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It’s Krissi Dallas Day! Cuyler (no longer a teen so I can’t call him our teen reviewer) interviews YA author Kriss Dallas and geeks out

Cuyler Creech, who writes under the name Gale Ryan,  and Krissi Dallas

Before we begin, I’d like to take a minute to just give major props to the wonderfully amazing author-extraordinaire: Mrs. Krissi Dallas. I discovered Krissi when my aunt and I traveled to Montgomery County, Texas for the Montgomery County Book Festival 2013. We pulled into the parking lot, already overflowing with booknerdigans (thank you Lindsay Cummings for the perfectly appropriate name for book-salivating fanguys/fangirls), teen writers, and students headed for the literary bombshell extravaganza that was the Montgomery County Bookfest. Already bouncing out of my skin for the fun that awaited my eyeballs and writer glands (they’re real, they have to be), my aunt pulled the car into the parking lot, sliding into a spot right next to a woman (who may have been the coolest dressed person there) who was unloading a cart of books from her car. Now I’m going to be brutally honest. I had no idea who she was. Never seen her books before. Nothin’. But, despite that unfortunate fact, I was stoked anyway. We’d parked next to a WRITER. Someone who actually got published for making up stories (dream job, holla! *angel’s sing*).
But, being the twitchy fanguy introvert that I am, I just smiled and went on my way, cursing myself with each step I took towards Lonestar College that I didn’t take my chance to speak with a real published writer without anyone else standing in line behind me. But, that didn’t happen. So, I swallowed my self-induced brain punches, and had a *adjective that describes total awesomeness to the bagillionth factor* time, met awesome authors, got my books signed, even got one of my own works handed off to a NYT Bestseller (I nearly died from unrecognized-writer excitement several times on my way home. Still haven’t gotten over it).
But, even though I had some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life (bookfest first-timer) something still nagged me in the back of my mind. That writer lady. I passed up the chance to talk to her, probably missing out on some invaluably writer-insight, and feeling like a doofus after the fact.
Thank the social network gods we have Twitter and Facebook.
After doing some searching and finding her on both, I hopped on Amazon and found her books. Ohmahgosh her books. Her books are, for lack of adjective-inducing brain activity, the BOMB, yo. I immediately fell in love with the premise. Elemental superpowers, a mysterious island, homegrown Texan characters? Um, heck to the yeah! Elemental powers have been my absolute favorite abilities ever. And to which, just so all the writers who read this know, is SERIOUSLY ignored, or as far as Google’s searching capabilities can attest. So, with the thought process about the length of a fruit-fly’s, I bought Krissi’s first book on Kindle. Few days later: book two. Couple more days: book three. With the ferocity of a starving dog with a prime-rib steak, I tore through those genius tomes in a matter of a week. And I’m a slow reader.
Krissi’s books are genius. I fell in complete and utter love with Windchaser, gripped Windfall till my knuckles turned white, and engrossed myself into Watercrossing until I believed I was right there beside Whitney and her friends on the mysterious White Island playing Coconut Launch. I LOVED them.
And so will you.
So, now that I’ve ranted your ear off, let’s get started.

WHO IS KRISSI DALLAS? *dramatic music*

So Krissi. First of all, hey! Second of all, thanks for being here, and listening to me rant about you like a crazy auctioneer.
Haha… I loved hearing your perspective! I do remember the car that pulled up next to me in the parking lot because I was like, “Oh, please don’t let this dress fly up as I’m pulling all these books out of the trunk!”
So when you’re not creating tornadoes with your palms and riding giant dragonflies, what do you do for fun?
For fun, I hang out with our teens at church, go see movies with my husband, travel as often as possible, read books written by my friends, and cruise around in our convertible blasting loud music. Writing and teaching are fun too; they just happen to be the fun parts of my life that form my career(s).
Has the “adult Krissi” changed much from the “teenage Krissi”?
Adult Krissi is somewhat still the same person as Teenage Krissi – just with more patience, perspective, and wisdom! But I am still dramatic, still a dreamer, still listening to teeny-bopper music, and still believing I can be anything I want to be. Haha. I used to pray that God would change my personality and make me a quieter, more gentle person… until one day I finally realized His answer was NO (probably followed by some booming laughter). He made me exactly as He wanted me—and He wasn’t about to change that strong personality! Instead, He refined me and made me learn to read situations that called for gentleness in contrast to situations that called for boldness and leadership. I like to think that life experience has smoothed out my rough, teenage edges, but… Maybe we should toss this question to my friends who’ve known me my whole life??
How long has writing been one of your passions?
MY. WHOLE. LIFE. As soon as I could write, I was creating songs and poems. By third grade, I had written my first complete novel—with illustrations! My GT teacher “published” it with laminating and binding machines. It was about a school girl who became a rock star… and then woke up to find it was just a beautiful dream. (Cheeeesy.) I wrote novels all through my teenage years and quit the habit cold turkey in college when academic studying and a roller coaster dating life picked up speed. But I found my way back once I was settled down and became a middle school teacher.
Where do you get most of your ideas?
Living life! There is no greater inspiration than being out there among real people, experiencing real places, and learning about the world. Out of the beauty and the darkness in our own world flow stories that need to be told. It’s my job to catch those ideas and bring them to life for others to experience!
So the question I ask the most, what is your take on writing outlines? Do you use them? Do you hate them? ’cause I loathe the suckers.
Dude, I’m with you! I do have generic outlines, but my characters are the ones who drive how I get to my major plot points. I am, however, going back and outlining my new spy novel in order to re-plot it and I think it’s making my writing stronger. (I know, I HATE admitting that!!) I recommend the screenplay writing book, MY STORY CAN BEAT UP YOUR STORY by Jeffrey Alan Schechter. This book is solving all my plot problems right now and it’s highly accessible for novelists even though it’s about screenplays!
What is your ideal writer “habitat”?
Me… in a dark room lit only by my laptop. And a hoodie. With some Junior Mints.
Night-writer or day-writer?
I started out a night-writer because I was working full-time… but now that I teach only on Tuesdays and Thursdays (and have summer break) I get to write all times of the day and night. And I get to meet up with cool people like you, Cuyler, for writing sprints at Panera Bread! Rock. On. (See you next week, right?)
Have a favorite book? Dumb question. WHAT is your favorite book?
Worst. Question. Ever. How do you pick one? For starters, any Harry Potter book! But the ones from my childhood that I really believe shaped my writerly affections are the Trixie Belden books, Nancy Drew books, Sweet Valley Twins/High series, R.L. Stine horror books, and Babysitter’s Club series. All full of mystery and teenage drama…and we know teenage [AND adult] Krissi loves that!
What is the square root of…oh wait that’s my math homework. Have you based any of your characters off any real people in your life? Any experiences of yours made it into your writing?
Yes! My three main characters are based on myself, my best friend, and my husband. For the 4-1-1 on how and why I did this, check out the FAQs page on my website! For the record, my hot island boy, Gabriel… totally not based on ANYONE I know. He’s a beautiful figment of my happy imagination. Haha.
How long did it take you to write Windchaser?
Windchaser and Windfall were written as one complete story arc and were originally self-published under one title: WIND. It took me four months of nonstop writing to get a first draft. Then I revised & edited for eight months after that (and then revised and edited with my commercial publisher all over again two years later when the series was picked up)! The real magic happens in the revision stages. SIDE NOTE: I have yet to write another novel that quickly. Seriously. How did I do that?
How many books do you plan to be in the Phantom Island series?
The 4 tribes from The Phantom Island series by Krissi Dallas
Eight total – two books for each element. So we have Windchaser and Windfallto make up the Wind volume. Watercrossingand Watermark complete the Water volume and after that, the themes and conflicts in the series take a different shift. So all we have left are the elements of Fire and Earth… although, nobody but ME knows what element comes next. BIG. SPARKLY. SECRET.
Were there any particular parts of the Phantom Island books that were especially hard to write?
The Water books had me in tears more often than not—mostly because one of my characters is very sick in these books and writing it forced my characters (and me) to really think through those issues. Furthermore, while I was writing Watermark, I had several loved ones diagnosed with [and lost the fight with] terminal illnesses and I, myself, was continuously sick through the whole year—swine flu (twice), pneumonia, etc. Strangely enough, that year of my life was miserable and beautiful at the same time. I was really able to tap into some heart issues and deal with them through the pages of a story. There are other aspects of Watermark that were scary hard for me to write, but instead of posting a spoiler here, I’ll just leave with a hint: FISH PHOBIA.
What’s/whats your/you’re biggest/most-big grammar pet peeve?
I’m an English teacher, son! Do you really want to get me started on this topic?
One of my favorite things about your books is that they’re very clean. No sex, drugs, and language. Do you think books need to have all that stuff to still be great, heart-moving books? 
Great question. I think writers have a duty to capture real life and truth in all its intricacies—the beautiful parts, the ugly parts, the light and the dark, the good and the evil. I would rather an author write something that conveys real truth than contrive something that doesn’t ring authentic. That being said, I happen to be capturing the stories of the kind of teens I’m often around—teens who are imperfect, but still morally driven and trying to do the right thing. I have to write what I know—and that is what I know. I was not a teen who was out there flouncing some kind of rebellion or anger, giving in to dangerous or hedonistic whims, and I wasn’t having premarital sex. I was just trying to survive my teenage years with as little baggage and regret as possible! So since that is the life I know, it’s my duty to capture that aspect of teenage world as well, because, NEWS FLASH, it doesexist. I also think that I feel a responsibility for the content of my books because I’m a teacher and a youth pastor’s wife—I gotta walk what I talk, you know? When I write, I keep the teens I know in mind. And I want whatever truth I’m conveying about the world in my story to point them in some kind of positive direction. I’m okay with letting others more knowledgeable than me write about the grittier aspects of life—that’s the beauty in diversity and unique perspectives. But these kinds of books are the perspective I have to offer the world and I’m proud of them… so, do “books need to have all that stuff to still be great, heart-moving books?” Your heart was moved without it, wasn’t it? Enough said.
Are you working on anything un-Phantom-Island related?

Yes, I am currently writing/living/breathing a slightly futuristic America that is making my head spin. Teenage spies. Terrorism. Bombings. School shootings. Wow, that sounds so heavy when I say all that… let’s try some more positive words: Adventure. Laughter. Romance. Friendship. Loyalty. Freedom. Redemption.
Last question, what advice would you give the seeking-to-be-published writers out there?
Write what you know because nobody can tell the story in your heart like you can. And as you write what you love, study your craft and always become better at it. Your first work is never your best—EVER. Oh, and the biggest thing… Don’t. Give. Up. There will be times when you want to, but a quitter never became successful! That quality of persistence is what will separate you from the ones who don’t make it. Hang in there, writer friend. And find me online. We writers love to commiserate, celebrate, and work together.
And that was Krissi in a nutshell. Albeit a big, sparkly, awesome nutshell, but a nutshell all the same. There is so much more to this fantastic author, much of it discoverable in her books as her personality is woven into them. Krissi is a great author and friend, and is very responsive with any fan of the White Island. Look her up. Read her books. You will not be disappointed.

The post where Jonathan Maberry helps me impress my husband (An Author Interview)

The Mr. will make this shocked face!
The Challenge

This is the true story of how the following post came to be.  Earlier this year, Lois Lowry did a guest post here at TLT and I went home exploding in excitement to my husband. “Who’s Lois Lowry?”, he asked.  So, after realizing that I had failed him as a librarian, I mentioned that she was a 2-time Newbery winning author.  You know, the author of The Giver (it turns out, he has never read it.) So, he looked at me and said, “If you can get Jonathan Maberry to do a guest post, then I will be impressed.”  He obviously is a huge fan of Jonathan Maberry.  And Mr. Maberry was kind enough to help me impress my husband by doing this interview here at TLT.  So thank you!  I promise, I will gloat.

So, to my zombie loving husband, I present you with an interview with Jonathan Maberry. Be impressed!

On Writing, and Reading, Horror
TLT: What draws you to writing horror? And zombies?

Jonathan Maberry. And Jonathan Maberry as a zombie.
JONATHAN MABERRY: I came to horror by several converging routes. As a kid I was partly raised by my grandmother, who was very knowledgeable about what she called ‘the larger world’. She taught me about the myths, legends and (to her) beliefs in supernatural creatures of all kinds. By the time I was old enough to watch my first Hammer Horror flick I already knew about Redcaps, church Grimms, the Russian Liho, the White Ladies of Fau, the loup garou and other critters.

However when I was thirteen my middle school librarian –who was also the secretary for several clubs of professional writers—introduced me to a number of notable genre authors. Two of them –Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson—taught me a lot about the worlds of horror and fantasy. And for Christmas one year, Bradbury gave me a signed copy of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES and Matheson gave me a signed copy of the 1954 edition of I AM LEGEND.

As for zombies…when I was ten I snuck into the old Midway Theater in Philadelphia on October 2, 1968 to see the world premiere of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I was terrified and enchanted at the same time. 

On Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse and the Popularity of Zombies

TLT: What have you learned from your books about surviving the zombie apocalypse? What should we do and what should we not do?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I’ve spent more than a reasonable amount of time thinking about the zombie apocalypse since I was a kid. So, by the time I got around to writing about zombies in books like ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead, PATIENT ZERO, ROT & RUIN and DEAD OF NIGHT, I already had a workable plan.

My first move would be to make some protective gear out of carpet and duct tape. You can’t bite through it –I checked with forensic ondontologists (bite experts). Then I’d grab my wife and my katana, a weapon I’ve been training with and teaching for nearly fifty years, and head out to the nearest food distribution center. Those buildings are huge, they have few windows, they have trucks, they have their own back-up generators and they have enough food and supplies to outwait anything. Using that as a base, I’d round up survivors, a tanker truck of gasoline, more weapons, and we’d start making plans.

TLT: Why do you think zombies are so popular right now?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Aside from the usefulness of zombies as metaphors for telling virtually any kind of threat-based story, the genre has had a bump because writers (screen, TV, prose and comics) have finally learned what makes a zombie story work. And, no, it’s not zombies.  The best zombie stories are about people. Human beings who are in the middle of a massive shared calamity. If you start there, with a story about people in threat, then you can go anywhere you want dramatically.  If, on the other hand, you focus on the zombie, the story often collapses into cliché. As writers…we now get that.

TLT: What books have made you afraid to turn off the light?

JONATHAN MABERRY: There is one book that has always scared the bejeezus out of me, and it still does: THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson. It’s flawless, and it invites the reader to participate in the development of the horror. The other books that continue to give me shivers even after multiple re-reads are ‘SALEM’S LOT by Stephen King, GHOST STORY by Peter Straub, MYSTERY WALK by Robert McCammon, and THE MANITOU by Graham Masterton.
On Turning Your Books into a Movie

TLT: Everyone at TLT is a huge fan of the Rot & Ruin series, I am very excited that it has been optioned and should soon be coming to the movie screen. What is the optioning process? And what role will you be playing in the movie development?

JONATHAN MABERRY: An ‘option’ means that a producer –or in this case, a team of producers and actors—have leased the rights to develop a script and shop it around in order to raise funds. Once they have a commitment from backers, then they buy the film rights and go into active production.

As for my involvement in the film version of ROT & RUIN, that’s still to be determined, though the producers, actor (who will play Tom Imura), and screenwriter are in frequent touch with me. We have long, rambling creative discussions by phone. And I can tell you this much…so far they seem to see the story the same way I do. Granted a 90-minute movie is not going to include everything that’s in the book, but the version they’re constructing seems to be very much in keeping with how I imagine the film.

On Guys and Reading

TLT: As a teen librarian, it seems like we are often asking ourselves “how do we get teen guys to read?” What type of a reader were you as a teen? What really moved or entertained you? How do you incorporate who you were as a teen reader into writing for teens today?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I was always a reader. Except for when I was with my creepy grandmother I had a rather horrible childhood. Books were my escape, and I read absolutely everything. By the time I was in fourth grade I was reading Ed McBain, Robert E. Howard, Sheridan Le Fenu, Robert Bloch, and others. In the sixties and seventies I burned through everything by Edgar Rice Burroughs, all of the Bantam Books reprints of Doc Savage, John D. MacDonald, and anyone else I could get my hands on.  Reading was not my challenge in school. Math was my kryptonite.

Now, understand…I knew I wanted to be a writer since before I could actually read. When I was little I told stories with toys. So reading was a natural part of that. However I also read an enormous amount of nonfiction. I liked knowing the nuts and bolts behind something. So, if I real a cop novel, I’d then read true-crime books. If I read science fiction I’d look for books and articles on rocketry, robotics, space exploration, and so on.  I guess I’m still like that.

When I meet teens who are ‘reluctant readers’, I usually spend some serious time finding out what they’re interested in. If they don’t want to pick up a novel, I recommend comics, audio books, and even movies. Particularly movies based on books. If they dig the movie, they’re more likely to want to back-track to see the original story.

I don’t know if my reading habits influence the way I write for teens, but it certainly gives me a basis for good conversation with teens. I ask what they’re reading and we discuss those books and soon we’re geeking out on books in general.

TLT: What do you wish teen guys knew about reading?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Reading is power. Reading gives you power and helps your power to grow. Since I had a rough home life, I had no role models worth following. I learn my core values from comics and novels. I tell kids that. I also explain that I’m largely self-educated. Sure, I went to college, but I know far more about life, the world, and my place in it because of the thing I chose to read rather than books that were assigned to me. I talk to teen boys about what strength, courage and toughness really mean, and I can draw on examples from fiction and nonfiction.  And I explain how knowledge allows you to imagine solutions and opportunities that can help you out of any tough spot. That’s been a great basis for meaningful conversations with teen guys and me.
For more on guys and reading, see Show Me How to Live and visit Guys Read

TLT: Rot & Ruin is my go-to recommendation for a wide variety of readers, including guys. Thank you for that, by the way. What would be some other great recommendations?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I love Dan Wells’ books, particularly I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER. Brilliant. Naturally S.E. Hinton’s books are timeless classics. James Dashner’s MAZE RUNNER books. Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF.  LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green. THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness. Anything by Garth Nix. And, I recommend that boys read up. Read Stephen King’s THE STAND or THE DARK TOWER Series. Grab Roger Zelazny’s brilliant CHRONICLES OF AMBER or Frank Herbert’s DUNE.

But I also recommend to teen guy readers to occasionally pick up books that are popular with girls. When you read what they read, it’s easier to understand how they think and feel.

On What’s Next

TLT: Will Rot & Ruin be getting the graphic novel treatment?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Once the movie is actually getting close to release we’ll probably do something with a comic or graphic novel. We’re also discussing a video game, and a collectible card game based on the Zombie Cards.

On Visiting Schools and Libraries

TLT: I would love to sit down and talk with you about the characters and situations in Rot & Ruin, but I don’t want to overwhelm you with questions or get to spoilery. But I know you have done school and bookstore visits, what does an author get from doing these type of visits and interacting with readers? And do you have a school or library visit that you would like to share?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Visiting schools is such incredible fun. They’re all different because kids are different, and because schools have their own personalities.  Usually, though, I talk about my own rather weird path and some of the things I’ve done and experienced. You never know what’s going to connect with the teens who come to hear you talk. Sometimes it’s my background in martial arts that opens the door. Sometimes it’s my anecdotes about being a bodyguard in the entertainment industry (and being shot at, stabbed and run over!). Or being a singer/songwriter in the world heavy metal band in the history of bad music. Or writing for Marvel Comics. Or whatever. I talk and I allow questions right from the jump. We always have a good time.

Usually at least one kid in the audience will ask a challenging question in hopes of putting me on the spot. But I always respect the question and the questioner. And often that’s the point at which we dive deep into a real conversation.

I love school library visits. I’ve been doing them all over the country and it’s my favorite part of being a writer in the Young Adult genre.

Teen Librarian Toolbox: And finally, don’t you want to say “neener neener” to my The Mr.? (I am just kidding with this one 🙂 )

JONATHAN MABERRY: Dude…you didn’t think your wife could snag an interview with me. But, hey…check it out.  (Haven’t you learned that wives have super powers?)

Thank you so much to Jonathan Maberry for this moment.  We are huge fans at my house AND at my library, and I really did want some pointers on surviving the zombie apocalypse.

Jonathan Maberry is the New York Times bestselling and multiple Bram Stoker Award winning author of multiple novels for teens and adults, including the Rot & Ruin series and Joe Ledger series.  If you haven’t read them, check them out.  You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanMaberry.  You can also “like” him on Facebook.

All the places Jonathan Maberry is mentioned on TLT:
Book Review: Rot & Ruin
Book Review: Flesh & Bone
Reading the Zombie Apocalypse
What’s the Deal with Zombies Anyway?
Top 10 Tips for Surviving the Apocalypse

Please feel free to leave a comment telling Jonathan Maberry how much you love his books.  Or to leave The Mr. a “neener neener” in the comments.