 your characters be handling the pandemic?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: This is a great question. (It also feels particularly relevant, as I just put in my next bulk order of KN95s.) I feel like Fane would be that guy who is delivering groceries to all of his elderly and immune-compromised neighbors while Mer deals with the isolation by adopting many, many dogs. Ifanna would steal a shipment of toilet paper and create her own little black market. Emrick is a natural hermit, so he’d be off with his books and paying for all of his stuff to be delivered to him. Gryf would probably be the guy who went about his business as usual. And Renfrew would be hoping all of his enemies get sick.

Miss Print: Your books often feature amazing animal companions. Fans of The Bone Houses will always have a soft spot for the goat Ryn and Ellis meet on their journey. In The Drowned Woods readers are introduced to Trefor–a Corgi who travels with Fane and may or may not be a spy in his own right. What inspired you to include Trefor in this story? Did you draw on any real-life animals to make him authentic?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: I grew up very rural. We’re talking ‘our neighbors are a mile away and you can hear coyotes at night’ rural. So I spent a lot of time with farm animals. From chickens to sheep, to dogs, and rabbits—I’ve experienced them all. Each of them had very different personalities, wants, and needs. I think that influenced my desire to have animals in my books. They’re always fun!

With both of these books set in Welsh-inspired worlds, I wanted animal companions that would fit culturally. I admit, I did consider using a sheep in The Bone Houses, but… well, I’ll just say it. Sheep are not the smartest animals. And I didn’t think a zombie sheep would be intelligent enough to survive the story. Instead, I made her a goat. Goats are surprisingly intelligent, stubborn, and very loyal.

As for The Drowned Woods, I knew I needed an animal that was closer to the fairy folk and magic of Welsh legends. And in many of those stories, corgis are steeds and messengers for the folk. It just made sense that if Fane worked for them, he would have a corgi companion.

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

Emily Lloyd-Jones: One of the things I love most about being an author is that no day is truly typical. Some days I’m having phone calls with amazing people, other days I’ll be digging in my manuscript for hours only to change a single word. But usually my work days begin with coffee and playing with my two cats, then writing in the morning. I tend to do my best drafting in the mornings and evenings. Afternoons I reserve for administrative work like social media, running errands, and emails. My routine hasn’t changed much during the pandemic, except on my errands I always wear a mask.

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

Emily Lloyd-Jones: I just finished up the last touches on my second middle grade book, Unspoken Magic! It’s a sequel to Unseen Magic, which came out in February. Both books also feature magical forests, although this one is a redwood forest in Northern California and it’s about a small town with strange happenings. (Vanishing teashops! Creepy deer shadows! Doors that don’t go where you want!) I love working in the middle grade world because I allow myself to be a little more whimsical.

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

Emily Lloyd-Jones: Make friends with other authors. Be patient. Learn to love the process. Decide what parts of your life you want to keep private and what you want to share with readers. Celebrate the small victories. Save your receipts. Treat your work as a business because that’s what it is. And never devalue yourself.

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

You can read my review of The Drowned Woods here on the blog.

Author Interview: Jeff Zentner on In the Wild Light

Jeff Zentner author photoJeff Zentner’s latest novel In the Wild Light is a quiet, meditative story about nature, poetry, love, and all of the things that can save us. I don’t have much in common with Cash, so it was a surprise when I identified so deeply with his story, his grief, and his dread of the next calamity. It’s hard to pick favorites in the “Zentner-verse” but I really love the journey Cash and Delaney take over the course of this novel, and I know I’m not the only one. Which is why I’m delighted to have Jeff back today to talk a bit more about In the Wild Light.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for In the Wild Light? Did you always know this book would connect so closely to your previous novel Goodbye Days?

Jeff Zentner: Every time I go to write a book, I think about all the things I love and then I try to somehow write a story that weaves them all together. When I went to write In the Wild Light, I was in love with rivers, poetry, stories about boarding schools (“Dead Poets’ Society” and Looking for Alaska) and stories about geniuses and their best friends (“Good Will Hunting“). In the Wild Light contains all of that DNA. Did I know it would connect so closely to Goodbye Days? No. That’s part of the magic–finding out how my stories connect after I’ve already started them.

Miss Print: This book marks a big change in setting for you as Cash and Delaney travel to New England and far away from everything they know in East Tennessee. How did you go about bringing Middleford Academy to life? Did any real locations inspire the settings in the book?

Jeff Zentner: I did a lot of study of elite private schools like Phillips-Exeter Academy and the like. One of my author friends has a son who attended one of these elite schools on scholarship from Tennessee. He was a great resource to me. Ultimately, I decided I would have more control and creative liberty if I invented a school that’s a composite of several schools than if I used a real school.

Miss Print: One of my favorite things about In the Wild Light is Cash’s journey to not just finding solace in poetry as he adjusts to his new surroundings but also how he finds inspiration to write poetry of his own. Did your own relationship with poetry help inform how you wrote Cash’s own feelings about it?

Jeff Zentner: Absolutely. Poetry has always been the final frontier of writing for me. The thing that scared me the most. I’ve written many song lyrics and then I’ve written several novels. But I’d never really written or publicly shared poetry. I’m wired to confront my fears and this was how I decided to confront my fears. It’s not a perfect way–I definitely hid behind Cash and borrowed his voice. But baby steps.

Miss Print: Working off the last question, what poems or poets would you recommend to readers interested in reading it for the first time? What poems would you recommend to Cash and Delaney?

Jeff Zentner: My favorite poet is a relatively unknown one: Joe Bolton. He has one book available, The Last Nostalgia, and I highly recommend it. Other favorite poets include Ocean Vuong, Marie Howe, Ada Limon, Jim Harrison, Jack Gilbert, T Crunk, Joanna Klink, and Kim Addonizio. I recommend the poems “The Name of Desire” by Joe Bolton, “Dead Stars” by Ada Limon, and “The Cinnamon Peeler” by Michael Ondaatje to Cash and Delaney.

Miss Print: Has living and working through the pandemic changed your writing process? How do you think Cash and Delaney would have managed the pandemic?

Jeff Zentner: I used to write on my phone on my bus commute to and from work. I wrote most of my four books that way. Now, though, I work remotely and I don’t have a bus commute, which means I have to find other times to write. But I do find the time somehow. I recently sold one manuscript and I’m getting ready to submit another to editors. So it’s working. I think Delaney would have spent the pandemic looking for a cure for COVID. Cash would have spent it writing poems. They would have done a lot of facetiming together.

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project?

Jeff Zentner: The manuscript I sold is a verse novel that I cowrote with an incredible YA author and poet friend. The one I’m submitting soon is an adult novel. I’m excited for y’all to read both!

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

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

You can also check out my review of In the Wild Light.

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:

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:

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:

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 The Bone Maker here on the blog.