Interview with Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing

Today, we’re talking with Sandi Ward about her delightful debut novel, The Astonishing Thing.

Please describe what the book is about.

The Astonishing Thing is the story of a troubled family and a broken marriage, seen through the eyes of a cat named Boo. Boo’s human mother disappears one day, and Boo is determined to figure out where she went.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

“I thought I was past this. I thought her leaving wouldn’t hurt me anymore. The heartache is tremendous, and I wasn’t expecting it.”

What do you want people to know about your book? 

While I think cat lovers will enjoy Boo’s point of view, the novel isn’t just for cat people! It’s a story about how families learn to cope (or fail to cope) when a loved one suffers from mental illness.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

It can be hard for families to stay together when they are under a lot of stress. Writing this book reinforced for me that families are worth saving, in whatever form or shape they take in the end.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

I wrote The Astonishing Thing in 2014, and it took me just a couple of months to complete. But the first draft was only 50,000 words, too short to be a novel. I kept writing, and queried in 2015.

On December 25th, 2015, I received an unexpected Christmas gift—an offer of representation from Stacy Testa at Writers House. It has taken 2 years of editing and other behind-the-scenes work to get ready for publication on 10/31/17.

What is your favorite part of writing and why?

I enjoy it when my characters surprise me! Because then I know they will surprise my readers. I don’t plot or outline. So there’s always room for the story to take an unexpected turn, which it inevitably does.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

I wanted to try writing a story using an unconventional narrator. I was inspired by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. I enjoy stories with unique voices.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

Early in the morning, when my head is clear and the coffee is hot.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

I have a cat, of course. Winnie is a big black rescue cat. I would definitely say I’m a cat person. But I also have a dog, a maltese named Jasper. And yes, he’s pretty darn cute.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

A friend once told me: “Go where the muse takes you.” In other words, work on what you’re inspired to write about in the moment. I never force myself to write something I’m not totally committed to. If I don’t want to write a scene, then it doesn’t belong in the book.

What’s next?

My second novel for Kensington is titled Something Worth Saving. It’s a completely new story, but also told from the point of view of a cat. The cover is fantastic and I can’t wait until the cover reveal, which will happen in early 2018. The publication date is November 2018.

THE ASTONISHING THING

In her inventive, sometimes bittersweet, ultimately uplifting debut, Sandi Ward draws readers into one extraordinary cat’s quest to make sense of her world, illuminating the limits and mysterious depths of love.

“A unique and poignant tale of a family’s struggle as witnessed by someone who sees everything…a triumphant debut for Sandi Ward.”
— Helen Brown, New York Times bestselling author of Cleo

THE ASTONISHING THING will be available October 31, 2017 through Kensington Books.

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Interview with Kevin Catalano, Author of Where the Sun Shines Out

Today we’re happy to be talking with Kevin Catalano about his debut literary crime novel, Where the Sun Shines Out.

Please describe what your story is about.

There are Oz Munchkins and drugs and kidnapping and death and basketball and snow and bare-knuckle fighting and weaponized eggs and scars and the Erie Canal and history and some sex (there could have been more) and a dog.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

“The voice saying she wanted him, not his brother, ordering him to change his clothes, telling him to eat, and when he wouldn’t, saying she knew what he wanted, and there was her breast, and on his tongue now he tasted it, the taste of betrayal.”

What do you want people to know about your book?

This was rejected by countless editors who thought it too dark to publish, but I find the novel implicitly optimistic.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

That my plot inclinations are almost always toward violence, and so there must be something inside I’m trying to work out or exorcise. I’m paying someone to try to explain to me what that is.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

The exact age of my daughter: seven.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

I love the drafting stage — when anything is possible, when the book can be any damn thing I want, and the editing stage — when I can open the manuscript at any time of day or night and play with a sentence.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

Obama’s first inaugural inspired me to write the first story about a mayor of a small village (where I grew up) who had big aspirations for hope and change… but winds up being disappointed.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

My best thinking happens at night, in bed, when I visualize the scene I’m working on as if it were a film. I often have ideas to include in the draft the following day… if I can remember them!

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

That despite what’s in the book, I have a perfectly functioning family, and I had a great childhood, and that the hometown that’s depicted in the novel is hardly as sinister as the one in real life.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

There are no tricks to landing an agent/getting a book published; all you have to do is write something great.

What’s next?

Ugh! This thing that I’ve been working on for five years. After rewriting it from scratch three times, I think I’ve finally found the form, the style, and the voice. (The characters and the story were always there, but how to tell it?)

We asked Kevin to pose his own interview question. Here’s what he said, followed by his answer:  

My mother and aunt often ask: Why don’t you write anything happy or funny? I tried, once. Right after my daughter was born — a traumatic, miracle birth where the generosity of people and the universe were revealed to me — I sat down to write something uplifting. That was the first time I ever had writer’s block. When I finally gave up trying, the very first thing I wrote was the darkest and bleakest story I’ve ever written.


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WHERE THE SUN SHINES OUT

In the blue-collar town of Chittenango in upstate New York, birthplace of L. Frank Baum, two boys are abducted from the annual Oz Fest. When they are next seen, 10-year-old Dean has escaped by swimming across Oneida Lake with his brother’s dead body.

The novel follows the wake of this unspeakable act of violence as Dean, his family, and the town struggle to cope with the compounding damage, from sexual abuse to drug addiction to abandonment, all the while hoping for redemption. WHERE THE SUN SHINES OUT is a novel about families, trauma, and the terrible things people do to each other when they’re doing their best.

 

WHERE THE SUN SHINES OUT will be available in Octiber 2017 through Arcade Publishers

Interview with Kate Clayborn, author of Beginner’s Luck

We’re delighted to be talking to Kate Clayborn about her debut contempory romance, Beginner’s Luck.

Please describe what your book is about.

Beginner’s Luck is the first in a new series about three best friends who win the lottery. The heroine of this book, Kit, is a research scientist with a stable job whose nomadic upbringing has made her crave stability, and so she uses her winnings to invest in a fixer-upper that she’ll turn into her first real home. But when a handsome, charming corporate recruiter named Ben Tucker comes to town offering Kit a new job—and eventually, a new romance—she’s challenged to solidify her own notions of what home truly means to her.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

Here’s a little snippet from Ben’s point of view—he’s a big part of this book, too, so it seems right to show you a bit of him, since I’ve already said a few things about Kit:

“There it is again, that feeling: I want to kiss her so bad that I can feel it in the palms of my hands, at the backs of my knees.”

What do you want people to know about your book? 

I think readers who love smart, funny contemporary romance—and who love their heroines to be focused and driven—will find a lot to love in Beginner’s Luck. And I also want people to know that this book isn’t so much about the lottery itself or about money—it’s about how a sudden, unexpected change in our lives can clarify our goals, challenge our expectations, and develop our relationships.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

I learned what habits worked best for me in terms of drafting: I learned that I write best first thing in the morning, that I need to be able to toggle freely between scenes, that thirty minute blocks work for me, that I should absolutely not have too much caffeine. Also that I’m probably going to cry at least three to six times over the course of the drafting process.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

Not to stay too on the nose with my brand, but I feel like I got very lucky with this series in terms of timing. I drafted the first book in about five months (unusually fast for me), and started querying pretty much right away. I signed with my agent not long after, and then sold the series about three months after we sent it out, setting a publication date that was about a year later.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

Developing characters, absolutely. For me, there’s a lot of magic in that part of the process—thinking through what your characters love, what they fear, what habits and quirks they have, where they like to go, what they like to do. And I think there’s something intimate and special about it for the author, because not everything you develop will necessarily make it into your book—so you have these secrets you share with your characters, in the hidden spaces of your text. I love that.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

In my family, we’ve always had funny discussions about what we’d do if we won a lottery jackpot (once my dad said he’d give away his house to the person who told him the best story), and I think those conversations are always revealing, right? Sure, we’re talking about what want that we can buy, but I also think we’re talking about what we want that we can’t ever really buy. That’s what I wanted to explore in this series.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

The shower. Or in the middle of the middle of the night. Or when I’m driving. To sum up: at the most inconvenient times.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

Maybe that my real face is not a cartoon? Right now I’m not able to have a photograph out there, but the sketch I use for my social media profiles is special to me, because my husband drew it from a picture he took of me.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

I’ve read or heard lots of great writing advice over the years, and I think different advice works at different times—depending on where you are with your writing and how you long you’ve been doing it. But I suppose the most universally helpful advice is that great writers read a lot, and read very, very widely. I read every single day, no matter where I am in the drafting process or what else is going on in my life, and this keeps me connected to the world of words.

What’s next? 

The second book in the Chance of a Lifetime series, Luck of the Draw, releases in April 2018, and the third and final book, Best of Luck, releases in October 2018. After that, I hope, comes a standalone that’s a very early work in progress right now.

 

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“Luck has a way of being unpredictable—a lot like love…

BEGINNER’S LUCK is the first in a funny, sexy new series about three friends who impulsively buy a lottery ticket, never suspecting the many ways their lives will change—or that for each of them, love will be the biggest win of them all.”

Interview with Rachel Magee, Author of Happily Ever Afters

Today we’re chatting with Rachel Magee, author of the contemporary romance, Happily Ever Afters.

Please describe what the story is about.

Falling in love with a man she meets on vacation isn’t part of Lainey Stratton’s plan. It’s a slip of focus she blames on the sparkling Caribbean and Carter Thompson’s dazzling smile. Still, with her life in Dallas and his in D.C., it can’t be more than a vacation crush. But when tragedy strikes, her crush might be the only one who can help her.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

Daring was not a way I often felt. I preferred to make decisions based on fact and scientific reason. But for some reason, on this picturesque street with this handsome semi-stranger, daring sounded like a great idea.

What do you want people to know about your book?

This is a book about how love can help us find hope even after the toughest tragedies. It deals with loss and has a lot of heart, but it also has some humor. Because life, even during the hard times, can be funny.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

I learned I could write a book from start to finish, which is something I really questioned halfway through the process. It was a lot of hard work and sleepless night, a lot of ignoring things like laundry and cleaning the house. But the second I held the galley and saw all of my words bundled together in a real book, it was all worth it.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

This book took a while because it was my first, and I had no idea what I was doing. I started it many years ago and put it down for a couple years. I actually got serious about finishing it (thanks to my encouraging husband) about three years ago. If we start from that date, it took me a year to finish it, about a year to rewrite it, then about a year and a half from the start of the submission process until publication. It’s been a long journey, but so worth it!

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

My favorite part is writing the first draft. I’m a plotter and I do quite a bit of character development before I start writing, but they don’t really come alive until I start writing their story.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

The idea for this book came when I was on girls’ trip several years ago. At the time, some of my friends on the trip weren’t married and there were a few handsome bachelors staying at the same resort. I wondered what would happen if someone fell in love in that scenario and how a long distance relationship could work in the midst of life’s tragedies.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

Maybe the better question is when do I not think about my WIP? When I’m in the plotting phase or the first draft phase, I think about my characters and story all the time. On the drive to work, while I’m working out, in the shower, while I should be sleeping. Ideas pop up at the most unusual times.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

I have a mild form of dyslexia, which made reading and writing in school pretty challenging. Thanks to some great teachers and my amazing parents, I learned to compensate and not let one difficulty stand in the way of my love of getting lost in a good story. But my editors deserve big hugs because my manuscripts probably have more misspelled words most.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Don’t give up! This writing thing and getting published thing is a hard road filled with mountains of rejection. But don’t let that stop you from achieving your dream.

What’s next?

I just finished my second book and, fingers crossed, it should be out in 2018!

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“Lainey Stratton does not fall in love with strangers she meets on vacation. It simply doesn’t make logical sense. So when Lainey meets Carter Thompson on the first day of her Caribbean vacation, she knows it could never amount to anything more than a crush. At the end of the vacation she will return to Dallas and he will return to D.C., and that will be the end of it. Well, unless he wants to join her at a friend’s destination wedding, which would be considered vacation too, right?

 

But when an unexpected tragedy sends Lainey’s logical world spiraling out of control, she realizes her vacation crush might be the only one who can help her pick up the pieces of her shattered life. That is, as long as she can get out of the way of her own happiness. And as long as Carter’s past doesn’t catch up with him before she gets a chance.”

 

Interview with Clarissa Goenawan, Author of Rainbirds

Today we’re thrilled to be talking with Clarissa Goenawan about her new novel, Rainbirds.

Please describe what the book is about.

Ren Ishida is nearly done with graduate school when he receives news of his sister’s murder. He heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, failing to understand why she chose to abandon their family and leave Tokyo for this small town in the first place. But Ren soon finds himself picking up right where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at the wealthy Mr. Katou’s mansion, in exchange for reading aloud each morning to Katou’s depressed, mute wife. As Ren gets to know the figures in the town, from the mysterious Katou to fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, he replays memories of his childhood with Keiko and finds his dreams haunted by a young girl with pigtails who is desperately trying to tell him something.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

“A hand model?” I’d never heard of that, but an image flashed into my mind of Seven Stars, holding a cigarette with her beautiful fingers, looking vacantly at the rain.

What do you want people to know about your book?

If you love complicated and flawed characters, dark family secrets, or stories set in Japan, you might enjoy Rainbirds.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

I always wanted to be a writer since I was young, and finishing my first novel further convinced me that, “Yes, this is what I really, really want to do for the rest of my life.”

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

First draft : 1,5 months – mainly during NaNoWriMo
Editing: 1,5 years
Submission to agents : about half year
Submission to publishers : about half year
Preparation for publication: almost two years
Total: about five years. Whew!

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

I love both drafting and editing. During the first draft, my characters often lead me to unexpected places. The various stages of editing give me focus and direction to clarify what kind of story I really want to tell.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

One day, I suddenly thought, “What if someone I care about suddenly passed away, and then, I realized—too late—that I never actually got to know them?”

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

When corresponding with my critique partners. We often brainstorm together, bouncing around ideas about our current WIPs. A lot of things we come up with might be unusable, but usually, we’ll find a perfect solution sooner or later.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

My main characters are usually coffee drinkers, but I don’t drink coffee. I prefer tea, and always have a variety of them at home to suit different moods.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Read a lot, and write a lot. Really, there’s no shortcut.

What’s next?

I’m currently editing my second and third novels (both of them are literary mysteries) and gathering ideas for my fourth novel (psychological suspense). All of them, just like Rainbirds, are set in Japan.

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“Luminous, sinister, and page-turning all at once. I loved it.”
—Kate Hamer, internationally bestselling author of The Girl in the Red Coat and The Doll Funeral

Interview with Alexis Daria, author of Take the Lead

Check out our interview with Alexis Daria, author of the debut novel Take the Lead.

Please describe what the story is about.

When pro dancer Gina Morales is paired with Stone Nielson for a celebrity dance competition, she thinks the hunky reality TV survivalist is her ticket to the finals—until she realizes they’re being set up for a showmance by the producers. As a Latina in Hollywood, Gina is hyperaware of her reputation, and Stone struggles with upholding family expectations while being true to himself. When the tabloids catch on to their developing romance, the spotlight threatens to ruin not just their relationship, but their careers and their shot at the trophy.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

She missed the hell out of him. The sex, but also the companionship. And it pissed her off that he made her realize how lonely she’d been before he lumbered into her life.

What do you want people to know about your book?

Take the Lead combines a hero from Alaska with a heroine from New York on the dance floor in LA. If you enjoy sizzling contemporary romance novels, dance movies like Dirty Dancing and Step Up, or dance shows like Dancing with the Stars, I hope you’ll enjoy this book!

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

I learned I didn’t know as much about dance as I thought I did! Writing this book also helped me recognize themes that are important for me to include in my writing, such as Nuyorican representation (Gina is Puerto Rican from the Bronx), positive female friendships, and complicated families.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

Take the Lead started as a proposal last summer, and it took about a month to develop the outline, synopsis, and first chapters. I finished the first draft over a month and a half in the fall, and took another month to revise before sending out agent queries in January. Take the Lead is coming out on October 3rd, and the sequel, Dance with Me, will be out December 5th, so it’s been a busy year!

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

My favorite part is planning the characters and the story before I start writing. I enjoy the mix of big-picture view (outlining) and detail-oriented thinking (character development). I highly recommend Story Genius by Lisa Cron for this process.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

Take the Lead was influenced by my love of dance shows and movies, and by the Alaskan reality shows scattered across cable TV. I wanted to twist the “fish out of water” trope—rather than throwing a “city girl” into nature, I plucked a guy from the wilderness and stuck him in the ballroom.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

My best thinking usually happens as I’m falling asleep, which is not terribly convenient. But I do my best writing work first thing in the morning.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

People may not know my background is in art. I majored in fine arts in high school, and computer arts in college. Four years ago, I decided to give writing the same attention I’d given art, and seriously pursue publication. And here I am!

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Don’t be so precious with your process. I have a tendency to overthink, so this is a good one to remember.

What’s next?

Dance with Me, the second book in the Dance Off series, comes out December 5th, and I’m currently plotting three more stories in that world. I’m also revising a sci-fi romance novella with superheroes.

 

“A ballroom dance competition is a beehive of activity and emotion, and the intensity of that environment is conveyed very well in the first entry of the Dance Off duology. Personalities are well developed and the storyline flows smoothly, as locations change and the passion of the competition flares higher. Gina and Stone are a lovable couple who make it easy to root for them.”

—4 star review from RT Book Reviews

Available October 3rd from SMP Swerve.
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Interview with Cass Morris, Author of From Unseen Fire: Book One of the Aven Cycle

Today, we’re thrilled to be chatting with Cass Morris, author of the debut novel,  From Unseen Fire: Book One of the Aven Cycle.

Please describe what the story is about.

In the city of Aven, politics and magic intertwine and compete for power. Following the death of an abusive dictator, the Vitelliae sisters band together to negotiate the uncertainties of a new social order. Middle daughter Latona, a mage of Spirit and Fire, must re-discover the incredible powers she has suppressed for years in order to protect her family and the city she loves — but a burgeoning relationship with Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has hidden his powers from society in defiance of Aventan law, may put her in great danger.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

“Ah,” she said. “Well, there, Senator, you find me in similar spirits to yourself.”
“How do you mean?”
“I find I am increasingly disinterested in what other people will allow me.”

What do you want people to know about your book?

If you love the Schuyler sisters, the Misses Bennett, or the Crawley girls, you’ll adore the Vitelliae. If you’ve enjoyed the mix of magic and intrigue in the works of Guy Gavriel Kay, Juliet Marillier, Jacqueline Carey, or Susanna Clarke, you’ll thrill to From Unseen Fire. If you’ve yearned for a world where magic integrates fully with culture, economics, and history, you need to step into Aven.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

Considering how long it took, quite a bit! As a writer, I learned the dedication and discipline I needed to see a project all the way through. As a person, I realized how much my various heroines have reflected the people I needed them to be at different points in my life. Latona’s story is one of breaking free of restraints, both externally and internally imposed, and of refusing to continue to make onesself smaller for the comfort of others. I didn’t know that when I began writing it, nor did I know how much I needed to express that sentiment, but there it was.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

This book began life as a 2011 Nanowrimo project. I was trying to kick-start my creative writing again after grad school and my first grown-up job had taken me away from it in favor of academia. I finished it, spent time editing, pitched it to some agents at Ascendio in July 2012, and discovered through those conversations that I still had some more editing to do. I started querying agents in January 2013 and signed with Connor Goldsmith in October of that year. He’s a very editorial agent, so we spent some time in revisions, went out on sub — and then decided to do some more revisions based on the feedback we got. Our second round of submissions started in January 2015, we sold that September, announced in October. Edits ran from September 2015 through well, now! And it’ll be out in April, so that’s almost six and a half years from inception to pub date.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

I’m definitely someone who would infuriate Aristotle by making Character my prime focus in storytelling. I love developing characters, crafting backgrounds for them, and getting them talking to each other. The human element is what I find most fascinating in any story.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

I had been thinking about the opportunities for fantasy fiction outside of the standard medieval-Europe trope. Because I have something of a classics background, I was already gravitating towards ancient Rome as a potential arena to work in — you get some great benefits such as sanitation, medicine, somewhat less restrictive roles for women. Then I saw Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s painting The Baths of Caracalla. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen it, but it happened to flit back across my eyes at the right time, and it sparked something. That painting is so beautiful and tells such a great story — those three women reclining on the bench, one imparting gossip, one languidly listening, one perked up in attention. That image gave birth to the Vitelliae sisters, and the rest of the story took shape from there.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

In the car. I love to put on a playlist that I’ve crafted for whatever story I’m working on and just let my mind wander.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you:

One of my favorite hobbies is tabletop gaming. I’ve been part of a Star Wars roleplaying group for over three years now. It’s ridiculous and wonderful.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Two things. One is a quote I found as a kid, when I had first decided to be a novelist when I grew up, from E. L. Doctorow: “Planning to write is not writing. Outlining a book is not writing. Researching is not writing. Talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.” That quote has stuck with me, and it’s something I repeat to myself when I know I’m frittering time. Planning, outlining, and researching are all important, but you can’t fall into the trap of doing nothing but that and still thinking you’re making progress.
The other important advice I’ve gotten is the “but then” concept. You should be able to summarize every chapter including a “but then” statement. This is how I make sure that, well, things actually happen in my books, and that I don’t just let my characters wander around being themselves for pages on end.

What’s next?

Books 2 and 3! I was fortunate enough to get a three-book deal from DAW, so From Unseen Fire is just the first in the series. I’ve also got two other projects in the early stages of percolation: a space opera with a heroine inspired by incorrigible French swordswoman Julie d’Aubigny and a secondworld fantasy incorporating star magic.

What was the value of first hand site research?

While editing this book and drafting Book 2, I spent a few days in Rome, walking around the ruins of the Palatine Hill, the Forum, and the Capitoline, but also just experiencing the bustle and the flavor of that city. It was so valuable for placing myself, quite literally, in the footsteps of my characters — to know what they could see, how the sun feels baking on those streets, how much effort it takes to trek up and down those seven hills. It definitely enriched my ability to make them come alive, and I hope I’ll have the chance both to return there and to explore some of the other settings in the series. (To hint: Outside of Italy, I may need to visit central Spain, southern France, and the Nile Delta, just for a start!).


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“The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic. But whose Republic will it be? A trio of patrician sisters and an ambitious senator use wit, charm, and magic to realize their dreams for Aven, an alternate-universe version of late Republic Rome poised on the brink of greatness or destruction.”

Interview with Jo Furniss, author of All the Little Children

We’re talking today with Jo Furniss, author of the new novel, All the Little Children.

Please describe what the book is about.

Struggling with working-mother guilt, Marlene Greene hopes a camping trip in the forest will provide quality time with her three young children—until they see fires in the distance, columns of smoke distorting the view. Overnight, all communication with the outside world is lost. When their sanctuary is threatened, Marlene faces the mother of all dilemmas: Should she save her own kids or try to save them all?

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

ALL THE LITTLE CHILDREN was released on 1 August as a Kindle First selection, so I’ve been having fun looking at my Amazon author widget to see which lines readers have highlighted on their devices. It’s very satisfying when they select my personal favorites:

“All these much-celebrated choices that we have, apparently, us modern women. There are no choices, only higher expectations.”

“You know how people say they would die for their kids? I never got that. What good are we dead? What’s hard is living for your kids.”

“We traveled a land of little terrors, a place where one misstep might kill; one gulp of tainted air, one wound we couldn’t treat, one single bullet. Death would be small. Tiny. It would snatch us in the space between one breath and the next.”

What do you want people to know about your book?

Judge this book by its cover; the premise is dark and the darkness affects the whole family. There’s also humor and hope in there, but not all readers enjoy harrowing stories!

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

Mainly, that I can produce a novel! I struggled with self-belief from pg 1 to pg 301—as most writers do. As a journalist, accustomed to working on transient news stories, I worried that I wouldn’t have the staying-power for a book, so I feel I proved something to myself. Now I’m struggling all over again with novel #2; as a writer friend commented, the only thing she learned from writing novel #1 was how to write novel #1!

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

All the Little Children started in 2012 as a 1000-word writing exercise for my MA in Professional Writing. I developed it to be a 20,000-word final project, but I decided after finishing the course in 2014 to complete the novel. After lots of workshopping and editing, I started submitting to agents late in 2015. I was signed by Danielle Egan-Miller in February 2016, and the manuscript sold to Lake Union Publishing that summer. Then I worked on developmental edits ahead of publication in August/September 2017. So my timeline spans five years; though at some points it felt like a lifetime!

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

I had recently moved to a small village in Switzerland when my first child was born. Added to the typical isolation that comes from being at home with a new baby, I also knew very few people where I lived and didn’t speak the local language well enough to attend mums’ groups. So, I used to spend hours each day walking in the forests with my daughter strapped to my chest – it is a truly beautiful country, and I fell in love with my child and the landscape at the same time! But my mind was filled with a sense of being cut off from society. I started to wonder what it would be like for a mother to be truly alone with her children; how would I cope without the support structures that we take for granted? When I came to write, I set my story in England because that’s the place I know best, but the idea was born in those Swiss forests!

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

“Put your bum on the seat and write.” I can’t really add anything to that; it’s all you need to know!

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“A thoroughly original mash-up of mom lit and apocalyptic fiction, All the Little Children is a thrilling ride. Jo Furniss blends heart-racing suspense with genuine emotion—and even dark humor. At last, mothers have an action hero to call their own.” —Elizabeth Blackwell, bestselling author of In the Shadow of Lakecrest

 

“The skillful interweaving of the frustrations of motherhood and the apocalypse makes this different from anything I’ve ever read before. When I finished I was crying on a train, and I didn’t care who saw me.” —Emily Barr, award–winning author of The One Memory of Flora Banks.

Interview with Elise Hooper, Author of The Other Alcott

Today, we’re thrilled to be speaking with Elise Hooper, author of the debut novel, The Other Alcott.

Please describe what your novel is about.

The Other Alcott is the story of May Alcott, the youngest of the Alcott sisters, and her quest to become a professional painter during a time when women were discouraged from ambitions beyond marrying well.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

“So, your sister’s book’s success is a good thing, is it not?”

What do you want people to know about your book?

Louisa May Alcott is the most famous of the Alcotts, but this was a family that produced more than just one high-achieving daughter. Although often overshadowed by her infinitely more famous older sister, May Alcott is a fascinating woman who sought creative freedom and independence despite society’s reluctance to view women as little more than wives and dutiful daughters.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

I grew up near Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. After attending drama camp there as a young girl, I found myself intrigued by the Alcott sisters. Were they really the neatly pigeon-holed characters set up in the March sisters? My gut told me there was more to these women than Louisa depicted.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

All writing is autobiographical in some sense. You may not be actually writing about your life, but you’re often writing about questions that you feel compelled to explore to understand your own life better. As I wrote about May gaining confidence in her skills, I found own confidence in my creative abilities growing too.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

The Other Alcott’s release on 9/5/17 marks almost four years to the day that I started working on it. I’d long wanted to write a novel about the Alcotts and started it the day my younger daughter went to her first day of kindergarten. The novel took me a little over two years to research and write. After I felt The Other Alcott was ready to head out into the world, I signed with Barbara Braun of Barbara Braun Literary and my manuscript was acquired by Lucia Macro at William Morrow/Harper Collins within a week of being on submission. The rest of the time was spent on edits and production.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

The Other Alcott includes letters between May and Louisa that I wrote myself. I loved channeling both of the voices of these two women.

What was your favorite scene to write?

I loved writing the letter from Louisa in which she describes taking her nephews to the Swan Boats in Boston’s Public Gardens. Even after many years of riding the swan boats, I didn’t know the history behind them at all. I discovered that the man who invented them died unexpectedly, shortly after starting the fleet. Once I learned that his wife was discouraged by the city’s elite group of businessmen from running the business herself, I knew that would have outraged Louisa May Alcott. Even though there’s no known connection between Louisa and the Swan Boats, I decided in my story she would write a letter in support of the widow’s efforts to run the business.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

In the car. I often drive around in a silent car and let the voices of my characters rattle around in my head before I start writing scenes.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

I’ve played on women’s tennis teams that have made it to the USTA National Championships twice in the last five years. The first time, my team lost in the finals, but the second time we won the whole thing. Tennis is like writing: perseverance is key.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Keep your butt in the seat and keep writing.

What’s next?

I have a second novel underway about Dorothea Lange, the pioneering documentary photographer of the 1930s and ‘40s. It will be released from William Morrow/Harper Collins sometime late in 2018.


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Interview with Annabel Fielding, author of A PEARL FOR MY MISTRESS

 

Today we’re chatting with Annabel Fielding about her new novel, A Pearl For My Mistress

Please describe what the story is about.

It is a story of three very different young women enmeshed in the radical politics of the 1930s, in three very different ways. It’s about the allure of fascism, the allure of love, the power of art and the power of fear.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

‘It was as if Hester was once again cycling down the hill and feeling the wind roaring in her ears; only this time the brakes were broken, and the map was lost, and the landscape around her was full of dangers.

What did you get yourself into, little Hettie, the reasonable daughter, her mother’s pride? And how will you find your way back?

Do you even want to?’

What do you want people to know about your book?

It provides a kind of girl’s eye view of the era, including its fraught political landscape.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

That an author must learn how to get into the head of every character, no matter how despicable; she has to see with her eyes and think with her thoughts, even if for the ten minutes it takes to write the POV scene. And it’s not always easy.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

About a year and a half. Before that, I spent about a year on research and planning; thanks to that, the actual drafting process went surprisingly smoothly!

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

I probably won’t be original here: once I had my outline and was set on my tracks, I’ve enjoyed writing the first draft most of all. There was this incomparable humming energy and feeling of purpose.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

Period dramas, set in the interwar period, sometimes feature a Nazi sympathizer or two, but they are then represented as a sudden blot on the beautiful world, inhabited by the virtuous protagonists.

And… well, I wanted to dig a little deeper. No evil simply springs up in the middle of a perfect system (in this case, a family values-suffused Good Old England we usually see in period dramas). The evil has to be nourished by its very soil.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

When walking, hiking or reading historical non-fiction.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

English is not my first language; moreover, I’ve only started reading in it extensively after I turned seventeen.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Probably to disregard the romantic ‘tortured artist’ archetype and work out methods that would cause me as little torture as possible. In my case, it was dedicating enough time to careful research, detailed outline and scene-by-scene planning.

What’s next? 

Probably a no-magic political fantasy in a Renaissance-inspired world. Spice trade, mythological frescoes and lesbian love plots included, of course!

Annabel Fielding – A PEARL FOR MY MISTRESS

England, 1934. Hester Blake, an ambitious girl from an industrial Northern town, finds a job as a lady’s maid in a small aristocratic household.

Despite their impressive title and glorious past, the Fitzmartins are crumbling under the pressures of the new century. And in the cold isolation of these new surroundings, Hester ends up hopelessly besotted with her young mistress, Lady Lucy.

Accompanying Lucy on her London Season, Hester is plunged into a heady and decadent world. But hushed whispers of another war swirl beneath the capital… and soon, Hester finds herself the keeper of some of society’s most dangerous secrets…

Available Sept 9, 2017

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