Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Digging for the Truth, a guest post by Lilliam Rivera

Photo credit: Isabelle Santiago

If you’re like me, I try my best to avoid consuming the news all day. This is not an easy feat considering the world we’re currently experiencing. The reality is that to get to the truth about things takes more than just a quick glance at a headline. Our most “trusted” news outlets continue to fail us. How can we prepare ourselves when the established media institutions bend the truth? There is fake news and then there is also this idea of sugarcoating the truth. Why not use the words “white supremacy” or “racist” when you can use “racially tinged” and “racially motivated?”

However, this essay is not about linguistics or the history of how words are used to perpetuate the racial structure that so many benefit from. This essay is about High School history class. When I was attending High School in New York, I attended a public school specializing in secretarial studies and computer sciences. The goal was to prep students to enter the work force as assistants. I learned how to type and spent most summers temping in various offices around the city. The funny thing was that I loved history. I devoured books exploring the period between the late 1950s to the late 1970s. During that period, the world felt as if it was at a crossroads. Students and young people all across the United States were rising up to make their voices heard against a tyrannical government. I wanted so desperately to read about the Young Lords, the Puerto Rican youth movement who joined the Black Panthers to help aid their community. I wanted to read about the Chicano Movement, La Raza, and more.

Sadly, this wouldn’t be the case. The history books I was forced to read didn’t mention these Brown and Black social movements. And if I ever wanted to search anything tied to Puerto Rico, well, I was out of luck. Instead I cobbled together what I could, creating a mix match selection from the library which included memoir, fiction, and poetry. I read Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets right alongside Alex Healey and Malcom X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  I read Bobby Seale’s Power to the People with Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It wasn’t enough. I couldn’t find works on Latin America’s liberation theology or the Young Lords work in Chicago and the Bronx. It would be later in college when I would be able to connect with those periods. Perhaps this is the reason why I decided to find ways to incorporate history in my young adult novels. I’m not writing historical fiction but allowing these characters to explore their cities through a historical lens.

The Education of Margot Sanchez

In my first novel The Education of Margot Sanchez, I introduced gentrification and its effects on Brown and Black families. But my latest young adult novel goes further with this idea. In Never Look Back, I flip the Orpheus and Eurydice myth and set it in mostly in the Bronx, New York with two Afro Latino protagonists. Pheus is a wannabe bachata singer who meets and falls in love with Eury, a Puerto Rican displaced by Hurricane Maria and haunted by an angry spirit. The novel is a love story but it is also a story of how trauma infects each generation. Pheus is a fairly typical high schooler, one with the gift of musical talent. He is also a great history buff. Through Pheus, we are able to get insight, however short, into the colonization of Puerto Rico, the Young Lords occupation of Lincoln Hospital in the 1970s to help their community, and the traumatic effects of the military on young people. Pheus doesn’t just see a building, he sees the blood and tears imprinted on the walls.

Never Look Back

I love this idea of the school curriculums moving between fiction and history. High School English and US history are great places to have a robust conversation. In recent years, there have been wonderful works being produced in children’s book spaces. Why not pair Sonia Manzano’s The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano with The Young Lords: A Reader by Iris Morales? What about Esmeralda Santiago’s When I was Puerto Rican with The Taste of Sugar: A Novel by Marisel Vera? A school guide has already been created for the award-winning New York Times’  1619 Project. What if the project was paired with Kekla Magoon’s Fire in the Streets or Renée Watson’s Some Places More Than Others

If a young reader is not into historical fiction, there are still a lot of innovative ways to introduce overlooked historical moments through young adult and middle grade novels. The excitement is not only discovering the pages can be mirrors but can also bring much needed light to a period times overlooked by our history books. Let young readers question the very text books being handed to them. Let them raise their eyebrows at what is left off the page and nudge them to present their doubts through the use of fictional characters who are also on a similar journey. The goal is to expand what is presented in approved texts and have them find the missing voices in between the lines because no one story book or newspaper holds the full truth.

Meet Lilliam Rivera

Photo credit: Vanessa Acosta

Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and the author of children’s books Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit, Dealing in DreamsThe Education of Margot Sanchez, and the forthcoming young adult novel Never Look Back (September 15, 2020) by Bloomsbury. Her work has appeared in The Washington PostNew York Times, and Elle, to name a few. A Bronx, New York native, Lilliam currently lives in Los Angeles. 

About NEVER LOOK BACK

Never Look Back

Expertly blends reality and fantasy to explore what’s behind love and loss, what it takes to heal.” – Randy Ribay, author of National Book Award finalist Patron Saints of Nothing

Acclaimed author Lilliam Rivera blends a touch of magical realism into a timely story about cultural identity, overcoming trauma, and the power of first love.

Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria—and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy . . .

Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.

Featuring contemporary Afro-Latinx characters, this retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice is perfect for fans of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride and Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper.

ISBN-13: 9781547603732
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Psst–Wanna Hear a Secret? Keeping Things Private in My Life in the Fish Tank, a guest post by Barbara Dee

This may sound funny to admit, but I’ve only recently realized that all my recent books are about secrecy.

I didn’t write these books with a recurring theme in mind.  My latest Middle Grade (or, to be precise, Upper Middle Grade) books explore a variety of  “tough topics”–sexual orientation (Star-Crossed),  pediatric cancer (Halfway Normal), eating disorders (Everything I Know About You), sexual harassment (Maybe He Just Likes You).  My next book, My Life in the Fish Tank (Aladdin/S&S, Sept 15, 2020) is about a family of four kids unsettled by the oldest son’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Looking over my shoulder, though, I see that what these very different stories have in common  is a protagonist struggling under the burden of a secret.  In Star-Crossed and Maybe He Just Likes You, it’s a secret that shouldn’t be a secret at all. In Halfway Normal, the secret is a form of self-protection. In Everything I Know About You and My Life in the Fish Tank, the secret is intended to protect others. But in all these stories, whatever motivates the desire to hide information, the secret is a source of anxiety, responsible for tensions with the protagonist’s friends and family.

My Life in the Fish Tank

In My Life in the Fish Tank, Zinny doesn’t want to keep her brother Gabriel’s mental illness secret–it’s her parents who insist on it. And actually, her parents never use the word secret–they simply ask that the kids in the family keep it private.  “For Gabriel’s sake,” they explain. 

But Zinny immediately sees through their language.

“You mean secret?” I asked.

“Not secret, private,” Dad said. He flashed mom a look.

“Okay,” I said.

But if there was a difference between those two words–“secret” and “private”–I didn’t know what it was. 

It’s not that Zinny wants to talk about her brother’s bipolar disorder (“The whole thing hurt my heart in a way I couldn’t describe…I couldn’t explain to anyone how it felt to wonder if he’d be okay.”) She’s also (rightfully) wary of friends like Maisie who pry, expecting gossipy details on demand.

But what Zinny comes to realize is that not talking to people about Gabriel  has a cost. If you don’t share vital information about yourself, if you hide your true feelings, you push people away. As the hospital social worker tells Nora in Halfway Normal, there’s no requirement that she “entertain anyone with (her) cancer story…Although not sharing can be tricky too…Maybe you want to consider how other people would feel about that.” 

I think one reason I write about secrecy so much is that in middle school, intimacy–sharing secrets–is the currency of friendship, especially among girls. So in Maybe He Just Likes You, when Mila doesn’t tell Zara about the boys’ s sexual harassment game, it seals the fate of their already rocky relationship. In Star-Crossed, Mattie’s instinct not to tell loyal but loudmouthed Tessa about her crush on Gemma almost wrecks their friendship too. In Halfway Normal Nora’s desire to keep her “cancer story” to herself is understandable–but it threatens her bonds with Harper and Griffin. Withholding secrets from your best friends can be  dangerous, a source of conflict–even when it’s for a good reason.

Sometimes I hear from adult readers, “I just wished the character had told an adult.” This comment always surprises me.  For upper elementary and middle school kids, one of the worst things you can be is a tattletale, which is why Tally resists sharing  Ava’s secret in Everything I Know About You. And when the secret is your own, you also don’t rush off to tell a grownup. You usually do one of two things: either you share it with your friends (if it’s the sort of secret that’s shareable) or you turn inward–closing yourself off, obsessing in potentially unhealthy ways.

Because as a bright, observant twelve-year-old, Zinny is starting to see that adults aren’t perfect and can’t solve all your problems. She watches her parents with sharp eyes: the way after her brother’s diagnosis her dad withdraws from the rest of the family but adopts a “bright, cheery voice” when they visit Gabriel at the residential treatment center  (“I couldn’t help thinking that he’d kept it from us, hidden away. Almost like he thought we didn’t deserve it or something.”) And even though Mom insists that she wants to keep Gabriel’s condition “private” out of respect for Gabriel, Zinny notes how Mom lies to her neighbor Mrs. Halloran, telling her that Gabriel is “back at school and working hard.”   Horrified, Zinny wonders: “Why would Mom lie about Gabriel? Was she ashamed that her own kid was crazy? Because I couldn’t think of any other reason.”

Eventually  Zinny is brave enough to confront her parents. She doesn’t call them out for stigmatizing mental illness;  she’s a kid, so she’s more focused on the way their insistence on secrecy has affected both the family and her own social life.  At the same time, Zinny has been identifying people she can confide in: kids like Kailani and the others in the Lunch Club. Adults like Mr. Patrick, the excellent guidance counselor who allows Zinny to proceed at her own pace, gradually feeling comfortable enough to share her secret. In all my stories about kids with secrets, there are good friends and less-good ones, adults who demand information (like Ms. Castro in Halfway Normal) and adults who offer support in unobtrusive ways that earn the protagonist’s trust  (like Mr. Torres in Star-Crossed and both Ms. Molina and Mr. Patrick  in Fish Tank).

If you ask me what Middle Grade books are about, I’d say they’re about this: learning to analyze behavior.  Evaluating friendships in ever-changing light. Seeing adults not as all-powerful, all-knowing paragons, but as complicated, flawed (if often benevolent) human beings.

And then figuring out your relationship with all these people–whom you can trust, especially with your precious secrets.  

Meet Barbara Dee

Barbara Dee is the author of several middle grade novels including Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have received several starred reviews and been included on many best-of lists, including the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten, the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, and the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Star-Crossed was also a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist. Barbara is one of the founders of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. She lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound dog named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.

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My wonderful local indie is Scattered Books.  They ship everywhere. I’m doing a signing there on Sat, Sept 26 from 2-4 pm. It will be outside, in front of the bookstore—COVID safe!

About My Life in the Fish Tank

My Life in the Fish Tank

From acclaimed author of Maybe He Just Likes You and Halfway Normal comes a powerful and moving story of learning how to grow, change, and survive.

When twelve-year-old Zinnia Manning’s older brother Gabriel is diagnosed with a mental illness, the family’s world is turned upside down. Mom and Dad want Zinny, her sixteen-year-old sister, Scarlett, and her eight-year-old brother, Aiden, to keep Gabriel’s condition “private”—and to Zinny that sounds the same as “secret.” Which means she can’t talk about it to her two best friends, who don’t understand why Zinny keeps pushing them away, turning everything into a joke.

It also means she can’t talk about it during Lunch Club, a group run by the school guidance counselor. How did Zinny get stuck in this weird club, anyway? She certainly doesn’t have anything in common with these kids—and even if she did, she’d never betray her family’s secret.

The only good thing about school is science class, where cool teacher Ms. Molina has them doing experiments on crayfish. And when Zinny has the chance to attend a dream marine biology camp for the summer, she doesn’t know what to do. How can Zinny move forward when Gabriel—and, really, her whole family—still needs her help?

ISBN-13: 9781534432338
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 9 – 13 Years

Movies and Media in Not Your #Lovestory, a guest post by Sonia Hartl

When I sat down to write NOT YOUR #LOVESTORY, I didn’t realize at first how big of a role older movies would play in my story. I knew I wanted my main character, Macy, to be a YouTuber and I knew my premise would involve Macy going viral through a series of tweets captured by a stranger, but it took some time for me to land on what she did with her YouTube channel.

I watch a lot of older movies with my own teenage daughter, and we sometimes poke fun at them, but we also talk about what we think the movies are trying to say, or what they say to us. It really made me realize how media can bridge the gap between generations, and how movies can make it possible for us to have conversations we wouldn’t otherwise know how to start.

A big theme in NOT YOUR #LOVESTORY is how destructive media can be, especially when people are photographed without consent or when they have personal tragedies picked apart, but I also wanted to show how it can connect and heal as well. Movies are a way for Macy’s mom to say things to her daughter that she isn’t able to vocalize, but it’s also a way for Macy to explore where she fits in the world. They allow her to shape her own views based on the way they speak to her and what she takes away from them.

I also wanted these older movies to act as symbol for the town she lives in as a whole. The way these films are often viewed through a nostalgic lens, but there is always a new way of looking at things that is often much deeper than what appears on the surface. Media has its ugly side, but it’s also what connects us and lets us see the commonalities we have with each other.

Meet Sonia Hartl

Sonia Hartl is the author of NOT YOUR #LOVESTORYand HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME (Page Street), which received a starred review in BookPage and earned nominations for the Georgia Peach Book Award, YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Books of the Year, and ALA’s Rise: A Feminist Book Project List. When she’s not writing or reading, she’s enjoying pub trivia, marathoning Disney movies, or taking a walk outside in the fall. She’s a member of SCBWI and the Managing Director for Pitch Wars 2020. She lives in Grand Rapids with her husband and two daughters. Follow her on Twitter @SoniaHartl1.   

About NOT YOUR #LOVESTORY

Not Your #Lovestory

#PlaneBae meets Gilmore Girls in this hilarious and heartfelt story about the addictiveness of Internet fame and the harsh realities of going viral.

Macy Evans dreams of earning enough income from her YouTube channel, R3ntal Wor1d, to leave her small, Midwestern town. But when she meets a boy named Eric at a baseball game, and accidently dumps her hotdog in his lap, her disastrous “meet-cute” becomes the topic of a viral thread. Now it’s not loyal subscribers flocking to her channel, it’s Internet trolls. And they aren’t interested in her reviews of VHS tapes—they only care about her relationship with Eric.

Eric is overly eager to stretch out his fifteen minutes of fame, but Macy fears this unwanted attention could sabotage her “real-life” relationships—namely with the shy boy-next-door, Paxton, who she’s actually developing feelings for. Macy knows she should shut the lie down, though she can’t ignore the advertising money, or the spark she gets in her chest whenever someone clicks on her videos. Eric shouldn’t be the only one allowed to reap the viral benefits. But is faking a relationship for clicks and subscribers worth hurting actual people?

ISBN-13: 9781645670544
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 09/01/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Want to Be a Fantasy Writer? You Need to Travel, a guest post by Jill Criswell

A note from Karen Jensen: We are aware that there has been a tremendous amount of discourse and pushback regarding this post, particularly on Twitter and in the comments section. We discussed taking this post down, but feel like that is perhaps not the most ethical approach. We posted it and that’s on us. We made the following statement via Twitter: “TLT has always made it a practice to allow authors the opportunity to promote their work via guest posts. In March of 2020 as the world closed down, we heard authors far and wide worrying about promoting and selling their books. We really opened our doors during this time in an effort to help promote the thing we love, YA lit. We are aware that the recent post by Jill Criswell promotes a privileged point of view that has harmed our readers and we apologize. Although we will continue to offer our platform to authors, we will try to do a better job on our end of vetting those posts so that this type of privileged harm is not posted on our platform. We sincerely apologize.”

We also want to clarify that although this is a networked blog with School Library Journal, they are not responsible for this post or the title of this post. In fact, when an author submits a guest post we at TLT ask them to provide a title and we copy the title and body of their post as is. These do not always represent our personal views. SLJ has always given us tremendous freedom and has never censored nor really challenged any of our work here at TLT, for which I have always been grateful.

Kingdom of Ice and Bone

Okay, so I know that’s depressing to hear right now, in these times when some of us are barely leaving our homes, much less our countries. (Thank you, by the way, to those of you staying home, being responsible, and helping to stop the spread of this disease.) But hopefully, one day soon, life will return to something resembling the pre-COVID world, and travel will be safe again. When it does, if you’re able, please dive into it and explore!

When I first decided I wanted to try writing young adult fantasy, I wasn’t sure where to start. Fantasy is all about world-building. What world should I write about? How do I make this fabricated world feel like a real, wondrous place? Luckily, I’ve spent years saving every penny so I could afford to travel. I’ve visited fifty countries across six continents, and that accounts for some serious world-building inspiration. It’s not something many get the chance to do, and I recognize it for the privilege it is, but this is how I finally found the fantasy world I was looking for.

I took a trip to Iceland, a place I’d dreamed of traveling to for years. Driving on Hringvegur, or Ring Road, which forms a giant circle around the island, I was definitely north of the wall—it was mid-May, and there were still snowstorms in the mountains and snow-plowed roads lined on both sides with ten-foot-tall embankments of packed snow. Being in Iceland was like being on another planet. There are black sand beaches, troll-shaped basalt pillars rising from the wild North Atlantic waves, rolling blue glaciers, snow-capped volcanoes and vast lava fields, geysers and fumaroles and waterfalls that will make your jaw drop. Add to that the rich lore of Viking Sagas and Norse mythology, and you have a perfect storm of world-building inspiration. This is where my YA fantasy series, the Frozen Sun Saga, was born.

Beasts of the Frozen Sun

The first book in the series, Beasts of the Frozen Sun, takes place in a country called Glasnith, which is based on places I traveled to in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Lira, the story’s heroine, crosses paths with Reyker, a warrior from Iseneld—an enigmatic island covered in ice though liquid fire boils below its surface. The Frozen Sun. Reyker tells Lira stories of his island, and she’s captivated. In the sequel, Kingdom of Ice & Bone, she finally gets to go there herself.

Iseneld is based on—you guessed it—Iceland, and as the plot unfolds, the landscape becomes its own character. The protagonists trek across the country, encountering obstacles and facing threats based on real-life danger that any soul brave enough to journey across Iceland by foot would encounter. Throughout the story, I weave in some of my favorite, iconic places in the land of ice and fire: Þingvellir, Gullfoss, Dettifoss, Reynisfjara, Skaftafellsjökull, Eldhraun, Jökulsárlón, Kjölur, Námafjall, and Haukadalur. The phenomena of the northern lights and the Midnight Sun are also featured, adding beauty and mystery to the backdrop.

I’m grateful to Iceland and its people for the inspiration I found there, and my hope is that readers will be drawn into the realm of Iseneld and want to visit the country that inspired it, too. Beyond that, I hope fantasy stories like mine that are based on real places will inspire more readers and writers to travel—as soon as it’s once again safe—to seek out fantastical settings that happen to exist right here in our own world.

Meet Jill Criswell

Jill Criswell is a writer of young adult fantasy. She was born and raised in the swamps of northeastern Florida. She earned degrees in English and Psychology and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida. Her greatest passion, besides reading and writing, is traveling the world; she’s visited fifty countries across six continents, falling in love with places like Iceland, Namibia, and Cambodia. She works as a university English teacher and lives in South Carolina, near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with her husband and daughter (who is named after a volcano in Iceland). She is the author of Beasts of the Frozen Sun, the first book in the Frozen Sun Saga.

Author Links:

Author Website: https://jillcriswell.com/

Author Twitter:  https://twitter.com/JillCriswell

Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorJillCriswell/

Author Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/authorjillcriswell/

Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18483321.Jill_Criswell

About Kingdom of Ice & Bone

Kingdom of Ice and Bone

Lira and Reyker have lost everything. Including each other.

Lira of Stone watched her home burn and her clan fall beneath the sword of the warlord known as the Dragon. She believes the man she loves, a warrior who defected from the Dragon’s army, is dead. Alongside her exiled brother and his band of refugees, she will fight the forces that conquered her island. But the greatest danger may come from Lira herself—with the blood of banished gods running through her veins, she’s become a weapon, and no one is safe from the power of her wrath.

Reyker Lagorsson thought he was done being a Dragonman. That was before he saw Lira leap from a cliff and vanish into the sea. Determined to honor her memory by protecting her people, Reyker must feign loyalty to the warlord, undermine him at every turn, and seek alliances with renegade soldiers—without succumbing to the battle-madness that threatens to possess him once more.

When the Fallen Ones offer Lira a chance to defeat the Dragon, her quest leads her to a place she never expected—Iseneld, the warlord’s homeland. Her journey into the heart of the Frozen Sun will put her on a collision course with Reyker, costing both of them more than they ever imagined, and leaving her with a terrible choice: to save their countries, she must forsake everything she loves.

Coming September 22!

Want to support independent bookstores and get a signed hardback copy of Beasts of the Frozen Sun or Kingdom of Ice & Bone? Click below and order from Hub City Bookshop!

https://bookshop.org/books/kingdom-of-ice-and-bone/9781982556280?aid=432

https://bookshop.org/books/beasts-of-the-frozen-sun/9781982556273

ISBN-13: 9781982556280
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publication date: 09/22/2020
Series: Frozen Sun Saga Series #2
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Finding the Drama: How I used Musical Theatre to inspire my first novel, Sing Like No One’s Listening, a guest post by Vanessa Jones

“Hi, Vanessa? It’s Eleanor here. From the novel-writing program. I was just checking you’re still joining us for our first session tomorrow.”

“Oh! Um. . .”

I’d forgotten I’d signed up to the writing course. The new term had started at my eldest’s school, I’d just finished putting on a fundraising show with my theatre students, my youngest had gone from placid baby to incredibly-active-toddler overnight, and things were…hectic. Was this the time to be starting something new? More to the point, was I brave enough? I’d always loved writing as a child. But more recently, I’d tried writing a musical, several times, and failed miserably. Would it be the same with a novel?

Not wanting to let anyone down, I went along to the first session, terrified—my fears promptly made worse by the fact that I was in a class with a BBC comedy commissioner, a TV producer, a Hollywood movie editor, a journalist, and the head of news for a big radio station. When it came my turn to introduce myself, I felt my knees shaking. “Hello, my name’s Vanessa and I used to be a West End performer, but now I’m a singing teacher,” I mumbled, embarrassed by my lack of credentials.

We started small. Set a scene. Describe a place. Write a short piece of dialogue. It wasn’t until we had to build a character that I had anything I felt comfortable reading out. But for some reason, this particular character just walked into my head, pretty much fully formed. I’d known her before, you see, several times during my career in the West End. And if I didn’t know her, I’d heard the stories she’d experienced. The fearsome ballet teacher. The formidable director. The cut-throat choreographer. I read her out, and as I did, I realised that I’d actually written two characters: the powerful, intimidating matriarch and the terrified young girl describing her. The rest of the class loved the idea, and my tutor suggested I expanded the two characters into a scene. Which I did, drawing from my own experiences of stage fright years before. The scene became two chapters, then five characters, then half an idea of a plot for a teen love story set in a performing arts college. But sculpting it into a whole novel? How would I do that?

It was Eleanor who gave me the idea.

“You’re writing about the theatre world, right?” she said.

“Uh, yeah.”

“Well, use that. Use musical theatre.”

I thought about what she’d said. What was I writing? A teen romance. And where do you find more teen romances than anywhere else? In musicals. Teen meets teen, teen sings teen a song declaring love, teen fights with teen, teens kiss. . . Wasn’t my book just that—a musical? It had all the ingredients, after all: the thrill of first love; the mistaken identity; the setting—I’d even created a world where people do just break out into song for no particular reason (well, usually for class, but you get what I mean). Suddenly, I knew what to do.

I started studying musical comedies. Not in the way I had as a performer, when I was focused on script and subtext and harmonies. Now I was looking at structure, musical themes, character arcs. I watched a hundred meet-cutes. I listened to a thousand eleven o’clock numbers. I worked out how and when I wanted that moment of change to happen for my main character. I planned the climax of the story to happen onstage with all the cast present, just as the final scene often does in a musical. I looked at my two romantic leads, as I was now calling them, and made sure their chemistry was there all the way through. And I upped the comedy. Very soon, I had a first draft. Not one that I’d be happy letting anyone read, but a first draft, nevertheless.

I cut and polished, rewrote, cut some more, and then gave the book to my group for feedback. Like any good performer, I “took the note”, as we say in theatre, and used the group’s constructive criticism to shape the plot, hone the characters.

And then? I got lucky. Twice. I guess you might call it the magic of musical theatre. The agent I was desperate to be represented by just happened to come from a theatre-loving family and had two daughters who’d gone through ballet school. I signed with her almost straight away. And then the editor who took my book on? Musical obsessed. Probably even more so than me. At my first meeting with the publishing house, he’d pretty much wallpapered the room with sheet music. When I looked closer, I realised that it was the chorus from every song mentioned in my book. Talk about a meet-cute.

Since then, a lot has happened. I’m just finishing edits for the follow-up, Dance Like No One’s Watching, and I’ve also written two other novels. I’m an author now, first and foremost. But I’ll always be grateful to musical theatre, both for my career as a performer, and for giving me a helpful nudge in the right direction when I was writing my first novel. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll get to see Sing performed onstage, and then I’ll have finally written that musical.

Meet Vanessa Jones

Vanessa Jones was born and raised in England. As a kid, she was obsessed with two things: musicals and books. These obsessions continued way into adulthood, first during her career as a Musical Theatre actor in West End shows like Sister Act, Grease, and Mary Poppins, and then as an author. She now writes books and lives in Kent with her husband (a fellow Mary Poppins chimney sweep she met when they were both performing), and their two children. Sing Like No One’s Listening is her first YA novel.

Follow VanessaWebsite | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Find Vanessa’s book at Bookshop.org!

About Sing Like No One’s Listening

Sing Like No One's Listening

Nettie Delaney has just been accepted into a prestigious performing arts school—the very same school her superstar mother attended. With her mother’s shadow hanging over her, Nettie has her work cut out for her—and everyone is watching. To make matters worse, Nettie hasn’t been able to sing a single note since her mother died. Whenever she tries, she just clams up. But if Nettie’s going to survive a demanding first year and keep her place in a highly coveted program, she’ll have to work through her grief and deliver a showstopper or face expulsion.

All may not be lost, however, when Nettie stumbles upon a mysterious piano player in an empty studio after class. Masked behind a curtain, can Nettie summon the courage to find her voice? Or will the pressure and anxiety of performing come crashing down?

All about finding and raising your voice and not throwing away your shot, Vanessa Jones’s well-crafted journey of grief and healing will pull readers along with its strong narrative voice and satisfying sense of mystery.

ISBN-13: 9781682631942
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Publication date: 09/01/2020
Age Range: 12 – 16 Years

Judge a Book By Its Cover — Sometimes, a guest post by Pintip Dunn

“Never judge a book by a cover,” the old saying goes. After all, a book and its cover are two separate works of art. They’re usually created by two different individuals. A beautiful cover doesn’t necessarily mean a beautiful story and vice versa. And yet, since I’ve been in the publishing industry, I’ve noticed a few curious phenomena: 

1) Readers will gladly admit that they’ve bought books based on the cover alone; 

2) Authors routinely receive the advice to change their covers if their books aren’t selling; 

3) When I’m complimented on my own book covers, I beam and exclaim, “Thank you so much!” — even though I had little to no say in their actual design.

What accounts for these events?

First, I don’t think it’s fair to claim that covers are wholly independent from the stories inside. After all, if the designer did their job properly, then they would’ve been inspired by the manuscript itself. Even if the details aren’t exact — I’ve been known to change my story to match the cover! — the designer should’ve tried to capture the feel and vibe of the novel. 

Moreover, covers are the ambassadors of books, a quick and easy visual representation that tells readers in an instant what to expect. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then one of my book covers is worth…70k to 90k words. I seek, within those words, to create an experience for my reader, to whisk them away to another world, to bottle up emotion and preserve it. And yet, I don’t have thousands of words to convince a reader to give my book a try. My only tools are the cover and a brief synopsis.

Finally, every once in a while, a cover comes along that transcends all of the above, that creates meaning in and of itself.

I’ve had some beautiful, knock-out book covers over the years. I’ve heard, on more than one occasion, that I’ve been blessed by the cover gods. And yet, none of them have touched me in the same way as the cover of DATING MAKES PERFECT.

I am a first-generation Thai American who grew up in a tiny town in southeast Kansas. While I visited my family in Thailand every summer, I spent the rest of the year in Midwest America, where I hardly saw anyone who looked like me — in books, on the television, or in person. Rightly or wrongly, from my own insecurity as well as my peers’ micro- and outright aggressions, I came to believe that I was “other.” And because I was “other,” I was therefore ugly. 

At the same time, I’ve known ever since I was six years old that I wanted to be an author. Because of my childhood experiences, however, I fully believed that in order for me to achieve my dream, I would have to write books about white characters.

Fortunately, I was wrong. The strides the publishing industry has made over the last few years have been tremendous. To be sure, a lot more needs to be done, but even a few years ago, there was immense pushback about having an Asian girl on a book cover.

The twelve-year-old me never dreamed that I could one day have a book cover like this, and it would’ve meant everything for young Pintip to have seen this gorgeous cover centering a gorgeous Thai girl. 

Dating Makes Perfect

Maybe I wouldn’t have felt like such an alien in my own skin. Maybe I wouldn’t have gone through my childhood feeling like I didn’t belong — could never belong. Maybe it wouldn’t have taken until well after college for me to feel attractive. 

Or maybe, I would’ve just owned a book with a beautiful cover. But when that sixth-grade boy sneered in my face, laughed at my “squinty” eyes, and asked how anyone could be so ugly, at least I could’ve gone home and hugged this book close to my heart. At least this cover would’ve given me hope that life would one day be different, be better.

This story is for the teenage me — and for every other teenager who feels like they don’t belong. I wish I could go back in time and tell twelve-year-old Pintip, “Your story matters, too. Your existence has value. Your difference is something to be celebrated and embraced.”

I can’t, and so this book – and its cover – is the next best thing.

So, yeah. Maybe it’s okay to judge a book by its cover — at least some of the time.

Purchase a copy of DATING MAKES PERFECT at my local indie bookstore, ONE MORE PAGE!

Meet Pintip Dunn

A first-generation Thai American, Pintip Dunn grew up in a tiny town in Kansas. She went on to graduate from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with an A.B., and to receive her J.D. at Yale Law School.

Pintip is a two-time RITA® award winner and a New York Times bestselling author of young adult fiction. Her books have been translated into four languages, and they have been nominated for numerous awards, including the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award and a Kirkus Best Book of the Year. 

She’s obsessed with penguins, and her childhood dream was to marry someone whose last name is “Gwynn” — so that her name could be “Pin Gwynn.” Alas, she got stuck with Dunn instead, but her husband and three children are worth the sacrifice. 

They all visit Thailand yearly in order to stay connected with her family.

Social Media Links:

Website  Facebook  Twitter  Instagram  Goodreads

About Dating Makes Perfect

Dating Makes Perfect

The Tech sisters don’t date in high school. Not because they’re not asked. Not because they’re not interested. Not even because no one can pronounce their long, Thai last name—hence the shortened, awkward moniker. But simply because they’re not allowed.

Until now.

In a move that other Asian American girls know all too well, six months after the older Tech twins got to college, their parents asked, “Why aren’t you engaged yet?” The sisters retaliated by vowing that they won’t marry for ten (maybe even twenty!) years, not until they’ve had lots of the dating practice that they didn’t get in high school.

In a shocking war on the status quo, her parents now insist that their youngest daughter, Orrawin (aka “Winnie”), must practice fake dating in high school. Under their watchful eyes, of course—and organized based on their favorite rom-coms. ’Cause that won’t end in disaster.

The first candidate? The son of their longtime friends, Mat Songsomboon—arrogant, infuriating, and way too good-looking. Winnie’s known him since they were toddlers throwing sticky rice balls at each other. And her parents love him.

If only he weren’t her sworn enemy.

ISBN-13: 9781682814970
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 08/18/2020
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

The Beautiful Agony of a Slow Burn, a guest post by Rachel Lynn Solomon

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I love kissing scenes. But what I love even more than a kissing scene is making the reader think they’re getting a kissing scene—only to rip it away at the last minute.

In a romance novel, a slow burn is a relationship that builds and builds as the tension simmers, until it reaches a wonderful, fiery crescendo. A good slow burn should be torturous, and the payoff should make all that waiting worth it.  

In my YA romantic comedy Today Tonight Tomorrow, the characters don’t kiss until around the 90 percent mark. I was so eager to get there, but because the book takes place over 24 hours, I didn’t want it to peak too soon. It was my first slow burn, and now that I’ve written a few more for future books, I wanted to share what I’ve learned along the way.

The Buildup

Wherever your two romantic leads start, there’s something preventing them from beginning a relationship. Maybe it’s circumstance, maybe they don’t know each other well enough, maybe they don’t know how the other feels, or maybe they hate each other, which is the case in Today Tonight Tomorrow—or at least, they think they hate each other.

Regardless of trope, here are some ways to linger in the slow part of a slow burn:

  • Emotional connection. What do these characters have in common? What do they talk about? How do they push and challenge each other? What do they admire about each other? This might also include a “they’re not that bad” moment—when the protagonist realizes that their budding love interest may have some redeeming qualities after all.
  • Physical touch. Maybe their hands brush, or one of them playfully nudges the other, or one of them sits just a little too close. Is it accidental? Who knows, but wondering about it is definitely something that will make your main character suffer!
  • Questioning. This is when the main character is trying to puzzle out their feelings for the other person. How are they trying to defend their new emotions to themselves or to their friends? I especially love when they try to explain away their feelings—I’m not blushing, it’s just warm in here.
  • Proximity. Maybe they’re forced together or maybe they just keep running into each other, but close proximity is going to take all that great physical and emotional tension and dial it up to a hundred. 

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The Almost

So all of those ingredients are simmering—emotional connection, physical touch, questioning, and proximity—and now it’s time to bring them to a rolling boil. This takes time, time, and you guessed it, more time. There’s no “right” point in 1a YA or adult romance novel for the couple to finally get together, but if it’s a slow burn, it’s probably going to be at least after the midpoint.

You can, however, tease your reader. Put the characters in those close proximity situations, get them hyped on oxytocin, bring their faces together until their lips almost touch—but then something stops them. It doesn’t need to be something tangible that interrupts them; maybe it’s the protagonist convincing themselves that this other person isn’t right for them and they shouldn’t be kissing them. Whatever it is, it should serve to drag out the burn.

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The Payoff

In a slow burn, it’s not when the pot boils over that the characters finally get to kiss and confess their feelings—it’s the moment right before the smoke alarm goes off.

And in my favorite slow burns, it’s usually not just a quick peck, either. They don’t need to jump right to ripping off their clothes, but if we’ve spent 300 pages waiting for these people to kiss, we’ve earned more than a couple sentences.

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I’m a fan of all kinds of romance in YA, but I continue to be drawn to the slow burn because it’s just so satisfying when the characters finally figure things out. In Today Tonight Tomorrow, though the characters uncover their true feelings for each other over the course of 24 hours, their romance has been simmering for much, much longer—and I hope that payoff is as thrilling to read as it was for me to write.

Meet Rachel Lynn Solomon

Rachel Lynn Solomon is the author of You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, Our Year of Maybe, and Today Tonight Tomorrow. She is a Seattle native who loves rainy days, her tiny dog, tap dancing, old movies, red lipstick, and books with flawed, complicated characters. Learn more at RachelSolomonBooks.com.

Her local indie bookstore is Third Place Books.

About Today Tonight Tomorrow

Today Tonight Tomorrow | Book by Rachel Lynn Solomon | Official ...

The Hating Game meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by way of Morgan Matson in this unforgettable romantic comedy about two rival overachievers whose relationship completely transforms over the course of twenty-four hours.

Today, she hates him.

It’s the last day of senior year. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair have been bitter rivals for all of high school, clashing on test scores, student council elections, and even gym class pull-up contests. While Rowan, who secretly wants to write romance novels, is anxious about the future, she’d love to beat her infuriating nemesis one last time.

Tonight, she puts up with him.

When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan has only one chance at victory: Howl, a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle, a farewell tour of the city she loves. But after learning a group of seniors is out to get them, she and Neil reluctantly decide to team up until they’re the last players left—and then they’ll destroy each other.

As Rowan spends more time with Neil, she realizes he’s much more than the awkward linguistics nerd she’s sparred with for the past four years. And, perhaps, this boy she claims to despise might actually be the boy of her dreams.

Tomorrow…maybe she’s already fallen for him.

ISBN-13: 9781534440241
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 07/28/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

‘You wrote an action-thriller?’ a guest post by Tiffany Rosenhan

Girl from Nowhere

You wrote an action-thriller?’

Emphasis on YOU. As in me. Yes, I wrote an action thriller. And, yes, I’m surprised as YOU are.

Most summer days you can find me wearing a broderie dress and espadrilles, frolicking through the mountainous fields behind my Utah home, my four daughters traipsing behind me with ribbons in their hair and jubilantly singing Do-Re-Mi. . . okay this is more a fantasy of how I wish my real life was. But, you get the picture. More importantly, I get the picture.

Perhaps because most would consider me, um . . . ‘girly’ . . . no one anticipated that I would write an action-spy-thriller.

Perhaps.

I suppose I could speculate the myriad reasons why I’m met with such astonishment when people read my book, but perhaps it all circles into a vortex of simple human contradictions. We – humans – are all contradictions, are we not?

I equally love sewing doll clothes and reading monotonous descriptions of tactical warfare. I am presently (and contentedly!) a stay home mother and a political scientist who once set out to join either the Foreign Service or the Central Intelligence Agency.  I am both unabashedly feminine and feminist. I love Ann Brashares and John Le Carre!

And of this I am certain: we must stop suggesting that these characteristics can’t all coexist.

We can write in any genre we choose to, even if it doesn’t fit the pattern of who people think we are. Who we think we are.

Like every other female I know, I am a contradiction (though my identical twin sister and I are certain that in the original division of us, some traits were unequally distributed) and I hope, in writing the character of Sophia Hepworth that the following comes across emphatically: women have many, varied, oft-conflicting, interests!

I loved writing GIRL FROM NOWHERE, because not only did it offer me a reasonable opportunity to research and study so many of these interests at once, it also offered me a story that could weld them together, particularly those which are far removed from my daily life (car chases anyone?).

Creating GIRL FROM NOWHERE was akin to writing a fantasy novel, except here the elements of fantasy take shape in a hyper-reality of our own world. The spy world became a fantasy.

I’ve been fascinated by both spy craft and military history since early elementary school. Once, at my grandparent’s house in California, I spotted a tattered black and white magazine cover, depicting a photograph of two soldiers crawling ashore Guadalcanal under raging enemy fire. ‘Who are they?’ I asked my grandfather. “Marines,” he said. He then looked down, tapped his crooked forefinger to the face of the soldier in the foreground, and said, “That’s me.”

My grandfather – A Marine. The word alone impressed me. It still does. I was too young then to associate anything other than prestige with the word; it would be years before I heard about, and studied, PTSD.

However, if that photograph sparked my curiosity with military history and tradecraft, another sparked my fascination with the world. Most summers my twin sister and I would visit’s my father’s family’s farm in Ohio. Here, we would stay with my grandmother and she would instruct us to either read, explore, embroider, cook, clean, or play outside. There was an old television set, but I remember it only being turned on once, during a storm. She’d been a public school teacher before settling down to raise six children, and remained a voracious reader. Her house had many books.

My favorites included a collection of 1960’s encyclopedias. I was fascinated by the vintage pictures: vibrant toucans in Central America, zebras and antelope in Sub-Saharan Africa, Soviet women wearing traditional folk dress hanging laundry outside their cottages. . . It was the caption of this last photograph that caught my attention. It explained that these women resided in a country called Czechoslovakia, which according to my grandmother, had recently stopped existing. I couldn’t process. How does a country simply cease to exist? Does it disappear? Did it fall into the center of the earth? How? I did not, could not, understand.

On that rainy afternoon in the mid 1990’s, Czechoslovakia introduced me to the global trifecta: politics, diplomacy, and geography. Though I’ve since learned how a country actually ceases to exist, I’ve never stopped learning about the many reasons why.

So if these photographs sparked my curiosity about several topics that vein through GIRL FROM NOWHERE – geography, tradecraft, nature etc. – then motherhood ignited my willpower, and granted me the time, to write it all down.

From the moment Sophia Hepworth first took shape in my sub-conscious, I knew who I wanted her to become. And who I would not allow her to become. (Because, unlike with my children, I possess this power!) She would be skilled. Disciplined. Knowledgeable. Brave. She would also be an actual teenage girl. Hormonal. Frustrated. Moody. Prone to split-second-poor-judgement decisions. More than any other character trait I wanted to give Sophia, I wanted to ensure she remained just a regular (though super-skilled!) teenage girl entangled in a complicated life.

Therefore, in order to turn GIRL FROM NOWHERE into an actual manuscript, I needed facts. I read everything I could find that incorporated even a fragment of a location, skill, or event that interested me. I scoured encyclopedias, Wikipedia, and the library. I wanted to know everything I could about everything.

Which in case you are wondering, is impossible.

Yet, I loved this part of the process.

So, why did I write GIRL FROM NOWHERE as a thriller? Why not something more literary that offered a broader template to include more of the miscellaneous fruits of my laborious research?

I suppose my simplest answer is that I wrote exactly the type of book I like to read. I prefer fiction that is entertaining, informative, intriguing, and/or enthralling.

I like to be swept away, mesmerized by a plot so finely threaded through the narrative that I can scarcely pry away my eyes.

Yet, as all contradictory people might say, I also love literary fiction, epic historical tales, fantasy, and even memoirs. I’ve even been reading the Icelandic Sagas for a few days (years).

Above all else, I appreciate a well-paced story. And I knew, despite the enormous amount of effort it took to turn GIRL FROM NOWHERE from moderate ‘coming of age’ story into an ‘action-thriller’, it was the right decision.

I do actually wear sundresses and straw hats in summer; I do create whimsical tea parties for my daughters on rainy afternoons; I do pick wildflowers to assemble midsummer crowns.

Therefore, I do understand the contradiction. I am not necessarily qualified to write about avalanches, weapons or international espionage. Perhaps I should be writing and illustrating a children’s book of fairy tales instead. Perhaps I might!

However, becoming a published author has freed me from having to explain myself to myself.   

When people ask ‘Why did you write a thriller?’

I now like to answer, ‘Why not me?’

Meet Tiffany Rosenhan

Tiffany Rosenhan is the granddaughter of Oscar-winning screen siren, Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon). She has a degree in political science and four young daughters, and often travels the world with her family and husband, who is a critical care physician. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. This is her debut novel. https://tiffanyrosenhan.com

About Girl from Nowhere

Girl from Nowhere

Red Sparrow meets One of Us Is Lying in this action-packed, romance-filled YA debut about a girl trying to outrun her past.

Ninety-four countries. Thirty-one schools. Two bullets. Now it’s over . . . or so she thinks.

Sophia Hepworth has spent her life all over the world—moving quickly, never staying in one place for too long. She knows to always look over her shoulder, to be able to fight to survive at a moment’s notice. She has trained to be ready for anything.

Except this. Suddenly it’s over. Now Sophia is expected to attend high school in a sleepy Montana town. She is told to forget the past, but she’s haunted by it. As hard as she tries to be like her new friends and live a normal life, she can’t shake the feeling that this new normal won’t last.

Then comes strong and silent Aksel, whose skills match Sophia’s, and who seems to know more about her than he’s letting on . . .

What if everything Sophia thought she knew about her past is a lie?

Cinematic and breathtaking, Tiffany Rosenhan’s debut stars a fierce heroine who will risk everything to save the life she has built for herself.

ISBN-13: 9781547603039
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 07/21/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

A Banjo as a Bridge, a guest post by Erica Waters

I first got the idea for Ghost Wood Song, my debut YA novel about a girl with a ghost-raising fiddle, from a spooky experience of my own. I was home alone, writing in my attic office, when I heard a banjo playing below. I crept down the stairs with all my senses tingling, but the music stopped. The room was empty and still, and my banjo rested innocently against a wall, perfectly silent. I chalked the phantom music up to vibrations in the banjo’s resonator and went back to work.

However, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of a ghost playing a musical instrument. What might he want to communicate? Could music be a bridge between the living and the dead? If so, would that bridge be safe to cross?

I was already deeply interested in bluegrass and folk music, so I knew I could write a story about ghosts set against those musical traditions. But I needed a character to bring the music to life. And out of the blue, she introduced herself to me. Her name was Shady Grove, named after my favorite Appalachian folk song. Her father had died and she was grieving and missing the music he’d taught her to love. But one day she heard his fiddle crying in the pine woods and believed he was calling to her.

Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters

That fiddle became my bridge—an instrument that when played just right could call up ghosts and let them take a solid form, speak, even touch the ones they loved. It was temporary and dangerous, but it was a small form of resurrection. However, the real bridge wasn’t the fiddle itself but the music that Shady played.

Bluegrass tunes, murder ballads, classic country, gospel hymns.

It was music that I had grown up on in rural Florida but had forgotten until I moved to Nashville and started going to bluegrass joints and shows at the Ryman Auditorium. All these songs came back to me—ones that my grandfather had played on tape decks, that my father sang while he drove. It was intimately familiar to me and yet felt brand new. These songs connected me to a past that felt like such a part of me but also fractured, painful, irretrievable.

As I wrote, I was flooded with a longing for home and family, even though those things are deeply complicated for me. But the music that shaped Shady’s story cracked me open too, and something that felt miraculous happened: I found my writerly self. Suddenly, I knew what I wanted to write and who I wanted to be as a writer. My writing had context, atmosphere, and voice. It was compelling. It was original. Finally, I wasn’t trying to reinvent myself from scratch; rather, I was returning to myself.

Shady’s music became a bridge for me. To the dead, yes. To a home I thought I’d left behind, yes. But most of all it connected me to myself and my own voice.

So maybe there really was a ghost playing that neglected banjo in the corner. Maybe the phantom music was my own personal fiddle crying in the pines. At any rate, it brought me here. It brought me home.

You can buy a copy of Ghost Wood Song at Nashville’s beloved indie bookstore, Parnassus Books: https://www.parnassusbooks.net/ericawaters.

Meet Erica Waters

Photo Credit: Amelia J. Moore

Erica Waters writes young adult fantasy with a Southern Gothic feel. She’s originally from the pine woods of rural Florida but has made her home in Nashville, TN with her spouse and two scruffy little rescue dogs. Ghost Wood Song is her debut novel. You can visit her online at ericawaters.com and connect with her on twitter and Instagram.

Links:

Book: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062894229/ghost-wood-song/

Website: https://ericawaters.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ELWaters

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ericawatersbooks/

Cover Design Credit:

Jacket art: Alix Northrup
Jacket design: Jenna Stempel-Lobell

About Ghost Wood Song

Ghost Wood Song

Sawkill Girls meets Beautiful Creatures in this lush and eerie debut, where the boundary between reality and nightmares is as thin as the veil between the living and the dead.

If I could have a fiddle made of Daddy’s bones, I’d play it. I’d learn all the secrets he kept.

Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness.

But when her brother is accused of murder, she can’t let the dead keep their secrets.

In order to clear his name, she’s going to have to make those ghosts sing.

Family secrets, a gorgeously resonant LGBTQ love triangle, and just the right amount of creepiness make this young adult debut a haunting and hopeful story about facing everything that haunts us in the dark.

ISBN-13: 9780062894229
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/21/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

How Writing Jennifer Strange (Quite Literally) Saved my Life, a guest post by Cat Scully

I did not know that I was dying.

In early summer of 2018, all of my symptoms pointed to bronchitis, or at worst, a particularly bad case of pneumonia. You see, people in their early thirties aren’t thinking about heart failure. It doesn’t even enter their possibility radar while typing their symptoms into Google one more time.

It started with a map. At the time, I had just come off designing dozens and dozens of different maps since Labor Day weekend, which bled through the fall months, barreled right on through the winter holidays, and spilled over into spring. Then, around mid-May, I received a map note from the author and publisher I couldn’t read. I tried to process it over and over, but the words melted every time I tried to read them. I had been fighting a terrible cold, coughing and sneezing and unable to breathe, so my husband carted me off to the doctor I had stubbornly refused to visit until the map was done. Gotta keep pushing, I thought. I can rest when I’m done.

The urgent care took a look at my symptoms and assessed it was bronchitis, gave me the typical prescriptions, and sent me home. Weeks went by with no relief. I finished the map but my husband had to read aloud every email that came across my inbox. I was tired, I thought. Why weren’t the pills working?

Smash-cut forward to the middle of June, and I’m face down on the floor of the shower unable to lift my head. I have to instruct my six-year-old son how to work my phone to call my husband at his office and tell him to come home. We fled to the hospital, both children in tow, and the ER nurses took one look at my CAT scan and confirmed their worst fears – I had heart failure. My heart was floating at around ten percent, and it wouldn’t be until weeks later in a genetic counseling session in Boston I would find out I had a genetic mutation prone to enlarging the heart when triggered by severe stress. I thought it had to be a joke. How could someone in their early thirties in possession of a health file so thin people had trouble finding it suddenly get heart failure?

I spent two weeks in the hospital removing sixteen pounds of fluid and wrestling with the fact I still wasn’t published. I had written a grand total of three novels over the course of five years. The first was sent to a publisher and my agent and I were waiting to hear back. I rested up, convinced I wouldn’t let my dream of publishing be pushed aside again. Three days after returning home, I got the call. The editor loved Jennifer Strange and wanted to publish it next year. I cried, maybe harder than I’ve ever cried. After five years, three agents, a slew of rejections, and almost dying, I was getting published. I couldn’t have known then what would happen when I sat down to write again. Symptoms in young women with heart failure aren’t as well documented as cases in eighty-year-old men. I didn’t know what was coming.

Jennifer Strange

After a few painful weeks of learning how to walk and a new salt-less diet focused on shrinking my heart, I sat down to the computer. It felt good to open my book with the knowledge it was finally going to print. As soon as I opened the file, the words floated into each other again, and the space between letters squashed and collapsed in lava lamp waves. I couldn’t read. It seemed back then an impossible thought, not being able to read. A writer writes. A reader reads. I was an author with a book getting published, not someone who struggled to connect sentences together. I closed my laptop. I thought all I needed was a little more time. It took months of processing and a dear friend telling me the work was basically illegible for me to finally face the truth—It wasn’t just that I couldn’t read. My mind could not connect the letters to the memories of what those words meant. 

We pushed back the book by another year, with everyone hopeful one more year of healing would help. I was the only one not convinced. I sat listening to audiobooks, wishing and hoping I could write again. It wasn’t until late 2019 that my heart improved enough to write again, and my symptoms of memory loss lessened enough to string together a sentence. Reading was a slow and painful process requiring total concentration without any interruption of sound or kids yelling for yet another packet of fruit snacks. I had to work at reading again, the same way I had to learn how to walk and then run and then jog on a treadmill.

Every revision of Jennifer Strange got easier, and by the time we got to producing the advanced reader copies, it still wasn’t perfect. I kept learning how to read as I pushed through posting on Netgalley and then sending more focused drafts each time through multiple revisions between my launch of early copies to July of my publication date. As of writing this blog post, my heart is at forty-five percent, healed enough I can sit and read a book, though interruption requires up to an hour of recovery to be able to read again.

I never thought I’d have to relearn how to read to publish a book, and I think even beyond Jennifer Strange as I move into book two in the series, my memory and ability will only improve. It seems to every week. This desire to write, to publish, and then repeat is a quest worth pursuing. Despite everything, I think having this book and my fierce desire to finally see it in print, flaws and all, healed my heart and saved my life all at once. It’s worth it to keep going, despite all the downfalls and weird left turns. I still have to read my books aloud, and audio books are easier than reading physical copies, but I found a method that works in a world post-heart failure. Ultimately, that’s all that matters.

I want to share my story not to scare, but to inspire writers who might be questioning if going forward is worth it after yet another rejection letter. The quest to publish is worth packing your bags and journeying out your front door into the great unknown. Jennifer Strange saved me, and I hope you find that your book might save you too.

Meet Cat Scully

Cat Scully is the author and illustrator of the young adult illustrated horror novel series JENNIFER STRANGE, with the first book releasing July 21, 2020, from Haverhill House Publishing. Cat is best known for her world maps featured in Brooklyn Brujas trilogy by Zoraida Cordova, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, and Give the Dark My Love by Beth Revis. She works in video game development for the Deep End Games, working hard on their next title. After five years as a mentor in Pitch Wars for middle grade and young adult fiction, she is a core editor for Cornerstones Literary, focusing on editing speculative fiction for adult, young adult, and middle-grade markets. She lives off Earl Grey tea, plays a lot of Bioshock, is a huge Evil Dead fan, and plays the drums with her musician husband. She lives outside of Boston and is represented by Miriam Kriss of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.​

About Jennifer Strange

Jennifer Strange

Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Strange is the Sparrow, cursed with the ability to give ghosts and demonic spirits a body-a flesh and blood anchor in the mortal world-with the touch of her hand. When a ghost attacks her high school and awakens her powers, her father dumps her unceremoniously in the care of her estranged older sister Liz, leaving only his journal as an explanation.

Drawn to the power of the Sparrow, the supernatural creatures preying on Savannah, Georgia will do anything to receive Jennifer’s powerful gift. The sisters must learn to trust each other again and uncover the truth about their family history by deciphering their father’s journal…because if they can’t, Jennifer’s uncontrolled power will rip apart the veil that separates the living from the dead.

A fast-paced and splattery romp, fans of Supernatural, Buffy, and Evil Dead will enjoy JENNIFER STRANGE – the first illustrated novel in a trilogy of stylish queer young adult horror books with big scares for readers not quite ready for adult horror.

Cat Scully’s illustrations bring the ghosts and demons of her fictional world to eerie and beautiful life, harkening back to the style of SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK and Ransom Riggs’ MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN.

ISBN-13: 9781949140064
Publisher: Haverhill House Publishing LLC
Publication date: 07/20/2020
Series: Jennifer Strange #1
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years