Giveaways, Interviews, PitchWars, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: CATALYST & FORGOTTEN by Kristin Smith

As promised, today I’m featuring an interview with the second of my Pitch Wars mentors, Kristin Smith. Her debut, CATALYST, came out in 2016, followed by the sequel, FORGOTTEN, just last month. I’m thrilled to be giving away e-books of both CATALYST and FORGOTTEN, and Kristin is adding swag–signed bookmarks, a postcard, and a magnet! Here’s the description of the first book to whet your appetite.

Catalyst by Kristin SmithIn a crumbling, futuristic Las Vegas where the wealthy choose the characteristics of their children like ordering off a drive-thru menu, seventeen-year-old Sienna Preston doesn’t fit in. As a normal girl surrounded by genetically modified teens, all of her imperfections are on display. But after the death of her father, everything she’s ever known and loved changes in an instant.

With little skills to help provide for her family, Sienna clings to the two things that come easily—lying and stealing. But not all thief-for-hire assignments go as planned. When a covert exchange of a stolen computer chip is intercepted, she becomes entangled with a corrupt government official who uses her thieving past as leverage, her mother as collateral, and the genetically modified poster boy she’s falling for as bait.

In order to rescue her mother, there may only be one option—joining forces with the Fringe, an extremist group, and their young leader who’s too hot to be bad. Problem is, these revolutionaries aren’t what they seem, and the secrets they’re hiding could be more dangerous than Sienna is prepared for. In the end, she must be willing to risk everything to save the one thing that matters most.

And here are Kristin’s answers to five questions about the five things I loved most–in this case, about both books :).

1. The premise for this series is so cool (and a bit scary)! A society where the rich genetically modify their children? Where did you come up with the idea?

Why, thank you! 🙂 The spark of the idea came in the form of a vivid dream. This idea then led to a lot of what if questions. What if there was a society of people who were matched according to their genetics? Then taking that a step further, what if these people were genetically modified and matched according to their genetics? What would a society like this look like? What might be some challenges for a society like this? And through this, the idea for CATALYST was born.

2. I love how it’s set in a futuristic Las Vegas. The gritty city and surrounding desert, then the new setting of Pacifica (a futuristic L.A.?), are so well drawn. How did you research? How did you decide what to keep from the present and what to change?

I lived for a short time in Las Vegas so I’m very familiar with the area, which really helped when writing CATALYST. And yes, even though it isn’t specifically mentioned, I do picture the Capital of Pacifica (Rubex) as a futuristic L.A. area. I’ve been to L.A. and up and down the Pacific coast, so it wasn’t too hard to draw on personal experience, like how cold the ocean water is no matter what time of year.

I did take some liberties when it came to buildings and structures that may or may not exist in 100-120 years. I think that was the most interesting thing about writing a story set in the near future. I was able to play around with things like architecture and buildings, while staying true to landscape and landforms like mountains, oceans, and deserts that shouldn’t change too much over time. It was a good balance between research and imagination.

3. There are so many twists in these books. Do you have a strategy for planting twists, particularly across a series?  

Um, I wish I could say that I have this magical formula, but the truth is, I really don’t. I generally know the direction the book or series is going, but sometimes I even surprise myself. If there’s a big twist (or several), then during the revision stage, I go through and make sure there have been enough clues sprinkled in so it doesn’t feel too farfetched. I’m a firm believer in the saying that “books are not written, but rewritten.” I do like to keep my reader always guessing.

The other key thing for this series is the backstory, which the reader doesn’t really know much about until the 2nd book, FORGOTTEN. I had to fully flesh out characters we don’t see or know that much about in order to be able to do these twists. I think that’s what made this story such a big undertaking. I couldn’t truly delve into Sienna’s story until I had completely fleshed out her dad’s story, which is what leads the reader to a lot of questions and a lot of twists.

4. The boys! You have two strong love interests with Zane and Trey, and I don’t even know whose team I’m on. I was leaning one way after CATALYST, and FORGOTTEN tipped me the other direction. Did you start writing the series with a clear ending in mind for the love story? Any suggestions on writing an effective love triangle?

Ahh, this is such a great question! When I first started writing the series, there was no question in my mind who Sienna would end up with. But now, I’m not so sure. They are both incredible guys, each with their own strengths, and Sienna loves them both in different ways. And I think that’s the key to an effective love triangle. Each love interest must stand on his own, meaning, each one should offer her something different. Perhaps in one the MC finds adventure and security, but the other provides compassion and companionship.

In addition, a good love triangle should be about more than just the three characters trapped in the triangle. It shouldn’t be a plot in and of itself. But when you can weave it into a story that has bigger stakes, then I think you’re on the road to creating a successful love triangle.

5. In FORGOTTEN, you tell the story from both Sienna and Zane’s viewpoints. What tips do you have for writing from two different POVs?

Don’t screw it up! Lol. No, really, I think it’s all about finding the voice of your characters. It requires you to dig deep and really get to know your characters better. Sienna was easy because I already knew her voice. Zane was a bit trickier because A) I had to tap into a male voice and B) I had to tap into the voice of a guy who has been bred since birth to be this poster child for his father’s genetic modification company. He’s well-bred, well-spoken, and well-rounded.

I would suggest doing character sketches or character interviews to really get a feel for the mind of your character. It may take rewriting chapters if you find your voice drifting. The main thing is to stay true to your character.

Thank you, Kristin!

Now, on to the giveaway! I’m giving away e-books of both CATALYST and FORGOTTEN, and Kristin is adding signed bookmarks, a postcard, and a magnet. United States only, please. To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a19/?

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: AT FIRST BLUSH by Beth Ellyn Summer

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’d be sharing more about my Pitch Wars’ mentors’ books, and today I’m thrilled to host Beth Ellyn Summer with an interview about AT FIRST BLUSH. Even better, I’m giving away a copy of her book, and Beth is adding on swag–makeup and a signed bookmark! First, here’s the description.

At First Blush by Beth Ellyn SummerWho would have thought that a teenager could have a successful career creating makeup tutorial videos on YouTube? For Lacey Robbins, this dream has been her reality. An up-and-coming YouTuber, she has thousands of fans and can’t wait for the day when her subscriber count reaches the one million mark. And when she is offered a high school internship at On Trend Magazine, she figures that this could be the make it or break it moment.

But sometimes your dream job isn’t all that it seems. Her editor is only interested in promoting junk products, and her boss in the Hair and Makeup department introduces her to the larger world of makeup artistry, making her wonder if making tutorials online is all she is meant to do. To top it all off, when the magazine’s feature subject , musician Tyler Lance, turns his broodingly handsome smile her way, falling for him could mean losing her fans, forcing her to make a decision: her YouTube life or her real life?

And here are Beth’s answers to five questions about the five things I loved most.

I love the inside look at life as a YouTuber, especially since it’s becoming more common for teens to have channels. Did you experiment with your own channel? Talk to YouTubers? How did you research?

This was definitely a case of binge-watching tons of beauty tutorials and calling it research! I’m deathly camera shy so making my own channel was never an option. YouTube beauty videos have this really fun, sleepover-with-your-best-friends vibe that’s so addictive. I spent months studying how gurus interacted with their subscribers, how they conducted giveaways and handled dramas and scandals. What shocked me most was just how much hate these girls deal with on a daily basis. When pop stars and movie stars get hate, they can avoid social media and Google. But YouTubers literally make their living off interacting with subscribers, so reading hateful comments is all part of a day’s work. I admire anyone who can look past all that to do what they love and make a career out of it.

Lacey’s makeup expertise is so ingrained it’s obvious it originates with you. After reading this book, I feel like I’m probably doing it all wrong and should go watch some tutorials myself. Any tips for those of us who might be in a makeup rut? Who should we watch since Lacey Blushes is fictional?

So, confession: I was always pretty terrible at makeup. Like, awful. My mom did my makeup for me up till college. But then one day I realized I’ve got to figure this out for myself, and I got really hooked on tutorials! These girls made it look so easy, and it’s because of YouTube tutorials that I learned the key to flawless makeup application: a thorough and moisturizing skin care routine, and the right tools. I didn’t realize that you need good quality brushes (you can get really inexpensive ones), otherwise the products don’t apply well. Good brushes are game changing.

My advice if you’re in a makeup rut (and I literally just dragged myself out of one) is to experiment with new brands. Also: play with vibrant eyeliner colors! I have a tough time working with colorful eyeshadows on my lids, and I never have the patience to blend properly, so I tend to stick with my usual neutrals. By adding a pop of teal or turquoise or purple eyeliner, it takes things up a notch without going too far out of a comfort zone.

I highly recommend these beauty channels: Emily Noel, Lisa Eldridge, Pixiwoo, Ingrid Nilsen, Tanya Burr, FleurDeForce, Carrie Rad. I have so many favs but I learn the most from these girls!

I love how Lacey and Cynth’s friendship is portrayed in the book. What suggestions do you have for writing a great friendship?

I’m the biggest sucker for strong friendships in YA. I think a good best friend helps a MC figure themselves out, but I really love it when the friends learn something new about their friendship within character arcs. My favorite way to write a best friend is to make them a polar opposite of my MC. It usually makes for some laughs, all while helping the MC step out of comfort zones. I usually take conversations and silly moments I’ve had with my own best friends and play off that!

Lacey grows so much in the story, figuring out what she wants to stand for and what she wants out of her YouTube career. Did you plan out her arc in advance, or did she reveal herself to you along the way?

I’m a pantser, so a lot of Lacey came to me as I was writing her. But I always knew Lacey would come to the conclusion that dreams can change, and she’d want to do something different from YouTube. I just kept thinking…what would it be like to have a girl who dreams of being a big YouTuber and the true conflict comes when she does get everything she wished for?

The romance! The famous boy who just wants a girl to like him for himself is one of my favorite tropes. I love that he cooks and has major weaknesses where his family is concerned. I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this one, but was there a particular inspiration for Tyler coming from a family boy band?

Ha! Haha. Yes! My favorite thing about post-publication has been reading the guesses from bloggers and readers about who Tyler Lance is based on! It was kind of a huge mix in my head, to be completely honest. I’m a Hanson girl. I grew up going to their shows, and with walls covered in their posters, and I still adore them. I’m really just fascinated with family bands in general. I watched a feature on R5 once where the focus was solely on Ross Lynch and I just wondered…what would happen to the family if the band broke up? There’s some Jonas Brothers and R5 influence in Simply Complicated as well. Despite all the family drama stuff, I also took plenty of inspo from Harry Styles. I based Lacey and Tyler’s romance off of the media firestorm that was Taylor Swift and Harry Styles’ relationship, and Taylor’s 1989 album was my At First Blush playlist. Hardcore Swifties will probably notice references to Out of the Woods and Style!

Thank you, Beth!

Now, on to the giveaway! I’m giving away an e-book of AT FIRST BLUSH, and Beth is adding on an e.l.f. shimmering facial whip and signed bookmark. United States only. To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a18/?

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE Interview & Giveaway!

If you don’t know I participated in The Writer’s Voice contest in 2012, then you’re probably new around here :). But the reason I bring it up–again–is because one of the entries from that contest is now a real, live book! I had the privilege of reading Erin Petti’s THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE after the contest (although I think the title was slightly different then), and I’ve been so thrilled to watch Erin’s journey to publication. To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy to one lucky winner, but first, let me introduce you to Thelma Bee.

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma BeeEleven-year-old Thelma Bee is never bored. In fact, she has curiosity and adventure in her blood. She spends her time running science experiments, practicing Spanish, and daydreaming about exotic landscapes. But Thelma gets more than she bargained for when a strange woman sells a jewelry box at her father’s antique shop. That night, a ghost kidnaps her father, and the only clues are the jewelry box and a word the ghost whispered in her ear: “Return.” Now it’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be harder than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.

I asked Erin to answer questions about my five favorite things–with a little help from my eight-year-old son, who actually snatched this book and read the finished copy before me :).

1. I love Thelma’s interest in science and the use of the scientific method throughout the book. What made you decide to make this a focus for her character?

It may sound silly, but I think that Thelma kind of told me about herself. Since beginning drafting (about a hundred years ago) her voice was always strong and I knew she wanted to investigate things – this led pretty naturally into a scientific disposition. Once that groundwork was laid, her notes became a really helpful tool in telling the story!

2. The illustrations are fantastic. How did you determine THELMA BEE would be an illustrated book?

I love the illustrations, too, thank you! I had no idea that the book would be illustrated. Even after I signed with Mighty Media and had conversations about the direction of the book – it was a real surprise to me when I saw the care that they took integrating all the internal drawings. Kris Aro McLeod is a gifted artist and I feel so lucky that we got to work on this together!

3. The supporting cast of characters—from Alexander to Izzy to Eugene—is so strong. Did you plan out each of these characters in advance, or did they come to you as you were writing?

In my outline, I planned most of the characters, but Menkin was a surprise to me. She just showed up in one scene as I was drafting and became an important part of the story.

4. I love the setting. It’s so spooky and well drawn! How did you research the area, and/or is it familiar to you?

Thank you! The town of Riverfish, MA, is based on the town of Maynard, MA, where I lived when I began drafting. Thelma’s house on the river was my house on the river! The area around Maynard, Lincoln, and Concord, MA, is rich in woodlands and history. It was a giant inspiration!

5. The ending is satisfying and yet leaves the story open for more. Do you have additional adventures in mind for Thelma? My eight-year-old particularly wants to know the answer to this question!

First, a big-huge thank you to your 8-year-old for reading! This is so new to me still and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to imagine a kid connecting with my characters. And yes! More Thelma on the way. A draft of book two is with the publisher right now, and we should be hearing more about Thelma’s adventures very soon! The problems get a little bigger, Thelma learns more about who she is, and RVPS might even get some new members!

That’s great news about additional Thelma Bee adventures!

Now on to the giveaway. I will send a copy of THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE to one lucky winner. North America only please. To enter, click on the link below or leave a comment. I’ll choose a winner next Monday, Oct. 17.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Whether you win or not, I hope you all check out THELMA BEE!

 

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM Interview & Giveaway: DON’T VOTE FOR ME by Krista Van Dolzer

Hey, my second MMGM in less than a month and two giveaways in a row! I’m on a roll! Really, though, I’ve just been reading some amazing books lately. I’m in the middle of an ARC I expect I’ll review as well, possibly next week. But this post is about DON’T VOTE FOR ME by Krista Van Dolzer. It’s Krista’s second release within only a few months of her debut, and I’m thrilled to welcome Krista back to the blog with her answers to questions about the five things I loved best. But first, here’s the cover and description.

Don't Vote for Me by Krista Van DolzerIt’s class president election time, and no one is surprised when Veronica Pritchard-Pratt is the only name on the list. She’s the most popular girl in school, a social giant who rules the campaign every single year. David, for one, is sick of the tyranny–which he says. Out loud. When Veronica hears about this, she issues a public challenge to David. With his pride on the line, David accepts his fate and enters the race.

But as the campaign wages on, and David and Veronica are also paired up for a spring musical recital, David learns this Goliath is more than just a social giant–and maybe deserves to win more than he does…

And here are Krista’s answers to five questions about the things I loved most.

  1. I love the premise of David vs. Goliath, adapted to a middle school presidential election. It’s so perfect! What made you want to write this particular story?

Not long after I signed with my agent, Kate Schafer Testerman, I saw another agent tweet about wanting to see more biblical retellings in contemporary settings. I’d wanted to write about a middle school election for a while—I ran for student office seven times over the course of my academic career (though I never won once!)—and the idea of writing it as a David and Goliath retelling was what finally made it stick.

  1. Your first book featured a 12-year-old girl in the 1950s, while DON’T VOTE FOR ME is told from the point of view of a 12-year-old boy. Both are so authentic. Any tips on nailing those voices?

One tip would be to give your point-of-view characters specific quirks or idiosyncrasies that can come out in their exposition. The main character from my first book is as feisty as they come whereas David uses lots of acronyms, so expressions that would fit one voice wouldn’t necessarily fit the other. It’s all about getting inside your characters’ heads and choosing words and phrases that fit their personalities.

  1. While I loved David, Veronica really intrigued me, and the fact that the reader is never inside her head maintains her air of mystery to the end—which is perhaps how a girl should remain to a 12-year-old boy 🙂. Since Veronica is intended to be the Goliath character, did you start out writing her as more of a villain, or did you always intend for her to be a mystery for David to explore?

I always intended for Veronica to be more multidimensional than the biblical Goliath, but her character—and even her name—did change over time. In the first draft, she was the daughter of rich, overbearing parents who thought that music was a waste of time, but as I got deeper into the plot, those characters didn’t fit the story. (And in the first draft, her name was Grizelda!)

  1. I loved the secondary characters and their quirks—Spencer using scientists’ names, Ms. Clementi with her over-the-top threats for punishments. Any stories behind how you came up with those or others?

As I was writing along, I came to a place where Spencer needed to exclaim something, but I wanted it to be more memorable than “Oh my gosh!” Since I was already trying to get away from the stereotypical Asian kid who’s good at math and science, the explanation I came up with fits his character. And Ms. Clementi is loosely based on my eighth-grade French teacher, but I won’t say any more than that :).

  1. The parallel storyline with David and Veronica preparing for the recital provided an excellent contrast for them to work together while competing against each other in the election. Any particular reason you chose the trumpet and piano as their instruments? Or the pieces they play?

I knew I wanted David to play a soloist’s instrument (which ruled out the tuba, unfortunately), and when I remembered that my brother-in-law plays the trumpet, everything clicked into place. My sister was the one who suggested that Veronica play the piano, and since it fit her character and the storyline, I heartily agreed.

As for the pieces they play, it took some time to nail those down. I combed through the repertoires of famous trumpet players like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, but it wasn’t until I stumbled across Louis Armstrong’s cover of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en rose” that I knew I’d found the one. It has an evocative melody that fans of WALL-E will be familiar with (since it’s the song that plays behind EVE and WALL-E’s courtship), and “La Vie en rose” literally means “The life in pink,” or, more colloquially, “A rose-colored life.” Since that’s how David sees Veronica’s life (at least at first), it was a perfect fit.

Veronica’s nocturne was easier to find. My husband plays Frederic Chopin’s “Nocturne in E Flat Major,” which I’ve heard him describe as the sound of moonlight on water (if moonlight on water made a sound). I can’t imagine finding a piece that Veronica would love more.

Thank you so much, Krista! I’m not as familiar with WALL-E, but that should definitely help young readers relate to the music!

On to the giveaway! I would like to send a hardback copy of DON’T VOTE FOR ME to one of you (North America only, please). To enter, click on the link below.

Click here to enter to win a copy of DON’T VOTE FOR ME!

Good luck!

 

 

Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM Interview & Giveaway: THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING by Krista Van Dolzer

Happy Memorial Day! I hope my fellow Americans are enjoying the day off.

I’m thrilled to feature THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING on the blog today. It’s especially appropriate since The Writer’s Voice is in progress right now, and I was on Team Krista in 2012, the first year the contest happened. It was such a great experience, and Krista has remained a mentor and friend to me far beyond those few weeks. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book, and one of you lucky readers can win a signed copy, too! But first, let’s talk about the book …

The Sound of Life and Everything by Krista Van DolzerTwelve-year-old Ella Mae Higbee is a sensible girl. She eats her vegetables and wants to be just like Sergeant Friday, her favorite character on Dragnet. So when her auntie Mildred starts spouting nonsense about a scientist who can bring her cousin Robby back to life, Ella Mae doesn’t believe her–until a boy steps out of the scientist’s pod and drips slime on the floor right before her eyes.

But the boy is not Robby–he’s Japanese. And in California in the wake of World War II, the Japanese are still feared and mistreated. When Auntie Mildred refuses to take responsibility, Ella Mae convinces her mama to take the boy home with them. It’s clear that he’ll be kept like a prisoner in that lab, and she wants to help.

Determined to do what’s right by her new friend, Ella Mae teaches him English and defends him from the reverend’s talk of H-E-double-toothpicks. But when the boy’s painful memories resurface, Ella Mae learns some surprising truths about her own family and, more importantly, what it means to love.

As usual when I do an interview, the questions are centered around the five things I loved most.

1. It’s fantastic how you seamlessly wove in historical tidbits that adults have probably heard somewhere–for example, that the general public didn’t know President Roosevelt was in a wheelchair until after his death. Was it challenging to figure out where these would fit? Did you have a file of historical facts you wanted to include and couldn’t?

I didn’t have a file of historical facts, but now I wish I had!

For the most part, I researched the 1950s in general, then drew on that working knowledge as I drafted individual scenes. For instance, the scene in which I mentioned President Roosevelt has a reference to wheelchairs, so I tried to think of someone in a wheelchair that Ella Mae would have known. President Roosevelt came to mind, and it was only as I was fact-checking myself that I discovered the general public didn’t know the full details of his condition until after his death.

2. The message that there are two sides to every conflict (or war) and that individuals shouldn’t be judged by ethnicity is especially appropriate today. There were so many nations involved in World War II. Why did you choose to tell the story of a Japanese character versus German? Was it strictly because he would stand out so much physically?

Yes, the primary reason I made my regenerated man Japanese was because he would stand out so much physically. I wanted the characters to be able to have an immediate reaction to the way he looked.

3. I loved how much of an impact Takuma, as a single person, had on so many lives. Takuma struck me as culturally appropriate but not stereotypical. How did you go about developing his character?

I’m so glad you thought Takuma was culturally appropriate but not stereotypical! I spent quite a bit of time researching Japanese culture in an effort to get his character right. One thing I learned is that Americans tend to value independence whereas Japanese people tend to value interdependence, being a small part of a larger and more important whole. That quality suited the character I wanted to develop.

That said, Takuma’s character has changed from draft to draft. In my earliest drafts, he was very much like Mary Poppins—practically perfect in every way—so a critique partner suggested that I make him less perfect to give him more dimension. It was a valid point, so I tried to apply it, but the changes I made just never felt completely right. I went back to his old character, and though he is somewhat one-dimensional, I stand by that decision. I’ll let you decide why you think he is the way he is. (For the record, my mom and I have very different explanations, both of which are valid within the context of the story.)

4. The voice felt so strongly middle grade despite the seriousness of the situation, particularly in regard to Ella Mae’s roller-coaster emotions about her friendships with both Takuma and Theo. Did her voice come naturally to you, or did you have to really work on keeping her at that age?

Ella Mae’s voice came so naturally that I’ve started to wonder if I was a twelve-year-old girl in 1952 in another life :). I’ve worked on this book off and on for the last four years, and no matter how much time I spend away from it, I can always pick Ella Mae’s voice right back up. Of all the characters I’ve written, Ella Mae is my favorite.

5. I really loved the ending, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so I’ll make it a more general question. Did you know from the beginning how the story would need to end, or did it surprise you as you were writing?

I’ve always had a very clear idea of how this story was going to end. As soon as I wrote the first chapter, I knew exactly how I was going to write the last few chapters. Not everyone likes the ending—one editor in particular rejected the manuscript precisely because she didn’t like the way it ended—but in my mind, it always had to end this way.

Thanks, Krista!!

If you haven’t already picked this book up, do it now! But I am giving away a signed copy to one lucky winner. North America only, please. Click on the Rafflecopter below to enter. Good luck!

Click here to win a signed copy of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING

Interviews, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review & Interview: FORBIDDEN by Kimberley Griffiths Little

Today I’m thrilled to feature an interview with Kimberley Griffiths Little for her new young adult historical, FORBIDDEN, which takes readers much further into history than the typical historical novel. Take a look at this gorgeous trailer for a glimpse.

Kimberley graciously answered questions for me about the five things I loved best.

1. When I first read about your research into belly-dancing, I imagined a very different setting for this story. I had no idea it was 1759 BC in the deserts of Mesopotamia. I felt like I’d been transported into the Old Testament! What kinds of texts did you refer to as research for the customs and daily life of this time? Did you get to travel?

I did use the Old Testament – mostly for names, though, but Abraham is one of my favorite prophets and his story is quite heart-breaking. He was also a nomad who had tents and camels and goats. I used to teach the Bible to teenagers several years ago—and it was definitely inspiring and helped me get into the time period. I also spent years reading about the Middle East; Bedouin tribes and their history, culture, food, and goat hair tents. I own one very *thick* book that has 200 pages just about camels.

I did a lot of reading about the roots of belly dance and what an important part of the women’s world the dance was for childbirth, betrothals, marriage, and death. The dance was a huge part of the goddess temples and religion. Those clashing cultures and worship beliefs were a ready-made contrast.

Last year I made my dream trip: I got to visit Jordan and the world wonder of Petra (a very important and romantic chapter takes place in Petra!) although it belonged to the Edomite tribe in 1750s BC. Breath-taking scenery, friendly people, great food; it was a fabulous, awe-inspiring and spiritually uplifting trip as we also spent 10 days in Israel.

Pinterest (I have a Board with fabulous pictures of Petra’s stunning landscape and the Bedouins who live there—and Bedouin-decorated camels! Plus Middle Eastern and Belly Dance boards!)

2. I love the way the romance grows between Jayden and Kadesh. How did you come up with these two characters? Did they come to you easily, or did you have to create one to complement the other?

Who doesn’t love a mysterious, dark and handsome stranger?! I started dreaming about this book 11 years ago . . . the characters came to me fairly easily after all the research because I knew I wanted to write a story about a character who was a true girl of the desert and how much her home and family meant to her, but I was also researching the mysterious frankincense lands far to the south along the Arabian Sea (the modern country of Oman) so creating her love interest in a boy from those secret lands made for a perfect contrast.

3. I loved all the complex layers you created for Jayden. She had to deal with not just the struggle of her unwanted betrothal but also multiple family issues and tribal politics. Did you have all of those layers in mind when you began the story, or did some come into play later?

The tribal politics was developed more fully during later drafts. I wanted to raise the stakes with every draft, and the character’s complexities and motivations grew and refined. It just seems to take time, right? And sometimes it also takes brainstorming with your trusted crit friend or a son who is a bookworm and brilliant at story structure. 🙂 I’m lucky!

4. Ok, fun question! Dancing is such an integral part of Jayden’s tribe and her own identity. Did you learn some belly-dancing yourself to get into her character?

Absolutely! It was the original spark, actually. And, um, I performed once! Scary, but fun, too!

For years the idea of belly dance was intriguing to me; mystical, sensuous, and yet so beautiful and mesmerizing to watch. How they move their muscles and hands is incredible! I also love this ancient dance because any women of any age or any size can dance this style—and they all look beautiful.

5. I’m fascinated by how different this book is from your others. You switched not only categories, but also genres, jumping from contemporary middle grade with a hint of magic to historical young adult. How did you adjust your mindset to such a different style of writing?

It’s funny because I’ve been simultaneously writing both MG and YA books for 15 years. It just took longer to publish the YA historical trilogy.

During the decade of the 2000’s everything was vampires, werewolves, fairies, and boys in wizard school. 🙂 Historical fiction definitely took a back seat, but it’s coming baaack! Book genres are cyclical. For instance, during the decade of the 2000’s contemporary YA was also dead, and now it’s being published by the millions and getting made into movies. Contemporary YA is the hot *new* genre. Well, tell that to someone like Richard Peck who wrote fantastic contemp YA during the 1990s!

My other historical fiction: In 2002 I published a book with Random House called The Last Snake Runner. It’s time travel and based on the true story of a New Mexico tribe who lives in a village on top of a 400-foot mesa. It’s a war story with Spanish conquistadors who came through the Southwest in 1599 and waged a 3-day war with the local tribe, eventually burning the village and taking them into slavery. Cannons and guns versus stones and slings! There are snakes and a girl in the past and heart-breaking consequences. Many middle schools use this book because there are no other MG/YA books about the history of the Southwest—that both boys and girls really enjoy. I brought it back into a print book and Kindle edition this past spring. AMAZON LINK

Thank you so much for having me, Michelle!

Thank you, Kimberley! And here’s where you can find her:

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Giveaways, Interviews, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review, Interview & Giveaway: FALLS THE SHADOW by Stefanie Gaither

Two years ago, I read the QueryTracker success story for Stefanie Gaither’s FALLS THE SHADOW and thought, “Wow! I have got to read that!” Well, fast-forward two years and I’ve finally had the chance. And, bonus, Stefanie agreed to answer my questions about the five things I loved best and has offered to send a signed copy to one of you lucky readers. Details are at the end of the post. But first, here’s the cover and description for those of who you didn’t read that query :).

FALLS THE SHADOW by Stefanie GaitherWhen Cate Benson was a kid, her sister, Violet, died. Two hours after the funeral, Cate’s family picked up Violet’s replacement. Like nothing had happened. Because Cate’s parents are among those who decided to give their children a sort of immortality—by cloning them at birth—which means this new Violet has the same smile. The same perfect face. Thanks to advancements in mind-uploading technology, she even has all of the same memories as the girl she replaced.

She also might have murdered the most popular girl in school.

At least, that’s what the paparazzi and the anti-cloning protestors want everyone to think: that clones are violent, unpredictable monsters. Cate is used to hearing all that. She’s used to defending her sister, too. But Violet has vanished, and when Cate sets out to find her, she ends up in the line of fire instead. Because Cate is getting dangerously close to secrets that will rock the foundation of everything she thought was true.

And here are Stefanie Gaither’s answers to the questions I posed about the five things I loved most:

1. I love this premise. I’m sure you’ve been asked before, but where did you come up with the idea for a world where clones are a reality?

Part of it was the science geek in me wondering about that sort of world, but there were personal reasons for wanting to tell this story, too; as someone who had lost quite a bit of close family by the time I was Cate’s age, I can really relate to that desire that some of the people in this world have to give their loved ones an immortality through cloning.

2. Yay for parents who aren’t dead! And yet … there were definitely complicated family dynamics. I’m curious: did you plan Cate’s parents and their histories in advance (in particular her mother’s), or did that develop with the plot?

I had an idea of what Cate’s relationships with her parents would be like from the beginning, but as the story progressed, I had to think more and more about how those relationships came to be so that it would (hopefully) read more realistically. And that involved a lot of thinking about what her parents had been through, which led to backstory, which, of course, ultimately influenced the plot. So, I guess you could say it all sort of developed simultaneously? I’m not much of a linear thinker when I’m writing, so it’s hard to say which details came first.

3. The relationship between Cate and Violet was fascinating. Obviously the story’s from Cate’s point of view, but how much did you get inside Violet’s head to figure out how she would react in various situations?

A lot. Fun fact: when I first started writing the book, it was actually a dual pov that switched between Cate and Violet’s narration. There were a few scenes later on, too, that I at least partially drafted from Violet’s pov so that I could try to see things through her eyes. It was especially challenging with her because she’s essentially two people—the old Violet and the new one—and those two people are constantly warring in her head. So I spent a lot of time in that head, trying to figure things out.

4. I loved all the action! What kind of research did you have to do for the fight and chase scenes? Or are you secretly a ninja?

I may have been known to dabble in ninja-ry every now and then :). But other than that, most of the research I did for those scenes had to do with the weapons used, and medical stuff re: what would actually happen if someone, say, stabbed you in the stomach. There was some hands on stuff, too; when I’m writing out an action scene, I like to act it out to help myself visualize it. My poor husband usually gets roped into the act too. But he’s usually a good sport about me kicking him around and putting him in chokeholds, at least ;).

5. And I have to mention the romance, of course. I loved the way you threw Cate and Jaxon together in a life-or-death situation, and yet there’s history on both sides. How did you decide what kind of guy would coax Cate out of the shadows?

It was all a matter of knowing Cate first and foremost, and knowing how she would react to different people and personalities and different kinds of attempts to, as you put it, “coax her out of the shadows”. I couldn’t see her, for example, opening up to a guy she just met, because she’s too guarded for that. So I decided they had to have some sort of history, and as much of a pre-established connection as the quiet Cate would have allowed. And I couldn’t see her opening up to someone as loudmouthed as say, Seth, either. She has enough drama in her life dealing with Violet, so it made sense to me that she would seek comfort in someone like Jaxon, who to me is ultimately (even in spite of a few mistakes) the strong, steady and sweet type. Basically, it just comes down to seeing her as an actual person, and thinking about what other sort of actual person would complement her best.

Thanks, Stefanie, for stopping by! I love these answers. If anyone wasn’t already dying to read this book based on the description, I bet they are now!

And on that note, to enter the giveaway for a signed copy of Stefanie Gaither’s FALLS THE SHADOW, click on the Rafflecopter link below. North America only, please.

Rafflecopter Giveaway

Next week I’ll have another interview–with Kimberley Griffiths Little and her new young adult novel, FORBIDDEN–so be sure to come back for that one!