Friday, August 31, 2012

Taking Risks

I am a daredevil.

No, really, I am.

Okay, stop looking at me like that.


 I swear.

 I am this girl every single day.

Alright, I know. Exactly who am I kidding here? Daring for me is washing dark clothes with white towels. My hair has been the same shade of blond for as long as I can remember. I tend to wear black so much that I look like I’m in a permanent state of mourning. I…I…why am I trying to convince you how tame and boring I am?!! One more example and I just might have to drown myself in chocolate after this post. Because the thing is, I WANT to be a risk taker. I WANT to be crazy and wild and impulsive and just plain old BOLD.

But it’s just not me.

At least not outside of a piece of paper. Writing novels is the one place where I take risks no matter what. And I think more than anything else, it’s what got me picked up by an agent and ultimately a publishing house. You’re probably wondering what I mean about now.
Basically what I’m trying to say is that when it comes to writing I purposely put myself in an uncomfortable position. In the beginning this was just opening up the computer and trying to write, later it was changing my novel from third person past tense to first person present because it felt right for the story—nevermind that I had never written in first person present before—I made myself figure it out. And the biggest risk of all was writing the book that ultimately sold, THE SILO.
 When the idea for SILO first popped into my head I loved it, but it felt way beyond me at that point. It was very much a psychological story told from one girl’s point of view and dealt with issues that I felt were going to be a challenge for me to handle the right way for a young adult audience. Add in the fact that my gut was telling me to write it like it was a dystopian, but in the present and you can see where some of my unease came in. It also didn’t help that when I told an agent about the concept she immediately asked for me to send it to her when I finished (I know you're going WHATEVER right here, but hear me out), confirming what I knew: that the idea was a good one and if it didn’t fly it would be because I screwed it up.
I can’t even tell you how many nights I fretted over that book, how many times I sincerely thought I might not be able to actually manage it. But through it all I made myself risk taking that next step, writing that next chapter, sending the finished manuscript to the agent that asked to consider it seven months earlier. I refused to let myself be overwhelmed to the point of paralysis or play it safe. And I am so extremely happy that I did. I can see now that stepping out in spite of my fear, in spite of all the ways I might've failed helped get me outside of my box, pushed me to think in new ways and quit relying on the kind of writing/stories I felt I was fairly good at. By making a decision to be bold I became bold and so did my story.  
Now if only I could transfer all that writing boldness to the rest of my life. Wait a second, you know what? I AM going to make it transfer. Why not? Starting with my hair…I’m thinking maybe a spicy shade of reddish brown….

So what about you? Are you taking risks? Have a story idea that scares you have to death to write? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!

Over the years Amy has been, among other things, a doll maker, a fondue waitress, a fifth grade teacher, and a stay at home mom. Now she writes contemporary young adult novels full time when she isn’t tackling the Mount Everest of laundry piles and refereeing smack downs between her two very lively daughters. Her book, THE SILO, about a girl whose grown up in an apocalyptic cult and the last few months leading up to what might be the end of the world will debut with Random House in the fall of 2013. You can find her on Goodreads, Twitter, and her personal blog.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

APOCALYPSE NOW: An Interview with Sangu Mandanna, Author of THE LOST GIRL

Eva's life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination—an echo. She was made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her "other," if she ever died. Eva spends every day studying that girl from far away, learning what Amarra does, what she eats, what it's like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready.
But sixteen years of studying never prepared her for this.
Now she must abandon everything and everyone she's ever known—the guardians who raised her, the boy she's forbidden to love—to move to India and convince the world that Amarra is still alive.
What Eva finds is a grief-stricken family; parents unsure how to handle this echo they thought they wanted; and Ray, who knew every detail, every contour of Amarra. And when Eva is unexpectedly dealt a fatal blow that will change her existence forever, she is forced to choose: Stay and live out her years as a copy or leave and risk it all for the freedom to be an original. To be Eva.
From debut novelist Sangu Mandanna comes the dazzling story of a girl who was always told what she had to be—until she found the strength to decide for herself.

Hi Sangu, congratulations on the release of THE LOST GIRL (out yesterday from Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins) and welcome to the blog! I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of THE LOST GIRL, and I absolutely loved it. It's so original – and scary! What inspired you to write it?
Thanks, Emma! Well, I reread FRANKENSTEIN in 2009 and found I really wanted to write a story from the monster’s point of view. It wasn’t until a few months later, though, that Eva began telling me her story. I guess the other thing that made me want to write this book was having had my own experiences with grief and loss. There are huge flaws in the Weavers’ system, but the possibility of getting a lost loved one back, for real, was (and still is, I suppose) very tempting.
What did you enjoy most about writing the book?
I loved the difficult, heartbreak-filled relationships. Eva and her guardians, Eva and Amarra’s family, Sean’s feelings, Ray’s feelings: I think the book, at its heart, is about fraught, complicated relationships between its characters. Exploring them and developing them was really fun (and emotional).
Was there anything about it that surprised you?
To be honest, Eva surprised me all the time. When I started writing her story, I knew only a few things about her. And she kept surprising me with how tough she was, how fierce, how loyal and loving. She’s also very frustrating! As a mother, I shudder to think of having a child like her. She’s always in some kind of trouble, always mere inches away from destroying herself.
What has your journey to publication been like?
Rocky! I was fifteen when I sent out my first manuscript. It was terrible, so I don’t blame the publisher in question for passing. The editor was very nice and encouraging, though, which helped me move on. About six or seven other projects followed, until, seven years later, I hit the right note with the right agent with THE LOST GIRL. It was horrible, getting all those rejections and swallowing disappointment for seven years, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think each ‘no’ helps you write better, learn better and it gets you one step closer to a ‘yes’.
What is a typical writing day like for you?
I really should have a ‘typical writing day’, but I’m not very disciplined and I let my creativity run amok. If I’m not ‘feeling’ it, I don’t write. Which is not a good way to treat your job, but it’s how I work. And with a young baby, it’s very much a case of doing things when I can. That said, I do try to write a few pages every day, and a typical day for me usually also involves a lot of Twitter, work on the blog, admin-y kinds of things (taxes! Fun).
What are you working on now?
A lot of things, actually, and none of them is ‘my next book’ (yet). There’s a Romeo and Juliet-type steampunk project, a reimagining of The Little Mermaid, a time travel romance I may or may not abandon altogether...
And finally, because we’re the Lucky 13s, we love to hear about other writers’ superstitions and good luck charms! Do you have any, and if so, what are they?
I have a lucky troll. My mother gave it to me and she (he?) sits on my desk and (I hope) brings me luck! I also knock on wood a lot. It’s my one superstitious compulsion.
Thank you, Sangu!
Thank you for having me!  

Sangu Mandanna was four years old when she was chased by an elephant and wrote her first story about it and decided that this was what she wanted to do with her life. Seventeen years later, she read Frankenstein. It sent her into a writing frenzy that became The Lost Girl, a novel about death and love and the tie that binds the two together.

Sangu now lives in England with her husband and baby son. Find her online at
You can also find her on Twitter: @SanguMandanna
Sangu Mandanna was interviewed by Emma Pass, author of ACID, which is out from Corgi Children's Books/Random House Children's Publishing in May 2013.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

APOCALYPSE NOW: An interview with C.J. Redwine, author of DEFIANCE

Today I had the pleasure of talking with the fabulous C. J. Redwine, author of DEFIANCE, which is on shelves NOW! DEFIANCE is the first in a trilogy, and trust me, after you read this one, you're going to want more immediately. Here's a little bit about it from Goodreads:

Within the walls of Baalboden, beneath the shadow of the city’s brutal leader, Rachel Adams has a secret. While other girls sew dresses, host dinner parties, and obey their male Protectors, Rachel knows how to survive in the wilderness and deftly wield a sword. When her father, Jared, fails to return from a courier mission and is declared dead, the Commander assigns Rachel a new Protector, her father’s apprentice, Logan—the same boy Rachel declared her love for two years ago, and the same boy who handed her heart right back to her. Left with nothing but fierce belief in her father’s survival, Rachel decides to escape and find him herself. But treason against the Commander carries a heavy price, and what awaits her in the Wasteland could destroy her.

At nineteen, Logan McEntire is many things. Orphan. Outcast. Inventor. As apprentice to the city’s top courier, Logan is focused on learning his trade so he can escape the tyranny of Baalboden. But his plan never included being responsible for his mentor’s impulsive daughter. Logan is determined to protect her, but when his escape plan goes wrong and Rachel pays the price, he realizes he has more at stake than disappointing Jared.

As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can’t be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making.

Hi, C.J.! Thanks for talking with us! Tell us about your road to publication. What twists and turns did you go through in order to bring this book into the world?

Like most writers, when I finished writing my first book (which weighed in at a whopping 135k! o.0), I figured all I had to do was send it out into the world and everyone would line up, eager to publish me. A box full of rejections later, I realized that manuscript was a training ground for my craft, and I sat down and got busy writing another. That second book gained me my awesomesauce agent Holly, but didn't sell. I wrote another. It didn't sell either. I'd now been with my agent for two years without selling, and I was feeling like the poster child for Girls Who Cannot Sell A Book To Save Their Lives. I decided I had nothing to lose, and I jumped to the YA genre (I'd been writing adult urban fantasy) and attacked the idea that scared me because I wasn't sure I had the chops to do it justice. Two weeks after I turned it in to my agent, it sold at auction, and it took me MONTHS to accept the fact that I'd actually sold a book. I've never once forgotten that it took sheer stubbornness and a lot of hard work to get where I am, and that I'm incredibly blessed to be here.

Some people say their book began with a character; others begin with specific plot points or a setting. Which kernel of your story came to you first?

I had the setting first. For years, I'd had the idea of a huge, Leviathan-like creature living underground, but I didn't know what to do with it. Then one day, I saw a picture of a fortress that reminded me of a medieval city-state. I asked myself what would drive people to live in city-states again, and Defiance was born.

I'm fascinated by female writers who can write convincing male narrators in the first person. I didn't understand teen boys when I was a teen, and I don't understand them now. Were the Logan chapters more difficult to write than the Rachel chapters? How does a non-clueless woman go about getting into an initially rather clueless boy's head?

Logan's voice took me a lot longer to nail down than Rachel's. I think that had more to do with the fact that he's so logical and analytical and I am so NOT. I have three sons, two of whom are teenagers, so I don't find it all that hard to get into a boy's head. I've had to hone that skill as a matter of survival around here. :) With Logan, I kept his agenda in mind (as I do with all of my characters), made sure he was approaching things with his rational inventor's brain, and then threw his entire world into chaos by introducing the unpredictable and uncontrollable element of a girl who refused to be boxed into his tidy, logical universe. The result was SO much fun to write.

The world of DEFIANCE contains an interesting mix of preindustrial tools and advanced technology—there are horse-drawn wagons and torches, but there are also complex tracking and surveillance devices. How did you decide which technology was allowed and which was not?

The Cursed One destroyed the previous civilization, and with it, their infrastructure. So, they lost most modern technology (because really, if someone destroyed our ability to have wireless communication and digital this and that, we'd be so screwed) but they didn't lose the knowledge. They no longer had factories or the ability to lay infrastructure between each city-state because of the threat of the Cursed One, but there are some basic pieces of technology that don't require any of that. We can make batteries and explosives out of basic elements, so they have that. And the rest of their tech is all sonar. Sonar can map an area using the echoes of sound, so my characters have figured out how to use the principles of sonar in various pieces of tech. All of the rest of their goodies are old-fashioned--things that can be manufactured without a factory. Swords, knives etc.

Writing fight choreography has always seemed like a daunting task to me. How do you map out your fight scenes? Diagrams? Action figures?

Ooh, action figures! That is TOTALLY what I need. But alas, no. I, um, act it out. And that is very interesting when I happen to be writing in a book store. Which I do about three days a week. So ... yes. And then I send my fight scenes to my amazing friend KB Wagers who is a real life ninja, and she double checks the scene blocking and the weapons use to make sure I've nailed it.

Though this is an action-adventure, plot-packed book, the emotional journey of the characters—especially Rachel—is really the heart of the story. Was Rachel's emotional journey clear to you from the start, such that you could use it as a backbone on which to build your fantastical story? Or did Rachel's journey become clear to you as you threw fantastical obstacles at her?

I had an idea of what her emotional journey might look like when I started, but (as always happens when I write), so many things happened that I didn't anticipate. In the end, it became a story as much about how to survive being broken and how to hang on to hope as it was about how to stand up for justice and fight oppression. I think Rachel becomes a much stronger character through her brokenness. When she starts the story, she's over-confident and she can't imagine failing at anything. By the end of the book, she knows with exquisite clarity what it looks like to fail and still have to pick herself up and move forward.

How do you plan to celebrate your release day? (I hope it involves themed cupcakes.)

Forget themed cupcakes. I'm going for a themed CAKE. We're having a launch party here in my hometown, and my hubby is making one of his incredible cakes. I've requested Baalboden's Wall around the outside edge of the cake, my book cover on the top, and I want him to light my title on fire. He's promised to deliver. I can't guarantee the cake will be edible at the end of it, but it sure will be memorable. :)

Thanks, C.J., and congratulations on your beautiful new book-baby!


C.J. Redwine loves stilettos, lemon bars, any movie starring Johnny Depp, and books. C.J. holds a degree in English Literature from Pepperdine University and now lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, four kids, two spastic cats, and one long-suffering dog. For more on C.J., please visit her website at

You can purchase your copy of DEFIANCE from your favorite local indie bookstore or from Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.

This interview was conducted by Lucky13s member Alison Cherry as part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies—YA, MG, and children's book authors debuting in 2012.

Apocalypse Now: An Interview with Claire LeGrand, Author of THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS

by Jessica Corra

Claire Legrand is the author of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, a middle grade adventure arriving in stores on August 28th.

Victoria hates nonsense. There is no need for it when your life is perfect. The only smudge on her pristine life is her best friend Lawrence. He is a disaster–lazy and dreamy, shirt always untucked, obsessed with his silly piano. Victoria often wonders why she ever bothered being his friend. (Lawrence does, too.)

But then Lawrence goes missing. And he’s not the only one. Victoria soon discovers that Mrs. Cavendish’s children’s home is not what it appears to be. Kids go in but come out . . . different, or they don’t come out at all.

Doesn’t that sound awesome? Claire sat down with Lucky 13er Jessica Corra for a chat.

Jess: Okay. The only question I HAVE to ask is: do you have any lucky charms or superstitions? So let's get that out of the way before I forget!

Claire: Ooo, yes. I ALWAYS knock on wood when I say something like, "that had better not happen," or "everything's going so well right now." If I spill salt I ALWAYS throw it over my shoulder. As for lucky charms, I have several, but my recent are a pair of unicorns given to me by my agent, Diana Fox. One is sparkly and rainbow-colored; the other is metallic and savagely steampunk; she said they encompass both sides of my personality.

Jess: Which brings me to my first question. Anyone who’s popped by your blog can see right away you have a Thing for unicorns. Why unicorns? Do you plan on ever writing a book that actually has unicorns?

Claire: I've always had a fascination with anything horse -- horses, unicorns, pegasi, unicorned pegasi. A lot of girls are obsessed with such things, I think, but I just never grew out of it. And the various interpretations of unicorns embody everything I love -- sparkly hair, tongue-in-cheek pop culture, magic (and, in my interpretation, ferocious combat skills). And, yes, I do have one totally unicorn-centric story in mind for later, as well as a trilogy in which unicorns are featured. Who doesn't want to read about unicorns?! Uncool people, that's who. (Just kidding, uncool people, I totally love you.)

Jess: You have three completely different books scheduled to release one after another, Cavendish, The Year of Shadows, about a haunted music hall, and Winterspell, a retelling of the Nutcracker, (squee!). How did that happen? Tell us a bit about your publishing adventures, and the various types of books you write. What do you keep coming back to, that we can expect from a Claire Legrand book whether it's about unicorns or faeries?

Claire: Oh, great question! You know, I think that a lot when I look at my books: "Wow, they are SO different from one another." One's a Roald Dahl-esque horror, one's a quasi-contemporary ghost story, one's a wild, sexy fantasy. (And the next few on the docket are all pretty different, too.)

Part of the reason for this happening is purely technical; CAVENDISH was sold as part of a two-book contract, so I therefore needed a second book to fulfill the contract. (It was during this time that I attended a symphony concert and was inspired for THE YEAR OF SHADOWS.) I wanted to go ahead and get my YA career started, and I'd had a Nutcracker re-telling brewing in my head for a while; hence, WINTERSPELL was born and sold on a partial submission -- again, as part of a two book contract. (Can't divulge what book 2 will be yet, though!)

So, the nature of the beast here was that I would have four standalone works, four completely separate concepts. I find a lot of different things fascinating; therefore, I write about a lot of different things.

But they all share certain common elements: strong heroines who are not defined by romance, rich friendships, and lots of dark imagery. I love creepy things; I think all of my books will be quite dark, but, to quote the great Dumbledore, "Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light." The greater the darkness, the greater the light; the greater the character's tragedy, the greater her catharsis.

All of my books so far (even the planned but unsold ones) have a lot of fantastical elements, whether that's high fantasy or science fiction or somewhere in the middle. I'd love to write a good contemporary or literary novel someday, but my brain is wired for fantasy.

Jess: I know you're terrified of bugs. So, Cavendish has a lot of bugs. Didn't that bother you to write? How did you come up with the concepts in Cavendish?

Claire: It TOTALLY bothered me to write about the bugs in CAVENDISH. I can't handle bugs. Like, at all. In fact, I once went on this road trip with my friend Brittany, all throughout the Deep South. It was a research trip for a trilogy I'm planning. One of our stops was Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, and the gardens were overrun with bugs. We tried to walk through and enjoy the flowers, but these big black bugs -- I don't even know WHAT they were -- kept dive-bombing us. I recorded the whole trip to the plantation for research purposes, and so much of it is just us screaming and running from those stupid bugs.

So, yeah. Bugs. Bugs = NO. And since they do bother me so much, they were really easy to write about. I was able to infuse all my horror and discomfort into Victoria's scenes with them, and I hope it grosses out readers as much as it does me! Ugh, sometimes just thinking about them makes me itch. But they're endearing, in a way. I have a lot of CAVENDISH bugs (from my giveaways) on my desk. They're like pets. Creepy, ugly pets.

I came up with a lot of CAVENDISH by using things from real life -- my fear of bugs, an orphanage I used to live down the street from, my dad's Stepford-esque town. And Victoria's perfectionism/ obsessive need to get good grades. That is so me.

Jess: The voice in Cavendish is delightful! You mentioned Roald Dahl-esque earlier and that certainly suits. Yet the story didn't feel outdated or old-fashioned. How did you balance that? Your voice is so unique; do your other books sound remotely similar?

Claire: Thank you so much! Creating the voice for CAVENDISH was a tricky balancing act, for sure. I didn't want the book dated at ALL; I wanted it to feel accessible and classic whether someone picked it up tomorrow or fifty years from now. So, as much as possible, I avoided mentioning anything that would date it -- technology, pop culture references, current slang, etc. There are cars and computers in CAVENDISH, but they're extremely peripheral. Basically, it was a lot of work to achieve the voice; a lot of careful word choice considerations and a lot of reading passages aloud in my Victoria voice, which is quasi-British and extremely posh. ;)

My voice differs for each book. CAVENDISH is quirky and old-fashioned. THE YEAR OF SHADOWS is much more contemporary; it's also in 1st-person, so there's a whole different flavor just due to the POV alone. WINTERSPELL is more lyrical, Victorian (the era, not the character!), and darker than the MG novels. I would say, though, that none of them are written sparsely. I love beautiful prose and revel in the sound of words on my tongue, so I don't skimp. Reading books like Veronica Roth's DIVERGENT, where the writing IS sparse (in the best of ways), helps me remember the value of being succinct.

Jess: I loved Victoria as a protagonist. She has definite faults and I love that! Yet her faults also turn out to be her biggest strengths. Can you talk about your character development and writing Victoria?

Claire: I love her too. She IS a piece of work, though, isn't she? I even had some feedback while we were out on submission with the manuscript that Victoria was too prickly and difficult a character. But she stayed pretty much intact during revisions, and I'm glad of it. She came to me fully-formed. One day she just popped into my head, prissy and perfectly coiffed, demanding that her story be told. I said to her, "You know, I think you'd be perfect for this creepy orphanage story I want to write." She said, "Would I be the main character?" Me: "You surely would." Victoria: "Everyone would be paying attention to me?" Me: "Sometimes even people you wouldn't want paying attention to you!" Victoria: "It's a deal."

As I wrote, I put a lot of my snotty 12-year-old self into her. I was never a cold-hearted brat like Victoria can be, and I didn't care about my hair being perfect, but I was obsessed with my grades and could be exceptionally bossy if you weren't doing the group project like I thought you should be.

Jess: Without giving anything away, Cavendish has an interesting epilogue. Why did you choose to include it?

Claire: Honestly? The epilogue is my FAVORITE PART. That was another thing that came to me fully-formed from the very beginning. Some of the book was modified during revisions, but not the epilogue. It just felt necessary; it HAD to happen, and it still gives me chills when I read it. I've always liked endings that leave me slightly, deliciously unsettled. So I knew I had to do that with CAVENDISH.

(If you're interested, you can listen to the music I have for the epilogue on my CAVENDISH soundtrack here. It's the last track on the page, called "Charlie Declines." That will give you a little taste of how CAVENDISH concludes.)

Jess: And I did forget to ask, tell us a bit about yourself. :)

Claire: Well, first of all, I get anxious when anyone says "tell us a bit about yourself," haha. I always feel like I should say something clever or creative, and then my mind clams up and I start making high pitched nervous noises kind of like this. But I'm just gonna go with my gut and do a stream of consciousness thing here:

I live in New York, and I don't always like it. I think I would like it more if I lived in a nicer neighborhood, and whenever I think that, I worry that I'm actually snobbier than I'd like to be. I miss Texas, even though parts of it drive me crazy (like the politics and the 108-degree heat). I used to be a musician, but now my trumpets are in my closet at home, probably growing mold demons or something. If I could, I'd eat pizza every day. I'm a super critical reader. I want to wear hats, but they just look bizarre on me. Sometimes I try one on thinking, "THIS will be the one," but it never is. In my next lives, I will be an interior designer, a production designer, a foley artist, a wildlife photographer (this will obviously be a version of myself that does not mind bugs), a psychic, a rich (but charitable!) socialite, a fashion designer. Oh, and a gymnast.

Ta-dah! Wow, I'm sweating now. Also, I tend to make things more difficult than they really are. ;)

Jess: You are plenty clever and creative! Thanks so much for talking with me on behalf of the Luckies.


Jessica Corra believes in magic, chocolate, love, and words. Her debut young adult magical realism, AFTER YOU, releases in Winter 2014 from Dial BFYR. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

APOCALYPSE NOW: Interview with Jeannie Mobley, author of KATERINA'S WISH

*   "Thirteen-year-old Katerina and her little sisters want to believe in their dreams, but life in a Colorado coal camp threatens to turn them into pipe dreams. Take one maybe-magical carp and three sisters who believe in wishes, stir them together with an evil shopkeeper and add a dash of romance, and you have one dandy first novel. "

 *   "The importance of ingenuity, faith, confidence, and the willingness to dream shine through in a rich story threaded with traditional folk tales, which offers realistic dilemmas and a vibrant setting and cast."
                                                                Publishers Weekly

Thanks for chatting with us today, Jeannie, and congratulations 
on your beautiful *starred* debut!

Thanks for having me!

A central theme of this story is wishing, and working hard to make those wishes come true. Can you tell us about all the wishing and working that got you to this point?

ALL the wishing and working? How much time do you have?

Actually, my journey with writing fiction follows a strange path. I wrote a lot as a kid and teen, but I fell in love with archaeology in grade school, so most of my wishing went toward that career rather than a career as a writer. When I was in my early 30s, I uprooted my entire family and moved to Arizona to enter a top-ranked PhD program in Southwest archaeology. Shortly after I started that program, I read some articles about traditional weavers for one of my courses, and they reminded me of a story I had started in high school and never finished. I was suddenly filled with an overwhelming desire to write fiction. It was terrifying--here I had risked everything to be in this difficult archaeology program and I wanted to write fiction?

That was fifteen years ago, and the desire to write fiction hasn't ever gone away. It was about six or seven years ago that I decided to take it seriously and start working toward publication, partly because it took me that long to improve my craft enough to move forward, and partly because it took me that long to accept that this was going to be a permanent part of my life. By then, I had written three or four "drawer manuscripts" before finally writing one I thought was worthy of publication. So that's when the wishing really started in earnest. For me, getting an agent wasn't too difficult. Getting that first sale was. I think I was down to my last wish before it happened.

Did I hear that a dream was your inspiration for this story?

Yes, but that's where the similarity to Twilight ends.


My dream really doesn't appear in this story. I dreamed I was in a beautiful green valley, and it used to belong to my family, but it had been taken away from us. I was standing on a bridge, looking down into a stream, and a fish rose to the surface and told me to make a wish. And I wished to get our land back. There was more to the dream, but that is the part that sticks with me.

When I woke up, the first thought that went through my mind was, that would make a great novel. I thought about it for several days, mulling over who the characters would be and coming up with a setting (all of which is different from the dream) and then I sat down and started writing. The first draft took me about four weeks.

KATERINA'S WISH is historical fiction. What is your process? Research, then write? Write, then research? A little of both?

A little of both. I have a general background in history that allows me to start writing and get much of the history/historical feel correct without doing a lot of research. When I am in the early stages of formulating a story, I do unconventional research, focused more on getting my head into the era rather than finding accurate details. I read other novels set in the time period, watch period movies, and listen to period music to help me get into the mood of the era, including the speech patterns, slang, and setting. I look up popular names of the era, and spend time browsing through historical photos to transport my own mind frame back.

My next step is to read up on the big details of my story. For KATERINA'S WISH, that included historical books and oral histories on life in the coal mine communities, reading books and travel guides about the Czech Republic to know what a homesick immigrant might miss, and studying photos of company towns to know how they were laid out. This is big picture stuff, and while I do it before I write, I continue it throughout the process.

When I start writing, I often focus first on the flow of the story, so if I am missing a historical detail, I will make a note in the manuscript to look it up later, and I keep writing. If it is a really important detail, I will stop and look it up, but once I start doing research on the internet, I have been known to get lost in it for hours, so I try not to let myself disappear down that path. So after the fact, I have to go back and fill in quite a bit. Sometimes, I find places where I was historically inaccurate and I have to re-write part of the story to correct it, but it usually works out.

Your first career is as an anthropologist. How did your love of history and artifact affect this story?

I'm never quite sure what is cause and effect here. I think the same thing draws me to writing fiction and being an anthropologist: a curiosity about, and love for, the human condition. In both careers I love exploring what we hold in common as humans, and what pulls us apart. I think that is reflected in KATERINA'S WISH, as my characters discover that the people they have stayed away from and distrusted because of ethnic differences, are really just like them. And I hope, too, that my readers will see that my characters of one hundred years ago, aren't that different from people of today in their dreams, ambitions, insecurities, and needs. As an anthropologist, I love the color and diversity of different cultures and places, but central to my work is a constant amazement of what binds us all together as human. In my writing, I try to achieve both a strong sense of setting and character for these same reasons.

We had a lot of fun picking plums in honor of your main character Trina's plum dumplings. The next time I visit, will you also have a chicken hutch in your backyard?

That probably depends on the time of year. Every spring, when I am tired of grading papers, sitting through meetings, and dealing with student disciplinary issues, I have an urge to till up the entire back yard for a vegetable garden, get some livestock, put in a windmill and some solar panels, and go off grid. By late August, when it is hot, and I'm sick of weeding the little corner veggie garden I have, I start looking forward to the freeze so I can be done with it all. As I write this in early August, I am poised between my two annual extremes. I have cucumbers soaking in brine on the way to becoming pickles, and a box of Colorado peaches in the garage, many of which will become jam. I also put up some jars of super-tart plum butter from our mutual harvest, and I'm already plotting to figure out how to get myself invited over to pick your plums again next year.

But if chickens are in my future, you'll be the first to know!

Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Jeannie. I know readers will wholeheartedly love your debut!

Thanks, Melanie, and congratulations to you and all the Lucky 13s as well on your upcoming releases!

You can purchase a copy of KATERINA'S WISH here, and learn more about Jeannie here:

Jeannie Mobley is a Colorado native, whose interest in the stories behind colorful local history was forged through many summers hiking, camping, and exploring the state while growing up. She holds degrees in history and anthropology, and currently teaches anthropology in northern Colorado. Katerina's Wish is her first novel.
This interview was conducted by Lucky 13s author Melanie Crowder, whose middle grade novel, PARCHED will be released from Harcourt Children's books in June, 2013.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Three Things You Shouldn't Say to a Writer

If you’re a writer or you know a writer or you’ve accidentally come across a writer in the wild, then you know that writing makes people a little crazy.  First there are the days (Months! Years!) of struggling to learn how to write (and then write MOAR BETTER).  Then there is feedback, both good and bad, book deals, editors that leave, bad reviews,  and a whole lot more crazymaking than any other gig.  After all, no one asks a lumberjack if maybe he could have cut down a tree a little straighter or with a little more conviction.  Probably because he has a chainsaw.
But beyond all of the maddening sideshow antics and the struggle for perfection that for some reason we authors LOVE, there are the questions from those who maybe don’t understand the writing game the way some of us do.  So here, for your own personal survival, are the Top Three Questions You Should Never Ask a Writer.  After all, you wouldn’t  pull a lion’s tail, would you? (Of course you wouldn’t.  You seem like a reasonable person).

1. Are you working on anything right now ?
You should just always assume that the answer to this is “yes”.  If it’s “no” that means we are suffering from a dreaded bout of any of the following:  Writer’s Block or Writer’s Doubt or Uncooperative Characters or Why-in-the-seven-HELLS-Isn’t-This-Plot-Working-???-Syndrome.  When the answer is “no” we are cranky and out of sorts.  And when we are cranky, things happen.  BAD THINGS.  Things your mother should have warned you about.
Always assume that the writing is going fine, brilliant even.  Otherwise, be prepared for a long, dreary tale of woe concerning weak plot structures, soggy midpoints, and low word counts. You might even be subjected to a read aloud of a first draft.  You are warned.

2.  Will I like your book?
Like most doting mothers and fathers, we are pretty much certain you will fall in LUUUURRRRRRRRVE with our little darlings.  Why?  BECAUSE WE LOVE THEM SO VERY MUCH!!!  But the reality is tastes are personal, and this extends to books.  I love okra.  I like it fried, pickled, boiled, roasted, etc.  I also love plaid pants.  But I happen to know from personal experience that a good percentage of the population hates okra, and there are routine fashion commentaries on the hideousness of plaid pants.  So one taste doesn’t fit all, and this applies to books.*  Will you like our books? Eh, maybe.  But the book’s author is probably not the person to ask.

3.  Why do you write for children?  Are you going to one day write a real book for adults?
This doesn’t even dignify an answer.  But luckily, the brilliant Madeline L’Engle put it best:
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

And there you go!  Now you will be able to talk to a writer without worrying that you might end up a character in a future book…maybe.

*Not my book.  It is brilliant, and you are going to love it.


Justina is awesome.  And she's almost never cranky.  If she is, you can fix her right up by giving her cake.  Visit her at  Her first book, Vengeance Bound, is due out April 2, 2013.  You will love it. Maybe.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Choosing to Write Under a Pen Name

Last names are complicated. They tie us to lots of things: our families. Our pasts. Or, if you're me, The Lion King and an Ottoman grand vizier from the 17th century.

I know what you're thinking: that sounds cool. If my last name made people think of Mufasa, I'd OWN it. So why exactly did I choose to publish under a different last name? Why would anyone want a made-up name on the cover of their debut novel?

Reason #1: The Google Problem
Lots of us share names with other people. But some of us share names with prominent historical figures or celebrities. Imagine your name is Michael Phelps. You will never, ever, be the first hit on a search engine, which means all of your adoring fans will have to work a little harder to find your website. Also, imagine how many people will show up to your book signing and be disappointed because you're not THAT Michael Phelps.

Reason #2: Writing Doesn't Pay the Bills (for the majority of us, at least)
Let's face it: most writers can't quit their day jobs after landing that first book deal. Still, writing is a career, which for most of us, means juggling two jobs. When I found out that I was going to be published, I was planning on becoming a high school teacher. For now, I'm fortunate enough to live at home and focus on my writing career, but someday I may want to teach again. If you want to keep your writing career and your day job separate, or even if you're uncomfortable with your co-workers/students reading your books, a pen name might be an option for you.

Reason #3: Privacy/Anonymity
If you're like me, you imagine holding your book for the first time and shouting, "HELLYEAH! I WROTE THIS!" to anyone who'll listen. But not all writers seek that personal fulfillment. Some really do want the anonymity that a pseudonym affords.

For me, reasons #1 and #2 lead me and my agent to the decision that publishing under a different last name would be better for my career. I'm 100% happy with that decision, even though I get funny looks from friends and family. Some of them have even said: "If it's not your real name, it's kind of like you didn't really write the book." Derp.

What I'd like to say to them is this: I'm fulfilling my lifelong dream of being an author. Big Bird's name could be on the cover of PREP SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and I'd still be the happiest person in the world seeing it on a shelf for the first time.

Can you match these famous authors to their pen names?

A. Richard Bachmann
B. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
C. Eric Arthur Blair
D. Lemony Snicket
E. Esther Pauline Friedman

1. George Orwell
2. Ann Landers
3. Lewis Carroll
4. Stephen King
5. Daniel Handler

(A. 4, B. 3, C. 1, D. 5, E. 2)

Kara Taylor is the author of PREP SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, coming Spring 2013 from St. Martin's Press. Someday, she hopes to own her own bakery. She is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary and Media. Taylor is not her real last name.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Plot Discovery Road Trip

There are a million different ways to figure out the plot of your story and I've tried most. From extensive outlining to discovery writing and every variation in between.

I think of an outline like a road map of my entire trip. It can be as detailed or as flexible as I want. Discovery writing is more like climbing in a car and driving with no particular destination in mind.

I don't know a single author who uses the same process I do. If what they do works for them, then they've found their own "right way" and I don't question it. The thing is, you never know what will work best for you until you try it. I started out as a straight-forward discovery writer, but I'm not one anymore.

I've found the best method for me is somewhere in the middle. I do a very loose outline based on characters and plot twists. I know the beginning and end, the main turning points in the middle, and the basic character arcs.

And then I set out on my trip with my map in hand and ready for an adventure. I don't allow the road map to hinder me. If I want to take a detour, I do. If I want to change my end destination or drop a few passengers off a cliff on the way, I do. But I also don't allow myself to meander aimlessly through cities and towns that only lead to a dead end road.

This method seems to get me through the drafting process with as little pain as possible, and then I can focus on the part I really love: editing.

Yes, I really mean that. :)

Here are a couple of my favorite sites for different outlining methods:

The Plot Whisperer

Story Structure by Dan Wells

And of course, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It is based on screenwriting, but the first book and his "Beat Sheets" are extremely helpful for novel plotting.

What method works best for you? And who else is totally in the mood for a sweet road trip now?


J.R. Johansson loves reading, playing board games and sitting in her hot tub. Her dream is that someday she can do all three at the same time. She is a YA thriller author represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. 

Her debut novel, INSOMNIA, is a young-adult supernatural psychological thriller due to be released in June 2013 with Flux(U.S.), Heyne Fliegt (Germany), & Newton Compton (Italy). You can find her on twittergoodreads, her website, or her personal blog.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An Interview with Nikki Loftin, Author of THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY

Today we welcome Nikki Loftin to the Lucky 13s blog. Nikki’s debut middle-grade novel, THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY (Razorbill), hits bookstores today!

About the book (from IndieBound):
"A deliciously spooky middle-grade debut that's Coraline meets Hansel and Gretel.

Lorelei is bowled over by Splendid Academy--Principal Trapp encourages the students to run in the hallways, the classrooms are stocked with candy dishes, and the cafeteria serves lavish meals featuring all Lorelei's favorite foods. But the more time she spends at school, the more suspicious she becomes. Why are her classmates growing so chubby? And why do the teachers seem so sinister?

It's up to Lorelei and her new friend Andrew to figure out what secret this supposedly splendid school is hiding. What they discover chills their bones--and might even pick them clean!

Mix one part magic, one part mystery, and just a dash of Grimm, and you've got the recipe for a cozy-creepy read that kids will gobble up like candy.”

Hi, Nikki, and congratulations! What was your road to publication for this book like? How long did it take to find an agent and a publisher for THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY? 

Wow, "the road to publication." That makes it sound so straightforward, and like I knew where I was going or how to get there! Let me stop laughing at THAT idea. 

While The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy will be my debut novel, it wasn't the one that originally attracted my agent, Suzie Townsend. I signed with Suzie in 2009 on a funny middle-grade "boy book," and we were both certain that one would sell. But no such luck--we went through two rounds of submissions, and decided together to let it rest. Of course, while on submission with that novel, I was being a very good writer, working on my next novel, and the next. The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy is the fifth full-length manuscript I finished, and it sold relatively quickly! My editor told me it was the first manuscript to cross her desk when she was hired at Razorbill in January 2011, and I had an offer in a few weeks!    

Has THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY been the book’s title from the start?

Not even close! The working title was The Gingerbread School, since the story is loosely based on Hansel and Gretel, set in a charter school. By the time we sent it out, it was just Gingerbread. And when Razorbill bought it, one of their stipulations was that I be willing to change the (admittedly, not very exciting) title. Sure thing, I thought. How hard can finding a new title be? 

Little did I know, we would go through somewhere close to one hundred different titles before settling on The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy. I adore it! So glad we kept on hammering at it.  

There’s much talk these days about whether kids can handle the darker aspects of fairy tales. Did you worry that parts of THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY would be too harsh for kids? Did you back away from certain storylines, details, or events, fearing they’d be too gruesome?

An excellent question--I'll try to answer it without too many spoilers! When I began writing this book, I kept shying away from the darker parts of the mystery--forcing the story away from what it wanted to be (if that makes sense). And then one day, I was stuck. I had no idea where to go with the story. But I had learned in my previous novels that whenever I hit that sort of roadblock, I needed to back up and figure out where I had gone wrong. In the earliest draft of this book, the playground was not nearly as sinister. I called a friend when it dawned on me what crucial, um, ingredient was missing from the sand...and she convinced me to trust my instincts. I made the changes, and the rest of the story unfolded like magic. Scary, dark magic. 

As to whether I was worried about kids being too disturbed, well, I read my works-in-progress aloud to my own two children (who were seven and ten at the time). I figured if I was willing to read it to them right before bedtime, and they could handle it, it was probably not too harsh. I think adults sometimes forget how important stories are for kids--and not just light, whimsical ones. When my main characters overcome a truly powerful, even evil force? I hope that will be empowering for young readers. And very, very exciting. 

Are you a writer who plans a lot, or a seat-of-the-pants writer, or something in between? I liked, for instance, how the mother storyline and the school storyline were linked by the idea of bones, and I was wondering whether that link was there from the start of the writing process.

Thank you! (And thank you to my subconscious, for linking the bones storylines up. That connection was there from the beginning, actually.) Once upon a time, I was a seat-of-the-pants writer all the way. Sometimes, I still do that--it's fun and feels very organic. Usually, I write about ten to twenty thousand words, to see if the story is falling into place, or merits a whole novel-length treatment. Then, I'll go ahead and sketch out a rough outline, always leaving in some room for mystery at the end. In my experience, when I've known everything that was going to happen in a story before I wrote it, it came out predictable and canned. My subconscious is smarter than me! 

These days, when working with my editor, I tend to outline a bit more in advance, to save time in revisions. :) But I'm always amazed at how much of the intricate workings of plot is already present in even my very first drafts. I take no credit for it--my subconscious/muse does it for me. 

Weird fact: my writing process involves a startling number of naps. The faster I write, the more I have to sleep. I wonder if I can write off my sheets and pillows as a tax deduction?

What’s next? I saw that you had a two-book deal.

My next book is another fairy-tale re-imagining—I'm obsessed with fairy tales. This time I'm working with Hans Christian Andersen's tale of the Emperor and the Nightingale, except the "nightingale" in my story is a girl with special, strange abilities.

I can't say any more—it's still in the works! I think it will come out early in 2014, but release dates change all the time. We'll see. :) 

How do you plan to celebrate the day/week/month of your book’s release?

I'm thrilled to announce I'll have a book launch party at our local indie, Bookpeople, in Austin. I'll do giveaways, including small golden bowls of M&Ms for every child. (If you read the book you'll get it.) Then while they're sitting there, eating their candy, I'll read the section from the book that warns against it...and act very concerned and shocked that the poor, unsuspecting audience members have fallen into my sweet/sinister trap. 

Okay, I know. I'm having WAY too much fun with this. 

I'm also hoping to do another signing in my hometown, with appearances in the schools I attended. And I will definitely toast the launch day with the lovely champagne flutes my best critique partner/friend gave me when I signed the deal! 

And lastly—this is a Lucky 13s thing—do you have any superstitions or other luck-related habits, particularly with regard to writing?

Yes. I have to have chocolate within reach of my computer, or the novel in progress will be a complete failure. 

Or maybe that's just an addiction, not a superstition? Whatever. I'm sure TERRIBLE things would occur should I ever run out of chocolate, not that it's likely I ever will.  


Nikki Loftin is a writer and native Texan who lives just outside Austin, Texas, with her two boys, two dogs, a variable number of chickens, and one very patient husband. The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy is her first novel.

You can find Nikki at

This interview was conducted by Lucky13s member Elisabeth Dahl, whose debut MG novel, GENIE WISHES, will be published by Amulet Books in the spring of 2013 ( The interview is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies—YA, MG, and children's book authors debuting in 2012.