Author Interview: Marisa Noelle

It was my pleasure to interview Marisa Noelle, author of The Shadow Keepers and the upcoming series, The Unadjusteds. Both are Young Adult SF/F. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I do.

~ The Haunted Wordsmith


What is one book that you would recommend be on everyone’s reading list?

Argh! Always such a mean question! How can I choose just one?

Big breath…going in, I think what stands out for me is Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy. (Look, I got three in there!) It’s an upper middle grade novel, but when I picked it up as an adult I didn’t know that! It sweeps you away to magical places so effortlessly and I enjoyed it so much I forgot to analyse the writing. It’s one of those books that can appeal to all ages.

With a background in psychology and an interest in horror and thriller movies, what led you to write for children and young adults?

I have always adored horror books and movies (Not the slasher kind, more of the spooky, spine-tinglers). The odds always seemed so remote for the hero to survive, and yet they do (in most cases). So I think I was drawn to the idea of good triumphing over evil even when winning looks unlikely. Of course, in recent times, many movies are now left on cliff hangers or don’t have happy endings, which I find equally compelling. Secondly, the psychology of the criminal mind has always fascinated me. What makes a person decide to commit a crime (whatever that may be)? I first explored this in horror movies and then in a psychology degree. I’ll never forget learning about the concept of bystander non-intervention; there have been several cases of victims murdered with a vast audience and no one calls the police. It flabbergasted me that this could happen and I wanted to know why. (I do – but that’s a long explanation!).

So of course it follows that these areas which have engrossed me will be the subject for my novels. I love to delve into the deep and dark.

As for writing for young adults, there is only one very simple answer – I merely listen to the voice inside. I think, when I first became fascinated by the criminal mind, I was a teenager, so it’s that voice that now shapes my stories.

Inquiring minds want to know–You state that you love Ben & Jerry’s ice cream; what is your favorite flavor?

Haha! There are three and I can’t possible choose: Peanutbutter cup, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough & Chocolate Fudge Brownie. Obviously!

What is the best part about being a writing mentor?

The best part about being a mentor is watching my mentees grow. When they improve their writing under my direction and I see all the hard work they’ve put in to progressing, it’s the same as feeling like a proud parent. When they go on to shortlist in competitions or gain agents and publications, you feel that you hand a hand in their journey, that you helped them negotiate the nest, spread their wings and fly away. There is no feeling more rewarding. And even if none of that happens for them, you have made a friend for life and can cheer each other on in your journeys.

Your readers already know that you prefer to write anywhere that is quiet, but what other habits or methods helped create The Shadow Keeper?

I don’t think I have any particular methods. My writing friends tell me I write super fast, so maybe that’s my MO? In truth once I have the idea of what I want to write and have spent a couple of weeks plotting it out, I just sit down and write. I can get a first draft out in four weeks, if I’m lucky. I sue a spreadsheet to plot and develop my character bios. I always ask my characters for 5-10 life-defining memories. Whether these make it in the book doesn’t matter, but it helps me understand who my character is and what baggage they might be carrying that will affect their decisions. When I’m editing, I have a checklist (different for every novel) of the area I want to revise. This can be anything from fleshing out a secondary character to tightening a particular scene or looking for filter words.

I’m very driven, so every minute the kids are at school I am on my laptop writing, trying hard not to think about what I’ll do during the school holidays! When I’m in the zone, I often forget to eat lunch. As much as I love tea, most of the time a cup goes cold before it’s half drunk!

There are several sensitive subjects in The Shadow Keepers. Were you every cautioned not to have her mental health play such a key role?

I was never cautioned to reduce the role of mental health in The Shadow Keepers. It is a key component and one that I tend to explore often. I think that young people need to see themselves reflected in books more accurately, whether it’s a mental health condition, a skin colour, a learning difficulty or their gender identity or sexual orientation. And it’s important for the book to not be ABOUT the issue, but to include the issue. I’ve had an anxiety disorder and OCD for the last 20 years, so I feel very comfortable exploring these areas in my novels.

What drew you to create The Shadow Keepers and your upcoming trilogy, The Unadjusteds?

For The Shadow Keepers, the site of Brookwood hospital is ten minutes from where I live. It has since been turned into luxury apartments but there are rumours that the building is haunted by the old residents of the hospital. The idea of that fascinated me so I researched the history of the hospital and thought it would be a fantastic setting for a novel. My father also worked as an orderly in a very famous mental hospital in Boston during the Vienam war and the stories he told me about how the patients were treated and what constituted therapy were appalling. I think it’s then I had the idea to set something in a mental health hospital.

For The Unadjusteds, my inspiration came from a series of things. Part of my fascination with the human mind also spilled out to the human body and I studied Biology at A-level. There was a module on genetics and I quickly became engrossed in the subject. My brother became a genetic scientist and so we’d always had interesting discussions. When Dolly the Sheep was cloned in Scotland in 1996, this furthered my interest and I began to think about the possibilities of genetic enhancement. Designer babies are already possible. I wanted to write a novel that explored the ethical boundaries. How far do you go and where do you draw that line? 

How long did it take The Shadow Keepers to be accepted for publication after you completed the manuscript? One thing that many writers and aspiring writers want to know, is how many rejections did you receive before it was accepted?

The Shadow Keepers was not a novel I queried widely and so didn’t have many rejections. I pitched it during DVpit on Twitter and the rest is history.

The Unadjusteds, however, has been through many, many rejections. Although I found my first agent relatively quickly (6 months) and received around 40 rejections, it never sold on sub. We sent it to publishers twice and it was rejected by everyone. (Hunger Games killed dystopian!)

When I found my second agent (6 months again and maybe 100 rejections) we re-drafted and sent it out on sub. At the same time I pitched it during Pitmad and that’s where it was picked up.

I am agentless again at the moment and have been querying an MG novel. I have sent over 200 queries. I’ve had 150 no responses/rejections, ten full requests and the rest are still considering.

Perseverance is the name of the game!

Is there any of you in your characters?

Always! In all of them. I don’t think I could write a character without a little of me leaking in somewhere. Sometimes they are also who I want to be!

What is one piece of advice that you would give all aspiring writers?

I mentioned it before. Perseverance. If you give up, you’ll never get anywhere. The rejections hurt. And you need a tribe to share it with who can support you. So keep going, and find your support network. 

The Young Adult genre is currently experiencing growing pains as darker and more mature themes filter down from Adult Fiction, what do you see in the future of YA and Middle Grade literature?

I think that the industry is realizing children don’t need so much protection from true life events, and that books can introduce difficult themes at one step remove, so that kids can be aware of certain pitfalls and subconsciously prepare. Sheltering children only sets them up for a shock later in life. But obviously, all subjects need to be treated sensitively and with the appropriate language.

The future of children’s literature is hard to predict, but I expect that we will see more horror in MG (I was always sneaking Dean Koontz and Stephen King under the bed). There is a big shift to focus on to MG at the moment, but I hope that YA will swing back around; these things usually are cyclical. I think we will also see the emerging category of ‘teen’ books engage a better presence and perhaps even the re-emergence of new adult. At the end of the day, everyone wants to be able to identify with a book, and that means we need to cater to all ages.


Meet the Author

Marisa Noelle is the writer of MG & YA SFF & mental health novels. The Shadow Keepers is due out July 2019, The Unadjusteds in November 2019 & The Mermaid Chronicles – Secrets of the Deep at the end of 2019. When she’s not writing or reading or watching movies, she enjoys swimming. In the pool she likes to imagine she could be a mermaid and become part of some of her make-believe words. In the water, she can ignore the real world and focus on the plots of new novels and scenes. She lives in Woking, UK with her husband and three children. 

You can find Marisa on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Learn more about The Shadow Keepers and The Unadjusteds.

Be sure to pre-order today on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the Book Depository

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Book Review: The Stories In Between

The Stories In Between
by River Dixon
Indie Published
Published on 11 June 2019
ARC provided by River Dixon
Pre-order today on Amazon


Description:

Tears. Screams. Laughter.

Once we step inside, there’s no choice but to finish the ride.

In this collection of short stories, River Dixon’s unconventional and sometimes controversial style provokes the reader to understand the unimaginable and to relate to the undesirable; to see love and find hope in places from which we’d normally look away from in horror. Our best and worst assumptions of humanity are challenged as we are forced to seek comfort in the uncomfortable; spiraling out of control in the absurdity of the everyday mundane, interlaced with the madness of the unthinkable and the unlikely.

Who knew losing your mind could be this much fun?


My Review

If you read my review of Dixon’s children’s story, you know I appreciate his writing voice.

There are thirteen stories in this collection. Here are short descriptions for six of them showing Dixon’s range and collection theme.

  • In “Little Voice,” Dixon takes the reader through a man’s psychosis as he battles against a small voice that turned up one day emanating from his belly. This story was a bit disjointed at the end, but reminded me of several wonderful low-budget horror movies from the 80s.
  • “With Love” explores family relationships and the lengths a child will go to in order to please her father. I was not a fan of this story, but that is not because of Dixon’s writing.
  • “The Dinner Guest” is a strange tale fit for the Twilight Zone that follows a man’s preparations for a dinner date in his home while his mother looks on–and critiques, of course. This story has a few laughs and a character that makes you feel sorry for them.
  • In “The Example,” Dixon explores the power of the Christmas spirit in the seedy underbelly of organized crime. If you are a fan of violence and vulgarity, then this is a story for you.
  • “The Case of the Missing Pillow” is a short piece involving a husband, a wife, a missing pillow, and Dixon’s violent twist. This story was short and the characters felt flat and left me with more questions than answers.
  • “Under the Floor,” is a tale waiting for a superhero to swoop in and save the day, and when that call is made, they send the plumber. This was a wonderful sci-fi story that felt like a cross between Dr. Who’s adipose and the Blob. This was my favorite story in the collection.

Overall, I enjoy reading Dixon’s work even though I am not a fan of some of the content. Some lines just don’t need to be crossed because we have too much of that anyways.

Readers who enjoy gritty stories, sci-fi, speculative fiction, and horror will enjoy this collection.

My rating: 3.5/5

Note: It was difficult for me to give this rating, but if there is to be violence, especially violence involving children, then it should have a necessary purpose and well-developed characters. This rating has been influenced by my personal opinions and should not be taken as a reflection of Dixon’s writing or how well another reader may, or may not, enjoy the collection.

Author Interview: Chris Tebbetts

If you love Middle Grade books as much as I do, then I am sure you recognize the name Chris Tebbetts. It was my great pleasure to interview him regarding his life, his work with James Patterson and Jeff Probst, and his upcoming YA novel, Me, Myself, and Him. I hope you enjoy this interview!

~ The Haunted Wordsmith

Photo credit: IndieBound

You write on your website that you watched a lot of television growing up, what were your favorite shows and was there one that influenced your writing style?

My favorite shows (the ones that first come to mind) were Zoom, The Brady Bunch, The Jetsons, The Carol Burnett Show. But as for a show that influenced my writing style, I’d say it’s more true that television in general, and the fact that I watched so much of it, is what impacted my style. For better or worse, I like to write stories that respond to my own short attention span, with fast-moving plots and an emphasis on story over description or internal monologue. To whatever degree it’s pointed me in a less literary direction, I think it’s also given me pretty good commercial instincts and, even better, a style that appeals to so-called reluctant readers. I love to hear about kids who found a new enthusiasm for books by getting turned onto one or more of my quick-reading page turners—especially in a time when authors have to compete more than ever with the allure of the various screens that dominate our lives these days.

Many writers and aspiring authors love to hear other writer’s processes. Where do you like to write, and is there a particular method you use to create your stories?

99% of the time, I write alone, at home, and in silence. I’ve always liked solitude, and that serves me well as a writer—especially one as easily distracted as I am. I find that my process goes infinitely better if I give myself the physical and psychic space I need to get those words down on the page.

As for the methods I use for creating stories, I’m always evolving. I used to be someone who created and worked from outlines all the time, with a good idea of my overall story arc from the beginning. However, in the past several years, I’ve been outlining less and discovering my stories on the page (as we say) more. That approach is more organic, but also more labor intensive, since it means I end up writing a lot more material that doesn’t wind up in the finished book. For example, the first finished draft of my new book, ME, MYSELF, AND HIM clocked in at 120,000 words, which is a lot! But by the time I’d finished editing, rewriting, and cutting out everything I didn’t need, that same story crossed the finish line at just over 60,000 words. That’s an extreme example, and more than anything, I know that every project is different, so I try to approach each story with a minimum of assumptions about how I’m going to get it done.

Finding that elusive publishing deal comes with a lot of setbacks. One question that many aspiring writers have is how many rejections did you receive until you found the one that said yes?

My trajectory was a little different than the classic zillion-rejections story you hear from so many writers. The first novels I ever wrote were work-for-hire, which is to say, I was hired to write someone else’s idea. In this case, it was a four-book middle grade fantasy adventure series called THE VIKING, which I wrote for a book packager, Alloy Entertainment, and which they sold to Penguin Puffin for publication.

For me, that was a kind of shortcut to becoming a published novelist—and a real trial by fire as well. I’d never written a novel before, and I was given all of eleven months to write the entire series. It was a lot of work, and I learned on the fly, but by the end of that year, I had four books under my belt. The trade off, of course, is that I don’t own the copyright for those books. Work for hire isn’t a choice everyone will want to make for themselves, but in my case, it was a completely acceptable compromise that allowed me to bypass the mountain of rejections I might have otherwise accumulated on my way into the publishing game.

You have achieved well-deserved success as co-author with James Patterson and Jeff Probst, what was it like working with them?

I’ve heard a lot of stories from writer friends who have found the co-authoring process to be really difficult, but for me, I’ve really lucked out in the collaborations I’ve found.

On the MIDDLE SCHOOL series that I write with James Patterson, he comes into each book with a fully developed, chapter-by-chapter outline that I then draft into a polished first version of the story. I send pieces of those drafts to Jim once a month and he’ll respond with comments along the way. When the story is fully written, Jim then takes my draft and rewrites it to completion. I’ve found that our mutually spare writing styles have a real compatibility, and I’ve learned a ton from him about boiling down scenes and chapters to their very essence, which is part of the appeal to our readers.

With Jeff, who knows all about storytelling through his own t work but hadn’t ever published a children’s book before, the collaboration involved a lot more back and forth from the very beginning. We worked together by phone and email to develop our characters, setting, and castaway plot for our STRANDED series before the actual drafting began. That process was heavily aided by the fact that we shared a common language in Jeff’s show, Survivor, which has always been an absolute favorite of mine. It was just a freakishly happy coincidence that when Jeff went looking for a co-author, he approached an editor I’d worked with before, who gave him my name—and it all went from there.

What is one book that you recommend to everyone?

I’m going to cheat a little and make several recommendations in multiple categories….because who can choose just one?

For writers (and creative people in general), I recommend FREEPLAY: IMPROVISATION IN LIFE AND ART. For readers of adult fiction, my latest big recommendation is PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee. For readers of YA fiction, I’m a huge fan of ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell. And for readers of middle grade fiction, I’m going to say, THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman. I just finished that book and it’s one of the best things I’ve read in quite a while.

Did you always want to write for the Middle Grade and Young Adult audience?

No, but I was always an aspiring storyteller of one kind or another, through my lifelong interest in books, theater, and filmmaking over the years. My years in professional theater (including a lot of children’s theater) laid the groundwork for what would eventually be my transition to writing, and specifically, writing for young readers.  

In your upcoming novel, Me, Myself, and Him, Chris Schweitzer faces the age-old question of “what-if” through parallel timelines. What was the inspiration for this novel?

The first inspiration was the incident that sets the story itself into motion. The prologue of this book is autobiographical, about a drug-fueled accident I had at age nineteen, where I broke my nose and got into a lot of trouble with my parents, appropriately enough.

However, once I started writing the book, it took on a life of its own, and I started exploring the alternate realities that may have flowed from this accident. In one timeline (in the book), Chris is busted for what happens and sent to live with his famous but difficult physicist of a father for the last summer before college. In the second timeline, Chris lies about what happened and spends the summer trying to stay on top of that lie, among other things.

I’ve had a longstanding fascination with certain areas of theoretical physics—which totally sounds like I know more than I do. For me, though, the basic idea of the multiverse—that there is some scientific basis for the existence of various realities—is fascinating. The two parallel timelines in my book, following my character Chris through two outcomes from the same inciting incident, stand as a symbol of the infinite possibilities in every situation. In the book, we get to experience two of those realities as a kind of marker for the infinite number of other possibilities that aren’t explored on the page.

Lastly, I have to add that the movie Sliding Doors is a reference point for this book as well. That was the first time I ever saw someone tackle the idea of parallel outcomes, although it’s a conceit that has been popularized over the years.

Do you share any traits or qualities with Chris?

For sure—starting with his first name. That was a deliberate choice, of course, since this story is in some small part memoir, mixed with a much heavier dose of fiction. Beyond that, the book also draws on a lot of the emotional truths that were part of my experience at that age. For example, Chris Schweitzer (my protagonist) is out and comfortably gay. That wasn’t true of me at that age, but I certainly experienced some of the alienation that he does, as his friends start hooking up and leave him feeling like a social third wheel.

What is one takeaway that you hope your readers find in Me, Myself, and Him?

That what we know as “true” always exists in some larger context. It was important to me, as I explored the two parallel stories in this book, that the reader get to see some of what Chris does and doesn’t learn about the people in his life, depending on the circumstances. By the end of the book, each of my two Chris’ comes away with overlapping but distinct understandings about the events of the story as he’s lived it.

Is Me, Myself, and Him a standalone book, or will we see more timeslip stories with Chris?

I don’t know for sure. Part of that will depend on how this book sells. That said, if there is going to be a sequel, I already know exactly where and when it takes place, though I’m not sure about the larger story yet. I guess we’ll file this one under “wait and see.”

Even though Me, Myself, and Him will not be released until July 9, 2019, what can readers expect to see from you in the future?

I have two finished projects waiting to publish with James Patterson—a collection of short stories for middle grade readers and an adult thriller, both coming out in 2020. And I’m currently working on a solo middle grade novel that is nothing like ME, MYSELF, AND HIM. But my superstition being as it is, that’s all I can tell you about it!

Cinnamon rolls play a part in the story (I am positive readers are dying to know the best way to eat a cinnamon roll), what was the best cinnamon roll you ever ate?

OMG, how to choose?? I like the ones that take their cinnamon filling seriously, not just a whisper of cinnamon with a bunch of unflavored dough. And no raisins, for sure! (Not that I have strong opinions about it or anything…. ☺)


Meet the Author

Chris Tebbetts is the author and co-author of many books for young readers. Titles include the #1 New York Times bestselling MIDDLE SCHOOL series, as well as PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO, with James Patterson and illustrator Laura Park; the New York Times bestselling STRANDED series with Jeff Probst; the young adult novel M OR F? with Lisa Papademetriou; and THE VIKING series. Watch for his new young adult title, ME, MYSELF, AND HIM in July, 2019. Tebbetts’ work has received children’s choice awards in Oregon and Hawaii, as well a Sunshine State Young Readers Award nomination, and a nod on the New York Public Library’s annual list of Books For the Teen Age.

You can find him online at www.christebbetts.com and on Twitter and Instagram @christebbetts.

Author Interview: Malayna Evans

It was my privilege last week to interview Malayna Evans, author of Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh. This is a fantastic Middle Grade historical fiction that will be a must read for any fan of The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan.

~The Haunted Wordsmith

You have an amazing author’s website, did you create that yourself?

Thanks for saying that. My day job is working with brands on content, including websites, so I had a head start, plus some terrific web designers to help translate the ideas in my head into a real site. It was strange doing it for myself, rather than for a brand, but I worked hard to take my own advice. I’m always telling clients it’s important to focus on audience and think through how different people might use the site. For me, that meant, for example, creating content for teachers, which turned out to be a lot of fun. I’m pretty proud of my Jagger Jones themed escape room activity. I created it for educators to use in the classroom when teaching about Egypt, but I broke it out for my daughter’s birthday party and the kids loved it, which made my little writer heart happy.

As a child growing up in Lehi, Utah, did you ever think you would travel the world and become a writer?

Well I definitely had high expectations of my life. Lol. And, I was a serious bookworm as a kid. Fantasy books took me out of that small town and into world full of magic. I wanted to see the things I read about and I’ve been lucky to achieve some of those goals. I like to believe I’ll tick more off in the years to come. I’m nothing if not optimistic.

I’m not sure when I started to want to be a writer, but I had it in mind when I went to grad school. I think I believed I’d be a writer the same way my daughter used to think she’d grow up and be a mermaid. I wanted it, but I didn’t truly believe I’d pull it off. Even now it’s sort of surprising that I’m accomplishing this life long dream. I remind myself often to enjoy where I’m at—it’s so easy to get caught up in all the things one isn’t accomplishing, it’s important to stop and pat ourselves on the back from time to time.

Many aspiring writers love to hear about writing methods. Where do you do most of your writing, and is there a process that allows you to write so quickly?

For me, it’s all about combining my writing goals with my daily single mom routine. That means I write while my daughter is at the gym, in the car waiting for my son, locked in my bedroom during play dates. Basically I’ve learned to steal moments where I can. If I waited for the perfect opportunity, I’d still be on my first draft. That said, nothing feels as luxurious to me as a good 3-4 hour stretch when I can really focus, ideally at a coffee shop. But usually I have to settle for an hour here, a few hours there. I drag my laptop around and pop it out anytime I have a pause. I usually think about my characters at night. I plot their next moves in bed, the shower, driving. So the ideas might tumble around my head all day, then I get a free hour and jot the thoughts down. Between you and me, it’s the editing I’m still trying to figure out—that bit comes harder to me.

Writers are always curious about how many rejections someone received before hearing that final yes. What was your experience with Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh?

In my experience, it takes incredibly thick skin and a lot of patience to move forward in this business. A dose of luck helps too. I’d queried dozens of agents before I found my fabulous agent … who has a loved one named Jagger! You can’t plan that kind of thing. Sometimes the universe just helps you along.

You have taken the indirect route to becoming an author, but your background in Egyptology certainly prepared you to write Jagger Jones. Did your background give you an advantage when it came to crafting the setting and historical elements?

Absolutely. I really wanted to capture the spirit of ancient Egypt in this book. There weren’t really giant scorpions and magical amulets, but ancient Egyptians believed amulets had magical power and that scorpions were creatures of chaos so those object made into the book.

My background made the setting and history easy. But beyond that, I was very intentional about making Jagger, and his little sister Aria and their Egyptian friends, face obstacles that were, in one way or another, fundamentally Egyptian-ish. (Not a word … but it should be!). For the solutions, I tried to merge the ancient and the modern. So, for example, when the kids are attacked by killer Apep snakes while sailing the Nile, their magician sidekick knows the spell to repel them. Unfortunately, she needs wax to cast the spell and has none at the moment. Little sister Aria mines gum from her purse and voila, snakes defeated. Again and again, Jagger and his crew merge modern objects or technology with ancient artifacts or beliefs to solve problems. And yes, the many, many, many years I spent studying the culture were essential in crafting the ancient part of that puzzle.

The cover for Jagger Jones is wonderful. Did you have creative input or did Month9Books develop the cover?

I love the cover so much. The South Side Chicago meets ancient Egypt vibe reflects the story perfectly. And the kids look just like my two. I don’t think many people know that most authors don’t get much input when it comes to their cover art. But Month9 was really great about working with me. They took my feedback and ideas. We really worked together—me, Month9 and my agent–but the final masterpiece was theirs and I couldn’t be happier.

Middle Grade readers love historical fiction. Do you think that with books like Jagger Jones and The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan, we will begin to see more adventures in history?

Ah, I love you for putting Jagger Jones and the Kane Chronicles in the same sentence. 😉

I hope so! I think Rick Riordan’s books have helped open up the opportunity for new writers like me to combine historical fiction and fantasy in a way that is both entertaining and educational. Kids will learn a lot about ancient Egypt reading Jagger Jones and, best of all, they won’t really notice the education they’re absorbing while they read.

Jagger Jones is book one in a trilogy. What can we expect in the future?

Well I don’t want to give too much away, but lets just say fans of Aria will, I hope, be happy with book two. There’s more ancient Egypt, more magic, more historical people, places and artifacts, and more adventure.

Jagger and his sister, Aria, were inspired by your children, is there a character in your story that was inspired by you?

Well the single working mom has a bit of me, but mostly I was inspired by my kids. Jagger looks like my son and they share a sort of over the top protectiveness towards their little sisters, but that’s as far as the similarities go. At some point, the characters took on their own characteristics. The little sisters, however, are a bit more alike—mine is every bit as sassy as Aria.

Even with your PhD in Egyptian History, was there something that surprised you while researching Jagger Jones?

I feel a little bad admitting this, but I didn’t do research. My first stab at the story was drenched in history—so much history it was a boring read. As an historian, my challenge was to find a way to let the storyteller take the reigns and push the history to the background. I spent years studying ancient Egypt, so I already had a wealth of knowledge in my head. When I focused too much on the pedantic details I lost the magic and the adventure, so while there may be a few arcane particulars some Egyptologist out there will quibble with, I hope they agree that I’ve capture the spirit and effectively incorporate some fascinating people, places and artifacts.


Meet the Author

Malayna Evans was raised in the mountains of Utah and spent her childhood climbing, skiing, reading Sci-Fi, and finding trouble. Many years later, she earned her Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history from the University of Chicago. She’s used her education to craft a middle grade, time-travel series set in ancient Egypt. Book one, Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, is out in May of 2019. Malayna spends her time writing, sharing her passion for ancient history with kids, and haunting Chicago’s best coffee shops. She lives in Oak Park, Il, with her two kids, a rescue dog, and a hamster. 

You can connect with Malayna on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and her website. Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh can be found on Amazon and Indiebound.

Author Interview: Clare O’Connor

Last year, I had the great honor of reading an advance reader copy of Skateboard Sibby (published by Second Story Press on March 18, 2019) and subsequently got to know the author through Twitter. Now you get to learn a little more about Clare, her process and experiences, and Skateboard Sibby. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.

~ The Haunted Wordsmith


Congratulations on Skateboard Sibby! How long did it take for Sibby to go from completed manuscript to published book?

Thanks Teresa! And thanks so much for including me in your blog. I’m really honoured to be part of your author interview series!

It took about six years for Skateboard Sibby to go from completed manuscript to published book. The reason for that duration was that I thought it was completed long before it actually was 🙂

The original version was about 5,500 words and I started sending it to publishers as an early reader. After some rejections – and something inside telling me there was more to the story – I started going to workshops and trying to improve my writing skills. I knew I needed to grow as a writer before I could take the book where it needed to go. In the mix of all that, my mom got sick and I took huge chunks of time away from writing.

When things finally came together, I was able to dedicate a whole summer to finishing – as in really finishing – the manuscript. That was in 2017. In September, I sent it to Second Story Press. I really felt Sibby belonged with them. Thankfully, they agreed, and we signed a contract six months later.

One question that many writers have is: How many rejections did you receive from agents and publishers before Sibby found her home?

I haven’t queried many agents, which is something I plan to change with future manuscripts. But, when querying Sibby, I focused almost exclusively on publishing houses. In terms of how many rejections I’ve had, I’ve lost track. I was submitting Sibby and another middle grade manuscript at the same time, so it felt like there were a whole lot of rejections coming my way all at once.

Sibby is such a great character; how did you create her?

Thanks Teresa. She is a really fun character and I adore her. I took a whole lot of time to get to know Sibby. That’s the benefit of revising a manuscript so much. I learned to let her talk to me and to understand her point of view as well as the actions she was likely to take.

How much of you is in Skateboard Sibby?

In answering this question, I could write a book! There are many aspects of Sibby’s personality that are similar to mine. But she is also very independent of me. I really respected the fact that I needed to get to know her as her own person and to learn where we were similar and completely separate. For example, Sibby makes bold decisions, but they are often the result of fear-based judgement. I understand wanting to make some of the decisions she does in the book but wouldn’t. And not because I’m a better person. It’s because I think too much, and she takes action too quickly. However, I like to think we both learn from our mistakes 🙂 We are also definitely the same when it comes to wanting to be in motion in order to think clearly. For Sibby, it’s being on her skateboard. For me, it’s swimming or running.

How much research went into Skateboard Sibby? Were you already familiar with skateboarding terms?

I was a skateboarder as a kid, although I was never even close to being as good as Sibby. I also love watching skateboard competitions. I just cannot wait for the 2020 Olympics when skateboarding has its debut. For Sibby’s passion for her sport to be as authentic as possible, I researched everything, including the culture and language. I watched countless YouTube videos. I remember seeing a great clip featuring a group of kids playing SKATE. That video inspired the final competition between Sibby and Freddie.

Authors, like parents, don’t like to play favorites, but who is your favorite character in Skateboard Sibby?

I really do love them all. However, there is definitely something about Charlie Parker Drysdale that makes me want to spend a little extra time with him. I love his point of view and he just makes me smile.

Will we see more of Charlie Parker Drysdale?

I would love to write a whole book about Charlie Parker Drysdale. However, unless my publisher tells me there is an interest in doing this, I don’t think so.

Who inspired you to become a writer? Was there a book that made you want to write one yourself?

I always wrote stories and always wanted to be a writer but didn’t see a path toward becoming one. I was well into adulthood (and becoming more and more dissatisfied with the career choices I was making) before I decided to take action and get serious about writing.

Besides writing, what other hobbies or interests do you have?

I love reading and swimming and spending time with my family and good friends. I also have a three-year-old, so my hobbies are generally impacted by what’s happening with her these days. I spend lots of time at playgrounds, making cool things out of Play Doh and Lego, and taking my daughter out on her bike or scooter. She’s smart and lots of fun and I love her company. She loves watching people skateboard!

Have you taken writing classes? If so, do you think they made a difference in your writing skills and abilities?

I have taken lots of classes, but it wasn’t until I had completed a manuscript (very rough draft) that I felt the workshops made a difference for me. I’m a hands-on learner.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

Definitely.

What is one book you would recommend to everyone?

All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey, which I just finished. Before reading this book, I would have said Chasing the Milkyway by Erin Moulton or Wonder by R.J Palacio. But All the Impossible Things is the kind of book that makes you think you’ll never be happy to read another one because it can’t compare. The story, the characters, the writing, the messages…all just amazing and so important.


Meet the Author

Clare O’Connor lives and writes in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is the author of Skateboard Sibby, a middle-grade novel about dealing with changes and learning to hear your own voice. You can learn more about Clare by visiting her website or following her on twitter

Book Review: My Life in Lists

My Life in Lists
Written by Nicole Barlettano
Published by Quarto Publishing Group – Rock Point
Published: 07 May 2019
ARC provided by NetGalley


Description (Amazon):

Revolutionize the way you plan, create, and record your day-to-day experiences with My Life in Lists. Here, talented artist Nicole Barlettano has created beautifully illustrated collection pages for you to start filling in your thoughts, dreams, and lists of favorites as you push past planning into the wilder possibilities of a free-form journal.

Catalog the rodeo of ideas and distractions constantly rattling around in your brain as you fill in these pages, with collections that include exercises in self-discovery and gratitude, but also a place to record important information and track your progress on ongoing projects.

Combining mindfulness with productivity, these thoughtfully designed collections will take you beyond basic journaling to help you manage your life in this crazy world: Life Goals, Achievements & Milestones, Book Tracker, Music Tracker, Idea Page, Un-Do List, Dear Diary, Movie Tracker, Self Care To-Do List, Acts of Kindness, Travel Bucket List, Then vs. Now, Yearly Check-In/Resolutions, What Worked/What Didn’t. Improve every aspect of your life with this exceptionally useful journal.


My Review:

Barlettano’s book took me back to my pre-teen years when list journals seemed to be all the rage. There were lists for everything under the sun. When I saw this offering on NetGalley, I thought it would be fun to revisit old times. It was, but I also look on it differently now as an adult.

This “Illustrated Journal to Record Your Loves + Goals + Dreams” is exactly what it says and nothing more. Barlettano has divided the journal into three parts: Lists about your Past, Lists for the Present You, and Lists to Plan Your Future.

Some of the list topics are fun and original, such as “What to Binge Watch” and “What’s in My Bag” but many are generic subjects that can be found in most journals or online diaries.

As Barlettano writes in a short “how-to” at the beginning of the journal, it is best to use a pencil when writing the lists because things will change as you change.

Each list is illustrated with different designs or themes, which adds to the journal, but many of the illustrations seemed very “girly” and immature. I am sure there are a lot of people who would find these illustrations wonderful, but I am not one of them. That aside, this journal is well organized and will stimulate introspection for many users.

Overall rating: ❤ ❤ ❤

Book Review: The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day
Written by Christopher Edge
Published by Random House Children’s
Published on 09 April 2019
Arc provided by NetGalley

Description (Amazon):

As in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, math and science inform this mind-bending mystery about a girl who must work with the laws of the universe and trust the love of her family if she is to set her world right.

It’s the morning of Maisie’s tenth birthday, and she can’t wait to open her presents. Maisie is not a typical kid. What she wants most for her birthday are the things she needs to build her own nuclear reactor. But she wakes to an empty house, and outside the front door is nothing but an unsettling, all-consuming blackness–a shifted reality. Even for super-smart Maisie, these puzzling circumstances seem out of her control . . . or are they?


My Review

Edge’s book is something else (and unfortunately not in a good way). The description sounds really cool. Who can’t love a science geek story combined with a family story? I am actually wondering where that book is, because The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day is not that book.

Sure, it has a lot of math and science concepts, and it has a strained sister relationship, but what it just comes across as a jumbled mess. The story unfolds through alternating chapters. One where Maisie and her family are together, and one where she is alone in the house in the vacuum of space. The alternating chapters weave two different stories together until the last few chapters, then it gets really weird.

I do not want to spoil the ending of the book, but it still has me questioning what the heck did I just read. It took me nearly six weeks to get through this book because it is just not a fun read. If I had to compare the book with other books or films, it would be an even more dysfunctional Zathura meets Dr. Who with a little The Lovely Bones thrown in just for an out of the blue twist.

I like Zathura and I love Dr. Who on their own…they do not really work well together…and neither did this book. Although I can see it appealing to some middle grade readers.

My rating: ❤ ❤ ❤