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GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Mindy McGinnis, Author of NOT A DROP TO DRINK

Today I’m very excited to introduce Mindy McGinnis. She wrote one of the most harrowing tales of survival I’ve ever read. Her book, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a gritty, gripping read and I reveled in every page of it.

Not a Drop to Drink Cover

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it…

 

There are quite a few post-apocalyptic stories these days, but yours has an incredibly unique twist. What inspired you to write about about water of all things?
The idea of a water shortage is something that sounds ridiculous – how could we run out of water? But, unfortunately it’s not that far out. I watched a documentary called BLUE GOLD which planted the seed of an idea. I went to bed that night ridiculously grateful for the small pond in my backyard. I dreamt about teaching a young child how to operate a rifle to help me protect the pond. I woke up knowing I had a novel there.

Lynn is a very willful main character. Yet at the same time, she still retains a sense of empathy. What was your favorite thing about writing from Lynn’s perspective? What surprised you about her?
Lynn is very tough, but that doesn’t mean she’s cold. She has to learn how to be not only a survivor in a brutal world, but also a human being. She was raised entirely by her mother, and had never even spoken to anyone else in her life, so there are some things she’s completely unaware of, like humor or flirting. What surprised me about her was how quickly she realized she couldn’t make it alone – protecting the pond, harvesting food, gathering water and cutting wood – without trading labor with her neighbor Stebbs once Mother is gone. She isn’t *happy* about admitting that, but she’s put common sense above pride, and I was glad I didn’t have to waste pages talking her into it.

I’ll admit it – next-door neighbor Stebbs was my favorite character. His wry humor provided a wonderful counterpoint to Lynn. What was it like developing the side characters of NOT A DROP TO DRINK?
Here’s where I admit Stebbs is my favorite character too! Man, I love that guy. The best thing about Stebbs was that I didn’t have to develop him at all – he simply was, from the beginning. Any time Stebbs walked into a scene, he owned it.

Lynn and her mother have a complicated relationship. They’re very close, but combative at the same time. How did you go about creating Lynn’s family life?
It was hard to imagine what teenage rebellion would look like when the only person you’ve ever met is your mother! I knew like all teens Lynn was going to question Mother’s choices at some point, but they’ve lived a life where Mother’s choices have kept them alive for years. Lynn literally owes her life to Mother, many, many times over. The sacrifices that Mother has made for her are without count, yet Lynn’s still going to wonder if there’s another way at some point. She couldn’t idolize Mother, yet she couldn’t question her overly — obviously the woman knew what she was doing. It was a fine line, but I think Lynn could alter some of the perspectives Mother had taught her without losing respect for Mother.

One of my favorite things about the book was the vivid struggle for survival. The dangers, human and environment alike, felt very real. What research did you do for this book? Did you draw from any real life experiences?
I did do some research, mostly about the very real threat of water shortage and cholera. One thing that I needed was a way to purify water without using any technology, and I was lucky to have remembered an article I’d read years ago in a National Geographic issue regarding the SODIS method. Using plastic bottles and the suns UV-A rays, you can get clean drinking water in 6 hours. Nice, huh? In the realm of real life experiences I can say that I didn’t need to research growing and canning your own food, or about rifles. These are both things I’m familiar. And, much to many people’s surprise, I also didn’t need to research how to field dress (gut) a a deer. I know how. 😉

You really didn’t pull any punches with the story. There are some tear-jerker moments, including quite a few I didn’t expect. How did you decide this was the story (gritty tragedies and all) you were going to tell?
That’s the thing about any story I write — I’m not actually writing it. All my stories write themselves. I’m just a conduit. One moment in particular (involving Neva) I wasn’t expecting either. It happened and I pulled my hands away from the keyboard and said, “What did you just do?”

What are you currently working on? Any future projects for us to be excited about?
Right now I’m working on a revision for a Fall 2014 release from Katherine Tegen Books, and I recently signed a contract for two more YA novels with Katherine Tegen slated for 2015 and 2016. So, I’m pretty busy!

As this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d love to know two or three books that inspired you as a kid!

I loved A Wrinkle In Time (the entire series), and The Black Stallion books. I read them obsessively.

Thank you for joining us, Mindy! 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mindy McGinnis Head ShotMindy McGinnis is a teen librarian who lives in Ohio. You can visit her online at www.mindymcginnis.com or on Facebook and Twitter @MindyMcGinnis.

Emily Lloyd-Jones lives on the western edge of California, where she works in a bookstore by day and writes YA novels by night. She’s addicted to coffee & the internet. When not writing, she’s usually online or playing with her neurotic cat. She wastes a lot of time on Twitter. Her debut, ILLUSIVE, will be released by Little, Brown in the spring of 2014.
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GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Caroline Carlson, Author of THE VERY NEARLY HONORABLE LEAGUE OF PIRATES #1: MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT

Today we’re here with Caroline Carlson, author of THE VERY NEARLY HONORABLE LEAGUE OF PIRATES #1: MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT. I had the privilege of reading this book early, and it is SO fun, whimsical, humorous, adventurous, and action-packed! Or, as they say in pirate speak, Arrrrrr, ye be wanting this here book, and here be the reason why, matey, in the form of the official flap copy:

Pirates! Magic! Treasure! A gargoyle? Caroline Carlson’s hilarious tween novel The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot is perfect for fans of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events and Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society.MagicMarksSpot_hc_c

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword.

There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.

But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.

Written with uproarious wit and an inviting storyteller tone, the first book in Caroline Carlson’s quirky seafaring series is a piratical tale like no other.

SHIVER ME TIMBERS! Ahoy! Ye landlubbers ought to read this beauty–or I shall make ye swab the poop deck! Arrrr!

Caroline, upon hearing so many pirate terms right in a row, pops into the room.

“AVAST, YE BUCCANEER,” I shout at her. “WALK THE PLANK!”

After a pause, I hang the jib and quietly remove my eyepatch, bandana, sword, and stuffed-animal parrot. “Forgive me mutiny,” I say, still donning my most terrific pirate accent. “But ever since I’ve read about Hilary’s adventures I can’t stop being a pirate.” I tip my hat in apology and then remember that I asked her here for a round of pirate-y (and not so pirate-y) questions…

LM: Where did the idea for THE VERY NEARLY HONORABLE LEAGUE OF PIRATES: MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT come from?

CC: I thought it might be interesting for you to see some of my very earliest notes about MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, since I think they give a pretty interesting look at the evolution of an idea. Here’s the very first seed of the story, written about a year before I started drafting seriously:

a girl who tries to enroll in Piracy, but the admissions office refuses her application and instead forwards it to Young Ladies’ Finishing School. told partially in letters, postcards, ads, business cards, magazine clippings. imaginary world, very humorous.

I’m actually sort of surprised by how accurate this quick description turned out to be. Of course, the next thing I wrote wasn’t quite as true to the way the book ultimately turned out:

Cecily Kent escapes en route to (or directly from) the Finishing School, finds herself answering a want ad from a former/current pirate. Something about a wise woman who grows herbs in her garden. Maybe the pirate lives with his mom. Finishing School people come after her; they are also semi-powerful witches (Cecily’s mom was a garden witch but she has no powers herself). Everyone gets tangled up in some sort of journey/quest//treasure hunt during which Cecily gets to experience the high seas, etc. There is some sort of adorable sidekick…. Maybe a faux talking parrot – a talking rabbit? A talking…something else?

Over the course of my brainstorming notes, Cecily Kent becomes Hilary Westfield and the wise woman with herbs disappears, as do the witches. I abandon the idea of a talking rabbit (thank goodness) for a talking gargoyle, and my pirate gentleman no longer has to suffer the indignity of living with his mom. My notes get closer and closer to the final version of the story until, finally, I hit upon this idea:

The buried treasure is MAGIC.

If you’ve read MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, you’ll know that this idea is at the crux of the plot; it’s crucial to the story’s conflicts, and it shapes the setting and characters. But how did I think of it? With many pages of rambling about talking rabbits, I guess.

Also, I think I should state for the record that in my earliest notes about Hilary’s mentor, the pirate Jasper Fletcher, I refer to him as “the Cary Elwes pirate guy.”

HA! Cary Elwes pirate guy is the absolute BEST character note I’ve ever heard! You officially win at life, Caroline. Anyway, it’s amazing how much your story ideas evolved and changed! When you finally were ready to sit down and write MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, was the plot fully formed, or did you change things as you went along? Essentially… are you a plotter or a pantser? And what is your writing process like?

I’m mostly a plotter. Before I start writing a book, I like to know very specifically what will happen in the first 20 pages, and I like to have a general idea of what will happen after that. I also need to know what the climax of the book will be, and I usually have ideas for one or two scenes I’d like to include along the way.

I actually did very extensive prewriting for MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT; this was unusual for me, but I was a student at Vermont College of Fine Arts at the time, and my advisor, Martine Leavitt, asked me lots of questions before I began drafting: What does your main character want, and why can’t she have it? What is the moment of the story when her quest becomes hopeless? What is her moment of epiphany? How will the story’s ending mirror its beginning? I won’t lie: These questions intimidated me, and I couldn’t answer several of them right away, but just thinking about them helped me understand the broader shape of the story right from the very first draft. Now I challenge myself to think about all of these questions whenever I start a new story.

As much as I love to plot, I’ve also found that if I plot too much, I end up stifling my story because I don’t leave room for all those little moments of inspiration that can happen during the day-to-day writing process. For me, what seems to work best is knowing the broad strokes of the story in advance but leaving the details up in the air until the last minute.

As far as my writing process goes, I almost always write in chronological order, I try to write 1000 words a day (though I don’t always succeed), and I am physically incapable of writing a truly messy draft. This means I revise as I go, so I’m a fairly slow writer, but my first complete draft of a book is usually decently close to the final version. (And by “decently close,” I mean that I will only have to re-write a third of the book from scratch. For MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, I ended up re-writing the final third of the book from scratch. For its sequel, I re-wrote the first third of the book.)

Rewriting a third?!? WOW, that’s intense! I admire your dedication! And I love your description of plotting in advance but also leaving room for surprise inspiration. Was there a particular scene from the book or character that tumbled onto the page differently than you had imagined? What surprised you most about your own story?

The character who took me the most by surprise was Claire, Hilary’s roommate at finishing school. I hadn’t planned for Hilary to have a roommate; Claire just popped into existence out of nowhere as I was writing the scene in which Hilary arrives at school, and I decided to let her hang around for a while. Claire has turned out to be one of my favorite characters, and she’s very useful: She writes letters to Hilary throughout MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, providing crucial information about the situation on the mainland, and she provides a little comic relief when life gets tough for Hilary. Unlike Hilary, she’s not from a privileged background, and she loves traditionally girly enterprises like dancing and dressing up, so she’s often able to offer a point of view that contrasts nicely with Hilary’s. On top of all that, she’s very important to the plot of the second and third books. I can’t imagine the series without her, so it’s hard for me to believe that she started out as an unplanned whim.

Well, I LOVE Claire, so I’m glad she popped into existence, and I’m very excited to hear she’ll have a major role to play in the second and third books! Speaking of second and third books, what has publishing a series been like, and how do you think your debut experience differs from the debut experience of an author who is coming out with a stand-alone?

I didn’t originally conceive of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT as the start of a trilogy, but from pretty early on, I could tell that it was the sort of book that might be able to support sequels: I still loved the world and the characters I’d created, and there was still plenty of good storytelling material that I hadn’t gotten to use in the first book. So when HarperCollins very generously offered me the chance to write two more books about Hilary and the pirate league, I said yes right away.

Having three books under contract is obviously a wonderful thing–barring catastrophe, I’ll have three books published, and I can make plans for the trilogy as a whole without waiting to find out if my publisher will be willing to pick up book 2 or book 3. I feel very fortunate to be in this position. But writing a series comes with a whole new set of creative and psychological challenges, too. You want readers who loved your first book to feel that the second and third books are worthy companions; you want to continue the story, ramp up the tension, and ensure that your characters grow and change. Oh, and you need to figure out what happens in those second and third books.

From talking to my fellow Lucky 13s, I know that writing a second book can be difficult for any author. You have to deal with worries that your second book won’t live up to your first, or that you are a one-hit wonder who will never be able to write a decent sentence again. If that second book is under contract, you might worry that you’ll let down your editor or your publisher; if you’re not under contract, you might worry that your new book will simply never sell. And when the second book is part of a series, you are learning how to write a series at the same time that you’re wrestling with all of the normal second-book jitters. I think what I’ve discovered over the past year is that writing a second book is immensely challenging, no matter what, and I’m thoroughly impressed with every author who achieves it!

Well, I’m sure you’ll prove equal to the challenge! I’m very glad HarperCollins offered on two sequels; I can’t wait to have more Hilary, gargoyle, and the rest of the Pigeon’s crew in my life! Speaking of your publisher, what was the most surprising thing about the publication process? And what was the most exciting part for you?

Hmm, good questions! The most surprising thing for me has been realizing how many people work incredibly hard to create a book. Of course I knew that agents and editors and designers and publicists and marketing teams and artists were all part of a publishing team, but I have been constantly humbled by how much thought, care and effort each person has put into making this book the best book it can be. MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT started off belonging only to me, but now it belongs to lots of wonderfully talented people, and it’s so exciting to see all of that collaboration come together in the finished book.

As for the most exciting part of the publication process, I’ve had lots of lovely moments so far, but the most exciting was the very first time a child read my book.

Awwww real live middle grade reader?!? That’s so cute! And it’s so lovely to hear about the team supporting MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT. Forgive the non-sequitor, but I was hoping we could do a speed round of questions….

E-readers or physical books? Physical books!

Fantasy or realistic fiction? Either, as long as it’s clever and engaging (and maybe even funny).

Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates or a Freelance Pirate Crew? Freelance pirates!

Parrot or gargoyle? GARGOYLE.

Eye-patch or peg-leg? Eyepatch.

Morning writing session or night writing session? Morning, definitely.

Writing with music or writing with silence? Silence–I’ve tried writing to music, but it just doesn’t work for me.

Rainy writing day or sunny writing day? I’m much more productive on sunny days.

Long-hand or computer? Computer.

Coffee or tea? Tea–particularly Yorkshire Gold tea.

And most important of all: cheese or chocolate? Chocolate is nice, but cheese–well, cheese is the food of the gods.

You are SO right about cheese. It’s DIVINE. One last question for you: as this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d love to know two or three books that inspired you as a kid!

HALF MAGIC and its companion books by Edward Eager are some of my all-time favorites; I love how they combine fantasy, humor, and wonderfully likable characters. I also adore the ANASTASIA KRUPNIK books by Lois Lowry, which are completely hilarious and also feature great characters who’ve stuck with me for years.

Arrrrr, thanks for joining us, Caroline!

CarolineCarlsonThanks for having me on the OneFour KidLit blog, Lauren! It’s been so much fun!

Meet the Author:

Caroline Carlson is the author of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, a funny and fantastical seafaring adventure for young readers. She grew up in Massachusetts and holds a BA from Swarthmore College and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Caroline lives with her husband in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, amidst many stacks of books.

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches way too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous, Toecorn-loving witches—is forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in Summer 2014.
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GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Kelly Fiore, Author of TASTE TEST

Today on the blog we’re interviewing Lucky13 author Kelly Fiore, whose debut young adult foodie contemporary, TASTE TEST, releases TODAY!

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

If you can grill it, smoke it, or fry it, Nora Henderson knows all about it. She’s been basting baby back ribs and pulling pork at her father’s barbeque joint since she was tall enough to reach the counter. When she’s accepted to Taste Test, a reality-television teen cooking competition, Nora can’t wait to leave her humble hometown behind, even if it means saying good-bye to her dad and her best friend, Billy. Once she’s on set, run-ins with her high-society roommate and the maddeningly handsome—not to mention talented—son of a famous chef, Christian Van Lorten, mean Nora must work even harder to prove herself. But as mysterious accidents plague the kitchen arena, protecting her heart from one annoyingly charming fellow contestant in particular becomes the least of her concerns. Someone is conducting real-life eliminations, and if Nora doesn’t figure out who, she could be next to get chopped for good.

With romance and intrigue as delectable as the winning recipes included in the story, this debut novel will be devoured by all.

TASTE TEST is contemporary YA set in the world of contemporary cooking shows – a seriously awesome combination. What shows inspired the book, and did any of the contestants you’ve seen inspire the characters?

Top Chef was certainly a big influence in terms of the cooking – particularly the momentum of the challenges and the Contestant Interviews, stuff like that. But the actual characterization was more inspired by shows like Gossip Girl, Glee and Vampire Diaries. I watched a lot of Dawson’s Creek on Netflix when establishing Nora’s rough-around-the-edges exterior – she is very Joey Potter in my eyes and that’s totally intentional.

I will say that Marcel Vigneron from Top Chef Season Two definitely gave me some ammunition for some of Christian’s self-importance and backhanded “zingers” when sparring with Nora.

Southern food and barbecue are definitely the highlighted cuisines in the novel, though everything sounds delicious. What cuisine is closest to your heart and why?

That’s a good question – I’m a big fan of cooking local, fresh ingredients. Throughout the country, they have CSA programs – these are “Community Supported or Sustained Agriculture” and it involves getting a “share” of food from local farms. We’ve done this for four or five years now and it’s been amazing to work with ingredients literally just off the vine or out of the ground. When it comes to recipes, I think that my best dishes are the ones I grew up eating – my mom’s recipes. Maybe they just taste best because of the history and family connection, but they are called “comfort food” for a reason, right?

You have an MFA in Poetry and have studied under some really great writers. What are the odds of us seeing some in future novels, or even a novel in verse?

I’d say the odds are pretty good that you’ll see it in the future – not a novel in verse, necessarily, but poetry is never too far behind for me. Things I’ve written, lately, I can start seeing how it’s feeding into my prose. It’s pretty gratifying. I knew I’d use that poetry degree one day! 🙂

I couldn’t help but notice while I was already anxiously awaiting the release of TASTE TEST that you sold another book, JUST LIKE THE MOVIES. What can you tell us about the follow-up to your debut?

That it was a BLAST to write and research – this is the first time I wrote from alternating perspectives and it was so great to develop two teen girls with such different backgrounds and the same love of movies as each other (and me.) And I will say that the infamous Say Anything scene with John Cusack and his boom-box has gotten a 21st century makeover in my book 🙂

As this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d like to know what two or three books inspired you as a kid.

My favorite book as a smaller child was Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban. I loved all the “Frances” books, but that one in particular had great food descriptions. I think it says a lot about why I wrote about food in my debut.

My favorite book in elementary school was Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. I LOVE THIS BOOK. If you are trying to teach figurative language, or you just want a refresher for yourself, this book and it’s metaphor and description are invaluable. I re-read it every couple of years and I always get something else out of it each time.

***

Kelly Fiore Picture 3Kelly Fiore is a foodie, a Fiat owner, and a hair metal enthusiast. She lives in Maryland with her husband and son. TASTE TEST is her debut novel.

You can add TASTE TEST on Goodreads, or buy it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, Powell’s, and wherever else awesome books are sold!

Dahlia Adler is an Assistant Editor of Mathematics by day, a Copy Editor by night, and writes contemporary YA and blogs at the Daily Dahlia and YA Misfits at every spare moment in between. She lives in NYC with her husband and their overflowing bookshelves. Her debut novel, BEHIND THE SCENES, releases from Spencer Hill Contemporary on June 24, 2014.
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Gettin’ Lucky: An Interview with Erin Richards, Author of VIGILANTE NIGHTS

About VIGILANTE NIGHTS (taken from Erin’s website):

A “good boy” will do anything for vengeance when a gang rite kills his twin sister. Will Lucas win, or follow his sister Silver into the darkness?

After a hideous car wreck, Lucas wakes from a coma to find that his world is gutted. Not only is his beloved twin sister, Silver, gone forever, but Lucas is broken in body and spirit. He will never be a college athlete, and is robbed of what he now realizes was the most important bond of his life. Although they weren’t identical twins, Lucas and Silver shared a bond so fierce it defied reason, and was nearly supernatural.

After her death, that bond seems to endure when Lucas sees Silver everywhere he turns. Either he’s crazy, or Silver is trying to tell him something about the California gang initiation they stumbled into that cost Silver her life. Lucas is bent on revenge, turning on Raymond, Silver’s former boyfriend; the one Lucas never wanted her to date. He forms a posse of vigilantes to take out the gangsters responsible for Silver’s death, but he risks not only his own life, but the love of the new girl on his block, who knows more about Lucas and Silver than can be accounted for by mere chance.

This is your first young adult novel, but you have two published adult romances. Why did you decide to write a YA novel? Do you plan to write more YA?

My muse has multiple personalities! When I started writing adult romance novels that’s what I was reading. People say write what you read. But the first book I ever wrote when I was eighteen was for young adults, and I really wanted to go back to writing YA. I gave it a go and wrote my first YA novel from a girl’s POV. I had so much fun writing the novel, I was hooked. The next book I wrote was Vigilante Nights. I don’t plan on giving up on writing adult romance, but I really like writing for teens. There’s something fresh and innocent about teenagers coming of age in any setting, whether contemporary, supernatural or SF&F that appeals to me. It takes me back to my own childhood and the type of books lacking back then.

Can you tell us a bit about your path to publication? How did you get your agent, and then how long did it take before she placed your novel at Merit?

I decided to submit Vigilante Nights to publishers on my own. At that time, I had just heard about Merit Press, the new YA imprint of F+W Media, and I was able to get early submission guidelines from my editor of another F+W Media imprint. When I read the guidelines, I thought Vigilante Nights would be perfect for Merit. I submitted to them (nail biting commenced) and within two months, the acquiring editor, Jackie Mitchard—NY Times bestselling author—emailed to tell me she wanted to talk. A new round of nail biting commenced. I was heading out on vacation and she was traveling so we didn’t connect for a couple of weeks. After a few rounds of emails, I received the offer to publish on August 28. After I picked myself up off the floor, happy dancing ensued!

I still wanted an agent to represent me and negotiate the contract. Right off the bat, I contacted Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary. I had connected with her on a couple of other novels and we had informally met that summer standing in line together at an RWA convention book signing, no less! Within ten minutes, she responded to my email, and agreed to read Vigilante Nights. The next day, she offered representation.

Can you tell us about how you got the idea for VIGILANTE NIGHTS?

The novel I wrote at eighteen was originally inspired by S.E. Hinton’s classic novel, The Outsiders, one of my favorite all time novels. Memories of gang activity and street racing from my teen years also played a role in the plotting. My story had stayed with me for years, and I always wanted to update and write it with a fresh outlook and more experience. Vigilante Nights bears only slight resemblance to that long-ago story, but Lucas’s coming of age in a time of tragedy remained constant.

Although it’s listed as contemporary, you have a paranormal element throughout. Was it natural for you to mix those genres?

Yes, it was very natural for me to mix supernatural or magic realism with a contemporary setting. I love all things paranormal whether it’s a lightweight element based on science or psionics or a heavier mythical creature element. My first romance novel, Chasing Shadows, is similar in that it’s a contemporary romantic suspense and the main character has telepathy. I’m currently writing a YA romantic suspense novel and the main character has a deep intuition that’s almost clairvoyant.

The novel begins with a teen’s death during a Mexican gang initiation and continues with tense moments related to the gangs’ criminal activities. Did you have any concerns about handling the racial issues, including slurs used by the characters?

Even though you all know this, it bears repeating: Vigilante Nights is a work of fiction and the views expressed by my characters are not my views. I tried to remain sensitive to this issue while also keeping it real and maintaining the authenticity of the issues, the story, the setting. My main character’s best friend is half-Mexican (who himself uses a racial slur against another Mexican).

It was never my intent to offend anyone, and I tried to keep a filter on my teenage characters. But Vigilante Nights is intense and emotions run high. Most people say things they may regret in the heat of the moment, in anger, fear, grief, and I didn’t want to treat my characters any differently. I can only hope my readers keep an open mind. Vigilante Nights is about loss, friendship, and love, not just vengeance.

As this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d like to know what two or three books inspired you as a kid.

As an avid reader since the time I learned to read, this is an easy one! Each of these books represented a step in shaping my fictional taste buds.

1. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

2. The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton

3. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Erin Richards Photo

Erin Richards
Author Photo by Dawn Schubert Photography

Thanks for stopping by, Erin!

About the author:

Erin Richards lives in Northern California. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, photography, and American muscle cars.

Her YA debut novel, VIGILANTE NIGHTS, releases from Merit Press (F+W Media) on July 18, 2013. In addition to her website and blog, she can be found online on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Cindy L. Rodriguez is a former journalist turned public school teacher and fiction writer. She lives in Connecticut with her young daughter and very old dog. She loves coffee, chocolate, the ocean, and power naps between obligations. Her debut contemporary YA novel, RESURRECTING EMILY, will be published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA (Fall 2014).
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GETTIN’ LUCKY: A Proust Questionnaire with Elizabeth Ross, author of BELLE EPOQUE

For my interview with Elizabeth Ross, we decided to do something a little bit different.

Since her debut novel, the smart, glamorous, and oh-so romantic Belle Epoque, is set around the same time that French novelist Marcel Proust would have been a teenager in Paris, we decided to take a page from his famous questionnaire.

proustIn addition to the having the sauciest author photos this side of Truman Capote and writing In Search of Lost Time, one of the great novels of the 20th century, Proust also gave name to the 19th century tradition of the confession album. The confession album was a place to ask your friends to record their thoughts, feelings, likes, and peeves. Proust loved answering these for good reason. They’re super fun, and (WRITING TIP ALERT!) they can also be an excellent exercise for developing those hard-to-know characters.

But before we get to Elizabeth’s answers, a little more about her splendid book.

belleEpoque_lgBelle Epoque is set in 1888 Paris and the controversial Eiffel Tower is under construction, rising against the skyline to the horror of Parisians who consider it a monstrosity. But even so, this is still France’s golden age – Le Belle Epoque translates to “the Beautiful Era” – and Paris is a city awash in art, music, fashion, science, literature, knowledge, and beauty.

It’s an intoxicating world to get caught up in, but it’s not all sidewalk cafes and dreamy musicians. Far from it.

For Maude Pichon, the reality of Paris is something else entirely. She has just fled the countryside to avoid an unwanted arranged marriage and seek her fortune in the city. But earning a living proves harder than Maude anticipated, and desperate for work, she answers a curious ad: “Young women wanted for undemanding work. Propriety guaranteed.”

The ad brings her to the Durandeau Agency, a curious place that offers a highly specialized service to its clients. In the cutthroat world of Paris debutantes, everyone is looking for an edge when it comes to ensuring a successful debut season and a good marriage match. The Durandeau Agency manages an ensemble of plain, unattractive, or downright ugly women who serve as beauty “foils.” Hire a beauty foil, and become more attractive instantly.

Maude’s work for the agency leads her into the most exclusive and elite circles of Parisian society, and places her as the “friend” of Isabelle Dubern, the daughter of a countess. Isabelle’s beauty shines brighter next to Maude’s plainness, but the better Maude gets to know the noble girl, the more the implications of her deception begin to trouble her.

There’s romance, friendship, self-discovery, and deception, not to mention some truly gorgeous dresses and mouthwatering dinner parties.

And without further ado, here are Elizabeth Ross’s answers to the famous Proust Questionnaire:

elizabeth rossWhat is your favorite virtue? Integrity.

What are your favorite qualities in a man? Patience and kindness.

What are your favorite qualities in a woman? Humor and passion.

What is your chief characteristic? Sense of justice.

What is your main fault? Impatience.

What do you appreciate most in your friends? Loyalty.

What is your idea of happiness? A dog curled up under my desk as I write.

What is your idea of misery? Reality show fame.

If not yourself, who would you be? Someone else.

Where would you like to live? On a small acreage with horses.

Who are your favorite prose authors? An author whose book makes me feel bereft that the experience is over.

Who are your favorite poets? Every Scot is a poet.

Who are your favorite painters and composers? Illustrators of children’s books. Film composers have transported me to other worlds.

Who are your favorite heroes in real life? My friends inspire and influence me, as do strangers who strive to create something.

Who are your favorite heroes in fiction? Unconventional heroes and heroines, characters who surprise me.

What natural talent would you most like to be gifted with? Music.

How do you wish to die? Without regret and after living a full life.

What is your present state of mind? Hopeful.

For what fault have you most toleration? I can forgive my dog most anything.

What is your favorite motto? Spem Successus Alit (Success Nourishes Hope). It’s the Clan Ross motto.

Thanks for stopping by, Elizabeth, and congratulations on your debut! To the rest of you, I say, go read this gorgeous book immediately.

About the Author:

Elizabeth Ross grew up in Scotland where she studied French and Film Studies at the University of Glasgow. After graduation she worked in the film industry in Montreal for several years, becoming a film editor. That career path eventually led to Los Angeles where she now lives with her husband.

Her debut novel, BELLE EPOQUE, will be published in June, 2013 from Delacorte Press/Random House. She is currently at work on a new novel set in 1940’s Los Angeles.

Mary McCoy is a librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library. Her debut novel, DEAD TO ME (Disney-Hyperion, Fall 2014), is a YA mystery set in the glamorous, treacherous world of Golden Age Hollywood. She likes new dresses and old cookbooks.
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GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Kristen Kittscher, Author of THE WIG IN THE WINDOW

Today we’re here with Lucky13 author Kristen Kittscher, whose debut THE WIG IN THE WINDOW is now in bookstores, calling your name. Seriously, it is! Can’t you just hear it? “[Insert your name here], please read meeeee!”

This book is unbelievably fantastic, and I’m SO EXCITED for you all to read it! But instead of listening to me talk about how wonderful it is, I’ll let the blurb speak for itself:

Best friends and seventh graders Sophie Young and Grace Yang have made a game out of spying on their neighbors. On one of their midnight stakeouts, they witness a terrifying, bloody scene at the home of their bizarre middle-school counselor, Dr. Charlotte Agford (aka Dr. Awkward).

At least, they think they do. The truth is that Dr. Agford was only making her wiginthewindowCoverSept copyfamous pickled beets! But when Dr. Agford begins acting even weirder than usual, Sophie and Grace become convinced that she’s hiding something—and they’re determined to find out what it is.

Soon the girls are breaking secret codes, being followed by a strange blue car, and tailing strangers with unibrows and Texas accents. But as their investigation heats up, Sophie and Grace start to crack under the pressure. They might solve their case, but will their friendship survive?

Perfect for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Wig in the Window is a smart, funny middle-grade mystery with a REAR WINDOW twist.

And just in case you’re a visual person, here’s the link to the fantastic trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9UezzKbyCA

Doesn’t it sound like the most MARVELOUS book ever?! I just kne—

Wait—what was that? Did you hear that? It… it sounded like a scream!  Hold on, guys. Let me just crawl around the corner and check to make sure everything’s okay. Shhhhhh….

SMACK. I tumble right into Kristen Kittscher, who’s wearing a splendiferous wig.  “Phew!” I sigh, “False alarm. I guess reading WIG all day has me a bit jumpy. But now that I’ve got you, Kristen, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”  Not waiting for a response, I pull out my handy-dandy spy notepad and my spy pen. Kristen gives me a nod of approval.

LM: How did you come up with the idea for THE WIG IN THE WINDOW?

KK: The Wig in the Window was inspired in part by my own adventures as a childhood spy with my friends. I briefly lived in a seaside suburb not unlike “Luna Vista,” and we regularly dreamed up hare-brained theories about our neighbors that we pretended to investigate. We didn’t do a whole actual spying, though: it was more about hiding up in our “spy headquarters” in a loft above her garage and making lots of ID badges and “Most Wanted” posters!

I also taught seventh grade English at an all girls’ school for a good long while. The funny, clever students I taught there inspired me—I wanted to write a story they would enjoy: fun, with high stakes, that would nonetheless tell some truths about the ups and down of middle school friendship. I hope I did…

Childhood spy group?! That must have been the best thing ever! The fifth grader in me is so envious! So what was the writing process for your debut like? Did you already know the end of the mystery before you started, or did you figure it out as you went along?

Writing WIG was circuitous to say the least. It was my first attempt at writing a manuscript, and I just didn’t believe I could do it—so I was constantly writing a few pages and putting it away and moving onto more practical things, like laundry—or more fun things, like going to parties. Not only did I not know the end of the mystery before I started, I didn’t even really understand I was writing a mystery, believe it or not. I started out thinking I was just writing a story about two unlikely best friends. It was a very episodic collection of antics between Sophie Young & Grace Yang, who—practically as an aside!—suspect the middle school counselor is a fugitive. I threw it out and started over again, understanding at last that I was writing a mystery (psychological thriller, really!), and set to work. I wasted a lot of time not believing in myself—so it’s no surprise that self-doubt turned out to be a major theme in the book.

Your perseverance is so inspiring! Self-doubt is definitely one of those universal feelings that hits all writers at some during the publication process. I know I sometimes feel it! *clutches the shambles of my current work-in-progress and mutters feverishly* So, while we’re on the topic… How did you overcome your self-doubt, and what advice do you have for any writers who might be experiencing that feeling?

Oh, I don’t know that I have overcome my self-doubt, really—but rather I’ve accepted it as a natural part of my writing process. If I weren’t feeling a little doubtful, I’m not sure writing would be fun for me! Getting in over my head, casting about in the dark, and muddling my way through is just part of it.

I wish I were seasoned enough to give advice! I’ll offer this: it seems to me that time, effort, patience and feedback cure all (most?) manuscript ills!

So let’s chat about the time long after you casted about in the dark and muddled through–back to when you had a beautiful, finished, beta-read manuscript-version of THE WIG IN THE WINDOW on your desk, all ready to send out into the Internet aether. Talk us through your path from that moment to the book deal!

In September of 2010, I had my shiny manuscript all ready to go! I queried five agents, one of whom was Jennifer Laughran. She’d been cracking me up on Twitter for some time, and I really hoped she might enjoy WIG. Several months of silence and few rejections on partials followed, then—at last—in mid-November both Jennifer and another wonderful agent offered representation just when I was about to send out another round. What luck! I chose Jenn, she gave me fabulous revision notes, and we went out on submission a couple months later. Shortly after, Rosemary Brosnan at HarperCollins let Jenn know she was taking my manuscript to acquisitions. I was over the moon! I was such a fan of so many of her authors (Rita Williams-Garcia, Norma Fox Mazer, Lauren Oliver). The story takes a sad turn there, though. Just days before Harper’s offer came in, my father died in a freak accident right in front of me. Traumatized and reeling, I didn’t care much that WIG had sold. It was just a footnote at a very dark time. A sudden tragedy like that certainly puts all of our writerly angst in perspective. Fortunately, there have been so many other happy milestones in this debut journey that I’ve been able to relish. I’m so glad that WIG will be coming out just after Father’s Day this year—it’s a perfect time to celebrate this accomplishment and remember my wonderful dad. He would’ve been very proud.

My gosh, I’m so sorry; that is really the absolute worst. WIG’s release certainly sounds like a great way to commemorate your father. You mentioned some of the milestones in the debut journey… Was there anything that surprised you about the publishing process? What was the most exciting milestone?

Thanks so much, Lauren. He would have found this all to be quite a kick, and I’m looking forward to the celebrations.

The first time through it’s all sort of a surprise—particularly that part where a check arrives in the mail for something you made up. I think I was most surprised by, in the later stages, how much my editors and I worked by hand. They sent their line edits in pencil, I entered in all copyedits and changes to the “first pass pages” in pen, which were then entered in by someone else.

As for milestones, don’t get me started! I’ve been treasuring this newness— and fearing someday I’ll think all this gloriousness is old hat.

It was particularly special when author Kirsten Miller (KIKI STRIKE, HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME) wrote me a funny, kind, complimentary note after she read THE WIG IN THE WINDOW. She then tweeted about one of my girl sleuths being her new favorite character and “one of the most fascinating masterminds around.” Praise from an author I admire so much would have meant a great deal as it was, but it was all the more special because KIKI STRIKE inspired me to write for middle graders in the first place.

Awww full circle! I love that! So… inquiring minds NEED to know: what’s next for you? More middle grade?

You bet! There’ll be a sequel to THE WIG IN THE WINDOW : THE TIARA ON THE TERRACE. We’ll see from there… I certainly enjoy my sleuths and have plenty more ideas of adventures for them. Care to suggest future (strange head thing) on the (outward facing architectural feature) titles?

In TIARA, Young & Yang go undercover in their town parade’s “Royal Court” to stop a murderer: Miss Congeniality, middle-school style! It’s been challenging for me to write because I’m not used to big bombastic crowd scenes and parades and known nothing about beauty contests, but I think this story and the setting are just so much fun.

OHMYGOODNESS GIVE ME NOOOOOWWW! I can’t wait! TIARA ON THE TERRACE looks fantastic!!! Middle school Miss Congeniality is pretty much the best pitch ever. Anyway, we’ve sort of danced around other authors you admire in other answers, but let’s end on that note: as this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d love to know two or three books that inspired you as a kid!

Ha!—And thanks for the enthusiasm! Puts some wind in my sails. Oh, I could go on for hours about books I love. Favorites as a kid? From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg, Judy Blume’s Blubber, KristenKittscherJacketPhotoThe House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs were at the top of my list.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Kristen! We at OneFourKidLit have all suspected that you were the loveliest author ever, and now we know you are! Mystery SOLVED!

Kristen Kittscher is a writing tutor in Pasadena, California, where she lives with her husband. She is a graduate of Brown University and worked for several years as a middle-school English teacher. The Wig in the Window is her first novel. You can visit her online at http://www.kristenkittscher.com.

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches way too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous, Toecorn-loving witches—is forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in Summer 2014.
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GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with J.R. Johansson, Author of INSOMNIA

ImageToday’s Lucky13 interview is with J.R. Johansson, author of the YA thriller INSOMNIA.  I had the opportunity to read an eARC and could NOT put it down.  Totally creeptastic!!  Here’s a blurb to get us started:

-Her eyes saved his life. Her dreams released his darkness.-

After four years of sleeplessness, high school junior Parker Chipp can’t take much more. Every night, instead of sleeping, he enters the dreams of the last person he’s made eye contact with. If he doesn’t sleep soon, Parker will die.

Then he meets Mia. Her dreams, calm and beautifully uncomplicated, allow him blissful rest that’s utterly addictive. But what starts out as a chance meeting turns into an obsession; Parker’s furious desire for what he needs pushes him to extremes he never thought he’d go. And when someone begins terrorizing Mia with twisted death threats, Parker’s memory blackouts leave him doubting his own innocence.

What inspired you to write INSOMNIA? Were there any special challenges writing from a male point of view?

I’d been complimented a lot on my writing in super tense, action-packed scenes and I have always been obsessed with abnormal psychology, so I thought I’d put the two together and see how it worked. Turns out…it’s kind of freaky.

There were definitely special challenges to writing in a male PoV. I called on some male beta readers just to help me be authentic to the voice, and they were extremely helpful. I made quite a few alterations based on their suggestions and I’m really happy with the results.

The first line of the novel—It’s been four years since I slept, and I suspect it is killing me.— drew me in immediately!!  Was this always your first line?  Or did it take some tweaking?

No, it originally started with,

Most people don’t know it, but they always make an appearance in their own dreams. They can’t always see themselves and sometimes feel like they’re only watching.  But it doesn’t matter, they’re always there.

And I can always see them.

Which I still really like, but I like the sentence I ended up changing it to better.

I think dreams are extraordinarily hard to pull off in a novel — so many come across as contrived — but you do it so seamlessly!   Like, how did you do that?  

Haha… I’m not entirely sure. I think it works really well in this scenario because dreams are extraordinarily real to Parker. He knows how dark, dangerous and truth-filled they can be. It brings the dreams to life in a different way, on a different level.

Parker goes through some really harsh physical issues due to lack of sleep – did you do any special research for that aspect of the book?

Absolutely! Obviously, because of the fact that he is a Watcher (a purely fictional problem) I was able to take some creative license with how it would take 4 years instead of a much shorter length of time to die of sleep deprivation. I also got to play with how the addiction to sleep would interact with the sleep deprivation and speed up the effects. Other than those two things all the physical ramifications of sleep deprivation that happen to Parker in the book is absolute truth. Tremors, lack of focus, poor decision making, hallucinations and everything that comes with them would happen to any of us if we pushed ourselves for several days without sleep. It was fascinating (and kind of terrifying) to research.

One of my favorite characters was Parker’s best friend Finn!  (I loved his t-shirt collection!!)  If the teenage you had to spend the day at the mall with one of your characters – who would it be and why?

Haha, yeah, Finn is definitely a highlight for me as well. Hmm…I’d say Finn except I’m afraid he’d drag me to some old Kung Fu movie. So I’ll pick Addie. Neither of us are huge on shopping and we’d probably just grab something to eat, chat and then see a movie we’d actually both like. 🙂

INSOMNIA is a series.  Did you have that in mind when you began to write the novel?  How many books are planned?  Any teasers you want to share?  Any new projects you are working on? (this could be a separate question if you’d like.)

I didn’t know if it would be a series when I started, but by the time I wrote the end I realized it needed to be. There will be two books, so it’s a duology. As far as teasers…let’s just say that book 2 will bring in more characters, more psychological thriller elements (with more than just Parker), and more of Finn’s shirts.

As this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d like to know what two or three books inspired you as a kid?

Hmm…good question! As a kid, I loved Pride and Prejudice, before that A Wrinkle in Time, and before that it was anything by Dr. Seuss. I still consider him an absolute genius.

Great interview! It was so much fun! Thank you for having me! 🙂

Thanks for stopping by Jenn!  And Happy Book Birthday!!

IMG_8183_CROPPED_WEBJ.R. JOHANSSON is a young adult thriller author published with Flux & FSG/Macmillan. Her debut, INSOMNIA is coming June 2013. She has a B.S. degree in public relations and a background in marketing. She credits her abnormal psychology minor with inspiring many of her characters. When she’s not writing, she 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 has two young sons and a wonderful husband. In fact, other than her cat, Cleo, she’s nearly drowning in testosterone.

You can find Jenn here:

Twitter  / Blog  /  Website / Tumblr / Facebook / Goodreads Author page / Goodreads INSOMNIA page

Here’s where you can buy INSOMNIA:

The Book Depository /  Indiebound  / Books A Million / Barnes & Noble / Amazon

Robin Constantine is a born and bred Jersey girl who moved down South so she could wear flip-flops year round. She spends her days dreaming up stories where love conquers all, well, eventually but not without a lot of peril, angst and the occasional kissing scene. Her YA debut, THE PROMISE OF AMAZING, will be released in 2014 by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.